‘The Filipino Masses Enter the Stage of Armed Struggle for Freedom’ by Harrison George from the Communist. Vol. 14 No. 6. June, 1935.

Independence rally, early 1930s.

Former wobbly Harrison George, who in 1935 was a senior Communist Party member, Secretary of the West Coast offices of the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Secretariat, an editor of Western Worker, and most importantly Comintern representative to the Philippines who would assist in the founding of the Communist Party of the Philippine Islands. Here, Harrison writes on the Sakdal and other peasant-based risings that broke out in 1935, their social background, the role of U.S. imperialism and its ‘Commonwealth Government,’ then goes on to the responsibilities of U.S. Communists to the Philippines and berates the Party for its failures and anti-Asian chauvinism in its ranks.

‘The Filipino Masses Enter the Stage of Armed Struggle for Freedom’ by Harrison George from the Communist. Vol. 14 No. 6. June, 1935.

VOLLIES of rifle fire have drowned out honied hypocrisies!

The so-called “Commonwealth Government” of the Philippines is baptized in the blood of the toilers! Sixty-seven of them (the carefully censored imperialist press dispatches admit that many, though there are probably many more!) are buried— “scores of bodies wrapped in woven native matting and buried in a common grave without coffins’—a common grave, their “commonwealth”!

Thousands of Constabulary, armed to the teeth, patrolling all provinces of Central Luzon in motors. Manila police carrying rifles. All conveyances searched. Eight thousand troops of the Manila garrison prepared for war. Constabulary seizing all “private fire- arms” (evidently from stores, because the possession of firearms by the people is strictly forbidden). Hundreds (reports indicate about 800) arrested, including some members of the Legislative Assembly. Special judges assigned to give them a “fair trial”. All public meetings prohibited. And—‘with these precautions”—the proposed “Commonwealth” Government’s constitution—‘“previously approved by President Roosevelt”—is “approved by the voters in a plebiscite”.

But, what a plebiscite! Out of the nearly 14,000,000 population, there were only 1,700,000 voters who registered. This is not surprising, considering that all who do not own considerable property are disfranchised; a fact in itself proving the falsity of democratic pretensions. In addition, 36 hours after the polling places, “guarded” by troops, had closed, reports “from all sections”, which certainly should give the voting in Manila and other big centers, gave only some 450,000 votes cast, though imperialist press dispatches hopefully estimate that a million had been. Even so, the efforts of the imperialist press dispatches to make seven per cent look like a popular expression, by inserting such things as “enthusiastic voters”, are most transparent.

The heroic peasants of Bulucan, Laguna, Nueva Ecija, Tayabas and Rizal provinces, have—by their sacrifices—effectively exploded the sanctimonious hypocrisy of the Roosevelt-Murphy “liberal” regime, and exposed the “freedom and independence” supposedly “granted” by the Tydings-McDuffie Act, as a lie!

Quezon welcomed to the United States.

Because the Tydings-McDuffie Act has been sufficiently explained by the manifesto of the Communist Party of the Philippine Islands in the April issue of The Communist, it is not necessary here to analyze that prize piece of hypocrisy, aside from noting its direct connection with the uprising. It is necessary, first of all, to examine the conditions of the Philippine peasantry, as the back- ground of the uprising, the real opening battle of the agrarian- anti-imperialist revolution.

The population is overwhelmingly agrarian, though the vagueness of statistics conceals just what percentage are purely peasants as distinguished from wage workers. An estimate, under the heading of “agricultural laborers”, for 1927, gives a total of 2,736,175, of which 1,796,001 were males, and 940,174 females. The 1918 census (there has been none since) gave a slightly smaller total, but gives no listing of peasants as distinct from wage workers in agriculture. In 1918, there were 865,698 persons in “industrial pursuits” and 426,547 in “commerce”.


The standard of living (or dying, better said) of the agricultural wage laborers can be seen by the wage scales in the heaviest agrarian wage labor provinces; in Cebu, which had 248,434 “agricultural laborers” in 1927, the average male wage worker received a wage of 22 cents (American money) per day. Women wage workers in the same province received 16 cents. And this was when they were fortunate enough to have a job. Now, hundreds of thousands are absolutely jobless, without any resource at all, except, in some cases, their peasant relatives.

