The hidden legacy of the left of capital (III): a functioning which negates communist principles

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This series has denounced the least visible part (the hidden face) of the organisations of the left and extreme-left of capital (Socialists, Stalinists, Trotskyists, Maoists, official anarchism, the 'new' left of Syriza, France Insoumise, and Podemos). In the first article of the series we saw how these organisations negate a working class that they pretend to defend, in the second we unravelled their method and way of thinking. In this third article we want to analyse their functioning, the internal regimes of these parties and how their functioning is the very negation of all communist principles and constitutes an obstacle to any movement towards these principles.

The forces of Stalinism, Trotskyism, etc., have carried out a total falsification of proletarian positions in terms of their organisation and behaviour. For them, centralisation means submission to an all-powerful bureaucracy, and discipline is blind submission to a control commission. The majority position is the result of a power struggle. And debate, in the spirit of manipulation, is a weapon to overcome the position of rival gangs. And so we could continue ad nauseam.

It's possible that a proletarian militant inside a genuinely communist organisation could have a tendency to see its organisational positions and behaviour through the lenses of the grim times that they spent in one or other leftist organisation.

The discipline of the barracks of leftist organisations

When we talk to this hypothetical militant of the need for discipline, they remember the nightmare that they lived through when they were a member of an organisation of the bourgeois left.

In those organisations, 'discipline' means defending absurd things because 'the party demands it'. One day they have to say that a rival part was 'bourgeois' and the following week, according to political changes in the alliances of the leadership, this part is now the most proletarian in the world.

If the policy of the central committee is wrong it is solely the fault of the militants who have 'made an error' and 'have not correctly applied what the central committee had decided'. As Trotsky said: "Each resolution of the Executive Committee of the Communist International recording new defeats declared on one hand that everything had been planned and that, on the other hand, it's the fault of those who interpreted it because they hadn't understood the line given to them from above"[1].

Following these traumatic experiences, the militant who has been through these parties feels a visceral rejection of discipline, not understanding that proletarian discipline is something radically different and opposed to the discipline of the bourgeoisie.

In a proletarian organisation, 'discipline' means respecting all decisions and that everyone is engaged in reaching them. On the one hand it's being responsible and, on the other, it's the practical expression of the primacy of the collective over the individual - which doesn't, however, mean though that the individual and the collective confront one another but rather express different aspects of the same unity. Consequently, discipline in a revolutionary organisation is voluntary and conscious. This discipline is not blind but based upon a conviction and a perspective.

In a bourgeois organisation, on the contrary, discipline means submission to an all-powerful leadership and the renunciation of all responsibility by leaving it in the hands of what this leadership does or says. In a bourgeois organisation discipline is based on the opposition between the 'collective' and the individual. The 'collective' here is the interests of the national capital and its state that these organisations defend in their particular field, an interest which doesn't at all coincide with those of its members. That's why its discipline is imposed either by fear of public reprobation which could lead to expulsion; or, if it is voluntarily assumed, it is the fruit of a feeling of guilt or of a categorical imperative which provokes more or less periodic conflicts with the authentic interests of each individual.

The incomprehension of the radical difference which exists between proletarian and bourgeois discipline often leads some militants, who have been through the left or leftism and find themselves in a proletarian organisation, to fall into a vicious circle. Once they followed the orders of their superiors as sheep; now, in a proletarian organisation, they reject all discipline and only admit to one order: that dictated to by their own individuality. From the discipline of the barracks they oppose the discipline that everyone can do what they want, that's to say the anarchic discipline of individualism. It's to go round in circles, trapped between the ferocious and violent discipline of the parties of the bourgeoisie and individualist discipline (the discipline to "do what I want") characteristic of the petty-bourgeoisie and anarchism.

The bureaucratic centralisation of all bourgeois organisations

Centralisation is another concept which produces a reaction among militants who have been affected by the poison of the influence of the left.

