Friday, 15 February 2013

In defence of the revolutionary party

In recent times there has been a sustained attack on the left notably the SWP and the crisis within that party but the SWP is not the left and their use of democratic centralism is alien to a lot of others on the left. I thought it was a good time to revisit democratic centralism and why the socialist party the party I’m a member of still use this today. Lenin one of the great revolutionaries did not fetishes over organisational types he considered democratic centralism to be the most democratic form of organisation but was open to other forms of organisation to given different circumstances. It is necessary to begin with a basic summary on the need for a party. This flows from the position of the working class as it develops in capitalist society. It is of course true that the working class is the most homogenous, united class through its role in production. In the transition from feudalism to capitalism the working class was dragooned, disciplined and organised in big industry; it is its objective position in industry which determines that the working class develops a collective consciousness. The petit bourgeois on the other hand is heterogeneous, scattered, with its upper layers tending to merge with the bourgeois and its lower layers forced! By monopolisation, etc., into the ranks of the proletariat. There is then, of course, the ruling class, divided into different sections: finance capital, industrial capital, heavy industry, light industry, etc. These broad categorisations of the classes in society, first formulated by Marx 150 years ago, retain all their validity today. But while the working class is much more homogenous than the petit bourgeois or middle class, it is still divided into many different layers: men and women, racial divisions, skilled and unskilled, young and old, etc. Class, Party and the Leadership THE BOURGEOIS, from the dawn of its rule, has skilfully learned to play on these divisions to perpetuate its rule. A party, particularly a revolutionary party, is designed to overcome these divisions, to unite the working class for common objectives, the struggle against capitalism, its eventual overthrow and its replacement with a socialist society. A party, including the most revolutionary party in history, the Bolshevik party, is not, however, an autonomous factor in history. It is dependent upon, and springs from, the working class. The relationship between the party, its leadership and the class has been a hotly disputed issue, right from the inception of scientific socialism that is Marxism, formulated by Marx and Engel’s. The dialectical interrelationship between the class, the party and its leadership was touched on by Trotsky in his History of the Russian Revolution. Writing about the party he states; "Without a guiding organisation toe energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston box. GIVEN THAT the necessity of a party is clear then what should be the character of this party? Marxism has answered, particularly after the experience of the revolutionary movement in Russia and the successful Russian revolution, that it should be a party that should possess special features which no bourgeois or petit bourgeois organisation, trend or party could possess. It should be a 'democratic centralist' organisation. Unfortunately this term has been partially discredited; the concept mangled and distorted by Stalinism and now recently the SWP. It has come to mean, for uninformed people, something entirely opposite to its original meaning. Seeking to discredit genuine Marxism the reformists, both the left as well as the right, link this idea to the grotesque caricature of socialism manifested in Stalinism. Moreover, the right-wing Labour leadership who usually hurl insults against the Marxists on the alleged undemocratic character of 'democratic centralism' themselves actually practice an extreme form of 'bureaucratic centralism', as the experience of the witch-hunt against Militant and others on the left in the Labour Party demonstrated. A REVOLUTIONARY party is not a debating club, let alone a debating circle, so beloved of the minuscule sects on the outskirts of the labour movement, it must, of course, be thoroughly democratic. Democracy is like oxygen for a genuine revolutionary party. Without the full freedom of discussion, genuine, comradely and fraternal debate, it would be incapable of correctly arming its members with an understanding of the current situation, and the demands and programme upon which it is necessary to intervene in the class struggle. Contrary to what our opponents have attempted to argue Militant, over 30 years, allowed debate, including oppositional ideas, at every level of our organisation. Even then there was a disquieting tendency of some, mainly those who became the minority, not to want to discuss different points of view. But that we possessed a relatively homogenous, united organisation flowed not from any powerful apparatus in the possession of the leadership, but came from genuine agreement on the basis of broad perspectives, the programme, the tactics of work in the mass organisations, etc. This agreement was only gained through discussion and debate within the ranks of the organisation. To listen to some of the sects who criticise the past record of our organisation and who light-mindedly delve into the