But the condition of the small peasants has been getting worse and worse. According to the Fortnightly News (now not printed) of the Bureau of Plant Industry, for November, 1931, the “average cultivated area per family is but slightly over one hectare, with an average income of less than 100 pesos”. (The peso is 50 cents U.S. money, making the average peasant income per family only $50 per year!) This, mind you, is the gross income, not de- ducting the expense for seed, fertilizers—if any, and numerous other things. This refers to the tenant farmers in the principal crops of rice, sugar and tobacco.

The same authority, continuing, says:

“In the Philippines, practically all farms, with but few laudable exceptions, are run by absentee landlords, who depend on aparceros (sharecroppers) or smquilinos (cash tenants) for cultivation of their lands. Each aparcero operates on the average slightly over one hectare, on shares, usually one-half of the crop, with expenses equally divided with the landlord. In the majority of cases, the aparcero has had little schooling or none at all.” [No wonder, since there are almost no schools in the rural districts—H.G.]

And, it is added:

“Such a system has continued under the aegis of free trade [with America] in the raising of sugar cane, abaca [hemp] and tobacco. It has been followed with rice ever since one can remember.”

Our authority failed to account for this surprising monopoly in land. So we will help him out by informing the reader that, with the conquest of the Philippines by Spain over 300 years ago, the Catholic church laid hands upon gigantic tracts, the best land, the most valuable, and has been sucking the blood of the peasants ever since. Indeed, of the workers also, as most of the Manila houses sit upon church land (which is never sold, but rented to the house-builder; a neat arrangement, as he who moves must leave his house to the church!), and an Irish Catholic Archbishop lives like a king in his feudal palace within the Walled City section of Manila, one of the most closely crowded slum areas of the city, and all of it the property of the church.


The empire’s eye-view.

When the proletarian, Andreas Bonifacio, organized and led the successful revolution against Spanish rule in 1896 to 1898, the battle-cry of his peasant army, raised at Balintawak (the Filipino Bunker Hill), was “Down with the thieving friars!) The friar lands to the peasants!” Bonifacio was murdered by Emelio Aguinaldo, who sold out the revolution to American imperialism and allowed himself to be “captured” by General Funston. This scoundrel, still posing today as a great national hero, receives an annual bribe called a “pension” (paid from the taxes wrung out of the people) of $6,000, and was permitted also to swindle a host of peasants out of their land, by taking their Spanish deeds under promise of reregistering them when America came in, and having them reregistered—in his own name! The sanctimonious Mr. Manuel Quezon, who, like the Greeks of old, is “always ready to defend his country, or defraud it”—has similar black pages in his history.

The basic demand of the revolution against Spain, the peasant demand for what is known as “the friars’ lands”, was defeated by “protestant” American imperialism. Promises were made, but never kept, and the Catholic church still sits and fattens on the life-blood of the Filipino peasantry.

As the present uprising occurred in the rice-growing areas of central Luzon, it is worth while going further into peasant conditions there. In rice, the average farm tenant works nearly two hectares of land, of which there are three grades, the first yielding 70 “cavans” per farm, the second 60, the third 50 “cavans” (one cavan is composed of 25 “gantas”, each ganta being three liters). In 1931, the average yield per hectare was 28 “cavans”, and the average price per cavan was 1.50 pesos. This is for the unhulled rice, called “palay”.

Recall, now, that the “old Spanish custom” is that the tenant, not the landowner, must pay the taxes levied against the land! That, also, although the poor worker or peasant cannot vote, lacking enough property to qualify, each*one must pay a “poll tax”, known as the “cedula tax”! (American imperialism does not like to be reminded that “taxation without representation is tyranny!”) And we have a fair background for revolt, right there.

But the robbery of the Filipino peasantry has no limit. In each village, there are the most outrageous usurers, big and little, the rich peasant landowner, the landlord’s agent (often representing the Archbishop of Manila), the lessee of the landowner who exploits the aparceros, any one of whom, having utterly no conscience and having political pull, is the local political despot, called “the cacique” (kah-seek-kay). The cacique is a Simon Legree, a loan shark, a procurer, and a police lieutenant rolled into one. No matter what the law is, the cacique rules the village, or “barrio”. Peonage is the rule, rather than the exception, and slaves, who are politely termed “servants”, are beaten, occasionally beaten to death, and legally recaptured and returned to their “employer” if they run away.


