Experimentia Est Optima Rerum Magistra

With the unambiguous triumph of the market over the plan, and the ascendancy of private over collective property, 'existing' socialism in the 20th Century is all but extinguished. A grim and sobering picture for British Revolutionaries? Not a bit of it. Unperturbed by Communism's collapse, the British Marxist is ready for business as usual.

Any number of new and absorbing games are on offer. The warm and homely security of bourgeois democracy enables us to play on uninterrupted. New and endless divisions are spawned and go unchecked. Sectarian grouplets continue to gleefully spurn each other. Leaders continue to sit upon unelected thrones, untouched by the winds of counter-revolution, save for those whose palaces were built by Moscow Gold. Loyal and dedicated followers are recruited in such feeble numbers that most organisations cannot boast troops exceeding double figures - and this in a population that boasts a proletariat in excess of ten million! And. to paraphrase V.I.Lenin, not a single piece of military hardware in sight. But when has irrelevance to and isolation from the working class ever been an impediment to revolutionary pretensions in this green and pleasant land. The crumbs of the empire, though perhaps less plentiful than in previous decades, still permit any number of perfectly harmless amusements for the 'seriously committed' revolutionary, save of course those with Fenian connections.

One such amusement, very much in vogue, is the painting of gloomy scenarios; 'Bolshevism is wiped from the face of the Earth! Imperial conquest resumes....Transnationals re-divide the world. Lenin is dead Marx was wrong....Marx is dead, Lenin was wrong. Beware the march of the Forth Reich!' There is no end to these visions of hell. The more hellish the picture the more serious the revolutionary. Socialism's epitaphs roll off the tongue. 'Menshevism's triumph .... 'Planning is anathema....Revisionism is rampant....Despondency threatens all....' Whole treatise are devoted to these themes. Dismissing the future of the working class is a particularly popular sport. A typical opening might begin;

'The British working class, bruised by eleven years of authoritarian monetarism, dispirited by blatant collaboration of its leaders, and atomised by capitalism's relentless restructuring is incapable of fresh combat....'

Who amongst us has not dabbled in this most pleasant of pastimes?

And now the speed of counter-revolution renders even the gloomiest of our scenarios redundant, thus we have a game without end. Hardly a game though, judging by the proliferation of glossy magazines - more of a flourishing cottage industry for the literate but itinerant Communist.

Other games too are played in our tiny Marxist clubs. The unravelling of the contradictions between the subjective failures of Communists and the objective limitations of socialist construction is a popular favourite both in 'dispassionate' academic circles and in the more partisan political rags. Bitter assessments and re-assessments give way to internal recriminations over lost opportunities and mis-leadership. New journals proliferate, compete with and supersede each other.

With this flurry of activity the intelligentsia is back in demand. Political economy is revisited. Historical parallels are drawn, rejected and re-drawn. Lenin's volumes are re-examined for fresh clues. Kautsky, Bernstein and Martov are exhumed and reviled with fresh intensity. Marx and Engels are once again consulted. Everywhere left fractions Jostle with each other for Bolshevik orthodoxy.

Now tomes are written on the historical significance of Perestroika - its origins, its essence and its future. Some are forthright in their praise or denunciation, others equivocate. Pro-Sovietism takes on a changed complexion. New alliances are tentatively broached rekindling fresh dreams of proletarian advance.

Some now seek to bury forever the dogged ghosts of Djugashvili and Bronstein, claiming the old rivalries have run their course. But other comrades still call for the full state rehabilitation of their favourite sons and vilify their old comrades as turncoats.

And lest we forget that with the sudden disappearance of the East-West focus, even comrade Mao's Three World Theories are back on the drawing board. New times, new heroes, new villains.

So it becomes clear that contrary to earlier expectations, Socialism's demise has not atrophied Britain's revolutionary vanguards but instead has created a whirlwind of Marxist intellectualising, a fresh round of factional feuding and a good measure of 'I told you so's' equal to any in Marxism's short and illustrious history.

If I have portrayed Britain's post-war contribution to revolutionary history as a trivial pursuit it is because I fear I have spent some twenty years of my life caught in a futile web, either doing right things in the wrong order or doing wrong things in no order. As for me - so for others. The net result - very little.

How then to break this chain of revolutionary impotence? This is both a simple yet profound question that ought to absorb those that do not wish only to philosophise about the world. But we should walk before we run. Firstly we must resolve if it is at all possible to build even the smallest of revolutionary parties given the relative remoteness of Britain's proletariat from imperialism's sharp end. Knowing the corporate strategies and imperialist tit-bits that dampen the class fires. And given the relative stability and manoeuvrability of the imperial centres at the expense of the impoverished and fascist controlled hinterlands, is all honest revolutionary sentiment in Britain doomed to voluntarist posturing and empty phrase-mongering? To put it bluntly; can a revolutionary vanguard be built in present British conditions? Irritating as these questions maybe, they must be answered in the bleak light of day.

If we conclude that current objective circumstances render a revolutionary party a non-starter then we should direct our energies to the vital tasks of international solidarity and domestic reforms. We should fight either inside or alongside social democratic parties employing our communist vision, discipline and dedication to win or preserve democratic reforms, thereby limiting the manoeuvrability of our Imperialist circles. In so doing we could reasonably expect that the weakest links in the imperialist chain would be more prone to rupture. The obvious example - the larger the mass opposition to Tory support for Apartheid, the less room for open manoeuvre by British Imperialism and the greater the opportunities for the South African national liberation movement. Admittedly it is impossible to quantify the extent to which public sentiment and mass demonstrations in Capitalist centres have on Imperialist policy. Nevertheless, the old truism 'something is better than nothing' comes into play.

On the domestic front spirited lobbying of social democratic politicians using the lever of extra parliamentary activity would serve as a valuable counterweight to the inevitable rightward drift of social democratic policy. By so doing, we might reasonably expect to make life marginally more difficult for local capitalism to avoid the tendency for its rate of profit to fall. Simultaneously we could provide co-ordination for whatever struggles emerged, in the hope that when objective conditions become less favourable to capitalist stability the 'left' would be in a better position to capitalise.

Here then is a plausible and constructive course that seems to conform with the objective possibilities available in an imperialist centre that is experiencing a lengthy period of relative economic stability. But, I hear you sneer, the above scheme is identical to the policies and philosophy of Russian Menshevism, - and you would be absolutely right because that is precisely what It is - left wing reformism that differs only in degree to what any social democratic party can offer! It is completely devoid of revolutionary content. The subjective intent of its advocates may well be impeccable but its objective results in terms of 'pushing' capitalism into the dustbin of history would be negligible. At its best it would be an irritant on the back of the capitalist juggernaut, at worst it would provide capitalist society with a useful safety valve for tortured liberal souls. This is said in no way to negate the essential dialectical relationship between reform and revolution, nor to demean those hundreds of thousands of activists and millions of workers who for greater or lesser parts of their lives are involved in some way in defending or winning vital democratic reforms. The slur is directed only at those who profess to be revolutionary communists (and there can be no other type) but who opt for a reformist path. (The distinction between reform and reformism has been so thoroughly dealt with by Lenin that it would be mere repetition to re-rehearse the argument here).

