Student Power?

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by Jose Maria Sison
(First published in Eastern Horizon, a progressive Hongkong magazine.)

BEFORE WE GO far into a discussion of the ideology and goals of the rising student rebel movement in the Philippines, let us first examine the term student power which is nowadays commonly used in the bourgeois mass media and also among the varied circles of the New Left so-called.

It appears that the common notion of student power is that students all by themselves can develop their own power independent of other social forces outside of school walls and also that all by themselves they can hit the streets to make and unmake governments. There is the idea being suggested that the students can be an independent power that can effect even revolutionary changes. Those who have contempt for the masses or who deliberately wish to separate the students from the masses and national mass organizations insist that students should no longer be the object of interest of “outsiders”.

If the meaning of the term student power be limited to mere autonomism, then we need to raise serious disagreement in the light of an analysis of the social status of students. Students who truly stand for revolutionary change should always strive for integration with larger and even more dynamic social force, that is to say, the exploited masses of the people.

The students, or more precisely the college and high school students, cannot be relied upon to carry the sole or the main burden in a revolutionary transformation of our present semi- colonial and semi-feudal society. They are a very small portion of Philippine society, though they are an important and numerous part of the influential petty bourgeoisie.

The social basis of college and high school students is the petty bourgeoisie, though a little minority of them come from exploiting classes. By virtue of their social position and of the fact that the existing educational system is semi-colonial and semi-feudal, students are at the first instance captives of imperialist and feudalistic ideas and values. The petty bourgeois is principally concerned with his selfish ambition of pursuing a career within the established system and he is so indoctrinated and trained by the educational system as to re-enforce intellectually and technically the present social system.

But in time of developing social crisis, the students largely supported by their petty bourgeois parents can easily become agitated when the meager and fixed incomes of their parents can hardly suffice to keep them enrolled in school, with the proper board and lodging or with enough allowances. They are also agitated as they watch an ever increasing number of graduates fail to get jobs or have ample opportunity in the system. At this time, they are beginning by force of social circumstances to use freely their perception and intellect to analyze their own situation and social reality at large. This is the time when they feel sharply the restrictive and exploitative character of the social system. This is the time when they recognize the educational system to be a mere mirror-reflector and rationalizer of economic and political inequities that is failing to yield them enough concessions as before. This is the time when they begin to speak of the alienation of the educational system from the actual needs and aspirations of their own and of the masses of the people.

In time of social crisis, the exploiting classes lose the allegiance of students. The students increasingly associate themselves with the exploited classes. They make common cause with those whose condition they are in danger of falling into. What is considered the “independent-mindedness” of the urban petty bourgeoisie (the much-vaunted intelligent middle class) shifts from an allegiance to the exploiting classes to an allegiance to the exploited masses. At the same time, the exploited masses of the people welcome them in a common cause and in a common struggle.

The Current Student Rebel Movement

It is no surprise that at the present time, when the whole society is in crisis, when the government is becoming more and more bankrupt and the masses of the people are groaning under the weight of exploitation, a wave of student strikes rises in the Philippines. There are protests involving questions ranging from the suppression of the student’s right to speak out on national issues and join mass actions to the excessive hike of tuition and miscellaneous fees. The students are also uniting with their teachers against the exploitative practices of school administrations. Together they raise political and economic demands.

By virtue of its comprehensive grasp of the growing crisis in the national and international situation, Kabataang Makabayan has been able to anticipate and plan the development of the national student protest movement in the Philippines. As early as the first semester of the academic year 1967-68, its local chapters with the special attention of its national officers had already launched a number of strikes in some schools in the provinces and a general strike almost occurred in the University of the Philippines on the issue of further Americanization. On November 30, 1967, at its Second National Congress, the KM included in its Programme of Action the following:

Among the students, the activists of Kabataang Makabayan should fight for concrete measures that will benefit them. At the same time, they are responsible for giving a national-democratic direction to the efforts of students to improve their study and living conditions.

The Kabataang Makabayan should develop a national student protest movement against the rising cost of education and living. It should stand against the willingness of the government to allow the public school system to be stifled and to deteriorate in favour of private schools which are, as a matter of course, motivated by commercialism.

The current student rebel movement has been most vigorous in schools where there are strong KM chapters. These student chapters have lent all the support they can to the local student reform movements to such an extent that the reactionary academic authorities and President Marcos have been compelled to attack student strikers as “outsiders” and “subversives” to confuse the issues. Mountains of leaflets for every school have been distributed falsely in the name of Kabataang Makabayan in order to malign it and in order to confuse the students.

The scope and intensity of the students strikes is unprecedented in the entire history of the Philippines. It might appear that they are a phenomenon entirely different from the long series of student and youth demonstrations that started as early as March 14, 1961, when a student front spearheaded by the Student Cultural Association of the U.P. demonstrated with the force of 4,000 students against the witch-hunt undertaken by the Committee on Un-Filipino Activities (CUFA).

