Notes for the Theses on the Question of Organization
Il Programma Comunista no. 22, November 1964
1) The expression of “democratic centralism”, as a type of organization for the Communist parties, to which the Left opposed the formula of “organic centralism”, can be found first of all in the theses presented by Zinoviev at the Second Congress on the “Role of the Communist Party in the Proletarian Revolution” and illustrated by Zinoviev’s speech at the second session held at the Kremlin on July 23, 1920. The central part of the theses and the speech received full support from the Communist Left, and still have it today, because they contain a resolute Marxist criticism of all those currents that devalue the function of the political class Party and want to replace it with the most diverse forms (trade unions, workers’ councils, factory committees, etc., etc.). This current was strongly represented at the Second Congress, especially by the English, Americans, Dutch, and also by French syndicalists and even Spanish anarchists. The Italian Communist Left wished to differentiate itself immediately from these currents which, besides not understanding the theses on the Party, also put up with difficulty with those on centralization and strict discipline, vigorously affirmed then by Zinoviev.
When these groups agreed to the theses of the Italian Left about parliamentarianism, the speaker of the Left asked not to vote for his theses those who were not on the narrow Marxist ground, and that is why of 7 votes against parliamentary participation only three were for the theses of the Italian Left (Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, the Italian vote being consultative).
2) The above formula appears in point 14 of the Zinoviev theses, and is worded as follows: “The Communist Party must be organized on the basis of democratic centralism. The main principles of democratic centralism are that higher bodies are elected by lower bodies, all directives of higher bodies are absolutely binding on subordinate bodies and a powerful Party centre exists whose authority between congresses is unquestioned by all the leaders of the Party.”
These theses do not go into more detail and, with regard to the concept of subordination of the periphery to the Centre, the Left had no reason not to accept them. The doubt arose about the way in which the Committees were designated from the periphery to the Centre and about the use of the electoral mechanism of vote counting, to which the democratic adjective opposite to the noun centralism, as well as the brief hint that follows immediately afterwards, clearly refer.
3) That the thought of the III International at its beginning, and of its great theorists, was not of total homage to the mechanism of election by vote, an evident imitation of the mechanism boasted as eternal and ideal by the bourgeois democrats, results from the very text of the Statute of the International as it was adopted at the same II Congress. This statute mentions first of all some paragraphs of the Statute of the First International Workers’ Association, adopted at the proposal of Marx in London in 1864. It is well known that this statute introduces the formula of Political Party, without which the proletariat cannot act as a class, distinct from all other political parties and opposed to them (more precisely, this precise formula is not found in the statutes voted in 1864 but in the more detailed ones adopted at the conferences of London in September 1871 and The Hague in September 1872).
The Moscow Statute recalls how the II International founded in 1889 in Paris undertook to continue the work of the First, but perished in 1914 because it betrayed that commitment.
4) In the new Statute it is repeated that the organisation must be strongly centralised. It follows a much better formula than that of democratic centralism: “The organization of the Communist International is directed towards securing for the workers of every country the possibility, at any given moment, of obtaining the maximum of aid from the organized workers of the other countries”.
According to Article 1, the aim of the International is the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat and an international republic of Soviets.
In Article 4 the supreme instance of the International is the World Congress of all parties and affiliated organizations. In order not to misunderstand the double term of parties and organizations it is good to quote the text of the previous article 3. “All the parties and organizations comprising the International bear the name of the Communist Party of the particular country (Section of the Communist International)”.
Returning to the Congress, the number of deliberative votes attributed to each party does not depend on the number of its members (as a pure electoral mechanism would have), but “will be fixed by a special decision of the Congress”. It is true that efforts will be made to establish as soon as possible rules of representation that “are based on the actual number of members of each organization”, but it is immediately said: “and taking into account the real influence of the party”. The purpose of these quotations is to show that never before, in the classical times of the Moscow International, was the democratic numerical criterion or the foolish half plus one formula taken as a myth.