They associate centralisation with:

- all-powerful tops to whom one must submit without complaint;

- a crushing pyramid of a bureaucracy and its control apparatus;

- a total renunciation of all personal initiative and thought, replaced by a blind obedience and tail-ending towards the leadership;

- decisions are not taken through discussion with the participation of all, but through the orders and manoeuvres of the leadership.

In fact, bourgeois centralisation is based on these concepts. That is due to the fact that within the bourgeoisie, unity only exists when faced with imperialist war or the proletariat; as for the rest there is an incessant conflict of interests between its different fractions.

To put some order into such a mess, the authority of a 'central organ' must be imposed by will or force. Bourgeois centralisation is thus necessarily bureaucratic and top down.

This general bureaucratisation of all the bourgeois parties and their institutions is even more indispensable in the 'workers'’ parties or the left who present themselves as defenders of the workers.

The bourgeoisie can submit to this iron discipline of the political apparatus because it enjoys a total and dictatorial power in its own enterprises.  However, in an organisation of the left or extreme-left, there's a carefully hidden antagonism between what is claimed officially and what really happens. In order to resolve this contradiction, it needs a bureaucracy and a vertical centralisation.

In order to understand the mechanisms of bourgeois centralisation practiced in the parties of the left of capital, we can look at Stalinism which was a real trailblazer. In his book, The Third International after Lenin, Trotsky analyses the methods of bourgeois centralisation practiced in the Communist parties.

He recalls how, in order to impose bourgeois policies, Stalinism "adopted a secret society with its illegal Central Committee (the septemvirat) with its circulars, secret agents and codes, etc. The party apparatus created within itself a closed and out of control order which had exceptional resources at its disposal not only for this apparatus but also of the state which transformed a party of the masses into an instrument charged with camouflaging all the manoeuvres and intrigues." (idem).

So as to wipe out the revolutionary attempts of the proletariat in China and to serve the interests of the Russian state's imperialist appetites in the years 1924 - 28, the Chinese Communist Party was organised from top to bottom, an illustration of which is given by the witness of the local committee of Kiangsu making the following reference: "(The Central Committee) launched accusations and said that the Provincial Committee was no good; which in its turn , accused the base organisations and said that the Regional Committee was bad. The latter began to make accusations and said that it was the comrades working on the spot who were at fault. And the comrades defended themselves saying that the masses were not revolutionary enough" (idem).

Bureaucratic centralisation imposes a careerist mentality on party members, where they submit to those above, and distrust and manipulate 'those below them'. It is a clear characteristic of all the parties of capitalism, of the left and the right, which follow the model that Trotsky saw in the Stalinist Communist parties and denounced in the 1920's: "it is formed of entire teams of young academics through manoeuvres which, though Bolshevik flexibility, understood the elasticity of their own backbone" (idem).

The consequences of these methods are that "the rising layers have been impregnated at the same time with a certain bourgeois spirit, a narrow egotism and small-minded calculations. One can see that they have the firm will to carve out a place for themselves without concerning themselves about others, a blind and spontaneous careerism. To get to this point, they all have to prove a capacity for unscrupulous adaption, a shameful and sycophantic attitude towards the powerful. It's what we see in every gesture, on every face in this respect. This was indicated in all the acts and speeches, generally full of crude revolutionary phraseology" [2].

Reclaiming the real meaning of the proletarian concepts of organisation

It is necessary to reclaim - by analysing them in a critical manner - all the concepts of organisation that the workers' movement has used before the enormous catastrophe which saw the first steps of the Socialist parties towards the capitalist state and later the transformation of the Communist parties into the Stalinist forces for capital.

The proletarian position on questions of organisation, even if they have the same name, have nothing to do with their falsified version. The proletarian movement has no need to invent new concepts because these concepts belong to it. In fact those who have changed their terminology are those on the left and extreme-left of capital, these are the 'innovators' who adopt the moral and organisational positions of the bourgeoisie. We are going to look again at some of these proletarian concepts and how they are in total opposition to Stalinism, leftism and, in general, to any bourgeois organisation.

