In this short video, Al Jazeera looks at the disappointment that has followed the “People Power” movement, which ousted longtime U.S.-backed dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines in 1986, and suggests that the people of Tunisia and Egypt keep fighting to ensure that the removal of Ben Ali and Mubarak leads to real democratic government that addresses their needs, particularly the poverty and inequality that plague their societies.
And in this new article, the Carnegie Council looks at several important lessons that should be learned from the nonviolent movements in Serbia, Georgia and Ukraine, which is really worth the read. The authors argue that the organizations and leaders that are part of nonviolent movements should have concrete goals beyond the removal of the dictator, be wary of getting too close to foreign funders, and resist the urge to enter electoral politics. In Serbia, they contend, when numerous members of Otpor entered government it had:
…decidedly negative consequences for the movement itself and for Serbian civil society more generally. Otpor lost many of the visionaries that once defined its spirit in the run-up to Milosevic’s ouster. Perhaps more significantly, Serbian civil society was deprived of young, vibrant activists, leaving it too weak to convincingly counterbalance the powers of political society.
More importantly, the transformation into a political party meant that Otpor had to drastically change its structure and methods of operation. Like all political parties, it had to establish clear leadership and a pyramidal structure that ran contrary to the decentralized nature of its revolutionary politics.
In doing so, Otpor sacrificed a major tenet of its struggle against Milosevic: the (seeming) absence of a leader. One of Otpor’s strengths in Milosevic’s Serbia had been its refutation of formal, bureaucratic procedures. This fluidity allowed Otpor to embrace Serbs of all backgrounds and opinions, and is what made it so attractive for Serbia’s youth, so disenchanted by traditional political parties and their corrupt practices. Ironically, however, it is also what delegitimized Otpor the party.
When in 2003 Otpor failed to enter parliament, the organization quickly disbanded.
The impact of Otpor’s unraveling for Serbia’s youth has been profound. Serbia’s young people lack a stake in the system. They have no effective means to voice their concerns, and no clear instrument through which to channel their discontent. Otpor could perhaps have provided such a vehicle had its leaders made the transition not to politics, but to youth advocacy. Just as they once resisted a dictator, so too might they have resisted the subsequent political disenfranchisement that has afflicted youths across Serbia and the greater Balkans region.
To read the rest of this very insightful piece, click here.
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The Carnegie article ends by noting: “Otpor’s experience speaks to the need to maintain a safe distance from external influences, even those that purport to support democracy.” Here the authors are referring to US ‘democracy promoting’ organizations like Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy.
For my recent analysis of the key role that such US-based “democracy promoters” played in the Philippines during the 1980s, see:
“A Warning for Egyptian Revolutionaries: Courtesy of People Power in the Philippines.” (February 15, 2011)
Mr. Barker’s linked article on the Philippines amounts to a conspiracy theory that the U.S. was behind the steering wheel when the original “people power” revolution took place — including the defection of top Filipino generals against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, even as the White House continued to back Marcos, as well as the movement against Marcos led by Corazon Aquino. In other words, according to Mr. Barker, the key moves by the top actors were being made with American support or guidance. Nowhere else in the respectable scholarly literature on these events can there be found persuasive evidence for this bizarre scenario. It’s also an insult to the tens of thousands of Filipinos involved in several years of organizing and resistance to Marcos, and to every one of the million Filipinos who risked repression for blocking loyal army units on the streets of Manila and brandishing their support of Aquino. It reduces them all to pawns of the United States.
Seeing shadowy American moves behind these events, Mr. Barker may satisfy his adoration of the explanatory power of U.S. imperialism, but in this case it fails to account for why millions of Filipinos rallied enthusiastically to Aquino and her party as their chosen vehicle for liberation from a corrupt and vainglorious dictator. They had, after all, been living under his heavy hand for twenty years. Surely that cumulative experience and their own assessment of his retrograde effect on Filipino society offered sufficient impetus for the action they took. Surely the assassination of her husband at the hands of the Marcos regime was sufficient impetus for Ms. Aquino to be determined to reclaim real democratic rule for her country.
