Breaking up the Party

© Sarah Bresee

If you are to read the articles here and and on discussing possible options for the future of the party then you could be fooled into thinking there was some kind of irreconcilable divide between two halves faction.  If the story is to be believed then the anarchists and stricter minarchists want a minimal party with loose or zero rules and which reflects the way they would want to run the country, and their own lives; and on the other side objectivists, conservative liberals and classicals who allegedly want a tightly controlled centralised unit and a volunteer army bound to follow the rules to which they must sign up to take part.

Since setting up the new I’ve had the privilege of being a little bit more involved and in receipt of a few more emails than most LPUK members, and I don’t see it. For a start, the most minarchist proposal comes from a classical, not an anarchist. The people I worked with sit in each ideological school and I don’t see them having irreconcilable differences either, I see them working hard toward the same goals. What is happening is that a few people setting out differing arguments about how to proceed, the suggestions are certainly incompatible – we can’t do both – but this doesn’t mean there is a war going on.

I think it is right, when we consider how to organise our own little corner of society, that we draw upon the ideas that determine how we would organise society as a whole, but we should remember that we are not organising society as a whole. We are not dealing with applying (nor removing from application) the violent force of law; and we are not dealing with the same numbers or kinds of people. Also, we are doing a particular job, one which might take hundreds of years, but one which should be at the centre of every decision. We should not over-extend our concepts of political organisation to the organisation of teams.

There is a politically correct notion that we should accept each other’s differences and find a way to work together with sweetness and love. This is obvious baloney as it requires us to reject our knowledge and judgment upon those differences. Taking this approach and smushing ourselves together into a sweetly disciplined sticky mess, can only produce fear. We will be eaten up, as society as a whole often is, by the dangers we fail to confront.

Similarly, there is Objectivist dogma that we must treat people with justice, which means recognising rotters as rotters based upon the content of their character, the philosophical basis of their actions. Am I then supposed to refuse to work with members from different philosophical schools because I disagree with them over whether, for example, poly-centric judicial systems are a sustainable model for organising society? No. This political disagreement need not interfere with the process of organising campaigns, giving out leaflets or having a beer and discussing health policy. The only possible basis for such tension is the over-extension of a political concept to a team scenario.

So just as we cannot paper over the cracks and deny we have differences, we should not reject the values we have to offer one another over differences which do not relate to our purpose. We shouldn’t impose upon or reject one another if it does not support our goals. Instead, we should discard those differences that divide us and leave them out of the end product.

For example, if it is wrong to impose a coherent manifesto on the membership, then should the Party continue to have a manifesto at all? Such documents are traditional but are they actually useful? They are not subject to “reasonable expectation” like a contract, they can and must vary according to circumstances, but they do serve the purpose of informing voters about policies. Can we publish something else – anything else – that tells the public what our policies are, without also claiming every member supports it and exactly the same policies will be adopted in power? Of course that is possible, it’s just odd.

To replace the manifesto I suggest a process of submitting categorised statements,  initially to the membership, and polling members to establish the genuine level of  support. Extremely unpopular policies (with less than, say, 5% of members’ endorsement) will remain private to the Party to prevent the creation of straw-men. To deal with the evolution of policy and ensure consistency it will be possible for members to withdraw their endorsement and force the removal of a policy statement from the public list. If this fails to occur then we can tune the process, perhaps by adding a cap to the number of statements a member can simultaneously endorse within a category.

If the Party is schizophrenic on one issue, or the top-polling policy lacks majority support then it will be clear that what happens in power (assuming it ever becomes an issue) is still up for discussion and may vary. This is mature and honest, and reasonably simple to understand as a voter. It is in effect an extra degree of transparency on top of what happens anyway within parties. The body of policies that do enjoy strong support will organically become part of the identity of the Party as it campaigns in the media and on the streets. Individual candidates should then disclose – in their own literature – which of the policies they support, so that the voters can make informed choices.

Similarly, if we want to have our robust policy discussion cake and eat the benefits of having a polished web presence free from swearing and libel, then might the solution be to separate those functions out and disperse them into network of affiliated organisations, each serving it’s own members interests? One email address and £30 buys a vote in the policy formation process, and in any other processes that becomes necessary, and all possible functions are then devolved to the affiliated group. As long as the number of unique email addresses, multiplied by 30 adds up to the affiliates’ annual donation then the contract is satisfied and there should be no technical or practical reason why the member cannot take part, even if they are not a direct member of the party.

The Surrey Anarchocapitalists Group,  for instance, can mount a campaign promoting poly-centric jurisdiction, hold a fierce debate on the topic with the London Objectivists Forum, then vote on policy statements as a block or by facilitating access to the voting system. Key, is that it will also organise local support for anarchocapitalist candidates standing under the Libertarian banner in Surrey. Can this be organised and disciplined? Sure, the process of finally voting on whether a policy statement is endorsed, and by whom, is a boring numerate process taking place  – in all likelihood – through a “My Party” section on the website, or via a programmers API and a series of federated voting user interfaces.

If it should turn out that the London Objectivists and Surrey Anarchocapitalists are too small to be effective, then a rival or merged South East Miniarchist Group might evolve. Just as a Tesco’s might become more popular than ASDA for shoppers buying food, overlapping groups of activist bodies would compete to serve the interests of groups that want to change public policy through this process.

The registered name and the freely evolving brand of the Libertarian Party would be available as a tool for all of these groups. Just as the web allowed a proliferation of web sites by defining the interface with web browsers (HTTP), and trade allows the proliferation of private firms by defining the terms of co-operation, the Libertarian Party would be the organising force of the libertarian movement as a whole by defining the interfaces between the Party and those groups. I mean as a whole, because the process of become an affliate would be open to existing libertarian organisations.

The next issue is how to define the interface between the Party and the public.

Simon Gibbs

Simon is a London based IT contractor and the proprietor of Libertarian Home. Working with logic and cause-and-effect each day he was naturally attracted to nerdy libertarianism and later to the benevolent logic of Objectivism. Find him on Google+