Marta Harnecker: Ideas for the struggle #10 -- A strategy for building unity

[This is the tenth in a series of regular articles. Click HERE for other articles in the series. Please return to Links regularly read the next articles in the series.]

By Marta Harnecker, translated by Federico Fuentes for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal

1. I have previously referred to the necessity of building unity among all left forces and actors in order to be able to group a broad anti-neoliberal bloc around them. Nevertheless, I do not think that this objective can be achieved in a voluntarist manner, creating coordinating bodies from above that end up as simple sums of acronyms.

2. I believe that this unity can emerge through concrete struggles for common objectives. And that is why I think that we can help create better conditions for this unity if we put into practice a new strategy of anti-capitalist struggle.

3. We are talking about a strategy that takes into consideration the important social, political, economic and cultural transformations that have occurred across the world in the last period. One that understands that the new forms of capitalist domination go far beyond the economic and state sphere and have infiltrated into all the interstices of society, fundamentally through the mass media which has indiscriminately invaded the homes of all social sectors, and in doing so changed the conditions of struggle.

4. Today, more than ever, we have to confront not only the dominant classes’ apparatuses of political coercion but also the mechanisms and institutions present in civil society that generate a popular acceptance of the capitalist social order. These tend to achieve a significant hegemony over important popular sectors, a cultural leadership over society; they have the capacity to ideologically subordinate the dominated classes. As has already been said, propaganda is to bourgeois democracy what the truncheon is to the totalitarian state.

5. Our challenge therefore is to elaborate a revolutionary strategy within the conditions of a bourgeois democracy that enjoys a level of acceptance by an important part of the popular sectors which allows it to maintain itself without having to recur to repression; what’s more, we have to take as our starting point the recognition that large parts of popular sectors accept as good coin the capitalist leadership of the process.

6. For this reason, simple propaganda about an alternative society is not enough. The greater complexity that domination has assumed, the presence of important extra-state factors that produce and reproduce the current popular fragmentation and that attempt to delegitimise the thought and project of the left in the eyes of the public, means that we must demonstrate in our practice that which we preach.

7. To do so, we must develop a process of popular construction opposed to capitalism in the territories and spaces won by the left, that seeks to break with the profit logic and the relations this imposes, and tries to instil solidarity-based humanist logics.

8. We must promote struggles that are not reduced to simple economic demands – although they must necessarily be included – but that advance in the development of a more global, social project that encourages authentic levels of power from the grassroots.

9. What we are dealing with is the construction of experiences in popular democracy that are tangibly superior to bourgeois democracy. For example, the elaboration of a project for a humanist and solidarity-based city in a local government, promoting diverse spaces for participation that allow local residents to transform themselves into active members of their community. Or the construction of a pole of rural settlements where peasants can establish diverse forms of collaboration among themselves, not only in agricultural production, but also in industrialisation and commercialisation of their products, in the education of their children and the formation of their cadre according to a model that foreshadows the new society. Or the building of a student federation that defends the democratic participation of students in the running of a university committed to society. Or the construction of a trade union confederation that puts an end to bureaucratic leadership separated from the grassroots, that defends a social-political unionism, that overcomes simple economism, and that proposes as its objective an active insertion in the struggle for social transformation.

10. A strategy of this type can enormously facilitate the cohering of all the sectors of the left, both those that are members of parties as well as social movement activists, because it involves a different type of call to action. In order to be active, one does not necessarily have to become a member of a party, a mass organisation, a movement; one can be active simply by participating in putting into practice the project of an alternative model.

11. More than just a propagandised utopia that is sterilely introduced into the minds of men and women in a passive manner, as enlightened education without any practice in concrete construction, we are dealing with the construction of popular democratic reference points which, given they reflect different practices, tend to attract new sectors.

12. Moreover, it is only through these practices that many people begin to understand why it is that in order to expand their humanist and solidarity-based projects it is necessary to put an end to the capitalist system that, with its logic of profit, raises enormous hurdles to any type of alternative model. 

13. It is therefore an urgent priority to put an end to the “tactics” of shortcuts, of conjuncturalism, and thread together a practice centred on the promotion of democratic struggles from the grassroots; in the local construction of forms of power and popular democracy; that allow us to define the meaning and timing of electoral struggle, and other forms of struggle. Otherwise, these practices will not overcome the long string of immediatism that we have encountered over the last years.

14. But it is also urgent that we overcome grassrootism, localism, apoliticism, corporativism, that limit the struggle of the popular sectors to trade union horizons or economic struggles.

Bibliography of Marta Harnecker’s works on the topic

La izquierda después de Seattle, Siglo XXI España, 2002.

[Marta Harnecker is originally from Chile where she participated in the revolutionary process of 1970-1973. She has written extensively on the Cuba Revolution, and on the nature of socialist democracy. She now lives in Caracas and is a participant in the Venezuelan revolution.]