Criticism Is Good and Should Help the Process

Dear Friends

This is an important interview with Marta Harnecker which discusses the responsibility of those who support the Venezuelan revolution to objectively assess and discuss its challenges. Should the threatened U.S. intervention in Venezuela prevent discussion of the problems facing the revolution within?

"We Must Take Public Criticism into Account. Criticism Is Good and Should Help the Process"
Marta Harnecker Interviewed by Edwin Herrera Salinas

What is the characteristic of the Latin American Left today?
20 years ago, when the Berlin Wall fell, there was no revolution foreseeable on the horizon. However, it didn't take long before a process began to emerge in Latin America with Hugo Chavez. We have gone on to form governments with anti-neoliberal programs, though not all of them are putting an anti-neoliberal economics in practice.

We have created a new Left. A majority of victories are not due to political parties, except in the case of Brazil with the Workers' Party. In general, it's been due to either charismatic figures who reflect the popular sentiment that rejects the system or, in many cases, social movements that have emerged from resistance to neo liberalism and that have been the base of these new governments.

The governments that have done most to guarantee that there be a real process of change to an alternative society are the ones that are supported by organized peoples, for the correlation of forces is not idyllic. We have a very important enemy who is far from dead. It is preoccupied by the war in Iraq, but the power of the empire is very strong and is seeking to hold back this seemingly unstoppable process.

And what is happening to political thought?
What's happening is a renovation of left-wing thought. The ideas of revolutions that we used to defend in the 70s and 80s, in practice, have not materialized. So, left-wing thought has had to open itself up to new realities and search for new interpretations. It has had to develop more flexibility in order to understand that revolutionary processes, for example, can begin by simply winning administrative power.

The transitions that we are making are not classical ones, where revolutionaries seize state power and make and unmake everything from there. Today we are first conquering the administration and making advances from there.

Would you say that we are riding a revolutionary wave?
I believe that, yes, we are in a process of that kind. That there will be ebbs and flows, too, is true. It's interesting to look at the situation in Chile. Here we lost, but it was one of the least advanced processes. Chile always privileged its relation with the United States; the socialist Left was not capable of understanding the necessary links that we have to have in this region and betted on bilateral treaties.

During the era of Augusto Pinochet national industry was dismantled, and the Left didn't know how to work with people. The Left went about getting itself into the leadership, political spaces, the political class, while the Right went to work among people.

What role do you assign to Bolivia in this context?
I was in Bolivia a year and half ago. The situation was completely different then: people were in struggle and there were regional battles. Now I think you have made an enormous advance, when it comes to conquering the spaces of administrative power.

The correlation of forces in the Plurinational Legislative Assembly, the forces of separatism that were defeated, and the success of moderate and intelligent economic policy have demonstrated to the people that, with the nationalization of basic resources, it is possible to build social programs and help the most defenseless sectors.

There is also something cultural, moral. The Bolivian people has what often doesn't show up in statistics: a people achieving dignity. Here, it's like Cuba, where many journalists were expecting to see the fall of Cuban socialism through the domino effect, which didn't happen because dignity matters to the Cuban people more than food.

I heard of improvements in Bolivia, but there still remain large pockets of poverty. Nevertheless, even the poorest citizens feel dignified thanks to the type of government that has had to understand, given Evo Morales' style, that its strength lies in organized people.

For me, it's like a symbol of what our governments ought to be in the face of difficulties. Instead of compromising and turning the process into top-down decision-making, the government receives support from the organized power of people who give it the strength to continue advancing. We must understand that popular pressures are necessary to transform the states, which means we mustn't be afraid of popular pressures, we mustn't be afraid just because there sometimes are strikes against the bureaucratic deviations of the state.
Lenin, before his death, said that the bureaucratic deviations of the state were such that the popular movement had the right to go on strike against it, to perfect the proletarian state. This type of pressure is different from destructive strikes. Social movements must understand their constructive role and, if they choose to apply pressure, do so to build, not to destroy.

Do you believe that the Bolivians can conquer power, not just the administration?
I believe that they will, as they are gaining ground and, well, power is also in the hands of organized people. The socialism we want, which can be called socialism, communitarianism, full humanity, whatever, is a search for a fully democratic society, where individuals can develop themselves, where differences are respected, where, through the practice of struggle, through transformation, the culture of thought will change.

One of the greatest problems is that we are trying to build an alternative society with an inherited individualistic and clientelistic culture. . . . Even our best cadres are influenced by this culture. So, it's a process of cultural transformation. Human beings change themselves through practice, not by decrees.
It is necessary to create spaces, or recognize already existing spaces, of participation, because the big problem of failed socialism was that people didn't feel themselves to be builders of a new society. They received grants, education, health care from the state, but they didn't feel that they were themselves building such a society.

What weaknesses do you see in the Bolivian process?
One of the problems is reflected in the leadership of cadres, accustomed as they are to thinking: when we take office, we change. We are democratic while working in a movement, but when we take office, we become authoritarian. We don't understand that, in the society we want to build, the state has to promote protagonism of people, rather than supplant their decision-making. It happens in some left-wing governments: government officials think that it's up to them to solve problems for people, rather than understand that they must solve problems together with people.

If our government officials are to be wise, they must be pushed by popular initiatives so that the people can feel they are doing it themselves. The state's paternalism, in building socialism, may help at first, but we must create popular protagonism.

Can this weakness derive from not having cadres?
Of course it can. In my latest book, this idea is developed in the last chapter, called "El instrumento politico que necesitamos para el siglo XXI" (The Political Instrument We Need for the 21st Century). The idea behind the term "political instrument" always seemed interesting to me. I insisted in 1999 that we use the term "political instrument" because the party, in some cases, is a worn-out term. We were interested in creating an agency that is in accordance with the needs of the new society, rather than copying the schemas of already obsolete parties.
The party, classically, has been a group of cadres who, at bottom, are seeking to prepare themselves for taking political offices, winning elections, with methods of work that we copied from the Bolshevik party, which were democratic, not clandestine. We mechanically translated that structure.

The results of renovation of what used to be our political parties, or rather social movements that participate in this political construction, are now instruments that belong to social movements, like MAS or Pachakutik in Ecuador, which are instruments created by social movements themselves.

The leading instrument is not a party -- varied as situations are -- but a popular national front. It mustn't be forgotten that we come from the processes in which the Left was in opposition, not in government, and one of the things that we are learning, with each local or national electoral victory, is that it's one thing to be the Left in opposition and it's another thing to be the Left in government.
Therefore we think that political instruments, whether they are fronts or whatever, must be the critical consciousness of the process. What happens often, or almost always, is that there arises a fusion of cadres in the government and cadres of the party. This is due to the shortage of cadres. We, as a group, are advocating in Venezuela for the necessity of public criticism which serves as a warning. If there are deviations, we have to have a chance to criticize them.

What, in your opinion, does public criticism consist of?
Even a little while ago, the Left, including myself, thought that we should just wash our dirty laundry at home. In Cuba, for example, that was always the case, and when we talked to the press, it was said: "Listen, be careful, don't say things that give ammunitions to the enemy." What happened in reality is that political education was greatly endangered, even in Cuba. In other words, the state, the political authority, corrupts if there is no control over it.

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