“On the Philosophy of Marxism-Leninism-Maosim” by Jose Maria Sison: A Book Review

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By Prof. Jerry Imbong I June 20, 2021

First of all, I would like to thank the editor, Julieta de Lima and the author for inviting me to review his latest publication. I congratulate Prof. Sison for the second part of “Sison Reader Series”. It is a great honor to be a part of this book launching especially that the contents of the book are very much in line with my field: philosophy. 

I first heard of Prof. Sison during my high school days in the late 80s in Cebu. Back then, I was actively involved in a cultural group in our parish. It was also during that time when I was initiated to the student movement. During weekends, we would discuss the liberating message of the bible during our bible sharing sessions, and afterwards we would collectively study Philippine Society and Revolution (PSR). In the early 90s, I was able to read and study what we call back then as “RA documents” notably “Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought as Guide to the Philippine Revolution” (1993) which is also included in the present volume. 

My second so-called encounter with Prof. Sison’s works was when I was in the seminary from 1996 to 2004. Together with fellow seminarians and junior religious sisters, we would discuss some of Prof. Sison’s writings especially during our exposure-immersions to peasant communities, indigenous peoples, and striking workers in urban centers. By studying his works, I was able to apply the Christian faith to concrete conditions in our apostolate areas. Consequently, it led me to see the importance of doing social analysis using the various tools of social sciences in our ministry as church workers. 

When I left the seminary in 2004, I was fortunate to find a teaching position at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros, Manila where I taught for more than fifteen years. During my first three years, I taught theology at Letran. However, I decided to transfer to the Social Science Area since my Masters and PhD is on the field of philosophy. Colegio de San Juan de Letran boasts of its famous alumni in various fields of specialization. In its four hundred years of existence, Letran has produced prominent leaders—from top government officials, media and legal personalities and businessmen to heroes of the revolution, educators, men of cloth and even saints. One common thread that binds all these exceptional figures is the unwavering love for God and country propelled and animated by Letran’s ideal of Deus, Patria, Letran. Jose Maria Sison is one of the greatest political theorist Letran has produced. As a revolutionary he stands alongside Apolinario Mabini and Emilio Jacinto, notable Letran alumni. As a poet, writer and artist, he joins the ranks of other famous Letran alumni like Francisco Balagtas, Bienvenido Lumbera and Rolando Tinio. His ideas have influenced hundreds and thousands of students and youth activists, workers, peasants, women, urban poor sectors and indigenous peoples. In 2018, as Letran prepared for its quadricentennial celebration, I attempted to make a research on Prof. Sison’s political philosophy. This was part of a series of researches commissioned by Letran to pay tribute to its famous alumni. There were those who did research work on the life and legacy of famous Letran alumni like Bienvedido Lumbera and Rolando Tinio. However, nobody dared to do a research about Prof. Sison. Without hesitation, I submitted my research proposal to our Research Center and it was eventually approved. Since the research was about political philosophy, I immerse myself with Prof. Sison’s works, reading some of his major works. This was my so-called third encounter with Prof. Sison. During course of my research, I was able to interview with Prof. Sison regarding his views on the Critical Theory (Frankfurt School). The excerpt of this interview is included in this present volume. 

I came to know more about the life and works of Prof. Sison when I became a core group member of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP). As church-based peace advocates, we would always welcome Prof. Sison’s initiatives to pursue the peace process. We admire his passion in advancing the peace talks. Bishop Bert Calang of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), another PEPP core group member would always tell us stories about his experiences with Prof. Sison and other NDFP consultants in Europe. As peace advocates, we are saddened by the Anti-Terror Law Council’s inclusion of Prof. Sison and his wife Julie in the list of designated “terrorists”. 

