Source: Communist Party 25th Congress Report, 1957
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
I. THE COMMUNIST PARTY AND THE CLASS STRUGGLE—WHY WE NEED DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM
II. IMPROVEMENTS IN OUR PRACTICE OF DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM
III. WHY WE REJECT ATTEMPTS TO REVIVE DEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM
Following our Twenty-Fourth Congress, and stimulated by events in other Communist Parties, there developed a widespread discussion on inner-Party democracy. The Executive Committee appointed a commission to examine the problems and to present proposals for discussion.
Congress has before it the Majority Report of this commission, together with many proposed amendments.
The proposal is that from the Congress discussion and decisions, and the work of the Congress Commission, there will emerge a statement which will be a guide to the Party.
This statement will need to define and explain our organisational principle. Our practice will be more effective if the principle is thoroughly understood. Such an explanation, made with the authority of Congress, will be a contribution to the educational material of our Party.
The main political requirement for the development of the united action of the working class and the advance of the struggle to Socialism in Britain is that the Communist Party shall steadily grow in numbers and influence. Therefore the statement will need to help all Party organisations further to develop the initiative of our members and to advance our public work.
Following the decision of this Congress it will be necessary to prepare the proposed Memorandum on Discussion, the draft Standing Orders and Procedure for Congress, and the re-draft of the Party Rules, and to examine the position and status of City, Borough and Area Committees.
The discussion has raised the question of what kind of Party is required by the working class.
One trend has questioned the conception of a revolutionary working class Party of a new type, based on Marxism-Leninism. Proposals have been brought forward which would mean a retreat from this conception and from the principle of democratic centralism. This trend finds expression in the Minority Report.
The other trend considers that for Communists there cannot be any retreat from the conception of the Party of a new type, ideologically united on the basis of the Marxist-Leninist theory, and accepting democratic centralism as its organisational principle; that our task is to persist in our efforts to build such a Party in Britain, to correct our mistakes, to train and educate the whole of our Party in the midst of the class struggle. This trend finds expression in the Majority Report, endorsed by the Executive Committee.
Congress has to take a decisive stand in relation to these two trends.
To maintain and further develop our Communist Party as the militant political party of the working class, it is necessary to reject the trend to abandon or revise the principle of democratic centralism. The more clearly and decisively this is done, the more it will be possible for the Party to concentrate on the correction of mistakes and removal of shortcomings in our inner Party life.
The Communist Party exists to lead the working class and the working people in class struggle against capitalism.
The purpose of Party organisation is to ensure that the collective effort of all our members is directed in the most effective way to the achievement of the Party’s aims. The inner life of the Party is the discussion of experiences and problems arising in the struggle to achieve these aims; the formation of policy and the making of decisions necessary for this achievement; and the help and encouragement to all members continuously to improve their abilities to strengthen the struggle for the aims of the Party.
The Communist Party is the vanguard of the working class. Its members are prepared to devote their political activity to the achievement of Socialism and Communism, and know that to do this it is necessary that political power should be in the hands of the working class and its allies.
To realise our aims it is necessary that they should become the will of the people. The people can be won for our policy only through the organised activity of the members of our Party. This activity determines the fate of our political decisions.
Because our policy expresses the class interests of the workers, it can only be realised through the struggle of the working class against the capitalist class.
Our Party has to be organised so as to be able to convince the workers that our policy expresses their interests, to help to bring them into action for their demands and to help them to victory.
The nature of this struggle necessarily imposes certain requirements upon the organisation of the Party.
The Communist Party has to be a unified political force, able to give leadership in all circumstances of the class struggle. Such unity and militancy are only possible if all members and organisations of the Party work together within the discipline of the Party.
The Communist Party needs a single leading centre, with an Executive Committee able to lead the whole Party and to influence the workers and the Labour movement.
The Communist Party needs strong and numerous cadres, responsible comrades continually growing in their experience of struggle and their understanding of Marxism-Leninism. Our cadres have to stand resolutely with the Party, and even in the most difficult situations, rally the whole membership for the struggle.
The Communist Party needs scores of thousands of members who are politically active and in close contact with the workers, knowing their views and needs, and able to explain our policy. Communists need to serve the working class in many ways and to win their confidence while at the same time clearly explaining the policy and aims of our Party.
A long and persistent struggle is necessary to build such a Party.
