The pretext of consensus: Why the anti-cuts movement needs structure

One of the most profound questions that the anti-cuts movement currently faces is one not necessarily of leadership, but one of structure. Most groups begin as forums for discussion. But as decisive action needs to be taken, structure begins to develop. Indeed it needs to develop. The point here is this – since these groups eventually assume roles, leaders, hierarchies and as they increase in size – it is better for these to develop democratically, for elected roles to be assumed, than personalities assuming roles without mandate under the pretext of consensus  or that everyone’s voice is theoretically equal.

The critique I express here isn’t one against ‘consensus decision making’, used frequently in anarchist, green and other political circles. Because there isn’t anything inherently wrong in that. But frankly, it is not what we have in the anti-cuts movement, especially in Cornwall. What we have is certain voices becoming dominant and decisions being made without even reference to consensus, and certainly without democratic voting. The fear of minutes, agendas, and chair/secretary/treasurer roles is mostly irrational. These tools are democratic, they get decisions made and they ensure that the voice of an individual person does not exert undue influence upon the will of the majority – again under the pretext of consensus.

The Green party were notoriously sceptical of leaders for a long time. Shortly after the party elected a leader, they also got elected their first MP. Caroline Lucas has given a huge boost to the Green party and a clear direction.

Of course, there is the question of UK Uncut, a loose-knit coalition of groups across the country. And it works. But it works because the idea is simple, and because it is mostly just a protest-brand that groups can attach themselves to and work around – democratically. Those at the ‘top’ of UK Uncut do not necessarily need to be elected because they merely facilitate the functioning of autonomous groups across the country. Nonetheless, how much longer can we go on trying to bring down a government through Facebook and Twitter? Sooner or later, people will want those at the top to be accountable to them.

On a smaller scale, this is equally essential. We are facing the most vicious cuts in living memory. Communities around the country are organising, but the pace is slow, and more so if three quarters of discussion regards the 1980s and not what we are facing now.

This debate will not end soon, and it is a healthy one to have. But the essential thing that the left must bear in mind is that if we become mere debating societies and cannot make firm and democratic decisions, Cameron and Osbourne will have the easiest four years of their lives, while the demonstrations get smaller and less focused. This is not 1968. There is no time to reminisce.

 

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3 comments

  1. Josiah you make a very valid point. We on the Left have always oscillated between “democratic centralism” and “democratic anarchy” whilst capitalism uses whatever is most effective.
    Essentially CACA needs:
    1. A person who books the regular meeting venue
    2. A facilitator appointed by consensus at the beginning of each meeting.
    3. Clear action points summarised at the end of each meeting – who does what.
    4.VERY BRIEF reports from sub groups e.g. trade unions/direct action/student action etc.
    5. An agenda for each meeting – this is not constrictive or undemocratic; people can know what to look for and spontaneous points can be raised under AOB.
    6. A list of attendees and contact details held by a reliable police informer – I like to be banged/propositioned up in good company !

    Written at the end of a Saturday bottle but lets at least have a discussion about how we progress.

    Howard

  2. While I would agree with much of what Howard said I think it is important to keep the structure as open and flexible as possible I have sat in far too many meetings where agendas and the committee structure are used by groups to straight jacket the meeting and stifle debate. The recent events in Egypt were not organised using a formal committee structure but in an ad hoc way.

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