There is a necessity for a liberatory politics in the Archipelago known as the Philippines and as anarchists we think Anarchism has the framework to fill this need. The dominant forms of politics we have now are insufficient for developing a liberatory politics in the archipelago. This liberatory politics becomes a necessity because politics in the Philippines is currently an alienating affair—a politics done to people rather than people doing politics. We are also dominated by domineering structures and institutions like the market, capitalism, and the state. Against these we forward the liberatory politics of anarchism for a world beyond domination.
The Necessity for a Liberatory Politics
Let us analyse what kind of politics dominates our lives right now and why we think these are insufficient for liberation.
At work we are subjected to the tyranny of the boss, who commands a great deal of power over at least a third of our day. For those blessed enough to forgo traditional bosses, the impersonal domination of the market instead dominates their tasks, forcing enough productivity to pay for daily needs. Under capitalism, we can indeed be our own terrible boss. Ultimately, boss or no boss, our lives and our days are structured around the extraction of labor: preparing for work, doing work, and recovering from work, leaving us exhausted for things we would want to do.
When not at work, we are assaulted by the scarcity imposed on us by capitalism. We must pay exorbitant rents or pay back endless debt because we were not fortunate enough to have the resources to care for ourselves to begin with.
It is not enough that capitalism mines us for our labor, rent, and debt, capitalism must literally mine our environment for value. Our very ecologies are under assault by capitalists who wish to extract as much as they can from it, leaving whole communities and their surrounding environs devastated. Oftentimes, extracting wealth from the environment intersects with colonialism where indigenous peoples are involved, with capitalists and state bureaucrats conspiring to divorce them from their homelands. Indeed this was most apparent in Casiguran, Aurora where indigenous peoples were actively being dispossessed of their land to make way for the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone (APECO), a collaboration between the state, local political dynasties, and capitalists.
In the sphere of government, we are faced with alienation in the politics of the state where so-called representatives are only accountable every other year and who often do the bare minimum between elections, all the while labour is immiserated, farmers are killed, and indigenous peoples are dispossessed. And what of the large sections of the government who are unelected—the bureaucrats, the appointees, the police? Who are these people accountable to, and how can they be removed?—if they can even be removed at all! So much of our lives is decided by people who are effectively not accountable to us—the ballot box notwithstanding. Ultimately, the politics of the state is statecraft—the management of the state. It is consistently an alienated politics done to people rather than by people. By political alienation, we mean the overwhelming powerlessness individuals have over the political affairs over society and the meaninglessness of these politics that is engendered into these individuals.
And what of President Rodrigo Duterte whose populist politics promised a break in the governance of the archipelago? Has Duterte and Dutertismo empowered the people of the archipelago? We think not. Dutertismo has conquered the presidency by mixing reactionary politics with promises to left groups. Dutertismo has ruled the political landscape since 2016, yet it has proven itself at once incompetent at providing social services and at the same time highly effective at maintaining and reproducing its own power to the point of a murderous campaign against the urban poor. The Duterte regime have proven themselves divorced from the people and indeed outright malignant when faced with environmental and human rights activism.
Outside Dutertismo, we find that oligarchy and political dynasties dominate the state and its appendages in local government. Powerful families use their power to plunder produce from the countryside, immiserating and dispossessing agricultural workers, peasants, and indigenous peoples in the process. In the cities these families convert the capital they plundered from the countryside into capitalist enterprises that dominate the markets of urban residents. Their economic power is then translated into political power when the political dynasties pay their way into government offices through expensive electoral campaigns that others cannot afford.
Can we pin our hopes on an oppositional politics in the revolution of the Maoist insurgency and National Democracy?1 Unfortunately, the Maoist CPP-NPA2 and National Democrats have proven themselves content with conservatively insisting on outdated guerrilla war tactics while demanding for reform and reconciliation with the national burgis.3 They ultimately have no program for social revolution and are content to push for “national liberation”—really an attempt at class collaboration with the national burgis. We find their vision to be insufficiently liberatory.
Against the incessant extraction of value from our lives and our environs and of the alienation and powerlessness felt, the struggle for a liberatory politics becomes urgent. We think this need for a liberatory politics can potentially be filled by the theory and praxis of Anarchism.
Anarchism, whose ethos is inherently suspicious of hierarchies and concentrated power, has the theoretical tools needed to counteract alienation and powerlessness and fill the need for a liberatory politics—indeed, an unalienated politics done by people where people are made subjects in their own right rather than objects of another’s power. We think Anarchism is suitable as a liberatory politics for the archipelago that can move past hierarchies and the limitations of reformism and National Democracy and empower people with the agency to enact the change they wish to see.
Hereafter we shall refer to an alienating politics done to people as statecraft, which includes the management of the state and of power struggles to take state power by elected officials or by a revolutionary party. Statecraft is mediated by power brokers like elected politicians, bureaucrats, or party officials. Statecraft is ultimately the monopoly of power by a few, whether these few are inside or outside the state. Against statecraft, we forward an unmediated politics, which we situate as the discursive actions between people interacting with another as equals. Politics is us talking with another discussing the problems we face in our lives and deciding together how to move forward with the issues we face.4 Politics is us becoming subjects in our own politics rather than as objects of statecraft and power plays. Subject here refers to a person who has agency over their politics rather than as a passiveobserver or sometime elector.5 An unmediated politics is then the unalienated politics done by people.
Anarchism, being against hierarchy and the concentration of power into the hands of a few and for the development of politics as unalienated and unmediated discourse and action, is the perspective that we believe the archipelago needs for a liberatory politics. Hierarchy and its consequence the concentration of power is a stupefying force. The inferiors of the hierarchy learn to rely on their superiors for guidance instead of relying on their own action. The superiors on the other hand end up relying on the inferiors for everyday tasks. The two dominant paradigms in the archipelago of reformism and National Democracy do not hold these perspectives of opposition to hierarchy and concentration of power as central to their paradigms and thus suffer for it in the form of reproducing statecraft and an alienated politics.
