Fact Check: Duterte is Not The First Genuinely Progressive Leader To Oppose a “Communist Party”

The government of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has made a move to formally ban the Communist Party of The Philippines as talks with its armed faction, the New People’s Army (NPA) have broken down. Duterte’s move has confounded many foreign analysts who correctly understand Duterte’s government to have many progressive elements. However, what many fail to understand is that the Communist Party of The Philippines is not a peaceful patriotic party like the opposition Communist Party of The Russian Federation, let alone like the pragmatic, modern and extremely capable ruling party in China. Likewise, far from an international movement, the Communist Party of The Philippines no longer has any ties with the ruling party in China. It is largely an isolated guerrilla group with no real international status. The Party’s home grown insurgency is actually a regressive roadblock to the kinds of genuine progressive reforms that President Duterte is working hard to make, all while doing so against the background of being a model leader for 21st century non-alignment and multipolarty.

While many still harbour a Cold War style vision of leftist politics, which paints left-wing or “Communist” parties as an international monolith, the reality is that some of the most internationally beloved anti-imperialist progressives of the Cold War era had tense relationships with self-styled Communists and in fact many of these progressive 20th century heroes did to their local Communist parties what Duterte seeks to do with the Communist Party of The Philippines.

One of the 20th century’s most celebrated progressives, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser banned not one but two Communist parties. While Nasser’s relationship with Communists in his rise to power led to an alliance of sorts with all anti-imperialist forces, it soon became evident that the Marxist-Leninist internationalism of the Egyptian Communist Party had different goals than Nasser’s own Arab Nationalism. Beginning in the late 1950s, Nasser cracked down heavily on Egyptian Communist Party activity before banning the party outright.

While Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic between 1958 and 1961, Nasser found that the Syrian Communist Party was a constant obstacle to his integrationist political agenda. Members of the Syrian Communist Party faced a crackdown at the hands of Nasser, in spite of the fact that technically both were of the left of the geopolitical spectrum. When Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev once asked Nasser to relax his stance on local Communists, Nasser refused, while nevertheless continuing a positive relationship with the USSR.

In the 1980s, the Syrian Communist Party was again banned, this time by the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party of Syria President Hafez al-Assad. The Party was ultimately dissolved in 1986, but this had no bearing on the fact that Syria remained the Soviet Union’s closest ally in the Arab world, thus proving that even at the height of the Cold War, the ‘mother’ of all Communist Parties was happy to work with “anti-Communist” progressive parties throughout the Non-aligned/post-colonial world.

In Iraq, the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party also had a tense relationship with Communists, not least because the leader ousted by the Ba’ath Party in 1963, Abd al-Karim Qasim, had a ‘too close for comfort’ relationship with the Communists. Ultimately, while the Syrian and Iraqi Ba’ath parties severed ties in 1966, both clamped down on Communist activities during the 1980s, after previous clampdowns in the 1960s.

While unlike the secular-progressive movements of Nasserism and Ba’athism, the Islamic Revolution in Iran has generally been viewed as progressive due to its opposition to imperialism and monarchism, its emphasis on equality and its investment in public projects and education. Yet in the Islamic Republic of Iran, most Marxist parties are either banned outright of restricted in their activities.

In 1954 Pakistan, a country whose birth was itself the result of an anti-imperialist movement, the Communist Party of Pakistan was banned by the progressive anti-imperialist Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

The reasons that Communist Parties were banned by the aforementioned anti-imperialist progressive governments is because their role was seen as obstructionist rather than patriotic or unifying. By contrast, while Venezuela has a technically non-Communist progressive socialist government, the Communist Party of Venezuela has endorsed the socialist Bolivarianism of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, through resulting in a unity front in spite of ideological differences.

Thus, we see that relationships between anti-imperialist governments which are progressive but not Communist, and self-described Communist parties are often highly fraught. The fact that The Communist Party of Philippines has an armed wing whose very goal is necessarily obstructionist and destabilising, is proof positive that Duterte’s move is not designed for ideological purposes but to help bring further peace and stability to a country that has outgrown the need for political parties to take up armed struggle to prove a point.

Duterte is no more a ‘traitor’ to anti-imperialist ideals than Nasser, al-Assad, Imam Khomeini or Muhammad Ali Jinnah – just to name a few. Duterte is doing what he needs to do to unite the country behind a platform that is truly multi-polar abroad and diverse at home. This is why Duterte rejects the corrupt, failed practices of the Liberal party while also rejecting the presence of an armed Communist faction in the 21st century.

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