Proletarian centralisation

Centralisation is the expression of the natural unity which exists within the proletariat and, consequently, among revolutionaries. Thus, in a proletarian organisation, centralisation is the most coherent form of functioning and is the result of voluntary and conscious action. Whereas centralisation in a leftist organisation is imposed by a bureaucracy and manoeuvring, in a proletarian political organisation, where different interests do not exist, unity is expressed by centralisation; it is thus conscious and coherent.

In a leftist organisation on the other hand, as in any bourgeois organisation, there exist different interests linked to individuals and factions that in order to conciliate these different interests, and this requires the bureaucratic imposition of a faction or a leader, or a type of 'democratic coordinator' between the different leaders or factions. In all cases power struggles, manoeuvres, betrayals, manipulation, and obedience are necessary in order to 'grease' the functioning of the organisation because otherwise it falls apart and breaks up. On the other hand, in a proletarian organisation "Centralism is not an optional or abstract principle for the structure of the organisation. It is the concretisation of its unitary character. It expresses the fact that it is one and the same organisation which takes positions and acts within the class. In the various relations between the parts of the organisation and the whole, it's always the whole which takes precedence"[3].

Within leftism, this "one and the same organisation which takes positions and acts within the class" is either a farce or a monolithic and bureaucratic imposition of a 'central committee'. In a proletarian organisation it's the very condition of its existence. It is a matter of laying before the proletariat, after a collective discussion and according to its historic experience, everything that takes its struggle forward and not to fool it into fighting for interests which are not its own. For this reason, it is necessary to make a common effort of the whole organisation in order to elaborate its positions.

Within leftism, faced with the decisions of the 'leadership' that are sometimes judged as absurd, the militants at the base look after and act themselves by deciding in local structures or affinity groups the positions that they think are correct. In some cases this is a healthy proletarian reaction faced with the official policy. However, this localist measure of each for themselves is counter-productive and negative in a proletarian organisation and within such an organisation "the conception according to which this or that part of the organisation can adopt, in front of the organisation or of the working class, the positions or attitudes which it thinks correct instead of those of the organisation which it thinks incorrect. This is because:

  • if the organisation is going in the wrong direction, the responsibility of the members who consider that they defend the correct position is not to save themselves in their own little corner, but to wage a struggle within the organisation in order to help put it back in the right direction;
  • such a conception leads a part of the organisation to arbitrarily impose its own position on the whole organisation with regard to this or that aspect of its work (local or specific)." (idem, Point 3).

The approach of contributing from any part of the organisation (whether a local section or an international commission) in order to reach a correct position, with the effort of all, corresponds to the unity of interests which exists in a revolutionary organisation between all its members. On the other hand, in an organisation of the left, there's no unity between the 'base' and the 'leadership'. The latter's aim is to defend the general interests of the organisation, which is that of the national capital, whereas the 'base' is torn between three forces, all of which go in different directions: the interests of the proletariat, the responsibility for the capitalist interests of the organisation or, more prosaically, that of making a career in the different bureaucratic levels of the party. It's the outcome of an opposition and separation between the militants and the central organs.

The members of revolutionary organisation today have a great deal to learn about all of this. They are tormented by suspicions that the central organs will end up by 'betraying', they often hold the prejudiced position that the central organs are going to eliminate all dissidence through bureaucratic means. A mental mechanism spreads which states that 'the central organs can make mistakes'. That's perfectly true. Any central organ of a proletarian organisation can make a mistake. But there should be no fatality over making errors and if errors are in fact made, the organisation has the means to correct them.

We can illustrate this with an historic example: in May 1917, the Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party made an error in advocating critical support to the Provisional Government that came out of the February revolution. Lenin, returning to Russia in April, presented the famous April Theses in order to start up a debate in which the whole organisation was engaged to correct the error and redress the orientation of the party[4].

What this episode shows is the gap that exists between the preconceived idea that 'the central organs can be mistaken' and the proletarian vision of combating opportunism wherever it manifests itself (among the militants or within the central organ). All proletarian organisations are prey to the pressure of bourgeois ideology and that affects every militant as much as the central organs. The struggle against this pressure is the task of the whole organisation.

