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Jim Higgins

More Years for the Locust

Appendix 3

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world
The blood dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity

WB Yeats, The Second Coming

Notes on Democratic Centralism
(by T Cliff 20/6/68)

(1) Our group has for a long time been purely a propaganda organisation – publishing books, theoretical journals, holding schools, etc. The structure fitting this situation was a loose federative one; all branches were like beads on a string.

(2) Over the last year or two we have moved towards agitation. This demands a different kind of organizational structure. A revolutionary combat organization – especially if it becomes a party – needs a democratic centralist structure.

(3) In the First International the Proudhonists and the Bakuninists (both Anarchists) wanted a federal structure. Hence logically they argued that the International was not a Working-men’s organisation, and only workers should be its members and representatives.

Marx argued that the prevailing ideology under capitalism, is the ideology of the ruling class. As there cannot be a revolutionary movement without a revolutionary theory, the leadership of the International would not necessarily be workers, and could not be delegates on a federative principle (hence, Marx was the Russian `Representative’ on the General Council of the International, although he was not a Russian nor had he ever been in Russia; hence also the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party had only one worker and all members were taken from one city; the same applied to Mensheviks, to Luxemburg’s Spartakusbund, etc.)

(4) The federal principle – the idea that the Executive of a revolutionary organisation should be made up of one delegate per branch is untenable:

  1. It is undemocratic.
    If a branch has 50 members who divide on a central issue 26 to 24 what is democratic about one person casting the votes of 50?
    If a minority of the whole organisation – let us say 20% – has one set of policies separating it from the majority – it will not be represented at all – or at most by a derisory number of people on the executive.
  2. The inner-organisation struggle for ideas that is so vital, will be directed from issues to organisational frustrations and combinational ism.
  3. The organisation cannot grow beyond a certain size: with 1000 members and let’s say 100 branches, no executive could work.
  4. It is incompatible with specialization and division of labour. As Marx and Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, Luxembourg and Liebknecht were too busy to be able to be involved in local branch activities they could never have been eligible for election to the executives of any Revolutionary Organisation.
  5. In conclusion the federal structure is unstable and inefficient. (In our own terms, with the expansion of the group and the transition to a cell structure, half the Political Committee, including the editor of our agitational weekly, would not be able to be on the executive, as they might be inactive locally in a branch. A revolutionary organisation whose two top committees – The Executive and the Political Committee – are elected on opposite principles, could not work effectively.)

(5) A democratic centralist organisation is based on the following:

A revolutionary combat organisation faces the need for tactical decisions – daily and hourly – hence the need for great centralization.

The most important decision for a revolutionary party – the decision to take state power – was taken by the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party; in a revolutionary situation one cannot afford to waste a day (not to say a month – the time necessary to organise a conference). The decision on War or peace – the Brest-Litovsk discussion – was again taken by the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party. Or again the historical statements of the First International on the Paris Commune were written by Marx and agreed by a handful of people who turned up to the meetings of the General Council – without reference to the national sections of the International, not to speak of their mass rank and file.

If a minority of the branches – let us say 20% – find it necessary to call an emergency conference – the executive is bound to carry this out. New decisions and new elections can ensue.

(6) In practice because of the size and uneven nation of IS we have to have a transitory structure: from federalism to democratic centralism.

At present all branches with 10 or more members have a member on the executive except for three branches: E London, Croydon and Richmond. I suggest the addition of one from each of these three branches.

The London Regional Committee – covering some half of the members of IS – should be strengthened. (It could organise demonstrations, schools etc. The fact that it is based on a delegate per branch does not guarantee its functioning).

Meetings of comrades in specific fields should be convened (as the teachers do regularly), Two-way communication is vital: up to now there is much more information going from the EC and administrative committee to branches, than in the opposite direction, More theory, are necessary, hence the need for more centralism. (The worst ‘economism’ and organisational frustrations has come about in many local activities that were completely autonomous) (Of course, any arrangement the September Conference decides should not run for a few months, as the IS – 800 or so at present is bound, we hope, to grow considerably).

We Are Not Peasants: a note – and proposals – on IS organisation.
(Hull IS, 10/10/1968 – written by Michael Kidron)

If our half yearly delegate meeting showed anything at all, it is that we are not yet a political organisation. The “Centre” appealed to our sense of good, truth and beauty, but did not reveal which aspects of the capitalist system they thought most vulnerable to attack at the moment, how we are to mobilize for it and how approach our potential allies. They failed to do for IS as a whole what Roger Cox and Steve Jefferys were doing so well for our engineering workers.

There are real problems in doing so. The world is not an open book. False consciousness abounds. In addition, and this is probably the most important factor for us, we have been growing so fast that many of our members have not had time or opportunity to assimilate 1S experience and IS theory, or to get to know what different groups and individuals amongst are doing.

As a consequence, the more experienced members feel it necessary to colonize within the group for tradition and to repeat and then repeat again the fundamentals of socialist theory. They find themselves neglecting the necessary processes of monitoring the world with a view to affecting it, and of keeping their eyes and ears open to what new members are doing and thinking.

On the other hand, many new members plunge into activity without understanding its broader meaning, or being shown the relevance of the socialist political tradition to whatever they are doing.

The result is often a confused dialogue of the deaf, with the older comrades on the Political Committee trying to ram unargued proposals down our throats and some of the throats reacting at full blast but without proposals.

It would be tragic to allow the issues to be confused in this sort of dialogue: we need operational political analysis; that is, a view of the world in the here and now which links our activities to our basic assumptions. And we need constant internal justification of that analysis and its assumptions. Only the Political Committee can do the job, and only a Political Committee which concentrates as much of our political experience in one place – that is, one elected nationally. Such a political committee must be allowed every facility to do its work: full control over the political content of our press, the right to appoint editors and spokesmen, the right to disengage from administrative detail.

At the same time, we need to have a very clear idea of our own strengths and weaknesses in a rapidly changing situation, or else our political prescriptions will never find practical expression. A body like the Political Committee which reflects neither our unevenness in experience nor our dispersal in function and space has not got, and cannot have, this clear view. (So much, at least, we have learned from the way they presented – and then withdrew – their organisational proposals). To have such a view, to be able to decide on the practicability of the Political Committee’s proposals, on what is possible for IS as a whole to undertake, the body must be more representative of the branches as they exist – a delegate EC.

Since such a body should always be trying to adopt a national view and so overcome the unevenness and parochialism which make it necessary at this moment, its members should be elected by the branches for the period spanning the half yearly delegate conferences (subject always to recall). To help it in its day to day operations, it should select a secretariat or Administrative Committee (not necessarily from its own number).

The result would be a clear division of functions between the political and educational centre of IS (the Political Committee) and the decision taking and organizational centre (the EC). It is a division of functions that would prevent “the Centre,” to use the Political Committee’s current phrase, from throwing out organizational instructions when we want political advice, or fundamentalist iconography when we want organizational guidance. They would know what they were supposed to be doing, so would we. And they would soon find themselves appealing to reason, not loyalty or faith.

We therefore propose:

  1. A Political Committee elected by the half yearly delegate conference of about 12 members to formulate and publish IS perspectives, goals, policies and activities; to exercise control over the political content of our press; to promote our internal educational programme; to appoint editors and spokesmen; and to promote and harmonize in conjunction with the EC sectional and regional policy making in terms of our general goals and policies.
  2. A delegate EC elected by the branches between half-yearly conferences to decide IS’s activities in the light of the Political Committee’s recommendations, such an EC to appoint an Administrative Committee to help in its day to day administration. Branch delegates to reflect the “structure” of opinions in the branch.

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Last updated on 31.1.2003