Tuesday, 30 September 2014
Why I no longer support democratic centralism and Trotskyism in general
I was once a signed up proud Socialist party member with a good grounding in Trotskyism. This was a while ago now and I do look back and cringe at some of the posts I used to post up on here on this blog. I have since left the socialist party and began the long task of revaluating my politics and my idea of democracy. Starting with Trotskyism which I was always a little uneasy with from the start with the democratic nature of the whole thing a little under played I felt. Many socialists follow the ideas of Lenin and, in particular, his ideas on vanguard parties. These ideas were expounded by Lenin in his (in)famous work What is to be Done? which is considered as one of the important books in the development of Bolshevism. The core of these ideas is the concept of "vanguardism," or the "vanguard party." According to this perspective, socialists need to organise together in a party, based on the principles of "democratic centralism," which aims to gain a decisive influence in the class struggle. The ultimate aim of such a party is revolution and its seizure of power. Its short term aim is to gather into it all "class conscious" workers into a "efficient" and "effective" party, alongside members of other classes who consider themselves as revolutionary Marxists. The party would be strictly centralised, with all members expected to submit to party decisions, speak in one voice and act in one way. Without this "vanguard," injecting its politics into the working class (who, it is asserted, can only reach trade union consciousness by its own efforts), a revolution is impossible. Lenin laid the foundation of this kind of party in his book What is to be Done? and the vision of the "vanguard" party was explicitly formalised in the Communist International. As Lenin put it, "Bolshevism has created the ideological and tactical foundations of a Third International . . . Bolshevism can serve as a model of tactics for all." [Collected Works, vol. 28, pp. 292-3] Using the Russian Communist Party as its model, Bolshevik ideas on party organisation were raised as a model for revolutionaries across the world. Since then, the various followers of Leninism and its offshoots like Trotskyism have organised themselves in this manner (with varying success). I once did support the idea of democratic centralism as I felt it was working it most certainly is not now and if it ever did I am not sure. Seeing how a Trotskyist party works up close scared me in all honesty the subservience to the leadership of the delegates at two congresses’ I attended was alarm bell ringing level. The way all branch’s and groups agreed wit the EC – executive council was deeply troubling and did I’m honest seed an element of doubt in my mind at how much are the leadership of this party held to account. I have now seen the party and especially its leadership for what it is thankfully and broken with that undemocratic tradition I was being sucked into. To observe this is not always easy and I do think my deep thinking mind caught this well thankfully otherwise I’d still be a member putting out drone type tweets and trotting out the party line which although powerful in that a number would put out same message lets be honest very few workers in the class we were looking to win over gave us a second look. One of the major points which I do now fully accept is the question of organisational structure. Vanguard parties are based on the principle of "democratic centralism". Anarchists argue that such parties, while centralised, are not, in fact, democratic nor can they be. As such, the "revolutionary" or "socialist" party is no such thing as it reflects the structure of the capitalist system it claims to oppose. Which indeed it does if you have a hierarchical structure which has the tag democratic creating hierarchy in your own organisation and hoping to put an end to capitalist form of hierarchy is just silly as you’re literally trying to replace like with like regardless of how good your intentions are. I don’t for a moment suggest Leninist and trotskyist followers are not sincere and are good people deep down I just now feel they are misguided and wrong in their overall theory of how a revolutionary organisation should function and its role and purpose . So how is a "vanguard" party organised? To quote the Communist International's 1920 resolution on the role of the Communist Party in the revolution, the party must have a "centralised political apparatus" and "must be organised on the basis of iron proletarian centralism." This, of course, suggests a top-down structure internally, which the resolution explicitly calls for. In its words, "Communist cells of every kind must be subordinate to one another as precisely as possible in a strict hierarchy." [Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920, vol. 1, p. 193, p. 198 and p. 199] Therefore, the vanguard party is organised in a centralised, top-down way. However, this is not all, as well as being "centralised," the party is also meant to be democratic, hence the expression "democratic centralism." On this the resolution states: "The Communist Party