WITH THE NEW PEOPLE'S ARMY IN THE PHILIPPINES:
REPORT FROM A GUERILLA FRONT
PART II: THE AGRARIAN REVOLUTION AT THE GRASS
Revolutionary Worker #952, April 12, 1998
A harsh morning rain let up. It was time to
leave our campsite to meet with three peasant activists. They were
members of an underground barrio (village) organizing group. They had come to talk to us about the conditions
faced by peasants and the political situation. We met them at a patch of garden, where we sat on a log to talk.
Nearby, a fighter from the New People's Army (NPA) stood sentry.
Rolan has been active since 1986; Pedro and
Tito joined the underground organizing group in 1994. The three of
them were from poor peasant backgrounds, farmers who can hardly make do on meager parcels of land. Rolan
told us that people in his barrio grow abaca (hemp)--from which cord, cloth, and other products are made--and
they also raise corn and root vegetables. Rolan said farming was not enough to make ends meet; so he also cuts
logs to earn more income, but the merchants force him to sell the wood very cheap.
Pedro talked about the presence of the NPA
in his barrio: "The NPA is here because of the poor and backward
conditions, especially the land that has to be tilled. Because of the NPA we have become enlightened. We know
about the situation in the Philippines. We know more about the international situation. With the help of the
comrades from the NPA we can enlighten others. We help them fight for the right to own the land."
I asked about some of the changes that have
taken place since the arrival of the NPA. Tito mentioned bayanihan.
This is the Tagalog word (Tagalog is the most widely spoken language in the Philippines) for "labor exchange."
Under the leadership of the NPA, the peasants organize themselves to work together on each other's
plots--rotating one day to the next in small groups. "This way we can plant more. It is a big help."
The rain started up again and we went into
a supporter's hut, where we continued our conversation. "The
Philippines is rich in minerals and resources," Pedro said, "but the imperialists control those resources and
minerals. That's why we are poor." Rolan motioned with an outstretched hand: "Look at the mountains. We could
plant so many things. But the government is confiscating land. It is preventing us from making the land fruitful.
There is armed struggle in the Philippines and in other countries because of the same basic situation, the same role
played by imperialism and bureaucrat capitalism. Why is U.S. imperialism in our country? We want U.S.
imperialism out of our country."
Maoism and the
In preparing for my trip to the Philippine
countryside, I studied various materials about the Maoist approach to
making revolution in semicolonial and semifeudal countries. And I tried to familiarize myself with some of the
major issues that Maoist movements in these countries face.
Revolution in the Third World must confront
three mountains. It must overthrow the bureaucrat-capitalist class
and state system--which are dependent on and which serve imperialism. It must uproot semifeudal landlordism in
the countryside. And it must drive out imperialism.
Mao Tsetung pioneered the path for such a revolution.
It is the new-democratic revolution. It is led by the
proletariat and its ideology of all-the-way liberation. And it mobilizes the peasantry as its main force. In nations
oppressed by imperialism, a revolutionary solution to the land question is an essential part of breaking free of
imperialism...and of standing up to imperialism after power has been seized.
The peasant demand for "land to the tiller"
is a just one. It strikes a powerful blow against the huge concentrations
of wealth and huge concentrations of means of production in the hands of exploiters, and at the inequalities in the
countryside. "Land to the tiller" opens new possibilities to improve production and raise living standards.
The attack on landlordism enables the peasants
to stand up and act for themselves--to challenge feudal authority
and oppression. The right of peasant women to own land, for instance, is a key part of the struggle against the
oppression of women in the countryside. "Land to the tiller" is a decisive step in destroying the old system. But it is
not an end in itself. "Land to the tiller" lays the foundation to make the next great leap, the socialist leap, in
agriculture. With land in their hands, the peasants can begin, step-by-step, to voluntarily develop new cooperative
ways of farming and new collective forms of ownership.
Maoism teaches that this requires political
power, built by people's war. There is a need for forms of base areas in
the countryside, where the peasant masses exercise political power. This is a fundamental condition for developing
the agrarian revolution.
From a Maoist perspective, these kinds of policies
and transformations are crucial to maintaining the alliance of
workers and peasants, and carrying the revolution forward.
So I was really interested in seeing how people are dealing with these problems and challenges in the Philippines.
