Theorists of the subaltern:
Gramsci and Sison in the counter-hegemonic juggernaut
through the People’s Protracted War
ANTONIO GRAMSCI continues to reap much interest from both the academe and the revolutionary movements in the last fifty years or so. The academics pore over his writings in search of theoretical illumination on culture, language, ideology, and symbols in relation to the exercise of power and class rule in societies and history. The Marxists, on the other hand, are concerned about his thoughts on revolutionary strategy in relation to the question of building the workers’ socialist state, even as the same revolutionaries are rummaging through Gramsci’s manuscripts for some sort of guidance on the individual ethics in the conduct of the revolution. The Italian Communist Party leader Gramsci, whose more than a decade of incarceration at the fascist stockades of Mussolini produced the celebrated “Prison Notebooks”, has become likewise the obsession of delirious thoughts of both the revolutionaries wishing to crush the world capitalist order and put a decisive end to the “exploitation of man by man” in general, and even the apologists of the predatory, parasitic, and moribund capitalist system. With the central theme of cultural hegemony, Gramsci’s widely un-translated, chaotic, coded, and voluminous notebooks are enshrined with seminal thoughts seeking to understand why the workers and people have failed to behave the way Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels predicted them to have done so—that is to rise in class revolutions from the inhuman subjugation by which capitalism and semi-colonialism have enslaved them for centuries. Affirming his Marxist revolutionary zeal and the necessity of social revolutions to emancipate the workers and people from the yoke of semi-colonialism, and the brunt of capitalist exploitation, Gramsci cautions nonetheless that the political project of a revolution is far from being a walk in the park given the complex psyche of the workers and people in the realm of consent and dissent which is produced by what he calls cultural hegemony. As he puts it paradoxically, “the old order is dying, but the young cannot be born.” And why it is so? Referring to the moribund capitalism and the yet unborn socialism, Gramsci asserts that the secret on the general apathy of workers and people apparently lies in the recesses of the human consciousness, through culture, ideology, language, and symbols in relation to the power of those who rule and the ambiguous understanding of the subalterns-ruled.
The article seeks to highlight Gramsci’s idea of cultural hegemony and point out in the same manner that the “People’s Protracted War” adopted by JOSE MARIA SISON within the specific characteristics of the Philippine conditions and revolution, precisely addresses the requirements set forth by Gramsci in his postulates on culture and its importance in the revolutionary struggle for national and social emancipation and socialism. The fact that Gramsci underscored culture and the theory of cultural hegemony per se as fluid, vibrant, and at oftentimes consent and dissent are contradictory, yet complementary in nature, the same may escape the grasp of mechanical Marxists as they subsume culture to be a mere product, and as the subjective reflection of the objective instruments and relations of production referred to as the infrastructure in Marxist discourses.
Whilst Sison neither referred nor addressed Gramsci directly in his theoretical and practical works on the Philippine Revolution as the founding chair of the re-established Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP 1968), the “People’s Protracted War” as a revolutionary strategy which is attributed much to Sison’s authorship, surprisingly identifies with the requirements posited by Gramsci on how to counter the cultural hegemony. In effect, Sison, through the conduct of the “People’s Protracted War” may have simply delivered the counter-cultural juggernaut which is attuned to Gramsci and can be considered as a concrete contribution of the Filipino revolutionary experience to the rich treasury of the Marxist-Leninist and Maoist theory and praxis. Sison’s strategy locates both the complexities of dealing with culture in revolutionary praxis by which Gramsci assiduously grappled with and at the same time, Sison proves that a revolution is far from being a spontaneous uprising of the workers and people in certain conjunctural moments. Rather, the revolution as a Marxist political enterprise has to be built painstakingly over years of tempered struggles within the hearts and minds of the workers and the people as the decisive battlefronts between the forces of reaction and those of the revolution.
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please;
they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances
existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead
generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.
And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves
and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs
of revolutionary crisis, they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service,
borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this
new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.
― Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte
The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born;
in this interregnum, a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.
― Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks
CULTURE IN THE CLASSICAL MARXIST TRADITION IS CONSIDERED THE BYPRODUCT OF SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS LIKE THE FAMILY, EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM, CHURCH, MASS MEDIA, LAWS, COURTS OF LAWS, LABOR UNIONS, CIVIC ORGANIZATIONS, AND OTHERS BY WHICH GRAMSCI GROUPED TOGETHER AS THE CIVIL SOCIETY. Yet prior to Gramsci, it was Karl Marx, a towering intellectual figure in the last century, in collaboration with Friedrich Engels who provided much of the theoretical and philosophical frameworks for socialist revolutions and national democratic movements in the last and present centuries beginning with the German Commune towards the establishment of the defunct socialist USSR, China, Cuba, and almost all the entire Eastern European socialist block after World War II. Such ideas of Marx are so powerful that they have both inspired various national democratic movements and revolutions in nations of Latin America, Africa and Asia, including that of the Philippines.