For Communists the reformist scheme is flawed in two essentially related aspects. Firstly it is flawed in that it postpones indefinitely the intractable problem of building the type of party that can act as an effective 'General Staff' to a proletariat that has become disaffected with and combative towards a Capitalist State that is no longer able to govern bourgeois-democratic forms. This vanguard party must be sufficiently disciplined to be able to advance and retreat in an orderly manner, to educate itself and the working class beyond a social democratic consciousness, and to survive against the fascistic rigours of the Bourgeoisie's Dictatorship. This was Lenin's party of a new type - the very type of party that provoked the split in the RSDP. To this essential revolutionary ingredient we shall return presently.

The reformist schema however is flawed for another and perhaps even more fundamental reason. It everywhere and at all times fails to direct its 'comrades' to the weakest link in our own Imperialist chain. For French Communists in the 1950's that link was undoubtedly Algeria. For American Communists in the late 1960's it was Vietnam. For British Communists that link has always been, still is, and will likely continue to be Ireland. Quite simply, to fail to grasp the Irish link is to fail to be revolutionary, and to render the notion of party building a nonsense. On this point it is instructive to quote Lenin verbatim;

'The whole art of politics lies in finding and taking as firm a grip as we can of the link that is least likely to be struck from our hands, the one that is most important at the given moment, the one that most of all guarantees the possessor the possession of the whole chain.'

So in what way does the Irish link lead British revolutionaries to the 'whole chain'? We can edge indirectly towards that answer via the now defunct Proletarian. One of Proletarian's two critically important contributions to Communist theory in this country involved their penetrating exposure of the profoundly economistic and tailist weaknesses of the British Communist movement and the resultant leftist offshoots that inevitably developed. So adamant was Proletarian, that economism was the key weakness that it was determined that this must be the link to grasp in order to one day possess the whole chain. Indeed Proletarian called upon the very words of Lenin quoted above to Justify their preoccupation with and denunciation of economism. In Proletarian's own words they spoke of:

'....the principle weakness of the Communist movement in this country and the main cause of helplessness in the lace of revisionism i.e. economism and tailism.'

I have never doubted that Proletarian were absolutely correct in lambasting the crass economism of the CPGB and its two principal offspring the NCP and the then CCG (now CPB). But I have always had a nagging doubt that to isolate the struggle against economism as the principal route to the Promised Land was not correct. There has always been the suspicion that what Proletarian were offering was essentially an idealist formulation i.e. one that elevated the consciousness over that of material being. What Proletarian could never satisfactorily explain was how this new non-economistic consciousness was to be arrived at. What material conditions would Proletarian's young comrades go through that would enable them to avoid what earlier generations had not? Was the mere reading of Proletarian Journals to be enough to raise comrades to this higher plane?

To be fair to Proletarian their second major contribution to Communist theory in Britain was their yet to be surpassed analysis of Ireland from a World Communist perspective. Fighting against economism and fighting for Ireland -this seemed to be a winning formula that would secure a party of a new type. But the chicken and the egg syndrome came in to play -what was to come first? Citing Proletarian's own list of priorities we were told under the 'Main Tasks Confronting Proletarian';

'Firstly to establish firmly the need for fully conscious understanding of the World Revolutionary process in its entirety, to outline its main features and the role and character of the proletarian revolution internationally in the present epoch, and train revolutionaries on this basis. In order to do this, it is necessary to develop a publication aimed at the advanced workers.... 'Secondly, to present a Marxist-Leninist analysis of the Irish struggle....in keeping with the decisive significance which the struggle of this oppressed nation has for the British working class. Irish revolutionary democracy....will constitute a major political force in the proletarian revolution in Britain....'

Now if Proletarian's use of the English language is the same as mine and 'first' means 'first', then I can only interpret the above order of priorities to place consciousness before matter. How is this consciousness of the World Revolutionary Process' in its entirety is going to descend upon young white British Communists, surrounded as they are by Imperialism's living diversions if not through bloody confrontation with the Bourgeois State. Black comrades may well have the dubious privilege of this necessary experience, though for white Communists living in Britain this bloodying can only be possible through integrating ourselves fully into the anti-imperialist struggle of the Irish revolutionary nationalists.

Even a cursory glance at Marx's writings on Ireland Indicate a crystal clear awareness of Ireland's critical importance to the English struggle for socialism. In a letter written in 1870 Marx wrote of the English working class antagonisms towards the Irish;

'This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the Capitalist class maintains its power. And that class is fully aware of it.'

In a letter to Engels a year earlier Marx offered the now infamous;

'The English working class will never accomplish anything before it has got rid of Ireland. That is why the Irish question is so important for the social movement in general..'

In that same year, Marx, in a letter to Ludwig Kugelmann wrote;

'I have become more and more convinced ....that it (the English working class) can never do anything decisive here in England until it separates its policy with regard to Ireland most definitely from the policy of the ruling classes, until it not only makes common cause with the Irish but actually takes the initiative in dissolving the Union established in 1801...And this must be done, not as a matter of sympathy with Ireland but as a demand made in the interests of the English proletariat. If not, the English people will remain tied to the leading strings of the ruling classes, because it will have joined with them in a common front against Ireland.'

It is not difficult to gauge where Marx saw British Imperialism's weakest link. I have said nothing that is not already well known by those on the left who are worth their salt. But the sticking point for Britain's Communists is not so much 'knowing' where the weakest link is but in actually grasping it!

One hundred and twenty years have elapsed since Marx's correspondence yet little has changed in respect to British Imperialism's Achilles heel. Proletarian was nearly right though when they spoke of Irish Revolutionary Democracy constituting 'a major political force in the proletarian revolution in Britain', although they should have written, '....the major political force....' Proletarian was absolutely right however when they went on to note that;

'Irish revolutionary democracy....can expose the narrow national outlook of Communism in this country....and also penetrates the social-pacifist, social -chauvinist disease of bourgeois respectability that affects the upper layer of the working class and the white collar intelligentsia'.

Ireland then is not an optional extra for British revolutionaries, nor is it as Marx pointed out, '... a matter of sympathy with Ireland....' it is the key- the only key at present to a revolutionary consciousness for British revolutionaries. This in turn can lead to a consciousness of the many weaknesses of the British Communist movement - economism, tailism, leftism and dogmatism.

The Bolsheviks, Lenin included, initially became revolutionaries not because of their study of Marx but because of their living experience of Tsarist brutality. Their thorough study of Marxism then enabled them to become effective revolutionaries. From that point onwards Lenin correctly assessed that the link in the chain to be grasped was that of organisation, In this respect Proletarian made a fatal mistake by directly drawing a parallel between 1890's Tsarist Russia and 1980's Imperialist Britain, instead of scientifically examining the realities of Britain in the 1980's Proletarian mechanically applied the reality of 1890's Russia to our own very different circumstances. In so doing, Proletarian Inadvertently missed the first and vital step on the revolutionary road In this country -that of confronting - in reality- the British state and its Imperialist occupation of Ireland. The result of this mechanical theorising was a tragicomedy of near Shakespearean proportions (complete with its 'great' but 'fatally flawed' leader).