history of the revolutionary movement in Russia it would be possible to draw a conclusion that the absence of organised tendencies, factions, etc. within the ranks of Militant over a protracted historical period was itself a symptom of an unhealthy internal regime. On the contrary, Trotsky commenting on the disarray in the ranks of his followers in France in the 1930s, who presented a spectacle very similar to organisations which claim to be Trotskyist' at this moment in time, comments: "An organisation that is smaller but unanimous can have enormous success with a correct policy, while an organisation which is torn by internal strife is condemned to rot." Flowing from democracy comes centralism and for the socialist party this is unity in action once an agreed line has been agreed with the majority of the membership. This is THE OTHER and vital aspect of the question, absolutely requisite for a revolutionary party, is that of centralism. It is that part of the formula of 'democratic centralism' which is most misunderstood, wilfully by the enemies of Marxism, and unconsciously even by those who sympathise with the Marxist and Trotskyist movement. It seems to smack, particularly in the light of Stalinism and of various Trotskyist organisations which imitate Stalinism, of a top-down, bureaucratic, 'leadership-dominated' organisation. But the need for a centralised party flows from the tasks which confront the working class in our epoch. The ruling class has concentrated in its hands not just the means of production - less than 300 firms on the planet dominate most of production, distribution and exchange of the world's goods - but enormous means of repression, both legally and physically, against any organised protest. This is particularly the case in Britain with the anti-trade union laws. The centralisation and concentration of capital, which has been taken to unprecedented lengths in the modern era, means that the overthrow of the ruling class is inconceivable without a centralised party capable of unifying the working class and acting decisively against the inevitable attempts of counter-revolution when the working class attempts to change society. IT IS not possible in a revolutionary organisation to have an attitude towards forms of organisation which are 'once and for all'. It is necessary, at some stages, to emphasise the need for democracy, discussion, debate, etc. Following a debate it is therefore necessary, without precluding further discussion, to proceed to action, to a degree of centralism, to a period of implementing decisions. Which predominates at each stage, the democratic or the centralist aspect, depends upon the concrete situation? "Truth is concrete"; this is the most important law of the dialectic. The 'mobile balance' between democracy and centralism is something which cannot be established a priori, but only on the basis of discussion and estimation of the concrete situation Leon Trotsky was once asked to give a definition of democratic centralism This is not a new question. Leon Trotsky was asked to give a "clear and exact formula on democratic centralism" which would preclude false interpretations or bureaucratic degeneration. He replied that he could not give, "such a formula on democratic centralism that 'once and for all' would eliminate misunderstandings and false interpretations. A party is an active organism. It develops in the struggle with outside obstacles and inner contradictions... The regime of a party does not fall ready make from the sky but is formed gradually in the struggle. A political line predominates over the regime. First of all is necessary to define strategic problems and tactical methods correctly in order to solve them. The organisational form should correspond to the strategy and tactic." Trotsky then makes a fundamental point: "Only a correct policy can guarantee a healthy party regime." Of course this does not automatically mean that if a party has a correct programme that its organisational methods will be correct. That is an issue for debate and discussion as to what emphasis should be given, to democracy or centralism, depending upon the different situations. A formula for democratic centralism must inevitably find a different expression in the parties of different countries and in different stages of development of one and the same party. "The equilibrium between democracy and centralism establishes itself in the actual struggle, at moments it is violated and then again re-established. The maturity of each member of the party expresses itself particularly in the fact that he does not demand from the party regime more than it can give. "He is a poor revolutionist who defines his attitude to the party by the individual fillips that he gets on the nose. It is necessary, of course, to fight against every individual mistake of the leadership, every injustice and the like. But it is necessary to estimate these 'injustices' and 'mistakes' not by themselves but in connection with the general development of the party both on a national and international scale. A correct judgement and a feeling for proportion in politics is an extremely important thing." [Leon Trotsky: On Democratic Centralism and the Regime (1937)] With extracts and quotes from Peter Taaffee general secretary of the socialist party of England and Wales on democratic Centralism

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