Marta Harnecker: Ideas for the struggle #5 -- Minorities can be right

Marta Harnecker (right) with Michael Lebowitz (left).

[This is the fifth 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. Democratic centralism implies not only the subordination of the minority to the majority, but also the respect of the majority towards the minority.

2. Minorities should not be crushed or marginalised; they should be respected. Nor should the minority be required to completely subordinate itself to the majority. The minority must carry out the tasks proposed by the majority at each concrete political junction, but they should not have to renounce their political, theoretical and ideological convictions. On the contrary, it is the minority’s duty to continue fighting to defend their ideas until the others are convinced or they themselves become convinced of the other’s ideas.

3. Why should the minority continue defending its positions and not submit to the position of the majority? Because the minority may be right; their analysis of reality might be more accurate if that they have been capable of discovering the true motivations of specific social forces. That is why those who hold minority positions at a determined moment should not only have the right, but the duty, to hold their positions and fight to convince the maximum amount of other militants of their positions through internal debate.

4. Moreover, if the majority is convinced that their propositions are correct, then they have nothing to fear in debating ideas. On the contrary, they should encourage it and try to convince the minority group. If the majority fears a confrontation of positions it is probably a sign of political weakness.

5. Is this not the case if we look at some of the left parties and social movements in Latin America? How many splits could have been avoided if the minority view had been respected? Instead, on many occasions, the entire weight of the bureaucratic apparatus has been used to crush them, leaving them with no choice but to split. Sometimes minorities are accused of being divisive for the simple reason that they want their ideas to be respected and be given space to debate them. Could it be that the true splitters are those who provoke the division by leaving the minority with no other option than to split if they hope to continue their struggle against positions they believe to be wrong?

6. The topic of majorities and minorities also has to do with the disjunction or non‑correspondence between representatives and the represented. This phenomenon may occur for different reasons, including: the organic incapacity of those who represent the real majority to achieve better representation in the mass organisations; the bureaucratic manoeuvres of a formal majority to keep itself in positions of power; the rapid change in political consciousness of those who elected these representatives due to developments in the revolutionary process itself. Those who only days before truly represented the majority may today simply represent a formal majority because the revolutionary situation has demonstrated to the masses that the position of the minority was correct.

7. The new culture of the left should also be reflected in a different approach towards the composition of leadership bodies in political organisations. For a long time it was believed that if a certain tendency or sector of the party won the internal elections by a majority, all leadership positions would be filled by cadres from that tendency. In a certain sense, the prevailing idea was that the more homogenous the leadership, the easier it would be to lead the organisation. Today different criteria tend to prevail: a leadership that better reflects the internal balance of forces seems to work better, as it helps to get all party members, and not only those of the majority current, feeling more involved in the implementation of tasks proposed by the leadership.

8. But a plural leadership, along the lines that we are proposing, can only be effective if the organisation has a truly democratic culture, because if that is not the case, then such an approach will produce a wave of unrest and render the organisation ungovernable.

9. Moreover, a real democratisation of the political organisation demands more effective participation by party members in the election of their leaders: they should be elected according to their ideological and political positions rather than personal issues. That is why it’s important that the different positions are well known among the party membership via internal publications. It’s also very important to ensure a more democratic formulation of candidatures and to safeguard the secret vote.

10. Finally, it is essential to remember that the internal democratic culture of a political organisation is the public face it offers to the social movements with which it wants to work. If it demonstrates, on the one hand, that its internal decision-making process occurs according to a democratic procedure based on tolerance and, on the other hand, that it carries out it work in a unitary manner, it can offers the social movements a model for successful action.

Bibliography of Marta Harnecker regarding the issue:

The left on the threshold of the twenty first century.  Making the impossible posible. Original title: La izquierda en el umbral del Siglo XXI. Haciendo posible lo imposible, Siglo XXI, España, 1999, 3ª ed. 2000 (410 pages). 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.

Vanguardia y crisis actual o Izquierda y crisis actual, Siglo XXI España, 1990. Published in: Argentina, Ediciones de Gente Sur, 1990; Uruguay, TAE Editorial, 1990; Chile, Brecha, 1990; Nicaragua, Barricada, 1990. Under the title 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.]