In this struggle has evolved the principle of democratic centralism, which combines democracy and centralism, both essential in our organisation. Democratic centralism is centralism supported by democracy, and democracy with centralised guidance. Democratic centralism is possible and effective because the Party adheres to Marxism-Leninism and does not tolerate alien ideology in its ranks.
Democratic centralism means:
(i) That all members have the right to take part in the formation of policy and the duty to fight for the policy on which the Party decides.
(ii) That all members have the right to elect and be elected to the leading committees of the Party, and to be represented at the National Party Congress, the sovereign authority of the Party. It decides policy, determines the Rules, and elects the Executive Committee, which between Congresses leads the Party.
(iii) That all members have the right to contribute to the democratic life of the Party, and the duty to safeguard the unity of the Party.
(iv) That the elected leading committees have the right to make decisions which are binding on the lower organisations. The duty of higher organisations is to consult to the maximum possible before making such decisions, and fully to explain the reasons for them. The duty of the lower organisations is to express their views before the decision is made by the higher body and to carry it out when it is made.
(v) That all organisations and members abide by the Rules of the Party. That the obligations of membership and the discipline of the Party, voluntarily accepted on joining, apply to all members whatever their position.
(vi) That decisions are reached by the majority vote, and the minority accepts the decision of the majority.
(vii) That during discussion there is freedom of criticism and self-criticism, and that when a decision is taken it is the duty of all to carry it out. That higher organisations pay attention to the views and experiences of lower organisations and of the members, and give prompt help to solving their problems.
(ix) That lower organisations report on their work to the higher organisations, present their problems and ask for guidance on matters requiring decision by the higher organisations.
(x) That all Party organisations combine collective leadership and individual responsibility.
(xi) That factional activity of any kind is not permitted because it destroys the unity of the Party.
Some people suggest that Britain is different—here things are done in a peaceful and democratic way, Parliament decides, there is a strong organised Labour movement, so that the working class does not require an ideologically united revolutionary party organised on the principle of democratic centralism.
But the necessity for ideological unity and for democratic centralism arises from the character of the class struggle and does not depend upon whether there is peace or violence, or whether capitalist power is maintained by open dictatorship or screened by democracy. To defend its interests, the capitalist class has developed a centralised state power over which the working class has no control. Against this power the strength of the working class is in its numbers. To gain the victory the millions of workers have to exert their full political strength in a mass revolutionary movement, with a united and resolute leadership. To prepare and lead such a movement the working-class party must itself be revolutionary, united, resolute and centralised.
To examine realities in Britain is to leave no doubt that the British capitalists have done more than any others to establish their centralised state power for use in defence of their profits and privileges and for aggressive action against their enemies, at home and abroad.
The employers of every major industry are linked in national federations and are unified as a class in the Federation of British Industries. The five big banks are centralised through the bankers’ bank, the Bank of England. The financial, trading and productive interests are linked with the Tory Party and the state machine by thousands of cadres, trained in the public schools to think in terms of maintaining the exploitation of labour by the propertied class. The Tory Party is a political machine, financed and controlled by big business, without even the fig leaf of a democratic constitution.
Parliament is the national forum for discussion, but the seat of power is in the state machine, now a regulating force in almost every sphere of the national life.
Democratic rights won by the people in generations of struggle can be suspended by the declaration of a state of emergency in which the Government of the day exercises dictatorial powers to do anything it thinks fit, including arrests and detentions without trial, and the prohibition of meetings and assemblies.
The workers have won the right to strike, but the Emergency Powers Act gives the Government the right to use the whole state machine, including the armed forces, and new organisations which it can set up, to break strikes.
Under the guise of security a secret and powerful machine is in action today against those who oppose capitalism. It spies, threatens and bribes. Opening people’s post and tapping their telephones are included in its everyday routine. It stores up many thousands of dossiers for the day when it can use them in a big way. Meanwhile, it perfects its technique of blacklisting and witch-hunting.
In the field of propaganda the British capitalist class excels all others. It has developed a press and radio technique of suggestion, distortion of fact and downright lying for the purpose of moulding the minds of the people and persuading them to accept policies against their own interests. Every day millions of capitalist newspapers go into the hands of the people. Every day millions listen to the radio. Every day this enormous propaganda machine is at work to confuse and divide the people and prejudice them against Socialism and Communism.