The ‘unfinished’ revolution of EDSA that deposed the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ultimately a revolution of mere elites rather than a revolution of the whole people. The elites changed, but social relations and structures of domination remained the same. The potential for a social revolution in EDSA—a revolution where the social relations between people are dramatically changed and the possibility of new liberated social forms becomes palatable—was apparently stillborn. Rather than new social relations and a revolutionary new way of doing things, the oligarchs took over again, replacing a Marcos dictatorship with a mixture of old and new cliques. Instead of revolution, we merely got reform and more of the same.
The promise of liberal politics has become lost in the competing interests of various oligarchic cliques. Nothing really changes, or if there are changes, these are too little too late. Minimum wage, contractualization, ecological destruction, neoliberal policies, RH Law, indigenous dispossession, and land stolen from those who work the land—all are symptomatic of reforms proving themselves inutile against the issues of the day. Indeed liberal politics is subsumed into oligarchic rule and even used as a site of plunder—as seen with neoliberal policies where public services are made into corporate fiefs like with our water and electricity in Metro Manila. Besides, “never be deceived that the rich will allow you to vote away their wealth,” as ex-slave6 and anarchist Lucy Parsons once said. What she said was true for black liberation in the so-called United States during the 19th century and it is still true for the liberation from capital and the state in the 21st century.
Dutertismo does not break with the liberalism of past presidents. Duterte’s populism has resulted in insincere promises and is all talk. The electoral wing of National Democracy, the Makabayan bloc, shamefully allied with Duterte back in 2015 and early 2016. Duterte was then an infamous and controversial figure who was an outspoken murderer of the urban poor in his home Davao City. The Makabayan bloc allying with an outspoken murderer shows how congressional progressives betray their principles in favor of opportunism in the arena of reform—indeed an opportunism that resulted in almost no gains. The left-wing policies promised by Duterte such as peace with CPP-NPA-NDF insurgency and an end to contractualization have both collapsed into nothing—false promises by Duterte used as a means of capturing power.
The non-National Democratic electoral socialists and social democrats are equally guilty of opportunism. We have witnessed how the social democratic Akbayan party-list practically attached themselves as the left-wing of the Liberal Party during the regime of President Noynoy Aquino, the predecessor of Duterte.
Congressional politics is fundamentally a politics that removes agency from the people—it disempowers them by design. There is a hierarchy between the representative with power and the supposed constituent below them. Voting for a candidate every few years is not power, it is a mere image of power—indeed a spectacle. The voter is merely a passive spectator in the congressional process mediated by parties and representatives. Voting a politician out of office is not control over that politician when during their four- or six-year term they cannot be recalled.7 After winning, the representatives do not even have to listen to the concerns of their voters. Meanwhile, the voters who did not vote for them are simply not represented at all! Voting does not empower the people; the most voting can do is prevent gains won in previous skirmishes of class struggle from being rolled back. Indeed any gains of the class struggle in congressional politics are ultimately fragile gains, with the ever-present possibility of reaction from oligarchs and capitalists rolling back gains. Congressional politics and reformism ultimately renders voters and constituents as objects of the power plays of mediators and representatives. Voters and constituents—who can only spectate in these power plays of statecraft—are not full subjects in their politics and are forced into a passive and mediated role.
We think resources spent on building votes ought to be spent on building a politics based on popular power instead. Building agency among the disempowered is more important than providing them a mere image of agency. Politics is too important to be left to electoral politicians.
Reforms are the end-goal of reformism; in contrast, we anarchists seek social revolution. Reformism and electoral politics risk transforming social movements into defenders of capitalism and the welfare state in order to defend the gains won through representatives. We are against reformism because we are for a revolutionary politics that seeks a break with the state and capital. That does not mean we are against reforms. On the contrary, we think the best way to win reforms is through building social movements based on popular power and an unmediated politics where people become full subjects in their politics. These social movements would use direct action to force concessions and reforms from the state and similarly defend those reforms through direct action as well. Reforms won through militant action are more durable than those won through representatives alone. “Power concedes nothing without a demand,” as Frederick Douglass said. By using direct action instead of relying on representatives, a social movement builds the conditions of a revolutionary politics when in time they can challenge the state and capital.
Building popular power is not easy—indeed it is more difficult than canvassing votes—but if we want to build a liberatory politics that could develop and defend real gains against reaction and oligarchic plunderers, organizing a liberatory politics outside and beyond the ballot box becomes a necessity.
Beyond National Democracy
We do not doubt that National Democracy has made numerous gains in their revolutionary struggle. The Maoists of the National Democrats have created liberated barrios and conducted acts of sabotage against mining operations. They have armed peasants and indigenous peoples against the tyranny of landlords and landgrabbers. They have created networks of samahans8 and people’s organizations and created spaces for proletarian and peasant democracy. They have unionized workers and peasants and engaged in class struggle. Yet the politics they forward is still the hierarchic and mediated politics of the vanguard party and the potential alienation of a state. Our issues with National Democracy are too numerous to fully discuss here. We will focus our critique on our opposition to a vanguard party, the harms of building yet another state, and aiming to seize state power instead of a liberated society free from hierarchy and domination.9 Going beyond National Democracy means understanding why we need to reject the vanguard party and the state as disempowering for the vast majority and for building an unmediated and egalitarian politics.
Anarchists reject a vanguard party because we believe in the universalization of political power and agency, not in its concentration in certain party officials. In centralizing power, a vanguard party concentrates revolutionary agency into a hierarchy within itself. In contrast we believe revolutionary agency belongs to all the toilers and dispossessed. The politics of a Leninist vanguard ultimately alienates the people it tries to liberate—once again politics is something done to the people, not done by the people. Because of its goal of controlling the revolution, the vanguard party is a stoppage upon the vitality of the revolutionary movement. Indeed, revolutionary action done outside the control of the party is even opposed and threatened with violence by the CPP-NPA. The Party is suspected of being behind the murders of other revolutionary and social democratic activists after their publication labeled other revolutionary and social democratic personalities as “counterrevolutionary,” and those named started turning up dead.10 The Party is then hostile to socialist plurality and thus is hostile to a social revolution which is fundamentally pluralistic.
