Swans Commentary » swans.com April 11, 2011  



People Power Leashed
Kurt Schock on the Ousting of Dictators


by Michael Barker





(Swans - April 11, 2011)   Dr. Kurt Schock is an associate professor of Sociology and Global Affairs at Rutgers University, and a member of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict's academic advisory board. According to his university Web site, his "research seeks to understand how methods of nonviolent action and 'people power' movements are able to successfully challenge state domination and economic exploitation." Schock is thus well versed in the history of popular insurrections. So, given the relevance of the Filipino people-power movement to current events in Egypt, this article reviews the relevant sections of his book Unarmed Insurrections: People Power Movements in Nondemocracies (University of Minnesota Press, 2005) that outline how the people of the Philippines rose up to oust their residing Mubarak (i.e., dictator), Ferdinand Marcos, in 1986.

To begin with, it is critical to observe that in the introductory chapter to Unarmed Insurrections, Schock writes that the "process of democratization is often coopted into programs of polyarchy" (i.e., neoliberal democracy) (1) -- by which he is explicitly referring to the analysis presented in William I. Robinson's groundbreaking book Promoting Polyarchy: Globalization, US Intervention, and Hegemony (Cambridge University Press, 1996). Thus, given his reference to Robinson's work, I will review Schock's coverage of nonviolent activism in the Philippines, safe in the knowledge that he is aware of Robinson's close and critical study of the Filipino people-power movement. I say this because although Schock refers to Robinson's work in his introductory comments, the rest of his book absolutely fails to make any reference to Robinson's work or the ideas promoted therein.

So while Robinson documents in painstaking detail how the US "democracy-promoting" community subtly worked to co-opt and manipulate the people's movement in the Philippines, as will become clear, Schock decided to treat all this evidence as inconsequential, especially in chapter three of his book, "People Power Unleashed: South Africa and the Philippines." Such shortcomings should not go neglected, as Schock's "scholarship" can have fatal consequences for progressive activists seeking to emulate the type of social movements that ostensibly succeeded in the Philippines. For those who are unfamiliar with Robinson's critique of the US government's interference in the Philippines, see Robinson's book or my recent summary of his work: "A Warning for Egyptian Revolutionaries: Courtesy of People-Power in the Philippines."

It must be recognized that Schock's work is far more nuanced in his examination of the people-power movement -- which is partly to be expected given his book-length treatment of the subject --than the Filipino-related scholarship of the chair of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict's academic advisory board, Dr. Stephen Zunes. (2) Schock observes that "despite the profound political transformations in nondemocracies facilitated by nonviolent action in the last decades of the twentieth century, nonviolent action must not be glorified or viewed as a panacea." "Nonviolent action must not be romanticized," he writes, "but neither should it be underestimated." (3) In this way, his "dispassionate social scientific" approach to "understand[ing] the potential and the limitations of pragmatic nonviolent action" even allow him to summarize the major academic criticisms of Gene Sharp, the founder of the controversial Albert Einstein Institution -- the group that provided some of the funding to help him complete his book; (4) although, that said, these criticisms are quickly forgotten.

In any case, despite Schock's apparently critical approach and open-minded rhetoric, he fails to follow through on his promises; thus, Schock's book should be seen as an important contribution to the growing number of misleading treatises on social change that glorify the power of nonviolence.

The primary way in which Schock glorifies nonviolence in the Philippines is by ignoring the powerful influence that US foreign policy elites exerted over the Filipino people-power movement. But while other peace scholars have in the past simply ignored the existence of the interventionist US-based "democracy promoting" apparatus in the Filipino context, (5) Schock's approach is more balanced. For instance, he notes that the "autonomous election-monitoring body," the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), was funded by the imperialist National Endowment for Democracy (NED). (6)

This is important because, according to Robinson, the NED -- which overtly carries the programs formerly undertaken by the CIA -- bestowed millions of dollars of its beneficent largesse upon some of the following groups during the 1980s:

[T]he Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI), which mobilized the business community against Marcos; the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP), a minority, conservative union federation affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and which competed with more radical and left-leaning labor organizations [like the KMU]; Philippine "youth clubs" established under the guidance of US organizers to mobilize Philippine youth; the KABATID Philippine women's organization (KABATID is the Tagalog acronym for Women's Movement for the Nurturing of Democracy), also established under the guidance of US organizers; and the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL). (7)

In his evident desire for scholarly "objectivity," however, Schock buries the critical details about the NED's funding of NAMFREL in the endnotes of his book. In these notes, he acknowledges that NAMFREL was "originally formed in 1951 with backing from the United States to ensure the 'free and fair' election of Ramon Magsaysay..." Then when NAMFREL was reestablished in 1984, he writes that although it received NED support, he rationalizes this connection, stating that it "remained autonomous from external control and was more of an indigenous grassroots movement than its predecessor..." (8)

To gain further critical insight into NAMFREL's background, one has to turn to other sources. And, contrary to Schock's rendering of NAMFREL as representing an "independent election watchdog organization," NAMFREL has been just the opposite. In fact, NAMFREL served a vital function for the US government's "democracy-promoting" establishment, and in Robinson's view, "the creation of an observer apparatus for the 1986 election, and for subsequent ones, gave US officials important experience in the use of electoral observation as part of overall policy." (9) Moreover, the background of NAMFREL belies its commitment to people power, as Robinson notes it was established in 1951...

