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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. 

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