|Communist Party of Italy|
THE DEMOCRATIC PRINCIPLE
The Marxist critique of the postulates of bourgeois democracy is based on the definition of the class character of modern society. It demonstrates the theoretical inconsistency, and the practical deception, of a system which pretends to reconcile political equality with the division of society into social classes determined by the nature of the mode of production.
Freedom and political equality, which, according to the theory of liberalism, are expressed in the right to vote, have no meaning except on a basis that excludes inequality of fundamental economic conditions: for this reason we communists accept their application within the class organisations of the proletariat and contend that they should function democratically.
But democracy is a highly evocative concept which we are striving hard to demolish, and it might appear desirable to use a different term in each of the two cases in order to avoid creating misunderstandings. But even if we do not do this, it is nonetheless useful to look a little further into the very content of the democratic principle, both in general and in its application to homogeneous class organs. This is necessary to eliminate the danger of again raising the democratic principle to an absolute principle of truth and justice. Such a relapse into apriorism would introduce an element foreign to our entire theoretical framework at the very moment when we are trying, by means of our critique, to sweep away the deceptive and arbitrary content of "liberal" theories.
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A theoretical error is always at the root of an error of political tactics. In other words, it is the translation of the tactical error into the language of our collective critical consciousness. Thus the pernicious politics and tactics of social-democracy are reflected in the error of principle that presents socialism as the inheritor of a substantial part of the doctrine that liberalism opposed to the old spiritualist doctrines. In reality, far from ever accepting and completing the critique that democratic liberalism had raised against the aristocratic and absolute monarchies of the ancien regime, Marxist socialism in its earliest formulations demolished it utterly. It did so not to defend the spiritualist or idealist doctrine against the Voltairean materialism of the bourgeois revolutionaries, but to demonstrate how the theoreticians of bourgeois materialism had in reality only deluded themselves when they imagined that the political philosophy of the Encyclopedists had led them out of the mists of metaphysics applied to sociology and politics, and of idealist nonsense. In fact, like all their predecessors, they had to surrender to the genuinely objective critique of social and historical phenomena provided by Marx’s historical materialism.
It is also important, from a theoretical point of view, to demonstrate that no idealist or neo-idealist revision of our principles is required to deepen the abyss between socialism and bourgeois democracy; to restore to the theory of proletarian revolution its powerfully revolutionary content, adulterated by the falsifications of those who fornicate with bourgeois democracy. It is enough merely to refer to the positions taken by the founders of Marxism in the face of the lies of liberal doctrines and of bourgeois materialist philosophy.
To return to our argument, we will show that the socialist critique of democracy was, in essence, a critique of the democratic critique of the old political philosophies, a denial of their alleged universal opposition, a demonstration of their theoretical similarity, just as, in practice, the proletariat had little cause to celebrate when the direction of society passed from the hands of the feudal, monarchical and religious nobility into the hands of the young commercial and industrial bourgeoisie. And the theoretical demonstration that the new bourgeois philosophy had not overcome the old errors of the despotic regimes, but was itself only an edifice of new sophisms, corresponded concretely to the appearance of the revolutionary movement of the proletariat which contained the negation of the bourgeois claim of having forever established the administration of society on a peaceful and infinitely perfectible basis, thanks to the introduction of suffrage and of parliamentary democracy.
The old political doctrines, based on spiritualist concepts or even on religious revelation, claimed that the supernatural forces which govern the consciousness and the will of men had assigned to certain individuals, families or castes, the task of ruling and managing the collective existence, making them the repositories of "authority" by divine right. The democratic philosophy, which asserted itself at the time of the bourgeois revolution, counterposed the proclamation of the moral, political and juridical equality of all citizens, whether they were nobles, clerics or plebeians. It sought to transfer "sovereignty" from the narrow sphere of caste or dynasty to the universal sphere of popular consultation based on suffrage, which allowed a majority of the citizens to designate the leaders of the State, according to its will.