In article 8 it is said that the Congress fixes the seat of the Executive Committee (one could not think then of any other place than Moscow). The Communist Party of the chosen country has at least five representatives in the executive with a deliberative vote. In addition to these, each of the twelve most important parties is entitled to one representative with one vote. It is the World Congress that sets the list of these twelve parties: the others can delegate one representative with a consultative vote to the Executive Committee. Among other regulations, the one in art. 13 has a certain meaning, according to which the different affiliated parties must communicate with each other through the International Executive, and in case of absolute urgency inform it of their steps.
There are, however, different organizational cornerstones, which detach themselves from the formal egalitarian and numerical principle of the traditional elective representations introduced by the modern bourgeoisie, and draw original physiognomy - in perfect contrast with those of the “popular democracies” - from the classical principle of the First International and the Manifesto of the Communists of 1848, according to which the illusory entity of the people is broken forever in the opposite social classes.
5) Returning to Zinoviev’s theses on the role of the party, they contain many points that in later years the Left will remain alone to defend. One is that the dictatorship of the Communist Party is the only historical way to exist for the dictatorship of the proletarian class. In other points it is repeated that all the organs of activity of the party (e.g. the parliamentary group) must depend on the party centre. The philistine division of the workers’ movement into three equivalent forms (party, unions, cooperatives) is denied in thesis 8 and a new formula is affirmed in order of importance: first the party, second the soviet, third the unions. Next it is clearly stated that also the soviet, if it is not dominated by the communist party, loses the character of historical form of the dictatorship of the proletariat and of revolutionary force. A formula of the German Communist Workers’ Party (K.A.P.D.), which declared: “The party must also adapt more and more to the Soviet idea, and proletarianize itself” is deplored.
The powerful thesis proposed by Zinoviev is this: “We see in this nothing but an insinuating expression of the idea that the Communist Party should merge into the Soviets and that the Soviets can replace it: a deeply erroneous and reactionary idea”.
There is the thesis in point 9 that the party will be necessary not only before and during the conquest of power, but also after that.
6) The question of organization was dealt with in an explicit way at the III Congress, in June 1921, by an alive and directly present Lenin. The title is: “The Organizational Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods and Content of Their Work: Theses”.
The first paragraph deals with generalities and establishes that the question of organization cannot be regulated by an immutable principle but must adapt to the conditions and aims of the party’s activity, during the phase of the revolutionary class struggle and during the period of further transition towards the realization of socialism, the early stages of communist society. The different conditions from country to country must be considered, but within certain limits. “The limit [everyone has forgotten it today] depends on the similarity of the conditions of the proletarian struggle in the different countries and in the different phases of the proletarian revolution, which constitutes, above all, a fact of essential importance for the communist movement. It is this similarity that gives the common basis for the organization of the communist parties in all countries: it is on this basis that we must develop the organization of the communist parties, and not tend towards the foundation of some new model party in place of what already exists, or pursue a formula of absolutely correct organization and ideal statutes”.
The theses state that the revolutionary movement must have a direction. “The organization of the communist parties is the organization of the communist leadership in proletarian revolution”. This other definition of the organizational task that imposes itself on all of us is given: “Formation, organization and education of a pure and truly leading communist party, to truly lead the proletarian revolutionary movement”.
7) Part 2 of the theses (we believe due to Lenin) is directly entitled: “Democratic centralism”. Thesis 6 defines it as follows: “Democratic centralism in the organization of the Communist Party must be a true synthesis, a fusion, of centralization and proletarian democracy. This fusion can only be achieved by a permanent common activity, by an equally common and permanent struggle of the party as a whole”.
The following steps already show what could be the dangers of the false interpretation of the formulas of democratic centralism and proletarian democracy. For example, the centralization of the communist party must not be formal or mechanical: “it must be a centralization of communist activity, that is, the formation of a powerful leadership ready to attack and at the same time capable of adaptation. A formal or mechanical centralization would only be the centralization of power in the hands of a bureaucracy, with the aim of dominating the other members of the party or the masses of the revolutionary proletariat outside the party”. The theses deny the false version that our opponents give of our centralism.
Subsequently, a dualism of the old workers’ movement which has the same nature as that in the organisation of the bourgeois state, i.e., the dualism between the “bureaucracy” and the “people”, between active officials and the passive mass, is deplored as a grave flaw; unfortunately, the workers’ movement inherits in a certain sense from the bourgeois environment these tendencies towards formalism and dualism, which the Communist Party must radically overcome.
