Counter-report on DSP constitution & organisational principles
The Activist - Volume 16, Number 5, May 2006
By Doug Lorimer on behalf of the LPF
[The general line of the following report and summary was rejected by the national committee. The vote for adopting the report was seven full NC members in favour, 23 against, with no abstentions, and four candidate members in favour, nine against, with three abstentions.]
At its first meeting after the DSP congress (on February 1), the majority of the national executive adopted a statement on the formation on the last day of the congress of the Leninist Party Faction. The statement declared that the "fact that NE minority platform supporters met during the 22nd Congress as an exclusive caucus led the Congress delegates to pass the following motion:
"The conference [sic] recommends that the comrades in support of the minority platform declare a faction in accordance with Article 4, paragraph 1(i) of the DSP constitution.
The statement then added the comment that the "subsequent declaration of the LPF confirmed that the minority platform supporters’ caucus was indeed a faction.
How the declaration of a faction by the five members of the NE minority "confirmed" that all the supporters of the minority platform were already a faction was not explained in the NE majority’s statement. Behind this claim was the unstated assumption that if the supporters of a declared platform hold a caucus meeting then they are functioning as a faction. Providing retrospective justification for this appears to be main purpose of Comrade Holmes’ report to this NC plenum.
The actual proposed constitutional changes raised in Dave’s report – that provisional members are not entitled to join factions and that they do not have to complete a formal series of classes before being eligible to be admitted to full memberships – deal with matters about which there has been no dispute in the party and would merely codify our existing practice.
The substantive change proposed in Dave’s report relates to the way in which internal groupings based on declared platforms are to function, but he did not propose any constitutional changes to spell this out. Instead, he proposes that this NC plenum adopt a report that puts an interpretation on the constitutional rules relating to the formation and functioning of factions that would define as a faction any internal grouping based upon a declared platform.
Currently, the DSP Constitution states that members of the DSP have the right to form "Internal groupings (factions) based on declared platforms to promote changes in the political line or activity of the DSP and in the composition of the DSP’s leadership bodies."
It does not define as a faction every internal grouping based on a platform to promote changes in the political line and activity of the DSP as a faction. Rather, it defines a faction as an internal grouping based on a platform that alsoaims to promote changes in the composition of the DSP’s leadership bodies, i.e., that seeks to win control of the party by having supporters of the grouping’s platform elected as a majority on the party’s leadership bodies.
The formation of a faction implies that its members have lost confidence in the ability of the existing party leadership to implement the political line advocated by the faction if that political line wins the support of a majority of the party’s membership. It is an internal grouping organised for an open contest of the leadership of the party within the framework of the democratic-centralist organisation and rules of the party. That is why our party’s constitution requires that a "faction’s platform shall clearly spell out the faction’s aims, its basis for membership, its structure including its leadership bodies and the powers of those leadership bodies".
If, as is proposed in Dave’s report, every platform grouping is to be deemed to be an undeclared, that is, secret, faction unless it declares itself to be a faction, then we will confront a serious problem heading into our next party congress.
The DSP Constitution requires the national executive to issue a platform for the election of congress delegates. Would it also have to declare itself to be a faction upon doing so? If it didn’t, would it be deemed to be a "secret faction" (subject to possible disciplinary action)?
Once the NE platform is voted on in branch meetings, all the supporters of the NE platform are constitutionally required to hold a caucus meeting to elect their congress delegates. Will the convening of such a meeting be deemed the formation of an undeclared faction? Or will only the supporters of any minority platforms be deemed to be factions (with a constitutional requirement to declare their aims, basis for membership, structure including their leadership bodies and the powers of those leadership bodies)? And if that is to be the case, how will that square with the constitutional right of party members "to have the constitution applied equally to all DSP members"?
From the February 1 NE statement and Dave’s report, it appears that the NE majority comrades’ main concern is the holding of "exclusive" meetings by platform groupings that have not declared themselves to be factions other than the mandatory caucus meeting to elect congress delegates.
Dave’s report proposes that only platform groupings that have declared themselves to be factions shall have the right to hold such meetings during a pre-congress discussion period and at a party congress. Conversely, platform groupings that have not declared themselves to be factions will be regarded as secret factions, subject to possible disciplinary action, if their supporters hold such meetings. But how then will a platform grouping that is not a declared faction and does not have a majority on the NE prepare its reports for presentation to a party congress?
By proposing that any platform grouping that holds an "exclusive caucus" meeting of its supporters be deemed to be a secret faction, Dave’s report sets us down the road of having to elaborate a whole new set of regulations for our inner-party discussions. Moreover, these are to be regulations that are not clearly spelt out in the party’s constitution, except for Dave’s suggestion that it be made explicit in the constitution that other than for declared factions there can be no "exclusive caucus meetings" during the pre-congress discussion.
In justifying this proposal, Dave referred to the 1986 congress report "Recent experiences in party building". But in doing so, he ignored the main point of that report with regard to the regulation of our inner-party discussions.
