Date:    Mon, 23 Jun 1997 21:04:26 -0700
To:      marxism-international@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU
From:    Ben Seattle 
Subject: M-I: (POF-7) Centralism in the Service of Democracy

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                           Chapter 7

              Centralism in the Service of Democracy
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I want to return to this because, if we want to understand why Lenin was in
favor of a centralized organization, we have to consider his actual
arguments and the circumstances that existed at the time.  Otherwise we
could end up making a fetish of centralism, as is not uncommon amongst some
groups on the left.

Military operations, of course, are often conducted with a high degree of
centralism.  Democratic processes (with their rather slow character and
inability to take rapid, decisive and bold action under conditions of
secrecy) are often not suited for military actions.  Chuykov, the Soviet
general in direct command of all Russian forces fighting in the ruins of
Stalingrad, was, in mid-November of 1942, abrubtly informed by the Soviet
high command that he would not receive his usual reinforcements of men and
ammunition.  When he asked why, he was told that further German offensives
were not anticipated--a curious statement inasmuch as as Chuykov was losing
five thousand men a day in constant and furious German assaults.  This was
all Chuykov was told.  He took this as good news.  He concluded, correctly,
that the great Soviet counter-offensive, which encircled and annihilated
more than a quarter million soldiers of Germany's battle-hardened Sixth
Army, was imminent.

But the point was that he was not told.  He was not consulted.  That's the
way things often work during wartime.  The counter-offensive was supposed
to be secret.  Chuykov was physically in Stalingrad.  He could have been
captured and interrogated.  He did not have a "need to know".

But that was the second world war.  Some groups on the left, today, try to
practice this much centralization and secrecy in circumstances which are
considerably different than those which destroyed Hitler's army at Stalingrad.

7a. How centralization and secrecy slow
    the rate of information metabolism

When the group which I supported (the late MLP) discussed, in 1991, a
report on what took place at the 10th Congress of Lenin's party--each copy
of the report was numbered and kept track of--to ensure that they could all
eventually be rounded up and destroyed.  See, we didn't want any loose
reports to leak out--so we instituted measures of secrecy (concerning
events that had taken place 70 years earlier).  And these measures were
very effective.  When our party made a major ideological turn (and we made
several), we had the ability to conduct our discussion in secret, develop
unity at our own pace and, when we were ready, make our positions public.
And in many ways, the ability to act in such a disciplined manner as this
had advantages in making our positions clear--and opposing the
rumor-mongering, half-truths and confusion that would have otherwise have
been propagated by our political opponents in the bitter sectarian
atmosphere that saturates the hard-core left.

There was a certain logic to this.  We wanted to keep our deliberations on
major ideological questions secret for several reasons.  Political action
tends to be heavily involved in the control of perception.  We acted in the
way we did so that, even in a very sectarian atmosphere, we could raise the
consciousness of activists as to the real nature of our line.  Hence this
was similar to the reason that Hollywood producers don't release a film
until it is finished.  Most people will only see a film once.  In a
political movement in which a lot is happening--activists may only pay
attention for a brief instant--when a group which they know little
about--is reported to have changed its line.  At that instant, at that
moment of attention--our organization wanted to have a "finished
product"--a new line that was complete and capable of being spelled out in
a concise fashion.

(The view that I will present and defend in this work--is that communist
organization in the 21st century will (to a very large extent) adopt
tactics that are very much the opposite of what our organization did:
instead of keeping our ideological differences secret--we will *broadcast*
them.  They will be a signal that tells the masses that we are for real;
that our organization belongs to *them*; and that we need *their
assistance* to help us sort out major issues.)

As it was, our secrecy ended up working very much to our disadvantage.  We
ended up with such marvelous secrecy that even *we* did not know what we
were doing.  We ended up having such powerful traditions of secrecy and
centralism--that comrades at crucial times were not allowed to share their
concerns with others--except thru channels which had accumulated a fairly
heavy layer of self-deception and denial--and which had a strong vested
interest in keeping things bottled up in a jumpy atmosphere of intimidation.