The laws, and if not the laws, the customs, of debt, make slaves out of the sons and daughters of a peasant who dies owing a debt, or who can be claimed to owe a debt, to the cacique or rich peasant. And, as the poor aparcero or inquilino must have something to live on until the harvest, the village usurers keep them always in debt, inventing debts if there are none, The methods of these usurers are so fixed by tradition, so notorious and so hated, that the fervent curses of the peasants are built into song and story againt the “takipan”, the “talinduwa”, the “takalanan” and “pasunod”.

“Takipan” is the pleasant habit of the usurer requiring 100 per cent interest, so that if the peasant borrows one cavan of palay, he must pay back two cavans, and, should he fail to pay this because of poor harvest, it becomes four cavans due from the next harvest. And the constabulary and local “justices” are right on hand to force collection when wanted, too.

“Talinduwa” requires that if the peasant borrows one cavan of palay (for food until harvest), he must pay back three cavans.

“Takalanan” requires that if the peasant borrows either money or goods, he must pay back the debt in palay—but accept the (illegal) measurement of the usurer, which is usually from three to five “gantas” more than the official measurement. The “pasunod” is a forced loan, which the peasant tenant is compelled to accept in the agreement, whether he really gets any loan or not, before he can get the right to work the land at all. This “pasunod” must be paid back in palay at a lower price than the market; and is one way the landowners have of extorting extra rent from an expected good harvest. And, behind the usurer, the cacique and the landlord, stands the brutal force of imperialist rule, clothed in the garb of the constabulary.


These being the conditions, if only faintly indicated, of the peasants who are “fortunate” enough to have any land to work on, how much worse it is for those who have no land and can get none, may be imagined. Manuel Quezon, in his syndicated article about the May 2 uprising, tries to fix the blame for it upon “the limitation imposed on the amount of Philippine products which may now be exported into the United States free of duty”, which would and did “radically curtail the flow of trade” and “throw many men and women out of work and cause general discontent”. But, already there were approximately 1,000,000 landless peasants and jobless workers in 1932, before the restricting acts were adopted. Likewise, though the restrictions certainly intensified the suffering of the peasants, they were already suffering, and the intensification came from the fact that the bourgeoisie and landowning classes, met with decreased profits because of the restriction of free entry of products into the U.S., took the difference out of the blood of the peasants, and retained their own previous sum of profit.


Mr. Quezon, in continuation, becomes quite wrought up about the excise tax on coconut oil and declares that: “Soon, farmers were unable to sell their copra [dried coconut from which oil is extracted], farm laborers lost their jobs and farm lands that were mortgaged suffered foreclosure.” But, Mr. Quezon does not explain that the uprising in central Luzon came, not from the coconut-raising region, but from those peasants who grow rice exclusively. Nor did Mr. Quezon explain that he is personally interested in the oil mills and oil export into the United States, while rice is not exported at all. Nor did he reveal that he extorts the same robber terms from tenants on his own extensive rice lands, as do other landowners. Mr. Quezon is using the sacrifices of the heroic Luzon peasants to make a special plea for the Philippine bourgeoisie, of which he is a malodorous example, and a very special plea for the coconut oil industry in which he has investments. But, for all that, he makes no appeal whatever for immediate and unconditional independence.


The uprising of May 2 brought to world-wide notice the existence of the Sakdal organization, founded about four years ago by some of the numerous petty-bourgeois politicians without political places. It is a direct descendant of the “Tanggulan” movement, which attempted an uprising on December 10, 1931, in the famous “Tayug revolt”. Most of the Tanggulan leaders in that rising and hundreds of followers were arrested, imprisoned, and forced to sign affidavits not to join any such movement. In this way was the spirit of rebellion suppressed—but not stamped out.

The Tanggulan, however, never took formal organizational shape, nor issued any literature whatever; whereas the Sakdal has long published a daily paper and attained considerable organization, though it is hard to say how much. Tanggulan, a secret organization, freely advocated armed uprising; Sakdal, legally organized, started out, like another organization with a similar program called “The Union Civica”, with the pacifist precepts of Gandhism— Gandhi at that time having quite a following among the petty-bourgeois ideologists of the entire Far East.

