The Leninist party is centralist organism.
Well, isn’t it also democratic?
Let’s start from here. The internal life of communist parties is defined generally, and even as a rule, as “democratic centralism”. There is a matter of dual currents here. In the last analysis, centralism that suppresses from above is countered by democratism from below. Democratic centralism has basic elements such as compliance of minority to the decisions of majority, election of boards from bottom to top, the decision of the upper organs to be binding.
This is the description of functioning, and as such, democratic centralism is an indispensable principle for the communist parties, that can only be broken because of certain obligations.
Not the concept itself but the roots of the principle do not lie in Leninism as it is believed, but instead in German social democracy, and there is nothing surprising about that. In the last quarter of the 19th and the first quarter of the 20th centuries, international workers’ movement was largely dominated by the German social democracy.
It does not trivialise democratic centralism… But how is it possible to explain the Leninist party with a principle that would immediately be found logical by someone, who is able to think a little reasonable, that could be applied to other kind of parties, even to the mainstream bourgeois parties when it is possible, that defines not only the party but also the state organisation in socialism?
Our party, insistently emphasised the vanguard party as being centralist in every phase of our struggle. And each time, we responded with great confidence to those who asked “where is democracy?”: These are not the same.
In the final analysis, “Democratic centralism” describes the functioning. As a matter of fact, in the texts that explain the concept, in 1906, 1917 and after, the principles I mentioned above are remarkable.
As long as the Leninist party is concerned, these principles should be followed as much as possible; that is evident! But these principles do not define the Leninist party. Can a reasoning such as “Our party is Leninist because it is democratic centralist” explain anything?
Centralism is beyond that and should be handled within a completely different context. Centralism does not stand on an axis with democratism on the other pole; it is not about the functioning of the party in a narrow sense.
Centralism is the product of Leninist approach to class struggles.
Lenin’s brilliant theoretical initiative in 1902-1903 was opposed to the understanding that the unity of the working class could be established by a political-ideological pluralism incorporating all the colours of the working class and its allies. The working masses are in reality divided, with a variety of parameters, with an infinite diversity… Lenin acted with a presumption that this diversity could be overcome on only political level and this could rely upon the unifying role of the historical interests of the class.
The existence of the unique historical interest politically does not correspond to the average of the diversity within the already divided working class. This is where the vanguard party of the class gets involved. The Leninist party is an anchor that prevents disintegration, disjunction and makes it possible to climb up to the top.
This is why the Leninist party cannot be reduced to bringing consciousness from outside. The Leninist party is the reference point that will make the working class the subject/actor of the history and prevent it from surrendering to its reality.
This is the perspective.
If Lenin’s words which evoke hatred towards trade-union consciousness were often misunderstood, it is because this perspective is neglected. The issue has always been discussed in terms of inadequacy of the economic struggle and it has been talked about carrying it to the political level. However, sufficient emphasis has not been put on the character of the trade-unionist struggle (unless interfered contrarily) that disintegrates and disjunctures the working class.
The emphasis that Lenin actually inherited from Marx that the working class must address the whole society on behalf of the whole society for liberation, is condensed into the policy of alliances. However, the need for the vanguard party to interfere in objective reality with a monistic political culture has greater importance here. The policy of alliances cannot be substituted with this need, but gains value as its complement.
Leninism’s insistence on theory-practice integrity is again understood within a very limited framework. The fact that revolutionary theory and revolutionary practice support each other and, so to say, prioritise each other, is neither the subject of philosophy only, nor it is related to the pedagogy of the masses of workers alone. Action/practice has a side that closes the gap between the historical interests of the working class and its daily reaction and position. In other words, action is not only a political-ideological strike against the capitalist class, but also an intervention within the working class.
Finally, we can touch upon the historical role that Leninism imposes on the party. It is always said that the party is a “means”; this should not be forgotten even for a moment. Well, can one forget that the party is a means, that it is an istrument? To emphasise the party more, to insist on the importance of the party, to put the party at the centre of socialism struggle, does this mean to take the party as a goal in its own right? In fact, the idea that the class can fulfil its revolutionary missions only with a monist intervention and that the need for this intervention will be met by the vanguard party, is the greatest guarantee against fetishising the party. It should be known that the party becomes a goal in itself when the perspective for a revolution is lost. There is a similar difficulty in considering the internal design and functioning of the party independent from the goal of a revolution.
You cannot reach the idea of revolutionary party from the internal functioning, what shapes the functioning is the historical mission of the vanguard party and what it requires under the given conditions.
What have been said so far are the highlights of a specific understanding of the Leninist party. The Leninist party is centralist because it makes an assertive, simplifying, reformative, subjective intervention in the field of class struggles.