Some Basic Facts about the Philippine Countryside
The revolutionary movement in the Philippines
has produced much valuable analysis of the Philippine agrarian
economy. Here is some information that I took from my discussions and study.
Over 60 percent of the Philippine population
lives in the countryside, and peasants make up almost 50 percent of
the total labor force. Land is the most basic resource of the people in the countryside, providing food and income.
But land is concentrated in the hands of landlord families and imperialist corporations. And more and more land is
being grabbed up by the government and by agricultural, logging, ranch, and mining companies--both domestic
Big landlords make up less than half a percent
of the landowning population, but they control 21 percent of all the
landholdings. This landlord class has its representatives at every level of government. The military defends the
interests of the landlords. And individual landlords may have their own armed groups to enforce their will.
The Philippines is a country where semifeudal
exploitation remains a crushing reality. Peasants till vast areas of
agricultural land. They make vast amounts of land productive--plowing, fertilizing, engaging in pest control. They
prepare rice seedlings; they gather and husk coconuts. But because a tiny minority of landlords have a monopoly
on land, large numbers of peasants are compelled to pay rent. They are deprived of the fruit of their hard work.
Seven out of ten peasants do not own the land they till.
The most common form of feudal land rent in
the Philippines is payment in crop. The tenant-farmers (mostly poor
peasants) hand over part of the rice, coconut, or other crops they grow to the landlord. No matter how bad the
weather or harvest, rent must be paid. The landlord's share can range from 40 percent to as much as 90 percent
of the crop. And the peasant must cover all his production expenses.
The peasants also get squeezed by merchants
and suppliers-- who set high prices for the goods and supplies the
peasants buy and low prices for the produce the peasants sell. The peasants, including lower-middle peasants
who own some land, often go deep into debt to usurers (money lenders who charge outrageously high interest
In addition to the peasants, there are farmworkers
in the countryside. They face extreme exploitation, getting paid
very low wages and having to endure many hardships. The poor peasants frequently have to hire themselves out
for part of the year in order to make ends meet.
Most peasants in the Philippines work small
plots of land. The few tools they own are simple. The peasant farmers
work hard to survive. But the economic pressures are intense. Many peasants become dispossessed and
uprooted from the land--ending up as seasonal farmworkers or migrants to the cities. Poverty, disease, and
illiteracy stalk the Philippine countryside.
The Philippine Revolution
and Land Reform
The Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)
has analyzed that the peasant demand for land is the main problem
that has to be solved in the people's struggle for new democracy. The Philippine revolution is linking the peasant
demand for land with armed struggle and the establishment of forms of popular power in the countryside. This is
the heart of the protracted people's war to carry out the revolution to overthrow the semicolonial, semifeudal
Before going into the countryside, I studied
the program of the National Democratic Front (NDF), the
underground united front of the Philippine revolution. This program spells out how the Philippine revolution
approaches land reform:
"The current minimum land reform program involves
the reduction of land rent and abolition of usury, and the
setting up of mutual aid and labor exchange systems among the peasantry.... After the nationwide victory of the
revolution, it will be possible to carry out the maximum land reform program, which involves confiscation of the
landlord property and the equitable distribution of the land to the landless tillers at no cost to them." The minimum
program also includes improving the wages of farmworkers and raising the prices that peasants receive for
agricultural goods they sell.
The Philippine revolution targets certain sections
of the landlord classes--the big and the despotic landlords (those
who sic their guns and goons on peasants), those who grab land from peasants, and those who are most tied to
the ruling cliques.
Through my discussions and experiences at the
grass roots, I was able to get a picture of the approach the CPP
has developed for solving particular challenges of the agrarian revolution. I was also able to see how that
revolution is concretely transforming the economy in the countryside.
Frank, a leading comrade from the region, told
me about the backbreaking and dangerous work of coconut
farmers and workers. "On 3 hectares of coconut land (a hectare is about 2.5 acres), about 3,000 to 4,000 nuts
are raised every 45 days. The nuts have to be picked from the trees. Then they are gathered and hauled on sleds
pulled by water buffalos to kilns. The coconuts are then husked--maybe 1,000 a day, with people working 12
hours a day--broken open, and cooked. The meat is removed and recooked. The coconut meat is then put in
sacks and transported to buyers."
Much of the hardest work I am describing (like
the picking and husking) is done by poor peasants and
farmworkers. The poor peasants are like subtenants and squatters on the fields rented from the landlords by
middle peasants. Women are involved in every phase of coconut growing and processing.
