Has the party-form become obsolete?



How to explain the dismay of activists and former militants?

“Patience is the courage of virtue” (Portuguese popular wisdom).

“It is possible that the tension between the political effectiveness that organizations represent and the ideological and political dangers that they embody is unresolvable. Maybe it's something we have to live with. It seems to me, however, that it is an issue that must be faced head on and that it must be widely discussed, otherwise we run the risk of being divided into two absurd factions, the “sectarians” and the “marginals”. The number of individuals around the world who are “ex-militants” and who are currently unaffiliated, but who in some way wish to be politically active, have, I believe, increased enormously after the disappointment of the aftermath of 1968. I don't think we should interpret this as the depoliticization of those who have lost their illusions, although this is partly true. It is rather the fear that militant activity is only apparently effective. But if so, what can replace it (if anything can do that)?” (Immanuel Wallerstein. 1968, Revolution of the World System).

There are tens of thousands of activists active in leftist parties in Brazil. They are selfless activists who remain organized and committed to a strategic project. But comparatively, the number of ex-militants is incomparably much higher. It is perhaps not an exaggeration to estimate them in the hundreds of thousands.

Many factors explain the dismay of former militants. The distrust of the leaders. Disgust with bureaucratic deformations. Dissatisfaction with political mistakes. Disillusionment with the experience of left-wing governments. The demoralization with the defeats. The affliction with the fragmentation of the left. Frustration with the hesitations of the masses. Bitterness with the sacrifices of a stripped delivery. The discouragement that feeds fatigue.

The split shape, an “invention” of the XNUMXth century, reached its historical peak in the XNUMXth century. They are instruments, or a channel, to express social pressures. There is no way to translate interests, if not by formulating a program. There is no other way to champion a program than by uniting people and building organizations.

A program can meet partial demands, and can be expressed through unions, movements, action or initiative groups, NGOs, etc., or it can be a program for the whole society, aiming at the struggle for power.

The most efficient form of organization for the dispute of political power, although not the only one, are the parties. But today there is an unprecedented crisis in almost all countries: abject political fraud (the most common being elections with a program, which are later abandoned); chronic corruption (illicit enrichment, nebulous electoral financing, corporate favoritism); personal adventures (search for parliamentary immunity to cover up illegal activities, access to power for business intermediation).

The phenomenon of the crisis of parties is international and affects, albeit in different proportions, the political representation of all classes. On the left, it has as another ingredient the crisis of the former communist parties, inexorably associated with the one-party dictatorships in Eastern Europe and the USSR. In Brazil, in particular, the party form is associated with electoralism, parliamentary representation, and the dispute for public office and is, in general, despised as an opportunistic way of economic and social ascension.

Political careerism became almost a rule. The crisis of the party-form also affects left-wing parties, and is more pronounced in youth. The defeats of the early 1990s with the capitalist restoration left sequels, and other forms of political organization, non-partisan, around partial programs, began to awaken interest. It remains to be seen, whether in a new rising tide of class struggle, with “a change of moon”, the party form could have a revitalization. That is, it remains to be seen whether we are facing a structural phenomenon or a transitory one.

It is necessary to consider that the lack of interest in the party form is inexplicable without considering the dismay with representative democracy itself, and its train of ills. If the class struggle enters a more acute phase again, and politics moves from the almost exclusive field of electoral alternations to the streets, the tendency of the party form to decay, revalued for new tasks, could be reversed.

The disturbing limitations of the party form, and the emergence of social movements, feminists, ecologists and anti-racists, are key factors in the reorganization of the XNUMXst century left. They are indivisible from the dynamics of class struggle. This is conditioned by the evolution of the crises of capitalism.

The meaning of bourgeois politics is the preservation of order. The paradox of the ruling class is that inertia is the paralysis of time, but we live in times of crises and they are an acceleration. A class that is, historically, anachronistic, but which remains in power, demands from its parties the illusion of a project that can only be a nostalgia for the past, that is, a caricature of what once was, or a romanticization of what should have been. have been.

