Letters – April 12, 2017

Convention notes, clarifying the CC, response to Miah and Gabriel

Convention Notes

I’d like to echo Grant G’s initial point in their letter titled “On Communication”, a special convention and its accompanying pre-convention period should not be the only time for us to openly hash out disagreements and points of view within the Red Party, and in that sense a special convention should not have been necessary.  That said, the number of letters and resolutions generated since we entered the pre-convention is heartily encouraging, and I hope that we can continue to have as lively a letters section on our website once this convention has concluded.  With that in mind, I’d like to comment on some of the resolutions that have been moved so far.

The two most recent resolutions on removing “democratic centralism” from our party’s constitution and prohibiting voting by slate for internal party elections have my full support.  On the first, while I do sympathize with a desire to “take back” terms that have been misappropriated by various renegades to the socialist movement, the term “democratic centralism” does raise beg too many questions even internally to the left to be a worthwhile fight.  Moreover, even ignoring the “’anti-revisionist’ and Trotskyist abuse of the term,” the pre-Russian Revolution history of the concept is arguably tied up with the old Lassallean organizing methods of electing (all-)powerful “labour dictators” with vast power over parties and affiliated organizations.  This early conception runs against the democratic-republican norms we should be attempting to inculcate within our organization, and within the socialist and workers’ movements at large.  On the second motion, writing in stipulations for leadership elections which ban slate voting is also in line with these principles we want to uphold, and in many respects these two resolutions complement each other very nicely.

I do have three question on the resolution for convention election of CC secretary- two more mechanical and one more political.  On the mechanical side, would this procedure be used for electing all CC officers?  As it currently stands, in addition to the “first secretary” position currently held by Gabriel P, we also have a “second secretary” position held by myself, and the treasurer position held by Mari P-A.  Was the spirit of the resolution to have all these positions elected by the party as a whole, and not only by the Central Committee?  As a related issue, my reading of the resolution leads me to believe that these positions would elected after the elections of the CC have been determined, so the only eligible candidates for such positions would be the pool of newly-elected CC members.  That makes a fair amount of sense so that we don’t effectively have individuals running for quasi-independent executive positions, but I just wanted to note my understanding of the process in case I was mistaken.

On the political side, however, I do question whether the roles of CC secretaries and treasurer are sufficiently political positions to warrant this extra layer of election.  My own view is that these roles should be seen as primarily administrative, elected for the purposes of smooth administration of CC duties and communication with the party, rather than as positions of political power.  That said, until the “abolition of politics” generally these positions will at least carry some political weight to them, so I appreciate that it’s a tricky issue to fully tease out.

  • Peter M

 

Clarifying the Central Committee

The primary leading body of our party is the Central Committee, which elects its own executive from within its ranks.   In article III, of our party’s constitution defines the Central Committee as,

The Central Committee (C.C.) is the leading body of the Party between National Conventions, coordinating its all-party activity, maintaining its central organ, custody of its assets, and organizing / executing policy on political priorities and positions. The C.C. shall meet at least twice a month. The C.C. shall elect a National Secretary, Second Secretary and Secretary-Treasurer from within its ranks, and may create additional officer positions or committees needed to conduct its work. Vacancies in the C.C. may be filled by a majority vote.

The Central Committee responsibilities are laid out as well as the ability to elect its own offers, but there is a still a tyranny of structurelessness within this section of the constitution. It’s number of members is undefined, the exact nature of its election is undefined, and vacancies are filled by majority vote, but what determines a vacancy when the numerical parameters are not set?

There are clarifications of the Central Committee roles in Article 4:

4. Central Committee nominations may be presented by any Party unit. Joint-list and individual candidacies are permitted.

While many of us seem joint-list and slate voting as rife with abuse historically, this is fine. However, given powers of recall at any time, and no set terms or term limits for standing, it seems like conventions call for the creation of the central committee and its maintenance, but again, the numbers or even proportions to the party are not explicitly spelled out in Article III.  The same article covers the call that “3. Lower bodies are subject to the authority of higher ones; lower bodies may also recall and replace members of higher bodies at any time when 25% of the body’s members demand a recall election. Majority decisions for action are binding on all members.”
It is unclear if local branches act as federated members or decision is decided directly by all members/  This does have logistical effects.

