Realos, fundies, and organizing

The New Zealand Green Party has recently shown quite precisely what not to do. Their new co-leader thinks capitalism is swell, supports the Iraq War, and wants to form coalitions with any party that will have them. How very respectable they’ve become, and how totally de-fanged and pliable too.

This is a far cry from the early days when the Green Party, which started in New Zealand, was a serious and respected force on the Left. The process of co-optation and selling out can take years you know, the paperwork is just enormous! Not to mention all those broken promises and smashed dreams. Ah well, the new leaders can console themselves with the distinct probability that their acquiescence will be well rewarded by the ruling class, just like happened in the US after the 2004 election.

One of the early splits in the Green Party was between between the ‘realos’ who wanted electoral change and compromise vs. the hard line ‘fundies’ who favored activism, getting in the streets and organizing. In the US, the realos won. With the exception of a little tree-hugging, the primary focus of the GP is getting candidates elected. Rarely, if ever, do Greens lead protests.

Once a split like that happens, the party often becomes more moderate. It starts to attract moderates from other parties, and the process accelerates. Too soon, the original impetus is all but gone, replaced by bland apparatchiks interested primarily in self-advancement.

The problem here isn’t the party so much as the organizational structure. There are other ways to organize a party, with structures that not only guarantee a stronger, more cohesive whole, but also protect against being taken over by others.

One such structure is the Leninist concept of democratic centralism. When deciding what to do, all party members have input, and things are decided democratically with a vote. The difference is what comes next. Once the vote is made, everyone is expected to implement it. Those who can’t or won’t eventually leave while the party itself becomes better and more strongly organized as the solid core, the cadre, continues to develop its skills. Thus, in the best sense, the party becomes self-limiting and self-maintaining.

This structure prevents co-optation and infiltrations because the core beliefs remain present and alive. That’s what we need today, groups who keep their core beliefs alive, not sellouts who no longer have anything they believe in except expediency and self-preservation.

  • I don’t know about that Bob. While I’m a dedicated democratic centralist advocate how organisations organize has to be something they themselves learn and embrace by an open democratic process of debate and experimentation.

    I’d put it this way, based on my experience here in Australia: that the key task of any party formation is to generate responsibility whereby those who make the decisions(and that should be everyone) also play the major role in carrying them out. This ties up with the question of accountability where leaders, and especially those serving in elected office, are absolutely accountable to the r & f membership.

    Thats’ the ballpark drive or principle, I think — thats’ where the treasure is buried. And while as you say it takes years for a formation to deteriorate it also takes years for an organisation to establish comfortable organisational protocols which suits what it does or seeks to do.

    The problem is that a party formation that is overwhelmingly electoralist will have a very different day to day system of operation than one that is activist oriented. I find that green politics under the electoralist banner tend to be poll seasonal rather than something that happens 365 days every year, year in and year out.

    Here in the Socialist Alliance although we operate under the standard majority rules decision making no major decisions are made unless we can get overwhelming support for them. That doesn’t mean that we can’t be fifty percenters plus – it means that this process is a political one that advances collectively, as in a broad tent such as the SA, theres’ no such thing as laying down the line. You have to win the argument and go through the discussion. It’s a question of political culture I think.

    But we do have debates and we do have discussions…but they aren’t prefaced by the politics of difference.

    What I see happening in the milieu of the green parties is a deference to a sort of low common denominator political level. Part of this is a hang over from rigid notions of consensus, but it is also true that when you can’t get a consensus, a formal one at least, theres’ always a default position which is “none”. And “none” in many circumstances a great loophole.* So theres’ a tendency to avoid the hard issues and pitch for the middle ground both within and outside the party. Of course when your main area of activity is electioneering that has a major impact on that process as well –as what could be more middle ground than what you are supposed to project at election time.

    However, I would agree that there’s a certain logic in the dynamic of green parties when their strategy is overwhelmingly — or even completely — electoralist. And that was what the Realo/Fundo divide is all about because if you seek only to change society through parliament then you have to play by, and comply to, the rules of the capitalist state.

    The other problem inherent in such a focus is that the green parties tend to have an unrealistic notion of where their platform comes from such that they so often fail to see where activism relates to the very politics they advocate. People don’t demonstrate and rally and organise to get green parties elected so much as winning the campaigns they commit themselves to.

    When you sever the dichotomy between activism and electoral activity, then your party’s political impetus in way of the core thrust will surely begin to flounder. A default arrogance perhaps kicks in wherein instead of being politically with activity, you become a substitute for the activism that created your party in the first place. Why bust a gut organising and demonstrating when all that is supposed to be required is for you to vote green?

    *Heres’ a classic example where consensus works against progressive politics. Take the question of abortion.Where’s the consensus on that? You are either for it or you are against it. But let’s say you cannot reach a consensus–what’s the default position and what does that mean, say, in the USA today?

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