In the first article, I presented a historical background for the emergence of the term democratic centralism. The second article discussed how democratic centralism was shaped by the Russian Revolution and the overwhelming influence of Lenin’s ideas. Today I present a summary of the opinions of those who embrace them, a criticism of those who reject them, and then an analysis of them.
The thesis of advocates of democratic centralism is that it is the most appropriate form for organizing revolutionary parties. The main reason is that these parties are hostile, in most cases, to the existing regimes, which exposes them to bans, persecution, and all forms of repression. The authorities’ agencies also use various methods and cunning tricks to infiltrate these parties and destroy them from within by breaking up conflicts, confiscating equipment and funds, and arresting active or influential leaders and cadres.
Al-Tijani al-Tayeb, one of the most ardent defenders of democratic centralism, writes, stressing that centralization is the basic principle for the unity and cohesion of groups: “Throughout the course of development, the basic principle for the unity and cohesion of groups was centralization, which developed from its simple form, represented by the leader of the family and clan, to its complex forms, represented by monarchies. And empires that rule large and diverse human groups.”
The most important feature of democratic centralism is the existence of one powerful center whose decisions the entire membership is committed to implementing and which is responsible for everything related to the organization. On the other hand, members have the right to elect leaders and hold them accountable at periodic meetings. They also have the full right to discuss all partisan issues, large and small, when they come up for discussion, and to do so with complete freedom. Lenin famously described it with the words “freedom of discussion and unity of execution.”
They reject the criticism directed at combining conflicting centralism and democracy. They suggest that democratic centralism actually consists of two opposites, but according to the laws of dialectic with the struggle between the two opposites and then the unity of the two opposites, they can come together. In the case of their unity, one of them will be an upward opposite and the other a downward opposite. When centralization, the rising opposite, takes control, democracy shrinks and orders take control from above in an abhorrent bureaucratic manner. However, if democracy is allowed to take control, then it is the rising opposite, as democratic life revives within the organization and practices expand that give members greater scope to participate in running the organization and deciding its policies.
Opinions of those who reject democratic centralism:
Those who reject democratic centralism focus on supporting their criticism with what has been demonstrated by decades of practical practice that produced absolute centralism. The center, in light of democratic centralism, controls all aspects of party work and does not give a democratic margin for the membership to participate, in deed and not in word, in running the organization and determining its policies. Under it, membership becomes mere gears and tools that implement the orders and directives of the leadership, and democracy is merely formal practices or texts that do not work most of the time.
This organizational form is the result of time and circumstances that have transcended time and public and private awareness, and has become a heavy constraint on all steps to develop and renew the party, and the party apparatus (members of the central leadership and full-time staff) has absolute authority over all party practices.
The Central Committee or its Political Bureau controls the selection of the new Central Committee by submitting a list of names of candidates, which, according to custom and tradition, is approved by the conference.
Analysis of Democratic Centralism:
Democratic centralism is an original and essential part of the contributions that Lenin added to Marxism regarding party theory and organization. It arose and developed through the practice of struggle, with all its ups and downs, in resistance to absolute tsarist rule and steadfastness in the face of its tools of oppression. As well as the ongoing intellectual conflict with other Marxist currents inside and outside the Russian Workers’ Party. Then the state was established in light of a harsh civil war and the intervention of 14 countries to uproot the nascent state from its roots. From all these developments and events, democratic centralism took on a Soviet influence, both in form and content. In light of the influence and control, direct and indirect, and the strength of the first model for building socialism and the aura that surrounded the party’s steadfastness during the civil war and its success in building the second most powerful country in the world. The connection between democratic centralism and the Soviet experience and how it began and succeeded in its battles until one party took control of the state, then all the developments it went through, including civil war, the new economic policy, agricultural policy, rapid industrialization, etc. For all of this, democratic centralism, as we know it and practice it, has become a Soviet plant that grew with the development of the party and the state and an authentic Leninist invention. It must be viewed with this understanding and in its historical context.