The next step, which highlights the two opposite dangers and the two opposite excesses, anarchism and bureaucratism, explains in what sense the communists sought salvation in the democratic mechanism: “A purely formal democracy in the party cannot avoid either bureaucratic or anarchist tendencies, because it is precisely on the basis of this democracy that anarchy and bureaucratism, in the workers’ movement, were able to develop. That is why centralization, that is, the effort to achieve a strong direction, cannot succeed if it is attempted in the field of formal democracy”. All the theses, in the parts following the 2nd, are based on the description of communist work, propaganda and agitation, and of political struggles, pointing out that the solution is found in practical action and not in organizational coding. The connection of legal work with illegal work is particularly illustrated.
8) A very important point is in thesis 12, which shows that in Lenin’s time no thought at all was given to the cellular organization formula. “Communist nuclei are groups for daily communist work in factories and workshops, trade unions, proletarian associations, military units, etc., wherever there are some members or candidates of the Communist Party [the Russians meant by candidates the comrades admitted, for what could be said to be a trial period, into the party, before their final acceptance as its members]”.
The following, with the many recommendations it contains, explains that each group is a long articulation driven by the central force of the party, but the party is not considered as an integral of groups or nuclei. This question was the basis of the Left’s opposition to the formula of organization by cells, which was debated in later Congresses and through which the C.I. fell back into the bureaucratic defects of the II International, deforming both dialectical sides of democratic centralism as Lenin saw it.
9) Going back in history, it is appropriate to deal with a point on which the opportunists had made one of their infinite deformations of original Marxism: that is, that the First International founded by Marx was organized on membership country by country or even place by place of existing workers’ organizations, or workers’ unions, so as to internationally repeat the type of the English Labour Party, which was a kind of confederation of Trade Unions with an economic character.
The opposite is true, and not only since 1864 but since the Manifesto of 1848, the revolutionary organization of the national or international proletariat is a political party. The Communist Manifesto seems to literally say that every existing worker party is already a part of the international proletarian party, that is, of the Communist Party that launches its Manifesto to the world.
However, the historical sense according to which the doctrine is immutable, but the formal organization undergoes a series of evolutions, helps us to understand that, in a time of full bourgeois regime and full democracy (then in force in England and France), every workers’ party is in itself revolutionary because, according to the dominant bourgeois ideology and constitution, parties are defined according to opinions professed and confessed by the individual who adheres to them, and it would be illegal and to be repressed by the police if a party declared to be based on the economic class to which all its members must belong. In this phase the economic and trade union struggle is automatically a political struggle, but this should not be understood according to democratic and parliamentary philistinism, but according to instinct, father of every true new revolutionary theory, which pushed the armed proletarians of Lyon to the historical cry: “live by working, or die by fighting”. When armed struggle is needed to organize and to strike, the distinction between economic and political organization is no concern for anyone.
When, on the other hand, we refer to the stage that the proletarian movement crosses, let us say, in 1870 or 1964, one has the right, with the same consistency to the general Marxist theory, invariant through much more than a century, to condemn as anti-Marxist, opportunist and counter-revolutionary all forms of organization that speak of “workers’ party”, “labour party”, or party that gathers workers’ unions, or even factory councils, as its adherents.
10) Taking up now the Statute of the First International as it was voted after the famous meeting in London in 1864, we remind first of all that it was drafted in its entirety, in place of a text prepared by popular democrats, even of the Mazzini school, by Karl Marx who tells its history in his letter to Engels of November 4, 1864 (the meeting at Martin’s Hall was held on September 28). Marx recounts how his text, both for the statutes of the new International and for its famous inaugural address, replaced the previous projects and accepted by meeting delegate sub-committee. The letter says verbatim: “…on the pretext that all factual material was included in this Address and that we ought not to repeat the same things three times over I altered the whole preamble, threw out the declaration of principles and finally replaced the forty rules by ten. In so far as international politics occurred in the Address, I speak of countries, not of nationalities, and denounce Russia, not the minores gentium [This short passage is a colossal synthesis of the national theses of the communists of Lenin’s time]. My proposals have all been accepted by the Subcommittee. But I was obliged to insert two phrases about “duty” and “right” into the Preamble to the Rules, and also about “truth, morality and justice”, but these are placed in such a way that they can do no harm”.
