First a disclaimer: while I may have loved my wife Che for the last 12 years and addressed her as Commandante (because of her namesake, Che Guevara, the Cuban revolutionary), and named my son Lenin (no relation to the fierce Bolshevik intellectual who went by his christened name Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov), I am, for the better part of bone and skin, not a communist. Not by a long shot.
I am probably closer to a humanist than I would like to admit, a self-proclaimed philosopher-cum-half-baked feminist who learned his first English words watching Porky Pig on Channel 13 and reading Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, the American Thomas Paine and the French author Michel de Montaigne at the age of 12.
Growing up in the early ‘70s under Marcos martial law, to even think of grabbing a book by Karl Marx or Antonio Gramsci was to court death, if not a few months pulling weeds off the grassy knolls of the military camp in Quezon City. As a child, I have contemplated the idea of death so profoundly and with enough regularity that pulling grass for a whole day scared the heck out of me more than death did.
My first faint whiff of communism came from Marcos’ propaganda machine and the American TV shows that were in vogue at the time. Marcos hated the “commies,” as they were called then, and used them to terrorize the public into agreeing with the dictator’s plans to get rid of them.
Back then, I always had a negative impression of the idea of launching a revolution against a powerful and well-nigh indestructible government. To me, revolution was absurd, ridiculous, a nonsensical attempt to garner attention from the public. Back then, I knew little of the sufferings of the poor as I was the grandchild of a filthy-rich Marcos crony.
High school, for all its focus on girls, barkada, and fraternity violence, helped little to stave off the million and one hormones hankering for physical and emotional satisfaction in a body that refused to grow beyond 5’4”.
My years of drinking started here. Suffice it that all I ever accomplished in high school, regardless of the hours I put in for learning and study, came mighty close to putting me in jail for the rest of my pathetic little life. Good thing I had a Marcos crony for a grandfather to bail me out of the rut I was in.
It wasn’t until I was a sophomore at the university when I received a gift from a very good friend: “Das Kapital” and “The Communist Manifesto.” I remember meeting my friend at the middle pew near the confessional of the University of Santo Tomas’ Santissimo Rosario chapel. It was six in the evening. We’d been swapping books for nearly a year, mostly rare titles and hard-to-find authors.
“I never figured you to be ‘Left,’” I said. He grinned. “Well, if owning a book by Marx makes one a communist, then I must be a porn star. I have a whole collection of the Marquis de Sade and Anaïs Nin filling the upper shelves in my library!”
He had a point. Months after reading “Das Kapital” and “The Communist Manifesto,” I then graduated to the diaries of Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara, his biography, then the notebooks of Italian Marxism Antonio Gramsci, and Russian Marixist theorist Leon Trotsky. Other Left-leaning authors came as friends’ gifts, mostly Soviet and European communist intellectuals, including my favorites Jean-Paul Sartre and Walter Benjamin.
So, what makes a communist?
I, personally, am sympathetic to the poor and the dispossessed. It’s a mindset instilled in me not by Marx, but by my long-deceased father.
I believe in the right of people to dissent or even launch a revolution against a seriously abusive totalitarian regime, and I learned this not from the leader of the Bolsheviks, Vladimir Lenin, but from the Enlightenment bigwigs: the American Thomas Paine and the British John Locke.
Do I believe in regime change? Why not? If the current crop of leaders has proven themselves pointless and without hope of ever improving, if the system has been turned into an oppressive machine hostile to our aspirations, then isn’t it only practical to change it? I learn this from common sense.
But here’s the rub. In communism, one’s struggle toward regime change cannot be disassociated from the Marxist principle of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Dictatorship of the proletariat, for me, is simply tyranny—which, by definition, falls under cruel, arbitrary and oppressive leadership—no different from that imposed by American imperialism, Nazism, Dutertismo and any other -ism designed to suppress and oppress.
To me, tyranny is detestable in any shape or form. It matters little if it is wielded by the proletariat or by imperialist scumbags. No amount of noble intention purported by any ideology can give tyranny an acceptable face—unless you suffer a malodorous sexual fetish for Hitler’s moustache.
But the real cause of my refusal to accept communism in my life came from Lenin’s own words. In a speaking engagement he once graced, Lenin said: “We must build communism on the ruins of capitalism.”
While cities and whole civilizations have been built over graveyards all throughout humanity’s epochs, ideologies are made of far different, if not altogether porous, material.
To build a whole belief system over a failed one—one that you’ve vanquished—is to admit that vanquishing it may not have been a good idea after all, and that many of its principles may apply after one has garbed it in different names or rhetoric. This, I believe, is where communism, as an ideology, stopped too low for comfort.
However much I disagree with some of its principles, I don’t believe that communism, in its basic form, is criminal. Communism is NOT a crime. It is a belief system no different from other belief systems out to secure what rightfully belongs to the people. To empower the poor, if I am not mistaken, is communism’s basic and most fundamental tenet.
If empowering the poor is criminal, then governments should wage a war against the Church, too, or the nearest friendly-neighborhood seminary or free medical clinics.
The fear of communism is a sham developed by the police and military to justify its ongoing inquisition against the Left. Any government hell-bent on imposing its totalitarian mindset must invent, as Umberto Eco once said, a new enemy to serve as a smokescreen to its rampant corruption. That’s as simple as simple can get.
So am I a communist because I’ve read and somehow have a mental image of what they stand for? You might as well call me a chef because I can whip up a kaldereta to die for. G