Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Eschew reformism. Embrace radicalism.

Reformism is what we remembered in kindergarten; radicalism is what the school of life teaches us.

Reformism is when you expose a school bully to your teacher. Radicalism is when you question the schooling system that breeds bullies; then you move to replace it with a new one.

Reformism is the creative and smart campaigning within the limits of the existing political system. Radicalism is the forced intertwining of numerous reformisms to expedite the destruction of the old decaying system until a new order has emerged.

Reformism is what dictators prefer. The dictators, guardians of the eternal present, exaggerate the threat posed by petty reforms to make people think that reformist victories are enough to weaken and change the system.

Politicians whether of old or new stripes are natural purveyors of reformism. They misrepresent reformism as history-in-the-making when in fact it slows down the unveiling of new histories. They wanted to replace the old guards but are reluctant to surrender the perks of being in power. Unable to imagine a new political set-up where they can rule without challenge, they end up supporting minor causes and micro reforms that do not inflict any significant damage to the beastly machine.

Reformism is the tragicomedy of politics. Entertaining yet ultimately dull, necessary yet inevitably superficial, effective yet undeniably overrated.

A reformist goal once achieved should be the cue to intensify and raise the level of struggle. Unfortunately, the romantic reformists would insist to extend the debate over messy, trivial details. They often raise incessant noise over the supposed non representation, exclusion, non consultation of the foreign funded grouplings and other racketeers.

Reformism is what radicals actually do everyday. It features the basics of activism: live with the grassroots, identify the issue, research, inform, explain, educate, propagate, advocate, petition, organize, network, lobby, mobilize. Repeat.

But why stop with a single reformism? What’s wrong with multiple reformisms? Radicalism is multiple reformism, plus more. Radicalism is unlimited reformism. Combine the reformism of one sector with another sector, then advance a political demand that does not merely require some bureaucratic tweakings.

Why make the political process complicated? Because history (and political reality) has taught us that the dominant party in power would not allow a major disruption in the system. What they are willing to offer is to accommodate some peripheral reordering of some highly visible sub-pillars in the political-economic structure without altering the core of the system.

Radicals would participate in the process to argue their position without surrendering some non-negotiable demands. Their presence can either bring some valuable reforms or reduce the onerous and repressive features of state sponsored initiatives. But radicals, being radicals, would always push the limits of mainstream politics. They would unmask the seemingly bright potential of the status quo; and more importantly, remind the people that there is a better alternative.

For reformists, the alternative is to be recognized by the prettified exploiters as the glorified subalterns of civil society. For radicals, the alternative is to use the reformisms of the present to build a new world in the future. Radicals are part time reformists who believe that man is capable of achieving greater political victories instead of merely begging for crumbs from the state.

Reformists are closet radicals who got tired of waiting for the unfolding of History. Emptied of its radical essence, their politics becomes an attractive accessory to mainstream politics which is desperate of political validation. Regarded to be as more credible than traditional politicians, they are given the crucial task of transforming the great and fighting political enthusiasm of the grassroots into a non-antagonistic albeit cohesive lobby force.

To justify their disdain for militant politics, reformists insist they are able to generate concrete and immediate political results that allegedly alleviate the conditions of the poor. Radicals, according to reformists, are guilty of prolonging the unnecessary suffering of the people they aimed to serve.

But reformism cannot exist without the specter of radicalism.

The popular reformisms today were radical ideas of the past. The doable, practical reform measures of the present were once viewed as utopian imaginations. But old old radicals, despite the ridicule and persecution they received, fulfilled their political task and persevered until their wild ideas gained material force in society. If some radicals today seem less active in chewable reformisms, maybe because their attention is directed towards the struggle for the unpopular but essential radical politics that could evolve as the mainstream ethos in the future.

Reformists are easily absorbed by the state machinery in order to displace the subversives and ‘troublemakers’ in the open political arena. Reformists need the presence of radicals to terrorize the tiny clique of exploiters in society. Reformists often invoke the radical threat to force the state to accept and legislate reformist measures.

Radicalism created the so-called democratic space which reformists claim to be of their doing. Afraid of the creeping revolution, the state compromised by unleashing little waves of reform and welfare measures. The reforms were conceived to tame the revolutionary upheaval and not to please the self-styled reformists. The lesson is clear: The best approach to reformism is to launch an all-out radicalism.

Pity the persons who equate reformism as the pinnacle of political engagement. Radicalism, anyone?

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Young politicians
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Impossible reformism

3 Responses to “Radicalism. Reformism”

  1. Tara let’s enshrine revolt in the constitution. Mga every 3 years, pwede na ba? Or every year? Every month kaya? Or weekly? Tara Go!

    Radicalists have very simplistic views

  2. Is it just me, or did the recent argument between Anakbayan and Akbayan on a morning show inspire this article? Hehehe…


  3. Simple maybe, not simplistic. Simple enough to know that without a fundamental change, all other changes are naught.

    Also, know that without the participation and help of those whom you call “simplistic” these liberal/reformist groups will not be able to protect what little they have of their open, democratic, space.

    So, yes, let’s enshrine revolution in the constitution. A continuing one.

    Carlo Lacanilao

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