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.

Viewed from the outside, the reactionary state apparatus appears to be a brutal and beastly machine. Viewed from the inside, this juggernaut looks enigmatic. Seductively enigmatic. Nevertheless, it remains a ferocious stinking monster. Its hypnotic stink, however, is camouflaged by trappings, rituals, symbols, and other elegant deodorizers which distort the gaze of everybody, including the beast slayers. A leftist who joins electoral politics is exposed to this nether world. Indeed, he is most vulnerable inside the ‘belly of the beast.’

It seems inevitable that a leftist is stripped of his warrior aura the moment he decides to join the ‘hunger games’ of the bourgeoisie. A street fighter in the battle arena of parliamentary politics. He will be seen as an eccentric spouting strange words and alien phrases. A moralist whose political ego will awkwardly collide with the laughable and pathetic vanity of the decadent class.

A leftist who becomes a politician is actually a pitiful individual, a crippled political creature. But he can escape the curse of compromise by stubbornly clinging to his beliefs; and more importantly, by strengthening his organizational link with the grassroots. In other words, he must remain an activist in both theory and practice.

Possessing a progressive (reformist) worldview is not enough. Without the backing and counsel of the mass movement, a leftist trapped in the bureaucratic maze (and haze) might erroneously equate his verbal jousting in the parliament with real political power. He might see no other platform to build the political edifice of the Cause other than the state machinery. In the end, he will embrace the legitimacy of the political apparatus whose foundation is based on the ruthless exploitation and manipulation of the poor. Tragically, he mutates into a rabid apologist of the ruling clique. He falls for the fleeting allure of illusory power and its overrated perks and porks. He joins the reactionary master in rejecting the alternative appeal and threat of the mass movement.

It must be emphasized that a leftist who finds himself in the inside of mainstream politics will always remain an outsider. He is inside the big circle but outside the loop. He is a somebody to many but a nobody to them. Equals under the law but unequals in so many levels. There is a mutual feeling of distrust and abhorrence. Everyday niceties prevail but the loathing remains. After some time, the leftist must escape the glorified squalor or he becomes numb with all the wheeling and dealing, horse trading, cheap bargaining, and unprincipled exchange of unpleasantries that surround him. He may be fascinated with his proximity to surreal politics but he is still offended by its perversity. The macabre parliament is no place for the squeamish.

So what can a leftist whose party is not in power accomplish in the bureaucracy? Well, nothing much. He can insert some really good reforms here and there but measured against the great political objective of societal change, his work is miniscule compared to the Parliament of the Streets and People Power. It is only through politics proper that a political institution is best judged and not by exaggerating some meaningless numbers, self-rated performance reviews, and paid tributes.

Naturally, a leftist has a concrete agenda to offer which reactionaries often dismiss as nothing more but foolish and dangerous fantasies. Some would insist that this agenda can be successfully integrated in the mainstream hierarchy by diluting its content and by exhibiting good manners in presenting them. This is the risk and dilemma that leftists often encounter. What exactly is the threshold of acceptable compromise, if ever such a thing exists? How can dissidence continue without being scandalous in the eyes of the opinion-making classes?

The presence of leftists in mainstream politics is often highlighted to prove the changing dynamics of Philippine democracy. Others go too far by arguing that the traditional elite is actually amenable to a power sharing scheme with the non-elite. Leftists must respond by being more aggressive in fulfilling their mission order which is to expose the bankruptcy of electoral politics and the rotten core of the exploitative social order on one hand, and spread the message of revolution on the other.

While politicians inflate their egos and pockets, leftists are focused on deepening their understanding of the state apparatus. The weak points are rendered visible to all, the deceptive parts are unmasked, the power players and their surrogates are identified, the magic of the behemoth is demystified and declassified. Soon, the hacking will commence. We are the source code review of the coming deconstruction of the order of things.

Related articles:

Hourglass politics
Young politicians
Reformism, radicalism

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