XVII. Democratic Centralism – Basis of Relations Within the Revolutionary Party
The revolutionaries who meet around a revolutionary theory and a working strategy and combine together in a political organization to fight for these principles need to define the manner in which they must organize their work. For example: How shall the leadership of the organization be determined? How shall it be changed in the event of such change being necessary? How shall relations be established among the various ranks of the leadership? What are the relations between the leadership and the members of the organization? How shall the organization face its problems and contradictions? How shall it settle its political positions where there is more than one point of view concerning the position at issue? How shall the organization keep discipline and preserve the unity of the party? How can it make of the party relations the basic relations among the members of the organization to which all personal, family, regional or other relations shall be subservient? How can the organization discover qualifications among its ranks and open before the qualified elements opportunities to shoulder responsibilities that are commensurate with their qualifications? How can the organization maintain that strong discipline which is indispensable for the success of the party in the execution of its policy and programmes without this discipline being at the expense of the member’s dignity or rights or the development of his personality?
The determination of the organizational method with which the party must face all these questions is a basic condition for the building of the revolutionary party, the regulation of its affairs, the preservation of its unity and mobility and the increase of its effectiveness and cohesion. Unless this method is clarified, defined, understood and adhered to by all the members of the organization, the party will, in facing its problems and issues, experience a series of complications, contradictions and haphazard or individual actions which paralyse it and prevent it from facing in a revolutionary manner the revolutionary cause of the masses for which it was originally established.
Democratic centralism is the basic principle on which all revolutionary parties that have led the revolutions of this age have been established. Consequently, the validity of this principle of organization does not rest on its sound ness from the theoretical point of view alone, but basically on its validity as established by practice and the experiences of revolutionary action.
Democracy inside the party means the right of every member to know the party’s strategy, political positions and main plans, and the right to discuss and express opinions on all these matters and to present his opinion in full freedom on all matters, even though his opinion may be wrong. The right of every member to know everything within the limits of the party’s security, his right to discuss party strategy and positions without any restriction and his right to criticise and stand in the face of error must be a protected legitimate right, and this is the foremost meaning of democracy.
It is the duty of the leaders to listen to the combatants and members, to think well of what they say, to acknowledge the validity of any sound scientific criticism of the work, to benefit humbly from every sound opinion and to endeavour to correct any faulty opinion among the members through dialogue, discussion and persuasion.
The revolution needs the enthusiasm and exuberant vitality of all, and needs to benefit from their qualifications. This cannot be achieved unless the members feel that the revolution is theirs and that they are its protectors from any deviation. The way to this is the member’s freedom of discussion, dialogue and criticism.
The collective leadership is another aspect of democracy within the organization. Collective leadership ensures the prevention of any individual authoritarianism or deviation, guarantees a certain measure of self-control over the members of the leadership and a certain measure of dialogue, discussion and viewing things from more than one angle so that the party’s positions may be as sound as possible. Whatever the gaps in the collective leadership may be, the treatment of these gaps takes place through the distribution of responsibilities and obligation on clear lines and not by doing away with the principle of collective leadership. The party’s reliance on a leadership backbone consisting of graded groups of policy-making and executive collective leadership ranks will provide the party structure which is capable of standing firm, facing hardships and preventing deviation to the greatest possible extent from every angle, and of reaching the soundest possible positions and plans.
The third aspect of democracy within the revolutionary organization is the members’ right to express their opinion of their leadership and its responsibilities and to grant or withhold their confidence in this leadership, and eventually the members’ power to change the party’s leaderships in the event of their proved failure, incapacity, deviation and erroneous concept of responsibility where this erroneous concept is reflected in the pattern of their relations with the membership. The leadership which does not enjoy the members’ confidence cannot be capable of mobilising them and at the same time maintaining strong discipline and creating an atmosphere of activity and enthusiasm. The members’ right to change their leaderships is the objective control over the leaders’ actions, their sense of responsibility in every position taken or action performed by them and their assiduity in developing their qualifications so that they may rise to the level of the leading functions shouldered by them.
The attempt to define democracy in terms of these three aspects in spite of their importance, does not, as a matter of fact, suffice to provide full and thorough clarification of the essence of democracy and all its values, meanings and translations, nor does it suffice to produce full clarification of the effect and positive influences of democracy on the structure of the organization and the increase of its effectiveness.