For Proletarian it was a case of doing good things in the wrong order. Proletarian's best endeavours to build a Communist organisation of a new type by primarily exposing the rank economism of the British Communist movement came to nothing for the very reason that Ireland, while pronounced central to their work, always remained a distant second to Proletarian's preoccupation with economism. Had the equation been reversed, Proletarian's young comrades would have had no surplus energies with which to indulge in the petty-bourgeois antics that eventually destroyed the organisation. To put it bluntly, bright middle class activists that are not totally absorbed with grasping their own imperialism's weakest link will inevitably fall prey to quirky personality squabbles.

It is ironic that an organisation that spends the least effort on raising the consciousness and theoretical development of its members, an organisation that has the least respect for the Leninist concept of the Party of a New Type, has perhaps made the greatest progress in raising the 'revolutionary consciousness' of its members. The organisation I refer to goes by the name of Red Action, an apt name perhaps when one considers Red Action's pre-occupation of getting 'stuck in' to fascist groups. For those who are not familiar with this anarchistic outfit, it is worth noting that on one of the rare times that they ventured into the world of theory, they informed their readers of the fundamental opposites of Marxism and Leninism. Marxism, we were told, stood for the Dictatorship of the Proletariat while Leninism stood for the Dictatorship of the Party. The article's logic was routinely predictable.

It is not Red Action's forays into theoretical denunciations of Leninism, nor their 'theoretical' elaborations on Ireland with their alleged bi-partisan support for the IRA and the INLA that is of interest here, but rather their practical activities on the streets of Britain that makes this organisation of particular significance. (That they often execute their valuable anti-fascist service unilaterally is as much due to the sectarian failings of the 'orthodox' communist movement in this country as it is of Red Action's own anarchistic adventurism). Notwithstanding their leftist and sometimes lumpen approach, at the end of the day it will likely be the working class youth currently in the employ of Red Action that are going to learn the bitter but necessary lessons of what the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie is, in essence, all about.

It is indeed ironic that anarchistic organisations of the ilk of Red Action, organisations that are so disdainful of Leninist theory are, by their direct confrontation with street fascism in Britain, most likely to come to know the necessity for a highly centralised, highly disciplined, vanguard party. Despite their avowed contempt for Leninism organisations Iike Red Action have the potential to produce comrades that will be amongst the first in this country to come to a profound understanding of Lenin's revolutionary practice - far more likely than Proletarian's esoteric scholars.

I am not by the way, advocating the wholesale involvement of disillusioned and homeless communists into the ranks of Red Action (although there are conceivably worse courses of action for those at a loose end). On the contrary, Red Action's young recruits, will need one day, to be persuaded into the ranks of a 'revolutionary' British Communist Party, whereby the directness of Red Action's approach can be wedded to the profundity of Leninist theory. Before that happy day arrives Britain's revolutionary youth will need to be convinced that 'our' revolutionary theory has been tested by revolutionary praxis, and is not merely an intellectual by-product of our university campuses.

The very word praxis has been defined and redefined on countless occasions by Marxists over many decades, though in its crudest sense it must essentially mean the carrying out in practice of revolutionary theory in order to test and develop that theory - the unity of theory and practice. The question that arises, as with any dialectical relationship, concerns the primacy of the one aspect over and above the other. On this point Lenin was clear:

'The viewpoint of life, of praxis should be the first and the basic viewpoint of the theory of knowledge.' And again, 'Practice is higher than theoretical knowledge for it has not only the dignity of universality, but also of immediate actuality.'

Put in its most direct, Engels expressed the unity of theory and practice, emphasising the primacy of practice as follows;

'But before there was argumentation there was action, (in the beginning was the deed). The proof of the pudding is in the eating.'

The same equation is expressed by Marx as;

'the resolution of theoretical contradictions is possible only in a practiced way, only through the practical energy of man. '

Now theorists may agree or disagree on this or that nuance of the word but for those who are intent on changing the world the meaning of Praxis is crystal clear. No political vanguard worth its name will come into being without firstly experiencing the heat of the battle. Only through the crucible of revolutionary praxis can come the revolutionary vanguard and through no other path.

China's foremost though much maligned revolutionary, focussed on the question of revolutionary praxis in his celebrated essay, 'On Practice.' Here again is an elaboration concerning theory and practice, their development and their connection. In his starkly profound language Mao explained;

'Anyone who thinks that rational knowledge need not be derived from perceptual knowledge is an idealist...'

Mao continued;

'... you must personally participate in the practical struggle to damage realty, for only thus can you come into contact with them (reality) as phenomena; only through personal participation in the practical struggle to change reality can you uncover the essence of those things and comprehend them.'

Clearly then, it is not possible to move to the higher stage of cognition - that of logical knowledge until one has a profound conceptual knowledge of a thing. The two stages of cognition while dialectically linked are two qualitatively different stages. That Proletarian sought to skip the first stage of cognition rendered their 'theoretical' knowledge useless.

Perhaps I have presented the process of cognition in a wooden and mechanical way. Surely mankind has amassed a great deal of 'logical' knowledge through its long and tortured collective path of practical activity. This is particularly true of the world's revolutionary movement. If so, is it always necessary for revolutionaries to go back to the very first square of the cognitive process? Were not Proletarian correct in utilising those lessons already learned by the Russian Bolshevik's and applying them directly to the current British situation? Is it necessary for British revolutionaries to get their hands badly burnt in order to 'know' that fire is hot? Must all British revolutionaries start at the same place as Red Action before they can 'know' the truth of Leninism?

While there is no universal 'yes' or 'no' answer to these somewhat rhetorical questions, a cursory glance at British success in revolutionary party building would indicate that we have achieved almost nothing in this field. From this we must conclude that we are either failing to learn the right theoretical lessons from our international comrades, or alternatively that we are making the mistake of repeatedly skipping the first stage of cognition i.e. that of perceptual knowledge. It is to the latter alternative that I believe that we must look to understand our hopeless impotence.

Is it an either/or scenario then? Should we either plunge ourselves headfirst into an armed struggle a la Brigatta Rouge or should it be the production of long, turgid theoretical texts along the lines of Proletarian's journals? Is it a stark choice between one or the other?

It would seem that a 'common-sense' approach to the question of cognition would reject such a mechanical course and instead demand the formulation of a living programme which would allow the stages of cognition to develop in a dialectical fashion. It is precisely the either/or approach that has bedevilled and stalled the building of the political vanguard in this country. A myriad of tiny organisations locked against each other by the omniscience of their ideological dogma, each clinging to a small fragment of 'theoretical' knowledge, but all failing, to a greater or lesser degree to grasp that vital practical link, that essential knowledge gained through praxis - that first but all important stage on the road to rational knowledge.

It is true that Britain's revolutionary groups have in some way attempted to blood their comrades into practical activity, in the 1970's the SWP initiated the Anti-Nazi League, in the 1980's the RCP launched its Irish Freedom Movement, and the RCG their Non-Stop Picket. More recently The Leninist has attempted to mobilise around Its Hands Off Ireland. Other practical work has been conducted through the channels of Troops Out, Anti- Fascist Action. CM) and the mainstream AAM. Yet all of this 'practical' activity amounts to very little. It is all largely of a solidarity or as Marx described it, of a 'sympathy' character. In each case comrades approach this work as an added extra to 'their' organisational activities. Nowhere can it be said that British revolutionary organisations have seized upon the question of British imperialism's bloody role in Ireland as the basis of revolutionary praxis. Some have done more solidarity work than others; some have been more militant in their solidarity work than others. Yet not one of Britain's revolutionary vanguards can boast that it has hundreds, tens or even one of its comrades rotting in a British Jail for the 'crime' of opposing the British occupation of Ireland. This at a time when hundreds of Irish revolutionary nationalists continue to live and die in British concentration camps.