How much power do rank-and-file communists of the party have on the machinations of the CPP-NPA cadres? We doubt their influence is considerable. Indeed, during the second congress of the Communist Party of the Philippines last October 2016, the youngest delegate was 33 years old at the time11—the CPP is an old boy’s club where the youth rank-and-file have no sway! Indeed, it was only their second congress in their 51 years of existence! All decisions are effectively made by a small cadre, accountable to no-one.
Party officials have immense power—even power over life and death—and are functionally only accountable to the central committee, which is practically not accountability at all. This concentration of power has had violent and fatal consequences for the committed communists cruelly tortured and murdered during the purge campaigns by the CPP-NPA during the 1980s.12 Cadres who were accountable to no-one murdered their own comrades in a fit of collective paranoia. If even without taking state power we see the CPP-NPA brutally murdering their own communist comrades, what more if they take state power? What more tyrannies would they inflict on non-party folk? It would be state-sanctioned violence recalling the worst of the Stalinist terrors.
The exclusionary politics of the vanguard party is replicated in the peace process between the government of the Philippines and the CPP-NPA-NDF. The peace process is a negotiation between the Philippine government and the cadre of the CPP-NPA-NDF—essentially negotiations between the bureaucracy of the state and the bureaucracy of the party. It is a collaboration between erstwhile revolutionaries and sections of capital and of the national burgis.13 Indeed this collaboration quickly turned into opportunism with figures like the National Democratic figurehead Joma Sison haphazardly endorsing Duterte for president. The people are not truly involved in the machinations of the peace process. We doubt that the denizens of the liberated barrios and the rank-and-file agitators—who participate in the class struggle alongside the working class in picket lines—actively participated in the negotiations as active agents in their own right. We think they are instead represented in a process mediated by others. The peace process is then statecraft and an alienated politics one can only spectate in. The supposed stakeholders in the peace process are rendered mere spectators in a process separated from them. Such is the politics of the vanguard party where agency and power is concentrated on a select few acting on behalf of the rest. Besides, a peace mediated between the elites in the state and the elites of a vanguard party is not a durable peace. We see this with the peace process between sections of the Bangsamoro revolutionary nationalists and the Philippine government which historically kept generating splinter groups because these groups felt excluded from the process.14
Ultimately, the party does not have a monopoly over resistance, however the CPP wants to monopolize the revolution. It cannot dominate naturally-occurring pockets of resistance that form against greed and tyranny.
While anarchists may reject the Leninist vanguard party, anarchists are not opposed to revolutionary organization. Anarchists understand the necessity of creating networks and structures between movements. Indeed there have been anarchist and libertarian revolutionary organizations throughout history and some that still exist today. Historical examples include the Black Army in Ukraine, the CNT-FAI in Spain, and Korean Anarchist Communist Federation in Shinmin. Examples of libertarian revolutionary organizations that exist today are the Zapatistas in Chiapas, and the YPG-YPJ in Rojava. Another reason for this opposition to the vanguard party is that anarchists reject their quest for state power.
We anarchists reject the state and reject seizing state power as a strategy for liberation because as the preeminent manifestation of hierarchy, it is acutely insufficient for liberation. This does not mean we are against organization and institutions, but rather we believe these ought to be organized in a libertarian and egalitarian manner. After all, the state is not merely its organization nor its institutions. Nor is the state its provision of social services nor merely its prerogative for violence. The state is a territorial concentration of power in the hands of a few situated above society—to use the definition by anarchist writer Pëtr Kropotkin. The state is power excluding the society at large. The state is necessarily a concentration of power, otherwise the institution would not be a state. The concentration of power in the hands of a few implies a social relationship where power—particularly its decision-making form—is held by a minority where the majority is excluded and therefore disempowered under the state.
Just as the Communist Party concentrates power unto itself, just so their future state would hoard power into its own structure. The National Democratic construction of a future proletarian state will ultimately reproduce statecraft and an alienated politics because of their continuing use of hierarchies.
While the Marxists-Leninists—and by extension National Democrats—are absolutely correct in wanting to abolish the capitalist social relations such as those of burgis–proletariat, they stop short of wanting to abolish hierarchical social relations altogether. Marxist-Leninist societies in the former USSR and the Eastern Bloc states abolished the burgis, but were still hierarchical societies. Going beyond National Democracy also means understanding why hierarchy itself must be dismantled, not just capitalist social relations. Hierarchy itself must be opposed and dismantled in order to secure a free and liberated future.
As we reject the state that the National Democrats aim for, we also reject their nationalism. Nationalism in socialism is an abomination and it creates deep contradictions in theory. The very concept of nationalism is precisely a trans-class solidarity between the proletariat and the burgis in a particular country. This trans-class solidarity makes it appear that the burgis and proletariat of a particular country have the same interests—they do not. This thus masks the contradictions and struggles between the two classes. The toilers and dispossessed have no interests in common with the class of oligarchs, hacienderos, political dynasties, and warlords. It is the trans-class solidarity of nationalism that leads to class collaboration and the betrayal of the interests of the dispossessed.
Make no mistake, we anarchists are not calling for the fragmentation of struggle or a parochialism of isolated groups. Instead of nationalism and a unity based on identity, we want unity on the basis of the affinity of all who struggle for liberation.15 All those who despise tyranny and greed are our comrades. We are in solidarity with the oppressed not because we are both Filipino, but because we understand that our liberation is tied up together.
The National Democratic program for a state is insufficiently liberatory. Their project of a vanguard party is stuck in the past and is led by an entrenched cadre of old men. Relinquishing your agency to the party bureaucrats of the vanguard does not liberate you. The aim of capturing state power or setting up a competing revolutionary state reproduces the mediating and alienating politics that renders people as objects of statecraft and does not empower them. Going beyond National Democracy does not necessarily mean rejecting everything the National Democratic movement does or what they stand for, but understanding that their praxis is limited by their use of hierarchy and is thus ultimately insufficient for the goal of liberation. Therefore the politics they forward is still a continuation of hierarchy and domination and cannot forward a liberatory politics. National democrats take their poetry from the past; we must take our poetry from the future.
