THERE is no doubt Filipino Marxists face a ``hearts-and-minds-of-the-people'' dilemma. With a 60-day cease-fire in place since Dec. 10, the rebels are reported to be discussing just how flexible they should be to boost their popular appeal.
Any good Asian Marxist-Leninist knows that the path the Filipino insurgents choose could help spell the difference between winning power and languishing as a rag-taggle bunch of revolutionaries in the boondocks.
The question of how best to ``win the hearts and minds of the people'' is partly this: Should a ``united front'' be built to seize power by enlisting elements of the middle class, and the ``rich peasants'' as well as the oppressed poor?
How should Marxist terms like ``rich peasant,'' ``poor peasant,'' and ``national bourgeoisie'' be applied to individual farmers, merchants, and intellectuals to see how heavily they should be taxed - and recruited?
Without continuing aid from wealthier peasants, both in hiding guerrillas and in paying taxes to the insurgents, the rebels might well falter. Too heavy a tax burden on these peasants could alienate them. Yet wooing them too gently might undermine the revolution and leave old-style local leaders in power.
This dilemma is familiar to many Asian Communists, especially in China, where Mao Tse-tung wrestled with it. As with the Chinese Communists before them, Filipino guerrillas seem inclined toward tactical flexibility.
Still, it could be misleading to conclude from the growth of such flexibility that the insurgents are not ``real Communists.'' For the question of how to build a ``united front'' before gaining power is only half the problem. It must later be decided what to do in ``Stage 2'' - after winning power.
What should then be done with ``progressive'' intellectuals and merchants, as well as sympathetic ``rich'' peasants (who are hardly rich by Western standards)? Should they be allowed to take part in the new order, even though their education, confidence, and property may intimidate the revolution's poorer, less assertive followers? Or should their ``backs be broken'' by labeling them ``class enemies'' and punishing them with prison and execution? That would break links with the past - but perhaps at the loss of valuable talent, including industrial and agricultural expertise.
This is the perennial ``two stage'' dilemma of the ``united front.'' Mao's answer, like that of some other communist governments, has been tolerance and diversity to build wider support in Stage 1 and then repression in Stage 2. Reports from the Philippines indicate Filipino Marxists are likely to follow Mao in this flexible tradition. This could be as confusing to the outside world as was Mao's approach.
In the 1930s and '40s, hard-line anticommunists refused to see the distinctly Chinese aspects that separated Mao from the Soviet approach under Joseph Stalin. Others noted the flexibility of Mao's Stage 1 ``United Front'' and concluded he was not really a Communist at all. The mailed fist of Mao's Stage 2 after victory in 1949 shattered those illusions.
In deciding how much flexibility, Filipino Marxists are dealing with ideological and tactical issues going all the way back to Lenin's 1917 Bolshevik Revolution.
It was Lenin himself who began to play around with Marxist classifications and definitions. In 1920 he declared that colonial peoples in Asia could be a moving force for world socialist revolution - even though they lacked industrialization and the powerful working class Karl Marx envisioned as the backbone for a socialist revolution originating in Europe.
China's Mao Tse-tung built on this flexibility as far back as 1926. He was familiar with China's long history of peasant revolts. So it was easier to predict that China's peasants isolated in the countryside would replace city workers as the vanguard of insurrection.
Mao also set the standard of flexible courtship of elements of the middle class and prosperous peasantry as a cornerstone of successful revolutionary strategy.
In 1926 writings he firmly laid the foundations for his concept of United Front Stage 1. It was a flexible approach tailoring tactics to the needs of the moment for building the broadest possible alliance.
From 1926 to even several years after the final Communist victory in 1949, Mao tinkered with elaborate classifications of just which kind of intellectuals and businessmen should be courted instead of expropriated. The basic principle was always the same. Lure the disaffected into your camp and split up the camp of the enemy.
Stage 2 United Front unveiled itself only after Mao won power in 1949. Nationwide land reform and formation of peasant associations from 1950 through 1954 brought detailed classification of landlords, the rich, the middle class, and poor peasantry on a mass scale as a basis for decisions on confiscation of property. Struggle meetings, executions, and other dislocations led to estimates of as many as 10 million to 15 million deaths. One motivation, it is generally believed, was to humiliate, discredit, and ``take face'' from the more privileged, whose past power, property, and education had long inspired awe.
The Filipino insurgents may imitate or even surpass Mao Tse-tung in flexibly winning the ``hearts and minds of the people.'' Yet it must be remembered that the real test of just how tolerant and non-doctrinaire they are may come only if and after they win national power.
Frederic A. Moritz is an associate professor of journalism at Pennsylvania State University, University Park, Pa., and a former Asia correspondent for this newspaper.