Weaving our Criticisms with Respect, not Barbed Wire
It’s not by fencing off criticism with barbed wire that we’ll manage to construct a democratic Nicaragua.
There’s been a lot of talk lately about criticism within the broad sector that opposes the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship. A collective catharsis is taking place in the social networks. Due to the repression from the Nicaraguan state, the interchange and diversity of these networks makes them possibly the freest space that still exists in our country. There are trolls in that world, but no riot squad, no police and no teargas.
In any society, criticism is healthy and necessary. Antonio Gramsci once wrote that silencing intellectual debate and criticism meant aborting the necessary role that intellectuals play in the reproduction and development of ideology, hence transforming ideas into pure propaganda.
In the “real socialist” systems, we’ve seen the repression of debate, of questioning, of the intellectual consideration of the pros and cons of ideological proposals. We’ve also seen how this evolved into increased party bureaucracy, the excessive power of nomenclature, and the creation of propaganda machines where slogans and activism, circulated as “party lines for mandatory compliance”, ended up becoming straitjackets.
Using gulags, ostracism and forced labor, debate was silenced; a debate which perhaps could have opened the way to recognizing the system’s failings and won out over authoritarianism and mechanical obedience. An ideology that predicated equality ended up giving birth to repressive and authoritarian systems that self-destructed in the end, putting into question the option of socialism as a democratic and liberating alternative. The top-down propaganda and the rejection of criticism generated an artificial cohesion, but didn’t deeply transform the peoples’ consciences. It then deteriorated into fanaticism capable of committing the worst crimes.
To be effective, internal criticism among those who claim to share the same objective, shouldn’t resemble any of this. It shouldn’t be a dagger fight where the supposed shapers of opinion condemn those who don’t think like them, using equivalent propaganda mechanisms to reject or disparage those they see as adversaries.
They do this in the name of values like “democracy” or “transparency”, but their actions are intolerant and exclusionary. In the same way that the sacrosanct “party” is held up as a guru of the blessed truth, using manipulation to justify a supposedly sacred rage, these new critics point fingers at the “guilty” and incite and foment distrust with no other apparent goal than that of acquiring prestige and relevance by stirring up others’ frustrations. More than a few of them, whose lives transpire under democracies, try to set forth Manichean criteria of good and bad for those living under dictatorships.
In today’s Nicaragua, those of us who coincide in opposing the current state of things come from different social strata and experiences. Logically, the diversity of those promoting change means diverse ideas of national goals and lifestyles, beyond the end of the dictatorship. Each group tries to promote their vision and so attain greater leadership and support.
In a recent interview published in the Sunday supplement of La Prensa, I proposed that, given the critical arguments with which some groups dismiss or reject the representation of others based on their class position or ideological differences, it would make more sense at this stage to organize by affinity groups and political tendencies and stop investing energy in trying to present a homogenous front. More organization is urgent, but this central task has become mired in disagreements that impede an organized consensus. Once all the different forces are consolidated and their identity has been defined, a unity or coalition could then be constructed based on a minimal agreement among all in order to reach the common objective.
In this struggle, there’s room for all who concur with the main objective. The different perspectives of the left, center or right can’t be abolished by verbal or written confrontations that convert diversity into a motive for scorn, or into arrogant and hurtful criticisms whose result is mutual confrontation and the cannibalization of those who – in full use their rights and their particular perceptions of reality – don’t coincide with others’ visions. Those who say that they aspire to democracy while exercising a destructive criticism and lifting themselves up as judges and loyal keepers of the scales, are instead demonstrating intolerance and a spirit that is essentially anti-democratic, sectarian and authoritarian.
Constructive criticism is subject to dialogue and seeks to point out to the group what the critic considers to be mistakes in perception or damaging practices. It’s not a desire to create enemies nor to get involved in personal attacks to destroy the image and the prestige of those within a collective body who have different visions within the common objective. It seeks to open discussion about the convenience or lack of such of diverse options, conscious that the diversity of opinions only reflects the multiple ways of perceiving reality.
This past week, Nahirobi Olivas, president of El Salvador, opened a discussion on Twitter asking for opinions on the pros and cons of the work stoppage planned for the following week. Over 70 people gave their opinions, the majority explaining their reasoning with maturity and without conclusive judgements. From this democratic discussion, it was possible to see that there’s no consensus about the convenience of a strike or its perspectives for success. No absolute conclusions were arrived at, but a common window was opened for exchanging criteria and positions that weren’t adverse, but diverse.
Practices like these are what makes the democratic spirit grow and allows us to become familiar with the concerns and considerations of those who aspire to continue constructing a new way of relating among the multitudes of blue and white. It’s not by weaving barbed wire into the criticisms among us that we’ll succeed in constructing the democratic Nicaragua that we owe those who died for a real change.