... by a former civic affairs director of the Philippine army with the help of US government funds and officials. This "good government" organization played an important role in the political-electoral aspects of the massive counterinsurgency underway at that time against the Huks. In particular, NAMFREL became the vehicle for building a political machine that could deliver the 1953 electoral victory of the CIA-backed candidate, Ramon Magsaysay. (10)

Considering Schock's decision to downplay the influence of foreign support for the conservative parts of the people's opposition movement, he at least points out the negative influence of the "government-controlled Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP)"; but, again, he fails to mention how millions of dollars of US aid was channeled to the reactionary TUCP from the NED through the AFL-CIO's Asian-American Free Labor Institute in a deliberate effort to counter the radical challenge posed by the militant Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU-May First Movement). (11) This again appears to be a deliberate oversight on Schock's part, as he is clearly aware of this NED connection because he refers to Kim Scipes's excellent book-length treatment of this subject. (12)

To his credit, in another reference to Scipes's work, Schock at least emphasizes the phenomenal power of the Filipino labor movement, writing:

In the Philippines, significant political pressure was put on the Marcos regime by strike activity. The number of strikes in the Philippines increased from 155 in 1983 to 282 in 1984 and 405 in 1985, and the number of working days lost from strikes increased from over a half million in 1983 to over 1.9 million in 1984 and over 2.4 million in 1985. (p.87)

Thus, Schock is at least willing to highlight the critical role played by radical unions in the KMU. That said, in this instance, Schock might have continued his paraphrasing of Scipes's work by adding Scipes's next sentence: "of the 405 strikes led in 1985, 70% of them were led by the KMU." (13)

Furthermore, unlike Zunes, who pretty much ignored the political relevance of violent resistance to Marcos, Schock gives due credit to the historical role of the Communist Party of the Philippines' New Peoples Army (NPA), which he says "initiated a Maoist insurgency in 1969, [and] had been increasing in effectiveness while the competence of the Philippine military had been declining." (14)

Like the role of the KMU, the significance of the NPA is important to acknowledge, and although Schock writes that "By the 1980s the NPA encompassed all regions of the Philippines," (15) he neglects to inform his readers quite how significant this armed resistance movement was: prior to the ousting of Marcos in 1986, the NPA had a force of over 20,000 fighters which was growing daily. Schock, however, points out how...

... the growing armed insurgency in the countryside promoted regime defection and increased the willingness of the United States to break with Marcos and support the democratic opposition. Thus, while the New Peoples Army (NPA) was unable to topple the state through violence, it did promote a context that increased the leverage of the democratic opposition. (p.158)

Elaborating on the U.S.'s break with Marcos, Schock adds that it was in response to the growth of the NPA that "the anti-Marcos faction in the U.S. government provided key support to both the reformist elements of the people power movement and the reform movement within the military." (16) Here, of course, Schock is referring to "democracy-promoting" groups like the NED (which began operating in the Philippines in 1984), although one has to read between the lines somewhat given that he doesn't refer to such groups in the main body of his text.

With the rapid growth of people power during the 1980s, the US government lived in fear of the evolution of a "left-center popular alliance" and, as Robinson points out, a key part of their "democratic" intervention in the region involved the dispatching of their finest experts in conflict resolution to meet with Cory Aquino and the leader of the right-wing opposition, Salvador "Doy" Laurel, to "convince them to run under a united ticket that would stress anti-communism and refrain from opposing US [military] bases in the Philippines (Laurel subsequently became Aquino's running-mate as candidate for vice-president)." (17) Cory Aquino just so happened to be an extremely pro-American member of the Filipino ruling class.

At no stage does Schock elaborate on the not impossible idea that the U.S. was happy to see Marcos gone, so long as the Aquino administration could be trusted to be an erstwhile ally in the region (which was the case). Instead all we get from Schock is a mythological and downright dangerous treatise on the power of the people, and no history on the US government's vital geostrategic priorities in the region. (The U.S. had always been interested in the Philippines because of the Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base -- military bases that were key strategic sites from which every US invasion of Asia had gone through since 1898.)