That report stated that "After seeing the degeneration of the US party", that is, the US SWP under the leadership of Jack Barnes in the early 1980s, "we decided that any rules we regarded as the bottom line should be very clearly spelled out in the constitution".
That report drew the conclusion that we didn’t need an arsenal of organisational regulations for our inner-party discussions beyond what was clearly spelt out in the constitution.
Furthermore, it recognised that, "Above all, we don’t need organisational forms that automatically sharpen differences by institutionalising an adversarial approach". But that is precisely the road that the proposal regarding platform groupings made in Dave’s report will set us down: It will make it mandatory for minority platform groupings to constitute themselves as factions, and thus institutionalise an adversarial approach to our pre-congress discussion periods.
Given the seriousness of ramifications for our inner-party discussions and the democratic rights of all DSP members raised by the change that Dave is proposing, it would be a mistake to rush to adopt it here. I would therefore propose that the plenum table both Dave’s and my reports and print them in The Activist to give NC members and the whole of the party membership adequate time to consider it before taking a vote at the next DSP congress on this proposal.
In the discussion, Comrade Peter Boyle argued that the proposal in Dave’s report that every internal grouping based on a platform be regarded and regulated as a faction was merely a reaffirmation of our existing constitutional provisions, requiring no change to the constitution. But if this is so, why did Dave argue in his report that we needed to change the constitution to "make it explicit that there can be no exclusive caucuses in the PCD period" unless these are meetings of declared factions. Again, I would ask Dave to explain in his summary how, under his proposal, would declared minority platform groupings that are not declared factions prepare their reports for presentation to the congress.
Peter and Graham claimed that the constitution defines a faction as just an "internal grouping". If that is so, why does the constitutional provision relating to factions go on to state that they are "based on declared platforms to promote changes in the political line or activity of the DSP and in the composition of the DSP’s leadership bodies"? Why doesn’t the sentence just state that DSP members have the right to form "internal groupings (factions)"? Why does it go on to give a description of what factions seek to do?
It’s because a faction is not just any internal grouping. It’s a specific type of organisation which, like every organisation, is defined by what its aims are. It’s an internal grouping that has a very specific set of aims, including the aim of changing the composition of the party’s leadership bodies. And that’s why the constitution sets down very very clear and definite "bottom line" rules for the formation of a faction.
It’s just a furphy for comrades to claim that the NE minority platform grouping that existed in last year’s PCD period was a secret faction simply because it held exclusive caucus meetings during the congress. What was secret about it? It was a grouping based upon an openly declared platform. Its meetings during the congress were openly announced to the congress.
To: DSP National Executive
From: LPF National Steering Committee
April 1, 2006
At its last meeting the majority of the NE approved a motion requesting that the national steering committee of the Leninist Party Faction give a written response to Comrade Peter Boyle’s letter of February 23 to us in which he wrote:
"A number of DSP branch secretaries have contacted me about what appears to be an LPF position of abstention on helping work out how to implement political perspectives adopted by the DSP Congress in January.
"This has emerged in Melbourne with LPF members within executive and branch meetings in a number of cities, including Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
"Could you please advise the DSP National Executive if this is an LPF position and, if it is, explain what is the position and its rationale."
The LPF’s approach to the issue how its members relate to discussions in the branches of how to implement the political perspectives adopted by the 22nd DSP Congress that the LPF disagrees with, i.e., building the Socialist Alliance as our new party, has been orally explained by the designated branch convenors of the LPF. However, in view of the NE’s adoption of a motion requesting a written statement from us on this matter, we make the following points:
1. It is not a binding position of the LPF that its members abstain on helping work out how to implement the political perspectives adopted by the DSP Congress in January.
2. The LPF national steering committee has recommended to all members of the LPF that in branch meetings or in meetings of branch executives they do not obstruct the implementation of the political line adopted by the Congress that was in dispute at the Congress by arguing and voting against proposals made in these branch meetings by supporters of this line for its implementation, in particular by arguing and voting against proposals related to building the Socialist Alliance as our new party or party-in-formation.
3. The "rationale" for this recommended approach is that it is the responsibility of comrades disagreeing with the political line approved by the Congress to seek to the best of their ability to ensure that there is "unity in action among DSP members in testing out the line approved by the 22nd DSP Congress" (as was stated in the declaration of the LPF). We have therefore recommended to LPF members that they respect the right of supporters of the political line adopted by the Congress to determine exactly how this political line is to be implemented by each branch. Since the LPF disagrees with this political line, for LPF members to participate in determining how this line is to be implemented in each branch would either mean (a) attempting to reopen the discussion on this political line (by raising their disagreements with it); (b) obstructing its implementation by arguing and voting against proposals put forward by supporters of this line, or (c) being dishonest with other comrades by pretending to agree with this political line and participating in determining how it is to be implemented. The only honest and responsible approach for LPF members to adopt is therefore to abstain from participation in branch discussions on how this political line is be implemented.
for the LPF national steering committee