To revitalize revolutionary politics in the archipelago we need to move beyond National Democracy, beyond vanguard party form, beyond the state, and beyond nationalism. This means a commitment to a deliberative politics and shunning hierarchy and domination in our revolutionary organizations. We anarchists do not aim to control and dominate a revolution but to build the capacities of people for direct action, mutual aid, and revolutionary action to allow a social revolution to bloom into its fullest potential. The liberation of the working class and of the dispossessed can only be done by them alone and will never be done by a state or a mediating party.
Against reformism and beyond national democracy, we forward the liberatory politics of anarchism, a movement for the self-emancipation of the toilers and dispossessed from all forms of hierarchy and domination.
A revolutionary anarchism is about spreading freedom and anarchy to all spheres of life. Anarchy is about social relationships based on consent and free agreement. It is about treating each other as equals, as individuals we are interdependent with, and whose freedom is bound up with ours. Anarchy is freedom from authority and freedom from hierarchies. Doing anarchy means doing deliberative politics that seeks to make people full subjects in their politics. Therefore anarchism shuns mediation and statecraft and seeks to maximize the agency of people over their own lives and of things held in common.
Anarchism is the fullest conclusion of the desire for freedom because it is a consistent application of freedom. We cannot use hierarchical means to create a liberated society. We must take care of what our means are becoming. Hierarchy can only become domination, not liberation. Hierarchy engenders an alienated politics where those at the lower rungs of hierarchy are disempowered and dispossessed. As an egalitarian idea, anarchism forwards liberatory means to create a liberated society. When we instead consciously organize in an egalitarian, non-hierarchical manner, we are building the foundations for social relations based on freedom. These social relations then can become that liberated future.
A revolutionary anarchism has the tools for forwarding a liberatory politics with tools like mutual aid, direct action and egalitarian organizing. These tools of anarchism existed in various forms long before anarchism existed. What anarchism does is unite these in theory and practice.
Anarchists practice mutual aid which Filipinos already know as bayanihan. Mutual aid or bayanihan is a mode of cooperation based on solidarity. It is us helping each other because it benefits all. The image of bayanihan is often a village (or a bayan) working together to carry a house. By themselves the villagers could not lift the house, but all together they can—their toil is minimized with collective action. What is more is that by participating, they know the other villagers will similarly assist them when they need it. Thus mutual aid or bayanihan becomes a system of support and collective action that improves the quality of life for everyone involved. It is then a safety net that everyone can participate in. These systems of mutual aid can be found in nature and in human societies throughout history and today all around the world.16 What anarchists want to do is universalize mutual aid over other modes of organization like competition, profit, or bureaucracy.
Anarchists also practice direct action. Direct action can take the form of strikes, rent strikes, occupations, expropriation, and blocking construction. Direct Action, according to libertarian socialist theorist Murray Bookchin:
‘is the means whereby each individual awakes to the hidden powers within herself and himself, to a sense of self-confidence and self-competence; it is the means whereby individuals take control of society directly. … Direct action, in short, is not a ‘tactic’ that can be adopted or discarded in terms of its ‘effectiveness’ or ‘popularity’; it is amoral principle, an ideal, a sensibility. It should imbue every aspect of our lives and behaviour and outlook.’Murray Bookchin
To add, direct action directly changes the terrain of struggle against capital and domination. Through its interventions, direct action shapes the capacities and agency of the persons doing the action and makes them full subjects in their politics. Through a strike for example, the workers involved learn they have power over their boss and this gives them the capacity to demand more and more concessions. Using direct action instead of relying on mediated forms of struggle like representative politics is a major part in anarchist theory and praxis.17 Using the unmediated politics of direct action implies a rejection of the mediated politics of states and vanguards.
Instead of states or vanguard parties, anarchists would forward the use of horizontal and egalitarian organizing. A reason why anarchists use egalitarian organization is that it prefigures the kind of liberated society we seek to bring about. By prefiguration we mean that the means we use now foreshadow and envisage the future we want to bring about. Prefiguration is a unity of means and ends—in this case, egalitarian means for a liberatory end. Prefigurative politics means building the world we want to see in the here and now.18
Egalitarian organizing also means eschewing hierarchy in our organizations. This does not necessarily mean eschewing leaders, but rather building the capacities for everyone to lead and cooperate. Some alternatives to leaders in egalitarian organizing is the rotation of tasks that normally leaders do. Instituting egalitarian organizing also does not mean rejecting scaling up our organizations. Rather, scaling up egalitarian organizing means that agency and decision-making flows from the bottom–up rather than from top–bottom. This can be done with the use of mandated delegates. Mandated delegates cannot decide for the group they represent like representatives in congress do. The group they represent decides the mandate of the delegate and what that delegate can say or do. Alternatively, if the delegate has a mandate for negotiation or representation in a council or assembly, what they do is subject to ratification from the group they came from. If these delegates overstep or fail their mandates, they can be immediately recalled and removed as delegate. Delegates can be chosen through sortition or rotation, though electing or consensus is also used. These methods are few examples of preventing the concentration of power in a position and retaining agency and political subjectivity on the individuals and preventing the concentration of power in positions. Egalitarian organizing helps preserve freedom and individuality of those making decisions.
While anarchists believe in freedom, we do not believe in burgis notions of freedom and burgis individuality. Freedom to starve, the freedom to exploit, the freedom to choose our boss—these are no freedoms at all! Our freedom is based on the communization of social life, where our freedom is guarded and enhanced by the freedom of those around us. Only when society as a whole is liberated will we be free to fully express our individuality, free from the constraints of domination. Until then, individuality under capitalism would usually be limited to consumption and the demands of capital. Our freedom is bound up together and we will be free when we regard our fellow siblings as equals and free.
