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The Three Basic Problems in the Philippines

Monday, January 12, 2009
The poorest of the Philippines poor live among mountains of garbage. Photo by Jan Pleiter.

"The poorest of the Philippines' poor live among mountains of garbage." Photo by Jan Pleiter.

While the Philippines is a much more complex and richly shaped country than can be summed up in three “basic” problems I thought I’d share with you guys a list of resources I used to in a workshop yesterday called “Land is Life” about the situation of land rights, semi-feudalistic exploitation, and imperialism, in the Philippines.  I incorporated these books in a slide show presentation I gave in my segment of the workshop.

The three “basic” problems are, as defined by the National Democratic movement in the Philippines, are Western Imperialism, Bureaucrat Capitalism, and semi-Feudalism.  Here are the resources with links and descriptions.


“Advanced” Readings

Amin, Imperialism and Unequal Devlopment (Monthly Review Press, 1977).

A collection of essays by Egyptian Marxist economist Amin no how imperialism aids and spreads unequal development in the third world to benefit first world imperialist nations.

Fanon, A Dying Colonialism (Grove Press, 1994).

A Dying Colonialism is Fanon’s incisive and illuminating account of how, during the Algerian Revolution, the people of Algeria changed centuries-old cultural patterns and embraced certain ancient cultural practices long derided by their colonialist oppressors as “primitive,” in order to destroy those oppressors. Fanon uses the fifth year of the Algerian Revolution as a point of departure for an explication of the inevitable dynamics of colonial oppression. This is a strong, lucid, and militant book; to read it is to understand why Fanon says that for the colonized, “having a gun is the only chance you still have of giving a meaning to your death.”

Lenin. Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism (Resistance Books, 1999).

Written during the carnage of World War I, Lenin’s famous work was designed to show that imperialism was the essence of capitalism, not simply a policy chosen by its leaders.

Magdoff, Imperialism Without Colonies (Monthly Review Press, 2003).

These essays explain how imperialism works, why it generates ever greater inequality, repression, and militarism, and the essential role it plays in the development of U.S. capitalism. Written in the 1960s and 70s, Magdoff”s essays constituted a major contribution to Marxist theory and provided a model of rigorous argument in which theory is constantly checked against the economic reality. They provide an indispensable guide to the basic forces at work in the global politics of the twenty-first century.

“Basic” Readings

Blum, Rogue State: Third Edition (Zed Books, 2006).

As Madeline Albright once said, ‘The United States is good. We try to do our best everywhere’. So – as the first chapter in this book asks – Why Do Terrorists Keep Picking on the United States? Some suggest it is envy or ingratitude. Maybe it is simply pure evil? Surely it can have no connection with the 40 foreign governments the US has attempted to overthrow since 1945? Or the crushing of over 30 freedom movements around the world, killing millions and destroying the hope of millions more? This well documented book, updated in response to the unfolding ‘War Against Terrorism’, tells a more believable story about US imperialism than you will obtain from CNN.

Petras, et. al. Empire with Imperialism (Zed Books, 2005).

Until its recent revival the term ‘imperialism’ had virtually disappeared from academic and political discourse. Today, however, the notion of imperialism, particularly regarding the aggressive projection of state power by the Bush administration, has been put back on the agenda. It has begun to replace the notion of ‘globalization’ as a framework for grasping worldwide economic, social and political developments. This book explores these events. It looks at the transformations in capitalist development over the past two decades, and the global projection of American power. It assesses the forces of resistance against global neoliberal capitalist development and imperialism, and explores the internal dynamics of the ‘anti-globalization movement’.


“Advanced” Readings

Harvey, Limits of Capital (Verso, 2006).

Widely praised as an exciting, insightful exposition and development of Marx’s critique of political economy, Harvey updates his classic text with a discussion of the turmoil in world markets today. In his analysis of “fictitious capital” and “uneven geographical development,” Harvey takes the reader step by step through layers of crisis formation, beginning with Marx’s controversial argument concerning the falling rate of profit, moving through crises of credit and finance, and closing with a timely analysis of geo-political and geographical consideration

“Basic” Readings

Appignanesi, Marx for Beginners (Panthenon Books, 1979).

