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Ideas for the struggle #5 - Minorities can be right

 

 

By Marta Harnecker, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

 

1. Democratic centralism implies not only the subordination of the minority to the majority, but also the respect of the majority towards the minority.

 

2. Minorities should not be crushed or marginalized; they should be respected. Nor should the minority be required to completely subordinate itself to the majority. The minority must carry out the tasks proposed by the majority at each concrete political conjunction, but they should not have to renounce their political, theoretical and ideological convictions. On the contrary, it is the minority’s duty to continue fighting to defend their ideas until the others are convinced or they themselves become convinced of the other’s ideas.

 

3. Why should the minority continue defending its viewpoint and not simply submit to the position of the majority? Because the minority may be right; its analysis of reality might be more accurate because it read the present correlation of forces more correctly, or understood more accurately the true motivations of specific social forces. That is why those who hold minority views at a specific moment should not only have the right, but actually have the duty, to defend their positions, to fight to convince the maximum number of activists of those positions through a healthy internal debate.

 

4. We refer to a “healthy debate” because we have to start by recognizing that we never possess the whole truth. Those who do not share our ideas can be correct. Also, we should not personalize the discussion. Instead of trying to prove who is right we should collectively try to work out what is right. The best leaders are those who promote a process that enables the collective to determine what is right.

 

5. Moreover, if the majority is convinced that their propositions are correct, then they have nothing to fear in debating ideas. On the contrary, they should encourage it and try to convince the minority. If the majority fears a confrontation of positions, it is probably a sign of political weakness.

 

6. Is this not the case if we look at some of the left parties and social movements in Latin America? How many splits could have been avoided if the minority view had of been respected? Instead, on many occasions, the entire weight of the bureaucratic apparatus has been used to crush them, leaving them with no choice but to split.

 

7. Sometimes minorities are accused of being divisive for the simple reason that they want their ideas to be respected and be given space to debate them. Could it be that the true splitters are those who provoke division by leaving the minority with no other option than to split if they hope to continue their struggle against positions they believe to be wrong?

 

8. The topic of majorities and minorities also relates to the disjunction or non-correspondence between representatives and the rank and file. This phenomenon may occur for different reasons, including: the organic incapacity of those who represent the real majority to achieve better representation in the mass organizations; the bureaucratic maneuvers and dishonest methods of a formal majority to keep itself in positions of power; the rapid change in political consciousness of those who elected these representatives due to developments in the revolutionary process. When such a shift in consciousness takes place, those who only days before truly represented the majority, may now no longer do so because the people have matured, they now see that others who had proposed to represent them in a different way were right after all. Under such circumstance, any majority now only constitutes a formal majority. If new elections were to be held, new people would be elected.

 

9. The new culture of the left should also be reflected in a different approach towards the composition of leadership bodies in political organizations. For a long time it was believed that if a certain tendency or sector of the party won the internal elections by a majority, all leadership positions would be filled by cadres from that tendency. In a certain sense, the prevailing idea was that the more homogenous the leadership, the easier it would be to lead the organization. Today different criteria tend to prevail: a leadership that better reflects the internal balance of forces seems to work better, as it helps to get all party members, and not only those of the majority current, feeling more involved in the implementation of tasks proposed by the leadership.

 

10. But a plural leadership, along the lines that we are proposing, can only be effective if the organization has a truly democratic culture, because if that is not the case, then such an approach will produce a wave of unrest and render the organization ungovernable.

 

11. Moreover, a real democratization of the political organization demands more effective participation by party members in the election of their leaders: they should be elected according to their ideological and political positions rather than personal issues. That is why it is important that the different positions up for election are well known among the party membership via internal publications. It is also very important to ensure a more democratic formulation of candidatures and safeguard the secret vote.

 

12. Finally, it is essential to understand that an internal democratic culture practiced by the political organization, a level of internal tolerance, an ability to act in a united way even if there are disagreements, offer the social movements a positive example which they can then try to imitate.

 

This is the fifth in a series of twelve articles that were first published in 2004 and have been updated and revised for publication in a second edition the pamphlet Ideas for the struggle.

 

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