Marx’s works center on his dialectical and historical materialist philosophy which outlines the superiority of matter over consciousness and the law of the union and struggle of opposites which caused the movement and development of things; the theory of surplus value which explained that every wealth is created by the workers, yet the workers themselves by virtue of their non-ownership of the instruments of production and the private appropriation of the products of their labor, became poor, disenfranchised, and alienated in the process; the theory of scientific socialism which is, on the other hand, instructive on how the workers shall build their own state and society free from the fetters of the “exploitation of man by man” through the private appropriation of capital and resources yet in a socialized scheme of production; the cyclical crisis of capitalism which breeds the impoverishment of almost two thirds of humanity; and the export of capital and crisis by the global north to the global south in an increasingly solidifying international capitalist system.
“Everything is concrete” and “everything has a material basis,” declared by Marx and his followers like Vladimir Lenin, whose dialectical materialist philosophy concurs that matter precedes consciousness and consciousness is but a reflection of the material reality. Through this dialectical materialist philosophy which is in contrast with vulgar materialism and mechanical Marxism, Marxists do hold that matter is superior over human consciousness, rational or otherwise, and such consciousness is but a mirror and a subjective interpretation of the concrete reality. The dialectical interpretation of the development of matter holds that all things are in constant motion and their movement is determined by the union and struggle of opposites within the essence of all things, known as the law of contradiction. Thus, to understand a thing or a process for that matter, a sociologist must capture a subject matter or a process in its constant process, in a particular state, location or time frame, while one must decisively understand the internal contradictions from within as well as the objective conditions from which a thing or process do exist.
The same is true with culture, but what is culture by the way?
For the Marxists who represent half of the entire intellectual tradition within the sphere of sociology, psychology, history, and politics—culture and consciousness are but unconscious and conscious reflections of the material bases of society and history which comprise the material conditions of society and the world, specifically, the economic structures of relations in production, control, and ownership of the instruments of production and even the norms and processes of distribution of wealth which are created by such productive endeavors of the whole society.
How are these reflections arranged, reflected, amplified, and inculcated in the minds of the people? A sociologist as he was, Marx pointed to the social institutions of family, church, educational system, and mass media as the dominant sources or machinery of culture which peddled the dominant ideas to the people from language and folklore to a sophisticated conception of reality in the form of ideology and sciences.
Upon gaining consciousness, for instance, a child’s formative years are influenced and molded mainly by the values, beliefs, biases, and conception of reality by the child’s immediate family. They, who are the members of the family, are those who introduce the child to the world through the family’s held values, outlooks and conception of the world itself, society, history, and even the authority of the government and state. Prior to the child’s school age, his formative years are decisively shaped by the family.
Such a child’s initial outlook to the world is resolutely reinforced by the school system, cementing further the said outlook. The influence of the school system is so pervasive that it provides the strongest foundation of the outlook and values which are to be held dear later in the adult life of the child.
The media and the church, on the other hand, serve to underline and highlight these values and outlook in most of the adult life of the child. In the first place, both the outlooks of the family and the educational system which served in the most critical stage of the child’s formative years are also the products of the church and the mass media.
What values, beliefs, folklore, outlook, and character do these dominant machinery of culture promote and thus inculcate in the children and the people’s collective psyche, for that matter. Marx would later argue that those who control the economic system of production and the distribution of the fruits of production in certain societies, also control the dominant machinery of culture. It goes therefore without saying that whichever is the ruling class in the economy is also the ruling class in the cultural domain. Those who control the wealth of nations, control the minds of the people as well.
The dominant machinery of culture are institutions which are also controlled and/or owned by those who rule the economic sphere of the society. In capitalist societies, for instance, the mass media or the machinery of media, like television networks, newspapers, the internet and other and facilities are also owned and controlled by the capitalists. The churches, as passive apologists of the system would also promote the interests of the capitalists as their institutional existence is guaranteed by those who are in control of the state, whilst such government is also controlled by the capitalists through intricate relations in the economic sphere of classes in production, replication, and distribution of wealth, privileges and largesse.
In conclusion, the values, beliefs, outlooks, and attitudes being peddled by the machinery of culture are the same values, beliefs, outlooks, and attitudes of the capitalists. This is how Marx and the classical Marxists see it. Thus, despite the pervasive exploitation of the capitalist class on the workers and the resultant widespread poverty and the widening gap between the rich and the poor, resistance and revolutions by the workers and people would not happen in a natural manner in order to create the workers’ state and society. For it is a fact that the workers and people have already imbibed the values and outlooks of the capitalists or the feudal lords in feudal societies and thus, the possibility of open and spontaneous revolt is almost impossible.
The class consciousness of the workers must come from the outside, declared by Lenin in one of his talks with the workers of Russia during the formative years of the Russian socialist revolution. Lenin has pointed out that counter culture initiatives have to be unleashed as an antidote to the dominant culture which is deeply ingrained in the workers’ and people’s consciousness, generating a seemingly unending apathy and resignation among the workers and people to the exploitation of the ruling classes.
