The capitalist elites tend to achieve a significant hegemony over important popular sectors, a real cultural leadership over society; they have the capacity to ideologically subordinate the popular sectors, even those who are exploited by them. As Chomsky says, propaganda is to bourgeois democracy what the truncheon is to the totalitarian state.
From ‘A strategy for building the unity of the left’
The following text is made up of 12 articles that were first published in Venezuela in 2004 and that were slightly modified in 2016. They were written without a predetermined order in mind and I have preferred to maintain this order to facilitate discussion with my earlier readers. I recommend starting from the topic that most interests you and then reading the rest of the text. As it is impossible to develop all facets of an idea in two pages, only by reading the whole text will readers be able to fully understand each individual article.
Introduction by the Editors at Old and New:
July 2016— When we asked Marta Harnecker whether it would be OK to post her “Ideas for the Struggle” (12 short articles about the left and the challenges it faces) on the Old and New website, with an invitation to revolutionary activists in the USA to discuss it, she said she would be delighted. But she also urged that we write an introduction explaining why a piece that was originally composed in 2004 is being reprinted today, with only a few modifications. That question, however, seems relatively easy: not much has changed on the revolutionary left since 2004 concerning the issues Harnecker is addressing in these notes. They have not been adequately discussed or resolved, far from it.
Another question also seems significant: Why do we think a text inspired by and considering the practices of the Latin American left will be helpful to revolutionaries in the USA? This should also be obvious to readers who take even a quick look at the topics Harnecker considers. Each one of her specific notes points to a significant difficulty for the left in the USA and other “advanced” nations too. The problems are not unique to Latin America.
Indeed, most of “Ideas for the Struggle” might have been written directly about the US left and its experience without changing a single word. And even a section that is more specific to Latin America, like article eight, merely requires that we acknowledge a slightly different historical context: Latin America went through a period, in the living memory of many present-day activists, in which military or other forms of dictatorship were the governmental norm. The need to develop a revolutionary movement which could work effectively, strictly outside governmental institutions, left a strong imprint on the thinking of many leftists. Its a legacy which (Harnecker tells us) needs to be reconsidered today with the turn toward more “democratic” forms of rule throughout the continent. In the USA, of course, the “democratic” form of rule is the only kind we have known. And yet the set of problems that Harnecker discusses in this section of her document is still relevant for us, as are many of her insights—precisely because the political realities in Latin America are now much more like those in the USA.
There are two aspects of Harnecker’s thinking that we want to highlight in particular, because they are so much in tune with what we are attempting to do with the Old and New Project:
* Her understanding that there are general lessons to be learned from the lived experience of the revolutionary movement in the 20th century, that we cannot expect to rebuild the revolutionary left in the 21st century without seriously studying and discussing these lessons, and yet we also need to avoid any sense that our past experience creates rigid rules for us to follow. There is no script. Even though the next set of revolutionary events, wherever they break out, will share features with those that occurred in the past it will also represent a unique experience, unlike that of any other country in any other revolution.
* Similarly, there is a dialectic between the development of an independent mass movement and a leadership capable of successfully consummating the struggle for power. Many in the late 20th century fetishized the question of leadership, treating the mass movement as essentially subordinate. (This was even true of political currents which, on a strictly theoretical level, would tell you that the mass movement was ultimately decisive and ought to be in control.) Recognizing this error some have more recently swung the ideological pendulum too far in the other direction, fetishizing the spontaneity and creativity of the mass movement to the point where the need for a cadre organization virtually disappears. What is needed is a synthesis between these two extremes—a cadre organization which is conscious of why it exists and therefore understands that in the end it must be subordinate to the mass movement, not a force which can dictate to or manipulate the struggle based on some superior “scientific” knowledge. The task, as Harnecker notes in the title to section two of her document, is to “convince, not impose.”
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We do not want to suggest that Harnecker’s ideas are perfect. We should never expect any individual human being, or collective of human beings, to sit down and write the perfect text. There are aspects, even essential aspects, to be added to what she has written, others that need to be further nuanced. This will inevitably be an ongoing and collective project, one which will not come to an end until the future world that we are striving to create has been achieved.
A collective development of this essential conversation, across political tendencies and across generations, is, precisely, the project which Old and New was founded to pursue. Harnecker contributes to that effort in an extremely useful and creative way with her “ideas.” We are therefore gratified that she has agreed to share them with us, allowing us to post her text on this website.
Our thanks also to Links, an Australian on-line journal which first published these “ideas” for an international audience, and which is also attempting to develop the essential discussion about them.
Click on a title to jump directly to that article
1. mass uprisings or revolutions? The role of the political instrument
2. Convince, not impose
3. To be at the service of popular movements, not replace them
4. Should we reject bureaucratic centralism and simply use consensus?
5. Minorities can be right6. The need to unite the political left and the social left
7. Reasons for popular skepticism towards politics and politicians
8. The left should avoid allowing the right to set its agenda for struggle
9. Respect differences and be flexible in regards to activism
10. A strategy for building the unity of the left
11. Popular consultations: spaces that allow for the convergence of different forces
12. Do not confuse desires with reality