This claim carries a scholastic side, of course. Without leading us to the portrayal of the party as an almost “infallible”, “transcendent” actor, we must clarify the mechanisms that will make the party vivid, real and functional as a means of struggle for socialism.
That’s the point. Rather than focusing on internal functioning of the party and thinking about how to balance centralism with democratism, it is more efficient to focus on the ways to prevent the vanguard party that has established itself as a “subject”, from turning into a political sect.
Leninism does not derive its legitimacy from the “majority” and does not take the psychology of the masses as the only or fundamental measure to test itself. Leninism is the will to represent the logic of history, it is a claim. It is backed by the authority of Marxism, it carries the heritage of 1917 to the present day, and most importantly, it claims historical legitimacy by placing itself within the goal of overthrowing the capitalist order.
All of these cannot be measured by “democracy” and cannot be evaluated by its criteria.
So, the party should take matters into its own hands and so to say, protect itself from itself.
The need is retouching, reviewing the party continuously, in accordance with its reason of existence and producing the right solutions for the problems to be encountered.
The question of who makes the decisions in the communist parties is completely wrong. Because when you try to answer this question, new questions will follow one after another. When the general secretary takes the decisions, you can talk about the collective will of the Central Committee (CC), you can put forward the broader committees after a decision of the CC, put the will of the members against the leadership, and since this is a class party, you can suggest that the tendency of the members should not cover up the class preferences!
However, in a revolutionary party, the source of an individual decision may be all these listed. And it doesn’t really matter. What the vanguard party must care about is taking healthy-revolutionary and appropriate decisions. This task cannot be fulfilled by a single person, a competent CC alone cannot guarantee the right decisions, and it is also the maintenance of member standards that will keep the party in a healthy dynamism on its route. Moreover, the vanguard party has to resonate with the living sections of the working masses and transform itself through its relationship with them.
What is told here does not have anything to do with the effort to resonate with the voice of majority. Such an approach is alien to the theory of the vanguard party.
The fact that the majority rule is valid in the committees and other committee members that comply with it is not a superstition that the majority will find out the correct option in any case, but is the result of a search to prevent the party from deadlocks. Just as to end a sport event or a game a score is always necessary, the same applies to a discussion. However, if it does not lead to waste of time, to take decisions by unanimity is always a more advanced method for the committees of the revolutionary party.
Well, what is necessary to make a healthy decision?
The target, goal discipline, of course, must be written on top of the list. It should be clear to all members of the party why the party was founded for. The program is the basic document that will provide this clarity. The decisions would be limited to the framework drawn by the program and enmeshed within its direction.
It is immediately followed by the analysis of concrete situation. The vanguard party has to follow the ever-changing conditions closely, observe the changing balances in the class struggle and place each event and phenomenon in the “process”. Without advanced theory and political reasoning, the ability to analyse cannot develop. In this sense, the party must have a collective will from top to bottom that does not weaken itself against actuality; on the contrary, that filters the actuality through the prism of the historical goal. If the advanced theory and political reasoning do not free itself from a limited environment, then it also consumes itself. Education within the party, determination of theoretical and political standards, making a greater number of cadres productive, should not be seen as necessities to bear for the sake of “democracy”, should be seen as a means to increase the centralised power of the party.
For the analysis of concrete situation, sufficient data is needed. The vanguard party is gathering information from many different sources, but nothing replaces the information flowing from the fields of its own activity-struggle. Therefore, at the party, bidirectional flow for decision-making mechanism is indispensable; it is essential for this reason to secure the continuity of information flow from the bottom to top.
On the other hand, the vanguard party cannot make decisions as a prisoner of the data stack. In many instances, it does not take into account some inputs from the base, because revolutionary politics is also an attempt to challenge objective conditions, that is to get rid of the boundaries of those conditions. The “complete” knowledge of objectivity is useless; there is no such thing anyway. The vanguard’s perpetuity is at comprehending the objectivity from a point and scale that it will transform it.
At this point, information about the “subject”, namely the vanguard party, steps in. The fact that the internal experience of the party is alive gains importance mostly in this concern. The party has to interfere continuously to the objectivity that includes the working-class at an abstraction level, in order to realise its historical goals. The context, topic, means and strength of this intervention are always a subject of decision. In order to make the right decisions, the subject of the intervention must have a thorough understanding of itself. Without having the knowledge about what party members think, what their levels of formation, emotions, attitudes are like, whether the pattern of cells and organisations is strong, and most importantly the quantity of force that can be mobilized, only the program and concrete analysis link is not enough to make decisions.
A party whose bottom to top, top to bottom communication channels are not open, makes false moves, because it is far from a healthy assessment of its own power.
