In the early years of the last century, sociologist Robert Michels showed that all political parties, faced with problems of coordination and organization, create a bureaucracy and develop bases of knowledge, skills, and resources among a relatively small leadership group.
Inevitably, the rank and file are less informed than their leaders, and of course we are all conditioned, to some degree, to look up to those in positions of authority. Therefore the rank and file tend to look to leaders for policy directives and are generally prepared to allow leaders to exercise their judgement on most matters.
The reason why this all matters is that the history of all previous egalitarian parties shows that as they gradually developed a professional bureaucracy and a centralised ‘professional’ leadership they all gradually moved to the right and towards accommodation with the ruling political establishment.
The problems of bureaucracy and the tendency towards the development of hierarchies and a leadership elite are as endemic in our party as they are in any other organisation – and the more successful we are the more powerful those tendencies will become. To counter them we need to do two things.
First, we must continually resist the inevitable tendency towards a professional bureaucracy and the growth of a semi permanent leadership group by ensuring that our constitutional and administrative procedures minimise their tendency to develop. Examples of that trend are the recent suggestions from some leading members that the five year limit on holding a GPEX post
should be abolished and that we should move from two conferences a year to one.
Second, we must continually strive to develop the conditions in which active democracy can thrive. That means above all encouraging discussion and debate at all levels within the party in order to build the capacity of party members to both take an active and informed part in
developing party policy and to effectively hold the leadership of the organisation to account. We need more leadership in the Green Party rather than less, but leadership spreading up from the base rather than down from the top or out from the centre.
As we grow, we will inevitably develop an increasingly professional bureaucracy – and we need to. There is no doubt that we must pay a price to ensure that these hierarchies do not slowly begin to dominate the party, as they inevitably will without the conscious commitment of
the membership to counter that trend. Decision making will inevitably appear cumbersome and will involve apparently endless debate over everything. However, that endless debate is in fact the lifeblood that keeps our politics alive and healthy. Bureaucracy and a centralised leadership is like the clotting agent in that blood – essential if we are to operate, but fatal if not kept continuously in check.
Sean Thompson, Political Education Officer, London
Federation of Green Parties
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