Without a fairly uninhibited internal flow of opinion--an organization in
the real world which is dedicated to the class struggle--will accumulate
contradictions at a far more rapid rate--than it will be able to correctly
resolve them.  This was what happened to our organization.  We should have
been like a diamond.  We were like glass.  We shattered.  When the pressure
of the declining movement hit us--and forced us to look at our internal
contradictions--we were not capable of dealing with what we discovered.

At a time when we were circulating numbered reports concerning events in
1921, our organization was rapidly approaching its terminal crisis.  At
that point, we initiated, for the *first time*, an internal system of
communication, in which any member or supporter of the party could submit
his or her written comments and have these comments circulated to all other
members and supporters.  Our organization did not collapse because we
instituted such an internal bulletin board.  Our organization collapsed
because we waited until 1991 to do so.

The truth is that it often takes *years* for the nature of the differences
between various views to become clear.  It takes years for communist
activists to distinguish what is *essential* and what is not--in the sea of
detail and confusion which bursts forth when profoundly different views
begin to take shape in the process of collision with one another.  It takes
years for communist activists to learn how to tear away one veil after
another--and approach discussion in a scientific, cultured manner that goes
deeper than knowing which side is wearing the white hats--and which side is
wearing the hats that are black.

The concept of maintaining secrecy over the nature of our internal
ideological contradictions--was a result of at least two factors:

(1) The ideological inspiration for this--was our incorrect understanding
of the temporary and emergency nature of Lenin's outlawing of factions in
1921, and Stalin's transformation of this temporary and emergency measure,
in 1924, into the principle of permanent "monolithism" in communist parties.

(2) The second factor was the perceived need, in our party center, to
continue to maintain the lifestyle of the supported, full-time,
professional revolutionary who was the secretary of our central committee.
Unfortunately, our party's leader, began to identify his own survival (as a
supported full-time, professional revolutionary) with the interests of our
party and its historic mission.

This last item may contain elements of humor.  And the joke was certainly
on us.  But at the same time it is important not to underestimate the first
factor--which from a theoretical perspective involves, not so much an
overestimation of the power and pressure of bourgeois ideology, as our
underestimation of our own ability to stand up to it in an environment in
which our internal ideological contradictions would be public.

The desire to keep our internal contradictions private, until we could
resolve them (and in this manner, somewhat shield ourselves from the
immense pressure of the bourgeois, social-democratic {and very corrupt}
intellectual environment in which we existed) seemed to make a certain
amount of sense to us, not only because of the first factor above, but
because our experience of creating a revolutionary group in the conditions
of the late 1960's and early 70's seemed to confirm the power of this
method.  When an immature ideology is attempting to organize itself in an
environment where it is surrounded by a much more developed, powerful (and
extremely hostile) ideology--it cannot survive long enough to witness its
own development without, to one or another degree, seeking temporary
shelter in the form of "information isolation".

A key concept here, however, is the word "temporary".  No political trend
which aspires to lead the modern proletariat in the modern world can do so
without casting off the protective blankets of infancy.  "Information
isolation" is a method that always and everywhere is necessary for the
survival of *weaker* ideologies, unable to stand up to more powerful
ideologies in an open environment.  In the coming age of "information war",
however, it will be seen that the weaker ideology is the bourgeois
ideology.  Communist ideology will be rapidly maturing.  The many mistakes
and confusions resulting from the suffocation of Lenin's 1917
revolution--will be overcome in the inevitable collisions and convergence
of ideologies that will be catalyzed by the coming communications
revolution.  Once, communism, as an ideology, recovers from the confusion,
bankruptcy and paralysis in which it has languished since the death of
Lenin--it will have the ability to "kick butt" consistently, in millions
and billions of encounters with bourgeois ideology.  And it will be the
turn of bourgeois ideology to seek the shelter of "information
isolation"--in a world where such shelter is disappearing most rapidly.

7b. Centralism to help achieve a high
    productivity of (political) labor

Lenin, in "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back" [LCW 7, page 389, 1977
edition] discusses how one of his opponents had accused him of "visualizing
the Party 'as an immense factory' headed by a director in the shape of the
Central Committee".  Lenin replied as follows:

   "... the factory, which seems only a bogey to some,
    represents the highest form of capitalist co-operation
    which has united and disciplined the proletariat,
    taught it to organize, and placed it at the head of all
    other sections of the toiling and exploited population.
    And Marxism, the ideology of the proletariat trained by
    capitalism, has been and is teaching unstable intellectuals
    to distinguish between the factory as a means of exploitation
    (discipline based on fear of starvation) and the factory as
    a means of organization (discipline based on collective work
    united by the conditions of a technically highly developed
    form of production)."

