Forward to Democratic Centralism – A Reply to the IS

posted 3 May 2010, 11:16 by Admin uk   [ updated 3 May 2010, 12:17 ]

We are held together by a common understanding of the world, by the ideas of Marxism. This should be the basis of every debate and discussion in our organisationAs Scientific Socialists we strive for clarity in order that we can arm ourselves for the task of changing society. I’m afraid that the reply from the IS does not provide clarity, it muddies the waters. It is a constant refrain that we seek to raise the level of the comrades. I am hoping that we can take this debate up to a much higher level in order that the forces of Marxism can grow in Britain and on a world scale.  




This is a debate about method and I will start by setting out what I will not do. 


Unlike the IS reply I am going to focus on the ideas and the politics, not individuals. The IS reply ridicules individuals, it assigns ideas and intentions to these people which have no basis in evidence. The best example of this is that, “comrade JC is completely ignorant, not just about the history of Bolshevism, but about every other aspect of Marxist theory”. So why did the IS then nominate him to the IEC for 18 years?! It is also implied that this the ‘faction’ is the the work of two saboteurs, Pand HK,who are seeking another go at the arguments raised by the Democratic Platform, a faction formed following the 91/92 split, having been defeated some years ago. Comrades this is a rhetorical device to distract and confuse us.


Similarly the accusations of ‘capitulation to the Chinese bureaucracy. Quite apart from the fact that this is nonsense- the comrades are defending a position that the Tendency has argued for decades on the basis of a thoroughgoing study of the processes taking place in China and on a world scale- it is also an attempt to smear the opponent. I will also not be making judgements about people’s lifestyles, which I think detracts from the arguments.


I am not going to search for the most apt quote from Lenin or Trotsky etc. to lend weight to the arguments. Again our method must not be to try and ascribe authority just on the basis of something said or written by them in 1906 or 1912 etc. We must and do of course learn from them, but not simply transpose the ideas on today’s conditions. Marxism after all is a method. The recent documents on the Spanish split descended to the level of ‘quote wars’ which is unhelpful.


I am hoping that this debate does not become a question of loyalty to the leadership. ‘Trust us – we are the leadership’ as outlined by AW and EG in Against Bureaucratic Centralism all those years ago. We should be loyal to the ideas of revolutionary socialism, organisation flows from this. Instead we are seeing what looks to me like a siege mentality that is being built up in our organisation. Who are our enemies ? If we have the best ideas why do we care what the sects think !?





The Comintern had colossal authority on the basis of having lead a revolution. It is said we must have a ‘sense of proportion’. Our connection to the real movement of the working class is very weak. The leadership of our Tendency has carried the torch – the IBF statement acknowledges the role that the leadership has played but we mustn’t fool ourselves that we have a mass influence.Yes, we’ve lead some struggles. We do not yet speak for the working class or sections of the working class.


So how do we build a mass tendency within the movement? I don’t believe we will do so if we employ methods which present a monotone face to workers and youth who are prepared to listen to us. Again, the arguments in the document are misrepresented. The basic rules that are described are not the rules of democratic centralism, that is the point ! We want to build a cadre organisation. What is a cadre ? It is someone who can think for themselves, who can apply the method of Marxism in the circumstances in which they find themselves.


An organisation of cadres- leaders amongst the working class would naturally be a highly centralised organisation. Centralisation cannot be imposed ! However, I am not arguing that the IS is a monstrous totalitarian dictatorship- which is gross misrepresentation of the arguments presented in the document. In fact, behind the document is the understanding that what is needed is a highly disciplined, highly centralised combat organisation to lead the working class to victory.


The supporters of the IBF document do not reject leadership. We reject bureaucratism which is a danger in any organisation. I am only too aware of this having been a full-time lay representative in my trade union for 3 years. I try to keep this in check, not least by studying the ideas of Marxism and discussing with comrades on a regular basis. We do not reject democratic centralism. What we reject is a set of rules based on ‘tradition’ or rather the interpretation of that tradition.



What Is Democratic Centralism ?


So what is democratic centralism ? It is full and free discussion and unity in action. But what does this mean ?


We must approach this is a dialectical way. There will be of course depending on the circumstances, be more discussion at times and then the focus will be on action.Agreement can only be reached through discussion. No one is suggesting that we never take decisions and then act on them in a disciplined manner. But what do we mean byaction? That is the point.


The correctness of a theoretical position cannot be settled by a Congress vote. Yes we can and we should take a decision what our political line is. But whether we are right or not will be settled by the movement of the classes. Our ideas have to be tested by events. Democracy is not always black and white. In a strike or an insurrection it is. We vote and the majority decides, then we enforce the discipline of the majority on the picket lines and the barricades. These are fundamental conditions of our class outlook.


On the strike, I must deal with the very strange assertion made in the IS reply as to those workers who argue against the strike. The attitude of workers towards a non-union member or even a union member who argues against a strike is very different that that of someone who argue for it and then goes to work. Yes, it is wrong to cross a picket line. But workers will argue against it, will vote against it but will still respect the majority decision in the main. And the discussion will continue on the picket line.


To suggest that minority positions are to be withheld from public view is absurd and indeed is impossible in the age of mass communication technology. I am not suggesting that comrades should be able to publish what they like with no regard for the political line of the organisation, the integrity of our publications and our position in the movement. However I ask how does publishing a minority view – a view which may be correct- harm our work ? How does it break our ‘unity in action’ ? A refusal to do so points more towards the importance of leadership prestige than developing the ideas of Marxism. Should we wait until the questions of theory are settled by events in order to correct a position that has been falsified by events ? How seriously will workers and youth take us if this is to be the case ? The integrity of our publications have been asserted and quite rightly. So how can we publish the views of Brian J Baker, who isn’t a comrade, who made some pretty bold assertions about climate change, but yet do not allow the views, which are consistent with a Marxist approach on China, however strongly comrades may disagree, to be publicly available ?