Capitalists experience the urgency of the crisis, or the accelerated vertigo of the danger of change, raising their eyes to the future with an anxiety of the past, that is, of stabilization and order. Its parties are prisoners of this anguish and live in the trap of conflict between the necessary and the impossible. Their parties insist on putting out the fire with gasoline.

From the point of view of the exploited and oppressed, the revolutionary situation is that rare moment when the dominated classes discover politics as the terrain of their liberation, and gather irrepressible forces to open the way for change from below to above. It is only under these circumstances that the broad masses crushed under the weight of the struggle for survival seek in a sustained way, in their unity and mobilization and, in the public sphere, a collective way out of society's crisis.

They also experience the mismatch between existence and consciousness, and they experience it in an acute and exacerbated way. They only exist as political actors when they free themselves from the ghosts of the past that govern their consciences. But the path of its independent political expression is very difficult. They do not possess the wisdom that the exercise of power has brought, through generations, to the propertied classes: the relationship between their private destinies and the historical dramas in which they are involved is only revealed in exceptional situations. This process, necessarily slow, has no shortcuts, it cannot be resolved from the outside, it is always the path of an experience that is built in the fight, and through the fight. That is why their parties deflate in reactionary situations, when hope is lost. Militants are tired.

This is so because the class struggle has an unpredictable dimension, and its outcomes do not accept easy predictions. Consciousness fluctuates according to successive alternations of victories or defeats. The growing primacy of political struggle does not solve, on the contrary, it exacerbates the central paradox of politics: what opposes necessity to possibility. The parties are the concentrated expression of this conflict. They act from programs, it is true, but these also change. And a program is a thin line that unites ends and means, the present and the future, a uniqueness of time that only exists as a possibility, and that only has perspective as an instrument of mobilization, in the struggle for power.

It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that Vladimir I. Lenin coined the famous, and also misunderstood phrase: “outside of power, everything is illusion”. Contrary to the political representations of the ruling class, popular class parties, when they lose their vocation for fighting for power, when they renounce the “instinct for power”, lose everything.

Theoretical formulas that separate consciousness and will, or consciousness and action, are sterile. Consciousness, as class consciousness under construction, and militant action are indivisible, and are expressed in some type of organization that seeks continuity, permanence, stability. The party-form is that which, in the contemporary world, corresponds to the need for the struggle for power: outside of a revolutionary situation, the most varied types of party regime are compatible with trade union resistance and parliamentary struggle. But it is in the face of the revolutionary crisis that politics assumes its “heroic forms”.

The struggling classes are preparing for an unavoidable outcome that summons them to frontal combat. They would have avoided it if it were possible. Proprietary classes are no longer able to demand the sacrifices that previously appeared tolerable to other classes. That is, his project no longer has legitimacy, precisely because the mismatch between the promise of the future and the ruin of the present, put the State, under its control, in rupture with society, and in this, the workers, and other layers popular, emancipated themselves from its hegemonic domain, and thus shifted the power relations, which, politically, corresponds to the double understanding that the possible, for the bourgeoisie, is unnecessary, and that what is necessary, for the masses, it is unavoidable.

The effort of the popular classes to build the legitimacy of their struggles, the only path that opens the way for the struggle for power, has two dimensions. The first is that of project disputes, the struggle of ideas, to try to win the majority of the people, for the justice of their demands. Another is the fight for the construction of its independent union or political expression, its own “institutional” super-structures, its leadership, the human material that will be the spokesperson and organizer of its fight.

It has already been said that one of the premises of Marxism is that the proletariat, being “selfish”, that is, going to the end in the defense of its class interests, would be defending the universality of the interests of the majority of the people, on whose luck the victory depends. of an anti-capitalist way out of the crisis. Workers are socially, culturally, and generationally heterogeneous, and building unity to fight common enemies depends on a learning process that is not simple.

But the relations between the working class and its vanguard, the most active or most determined elements, which are born spontaneously in every struggle and place themselves in the forefront of defending the interests of the majority, are not simple. Each class or class fraction generates, in social struggles, a more advanced sector, more willing to sacrifice, more intelligent or more altruistic, which emerges as leadership, conquering moral authority, for its ability to translate into ideas or actions, the mass aspirations.