The possibility for freedom and total liberation opens up in a social revolution. A social revolution is not a simple change of leaders like the EDSA 1/People Power Revolution of 1986 and the EDSA 2 of 2001. It is not a coup by the vanguard party and the takeover of government. A social revolution is the blossoming of possibilities. It is a time when what was previously thought unthinkable enters the realm of possibility. It is a time for a break with the past and a new way of doing things. It is a social transformation in the political, social, economic, and interpersonal relations. A social revolution is liberating because the illusions of control by capital and the state have shattered and the people learn that they have their own power to enact change as full subjects in their own right. Social revolutions like those in the past in Russia, Spain, and Cuba are inherently liberatory where people spontaneously develop new forms of social relations that heighten their agency and political subjectivity. Revolutionary anarchists agitate for this social revolution because a break with the past is the best time for the promulgation of libertarian ideas and practices.19
These anarchist theories and praxis have applications for the archipelago. After all, anarchism is not a foreign western idea being supplemented into Philippine soil, it is an idea about liberation and the universalization of this liberation. Anarchism is universalizable because freedom is universalizable.20 The ideas that people can and should manage their own affairs, that workers should manage their workplaces, that indigenous peoples are the best managers of their land, and that a community in discussion with its citizens are its best administrators are all universalizable. Just as it is inevitable that the labor under the capitalist process necessarily creates more value than what is paid to the laborer in order to maintain profit margins, anarchism holds that where there is authority, there is tension against it; where there is hierarchy in decision-making, its alienation from the disempowered will be felt.
Because of this universalizability, the principles of anarchism—of opposition to tyranny, to capitalism, to hierarchy, and to the state—are reborn in each and every generation. The idea of anarchy was born to the ancient Taoists meditating upon the wu-wei and wu-jin, and to ancient Skeptics and Cynics of the Hellenic world. Anarchy was reborn to the anarchist theorists of the 19th century and to the anarchist revolutionaries of the 20th century in Shinmin, Ukraine, and Spain. The hope for anarchy lives again today in the libertarian revolutionaries of our own time in Rojava, Chiapas, and Kabylia. Where there is tyranny, there will be opposition to it; where there is injustice, a cry for liberation. Anarchism is not its theorists or revolutionists—Bakuninism, Proudhonianism, Kropotkinism, or Makhnovism. Anarchism is an-archos, without rulers. Should all anarchists today be killed by the vilest reaction, should such a reaction burn all the books of anarchist theory and erase the memory of libertarian praxis, anarchism will not die for the very essence of freedom, of opposition to authority, of a liberated society, cannot die. Indeed, anarchism was already wiped out once in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines in the early 20th century yet in these countries anarchism reemerges from its ashes, again ready to rally to the cause of liberty and freedom.
Thus, we anarchists finding ourselves in this archipelago known as the Philippines have not come to the conclusion that we need anarchism because of what an old writer had to say or what dead revolutionaries have done. We have been convinced of the necessity of an anarchist politics because we believe in the necessity of freedom in all things. We believe that this freedom then necessitates an opposition to capitalism, to hierarchy, to the state. We believe in building popular power where people would fulfill themselves as full subjects in their politics rather than it being mediated by those from above. We believe in the freedom to enjoy the work we want to do rather than being dominated by work. We believe in the freedom to develop our capacities to our fullest abilities for our own sake rather than that of profit. We believe in the freedom to manage our own lives and of the things we hold in common. We believe in freedom and total liberation.
Towards an Anarchism in the Archipelago
Where does anarchism then situate itself in the archipelago known as the Philippines?
Historically, it is plausible that there existed indigenous groups in the archipelago that organized non-hierarchically and therefore anarchically. After all, the Ifugao people carved the very mountains in a monumental effort all without use of governments or states. However it is mistaken to proclaim that anarchy was the mode of governance before colonization as this falls into a romantic notion of a ‘noble savage’ or a ‘pure’ indigeneity unsullied by the state. In reality, indigenous peoples—indeed all peoples—have widely diverse ways of organizing themselves. There have been hunter-gatherers that organize hierarchically and urban people that organize in an egalitarian manner.21
Where Anarchism can situate itself in the archipelago is in the history of struggle against authority. Anarchism in the archipelago is but a young member in the long line of indigenous opposition to colonial authority and domination. Roger White says it best that anarchism finds itself as part of a family of other anti-authoritarian struggles throughout history:
‘A different way of understanding anarchism in relation to the centuries-old struggle against arbitrary power is to view it as the newest member of a global family that includes numerous historical and present day communal societies and struggles against authority. The village communalism of the Ibo, and First Nations like the Zuni and the Hopi are a part of the family. The indigenous autonomist movements for self determination going on today in West Papua and Chiapas, Mexico with the EZLN are a part of the family. The international prison abolitionist movement, perhaps to most coordinated attack on the state’s monopoly of the administration of justice, has deep anti-authoritarian currents, just as the numerous stateless hunter and gatherer bands, clans, and nomadic tribes that have managed to survive centuries without armies, flags, or money systems do.’Roger White
Thus working within this post-colonial framework we find that the Indokumentado (the undocumented natives) and the rebels of the Dagohoy Rebellion who resisted the efforts of the Spanish colonial authority to constrain them to labour camps to be the natural forebears to an anarchism in the archipelago. Anarchism in the archipelago situates itself in the innumerable acts of resistance against the colonizers and their institutional descendants in the state. While anarchism is a relatively recent phenomenon, anarchistic elements very much already existed in the archipelago for as long as there has been resistance to tyranny and greed.