Reading the essays contained in this book made me realize first and foremost the importance of philosophy in our work as members of the academe and as social activists. As the title suggests, the current volume is about Philosophy, or the link between philosophy and politics. The French philosopher Alain Badiou argues that philosophy should be conditioned by “actually existing forms of politics”, This means that philosophy must be able to be at the service of politics, which should lead political activists and militants with an answer to the classical question: “What is to be done?” This is exactly what the present volume delivers. The essays found in this book provides us with the answer to the questions: “What kind philosophy must we adopt?” and “How can philosophy be at the service of politics?” 

Another French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser identified at least two popular conceptions of philosophy. First, he claims that to take things philosophically means “a resignation to necessity”, or philosophy = resignation. This kind of philosophy is devoid of critical value, a philosophy that does not scrutinize the order of things. Althusser also calls this “passive or resigned philosophy”. In most cases, philosophers of this type indulge in speculative philosophy, incapable of concerning itself with down-to-earth problems. Althusser argues that the vast majority of philosophies (including those speculative philosophies in our Universities) are “forms of resignation”, or, to be more precise, forms of submission to the “ideas of the ruling class” and thus to class rule. Hence, we hear of “armchair philosophers” in universities and of philosophers with his head in the clouds. 

This present volume is an antidote or antithesis to a passive or resigned philosophy. The philosophy found in this book is what Althusser calls “active philosophy”—those who submit to the order of the world because they know it by means of Reason. Here philosophy has twofold purpose, consistent with Marxist maxim: to know the order of the world in order to change it. In this second sense, to take things philosophically has to do with “knowledge of the rational necessity of the course of the world or evolution of history.” It is putting philosophy to work in a 

practical way—in short, of “putting it to work” on scientific problems. The collection of essays and articles in this book is an affirmation—for all the historical, theoretical and practical reasons, that the time is ripe and the moment is favorable, for taking critical stock of the state of Marxist-Leninist and Maoist philosophy. Arguably, this book is able to demonstrate MLM’s revolutionary nature, refining aspects of it, and putting it into work without delay on various scientific problems, some of which have a direct bearing on the class struggle today. Some of the greatest and most cherished documents and publications of the Party (most, if not all were written by Prof. Joma also) like the Philippine Society and Revolution, Specific Characteristics of our Peoples War, Rectify Errors and Rebuild the Party to name a few are borne out of the correct application of MLM theory and praxis. Consequently, these had profound and positive impact on the ideological, political, and organizational elements of the Party. The more than 50 decades of revolutionary struggle is a living testament of the enduring relevance of MLM in the Philippines. 

This fine work is an outcome of more than four decades of conceptualizing and appropriating the universal theory of the proletariat, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism. As the author emphasizes in his preface, “In learning theory, proletarian revolutionaries give the highest importance to MLM philosophy. Having the materialist-scientific outlook and applying dialectical materialism facilitate the understanding of all matters and the solution of problems in the revolutionary process.” 

The present work expediently synthesized the great ideas we learned from Marx and Engels and ever since Lenin’s State and Revolution and Materialism and Empirio-Criticism, and Mao’s On Contradiction. Prof. Sison expertly showed us the significance of great historical events at our disposal: the extraordinary experiences of the Soviet Revolution and the Chinese Revolution; the lessons offered by the various forms of the construction of socialism and their diverse results; the lessons of all the working-class struggles against the capitalist bourgeoisie, and all the popular mass struggles as well (the struggle against fascism, the liberation movements of the developing countries, the Vietnamese people’s victorious struggle against French and then American imperialism, the struggle of Black Americans, student revolts, and so on). If it is true, as the Marxist and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm postulated that Marx’s writings and thought have been given a one-sided treatment and distorted interpretation, emphasizing only “on the economic aspect of his teaching, and little on the philosophical-humanist aspect”, then Prof. Sison’s present work is a visionary response to this diagnosis. By amalgamating the “materialist” philosophy found in the works of Marx, Lenin, and Mao, Prof. Sison highlights the basic philosophical assumption that one must start, not with man’s ideas and man’s consciousness, but with the real man and the real conditions of his life. 