Does Schock think that the US ambitions in the region were thwarted because there was a transition to "democracy" under Aquino? The change was not as significant as has been portrayed, as Alfred W. McCoy observes:

President Aquino's six-year term produced 2,696 dead from salvaging, military massacre, or disappearance, a figure comparable to the 3,257 killed during Marcos's fourteen-year dictatorship. Beyond these troubling statistical indices of rising violence, the constabulary's pacification campaign perpetuated the extrajudicial killings and aura of terror once characteristic of Marcos's rule. (18)

Just months after Aquino rose to power, a $10 million CIA counterinsurgency effort was launched in the Philippines, which marked a sudden "proliferation of Christian anticommunist propaganda and paramilitary death squads." Indeed, recommendations for such counterinsurgency operations "found a receptive audience in Aquino's government, particularly from Interior Secretary Jaime Ferrer, who had used CIA funds to organize election monitors in the 1950s and was now promoting armed vigilantes." (19) As McCoy surmises:

Under Aquino's anticommunist campaign, US military aid again played a catalytic role in Philippine politics, providing aid and advisers to revitalize a security system that had withered in Marcos's last years. Amidst the euphoria of the 1986 "people-power revolution" rich in the possibilities of change, Washington provided President Aquino, a prominent oligarch, with the military aid and diplomatic support for raw repression, not only checking communist guerrillas but also stifling the legal struggle for land redistribution. (20)

Schock's evident "dispassionate social scientific" approach to studying nonviolence has meant that he has sidelined the passionate violence waged on the Filipino people via the US government's "democracy promoting" community. Having referenced the excellent work of William I. Robinson and Kim Scipes -- which has been subsequently elaborated by Alfred W. McCoy's recent work -- he is fully aware of the massive violence that was visited with a vengeance upon progressive Filipino activists under Aquino's reign of "democracy."

By deliberately ignoring the influence of the US government's "democratic" interventions to glorify the power of nonviolent activism, Schock presents a partial analysis as though it is complete, ultimately presenting a false picture of what really happened in the Philippines. (21) Schock is a well-respected intellectual, but it is important that people understand that he misrepresented what happened in the Philippines and ignored other key analyses that contradicted or challenged his own -- especially those of Robinson and Scipes -- resulting in his giving an incomplete if not inaccurate analysis of what happened in Manila in February 1986.

The importance for today is that for Egyptian revolutionaries who are confronting their specific situation, parallels with the Philippines' "people-power" uprising in 1986 are enticing, and it is critically important that they do not base their analyses on inaccurate or incomplete work. Thus, this is not "just" an academic argument, but one based on a more complete understanding of what actually happened in the Philippines -- and it argues that Egyptian usage of Kurt Schock's work could be dangerous if its weaknesses are not recognized.


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1.  Schock writes: "Finally, I do not idealize representative democracy. What I refer to in this study as movement 'outcomes' -- that is, whether or not a challenge contributed to democratization, the process whereby an authoritarian polity becomes more democratic -- is in many ways merely the beginning of the struggle. Undoubtedly, respect for civil rights and political liberties, freedom of speech, separation of powers, institutionalized electoral competition, and constitutional rule -- however imperfectly they are implemented -- have real consequences for the lives of human beings. Yet representative democracy is not the promised land of political development. The process of democratization is often coopted into programs of polyarchy (i.e., bourgeois democracy) and neoliberalism by the United States and international financial institutions so as to prevent popular democracy from taking root (e.g., see Robinson 1996). Thus, democratic transitions are merely the first steps in ongoing struggles for participatory democracy. Far from representing a sharp dichotomy, democracy and authoritarianism are terrains in which ongoing struggles between domination and resistance are played out. The transition to democracy may diminish overt political authoritarianism, but struggles against covert authoritarianism, statism, militarism, patriarchy, racism, political corruption, environmental degradation, and capitalist economic exploitation continue. If anything, a transition to a formal democratic system is significant because it may provide a context in which these struggles are more effectively waged." (p.xxv)  (back)

2.  Michael Barker, "Blinded by People-Power: Stephen Zunes on the Ousting of Dictators," Swans Commentary, March 14, 2011.  (back)

3.  Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.171, p.xv.  (back)

4.  Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.xxv. For his criticisms of Gene Sharp, see pp.44-6.

Schock writes: "I gratefully acknowledge the Albert Einstein Institution for providing me with funding to work on this project... The Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University provided an environment conducive for working on this book while I was a visiting scholar there in 1998-99. This book also benefited from my participation in the summer institute on contentious politics at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California, during the summer of 2000. Thanks go to the directors of the institute, Doug McAdam and Charles Tilly, as well as the wonderful group of participants for providing a stimulating environment." Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.ix.