Sakdal (from a Tagalog word meaning “appeal”) started with a program of economic boycott against American goods, civil disobedience and a “peaceful general strike”. Its newspaper, Sakdal, featured the doings of Gandhi. To attain a mass following among the peasants, its slogans were: against the “cedula” (poll) tax, against the land tax being paid by tenants, for better roads, more schools (the Filipino peasant is passionately desirous of schools for his children), and a vague demand “for better social conditions” for the workers.

It is clear that some remnants of the suppressed Tanggulan movement went into the Sakdal, and it is likewise clear as day that both of these movements were aided by Japanese imperialism with a view to creating insurrectionary trouble for American imperialism. This, of course, in no way blurs the independent and primary character of the May 2 uprising of the Filipino peasantry, which took up arms throughout five provinces.

There is plenty of contributory evidence. The Tanggulan followers also called themselves “Ricartists”, after Aretemio Ricarte, an insurrectionary leader of 1900, who refused to take the oath of allegiance to America and was exiled, taking up residence in Japan where he still is and serves as an agent of Japanese imperialism among the Filipinos. It is clear that, although Ricarte’s name does not appear in the present accounts of the May 2 uprising, the Sakdal leader Benigno Ramos is in tow of Japan through Ricarte.

Cabuyao Massacre. Philippine Constabulary execute 56 Sakdalistas in Cabuyao, Laguna. May 3, 1935.

While Sakdal started off as a Gandhist organization, it developed a “Left wing” in the course of its growth, which accepts armed insurrection as a means of struggle. The two sources of this development lie, naturally, in the agrarian-anti-imperialist revolutionary movement of the peasantry, and the imperialist intrigue of Japan against American imperialism. The peasants of central Luzon were fighting for rice, land and freedom; while Benigno Ramos was “fighting” (from the safe retreat of a Tokio hotel) for Japanese money.

What distinction there is, at present, between the “Left” Sakdal and the Sakdal proper, is not clear. Although the Philippine constabulary have arrested Celerino Tiongco, editor of the Sakdal paper, Simeon Decena, Sakdal secretary, and two Sakdal members of the Legislative Assembly, this does not mean that these gentlemen had anything to do with the uprising. Their arrest, however, taken in conjunction with the barring of all Sakdal business from the mails before May 2, and the autocratic removal from office in the city council of Santa Rosa of the Sakdal majority, also before the uprising, reveal the tyrannical methods of American imperialist rule, dispel the illusion of a pacific solution of the anti-imperialist struggle, and constituted a provocation that might well have lighted the fire of insurrection.

Although the constabulary reports of the first days of the fighting definitely state that the Communists were not involved, the fact that the Party has many followers among the peasantry in the chief centers of struggle in Bulacan and Laguna provinces indicates that the young, illegal and heroic Communist Party of the Philippine Islands has taken a hand in the uprising and is receiving its baptism of fire.

The policy of the C.P.P.I. toward the Ricartists was definitely one of rejection of Japanese “support”, for an independent national revolutionary struggle for Soviets as the organs of armed insurrection and the future organ of the democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants. On this basis, the Party had worked among the rank and file and lesser leaders of the Tanggulan movement, and unquestionably its policy toward the Sakdalistas was the same. What the connection is between this program, and the fact vaguely reported from San Idelfonso, that insurrectionists held the town for five hours, “during which they declared the existence of a Philippine republic”, has yet to be revealed. The dark hand of imperialist censorship and falsehood still covers the details of the whole uprising.

The national traitor, Quezon, says that it was “not a political uprising”. But the fight for national independence is inextricably interwoven with the fight for the simplest economic demands, for the most elementary political rights; just as is the fight against the bourgeoisie and landlords an essential part of the struggle for national liberation.

Mr. Quezon terms the demands for abolition of the poll tax (for the poor who are not allowed a vote), and against the forcing of tenants to pay taxes on the landlord’s land, as “glittering slogans”. Yet these demands are perfectly possible of attainment, theoretically, even under the present bourgeois-landlord-imperialist regime. That Quezon, the head cacique of the native exploiting classes, rejects even these minor demands, shows how necessary it is that the Communist Party give great attention to these “small” demands and link them up with the struggle against American imperialism and the native exploiters. But—the policy of the C.P.P.I. is, in this respect as in others, made very clear in its Manifesto published in the April issue of The Communist.