How can you summarize the work of Karl Marx in cartoons? It took Rius to do it. He’s put it all in: the origins of Marxist philosophy, history, economics; of capital, labor, the class struggle, socialism. And there’s a biography of “Charlie” Marx besides.

Mandel, An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory (Resistance Books, 2002).

In this pamphlet, Ernest Mandel gives a concise outline of the basic principles of Marxist political economy.

The first section focuses on the labour theory of value. The second section examines the laws of motion of capitalist economy and its inherent contradictions. Finally, Mandel applies this framework to some of the basic realities of modern capitalist economy.

Singer, Marx: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2000).

Peter Singer identifies the central vision that unifies Marx’s thought, enabling us to grasp Marx’s views as a whole. He sees him as a philosopher primarily concerned with human freedom, rather than as an economist or a social scientist. In plain English, he explains alienation, historical materialism, the economic theory of Capital, and Marx’s ideas of communism, and concludes with an assessment of Marx’s legacy.


“Advanced” Readings

Sison, Philippine Society and Revolution: Fifth Edition (Aklat ng Bayan, 2006). (PDF file)

The fifth edition of PSR reproduces the original text with slight revisions for the author and publisher maintain its continuing relevance in a “semi-feudal and semi-colonial” society like ours. As Luis Teodoro quotes, “the more things change, the more they are the same.” The land question, bureaucrat/crony capitalism, and US imperialism (now in the vesture of globalization) remain unresolved. The fifth PSR edition may be compared to the third (1979) and fourth (1996) editions which include two “praxis” documents: Specific Characteristics of People’s War (1973) and Our Urgent Tasks (1976). The fourth edition has excerpts from later writings of Sison. The Bibliographical Dictionary of Marxism (London, 1986) lists Sison as among the most important 200 Marxists since the 1848 Communist Manifesto. Historian Agoncillo in 1985 said that Sison was one of three most influential revolutionary leaders after Andres Bonifacio and Crisanto Evangelista.

Ibid., Philippine Economy and Politics (Aklat ng Bayan, 2002).

Jose Maria Sison writes about the current situation in the Philippines, the exploitation of the land, the corrupt politicians, and capitalistic exploitation.


Rosca, Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World, Protrait of a Revolutionary (Open Hand Publishing, 2004).

Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World–Portrait of a Revolutionary is an impressive collaboration between Professor Sison, an award winning poet and arguably the most important Filipino revolutionary leader of the twentieth century, and Ninotchka Rosca, an internationally acclaimed journalist and novelist who has won numerous awards, including the American Book Award.This thought-provoking political biography/autobiography provides the U.S. reader, and others, with a rare glimpse into the life, the motivation and the thinking of a revolutionary leader of a significant liberation struggle aimed at achieving freedom from the “embrace” of the United States government.

For an alternative exlpanaiton on the problems in the Philippines Walden Bello has many works.  While he has been critisized by many in the National Democratic movement in the Philippines (and by myself) it is always good to read up on alternative explanations.

Development Debacle, the World Bank in the Philippines (Institute for Food Development Policy, 1982).

Bello goes over how neo-liberal policies under the Marcos regime helped underdevlope the Philippines for the enrichment of some and to the detriment of many.

Bello, et. al, The Anti-Development State: The Political Economy of Permanent Crisis in the Philippines (Zed Books, 2004)

Seven million Filipinos live or work abroad. One in five wants to emigrate. What has gone wrong in the 20 years since the popular ousting of President Marcos? In this analysis of the roots of failure, Walden Bello shows how the political system remains dominated by a competitive elite who oppose any significant attempts to address the country‘s huge social inequalities. He pinpoints the unravelling of land reform, the overwhelming power of private interests, the foreign debt service burden, WTO pressure to adopt free market policies, and how sustainable and environmentally friendly development has been consistently undermined by structural adjustment. The way out, he argues, is through the wholesale overhaul of the system of governance, leading to a new development strategy based on more, not less, state intervention, the domestic market as the driver of growth, and working together with other countries in the South.

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  1. links for 2009-01-13 « The Mustard Seed

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