First Published: Proletarian Unity No. 20, Feb/March 1980
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Malcolm and Paul Saba
Copyright: This work is in the Public Domain under the Creative Commons Common Deed. You can freely copy, distribute and display this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit the Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line as your source, include the url to this work, and note any of the transcribers, editors & proofreaders above.
During the more than three years it existed, the Canadian Communist League (M-L) (CCL(M-L)) never made its constitution public. This was probably a good gage of just how unimportant they saw it to be.
In fact, a closer look at how the League is organized shows that the constitution is quite important and helps us understand what’s behind some of its public antics. How do you explain the League’s working with the CNTU to raid in at least one factory and several hospitals? What lies behind its efforts to impose its leadership at all costs in community organizations? Why does the League use such undemocratic methods at union meetings? Let’s take a look at the organizational principles and methods of leadership adopted by the League.
Luckily, at this point in time were are able to get access to some of that information. We live in the era of the Workers Communist Party, which has just been created and presented publicly as the party of the working class. It would be unthinkable for such an organization not to publish its constitution. No one is going to join an organization that hides its organizational rules. Many people have experienced how undemocratic the capitalist parties are, and how they fail to implement their programme or the decisions made by the membership.
After we have taken a closer look at the WCP constitution, we will see that they might have been better off after all to keep it under wraps. A careful reading of the document shows what the WCP is basing itself on when it engages in its undemocratic gyrations in the mass movement. It also provides some clues as to why WCP members are so often unable to defend the party’s line. Usually they manoeuvre quickly to avoid a debate or accomplish the same thing by shouting a few slogans that make little or no concrete sense.
What is especially evident in the WCP constitution is the organizational justification for the economism which is so characteristic of all its work. The WCP programme, of course, is a grocery list of demands for each separate category of workers. The tactical leadership provided by its members rarely goes beyond a factory-by-factory clutter of recipes. This localism is erected by the constitution into a principle. The vast majority of WCP members have but one role: to confine themselves to immediate struggles and to apply a line decided by others. They have little or no real opportunity to take a stand on the political line and programme of the party. There are no mechanisms to let them exercise their paper rights and maintain any real supervision or control over their leadership.
Contrary to what the WCP has stated recently, the constitution is much more than just “the basic rules of functioning of the Party”.
The constitution of a Marxist-Leninist organization is not just a central instrument in its day-to-day functioning and the implementation of its policies. It is also an important part of its ideological and political line. You cannot separate off the line and programme of an organization from the means adopted to apply it.
Even more important, it is completely wrong to separate the implementation of the line from the process of arriving at it. The constitution lays out the general rules for organizational structures and how things are to function. It sets out the basic structures and defines the rights and responsibilities of members and supporters for the express purpose of making it possible to attain the revolutionary objectives by accomplishing the requisite tasks. The formulation of the organization’s political line is one of the most important of those tasks.
Thus the constitution is a daily guide to action for the whole organization. It is a tool which we should use regularly to judge our work and to resolve certain kinds of political problems.
Capitalist parties are characteristically undemocratic and usually ignore their own programme. They lack any real discipline and are plagued by factionalism and a morality which permits lying. The organized vanguard of the proletariat has its own organizational rules. They correspond to its class interests and are designed to serve the accomplishment of its goals: overthrowing the capitalist State, establishing the dictatorship of the proletariat and realizing communism.
The fundamental Marxist-Leninist organizational principle is democratic centralism. That means basically two things: centralization based on democracy; and the practice of democracy under a centralized leadership.
These principles of democratic centralism are central to the process of developing a correct political line. One thing is sure: a line does not spring out of the heads of a few geniuses. It is the product of lessons drawn from the revolutionary practice of the entire organization and of the masses generally. Hence, there must be a viable democratic life in the proletarian party so that its line can be developed properly.