Must we rely on Irish nationalists to come to the British mainland to plant incendiary devices outside British Army recruitment offices? Are we British too civilised to conduct the revolutionary struggle in such a manner? Are Her Majesty's Loyal Communists too committed to parliamentary democracy to resort to such 'barbaric' acts? As the Irish revolutionary democrats have often explained 'one bomb in the British mainland is worth one hundred military targets in the six counties,' yet still we hide behind our 'theoretical' polemics of Soviet politics of the 1920's and 1930's. Shall we enter the new millennium producing still more of the same? For all their denunciations of Leninism and their disdain for theory it is the comrades of Red Action that seem less preoccupied with these old outmoded agendas. To the revolutionary left it must be said: By our jail sentences so shall we be judged!

But if the sharp theoretical criticisms by Marx, Engels and Lenin towards Bakunin and the Russian Narodniks are still relevant then Red Action's anarchistic approach cannot alone lead to success. Red Action's inability or unwillingness to, 'firstly reflect a thing in its totality, to reflect its essence, to reflect its inherent laws... to reconstruct the rich data of sense perception' (of which they have no shortage) '...of discarding the dross and selecting the essential, eliminating the false and retaining the true... in order to form a system of concepts and theories', is inevitably forging an impotence every bit a powerful as that created by Proletarian.

I have focussed on these two organisations, Red Action and Proletarian, because in some sense they represent two poles of the one problem. While Red Action seems content to wallow' on the fringes of the first stage of cognitive development with little apparent interest in raising themselves to a theoretical plain, Proletarian (now defunct) sought to jump immediately into the rarefied air of 'pure' logic without first having dirtied their boots in the real world of sensory perception.

My aim has not been to denigrate either organisation-quite the opposite. Both the above mentioned have sought, within the confines of their own self-imposed straightjackets, to inject some revolutionary incisiveness into their daily routines. This at least should be acknowledged. Rather than denigrate, the aim must be to construct a revolutionary agenda that is both contemporary and realisable, an agenda that breaks irrevocably from the ideology of reformism and social democracy, one that sees a revolutionary overthrow of British imperialism in Ireland as a task for today and not just for tomorrow. It must be an agenda that fully recognises that the state is, in the final instance, special bodies of armed men.

It is of course, from the security of the study, an easy platitude to exalt young British youth to take up arms against British Imperialism. Yet the advocacy of moving from mere solidarity work (of which there is precious little enough for the cause of Ireland) to armed actions against a very sophisticated and experienced State appears to have little grounding in current British reality. There is not (yet) 80% unemployment on our housing estates. There are no officially sponsored paramilitary gangs randomly murdering sections of our working class. The British Army does not run 24 hour patrols on our streets. Internment does not yet apply to opponents of British imperial policy and British 'revolutionaries' are still permitted the luxury of producing glossy Marxist journals which are distributed nationally, compliments of W.H.Smith. Notwithstanding Britain's North/South economic divide, our country has not been artificially partitioned by an invading and occupying imperialist power and the basic features of bourgeois democracy are still in place if a little frayed around the edges. Clearly London is not akin to the war-zones of West Belfast and Birmingham does not yet reflect the daily reality of Derry.

Given the glaring political and economic discrepancy between Ireland and Britain, any British call for armed resistance either for Irish independence or against British imperialism would, assuming such a call was taken up at all, be rightfully dismissed as a brave but ill-timed voluntarist folly whose fate would surely be the same as the Bader-Meinhof project. It has been stressed countless times and borne out repeatedly by life itself that armed actions, divorced and unsupported by at least a sizeable minority of the working class, is nothing but political adventurism.

Does this conclusion then inevitably herald a retreat once again into parliamentarism and other forms of reformism?

This common revolutionary dilemma between 'legal' and 'illegal' work easily presents itself as an unsolvable paradox. On the one hand we accept the proposition that only by wedding ourselves to the revolutionary Irish struggle can we hope to break from the twin diseases of reformism and economism, yet we know to move ahead of objective British conditions is to fall into the fatal trap of voluntarism. We seem indeed to be caught in a paradox of impotence. But for revolutionaries it is no paradox at all. It is instead simply the stark choice that relentlessly presents itself at every juncture of historical development - either a reformist path or a revolutionary one. It is a stark choice which offers no third way.

This is the point at which human will must try and impress itself on objective reality - in philosophical, terms the point at which a unity is attempted between objective and subjective forces. For revolutionary Russia this unity came to its highest fruition with the publication and eventual acceptance of Lenin's celebrated 'April Thesis'. For revolutionary China human will imposed itself on objective reality with the decision of the Chinese Communists to set up red-base areas in the countryside. For Cuba the revolutionary choice was made by Castro and his comrades to launch an armed struggle against the overwhelming military strength of the Batista regime. As for Cuba so for Nicaragua.

One of the most graphic attempts at revolutionary praxis was Che Guevara's attempt to export the Cuban revolution to Bolivia, although this failed attempt is inevitably branded as adventurism. Revolutionary history is littered with such historical junctures. The Irish Republican's decision to resume the armed struggle in the wake of British backed loyalist terror is but another example. In each of the above examples a conscious revolutionary will seeks to impose itself upon the objective landscape, sometimes successfully, sometimes not. To paraphrase Marx; notwithstanding our actions being circumscribed by our objective circumstances - we do make our own history!

As for yesterday's heroes so for tomorrows. For those of us who by some combination of intellectual choice and material circumstance have come to recognise that human progress has been qualitatively retarded by the contradictions deeply inherent within capitalist society - contradictions that cannot be resolved without the forceful expropriation of private capital; for us the task of constructing, free on the one hand of dogma and egoistic prejudice, and on the other of idealist and reformist notions, a revolutionary programme must begin at once. This programme, already partially formulated by earlier revolutionaries, must detail in specifics rather than generalities how British revolutionaries are to grasp the weakest and vulnerable link in the British imperialist chain. It is the contention of this writer that, beyond doubt, Britain's economic and political domination of Ireland's six northern counties constitutes this link. Our programme will not and cannot be a blueprint that will lead uninterrupted to a socialist Britain though it will be infinitely more revolutionary than the wholly discredited CPGB's 'British Road to Socialism'. Our programme will not and cannot include an outright call to armed struggle, although it will, by its militant programme of opposition to the British occupation of Ireland, inevitably entail activities that will lead to a violent confrontation with the British state.

Our programme will specify in the clearest detail how we shall move from a timid campaign of Irish solidarity to a militant programme of confronting the British State at Its weakest link. It will be a programme, not in sympathy with the Irish Republicans, but a programme of an offensive against the infrastructure of British occupation - a distinction that is all too often blurred.