Undoubtedly the working class has built powerful mass organisations. But from the moment the capitalists were compelled to concede the right to organise, they set out to ensure that the key positions of control in the workers’ organisations were held by men whose minds were dominated by capitalist ideas. The technique of dealing with the leaders thrown up by the working class was summed up in the famous remark of Lady Warwick—“You train them and we’ll buy them”.
If we recall the betrayal of the General Strike of 1926, the desertion of Ramsay MacDonald and his formation of a National Government, the failure of the Labour Government in 1945-50 to use its parliamentary majority to introduce a Socialist policy, we must admit that the Tories have had considerable success in securing Labour leaders who are loyal to capitalism. Such recent events as the speech of Gaitskell at the time of the Suez affair, in which he committed Labour to being satisfied if there were a change of Tory Prime Minister, thus disrupting the growing movement to end Tory Government, or the betrayal of the solid strike of the engineers and shipbuilding workers, compel us to admit that the political loyalty to capitalism of many Labour leaders is today a major obstacle to the advance of the interests of the working class.
The bans imposed by the right-wing Labour leaders to prevent the full participation of Communists in the trade unions and to exclude Communists from the Trades Councils and from the Labour Party, are a major service to capitalism.
Today the capitalists are further developing their efforts to control the Labour movement. The capitalist press and the radio, together with special organisations formed for the purpose, openly intervene in trade union elections. Under the flag of anti-Communism they campaign to win votes for candidates who satisfy the Tory conception of what a trade union leader should be.
All this makes the work of the Communist Party more difficult and complicated. The British capitalist class is more experienced, stronger and more subtle than Russian tsardom with its crude brutality. Yet some people want to persuade us that we are less in need of Party unity and discipline than were those who fought against tsarism. The very contrary is the case.
The British working class therefore requires that its political Party be a Marxist-Leninist Party. Democratic centralism is the only organisational principle on which such a Party can be built.
The Communist Party can only acquire the qualities it needs through the experience of struggle. We have been through many struggles, political mass movements, strikes, tenants’ struggles and other forms of united action. Everyone with any such experience knows perfectly well that if the Party is not clear in its policy and is not united it cannot give an effective lead, it cannot promote unity, and it cannot gain the confidence of the workers. What sort of use to those engaged in struggle could a Party be which allowed one section of its members to say “Forward”, another section to say “Backward”, and yet another to say “Stay where you are”? The workers would turn in derision and contempt from such a Party, and they would be right.
If this lesson can be learnt in the kind of struggles we have experienced, how much more necessary will be the unity and discipline of the Party in the course of the struggle for power which lies ahead.
At critical moments in big struggles decisions have to be taken as rapidly as events move. What kind of a Party would it be which prevented its Executive taking any decision until there had been a prolonged discussion in which every possible objection had to be fully debated, or in which members could dissociate themselves from decisions with which they did not agree so that the Party would never pull its full weight? Such a Party would be no use in times of crisis.
A Communist Party cannot be rapidly improvised. Leaders and cadres able to guide a mass movement do not appear spontaneously. That is why, from the very beginning, our Party has to be built on ideological unity and democratic centralism in order that it can become experienced and steeled for the great tasks it has to undertake.
We have now had thirty years’ experience of the practice of democratic centralism. What have been the results?
We have positive achievements of great value to the working class.
We have established a strong central leadership, closely connected with the Party. This leadership has met regularly, convened Congresses regularly and reported to them.
We have established a tradition of rights and duties so that the Party acts as a united and militant Party of the working class. Despite smallness of numbers, this tradition has led to such activity and initiative by our members as has compelled recognition by our enemies. On certain issues—the defence of the first Socialist Republic, the mass struggles of the unemployed, the anti-Fascist movement, aid for Republican Spain, trade union unity, the wages movement and the struggle for peace—the activity of our Party changed the political course of the working class movement of this country.
We have made our Party the most democratic political organisation in the country. Our members and branches have more rights than those of other parties in relation to the formation of policy, the election of leadership, the criticism of leading bodies, and the taking and carrying out of decisions. We have a comprehensive appeals machinery which safeguards members’ rights.
Our Party has avoided the continual splits which were the bane of previous Marxist organisations in this country. During thirty-four years of struggle our Party has maintained its unity and grown in strength.
Our Party established and maintains the only national daily newspaper championing the interests of the working class at home and internationally, and loyal to the cause of Socialism, the Daily Worker.
These achievements would not have been possible, we could not have made the impact we have on the working class and the Labour movement, without democratic centralism.
We have also serious weaknesses and shortcomings.
