Socialists Of Color To The Front

| Strategize!

Above photo: LeftRoots co-founder NTanya Lee started the group in 2014 to bridge the gap between daily organizing work and big-picture socialist strategizing. “It wasn’t enough” to just hope, she says. (Photo by Sarah Maney)

LeftRoots, a socialist group with majorities of women and people of color, is strategizing to win.

One evening in late May, upward of 50 grassroots organizers from different groups around the country gathered at a union hall in Dorchester, Mass. They were grappling with some of the Left’s age-old questions: In a future where the Left wins political power, what would we like to see happen? And more pragmatically: What would it take to get there?

A local community organizer sets the scene: “It’s 2019. Burning issues are facing our communities.” She lists off galloping inequality, a trigger-happy white nationalist movement, looming environmental disaster. It’s urgent, she says, to do “more cross-fertilization work” to harness progressive forces (like the striking teachers around the country) to build solidarity across issues.

This discussion of base-building to include more different types of people is typical of many Left gatherings. But what’s noteworthy is the faces in the room, who reflect the kind of diverse base the Left has aspired to build for decades.

That’s by design. The meeting host is LeftRoots, a five-year-old socialist group that offers a hub for on-the-ground organizers around the country to strategize together. LeftRoots’ membership includes “super-majorities both of people of color, and of women and other gender-oppressed people.” Co-founder NTanya Lee says this isn’t “just a racial critique that the contemporary U.S. Left is too white” (though “that is a fact,” she adds). Instead, it’s vital, she says, that any movement to transform the world be “rooted in the struggles of working-class communities of color who are the ones who have the most at stake in defeating the system and winning the liberation that we really want.”

In the American political imagination, talk of the working class still conjures an image of gruff, salt-of-the-earth white men in the Rust Belt. While they’re certainly out there, at 59% of 25–64-year-olds, white people (and white men, especially) make up a declining share of the working class. The Economic Policy Institute projects that, by 2032, a majority of the American working class will be people of color. Women already make up nearly half of working-class adults in the country at 46%.

That LeftRoots even exists might send much of established media stumbling back on their heels. The chattering classes have been quick to interpret the surging interest in socialism as a fad for a loud (but small!) band of white millennials. (A snarky New York magazine piece published in March reports on the silly quirks of the “young socialist power elite” in Brooklyn, who supposedly live on Twitter and believe socialism to be “sexy” without really knowing what it means.)

Of course, there’s a long history of socialism in communities of color in America, from what historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz calls pre-colonial “indigenous socialism” (and its radical heir, the American Indian Movement) to spirited traditions of Chinese American socialism in San Francisco in the early 20th century and the radical Chicano movements of the Southwest in the late 20th century. Black socialists have been a pain in the ass to many of their white counterparts for more than a century, relentlessly insisting that white supremacy is chief among the Goliaths that socialism must slay. In a 1913 essay, noted socialist W.E.B. Du Bois famously described “The Negro Problem” as “the great test of the American Socialist.”

Lee launched LeftRoots in 2014 with a crew of three other San Francisco Bay Area organizers who thought the political Left was failing to bridge the gap between urgent, daily, in-the-trenches action and a longer-term vision and strategy. “It wasn’t enough to cross our fingers and be like, ‘One day this shit is all going to get connected and we’re going to win,’ ” says Lee, 50, the former executive director of San Francisco-based community organizing group Coleman Advocates.

It’s worth emphasizing what LeftRoots is not. LeftRoots does not initiate or run campaigns, whether issue-based or electoral, like the Democratic Socialists of America and many other socialist groups. Nor does it organize protests. LeftRoots’ focus is simply on its stated purpose: to strategize around “21st-century socialism” and then bring people together to help get there.

LeftRoots offers regular branch meetings and other training events. Members also work through an online curriculum they call the Little Red School, covering topics from political economy to cultural hegemony to strategies for building organizational power. This breadth is also apparent in LeftRoots’ Out to Win! journal. At 150 pages, it makes references from Engels and Marx to American Idol, includes quotes from Paulo Freire to Langston Hughes and Grace Lee Boggs, and explores ideas from cis-heteropatriarchy to neoliberalism, all while citing sources and marking points of debate.