Such a programme will include the regular picketing of Army Recruitment Offices throughout the country as well as the picketing of jails holding Irish Republicans. It will involve the interruption of supplies to the British occupation forces including the harassment of British Army bases. It will involve the distribution of propaganda including the mass selling of Republican literature in key central London locations. It will involve thousands of British youth travelling regularly to the six counties to march side by side with our Irish comrades. All this will definitely involve the widespread arrest and imprisonment of many British activists.

Above all it must be a programme that initiates a communist united front that allows revolutionaries to work organisationally together while permitting the sharpest of ideological encounters. Splendid sectarian isolation in childish mimicry of Lenin's Bolshevik advance would be exposed as the infantilism that it really is. Only in this way would the fellow travellers, Menshevik 'Marxists' and state infiltrators be cast aside. Only through a united communist offensive against Britain's occupation of Ireland can a revolutionary praxis be established in which ideological differences can be set into both historical and contemporary perspective. From this revolutionary praxis will come the nucleus of a vanguard - a synthesis of both existing and new forces welded together through Ideological and practical struggle. From the many vanguards to the one vanguard


When Britain's would-be Bolsheviks emerge from the bleakness of Britain's prisons, they will be susceptible to any number of debilitating cancers, each with the proven capacity to eat remorselessly at the integrity of individual comrades and organisations alike. We know these cancers by their household names; bureaucracy, leftism, anarchism, sectarianism and perhaps most insidious of all - dogmatism.
Against all of these biological corrosives stands, we are told, just one all encompassing palliative - Democratic Centralism!! Like the humble aspirin, much is expected of this cure-all, and like the more powerful morphine, it is called upon ever-larger doses when the patient is terminally ill. In this sense we can regard democratic centralism as an Important but external component to the well being of the revolutionary vanguard.

However, in extending the medical metaphor a little further, we should ask ourselves whether medical science has, hitherto, got it wrong. Is democratic centralism simply a palliative to be administered to the ailing revolutionary patient? Or is it more accurate to consider it an essential vaccine by which the revolutionary movement can develop immunity to hostile foreign bodies? In other words, when thinking of democratic centralism should we not recall the age-old adage; 'prevention is better than cure'.

Still one other proposition presents itself. If we are to regard democratic centralism as a vaccine by which the revolutionary movement can produce the necessary antibodies, then why not go one step further and declare democratic centralism to be akin to a naturally occurring vaccine - a type of lymphocyte which triggers Internally the body's natural immune system. An interesting proposition perhaps, but does this simplistic abstraction of democratic centralism stand up to the test of historical reality?

Hitherto it has been accepted orthodoxy to regard 'organisation' as merely a means by which the party programme could be carried out under the varying degrees of State repression - the 'centralist' and 'democratic' components vying with each other for ascendancy depending on the prevailing circumstances; the more repressive the State the less room for democratic norms.

Particularly in the formative years of the Bolshevik Party - Lenin's party of a 'new type', Bolshevik ideology and programme was everything and democratic norms had frequently to be surrendered to the revolutionary interest. The specific lines of demarcation were sometimes clear, sometimes not, but the general line between Menshevism and Bolshevism was clear enough, and this general demarcation was everything. Lenin himself, on numerous occasions, by-passed duly constituted committees if he felt the clarity of the Bolshevik project was being endangered. Of course Lenin did rely principally on persuasion but when that failed he was not reticent in side-stepping, 'undemocratically', any obstructions to his visions. The years of factional struggle between the Menshevik and Bolshevik wings of the R.S.D.L.P., were marked by bitter division, manoeuvre and at times brinkmanship. In retrospect it may only have been the single-mindedness and authoritarianism of Lenin that enabled a Bolshevik style party to triumph over the more liberal and diffuse alternative. And for those of us who believe that Lenin's interventions into the revolutionary equation were critical for the success of the October Socialist Revolution, any number of unilateral and 'undemocratic' manoeuvres by Lenin can and should be excused.

Having finally established the Bolshevik Party on the principles of democratic centralism, Lenin was then most adamant that this principle should be upheld. A re-reading on Lenin's proposals contained in. 'How we should reorganise Workers' and Peasants' Inspection' put to the 12th party Congress in 1923, highlights Lenin's concern with the correct functioning of the democratic centralist structures of the Party. (Lenin's support for the banning of factions at the 10th Party congress in 1921 need not be interpreted as a denial of democratic centralism-quite the opposite)

There emerges then a clear distinction between Lenin's behaviour in the period leading up to the formal split with Menshevism in the years of 1912-1914, and the post 1914 period until Lenin's death in 1924. This distinction is of critical importance to the current discussions on democratic centralism, because Britain's would-be Lenin's (and there are many of them) invariably cite the earlier period to justify their own side-stepping of democratic centralist procedures.

What of the third period in the history of the Leninist Vanguard Party - the years since Lenin's death to the present? Virtually all communists (and not just the Trotskyist opposition) now accept that not all has been well in the implementation of democratic centralism over the past seven decades. Some have simply chosen to put it down to the personal failings of Stalin (the so-called cult-of-the-individual), while others speak of a counter revolutionary bureaucratic caste usurping the party structures. Neither interpretation however satisfactorily unravels the complex dialectical relationship between the form of organisation adopted by Lenin and the content of the revolutionary programme. While different organisations cite different periods when they consider that democratic centralism failed to be correctly implemented, rarely do they offer a thorough theoretical review of the entire historical practice of democratic centralism. A piecemeal and subjective approach has predominated. Yet a fully materialist and dialectical approach would have to concede that since its inception, the form of the Leninist Party has invariably and not unpredictably been in fierce conflict with the content of that party. Form and content have to date, created a most unsatisfactory unity of dialectical opposites.

In place of the dynamism of the historical and dialectical method (the only method capable of exposing the complexities of relations between many things) there has been instead a trite regurgitation of the principle itself, devoid of any recognition of development and change. This shallow defence has been thrown forward in an attempt to counter those opponents of democratic centralism who argue that democratic centralism as a form of organisation has become redundant and in total conflict with the content of socialist construction. According to this revision of Lenin's theory, such an outmoded concept of organisation must be jettisoned in favour of more pluralistic forms.

The standard orthodox reply to this 'revisionist' line has it that the form of democratic centralism is as valid today as when Lenin first proposed the concept in opposition to the Menshevik notion of a party of the whole class. Democratic Centralism, as argued by the priests of orthodoxy, is the tool by which the revolutionary programme can be upheld against internal as well as external enemies. Beware the enemy within! Failings in the functioning of democratic centralism are of a purely superficial and temporary nature, caused either by the failings of individuals or by the pressures of imperialist encirclement.

Useful as this rebuttal may have been in combating the revisionist line, it is essentially a static model that has taken no account of the development of the revolutionary vanguard over the past century - and as such may have unwittingly assisted the rapid advance of the revisionist cause.

The importance of rejecting the superficial view of party organisation cannot be over-stressed by British revolutionaries. If there is ever to be a synthesis of the various revolutionary tendencies, and particularly of the erstwhile 'Stalinist' and Trotskyist' factions of the movement, then we must all be prepared to pass along the road of a thorough theoretical re-appraisal of the role of democratic centralism. Partial regroupments within existing factional parameters that ignore or paper over the central question of democratic centralism within the vanguard party are doomed to reproduce earlier divisions and splits. Such false unity will be short-lived and quite useless. What is required is not a mechanical adding of A+B+C etc., but a synthesis of A+Q+Z that produces a new unity of a qualitatively higher level. Little empires will have to be dissolved and this may prove 'uncomfortable' for some, but the alternative is a perpetuation of our revolutionary impotence.