The thunderbolts hurled against the latter conception by the priests of all religions and by spiritualist philosophers do not suffice to give it recognition as the definitive victory of truth over obscurantist error; even if the "rationalism" of this political philosophy seemed for a long time to be the last word in social science and the art of politics, and even if many would-be socialists proclaimed their solidarity with it. This claim, that a system which has its social hierarchy based on the consent of the majority of electors spells the end of the epoch of "privilege", does not withstand the Marxist critique, which throws a completely different light on the nature of social phenomena: and it is a claim which seems an attractive logical construction only if it is admitted from the outset that each vote, that is, the judgement, the opinion, the consciousness of each elector, has the same weight of delegatory power in determining the administration of the collective business. It is already evident that this conception is unrealistic and unmaterialist because it considers each individual to be a perfect "unit" within a system made up of many potentially equivalent units; and instead of appraising the value of the individual’s opinion in the light of his manifold conditions of existence, that is, his relations with others, it postulates this value a priori with the hypothesis of the "sovereignty" of the individual. Again this amounts to denying that the consciousness of men is a concrete reflection of the facts and material conditions of their existence, viewing it instead as a spark ignited with the same providential fairness in each organism – healthy or impaired, tormented or harmoniously satisfied in all its needs – by some indefinable supreme bestower of life. In the democratic theory, this supreme being no longer appoints the monarch, but rather bestows on everyone an equal capacity to do so. In spite of its rationalist front, the democratic theory rests on a no less childish metaphysical premise than does "free will" which, according to the catholic doctrine of the afterlife, wins men either damnation or salvation. Because it places itself outside of time and historical contingencies, the democratic theory is no less tainted with spiritualism than are the equally erroneous philosophies of revelation and monarchy by divine right.
To further extend this comparison, it is enough to recall that many centuries before the French Revolution and the declaration of the rights of man and citizen, the democratic political doctrine had been advanced by thinkers who resolutely took their stand on the terrain of idealism and metaphysical philosophy. Moreover, if the French Revolution toppled the altars of the Christian god in the name of Reason, it was, wittingly or not, only to make Reason into a new divinity.
This metaphysical presupposition, incompatible with the Marxist critique, is characteristic not only of the doctrine constructed by bourgeois liberalism, but also of all the constitutional doctrines and plans for a new society based on the "intrinsic value" of certain schemes of social and State relations. In building its own doctrine of history, Marxism in fact demolished medieval idealism, bourgeois liberalism and utopian socialism with a single blow.
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To these arbitrary constructions of social constitutions, whether aristocratic or democratic, authoritarian or liberal, as well as to the anarchist conception of a society without hierarchy or delegation of power, which is rooted in analogous errors, the communist critique opposed a much more thorough study of the nature and causes of social relations in their complex evolution throughout human history, and a careful analysis of their characteristics in the present capitalist epoch, from which it drew a series of reasoned hypotheses about their further evolution. To this can now be added the enormous theoretical and practical contribution of the proletarian revolution in Russia.
It would be superfluous here to develop the well-known concepts of economic determinism and the arguments which justify its use in interpreting historical events and the social dynamic. The apriorisms common to conservatives and utopians are eliminated by the analysis of factors rooted in production, the economy, and the class relations they determine. This makes possible a scientific explanation of the juridical, political, military, religious and cultural facts which make up the diverse manifestations of social life.
We will restrict ourselves to making a brief summary of the historical evolution of the mode of social organisation and grouping of men, not only in the State, an abstract representation of a collectivity fusing together all individuals, but also in other organisations which arise from the relations among men.
The basis of interpretation of all social hierarchies, whether complex or simple, is to be found in the relations between different individuals, and the basis of these relations is the division of tasks and functions among these individuals.
We can imagine without serious error that the human species originally existed in a completely unorganised form. Still few in number, these individuals could live from the products of nature without the application of technology or labour, and in such conditions could do without their fellow beings. The only existing relations, common to all species, were those of reproduction. But for the human species – and not only for it – these were already sufficient to form a system of relations with its own hierarchy – the family. This could be based on polygamy, polyandry or monogamy. We will not enter into a detailed analysis here, but suffice to say, the family gave us the embryo of organised collective life, based on a division of functions directly determined by physiological factors, since the mother nourished and raised the children, and the father devoted himself to the hunt, to the acquisition of plunder and to the protection of the family from external enemies, etc.
In this initial phase, where production and economy are almost totally absent, as well as in later stages when they are developing, it is useless to dwell on the abstract question of whether we are dealing with the individual-unit or the society-unit. Without any doubt, the individual is a unit from a biological point of view, but one cannot make it the basis of social organisation without lapsing into metaphysical nonsense. From a social perspective, not every individual unit has the same value. The collectivity is born from relations and groupings in which the status and activity of each individual do not derive from an individual function but from a collective one, determined by the multiple influences of the social milieu. Even in the elementary case of an unorganised society or non-society, the physiological basis which produces family organisation alone is already sufficient to refute the arbitrary doctrine of the Individual as an indivisible unit which is free to combine with other fellow units, without ceasing to be distinct from, and yet, somehow equivalent to them. In this case, the society-unit obviously does not exist either, since relations between men, even reduced to the simple notion that others exist, are extremely limited and restricted to the sphere of the family or the clan. We can put forward the obvious conclusion that the "society-unit" has never existed, and probably never will except as a "limit" which we can get ever closer to by overcoming the boundaries of classes and States.