Today, LeftRoots has more than 200 members spread across seven branches—Boston, Philadelphia, New York, the Bay Area, Los Angeles and two at-large branches that meet online. While their numbers may seem small, their influence is multiplied by the simple fact that nearly everyone is already involved in other grassroots work aimed at improving their communities. Members say LeftRoots has deeply informed that work.

Sometimes when you’re in the day-to-day of the work, you’re [only] focused on what’s right in front of you,” says Mike Leyba, 31, an electoral strategist and organizer in Boston who sits on the LeftRoots National Coordinating Committee. It’s LeftRoots’ job “to zoom out and … see where our potential for really strategic action is.”

Leyba, who spent his formative years in Compton, Calif., became a political organizer in 2008, when he joined the fight against a California ballot proposal banning same-sex marriage. He joined LeftRoots in April 2016. For Leyba, LeftRoots has “really honed my political strategy around electoral work.” Since 2010, he has staffed or managed four local electoral campaigns in Massachusetts and California, including state house races and a Boston mayoral campaign.

Activist Mike Leyba says his work with LeftRoots keeps him from becoming “much more cynical” about electoral politics. Electoral campaigns, he now says, can help build a socialist base. Photo by Flavio DeBarros.

“If I weren’t a part of LeftRoots, I probably would be much more cynical about working in electoral politics,” Leyba says. “If progressive candidates, once elected, don’t always deliver,” he says, the feeling becomes, “I worked so freaking hard for this person and they didn’t do shit for me or my people, and we’re still in crisis.”

But Leyba says LeftRoots helped him see that electoral campaigns can be a way to build a socialist base, regardless of the election’s outcome or how the official performs once elected. For example, Leyba “deep canvasses” Boston neighborhoods; rather than just reciting a candidate’s biography to potential voters, he now asks questions rooted in race and class, such as, “When was the last time you got a rent increase?” Those conversations can spin out into deeper discussions about rent control or funding public schools. He says “It’s putting an ear to the ground and seeing where people are at. Where are they feeling the squeeze? Where should we be focusing our energy? Where is the transformative potential?

“Now multiply this by tens of thousands of conversations. You’re able to see much bigger than any particular candidate. Whoever wins will have very real limits on their power. But there aren’t the same limits on social movements.”

Paige Kümm, 32, another member of the LeftRoots National Coordinating Committee, serves as a national organizer with Right to the City, an alliance of social justice organizations that aims to offer “a unified response to gentrification” nationwide. At a March staff retreat in Brooklyn, Right to the City discussed LeftRoots’ newly expanded working definition of class, laid out in the first issue of Out to Win. Here, LeftRoots sees potential allies for working-class issues in the lower tiers of the ownership class, like taxi drivers and corner store owners. While the upper layer of capitalists (“the executives, board members and major shareholders”) may fight socialist change tooth and nail, this lower-tier group still faces significant hardship and could be moved to join a movement to redistribute wealth and power.

LeftRoots’ layered definition of class helped Right to the City “better understand the layers of the working class,” says Kümm. Some homeowners may technically be landlords, in that they rent to tenants and depend on rent to make their payments to the bank, but these homeowners are still “bank tenants,” as Kümm describes them, who face foreclosure if they fall on hard times. LeftRoots’ definition was a helpful reminder to not pit these homeowner-tenants against subtenants, Kümm says, since both have interests in fighting the power that banks have to make them homeless.

“We’re trying to better understand: What are the different strata of the working class and how can we speak to their interest?” Kümm says. “How can we make them feel like they are a part of this movement?”

There are two ways to join LeftRoots, which holds no membership drives and no purity tests beyond its “points of unity,” which includes notes like “socialism is the future” and “the planet is not a commodity.” The first is as a “compa” (from the Spanish for “friend”), an ongoing financial and political supporter, important for an organization that doesn’t apply for philanthropic foundation grants.