A bookmark in the situating an anarchist politics in the archipelago is Isabelo de los Reyes. Tutored by anarchists and revolutionary socialists while exiled in Catalonia, Isabelo de los Reyes brought Marxist and Anarchist theories to the Philippines in 1901 during the American colonial period. He used the principles of Marx and Malatesta to set up the Union Obrera Democratica (UOD), the first labor union federation in the Philippines. While not specifically anarchist, the UOD did incorporate mutual aid and direct action into their praxis and was a thorn on the side of the American colonial administration.22
A later example of anarchistic elements in Philippine history is the Diliman Commune which was a student uprising against the Marcos administration in 1971. While the uprising was ideologically influenced by National Democracy, it contained several anarchistic elements. Being a spontaneous uprising, it was not dominated and directed by a vanguard party. Revolutionary students and faculty used direct action in defense of their commune instead of relying on representatives and mediators. Power was not monopolized by a few select leaders and decisions were made in an egalitarian manner in councils and assemblies using consensus.
Anarchistic elements also emerge in more contemporary times. Land and housing struggles in the Philippines are sometimes fought with direct action. The urban housing group Kadamay in 2017 used direct action to occupy and directly expropriate empty homes in Bulacan by occupying them with families in need of a home. They were also able to defend this expropriation through direct action to the point of even President Duterte conceding the issue. Indeed, they were even decried as “anarchists,” much to the chagrin of their national democratic orientation.
We also see direct action in the countryside. Peasant groups use direct action to till idle land they do not own in a practice called bungkalan. Instead of relying on the notoriously slow and corrupt Department for Agrarian Reform to expropriate land from landlords and oligarchs, these farmers do it themselves and hurt no-one except property rights in the process. Peasant group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas has called bungkalan a “collective effort of farmers to assert genuine land reform.” Bungkalan then becomes a form of resistance against feudal landholders who hoard land for themselves.
Direct action is also practiced by environmental activists. In Palawan, environmental activists take it upon themselves to confiscate chainsaws and guns from illegal loggers and poachers. These activists understand that if the state cannot protect their environments, they will have to do it themselves, sometimes at the cost of their lives.
Direct action also dovetails with mutual aid. After the reemergence of anarchism in the archipelago, Food Not Bombs organizations were set up as systems of mutual aid/bayanihan. Food Not Bombs are networks of mutual aid that freely distribute food among indigent people. These networks are organized along anarchist lines using voluntary association and egalitarian organizing. Rather than waiting for an authority to organize food distribution or lobbying for such a thing in congress, Food Not Bombs does it themselves. They are able to distribute food to people all the while rejecting the use of hierarchical organization.
Beyond anarchistic elements in existing movements, it can be argued that anarchy already exists all around us, as Bas Umali suggests in his essay Anarki: Akin ang Buhay Ko – Sariling Determinasyon at Pagpapasya Tungo sa Panlipunang Rebolusyon. For Umali, anarchy is mutual cooperation without need of coercion or payment. Anarchy is whenever we relate to each other as equals and peers and whenever we discuss among ourselves the issues we have instead of relying on an authority figure. We already naturally organize ourselves in egalitarian and non-hierarchical lines when we organize among friends. Human cooperation is already natural. What anarchists want is for all social relations to be organized under egalitarian lines with free association and free from hierarchy and coercion.
These examples of anarchistic elements—mutual aid/bayanihan, direct action and egalitarian organizing—are then not foreign ideas. They already exist today in our lives and in our contexts. These elements—which are already anarchistic—can be reused for an anarchist praxis. What anarchists in the archipelago want is to universalize these anarchistic elements and universalize freedom and liberation.
Currently, anarchists in the archipelago have been able to create spaces for autonomy and mutual aid such as infoshops and Food Not Bombs networks. Infoshops are spaces for the dissemination and propagation of anarchist materials and are sites for autonomous organizing. These Infoshops and Food Not Bombs are embedded in urban communities and conduct community outreach and mutual aid activities. These are spaces where anarchist principles can be practiced and taught. When there is a need for local action such as in resisting evictions, these local anarchist groups mobilize for these tasks.
However, while creating spaces for autonomy away from state, capital, and hierarchies are good, it is still insufficient for liberation for revolutionary anarchists. We revolutionary anarchists are not content with spaces for autonomy, we desire total liberation for all. More than an autonomous anarchism, we must forward a revolutionary anarchism in the archipelago. Much more than creating autonomous spaces, this revolutionary anarchism aims to challenge capital and the state. By revolutionary we mean a movement to abolish the current state of things, to challenge hierarchy and domination and not merely carve spaces for autonomy.
For anarchism to become revolutionary, it must become a social movement. Anarchism as a social movement entails organizing at the point-of-production and organizing communities. We have already established that anarchistic elements already exist in social movements in the archipelago. What anarchists would like are these social movements to consciously organize in a non-hierarchical and egalitarian manner and use the tools promoted by anarchism like direct action, solidarity, and mutual aid. By forwarding such a liberatory politics, these social movements have the potential to become spaces for creative deliberation that expands the agency of the people involved to become full subjects in their politics. Such an anarchist social movement ought to show people that they have the collective power to emancipate themselves. Such an anarchist social movement would do so not as an authority figure, but as a partner and collaborator in liberation. As the anarchist theorist Errico Malatesta noted:
‘And when we will have succeeded in arousing the sentiment of rebellion in the minds of men against the avoidable and unjust evils from which we suffer in society today, and in getting them to understand how they are caused and how it depends on human will to rid ourselves of them; and when we will have created a lively and strong desire in men to transform society for the good of all, then those who are convinced, will by their own efforts as well as by the example of those already convinced, unite and want to as well as be able to act for their common ideals.
As we have already pointed out, it would be ridiculous and contrary to our objectives to seek to impose freedom, love among men and the radical development of human faculties, by means of force. One must therefore rely on the free will of others, and all we can do is to provoke the development and the expression of the will of the people. But it would be equally absurd and contrary to our aims to admit that those who do not share our views should prevent us from expressing our will, so long as it does not deny them the same freedom.
Freedom for all, therefore, to propagate and to experiment with their ideas, with no other limitation than that which arises naturally from the equal liberty of everybody.’Errico Malatesta
Thus anarchists are not the kind of revolutionaries who “grant” liberation to others, as we think liberation is a thing that can only be done by those oppressed. As the classic socialist adage goes: the liberation of the worker is the task of the worker alone. Liberation is not granted, it is built, taken and defended. This liberation, as Malatesta also noted, is tied up together and requires the liberty of everybody to be fully enjoyed. As anarchists, we must be in the business of “arousing the sentiment of rebellion” of people and allow them to know they have this power to liberate themselves when organized.