It is in the interest of the capitalist class to seek competition, factionalism and power struggles in its parties. Capitalist parties are thus inevitably undemocratic. The proletariat, on the contrary, needs extensive democracy. It is the only guarantee that there will be real unity in carrying out the class struggle.
Contrary to what we have all been told, democracy reaches its fullest flowering within the communist party. Democracy is not just a bunch if fine words in the party of the proletariat. It means the active participation of all members in the life of the organization. That participation exists from the point when the basic programme and policies are being hammered out to when they are put into practice. It operates when leaders are being elected and when the work of those leaders is being scrutinized by the membership. It continues from the implementation if policies through to the process of summing up the lessons to be drawn from that practice. Proletarian democracy means that everyone has the right to express their views and the obligation to implement the decisions reached by the majority or by he democratically elected leadership bodies.
This is why a communist organization cannot put up with the tea of having members who buy heir membership card a week before the party congress and who go home the day after without the slightest obligation to join all other members in implementing the policy decisions. Yet that is how bourgeois parties function.
This understanding of what real democracy is, underlies the approach taken by MLOC IN STRUGGLE! to the adoption of its programme at the Third Congress. A whole series of public conferences were held before the Congress. All members and probationers received copies of the documents that were to be debated several months in advance. All members and probationers were able to explain their views and put forward their proposals to the congress delegates, who were democratically elected in the cells. And all members are now required to implement the policies that came out of the congress, to apply them in a creative way to the conditions prevailing in their political work under the leadership of the elected Central Committee. The Central Committee has to account for its work regularly, generally by means of the organization’s press.
The WCP’s founding congress was completely at odds with this concept of democracy. There is only so much information available to us about that congress. We know, however, that in barely two days the delegates managed to adopt a programme, constitution and the political report from the outgoing (League) central committee. In that same 48 hours the delegates found the time to meet in workshops and to “exchange views and experiences”  outside the formal meeting times. There isn’t a single bourgeois party or union convention in all of Canada that could have accomplished such a feat. But then the WCP constitution indeed promotes a very peculiar idea of democracy.
No one would argue with the assertion that a key to real democracy is that the members of an organization must be able to actually exercise the rights they have on paper. The WCP constitution recognizes the right of all its members to “determine the political line of the Party, and contribute to its development”. In theory “the cell is the basic organization of the WCP” and “all Party members belong to a cell”.  The cell is thus necessarily the place where the members can participate in developing the line. The constitution is doubly clear on this, asserting that the cell has the responsibility to “contribute to developing the organization’s political line, ensure the Marxist-Leninist education of its members and do political education of its sympathizers and the masses”. 
But read on. The constitution also states that when the cell “has more than 8 members, (it) must be divided into base units”.  The cell meetings only involve delegates from those base units  [a].
Where then is it that all WCP members are supposed to exercise their paper rights in practice? The constitution goes on to say that in fact only the delegates get to take a stand on all matters and to decide on policies governing the work at cell meetings.
That one little rule may seem innocent enough. In fact, it constitutes a major impediment to the exercise of any real democracy. How can you talk of democracy in such an organization? In the WCP, most members do not have the right to take part in decision-making in their cell. They cannot scrutinize the issues and proposals and give their views on all matters affecting the party’s work and internal life. They cannot elect their leaders, nor do they supervise the work of the elected leadership by requiring that they account regularly for their actions. Mind you, all of these rights exist in the WCP constitution. Only most members and all probationers are excluded from participation in the only body where those rights could be exercised by everyone: the cell.
This does more than just deny the rights of party members. It also liquidates the cells as the basic organizational unit of the party. It is difficult to figure out what the basic unit is in the WCP. Is it the cells, as the constitution states? Or is it what WCP refers to as the “base units”, whose role, composition, responsibilities, etc., remain completely unspecified?
All communist parties recognize the cell as the basic unit. The cell is the medium through which the party develops close ties to the broad masses of people and implements its policies. The cells are also the means by which close links are maintained between the central leadership and all members, between the leadership and the masses.
