Ben Halliday is President of the Ginninderra sub-branch in ACT Labor and a long time organiser for empowering working people.
Daniel Gerrard is half right. Yes, a binding caucus is important for imposing unity, solidarity and discipline in decision making. It is what differentiates the Left more than our non-union small 'l' liberals in the Labor Right, the Greens or the Liberals and Nationals. However, let’s not fetishise it.
Without a consistent democratic process, a binding caucus is just another form of oligarchic decision making, is top down and has more in common with technocratic liberal authoritarianism. If we want to be the party that empowers the working class and represents them, we must be democratic to be relevant and build our movement.
As actors for social justice we must bind based on having facilitated the broadest possible participation in making political decisions. The organisation of the economy and the organisations we have available to fight for a better world have indeed changed but I would argue the need for more democracy in our party is just as important as now as it was 100 year ago when the party disciplined the Rat-imperialist Billy Hughes.
In 2017, we do not need to shy away from the term “democratic centralism” just because historical foreign regimes and their travellers bastardised the term. Democratic centralism is key to having “binding” decision making. In our modern context, it is our efforts to make political decisions that afford the broadest possible participation, input and empowerment of members in a decision that matters most about binding.
This does not mean settling for the well meaning tyranny of the time-servers, time-rich and the paid-to-be-there at meetings. It means we facilitate participation through online tools which complement face-to-face meetings and events that are aimed at engaging with members who are at work or doing unpaid work as carers.
When we make decisions about policy our internal test should be: what actions did our representatives take to empower the members and how effective was it? Learn from it, adjust and repeat better next time.
If we are to be a political current that is relevant and can harness the power of the party to shape the kind of society we want to live in then we must empower members in decision making before we ‘bind’. As far as I know the Left in the Tasmanian, ACT and Queensland ALP discuss, debate and try to facilitate broad rank file decision making for policy positions. We need to build on these examples and further improve those processes.
There are still far too many examples of a minority of people making decisions about our party’s views based on their own narrow experience. This leads to political corruption of our leaders, our party and the venal disgraces we have seen in our movement. It is democracy that “binds”our representatives, if we do not have genuine democratic processes then those imposing what we 'bind' over are what our enemies claim: unrepresentative and beholden to themselves and their own views.
In the absence of genuine attempts to empower members in decision making all binding does is impose a minority view on a majority. That is not very unique and not worth celebrating.