Marta Harnecker: Ideas for the struggle #12 -- Don’t confuse desires with reality

Marta Harnecker.

[This is the final article in a 12-part series of articles. Click HERE for other articles in the series.]

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

1. Unfortunately, there tends to be a lot of subjectivism in our analysis of the political situation. What tends to occur is that leaders, driven by their revolutionary passion, tend to confuse desires with reality. An objective evaluation of the situation is not carried out, the enemy tends to be underestimated and, on the other hand, one’s own potential is overestimated

2. Moreover, leaders tend to confuse the mood of the most radical activists with the mood of the grassroots popular sectors. There exists a tendency in more than a few political leaderships to make generalisations about the mood of the masses simply based on their own personal experiences, whether it is in the region they are in or the social sector they are active in, or their guerrilla front, or, in the most general sense, based on the perception of those around them, who are always the most radicalised sectors.

3. Those that work with the most radicalised sectors will have a different vision of the country compared to those that carry out their political activities among the least political sectors. Revolutionary cadre who work in a militant popular neighbourhood won’t have the same vision of the country as those that are active in middle-class sectors.

4. The same thing occurs in countries where both war zones and political spaces exist. The guerrillas who face real confrontations with the enemy, and who have been able to win control of certain zones thanks to their military victories, tend to believe that the revolutionary process is more advanced than militants who work in legal political spaces in the large urban centres, where the ideological power and military control of the regime is still very large.

5. The only guarantee for not committing these errors is assuring that leaders are capable of evaluating the situation not on the basis of their mood, but rather taking as their starting point the the mood of the bulk of the people, the mood of the enemy and the international reality. Once this evaluation is carried out, it is necessary to come up with proposals that allow us to take advantage of the situation as a whole.

6. It would seem to be a truism to say that it is important for the top leaders to learn to listen. We believe that this is fundamental. Nevertheless, what occurs is that some leaders are so impregnated by preconceived ideas regarding the current state of affairs, of how things are, of what can be done and what can’t be done, that in their contact with intermediary leaders and the grassroots, they tend more towards transmitting their vision of things than informing themselves about the actual mood of the people.

7. What therefore can occur is that, when one has to make an analysis of the situation, errors occur, not so much due to the lack of information, but because, despite information having been transmitted correctly and in a timely manner by the ranks, it has not been assimilated by the leadership.

8. But it is also important that the ranks and middle layers of leaders be objective in providing information. Sometimes they can misinform rather than inform by providing, for example, inflated numbers for certain mobilisations or actions.

9. The tendency to delude oneself, to falsify data regarding mobilisations, meetings, strikes, the weight of each organisation, is quite common in politics. For instance, saying that thousands were mobilised when it was really only hundreds.

10. This triumphalist focus is the product of the mistaken idea that we are always right, that we are always the best, that everything we do end up in a positive results for us.

11. It is not only in regards to numbers where self-delusion has existed, but also in the evaluation of actions that have been proposed. If the objective was to achieve a certain representation in parliament but this was not achieved, recognition is not given to the fact that the number of votes received was below the expectations that had been created; instead, there is always an attempt to seek out a way to present the event as a triumph, for example, stating that the number of votes increased compared to the previous election. If a national strike is proposed, but only a partial strike is achieved, this is not recognised as a defeat; rather the success of the strike is talked up because more workers did not go to work compared to previous actions of this type etc.

12. If leaders do not know how to listen – something that requires a large dose of revolutionary modesty – and, at the same time, they receive falsified information, then proposals are made which – taking false premises as their starting point – are not adjusted to the real possibilities of the forces on the ground; battles that are planned out can lead to significant defeats because they are not based on the real balance of forces.

[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.]