We Must Take Public Criticism into Account

… Criticism Is Good and Should Help the Process

Published on ZNet, by Marta Harnecker and Erwin Herrera Salinas, April 03, 2010.

… 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 neoliberalism 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? …//

… Who benefits from public criticism?

When I was editor of political journal Chile Hoy (Chile Today), I did a kind of public criticism.  Sometimes intellectuals’ or journalists’ criticism is disliked because we are sometimes a little arrogant.   But in Chile Hoy, we gave the microphone to organized people and communicated what they saw was going wrong with the process.  Our journal put out the government’s communiqués, too, but my passion was to get out the opinions of copper miners and organs of workers’ power (cordones industriales).

So, I’m pleased to hear Evo say, in his interview with Wálter Martínez of TeleSur, that it is necessary to learn to listen, for sometimes government officials don’t listen or listen to only those around them, which can only lead to the government officials getting a false picture of the country.

I don’t know if it’s happening in this country, but, in Venezuela, when Chávez announces that he is going to visit a place, they beautify the streets and houses where the President will pass, or turn on air conditioning in the school that he will visit, and then, on the following day, they will come and get things back to what they were.  Only an organized people and a society open to criticism can put a stop to these things.

Is public criticism accepted?

I’d be happy to have an argument about this topic.  If there are compañeros who think that this is wrong, I’d be happy to hear them say so.  But I know historical experiences.  You know that President Mao Zedong, for all his life, was concerned about bureaucratic deviations and corruption.  He organized six or seven campaigns that didn’t bear fruit because people who led them came from the party apparatus.  They were bureaucrats who were trying to do things without getting criticized.

Then came the Cultural Revolution, which was an opening to public criticism, but a book by a Chinese man, who experienced the Cultural Revolution, went to the United States, and then later returned to China has an analysis of how sectors of the party took the words of the leader to an extreme, caricatured his thought, and made it possible for it to be rejected.  They did terrible things, such as cutting people’s hair.  They were the ones who wanted to destroy the process.

That is why there should be clear norms: we can’t engage in an anarchic criticism, which is destructive.  I learned from a Venezuelan community group who invited me to a meeting, where they said to me: “No one has the right to speak or propose unless the person takes responsibility for the proposal.”  That does away with blowhards who just love to talk on and on at meetings and never do anything.

The great virtue of Che, more than his guerrilla war and bravery in the face of imperialism, was the consistency between his thought and action.  And that, for example, is what attracts the European youth.  I was amazed, when I went to Europe for a commemoration of Che in 1987, to see how much he appealed to the youth.  The secret wasn’t that they loved to be guerrillas, too, but Che’s consistency between thought and action. (full long text).

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