Continuous revolutionary democratic education is the only way which ensures the realisation of the essence of democracy, all its translations and even all its positive influences. It must be emphasised that the understanding by the responsible leaders themselves of the meaning and importance of democracy and their endeavour to give it a concrete form is even more important than its understanding and practice by the members. Here democracy becomes a collection of values, criteria and working traditions which are reflected in the pattern of relations within the organization. Here democracy becomes a genuine desire to know the members’ opinions, to live among them and to avoid isolation from them and their problems, by holding open forums and collective meetings, establishing comradely relations among all, and avoiding superior relations. It will shy from bureaucratic relations, prevent responsibility from being converted into any material or moral privilege, and avoid exercising responsibility in a manner which is not compatible with the members’ dignity. Also we must extricate ourselves from all customs and traditions inherited from the class society in which we were brought up and establish relations of mutual respect, objective appreciation of qualifications instead of formal courtesies, adulation and servility. There must be open-mindedness among the responsible leaders so that, instead of being impatient with criticism, they will encourage it and endeavour to enhance the members’ moral courage and develop their manliness and revolutionary attitude.
Thus democracy becomes a revolutionary human life pattern within the organization before it assumes the form of a collection of regulations and internal rules.
Democracy is only one of the aspects of the basic principle which is at the root of relations within the organization: the principle of democratic centralism. To understand this principle from only one angle leads to the greatest dangers, and it must be clearly understood that democracy without centralisation will result in complete anarchy, digression and lack of discipline, and consequently in paralysing the party and rendering it incapable of uniform motion towards the execution of its plans.
The party needs to adopt political positions in the light of developments. It needs to lay down plans which it must follow and to draw up rules and regulations to control its conduct. In the course of discussion of these matters it is natural that there should be more than one point of view, position or opinion. The party cannot continue forever to argue around these matters until everybody is satisfied as to the soundness of a particular position. After a reasonable period of discussion about its problems, positions and programmes within the frame of its collective leadership the party needs to take a position, to adopt programmes, to confirm a decision. This normally takes place according to the majority view, and the position or decision taken may not obtain the agreement of all without exception.
What, then, is the solution? Must the organization remain paralysed without taking any position while discussion goes on? Must each member go out to speak his own opinion according to his own understanding of things? This would mean anarchy or paralysis. Democratic centralism provides the solution. The solution is the minority’s submission to the opinion of the majority, and in this way the organization maintains its unity and ability to move. Every point of view inside the party is entitled to be presented in full freedom within organizational channels. However, after this point of view is discussed and the party (the majority) takes a definite position concerning it, then it is the duty of every element in the party to sponsor this position and to defend and be fully committed to it until another organizational occasion arises for discussing anew the matters of work in the party congresses and planning bodies.
This is the first aspect of the centralization concept. The second aspect is the subsidiary leadership ranks’ submission to the higher leadership ranks and the consideration of the central leadership of the organization to be the decisive authority in all basic matters and to be entitled to criticise all positions or decisions taken by any leading group below it. The party’s action in any field, area or department may affect the conduct of the party as a whole, and any mistake committed by a particular leadership rank may affect the party’s fate or future. Consequently, the way to control party matters. preserve the unity and harmony of all party plans and activities and prevent any gross error or deviation by the party’s branches or departments is the central leadership’s right to criticise any decision taken by any subsidiary leadership rank . Naturally, this does not mean the central leadership’s intervention in every act undertaken by the party. It only means that it has the right to intervene when, in its judgement, such intervention is necessary to protect the workers’ interest.
The third aspect of the centralization concept is the leadership’s absolute power during execution and the shouldering of full responsibility for the execution of what the party has democratically decided. When execution begins democracy ends, and so do discussion and debate, to give way to obedience, discipline, commitment and full submission to instructions. Without this we cannot build the highly disciplined revolutionary party which is capable of prosecuting the hard and long liberation war.
The principle of democratic centralization lays the sound foundation for all relations within the organization. It is the principle which combines between the member’s rights and duties, between freedom and order.
The understanding of this principle by all members, their comprehension of all its meanings, their constant endeavour, to view it from both its opposite, yet united sides at the same time, and an honest and responsible effort by the leaderships and members to apply this principle pro vide the biggest guarantee for the building of the revolutionary party which is capable of leading an armed revolution and a hard protracted liberation war.
This principle provides the basis for the collection of other organizational principles which govern the organization’s life: collective leadership, leadership among the ranks of the members, interaction between leadership and rank and file, submission by the minority to the majority. no ideological contradictions and factions within the revolutionary party, individuals’ submission to the Organization, submission by all party branches to the central committee. This basic principle and the principles emanating from it serve to determine the internal regulation and the collection of basic rules which define relations, powers, responsibilities, penalties and rewards. All this completes the general picture of the party’s internal life as a disciplined democratic revolutionary organization.