GRAMCI’S THEORY ON THE HEGEMONY OF CULTURE APPEARS TO HAVE ADDRESSED THE CRITICS OF THE ORTHODOX MARXISTS WHOSE ATTACKS CENTER ON THE ACCUSATION THAT the Marxists’ conception of culture is mechanical, deterministic, and economic reductionist as it has reduced culture to a mechanical reflection of the material conditions of society and history. Accordingly, such a simplistic view of culture fails to include the nuances and complexities of folklore, beliefs, values, and outlooks and even language as such categories have been formed thousands of years before, passed on from one generation to the other, and have evolved in accordance with the peculiarities of each historical stage and social conditions of every particular epoch. The Marxist view of culture, therefore, is tantamount to economic reductionism and is necessarily bankrupt according to the critics of Marxism.
Against the backdrop of this anti-Marxist polemics, it was Gramsci who have discovered and coined “cultural hegemony”. Whilst most of Gramsci’s works are incoherent and fragmented, his contributions on cultural hegemony have enriched the Marxist sociological analysis and tradition in the areas of culture, language, ideology, and class power and on how the “spontaneous consent” is manufactured and given by the masses to the ruling few who imposes the general direction of the social life of the workers and the people.
According to T.J. Jackson Lears in his work, “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibility”, — “whilst Gramsci advanced no precise definition of cultural hegemony, what comes close is the often quoted definition of hegemony as spontaneous consent given by the masses of the people to the general direction imposed on the social life by the dominant fundamental group, this consent is historically caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production”. The identification of the masses to the ruling classes’ prestige and confidence is the dominant feature of the concept of “spontaneous consent”. A worker, for instance, would not identify with his fellow workers in the sweatshop but rather would envy the prestige of his petty-bourgeois neighbor who enjoys a comfortable living with all the amenities and resources at his home. In practice, it would be easy to organize a worker to a neighborhood association of well-to-do families than into labor unions as his affinity is much stronger with the people he identifies with rather than with his fellow workers. How could one, therefore, organize a trade union with workers who have petty-bourgeoisie aspirations, much more agitate him to join a class revolt?
Lears adds in his interpretation of Gramsci that “the components of culture which require consent from the majority are values, norms, perceptions, beliefs, sentiments, and prejudices that actively support and promote the so-called legitimacy of the ruling order and the nature of things.” Lears continues that consent for Gramsci is a complex phenomenon which involves a “contradictory consciousness” within an individual who belongs to the ruled majority. Contradictory consciousness is defined as “mixing approbation and apathy, resistance and resignation.”
The approbation to the minority rule comes off naturally as it is won through envy and identification of the subalterns with the ruling class, even as the agenda of the ruling class is being discussed and validated in public discourses through the church, mass media, schools, clubs, and even at the confines of family homes. Approbation, therefore, comes off naturally when no other agenda is being discussed off, except that of the ruling class in these fora. Apathy and resignation are twin feelings among the ruled majority as they can no longer react to the proposition of the ruling class and as they are resigned to their individual fates in society. For instance, apathy reigns when the majority feels powerless at the face of an election rigging, the dominance, and perpetuation in power of the political clans and the imposition of the death penalty. Resignation, on the other hand, becomes apparent when an individual appears to be incapable of explaining his fate like why he has no land and a ruling class member has a hacienda to command. He would merely say that it is fate and that it is written in each individual’s palm without questioning how the land-owning family acquired those lands in the past which may be by way of land grabbing during the colonial times.
Resistance may also interplay with the ruled yet to Gramsci, such resistance is within the permissible extent of the consciousness and of the law. The workers may go on strike, but it has to be within the limits of the labor law. To a certain extent, the strike may win some concessions for the workers, but the same concessions are limited within the permissible calculation of the capitalists’ accumulated profit.
To Gramsci as articulated by Lears, this consent “is transformed into spontaneous philosophy and or ideology which is being used by the workers and people in their everyday lives and is contained in:
(1) the language itself (communication), which is a totality of determined notions and concepts and not just words grammatically devoid of content;
(2) common sense (conventional wisdom) and good sense (empirical knowledge);
(3) popular religion and therefore, also present in the entire system of beliefs, superstitions, opinions, ways of seeing things and of acting, which are collectively bundled together under the name, folklore”
Language and communication also play central roles under Gramsci’s hegemony, all of which according to him, serve as the vessels of meanings which are reflective of contradictory consciousness and spontaneous philosophy. In a word, languages and words are arbitrary, as they reflect the people’s arbitrary consciousness of either against and/or for the system and the rule of the few.
Under the concepts of “good sense” and “common sense,” convergence is possible within the context of capitalist culture. However, those who may deviate from these values can be castigated by society through the label of being deviants. To ask, who wield cultural power in such a class society and who cause the manufacturing of this consent? The answer is simple—parents, teachers, journalists, literary experts, priests, bishops, popes, media personalities, advertising executives, and all who define what “common sense” and “good” are for every individual in society. These influencers are labeled by Gramsci as traditional intellectuals. In other words, those who set the social agenda have power. All these powerful personalities are products and would preach the evangelism of the system within the framework of hegemony.