I believe that democratic centralism plays an essential role in protecting leftist parties under dictatorial regimes, the tyranny of methods and methods of secret work, and the necessity of protecting parties from penetration. It plays a role in preparing and drawing the appropriate strategy and tactics to face the tasks of the stage. It also helps in uniting thought and will and collective implementation.
The philosophical basis of democratic centralism calls for the struggle of opposites and the unity of opposites. This is true in principle, but most opinions neglect the law of motion and that nothing is constant, including social institutions, opinions, and ideologies. How can we accept the stability of one principle, without change, for more than a century in light of stormy and rapid transformations that have reshaped the world in more than one direction? The second thing is that the law of conflict includes parties and ideas, but the important and fundamental issue, after recognizing that conflict, is how it is managed and the methods used in that. As for the issue of the unity of the two opposites, it means the emergence of a higher and higher form from its components. Does this include what we referred to previously?
In my opinion, the most important shortcomings of democratic centralism is the tyranny of centralization. We have referred to the experiences of Khrushchev and Gorbachev, the most important of which was changing the name to central democracy, but preserving its essence. This deficiency is evident in the center’s control over the formulation of party policies and programs during all their stages. Starting from the stage of assigning someone to prepare the initial draft, then presenting it to the central leadership to make whatever amendments it deems necessary, and sending it in that form to the membership to unite around it and implement it, and it can be discussed and opinions raised about it, which passes through intermediary bodies (and you do not know what the intermediary bodies are, which can simply be called guardians of the temple), which are You have the right to summarize, shorten, and postpone raising it to the top. In the case of larger issues that will be presented to the conferences, they take place in the same stages. Only the center determines the number of delegates and how to represent the central bodies that are chosen by the center itself. Thus, the existing center has the authority to control the conference even before its establishment.
The conditions of the party’s work, the type of its leadership, and the backwardness and primitiveness of its methods lead to democratic centralism. We quote this paragraph from the report of the Fourth Conference of the Sudanese Communist Party: “While the life of our party is affected by leftist trends, and the backwardness and primitiveness of performance and implementation, this life is sterilized and democratic centralism is weakened, especially since democracy as a whole is confiscated from political life.” The weakness of democratic centralism in the Communist Party and the failure to actively involve the party membership in its internal life and in the life of its branches led to a significant contraction in party membership to the extent that it hindered the party’s own capabilities as it faced the tasks of the October Revolution.”
Another example is the issue of intellectual conflict. Under democratic centralism, the center is the one who organizes the intellectual conflict and determines its frameworks and issues, when it will open and when it will end, and it is the one who draws its conclusions. Thus, the central grip is crystal clear and no party member or party branch can take the initiative to open an intellectual conflict because he only has to raise it. Proposals to the Center for this, and it is not entitled to contact other members or other branches, otherwise this will be called a bloc and it will fall under the sword of the list. Consider the experience of the general discussion on the issues of the era and what it has led to, is it not correct to describe it as an elephant that gave birth to a mouse?
The harmful effects of democratic centralism do not stop at the borders of party organization, or issues of intellectual conflict only, but rather affect other aspects that have not received their share of discussion. For example, in the international communist movement since the days of the International, then the Comintern, and finally the general meetings of the communist and workers’ parties, we find the Soviet Party in a distinctive position and controlling all the handles of the movement. Soviet hegemony includes political, military, trade union, student, etc. organizations such as the Warsaw Pact, the COMECON system, the World Federation of Trade Unions, and the rest of the international organizations that are not affiliated with the West.
There is also the issue of the national economy, which is built on excessive central planning and orders that come from above with ready duties and a predetermined time period. Naqd honestly asked: “How can the socialist economy be liberated from the rigidity of planning and the centralization of management inherited from the initial transition stage in order to receive the transformations of the scientific revolution that require economic democracy and the initiative of workers in a particular institution in making decisions without orders from above?”
In the socialist countries, the Communist Party controlled all mass and public organizations, killing the creative spirit among them and emptying them of their spirit. We have seen the situation of unions or organizations of writers and artists and how they have turned into dead party fronts.