Book Review: Jose Maria Sison’s “Philippine Society and Revolution”

I, like most Maoists, have been following with interest the developments in the revolutionary movement in the Philippines for the last few years. However, despite my interest in the Filipino movement and the fact that I had read numerous statements from different organisations affiliated to the National Democratic movement, their ideological leader and Chairman of the International League of People’s Struggles, Jose Maria Sison, and the documents of the Second Great Rectification movement that was launched in 1992 inside the CPP (I have briefly discussed the debates surround the Second Rectification movement here), I had not read Jose Maria Sison/Amado Guerrero’s Marxist-Leninist classic, Philippine Society and Revolution. There were several reasons for this blind-spot in my knowledge of the Filipino movement: 1) finding copies of Philippine Society and Revolution proved to be more difficult than I had imagined insofar that few affordable second-hand copies were available, there had not been a re-printing of the book since 1996 (and thus I had to wait for the 2006 edition), and the only website from which one could purchase a new copy was based in the Philippines; 2) after I had finally procured a copy of the book (which I was really excited about) did not find the time to read it and; 3) I found it to be quite dull (I feel very differently about the book this time, however till now this has been my experience with it). However, I recently did sit down to read the book and felt very differently about the book. Indeed, I really enjoyed reading the book.

I would like to briefly explain the impetus for reading the book. I took the time to read it because I intended to attend a seminar on it that was being held in the Netherlands. This time I found it to be much more interesting, partially I am sure because of the context of the seminar, however, it was simply not such a narrow reason. I think its because I started to read the book with a very different relationship to the book. Previously I simply wanted to read the book because it was a Marxist-Leninist classic and written by a key Maoist intellectual. However, this time I also asked the following questions: Why read a Marxist-Leninist book about the Philippines? And that too a book that was written in 1969? I developed several reasons for this:

1) Philippine Society and Revolution is a very good example of an attempt to actually apply Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong Thought, or in its more contemporaneous and renovated form, Marxism-Leninism-Maoism to actually analyze the social structure of a given country i.e. the Philippines. Please, permit an aside and to briefly explain a few of the terms I just used above: a social structure is composed of both, the superstructure – which is itself is constituted by competing different ideological formations, the juridical and political structure of the society etc. – whilst the base is composed of the relations of production and social relations, and recognizes that in a given structure that there could exist a single of multiple mode of productions. In the case of the Philippines, Sison demonstrates that there simultaneously exist two modes of production, one in the urban centers which is characterised by largely capitalist relations of production and social relations, although there feudal remnants persist, and in the rural countryside a feudal structure, which of course has some nascent capitalist forms of productions and social relationships. He characterizes this social structure as semi-feudal semi-colonial. One can see other examples of such works that have been produced such as the works of Chairman Mao Zedong and other leading members of the Communist Party of China in the case of China; the documents of the erstwhile unified Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), and its successor the Communist Party of India (Maoist); and the work of Dr. Baburam Bhattari of Nepal entitled, “Politico-Economic Rationale for People’s War in Nepal” (which has not been translated although a shortened version of it is available). Unfortunately similarly intensive and developed work does not exist for Canada or France, although preliminary analyses do exist, thus Philippine Society and Revolution does serve as an example of how such an analysis may be done and definitely provokes comrade to produce similar work for their own countries.

2) Many of us who are abroad and have been keenly watching the development of the revolutionary movement in the Philippines for many years, and may have read many of the statements, presentations and interviews that Professor Sison, the NDFP and the CPP have released. However, fewer of us may have taken the opportunity to read carefully a key text in the Filipino people’s struggle for national democracy and people’s democracy. But, it is only with reading Philippine Society and Revolution is the revolutionary movement laid bare for all to see, and can only come to actually comprehend the reasons be behind the specific goals and tasks of the revolutionary movement. Indeed, it becomes clear that the tasks and strategy of the Philippines revolution, led by the CPP, do not simply appear out of nowhere, but rather emerge out of the very material conditions of Filipino society and political economy. Thus, the book serves as a powerful ideological weapon against petit-bourgeois impatience and adventurism, revisionism and bourgeois idealism.

I definitely have some criticisms of the book and agree with some that the book needs to be re-written to reflect the conditions of the Philippines today, especially in light of the collapse of the USSR, the development of capitalism in the PRC, and the rise of the USA as a sole super-power. I recognise that Sison has provided revisions and addendum’s to Philippine Society and Revolution in a variety of articles and a course of 10 lectures entitled, Philippine Crisis and Revolution (which have been published in Philippine Economy and Politics), but continue to think that since Philippine Society and Revolution is meant to be a central document of the Philippine Revolution it should reflect the new realities in which Philippines society finds itself. However, I think that there are six major sections of the book that need to be further developed including: 1) a more careful analysis of the role of the Filipino bureaucracy which according to Sison is simply a representative of the comprador bourgeoisie and the landlord classes, and does not have its own class interests; 2) the autonomy of the comprador bourgeoisie which according to Sison largely does not exist as the Philippine comprador bourgeoisie are simply puppets of the American government; 3) a more thorough and clear articulation as to why Philippine society continues to be semi-feudal inasmuch that Sison himself admits thats a greater percentage of the agricultural workforce are actually agrarian workers rather, than feudal serfs (a similar critique has been made to the Indians); 4) the book itself does not provide a very good account of the line struggles within the CPP that lead to its rectification in 1962 and thus at different points the narrative is rather confusing and contradictory; 5) the section on women is incredibly weak  and does not reflect the real difficulties in developing a feminist proletarian society and; 6) it seems like Sison uses the word “fascist” to describe brutal police actions against the population, and does not have a rigorous understanding of fascism itself.

Overall I strongly recommend people read this book, however, I would suggest reading it in the context of a study group whilst thinking about how you could use it to understand your own conjuncture inasmuch that it serve as a useful model of how to do such analysis.

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5 thoughts on “Book Review: Jose Maria Sison’s “Philippine Society and Revolution”

  1. It would seem to me, Comrade, that after the systematic failure of M-L-M thought in Nepal and its failure to gain any ground in India, and, of course, the collapse of the M-L-M built society in China, you might be a little more dubious of this kind of analysis.

    1. Hi Comrade Dave,
      First of all welcome to the blog and thanks for responding to what I have posted. Secondly, I think that your simple sentence has a lot of assumptions and presuppositions at play, and since I don’t know you, I would like to get somethings clarified. I would be interested to understand why you think the failure of the revolution in Nepal, something that I have been closely studying, has occurred and what opposing ideological architecture you feel would advance its further development? Also, I must disagree that the Maoist movement has failed “to gain any ground in India” because of my own experience with Indian politics, and my study of the Maoist movement in India, however, again I would like for you to articulate the reasons for your reasoning regarding this and why you think that the collapse of the the socialist programme in China occurred. As you can hopefully tell from the review that I have posted I have my own doubts about the analysis provided, hence the criticisms I briefly mention at the end of the analysis, but I do admittedly not find the analysis completely objectionable. Is there an analysis of Filipino society that you find more credible? If so, why?

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