To begin the process of review it may be useful to explore the equation advanced in the introduction -democratic centralism as palliative or democratic centralism as an integral and essential part of the organism? Employing Marxist categories we can rephrase the equation as follows: Has democratic centralism ceased to be 'simply' a form of organisation which Leninist parties adopt, or is it more accurate to regard democratic centralism as an integral part of the content of a revolutionary party - indeed part of the very essence of such a party? Can it be possible that in the long and bitter struggle between these two former opposites, a synthesis has emerged in which the revolutionary form of democratic centralism has been absorbed into the very context of the revolutionary programme?

In wrestling with the vexed question of democratic centralism I am oft reminded of a rather paradoxical conversation I found myself in when addressing one of Britain's would be Lenins. On asking this most 'advanced' of comrades why the democratic centralist norm had been discarded in our organisation I was duly informed that democratic centralism is only a 'form' that must always be subordinate to the revolutionary interest. Not wholly satisfied, I ventured to ask how the revolutionary interest was to be determined. The sharp reply was that he, as the most advanced worker, would decide what was and what was not in the revolutionary interest. When I protested that this was contrary to the principles of democratic centralism and prone to error, I was promptly dismissed as having a petty-bourgeois fetish with democracy.

I've reflected on this encounter a good deal since, particularly as I have little doubt that this conversation, or same similar version of it, has taken place a thousand times within Britain's many embryonic vanguards.

Now there is no greater insult that can be levelled at an enthusiastic young comrade than to be labelled as a petty-bourgeois liberal. Cut to the quick by this admonishment I went scurrying off to consult the classics in an attempt to vindicate my suspicions of foul play.

My initial investigations of the most Leninist of questions seemed to weigh heavily against me. Lenin, in a fierce polemic against the liberal opportunist tendencies prevailing within Rabocheye Dyelo declared;

'.....you will realise that 'broad democracy' in Party organisation, amidst the gloom of the autocracy and the domination of gendarmerie is nothing more than a useless and harmful toy. It is a useless toy because, in point of fact, no revolutionary organisation has ever practised, or could practise, broad democracy, however mud it may have desired to do so. It is a harmful toy because any attempt to practise 'broad democratic' principle will simply facilitate the work of the police in carrying out large scale raids, will perpetuate the prevailing primitiveness, and will divert the thoughts of the practical workers from the serious and pressing task of training themselves to become professional revolutionaries to that of drawing detailed 'paper' rules for election systems. '

And in what seemed a directly aimed broadside at my own miserable self. Lenin concluded;

' Only abroad, where very often people with no opportunity for conducting really active work gather, could this 'playing at democracy' develop here and there, especially in small groups. '

An open and shut case. It seemed I was indeed carrying with me a petty-bourgeois fetish for democracy. At first reading my position seemed hopeless. Yet on closer inspection I realised that Lenin was in fact attacking the concept of 'broad democracy' as opposed to the democratic centralised form of democracy that was required in order to defeat the Tsarist autocracy. Lenin was directing his polemic against those who were opposed to a highly centralised disciplined party, and I was no such opponent. Somewhat heartened I continued my investigation.

Some two years later, while still in the midst of the factional struggles that arose out of the 2nd Congress of the RS.D.L.P Lenin stated;

'Refusal to accept the direction of the central bodies is tantamount to refusing to remain in the Party, it is tantamount to deserting the Party; it is a method of destroying, not of convincing. '

What was to be made of this particular polemic? Was I in reality a Menshevik opportunist forever squealing against 'undemocratic' decisions of higher bodies? But again, after my initial doubt had subsided I became confident in my assertion that I was not in fact opposed to central bodies (a good number which I had myself sat on) but I was instead simply questioning whether the central bodies were functioning according to the principles of democratic centralism. That lower bodies should be subordinate to higher bodies, providing those higher bodies are subject to challenge and recall, was central to my understanding of a 'party of a new type.' Thus far I felt that no fundamental difference had emerged between the founder of democratic centralism and one of his humble adherents. I continued my research.

In a further rebuttal to the Mensheviks grouped around the new Iskra, Lenin drew the distinction between his democratic centralist notion of a party and the autonomous anarchism of the Menshevik 'broad democratic' style party. Lenin explained;

'Bureaucracy versus democracy is in fact centralism versus autonomy; it is the organisational principle of Revolutionary Social Democracy as opposed to the organisational principle of opportunist Social Democracy. The latter strives to proceed from the bottom upwards and therefore, whenever possible and as far as possible, upholds autonomism and 'democracy carried (by the overzealous) to the point of anarchism. The former strives to proceed from the top downwards, and upholds an extension of the rights and powers of the centre in relation to the parts.'

I was devastated! In an attempt to challenge what I thought was a bureaucratic, even autocratic centralism, was I in fact upholding the autonomous, local 'democratic' right over and above the centralised disciplined party?

The mists of confusion thickened when I was soon to discover that set against these stern admonishments to the 'autonomous democrats', were Lenin's equally persuasive lectures about the need for party democracy. Two seemingly conflicting messages were being sent. Which one should I try to latch on to?

'More light- let the party know everything. Let it have all the material required for a judgement of all and sundry differences, reversions to revisionism, departures from discipline etc. .'

How often had I read Lenin's famous slogan. And in a similar vein Lenin had advocated;

'it is essential to give all party members the widest possible freedom to criticise the central bodies and to attack them; the Central Committee sees nothing terrible in such attacks provided they are not accompanied by a boycott, by standing aloof from positive work or by cutting off financial resources.'

Now I had always understood there to be a contradiction between democracy and centralism, and that this contradiction was encapsulated by the revolutionary slogan. 'Freedom of Criticism, Unity of Action.' As Lenin explained, '...the principle of democratic centralism and autonomy for local party organisations implies universal and full freedom to criticise so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action. ' (Admittedly the extent of criticism would always be modified by the level of State repression, yet the equation seemed clear enough). However the seeming simplicity of the equation quickly evaporates when differences arise as to whether a particular criticism did or did not ' disturb the unity' of a particular action. It seemed my theoretical excursion had led me in a circle - I was still confronted with the paradox of who would decide the 'revolutionary interest.' Yes, the higher bodies ought to determine the revolutionary interest but only if they are subject to the chill wind party criticism. The rub was that all too often such criticism has been ruled out of order and against the 'revolutionary interest'.

Given our present historical juncture where we communists are in forced and ungainly retreat, and given that we may remain on the defensive for some considerable time, it seems both essential and opportune that there be serious time and consideration as to whether the contradiction between revolutionary criticism and revolutionary action can be resolved in a consistently revolutionary way. To date, history has resolved this conflict by setting faction against faction, splits upon splits and, under 'existing socialism' by a series of bloody and destructive purges. As for the British contingent of the world revolutionary movement, we have in excess of twenty 'vanguards' - each proclaiming to uphold the principles of democratic centralism, yet each spawning endless grouplets and such grouplets in time spawning further splinters.