This brings me to Comrade Miah concerns about the proposal to directly elect the Secretary of the Central Committee:

“We hold Section 9, be amended to read that the General Secretary of the Central Committee not be voted on by the smallest unit within the party, the Central Secretary, but by the entire party from the ranks of the Central Committee as voted by the party as well.”

Comrade Miah has fair criticism about the maintaining the central committee’s work consistently, and we do see some valid arguments against relying on general election for accountability.  However, there are two points of issue that we would like to point out the internal procedural issues with:

“Let’s start with our current system of accountability: the secretary is elected by the central committee and can be directly recalled by this body. Alternatively, the membership can call for a recall of the CC comrade (or the whole committee for that matter) who serves as secretary.”

This is an indirect accountability in so much as the structure of recall is indirect, and would be dependent on knowing the actions of the Central Committee, which is a right under Article III of the Red Party constitution, it is a very hard right to enforce if violated discretely. Still, I agree that such as recall mechanism can serve as a check on party dominance.

Comrade Miah states, “Now if we pass this motion, we will get rid of the recall ability of the central committee (due to electing power being solely in the hands of convention). In effect, less accountability.”

How is this not a problem under our current constitution as well?  If only a convention can serve as the will of the party and thus have electing power, then how does a majority election to fill vacancies from recall or revision not already have the same limit?  Either this isn’t a problem in one case, or it is problem in both cases.

While we understand Comrade Miah’s concerns about the limitations of direct election of General Secretary, given the powers we have granted a the central committee, which is power of the purse, all party organs, and representation of the “at large,” the call of general election there as in other organizations like our own, such as Philly Socialists, makes sense in light of our programme calling for a diffusion of all executive and most indirect elections for a more democratic culture.  This, at minimum,  that both procedure for general party business, particularly for “at large” members which are a large portion of the party, need to be enumerated, clarified, and formalized and vagueries in the constitution eliminated by the general party under the guidance of leadership.

Sincerely,

  • C. Derick Varn
  • Joseph Sciortino
  • Lexi Katsopolis

Response to Miah and Gabriel

We need more rotation and general training in administration for all comrades. At the same time we must ensure continuity and growth in skill. Therefore I support the spirit of this motion but am concerned that setting a hard number is too mechanical for our organization. I remain open to being convinced by either side.

– Miah Simone

I understand the concern that placing a hard number might be “too mechanical” for any organization, let alone the Red Party. However, I fear that without putting any actual limit on it there remains open the possibilities of entrenched leadership remaining. The reason I chose two consecutive terms – and I place an emphasis on consecutive terms – is comrades would then be allowed to cycle through but also return. I think it is especially important now that we have enough comrades to make this proposal viable but also as we grow. If anything, I think this proposal is conservative and it could go further by placing this restriction on lower body committees as well, such as local, state, or regional sections, as well as extending the period between possible re-elections. I only chose one cycle between elections due to practical concerns – we do not yet have the capacity to extend beyond this though I would encourage that in the future if and as the party continues to grow.

“For Republican Norms” … puts forward an administrative fix for what is

a political problem.

– Gabriel Pierre

Comrade Gabriel posits that this recommendation is a bureaucratic maneuver to enact a political change. This is precisely the opposite case. The Central Committee is decidedly not a political body – at least not as such. Its role should be to carry out the day to day administration of the strategic viewpoints put forward in a national convention’s perspectives – whether they remain relatively unchanged or have a massive realignment as is the case potentially at this convention. Naturally this entails having a working understanding of what these perspectives would be – hopefully clarified through debate prior to and during the convention. Given that one of the defining features of the Marxist center is the ostensible belief in “principled programmatic unity,” it seems fair that a member of the Central Committee would be committed to enacting this program and strategy regardless of whether their faction – or lack thereof, for that matter – won out in convention. Another role of the various executive committees – national, regional, and local – would be to train members in fulfilling administrative roles such that in the event that the class party is able to take power – peacefully or not – we are able to do so in such a manner that enables the smoothest transition possible. Moreover, these term limits are not hard and fast term limits, merely consecutive limits. This allows for the regular rotation and practical education of our membership in leadership and administrative roles. It simultaneously inculcates against a stagnant political leadership becoming careerists and therefore detached from the class party. Subordinating the leaders – “controlling the bureaucrats” – is a necessary step towards making sure republican norms are an ingrained part of the worker movement.

  • Henry Maier
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