Proletarian political organisations provide the means of debate to correct its errors. We will see in another article of this series the role of tendencies and fractions. What we want to underline here is that if the majority of the organisation, and above all its central organs, tend to be mistaken, minority comrades have the means to fight this drift, as Lenin did in 1917, which led to him demanding an extraordinary party conference. In particular, "a minority of the organisation can call for an extraordinary Congress when it becomes a significant minority (for example two-fifths). As a general rule it's up to the Congress to settle essential questions, and the existence of a strong minority demanding that a Congress be held is an indication that there are important problems in the organisation"[5].

The role of the Congress

There are the sickening spectacles of congresses of organisations of the bourgeoisie. It's a spectacle with hostesses and an open bar. The leadership comes to show off and make speeches to the applause orchestrated by the warm-up team or to make their TV appearances. The speeches provoke the most absolute disinterest, the one and only aim of the congress is to be told who's going to take on which key posts of the organisation and who's going to be sacked. The great majority of these meetings are not given over to discussion, clarification and the defence of positions, but to attribute quotas of power to the different 'families' of the party.

A proletarian organisation must function in a manner diametrically opposed to this. The point of departure of the centralisation of a proletarian organisation is its international congress. The congress brings together and is the expression of the organisation as a whole, which, in a sovereign manner, decides the orientations and analyses which must guide it. The resolutions adopted by the congress define the mandate of the work of the central organs. It cannot act arbitrarily according to the designs or whims of the members, but must take its point of departure of their activity from the resolutions of the congress.

The Second Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party in 1903 led to the well-known split between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks. One of the reasons for the split and the strong controversy between the two parties of the organisation was that the latter had not respected the decisions of the congress. Lenin, in his book One step forward, two steps back fought this disloyal attitude which was itself a bourgeois attitude. If one isn't in agreement with decisions of a congress, the correct attitude is to present divergences clearly and push for patient debate in order to reach clarification.

"The highest moment in the unity of the organisation is its International Congress. It is at the International Congress that the programme of the ICC is defined, enriched, or rectified; that its ways of organising and functioning are established, made more precise or modified; that its overall orientations and analyses are adopted; that a balance sheet of its past activities is made and perspectives for future work drawn up. This is why preparation for a Congress must be taken up by the whole organisation with the greatest care and energy. This is why the orientations and decisions of a Congress must serve as a constant point of reference for the whole life of the organisation in the ensuing period." In a proletarian congress there are not circles from which conspiracies are hatched against rivals, but discussion in order to understand and take positions in the most conscious way possible.

In bourgeois organisations the corridors are the heart of the congress with gossip, conspiracies against rivals, manoeuvres and intrigues fomented. The corridors are the place where the congress is really decided. As Ciliga said: "The sessions were tedious, the public meetings were pure verbiage. Everything was decided in the corridors".

In a proletarian organisation 'the corridors' have to be forbidden as centres of decision and made moments of rest where fraternal links between militants can be established. The heart of the congress must be situated solely and exclusively in its official sessions. There the delegates have to very carefully evaluate the documents submitted to the congress by demanding clarifications and formulating amendments, critiques and propositions. The future of the organisation is at stake because the resolutions of the congress are not a dead letter or mere rhetoric, but consciously taken agreements that must serve as a guide and orientation to the organisation and serve the fundamentals of its activities.

The orientations and decisions of the congress have to engage the whole of the organisation. That doesn't mean that everything becomes infallible. Regular international discussions can lead to a conclusion where there are errors to correct or that the evolution of the international situation undergoes changes that it's necessary to recognise. That can even lead to the convocation of an extraordinary congress. In the meantime, that work has to be undertaken rigorously and seriously with debate on the widest and deepest international basis. That has got nothing to do with what continually goes on in leftist organisations where the losers in a congress get their revenge by proposing new positions which are used to settle their accounts with their victors.

