Ideas for the struggle #8 - The left should avoid allowing the right to set its agenda for struggle
By Marta Harnecker, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal 1. In the previous article, I stated that a large section of the political left has found it very difficult to work with social movements and develop ties with the new social forces in recent decades. This has been due to several factors. 2. While the right wing has demonstrated great political initiative, the left tends to be on the defensive. While the former uses its control of state institutions and the mass media, as well as its economic influence, to impose its new model that is subservient to financial capital and monopolies, and has precipitated privatizations, labor deregulation and all the other aspects of the neoliberal economic program to increase social fragmentation and foment anti-partyism, the political left—on the other hand—has almost exclusively limited its work to the use of the existing institutionality, subordinating itself to the rules of the game imposed by the enemy, hardly ever taking it by surprise. The level of absurdity is such that the calendar of struggle of the left is set by the right. 3. How often have we heard the left, after discovering that its electoral results were not what it was expecting, complain about the adverse conditions it had to face during an election campaign? Yet the very same left seldom denounces the rules of the game imposed on it, nor does it propose electoral reforms during its electoral campaigns. On the contrary, what tends to occur is that—instead of carrying out an educational, pedagogical campaign that serves to increase the organization and awareness of the people—the left uses the same techniques that the ruling classes uses to sell its candidates and seek votes. 4. On the other hand, the current rules of the game imposed by the dominant classes hinder the unity of the left and foment personality-based politics. In some countries, the left is forced to work to support its own party instead of a broader front, because if it does not, its party tends to disappear from the political sphere. 5. This means that when electoral defeats occur, the frustration, tiredness and debts incurred during the campaign are compounded by the fact that the electoral effort does not translate into political growth, leaving a bitter sense of having wasted time. The situation would be very different if campaigns were conceived from a pedagogical point of view, where election campaigns are used to deepen awareness and popular organization. Then, even if the electoral results are not the most favorable, the time and effort invested in the campaign are not wasted. 6. It is not surprising that some argue that the cult of the institution has been the Trojan horse that the ruling system has been able to introduce into the fortress of the revolutionary left, thus attacking the left from inside. 7. The work of activists is progressively delegated to people who hold public and administrative positions. Majority effort stops being directed towards collective action and are redirected towards parliamentary action or building a media presence. 8. Militant action tends to be reduced to activities on election day, putting-up posters and other such trivial public acts. 9. And, even worse, party financing is increasingly relying on the participation of party cadres in state institutions: parliament, local government, election boards, etc., with all that this entails in terms of dependency and undue pressure. 10. The political activity of the left cannot be reduced to the conquest of institutions; it must be directed towards changing those institutions in order to be able to transform reality. A new correlation of forces must be created so that the necessary changes can be implemented. We have to understand that we cannot build a political force without building a social force. 11. At the same time, we must also avoid “partyising” all initiatives and the social movements we relate to; on the contrary, effort must be made to articulate their practices into a single political project. 12. Additionally, the political left has had a hard time adjusting to the new realities. On many occasions it has remained firmly locked into rigid conceptual frameworks that prevent it from appreciating the potentiality of the new social forces, instead exclusively focusing efforts on forces that have traditionally mobilized, such as trade unions, but that today are much weaker due to a variety of factors. 13. Lastly, one of the greatest difficulties for the political left in terms of working with the social left has been the viewpoint that sees social movements as conveyor belts for the party. The leadership of the movement, positions in leadership bodies, the platform of struggle, everything is decided by party leaders and the line of march is imposed to the social movements, thereby not allowing them to participate in the process of deciding upon the matters that directly affect them. 14. Summing up, in order for the political left to develop strong bonds with the social left, the political left must renew itself ideologically, change its political culture and work methods, and incorporate into its arsenal the innovative forms of struggle and resistance utilized by the social left. This is the eighth 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.