Ideas for the Struggle #3 To Be at the Service of Popular Movements, Not to Displace Them

This is the third in a series of articles on “Ideas for the Struggle” by Marta Harnecker.

1.  We have said before 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 what appears impossible today.  But, to be able to construct a social force, it is necessary for political organizations to demonstrate a great respect for popular movements, to contribute to their autonomous development, leaving behind all attempts at manipulation.  Political organizations must take as their starting point that they aren’t the only ones with ideas and proposals and that, on the contrary, popular movements have much to offer them, because through their daily struggles popular movements are also going to learn, discover new paths, find solutions, and invent methods which can be of great value.

2.  Political organizations have to get rid of the idea that they are the only ones capable of generating creative, innovative, revolutionary, and transformative ideas.  Therefore, their role is not only to echo the demands of social movements, but also to be willing to gather ideas and concepts from these movements to enrich their own conceptual arsenal.

3.  Political and social leaders should abandon the method of going by pre-established schemas.  We have to struggle to eliminate all top-down methods that stifle the initiative of the people.  The role of leaders must be one of contributing their ideas and experiences in order to help grow and strengthen the movement, rather than displacing the masses.

4.  Their role is to push the mass movement forward, or perhaps more than push, facilitate the conditions necessary for the mass movement to unleash its capacity to confront those who exploit and oppress the masses.  But the mass movement can be pushed forward only if they fight shoulder to shoulder in local, regional, national, and international struggles of the people.

5.  The relationship between political organizations and popular movements should therefore be a two‑way circuit: from political organizations to social movements and from social movements to political organizations.  Unfortunately, the circuit still tends to function only 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, based on all the information collected, we must be capable of correctly diagnosing their mood and synthesizing what could unite them and generate political action, countering pessimistic, defeatist ideas that they may also hold.

7.  Wherever possible, we must involve the grassroots in the process of decision making, that is to say, we have to open up spaces for people’s participation, but people’s participation is not something that can be decreed from above.  Only if we take the motivations of the people as our starting point, only if we help them discover for themselves the necessity of carrying out certain task, and only if we win 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 popular movements are not felt as orders coming from outside the movements and that such efforts can help create an organizational process capable of involving, if not all, then at least an important part of the people in the struggle and, from there, win over the more backward and pessimistic sectors.  When the latter sectors understand that, as Che said, the aims we are fighting for are not only necessary but winnable, they too will join the struggle.

9.  When the people realize that their own ideas and initiatives are being put into practice, they see themselves as protagonists of change and their capacity to struggle will enormously increase.

10.  From all that has been said above, it becomes clear that the type of political and social cadres we need to accomplish these tasks 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 can it be populist demagogues, because it is not about leading a flock of sheep; political cadres should fundamentally be — as we have already said — popular pedagogues, capable of cherishing the ideas and initiatives that emerge from within popular movements themselves.

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.  A correct relationship between leaders and the grassroots is still far from being achieved.


Bibliography of Marta Harnecker’s Works on This Theme

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

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 “Ponerse a disposición de los movimientos populares,
no suplantarlos” is available at <>.