Convention Discussion: Implementing Democratic Centralism

BY: Fabian Sneevliet| March 18, 2014

Submitted by Fabian Sneevliet, Texas.

There has been a lot of debate in the Party about the organizational concept of democratic centralism. Some comrades think that democratic centralism is no longer a useful way to organize and that it has proven ineffective. Perhaps the problem is not that democratic centralism is useless, but rather that it has not been correctly implemented and enforced. What is democratic centralism? It is not just the idea that after the fullest possible debate and discussion, a decision is taken, which must then be carried out by all comrades. Democratic centralism also means that comrades have discipline in all their activities, and make a firm commitment to carry out whatever assignments one is given.

Democratic centralism is the only effective way of instituting Party discipline and building a revolutionary Party that can lead the masses to liberation. The problem is that the Party does not have the correct structures in place for implementing democratic centralism. What is the problem?

Currently, there are not any membership qualifications: one joins the Party through the internet, or even just states one wants to join, and one is a member. Sam Webb has recently said that joining the Communist Party should be as easy to join as any other organization; he is entirely correct. It should be easy to join the Party and there should be no bureaucratic procedures for doing (like going through a number of vertical committees and getting approval from each!). However, it may be useful to create different types of membership in order to effectively implement democratic centralism. Here is what I propose.

The Party needs to create three different types of membership: upper, middle, and lower. Upper membership consists of the National Committee and the District Committees. They should carefully work out the political strategy for the Party at the national and state level through a careful analysis of the concrete conditions.

Second, middle cadre consists of local Executive Committee members and more active, committed club members: their job is to carefully apply the strategy worked out by the upper cadre Party members (the national and state leadership). For the middle cadre, Party discipline needs to be instituted: they should be required to carry out the Party line, defend it in public, and figure out how to apply to local conditions. They should also be required to learn every section of the Party program in order to effectively implement it.

The upper cadre should make sure that the middle cadre are adhering to Party discipline, and should hold frequent meetings with them. This can be done by phone conferences and occasional visits by Party leaders. The job of middle cadre is to provide effective leadership at the local level, and be the most active members of a club. They should set the precedent, and make sure that all comrades are active and involved in political work. If they make a commitment, they should uphold it and tirelessly devote themselves to Party work.

Third, the lower cadre consists of new members and less-active members. For the lower cadre, strict Party discipline should not be required: if they are involved in a coalition or are new recruits from a progressive organization, they should be allowed to work in their respective organization without having to adhere to Party discipline. The middle cadre should try to educate them in the Party strategy and offer guidance as to carrying it out. However, if the lower cadre are not fully able to do so, they should not be penalized. They should be considered members, and the middle cadre should try to involve them to the fullest extent. Many lower cadre may join the Party for strategic reasons: they may not fully agree with the Party program, but simply find the CPUSA a good way to get politically active. As a result, lower cadre may not be capable yet of fully carrying out the Party line and therefore unable to practice strict discipline.

How does a lower cadre rise to the middle cadre? At a recent Party meeting, Sam Webb said that the Party needs to raise the political IQ of its membership. I entirely agree with this. Perhaps in order to effectively do this, all those wishing to enter a higher level of Party membership should be required to participate in a course on Marxism. This would raise their political IQ and train them to be Communists. It would be a three month course, and consist of training in Marxist theory and the Party program. After completion of the course, they can be considered middle cadre, and be given a leadership position in the Party. At club meetings, it should be announced if someone has moved up to middle cadre and this should be celebrated.

The middle cadre, instead of consisting just of executive committee members, should be organized into different committees. Each middle cadre member should have some specific function and be fully dedicated to that particular job. They should present a monthly report on their activities, not just at club meetings, but to Party leaders in upper cadre, in order to effectively evaluate their work and practice self-criticism.

Only by creating these new membership qualifications will the Party grow and effectively implement out democratic centralism. By making Party discipline only binding on upper and middle cadre, the Party can function in a dynamic, unified way. Those who are not yet ready to be fully involved in the work of the Party can still be members and comrades. It would help to raise the level of discipline and dedication of more active members, and help them to develop in their political work.

One strength of democratic centralism is that it can allow the Party to engage in proper self-criticism. Without democratic centralism, it is impossible to show whether a failure is due to a personal mistake or a mistaken political line. If all comrades are following the same strategy and political line, it is easy to determine whether a strategy or line is correct. If, for example, there is failure to build a movement that advances the struggle against the ultra-Right, then (if all comrades are following the same strategy), it can be easily demonstrated that the line is flawed. However, if the line advances the struggle against the ultra-Right, then it can be shown to be correct. Such self-criticism can only be made if all comrades are on the same page and required to carry out the same line.

Democratic centralism can truly help to create quality activists and members who are fully committed to the work of the Party. It can help us to advance in our work and help us grow as an organization. However, only if some changes are made to our collective organization can democratic centralism correctly be applied. I propose that the Party adopt a different approach to membership in order to do so.

Those comrades in the Party that want to remove democratic centralism are making a mistake: they think that democratic centralism is inherently wrong, whereas it is simply not being implemented properly. To eliminate democratic centralism is to eliminate the organizational method that makes a Communist Party strong. Without Party discipline and unity of will in action, the Party will not be any different than the Democratic Party. It will make comrades free to do whatever they like, and create a spirit of individualism in political work. Such individualism can only foster opportunism and failed political strategies. Therefore, we must defend democratic centralism at this next convention and try to show why it is correct.

The views and opinions expressed in the Convention Discussion are those of the author alone. The Communist Party is publishing these views as a service to encourage discussion and debate. Those views do not necessarily reflect the views of the Communist Party, its leading bodies or staff members. The CPUSA Constitution, Program, and all its existing policies remain in effect during the Convention discussion period and during the Convention.

For details about the convention, visit the Convention homepage
To contribute to the discussion, visit the Convention Discussion webpage

30th National Convention, Communist Party USA
Chicago | June 13-15, 2014


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