LANGUAGES ARE SIGNS AND SYMBOLS TO GRAMSCI AND NOTHING IS MYSTERIOUS ABOUT IT. Elucidating language, Gramsci says that it comprises mainly of signs and symbols as reflections of the material things that surround the conscious mind. This is the kernel of language as it is also intrinsic with consciousness and of course, with culture. It has also assumed a broader context aside from the mere reflection of things. Subjectivism comes to the fore after things are reflected by the consciousness and/or verbalized or written in communication. Subjectivism is perception and an inner mind’s interpretation of the supposed meaning of things, a process of ascribing symbols, and ultimately ascribing meanings to things. This is also true with assigning and organizing things with their “proper perspectives” like the glass is to drinking while a pig is for slaughtering and as a source of protein.
Subjectivism, therefore, is a process of organizing and assigning roles to nature and things, and to society and power based on the most elemental human needs. Sophisticated organization and assignment of roles occur at the philosophical level in conjuring signs and symbols and abstractions of the reality of nature, social relations, emotions, production, and others which belong to the philosophical domain.
Are language and communication separate from consciousness? Gramsci maintains the dialectical relationship between language and consciousness. Language sprung from consciousness and so consciousness from the language. The development of the sense of perception and psychological mechanisms in the brain is almost synonymous with the recognition of language in the child’s formative years. The formation of concepts, signs, and symbols imbibed by the human mind during the developmental stage of the child’s consciousness are synonymous with the learning and mastery of language.
Language mastery and greater communication skills would mean a child’s better grasp of the concepts, symbols, and signs in the reality of material things and in the aspect of social relations. Without consciousness, there is no possibility of learning the language and without the language, the development of consciousness is impossible. In a word, language and communication are organic parts of the development of the human consciousness which evolve purely for social interaction and relationships in society.
The family, as the first institution which is seen by the child upon his development of the senses, is the mode by which language and communication evolve in the child’s consciousness. The primary giver of language as well as the signs and symbols which will evolve into values, morality, and ideology is the family. In the child’s formative years, language is massively developed and nurtured by the family. It is at this stage when the child comes to terms with the “reality” as represented by signs and symbols in the language. To learn the language is to know the concepts of things “ascribed” by such language as pointed out in our discussion of the glass and the pig. Consciousness, therefore, is not independent of language but in fact, both are one and the same for how can one think if not through abstractions of signs and meanings by way of a language. Whilst others may say that language or communication is/are instrument/s of consciousness to posit communication and interaction, the reverse is the truth. Consciousness itself is language and language is consciousness.
Can consciousness develop in a solitary individual? Can, for instance, a child who is left in the wild with apes and animals and without the benefit of learning the language (and communication) possibly develop his own consciousness? The answer of Gramsci is yes. But such consciousness would also be the consciousness, albeit in a very limited form, of animals which the child has interacted with during his formative years. The signs and symbols which the child will acquire will be the same signs and symbols which are being used by the animals. Such can hardly be said to be in the category of human consciousness and therefore, cannot be classified as consciousness at all, for animals are regarded as without consciousness or have very little of it, which are mostly stimuli and reflexes for the basic needs of the species for food, sex, and on escaping from danger.
Consciousness and language for that matter, as they are one and the same stem mainly from social relations. In our example, the social relation in the family is responsible 11for the formation of consciousness and language in the child. Without social relations, society (organized society as a whole) consciousness and language would not have any chance of developing. Without social relations, there would be no need for language and communication and for consciousness to spring in the faculty of the mind.
The outstanding anthropologist and a collaborationist of Marx, Engels has outlined the development of language and consciousness in his works on historical materialism, especially on the “Dialectics of Nature” and the “Part Played by Labor in the Transition from Ape to Man.” Accordingly, the development of tools, as there was a need of apes for more sophisticated tools, has been instrumental in the development of language among troops of apes, thus, the beginning of the formation of human consciousness thousands of years ago.
As years go by with evolutionary development and the use of tools, the ape served as the bridge between the development of human species from the animal kingdom. The need for sophisticated tools and groupings for more effective hunting and food gathering undertakings as well as in warding the danger off served as stimuli for the development of social relations among apes, hence, the need for communication and the development of signs and concepts which are integral in language and consciousness.
It must be noted, however, as pointed by Engels, that this evolutionary development took thousands of years to develop before the consciousness of the present form came into being which is almost simultaneous with the development of fire and agriculture, a fairly sophisticated and complex society which also came simultaneously with the development of a fairly sophisticated and complex consciousness and language.
