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Submitted by edwardm on Sun, 07/06/2009 - 18:48

Jason - I think that if AWL members used to be tetchy in response to criticisms of our group, that was because the majority of these criticisms were made on the basis of incredibly shrill, groundless slander, not comradely discussion... and on one occasion took the form of the physical destruction of our banners! I think that debate on the left (and the AWL isn't exempt from this, though it's by far one of the best organisations from this point of view) is often too confrontational - but that culture permeates the whole left and is self-reinforcing.

Tom - I disagree with you twice in one sentence here:

"The point, in any case, is that an organisation can function whilst containing public propaganda on 'definite' actions within it - and their is no particular reason to suppose that the CC is any less fallible than the lowest party organ."

Firstly, I think it makes more sense to point out that the virtue of the Bolsheviks was that they were able to retain their unity *despite* the split between the CC and the PMO, which actually represented a real and massive danger.

Secondly, there is a particular reason to presume that the highest bodies of a revolutionary organisation are more correct than the lowest ones - because they ought to represent a concentration of information and a distillation of the impressions and perceptions of the whole organisation, which should feed into them. For that reason, in a properly-functioning group, where the 'line' represents a distillation of *everybody's* experience, it is better to err on the side of the line.

Obviously, this is a highly formalistic argument, because in real life groups don't transmit information perfectly back to the centre, and the centre can often wind up implementing a line that people on the ground recognise to be disastrous. So, unthinkingly following the 'line' at all times and never contemplating breaking ranks is thick - revolutionaries (and revolutionary groups) should be prepared to expect and accommodate situations where the group is wrong and a given subordinate part of it is right to contradict the line (this includes talking about it afterwards and being prepared to admit that you are wrong: not just refraining from expelling someone for being unruly). I think that in the AWL that kind of flexibility of independent thought on the part of activists is encouraged... but equally, as Matthew point out, by-and-large collective decision making generally is superior to presuming that individual intuition is always better. I don't believe in 'the genius of the individual' - I think that people make better decisions when they make them collectively, just like with any other material endeavour. And if frequently Central Committees and leadership bodies tend to be inflexible, bureaucratic and unresponsive, that doesn't mean that they always have to be, or that we can't change them!

But again, coming back to the question of the Socialist Alliance - I think that there should be a formal position taken in left groups for a free vote within the SA, rather than an informal 'understanding' that could be overridden at any time. I think that that's simply a precondition of an organisation like that functioning correctly. But that doesn't mean repudiating the organisational form of the AWL in general. And, once again, I think that you are basing your argument on the existence of certain formal rules without giving due weight to the culture that they exist within (and to which they are, in my view, subordinate). A very democratic formal constitution is no use against an undemocratic, unthinking culture (as a brief examination of anarchist groups today and through history will show you) - which is why it will be necessary to genuinely convince the entire left of the need for openness within a socialist alliance. And to a large extent I think that depends upon how well it is built and the objective conditions it exists within.

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