"The Christian must discover in contemplation, and in the giving of his life, those symbolic actions which will ignite the people's faith to resist injustice with their whole lives, lives coming together as a united force of truth and thus releasing the liberating power of the God within them." - James Douglass, Contemplation and Resistance.
Sunday, June 07, 2009
The Way Forward
The following ideas are from a long-time struggler for social justice, Marta Harnecker, now living in Venezuela:
"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."
I think what Marta Harnecker is saying here is extremely significant, especially when taken in conjunction with her first article. “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.” This is where much of the American left seems to break down. Since the vast majority of the American left arises in the universities, intellectual trends there have huge impact on political strategies. Post-modernism, which entered the scene in the 70s as a ultra-radical trend, has long shown its deep compatibility with the neoliberal empire. By characterizing traditional leftism as a totalizing ideology, an attempt to impose uniformity on meaning, this ideology has dealt a severe blow to attempts to create social justice. We must return to the straightforward strategy advocated by Harnecker – respect for all those social forces that resist neoliberalism and reasoned persuasion to a leftist perspective. We must become the free and open intellectuals and activists that our vision proclaims. I think particularly of Eugene V. Debs who acted as a passionate and deeply persuasive voice for those whose interests were ignored. The bonds of unity should be created through shared responsibilities in practice rather than striving for theoretical unity. These forces will coalesce when we develop the attractive power to bring them together. Theoretical unity must arise from practical unity. At the same time, we must acknowledge that the current political system is not an appropriate instrument for enabling the systemic change that is necessary. It is structured to redirect the energy for social justice into channels that doom that energy to support for neoliberal policies. I think her ideas represent a way forward, an abandonment of organizational egoism in support of the greater cause.