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Ideas for the struggle #1 - Mass uprisings or revolutions? The role of the political instrument

 

 

By Marta Harnecker, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

 

1. The recent and not so recent popular uprisings that rocked numerous countries across the world have clearly demonstrated that
the initiative of the people, in and of itself, is not enough to defeat ruling regimes.

 

2. Impoverished urban and rural sectors, lacking a well-defined plan, have risen up, seized highways, towns and neighborhoods, ransacked stores and stormed parliaments, but despite being able to mobilize hundreds of thousands of people,
neither their size nor their combativeness have been enough to move from mass uprisings to revolution. They have overthrown presidents, but they have not been able to conquer power and initiate a process of deep social transformations.

 

3. On the other hand, the history of triumphant revolutions clearly demonstrates what can be achieved when a political instrument exists that is capable of raising an alternative national program to unify the struggles of diverse social actors behind a common goal; that helps to cohere them and elaborates a path forward for these actors based on an analysis of the existent balance of forces. Only in this manner can actions be carried out at the right place and the right time, always seeking out the weakest link in the enemy’s chain.

 

4. This political instrument is like a piston in a locomotive that takes compressed stream from the boiler and, at the decisive moment, converts it into a powerful force. Of course, as Leon Trotsky said, it is not the piston or the boiler, but the steam which drives the process forward.

 

5. In order for political action to be effective, so that protests, resistance and struggles are genuinely able to change things, to convert mass uprisings into revolutions, a political instrument capable of overcoming the dispersion and fragmentation of the exploited and the oppressed is required: one that can create spaces to bring together those who, in spite of their differences, have a common enemy; that is able to strengthen existing struggles and promote others by orientating their actions according to a thorough analysis of the political situation; that can act as an instrument for cohering the many expressions of resistance and struggle.

 

6. We are aware that there are a number of apprehensions towards such ideas. There are many who are not even willing to discuss them. Such positions are adopted because they associate this idea with the anti-democratic, authoritarian, bureaucratic and manipulative political practices that have characterized many left-wing parties.

 

7. I believe it is fundamental for us to overcome this subjective barrier and understand that when we refer to a political instrument, we are not thinking about any political instrument; we are dealing with a political instrument adjusted to the new times, an instrument that we must build together.

 

8. However, in order to create or refashion this new political instrument, the left has to change its political culture and its vision of politics. This cannot be reduced to institutional political disputes for control over parliament or local governments; to approving laws or winning elections. In this conception of politics, the popular sectors and their struggles are completely ignored. Neither can politics be limited to the art of what is possible.

 

9. For the left, politics must be the art of making possible the impossible. And we are not talking here about a voluntarist declaration. We are talking about understanding politics as the art of constructing a social and political force capable of changing the correlation of force in favor of the popular movement, to make possible in the future what today appears impossible.

 

10. We have to think of politics as the art of constructing forces. We have to overcome the old and deeply-rooted mistake of trying to build a political force without building a social force.

 

11. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of revolutionary phase-mongering among our militants; too much radicalism in their statements. I am convinced that the only way to radicalize a given situation is through the construction of forces. Those whose words are filled with demands for radicalization must answer the following question: what are you doing to construct the political and social force necessary to push the process forward?

 

12. But this construction of forces cannot occur spontaneously; only popular uprisings happen spontaneously. It requires a political instrument that is capable of consciously building the required forces.

 

13. And I envisage this political instrument as an organization capable of raising a national project that can unify and act as a compass for all those sectors that oppose neoliberalism. As an organization that is orientated towards the rest of society, that respects the autonomy of the social movements instead of manipulating them. And one whose militants and leaders are true popular pedagogues, capable of stimulating the knowledge that exists within the people—derived from their cultural traditions, as well as acquired in their daily struggles for survival—through the fusion of this knowledge with the most all-encompassing knowledge that the political organization can offer. An orientating and cohering instrument at the service of the social movements.

 

This is the first 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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