In the WCP, the members cannot exercise their rights in practice. The cells are not a place where all members can employ their rights or oversee the party’s work. They are a delegated level of decision-making which has had its basic function gutted. Those organizational measures lead willy-nilly to the WCP leadership getting further and further away from its rank-and-file members. When a chasm opens up between the leadership and the members, between the leadership and the masses, the way is clear for the development of bureaucracy. This means that the leadership gets further and further removed from the interests of the people.
It is not surprising that the WCP should end up like that. When democracy is stifled at the most basic level of organization in the party, the cells, democracy is necessarily undermined at every level. You can go ahead and be extremely democratic in selecting delegates to the district or regional bodies who then elect the delegates to the congress (as the WCP apparently does), but it is too late; the damage is already done. The whole elaborate structure totters on clay feet.
However, as we will see the cells are not the only place in which the WCP elevates lack of democracy into a principle.
One thing that really hits you when you read through the WCP constitution is the enormous number of exceptions which render one rule after another inoperative. Not only are the rights of members reduced to a formality. Special powers of the Central Committee are also tacked on in one article after another, especially to take care of all the “exceptions”.
Thus the constitution says that the Congress is “the highest leading organ of the Party” and that it “elects the Central Committee... and determines the number of its members”.  “No person who has not been a member in good standing for at least a year can be a member of the Central Committee.” 
But all these fine principles may well be tossed aside at any time thanks to a very convenient additional rule which stipulates that “in exceptional circumstances (such as when another organization is rallied) comrades recently recruited into the Party can be... (coopted by the Central Committee)”.  [b]
This extra rule is in line with another “exception” written into the constitution which permits the Central Committee to “rule on exceptional cases where full rights can be accorded to a new member of the Party” who otherwise would “not have the right to vote, nor to be elected to any post such as secretary of the cell bureau, cell secretary or assistant secretary”. 
That one speaks for itself. What a clever approach WCP has to laying out constitutional rules, with an exception anticipated for every rule. It could come in particularly handy during negotiations with some particularly “exceptional” people who were contemplating rallying to the vanguard party. You know the kind of people we mean, those who are eager to serve the cause of the proletariat as long, of course, as certain exceptional conditions can be created appropriate to their prominence and exceptional abilities such as letting them sit on the Central Committee.
All of these “exceptions” remind us of the way the capitalist parties are run. They try to get influential “personalities” to run for them by promising cabinet posts, or if the party is not in power, some other kind of high post.
The mainstream bourgeois parties that hold office are not the only one to practice this kind of horse-trading. The CPC(M-L) is famous for it. It once promised a seat on its central committee to Jack Scott, a member of the Progressive Workers Movement in Vancouver if he would join up. The WCP has not invented anything new in opportunist tricks. There is perhaps just one exception (!), and that is its practice of tagging on exceptions after every second rule in its constitution so that opportunism can flourish.
The WCP constitution empowers the Central Committee to at any time “co-opt alternate members elected] at the Congress as full members of the Central Committee. It can also appoint Party members as alternate members. The decisions must be ratified at the next Congress”. 
Let’s briefly run down some of the special powers granted to the WCP Central Committee:
1) the right to admit new members! into the party by rallying one or several groups or organizations! as a bloc – even though the constitution says elsewhere that admission to membership is an individual matter and the responsibility of the cells.
2) the right to grant the right to vote and be elected to someone who has not yet finished their six-month period of probationary membership.
3) the right to co-opt new alternate members onto the Central Committee.
4) the right to co-opt alternate members of the Central Committee as full members.
What is the point of affirming the principle that the Congress is the highest organ of leadership and that it “democratically” elects the members of the Central Committee, which acts as the highest leadership between congresses, if the Central Committee can simply modify or reverse all of those decisions at any time? What can be done about all the new people it has named to the Central Committee when the time to account for all this is not until the Congress rolls around maybe three years later?