We have not a sufficient number of strong, politically active branches, especially in the factories, to ensure that our policy becomes the views of the workers and to bring about the return of Communist councillors and Members of Parliament.
Our Marxist-Leninist education and work to develop cadres reaches only a small proportion of our members. We do not draw all our members into political discussion at our branch meetings and into regular personal contact with responsible comrades who can help their development as Communists. Consequently many who have joined our Party fall out again.
These weaknesses are serious, because they hold back the advance of the Party and the working class. To overcome them is a major responsibility of our Executive and District Committees.
The printed report presents proposals to help remove these weaknesses and further develop Party democracy. The proposals are made in detail, which it is not necessary to repeat.
In the discussion of policy we have to bring in many more of our members. Most of our comrades are in close contact with the working people. Many are frequently asked for advice, and looked to for leadership. Many occupy responsible positions, and know first hand what workers are thinking. Our members have a tremendous wealth of knowledge, political interest and ability which, if more fully contributed to the discussion of policy and other problems, would enrich our whole Party life and improve our formulation and presentation of policy.
The detailed proposals to give more time and space in the Party for pre-Congress discussion; to present clearly the essential political problems that need to be thrashed out; to consult the Party membership whenever possible, and to ensure the better exchange of views between branches and higher organisations, will all help to bring more of our members into political discussion, provided that we understand that the problem goes deeper than the assurances of formal rights. Our Rules already give such rights: the problem is that so many of our members do not personally take part in the regular discussion of Party problems. Unless we can find the reasons for this holding back and remove them, we shall not solve the problem.
In the election of the Executive Committee, we have to establish a procedure and method which will assure to every Congress delegate the possibility to make his choice from all the nominations before Congress and at the same time help to elect an Executive qualified to carry out its heavy responsibilities.
The method of the recommended list and the procedure now suggested mark a considerable development from the old panel system. They confirm the right of the delegates to acquire the utmost possible information concerning any nominee and to express his own views for or against any nominee.
They ensure the right of each delegate to cast his votes in secret ballot for any of the names who have accepted nomination. They ensure that Congress receives advice and is able to decide freely how to vote.
The process of election begins in the branches, where the nominations are made.
We cannot be satisfied with the position prior to this Congress. Attendance at the 401 branch meetings which sent in nominations totalled only 3,152. The number entitled to attend was over 11,000. If all branches had exercised their rights, the total possible attendance would have been over 28,000.
These figures show the falsity of the picture some people present, of an indignant membership clamouring for rights refused them by an obstinate Executive. That is not the situation, and that is not the problem. The problem is that the Executive and District Committees have not yet found a way to help the branches develop their life so that the great majority of members attend the branch meetings.
The detailed proposals to ensure a longer period for nominations; to establish clearly the whole procedure commencing with nominations to the branches right through to the right of Congress to receive advice before voting, and to ensure wider consultation on the nominations for the Election Preparations Committee, will all help to bring about the election of the best possible collective team to compose our Executive and to assure it the confidence and support of the whole membership.
In the relations between branches and leading committees we have to remove causes for complaint and to establish a much fuller flow of ideas in both directions.
Undoubtedly a great deal has to be done to improve relations between branches and leading committees. The Executive Committee has declared as correct the criticism that at the root of many shortcomings and errors in inner-Party life lies a serious error—the tendency to over-emphasise centralism and under-emphasise democracy. Congress is asked to endorse this criticism, with the determination to make it a starting point for a thorough examination of the activity of all our Party organisations so that changes can be made which will help to draw all our members into the political life of the Party.
To carry through such changes will require the co-operation of Party organisations and members. The leading committees can help by decisions as to what has to be done, but the problem of doing it can only be solved in the course of activity in the branches.
Inner-Party democracy cannot develop if the Party branch is isolated from the struggles of the working people. The branches of the Communist Party have to be much more than discussion circles. They have to be centres of political activity in which the Communists learn from the people and the people learn from the Communists.
It is necessary to bring about two developments. There must be a closer connection and better political relations between the branches and the higher committees and there must be such a development of Party branch life that the great majority of the members take part in it and the branch is closely connected with the people and active among them.
On the District Committee falls the responsibility for establishing good relations with the branches, and of making use of the decisions of the Executive to help the Party branches. The Executive has the responsibility of helping the District Committees. To establish the two-way flow of ideas is essential for the life and growth of our Party.
