This is the second in a series of articles on “Ideas for the Struggle” by Marta Harnecker.
1. Popular movements and, more generally, various social actors who are engaged in the struggle against neoliberal globalization today at the international level as well as in their own countries reject, with good reason, actions that aim to impose hegemony on movements. They don’t accept the steamroller policy often used by some political and social organizations that, taking advantage of their position of strength and monopolizing positions of leadership, attempt to manipulate movements. They don’t accept the authoritarian imposition of leadership from above; they don’t accept attempts made to lead movements by simply giving orders, no matter how correct they are.
2. Such a hegemonist attitude, instead of bringing forces together, has the opposite effect. On the one hand, it creates discontent in the other organizations; they feel manipulated, obligated to accept decisions in which they’ve had no participation; and on the other hand, it reduces the number of allies, given that an organization that assumes such a position 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 an attempt to impose hegemony does not mean renouncing the fight to win hegemony, which is nothing but an attempt to win over and persuade others of the correctness of our criteria and the validity of our proposals.
4. To win hegemony, it’s not necessary to have many adherents from the beginning — a few are enough. The hegemony achieved by the 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 establishing a political project that reflects the people’s most deeply felt aspirations and thus wins their hearts and minds. What is important is that its politics succeeds in procuring the support of the masses and creating consensus among the majority of society.
6. Some parties boast about the large numbers of militants that they have, but, in fact, they lead only their members. The key is not whether the party is large or small; what matters is that a majority of the people feel identified with its proposals.
7. Instead of imposing and manipulating, we need to convince and unite all who feel attracted to the project to be implemented. And we can only unite people if we respect others, if we are capable of sharing responsibilities with other forces.
8. Today, important sectors of the left have come to understand that their hegemony will be greater if more people get behind their proposals, even if they may not do so under their banner. We have to abandon the old-fashioned and mistaken practice of each organization demanding that other organizations that dare to hoist their own banners recognize its authorship of ideas.
9. If a significant number of grassroots leaders are won over to an organization’s ideas, then it is assured that these ideas will more effectively reach independent popular movements. It is also important to win over distinguished public figures of the nation 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 the hegemony obtained by an organization is to examine the number of grassroots leaders and public figures who 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 organization cannot be measured by the number of offices that it has won. What is fundamental is that those who occupy leading positions in diverse movements and organizations take up as their own and implement the proposals elaborated by the organization, despite not being members of it.
12. A test for any political organization that declares itself as not wanting to impose hegemony is whether it is capable of proposing the best people for offices, whether they are members of the organization itself, independent, or members of other parties. The credibility of a project among the people will depend a great deal on the figures that the left put forward.
13. Of course this is easier said than done. Frequently, when an organization is strong, it tends to underestimate the contribution that other organizations can make and tends to impose its ideas. It is easier to do this than to take the risk of rising to the challenge of winning people over. The more public offices we win, the more vigilant we must be against the temptation to impose hegemony.
14. Moreover, the concept of hegemony is a dynamic one, since hegemony is not established once and for all. Maintaining it is a process in which it has to be constantly recreated. Life follows its course, new problems arise, and with them new challenges.
Bibliography of Marta Harnecker’s Works on This Theme
La izquierda en el umbral del Siglo XXI. Haciendo posible lo imposible, 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 or Izquierda y crisis actual, Siglo XXI España, 1990. Under the title Vanguardia y crisis actual: 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. This article was translated by Federico Fuentes for Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal, in which it first appeared; it is revised and reproduced here for educational purposes. The original article “No imponer sino convencer ” is available at <184.108.40.206/ar/libros/martah/imponer.rtf>.