I think this passage is useful for several reasons.  We have already
mentioned one issue.  Those who were averse to the formal organizational
rules and discipline of such a collective undertaking (ie: complaining
about being mere "cogs and wheels")--generally were less committed to the
Marxist cause and less firm in their support of the complex ideological
struggle against reformism--and could probably best assist the party as
supporters, rather than as members who more closely held the fate of the
party in their hands.

There is another issue here that is of interest.  Lenin favored a party
modeled after the most advanced form of capitalist cooperation which
existed at the time.  I doubt that many who study capitalist organization
today would argue that the factory is the most advanced form.  People who
today study the organization of modern corporations (and are generally
well-paid by the capitalists for their advice)--are much more concerned
with forms of organization which "push down" decision making to lower
levels.  Today, the more advanced forms of capitalist organization are more
concerned with such matters as encouraging greater "initiative from below".

Now, to prevent some possible misconceptions, I should point out here that
the great majority of workers under capitalism will probably never have
much opportunity to display much of this increased initiative.  Much of the
need and the focus, within capitalist organizations, for greater initiative
from below, is aimed at sections of workers who tend to be above the lowest
rungs.  But for our purposes--that is beside the point--because we are
concerned here not with how capitalist organization will supposedly
liberate workers--but with better understanding how the most advanced forms
of capitalist cooperation operate--so that, like Lenin, we can adapt some
of the "best practices"--to build an organization which will make possible
the overthrow of capitalism--and the replacement of capitalism with
something which will work *better*.  What is at issue--is that the
capitalists themselves are searching for methods that unleash greater
amounts of flexibility and initiative--and the most successful corporations
are increasingly those who have found such methods--because these methods
result in a higher productivity of labor.

Now an interesting question here--is why capitalist organizations are more
concerned with "initiative from below" today--than they were a century ago
when Lenin wrote "One Step Forward".  Are the capitalists supposedly
smarter today or something ?  I think the answer is that the production
process itself is vastly more complex today than it was in Lenin's time.
There are a vastly greater number and variety of manufactured goods and
services today than a hundred years ago.  There are a vastly greater number
of skills used that require a fairly high degree of education.  The
business books call this "human capital" (defined as that portion of a
company's capital that goes home every night).  (I don't, by the way, think
that term is accurate or all that helpful scientifically--because no matter
how well trained the labor force is--it is still not "capital" and its
development is governed by an entirely different set of economic laws.)

Because the production process itself is far more complex, with greater
numbers of parts, processes, services and software required (even to make a
cup of coffee) it is more difficult to supervise the workforce in the old
way.  It is more difficult to measure how hard a worker is working when
much of her work involves making judgements about how something should be
done that has never been done before.  Much of a modern business involves
designing and continually improving *processes*.  If the workforce is not
motivated, to a greater extent than before, on the basis of *internal
motivation* the corporation she works for will not be able to compete with
its rivals.

I bring this up because (especially in the period of the coming revolution
in communications) the need to understand how to build organization with
greater reliance on "self-organization" and the "bottom-up"
principle--applies every bit as much to the proletariat as to the bourgeoisie.

7c. Centralism as a means of increasing democracy

It is the role of centralism in *increasing* democracy within an
organization, rather than decreasing democracy, that is at the heart of the
issue.  All organizations, in practice, combine the principles of
centralization and decentralization--of "top-down" and "bottom-up" methods
of organization.  The specifics, of course, vary a great deal.  But the
question of "centralization vs. decentralization", of "top-down vs.
bottom-up" methods of organization--will come up again and again as
communications technologies such as the internet increasingly make
many-to-many communications practical.