Setting out from the individual-unit as one who is able to draw conclusions and to build social structures, or even to deny society, is setting out from an unreal supposition which, even in its most modern formulations, only amounts to refurbishing the concepts of religious revelation and creation and the notion of a spiritual life which is not dependent upon natural, organic life. The divine creator – or a single power governing the destiny of the universe – has given to each individual this elementary property of being an autonomous well-defined molecule endowed with consciousness, will and responsibility within the social aggregate, independent of contingent factors deriving from the physical influence of the environment. This religious and idealist conception is only very superficially modified in the doctrine of democratic liberalism or libertarian individualism. The soul as a spark from the supreme Being, the subjective sovereignty of each elector, or the unlimited autonomy of the citizen of a society without laws – these are so many sophisms which, in the eyes of the Marxist critique, are tainted with the same infantile idealism, no matter how resolutely "materialist" the first bourgeois liberals and anarchists may have been.
This conception finds its match in the equally idealist hypothesis of the perfect social unit – of social monism – constructed on the basis of the divine will which is supposed to govern and administer the life of our species. Returning to the primitive stage of social life which we were considering, and to the family organisation discovered there, we conclude that we do not need such metaphysical hypotheses of the individual-unit and the society-unit in order to interpret the life of the species and the process of its evolution. On the other hand, we can positively state that we are dealing with a type of collectivity organised on a unitary basis, i.e., the family. We take care not to make this a fixed or permanent type or to idealise it as the model form of the social collectivity, as do anarchism or absolute monarchy with the individual. Rather we simply record the existence of the family as the primary unit of human organisation, which will be followed by others, which itself will be modified in many aspects, will become a constituent element of other collective organisations, or, as it may rightfully be expected, will disappear in very advanced social forms. We do not feel at all obliged to be for or against the family in principle, any more than we do to be, for example, for or against the State. What does concern us is to grasp the evolutionary direction of these types of human organisation. When we ask ourselves whether they will disappear one day, we do so objectively, because it could not occur to us to think of them as sacred and eternal, or as pernicious and to be destroyed. Conservatism and its opposite (i.e. the negation of every form of organisation and social hierarchy) are equally weak from a critical view-point, and equally sterile.
Thus leaving aside the traditional opposition between the categories ’individual’ and ’society’, we follow the formation and the evolution of other units in our study of human history: widespread or restricted groupings of men based on a division of functions and on a hierarchy; which appear as the real factors and agents of social life. Such units can to a certain extent be compared to organic units, to living organisms whose cells, with their different functions and values, can be represented by men or by elementary groups of men. However the analogy is not complete, since while a living organism has well-defined limits, and obeys the inflexible biological laws of its growth and death, organised social units do not have fixed boundaries and are continually being renewed, mingling with one another, simultaneously splitting and recombining. If we chose to dwell on the first and obvious example, the family unit, it was to demonstrate that even if these units which we are considering are clearly composed of individuals, and if their very composition is indeed variable, they nonetheless behave like organic and integral "wholes", such that to split them into individual units has no real meaning and is tantamount to a myth. The family element constitutes a whole, whose life does not depend on the number of individuals that comprise it, but on the network of their relationships. To take a crude example, a family composed of the head, the wives and a few feeble old men doesn’t have the same value as another made up of its head and many strong young sons.
Setting out from the family, the first organised social form (in which one finds the first example of a division of functions, the first hierarchies, the first forms of authority, of direction of individuals’ activities and administration of things) human evolution passes through an infinite series of other organisational forms, increasingly broad and complex. The reason for this increasing complexity lies in the growing complexity of social relations and hierarchies born from the ever-increasing differentiation between functions. The latter is directly determined by the systems of production that technology and science place at the disposal of human activity in order to provide an increasing number of products (in the broadest meaning of the word) suited to satisfying the needs of larger societies evolving towards higher forms of life. An analysis which seeks to understand the process of formation and change of different human organisations, as well as the interplay of relations within the whole of society, must be based on the notion of the development of productive technology and the economic relations which arise from the distribution of individuals among the different tasks required by the productive mechanism. The formation and evolution of dynasties, castes, armies, States, empires, corporations and parties can and must be studied on the basis of these elements. One can imagine that at the highest point of this complex development a kind of organised unit will appear which will encompass all of mankind and which will establish a rational division of functions between all men. What significance and limits the hierarchical system of collective administration will have in this higher form of human social life is a matter for further debate.