The central organs

In a proletarian organisation the congress gives the orientations which define the mandate of a central organ which represents the unity and continuity of the organisation between congresses and following them. In a bourgeois party, the central organ is an arm of power because it has to submit the organisation to the needs of the state and the national capital. The central organ is an elite separated from the rest of the organisation and has to control it, supervise it and impose its decisions on it. In a proletarian organisation, the central organ is not separated from the organisation as a whole but it is its active and unitary expression. The central organ is not an all-powerful privileged summit of organisation but a means of expressing and developing the whole.

"Contrary to certain conceptions, notably so-called 'Leninist' ones, the central organ is an instrument of the organisation, not the other way round. It's not the summit of a pyramid as in the hierarchical and military view of revolutionary organisation. The organisation is not formed by a central organ plus militants, but is a tight, unified network in which all its component parts overlap and work together. The central organ should rather be seen as the nucleus of the cell which co-ordinates the metabolism of an organic entity" (“Report on the structure and functioning of the revolutionary organisation”, Point 5).

The role of the sections

The structure of leftist organisation is hierarchical. It goes from the national leadership to the regional organisations, themselves divided into 'fronts' (workers, professionals, intellectuals, etc.), and, at the bottom of all this, the cells. This form of organisation is inherited from Stalinism which in 1924 imposed the famous "Bolshevisation" under the pretext of "going to the working class".

This demagogy masks the elimination of the structures of workers' organisations based on local sections where all the militants of a town come together in order to provide themselves with global tasks and a global vision. Opposed to this, a "Bolshevisation" structure divides the militants holding them in a milieu bounded by factory or enterprise, according to the job or the social sector... Their tasks are purely immediate, corporatist and they remain  stuck in a hole where only the immediate, particular and local problems are treated. The horizon of militants is closed down and instead a historic, international and theoretical vision is reduced to the immediate, the corporatist, localist and the purely pragmatic. It is a major impoverishment and allows the leadership to manipulate things at its convenience and, therefore, submit to the interests of the national capital while masking this with a popular and workerist demagogy.

The results of this famous "Bolshevisation", in reality the atomisation of militants inside ghettos of the workplace, was described very well by Ciliga: "The people I met there - permanent collaborators of the Comintern - seemed to incarnate the narrowness of the institution itself and the greyness of the building which accommodated it. They had neither range nor depth of vision and showed no independent thought. I waited for giants and I met dwarfs. I hoped to learn from real masters and I met lackeys. It was enough to go to a few party meetings to see that the discussion of ideas only played a completely secondary role in this struggle. The principal role was played by threats, intimidation and terror".

In order to strengthen this isolation and theoretical ignorance of militants even more, the 'central committee' designates a whole network of 'political commissars' submitting strictly to its discipline and responsible to act as a conveyer belt transmitting the orders of the leadership.

The structure that a revolutionary organisation must provide itself with is radically different to this. The main task of the local sections is to study and pronounce on the questions of the organisation as a whole, as well as analysing the historic situation and the study of general theoretical themes considered necessary. Naturally, that doesn't exclude, but gives sense and body to local activities and intervention, the press and discussions with comrades or interested groups. However, the sections must hold "regular meetings of local sections and put on the agenda the principle questions debated in the whole organisation: this cannot be stifled in any way" (idem). At the same time, the "widest circulation possible of different contributions within the organisation through the intended instruments for this effect" is necessary. The international discussion bulletins are the means to channel this debate and for discussion to spread throughout all the sections.

C. Mir, 16 January, 2018.


[2].  Ante Ciliga, The Russian Enigma

[3]  "Report on the Structure and Functioning of Revolutionary Organisations" (January 82) point 3.

[4]  For an analysis on how the Bolshevik Party fell into this opportunist error and how through the means of debate it succeeded in righting it, see "The April Theses of 1917: signpost to the proletarian revolution", 1997, Also read the chapters pointing to this period in Trotsky's History of the Russian Revolution.

[5]  "Report on the Structure and Functioning of Revolutionary Organisations", Point 6.