Learning from our mistakes

Bilden på Michael Moon och hans dotter som går i Barsebäcksmarschen (troligen från 1978)

Michael Moon 181003

(English summary of the text “Miljöpartiets väg i backspegeln”, previously published on this blog)

Even political parties can learn from their mistakes, provided they own up to them and do not try to blame on others. After almost four decades acquaintance with the Swedish Greens I can point to four problem areas.

1. Strength in numbers

In the hope that the newly formed party could accommodate just about any critic of the status quo, any cause, lost or otherwise, under the Green banner, new members were asked very few questions about how compatible their views might be with those of the party or with each others’. “Might these together amount to just a string of disparate viewpoints or could they constitute a coherent ideology” was a question that, as far as I know, was never raised, since that could have deterred prospective members from joining the cause. The overall policy was a carefree “The more, the merrier”. In this policy the greens were simply continuing the almost anti-theoretical attitudes of the non-parliamentary movement to which many of them (had) belonged. The debate on the party’s intranet forum was lively in those early days, but suffered from being a bit straggly and from time to time, downright “naivistic”. And so it went on for many years. Finally though, the party leadership lost its patience and failing to see any value of these deliberations, closed down both the intranet and the think tank. Since then all “internal” debate has been forced to continue in blogs and facebook groups run by private individuals.

2. Over-emphasising the National Level

In the longer term his tendency was conducive of for the centralisation of power in the hands of the party leadership, a tendency that became more pronounced and accelerated with the creation of the all-powerful Central Committee. The reasoning behind this and other organisational innovationswas to bring the Green Party into line with the conventional structures of political parties here; and this in spite of decentralisation having been a major plank in the party’s original platform. From about the turn of the century onwards there has been a number of blatant examples of the national leadership having ridden roughshod over local and regional party groups.

3. Is “Democratic Hygiene” Still a Priority?

When the party was young, much thought and energy were spent on putting in place checks and balances to safeguard the democratic workings of the party. This resulted in three precautionary measures: 1. equal representation of women and men; 2. the rotation principle (a maximum of holding the same office for three consecutive terms; 3. maximising the number of representative seats a single person could hold at any one time. Over time these restrictions (particularly the second and third ones) came in for considerable criticism on the grounds that they were impracticable and hindered the perceived need for greater professionalism in the party. Despite these criticisms I have seen no serious attempt to evaluate those regulations or to consider the need for further measures to reinforce the ones already in place. One obvious gap in the original safety net is that it has been possible for politicians to alternate from being external representatives to holding salaried positions within the party organisation and vice versa. With this loophole an elite cadre of professionals has established itself in the upper echelons of the party. However, if the party is to be a credible force for grass-root democracy it must address this question.

4. Green instrumentalism. Means and Goals Changing Places

When Greens here got together to start a political party, a major reason for doing so was to make their society more compatible with their surroundings. This was, and still is, the purpose of the project. However, as the party got under way it acquired a structure of its own, with physical dimensions (offices, web site, membership lists etc) and gradually developed an inherent drive to further its own well-being and survival. In Systems Theory this is referred to as a system’s inertia, its tendency to conserve its own identity. This often results in the system, in this case the party, transforming itself from simply being simply a means to an end, to become at least in part a goal in its own right. This transformation, which can be seen not only in political parties but in all manner of system-entities, constitutes “instrumentality”. The upshot of this is that an element of compromise inevitably creeps into the policies of the party. And indeed a political party, however critical it sees itself to be, has to learn the practicalities of negotiation and compromise. At the same time Greens know that there is no way by which we humans can strike deals with Mother Nature. We have here two paradoxical strands that must be woven into a single ideological cloth.

A major and pressing task for the greens is therefore to recognise the existence side by side of these seemingly contradictory positions and to realise that the problems arising from this is fuelling enmity between the differing factions in the party. It is a situation that is calling out for a resolution. But the party leadership is showing little or no interest in matters of political ideology, but is apparently intent on continuing as a (very junior) partner in a new coalition government, a government whose days seem numbered even before it’s been installed!