2013-09-01 Detached Reflections on Resignations from the Party of Transparency

Daniel Matthews offers a furtive thought in the context of his resignation
on behalf of pure democracy:

[Julian] really ought not to have set up a party with internal democracy. As his own political self, he has many innovative ideas, influence, eloquence, knowledge, and skills. Despite recent events, his election as a senator is still probably the most potent possible outcome of the upcoming election.

The nub of the problem as outlined in Daniel's lengthy post appeared summarised elsewhere by Leslie Cannold:

At one point, there was a direct challenge to the council's democratic right to decide and implement decisions about preference and instead proposed that it become a rubber stamp. This was rejected by council.

One of the paradoxical things about democracy is that it is perfectly capable of compromising itself, and conceivably for its own good in certain circumstances.

For instance, if the internally non-democratic party Daniel thinks Julian should have set up had won the vote, then this would have been a good thing according to Daniel's view quoted above. So democracy would have triumphed through such a vote, despite it being a less than ideally democratic party that was voted for.

Thus it seems a party with a platform of democratic transparency and accountability does not have to be democratic, transparent and accountable in all conceivable respects. At least, not according to the most articulate advocate of those ideals in the recent affair.

Nonetheless, the resignees clearly think that the "rubber stamping" Julian wanted was too much of a debasement of democracy to vote for, in their now ended role in the WikiLeaks Party National Council.

We've had various statements and opinions from insiders to this affair, yet a complementary analysis of the relevant principles seem available to any detached observer:

The council might have pragmatically noted that its unique experiment of internal party democracy had an option of surviving instead of imploding under Julian's will or exploding against it. Nothing I've read has clarified why this internal democracy should have preferred martyrdom in operatic style to retreating and digging in for a workable evolution, somewhere between its purest ideal and the internally non-democratic party that Daniel depicted as worthy.

It might then have voted in more strategic accordance with the realisation that there would be no present or ongoing WikiLeaks party without Julian's patronage, and that if he thought the preference issue was make-or-break for the election then he might leverage that capital to the full against any resistance, even if it came to half the council resigning.

But things aren't always so clear in a contest of wills where the outcome is uncertain, and if the shared ideal of internal party democracy might crash through, why flinch in such a bracing game of chicken?

Reasons why were just outlined, yet no band of activists is distinguished by compromise, and considering grey-area grievances, bruised egos and similar trappings of intra and inter-party politics, it's not hard to understand how profanities hit the Twitter fan.

But in what ways are the ideals of democracy, transparency and accountability most importantly at stake?

Transparency and accountability are exclusively valuable to keep power duly beholden to the genuine interests of citizens, and are otherwise just instruments of oppression, most prolific in surveillance and police states.

Their ideality broadly concerns the direction of empowerment from governed to governing and not vice versa. But that gets easily obfuscated, which is why we need the consciences of whistleblowers and radical publishers.

Both will likely have things to duly hide from establishment, and perhaps even from close associates. So might any activist collective or sub-collective. Privacy, confidentiality or secrecy are not always less pertinent than transparency, exceptionally even at the heart of an evil empire.

The main criteria for deciding the relative importance of a specific instance or institution of transparency or accountability is overall impact on subjects to a system.

Voters don't need to know if Bill lied to Hillary about Monica, or Julian's detailed reply to every evidence-free speculation about his amorous misadventures. Nor do they need or likely wish to know everything about how preferences were settled in the WikiLeaks party.

And if a regrettable portion of the WikiLeaks party were demoralised or even defected in disgust at a perceived affront to the excellent senator Ludlam, should voters give half a percent about that either?

Players need to vie among themselves with evidence-based ammunition, and this may or may not explain the council resolution for independent review of the preferences issue before the election. But there's no absolute justification of such review from any general and ideal conception of the importance of transparency and accountability in a democracy. Everyone learns in the playground that broad principles are readily shoe-horned into power plays, yet have little validity outside a due sense of perspective.

The current perspective suggests a direction less tragic than any terminating in echoes of indignant idealism. The WikiLeaks party has had noisy teething trouble, some have left and probably everyone could have done better. So what? The election is not blown by it, and the vision of internal party democracy and transparency will mature even without its most recently ardent voices.

The emotional dynamics of political activity are typically fraught and fleeting, while all that ever matters is the world.