The coconut lands in the Philippines are dominated
by big landlords. Frank explained that "the landlords exact a
heavy rent. They take two-thirds of the coconut crop. The landlords often have overseers living among the
peasants. The overseers manage the landholdings and make sure the peasant share is delivered to the landlord.
They buy the coconut meat from the peasant, but often cheat the peasant through false weighing and unfair pricing.
Some of the overseers are armed."
The revolutionary movement has carried out
the minimum program in significant parts of this region. The landlord
is not overthrown; his land is not confiscated. Rather, the crop-sharing arrangements are changed in the peasants'
favor. The result is what Frank called the "drastic" reduction of rent. In the case of coconut production, this means
the peasants will keep two-thirds, instead of one-third, of their crop. "Sometimes," he said, "we have pushed to
lower the rent even more." As the NDF program states, higher wages for workers in the fields are also fought for.
Usury, which is the practice of lending money
at oppressively high interest rates, is also attacked. Under the
system of usury in this area, loans have been charged at monthly rates that work out to 150 percent interest per
cropping season. But as a result of the struggle, interest rates have been cut in half. In this area, the NPA has also
organized and protected the peasants against local thugs and robbers.
I asked Frank about how rent reduction comes
about. "One way is confrontation: marches on the residences of
the landlords, shoutings and threats. But the principal way is negotiations. Years of military action by the NPA and
the strength of the mass movements have softened landlord resistance. So the NPA will first try to talk with the
Frank made a more general point about the methods
of the agrarian revolution--whether or not force is used in
particular circumstances. "The NPA must educate and inspire...but the masses must face the landlords." The NPA
cannot substitute itself for the masses.
I talked with some members of the NPA unit
about their work in the barrios. Lino spoke about the general
situation, "There is terrible crisis, the peasants cannot meet their basic needs."
In the Philippine countryside, land is being
rapidly grabbed up by foreign agribusiness, domestic speculators, and
old and new types of landlords. The land left for peasants to till to support themselves is often the less fertile land.
Land rent and production costs for the peasants are rising. Men are often forced to migrate from the villages in
search of paid work, and this puts heavier burdens on peasant women.
In the guerrilla front, the NPA works with
the peasants to help them solve their production problems and
requirements. The peasants are encouraged to expand production of sideline crops that can help raise their
incomes. The growing of root and tuber crops is promoted. "These crops can be easily cultivated and help
stabilize the food supply, especially when rice is in bad supply."
Summing up the situation overall, Frank explained
that at this stage of the struggle, "land to the tiller is not the
order of the day. The minimum program of rent reduction is being carried out on a wide scale."
I wanted to understand why the Philippine revolutionaries
believe that confiscation and redistribution of land are
not now on the agenda (I am speaking about the current minimum program of the agrarian revolution). These are
important and difficult questions that have come up in the Philippines, and they have also arisen in other countries.
Frank pointed to several factors. Mainly, the
"fighting that goes on in the countryside and the changing balance of
forces" make it hard to carry out and then "stabilize" land distribution. In other words, the revolution makes
advances but the enemy will often seek to gain back what it has lost. This poses real challenges.
And there is the related question of the strength
and capability of the revolution--the Party, the NPA, the mass
organizations, and the organs of political power--relative to the enemy's strength in a particular area. The
revolution has to be ready to meet the enemy's retaliation. The level of consciousness and organization of the
peasant masses, according to Frank, also has to be taken into account. He mentioned that "self-management" of
land requires that the peasants gain experience and raise consciousness. Land redistribution also requires, Frank
explained, that the party and the NPA have sufficient cadre and skill to lead and organize the masses. Land can't
just be parceled out. So these are some of the factors affecting the scope of land reform.
There is, Frank emphasized, a process of learning
through struggle. "The consciousness of the masses depends on
their practice. When the masses achieve victories over cattle rustlers or for rent reduction, that experience must be
summed up and lessons instilled. The masses must understand that their unity and the NPA gave them these
victories. They must understand that all these activities must lead to popular power. We explain the policies [such
as why rent reduction is the minimum program and not confiscation] to the masses. And the masses are being
taught about protracted people's war, agrarian revolution, and base-building."