It is also false to assert that we are trying to impose a minority view on the ‘majority’ on any issue. The point is that being in the minority does not make you wrong. I’m not going to quote Lenin but it is suffice to say that he was in the minority some 10 times. In the most famous example was on his return in 1917 when he found himself in a minority of one. Russia was in the grip of a revolution ! The April Theses were published in a newspaper. This is how Lenin won the Party to his position which corrected their course towards the revolutionary seizure of power.


Turning towards the treatment of differences inside our organisation. In fact, the rank and file do not hear of disagreements within our own organisation until it becomes even too late or too envenomed to deal with without fear of splits or expulsions. The leading bodies have disputes and disagreements but a united front is presented to the body ‘below’ that and so on. So how comrades who find themselves in a minority defend their ideas ? A number of amendments and resolutions were put through branches to British Congress by comrades who supported the IBF and requested faction rights in the British Section. This was following a refusal to grant these rights on the basis that there was not a principled basis for a faction (And by the way British comrades were not responsible in anyway for the IBF Intranet). Every one of these, apart from one, was opposed by the British CC. Were these all opposed on a principled basis ? I believe that they weren’t, in fact, they were opposed in order to crush and demoralise the comrades who had submitted them.


No one took a light-minded step to seek faction rights. Quite the contraryAgain the document mischaracterises the position put forward. No one is saying that the ban on factions in 1921 was what lead to Stalinism ! Trotsky himself said that this was a mistake, that it ‘signalled the end of the heroic period of Bolshevism’. The history of Bolshevism is a history of factions, groups, sections and wings- whatever word you prefer. What lead to Stalinism was the objective conditions. The decision to ban factions was in response to the objective conditions. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake or that we are saying it lead to Stalinism !


Information And The Fear Of Paralysis


The leadership’s fear of paralysis appears to be due to an inability to respond to the theoretical arguments and a lack of confidence in their political authority. No one is saying there hasn’t been debates and discussion but the low level in the debates on China and Capitalist Crisis are a sign of this fear. Where are the docs that were promised ? The leadership hasn’t had the time ? Well, why not so why not get one or a group of the cadres to draft them under the IS’ supervison ?! AW has found time to produce a wealth of material on the Roman Empire, Art and other subjects. This is invaluable for the comrades and is essential in raising the level of comrades. But this I think reveals a lack of confidence in the rank and file membership to develop ideas..


The resolutions to ban facebook sites and intranet sites appear quite desparate. If the IS and IEC were confident of their political authority why are they worried about comrades using these new forms of technology to discuss across branches, section and borders ? If they are confident that they are developing cadres then why the ban ? Security, from the state, the labour bureaucracy or the sects (who we are told don’t matter !) is a red herring. If these people really want to know what we think, what we are doing they’ll find out. After all MI5 recorded all our CC meetings in the Militant didn’t they ?!


Mistakes have been made. But the leadership should have welcomed the intranet as an ongoing Internal Bulletin ! No one is suggesting that there should not be branches or leading bodies- another absurd assertion in the IS document. This would in fact supplement and indeed enhance democracy. Rank and file comrades would be better informed and discussions would be at a much higher level. We are not living in the 1930s ! Yes, most workers do not have time and inclination to read and to study. But we are after all, not most workers. We are supposed to be cadres, who make sacrifices of time and effort to develop ourselves theoretically. This is hard. But we have joined an organisation which seeks the overthrow of Capitalism and the construction of a new society.


This goes back to the siege mentality that has been built up. There is the implication that some comrades are infected with Anarchist ideas, petit-bourgeois dilettantism that is a result of the pressures of Capitalist ideology. The implication is that these comrades are weak and that those that support the IS are strong, true to Marxism. We are told to Rally to the Party ! Show some loyalty and trust in the leadership! The implication is only too apparent.Comrades, trust is a two-way street.


Splits And Crisis


The loss of the comrades in a number of sections through splits and individual resignations is of concern to us all. It is painful both on a personal and political basis. It requires analysis while the need to continue the work to build remains. In fact the two are connected. Building a cadreorganisation will not be possible if we do not approach this analysis in the right way. In relation to the British section three comrades have left in the last year who were of long standing and a high theoretical level. They were all active Trade Unionists and two of them held important positions in the movement. They had all been on the Central Committee and had helped hold our forces together in an extremely difficult period – a sort of prehistory for our organisation as Comrade RS puts it- where the objective conditions were against us. Are we going to adequately explore why they left and orientate accordingly or look for the easy option- to blame the actions of HK or other convenient hate figures ?


We have never said that there is a guarantee against splits. We are trying to understand WHY they happen. The leadership is only as strong as it’s membership and vice-versaWe are weak and it is this weakness that leads to splits and expulsions. Why are we weak ? Because we have failed thus far to build a cadre organisation. But I amnot a harbinger of doom. We have the ideas and the method of Marxism and this is what gives us the confidence and optimism to win workers and youth to our ranks. We must carry out an honest assessment of how we got to this point and how we are to move forward, because no one else is going to do it for us.








April 2010



p.s. I took no pleasure in hearing the reports from a number of comrades of the IEC, which run counter to the account of a calm atmosphere. Comrade MB confirmed at the British Congress that a comrade at IEC had referred to the IBF as a ‘whore house/knocking shop’ depending on the translation. This is a disgrace and what is even more worrying is that Comrade AW seemed to support this characterisation. Quite apart from this language that is unacceptable in a Marxist organisation the Comrade MB stated that there was a lynch atmosphere at this meeting. It was obvious to me that he felt intimidated in raising the issue during the IEC.