By organizing a consciously liberatory politics of anarchism, the people involved would begin to foster the kinds of social relations that prefigures the liberated society we want to create. Engendering the development of social relations based on solidarity and mutuality is then becoming the liberated future we aim for. Such a revolutionary anarchism would value the unity of means and ends, using liberatory means to reach a liberated future. It would reject statecraft and focus on deliberative politics where people would be full subjects of their own politics.
This anarchist social movement would be the scaling up of anarchist praxis. Groups would federate into larger organizations while keeping political subjectivity and the power over decision-making to the lowest level of the individual. Scaling up does not necessarily mean separating the individuals from decision-making if the scaling up is consciously egalitarian and non-hierarchical. We have mentioned before that mandated delegates can be used and whose positions can be organized in such a way that agency is retained with the individual. Such techniques and similar creative measures can be used to consciously prevent alienation in politics.
Being a revolutionary social movement, anarchists aim for these social movements to eventually challenge capital and the state. By this we mean both an erosion of the power of capital and the state, and the building of a counterpower independent of capital and the state. This erosion can be done through direct action like strikes, occupations, and the forcing of concessions, slowly eroding the power of the state and capital while expanding spaces for autonomy and freedom. Challenging capital can be not just going on strike but returning to work in expropriated workplaces by using direct action to occupy workplaces under new management—those of the workers themselves. Building a counterpower would mean creating alternative institutions from the state like creating systems that fulfill needs instead of profits. One way this can be done is through organizing free assemblies among communities where people can discuss what needs and challenges need addressing and collectively collaborate on how to fulfill these needs. These free assemblies could decide to implement solidarity economies that exchanges goods between urban and rural communities without the use of market or state mechanisms. Gradually people would disengage from the institutions of the state and capital.
In a social revolutionary situation these alternative institutions and counterpower would compete with the state and capital for legitimacy, a situation called dual power. In a dual power situation, the two sources of power inevitably clash, forcing one or the other to dissolve. In such a situation, anarchists hope for the victory of the counterpower consisting of social movements and alternative institutions over the forces of capital and the state.
As revolutionary anarchists we aim to build a foundation for a social revolution—a mighty confrontation between the people and their social movements versus the state, capital, and the forces of domination. In a social revolution, what was previously thought to be impossible or unthinkable enters into the realm of possibility. In a social revolution, the people find they no longer have to listen to the demands and orders of the oligarchs, of the bosses, or of the cadres. They find a new sense of revolutionary agency to enact history as full subjects in their own rights, no longer as mere objects where history is done to them. A social revolution makes possible the creation of new social relationships that reject capitalism and hierarchy. It is in this social revolution that the potentiality for a liberatory politics can blossom into liberation.
We cannot say when such a social revolution arrives, but we must be resolute in building political consciousness among the working class and dispossessed. Their consciousness must be awakened to realize that they have the power to directly change their own lives if they organize themselves in popular power.
For now it is vital that for anarchism to become revolutionary, it must become a social movement in the archipelago. This transition from autonomous anarchist spaces towards a revolutionary anarchist social movement is possible and has been done before in other countries. For example, anarchists in Java, Indonesia started out in a similar position to anarchists in the Philippines. Just as it was in the Philippines, Anarchism was totally wiped out in Indonesia in the early 20th century. Yet the desire for freedom cannot die and anarchism reemerged in Indonesia the 1980s. In its reemergence, anarchists in Indonesia also started with building spaces for autonomy and mutual aid but in time organized a revolutionary workers movement in the Persaudaraan Pekerja Anarko Syndicalis (PPAS). Now Java has a vibrant anarchist scene with links with other international anarchist activities. We think revolutionary anarchism in the Philippines could take a similar road to becoming a social movement.
The Tasks of Revolutionary Anarchists in the Archipelago
In forwarding a liberatory politics in the archipelago then, the task of the revolutionary anarchist militants would be to propagate anarchist ideas with the goal of building anarchism as a social movement. This liberatory politics becomes urgent in the face of the inutility of reformism and the hierarchical domineering politics of the National Democrats.
Being revolutionary anarchists, we aim to build a social movement that can challenge capital and the state, not be merely content with autonomous spaces. Challenging capital and the state would take the form of scaling up our efforts. Rather than atomized and isolated struggles in the workplace and communities, social movements can federate and scale up.
What follows is not yet a program, but rather some suggestions for what the tasks of the revolutionary anarchists in the archipelago could be. This is not exhaustive nor definitive, but rather a start of a discussion on what the liberatory politics of anarchism could look like. Thus, what revolutionary anarchists in the archipelago could do is to:
- Continue to propagate anarchism and anarchist ideals as liberatory alternatives; promote a discursive politics that rejects hierarchy and the alienation that comes with it;
- Continue to develop systems of mutual aid/bayanihan that act as both harm reduction measures against the tyranny of capital and the state and as spaces to build autonomy from domination and hierarchies;
- Struggle for a blooming environment with the understanding that we are interdependent with our ecologies, and the recognition of the political nature of environmental problems;
- Build an inclusive movement incorporating intersectional perspectives on gender and struggle against oppression like the hetero-patriarchical order;
- Organize our workplaces and communities; build subjectivity into our everyday politics; build the agency and capacities of people for direct action, mutual aid, and solidarity; create social relations conducive for a liberated society; build the new liberated society in the shell of the old;
- Federate our efforts and scale up until we reach a point where our mass movements can challenge capital and the state; and
- Create systems of popular power with governance structures based on solidarity rather than hierarchy and forward a deliberative politics that rejects statecraft.
We ask you to join us as our liberation is tied up together. You can start in your own workplace and communities. You can start with kindness and resist with rage. You can scale up your efforts by coordinating with other efforts and then federating. You can reach out to others who also struggle for total liberation and work together for a better world.
