Democracy from Above and Below

Although they take distinctly different positions concerning the internal democracy of the revolutionary party, I must take issue with both Partisan and Red Action. (O.P.No.4.)

F.Gordon claims that Red Action's position is a revisionist one because it argues that 'a dictatorship of the proletariat' in any Marxist sense 'had ceased in the Soviet Union 'while Lenin himself was still the leading personality and theoretician amongst the Bolshevik leaders.

Recent developments in both the CPSU in the Soviet Union and the CPGB in Britain certainly demonstrate that the revisionist retreat from Marxism invariably begin with attacks on the 'authoritarianism' of Lenin, but despite Gordon's numerous references to Marx, Red Action can hardly fit into that category for it has to arrive at, before it can retreat, from Marxism.

He argues that Lenin's 'authoritarianism' came with 'one man management' in industry and was then developed with an 'explicitly political dimension' in Lenin's 'Left Wing communism' of 1920. In the relevant section of that pamphlet, Lenin was, in fact, dealing with those who were attacking the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Germany, the self-styled 'opposition in principle', who asserted that there were two Communist parties arrayed against each other:

'One, a party of leaders, which strives to organise the revolutionary struggle and direct it from above, which resorts to compromises and parliamentarianism.... The other, is a mass party, which relies upon the upsurge of the revolutionary struggle from below... which rejects all parliamentary and opportunist methods. ... There - the dictatorship of the leaders; here - The dictatorship of the masses: - this is our slogan.

Lenin had this to say about that opposition:

The very presentation of the question - 'dictatorship of the Party or dictatorship of the class, dictatorship (Party) of the leaders or dictatorship (Party) of the masses?' - is evidence of the most incredible and hopeless confusion of mind. People try very hard to invent something extraordinary, and in their effort to be wise they become ridiculous.

And later, in a few sentences that we could regard as a response to Red Action's emotive appeal for unconditional democracy within the revolutionary organisation. Lenin had this to say;

'Repudiation of party and party discipline - this is what the opposition amounts to. And this is tantamount to completely disarming the proletariat for the benefit of the bourgeoisie. It is equivalent to precisely that petty-bourgeois diffuseness, instability, incapacity for sustained effort, unity and organised action, which, if indulged in, must inevitably destroy every proletarian movement. From the standpoint of communism, repudiation of party means leaping from the eve of the collapse of capitalism (in Germany), not to the initial, or middle, but to the higher phase of communism.

But Marxist-Leninists cannot rest content with what Lenin had to say on these matters over seventy years ago. Despite its anarchist leanings, the questions raised by Red Action have to be addressed.

So it is here that I also take issue with Partisan's assertion that 'democratic centralism is indeed 'merely' on organisational form, which is not appropriate under special, extreme conditions.' and with its implication that democratic centralism can be abandoned in areas where conditions of secrecy apply but 'still operate in other structures of The Party'

Democratic centralism has to be applied throughout the party structure in order for it to remain as a political and organisational principal in which the party centre, its congress takes the decisions that are binding upon all its members and that, of course, must includes its leaders. In abnormal conditions, of secrecy and illegality under capitalism and of extreme conditions in the international class war under socialism, the principle of democratic centralism may be abandoned. Democracy is then restricted to certain areas decided on by the central committee that was elected at the previous party congress. In that sense, with decisions being taken on behalf of the party by its elected leadership, democratic centralism of a kind still prevails but, only for a time. Eventually the time comes when democratic centralism is replaced, in effect, by direction from an unelected leadership. This is why it is so supremely important to regard democratic centralism, not as a mere organisational form, but as a political and organisational principle.

Partisan points out that, 'The long-standing refusal of British revolutionaries to insist upon the right, in one form or another, to evaluate and criticise their leaders ... reflects not the failure of democratic centralism, but the amateurishness of these revolutionaries.'

With the 'political retirement' of millions of communists in the Soviet Union, amateurishness and a refusal to criticise leaders is certainly not confined to British revolutionaries. Such attitudes, in fact, reflect the tradition of regarding the leadership of the party, not simply as the agent of the party centre, its congress, but as the centre itself, responsible for the development of the party programme to which the party congress is then 'expected' to adhere.

If we are to achieve, as Partisan puts it, a 'Democratic Centralism appropriate to a mass Party of action' then we have firstly to ensure that programme, strategy and tactics emanate from above, at the party congress and are then directed from below, in the first instance by the national leadership.

Jane Danes