Friday, January 22, 2010

Discussion on structures and democracy


The last CNWP Conference eighteen months ago agreed a resolution from the Socialist Alliance which committed the CNWP to start the discussion as to how we develop from a campaign for a new workers' party into that actual party. The full text of the resolution is below.

Briefly, the resolution recognised the urgent need for the left to get its act together and campaign for a new workers' party given Labour's shift to the right, the vacuum that leaves, and the threat posed by the Far Right. It was agreed this would be achieved by bringing the left together whilst building the party within the wider working class, and that therefore the time was right to start moving towards a pro-party alliance or a pre-party formation that would begin work to determine the structure and rules for such a party. Part of that process would be to turn Declaration signatories into members, with branches where there are enough members.

So why did the SA want the CNWP to move forward in his way? There has clearly been some frustration at the gradual rate of progress since the Campaign for a New Workers Party was launched in March 2006, nearly four years ago. That Launch Conference asked the CNWP Steering Committee to start considering “which type of structure would best suit a Campaign for a New Workers' Party that would encourage supportive left groups/alliances, unions, independents, tenants, community groups and others to work towards unity at their own pace”. A Steering Committee meeting in September 2007 agreed to begin “longer term discussions on the structure of a future party.”

However, these discussions have not yet started. This is partly because the CNWP, quite rightly in my opinion, put most of its energies in 2009 into 'No2EU-YestoDemocracy' and subsequent Post-No2EU developments. Both represent a huge step in the right direction - Left Coalitions with Trade Unionist backing for both the Euro and next General Election moves the whole party building process significantly forward, and, indeed helps shape that Party. This puts renewed pressure on us as the campaign for a new workers' party to start sorting out exactly what sort of party we want - and what sort of party would work.

This is not about declaring a new workers’ party now. It is about starting the discussion about what that Party should be like and look like so that we are ready when the base has been built and/or conditions dictate that we move a lot faster.

Present conditions are indeed making the need for a new left party more urgent. On the one hand, workers are suffering from the worst Recession in living memory. All establishment parties are striving to make workers pay for the crisis. With no left alternative being offered, workers are turning to the Far Right in significant numbers as a protest vote, many of whom could be won back if there was that working class alternative. On the other hand, there is a new mood for unity across the left, not seen since the high point period of the original Socialist Alliance around the time it stood 98 candidates in the 2001 General Election. Calls for the left to work together, and for a unified left electoral challenge, have been made recently by a number of Trade Union leaders, including Jane Godrich (PCS Pres), Bob Crow (RMT Gen Sec) and Mark Serwotka (Gen Sec PCS). Leaders of socialist organizations have gone further, calling for a new workers’ party. Bob Crow stated in a No2EU Supporters Bulletin on June 8th that we “now need urgent discussions with political parties, campaigns and trade union colleagues (e.g. CWU) to develop a political and industrial response to the crisis.” Dave Nellist has been more explicit in calling for a new party. The SWP called in the summer for a left conference to discuss a "single, united left alternative to Labour”, and the AWL have called for a new Socialist Alliance.

With growing support for the notion of a new left party, we really do need to start discussing the type of structure we would prefer. We have already agreed a new Party must be open, inclusive and democratic, representing all strands of the movement – including left organizations, trades unionists, those opposed to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those campaigning on environmental issues, pensions, racism and tenants rights, encouraging all such organisations to work towards unity at their own pace. The only structure that could possibly reflect and represent such diversity would be federal, recognizing the traditions and backgrounds of each ‘sector’ whilst campaigning together on agreed policies and projects – around the 80 or 90% we can all agree upon. That may, especially in the short term, mean accepting that organizations would act in their own name whilst making it clear they are also a part of the Party as a whole. In elections, for example, if an organization has built roots under its own electoral title, it may wish to retain that title – taking the Socialist Party as an example, this could mean standing as ‘Socialist Alternative (the SP’s registered electoral title) as part of the 'Left Workers Party’ or whatever.

We have also agreed to become a Membership campaign and that process has begun with a number of the 4,000 CNWP Declaration signatories having formally become members. Membership itself confers rights and responsibilities which need to be defined in a set of rules or some sort of Constitution. We have already agreed a minimum membership fee and to organize regional CNWP meetings at which all CNWP members will be entitled to vote. We have also agreed to set up local branches where sufficient membership exists. What we now need to do is to encourage more and more supporters to become members, to hold the regional meetings on a more consistent basis, and set up the local branches of the CNWP. We will then need to define the relationship of these branches to the regional meetings, and vica versa, and the relationship of both to the national Steering Committee. That will be the first steps towards defining a structure that suits the Campaign for a New Workers' Party and be able to evolve as we move into a being an actual Party.

It is also CNWP policy for no single group or organization to be allowed to dominate a new Party, and to put in place mechanisms which ensure that full and frank discussions are allowed and a wide range of opinions are represented on all policy making bodies. This was agreed to prevent any takeover as happened within the original Socialist Alliance in 2001. Decision making bodies thus need to represent all opinion by including representatives from each affiliated organization, and I suggest representation, along with affiliation fee, be proportional to size, and representation for independents elected directly by independents. There also needs to be agreement that whereas it would be hoped decisions would be made by consensus, if consensus did not exist nothing could be progressed without the formal approval of, say, 51% of affiliated organizations and 51% of the representatives of independents. This may sound cumbersome, but more often than not decisions would indeed be by consensus. In any event, with such a diverse number of organisations being represented - political organisations, trade unions, tenant and community groups, women, black groups, organisations opposed to racism and other forms of exploitation, and, of course, independents, all separately and in their own right, no one group is so likely to dominate anyway.

