The AWL’s annual conference takes place on 22-23 October. Because we are a relatively small organisation, the conference is open to all members; but because we have grown substantially in the last year, this will be the first conference many AWLers attend.
The way our conference works tells you something about the kind of organisation Workers’ Liberty is. We want the maximum possible democratic control by an active, alert, educated membership. For us democracy is not just a pleasant notion; it’s the essential condition for an organisation which can debate and hammer out ideas, and orient and reorient itself in the class struggle.
Have a read of our constitution – the only constitution of any Trotskyist group available online. It clearly sets out structures and practices to establish, promote and safeguard both majority rule and minority rights, and a culture of free discussion in the organisation.
The AWL National Committee has agreed five main topics for this year’s conference: general perspectives; branch activity; trade union work; students; and the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East. Any comrade will be able to submit amendments to the documents drafted by the NC; submit alternative documents on these topics; or propose additional topics for debate. (See here for debates at previous conferences.)
Just as we put an emphasis on ongoing education, we don’t just want people to turn up at the conference and take a snap vote. In the two months prior to it, there will be a series of regional and local pre-conference discussion meetings at which members discuss and debate the documents and issues.
As well as debating and voting on perspectives and policy, the conference will also elect a new National Committee. The NC meets every five or six weeks; it elects a smaller Executive Committee (EC) which meets weekly and takes decisions in between NC meetings. Conference is the sovereign body of the AWL, which can over-rule the NC; the NC can over-rule the EC (and elect new people to it at each meeting, just as the conference elects a new NC).
It’s instructive to contrast the way our NC is elected with the election of the SWP’s Central Committee (the SWP constitution is not available publicly, but we managed to get hold of a copy). In the AWL, anyone can be nominated; and everyone at the conference votes freely for whatever candidates they want. In the SWP, the outgoing CC proposes a slate, and you have to vote for the whole slate; alternative slates, even if only one person different, require more than half the votes in order to win! This set up allows a bureaucratic clique to dominate the CC and perpetuate itself, free of democratic accountability and minority voices. A few years ago, for instance, it was used to stop (very mild) dissident John Molyneux from being elected to the CC.
On this point, as on many others, the SWP’s constitution is a bureaucrats’ charter, while the AWL’s exists to promote accountability and democracy. Another example: our conference is run by a Standing Orders Committee elected by the previous conference, while their Conference Arrangements Committee is nominated by the CC.
No constitution or set of written rules can, by itself, guarantee democracy. The development of a democratic culture is necessary. Nonetheless, we think written rules are important, both to help develop that culture and as a check on violations of democracy.
In the CPGB/Weekly Worker group, bizarrely but typically, there is an elaborate constitution covering the structures of a future mass “communist party”, but almost nothing on how the tiny group of today should function. This is justified by dismissing “timeless recipes”, “ready-made blueprints” and “formal, not dialectical, thinking”.
It is not clear whether other socialist groups - the Socialist Party, for instance, or Workers Power - have constitutions at all. Certainly they are not publicly available.
The AWL thinks clear structures are essential for democracy in a revolutionary organisation. That’s why we have a constitution, available not only to every member but to the interested public, which determines and regulates how we operate not in the future, but right now. At our conference new members will experience both our democratic structures and our democratic culture in action.