[Marxism] Re: No Democracy in SWP an Exageration

Tom O'Lincoln suarsos at alphalink.com.au
Sat Apr 2 19:23:40 MST 2005

Lou writes:

>>In reality, the problem was much more about self-censorship than
respecting  the rights of the minority. In other words, the internal
atmosphere of the SWP was controlled largely through peer pressure
rather than the threat of

I have no experience of the US SWP, but a few decades' experience of
left organisations suggest to me that Lou is almost certainly right.
This is a chronic problem. I even experienced it when I was a national
leader -- I felt under pressure to behave the way certain other "tough
guy" leaders behaved. Like Lou, instead of capitulating, I should have
"dropped my pants". (By the way, the problem is hardly unique to left
groups. There's peer pressure everywhere in society.)

But it seems to me this is a problem of culture rather than "democracy".
I get a bit impatient with people who leave groups complaining that
they're "undemocratic" after having had umpteen opportunities to express
their views, verbally and in writing, and even having them voted on.
They then complain that the vote was "undemocratic" because of the
general climate in the group. This is way too facile.

The climate of intolerance may be real, but to make it an issue of
democracy is to target the wrong problem, and sometimes dangerously. For
example you get absurd constitutional proposals. In one amazing episode
in the Australian I.S., the Melbourne branch passed a motion to deny
voting rights to members of the National Executive. The argument for
this was that NE members were "too articulate" and therefore had an
unhealthy degree of influence. Also our role was a "national one" so we
shouldn't have a say in decisions of the branch we were members of.

The Melbourne members were raising significant issues about the culture
of the group, but it had little to do with democracy. In fact, denying
two of us the right to vote was itself an attack on democracy. Moreover
it predictably unleashed a bitter conflict which the NE was bound to
win, and which pushed the group in the wrong direction.

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