First Published: Marxist-Leninist Quarterly, Vol. II, No. 2, no date 
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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There is need for study of the Marxist-Leninist method of reaching decisions, a method we must learn to use in the clubs and committees of our Progressive Labor Movement.
Usually, we assume that we need only make motions, discuss them, vote on them, the majority opinion prevailing. That is indeed the formal method we use in many cases, and, in general, it is a correct method. But it is not always adequate.
The Marxist-Leninist method puts the main emphasis not on simple majority decisions but on correct theory, collective work, and collective decisions.
Let us discuss the latter two points first.
In every club or committee, we must always try for unanimous or nearly-unanimous decisions. If we are in agreement on theory, then we must discuss an issue until we are in agreement on details; we must try to reword motions or resolutions or other documents, until everybody agrees, or nearly everybody. Sometimes this means compromises in wording that are not quite satisfactory to some, but such compromises are correct if there is agreement on fundamental theory. We go around the room, we exchange views, we persuade and correct each other, we modify each other’s views, until we have substantial agreement. Sometimes we even postpone a decision for a week or two in order to attain unanimity. Such a method encourages everybody to propose improvements in motions or reports or resolutions. It encourages people to offer criticism and to accept criticism.
This is the essence of collective work. This is the Marxist-Leninist method, the only method that can bring the harmony and unity and genuine comradeship we must have in order to do our job; this is the only method that can make ours an effective Marxist-Leninist organization with correct principles and program.
Liu Shao-chi has discussed this question at length in his classic essay, On Inner-Party Struggle, a work that should be studied by every worker who wants to be a good Communist.
“...On questions of a purely practical character we can and must come to agreement with those within the Party who differ with us,” Liu says (Page 13, On Inner-Party Struggle, New Century Publishers, 1952).
There are often several solutions for concrete and practical problems. There are often several actually possible roads to take from one place to another...if divergent views occur over such concrete and purely practical issues, so long as these views do not involve principle, we should try our best to compromise, to make concessions, to accept and subscribe to others’ views. ’Be good at compromising,’ then matters can be smoothly dealt with...we should make all possible compromises with Party members holding different views concerning questions of a purely practical character...(Pages 34-35)
All meetings should reach conclusions. But matters which cannot be decided or problems which are still doubtful or have not yet been cleared up should not be decided casually. Matters decided must be matters about which one feels quite sure. Matters of which one is not sure may be reserved for further consideration or may be referred to the higher authorities. (Pages 25-26)
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The methods of the Communist Party of China are mentioned in two recent books by bourgeois writers. Edgar Snow, in The Other Side of the River, says of the style of work of Mao Tse-tung: “’Consult others first,’ ’don’t gossip behind comrades’ backs,’ ’exchange information,’ and ’don’t call a meeting until preparations are completed,’ are among Mao’s precepts of leadership. Years ago I was practically Mao’s next-door neighbor for some weeks in Pao-an. Preceding any important Politburo meeting I used to see members visit Mao’s cave, one by one at first, then two or three together, for discussions which lasted several hours. When Mao called a meeting he knew how to present a synthesis to include different points of view. The full meeting usually took less time than meetings between individuals.” (Page 332, The Other Side of the River, Random House of Canada, 1962)
Felix Greene, in China, The Country Americans Are Not Allowed to Know, says:
Weeks before Mao makes an important pronouncement...copies are circulated to several dozen people in the Government and Party. Those receiving these drafts...are expected to give their criticisms and comments absolutely freely. A second draft is sometimes circulated. Mao’s formal declarations and speeches are thus the product of collective thinking. (Page 358, China: The Country Americans Are Not Allowed to Know. Ballantine Books, 1962)
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The views and desires of absent members must always be taken into account. Members have a duty to attend their club or committee meetings, but sometimes workers are simply unable to do so. Even though they are absent, they are still members, and they have the rights of members; their views must be considered in making decisions. Sometimes (not always, of course) a club or committee may postpone a decision until absent members can participate.
In the old Communist Party of the U.S.A., there were a few clubs with a rule that all motions were adopted “subject to approval of absent members,” which meant that motions would be re-discussed if it turned out that absent members had serious objections or differences. Also, these clubs saw to it that absent members got absentee ballots in club elections.