In its sophisticated and complex form, culture is a broad ideology as there are “pressure” and “consent” for individual and group members of a certain society to behave, abide, think, and set off life’s goals in relation to the prescribed rules and norms of such society. These prescribed norms can be written or unwritten which can be found in values, traditions, norms, folklores, ethical standards, jurisprudence, laws, and others. In a way, ideology is an abstraction of things as collectively perceived by society. Readers may note that the primary machinery of culture- family, religion, school system, and mass media have the power to define the sets of values, ethical standards, and the way things have to be perceived in conjunction with social values. They are the sources of social constructs of things. It has become too apparent for instance, that things are ascribed with meanings. Wine, at case point, can be seen as a religious symbol, so is bread, and even the food on the table is held sacred by a family who eats together on the table. The pig in our example above has now become a sacrilegious thing for the Muslims because of religion, so is the prescription of marriage and family as the basic unit of the society and property relations.
The policeman, for instance, becomes a symbol of state power. Thus, in subscribing the ideology of the state, the first lesson a mother or a father may inculcate at the mind of a toddler is “hala may pulis, huhulin ka,” ascribing fear for the state apparatuses at the very young mind of the child. What is printed has become also authoritative. Books and laws are held sacred by the public and are generally followed and obeyed, without much questioning the content and intent of such materials. Textbooks are too generally regarded as true and correct although there are obvious grammatical errors in the texts.
But one may argue that there are debates and discussions in society, and even in bourgeois capitalist societies, debates are highly encouraged to ferret the truth. In fact, the speaker can fairly choose his language and speech to his gusto, as well as the writer for that matter. Gramsci, in echoing Marx, clarified that men are free to create their conditions of existence, yet such is limited to the material conditions of which they exist. One, for instance, a man may not just walk into the bank and get money from the teller without maintaining an account there. Or a bright young child of a peasant family, dreaming of 13being a doctor, that one day may not simply go to UP Manila or UST and take up medicine in order to realize his lofty dream. He is in fact forbidden to wax such dream of becoming a doctor at an early age, knowing fully-well his family’s financial situation. Worst, he might not even know where is UP Manila or UST or might even have not seen at all a doctor in his lifetime.
What about freedom of speech? Whilst one may speak freely, his speech has to be organized in such a way that such can be understood by his audience. Otherwise, such speech may defeat its own purpose. And in order to be understood, the speaker must use the language and skills for “effective speaking” which should be comprehensible to his audience. Yet as we have emphasized, language is synonymous with consciousness and to what and how one thinks of and what one may speak of. The ideas in the mind are in the form of language and the language itself is the idea in the mind. Therefore, what the mind has absorbed by way of the dominant machinery of culture would be the same content that has to be spoken of by the speaker. Communication, therefore, is deeply rooted in culture and the dominant machinery of culture as perceived and inculcated to the members of society. There are of course deviants and even anti-culture or counter-culture proponents and advocates, yet these are in the minority who are seeking changes in society.
Can one escape from the domination of the dominant machinery of culture? Escaping from these can be hard as the consciousness is fully well-designed even in the structure of language. Syntax or the way ideas and language are organized has taken an ideological form. Even the organization of ideas in the mind, which can be from descending or ascending order, is ideological in nature and is prescribed by society. In sum, culture, language, and communication which are one and the same are ideological in essence and serve as the instruments of consent to the hegemonic block in the society.
Gramsci does not think that culture, language, and ideology are manufactured and forced upon the subaltern groups by the ruling class. To him, the same were effortlessly created by the traditional intellectuals within the civil society as these traditional intellectuals set off the agenda in public discourse and up to which extent this agenda is permissible within the dominant machinery of culture. On the family level, for instance, children are forbidden to question the “wisdom” of men of authorities like the priests, doctors, teachers, and government officials. Questioning such men are considered unethical and almost taboo within the range of family values. So much so in schools, in the bureaucracy, and in courts of law in which no one is expected to question the officials therein and if so, the questions should be within the permissible limit set forth by what is considered as ethical, legal, and in accordance with propriety.
The role, therefore, of civil society is fundamental in the creation and sustenance of “spontaneous consent” and hegemony. Whilst the traditional intellectuals may not be conscious of their role in civil society, they are regarded as the primary propagator of the ruling classes’ culture and ideology through the full range of the machineries of culture and the massive use of language in the daily social interaction between the ruling classes and the subaltern groups or between and among themselves.
Antithetical of the civil society is the political society which Gramsci refers to as the sheer force of the state which comprises the forces of the military, police, prison system, and other para-military adjuncts which the state could employ and deploy at its service to neutralize any violator of the law.
In sum, the civil and political societies comprise the two fundamental instruments by which the ruling classes rule the subaltern classes and groups and maintain their hegemony at both the cultural domain and the economic instruments of production and distribution in the life of a society. Such are complementary with each other and function in 15concert for the maintenance of equilibrium in society wherein social classes are expected to behave within the acceptable limits established by culture, ideology, and laws of society.