The powers the WCP has given to its Central Committee are not ones that might conceivably help it to apply the party programme creatively to the concrete conditions of the class struggle. They would not unite the party in implementing the Congress decisions either. Those powers are designed to allow the Central Committee to get around the Congress decisions, especially as it pertains to the election of the leadership. Those powers leave plenty of room for arbitrariness, elitism and power struggles between cliques.
WCP members can “directly address all the higher bodies right up to the Central Committee”. In fact they can go one better and address “the Chairman of the Central Committee”. If they are disciplined they have the right to “appeal to the higher organ, right up to the Central Committee”, but not up to the Congress.  The WCP in section 2 which sets forward the “organizational principles”, forgets to mention anywhere that the Central Committee is subordinate to the Congress which elected it. And the Congress is supposed to be the “highest organ of party leadership”. But something else has appeared on the scene to fulfill that role: none other than the Chairman Himself.
This is not the only conjuring act in the WCP repertoire, where the rabbit in the hat is in reality just a floppy-eared capitalist hierarchy. Nowhere in the constitution does it say that the Political Bureau must account for its work to the Central Committee that elected it. Nowhere is anything said about the Political Bureau directing the day-to-day political work in accordance with the decisions reached by the Central Committee. The Central Committee, after all, must be considered the highest level of leadership between Congresses because it has been elected for this purpose by the Congress. 
The WCP constitution does not specify this. It does, however, take the time to detail how the Central Committee “directs all the party’s work” , the “Political Bureau directs the work of the Central Committee” [c] and finally “the Chairman directs the work of the Political Bureau and the Central Committee”.  Thus the Political Bureau is transformed in practice from a small executive body subordinate to the Central Committee into the highest leadership body between congresses. This hierarchical leadership, if we are to believe what we read in the WCP constitution, does not have to account for its actions to anyone.
The above is a perfect example of how the WCP understands centralism. It is for centralism without democracy, where any elected leadership body other than the cell is freed from having to account for its actions to anybody. There is no conception at all of a collective leadership. Power is concentrated into the hands of a few individuals. The constitution does not even specify any precise responsibility for the Central Committee. The only specific responsibility mentioned is that of making a few “appointments”. Beyond that there is one general, theoretical affirmation that the Central Committee “directs all the party’s work”. In fact, the words “collective leadership” do not appear once in the whole WCP constitution.
Undoubtedly there have to be a few omissions here and there in order to permit the de facto pyramid structure to function. Thus there is no quorum fixed for Central Committee meetings. There is no mechanism outlined for delaying the convening of a congress. There is no minimum time limit by which time the agenda for the Congress must be made known. Indeed, it doesn’t say anywhere that the WCP leadership is even obliged to inform all members of its “Party” what the agenda is.
Because of these “omissions”, the WCP could hold a congress on a few day’s or weeks’ notice. It could hold up on distributing the agenda and relevant documents until the day of the Congress and give them only to delegates. All of this is eerily reminiscent of the practice of the labour bosses in union conventions and, of course, of the CPC(M-L).
The Forge was quite correct when it told its readers, “when centralism is combined with democracy we come up with democratic centralism.”  It just forget to add that democracy in the WCP is reduced to a parody of the real thing. Centralism, on the other hand, appears to be very real and alive and well. But then again, what kind of centralism and what discipline do they really manage to achieve when democracy is reduced to a few empty phrases?
WCP centralism, because it is not based on real democracy, is turned into its opposite: power is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals thanks to a series of rules which all promote the same thing. Discipline goes from the top down and privileges go from the bottom up.
Such a systematic travesty of proletarian democracy is the perfect way to create a system of blind discipline founded primarily on the image the WCP would like to give itself. That discipline amounts to simple carrying out prescribed tasks and indefatigable repetition of the weekly pearls of wisdom laid down in The Forge.