Lenin proposed a centralized party in conditions where many-to-many
communication between Marxist activists was not only difficult from the
point of view of technology--but was illegal and grounds for prison.  In
these circumstances, it was generally not possible for a Marxist activist
in one local area to have any influence at all over what took place in
another area.  Both communication and democracy was limited by geography.

Lenin proposed a centralized party as a means of increasing both
communication and democracy between the members of local Marxist
organizations.  Centralization represented:

(1) a central newspaper where the local Marxist groups could report on
their activity and learn from the activity of others--and debate and
discuss their different views on what was useful and what was not, and

(2) representative democracy within the party
    (the only kind which was practical at the time).

Another example, again drawn from "One Step Forward, Two Steps Back" [ibid,
pages 394-399, emphasis in the original will be denoted with *asterisks*]
may help to clarify this.

7d. The Gohre Incident:
    Centralism vs. Localism and Opportunism

Lenin devoted several pages of "One Step Forward" to a struggle, only a few
months earlier, in the German social-democratic party over the selection of
a certain ex-parson as the party's candidate for election to the Reichstag.
 Gohre, the author of a fairly well-known (at that time) book, "Three
Months as a Factory Worker", was one of the extreme opportunists condemned
alongside Bernstein at the party's Dresden Congress (September 1903).  A
local section of the German party, nonetheless, soon after decided to
select him as a candidate for the Reichstag.  The central and regional
bodies of the party put their foot down--and said that Gohre was too much
of an opportunist--and therefore not fit to represent the German
social-democratic party in the Reichstag.  This turned into a big public
fight between the opportunist and revolutionary wings of the German party
over the meaning of democracy within the party.

The opportunist side in this debate was taken up by Wolfgang Heine and the
revolutionary side by Karl Kautsky (who himself would become a traitor to
the German workers only ten years later).  Heine wrote against the party's
"insistence on *discipline* in the sphere of ideological production, where
absolute freedom should prevail" and said this "demonstrates the tendency
towards bureaucracy and the suppression of individuality".  Heine ended up
foaming at the mouth against the tendency to create "*one* big
all-embracing organization, as centralized as possible, *one* set of
tactics, and *one* theory".  Soon enough, even the German equivalent of the
"Wall Street Journal", the "Frankfurter Zeitung", had gotten into the act
and condemned the revolutionary wing of the party as "dictators" demanding
"blind obediance" and "servile subordination" who aimed to crush "all
distinctiveness of personality" and transform party members into "political
corpses".  Isn't it interesting that a German bourgeois newspaper would
take such an active interest--in the question of what constitutes a healthy
internal life in a revolutionary party dedicated to its overthrow ?

[Now before presenting the refutation made by Kautsky (and quoted
approvingly by Lenin) I want to make a comment here about the kind of
language used by Heine and the German bourgeois newspaper.  Any real
communist party, that has strong living links with workers and upholds the
cause of the workers against bourgeois interests, can expect to be attacked
like this.  And often.  At the same time, there also exist sectarian
formations who could probably be described in these terms--and the
description would be accurate.  So one moral here, so to speak, is that if
you read about some party, trend, group or organization being described as
being similar to the Catholic Church at the time of the Inquisition--such
descriptions mean very little without a strong knowledge of the
circumstances involved--because the charges could originate from reformists
who resent being branded as reformists--or the charges could be accurate
descriptions of an organization which is sectarian--or, not uncommonly,
both sets of circumstances could exist--because reformism and sectarianism
are about as common in the left as water is in the ocean--and often all
sides will simply point to the weaknesses, hypocrisy and bankruptcy of
others and conveniently ignore their own.  Anyhow, that's the end of my
comment.  We will now resume our story.]

Kautsky (and Lenin) reply to Heine

Karl Kautsky replied:

   "democracy does not mean the absence of authority, democracy
    ... means the rule of the masses over their representatives,
    in distinction to other forms of rule, where the supposed
    servants of the people are in reality their masters".

That is is short answer.

I would like to give a lengthy quote here from Lenin (who, in turn, quotes
Kautsky, demarked here by single quote marks) because the relationship
between centralism and democracy has been so thoroughly abused and
mutilated by so many "Marxist" and "Leninist" organizations--that I believe
the air needs to be cleared.  These questions are fundamental.  Real
progress, by communists in the 21st century, will be helped by clearing up
some of this incredible muck and confusion.