THE DISCUSSIONS IN GRAMSCI’S NOTEBOOKS ARE HEAVILY CONCENTRATED ON THE ASPECTS OF HEGEMONY, YET HE ALSO TOUCHED ON THE QUESTIONS OF THE STRATEGY AND TACTICS OF THE WORKERS’ REVOLUTION WITHIN THE CONTEXT OF HEGEMONY. It is notable that he introduced in the texts the concepts of the war of position, the war of maneuver, historical blocks, organic intellectuals, and insurrection.
Gramsci wrote the “Prison Notebooks” at the time when the workers’ movement and the Communist Party of Italy suffered severe setbacks at the forces of fascism under Mussolini. Gramsci’s preoccupation in his notebooks was to clarify the nature of Italian society, the consciousness of the workers and the people as well as the trajectory of the socialist revolution. Much concentration has been given to cultural hegemony in his works. However, in his scant references to the strategy and tactics, he mentions the concepts of the war of position and maneuver, recognizing that a class revolution is in the form of war. The first has reference to the apparently long, painstaking, and arduous preparations that are required upon the workers to create counter-hegemonic initiatives in laying the ground for revolution. Referring to the heavy influence of the traditional intellectuals within the hegemonic context, Gramsci calls on the workers to produce what he terms as organic intellectuals in order to pursue counter-hegemonic undertakings within the civil society and within the premise of the war on position.
Understandably, these organic intellectuals may have been produced through massive and sustained education through the mass and protest movements, union syndicalism and strike movement, and alliance building with various classes and groups within the entire range of the workers’ struggle for socialism. The war of position and the 16deployment of organic intellectuals to the cleavages of struggles within the workers’ trade union movement and the people’s struggle for democratic rights shall spawn the growth of organic intellectuals themselves who shall preach the idea of the revolution and in the process, educate the workers and the masses against the hegemony of capitalism.
Accordingly, the war of position may last for a long time and Gramsci did not specify a timetable therein for some obvious reasons, although the revolutionaries have interpreted the same as the stage by which the foundation of the revolution is being built at the hearts and minds of the workers and people.
Gramsci also mentions historical blocks which some translators and intellectuals who used to pore on the manuscripts refer to the form of alliances by the workers with other subaltern and interest groups within the society. Some have interpreted the historical blocks as a united front alliance on the basis of tactical and strategic issues, interests, and unities among subaltern groups gravitating within the center of the workers’ struggles. To Gramsci, this historical blocks can be powerful in the anti-hegemonic propaganda and must, therefore, be considered to be fundamental in the course of the revolutionary undertaking.
The war of maneuver by which Gramsci refers to as the final siege of the working class on the state’s instruments of terror entails the need for insurrectionary types of the uprising to finally defeat the armor of the state through a confrontational military assault in various parts of the country wherein the state forces are entrenched. Unlike the most pronounced Marxist military strategists in the persons of Mao Zedong, Chou En Lai, and Nguyen Giap, Gramsci has a very limited discussion on this strategy. Owing maybe to his limited military experience or the total absence of which, Gramsci maintains a general outline of this type of insurrection without giving the details, requirements, and the general conduct of insurrection or the war of maneuver in the context of military and armed warfare in both strategic and tactical senses.
THE DOCUMENT, THE SPECIFIC CHARACTERISTICS OF OUR PEOPLE’S WAR which is considered as a fundamental document of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and whose authorship is widely attributed to Sison lists the characteristics of the Philippine revolution, as follows: 1) National Democratic Revolution of a New Type; 2)Protracted War in the Countryside; 3) Fighting in a Small Mountainous Archipelago; 4) From Small and Weak to Big and Strong; 5) A Fascist Puppet Dictatorship Amidst Crisis; 6) Under One Imperialist Power; 7) Decline of U.S. Imperialism and Advance of the World Revolution.
From the document, the Philippine revolution is considered to be a national-democratic in nature as it is designed to fully liberate the Philippines from the clutches of U.S. imperialism which is supposed to dominate the country’s socio-political-economic life in connivance with the local ruling classes of big compradors and landlords. However, it has been qualified to be of a new type as the direction of the national democratic struggle is set forth towards socialism rather than in the trajectory of the bourgeois-democratic state which was the character of the old type of the national democratic revolution led by Bonifacio and later on by Aguinaldo which was frustrated by the arrival of the Americans, the new colonizing power after the old democratic revolution of 1896 drove the Spaniards from the Philippine shores. Again, it is of a new type because the revolution is now being led by the proletariat, instead of that of the bourgeoisie illustrado of the old one.
The revolution henceforth identifies the three (3) main evils of the Philippine society
as that of the U.S. imperialism, feudalism, and bureaucrat capitalism. Accordingly, the local
feudalism which evolved into semi-feudalism stands as the social base from which
imperialism stands on, while the bureaucrat capitalism serves for the virtual monopoly of
the state and its instruments (the bureaucracy and the military) by the big comprador and
18landlord classes, using such state to promote their narrow interests in various business
ventures to include the wanton and unabated corruption of the state’s coffers.