For almost a century, asshole commentators have been commenting on this recognition of law and morality, writing, Mazzini first of them, various nonsense, without understanding that, as a giant of dialectics, Karl Marx had named the truth only by telling a big lie, in order to destroy the enemies of the revolution. If this is Leninist shrewdness, we accept it. Regarding the Preamble eliminated by Marx, it is worth quoting a few more words from the historical letter: “Major Wolff had handed in the réglement (rules) of the Italian Workers’ Associations (which possess a central organization but, as later transpired, are essentially mutual benefit associations) to be used for the new Association. I saw the stuff later. It was evidently a concoction of Mazzini’s, so you already know the spirit and phraseology in which the real question, the labour question, was dealt with. Also how nationalities were shoved in. In addition an Old Owenite, Weston…had drawn up a programme of indescribable breadth and extreme confusion”. Further on, Marx recounts that, speaking at the subcommittee, “I was really alarmed when I heard the worthy Le Lubez read out an appallingly wordy, badly written and quite raw preamble, pretending to be a declaration of principles, in which Mazzini could be detected everywhere, the whole coated over with the vaguest scrapes of French socialism”.
This is the stuff that Marx managed to screw up by replacing his text, in which he apologizes for having had to introduce meaningless words such as duty, law, truth, etc..
11) That said, the text of the Statutes may be cited. The question of the relationship between economics and politics is formulated as in the Manifesto with strict and rigorous adherence to the doctrine of historical materialism: “the economic dependence of the worker on the holders of the means indispensable to work, that is, of the sources of life, is the primary cause of all political, moral and material slavery; consequently, the economic emancipation of workers is the great goal to which every movement must be subordinated as a means”. Of what follows we cite only a few passages: “This international association, like all societies and individuals who adhere to it”, a passage followed by the famous useless words and which is enough to confirm that adherence is not only of societies, but also of individuals. Then the text of article 10 is interesting: “Though united by a fraternal bond of solidarity and cooperation, worker societies will continue to exist on their own particular foundations”.
In subsequent congresses, the fundamental Statutes had new formulations which we believe were all controlled by the intervention of Marx and other members of the genuine Communist League, such as Eccarius, Odger and others. The formulas became increasingly clearer and led to the classic concept of a revolutionary Communist political party according to our doctrine. Our party is a class and not confessional party like the parties of electoral democracy (although Marx’s first text contains the expression “without distinction of race, beliefs, nationality”, in which the second term is obviously a superfetation), but the party does not allow collective affiliations but only individual ones, which commit to adhere to the integral doctrine of the party and exclude the acceptance of antithetical religious, philosophical and political doctrines.
12) When the Communist Left developed its criticism of the Third International’s deviations from the problems of tactics, it also made a critique of the criteria of organization, and the follow-up of historical facts has shown that those deviations have fatally led to the abandonment of programmatic and theoretical basic positions.
This thesis of the Communist Left was well summarized in the request that we no longer speak of democratic centralism, but of organic centralism. A clear development of this thesis, made since 1922-1926, which therefore does not appear only today, is that it must be ended with the historically unavoidable use made in the past, in the mechanical sense, of decisions by electoral votes and by counting the partisans of one opinion or another.
This theoretical criticism starts from having considered Zinoviev’s central thesis too dull: “The party is a part of the working class”. This thesis is evidently unsatisfactory and it would not be fair to think that it is so only for reasons of strict doctrinarism, and that it was admissible in the same sense in which Karl Marx allowed himself, grinning inwardly without being discovered, to speak of morality and justice. As a matter of fact, our criticism was developed since those years and cannot be judged as theoretical prudery, because we have a formidable series of real subsequent facts that unfortunately confirmed the distrust and suspicion of that time.
We pointed out to Zinoviev that his formula (underlying historically correct and very important theses) was too timid and reticent because it was only quantitative, whereas the classical theses of the Manifesto and the Ist International are already decidedly qualitative.
