Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Charles Loren

The Struggle for the Party

Two Lines in the Movement

Is the Value of Democracy Absolute?

A primary characteristic of the petty-bourgeois radical is his tendency to make the value of democracy absolute for himself. He puts “democracy” first and the class struggle second. In this respect he is prey to an illusion which neither the class-conscious worker nor the big bourgeois holds, for both the latter know that the class struggle comes first, that democracy can be democracy only for one class or the other, and that democracy within a class is to serve its interests in the class struggle and nothing more.

The petty-bourgeois radical will often interrupt to say, oh yes, I know all that, and I certainly realize that we cannot give democracy to the Rockefellers and Morgans and other big businessmen. But within the working class and within the revolutionary camp, he will add, we do not imitate the bourgeoisie; we stand for the most complete democracy within our class. In organizational matters the petty-bourgeois radical then proceeds to advocate the liberal democratic method of organization from the “grass roots” upward as the only way to practice such democracy. And already, as can be seen, the practice of democracy has superseded the class struggle as the main interest of the petty-bourgeois radical. The class-conscious worker, who does not have that fear of the loss of “individual autonomy” which underlies the views of the petty-bourgeois radical, asks instead, what is to be gained and what is to be lost with a certain breadth of democracy in the organizations of our class struggle? In particular, how much democracy can we have in our vanguard organization, the party? What are its prerequisites?

To answer this question, it is necessary to know what democracy is. In The State and Revolution, Lenin said:

. . . in their sum total these restrictions [under capitalism, on the political life of the poor] exclude and squeeze out the poor from politics, from active participation in democracy.” ”. . . in the ordinary peaceful course of events the majority of the population is debarred from participation in public and political life. (pp. 105, 104)

And in The Proletarian Revolution and the Renegade Kautsky:

You, exploiters and hypocrites, talk about democracy, while at every step you erect thousands of barriers to prevent the oppressed masses from taking part in politics. (p. 71)

Democracy is participation in the political life of one’s class. To enjoy democracy is to contribute to the struggle of one’s class against the enemy classes in the sphere of politics and all the measures of struggle, military, economic, and ideological, directed by the political organizations of one’s class.

Can every member of a class participate in its political life to an equal degree? No. In particular, not all workers are able to participate fully in this life. We know that most of the barriers erected to prevent workers from taking part in politics do not disappear with the first victory over the bourgeoisie–and even fewer such barriers can be overcome under capitalist society, before a revolution. To contribute to the political life of one’s class, one must have some knowledge of its political goals and of political science in general. But the education given workers in a capitalist society systematically inculcates a petty-bourgeois understanding, or rather, misunderstanding, of the nature of the state, freedom, revolution and other such crucial matters. Not all workers have an equal opportunity to overcome this miseducation, to replace the petty-bourgeois outlook with the class-conscious understanding of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its implications, and therefore to discuss, to decide, and to act for the fundamental interests of the working class.

To attempt to ignore such circumstances and to “decree” that all shall participate in political life, or that all who have the inclination but perhaps nothing more shall have an equal voice in the vanguard is nothing but a masked restatement of the petty-bourgeois radical’s outlook. It is necessary for the politically aware members of a class to insure that the organizations of the class are not overwhelmed by bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology; the value of democracy cannot be absolute. It must be subordinated to the preservation of the organizational weapons, and their sharpness, with which the class struggle is waged.

What, then, is democracy good for? Why are communists always concerned to extend it where possible? Democracy means an increase in the contacts with the entire class, a broader summation of the situation facing the proletariat, a greater fund of energy committed to the class struggle; democracy is a channel to the strength of the masses, Wherever participation can be broadened, this strength can be tapped. Therefore, every Marxist-Leninist is always seeking ways to create the conditions which will allow for such broader participation in a form consistent with preserving the citadels of the proletariat from bourgeois influences.

What are these conditions? They are the education and dedication of those who will participate in our political life, We must give new persons entering into our affairs, persons in whom some event or series of events has kindled an awareness of the need to fight, the education, responsibility, and practical experience which will gradually qualify them for more and more participation. We cannot decree, you are ready to join the central committee; but we can and must give the person every opportunity to qualify for a more intense political life. In this manner we employ democracy to strengthen the forces of the working class for its struggles against the capitalists and for liberation and socialism.

The centralist, or top-downward, method of organization is obviously the only way to create these conditions for a strengthened working class. The organization grows by the activity of its members at a certain level, which comes to the attention of and attracts new persons who seek a solution to the problems which, they realize, the class struggle in society forces upon all workers. These persons in turn are taken in, educated, organized, begin to contribute more, and the strengthened organization proceeds outward in this manner. At each level, of course, the rule of majority vote applies–at the party congress, in the central committee, and in each subordinate committee. When matters come before any body within the party, a democratic decision by vote decides. Overall, the higher, more reliable bodies guide the lower bodies.

Under capitalist society, complete political equality cannot be achieved. It is necessary for people to be specialized, and some persons accumulate–by virtue of their earlier entrance into the movement, their continued efforts to learn, and the opportunities they have for study–the experience which is utilized in key positions.

