This is an English translation of a Spanish handbook published five years ago. The author Marta Harnecker is a well-known revolutionary who was involved with revolutionary resistance against the CIA-Pinochet coup in her native Chile. In exile, mostly in Cuba where she wrote extensively on that country’s revolutionary process, she is now deeply involved with the revolutionary process in Venezuela.
It is obvious that she is writing for a Latin American audience and the experience she sums up comes mainly from that vast region. Starting from huge mass uprisings—she calls them insurrections—in various countries such as Argentina, she raises pertinent questions regarding their failure to seize power. Her diagnosis is that the heroic, spontaneous mass actions failed because they lacked ‘a political instrument capable of overcoming the dispersion and fragmentation of the exploited and the oppressed...’ This political instrument must be one that ‘can create spaces to bring together those who, in spite of their differences, have a common enemy; that is able to strengthen existing struggles and promote others by orientating their actions according to a thorough analysis of the political situation; that can act as an instrument for cohering the many expressions of resistance and struggle.’
‘And I envisage,’ she says, ‘this political instrument as an organisation capable of raising a national project that can unify and act as a compass for all those sectors that oppose neoliberalism. As a space that directs itself towards the rest of society, that respects the autonomy of the social movements instead of manipulating them, and whose militants and leaders are true popular pedagogues, stimulating the knowledge that exists within the people—derived from their cultural traditions, as well as acquired in their daily struggle for survival—through the fusion of this knowledge with the most all encompassing knowledge that the political organisation can offer.’
Development of such a ‘political instrument’ is and has been thwarted by ultra-democracy and bureaucratic centralist commandism. New militants and leaders of many large-scale movements have, as a reaction to bureaucratic centralism practised by many Left parties, have become highly suspicious of any centralism. Marta tries to allay these suspicions in two ways: first, by showing that movements cannot progress without a centralism that is well grounded in democracy, that respects and creates spaces for minorities; secondly; that a correct ‘political instrument’ would not seek to impose its hegemony but achieve it through the consent that emerges in handling all progressive social and political forces fairly, without impositions and capable of producing a totalizing vision that moves from everyday struggles to seizure of power.
The Left’s failure to harness the huge forces that seethe and boil in actions—large and small—against neoliberalism and other capitalist forces and what is to be done to achieve that is the true content of this inspiring book. The major sections in the book are descriptions of Left sectarianism, commandism and the failure to come to terms with the various new features of struggle in a globalized world.
She builds on her Latin American experience but from her evidence we find much that we can learn and reflect upon in South Asia. I found uncanny resemblances between that foreign experience and our own. The power of Marta’s generalizations render to us universal truths about the state of the Left movement everywhere. All activists should be aware of this book.
17 March, 2014
Malbazar, North Bengal