But there were also many clubs in the old party that lost members because members’ rights were ignored. If a member happened to be absent, his or her views were not sought and he or she got no chance to vote in elections. In consequence, most workers drifted out, because there was no collective work. Such un-Marxist habits contributed much to present political degeneracy.
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It may be asked: What is wrong with the traditional method of introducing a motion, then fighting to get it adopted if a majority vote can be obtained? What is wrong with the idea that the minority must always go along with a majority decision?
In general, these methods are correct. But they are not always adequate; they can be used incorrectly. For a majority decision is only the will of the majority and is not the will of the minority. That is why Marxist-Leninists must always try to reach decisions that the will of all members, or nearly all. Such decisions, having full support, are much stronger than if they express only the will of the majority. This does not mean that all such decisions are necessarily correct, for there is also the question of applying theory correctly. But if theory is applied correctly, then collective decisions are very likely to be correct.
Those of us who were in the old party remember how bureaucrats operated in violation of the principle of collective work. It is typical of a bureaucrat that he brings in a one-man report or motion or recommendation and expects the discussion to consist only of praise for his “brilliant contribution.” If anybody suggests changes to improve his proposal, the bureaucrat raises all sorts of horse-fly objections; he always argues automatically against all criticisms. That means the group conducting the discussion would have to defeat him by motion and vote to get him to accept any change, any improvement, any criticism. Sincere workers are disgusted by such practices, which are inherited from bourgeois democracy. Eventually, a bureaucrat is surrounded by yes-men who do not know the difference between Marxism and rheumatism. Such bureaucrats, capable only of tailing after this or that group of employers, have led the old party to its present main policy of supporting the chief administrator of U.S. imperialism in the prayerful hope that imperialists will stop acting like imperialists.
Leading committees always have the difficult job of involving lower committees and clubs in the making of decisions – collective decisions. Democratic centralism must be highly democratic, and it must be highly centralized; a Marxist-Leninist organization exists to establish scientifically-correct policy, and then translate that policy into organized, decisive action. A leading committee has authority, but it gets that authority over a period of time by means of a constant exchange of recommendations and proposals from top to bottom, and from bottom to top. A leading committee’s authority is based on the understanding and approval of lower bodies, of the clubs and members. A higher body does not renounce or weaken authority by seeking approval of its actions by lower bodies; rather, it establishes and strengthens its authority. There will come occasions when a leading committee must take quick and firm action, must assert its authority and make decisions binding on all members; but on such occasions the leading committee can exercise” real authority only if understanding and approval and correct relationships have existed for a long time. The idea of democratic centralism is not to command but to provide firm leadership, scientific leadership, by democratic methods.
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A good Communist welcomes every criticism as an attempt to improve his work, and accepts with thanks every criticism he can. He asks for criticisms, for suggestions for improvement. That is, he organizes collective work; he sees to it that every decision is the product of many minds.
It is obvious, of course, that some criticisms are incorrect and cannot be accepted. But among workers who have fundamental agreement on theory, the great majority of criticisms turn out to be valuable and correct, and must therefore be accepted.
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The principle of collective work never means compromise on fundamental Marxist-Leninist theory. A collective decision that violates theory is a serious mistake no matter how much collective work has gone into it. Thus, the study and correct application of theory is part of the method of reaching decisions. A good Communist always fights for Marxist-Leninist theory, and refuses to back down. Our movement is founded on the knowledge that Marxist-Leninist theory is correct, and we cannot tolerate attempts to abandon it or water it down.
“No conciliation or compromise can be made in regard to differences over principle,” Liu says. “However, on all issues which have nothing to do with principle we should not be doggedly uncompromising and we should not struggle and argue too emphatically, otherwise our work would be impeded and unity impaired.” (Page 3)
As for those cases in which unanimous agreement cannot be reached, Liu says: – “On questions of ideology or principle, if agreement cannot be finally reached within the Party organization after discussion, the matter may be settled by a majority decision. After that, the minority who still hold different opinions may have the right to reserve their opinions on condition that they absolutely abide by the decision of the majority in respect to organizational matters and in their activities ...” (page 44)