100 years after 1917, Karl Marx lives and will probably live forever

MUCH of what Karl Marx wrote, the same prescient thoughts that were to guide and inspire the revolt against Tsarist Russia in February 1917— and climax with Lenin’s rise to power following the November triumph of the Bolsheviks—remain relevant today. No, not the withering of the state and the inexorable march of historical determinism to put in place a classless society.

The USSR imploded, remember, even before a rough draft of an efficient central planning could be written down and (excuse this non-Marxist term) pilot-tested in one of those ideal laboratory sites – the small Comintern member-countries.

Rather, it was his prescience to write about the irreconcilable conflicts between labor and capital and the struggles of the proletarian class that would forever demand for a fair share of their labor. And the many contradictions other than the economic, mostly social and cultural, that would be inherent in a society driven by the conflicts between the owners of capital and the provider of labor. More than ethnic and religious strife, it is economic angst and dislocation that drive most of the discontent and upheavals across the globe.

Today is witness to a brutal form of inequality as documented by Thomas Piketty, who wrote a book about that by taking off from Marx’s Das Kapital.

From the Industrial Revolution to the age of Apps, these conflicts have persisted like curses, either in benign or moribund forms and manifestations.

There was no parliamentary resolution to those contradictions. The way out was only one—an armed revolution to topple the exploiter class, according to Marx.

This year marks a milestone for Marx—the centenary of the first successful application of Marx thesis on the inevitable triumph of a proletariat-led revolt, then the worker’s party’s assumption to power. Russia in 1917 toppled the long reign of absolute monarchs, crushed the Revolutionary Government that was accommodating to milder forms of socialism, to usher in a reign of the Bolsheviks, “the dictatorship of the proletariat.”

Marxism saw its full fruition in Russia. It came in the form of a one-party state, central planning, the Red Army, the Politburo, the Pravda and all the organs of state control that were single-handedly ordered by Lenin in a rush of decree-making after the 1917 Revolution.

In Asia, Marxism saw its most successful application in China. Like Lenin, who bent Marxism into certain refinements that suited his own thesis on how to make that leap into the ultimate dream of a classless society, Mao’s own addition were so substantive that a third rail was eventually fixed on the original Marxism-Leninism.

Marxism evolved into Marxism-Leninism-Maoism after a prodigious effort of Mao to influence the original with an Asian context. Mao had a peasant army and a cadre of loyalists that were as intellectually predisposed as Trotsky (think of Zhou Enkai) without the rigidity and unbending nature of Trotsky.

How nimble were they, really. None of the original followers of Lenin, come to think of it, would have adroitly shifted course, such as what Deng did to modernize China and make making money an ironic ingredient of China’s version of modern communism.

The 21stcentury version of China’s communism is mostly a one-party state with central planning jettisoned, and with the third generation of the original 1949 leaders aiming for places at Harvard and Stanford.

The Philippine version of the Left gained ground while Mao was still toiling at the libraries to write down his big plan that would climax with the Long March. Crisanto Evangelista and Pedro Abad Santos merged their own groups, the printing press employee and the landowner coming to terms easily and without much leadership dispute, to form the Communist Party of the Philippines, with Evangelista as the leader.

The CPP had thousands in its peasant army before Mao could form his own and just like Mao’s army, they were active in the resistance movement during the war with Japan. It was all set to seize power from the political and economic elite at its peak strength. (Was it because of the ideological impurity of the likes of Ka Luis who lacked the bloodthirsty nature of Stalin?) How it squandered the opportunity to capture state power was mostly blamed on the US presence. But Vietnam did it, even with US intervention. And with the US at the apex of its military might.

Today, the Philippine Left is an amazing outlier, a revolutionary group still pushing for a Maoist version—that of a patiently carved encirclement of the seat of power from the countryside. The Narodnik underpinning of the Philippine version of the Left is still there, given perhaps the agrarian base of the areas influenced by the CPP.

The other amazing thing is this. It has survived in a global context that saw Maoist groups elsewhere being engulfed—for one reason or another—into Trotsky’s “dustbin of history.”

The Philippine Left is by no means a marginal group that the state can ignore. The Duterte administration (in a very candid and correct appraisal) sees it as the only force that can effectively oppose his administration aboveground and underground.

The pro-rich, elitist rule of Mr. Aquino has led to the opening up of more guerrilla fronts and influenced areas.

And Mr. Duterte now has to confront an energized Left. While his administration has been merrily demolishing its mainstream opposition (sino yung gusto ninyong susunod na ikulong?), it treads a careful ground with the Left.

In an age of the “internet of everything” and venture capital, the Philippine Left is still alive and may be still around come the February Revolution’s second centenary.