It will be on this human material that the leaders of the popular classes will be selected and formed. The bourgeoisie, like the other property-owning classes in history, discovered other ways to solve the problem of training its leading cadres. When they cannot find them, through command tradition or through the selection of talents, in their ranks, among their children, they seek them out of “available intelligence” and pay them well.

The proletariat and the popular classes cannot depend on this resource, although the force of attraction of an exploited class is also expressed in its ability to attract to its cause the most sensitive and selfless cadres who ideologically break with their class of origin. They have to form their leaderships, hard, in struggles: under conditions of political normality, that is, defensive conditions, subaltern social subjects do not generate an activist vanguard. At most, an intellectual vanguard, very small, emerges from its ranks.

The relations of the mass of workers with their vanguard, and vice versa, of the latter with the mass, however, are not simple. In this complex relationship lies one of the problems in the construction of subjectivity, in the greater confidence of social subjects in themselves, and in greater or lesser faith in the victory of their struggles.

The vanguard of struggles, the leaders rooted in factories, schools, companies, neighborhoods or colleges, are only formed in mobilization processes, and may or may not advance to union organization and permanent politics. Often, a majority of this vanguard retreats at the end of the struggle, even more so if it is defeated.

The avant-garde is a phenomenon, in the sense that it is a subjective aspect of reality in motion, and it can either organize itself in an already existing class superstructure, or it can reintegrate itself into the mass and abandon active struggle at the end of the century. combat. As the momentum of the struggle grows stronger and more consistent, the vanguard will feel encouraged to learn the lessons of previous struggles. He will then seek to educate himself politically, and make more connections between ends and means, that is, between strategy and tactics, choosing to join a party or union, as a way for his own construction as permanent leadership.

However, in this process, the avant-garde lives a conflict, which can be resolved, schematically, in three ways. Conflict is the struggle, in a certain sense, against itself, to rise above the anguish of the masses, who, as we know, hesitate, vacillate and retreat during the struggle, to then advance again, and then retreat again. . It is not uncommon for the vanguard to become exasperated in the face of these masses' weaknesses, and to develop a sense of frustration and disappointment in relation to those they represent.

This feeling potentially leads to three different attitudes: (a) a part of the vanguard becomes so demoralized by the limitations of the masses in struggle, that it abandons the fight and gives up everything, keeping a greater resentment against its own social base than against the socially hostile classes and their leadership; (b) another part of the vanguard, embittered with the retreat and abandonment of the masses, separates from them, and is inclined towards isolated and exemplary actions to decide alone the fate of the combat; (c) a third layer chooses the path of moving forward with the mass and retreating, too, along with it, to help it learn the lessons of the fight, and guarantee better organizational conditions in the combats that will arise in the future.

If this vanguard finds, during the struggle, a point of support for its formation as mass leadership, a part of it can organize itself, in a stable way, educate itself, and build itself as a leadership, to, in the next struggle, fight in better condition. But, if not, most of the “natural” leaders will be lost, and a new cycle of struggles will be necessary, so that a new generation of activists can be generated.

This “wild” leadership selection process, in which an incredible amount of energy is wasted, has been one of the greatest difficulties in building workers' subjectivity.

Another aspect of the issue is the relationship of the “emerging” vanguard with pre-existing union and political organizations, which express the previous tradition of organizing the popular classes: being plural, and being in struggle against each other, to conquer greater influence, it is predictable that the avant-garde, at first, gets angry against all of them, simply because it is difficult for them to understand why they are rivals, and what are the differences that separate them, whether moderate or radical.

There are moments, very rarely, when the new vanguard does not feel identified or represented by the pre-existing majority leadership. Under these circumstances, a period of open dispute for the leadership of the class opens, of “grassroots rebellion”, of union and political reorganization. Such a period is only possible after exhausting a historical experience, and requires, far beyond arguments, and with less reason, the repetition of old repeated arguments, the unappealable force of great events.

Patience is still an undervalued quality on the left.

*Valério Arcary is a retired professor at IFSP. Author, among other books, of Revolution meets history (Shaman).


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