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To examine those unitary bodies whose internal relations are regulated by what is generally called the "democratic principle" we will, for reasons of simplicity, distinguish between organised collectivities whose hierarchies are imposed from outside, and those that select their own hierarchy from within. According to the religious conception and the pure doctrine of authority, in every epoch human society is a collective unit which receives its hierarchy from supernatural powers; and we will not repeat the critique of such a metaphysical over-simplification which is contradicted by our entire experience. It is the necessity of the division of functions which gives rise naturally to hierarchies; and such it is in the case of the family. As the latter develops into a tribe or horde, it must organise itself in order to struggle against other organizations (rival tribes). Leadership is entrusted to those able to make best use of the communal energies, and military hierarchies emerge in response to this need. This criterion of choice in the common interest appeared thousands of years before modern democratic electoralism; kings, military chiefs and priests were originally elected. Over the course of time, other criteria for the formation of hierarchies prevailed, giving rise to caste privileges transmitted by inheritance or even by initiation into closed schools, sects and cults. This evolution derived from the fact that if accession to a given rank was justified by the possession of special aptitudes, such condition was as a rule most favourable to influence the transmission of the same rank. We will not go into here the whole process of the formation of castes and then classes within society. Suffice to say that their appearance no longer corresponds to the logical necessity of a division of functions alone, but also to the fact that certain strata occupying a privileged position in the economic mechanism end up monopolising power and social influence. In one way or another, every ruling caste provides itself with its own organisation, its own hierarchy, and this likewise applies to economically privileged classes; the landed aristocracy of the Middle Ages, for example, by uniting itself for the defence of its common privileges against the assaults of the other classes, constructed an organisational form culminating in the monarchy, which concentrated public powers in its own hands to the complete exclusion of the other layers of the population. The State of the feudal epoch was the organisation of the feudal nobility supported by the clergy. The principal element of coercion of the military monarchy was the army. Here we have a type of organised collectivity whose hierarchy was instituted from without since it was the king who bestowed the ranks, and in the army passive obedience of each of its components was the rule. Every State form concentrates under one authority the organising and officering of a whole series of executive hierarchies: the army, police, magistrature and bureaucracy. Thus the State makes material use of the activity of individuals from all classes, but it is organised on the basis of a single or a few privileged classes which appropriate the power to constitute its different hierarchies. The other classes (and in general all groups of individuals for whom it is only too evident that the State, in spite of its claims, by no means guarantees the interests of everyone) seek to provide themselves with their own organisations in order to make their own interests prevail. Their point of departure is that their members occupy the same position in production and economic life.
As concerns the organisations, of particular interest to us, which provide themselves with their own hierarchy: if we ask what is the best way that a hierarchy can be appointed in order to ensure the defence of the collective interests of all the components of the organisation in question, and to avoid the formation of privileged strata within it, some will propose the democratic method whose principle lies in consulting all individuals and using the majority opinion to select those among them who will occupy the various levels of the hierarchy.
The severity of our critique of such a method depends on whether it is applied to present-day society as a whole, to given nations, or when it is a case of introducing into much more restricted organisations such as trade unions and parties.
In the first case it must be rejected since it takes no account of the situation of individuals in the economy, and since it presupposes the intrinsic perfection of the system without taking into consideration the historical evolution of the collectivity to which it is applied.
The division of society into classes distinguished by economic privilege clearly removes all value from majority decision-making. Our critique refutes the deceitful theory which maintains that the democratic and parliamentary State machine which arose from modern liberal constitutions is an organisation of all citizens, in the interests of all citizens. From the moment that opposing interests and class conflicts appear, there can be no unity of organisation; in spite of the outward appearance of popular sovereignty, the State remains the organ of the economically dominant class, and the instrument of defence of its interests. In spite of the application of the democratic system to political representation, bourgeois society appears as a complex network of unitary bodies. Many of these, which spring from the privileged layers and tend to preserve the present social apparatus, gather around the powerful centralised organism of the political State. Others may be neutral or may have a changing attitude towards the State. Finally, others arise within the economically oppressed and exploited layers which are directed against the class State. Communism demonstrates that the formal juridical and political application of the democratic and majority principle to all citizens, while society is divided into opposed classes in relation to the economy, is incapable of making the State an organisational unit of society as a whole or the nation as a whole. Officially that is what political democracy claims to be; whereas in reality it is the form suited to the power of the capitalist class, to the dictatorship of this particular class, for the purpose of preserving its privileges.