Because of imperialism and semi-feudalism, the country is said to be in perpetual crisis within the ambit of the global capitalist order. The source of such crisis is traceable to the fact that the country has been made by the U.S. imperialism as the dumping site of its surplus products and capital and at the same time, the source of cheap, raw materials and bountiful and equally cheap labor. Understandably, if the country exports raw materials and imports finished products as dictated by the U.S. imperialism, the country would incur ballooning trade and budgetary deficits over the years and offset the same, by borrowing funds from the multilateral agencies controlled by the imperialists themselves like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and others.
The landlord and comprador classes being the owners of the vast tracts of land in the country and who controls the businesses and the state apparatuses are the normal beneficiaries of this imbalance trade by way of big profits, corruptions, and kickbacks in loans as precipitated by the perpetual trade and budgetary deficits on an annual basis. At the receiving end of the unending crisis is the masses of people who endure high prices of commodities and services, onerous taxation due to debt servicing and corruption, low wages and salaries of workers and employees, and the dispossession of lands of the Filipino peasants who comprise close to eighty percent majority of the Filipino populace.
The solution being offered by the new democratic type revolution is to dismantle imperialism, feudalism and bureaucrat capitalism, smash the state apparatuses of the landlords and big compradors, and install a coalition government of classes and sectors lead by the working class through its political party, the CPP. On the economic side, the revolution promises to implement the agrarian revolution and the nationalist industrialization to develop a self-sustaining and progressive national economy.
To destroy the reactionary state and gain political power from nothing, the revolution has organized the party of the workers which is the CPP, the united front through the National Democratic Front (NDF) and the New People’s Army (NPA). The party, as the vanguard and the detachment of the most advanced elements of the Filipino proletariat, possesses the absolute command and control of the NPA even as it locates itself at the core of the united front organizations. Through these organizations, the party wages two (2) complimentary struggles of the legal democratic mass movement and the armed struggle in the countryside.
The legal democratic struggle is based on the democratic demands of the people through mass movements and parliamentary struggles which at the same time, broadens the base of the united front in sustained mass campaigns and protest movements to include workers’ agitation in the factories, agitations in various university campuses, churches, government institutions, and in other platforms. Conducted both in urban and rural settings, the protest movements run around the burning issues of the day from land reform, militarization, salaries and wages, high prices of consumers goods, and social, budgetary cuts in social services, and others. The most advanced activists within the united front and the protest movements are recruited as elements of the party wherein they are expected to remold themselves through the struggle and acquire a proletarian outlook in the process.
The party, meanwhile, leads the NPA’s guerrilla warfare under the strategic line of encircling the cities from the countryside through the stages of strategic defensive, strategic stalemate, and strategic offensive. The tasks of the NPA is to implement the agrarian revolution in the countryside, build guerrilla (fronts) mass base areas, and sustain the armed struggle through the various strategic stages until such a time that it is ready to demolish the ruling reactionary state in the strategic offensive phase of the armed struggle. From small to big, and from big to strong, the NPA regularly conducts the war of attrition and annihilation in order to build its armed arsenal through the confiscation of military material from the enemy forces and to rally the peasantry to its organization through the implementation of the agrarian revolution. It has to be understood that main forces of the NPA come from the peasantry, being the largest population in the country and the beneficiary of the agrarian revolution which is the main content of the revolution of the new type.
With the basic alliance of the working class and the peasant class through the NPA, the party projects at defeating the reactionary state through the gradual accumulation of forces in the mass movements and armed struggle up to such a time that it can frontally attack the state and install a coalition government to push for the agrarian revolution on a national scale, coupled with the implementation of the nationalist industrialization. It shall, therefore, serve as the basis of the country’s socialist transformation.
IN THE CONDUCT OF THE PEOPLE’S WAR, THE PHILIPPINE REVOLUTION MAY HAVE FULFILLED THE GRAMSCIAN REQUIREMENTS IN THE WAR OF POSITION WITHIN THE ASPECT OF PREPARING THE REVOLUTION OUT OF NOTHING AND FROM SMALL AND WEAK TO BIG AND STRONG. Among the strikingly Gramscian characteristics of the Philippine revolution are:
- The workers’ party assumes the role of Machiavelli’s prince. Gramsci has various references to the party as the Machiavelli’s prince which organizes and rallies the workers and people for moral enlightenment and for their collective good. Nonetheless, unlike the old national democratic revolution in the past which was led by the few individual illustrado, the democratic revolution of the present and of the new type is being led by the various collectives of the CPP in different aspects of the struggle from the mass movement, united front building, and the conduct of armed struggle. Noticeably, the revolution is far from being led by an individual prince, but by a cadre system of seasoned Marxist proletarian revolutionaries who are incepted in the formations of the NPA, the workers’ unions, the organizations in universities, churches, barrios and towns, communities, in prison cells, and even in government institutions. These cadres who came from the ranks of the workers, peasants, middle classes, and even from the landowning and national bourgeois classes have acquired a proletarian outlook through constant remoulding in the years of struggles. They are professional revolutionaries and have dedicated themselves to the service of the revolution, the proletariat, and the people. They are at the core, in the advance of the revolution through their painstaking aggregation in ideological, political, organizational, and military works of the party.