A better world is possible and is already being built. Against hierarchy and domination there is solidarity and cooperation. Join us in our struggle for a liberated politics, for a world beyond work, beyond the state, beyond capital, beyond hierarchy and domination itself! For a liberatory politics in the archipelago! For freedom and total liberation!
Mabuhay ang anarkiya!
Mabuhay ang kalayaan!
Mabuhay ang rebolusyong sosyal!
- The National Democratic movement (often abbreviated as NatDem) dominates the Philippine Left. The largest National Democratic organization, the National Democratic Front (NDF) is officially led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). As a movement, National Democracy also has an electoral wing in the Makabayan Bloc which is not officially connected to the NDF and the CPP but clearly share ideological foundations as National Democratic Mass Organizations (NDMOs).
- CPP-NPA stands for “Communist Party of the Philippines” and its armed component “New People’s Army.” An alternative acronym also used is CPP-NPA-NDF when referring to the movement as a bloc.
- National burgis is the same as National bourgeoisie for our international readers. Burgis is a Filipino and Philippine English form for bourgeoisie. This article will prefer to use the Philippine English form of burgis.
- This distinction between statecraft and politics is borrowed from Murray Bookchin. See for example “The Ecological Crisis and the Need to Remake Society” in Murray Bookchin, The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy, (Verso, 2015) pg 39-40. It is also available on the Anarchist Library. See also Murray Bookchin, The Greening of Politics: Toward a New Kind of Political Practice, (The Anarchist Library, 2018).
- his usage of subject and object in terms of agency is entirely different from subjectivity and objectivity when talking about opinions and facts. This usage of subject is also different from subjected to a thing, like subjects of a crown, or subject of ridicule.
- Lucy Parsons denied this aspect of her life, instead stating that she was of Indigenous/Mexican ancestry. However, the debate between her being born to a slave or not is not a settled fact, and historical record appears to point to the former.
- Article X, Section 3 of the Philippine 1987 Constitution enshrines the power of recall, but only against local officials. In practice, recall is a difficult and long drawn-out process that is rarely invoked despite recurring outrage against local officials. An anarchist system of recall of delegates given executive mandates has—in theory and practice—prevented the concentration of power into particular offices. The libertarian organization of governance in Zapatista Chiapas and in Rojava similarly offers an alternative system that counteracts the concentration of power that we think can work in the archipelago.
- A samahan is a people’s association for our international readers.
- We will be, of course, presenting an anarchist critique of National Democracy. For a Marxist-Leninist critique of National Democracy we would point the reader the critique of Filemon Lagman, also known as Ka Popoy. Selections of his critique are available on the Marxist Internet Archive. A critique of the so-called Rejectionist factions among the Philippine Left will be dealt with another time.
- There is evidence that the CPP-NPA-NDF has a hit-list for socialist groups and personalities outside their sphere of influence. Cadres and activists from both revolutionary and social democratic groups have already been murdered with the CPP-NPA-NDF being suspect. See The CPP-NPA-NDF “Hit List”—a preliminary report, (International Viewpoint, 2005).
- “The Second Congress was composed of 120 delegates, both attending and non-attending. Of those who attended, around 30% were above 60 years old, while around 60% were in the 45-59 years age bracket, while 15% were 44 years and younger. The oldest delegate was 70 years old. The youngest delegate was 33 years old.” From Communist Party of the Philippines, Communiqué: Second Congress Communist Party of the Philippines (NDFP.org, 2017). It is archived on the Internet Archive.
- For an account of the purges committed by the CPP-NPA, read former NPA militant and purge survivor Robert Francis Garcia, To Suffer Thy Comrades: How the Revolution Decimated its Own (2001, Anvil). For a political history of the purges, read Alex de Jong, Hunting Specters: A Political History of the Purges in the Communist Party of the Philippines (academia.edu).
- This class collaboration is made more apparent if we review Philippine Society and Revolution (a seminal text of National Democracy), and the Draft Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (CASER) (drafted in January 2017). Space precludes us from quoting in full, but it suffices for our needs to say that there are references in these texts that suggests that the party can collaborate with sections of the national bourgeoisie under a national democratic framework. This is hardly socialism. Indeed, Ka Popoy makes similar observations in PPDR: Class Line vs. Mass Line.
- We genuinely hope that the current peace accord in the Bangsamoro holds up, but as we saw in the Marawi Siege of 2017, having a peace accord is not a guarantee for peace.
- For reading on uniting on the basis of affinity rather than identity, we would point the reader to maryamdeluz a.k.a Loma Cuevas-Hewitt, Sketches of an Archipelagic Poetics of Postcolonial Belonging, (Quezon City, Budhi: A Journal of Ideas and Culture, 2007). See also Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism In The Late Twentieth Century, (Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press, 2016) pg 15–20.
- For reading on uniting on the basis of affinity rather than identity, we would point the reader to maryamdeluz a.k.a Loma Cuevas-Hewitt, Sketches of an Archipelagic Poetics of Postcolonial Belonging, (Quezon City, Budhi: A Journal of Ideas and Culture, 2007). See also Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism In The Late Twentieth Century, (Minnesota, University of Minnesota Press, 2016) pg 15–20.
- To read more on direct action, we would point the reader to “J.2 What is direct action?” in Ian McKay, An Anarchist FAQ, (Anarchist Writers, 2019). It is available online.
- For an overview of prefigurative politics, see Red Plateaus, What is Prefigurative Politics? (YouTube, 2020).
- To read more on social revolution, we would point the reader to “J.7 What do anarchists mean by ‘social revolution’?” in Ian McKay, An Anarchist FAQ, (Anarchist Writers, 2019). It is available online.
- By extension, socialism is also universalizable.
- See examples in David Graeber, Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (Prickly Paradigm, 2004).
- William Henry Scott, The Union Obrera Democratica: First Filipino Labor Union, (Quezon City, New Day, 1992), pg 13-18.