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Revolutionary Union

Red Papers 4

The RU Leadership

Report on Democracy and Democratic Centralism

At the point of summing up an important struggle, we must take stock of our practice in methods of struggle and methods of leadership, our practice of democratic centralism. We should also sum up what we have learned about the needs of the organization, the strengths and weaknesses of both leadership and membership. Also, in this particular struggle, two lines have emerged on questions of democratic centralism, and these questions should also be raised and resolved now.

Our organization has attempted to base itself on the principles of democratic centralism. This was because democratic centralism has proven necessary, both historically and in our own situation, not because we found a kind of “Robert’s Rules of Order” conveniently at hand. The principles of democratic centralism were forged by Lenin in his struggle to build a fighting, disciplined revolutionary party, a proletarian party of a new type, a party with a form of organization as well as political line that was scientifically developed to serve the needs of the people in a certain historical period – the period of imperialism, when capitalism diminishes in strength and the world proletariat increases in strength and prepares, together with its reliable allies, the oppressed nations of the world, to usher in the period of proletarian rule; when the proletariat takes the lead in transforming the relations of production to correspond with the more advanced means of production, and thereby lay the basis for the abolition of classes.

This is a revolutionary task that can only be achieved from beginning to end by a disciplined and class conscious proletariat with a clear understanding of its historical mission and of the science of class struggle – dialectical materialism. This direction, argued Lenin, can only come about if an advanced detachment is developed in the working class, a revolutionary party that can lead in waging class war. Lenin argued that to fulfill this role a revolutionary party must have the most disciplined form of organization that the proletariat is capable of producing, the greatest unity of will, and forms of internal struggle to insure the most scientifically correct class understanding.

Forms of organization, then, could not be either created in the abstract nor modeled on the limited needs of any short-range period or stage of struggle. To build an organization capable of fulfilling its task, Lenin argued not only in his own party but throughout the communist movement, against opportunist and petty bourgeois concepts of organization. It was precisely in the struggle against ultra-democratic trends that Lenin developed the concept of democratic centralism.

First, let’s briefly state the principles of democratic centralism. Mao puts forward the four main organizational principles in “Role of the Chinese Communist Party in the National War”:

1) The individual is subordinate to the organization.
2) The minority is subordinate to the majority.
3) The lower level is subordinate to the higher level.
4) The entire membership is subordinate to the central committee.

The first principle relates to the voluntary discipline that is binding on a member of a communist organization. The second, to the principle of democracy that is the basis of discipline. The third and fourth to the communist practice of “top-down” leadership. Top-down leadership differentiates a communist organization from all other organizations that are based only on the principle of formal democracy.

Top-down leadership embodies the principles in a communist organization to equip us for our fighting tasks, but also enables a communist organization to develop its political line on the basis of a Marxist theory of knowledge, on the basis of mass line. The work of a communist organization – including its investigation and practice among the masses, and its study – is discussed, summed up, and out of that its theory and political work is projected. These decisions must then be implemented in a disciplined way by the entire organization in order to test their validity in practice.

When there are differences, two principles must be kept in mind. First, there should be a unified line at all times, otherwise we cannot test the validity of policies on the basis of common practice. Besides that, if a unified line were not maintained discipline would fall apart and whatever base we have would cease to look to us for leadership whenever strong differences of opinion emerged. Second, political differences must be settled on the basis of unity-criticism-unity, which is the method of ideological struggle. We enter into struggle with the desire to win over comrades and for the whole organization to arrive at a correct political line. We do not fear ideological struggle.

The role of the leadership in this is essential. If we are to correct our mistakes and develop our work, direction of the day to day work of the organization must come from a unified leadership, based upon a unified political line. The leadership must bear final responsibility to the entire organization for the direction of the work and the decisions that are made. Rather than following different policies when there are disagreements, criticism and persuasion is in order. If that fails, the method of struggle should be used at appropriate times, as in the current struggle or at the meeting of the highest representative body. Only by this method of ideological struggle, based on organizational unity, can factionalism be prevented and our work carried on in a way that is both disciplined and democratic-a combination that only a communist organization can really attain.