More Advanced Experience
Where the armed revolution is strong enough,
it is able at times to go beyond the current minimum program and
carry out land redistribution. The NPA has mobilized peasants to occupy and plant on fields abandoned by
landlords. It has led struggles to confiscate property of cruel landlords. And in some places the revolution has
attempted to form some peasant cooperatives--in which peasants cultivate crops collectively and buy and
distribute goods through cooperatives. On the haciendas, like the large sugar plantations, cooperatives are also
organized. These kinds of policies are also addressed in the NDF program.
About a day's hike away from our camp is a
barrio made up of "300 highly politicized families," as one fighter put
it. This is part of a more consolidated guerrilla base in the region. This stronghold has been forged through years of
confrontation between revolutionary struggle and counterrevolutionary attack. The barrio has had a party branch,
mass organizations, and self-defense units...and has had to rebuild them in the wake of bloody campaigns by the
enemy to root out the revolution.
Here in the 1980s, a "despotic" landlord's
holdings were confiscated. The tenants had grown corn, coconuts, and
tubers on this land. The land was taken over and distributed to the peasants. The landlord, who lived in the city,
did not contest this takeover, and in fact his holding had gone into bank default. The peasants have held on to this
land and made it far more productive. Carlo, one of the NPA fighters, told me that in recent months the
government has been sending surveyors in to the barrio to establish property deeds. A struggle is brewing.
In this barrio, the practice of labor exchange,
which those three peasants had told me about, is very advanced.
Teams of five persons work together--plowing and fertilizing--rotating each day, five days a week, between
different plots of land. This kind of mutual aid and assistance is not just a way of improving production; it is also a
means to promote a more cooperative consciousness. The special organizing groups that reach out to youth,
women, and others have also farmed small communal plots.
I asked how the peasants in a more consolidated
area of revolutionary strength like this are educated to see their
role in the struggle and the direction that the struggle must take. Isabel, a regional leader of the guerrilla front, said
the peasants are told: "The problem in our society is land, and if you want land, you must unite, organize, and
participate in the struggle. Now you have land, and it is because of the revolution that you have land. But you must
continue to organize yourselves and participate in the agrarian revolution. This is only the beginning. You must
support the New People's Army. You must support the armed struggle until victory. It is you, the peasants, who
are the main force of the revolution."
Challenges in Today's World
As I said earlier, Mao Tsetung pioneered the
path to liberation in semicolonial and semifeudal countries. In China's
specific conditions, the revolutionary forces, starting in 1928, were able to establish relatively self-sufficient and
relatively stable base areas in the countryside.
With the Chinese Communist Party leading, and
with the poor peasants and farm laborers as the backbone of the
movement, land reform was carried out. Land was confiscated from the landlords and distributed among the
peasants. (When the Japanese imperialists invaded China--and the communists led a united front against
them--the focus of land reform temporarily shifted to rent reduction). The seeds of a new economy were planted.
The base areas spread and served the advance of the armed struggle for nationwide power. The new-democratic
revolution in China achieved victory in 1949.
Since the time of the Chinese revolution, changes
have taken place in the world economy. Globalization is resulting
in the greater integration of Third World agriculture into the world market, and in the spread of the cash economy.
Hundreds of millions of peasants are being dispossessed in the countryside and driven into the cities.
But for all these changes, the horrors facing
the masses have only multiplied. And for all these changes, the
struggle for land and against semifeudalism is still central to the people's struggle in most of the countryside of the
Third World--from Mexico, to India, to the Philippines.
Maoist revolutionaries in the oppressed nations
are trying to solve the particular problems and challenges thrown
up by their concrete conditions (including the technological and military capabilities of the enemy). In carrying out
people's war, there may be necessary tactical steps and stages for the agrarian revolution to go through. But
whatever those steps and stages are, the Maoist road requires that uprooting semifeudalism be the firm orientation
and practice all along the road.
A Parting Thought
In going over these issues in my mind, I recalled
something that Pedro, one of the three peasant organizers I had
spoken with, said to me. I had asked him how he saw the prospects for revolution in the Philippines. He reflected
for a few seconds. "The enemy has strength. But the government has no plan for the poor. It can't give any
solution. We will fight and we will learn more. The revolution will grow strong." Based on what I learned, I came
away from the guerrilla front thinking that Pedro was right.
NEXT: MORE ON THE AGRARIAN REVOLUTION AT THE GRASS ROOTS