The second way to become a member is by invitation only. To be eligible, you must complete the General Baker bootcamp, named after a giant of Black socialist organizing in Detroit. In one-day sessions over eight weeks, held simultaneously around the country and online, participants share their ideas about socialism and their own journeys as activists. Afterward, some are invited to become full-fledged members, called cadre.

That word, “cadre,” may be off-putting for those who remember it mainly as a description of various leftist factions with top-down leadership structures, the kind that aspired to be revolutionary vanguards—an elite tier supposedly most qualified to lead radical change—in the 1960s and 1970s. These groups based themselves on a particular interpretation of socialist theories of change in which a leadership role in working-class politics was guaranteed by devotion to a particular ideology and intellectual rank, rather than earned by a practice in mass struggle to help forge and unleash the power of workers and oppressed peoples.

Most on the Left now reject that particular version of cadreism as both fundamentally anti-democratic and doomed to failure—and the dozen or so LeftRoots cadres I spoke with agree. They use the term in a much more generic sense, to mean the activists who believe in a political project; devote a considerable portion of their time, energy and talent to moving it forward; and are serious about developing the intellectual and practical skills to do so effectively. Thus they see no contradiction between the importance of developing revolutionary cadre and rejecting the vanguardist practices of the past. In fact, the LeftRoots website has an explicit “against vanguardism” section: “Challenging the practice of many 20th century cadre organizations on the Party Left, we reject the vanguardism and the associated practices of operating secretly within mass organizations while trying to control them; creating front groups; or being opportunist and leeching onto authentic mass struggles to avoid doing the long hard work of building a real base.”

LeftRoots insists that “the people that are doing the strategy” should be “really grounded in the work,” Leyba says. “Otherwise, you’re just an armchair activist and we don’t need more of those.”

Instead, LeftRoots refers to a cadre as a committed member who “willingly makes sacrifices, learns skills and plays roles that are required in order to fight for the change we wish to see.” Here, “cadre” acts as a small way to highlight, yet again, that isolation can be overcome, because the walls that separate those who are hungry for an egalitarian world are thinner than they imagine.

LeftRoots doesn’t see itself as the final home of this 21st-century socialism. Rather, it is “attempting to lay the groundwork for the launching of a political instrument in the future,” Kümm says. LeftRoots, she says, is a way to “train up social movement leftists to be prepared to take part in the launching of that political instrument.” LeftRoots folks are candid about how far the Left has to travel before it can flex its political muscle the same way as robust cadre movements of the past (the radical Black socialist autoworkers in Detroit in the late 1960s and 1970s, for example). But LeftRoots intends, after a couple years of rigorous study, experimentation and analysis, to draw a clearer picture of the sorts of vehicles the Left needs to bring its vision to life.

In that union hall near Boston (which LeftRoots requested not be named, out of “an abundance of caution” about redbaiting), close to 100 area organizers also participated, representing groups like City Life/Vida Urbana, Dominican Development Center, New England United for Justice, Boston Liberation Health and Right to the City Boston, groups fighting for everything from racial, economic and environmental justice to land, labor and housing rights.

The discussion closed with long-term questions: Should the Left prepare to launch a third party or commit to a takeover of the Democratic Party? And speaking of takeovers, how cool would it be if workers in weapons factories just took the damn things over and retrofit them for green purposes?

After decades in the political wilderness, the American Left is aware of the obstacles to a more egalitarian world. But in rooms like this, where political imagination and analytic rigor walk hand in hand, you can see possibilities unfold, a tapestry of radical hopes and ideas. In an increasingly desperate moment, it’s a refreshing revival: an old socialist tradition being built upon and refined and expanded to ensure meaningful participation for all, particularly working-class communities—of color, especially.

  • ANTONIO

    here is a piece from Marta Harnecker on community organizing in Latin America:

    MISTAKES OF THE LEFT

    But there is another kind of knowledge that is not possible to access directly. It’s very difficult for popular sectors to acquire by themselves an appreciation of the global conditions of class struggle in their country and around the world. Very often Marxist organizations have overvalued this indirect knowledge, a part of which comes from scientific activity, underestimating other forms of knowledge such as those that are based on direct experience, in collective and social practice . There is a tendency to ignore the knowledge that is acquired in this manner by the dominated sectors. Direct experience is considered unimportant in building knowledge, especially if one is talking about the social experiences of ordinary men and women. This winds up leaving the analysis of reality in the hands of intellectuals.

