The Struggle for Open selection

A welcome result of the recent nomination for National Executive Committee (NEC)  process in the Constituency Labour Parties  (CLP) has been the respectable showing for those left candidates who stand on socialist organisational policies that  would  begin to make  it easier for working class members to directly control and direct their party. If the past five years have demonstrated anything at all, it is that socialist policies and mass participation can win and were only  thwarted by a stubbornly resistant organisational machine and public representatives impervious to the growing demand for socialist policies from the ranks of the newly enlarged Labour Party.

Working class organisations such as the Labour Party  represent the genesis of a socialist society within the existing capitalist society. Workers organisations play the most important role in  mobilising, organising, educating and training the workers in their ranks for the tasks of overcoming capitalism and creating that new socialist society. However, so long as the workers’ organisations exist surrounded by capitalist society, these organisations are subject to enormous pressure from capitalism that can deform and degenerate them. Without the healthy counter effects of the democratic involvement and participation of a wide section of the working class to correct and guide them then there is a real danger that the workers’ organisations can start to waiver under capitalist pressures and begin to move away from reflecting the aims and aspirations of the working class towards accepting core elements of the capitalist system, such as we saw in the Labour Party in the Blair/ Brown years.

When only a tiny, and often unrepresentative, minority alone participate in the day to day running of the mass organisations, even if they honestly believe they are acting in the the interests of the mass who do not actively involve themselves in the organisations at this stage, this element of substitution tends to lead to a divergence away from the most pressing concerns of the mass of workers and towards policies that reflect the outlook and material interests of that participatory minority. Many working class people are often put off directly participating in politics because they see it as something practised in back rooms by a clique of those “in the know”  where the decisions have already been taken in advance and the consultation process is little more than a sham. Being unable to break the consensus of self selecting groups of that unrepresentative minority, they come to see the politics of the workers’ organisations as something that is done in their name, rather than something they themselves do to advance the struggle against capitalism. This lack of mass participation also sets the leaders of the workers’ organisations freer of scrutiny and accountability from the members below them and gives these leaders a real  incentive to promote apathy in the working class and encourages those leaders to cultivate a cynical attitude towards the ranking members of  the mass organisations, using and directing them instead of listening to them and representing them.

It is vital not only for electoral success but the development of the party and its members’ political education  that the Labour Party members be allowed to freely choose the most suitable candidate for any election. Candidate’s  who reflects the outlook of the membership and share their political principals and who is willing to make sacrifices for the honour of representing the working class rather than careerists or cosy place seekers, because it is those self sacrificing Labour Party members who win elections with their energetic campaigning who should be in control of the selection process. Perhaps one reason why the right wing members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and the staff of the Labour Party’s administration machine are so stubbornly resisting the demand for an open selection process for all candidates to public office is that they fear that the membership might start  imposing  an “All Socialists” short list on the selection process.

Most workers now have to undergo at least a yearly work assessment where their contribution to the company is appraised and their worth is determined, their role and job is on the line should they not perform enough work to a high enough standard to meet their employer’s expectations. The basis of all power held by  elected representatives of the Labour party derives ultimately from the work of ordinary  members. It is their decision to bestow the privilege of being a candidate on a fellow member, and their hard work enables the party to bring socialist arguments to the public. This basic truth is  forgotten by many MPs and councillors, who ascribe their position to their individual merit, talent or view rather than because of the party’s collective work that they represent. The current trigger ballot system is complex, off-putting, and difficult to understand or implement. Any attempt to begin a trigger ballot will be seen as a hostile act by any of the current sitting Labour MPs who demonstrate a sense of entitlement to presume their occupancy of that role is for life. No one on the left wants to recreate the kind of hostility demonstrated by the PLP to the party leader in 2016 when they exercised their self selecting  role  as the gatekeepers of the leadership election process to try to replace Corbyn as leader and prevent him from even being on the ballot. Currently sitting MPs have a massive incumbency bonus among the less actively involved members as well as direct favourable access to the media. We need transparent democracy. The Party needs to be the campaigning socialist arm of the Labour movement. Open Selection is now a matter of course for all Labour councillors and MPs from parties such as the SNP and the Scottish Greens.

In order to facilitate the most transparently democratic selection process, all individual and affiliate members should be able to participate at all levels, from local  councillors to MPs, in the selection of candidates for public office and that  candidates should be selected openly without restrictions before each  election. It is only on the basis of democratic participation in the process, not only of developing policies but also drawing up the necessary representatives to present and enact them, will the Labour Party find the strength and resolve to move from words to deeds in the struggle to end capitalist exploitation. If we can not democratise our own party how are we ever going to democratise society? Our party must lead by example. If we can’t democratise our own party, we will never be trusted to democratise workplaces, our economy and the country. It should also be asked, if it is not the members and trade unionists who will decide who represents them then who exactly is making those decisions?. No  Councillors or MPs stood as independents with their own campaign; they were elected thanks to the huge efforts of their local and national party.

The right to vote for the representative of your choice is a basic tenet of any democratic organisation. No representative should be above scrutiny or accountability. Open selection is not about creating a hostile environment. It is about creating an enthusiastic, democratic, member-led organisation. It is about enhancing the Party’s democratic processes and making it transparent. Locally and nationally Labour elects and regularly re-elects people at all levels of its structure, from Branch Officers through to the Party leader. It is a democratic system that ensures people stay in touch with those they represent and are sensitive to their changing needs and concerns. It also provides a simple system for bringing new people into activity and responsibility, as existing office holders move on to other things. Just as with being a CLP secretary or ward chair the same democratic principle applies to being a Labour councillor and should also apply to  MPs,  the position should not be on the basis of a one off election or appointment in a role for life.

Vote for the socialist candidates in the NEC election who pledge to support open selection.

The Struggle 6th October 2020

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