In addition, Lenin makes a number of remarks which, if quoted out of
context, would make it appear that he opposed the idea of "bottom-up"
methods of organization.  Yet "bottom-up" methods of communist organization
are going to become extremely important in the period of the internet.  All
organizations in the real world use some combination of both "top-down" and
"bottom-up" organization, but the relative weight, importance and
significance of "bottom-up" methods will greatly increase in the period of
the coming communications revolution.

Here is Lenin's comment on the matter:

   "... the important thing here is to note the undoubted
    tendency to *defend autonomism against centralism*,
    which is a fundamental characteristic of opportunism
    in matters of organization. ...

   "Bureaucracy *verses* democracy is in fact centralism
    *verses* autonomism; it is the organizational principle
    of revolutionary Social-Democracy as opposed to the
    organizational principle of opportunist Social-Democracy.
    The latter strives to proceed from the bottom upward,
    and therefore, wherever possible and as far as possible,
    upholds autonomism and 'democracy', carried (by the
    overzealous) to the point of anarchism.  The former
    strives to proceed from the top downward, and upholds
    an extension of the rights and powers of the center
    in relation to the parts. ...

   "It is highly interesting to note that these fundamental
    characteristics of opportunism in matters of organization
    ... are ... to be observed in all the Social-Democratic
    parties in the world, wherever there is a division into a
    revolutionary and an opportunist wing (and where is there
    not?). ...

   "Kautsky traces at length the disruptive role played by
    opportunist autonomism in various countries; he shows
    that it is precisely the influx of '*a great number of
    bourgeois elements*' into the Social-Democratic movement
    that is strengthening opportunism, autonomism, and the
    tendency to violate discipline; and once more he reminds
    us that
       'organization is the weapon that will emancipate
        the proletariat',
       'organization is the characteristic weapon of the
        proletariat in the class struggle'. ...

   "It is not surprising that Kautsky arrives at the following
       'There is perhaps no other question on which
        revisionism in all countries, despite its
        multiplicity of form and hue, is so alike as on
        the question of organization.'
    Kautsky, too, defines the basic tendencies of orthodoxy and
    revisionism in this sphere with the help of the 'dreadful
    word': bureaucracy *verses* democracy.  We are told, he says,
    that to give the party leadership the right to influence the
    selection of candidates (for parliament) by the constituencies
       'a shameful encroachment on the democratic principle,
        which demands that all political activity proceed
        from the bottom upward, by the independent activity
        of the masses, and not from the top downward, in a
        bureaucratic way. ... But if there is any democratic
        principle, it is that the majority must have
        predominance over the minority, and not the other
        way round....'
    The election of a member of parliament by any constituency
    is an important matter for the Party as a whole, which
    should influence the nomination of candidates, if only thru
    its representatives...
       'Whoever considers this too bureaucratic or
        centralistic let him suggest that candidates
        be nominated by the direct vote of the Party
        membership at large ... If he thinks this is
        not practical, he must not complain of a lack
        of democracy, when this function, like many others
        that concern the Party as a whole, is exercized
        by one or several Party bodies.' "  [ibid]

The passage above is interesting from several directions.  But what I would
like to draw attention to for now is the part at the end, where Kautsky
talks about "the direct vote of the Party membership at large".  What both
Kautsky and Lenin are saying here--is that if it had been possible to
consult the entire party membership about Gohre's candidacy--then the local
section of the party could have been overruled by *the party as a whole*
instead of being overruled by the party center acting as *the
representative* of the will of the party as a whole.

This is a very key section for two reasons.

Centralism allows the party membership to determine its destiny

First--it helps to clarify why it is that the principle of centralism
represents a *greater degree of democracy* than the principle of what Lenin
calls "autonomism" (ie: autonomy for each local area).  Centralism is the
*means* (the *only* means possible at the time) for the majority of the
party's membership to have *effective control* of the party's activity as a
whole.  Without this *effective control*, there can be no meaningful
democracy within an organization.  Without centralism, in Lenin's time, the
party would not have had a meaningful life as *an organization* with
control over its own destiny.  Instead there would have been various local
circles, united only in name and (unable to develop a greater degree of
life as a unified whole) comparatively easy prey to the spontaneous
tendency to fall into reformism.  (It is somewhat irrelevant, for our
purposes here, that the German party fell prey to reformism anyhow, in
spite of its centralism).