All these student mass actions are interrelated and continuous. The inter-connection and continuity do not lie only in the popularization of direct democratic action but also in the substantial demands raised. Student strikes and demonstrations have developed because of the evil features of a system that is semi-colonial and semi-feudal, because of conditions that adversely affect the students themselves. The anti-CUFA demonstration of 1961 was ostensibly in defence of academic freedom and autonomy of the state university but in reality it was already a defence of the right of teachers and students to speak for the cause of national democracy. From then on, student activism arose with the banner of national democracy and continued to develop without let-up inside and outside the state university.

There were smaller demonstrations against the U.S. invasion of Cuba, against Malaysia and against imperialist nuclear black-mail until October 2, 1964, when the students conjoined with workers in demonstrating massively against parity rights and the American military bases in front of the U.S. embassy and Malaca¤ang. On November 30, 1964, Kabataang Makabayan was formed to consolidate the students and young workers that had participated in the militant demonstration of October 2, 1964, and that had come under the threat of fixed bayonets.

On January 25, 1965, Kabataang Makabayan, together with other mass organizations, was already in a position to launch a 20,000- strong demonstration of students, workers and peasants on a wide range of issues involving our country’s basic problems of U.S. imperialism and feudalism.

Then came the series of demonstrations against the Vietnam Bill which would require a suffering country like the Philippines to help U.S. imperialism aggress further against the Vietnamese people. These reached a climacteric point on October 23 and 24, 1966, when the Manila Summit was held as an attempt of Lyndon B. Johnson to round up its Asian puppets for more aggressive action against the Vietnamese people. The just anger of youth became expressed in this demonstration even as the most brutal police action was employed against them in a pocket-size and mild version of Vietnam at the Manila Hotel.

On the question of Malaysia last year, the most wide-spread youth demonstration all over the country was credited to chapters of Kabataang Makabayan. Especially the most militant action at the British embassy and U.S. embassy was adduced to Kabataang Makabayan by quarters merely interested in expanding the Philippine territory to Sabah while keeping silent on the U.S. military bases under our very noses. Kabataang Makabayan has always made it clear that it is simply against Malaysia as a handiwork of Anglo-American imperialism.

There have been other demonstrations like those against the oil monopolies on the matter of implementing the retail trade nationalization law, against the U.S. military bases for the killing of Filipino youth and so on and so forth. There has also been KM participation in strikes conducted in local factories and other places.

In all significant protest actions held previous to the current student rebel movement, we can never fail to show their relation to the growing socio-economic crisis of the Philippines due basically to its out-moded and semi-colonial and semi-feudal status.

Struggle for National Democracy

We have always advocated the achievement of real national democracy as the goal of our struggle. The present struggles of the students have as its principal goal the achievement of national democracy. A comprehensive presentation of this general goal is the Programme of Action of Kabataang Makabayan. All other goals flow from this single goal. Students should band together and fight vigorously to end foreign and feudal exploitation that constricts their opportunities and those of the whole nation.

As the national democratic struggle is a broad struggle, embracing the workers, peasants and other sectors of the population, the students should always relate their own struggle to that of the entire people, mainly the struggle of the exploited masses of workers and peasants.

Being a minority social group which is even detached from the actual process of production, the students are in no position to make possible revolutionary and lasting changes without their integration with the struggle of the masses of workers and peasants.

All serious efforts should, therefore, be undertaken in order to transform the present student rebel movement into a cultural revolution of a national democratic orientation. We have dared say before that it is veritably already an incipient cultural revolution. Its beginnings are already forceful enough to make the first Propaganda Movement look like a dinner party.

The Second Propaganda Movement that we have been advocating is essentially a cultural revolution of a national democratic orientation. It is the phase of creating the public opinion necessary for a comprehensive national democratic revolution. The struggle for national democracy cannot be successfully won without this Cultural Revolution.

In this Cultural Revolution, the students play an important role. The ranks of students now are more sizable than ever before in the whole history of the Philippines and they have the special characteristic of mobility. As the students emanate from various parts of the country and of a province, once they grasp the ideas of the struggle for national democracy, they can fan out widely to broadcast these ideas of revolutionary change even if only during their vacation periods or after their graduation or when they choose to work full time for the revolutionary mass movement and merge with the masses in a no-nonsense manner. Many students are dropping out of school for economic reasons; it would be a good thing for these economic drop-outs to engage in a political struggle that seeks to improve their lot and that of the people.

It is the further goal of the Cultural Revolution to have the ideas of national democratic revolution transformed into a material force. In making the cultural revolution, we launch mass protest actions like strikes and demonstrations, we hold conferences, seminars, lectures, teach-ins, and other fora, and we publish rebel newspapers, pamphlets and leaflets and we speak out without end for national democracy in classrooms, in the streets, over the radio and everywhere else. But our further goal is always to impel mass mobilization. Our campaign for mass revolutionary education immediately creates the most tangible reality by mobilizing right away the masses of the people.

The students and youth play a vanguard role in the Cultural Revolution, as the Red Guards in their own high stage of Cultural Revolution, as the 10,000 French students that aroused more than 10 million French workers, as the Vietnamese youth through armed propaganda units and cultural organizations. But the ultimate goal for the students and youth that are truly committed to the national democratic revolution is always to merge with the masses of the people as they constantly remold their own thinking and discard their petty bourgeois or individualistic prejudices and predilections.

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