Therefore we do not need to insist further on the critical demolition of this error which attributes the same degree of independence and maturity to the vote of each elector – whether a worker exhausted by excessive physical labour, or a rich dissolute; whether a shrewd captain of industry, or an unfortunate proletarian ignorant of the causes of his misery and the means of remedying them – and it is an error which thinks that accomplishing the sovereign duty of soliciting the opinion of ’the elector’, once in a blue moon, will be sufficient to ensure the calm and obedience of whoever feels victimised and ill-treated by the State policies and administration.
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It is thus clear that the principle of democracy has no intrinsic virtue. It is not a principle but rather a simple organisational mechanism, responding to the simple and crude arithmetical presumption that the majority is right and the minority is wrong. Now we shall see if, and to what extent, this mechanism is useful and sufficient for the functioning of organisations comprising more restricted collectivities which are not divided by economic antagonisms. To do this, these organisations must be considered in their process of historical development.
Is this democratic mechanism applicable in the dictatorship of the proletariat, i.e. in that State form born from the revolutionary victory of rebel classes against the power of the bourgeois States? Can this form of State, on account of its internal mechanism of the delegation of powers and of the formation of hierarchies, thus be defined as a "proletarian democracy"? The question should be broached without prejudice, as we might reach the conclusion that the democratic mechanism is useful under certain conditions, as long as history has not produced a better mechanism; still, we must be convinced that there is not the slightest reason to establish a priori the concept of the sovereignty of the "majority" of the proletariat. In fact the day after the revolution, the proletariat will not yet be a totally homogeneous collectivity nor will it be the only class. In Russia for example, power is in the hands of the working class and the peasantry; but if we consider the entire development of the revolutionary movement, it is easy to demonstrate that the industrial proletarian class, although much less numerous than the peasantry, nevertheless plays a far more important role. Then it is logical that the Soviet mechanism accords much more value to the vote of a worker than to that of a peasant.
We do not intend to examine thoroughly here the characteristics of the proletarian State constitution. We will not consider it metaphysically as something absolute: as reactionaries do the divine right of the monarchy, as liberals do parliamentarism based on universal suffrage, and anarchists, the non-State. Since it is an organisation of one class destined to strip the opposing classes of their economic privileges, the proletarian State is a real historical force which adapts itself to the goal it pursues, that is, to the necessities which gave birth to it. At certain moments its impulse may come from either broad mass consultations or from the action of very restricted executive organs endowed with full powers. What is essential is to give this organisation of proletarian power the means and weaponry to destroy bourgeois economic privilege and the political and military resistance of the bourgeoisie; in a way that prepares for the subsequent disappearance of classes themselves, and for the ever more profound modifications of the tasks and structure of the proletarian State.
One thing is clear: while bourgeois democracy’s real goal is to deprive the broad proletarian and petty-bourgeois masses of all influence in the control of the State, which is reserved for the big industrial, banking and agricultural oligarchies, the proletarian dictatorship has to involve the broadest layers of the proletarian and even the quasi-proletarian masses in the struggle that it embodies. Only those who are the victims of democratic prejudice could imagine that attaining this end requires the setting up of a vast mechanism of electoral consultation. This may be excessive or – more often – too little, because this form of participation by many proletarians may result in their not taking part in other more active manifestations of the class struggle. On the other hand, the intensity of the struggle in particular phases demands speed of decision and movement and a centralised organisation of efforts in a common direction. In order to combine these conditions the proletarian State, as the Russian experience is teaching us with a whole series of examples, bases its constitutional machinery on characteristics which are in open contradiction to the canons of bourgeois democracy. Supporters of bourgeois democracy howl about the violation of liberties, whereas it is only a matter of unmasking the philistine prejudices which have always allowed demagogues to ensure power to the privileged. In the dictatorship of the proletariat, the constitutional mechanism of the State organisation is not only consultative, but at the same time executive. Participation in the functions of political life, if not of the whole mass of electors, then at least of a wide layer of their delegates, is not intermittent but continuous. It is interesting to note that rather than this damaging the unitary character of the action of the whole State apparatus, it is in fact consistent with it; precisely because it applies criteria which are opposed to those of bourgeois hyperliberalism: that is, by virtually suppressing direct elections and proportional representation (once that other sacred dogma – the equal vote – has been overthrown, as we have seen).