In a communist organization, then, if problems are allowed to develop unchecked, it is primarily the fault of leadership. Recently it has become clear that the political level of many members and sections of the organization has not developed; and where leadership has developed in less advanced areas and attempted to deal with problems, they have gotten little support from the rest of the leadership. Key developments have been made in political line, such as the “United Front” and “Road to the Proletariat” articles in RED PAPERS 2, but there was not sufficient concern by leadership to see that this political line was understood, agreed upon, and integrated with practice to move practice ahead.

Whenever there is criticism, questions, or lack of final agreement, this should be immediately voiced to the leadership, however loud enough to make them take notice. More importantly, it is the duty of leadership to see that such discussion and struggle develops, and to mobilize the cadre to see that there is implementation of general tasks on the local levels.

Throughout the history of the organization there has been one line developing that minimized the importance of discussion and summing up of practice toward the development of a line, minimized the struggle for ideological unity, and for the development of our understanding of Marxism-Leninism through study – all in an undialectical reliance on “practice”, on a one-sided and un-Marxist reliance on practical work. This line eventually developed into a faction that showed complete contempt for the Marxist method of ideological struggle and the Marxist principle of unity-criticism-unity, as well as contempt for the historical experience of Marxism-Leninism.

In the formative stages many of these ideas were not fully recognized for what they were and opposed. As a result, a kind of area autonomy was allowed to develop along with uneveness in political development and differences in political line – all of this, consciously the design of some in leadership, but allowed by others in leadership because of our own lack of vigilance and liberalism and lack of understanding of the importance of ideological struggle.

What was the Franklin group’s understanding of democratic centralism? They repeatedly opposed attempts to carry on ideological struggle to achieve a unified political line. Summing up of work, especially work that they had a foothold in, such as student work, was a useless bureaucratic function: the time could be better spent doing more “practice.” They argued that a central leadership body, such as the responsible committee, was just another bureaucratic encumbrance, and they opposed its creation. Once it was created, they attempted to sabotage its work. In fact, they opposed developing a political line if it forced our organization to go out on a limb to fight for the needs of the mass movement, or if it meant alienating other forces.

Examples of this are their early opposition to exposing PL and their reluctance to take up and deal with the national question. Recently, of course, they have made a complete turn-about, opposing any criticism of the line and practice of the Panther Party – using this time a perversion of the correct line they had previously opposed. All this in a one-sided way to say, “keep away from those questions, they’re no concern of yours.”

They wanted as little line developed as possible and certainly didn’t want to be bound by what was agreed upon. They had a great fear of ideological struggle, if it was likely to have consequences they couldn’t control. They set a very poor example.

They took advantage of the fact that sharp ideological struggle was unfolded against their “military strategy” to provide a rationale for open and admitted factional activity. Once sharp struggle had developed they weren’t willing to fight it out on a political level but instead maneuvered for the most opportune moment to split, hoping their disruption would accomplish what their political arguments had not. They exposed themselves, much as Lenin’s opponents did, in “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.”

Refusal to accept the direction of the central bodies is tantamount to refusing to remain in the party, it is tantamount to disrupting the party; it is a method of destroying, not of convincing. And these efforts to destroy instead of convince show their lack of consistent principles, lack of faith in their own ideas. (COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 7, pp. 364-365.)

In summing up and learning from their mistakes, there are some questions we should consider, namely, some ultra-democratic ideas they put forward to defend their opposition to ideological struggle and centralized political leadership. These questions have not yet been thoroughly discussed or understood.

Due to their line on organization and to the rest of leadership’s failure to investigate and be concerned with the whole of the organization, their area had achieved a good deal of autonomy in practice. As the struggle sharpened, they found themselves in a minority on the responsible committee, and they proceeded to make autonomy or “decentralized management” into a principle. The area leadership, they said, are the component parts of the Central Committee, so they could over-ride decisions of the higher leadership if they chose. They also made the proposal at this time that minority decisions be reported to lower bodies.

The autonomy argument, of course, undermines the principle of unified political line already discussed. Nonetheless, what merit can be found in such arguments? Each area could go its way developing, its own political line, between meetings of the Central Committee. With political differences that existed, this is exactly what would have happened. Work would not be summed up between areas, or criticism and self-criticism carried on in any ongoing way. We would have not one organization but many organizations, each being the center of loyalty for its members, united in a sort of confederation. The highest representative bodies would not be seen as part of the ongoing struggle for unity around a correct line and practice, but would be reduced to an arena for rhetoric, showmanship and factional intrigue.

