Authoritarian structure of Marxist parties

glevy at glevy at
Sun Jul 2 07:52:17 MDT 1995

I want to briefly examine the relationship between the leadership and the
ranks in Marxist organizations.  Much of the criticism has been  directed
against the concept of the vanguard party and democratic centralism of
Leninist parties.  The problem is, I believe, not limited to those

Marxist organizations have tended to be hierarchical structures.  The
relationship between the leadership and the ranks is believed to be that
the leadership represents the interests of the ranks.  Even when the
leadership is selected through a democratic process the result can still
be hierarchical.  How is this possible?  The ranks are *encouraged* to
believe that the leadership (those with, allegedly, the most knowledge,
experience, etc.) are presumed to *know more* and be more capable of
leading the organization, i.e. the members are encouraged to *trust* the
political judgment of the leaders. They come to believe this, in part,
because it is a value which is stressed in the capitalist educational
system and part of the so-called "socialization" process.  They don't
necessarily have the experience of thinking critically and independently
and leaders of Marxist organizations do not always encourage them to do
so.  Even where those organizations have an internal structure which is
formally democratic, this leads to authoritarian structures.  Why is this?
For an organization to be *really* democratic there must not only be a
formal democratic mechanism but an actual democratic mechanism where
members are encouraged to *think for themselves* and question and
challenge the political judgment of the leaders that they select.  For
this to happen, the ranks must be educated, critical and self-confident.
The ranks must, in short, feel that they *are* the leadership *and* be
willing to lead.  There are very few examples of truly democratic
structures in the history of Marxist organizations.  Where education is
stressed, for example, the policy, interpretations, and theory of that
organization are stressed.  That is, members are encouraged to "learn"
about the issues but not necessarily to think for themselves.
Frequently, at conventions the ranks simply line up behind certain
leaders trusting their judgment.  Perhaps this process is one reason why
many Marxist organizations, when divorced from mass support in the
working class, tend towards cults.

This is an issue which comes up not only with regard to Leninist
organizations, but also Social-Democratic ones and even (from what I have
observed) anarchist ones.  It is a hard problem to overcome in practice.


     --- from list marxism at ---


More information about the Marxism mailing list