That the party is only a part of the working class, explains that there are in fact workers inside the party and workers outside the party and that it is not enough to be economically and socially workers to become members of the party; but it is not enough at all to lead to the result, which Zinoviev himself enunciates, of distinguishing the two notions, class and party. Nor was it only a matter of making a “sharp distinction” (thesis 3), as Zinoviev says; but to arrive at the function, the task and the historical dynamic of the Communist Party in right relationship with the function and the dynamic of the proletarian class.
As we have shown, it was already an irreplaceable content of the communist doctrine, in the Manifesto and in the Statutes of the First International, that when the party form is introduced, a new presentation of the proletarian class is born, because then the proletariat presents itself and acts as a fighting class against the others when it manages to shape itself into a political party. Stopping at the purely quantitative distinction, almost as if the party were the content of a circle drawn within a wider field of the proletarian class, it was perhaps possible to avoid to shock tradeunionist elements coming towards us, good revolutionaries although still bad Marxists, but it contributed little to the clarification of that very revolutionary doctrine to which we wanted to lead them.
Our organic centralism formula was precisely to say that not only is the party a particular organ of the class, but what is more, it is only when it exists that the class acts as a historical organism and not only as a statistical section that every bourgeois is ready to recognize. Marx, in the historically fundamental and irrevocable reconstruction of Lenin, not only says that he has not discovered the classes, nor the struggle between classes, and indicates the dictatorship of the proletariat as the unmistakable connotation of his original theory: this means that only through the Communist Party can the proletariat reach its dictatorship. The two notions, therefore, of party and class do not oppose each other numerically because the party is small and the class is large, but historically and organically; because only when within the class the energetic organ that is the party has been formed does the class become such and begins to perform the task assigned to it by our doctrine of history.
13) The substitution of the adjective organic in place of democratic is not only motivated by the greater exactitude of a biological image compared to the faded image of an arithmetic nature, but also by the solid need and political struggle to free ourselves from the notion of democracy; knocking it down enabled us with Lenin to rebuild the revolutionary International. Lenin’s immortal theses at the First Congress are entitled: Bourgeois democracy and proletarian dictatorship. In theory, the antagonism of the two terms persists if, instead of bourgeois democracy, we speak of Leninist democracy in general, since Lenin is the one who showed how every bow before this ignoble fetish marks a victory of opportunism and counter-revolution. The whole text of the theses, which it would be superfluous to quote, the whole text of State and Revolution, lead to this result.
If it is true that Lenin sometimes uses the terms of proletarian democracy, this is for the sole purpose of demonstrating that this abstract point of arrival (in essence unreal, because the proletariat with the classes annihilates itself) coincides with the full development of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the full requirement of a communist society. In the same spirit, the Manifesto for overwhelming polemical vigour, said that the proletarian revolution, made by the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority, is the total victory of democracy.
In the theoretical sense, as the central content of the Manifesto is the annihilation of the democratic lie, the central deception of bourgeois class ideology, Lenin’s theses must be considered in their historical value. We refer only to thesis 21, which stigmatizes the bankruptcy of the Bern Conference, 1919, of the socialist parties: their proposal indicated the complete failure of the theorists who defended democracy and failed to see its bourgeois character. “This ludicrous attempt [by the centrists of the German Independent Party] to combine the Soviet system, i.e. proletarian dictatorship, with the National Assembly, i.e. bourgeois dictatorship, utterly exposes the paucity of thought of the yellow socialists and Social-Democrats, their reactionary petty-bourgeois political outlook, and their cowardly concessions to the irresistibly growing strength of the new, proletarian democracy”. This passage shows in what sense the cause of the proletarian victory in the civil war, and of the dictatorship of the proletariat, could, in the polemic of 1919, be indicated, in order to defeat the traitors, associating the terms of democracy and proletariat according to the impeccable and rigorous line developed by Lenin.
After a general victory in the field of theory had done justice to the renegade social democrats, the Communist Left rightly proposed to abolish any use of the adjective democratic both in reference to the future communist society, which will have no more people (mixture of different social classes) and no more power or state, and to the internal mechanism of our party, although it is right to say in theory that this party is a modern anticipation of the future society.
