Power Play

History of the Subaltern Classes: WebWork by Jonathan Dy-Liacco, COM 105 A


According to Antonio Gramsci, the historical unity of the ruling classes is recognized in the State, with their history basically the history of States, as well as of group of States. He further points out that this historical unity of the ruling classes is not merely political and juridical − the primary historical unity is actually due to the natural associations between the State (political society) and “civil society.” (Gramsci, “History of the Subaltern Classes”)

Moreover, Gramsci said that subaltern classes are not unified, and would not be able to be so until they would become a “State.” He believes that the history of these classes is entangled with that of civil society, and hence, with the history of States and groups of States as well. (Gramsci, “History of the Subaltern Classes”)

With all these, Gramsci deems that it is needed to study the following:

“1. the objective formation of the subaltern social groups, by the developments and transformations occurring in the sphere of economic production; their quantitative diffusion and their origins in pre-existing social groups, whose mentality, ideology and aims they conserve for a time;
2. their active or passive affiliation to the dominant political formations, their attempts to influence the programs of these formations in order to press claims of their own, and the consequences of these attempts in determining processes of decomposition, renovation or neo-formation;
3. the birth of new parties of the dominant groups, intended to conserve the assent of the subaltern groups and to maintain control over them;
4. the formations which the subaltern groups themselves produce, in order to press claims of a limited and partial character;
5. those new formations which assert the autonomy of the subaltern groups, but within the old framework;
6. those formulations which assert the integral economy…etc.”
(Gramsci, “History of the Subaltern Classes,” pp.13-14)

People Power Play

However, of all that Gramsci enumerated in this selection, the third item was the one that struck me most − the one about the birth of new parties of the dominant groups, which has the intention of preserving the support of the subaltern group, and retaining control over them. I believe that the best examples of the third item are the First and Second EDSA Revolutions, which are more popularly known as People Power I and II, respectively.

When one thinks about it, after People Power I and II, the ruling class in society still had control over the country − it was just that different parties that belonged to it, new ones for that matter, took hold of this power. During EDSA I, from the group of Ferdinand Marcos, the control then went to the group of Cory Aquino. On the other hand, for EDSA II, from Estrada and company, the power then went to the faction of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. It can be clearly seen that in both examples, both the predecessor and the successor still came from the ruling class, the dominant group in the country. It was just that the power was given to another faction of the dominant class, which in the end, still wanted to maintain control over the subaltern groups, and to preserve the status quo.

There were even reports that even before the two revolutions became successful, the predecessors (Marcos for EDSA I, and Estrada for EDSA II), already knew what would happen after the said uprisings against them would end. Some reports said that while the aforementioned revolutions were still taking place, there were already backdoor deals that were being made between the group of the predecessors and the successors. The group of the successors, (Cory Aquino for EDSA I and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for EDSA II), were said to have had talks with the groups of their soon-to-become predecessors for the most graceful exit possible, as well as for a smooth transition from one regime to the next.

Due to these speculations, the ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) even produced a documentary for the celebration of the 22rd anniversary of the First EDSA Revolution last year, which was entitled, People Power Play. The documentary, which was hosted by ABS-CBN News Chief Maria Ressa, mainly asked this question: “Was it really people power that happened, or was it merely a power play among factions within the dominant group in society?”

Here's a link to the article about People Power Play

Here's a copy of the documentary itself, which is divided into four parts:

At the end of the documentary, there was not a definite answer − the documentary left the viewers to answer the question for themselves. However, it was clearly shown that it was indeed just a power play between different parties in the ruling class, and was not an authentic people power that should have revolutionized the leadership and governance in the country. Because if that were the case, then the numerous subalterns groups would not be as rebellious as they are right now, and they might have even been part of the new administrations after the two EDSA Revolutions. Moreover, even with the changes in leadership, the next administrations were not actually able to make a lot of difference, with corruption and stalled progress still hounding each and every regime.


As a whole, it can be clearly seen that locally, the ruling class still has control of the vital institutions in society. This power has just been passed on from one party of the dominant group to another (thus the so-called power play), but still with the intention of pursuing this group’s own interests, of maintaining power and control over the nation (which this class has enjoyed since time immemorial), and lastly, of hindering the development of subaltern groups that could threaten its hold of the country.


Dimaculangan, Jocelyn. “Cable channel ANC airs documentary on People Power, March 1-2. 1 Mar. 2008. Philippine Entertainment Portal. 24 Feb. 2009 <http://www.pep.ph/guide/1656/Cable-channel-ANC-airs-documentary-on-People-Power,-March-1-2>.

Durham, Meenakshi Gigi and Douglas Kellner. “Introduction to part I.” Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks Second Edition. Blackwell Publishing, 2006.

Gramsci, Antonio. “History of the subaltern classes.” Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers, 1971.

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