Ideas for the struggle #3 - To be at the service of popular movements, not replace them

1. We have previously stated that politics is the art of constructing a social and political force capable of changing the balance of forces in order to make possible tomorrow that which today appears to be impossible. But to be able to construct a social force political organizations must demonstrate a great respect for grassroots movements, and contribute to their autonomous development, leaving behind all attempts at manipulation. They must take as their starting point the fact that they are not the only ones with ideas and proposals; on the contrary, grassroots movements have much to offer us, because through their daily struggles they have also learned things, discovered new paths, found solutions and invented methods which can be of great value. 

2. Political organizations have to get rid of the idea that they are the only ones capable of generating creative, new, revolutionary and transformative ideas. Their role therefore is not only to echo the demands of the social movements, but also to gather ideas and concepts from these movements to enrich their own conceptual arsenal. 

3. Political and social leaders should leave behind pre-established schemas. They have to struggle to eliminate all verticalism that stifles the initiative of the people. The role of a leader must be one of contributing with ideas and experiences in order to help nurture and strengthen the movement, and not replace the masses. 

4. Their role is to push the mass movement forward, or perhaps more than push, facilitate the conditions necessary for the movement to unleash its capacity to confront those that exploit and oppress them. But helping to push forward is only possible if we fight shoulder to shoulder in local, regional, national and international struggles

5. The relationship of political organizations with grassroots movements should therefore be a two-way street: from the political organization to the social movement and from the social movement to the political organization. Unfortunately, the tendency continues to be only in the former direction. 

6. It is important to learn to listen and to engage in dialogue with the people; it is necessary to listen carefully to the solutions proposed by the people themselves to defend their conquests or struggle for their demands and, with all the information collected, we must be capable of correctly diagnosing their mood and synthesize that which could unite them and generate political action, at the same time as tackling any pessimistic and defeatist ideas they may hold. 

7. Wherever possible, we must involve the grassroots in the decision making process, that is to say we have to open up new spaces for people’s participation. But people’s participation is not something that can be decreed from above. Only by taking the genuine motivations of the people as our starting point, only if one helps them to understand the need to carry out certain task by themselves, and only by winning over their hearts and minds, will they be willing to fully commit themselves to the actions proposed. 

8. This is the only way to ensure that efforts made to help orient the movement are not felt as orders coming from outside the movement, and to help create an organizational process capable of involving, if not all, then at least an important part of the people in the struggle and, starting from there, win over little by little the more backward and pessimistic sectors. When these latter sectors understand that, as Che Guevara said, the aims we are fighting for are not only necessary but possible, they too will choose to join the struggle. 

9. When the people realize that their own ideas and initiatives are being put into practice, they will see themselves as the protagonists of change, and their capacity to struggle will increase enormously

10. Taking all that has been said above into consideration, it is clear that the type of political cadres we need are not cadres with a military mentality—today, it is not about leading an army, which is not to say that at some critical conjunctures this may and should be the case. Nor do we need cadres that are demagogic populists—because it is not about leading a flock of sheep. Political cadres should fundamentally be popular pedagogues, capable of fostering the ideas and initiative that emerge for within the grassroots movement

11. Unfortunately, many of the current leaders have been educated in the school of leading the people by issuing orders, and that is not something that can be changed overnight. Therefore, I do not want to create an impression of excessive optimism here. Achieving a correct relationship between the leaders and the grassroots is still a long way off. 

This is the third 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.