Therefore, it is important to open the background of decisions as much as possible and in a circular way to the perception of the whole party. Each member of the party must have a certain idea of what he does for which reason, and which forces he has to mobilise at any moment in the struggle. It should be so, so that he can both position himself at the most meaningful point and also deliver the information to the “top” through filtering with the most appropriate filters.
Let’s not forget that in the events that brought the Bolsheviks several times to the brink of tragic destructions in 1917, the problems in the “perception of the base of the party” were significant. Yes, these were the problems of maturing and taking on responsibility in a very short time, and there was no absolute cure for it; but it was not in vain that Lenin insisted on asking the cadres to “provide him with healthy data” at the most critical moments. The “revolutionary energies” of the militants, who incite each other, who misinterpreted the balance of powers, who did not listen to the centre or even blackmailed it, could not be called into question; but it was clear that if the experienced cadres, Lenin being in the first place, could not pass the “make-up exam” successfully, they would be under a heavy burden.
The negative aspects in 1917 provide more important clues for another aspect related to our topic. Between the two revolutions, during the February-October period, two sections remaining between the party centre and the broad working-military masses had a big role so that the Bolshevik Party made vain moves by exaggerating its own strength. As a matter of fact, these two sections were inseparable in some respects: the rapidly expanding base of the party and the active compartments of it among the masses.
It is vital to understand the psychology of masses well under revolutionary conditions. The ties with masses are most powerful in the moving, transitional departments of the party, that is to say, in the departments of the party moving together with new members and sympathisers. Therefore, the party while determining the dimensions of social unrest and the demands and tendencies of the masses, the burden is on the blurred area between the party and the non-party members. The lesson of 1917 is that, it was controlled by elements representing the central logic, no less than the self-initiatives of this most dynamic and “dangerous” area.
When taking into account the “Party = organisation + movement” formula, in the final analysis, it is the organisation that is determinant and the “operation” that put the working class into power in 1917 is an organisational process to a great extent. The idea that the volume of the movement controlled by the vanguard would be more important than the party itself is not correct, as the name implies, there is a revolutionary rise, and everyone is already on the move!
The real value of the organisation would emerge precisely in this conjuncture; by constantly renewing its ties with the masses and interfering in the course of history…
In his polemic with then Menshevik Vera Zasulich in 1913, Lenin’s derision of the thesis that “the working class is the party itself” was probably not related to a decline in the belief in revolutionary power of the working class. The problem was not solely due to unevenness within the class. Yes, even in 1897, he said that the revolutionaries had to act with certain priorities within the working class and pointed out that some sections of the class were more open to struggle and others were more conservative, but the need for the “organisation” could not be explained solely with reference to the class.
This is also present in Marx; the working class must address the whole society in order to take power, as Lenin said. A class that has crystallised in politics and ideology, that has turned into a revolutionary actor will address the whole society. In this context, the vanguard party, which now includes the most advanced sections of this class which are aligned no longer horizontally but vertically, does not pose to the masses of non-party workers and other sections of society with different flags; there isn’t a different story to tell for everyone. In fact, the task of addressing the whole society is considered important for the politicisation of working-class rather than obtaining energy from other classes.
At this point, we encounter the inward leadership once again. The Leninist party, which takes the internal inequalities of the working class as given and claims to minimise them in its own structure, addresses the whole society with a historical perspective and a common mind. It is impossible and meaningless to construct the party as a sterile environment while gaining members from different sections sensitive to this call along with the advanced elements of the working class. Trying to maintain the party standards in an absolute way is to destroy the party. Therefore, the party, while drawing both internal inequalities of the class and social diversity into itself, transforms them and also transforms itself, but this reciprocity cannot be an equal relationship. Inward leadership steps in to protect the gains of the party.
We should not let historical consciousness be smashed by class consciousness.
We’re back to the beginning. Debates on the participation mechanisms in the vanguard party must be completely cleared of the influence of formal democracy. What gives the shape and form to a party are the historical missions.
As an example, a powerful, absolute authority-holding centre is not bad at all in itself. On the contrary it is what is intended. However, a centre that is powerful and has absolute authority in the vanguard party, is a variable centre that does not develop into castes, that tests and renews itself not mainly through mechanisms but in politics, takes its strength not from the average but from the advanced.
Formal democracy gives importance to concepts such as stabilisation, supervision, election. Undoubtedly, these are valuable. However, Leninism places them in a different context, and also builds the party on a completely dynamic model.
To get rid of all elements that does not serve the goal of revolution… This should be the essential principle.
Encouraging discussion and initiative-taking, opening channels of criticism and self-criticism, breaking the monopoly of knowledge should not be considered necessary only to alleviate the tension between the centre and the base, but to strengthen the party as a revolutionary actor and to mobilize greater resources.
The rest is a lie.