Friday, April 25, 2008

A local issue

At the first hustings meeting in Herne Hill when Bill stood in for Danny he must have promised a questioner from the Friends of Brockwell Park a reply from us on their objection to Lambeth Council's plan to take 1,000 sq metres of Brockwell Park for a new road. In any event we received an email reminder. Here's the Socialist candidates reply:

"Although you may have a valid case, I am standing in this election on the single issue of the profit system or socialism. I would be less than honest if I said the Socialist Party wanted you to vote for us just because we were against Lambeth Council's plan concerning Brockwell Park. The Socialist Party only wants the votes of those who agree with a fundamental change in the basis of society to one of common ownership and democratic control where things would be produced to meet people's needs rather than to make a profit as at present. In such a society human welfare would come first and there would not be commercial pressures that there are today to encroach on park lane to build a road."

Having said this, this sort of problem will also arise in a socialist society. Since apparently some people don't like us criticising the SWP, Militant and Gorgeous George too much and want us to be more positive, here's how William Morris explains in his socialist utopian novel News from Nowhere how this sort of problem might be tackled in a socialist society:

"Well," said he, "let us take one of our units of management, a commune, or a ward, or a parish (for we have all three names, indicating little real distinction between them now, though time was there was a good deal). In such a district, as you would call it, some neighbours think that something ought to be done or undone: a new town-hall built; a clearance of inconvenient houses; or say a stone bridge substituted for some ugly old iron one, - there you have undoing and doing in one. Well, at the next ordinary meeting of the neighbours, or Mote, as we call it, according to the ancient tongue of the times before bureaucracy, a neighbour proposes the change and of course, if everybody agrees, there is an end of discussion except about details. Equally, if no one backs the proposer - 'seconds him,' it used to be called - the matter drops for the time being; a thing not likely to happen amongst reasonable men however, as the propose is sure to have talked it over with others before the Mote. But supposing the affair proposed and seconded, if a few of the neighbours disagree to it, if they think that the beastly iron bridge will serve a little longer and they don't want to be bothered with building a new one just then, they don't count heads that time, but put off the formal discussion to the next Mote; and meantime arguments pro and con are flying about, and some get printed, so that everybody knows what is going on; and when the Mote comes together again there is a regular discussion and at last a vote by show of hands. If the division is a close one, the question is again put off for further discussion; if the division is a wide one, the minority are asked if they will yield to the more general opinion, which they often, nay, most commonly do. If they refuse, the question is debated a third time, when, if the minority has not perceptibly grown, they always give way; though I believe there is some half-forgotten rule by which they might still carry it on further; but I say, what always happens is that they are convinced not perhaps that their view is the wrong one, but they cannot persuade or force the community to adopt it."

"Very good," said I; "but what happens if the divisions are still narrow?"

Said he: "As a matter of principle and according to the rule of such cases, the question must then lapse, and the majority, if so narrow, has to submit to sitting down under the status quo. But I must tell you that in point of fact the minority very seldom enforces this rule, but generally yields in a friendly manner."

"But do you know," said I, "that there is something in all this very like democracy; and I thought that democracy was considered to be in a moribund condition many, many years ago."


Bill said...

Actually, my account of what I said: "I took the opportunity to simply say that the Socialist Party exists solely to help bring about socialism, if people want their junctions altering, they can do it themselves - hopefully in a democratic and friendly way." Is almost word for word what I did say.

TOM said...

A similar type of decision-making has been proven to work in practice. Consider the Town Hall Meeting in certain areas of the United States, especially New England. Would I be correct in saying that the distinction with Morris's Mote is that there is no coercive political authority, and so, in principle, the minority might force voting and discussion on any given issue in perpetuity? Morris's point, if I understand correctly, is that though this is a theoretical possibility in any such 'true' democratic system, in practice the minority would eventually yield due to the practical force of general agreement.