Marta Harnecker: Ideas for the struggle #3 -- To be at the service of popular movements, not displace them

[This is the third 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. 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 it is necessary for political organisations to demonstrate a great respect for grassroots movements; to contribute to their autonomous development, leaving behind all attempts at manipulation. They must take as their starting point that they aren’t the only ones with ideas and proposals and, 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 organisations have to get rid of the idea that they are the only ones capable of generating creative, new, revolutionary and transformative ideas. And that therefore, their role is not only to make echo of the demands of the social movements, but to also be willing to gather ideas and concepts from these movements to enrich its own conceptual arsenal.

3. Political and social leaders should leave behind the method of pre-established schemas. We 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 grow and strengthen the movement, and not displace the masses.

4. Their role is to push the mass movement forward, or perhaps more than push, facilitate the conditions necessary so that the movement can 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 organisations with grassroots movements should therefore be a two‑way circuit: from the political organisation to the social movement and from the social movement to the political organisation. Unfortunately, the tendency continues to be that it only functions in the first 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 synthesise that which could unite them and generate political action, and at the same time tackle pessimistic and defeatist ideas they may hold.

7. Wherever possible, we must involve the grassroots in the process of decision making, 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 as our starting point the true motivations of the people, only if one helps them to discover the necessity of carrying out certain task for 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 organisational process capable of involving, if not all, then at least an important part of the people into the struggle and, little by little, win over 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 realise that their own ideas and initiatives are being put into practice, they we see themselves as the protagonists of change and their capacity to struggle will enormously increase.

10. Taking all that has been said above into consideration, it becomes clear that the type of political cadres we need cannot be cadres with a military mentality -- today, it is not about leading an army, which is not to say that at some critical junctures this may and should be the case, nor that of a demagogic populist -- 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. Thus, I do not want to create an impression of excessive optimism here. Achieving a correct relationship with the social movements is still a long way off.

Marta Harnecker`s bibliography on the topic

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

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. Posted May 28, 2009.]