In the early 1970's in the U.S., there developed amongst many radical
groups in the anti-revisionist movement (ie: that section of the movement
inspired by Mao's criticism of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet
Union)--the idea that building a unified communist organization could best
take place via the path of "pre-party collectives"--in which each local
organization would develop its own practice and learn primarily from its
own experience.  According to this line (which turned out to lead to
disaster) each local organization would in this way accumulate experience
and maturity in the course of the class struggle--and be in a better
position to understand the tasks involved in building a party--when the
time came that they would eventually merge.  The only problem was--that
they never "eventually merged".  Rather, as local circles *isolated from
one another*, most of the groups one-by-one died out, spontaneously falling
victim to the pressure of reformism or to one or another amateurish
practice which sapped their strength and led to demoralization.

One of the lessons here, is that in the conditions of the low level of
experience and political consciousness which characterized the movement in
the U.S. at that time, the imperative was to unite into a single national
organization or die.

In the first decade of the 21st century, there will probably be a great
many communist organizations, of various sizes, many quite small, which
will spontaneously emerge in the conditions of greater consciousness
unleashed as the communications revolution begins to pour oxygen onto the
fires of the class struggle.  These groups will *not* face the same
imperative of "merge or die" which faced groups in the U.S. in the early
70's.  The primary reason for this is that these groups will exist in an
"information dense" environment in which many of the functions of
centralism will be handled by a looser communications network.  There will
still be a strong imperative to merge, as we will discuss below, but the
consequences for being more slow to respond to this imperative will be less

Going beyond Centralism

And this leads us to our second point.  This passage by Lenin helps us to
see the possibilities which are only now opening up to us--courtesy of the
coming revolution in communications.  We are very rapidly approaching a
stage where consultation with the entire membership (even of a very large
party, like the German party, of a million members) over such a question as
the nomination of Gohre--would be very easy.  This is truely something new
in human history.  And it affects everything else.  In 1903, the average
member of the German party would not have had a typewriter, telephone or
xerox machine (much less e-mail or the web).  Communication with the party
membership was by means of a newspaper, a "one-to-many" kind of
communication (ie: as opposed to the internet, a "many-to-many" kind of

Now I hope what I say is not misunderstood.  I am not saying that it would
have been impossible for the German party to have effectively and
successfully fought reformism without the internet.  Lenin's Bolsheviks
proved it could be done (in a period where even their one-to-many
newspapers were illegal).  Rather, the issue here is that, in an era of
many-to-many communications, less centralism is *necessary* in a
proletarian party--because more direct and advanced types of democratic
functioning are possible.

Again, this is not the same as saying that proletarian parties will not
require centralism at all.  Any time a large party must be capable of
sustained, coordinated activity characterized by bold, decisive actions in
a war (whether a political war or a military war) of quick decision--there
will be a need for a high degree of centralization.  In this respect,
centralization is like closing one's fingers into a fist.  Making one's
fingers into a fist--so that one may strike rapid, powerful blows at an
opponent--is often necessary for a workers' party preparing itself to
overthrow bourgeois rule.

But just as no one can successfully go thru all of life with their fists
closed (because, for example, an open hand is required to use tools) no
party in the modern world can perform all of its functions in a centralized
manner.  This last point is particularly important.  Much of a party's
work, including theoretical and intellectual work, can only be centralized
to a certain extent.  Some sectarian trends make a fetish of centralization
and, using the struggle against reformism or bourgeois ideology as an
excuse, attempt to use "information isolation" (and other fetishistic forms
of centralism) to shield their supporters from *coming into contact with
ideas* which would expose and destroy the guiding mythology that glues the
group together and justifies its peculiar practices.  *This* kind of
centralism, in the period of the coming revolution in communications, is
going to face rapid extinction.

