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A small note on proletarian democracy and iron discipline

posted 2 Mar 2010, 01:57 by M MacDonald

By Erik Andersson, Sweden

As any worker knows, for a strike to be succesful there needs to be an
iron discipline. This is due to the enormous pressure from the bosses
and potentially also media, family, personal economy and so on.
Breaking against a decision that has been arrived at is rightly seen
as treacherous, and the response against these persons from the
struggling workers often have a mix of contempt and hatred.

Does this demand for iron discipline mean that heavy limits should be
put on discussion? No, in fact an free discussion serves to strengthen
the unity, discipline and resolve. Through such a process where
everybody gets to have their say, the collective decision is
"internalized" - you feel a personal responsibility and the bond
between the people fighting is strengthened.

To be very concrete, I was present during a wild-cat strike at a
warehouse last year. The workers put their cars outside of the
warehouse exit to block the route out. For obvious reasons I won´t go
into details, but the decision to go on strike was developed through a
dialectial process of completely free discussion. The objective
circumstances were a series of attacks that served to make the workers
aware that they had no other option but to fight back.

In the shorter perspective the decision "grew forth" during a couple
of weeks, when the workers were getting on the move by way of
manifestations and media attention. During this time I have the
impression that free discussion was absolutely necessary for unity in
action - well for decisive action in general. Had there been - which
there obviously wasn´t - a bureaucratic leadership trying to at any
cost push through things from above, the result would have been
complete anarchy, which is not to seldom a result when some
adventurist sects try to "agitate the workers" for a strike. That in
fact is in opposition both to proletarian democracy and maybe even
more important - in contradiction with the need to form a genuine
collective discipline.

But when the decision to go on strike was taken – was that the end of
discussion and the time for 100% only “unity in action”? Not in any
way – in fact during the four days of strike a large number of
meetings were held. The changing attitude of the bosses, the police
and the workers themselves necessitated new discussions. Concretely
the issues that warranted meetings could be threats of moving in on
the part of the police, reports from the negotiations with the bosses
or simply the demand of some group of workers for the necessity to
speak about what to do.

When the situation in some way changed, the grounds for the former
decisions were not there any more, and the discussion was in a natural
way wide open again. At some point the strike would end – when and
with what result was of course not obvious though. No-one can know the
exact development beforehand – of the moves of the bosses, the police
and the changing mood of the workers. This is of course also true of
the changing reality of society and the world as a whole – and
therefore there are no golden rules that can determine once and for
all the balance between discussion and action.

At least once a day a formal vote was held on whether to continue the
strike. The workers shared their experiences of the changing
situation, thoughts on offers/threats from the bosses and so on. It
was really obvious that anything less than a 100% free discussion
would have wrecked the very strong discipline in action – and brought
with it splits within the ranks of the workers. Of course any
reference to formal positions or use of bullying to make people submit
would have been completely counter-productive. Luckily the struggle
was carried out with complete freedom in discussion and from that was
built a truly impressive collective unity and discipline.

This is a concrete example of a dialectical view of democratic
centralism – discussion and discipline are not isolated from each
other or mechanically following each other – but stand in a
dialectical relationship to each other, relating to the constantly
changing reality. It is in my opinion a lesson for anyone who strives
to win and preserve iron discipline in action within the class
struggle and workers movement.

Erik Andersson

Britain CLPD AGM

posted 23 Feb 2010, 06:43 by M MacDonald

Report of The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy Annual General Meeting

By a member of the CLPD

The Campaign for Labour Party Democracy Annual General Meeting was held on Saturday 20th February and attended by about 60 people. A large majority were older Labour Party activists but there were a few younger faces. The mood was good as they were celebrating some victories at last October’s Labour Party Conference. The most important of these was the introduction of elections for the National Policy Forum. This was carried with the support of the trade unions in the teeth of massive opposition and pressure from the Party leadership. These elections are likely to favour the left who more and more are winning the individual ballot elections to the Party’s National Executive Committee. In the elections for the current Labour Party NEC, of the six seats reserved for constituency representatives the left won four of them with 60% or more of the ballots returned. Also the number of CLPD model motions submitted to last Autumn’s conference was the most for about 25 years.  

The CLPD has about 250 activists which has remained steady over the years despite the massive fall in overall party membership caused by disillusionment with the Labour Government’s policies. There is a general mood of optimism in the organisation that the dark days of the left inside the party are coming to an end and that after the election there will be an opportunity to rebuild.
Everyone of course was preparing for the elections coming up on 6th of May. And a lot of speeches were emphasizing how much popular suspicion there was in the population about the Conservative alternative. Labour could stiil win if it adopted a radical programme but this was obviously unlikely to happen. There was also considerable discussion about what would happen if Labour was defeated and what effect the forthcoming avalanche of public spending cuts would have on the mood of local people generally and the public sector unions in particular. Significantly, a motion was carried at the meeting to open up a discussion on a new socialist clause for the Labour Party’s constitution. The old one, Clause Four, had been removed after a major campaign by Tony Blair after he became leader in the mid 1990s. This new policy could provide an opening to introduce new socialist ideas inside Labour. 
There was also a special session on democratizing the link between the unions and Labour. This is opens up the potential of politically organizing inside the unions.

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