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Democratic Centralism

Posted 26th March 2011 at 22:14 by Q

A post I'll put in my blog for future references:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Q View Post
Instead of being a condescending prick about it, you might want to explain the issue. You of all people must be aware that there is a huge amount of confusion about these basic subjects on the left.

Ⓐ☭property_is_robbery☭Ⓐ: The PSL is not democratic-centralist, at least the impression I get from it from the other side of the pond is that the PSL is yet another clone of what has been "common sense" for Leninist organisation for much too long now.

Democratic centralism is a phrase that originates from Russia as far as I'm aware, but the practice is older and we can already see its traces in the German workers movement which the Bolsheviks searched to emulate.

Rosa Luxemburg already hit the nail on the head when she said that democracy is irrelevant for those who agree, but absolutely essential for anyone who disagrees. Put in reverse: Any organisations that do not nurture a climate of disagreement are not democratic.

I can already hear someone speaking up at this point: "wow, you're arguing for disagreement per se? That will only cause splits!". This is both true and untrue.

First the in the abstract: Our politics are about the collective of the working class, we seek to empower the working class to be able to organise, emancipate and liberate itself from capitalism. In other words: Communists seek for the working class to become the new ruling class.

However, put in simple terms, I know nothing about our collective. You know nothing about the collective. We might know a very little bit. The bigger the group grows, the higher our understanding of our class and of knowledge in general. (As an aside: I think KC is talking about the PSL being too small to be really able to represent working class politics as a collective of politics, when he says that the PSL (or any group on the left) can't be democratic-centralist).

However, there is inevitably going to be disagreement. On a personal level we are talking about life experiences, the fact that you're a man of woman, black or white, the education you got, the papers you read, the friends you have, the work you do... is inevitably going to have a reflection on the political ideas you have. On a macro-level there are many currents in the working class movement, some revolutionary, others not, that form the vanguard of the working class. With "vanguard" I mean the most politically aware and militant workers, the actual leaders-on-the-ground that matter.

So, how do we solve the issue of building our class movement with so many different ideas and currents of thought and experiences? The answer is obvious: Democratically!

It needs to be explained here that democracy is meant to be a dialectical process (in b4 trolling Rosa): Opposites conflict and, tried and tested, form a new insight that the collective learns.

An example to make the point: Say a big company closes to ship off to Asia. This means 10 000 redundancies + another 15 000 in supply jobs, etc. How do we react? Say, in our hypothetical class party, we have two camps emerging on this issue. One side, with a trade union bureaucratic background, argues we need to negotiate, the other - left - camp argues we need to strike. The first however wins the argument and the class organisation seeks to negotiate.

Negotiations fail however completely and the debate goes on. This time a majority is found for a strike and occupation. This time there is success. The company stays where it is and 25k jobs are saved.

Now, this particular instance is not very relevant, what is relevant is the lesson that the collective takes. The collective learns that strikes apparently help. They learnt this not because some group forced their will onto the masses, but because they had a say in the debate (or at least a possibility to) and, as a consequence, they are the "owners" of the results of the debate and experiences.

However, this result won't last. A new company comes up wanting to ship off to some low wage country and this time when a strike is organised, it fails. What now? The debate wages on...

This is the basic idea of democratic-centralism, which Lenin so famously captured in his phrase "freedom of discussion, unity in action". You could alternatively capture it by saying there is "unity in disagreement".

However, the "common sense" on the left does not see it this way. For historical reasons and because most leftwing groups have been reduced to irrelevance, a new content has replaced this method by something else. The idea is that we already have all the experiences, ideas and theories due to the accrued history of the working class movement of the last two centuries. The left groups see themselves as a continuation of this tradition (most groups insisting that they have that monopoly, the other groups are just ultra-left/revisionist/sectarian/etc.). All we then logically need to do is: a) recruit the people to these ideas and b) "agitate, agitate, agitate" these ideas into the mass movement. This makes them objectively sectarian as it is not the point to organise the class as a collective, but to institute their group as the leadership over the class, only reaching out to a section (hence sectarian) of the working class vanguard.

"Oh but wait!" I can hear some, "We are democratic! We have conferences, discussions, etc.". Be that as it may, and most groups do have some sort of democratic process, these are ultimately undemocratic. Why? There is a big difference between formal democracy (conferences, congresses, etc) and dialectical democracy (a debating culture).

The democracy of the sect is not designed to stimulate critical thinking, official factions and tendencies are often discouraged or outright banned on punishment of expulsion. The democracy of the sect is designed to mildly modify the existing formulas. Dissent is only allowed within the "official structures", eg on branch meetings, regional meetings and national meetings. That this is a crippled way of democracy, in the sense of allowing and stimulating dissent, should be obvious.

I hope this goes some way out to explain the issue. The PSL may claim it is democratic-centralist, it is however most certainly not.
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  1. Old Comment
    JeVousAimeGuillotine's Avatar
    Brilliant analysis of left unity. If dialectical democracy were accepted by the left, I think the conversation would change from "How do we become relevant?" to "Where do we go from here?" and I think that is an enormous step in the continuation of our movement. Thank you for this well-thought out post.
    Posted 13th April 2012 at 16:55 by JeVousAimeGuillotine JeVousAimeGuillotine is offline
  2. Old Comment
    Brosa Luxemburg's Avatar
    Very good Q. It seems most people that argue against democratic centralism really don't understand what democratic centralism is and some that do agree with democratic centralism don't really understand it's tenants.
    Posted 27th July 2012 at 00:32 by Brosa Luxemburg Brosa Luxemburg is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Q's Avatar
    @ JeVousAimeGuillotine: Thank you for your kind words (only just saw them). Democracy is indeed the beginning and end of the workers movement as a political force.

    @ Brosa Luxemburg: That was indeed the incentive of writing this post
    Posted 27th July 2012 at 04:33 by Q Q is offline
 
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