We do not claim that these new criteria introduced into the representative mechanism, or codified in a constitution, stem from reasons of principle. Under new circumstances, the criteria could be different. In any case, what we are trying to clarify is that we do not attribute any intrinsic value to these forms of organisation and representation: it is a view we can translate into the fundamental Marxist thesis: "the revolution is not a matter of forms of organisation". The revolution, on the contrary, is a matter of content, that is, of movement and action of revolutionary forces in an unending process; which cannot be theorised by crystallising it in any of the various static "constitutional doctrines" which have been attempted.
In any case, in the mechanisms of the workers’ councils we find no trace of that rule of bourgeois democracy which states that each citizen directly chooses his delegate to the supreme representative body, parliament. On the contrary, there are different levels of workers’ and peasants’ councils, each one with a broader territorial base culminating in the congress of Soviets. Each local or district council elects its delegates to a higher council, and in the same way elects its own administration, i.e. its executive organ. At the base, in the city or rural council, the entire mass is consulted. In the election of delegates to higher councils and local administrative offices, each group of electors votes not according to a proportional system, but according to a majority system, choosing its delegates from lists put forward by the parties. Furthermore, since a single delegate is sufficient to establish a link between a lower and higher council, it is clear that the two dogmas of formal liberalism – voting for several members from a list and proportional representation – fall by the wayside. At each level, the councils must give rise to organs that are both consultative and administrative and directly linked to the central administration. Thus it is natural that as one progresses towards higher representative organs, one does not encounter parliamentary assemblies of chatterboxes who discuss interminably without ever acting; rather, one sees compact and homogeneous bodies capable of directing the action and political struggle, and of giving revolutionary guidance to the whole mass thus organised in a unitary fashion.
These capacities, which are definitely not automatically inherent in any constitutional schema, are achieved in this mechanism because of the presence of an extremely important factor, the political party; whose content goes far beyond pure organisational form, and whose collective and active consciousness will allow the work to be oriented according to the requirements of a long and always advancing process. Of all the organs of the proletarian dictatorship, the political party is the one whose characteristics most nearly approach those of a homogeneous unitary collectivity, unified in action. In reality, it only encompasses a minority of the mass, but the properties that distinguish it from all other broad-based forms of representative organisation demonstrate precisely that the party represents the collective interests and movement better than any other organ. All party members participate continuously and uninterruptedly in accomplishing the common task and prepare themselves to resolve the problems of the revolutionary struggle and the reconstruction of society; which the majority of the mass only become aware of when they are actually faced with them. For all these reasons, in a system of representation and delegation based not on the democratic lie but on a layer of the population whose common fundamental interests propel them on the course of revolution, it is natural that the choices fall spontaneously on elements put forward by the revolutionary party; which is equipped to respond to the demands of the struggle and to resolve the problems for which it has been able to prepare itself. The fact that we do not attribute these capacities of the party merely to its particular constitution, anymore than we do in the case of any other organisation, is something we will set out to prove later on. The party may or may not be suited to its task of leading the revolutionary action of a class; it is not any political party but one in particular, namely the communist party, that can assume this task; and not even the communist party is immune to the numerous dangers of degeneration and dissolution. What makes the party equal to its task is not the machinery of its statutes or mere internal organisational measures; it is the positive characteristics which arise in the course of its development, its participation in the struggle and in taking action as an organisation possessing a single orientation which derives from its conception of the historical process, of a fundamental programme which has been translated into a collective consciousness, and at the same time into a secure organisational discipline. These issues are more fully developed in the theses on party tactics presented at the Congress of the Communist Party of Italy, of which the reader is certainly aware.
To return to the nature of the constitutional mechanism of the proletarian dictatorship – of which we have already said that it is executive as well as legislative at all levels – we must add something to specify what tasks of the collective life this mechanism’s executive functions and initiatives respond to. These functions and initiatives are the very reason for its formation, and they determine the relationships existing within its continually evolving elastic mechanism. We will consider here the the initial period of proletarian power in reference to the situation during the four and a half years that the proletarian dictatorship has existed in Russia. We do not wish to speculate as to what the definitive basis of the representative organs will be in a classless communist society as we cannot predict how exactly society will evolve as it approaches this stage; we can only envisage that it will move in the direction of a fusion of the various political, administrative and economic organs, and at the same time, of a progressive elimination of every element of coercion, and of the State itself as an instrument of class power and weapon of struggle against surviving enemy classes.