Through the activity of our members our branches can become closely aware of what is in the minds of the people, their views of current events, their political attitude, the issues which concern them most, the demands and forms of action which will obtain their support. The branch meeting can become a centre of discussion on the problems and views of the people. The branch can make its estimate, formulate its views, make its proposals, and send them to the District Committee.
The leading committees can then take necessary decisions at a time and in such a form that Party members see them as a help in the problems they are meeting with. The reasons for these decisions, the arguments for and against, have to be explained in such a way that the whole Party membership is able to campaign for them with understanding and conviction to win the support of the workers.
In this way our members help to make the needs of the workers the basis of Party policy, and to make Party policy the means of developing the views of the workers and winning their support. In this way the work of Communists in helping the workers in all aspects of the struggle can also make the workers conscious of the role of the Party, help the Party to lead and to grow.
If we do not work it in this way many good decisions will never be carried out, much work will be done inside the Party which is not related to the needs of the people, and we may at one time lag behind the workers and at another be too far ahead.
Elements of this method of work are already present. We all know the difference made to a discussion in a District Committee when a comrade direct from the factory speaks of how the problem appears to the Party branch and the workers in that factory. We all know the improvement which takes place when a member of the District Committee personally explains a decision to a Party branch and how much practical help in solving the problems of the branch is welcomed.
But this is not yet the general pattern of relations. Too often there is no direct contact. The work of District Committees and the Executive is not known to many members and branches of the Party.
At present many District Committees can maintain effective contact only with a small number of branches. But the problem of contact has to be solved if we are to make the necessary improvements in the life of the Party. If we have developed a routine which leaves this problem unsolved, then the routine must be changed.
We know by experience that the crux of the problem of developing active branches is to secure a collective leadership of comrades who are prepared to develop public activity, work in the Labour movement, and cultivate the Party membership. Such a collective leadership gets good results, whatever the peculiarities of the factory or the locality. Without such a leadership the branch does not develop, however many of its members may be on higher committees.
As yet the development of such branch leaderships is more a matter of luck than of organised effort by our leading committees. We do a great deal for Marxist-Leninist education, and we do much to develop individual cadres. But this work is done mainly in relation to comrades active at national and district level or who play a leading part in the Labour movement.
It is necessary to carry the educational and cadres work into the branches and help develop the cadres indispensable to the growth of politically strong and self-reliant branches.
At present our leading committees too often take away from branches comrades who should be helped to make the leadership of the branch their main contribution to the Party.
Too often important campaigns or industrial struggles pass without the leading committees drawing in Party members concerned to discuss the experiences and drawing conclusions and lessons to be made available to the whole Party. People develop rapidly in the struggle, but it is the work of the Communists to draw the lessons not only for ourselves but for the workers.
This Congress will make important decisions on the political resolution and on the Party programme. But what will happen to these decisions?
Only through the work of our branches will they be fully understood by the members of our Party.
Only through the activity of the members of our Party will they receive the support of the workers. Only if the workers understand and support them will the struggle for our decisions succeed. What happens to the decisions of Congress depends upon the life and work of our Party branches.
It is now necessary to argue against certain proposals which it is claimed are based upon acceptance of the principle of democratic centralism and intended to make it more democratic in practice, but are not in fact compatible with democratic centralism and if adopted would lead to its destruction.
Proposals are made to give individual members the right to contract out from decisions they do not agree with; to campaign for a minority viewpoint; to give individuals the right to publish their own material outside Party control; that branches should have the right to mandate their delegate to Congress, or to veto a nomination of a member of that branch for election to higher committees.
Such proposals seek to elevate the individual above the collective, the minority above the majority, a particular Party organisation above the Party as a whole.
But the strength of the Communist Party, its ability to act as a united organisation, springs from the fact that the individual voluntarily associates himself with the collective, contributes everything he can to it, and accepts its decisions. We do not accept the idea that there are particular individuals with some kind of divine right to place themselves above others, who can be allowed at their own discretion to decide for themselves whether or not they will accept the Party decisions.
Holders of a minority opinion who disagree with a Party decision have the right to reserve their views and to express them to higher bodies. They may ask for the matter to be reopened. Since the work of leading committees comes under review at the next Congress, comrades maintaining disagreement have the right to raise the matter in the pre-Congress discussion and in the Congress. But comrades who disagree have the obligation common to all members—to fight for the decision once it is made.
