'Selection' of leadership

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Nov 20 18:57:39 MST 2002

Richard writes:
> As I understand what Lou is saying, he feels the SWP process of leadership
> selection was too restrictive, placing the bar too high in terms of
> ideological homogeneity and agreement and not sufficiently low in terms of
> openness to new leaders from the ranks. (Phil Ferguson seemed to feel, on
> the contrary, that the process, as it operated in the New Zealand SAL, was
> not selective enough; he complained that an NC slate included someone with
> little experience or knowledge about Marxism.) These criticisms go to de
> facto implementation, but not necessarily to the merits or demerits of the
> procedure itself.

This is not a reflection of my position either, Richard.  I happen to
agree completely on this issue with Lou (or what I understand Lou's
position to be).  My point, which backed up Lou, was that when the
leadership is *selected* by the leadership itself you end up with a very
strange leadership.  In the case I gave, someone who had been in the
organisation a few months, had no background in Marxism or experience in
politics at all, but who entered a relationship with the Duce of the
organisation (and in the SAL case, we are dealing very much with a Duce
figure), pops up on the leadership, with the actual constitution of the
organisation being set aside in this particular case.  Shortly
afterwards, the relationship broke up and the person left and went back
to the same life they had before.  This is not at all a criticism of the
woman involved - from what I could see she was a very nice person and
never asked for such treatment.  But this was a clear case of
leadership corruption - you sleep with the leader, they put you on the
leadership, and you are expected to vote always with the leadership.  (I
might add that
I have seen the same process at work in another group with a young male
who was involved with an older female leader and suddenly got all kinds
of promotion that had zero connection with his political talents.)

In a healthy organisation, where the leadership is elected
democratically and not 'selected' by the leadership itself, least of all
on the basis of sleeping arrangements, you get a much better outcome.

One of the additionally worrying things about the role of the leadership
in 'selecting' itself, ie perpetuating itself in an almost feudal
manner, is how this is turned against minorities, even large minorities.

I'm not sure whether to mention the concrete example I am thinking of or
not, because I know it will enrage someone on this list who, despite my
political disagreements with him, I'm not really interested in enraging.
 On the other hand I can't really give the example without it being
obvious what organisation and people I am talking about.  So I guess
I'll just have to risk the outrage. . .

One of the main reasons I left Sinn Fein and gave up on it was that a
point was reached where I realised it didn't really matter what anyone
in the movement thought because, behind the veneer of democracy - and in
many ways SF was quite democratic, and more so than most Trot groups -
the key decisions were made by a tiny number of people.  As one comrade
said at the time, the people who made all the really important decisions
all lived within a stone's throw of each other in a wee part of Belfast.
 of curse this was something of an exaggeration: one or two of them
lived near each other in Derry and another lived in a caravan in
Monaghan.  But you know what I mean.

Anyway, when the pan-nationalist front and Connollyist perspectives were
sharply counterposed against each other, in written documents presented
at the internal conference - as opposed to the ard fheis - in about 1990
I think it was, the two key people who put forward the Connollyist
perspective found themselves very quickly removed from the ard
chomhairle (national leadership).  Both of these comrades had records in
the armed struggle - one had been running training camps as far back as
the 1960s, had been on the run, had done a long stretch in prison and
been O/C during his incarceration.  The other had also done time and was
still wanted in both the north and in England, where she came from
originally.  The main factor that allowed them to be removed from the
national leadership was the number of votes the national leadership had
in its own election.  These two comrades were, rightly, very popular and
respected in the ranks.  But the central cabal had decided their
Connollyist approach was not wanted, began a fairly nasty whispering
campaign against them (accusing them of wanting the armed struggle
called off, which was actually untrue at the time and rather
hypocritical as it was the people who ran the whispering campaign who, a
few years later, brought the armed struggle to a halt) and pretty much
organised a block vote on the leadership against them in the secret
ballot, thereby removing them.

At the same time they were replaced by people who had nothing like their
track record of struggle.  Indeed, as one experienced comrade, with a
background in the armed struggle, said to me, they were being replaced
by "little middle class students who know how to use photocopiers".

It became increasingly clear to me that people who disagreed with the
change in line, with the adoption of pan-nationalism - the very
perspective which had led to such a brutal sell-out in 1921 - really had
no way of fighting inside the Movement for Connollyism, or even just for
the basic left or militant republican principles which had characterised
the Provos since they began.

If even people with the record of the comrades who were 'selected' off
the leadership couldn't put forward their views without being
'deselected' for the leadership, what chance did anyone else have.  Not
long after this, our cumann (local branch) was forcibly merged with a
neighbouring cumann whose members were supporters of pan-nationalism and
had been stirring for an end to the armed struggle for some time.

One of the conclusions I drew from this, and from my earlier totally
negative experiences in two sections of the FI (the NZ and British
sections), was that *never again* was I going to belong to an
organisation in which the leadership is self-selecting, a law unto
themselves, and where no-one can have a difference *within the framework
of revolutionary politics* without having punitive measures taken
against them or getting their ass kicked out of the organisation.

Happily, I have found some like-minded people in NZ to work with and we
have begun to create a revolutionary organisation of our own.  Whether
we will keep to our own standards remains to be seen, of course.  But
the best hope we have is outright rejection of what Louis calls the
'Zinovievist model' and the creation of a new political culture in which
the *highest possible political level* is encouraged among the entire
membership and the maximum amount of discussion and democracy is
encouraged.  Oh yeh, plus avoiding having a bloated party apparatus,
riddled with patronage and cliquism and thereby ensuring that the Great
Leader always has control over the organisation and a whole bunch of
votes locked up.

If we have that, I don't much care where the delegates sit at
conferences.  They can swing from the lightbulbs if they want to.


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