In its initial period, the proletarian dictatorship has an extremely difficult and complex task that can be subdivided into three spheres of action: political, military and economic. Both the problems of military defence, against counter-revolutionary attacks from within and without, and the reconstruction of economy on a collective basis, depend upon a systematic and rational plan of how to deploy its forces, in an activity which has to be extremely unitary through the utilisation, or rather by using to greater effect, the diverse energies of the masses. As a consequence, the body which leads the struggle against the domestic and foreign enemy, that is, the revolutionary army and police, must be based on a discipline, and on a hierarchy, which is centralised in the hands of the proletarian power. The Red Army itself is thus an organised unit whose hierarchy is imposed externally by the government of the proletarian State; and the same is true for the revolutionary police and tribunals. The economic apparatus, which the victorious proletariat erects in order to lay the foundations of the new system of production and distribution, gives rise to more complex problems. We can here merely recall that the characteristic that distinguishes this rational administration from the chaos of bourgeois private economy is centralisation. Every enterprise must be managed in the interest of the entire collectivity and in harmony with the requirements of the whole plan of production and distribution. On the other hand, the economic apparatus (and the position of the individuals that comprise it) is continually being modified, and this is due not only to its own gradual development, but also to the inevitable crises during a period of such vast transformations; a period in which political and military struggles are inevitable. These considerations lead to the following conclusions: in the initial period of the proletarian dictatorship, although the councils at different levels must appoint their delegates to the local executive organs as well as to the legislative organs at higher levels, the absolute responsibility for military defence, and in a less rigid way, for the economic campaign, must remain with the centre. For their part, the local organs serve to organise the masses politically so that they will participate in fulfilling those plans, and will accept military and economic organisation. They thereby create the conditions for the broadest and most continuous mass activity possible in relation to the issues of collective life, channelling this activity into the formation of a highly centralised proletarian State.
These considerations certainly are not intended to deny all possibility of movement and initiative to the intermediary organs of the State hierarchy. But we wanted to show that one cannot theorise that they would support the revolution’s executive tasks of maintaining military or economic order if they were formed by groups of electors organised at the level of the factory or army division. The structure of such groups is simply not able to confer any special abilities on them and, therefore, the units in which the electors are grouped at the base can therefore be formed according to empirical criteria. In fact they will constitute themselves according to empirical criteria, among which, for instance, the workplace, the neighbourhood, the garrison, the battlefront or any other situation in daily life, without any of them being excluded a priori or held up as a model. Still, the foundation of State representation in the proletarian revolution remains a territorial division into electoral districts. None of these considerations are hard and fast rules, and this brings us to our thesis that no constitutional schema amounts to principle, and that majority democracy understood in the formal and arithmetic sense is but one possible method for co-ordinating the relations that arise within collective organisations; a method to which it is absolutely impossible to attribute an intrinsic character of necessity or justice, since such terms actually having no meaning for Marxists, and besides which our aim is not to replace the democratic apparatus criticised by ourselves with yet another mindless project for a party apparatus inherently free of all defects and errors.
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It seems to us that enough has been said about the democratic principle in its application to the bourgeois State, which claims to embrace all classes, and also in its application to the proletarian class alone as the basis of the State after the revolutionary victory. It remains for us to say something about the application of the democratic mechanism to organisations within the proletariat both before and after the conquest of power, i.e. trade unions and political party.
We established above that a true organisational unity is only possible on the basis of an identity of interests among the members. Since one joins unions or parties by virtue of a spontaneous decision to participate in a specific kind of action, a critique which absolutely denies any value to the democratic mechanism in the case of the bourgeois State (i.e. a fallacious constitutional union of all classes) is not applicable here. Nevertheless, even in the case of the party and the trade union it is necessary not to be led astray by the arbitrary concept of the "sanctity" of majority decisions.