There is nothing proletarian about that kind of discipline. It is based neither on revolutionary consciousness nor on full adherence to a revolutionary programme. In the WCP, as in all other revisionist groups, submission to the “higher organs” takes the place of revolutionary discipline. This is what explains the methods of work and leadership exhibited by WCP members: the contempt for the masses, the steady patter of lies and declamations, the harassment and physical attacks. In fact, WCP methods also include calling upon the forces of law and order from the capitalist State who also follow orders from an all-powerful hierarchy and who are, like the WCP, ready to use whatever means are necessary to accomplish their ends and to shut up their “adversaries”.
Proletarian discipline should not be confused with the WCP’s image of “efficiency”. A capitalist army does not apply proletarian discipline. Yet it, too, is able to mobilize its forces into action quickly.
The distinguishing feature of proletarian discipline, in contrast to the bourgeois discipline prevailing in the ranks of the WCP, is that it is conscious. It is conscious because it is the product of real political unity achieved because all views are able to be expressed and real control is exercised by the entire organization over the levels of leadership it has elected.
Bourgeois discipline is based on the force of authority, on edicts and the policy of “accept it or else”. It can never compete with the discipline of the politically conscious proletariat. Wherever blind discipline holds sway, you can bet that inevitably one day there will be splits, power struggles and bourgeois careerism. Where the conscious and freely-willed discipline of the proletariat prevails, there is a constant strengthening of the unity of thought and action that is necessary for the victory of the revolution.
The WCP has written itself a constitution which embodies the same undemocratic methods which characterize its mass work. It is a set of rules designed to buttress and aid in the implementation of its revisionist political programme. Both amount to a lot of empty rhetoric which tries to fool the working class and people of Canada and get them sidetracked from the revolutionary path.
The WCP constitution ensures that its members and its cells will be confined to carrying out immediate localized work. The important political questions are left in the hands of a few “thinkers”. It is an organization divided into “doers” on one hand and “officers” on the other. It is an organization which cannot create the conditions for real democracy or centralism or proletarian discipline which are all indispensable to the working-class struggle.
The constitution of the former League verifies the assertion that the WCP refuses to fight against the politics of the bourgeoisie wherever it is, including within its own ranks.
[a] Incredible as it may seem, the sentence explaining this rule was left out of the English version of the WCP constitution. The sentence in French reads: “If a (cell) meeting is held the delegates to it are chosen to give a proportional representation from the different base units.” (“Si une conference est tenue, les delegues sont elus suivant une representation proportionnelle des differentes unites”).
[b] Again the words In the second set of brackets (coopted by the Central Committee) brackets are left out of the English version. In French: (“co-optes par le Comite Central”)
[c] Yes, you guessed right. This sentence is left out of the English version. In French: “le Bureau politique dirige le travail du Comite central”.
 The Forge, November 2 1979, p. 11
 See “Democratic Centralism: a fundamental organizational principle of the proletarian party” in PROLETARIAN UNITY no. 19, December 1979-January 1980, p. 48.
 The Forge, vol. 4, no. 30, September 7 1979, p. 6.
 WCP Constitution, section one, article 3 (2), p. 173.
 Ibid., section 6, aticle 1 (1), p. 178.
 Ibid., section 6, article 3 (1), p. 179.
 Ibid., section 6, article 1 (4), p. 179.
 Ibid., section 6, article 2 (2), p. 179.
 Ibid., section 3, article 1, p. 176.
 Ibid., section 4, article 7, p. 177.
 Ibid, p. 177.
 Ibid., section 1, article 5 and footnote, p. 175.
 Ibid., section 4, article 6, p. 177.
 Ibid., section 1, article 3, (3) and (6), p. 173 and p. 174.
 See IN STRUGGLE! Constitution, articles 5.8 and 5.9.
 WCP Constitution, section 4, article 1, p. 177.
 Ibid., French version, section 4, article 3, p. 117.
 The Forge, November