7e. Summary: stages in the development
             of inner-party democracy

A quick summary of the historical forms of communist organization may now
be useful:

1) Local circles: Unified Marxist party can exist in name only.
   Sporadic communication between local groups because of
   illegality and amateurish practices.  An activist in one
   group may have no possibility to influence the activity of
   another group because the influence from one group to another
   is largely by chance.  Every locality left to its own to
   continually reinvent the wheel.  Optimal conditions for
   spontaneous collapse due to repression, demoralization or
   the influence of the predominant reformist conceptions.

2) Centralized party: Party center chosen by members.
   Local sections subordinate to party center which represents
   (hopefully) the will of the majority of the party membership.

The second form is the historic form generally associated with communist
organization.  We have seen several variations on this:

a) The typical party of the Second International

Best represented by the German social-democratic party, with pronounced
revolutionary and reformist/opportunist wings.  The *reformist wing*
aspires to convert the party into a party of the liberal bourgeoisie and
limit its activity to the pursuit of those reforms which are acceptable to
the bourgeoisie and consistent with capitalist rule.  The *revolutionary
wing* aspires to maintain the party as a party of the working class which
works for reforms in order to win the support of workers necessary for the
overthrow of capitalist rule.  The struggle between the revolutionary and
reformist wings at times flares up but at other times is relatively subdued.

Because the revolutionaries and reformists are dependent on the party
apparatus, newspapers, etc. and because the struggle between them is not
brought to the average party member in a clear, consistent way which
relates to both the daily tasks of party-building and the long-term aims of
the party--the polarization between the two wings is *insufficient to
engage the full attention of the average party member* and enlist his or
her participation in a contest of strength.  In this circumstance, a center
develops in the party which at decisive times (in order to "preserve party
unity") pays lip service to the revolutionary wing but which in practice
tolerates the reformist wing and is in defacto alliance with them.

Historically, *all* parties of this type eventually fell under the
domination of the reformists, betrayed the workers and became vehicles of
the liberal bourgeoisie.  Many of these parties did finally achieve state
power, where they played a useful role for the bourgeoisie in deceiving the

b) The "parties within a party" model represented
   by the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks 1903-1911

Here the revolutionary and reformist wings create their own organizations,
their own leading central bodies, their own illegal newspapers and press,
develop their own tactics and refine their respective ideologies.  The two
parties within a party compete for the loyalties of workers while they
simultaneously cooperate in numerous ways at the insistence of their
supporters.  (This cooperation was conducted by the Bolsheviks in such a
way that it created greater clarity about the nature of their differences
with the Mensheviks, and for this reason was to the Bolshevik's advantage.)

In this circumstance, everyone who wishes to be taken seriously and have
influence must take a clear stand as to which side is correct on which
issues.  No predominate center emerges and only charlatans and clueless
clowns (ie: Trotsky) can ignore the reasons for the polarization.  The
revolutionary pole eventually wins predominate support amongst the workers
while the reformist pole wins greater support amongst the intermediate
classes and sections.

Eventually the true nature of the opposing aims of the different parties
becomes more clear to very large numbers of workers and the parties
dissolve their formal relationship prior to taking their respective
positions on opposite sides of the barricades.

c) The Bolsheviks from 1912 to 1921

Often called the Leninist party "of the new type", this party has no
reformist wing.  The reformist section which aspires to compromise with the
bougeoisie stands *outside* the party.  This is a vastly more clear set of
circumstances for workers but is only achieved via a *lengthy and highly
complex process* of struggle and differentiation.

The party still contains a wide assortment of views on various issues, but
in respect to the fundamental issues *which separate the reformists from
the revolutionaries* -- there is *unanimity*.  Membership in the party does
not require agreement on everything from A to Z, but rather requires
agreement on A to J (which are considered fundamental) and permits
disagreement on K to Z (which are less clear or decisive).

d) The Bolsheviks from 1921

The emergency conditions and extreme crisis which exist by the end of the
civil war in 1921 necessitate a number of emergency measures within the
party to shut down the organized contention of views which in other
circumstances would be considered normal.  After the death of Lenin in 1924
Stalin makes these emergency measures permanent (as we will see in the next
section) and develops the concept of a "monolithic party" (with a single
line and set of views from A to Z) as supposedly applicable to all
communist parties at all times.