Everyone knows that... classes are led by political parties; that political parties, as a general rule, are directed by more or less stable groups composed of the most authoritative, influential and experienced members, who are elected to the most responsible positions and are called leaders. All this is elementary. (“Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder, pp. 28-29)

And when new questions come up in social life, the class-conscious worker turns to his organization and to his leaders for enlightenment and clarity, and with pride that the class has organized itself, that each worker need not find himself adrift, isolated, victim of a bourgeois propaganda campaign. Conversely, the class-conscious worker is always striving to learn, to increase his independent power of judgment through the successive solution of new questions. He demands education, particularly in basic theory, from the organization and the leaders. The contrast is not between organization and no organization, at least not among the advanced workers. Instead, the contrast is one which points again to the anti-party opportunists.

For the contrast is between those organizational forms and those leaders who seek to create the conditions for a real, and not illusory, broadening of political life, and those organizational methods and leaders who monopolize knowledge, who do not educate and train the membership, and who either restrict participation openly or who demagogically manipulate the mass. These are the ones who talk most about democracy and practice it least, while genuine communist leaders practice proletarian democracy without making a catchword out of a non-class slogan. A class-conscious worker asks himself not, must I have leaders, but rather, are these leaders truly Marxist-Leninist? He strives to increase his power of independent judgment, and he defends those forces “above” which give good leadership and works to isolate bad leadership from the working class.

The petty-bourgeois radical, on the other hand, is always asking, does everybody have equal rights in discussion and decision-making? He approaches the question solely from the standpoint of the individual (the typical method of the petty-bourgeois) and forgets to asks the converse question: why does the organization need discussion? What is talk for? The organization obviously deliberates in order to sum up the situation and chart the path forward. Increased democracy, when it is possible, offers the advantage of a more complete summary, greater initiative, and more concrete working out of details. The opportunist and the incorrigible petty-bourgeois radical have two contrasting methods for avoiding such directed, purposeful talk. One is to refuse to talk and to debate principle. The views of the opportunists cannot stand up to examination, to searching questions, and so they simply avoid debate when they are in the saddle in some organization or situation. (Marxist-Leninists, on the other hand, seek always to find out what crucial questions are not clear in people’s minds so that a guided discussion may be held, to increase the clarity of the commitment of the great majority who are honest and open to learn.) On the other hand, when steady progress is being made, the petty-bourgeois likes to go over the same ground again and again in an effort to obstruct the purpose of talk. And instead of debating the issues, he calls for the right to debate the issues ! This is the vaunted “freedom of criticism” which Lenin exposed in What Is to Be Done?:

Those who are really convinced that they have made progress in science would not demand freedom for the new views to continue side by side with the old, but the substitution of the new views for the old.

. . .the much vaunted freedom of criticism does not imply substitution of one theory for another, but freedom from all integral and pondered theory; it implies eclecticism and lack of principle. (pp. 104, 116)

The centralist method of organization increases the a-mount of participation in political life throughout the working class. The working class employs a graded series of organizations, according to the general rule: the broader the organization, the lower the level of consciousness that can be assumed. This does not mean that we cannot have broad organizations. On the contrary, there should be an organized movement for every aspect and level of consciousness among the working class. (And, if the country has a large and important peasant class, for example, then the proletariat must organize its struggle, too.) These organizations can function best if they are led and coordinated by the most dedicated and conscious workers, the vanguard brought together in the party. For workers who understand the trade union struggle, there must be trade unions. The requirements of membership are lower, ideologically, and the numerical scope broader–and the trade unions can only be effective, can only be kept out of the hands of the capitalist class and their labor lieutenants, with communist leadership. Similarly for the antiwar movement. The issue is partial, the goal a reform, and the attraction of only a segment of the population can be won, at least in a non-revolutionary situation. The party should seek to organize this movement, to lead it, to use it to raise anti-imperialist consciousness among its participants. Lenin explained repeatedly and at length how the tighter, more centralized organization of the vanguard would increase the opportunities for all workers to contribute in some way to the organized struggle of the working class.

Even if only members of organizations recognized as Party organizations are regarded as Party members, people who cannot ’directly’ join any Party organization can still work in an organization which does not belong to the Party but is associated with it. Consequently, there can be no talk of throwing anyone overboard in the sense of preventing them from working, from taking part in the movement. On the contrary, the stronger our Party organizations, consisting of real Social-Democrats, the less wavering and instability there is within the Party, the broader, more varied, richer, and more fruitful will be the Party’s influence on the elements of the working-class masses surrounding it and guided by it.” (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, p. 306)

The opportunists are worried that if we have a principled and centralized party, then it will not be “big enough.”

They want a mass party. But if we have a principled, Marxist-Leninist party, its size will be determined at any time by the number of members the working class can provide to the vanguard at that time. If the opportunists try to enlarge the party beyond these limits, they will destroy its principled character. This is the lesson of the development of the party as history presents it to us.