We are asked to make special provisions for minority opinion, such as the right to hold meetings outside the normal meetings of the Party and to publish and circulate their own platform outside the Party press.
The whole Party has the right to learn from experience, to correct mistakes, and if it thinks fit, to change its policy. The whole membership of the Party will decide what opinion becomes the decision of the Party. There is time and place for the holders of a minority view to argue their case before the Party membership, and to convince them if they are able to do so.
We do not accept the concept of a permanent minority, always disagreeing with the majority and therefore needing its own organisation. This idea is borrowed from what goes on in parties which have no common ideology, and in which a permanent Right and Left develops holding different conceptions and representing different interests. It is alien to the Communist Party, where there cannot be a permanent Right and Left because such differences as arise are settled by democratic discussion and decision within the framework of Marxism-Leninism.
We do not want a cult of the minority. Proposals to elevate the minority above the majority, to accord it special status and rights, are proposals to introduce the struggle of organised political trends into our Party, to legalise factions, and thus destroy the unity of the Party and with it the Party’s ability to give leadership and service to the working class.
Proposals that a branch should have the right to mandate its delegate to Congress or to veto the nomination of one of its members for a higher committee, arise from a misconception of the relation between the branch and the Party. The branch is a part of the Party, and the part cannot be greater than the whole. It is the Party in Congress which decides policy and leadership.
If any branch had power to prevent the nomination of one of its members going forward, it would have power to prevent Congress making a decision. The branch delegate has the right to argue the case in the Election Preparations Committee. That Committee is bound to, and does, pay the greatest attention to such representations. Under the procedure now proposed the branch delegate, if he does not accept the advice of the Election Preparations Committee, will have the right to give his advice also to Congress. The views of the branch on such a nomination will be given full consideration, but it is Congress which will decide.
If the branch were to mandate its delegate, what would be the use of discussion at Congress? A debate in which people are not allowed to change their minds or to form their decision after listening to the arguments is a waste of time. What the branch has a right to do is to elect the delegate it considers most capable, to put down a resolution or amendment, and to give its delegate the most powerful arguments it can find. But that delegate also has the duty of listening to the debate and voting in accordance with his judgment after having heard that debate.
To say that the delegate shall be mandated but retain the right not to vote in accordance with the mandate is a contradiction in terms and makes the mandate nonsense. To say that the delegate can only vote in accordance with his mandate would be equivalent to saying that the branch is not prepared to be influenced by the views of the rest of the Party.
Another group of proposals seeks to impose some form of limitation or control of the work of the Executive by members or branches, or to make the decisions of the Executive dependent upon ratification by branches.
The arguments for such proposals show that their sponsors consider that democracy and centralism are antagonistic, and that a “proper balance between them” must be established.
So far from democracy and centralism being antagonistic, in the Communist Party they are essential to one another. Without centralised leadership, how can our democracy unite all its efforts and direct them to attain its aim? Without democracy, how can our centralised leadership have mass support and avoid bureaucracy?
Whence comes the idea, that democracy and centralism are antagonistic, the tendency to identify membership with rank and file and leadership with bureaucracy? From everyday life in capitalist society, where the mass of the workers feel themselves to be the rank and file in opposition to the central authority. This opposition expresses hostile class interests, the rank and file are the working class and the central authority is that of the capitalist class. Here the antagonism is real, it is a class antagonism.
But there is no such antagonism inside the Communist Party. In the Party members and leaderships have the same aims. There is no contradiction of interest between them. To draw a parallel between what happens in capitalist society and the position inside the Party is completely wrong. Our members are not a rank and file, subject to orders from officials on top. Our members elect our leading committees, and our leading committees are responsible to those who elect them. If bureaucratic methods are found anywhere in our Party, the members and the leading committees are both interested in removing them.
All attempts to drive a wedge between our members and our elected leading committees should be rejected, because they can only bring confusion and division into our Party.
We should also beware of false parallels between the position in our Party and that in workers’ organisations with a Social Democratic leadership. In such organisations there is no common theory accepted by all members. It is normal for a conflict to develop between the members and the right-wing leaders, because the latter carry on a pro-capitalist policy which conflicts with the interests of the members.
Proposals for a Federal or semi-Federal Executive reflect the practice in the Labour Party and in many trade unions. But these organisations have different aims and therefore different structures from those of the Communist Party. The structure of our Executive must correspond to our requirements, not to those of the Labour Party.