14) The development of the history of the Communist Left, which is the task of our present movement, showed how already in degenerative phenomena that could be denounced in the years following Lenin’s death, the very serious dangers could be detected, arising from the excessive indulgence in admitting that our internal mechanism of organization should ape the electoral and parliamentary ones that the bourgeoisie had historically introduced, proclaiming them eternal.
It was pointed out that the system of our international organization, culminating in the Moscow congresses themselves, tolerated false methods in the selection of comrades for top tasks. It fell into solutions of a careeristic type for individuals who were perhaps brilliant, but also schemers, and who had managed to create a following of supporters comparable to the bourgeoisie’s own electionist conventicles.
In the beginning these mistakes, if they were weaknesses, were not betrayals. Everyone in our movement believed that we were in a phase of a few years, after which the great final battle would take place. It was necessary to hurry and everything was studied in order to accelerate the mobilization of the world proletarian army. Just as officers of the Tsarist army could be usefully used, so one could think of using champions and experts in the methodology of electoral and parliamentary careerism, as long as wise concessions were made to them that would not ruin the whole revolutionary war campaign (as Marx had not ruined the whole of the inaugural Address of 1864).
On the other hand, the organizational criticism of the Left at the work of the International remained consistent with the demand that the concept of organicity in the distribution of functions within the movement should not be confused with a claim of freedom of thought and even less with a respect for elective and numerical democracy.
Other oppositions, such as the Trotskyist one, allowed themselves to be seduced, in the face of the excesses of Stalin and Stalinism, clearly visible since 1924-26, by resorting to the argument of the violated internal democracy by the bureaucratic centres of the parties and the International. The Left, to which we belonged, while recognizing that in the name of Bolshevization there was a tendency to fossilize both the parties and the masses in an unconscious obedience, did not make the mistake of invoking more democracy and seeing the remedy in electoral consultations of the rank and file. Historically, the Left actually had to accept to measure itself in these little serious internal electoral struggles, but it did not cease to consider as the worst evil of all that of getting involved in any invocation of remedies that could be an aping of the bourgeois electoral carnival.
When the centre of the International disavowed the centre of the Italian Party in 1923, the latter withdrew in order to obey the principles of discipline and organisation, and willingly ceded the undesirable for a true communist command posts to the right-wing and centre minorities. Long afterwards, in 1924, at the clandestine conference in the Alps, the centre held a consultation, assuring Moscow of its victory. Of the federal representatives, not elected by the sections, but designated by the centre itself, the enormous majority (about 34 out of 40) voted the theses of the Left.
The campaign made in the name of both internal democracy and Stalin’s Bolshevization had ostensible success only at the illegal Congress of Lyon, 1926, but only with the resource of calculating voters for the centre all those absent from the consultations held in Italy and under the fascist dictatorship.
These historical precedents confirm that everywhere the mechanism of counting votes is always a fraud and a deception, in the society, in the class or in the party; but the best resistance was offered by the Italian Party precisely because its deep-rooted political tradition repudiated any homage, even the slightest, to the deeds and mechanisms of historical democracy and the method of counting votes.
15) A long period has elapsed, in the total decomposition of the III International with the painful demonstration that the tactical and organizational deformations have resulted in the renegation of programmatic principles and in the subjection to the capitalist counter-revolution; today the effort to arrive with a hard and long work to the reconstruction of the unique international communist party, while based on a re-presentation of the whole historical and theoretical perspective and on a balance sheet of all the tactical decisions put to the test by history, can announce with total certainty, as concerns the internal organizational structure of the movement, that it must be considered ended forever the time in which it could be minimally tolerated that in the organizational field of the party elective forms and choice of managerial elements through such sterile consultations would survive. Having settled the great historical questions of theory and tactics by prolonging until today the bridge that in Lenin’s time was thrown from the Marx and Engels Manifesto to the Russian revolution, the work will have to continue in revolutionary history with the irrevocable suppression, in the life and dynamics of the party, of any application of consultative or elective mechanisms based on the registered count of votes, in the place of which the new forms that respond to the claim proclaimed since the Moscow years of organic centralization for the Communist Party, the only author of the proletarian revolution, will develop.