What Do Filipino Maoists Think of China Now?

Masked protesters raise their clenched fists during a rally to commemorate the 49th anniversary of the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines, near the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila, Philippines on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.

July 1 marked the centennial of the establishment of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At the celebrations, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke in Beijing above a giant portrait of Mao Zedong, the revolutionary leader whom Xi honored in his speech. He said that the CCP must continue to uphold Maoist thought and use it as a guide to achieving greater heights, as party leaders have done so consistently throughout the past century.

Xi invoked the memory of Mao and his struggle for liberation to challenge Chinese citizens to continue upon the “great path we have pioneered.” He made use of the Chinese revolution’s glory in extolling a path for the Asian superpower that feels distinctly imperialist rather than socialist. While Mao’s image, likeness, and ideas may be near sacred in China and in the hearts of Chinese officials, there are others still in the trenches of class war that lament the betrayal of Maoism in the country where it was birthed.

The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), is a Maoist party. It has waged a civil war for over 50 years, considered the longest running insurgency in the world. Philippine communists aren’t happy with what they see as a desecration of revolutionary values in the modern Chinese state.

To them, China has replaced its socialist economy with an overtly capitalist one, while still making use of revolutionary slogans that had worked so well in winning over the people. To many Filipinos, those in the CPP included, China is invading the Southeast Asian nation’s territory with military vessels in the West Philippine Sea (known also as the South China Sea) and intervening in economic and political affairs. Since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in 2016, China has become the Philippines’ top trading partner, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, with a swift and unprecedented influx of Chinese labor and capital. Despite the encroachment in policy and territory, Duterte affirms that the neighboring superpower is a “good friend.”

Mao would feel otherwise, according to the CPP. The longest running armed struggle in the world takes much of its lessons from Maoist doctrine. The CPP find themselves in the ironic position of trying to liberate a country facing tensions from a superpower that holds Mao in the highest regard.

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CPP founding chairman Jose Maria Sison told the Diplomat, “The CCP pays lip service to Mao occasionally, especially in happy rituals, and avoids offending the great number of Chinese people and party cadres and members who love his memory and agree with his ideas and deeds. It avoids twisting the ideas of Mao to justify current policies, aside from saying that Mao was for also modernization and was supportive of the diplomatic actions related to it.”

Is the CPP more faithful to the revolution or, like the CCP, is it using Marxist scripture merely for its political agenda?

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Historical Treason

During the late 1960s and through most of the ’70s, the CPP, then still a fledgling rebel group, sent emissaries to China to learn in the peasant communes and industrial powerhouses being constructed in the country’s rural areas. Cadres were obliged to integrate themselves and bring back lessons for the Philippine struggle. However, when Mao passed away in 1976, so too did the Cultural Revolution, which sought, disastrously, to reinvigorate China with socialist fervor.

In stepped Deng Xiaoping, whom Philippine communists revile as a primary instigator of revisionism and a trigger for the reversal of the socialist cause. Sison explained:

As early as 1978, many CPP cadres became wary of the total negation of the Cultural Revolution, the dismantling of the commune system, the privatization of rural and urban industries, the opening of the state banks to the big bourgeoisie, the repeated repayment of the war bonds to the bourgeoisie, the entire gamut of capitalist-oriented reforms, liberalization of foreign investments and rapid integration in the world capitalist system. The Dengist policy took systematic steps to go against the revolutionary armed struggles in Southeast Asia in the name of ‘peace and development’ and collaborating with the U.S.

Today, China is no doubt an economic and political powerhouse able to influence policy and international attitudes. Present-day China is one whose foundations were built on the backbone of a socialist past, but its expansion and rise have been a capitalist endeavor.

Gone are the communes and many of the state-owned corporations upon which China industrialized. Globally, Chinese corporations are household names that hinge on private enterprise. Last year, Huawei became the top smartphone brand in the world, surpassing South Korea’s Samsung. Meanwhile, Tencent Holdings, popular for publishing mobile games like League of Legends, and e-commerce giant Alibaba Holdings are both among the top ten largest corporations in the world. Two in the top ten are from China, seven from the United States and one from Saudi Arabia.

These excursions into the global chain of commerce, albeit successful, coincide with a greater push for new markets. It can be argued that China’s Belt and Road Initiative, a campaign to increase the presence of Chinese trade and infrastructure in the Asia-Pacific falls along the lines of expanding its profit margin. While Duterte has welcomed this trend, the CPP and arguably much of the Filipino population has not. Duterte’s popularity usually plummets online whenever he makes favorable remarks about China.

Louie Jalandoni, former chief negotiator of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), the CPP’s united front organization, explained to The Diplomat: “The revolutionary forces view the CCP as an imperialist country that attacks the Filipino fishermen and the Filipino people. The CCP’s collaboration with Duterte is in fact strongly denounced and must also be firmly resisted.”

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No Love Lost

Some of Mao’s most revolutionary ideas came when he attacked his own establishment for peddling bourgeois thinking (or, more cynically, for criticizing him in the wake of the disastrous Great Leap Forward). In 1966, Mao published “Bombard the headquarters,” an indictment of the counterrevolutionary route some party members were allegedly taking. Sison and Jalandoni have taken that to heart, hitting what they call “modern revisionism” or the disfiguration of socialist principles but retaining the same rhetoric. They see themselves as trying to do what Mao was unable to before his life ended: purge the revolution of the enemies lurking within.

Sison and Jalandoni served as architects of the CPP’s strategies, borrowing from Mao’s ideas on guerrilla warfare and persevering in the countryside rather than in cities.

As for their current predicament, the pair say that in their fight against Duterte’s regime, China is an inevitable opponent.

“Current revolutionary forces in the Philippines consider Chinese incursions in the West Philippine Sea as proof that the Chinese Communist Party has become an imperialist country. Such illegal incursions must be resisted in various effective ways. The incursions of the Chinese government and military have aroused the strongest resistance of the Filipino people,” said Jalandoni.