What is the source of this lunacy? The error might lie in the predilection of each grouplet looking at the pre-Bolshevik period in order to justify their readiness to split from their parent body. The logic is simple; if Lenin was correct to split from the Mensheviks then we in turn are correct to split at the first opportunity from our adversaries. Yet this logic is seriously flawed in that Lenin in the period they cite, was still fighting to establish the principle of a party based on democratic centralism and therefore it was perfectly correct to split from those whom opposed such a party. Today that principle is accepted (at least in words) by Britain's many vanguards so the process ought not to be one of division and splits but rather one of fusion and synthesis. Whether the continual referral to the golden 'pre-Bolshevik party period' is an ingenious ploy by charlatans seeking to justify their own contempt for democratic centralist practices I am unsure, but the net result of this ahistorical charade is to lead to an ever more divided general command.

The second and more profound reason for democratic centralism's failures lay. I believe, in what was proffered earlier - a failure to recognise a qualitative development in the character of the beast. Students of Marxism may well have been correct in categorising democratic centralism as simply a 'form' but it must now be considered whether this form has indeed become a part of the content of the struggle for revolutionary advance? If this proposition is correct then no longer will it suffice, for those caught up in the cult of omniscience, to so easily dismiss constructive criticism. To do so will place these 'leaders' in direct contention with a newly, more sharply defined revolutionary content - a content that fully incorporates its organisational structures.

If we can accept the above, the new contradictions that emerge will revolve not around democracy and centralism, where the latter inevitably triumphs over the former, but between democratic centralism as content, and the forms of institutionalisation and implementation that such content might assume. With this new formulation, no longer will Stalin and his heirs in Britain be able to ride roughshod over their critics while at the same time claiming Leninist orthodoxy (and by Stalin's heirs I refer to all those 'leaders 'of organisations irrespective of whether they consider themselves followers of Stalin, Trotsky or Mao, all of whom regularly insist that the 'revolutionary interest' is higher than democratic centralism).

By way of illustrating the point I should mention a recent 'communist' theoretical conference held in London where a few comrades dared to suggest that, in the light of the disaffection within the ruling parties in Eastern Europe, the question of platforms might be usefully re-examined. This exploratory move was met with the predictable tirade of orthodoxical outrage. Yet if democratic centralism is not to be an optional accessory to be coupled to the party when convenient, then definite mechanisms have to be instituted so that constructive and effective criticism can exist without the destructive and brutal ruptures that have hitherto been the norm. Historical experience and current common sense point to the conclusion that where constructive criticism is suppressed, factions and splits inevitably follow. (I for one have yet to be convinced why open and forthright platforms could not exist, for example, three months prior to a party congress provided that such platforms are immediately dissolved after congress decisions had been made). As it stands at present the existing leadership conducts itself on an omniscient platform - often bordering on a faction - and all opposing viewpoints are considered heretical. It is not the purpose of this paper to advance concrete proposals for democratic centralism's institutionalisation, but that such a task remains unstarted is certain. That the 'crisis' of democratic centralism permeates all sections of revolutionary life in this country is equally obvious. A brief point might profitably be made to support this assertion.

Notwithstanding the bourgeoisie's own relentless denunciations of the totalitarian nature of communism inner mechanisms. Trotskyism as a body of thought has been the chief critic of 'official' communism's failure to implement democratic centralism along Leninist lines. And honest observers must accept that life has relentlessly pointed to the validity of such criticisms. So it is instructive to note that the Workers Revolutionary Party - the largest and most influential of Britain's myriad of Trotskyist organisations in the 1960's and 1970's suffered from a particularly spectacular breakdown in democratic centralism - so 'spectacular that the organisation imploded into no less than eight new and competitive bits. Healy - their omniscient leader was, it transpired, every bit as flawed as comrade Stalin. From god to anti-christ in a very few days!

Similarly the S.W.P. who have so piously advocated democracy from the bottom up, have been unable to prevent its own series of major 'splits - the RCP, the RCG, and Workers Power all with traceable SWP parentage. It appears now that the S.W.P. is in conflict with its own international body (the I.S.) over the S.W.P's. own 'incorrect' attitude to the Iraq- U.S. confrontation.

I have isolated these two organisations simply as graphic illustrations of the universality of the problem, and not to cast undue aspersions on these organisations or Trotskyism itself. The Official Communist Movement itself has spawned at least four new organisations and the unravelling continues apace. Maoism has fared no better with its 'pro-Mao', 'pro-Albanian' and 'pro-whoever's in power in Peking' groupings. Clearly the crisis of democratic centralism affects all tendencies. I must confess though, that it is with some perverted satisfaction that I read of the dissolution of the W.RP. Not because of any particular ill-feeling that I bore against that organisation, but rather that it showed so splendidly that the crisis of democracy within 'vanguard' parties is due to something more profound than individual falling's, and that the age old Stalin/Trotsky rivalry could not alone explain.

To further illustrate the current impasse with respect to party organisation one need only 'scratch a little to find that all of Britain's vanguard's are riddled with some discrepancy between word and deed. The Leninist, a small organisation that is distinguished by its 'neither Trotsky nor Stalin but ' approach, is quite insistent that democratic centralism is only a tool that should always be subservient to the 'tasks of socialist revolution'. In their sixth theoretical Journal we are told:

'Organisation, of democratic centralism, is not a thing in itself, it is a tool to perform the tasks of socialist revolution and the transition to communism'.

The Leninist goes on to explain:

'Lenin viewed democratic centralism as a tool for revolution which is why, at different periods in the history of the Bolsheviks he emphasised centralism as opposed to democracy and visa versa. '

A number of things become apparent in the above quotations. Firstly, democratic centralism is, in the minds of The Leninist, relegated to a very 'secondary place behind the 'task of 'socialist revolution', - a mere tool to be used as a mechanic might use a spanner. No connection is made between the general task and how the particular tasks are to be determined. Secondly, there is the predictable reference to the 'different' periods of history, a disguised reference to the pre-party period when democratic centralism had not yet been enshrined within a party of a new type. Thirdly, there is more than a hint that the author is counter-posing in a very mechanical and artificial way, the democratic and centralist components of democratic centralism.

Elsewhere in the document The Leninist is adamant that democratic centralism 'comprises the dialectical unity of democracy and centralism', yet the overall impression given is that If the 'situation requires, the democratic aspect must be uncoupled from the centralist wagon. After all, 'democratic centralism, the discipline which he (Lenin) created should demonstrate conclusively that it is not a tablet of stone, not a dogmatic discipline - quite the opposite. ' It is a strange type of unity that allows one component to exist independently of the other when the 'revolutionary interest' requires it. And the key question: how is the party to decide when and how to use the tool of democratic centralism? Certainly not, as we all know, from the spontaneous whims of the working class!