    It is also true that some militants have fallen to the other extreme of over-estimating direct experience as the only source of knowledge, disdaining the need of having global knowledge that relates to the national situation as well as to the international one. Thus it is necessary to have an organization in which political analysis becomes the synthesis of a collective process which builds on everyone’s knowledge, that takes in as much direct experience as it does the examination of global reality using theory as a guide. This implies that rejection of two extreme theses; “the illuminated vanguard” and “basism.”

    The “vanguard” considers politics as the only way of knowing the truth: The party is the conscious element, it holds the key to knowledge, and the masses are the backward sector. This vision is based on a simplistic interpretation of the Kautsky´s thesis regarding the need of the fusion of Marxist theory with the working-class movement. This vision leads to a political relationship with the masses characterized by a strong dose of authoritarianism and verticalism. The direction of the movement, the duties of the leadership, the platform of struggle, are all resolved by the direction of the party which trickles down to the social movement in question, without it being able to participate in the planning of any of the things that are in its greatest interest.

    The opposite thesis is “basism.” This over estimates the potential of social movements. It believes that these moments are self-sufficient. It rejects indiscriminately the intervention of any outside politics and thus contributes to the division of the popular movement. The history of many popular uprisings of the twentieth century has demonstrated that it is not enough for the masses to have creative initiative to overcome the class in power. What happened in May of 1968 in France is an example. Other events are; the popular uprisings in Haiti In 1987 and 1988; social uprisings that have shaken Venezuela and Argentina in the ‘90s, where the poorest urban masses have risen up and under no particular direction have taken highways, towns, neighborhoods and supply centers. In spite of their massiveness and their combativeness they did not manage to destroy the ruling system in power. The history of triumphant revolutions, on the other hand, ratifies what can be achieved when there is a political force capable of putting forth a national alternative program that can bind together the most diverse popular sectors, and of unifying action by concentrating forces at the weakest link of the enemy’s chain. Solid organizational cohesion alone does not only give the objective capacity to act; at the same time it creates the internal climate that makes it possible to intervene energetically on events and to take advantage of the opportunities that they offer. One must remember that in politics it is not only necessary to be right; one must act at the right time and have the strength to materialize forces.

    Unfortunately, “the great work of social engineering,” that became so efficient in Russia—a backward society coupled with an autocratic political regime— was mechanically translated to the Latin American reality, which is a very different one. Not only that, but it was applied in a simplified and dogmatic form. The party considered itself to be the perfect political subject for social transformation, the instrument that was destined to lead the political class struggle—a struggle that always occurs in specific historical , political and social conditions, and whose organic structure had to be adjusted to the reality of each country, and modified in accordance with the concrete demands of the struggle. Is not possible to have an organization that is immutable and absolutely addresses every group’s needs. The conditions of worker struggles are constantly being transformed, and according to these transformations, the vanguard worker´s organizations must also constantly find new forms.

    The Marxist Latin American left was fond of proclaiming itself the vanguard of the revolutionary process, in many cases the vanguard of the working class, even though this class was practically non-existent in some of the countries. To accept that other organizations were as revolutionary or more than they were was to accept the possibility of sharing power, which was almost unthinkable for a longtime. On the other hand, they didn’t understand that the vanguard is not a process which can be self-proclaimed, but rather something that is conquered in the struggle itself, and that if there is no rear guard, there is no vanguard. There is a distinction between the formation of the party or revolutionary organization at the moment when the cadres are being prepared for leadership and the moment in which the real capacity for leadership is achieved. The majority of the left organizations in Latin America were not able to ever achieve this real capacity of leadership.