This would require a structure that included a large enough Steering Committee type body for all affiliated opinion to be represented. I would suggest one representative each for those organisations affiliating with less than 100 declared members, two representatives for those with up to 250 declared members, and one additional representative for each additional 200 members above that number - with an affiliation fee that reflected those declared numbers. For example, the affiliation fee could be set at £50 for organisations declaring up to 100 members, and an additional £30 per additional 100 members. That would mean an organisation with 50 members would pay £50 affiliation and have one representative; an organisation with 350 members would pay £140 affiliation and be entitled to three representatives. An organisation with 1,000 members would pay £320 and have five representatives. These figures are purely suggestions.

In addition, independent individual members should be entitled to elect one representative for every 100 individual independent members. An 'individual independent member' being a "Party" member who is not also a member of an affiliated organisation. Each local branch should also be able to elect one representative per 100 members up to a maximum of three representatives. Branches could elect on a similar basis to Regional meetings to be held when necessary, there being no need for Regional bodies to themselves send representatives to the Steering Committee. Regional views could be articulated by Branch representatives within that Region.

There will need to be an agreed minimum number of national and local meetings. Given the importance of 'bottom upwards democracy' within a new left party, there should be regular Branch meetings, monthly or bi-monthly, an annual Conference open to all members and at least one other national meeting of members each year. Conference and national members meetings would be the supreme decision making body, with the Steering Committee responsible for policy between Conferences and national meetings. Annual Conference should directly elect functional Officers as deemed necessary by Conference following recommendation from Branches and the Steering Committee, with nominations from individual members, Branches and the Steering Committee. Conferences and national meetings should be open to all fully paid up members, with voting weighted as within the Steering Committee, and not individual, so that voting becomes proportional to declared size of organisation, with the same proviso that 51% of both organisations and individual independent members would need to support a policy before it could be enacted

The CNWP has already agreed a number of initial steps towards determining a structure for a new workers' party. The crisis of capitalism, and growth of support for the far right, make the need to develop such a Party that much more urgent. Events, including the experience and performance of No2EU and its successor, the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, will help promote and shape that Party. We must be ready to be able to suggest the outline of a structure for such a Party which has already been debated, modified and broadly supported by those at the forefront of campaigning for that Party. The ideas expressed here are very much open to debate within our ranks over the next few months - they are but the start of a lengthy process. Their essence is federalism based on consensus and proportional representation of all traditions and backgrounds which become part of the new formation, and is very much part of the process of moving from a campaign for a new workers' party into a pre-party formation which, shaped by events, could become the prototype for the real thing.

The actual resolution passed which commits us to start this debate
1. This Conference welcomes the initiative of the CNWP Officers in organising a Discussion Forum on the Way Ahead for the Left at the start of Conference.
2. Conference recognises there is an urgent need for the left to get its act together given the fact that:
Workers increasingly accept that Labour can no longer be reclaimed
Labour’s shift to the right – or far right - means there is a vacuum which the left could, and should, fill.
Recent election results would, if replicated in a General Election, return a Tory Government with a large majority, its policies influenced by an increased vote for the far right
There is the growing threat posed by the racist/fascist BNP
3. Conference confirms its view that the best way to confront these issues is to campaign for a new socialist party – a new workers’ party. In fact, that is essential. Conference agrees that, as part of the process of building a new workers’ party, it is necessary to bring together as many of the disparate left forces as possible, in addition to the work being done to build the Party within the working class – within Trade Unions; tenants and community groups; the black community; women; youth; and all those oppressed by capitalism.
4. Conference therefore agrees that the time is right to start moving towards a pro-party alliance or a pre-party formation that, as well as campaigning for a new party, will also begin work to determine the structure and rules for such a party. Conference recognises that this not only requires that declaration signatories be more involved in the work of the CNWP, but also requires a democratic legitimacy that the present signatories/supporters based system fails to give. To address this, the CNWP will become a membership based campaign, with branches where sufficient membership exists. This is part of the process which will lead, sooner rather than later, to the formal launch of the new workers’ party.
5. Existing and new Declaration signatories/supporters will be asked to take out membership of the CNWP, the fee being determined by Conference or, between conferences, the Steering Committee.


P said...

You're right that it really needs to be a federal structure, so that no one group or organisation can rule the roost.

We also need to get away from 'Big Man' politics, a phenomenon which afflicts our organisations since the cult of personality was built by Stalin around Lenin, and then himself, parties, even Trotskyist ones, are seeming to rise and fall around the personalities of single individuals, and we need to get back to policies and programmes as being the uniting force, no matter how charismatic the leading figures.

bill thompson said...

the trick may be to use rural/urban/global relationships in order to link people by web and then organize around space, in other words meetings between individuals at locations they can get to that are local to them whilst still communicating on the global and intellectually universal level. As Bob Crow said on radio it is a war zone we live in (its a war out there) and we fight to stop doing things for profit (win/lose) and do things for quality of life for everyone on the planet.