Marta Harnecker: Ideas for the struggle #8 -- The left must attempt to set the agenda for struggle

[This is the eighth 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. In the previous article, we stated that a large section of the party left has found it very difficult to work with social movements and develop ties with the new social forces in recent decades. This has been due to several factors.

2. While the right wing has demonstrated great political initiative, the left tends to be on the defensive. While the former uses its control of the institutions of the state and the mass media, as well as its economic influence, to impose its new model, subservient to financial capital and monopolies, that has precipitated privatisations, labour deregulation and all the other aspects of the neoliberal economic program, to increase social fragmentation and foment anti-partyism, the party left, on the other hand, has almost exclusively limited its political work to the use of current institutionality, subordinating itself to the rules of the game imposed by the enemy, and hardly ever taking them by surprise. The level of absurdity is such that the calendar of struggle of the left is set by the right.

3. How often have we heard the left complain about the adverse conditions it had to face during elections campaign, after discovering that its electoral results were not what it was expecting? Yet the very same left seldom denounces the rules of the game imposed on it, nor proposes electoral reforms, during its electoral campaigns. On the contrary, what tends to occur is that in seeking votes -- instead of carrying out an educational, pedagogical campaign that serves to increase the organisation and awareness of the people -- the left uses the same techniques to sell its candidates that the ruling classes uses.

4. On the other hand, the current rules of the game imposed by the dominant classes hinder the unity of the left and foment personality-based politics. In some countries, the left is forced to work to support its own party instead of for a broader front, because if it doesn’t the party tends to disappear from the political sphere.

5. This means that, when electoral defeats occur, the frustration, wearing down and debts incurred during the campaign are compounded by the fact that the electoral effort does not translate into political growth, leaving a bitter sense of having wasted their time. The situation would be very different if campaigns were conceived from a pedagogical point of view, where election campaigns are used to deepen awareness and popular organisation. Then, even if the electoral results are not the most favourable, the time and effort invested in the campaign are not wasted.

6. It is not surprising that some argue that the cult of the institution has been the Trojan horse that the ruling system has been able to introduce into the fortress of the revolutionary left, thus attacking the left from inside.

7. The work of the ranks is progressively delegated to people who hold public and administrative positions. Majority effort stops being directed towards collective action and are redirected towards parliamentary action or building a media presence.

8. Militant action has tended to be reduced to activities on election day, putting‑up posters and other such trivial public acts.

9. And, even worse, party financing is increasingly relying on the participation of party cadres in state institutions: parliament, local government, election boards, etc., with all that this entails, in terms of dependency and undue pressure.

10. The political activity of the left cannot be reduced to the conquest of institutions; it must be directed towards changing those institutions in order to be able to transform reality. A new balance of forces must be created so that the necessary changes can be implemented. We have to understand that we cannot build a political force without building a social force.

11. At the same time, we must also avoid “partyising” all initiatives and the social movements we relate to; on the contrary, effort must be made to bring together their practices into a single political project.

12. Additionally, the party left has had a hard time adjusting to the new realities. On many occasions it has remained firmly locked into rigid conceptual frameworks that prevents it from appreciating the potentiality of the new social subjects, exclusively focusing efforts on forces that have traditionally mobilised, such as trade unions, that today are much weaker due to a variety of factors.

13. Lastly, one of the greatest difficulties for the party left regarding work with the social left has been the viewpoint that sees social movements as conveyor belts for the party. The leadership of the movement, positions in leadership bodies, the platform of struggle, that is everything, is decided by party leaders and only afterwards is the line of march taken to the social movement in question, without allowing them to participate in the process of deciding the matters that affect them directly.

14. Summing up, in order for the party left to develop strong bonds with the social left, the party left must renew itself ideologically, change its political culture and work methods, and incorporate into its arsenal the innovative forms of struggle and resistance utilised by the social left.
Marta Harnecker’s bibliography on the topic

The left after Seattle, Original title: La izquierda después de Seattle, Siglo XXI España, 2002.

The Left on the threshold of the twenty first century, Part III. The situation of the left, Original title: La izquierda en el umbral del Siglo XXI. Haciendo posible lo imposible, Published in: 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.

[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.]