In contrast to the party, the trade union is characterised by the virtual identity of its members’ immediate material interests. Within the limits of the category, it attains a broad homogeneity of composition and it is an organisation with voluntary membership. It tends to become an organisation which all the workers of a given category or industry join automatically or are even, as in a certain phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat, obliged to join. It is certain that in this domain number remains the decisive factor and the majority decision has a great value, but we cannot confine ourselves to a schematic consideration of its results. It is also necessary to take into account other factors which come into play in the life of the union organisation: a bureaucratised hierarchy of functionaries which paralyses the union under its tutelage; and the vanguard groups that the revolutionary party has established within it in order to lead it onto the terrain of revolutionary action. In this struggle, communists often point out that the functionaries of the union bureaucracy violate the democratic idea and are contemptuous of the will of the majority. It is correct to denounce this because the right-wing union bosses parade a democratic mentality, and it is necessary to point out their contradictions. We do the same with bourgeois liberals each time they coerce and falsify the popular consultation, without proposing that even a free consultation would resolve the problems which weigh on the proletariat. It is right and opportune to do this because in the moments when the broad masses are forced into action by the pressure of the economic situation, it is possible to turn aside the union bureaucrats’ influence (which is in substance an extra-proletarian influence of classes and organisations alien to the trade union) thereby augmenting the influence of the revolutionary groups. But in all this there are no "constitutional" prejudices, and communists – provided that they are understood by the masses and can demonstrate to them that they are acting in the direction of their most immediate felt interests – can and must behave in a flexible way vis-à-vis the canons of formal democracy within the unions. For example, there is no contradiction between these two tactical attitudes: on the one hand, taking the responsibility of representing the minority in the leadership organs of the unions insofar as the statutes allow; and on the other, stating that this statutory representation should be suppressed once we have conquered these organisations in order to speed up their actions. What should guide us in this question is a careful analysis of the developmental process in the unions in the present phase. We must accelerate their transformation from organs of counter-revolutionary influence on the proletariat into organs of revolutionary struggle. The criteria of internal organisation have no value in themselves but only insofar as they contribute to this objective.
We now analyse the party organisation which we have already touched on in regard to the mechanism of the worker’s State. The party does not start out from an identity of economic interests as complete as within the union. On the contrary, it bases the unity of its organisation not on category, like the union, but on the much broader basis of the entire class. This is true not only in space, since the party strives to become international, but also in time, since it is the specific organ whose consciousness and action reflect the requirements of victory throughout the process of the proletariat’s revolutionary emancipation. When we study the problems of party structure and internal organisation, these well-known considerations force us to keep in mind the whole process of its formation and life in relation to the complex tasks which it has to carry out. At the end of this already long exposition, we cannot enter into details of the mechanism which should regulate consultation of the party’s mass membership, recruitment and the designation of its responsible officers. There is no doubt that for the moment it is best to hold on to the majority principle. But as we keep emphasising, there is no reason to raise the use of the democratic mechanism to a principle. Besides its consultative functions, analogous to the legislative tasks of the State apparatus, the party has executive tasks which at the struggle’s most crucial moment correspond to those of an army, and which demand maximum hierarchical discipline. In fact, in the complex process which has led to the formation of communist parties, the emergence of a hierarchy is a real and dialectical phenomenon which has remote origins and which corresponds to the entire past experience of the functioning of the party’s mechanism. We cannot state that the decisions of the party majority are per se as correct as those of an infallible supernatural judge who provides the various human collectivities with their leaders; a view certainly believed in by those who think the Holy Spirit participates in papal conclaves. Even in an organisation like the party where the broad composition is a result of selection through spontaneous voluntary membership and control of recruitment, the decision of the majority is not intrinsically the best. If it contributes to a better functioning of the party’s executive bodies, this is only because of the coincidence of individual efforts in a unitary and well-oriented work. We will not propose at this time replacing this mechanism by another, and we will not examine in detail what such a new system might be. But we can envisage a mode of organisation which will be increasingly liberated from the conventions of the democratic principle; and it will not be necessary to reject it out of unjustified fears if one day it can be shown that other methods of decision, of choice, of resolution of problems are more consistent with the real demands of the party’s development and its activity in the framework of history.
The democratic criterion so far has been for us an incidental
material factor in the construction of our internal
organization and in the formulation of our party statutes; it is not
their indispensable platform. We will
not, therefore, raise the organizational formula known as "democratic
centralism" to the level of a principle. Democracy cannot be a
principle for us: centralism indisputably is, since the essential
characteristics of party organization must be unity of structure and
action. In order to express the continuity of party structure in
space, the term centralism is sufficient, but in order to
introduce the essential idea of continuity in time – the
continuity of the struggle which, surmounting successive obstacles,
always advances towards the same goal – we will propose saying,
linking these two essential ideas of unity together, that the
communist party bases its organization on "organic
centralism". Thus, while preserving as much of the
incidental democratic mechanism as may be of use to us, we will
eliminate the use of the term "democracy",
so dear to the worst demagogues but tainted with irony for the
exploited, oppressed and cheated, abandoning it to the exclusive
usage of the bourgeoisie and the champions of liberalism, who appear
in various guises, sometimes extremist.