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Review of the book: Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World, Portrait of a Revolutionary, Conversations with Ninotchka Rosca, 258 pp.
By Dr. Edberto Villegas

Jose Maria Sison: At Home in the World, is not just a book about a person but a treatise on the world situation and a philosophy of life. Written in a vivid and biting style, in the tradition of the great revolutionary essayists like Lenin and Mao-tse-tung, it is both a comprehensive critique of imperialism and an affirmation of the life of a revolutionary. This semi-autobiography, as the book is presented as a conversation with Ninotchka Rosca, uses the method of dialectical materialism in analyzing contemporary world history and the future of the socialist movement. The identification of the major and minor contradictions that are wracking the international order is the method that enables Joema (nickname of Jose Maria Sison) to lay bare the nature of oppressions of the world people and the Filipino people in particular. His evaluation of the contradictions in the revolutionary movement in the Philippines from the inception of the first Communist Party in the country to the present very well illustrates the dialectics of quantitative to qualitative development of social forces.

The book is also a dialogue on the nature of terror. Since Joema was included in the list of foreign terrorists by the United States with the connivance of the Philippine government, the world media controlled by US imperialism has started a vilification campaign against him. But to Joema, terrorism is the use of violence, particularly genocide, to perpetuate an unjust social structure, from which the terrorists and their subalterns profit. It is also the hypocritical use of moral ascendancy to cover up the ambition of the few to conquer and exploit the many. In the history of the world, US imperialism is the qualifier for the title of being the greatest terrorist. The only country which has ever used the atomic bomb to wipe out hundred of thousands of peoples, the US, under the influence of monopoly capitalism, now sanctimoniously prohibits the use of nuclear weapons by weaker countries to defend themselves. In human history, it is the country that has waged the most wars and has spread the widest starvation and hopelessness to the majority of the world population caused by the rapacious drive for profit of its transnational corporations. Today, more people are starving, at least 1.5 billion, according to the UN, than ever in the history of humankind, and this amidst the overproduction of goods by the TNCs. Indeed, the capitalism system has become moribund and destructive for humanity. And Joema is at the forefront of the struggle to dismantle this oppressive system, both in the Philippines and in the international arena. Who therefore is the terrorist? One who is persecuted because of one’s commitment to end injustice to the world people or those who perpetuate this injustice, while proclaiming to all and sundry that they are the defender of freedom?

Between the five chapters of the book are interspersed poems written by Joema, most while in prison for nine years under the martial rule of the dictator Marcos. These poems are like beacons showing the way for those who would choose to embrace a great cause, poems where suffering itself becomes creative because it makes the victim stronger in spirit to continue to fight for his cause. Waging revolution to end oppression to Joema is the affirmation of life itself, even its celebration, so that a revolutionary must be able to enjoy living, savoring the pleasures of comradeship with others in times of merrymaking like singing, dancing, drinking and conversing. A revolutionary must not be dour, nor always appears to be grim and determined, self-righteous and arrogant, but must have the capacity to laugh at oneself and make fun of the little foibles of living. In other words, the revolutionary must be one of the people and must learn to participate and delight in the ways of the masses.

A leading merit of the book is the kind of questions that Ninotchka Rosca asks of Joema, which are logically sequenced to draw the most from the latter’s life and views of the world. Arriving at the end of the book, it is as if Ninotchka has drained to the bottom all that is within Joema. The questions themselves are sharp probing of the world situation and without them, one doubts whether the book would have presented a thorough analysis of the international order as it did. Ninotchka also treats Joema as a natural fellow, asking the most intimate and challenging, sometimes embarrassing, questions from him. This may be because Ninotchka and Joema have long been close friends since their academic days some forty years ago at the University of the Philippines, and both have lived a life of exile.

But what I consider to be of the utmost significance of the book is that it is written in the midst of the struggle of peoples to liberate themselves from oppression. It is not a book written by an academic watching the turmoil of the world, perched on his pedestal, not by a paid analyst to please some vested interests, but by individuals locked in deadly battle with the scourge of humanity, US imperialism. It is not an epilogue to Joema’s life, nor his memoirs as those who impact on history often write about their lives. Joema, while contributing his part to the book, lives in constant threat to his person by the agents of US imperialism as there had been attempted assassinations on his life. He has been deprived of the basic necessities of life by the Dutch government, under the pressures of the US since his listing as an international terrorist. The support for this subsistence is supposed to be guaranteed to him by Dutch laws while living in the Nederland as a political refugee. Without a passport, Joema is indeed a man of the world, but he is happy to be at home in the world actively engaged in the fight against his mortal enemy side by side with the workers, peasants, and other marginalized classes and sectors of the world, as he is prepared to die in the process of this great combat against imperialist even without seeing the dawn of victory in his country nor in the world.

The 258-page book is easy reading as it presents the otherwise complex nature of the world’s political economy in a very clear and simple style. The book could appeal to all individuals seeking to understand the tumult and crisis of contemporary times, especially those who desire to change the world for the better. It is a guide and inspiration for all revolutionaries and would-be revolutionaries, young and old, who are continuously searching for meaning for the life dedicated to struggle and self-sacrifice. #


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