Thursday, September 18, 2014

UFT Caucuses and Loyalty Oaths - How About a UFT Cut-the-Strings, Free-the-Puppets Caucus?

Arthur Goldstein has another assault on Unity Caucus at NYC Educator (How About a UFT Cut-the-Strings, Free-the-Puppets Caucus?)
Arthur is often focused on the Unity Caucus loyalty oath. I believe this is the wrong terminology. Unity Caucus follows democratic centralism, a staple of the left since Lenin but also adopted by right wingers as a way to control the message and the membership. Lenin said "freedom of discussion, unity of action." The problem in Unity is that they never had freedom of discussion - it was one man or one woman rule. If Unity had a democratic structure where we could actually argue and discuss issues I could live with a loyalty oath.

Unity Caucus was founded by a right wing branch of the Socialist Party, Social Democrats USA, which operated under democratic centralism and they brought that to Unity Caucus, the mass organization they were embedded in. Then they used Unity Caucus to control the entire UFT. Al Shanker, Sandy Feldman and the entire leadership of the UFT were members of SDUSA. Randi seemed to abandon some of their  principles - or any principles in fact - so it was never clear of her connection. I always found it hard to believe that Shanker and Feldman would chose Randi if she didn't adhere to their politics. And knowing her, she may have convinced them and then once in power abandon them. Thus, Unity Caucus since Randi and Mulgrew no longer has a climate of SDUSA politics, which had a strong trade union bent. Some think Mulgrew had family union connections to SDUSA which was why he became UFT President.

Thus a relatively small group of people can control an entire union and even an entire nation. Thus the genius of Lenin and why he is so revered on the left. The Bolsheviks may have been the most successful party in history in their capture of Russia.
democratic centralism, decision-making practice and disciplinary policy adopted by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and subsequently followed by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and by communist parties in other countries.
Democratic centralism purported to combine two opposing forms of party leadership: democracy, which allows for free and open discussion, and central control, which ensures party unity and discipline. At the 10th Congress of the All-Russian Communist Party (1921), the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Ilich Lenin declared that the party was not a debating society in which all opinions were tolerated and freely expressed; it was a “vanguard” party whose role as leader of the revolution demanded extreme discipline and a high level of organization. Unrestrained discussion, he insisted, would produce intraparty disagreements and factions and prevent the party from acting effectively. On the other hand, absolute control by a centralized leadership would discourage new ideas from lower-level party members. Therefore, Lenin argued, free discussion within the party should be tolerated and even encouraged up to a point, but, once a vote was taken, all discussion had to end. The decision of the majority should constitute the current party “line” and be binding upon all members.
Which brings me to the role current Leninist party (ISO, PL, Socialist Alternative, Class Struggle) members play on even opposition caucuses like MORE and to some extent used to play in ICE. If the members of these organizations operate under loyalty oaths - ie - democratic centralism - and their parties internally take a stand on education and other related issues, then their members are bound by loyalty oath/democratic centralism to follow the party line in the mass organizations (Unity/UFT, ICE, New Action, MORE.)

I'll be writing more on this subject in follow-up posts.

I'll leave you with this from Arthur:
I have a novel idea.  What if democracy in the U.S. applied to our UFT?  What if the puppets and their allies press for a real voice, the freedom to vote their views or those of their constituency?  What if the puppets rise up en masse in rebellion and demand the dignity of exercising their rational power of thought?  Educators teach people to think, not blindly obey.  History teaches us the same.  Do I dream big?  Free the puppets!  Form a Cut-the-Strings Caucus.  Let the world know.  Liberate minds!  Liberate our union!  Let teachers think for themselves!

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry, and I love this blog, but there are quite a few misunderstandings about democratic centralism here. (This is not the fault of the author, but rather the source material: Encyclopedia Britannica, which contains hardly the most objective view of ideas, having referred to the Klan as the "protectors of the white race," as well as other, equally biased reports.) Neither the UFT nor the Unity caucus is run under such a system. First of all, under democratic centralism, delegates and members do not take any "loyalty oath," and vote as they please after a lengthy discussion (sometimes too long), and the length is more or less determined by the membership at large. (Keep in mind, I'm discussing this system as applied to a healthy organization, and I freely admit that it is quite often NOT.)

    Leadership elections could not be conducted the way they are in the UFT, because under democratic centralism, there is a strict quorum. Can this system be abused if other structures are added to rig how voting works? Can intimidation and even threats be used? Absolutely. Just like any system, it can be corrupted if the membership become passive and allow it to. (Which probably sounds awfully familiar to members of the UFT...) In any case, even Stalinist groups would never claim the election of a single leader was valid with 18% of the vote!

    But even the Democratic Party tends to stand united on controversial issues, for the most part. Every single one of them has sold the working class lock, stock, and barrel.

    The misunderstanding about Lenin is common and originates from the circumstances surrounding the point at which he died. The year before his death, it seemed to him that the presence of counter-revolutionaries within the party necessitated tightening up and cutting down on political freedom. I haven't read enough history to be certain whether this was based on paranoia. In any case, Lenin put some stringent practices in place, which he insisted were temporary measures. Unfortunately, he died soon thereafter, and Stalin stepped in, so those with a true knowledge of history do not revere these, originally temporary, practices, such as the banning of factions, shortened political discussion, or the concentration of power in the hands of very few people who are largely homogeneous and are extremely indirectly elected by the members. Secrecy and lack of accountability is also counter to this structure, even as it pervades some left groups today.

    Lenin is revered by many on the left because of his importance in the revolutionary and immediate post-revolutionary period, and is reviled by others because of really, really bad timing that allowed Stalin to insist he was carrying out the work of Lenin.

    I suggest reading some of what Trotsky wrote about democratic centralism. It is quite a democratic system, actually.

    Democratic centralism has definitely been abused and misused, just like every single governmental structure in history. But unless you're an anarchist, you have to pick one.

    I'm with Arthur Goldstein on this. The Unity loyalty oath is WAY scarier than "unity in action" because it goes farther, all the way to "unity in voting."

    However, I absolutely agree that caucus members should not be so tightly controlled by certain other groups with which they are affiliated when it comes to making decisions within a caucus. Some groups place a lot more trust in their members than others; some members are comfortable with a lot more freedom than others. And some groups have completely different interests / reasons for having representation in a caucus than others.


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