On reading Karl Marx

Words by Glen Christian Tacasa

I started reading about Karl Marx, and the ideas of Marxism as early as I was in Senior High School. I bought my copy of the Communist Manifesto when I was in Grade 12. I remember how I tucked it under my mattress so that my parents could not find out what I was reading. By that time, I had not grasped the ideas that the readings wanted to infer. I had yet to understand when Marx & Engels said “the first step in the revolution by the working class, is to raise the proletariat to the position of ruling class, to win the battle of democracy”.

It was also around the same year that I started to join the expanding picket line of the masses. My first mass mobilization was an indignation rally against the state burial of dictator Ferdinand Marcos. On that day, I collected pamphlets, leaflets, and other reading materials, and like the Manifesto they were also tucked under my mattress. As I joined several mobs, I learned so much from educational discussions, our discourses with different sectors, and from different pamphlets. The next thing I knew there was a library under my mattress–a revolution hidden away under something comfortable. I never actually have a safe space to read it in the open. Oftentimes I read it at night, when everyone is already asleep. 

Fast forward to the present day, I still get those uneasy feelings on my stomach whenever I pull out any Marxist reading materials. On any occasion that someone asks me why am I reading Marx, my excuse would always be “ay readings ko po iyan sa school”, which is masked with half truth. As a Sociology student, we have tons of readings on sociological theories, which often includes Marx’s theory on conflict, class struggle, and political economy among others. 

Perhaps, my uneasiness–or fear to say the least, was aggravated when the current administration emboldened the armed forces and police to continue their communist witch hunt in the name of “counterinsurgency”. Anyone, who is brave enough to take a stand and be critical of the administration is accused of being a communist or worse, accused of being an armed combatant. The dangers of redtagging lies when someone may be subjected to surveillance, trumped-up charges, and redtagging can be life-threatening. Many activists who are vilified by the government was murdered by state forces under their anticommunist crusade. As if we are still in the Cold War, where the people in the Third World knew that redtagging was a death sentence–and it seems that it still is today.

I already cannot count how many times I think twice, revise a draft, or completely delete what I was writing at the moment because of the fear of being tagged as subversive, or “NPA”. I cannot remember how many times I held back to cite Karl Marx, or Amado Guerrero in several critical essays or discussions due to our sociology classes, especially when the topic seeks to criticize and challenge the status quo. Even as a student journalist, I fear being apprehended whenever I cover progressive groups, or write something highly critical of the machination of the state. Even so, at the end of the day, our progressive stances and assertion will stand taller than our fear, as they say “P’wede kang matakot, pero huwag kang maduduwag”. 

It also does not help the fact that most of the challenged provisions from Anti-Terror Law, that might be used to curtail our civil liberties, was upheld by the Supreme Court. In today’s era, what was loosely tagged as ‘seditious’ and ‘subversive’ before, now has a new rhetoric–progressives are unjustly tagged as ‘terrorist’. In October of last year, the government barred our right to critical thinking and academic freedom, libraries from different State Universities and Colleges pulled out progressive and critical literatures deemed by CHED and NTF-Elcac as materials to terrorism. This attack on academic freedom and critical thinking continues, some independent bookshops that sell progressive titles were vandalized and redtagged

To set things straight, reading Karl Marx, or any Marxist and neo-Marxist literatures is not terrorism. Spaces for critical thinking, critical literature, and critical pedagogy and andragogy must be protected and asserted. Our rotting concrete living conditions are a pretext to necessitate Marxist critical analysis–needless to say, we need to be critical!

Karl Marx’s works have set precedents for us to grasp the root of our problem. It challenged the traditional liberal democratic ideas, and asserted what democracy should attain in the first place: it is “in which the free development of each is the conditions for the free development of all”. Perhaps many of us have come across the maxim “mayaman ang Pilipinas pero naghihirap ang sambayanang Pilipino”, until now this is the social reality in the Philippines, because development in our country is only for a certain pool of ruling elites. There is nothing subversive to be found in Marxist texts, but only social realities and critical action towards democratic rights en masse. It is not terrorism to criticize the administration, and to assert what is rightfully ours. 

Recently, Marxist theory took a new form. Many of us may not be aware that the famous slogan that says “magbigay ng ayon sa kakayahan, kumuha ng ayon sa pangangailangan”, which is present in different community pantries across the Philippines is actually derived from Karl Marx maxim in his 1875 Critique of the Gotha Program. Similarly, it said “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” and it can be considered that such maxim can easily subsume the whole of Marxist traditions. In this sense, it cemented the relevance and timeless importance of Marxism and Karl Marx’s works, especially in our conditions today.

One may be discouraged because reading such materials entail so many risks under our current political climate. However, it should be the opposite, the current political climate demands us to read, analyze, and dissect our society critically. First and foremost, Marxist readings are relevant now more than ever. It helps us to raise awareness of our social realities, and it helps us to be critical of the status quo. Our concrete living conditions today, atop of the systematic exploitation and oppression of the masses, urges us to uphold Marxist traditions. It is true that “the real fruit of their battles lies not in the immediate result, but in the ever-expanding union of the workers”, that is why we need to organize, unionize, to collectively assert the people’s agenda, and mobilize our collective action against state oppression, feudalism, imperialism, and the bureaucratic capitalist system–until we triumph. After all, we have a world to win.

I mentioned earlier that as a Sociology student, we read a lot about Karl Marx, but such rationale on reading Marx only unmasks half of the truth. Besides my degree program, reading Karl Marx is deeply rooted in my political beliefs, my decision to join the mass struggle, and foremost, to equip my practice with theories vis-a-vis. As Marx himself said “practice without theory is blind, and theory without practice is sterile”. [P]

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