He later informs his readers that: "The comparative study of the role of nonviolent action in struggles in nondemocratic contexts is beginning to draw scholarly attention. Three excellent books have been published on the subject: Nonviolent Social Movements: A Geographical Perspective, edited by Stephen Zunes, Lester Kurtz, and Sarah Beth Asher (1999), A Force More Powerful: A Century of Nonviolent Conflict, by Peter Ackerman and Jack DuVall (2000), and Strategic Nonviolent Conflict: The Dynamics of People Power in the Twentieth Century, by Peter Ackerman and Christopher Kruegler (1994)." (p.xix)

For a detailed critique of one chapter from Stephen Zunes's book see footnote # 5, and for criticisms of Peter Ackerman's book A Force More Powerful, see Michael Barker, "A Force More Powerful: Promoting 'Democracy' through Civil Disobedience," State of Nature, February 25, 2007. For a collection of articles which document the numerous "democracy promoting" groups that Ackerman has worked with, see Adrienne Pine and Michael Barker, "Peter & Joanne Ackerman and the Sketchy Ties of the Neoliberal Non-Violence Industry," Quotha, March 9, 2011.  (back)

5.  For example, see Michael Barker, "Blinded by People-Power: Stephen Zunes on the Ousting of Dictators," Swans Commentary, March 14, 2011.  (back)

6.  Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.181. William I. Robinson provides the most detailed description/analysis of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), but for a more recent analysis that specifically looks at how NED works with Labor, see Kim Scipes, AFL-CIO's Secret War Against Developing Country Workers: Solidarity or Sabotage? (Lexington Books, 2010), pp.97-105. Scipes writes: "'NED's oft-stated goal is to 'promote democracy,' and it suggests it is merely interested in democracy itself, with no other interests in mind. However, the reality is different: NED promotes democracy as a long-term strategic program intended to benefit the national interests of the United States (i.e., the U.S. Empire), although it is not tied to any particular political administration in Washington, DC...

"To put it another way, the NED is a project of the U.S. Empire that its leaders do not want any particular U.S. presidential administration to even have the chance to counteract. The ramifications are considerable: the development of NED, supposedly to enhance and extend democracy around the world, is itself based on an anti-democratic formulation that specifically ensures that there can be no democratic oversight of its operations by the U.S. public other than by its self-chosen board of directors -- the late Kenneth Lay of Enron must have been envious. It makes the theme of 'democracy promotion' all the more hypocritical." (p.97)  (back)

7.  Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy, p.128.  (back)

8.  Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.180, p.181.  (back)

9.  Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.77; Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy, p.130.  (back)

10.  Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy, p.130.  (back)

11.  Kim Scipes, KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994 (New Day Publishers, 1996), notes that between 1983 and 1988, the TUCP received over $5.7 million from the AFL-CIO's Asian American Free Labor Institute to oppose the KMU (p. 251). For what this meant to a specific struggle on the ground (at Atlas Mines in Cebu), see Scipes, KMU, pp. 116-25, and Scipes, AFL-CIO's Secret War Against Developing Country Workers, pp. 51-6.  (back)

12.  Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.72.  (back)

13.  Kim Scipes, KMU: Building Genuine Trade Unionism in the Philippines, 1980-1994 (New Day Publishers, 1996), p.33.  (back)

14.  Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.57.  (back)

15.  Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.71. Unfortunately Schock neglects research that provides a more detailed examination of the NPA: for example, see Gregg Jones, Red Revolution: Inside the Philippine Guerrilla Movement (Westview Press, 1989). Jones writes: "For years, Marcos as well as the U.S. State Department and Pentagon had dismissed the NPA as little more than a nuisance. But by 1984 U.S. officials had been jolted from their lethargy by the spectacular expansion of guerrilla operations in the countryside and communist political activities in the cities. Dire assessments from Washington raised the specter of the CPP seizing power or forging a coalition government with moderate opposition forces." (p.6)  (back)

16.  Schock, Unarmed Insurrections, p.88.  (back)

17.  Robinson, Promoting Polyarchy, p.127.  (back)

18.  Alfred W. McCoy, Policing Americas Empire: The United States, The Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009), p.443.  (back)

19.  McCoy, Policing Americas Empire, p.437, p.438. Also see, Isagani R. Cruz, Always a Hunter: Jaime N. Ferrer as Public Servant (Paranaque, 1994).  (back)

20.  McCoy, Policing Americas Empire, p.449.  (back)

21.  This helps explain why Schock was recruited to serve on the academic advisory board of Peter Ackerman's imperialist International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, and to the field staff of the related propaganda outfit, the Centre for Applied NonViolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). See Michael Barker, "CANVAS[ing] for the Nonviolent Propaganda Offensive: Propaganda in the Service of Imperial Projects" (pdf), Countercurrents, March 26, 2011.  (back)


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Published April 11, 2011