If The Leninist has a hazy and undialectical vision of democratic centralism, then their fraternal organisation in Turkey has, I believe, a sharper perspective to offer. In a 1979 publication ' Party Discipline', Cemil Silahtar offers the following formulation: ' For in its struggle to take power, the proletariat has no weapon other than ideology and organisation. Ideology and organisation are two inseparable parts of the whole.' I have cited these particular line's because I feel they are far more successful in presenting to the reader a sense of real dialectical unity between form and content, a unity where one key component cannot be 'simply discarded in the 'revolutionary interest'. By way of contrast to the habit of regarding democratic centralism as a mere form of organisation, a 'tool' that is useful, Silahtar offers the following insight:

' There is an important point which must be mentioned on the subject of democratic centralism; that is the formalistic and solely formalistic interpretation which rejects the essence of the principle and robs it of its content. ' (My emphasis)

The key words here are of course 'essence' and 'content'. Despite The Leninist's claim to recognise the dialectical nature of democratic centralism they are under grave 'suspicion of committing precisely the error that their Turkish comrades have warned against That democratic centralism is all too often not considered part of the essence of a revolutionary party is, as I have attempted to indicate, at the very heart of our present retreat

If there appears to be important discrepancies in approach within the international 'Leninist' Tendency, the Sparticist Tendency 'shows no such sign's of ambiguity. In a 1978 U.S. Spartacist publication, 'Lenin and the Vanguard Party 'the readers are informed that Lenin's famous equation, 'Freedom of Criticism, Unity of Action', 'should be seen only within a specific historical context - that of Lenin seeking to unseat a Menshevik led RS.D.LP in 1906/07. The Spartacist leadership then argues that following the definitive split with the Mensheviks and the creation of the Bolshevik party in 1912, Lenin abandoned the entire concept. For the Spartacist leadership 'Freedom of Criticism' is akin to Menshevism. By their logic, 'Freedom of Criticism maximises the influence of backward workers not to speak of conscious political enemies Thus freedom of criticism does grave damage to the internal cohesion and external authority of the proletarian vanguard.'

What 'should we make of this astonishing conclusion? Clearly the authors have committed the not uncommon error of separating in a wholly mechanical way, one component from the other, so that 'freedom of criticism' is to be praised or damned as a thing in itself. Used against those who Spartacists deem revisionists, 'freedom of criticism' is a good thing, but for a Bolshevik party it can only be seen as a means of pandering to the backward elements. (My erstwhile political mentor would have been proud of this logic).

On closer investigation it becomes patently clear that the Spartacist Tendency have managed to confuse factionalism outside of democratic centralist structures with legitimate 'freedom of criticism' within the party. In this way presumably the Spartacist leadership are able to dismiss any party criticism as anti-Leninist -very handy!

Spartacists reveal their attitude towards democratic centralism by opting to quote James P. Cannon on the matter. Cannon, one of the leading figures of American Trotskyism declared:

'Democratic centralism has no special virtue per se. It is the specific principle of a combat party, united by a single program, which aims to lead a revolution. '

The Spartacists, like The Leninist, appear to regard democratic centralism as merely a form of organisation. Neither group regards democratic centralism as an essential part of the revolutionary content. For both sets of comrades, 'it has no special virtue per se.' For the Spartacists, those that advocate 'freedom of criticism' are either 'rightist revisionists or left centrist groupings.' It is significant to note that the two organisations, coming as they do from different traditions within the revolutionary movement, seem to share a similarly confused and dismissive attitude to the whole question of democratic centralism. In this respect they are not alone.

To round of this brief investigation it is useful to discover what the 'right revisionists' are actually saying on the subject of party organisation and democratic centralism.

In acknowledging the Marxist method we would always expect to find a complex inter-relationship between things and this is very much so with the use and abuse of democratic centralism. In unravelling the true relationship between things and phenomena it is always necessary to distinguish between word and deed, appearance and essence. Accordingly, it should not surprise us to learn that those with the greatest contempt for Leninist practice may still find it useful to use the language of Leninism. In this way Eurocommunism, the form in which revision primarily took in the Western nations was able to temporarily confuse and deceive some comrades on the all-important question of inner-party democracy. This confusion and deceit was made all the more easy as a result of the neglect shown to the application and development of democratic centralism, by all the factions within the revolutionary movement. While 'Trotskyists' and 'Stalinists' contented themselves by hurling shallow abuse at each other, the real revisionists latched on to the language of democratic centralism and used it as a stick to beat their own Menshevik drum. At the very same time as Eurocommunism was rejecting the leading role of the vanguard party. the revolutionary significance of the working class, the whole concept of the dictatorship of the Proletariat, and of course, Proletarian Internationalism, we find our latter-day Mensheviks hailing the virtues of democratic centralism!

Indeed in Britain, an entire Commission was set up in 1977 by the C.P.G.B. to report on ways and means of improving inner-party democracy. The Commission, itself a model of inner-party democracy, declared;

'The enrichment of the Party's internal democracy is one of the vital factors in the struggle to strengthen the Party's ability to unite and lead all the potential forces which can be won for Socialist change. '

Indeed the document is littered with such fine sounding platitudes. Specifically, the Commission announced that a Communist Party.

'must be a democratic party, one which draws on the initiative and creativity of its membership in planning and carrying through its activity and policy...(The party also) needs to be centralised to be capable of fighting, struggling and intervening as a disciplined and united collective once policy is decided.'

Having re-stated existing party policy the Commission went on to note:

' We consider that placing of the two sides of democratic centralism in this order was significant. It emphasised that the Party's ability to act as a 'disciplined united collective' is dialectically connected with the fullest development of is democratic life and the maximum involvement of its members in the formation and fights for its policy. '

Now, notwithstanding the fact that the C.P.G.B. has, some 13 years after printing this fine sounding rhetoric, completely abandoned all vestiges of Marxism-Leninism, including the principle of democratic centralism, and that the language of democratic centralism was only maintained as long as it was as a means to stifle any opposition to their miserable liquidationism, it is useful to examine a little closer the above lines.

The Commission declared there to be a dialectical connection between democracy and centralism yet they, like the comrades in The Leninist and Spartacist Tendencies, chose to make two distinct categories out of democratic centralism. In this way, when convenient, one can be uncoupled from the other. This is precisely what was needed in their fight against the remnants of Leninism within the party. Despite their public adherence to democratic centralism as a dialectically unified concept, it proved to be democracy for those who approved their revisions, and heavy-handed centralism against those who opposed.

Furthermore, it should be added that the principle of democratic centralism is not worth the paper it is written on if it is divorced from the other fundamental components of Marxism-Leninism. Indeed it is conceivable that a local football club could arrange itself along the impeccable lines of democratic centralism but this hardly makes them a revolutionary unit.
By the way of conclusion, as if the conclusion is not already very obvious, it must be said that for both the Menshevik and Bolshevik wings of the British communist movement there has been a clear tendency to pick and choose selectively from the democratic centralist equation - a little more centralism when the leadership feels threatened, a little more 'democracy' when a faction wishes to justify its activities. Further, there has been a pronounced tendency to pick and choose from particular points of Bolshevik history thereby seeking, in a wholly fraudulent way, to justify a 'democratic' or 'centralist' emphasis by a leadership at a given point in time. Thirdly, and of course related to the above, is the disturbing tendency to regard democratic centralism as Just a 'form' of organisation that can be Jettisoned whenever it is decreed to be against the 'revolutionary interest'. If it was originally conceived in this way then so be it. but today our vision of democratic centralism must take into account one hundred years of development, during which time a qualitatively new synthesis has emerged out of the previous antagonism between democracy and a centralised party.

Armed with this new perspective the prospects of moving from many vanguards to the one are greatly enhanced.

Jan Wachla