Tuesday 2 October 2012

Whatever happened to "internal democracy"?

I was just reading through the comments on the Guardian website under their article covering the latest speech of Ed Milliband, Labour party leader, when a comment caught my eye. The speech itself was described in the article as 'audacious' - a word which in the Grauniad's thesaurus appears to sit next to 'intellectually bankrupt' and 'inane' - but the comment was a quote from Ed Milliband's father, Ralph, the ever-wrong and ever-intelligent Marxist intellectual:

It is however one form of expression of a much more general aspiration, which has held generation after generation of socialists in its thrall, and which consists in the hope of ‘capturing’ the Labour Party for the adoption and the carrying out of socialist policies. The point is not here that this is an illusion but rather that it is the obverse phenomenon which has very commonly occurred, namely the ‘capturing’ of the militants by the Labour Party. This is not only true at the parliamentary level, though it is there that it has been most obviously true. But it has also occurred at the grassroots: people on the left who have set out with the intention of transforming the Labour Party have more often than not ended up being transformed by it, in the sense that they have been caught up in its rituals and rhythms, in ineffectual resolution-mongering exercises, in the resigned habituation to the unacceptable, even in the cynical acceptance and even expectation of betrayal.
As a description of how not only the Labour party but any party (including the Chinese Communist Party) can divert the intentions of those joining to serve the ends of its leadership this is hard to better. This quote from the same article is also worth reading from the point of view of an observer of Chinese affairs, even if it is about a different party in another country:

The reason for this lack of serious debate [within the British Communist Party] is very simple. It has to do with the fact that the Communist Party is an exceedingly managed party, in which the leadership is well able to reduce the scope and extent of debate; and to do so in the name of a ‘democratic centralism’ which is in fact a device for the oligarchic control of the leadership over its members. ..... The fact is that the democratic claims which the Communist Party regularly makes for its own internal organisation are a sham, save perhaps at the lower levels of the party. It has not yet begun to learn the meaning of the ‘inner-party democracy’ of which it boasts, and cannot do so as long as it continues to worship the sacred cows of ‘democratic centralism’ and the ‘ban on factions’.
This encapsulates the nature not only of decision-making within the British Communist Party (a group of crack-pot would-be revolutionaries now happily disbanded), but within any party which, like the Chinese Communist Party, makes decisions at the top without members lower down having any real say in matters. This lack of any real transparency in decision-making and meaningful involvement of party members makes a mockery of those who try to maintain that the CCP is 'not a monolith' (by which one assumes they meant that it is a party that accommodates divergent views, since all parties contain differing views if only unexpressed ones) and practices a kind of 'internal democracy'.

This is not to say that divergent views within the CCP, but when the leading proponent of one of two models ends up being expelled from the party and placed under arrest for crimes which it would be fair to suspect every senior politician in the People's Republic of committing, it is very unclear in what way the CCP is actually tolerant of differing opinions. The decision between whether Bo Xilai's Chongqing model and Wang Yang's Guangdong model was not made by democratic means, internal or external, but through the arrest and public shaming of Bo Xilai - 'internal democracy' had no part in this. 

Edit: Imagine for a moment if Barrack Obama's father had written the following . . .

"The Englishman is a rabid nationalist. They are perhaps the most nationalist people in the world...When you hear the English talk of this war [i.e., WW2] you sometimes almost want them to lose it to show them how things are."
 . . . and you will see the difference between British and US politics plainly.