Insofar as the actions of the U.S. government is concerned, Mr. Barker doesn’t seem to realize that it has never been a monolithic entity. In this case, members of the U.S. Congress, like Sen. John Kerry, voiced strong support for free and fair elections on visits to the Philippines, and a visiting U.S. congressional delegation declared after the 1986 election that there had been evidence of fraud. On the other hand, however, President Reagan’s chief of staff kept saying that Marcos was a great friend of the U.S. Was this all a charade? Ultimately, after it was clear to anyone in the world with a television set that the vast majority of the Filipino people wanted Marcos out, it still took a phone call to Marcos from a Senator known to be one of Reagan’s closest friends which convinced Marcos to leave — he had refused to believe anyone else.
If the U.S. had the power to manipulate all these events, as Mr. Barker apparently believes, why did the U.S. have to go to the trouble of letting Aquino mobilize a million people and put them into the streets? Why not hand Marcos an irresistible retirement check much earlier and avoid all that fuss? The problem with conspiracy theories is that there are always dozens, indeed thousands of actors and events in a years-long, nation-shaking drama like this that simply cannot be explained by some sort of long-distance choreography performed by external actors. But that is what Mr. Barker recommends to us, rather than the well-studied, well-understood indigenous process of resistance and nonviolent struggle undertaken by people who are passionate about getting rid of obnoxious rulers. Mr. Barker is so beguiled with the idea of conspiratorial state power, perhaps that is why he doesn’t seem to notice what people power can do.
For an objective account of the transition in the Philippines, which is free of having to filter reality through the single lens of seeing American global hegemony as the devil behind every curtain, try Mark R. Thompson’s “The Anti-Marcos Struggle: Personalistic Rule and Democratic Transition in the Philippines,” (Yale University Press, 1995): http://yalepress.yale.edu/book.asp?isbn=9780300062434
Again Mr Paine you have decided to misinterpret my work — as you have done elsewhere on numerous occasions — and you simply accuse me of conspiracy theorizing. Nothing could be further from the truth: of course the “people power movement” was driven from below. As one scholar who emphasizes the strength of the Filipino labor movement points out:
“[D]riven by economic necessity and political determination, especially after [Benigno] Aquino’s assassination, the workers’ movement grew, becoming more militant and more powerful. The number of strikes increased from 155 in 1983 to 282 in 1984 and to 405 in 1985. The number of workers involved grew from 33,638 in 1983 to 65,306 in 1984 and 109,000 in 1985. The number of working days lost due to strike activity increased from 581,291 in 1983 to 1,907,762 in 1984 and 2,440,000 in 1985. And of the 405 strikes led in 1985, 70% of them were led by the KMU.”
Or by way of a contrast one might highlight powerful ventures backed by the US government like, for example, the National Movement for Free Elections in the Philippines (NAMFREL), which another progressive scholar suggests coordinated one of the “most powerful uses of nonviolent direct action in the campaign… sen[ding] an estimated 500,000 volunteers, largely consisting of priests, seminarians, and nuns, to cover the most sensitive and vulnerable precincts in an effort to minimize violence and electoral fraud.”
My point is that activists should rightly celebrate the influence of genuine people power (in the above case, unionism activism), and be wary of the influence exerted by US-backed projects (in this case, the activities of NAMFREL).
In addition to a hugely powerful labor movement, it is critical to recall that the New People’s Army (NPA) had some 20,000 individuals engaged in guerrilla warfare with the Marcos regime. Another scholar writes how in the early 1980s the US embassy in Manila came close “to something near panic” owing to their realization of the growing threat posed by people power. The scholar in question continues:
“In 1981, embassy cables to Washington began describing an insurgency spreading throughout the archipelago, from Luzon, its birthplace, to the central Visayan Islands of Samar, Panay, Negros, and then to the large southern island of Mindanao. Estimates of NPA armed strength soared, and in February 1984, a new embassy expert on insurgencies put the total at about 12,5000 and growing fast. A year later, the Pentagon was using estimates nearly twice as high. The picture presented in Washington briefings on the Philippines changed to one of a friendly Asian national nearly engulfed in communist revolution. In October 1984, the assistant secretary of defense Richard L. Armitage informed Congress that the NPA was expanding swiftly and ‘could tip the balance of military power within the next several years.’ One year later, the Senate Committee on Intelligence distributed a staff report predicting that unless something was done the insurgency would force a fundamental change in the government within three years.”
It was no secret that the US government was very concerned about growing popular discontent with the Marcos regime, thus they were very interested in helping prevent a genuine representative of the people from coming to power. Cory Aquino, a prominent oligarch, thus provided the perfect presidential candidate to ensure that the immensely strong “people power movement” would have no genuine influence on the Filipino government formed when President Marcos was removed from power.