    SECTARIANISM. Each organization fought for the title of the most revolutionary, the most just etc.; what was important was the sect, the outward appearance, and not the revolution. As a result, most of the organizations fell into sectarianism. The political and military organizations considered that all the parties that were not involved in the armed struggle were reformists, and the latter—especially the communist parties, some of whom believed there could not be anyone legitimately to their left—attacked others as ultra-left. The vertical style of leadership which tried to run things authoritatively from above—filtering down lines of action prepared by the political leadership to the base—was the usual practice. This led to another deviation: The tendency to pile up many leadership responsibilities on a few people to control everything from above instead of going through the process of patiently working with the base. Most of the time, strategy was formulated not as a result of the search for a native way tailored to the specific characteristics of the country, but rather was made up from the sum of partial strategic components of differing revolutionary experiences from other countries.

    One must bear in mind that the 26 of July movement, the Sandinista and Nicaraguan fronts all gained leadership, among other reasons, because they were able to insert themselves deeply into their noble and heroic national traditions. They made the revolution in Spanish, not in Russian. Their spiritual parents were Martí and Sandino.

    ABSTRACT THEORY AND PRACTICALISM. Abstract theory and dogmatism have been present in the most diverse aspects of the left: As much in the traditional left as in the self-proclaimed revolutionary left, although their relationship is not symmetrical. The latter had as its inspiration the Cuban revolution, a genuine Latin American process that found its own way. The tendency is to make a theoretical general analysis that is unable to explain how concrete processes function. What came out were agitational politics and sloganeering, which did not contribute much to the popular social forces. Discussions were sterile. It was difficult to have a debate based on foreign models and a dialectical synthesis that would allow members to overcome their differences; on the contrary, many of these theoretical discussions divided and disunited the different forces even more. This led to two mistakes, which were often interrelated: on one hand it was felt that unity could be achieved avoiding theoretical discussion; on the other, people fell into only practice, rejecting every effort to theorize over the real situation. This absence of theory and of theoretical discussion, the lack of a critical study of successes and failures, only served to allow revolutionary thinking to trail behind.

    STRATEGISM: Strategism was another mistake of the left. Great strategic goals were planned, e.g., the struggle for national liberation and socialism, but there was no concrete analysis of the concrete situation. There was a mistaken idea that there was a revolutionary situation in all of Latin America, and all that was needed was a spark that would ignite the prairie. One of the reasons it was so difficult to go in this direction even after overcoming hegemonism and sectarianism, even with the existence of a real, unified will, was still the absence of theoretical, historical analysis about national and continental realities

    SUBJECTIVISM. In addition there has been much subjectivism in the analysis of the correlation forces. It often happens that leaders, moved by their revolutionary passion, confuse their desires with reality. There is no objective analysis of the situation. The enemy is underestimated, and one’s own possibilities are overestimated. The leadership confuses the state of mind of the most radical members with the state of mind of the popular sectors at the base. There is a tendency to generalize about the state of mind of the people from one’s own perspective, from the region or social sector where one is working, or from a guerrilla front, or simply what is perceived by one’s surroundings, which are always in the most radicalized sectors.

    Those who work among the sectors that are less politicized have a different vision. It is not the same to work in a combative popular neighborhood, than it is to work with the more comfortable middle-class. The same thing occurs in countries where there is guerrilla warfare. Guerrillas who have real confrontations with the enemy, who militarily control certain zones, tend to believe that the revolutionary processes is more along than those who work within the legal space in the cities, where ideological power and military control is still very great.

    It is important for top leaders to listen to the people and avoid projecting their preconceived ideas on the middle leaders and on the base. If one cannot listen—something that requires a great dosis of revolutionary modesty—and at the same time one receives false information. The result is that there are no real possibilities of mobilization.

    On the other hand, there has been a tendency for the left to kid itself along, to falsify data regarding mobilizations, meetings, strikes, the forces that each organization has, etc., so that incorrect action, which is based on false premises, is taken. Not only are the numbers falsified, but also the evaluation of the action taken is distorted. If the objective was to achieve representation in the congress, and this was not achieved, it was not recognized as a failure, but there was always an attempt to show this as a triumph; for example, that there were more votes cast in comparison to the previous election. If there was a national strike proposed, and there were only partial strikes, this was not recognized as a step backward, but was looked at as a successful strike because more workers had struck than previously.

