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Thursday, November 22, 2012

The need for democracy

Instead of the mantra; “Discipline, discipline, discipline”, unions, parties and other political organisations of the left should march to the beat of; “Discussion, debate and democracy”.
 True united action by an organisation of people fighting for their rights can only be guaranteed by real agreement and understanding that what is decided is the best way for the organisation to further its aims. Such agreement and understanding cannot be assumed, or imposed from above. Discussion, debate and democratic decision-making are needed to ensure “buy in”.
Democracy is not an expensive overhead. It is essential to build progressive mass movements. It is the way an organisation establishes and maintains its links with the people it represents. Without the infusion of energy and enthusiasm from new members and the wider and wider politicisation of the mass of the people with a new vision of the future, left organisations ossify.
Without democratic participation, inspiration and enthusiasm are extinguished as the organisation degenerates into a bureaucratic nightmare; such organisations can wither and die.
Real strength comes from the support and participation of the mass of the people for and in the implementation of progressive policies. This is what must be fought for. Who is going to join, or build, an emancipating political movement that does not give its members the right to decide what that organisation does?
What is needed is a form of organisation where the leaders advise and the members decide.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Discipline or Debate? Centralism or Democracy?

Calls for "discipline" when a political party is caught up in a fractious debate about policy or organisational matters almost always come from the incumbent leadership. This is understandable as the leadership is charged with maintaining the proper functioning of the organisation. However, it clear that "discipline" means that opposing views (to those of the incumbent leadership) are conveniently left unexpressed in any meaningful way since the internal means of communication are largely monopolised by the ruling group.
So the conundrum exists: the public expression of differing views is seen as 'bad' for the party BUT the suppression of such views can only lead to pent up frustration that could eventually burst out in some destructive manner (and be even worse for the party).
The debate about centralism versus democracy, discipline or debate, is as old as democracy itself. The Social Democratic parties in Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries were much exercised by this question.
The bureaucratisation of left parties was taken to its extreme by the Russian Social Democratic Party in its reincarnation as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Under Stalin, dissent meant death.
The original ethos of the RSDP was one of real democratic centralism: ie debate was tolerated and actually encouraged, decisions were made democratically about courses of action, and then discipline (centralism) kicked in during the carrying out of the action. However, except in times of extremis like during a civil war, on-going debate was not stamped out.
The fact is that the minority might be right and their input needs to be valued, not discounted as 'wrong'. If the action embarked upon goes badly, they might be just the people the party needs to get out of the doo doo.
Members should NOT have to eschew their strongly held views just because another view prevails at a certain time. It is the minority's duty to stand firm and defend their position until it is proven to them that they were wrong, or it is proven to be right (or a position in between two extremes is adopted).
Bureaucratic centralism is the worst and most destructive means of operating a progressive organisation. The Labour Party in NZ is now moving away from such ways of operating; that was the intent of the changes adopted at last weekend's conference. The sooner the dead-hand of bureaucracy (the enemy within) is lifted from our backs the sooner we can stand up proud and strong to fight the enemy without - those whose market-driven motives are wrecking the world economically, socially and environmentally. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Historic Labour Conference Empowers Members

Labour Party members could not have come away from last weekend's Conference anything but elated and energised. Despite the best efforts of the 'dark forces' within the Labour Party caucus - those that ignored the clear wishes of the membership and installed a leader of their own choosing a year ago - party members passed the most democratic reforms the Labour Party has seen in its 96 years of existence.
Party members and union affiliates will now have the majority say in who will be the party leader. MPs will be bound to implement policy that is in line with the Party policy platform (still being developed).
This is a revolutionary development in a Party that has been written off by many as moribund and unable to shake-off the damage done by the betrayal of Labour values by the 1984-90 neo-liberal controlled Labour Government.
Last weekend's conference was historic - the conference that took the party back!
The sham caucus vote taken today under the pretext of clearing the leadership-contest decks will only inflame membership passions further - a blatant attempt to subvert the leadership confirmation/contest due next February.