Let’s look at some remarks Lenin made on the subject. His opponents had

tried to prove that the part need not submit to the whole, that the part is autonomous in defining the relation to the whole, that the Rules of the League, in which that relation is formulated, are not valid, in defiance of the will of the Party majority, in defiance of the will of the Party center ... the important thing here is to note the undoubted tendency to defend autonomism against centralism which is a fundamental characteristic of opportunism in matters of organization. (IBID., p. 396)

Related to the matter of autonomy is the question of binding orders from lower to higher bodies. That representatives from collectives or areas to higher bodies should report the opinions or criticisms of lower bodies is, of course, true. That they should be bound by “the decision of lower bodies guarantees that the same narrow local outlook, which can lead to a factional outlook, will be maintained. Leadership has attributed many of its mistakes to being only concerned with its own areas and neglecting problems in other areas. But the main reason why this is incorrect is the same reason why reporting minority decisions is incorrect.

We have the principle of collective leadership. When a member participates in discussions and decision-making in leadership bodies and reports those decisions back to his area, he is functioning not just as an individual but as a member of a collective, the collective that is given the responsibility for the direction of work in that area or in the. organization as a whole. The principle of unity-criticism-unity must work from the top down if the work of the organization is to have consistency and discipline, and if line is to be tested in practice. If a member of a leading body does not agree with a decision of that body he shouldn’t organize against that line by reporting his own objections to lower bodies. And, of course, there could be no struggle for unity if members were bound to uphold the discipline of their local areas. (It should be made clear, however, that all decisions are to be thoroughly reported and discussed. A Communist organization is based, ultimately, on voluntary discipline and the spirit of democracy. To merely report decisions without giving the reasoning behind them would be a style of work that cannot be tolerated.)

These principles of autonomy, put forward to defend “democracy” and “freedom of action,” against “bureaucratic encroachments” by leadership, cannot accomplish their stated purpose but only create a sham democracy and real power politics. Lenin pointed out (again in “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back,”) that bureaucracy is not having centralized leadership, but the failure, to deal with matters through open ideological struggle and relying instead oh jockeying for positions and other methods of bypassing ideological struggle.

Democracy under capitalism, democracy in form, demands that people be maintained on a low political level. Its tool is manipulation. Real democracy, as it exists under socialism, only develops as people become politically educated. For more real democracy to exist in any organization there must be stronger leadership in developing cadre and conducting political education, and more criticism and self-criticism on all levels, and especially between leadership and membership.

Some might argue that, because we are not the Communist party of the proletariat, and because our theory and our experience in mass struggle – especially among the workers – is very undeveloped, we should not try to implement democratic centralism in the fullest way, that we should concentrate on practical work, leaving leadership much more to the local levels, which are closer to the particular problems in our mass work and to the needs of the collectives. It is argued that this kind of approach would develop a strong leadership more integrated with the masses and tested in struggle.

This is a fine picture, but in fact it is a very undialectical approach, a kind of self-cultivation, basing ourselves on our own needs divorced from the needs of the people. It would mean elevating our own primitiveness to a principle and abandoning the attempt to transform ourselves into the kind of organization that has a chance of rising to the needs of the revolutionary struggle at this point in time and can carry forward the task of building a multi-national and proletarian revolutionary organization on a nation-wide basis, an organization that can gain a solid grasp of Marxism-Leninism, Mao’s Thought and begin to apply it to a united front under Communist leadership.

These tasks will not be accomplished if our approach is pragmatic, undisciplined, and if we fail to maintain the sharpest struggle for a correct class stand, correct political program and correct methods of work. Democratic Centralism must be improved and strengthened. Depending on how we approach and begin to deal with the tasks facing the organization at this point, the possibility of our organization laying much of the groundwork for a real Communist party will be made or broken. In the short run, we might get a small foothold in the working class, but we won’t move significantly ahead until we become a more professional and serious organization and develop more leadership cadre, more active and stronger leadership, and more developed – not less developed – forms of internal struggle and summing up of work.

– Report prepared by Steve Hamilton