This model of oranization had many advantages but the organizations which
were based on it all (whether in the short or the long term) ultimately
degenerated.  Nor should this be a suprise.

I think that, in the circumstances of the coming revolution in
communications, a new type of networked communist organization may emerge:

7f. Distributed Authority

A communist organization which emerges from an "information dense" network
would develop ways of performing many of the functions of a party center in
a "distributed" manner.  The struggle between the revolutionary and
reformist lines would act to polarize all participants in the network and
create conditions favorable to the eventual emergence, within this network,
of a single revolutionary organization which would draw up boundaries
around itself (similar to a membrane, or a series of membranes) to clearly
differentiate itself from both:

(a) the reformist activists and organizations, and
(b) those nodes in the network which were undecided
    or unclear on this decisive matter.

*Cooperation* as well as *competition* between the various participants and
nodes of this network would be a permanent feature of its functioning and
"norms" would emerge which would help to keep this cooperation and
competition along lines that were *principled* and in the interests of the
working class.

Such a unitary organization, as would eventually emerge, would be
ideologically united, in the first place, on those issues which separate
communism from reformism.  Unity on other issues would be partial--but the
predominant tendency, over time, would be to sort out other decisive issues
as the need to do so asserted itself.

The tendency would be for the single revolutionary organization which
emerges to develop *that degree of centralization* which would correspond
to its tasks.  In periods of intense class struggle constituting a war of
quick decision, a single center would of necessity emerge but would not
necessarily be permanent.  But the fundamental struggle (within the
network) between the reformist and revolutionary orientations (reflecting
the struggle, in society at large, between the bourgeoisie and the
proletariat) would take place on a permanent, continuous basis, whether the
revolutionary pole had a single center or multiple centers, and whether or
not the revolutionary and reformist poles were separated by a clear boundary.

The "information dense" environment of this network would create optimum
conditions for the differentiation thru struggle of the reformist and
revolutionary orientations.  This struggle would both:

(a) *reflect the class struggle* in society at large--and

(b) *directly link up to the masses* who would recognize
    this network (and the struggle taking place within it) as
    a vehicle for *their* aspirations--and who would therefore
    actively "take sides", in a most energetic manner,
    in the "internal" struggle of this network.

The concept I am trying to develop here is what I call "distributed
authority", in which the more direct forms of democracy made possible by
the communications revolution--would allow the struggle between the
revoltutionary and reformist paths to be waged in a more *distributed*
fashion--without so great a need for this struggle to be directed by or
channeled thru a single center which, historically, has proven itself to be
a faulty component, a chokepoint or bottleneck, vulnerable to incompetence,
corruption and many other failings.


In searching for an appropriate analogy, I am (if I take the liberty of
"theoretical license") struck by the similarity of this "communist
organization" within a network--to a living organism, similar to a form of
"artificial life".  Like an living organism, it would ingest various forms
of energy and nourishment (activists and their organizations), digest,
transform and assimulate what is healthy, and expel what cannot be put to use.

Since communists have no difficulty working (on their own terms) with
reformists, those parts of the network which are reformist to one degree or
another (or which are not conscious of the necessity to fight
reformism--which for our purposes is pretty much the same as reformism)
would in a great many (if not most) cases, still be available for a large
variety of joint work with the communist section (which would need to
always struggle to maintain its integrity and independent class stand as
the basis for this cooperation).

What would help to make this possible is the "information dense"
environment, characterized by "transparency" (ie: more or less the
condition that pertinent information circulates quite widely and rapidly
and, as a consequence--unprincipled manuevers and charlatanism become
exposed more rapidly than Madonna in front of a camera).  In these
sectarianism (which, as we shall see, is reformism's best friend) tends to
melt away.  This would be an environment which (facilitating great clarity
on the nature of the struggle against reformism) would be able to (more
than has ever been possible in the past) both exploit and guide the natural
spontaneous "bottom-up" and "self-organizing" tendencies of groups of
activists who wish to pour their energies into the struggle to rid humanity
forever of the capitalist system--and create in its stead a world of joy
and abundance for all.

(to be continued)


     Next: 1921 and 1924 -- Lenin's organization
                    faces crisis and suffocation


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