What needs emphasis is the policy of the C.P.U.S.A. in support of the C.P.P.I. and the Philippine people. The C.P.U.S.A. has given some help to our Philippine comrades, but not enough. In rendering this assistance, however, it is necessary that the basic Party organizations be involved; that the membership in the units, the Sections and Districts show some realization of their Bolshevik duty to the Philippines, the principal real colony of American imperialism. Especially is this essential in the Districts along the Pacific Coast, where there are big centers of Filipino immigrant workers.

The necessity for special attention and differentiated treatment of these Filipino immigrant workers ought to be clear. Yet even the Central Committee has failed to carry out its decision of last year to establish a Language Bureau and publication for them. And the Filipino worker who happens to join our Party is given no distinctive attention or tasks from any other, although our duty to recruit and to train such workers for work in their homeland should devolve upon our Party as a first task.

A young Harrison George.

The Western Worker of May 13, editorially commenting on the uprising, states that Filipino immigrants return to their country with a knowledge of Marx, Lenin and Stalin. But can it truly be said that District 13 is exerting itself especially to that end? Is there any plan for such education to Filipinos who enter our Party? Or do they have to take “pot luck” with the other members? In the big center of Filipino population in Los Angeles, the Filipino Party members are very few indeed. Similarly, if we look at the Seattle District, we get little evidence that our Party is devoting itself to recruiting and training Filipino workers.

The New York District has approximately 2,500 Filipino workers. Although good work has been done in Brooklyn, it must be said that in this work Filipino comrades have not been sufficiently brought forward. The tendency has been to turn over the special Filipino tasks almost completely to white workers. Even in “little things”, be it only such a matter as sending a typewriter to our comrades in the Philippines, our work must not flag. When one understands how hopefully and with what trust the comrades in the Philippines look to us in the United States, these are no longer “small matters”, but big ones.

Why is our Party not sufficiently conscious of its duties toward the Filipino people? How is it possible that, neither in the Daily Worker, the Western Worker, nor the Voice of Action, all of which gave accounts of the Seattle conference of the Maritime Federation, there appeared any criticism of the chauvinist action of that conference to bar all Asiatics from American ships? So far as we know, San Pedro is the only port where a struggle has been waged against this, a report reaching us that the I.S.U. membership had defeated a proposal to bar Filipinos from the union as well as from the ships, though other reports tell of a strike being called to compel the Dollar Line to discharge four Chinese, from the steamer “Stanley Dollar”.

It appears that having finally, and at least in the main, comprehended what white chauvinism means when applied to Negroes, our Party membership (even some of the more responsible functionaries) tend to minimize the Filipino, the Mexican, the Chinese, and Japanese workers in America. The discrimination practiced against them is not made the subject of special attention; the Party and the Party members do not conceive that they have a special duty toward these workers.

If our Party were not negligent in respect to its plain duty to the Filipino people, the news of the armed uprising of May 2 would have caused Party units, and Sections, here, there and everywhere, themselves to initiate action in support of the C.P.P.I., to take up collections for the C.P.P.I., to urge the whole Party into action that could be interpreted as really carrying out the alliance between the proletariat of the imperialist country and the oppressed colonial people. But, did any such thing happen, in any unit? In any Section? In any District?

I think that these question marks make a pertinent ending to this article.

There are a number of journals with this name in the history of the movement. This Communist was the main theoretical journal of the Communist Party from 1927 until 1944. Its origins lie with the folding of The Liberator, Soviet Russia Pictorial, and Labor Herald together into Workers Monthly as the new unified Communist Party’s official cultural and discussion magazine in November, 1924. Workers Monthly became The Communist in March ,1927 and was also published monthly. The Communist contains the most thorough archive of the Communist Party’s positions and thinking during its run. The New Masses became the main cultural vehicle for the CP and the Communist, though it began with with more vibrancy and discussion, became increasingly an organ of Comintern and CP program. Over its run the tagline went from “A Theoretical Magazine for the Discussion of Revolutionary Problems” to “A Magazine of the Theory and Practice of Marxism-Leninism” to “A Marxist Magazine Devoted to Advancement of Democratic Thought and Action.” The aesthetic of the journal also changed dramatically over its years. Editors included Earl Browder, Alex Bittelman, Max Bedacht, and Bertram D. Wolfe.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/communist/v14n06-jun-1935-communist.pdf

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