    The left in general had a reduced idea of state power and the revolutionary left thought of power essentially as the overthrow of the government—and thus always concentrated forces to create conditions for this overthrow, ignoring the other aspects of the struggle, among them, the work of cultural transformation of popular consciousness, which was seen as something to be done after power had been seized

    RELIGION. Changes in the Catholic church after the second Vatican Council of 1962-1965, which culminated in the Medellín Conference in 1968, the appearance of Liberation Theology, and the movement of Christian communities at the base, to which can be added the work of Camilo Torres, the priest who died fighting with the ELN guerrilla campaigns in Columbia, have all brought about changes in unjust attitudes as to what role Christians can play in the Revolution.

    IGNORING ETHNIC GROUPS. The left there during many decades, except in a few instances, ignored indigenous people. The application of classical reductionism to the indigenous peasantry allowed it to think of indigenous peasants as an exploited social class that had to fight for the land like any other peasant, ignoring the ethnic cultural factor that made these peasants a social sector that was doubly exploited, and one that had an ancestral culture of resistance against the oppressor. One of the merits of the armed Guatemalan struggle f the ‘70s was to realize the explosive potential of the indigenous people who are the majority in that country. Today the revolutionary movement in Latin America understands, that it must respect the language, customs, religiosity and cultural expressions of the indigenous people, if it doesn’t want to throw them into the arms of the enemy. It must be sensitive to the enormous revolutionary potential in these people who are economically exploited and culturally oppressed.

    LEARN FROM THE PAST. To forget the past, to not learn from failure, to ignore one’s own traditions of struggle, is to help the right, which has the greatest interest in erasing the historic memory of our people, because that is the best way not to accumulate forces, to fall again into the same mistakes. Hooking up with the past is more than just an exercise in interpretation or in identifying a tendency. The latter is necessary but not enough. The future of the left depends as well in the re-structuring of its memory. The history of the left, lived as memory, can be painful but it can give great strength and anchor the present. It is not about putting people into the organization and in a society which has a partisan plan, rather it’s about putting politics into the life of the people and the partisan organization. The left identity must be legitimated toward the outside more than toward the inside. This means that a member of the organization must spend the greater part of his/her time connecting the party with society. Internal activities should be reduced to whatever is strictly necessary, avoiding too many meetings.

    The new political organization should have in its sights not only on the economic exploitation of the workers, but also on the diverse forms of capitalist oppression and destruction of humans and nature that go way beyond the basic relations between capital and the workforce. Classic reductionism needs to be abandoned by taking on the defense of all social sectors that are discriminated and excluded economically, politically, socially and culturally .Beside the problems of class, the left must consider cultural and ethnic, racial, gender, sexual and environmental problems. It should not concern itself only with organizing workers, but also bring together the struggles of women, indigenous people, blacks, youth, children, the retired, the disabled, homosexuals, etc. And it is not about simply defending discriminated and exploited people, but of understanding the radical and transforming political potential that exists in all of these struggles. The environmental movement addresses a problem that affects all of humanity. This movement could be a catalyst and an axis that brings together other struggles that can become integrated into an alternative and transforming sensibility.

    The new political organization should not try to take over legitimate representatives of all those who strive for emancipation, but rather try to articulate its practice into a single political project, at the same time generating spaces so that the different social problems can recognize each other’s needs and create a consciousness, which is the result of specific struggles that each one has in their particular area: neighborhood, university, school, factory, etc.. There should be a creative tension between the social movements but they do not have to lose their autonomy or their roots, because that is their strength. This is an organizational party of a new type, that condenses the social movement, that does not intend to represent it, that does not intend to take it over, but does have the task of creating a national project out of it. It’s very difficult for a social movement— be it made up of youth, ecologists, women, peasants, native people, blacks, etc., to have a national project on its own.