must be organised on the basis of democratic centralism. The most important principle of democratic centralism is election of the higher party organs by the lowest, the fact that all instructions by a superior body are unconditionally and necessarily binding on lower ones, and existence of a strong central party leadership whose authority over all leading party comrades in the period between one party congress and the next is universally accepted." [Op. Cit., p. 198] For Lenin, speaking in the same year, democratic centralism meant "only that representatives from the localities meet and elect a responsible body which must then govern . . . Democratic centralism consists in the Congress checking on the Central Committee, removing it and electing a new one." [quoted by Robert Service, The Bolshevik Party in Revolution, p. 131] Thus, "democratic centralism" is inherently top-down, although the "higher" party organs are, in principle, elected by the "lower." However, the key point is that the central committee is the active element, the one whose decisions are implemented and so the focus of the structure is in the "centralism" rather than the "democratic" part of the formula. All this has clear parallels with Lenin's What is to be done?, where he argued for "a powerful and strictly secret organisation, which concentrates in its hands all the threads of secret activities, an organisation which of necessity must be a centralised organisation." This call for centralisation is not totally dependent on secrecy, though. As he noted, "specialisation necessarily presupposes centralisation, and in its turn imperatively calls for it." Such a centralised organisation would need leaders and Lenin argued that "no movement can be durable without a stable organisation of leaders to maintain continuity." As such, "the organisation must consist chiefly of persons engaged in revolutionary activities as a profession." Thus, we have a centralised organisation which is managed by specialists, by "professional revolutionaries." This does not mean that these all come from the bourgeoisie or petit bourgeoisie. According to Lenin a "workingman agitator who is at all talented and 'promising' must not be left to work eleven hours a day in a factory. We must arrange that he be maintained by the Party, that he may in due time go underground." [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 158, p. 153, p. 147, p. 148 and p. 155] Thus the full time professional revolutionaries are drawn from all classes into the party apparatus. However, in practice the majority of such full-timers were/are middle class. Trotsky noted that "just as in the Bolshevik committees, so at the  Congress itself, there were almost no workingmen. The intellectuals predominated." [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 101] This did not change, even after the influx of working class members in 1917 the "incidence of middle-class activists increases at the highest echelons of the hierarchy of executive committees." [Robert Service, Op. Cit., p. 47] An ex-worker was a rare sight in the Bolshevik Central Committee, an actual worker non-existent. However, regardless of their original class background what unites the full-timers is not their origin but rather their current relationship with the working class, one of separation and hierarchy. The idea of bottom up workers control and self management are however alien and opposite to what Trotskyists stand for if you look at it as I have done. The two while seemingly want the same thing a class less society both have very different aims and ways of going about this which for me mark the two trends of socialism thought apart. In summary, we have a model of a "revolutionary" party which is based on full-time "professional revolutionaries" in which the concept of direct democracy is replaced by a system of, at best, representative democracy. It is highly centralised, as befitting a specialised organisation. the "organisational principle of revolutionary Social-Democracy" was "to proceed from the top downward" rather than "from the bottom upward." [Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 7, pp. 396-7] Rather than being only applicable in Tsarist Russia, Lenin drew on examples from advanced, democratic capitalist countries to justify his model in 1902 and in 1920 he advocated a similar hierarchical and top-down organisation with a dual secret and public organisation in the Communist International. The continuity of ideas is clear. Is it any wonder then that Stalinism found itself a fertile base to grow, cement ideas and in fact take the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky to their unfortunate conclusion of a bureaucratic and centralised state confusing workers power with one party power. So I haven’t just been brainwashed if anything I’ve cleansed my thoughts and ideology and come to my sense’s in some ways. All of this has been through experience of going through a vanguardist party I don’t think I’m the first and almost certainly wont be the last to be churned up and spat out of a democratic centralist party claiming itself to be something its not. People will learn and make up their own minds I’m confident of that much.