The Problem of the Democratic Opposition Organization

Sinclair, Stewart

Year Published:  2014   First Published:  2010
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX17110

The basis for this proposal is an attempt to address the classic dilemma of the broad democratic opposition. In summary it is the need for a competent professional cadre to implement the changes needed, combined with the maintenance of a democratic and effective membership control of this 'elite'.



The problem starts when a core of professionals is brought into existence by opposition political parties and groups. They are first trained to run a party that can reach the people and win elections. But, often with the best of intentions, they start to believe that they know better than the broad membership.

More often than not, they are right, at the beginning. They are, after all, working at the problems constantly and are organized into small, coherent groups, while the broad membership is atomized and often inactive. The membership is also more likely to be influenced by the popular media, which is nearly always hostile to basic social and economic reform.

Before too long, the crew of full-time staff and parliamentarians takes effective control of the party and starts to steer its discussions and actions into channels they consider appropriate – channels that usually coincide with their career interests and/or their particular view of the world. Over time, unless these leaders happen to be very unusual, their personal interests will diverge from those of the broad membership as well as the people at large.

The next step in this process usually happens when this elite, which now has influence and even power in the public arena, is wooed and eventually bought out by powerful moneyed interests. If the leadership does not sell out, it may be punished. History is full of cases where a leadership that has resisted this process finds the movement infiltrated by security police agents and their stooges, who systematically organize a destructive opposition from within.


Mistakes in perspective and understanding can normally be corrected among peers. But a hierarchical structure, with its entrenched attitudes of superiority and interests in power, place or fame, resists correction to the bitter end.


A key part of this problem stems from the fact that the organizations are nearly always entirely in the public eye and have designated spokespersons. An empowered leadership in a large organization with ready access to the media as well as control of the general membership list is virtually impossible to remove, no matter how much they screw up or how rotten it gets – if it decides to hang on. Usually, the only thing that fixes this situation is the collapse of the whole organization.

To prevent this process, a movement must have:
- a clearly defined bottom-up structure, but
- no name or public face – as such

These features would prevent the media from being able to pressure the leaders and separate them from the membership. On the other hand, members would be free to participate in any political activity they felt suited their abilities and opportunities, and other members would not be pressured to justify or denounce those members’ actions to an uncomprehending and often hostile public. Nor would the organization be under immediate pressure to discipline members who had simply made mistakes.
To develop at all, people need to be able to make mistakes.

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