Who Formulates the Group Strategy: Everyone, or the Professionals?

part of Post-ISO Reflections: Essays and proposals on democracy and organization

Many Leftist organizations have their leaders write and put forth internal documents, or internal discussion bulletins, or perspectives (which are, for some reason, private to the organization rather than radically transparent to the public).   Whatever the name, these tend to be essays which describe the state of US politics, generally.  This may seem neutral but it’s horribly undemocratic.  The problem is that socialists have a tradition of viewing macro-strategic perspectives as something to be articulated by the leadership and approved by the rank-and-file, rather than freely formed by every member.

Why does this matter?  Because your understanding of the US situation entirely determines what kind of political actions you think are either possible or sensible.

What this effectively means is that, if we leave perspective-formation to the professionals, we leave decision-making to the professionals.  Suddenly this sounds less like a democratically-run socialist group, and more like a corporation or nonprofit handled by professional managers.  But the sad truth is, this is how pretty much every group actually works, in real life and not in the way they imagine themselves.

If Lenin said “every cook must learn to govern the state,” then surely every rank-and-file member must learn to strategize for the whole organization!  Let’s face it, governing an organization is a smaller feat than governing a state.  It is not that members have the right to do this, as free individuals (yes that too), but actually that they have the duty to do this, to guarantee that the organization does not become an undemocratic affair essentially managed by the professionals.

People get used to this arrangement.  They stop doing any big-picture strategic thinking, partly out of laziness, and partly out of fear of being scolded for overstepping their bounds.  So it’s not just a case members needing to step up (it is).  It’s also the leadership who needs to drop the reins of perspective formation.

I recommend the radical notion of opening up organizational strategy entirely, with the main strategy/perspective documents written by anyone and everyone, possibly many competing takes on the state of things, and converging at conference as a truly democratic mess, perhaps the leadership going so far as to keep its mouth shut during pre-congress document exchange, or to simply raise which issues need to be debated.

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