The opening chapter sets the tone for the volume as a whole in clarifying the most important achievement of the CPP after one year of embracing the Supreme Guidance of Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought (MLMZT) in 1970. As Prof. Sison writes: 

“The most important achievement of the Communist Party of the Philippines during the past year is its embodiment of the truth that Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought has taken root in the practice of the people’s democratic revolution in the Philippines… As a result, of the rectification of the old persistent errors, the strong foundation for proletarian revolutionary leadership in the people’s democratic revolution has been laid.” (9) 

In his 1993 article Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought as Guide to the Philippine Revolution, Prof. Sison showed us how MLMZT as a theoretical guide has become the Party’s “most powerful ideological weapon”. This seminal work narrates the historical process of applying MLMZT in concrete circumstances of the Filipino people. It starts with an analysis of Philippine history and society, affirming the semi-colonial and semi-feudal character of present-day Philippine society. Subsequent topics deal with refuting the errors committed by revisionist renegade party members such as right opportunism and “Left” opportunism, bourgeois subjectivism, etc. The fierce ideological struggle within the Party eventually led to the publication of a comprehensive and important documents of the CPP: “Reaffirm Our Basic Principles and Rectify Errors”, “General Review of Important Events and Decisions, 1980-1991”, and “Stand for Socialism Against Modern Revisionism”. These documents had twofold functions: first, it strongly reaffirms MLMZT as “the guide to revolutionary action”, and second, it formed the theoretical basis for the second great rectification movement. 

An in-depth exposition and discussion of Marxist philosophy are found in articles “A Comment on Dialectical Materialism, Idealism and Mechanical Materialism”, “Some Questions on Dialectical Materialism”, On Dialectical Materialism: First of a Series of Webinars on Sison’s Basic Principles of Marxism-Leninism”, “On Historical Materialism: Second of a Series of Webinars on Sison’s Basic Principles of Marxism-Leninsm”, “Discussion of Anti-Duhring by Friedrich Engles Part I: Philosophy”, “On Proletarian Stand and Outlook: Introduction to Marxism-Leninism-Maoism”, and “Dialectical and Historical Materialism: A Review”. What weaves these philosophical essays together, and perhaps the greatest contribution of the work come from its emphasis on the unity or fusion between theory and practice. Acknowledging the primacy of practice, the author asserts that philosophy’s role is to raise actually existing practices to the level of theory. 

Interestingly, this volume contains four articles that deal with the church’s involvement in the fight for social liberation as well as a critique of its ideological underpinnings: “The Role of the Church in Social Change”, “Ideologies in the Philippines”, “Sophism of the Christian Social Movement”, and “Ideology and Religion in the Philippines”. These four articles can become useful tools for church people as they continue to link arms with the basic sectors of society in their struggle for building a truly just, democratic, and free society. As the author suggests, “At the philosophical level, there are the basic principles that completely differentiate Marxism-Leninism-Maoism form either of these two [i.e., Christianity and bourgeois realism]. But at the political and social level, there are grounds of dialogue and cooperation for those who are patriotic and progressive.” (4) 

Lastly, On the Philosophy of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism is a timely response to the increasing demonization and vilification of activists and revolutionaries in the country. The series of malicious red-tagging and consequently the harassment, threats, and intimidations that accompany it calls for a more resolute and persistent political and ideological work in order to disseminate these marvelous ideas to the vast majority of the Filipino people and apply these in their everyday struggle for social liberation. After all, as Mao reminds us, social practice is the only criterion for truth. 

Thank you and good afternoon once again. 

Bionote 

Jerry D. Imbong taught at Colegio de San Juan de Letran for more than fifteen years. He finished his Masters in Philosophical Research at De La Salle University and is currently finishing his PhD in Philosophy in the same university. As a core group member of the Philippine Ecumenical Peace Platform (PEPP), he is actively involved in the work for justice and peace. He is also a member of Congress of Teachers and Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND). His most recent publication is on “Bungkalan and the Manobo-Pulangihon tribe’s resistance to corporate land-grab in Bukidnon, Mindanao” 

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