    HEGEMONY. Hegemony is opposed to Hegemonism. It has nothing to do with the steamroller approach of some revolutionary organizations who take advantage of being the strongest, and have tried thereby to gain greater strength through hegemonism. It has nothing to do with imposing leadership from above, taking over positions and giving orders to the rest. It has nothing to do with pretending to have a copyright over other organizations that dare to raise their banners. It’s not about instrumentalizing , but rather adding and giving strength to all those who are convinced and attracted by the revolutionary project. They can only be added if everyone is respected, if there is a capacity to share responsibilities with other forces. This is easier said than done. When an organization is strong, it tends to underestimate the contribution the other organizations can make. This is something that must be fought against.

    Hegemony is not measured by the number of persons that the political organization has in the administration, but rather by the number of persons that feel represented by the organization. That is why the government cannot be sectarian; it has to try to incorporate into the leadership those best suited to carry out the job, even people of other parties of the political coalition that allowed for the election to succeed, or of independent persons.

    A hegemonic attitude, instead of adding forces has the opposite effect. On one hand it creates malaise in the other left groups, because they feel manipulated and forced to accept decisions in which they have not participated, and on the other, it reduces the field of allies, since an organization that has this position is incapable of taking into account the real interests of all the popular sectors, and creates much mistrust.

    On the other hand, the concept of hegemony is a dynamic constant. Hegemony is not once and forever. It is a process that has to be re-created continually. Life goes on its way, new problems appear, as do new challenges. Important sectors of the left have come to understand that our hegemony will be greater when we succeed in having more people follow our political line, even if it isn’t under our signature. The best thing to do is to conquer these ideas for the greatest number, not only in political organizations and mass organizations and in their leaders, but also among well-known national figures. An example is the capability shown by the Sandinistas in forming the “group of the 12,” before the triumph of the Revolution, which was made up of 12 people who belonged to the Nicaraguan bourgeoisie and to middle levels, an important part of which were not members of the Sandinista front, even though they felt sympathetic toward it. The group, which had intellectuals, members of the clergy, landowners and businessmen, was a mediating factor at the national and international levels to include the Sandinista front as an indispensable element in the search for a political solution to the crisis, and certainly extended the hegemony of the FSLN to important social sectors.

    ORGANIZATIONAL DEMOCRACY. There has been a lack of understanding over the relationship between democracy and socialism as shown in the language that many leaders have used. They declare themselves to be revolutionary and qualify other progressive left forces as democratic forces, as if a radical revolutionary did not have to be at the same time a radical democrat. Instead of vindicating democracy, in their speeches and propaganda they emphasize the dictatorship of the proletariat.

    The traditional Marxist Leninist left has underestimated the subject of democracy. By justly denouncing the limits of representative or formal democracy, they wound up denying the value of democracy itself, forgetting that democratic victories are not a gift of the bourgeoisie, but the result of historical struggles by the popular movement, such as; the right to vote, women’s rights, union organizing right, etc..

    Not always a clear distinction between formal democracy and real democracy has been made, in its mutual relations, and that which has to be rejected and that which has to be saved. If anything positive came out of the military dictatorships of the ‘70s and ‘80s, it was to allow the left to see the value of a democratic regime, subject to the rule of law, no matter how limited it might be.

    A new organization must raise high the banner of democracy, because it understands that the struggle for democracy is inseparable from the struggle for socialism. Democracy has three basic aspects:

    1.-The problem of representation and citizen’s rights.
    2.- The problem of social equality.
    3.- The role of people’s participation and the people as protagonists.

    The first aspect of political democracy or representative democracy refers primarily to politics, and emphasizes the freedom to choose one’s governors, and the civil rights of all the citizens. This democracy that proclaims itself to be the government of the people, can be, and is, in the case of bourgeois democracy, a democracy that favors the minority sectors of the population. That is why it is called representative or formal democracy. It contains first and second class citizens.

    The second aspect is expressed in real democracy which is substantial and social, whose fundamental aim is the solution to the problems of the population: bread, the land, jobs, education, housing, and all the things that allow society to advance in an egalitarian way. In practice democracy does not necessarily have to function in the traditional Western style of representative democracy.

    The third aspect is participatory democracy. Besides putting in practice transformations that tend toward greater equality (social democracy), there must be some sort of systematic citizen’s representation. It is not about abolishing representative democracy, or delegate participation, in favor of direct participation. Far from excluding it, it complements and enriches it.