A Federal Executive means divided sources of authority, and therefore divided loyalties. It means that some members have responsibilities to different electors than others. It therefore weakens the collective.
Our Party Congress is the sovereign authority because it represents all Party members. It elects an Executive which it charges with responsibility for leading the whole Party till the next Congress. It elects an Executive which is a collective and responsible as such.
Another group of proposals is directed to reducing the responsibilities of the elected leadership, to limit the rights of members appointed by the Party to a full-time position or to reduce the standing of the Political Committee. Such proposals either underestimate the need for strong leadership or express a certain mistrust of leadership.
The whole history of the working class proves that leadership has a decisive role to play. The question is whether the leadership acts in the interests of the working-class or the capitalist class.
The theory, structure and practice of the Communist Party help to develop leaders who remain unswervingly loyal to the working class and who devote their activity to advancing the struggle for Socialism and not to personal aggrandisement.
The success of our Party in this respect stands out in sharp contrast to the practice in other working class organisations, whose leaders frequently leave them for well paid positions in the service of the propertied class. It is now a commonplace for men responsible for negotiating on behalf of the workers later to receive appointments to act for the employers and for political leaders of Labour to receive high administrative positions in the State. The problem for us is not to weaken our elected leadership by mistrust or by restricting its powers. Our problem is to select the most capable tried and trusted comrades who have proved themselves in the work of the Party, to elect them as a collective and judge them on the basis of what they do. The Political Committee is an essential organ of the Executive Committee which elects it and to which it is responsible. The duty of the Political Committee is to give prompt and effective leadership on questions arising between the meetings of the Executive.
The Political Committee issues statements when necessary, prepares questions for the Executive, reports on the carrying out of decisions, and on behalf of the Executive controls the departments at the Party Centre. The Political Committee takes decisions when emergency so requires. The work of the Political Committee is regularly reported to the Executive for questioning, endorsement or otherwise.
The Minority Report gives some lip service to democratic centralism, and then assembles a number of proposals into a sort of platform from which to wreck democratic centralism.
By introducing the legalising of factions, relieving those who disagree with Party decisions from the obligation to fight for them, while granting them the right to campaign against them, allowing individuals to publish and circulate controversial matter without Party control, the Minority Report would end Party unity and discipline and reduce the Party to an assembly of contending sects. The Minority Report is dominated by the idea that the main thing is to elevate minority opinion, and that if this were done the Party would in some way gain public support. But comrades who are in touch with the workers know very well that Communists who dissociate themselves from the Party and its decisions are more likely to be regarded with contempt by the workers than with respect.
The eyes of friends and enemies alike are fixed on this Congress. Our friends hope that it will overcome our recent difficulties. They want to see a Communist Party united and in the front line of every struggle. Our enemies hope that our Party will turn away from the tested principles of Marxism-Leninism, because they want to see it weaken. They will be disappointed.
The decisions of Congress will provide our Party with an immediate policy and a line of advance for the whole working class. We also need a Party organisation strong enough to win the working class for our policy. The aim of our discussion on inner-Party democracy is to develop such a Party organisation.
The aim of our inner-Party democracy is not to keep an endless debate going; it is to develop Communists and branches capable of leading the struggle of the working class.
Certainly great changes are needed in our Party, changes which will bring us thousands of new members and establish Party branches wherever there are working people.
To begin such developments it is necessary to reject any complacency or satisfaction with our present position, and also to reject any attempts to revise the principle of democratic centralism in our organisation.
In the thirty-seven years since its formation our Party rendered its greatest service when the class struggle was sharpest and hundreds of thousands of workers took part in class battles.
Now we enter a period of new struggles in which millions of working people will take part. The issues of the standard of living and democratic rights will inevitably develop as the crisis of capitalism deepens into the struggle for a new social order. Already the desire is rising not only to end this Tory Government but to make sure that there is never again a Tory Government.
For the working class to succeed in the coming struggles it is indispensable to have a far stronger Communist Party, with its Communist Councillors and Members of Parliament and a mass sale of the Daily Worker.
To make possible this growth of the Party we have to make developments in our Party democracy which will at the same time strengthen the centralised leadership in our Party.
The Executive Committee asks this Congress to endorse the line of the Majority Report as a first step in this direction, confident that while reaffirming the essential principle of democratic centralism we can also initiate a fresh development of our Party and that the joint activity of our members our Branches and our leading committees will give the working class a Communist Party capable of leading it to victory.