Through assiduous and meticulous conduct of the people’s protracted war, the party, the people’s army and the united front organizations are determinedly engaged in counter-hegemonic propaganda in the context of the war of position by way of armed struggle, base-building in the countryside, organization of the united front, and the execution of various, timely, and even simultaneous political mass campaigns at different scopes in workplaces, communities, schools, towns, provinces, and even in activities of national breadth. By way of different yet simultaneous and sustained engagements of various units of the party, the army, and the united front organizations, the revolution engages itself in what Gramsci calls as the war of position in educating and at the same time teaching the masses the value of collective actions and struggles. Such continuous and sustained undertakings result in the uninterrupted growth of the party, the NPA, and the united front organizations, of illegal and legal types. Beyond Gramsci, nonetheless, the conduct of people’s protracted war is not only a war of position in the political sense. It is also a war of position in the military front as the NPA by way of the execution of revolutionary land sharing, guerrilla front base-area building, armed struggle– continue as well to build its armed arsenal and personnel up to such decisive leap from the strategic defensive to strategic stalemate towards the strategic offensive. The same war of position is characterized with calculated advances of the revolutionary army on the basis of the level of the forces’ consolidation and the general armed strength for much bigger military actions through the guerilla warfare of attrition and annihilation types of offensive and counter-offensive against the enemy forces. The archipelagic and mountainous terrain in the countryside is a fertile ground for guerrilla warfare wherein the NPA could effectively maneuver and meticulously pick up a fight it could win and withdraw from the fight which it could not triumph. In classical guerrilla tactics, the NPA chooses the fights which are advantageous to it and withdraw from such battles which it may deem to be disadvantageous in terms of firepower superiority, fighters’ numerical strength, and tactical position in the terrain of battle. In this manner, whilst the NPA is generally inferior to the enemy in the strategic term, it is always superior in the tactical sense as it chooses the battles it could win in the vast countryside where revolutionary guerilla (fronts) base areas are organized in support of the armed revolution. In the words of Sison, it is in the wide countryside where the people’s army could effectively maneuver “in eating up the enemy forces piece by piece and destroying them step by step”.
The cadre system is the organic intellectuals and the moral force of the revolution which Gramsci refers to as one fundamental requisite within the war of position. As argued above, the cadre system of the vanguard party is at the front and center of every party activity in the ideological, political, organizational, and military works. They are deeply entrenched into the masses through the armed and unarmed, legal and illegal mass organizations. They are mass-based and organically linked with the organized masses who practice the dictum “from the masses, to the masses” which means learning from the masses and pointing to them the directions of their struggle. Certainly far from being elitist in character and practice, the cadres of the revolution live and struggle with the masses through the Marxist, Leninist, and Maoist line and ethical standards, concretizing the tasks of agitating, educating, and mobilizing the masses along the people’s protracted war strategy for the well-rounded development of all the revolutionary forces, armed and unarmed.
Lastly, Gramsci talks of historical block/s as a necessary component in the war of position. With this, he must be referring to the united front building in an effort to gravitate all the friendly forces of the revolution under its fold. On the basis of the basic alliance between the proletariat and the peasant classes, the united front serves to attract the classes of the petty bourgeois, the national bourgeois, and other middle forces which are vacillating between the reaction and the revolution. Through the united front work, the Philippine revolution is creating various and different historical blocks in numerous platforms and places, in various struggles and campaigns and in different sectors and places in support of the armed struggle mainly, and secondarily for the conduct of the urban mass movement and political struggles.
Despising the spontaneity of the masses, the Philippine national democratic revolution of a new type is being built step by step and brick upon brick in an edifice, in the heart and minds of workers, peasant, and other classes which subscribe to its call of national sovereignty, self-determination, agrarian revolution, nationalist industrialization, and socialist transformation on the second stage of the revolution. It is organically linked to the broad anti-imperialist struggle of the most oppressed nations and people as well as to the internationalist proletarian march to socialism. It has been waged for more than fifty (50) since 1968 and the revolutionaries have affirmed their willingness to carry on the revolution for another fifty (50) more years or so to attain its primary objective of educating, organizing and mobilizing the workers and the masses for their own salvation through the building of a truly independent, sovereign and democratic Philippines towards socialism.
Certainly, the revolution continues to rage on in the sporadic skirmishes under the guerrilla warfare in the vast, rugged and mountainous agrarian countryside and at the same time in the war of position within the hearts and minds of the Filipino workers and people. The same hearts and mind of the workers and people are the decisive battle grounds between the forces of the revolution and reaction.
The counter-hegemonic juggernaut of Gramsci and Sison is vibrantly and resolutely advancing.