Complex social organisations are the collective means by which individuals aggregate common interests beyond primordial forms of identification (family, clan, etc.). The nature of the interest determines the type of social organisation. Interest and context determine the organising principles by which the collective is aggregated and represented.
The more an organisation becomes entrenched in the social fabric and serves as a landmark feature of the social order, the more it achieves institutional status. Institutions are characterised by their own structures, mores, norms and behavioural characteristics. For example, the military institution has organisational features and behaviours that are not the same as those of churches or sports associations. The Police and surf lifesaving have institutional cultures all of their own.
Political parties are social organisations created in pursuit of ideological, political or policy objectives.Well-entrenched political parties often achieve institutional status and serve as channels for aggregating political interests amongst the majority of the population.
With that in mind, and with an eye towards the rolling disaster that is otherwise known as the NZ Labour Party, here are some immutable laws of social organisation. They are a combination of Weberian, Michelian and Leninist principles with a bit Olsen, Offe and Wiesenthal thrown in.
Rule Number One: The bottom line of the organisation is to survive.
Rule Number Two: The organisation must succeed in achieving core goals in order to survive. Core goals and the pursuit of them are defined by the interests being represented, which involves agent-principal relations. Unlike interest aggregation manifest in social organisation under authoritarian conditions, in liberal democracies long-term collective representation is more consultative rather than directive when it comes to the relationship between agents and principals.
Rule Number Three: Core goals are strategic, not tactical.
Rule Number Four: Winning over competing groups is tactical, not strategic.
Rule Number Five: Leadership is about pursuing if not achieving core strategic goals based on collective interest. Tactical decisions are left to lieutenants who understand the strategic objectives at stake. Tactical decision-making should be seen as a step towards leadership but cannot infringe on the pursuit of core interests.
Rule Number Six: People may come and go but the organisation must live on.
This rule has two sub-components: 1) the organisation is more than the sum total of the people in it at any given time. It has history, traditions, rules, by-laws, informal and formal agencies, symbols, and physical assets that together make up the organisational context in which individual party members operate, features that remain long after individuals have left the scene; 2) the organisation is more important than the individuals within it at any given time, but it is only as good as the individuals that comprise its human element at any given moment. The quality of the people involved in the organisation determines its strength and resilience given the backdrop mentioned in component number one.
Rule Number Seven: The organisation is different from and not reducible to the ambitions of individuals or factions.
Rule Number Eight: While factions are inevitable in complex social organisations which aggregate heterogenous interests around core objectives, no single faction should dominate organisational logics and strategies given the diversity of interests at play. While an ebb and flow in dominant views can be expected given conjunctural conditions, prolonged domination of organisational representation or outlook by one faction is inimical to the organisation’s long-term health.
Rule Number Nine: Internal conflicts should focus on policy, not personality.
Rule Number Ten: Internal backstabbing and skullduggery may offer short term advantages for those involved but can backfire over the long-term and are corrosive on morale of the organisation in any event.
Rule Number Eleven: Internal quarrels are like family feuds–they need to be kept within the organisation because exposure to outsiders aggravates, complicates and makes such conflicts more difficult to resolve since the interests of outsiders come into play.
Rule Number Twelve: Social organisations are more than marriages of convenience and should be treated as such. That means purging the organisation of those who see it in opportunistic or instrumental rather than principled terms.
Rule Number Thirteen: If the organisation cannot abide by the first twelve rules, it fails the basic test of representation and should reorganise or cease to exist.
These rules are simplified and in no way novel or exhaustive. Let them merely serve as a reminder of the basics of organisational survival.
It is precisely because of this that Labour’s current woes are all the more alarming for those who would otherwise see it as the preferred vehicle for channeling political aspirations. Â If it cannot adhere to the basic rules for survival, then it is even less likely that it can become successful anytime in the near future. To the contrary, although it may remain alive in name it is now closer to organisational demise than it is to renewal.
Contenders, pretenders, opportunists, fence straddlers and hangers-on in the Labour Party ranks need to be cognisant of this fact. After all, they may be clinging to different lifelines but they are taking on water together.