Marta Harnecker: Ideas for the struggle #2 -- Convince, not impose

Marta Harnecker.

[This is the second 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. Popular movements and, more generally, the different social protagonists who today are engaged in the struggle against neoliberal globalisation both at the international and national levels reject, with good reason, attitudes that aim to impose hegemony or control on movements. They don’t accept the steamroller policy that some political and social organisations tended to use that, taking advantage of their position of strength and monopolising political positions, attempt to manipulate the movement. They don’t accept the authoritarian imposition of a leadership from above; they don’t accept attempts made to lead movements by simply giving orders, no matter how correct they are.

2. Such attitudes, instead of bringing forces together, have the opposite effect. On the one hand, it creates discontent in the other organisations; they feel manipulated and obligated to accept decisions in which they’ve had no participation; and on the other hand, it reduces the number of potential allies, given that an organisation that assumes such positions is incapable of representing the real interests of all sectors of the population and often provokes mistrust and scepticism among them.

3. But to fight against positions that seek to impose hegemony does not mean renouncing the fight to win hegemony, which is nothing else but attempting to win over, to persuade others of the correctness of our criteria and the validity of our proposals.

4. To win hegemony doesn’t require having many people in the beginning, a few is enough. The hegemony reached by Movimiento 26 de Julio (July 26 Movement) led by Fidel Castro in Cuba, seems to us to be a sufficiently convincing example of this.

5. More important than creating a powerful party with a large number of militants is to raise a political project that reflects the population’s most deeply felt aspirations, and thus win their minds and hearts. What is important is that its politics succeeds in procuring the support of the masses and consensus in the majority of society.

6. Some parties boast about the large numbers of militants they have, but, in fact, they only lead their members. They key is not whether the party is large or small; what matters is that the people feel they identify with its proposals.

7. Instead of imposing and manipulating, what is necessary is convincing and uniting all those who feel attracted to the project to be implemented. And you can only unite people if the others are respected, if you are willing to share responsibilities with other forces.

8. Today, important sectors of the left have come to understand that their hegemony will be greater when they succeed in bringing more people behind their proposals, even if they may not do so under their banner. We have to abandon the old-fashioned and mistaken practice of demanding intellectual property rights over organisations that dare to hoist their own banner.

9. If an important number of grassroots leaders are won over to these ideas, then it is assures that these ideas will more effectively reach the different popular movements. It is also important to win over distinguished national personalities to the project, because they are public opinion makers and will be effective instruments for promoting the proposals and winning over new supporters.

10. We believe that a good way to measure hegemony obtained by an organisation is to examine the number of natural leaders and personalities that have taken up its ideas and, in general, the number of people who identify with them.

11. The level of hegemony obtained by a political organisation cannot be measured by the number of political positions that have been won. What is fundamental is that those who occupy leading positions in diverse movements and organisations take up as their own and implement the proposals elaborated by the organisation, despite not belonging to it.

12. A test for any political organisation that declares itself not as not wanting to impose hegemony or control is being capable of proposing the best people for different positions, whether they are members of that very party, are independent or are members of other parties. The credibility among the people of a project will depend a great deal on the figures that the left raises.

13. Of course this is easier said than done. Frequently, when an organisation is strong, it tends to underestimate the contribution that other organisations may have to offer and tend to impose its ideas. It is easier to do this than to take the risk of rising to the challenge to winning people over. While more political positions are obtained, the more careful we have to be of not falling into the desire to impose hegemony or control.

14. Moreover, the concept of hegemony is a dynamic one, since hegemony is not established once and for all. To maintain it requires a process of permanently re-winning it. Life follows its course, new problems arise, and with them new challenges.

[Posted May 25, 2009.]

Marta Harnecker’s bibliography on the topic:

La izquierda en el umbral del Siglo XXI. Haciendo posible lo imposible, Publicado en: México, Siglo XXI Editores, 1999; España,    Siglo XXI Editores, 1ª ed., 1999, 2ª ed., 2000 y 3ª ed., 2000; Cuba, Editorial de Ciencias Sociales, 2000; Portugal, Campo das Letras Editores, 2000; Brasil, Paz e Terra, 2000; Italia, Sperling and Küpfer Editori, 2001; Canadá (francés), Lantôt Éditeur, 2001; El Salvador, Instituto de Ciencias Políticas y Administrativas Farabundo Martí, 2001.

Hacia el Siglo XXI, La izquierda se renueva, Quito, Ecuador, CEESAL, 1991

Vanguardia y crisis actual o Izquierda y crisis actual, Siglo XXI España, 1990. Publicado en: Argentina, Ediciones de Gente Sur, 1990; Uruguay, TAE Editorial, 1990; Chile, Brecha, 1990; Nicaragua, Barricada, 1990. Con el título Izquierda y crisis actual: México, Siglo XXI Editores, 1990; Perú, Ediciones Amauta, 1990; Venezuela, Abre Brecha, 1990; Dinamarca, Solidaritet, 1992.

[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.]

Submitted by Tom Baker (not verified) on Tue, 05/26/2009 - 09:21


Tom Baker here, Nicaragua Solidarity Chicago,
and thank you for this posting, and let me share
some comment:

- First, I'd say that Bottom Up is our mantra and
denotes the people's struggle to break free of
imperialist murderous greed

- re Cuba and July 26 being just a few, like Fidel
and 11 others, let us note that there was wide
popular support, that the Cuban people had long
been struggling for their independence and dignity,
that the 1898 Spanish American War was the USA
crushing the people's revolt against imperialist Spain

- The "NGO-ization" of people's will is a problem
for us, as it does divert from the people's will by
making an "NGO" the spokesman and which may not
even by of the people. I think Palestine is an example,
as are Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, Somalia, the Congo

Marta and others, could this be your observation, too,
that it is valid observation that Old World Feudalism
exists today.