Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

’Build a thousand houses, not just one’ The organization of democracy

by Halifax members

First Published: In Struggle! No. 275, December 8, 1981
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
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A discussion recently took place in Halifax among members and supporters. At one point in the discussion, a male worker asked about the problems of democracy in the organization. The constitution said that members had the right to give their points of view on all questions facing the organization. It seemed to him that if this right was there then perhaps the problem lay with the militants for not exercising their rights.

He also raised a question about the relation between specialization and developing the skills of others. Don’t you use the best for the job to he done? If you want to build a house, you will not have a carpenter doing the job of an electrician. At the same time you can still have training programs. And how about all the demands raised by women?

Wasn’t this going a bit too far? It seems that no matter what is done they won’t be satisfied.

A lively discussion followed. The following is a short summary of some of the points that were raised.

– Our history has been one of the top leadership taking the decisions without a real consultation of the membership. The practice of referendums has been considered alien to democratic centralism (D.C.). Maybe it’s D.C. itself that is wrong and leads to our problems.

– There is also the question of access (or lack of) to information that allows a member to make an informed decision. Certain people occupy strategic spots in the flow of information. There has been a problem of decentralization.

– We have a practice of always having to “defend the position” without very much discussion. A lot of this comes from a period where it was important to fight against localism and the idea that the local situation was too peculiar and so it was impossible to apply national campaigns or directives.

– The question of autonomy has not been in favour of the base of the organization. It must be recognized that as soon as a national priority is set, this is going to affect the decisions of the cell in terms of its priorities. What we have happening is a reproduction of priorities from the top down. There is little autonomy of the base as a result.

– There has been a practice in the method or analysis where you look for the facts that will prove your analysis, that you are right instead of looking at the facts, making the analysis and then drawing the conclusions. How the summations are done of the work constitutes a real problem. Here we are still debating the results of work 2 and 3 years ago.

– We have to re-examine the role of the leaders. Too much weight has been given to them in terms of having to come up with the correct ideas. It is the cell secretary who single-handed has to come up with the analysis of the situation on the territory as well as elaborate all the tactics. The one-man leadership has been our way, to the detriment of collective leadership.

– When we have had debates in the past, the approach has often been to try to convince the person of the minority view how they are wrong. The things that come down from the top are much too closed. There hasn’t been a spirit of thinking for yourself.

– The organization must be able to control its leadership and make sure that it is accountable. The leaders are often in a privileged position in relation to the rest of the membership because of the positions that they occupy, what it is they have access to and the time they have to consider certain things (this relates to full timers)

– To understand the criticism of the lack of democracy we have to look at the whole constitution and not just a particular clause, at the conception behind it and how it has been applied over the years. The hierarchical structure of our society is reflected in our organization. But centralization is required in a national organization. We need democracy also to deal with authoritarian and elitist practices that exist in our ranks.

– The old argument that specialization is more efficient and that it can bring rapid results has worked against the development of women and workers who are in an unequal relation to make intellectuals. Many have become discouraged in the face of this. These people should have the right to participate on an equal footing and this will require a struggle against old ways of thinking and doing things that block them. The example of men building a house is a sexist one as it sets up a scenario once again where women are left out. If women are dissatisfied, it’s because of the obstacles that they face in the organization. What we need to do is develop the skills of everyone so that we can build one thousand houses instead of one.