Democratic centralism and internal and external practice

Nick Fredman nfredman at scu.edu.au
Mon Nov 4 19:12:52 MST 2002


Louis Proyect wrote, in response to an instance I mentioned
suggesting a non-bureaucratic response towards some wayward DSP
members, that

>This is called peer pressure.

Say what? My point was that nobody in this instance did nuthin,
physical, organisational, moral or otherwise - that there's a huge
difference between a culture of encouraging internal democracy +
unity in action, and knowing how to be flexible about this, and
heavy-handed pressure, moral or otherwise, for uniformity. I'm not
saying the DSP is perfect in this at all, just that it might be
something to aspire to, in fact unavoidable in some form for any
serious group that needs to swim against the stream of bourgeois
society, and any problems are much more to do with politics than
organisational questions per se. To be more concrete: I have several
friends in several cities who have dropped out of the DSP because of
a general feeling of "pressure", but I think this is more to do with
objective circumstances than anything the DSP does, and generally
they agree. I probably know more people in the small city I now
reside who've dropped out of forest activism due to the "pressure" of
adopting both the hard-core activist lifestyle and the
anarcho-liberal politics most such campaigners have. The very popular
(and partly sucessful) forest campaign has done relatively worse than
the largely unknown revolutionary group in both attracting new
serious activists, and keeping them, both because of the objectively
up-and-down nature of a campaign, and because of problems with their
tactical orientation (relying on full-time guerilla blockaders and
lobbyists rather than mass action that people with jobs and lives etc
who like forests could help organise). The actual organisational
principles of both types of groups are clearly related to their
political successes and failings, but are subordinate to them, not
the cause of them.

He further writes

>I have no idea what the internal life of the DSP is like. All I know is
>that any group that places such importance on the party-building ideas
>of James P. Cannon does not understand the true spirit of Lenin's party.

If you have no idea what the internal life of the DSP is like how can
you possibly proclaim that it "does not understand the true spirit of
Lenin's party"? I appreciate that you're "simply trying to present an
alternative" but this sounds a bit unscientific and dogmatic to me,
like there's one model for everywhere and for all time. Surely
Lenin's party changed a lot depending on the circumstances. The DSP's
modus operandi seems to have served it pretty well, I really don't
see how anything very different would have survived (e.g. the
wreckage of Australian New Leftism, Maoism, Healyism and
Eurocommunism). We are now stuck in a big fish in a small pond rut
though (and one thing that *was* drilled into me since joining the
DSP was to forget any illusions that we were *the vanguard* that
would get to be *the party* through gradual growth, but that we
existed to help bring together the vanguard). If the Socialist
Alliance developes into a new party it will undoubtably have a quite
different modus operandi, one appropriate to this new stage of
bringing the different elements of the vanguard (the existing
revolutionary groups, movement leaders and activists) together into a
party. Tossing Cannon's ideas into the dustbin while we're all
working out the different forms revolutionaries should operate in in
different circumstances seems as dogmatic as fetishising his ideas as
appropriate for all time.

My whole point was that you can't explain sectarianism through the
particular texts an organisation uses. It's much more about
perspectives, practice and whose interests a group (or its
leadership) is defending. The Healyites were apparently into Cannon,
but that's not what made them nutty. The ALP has a democratic
constitution, it says they're for socialism, btw also that they're a
"democratic socialist party". But their leadership is a million times
more bureaucratic and sectarian than any revolutionary group.
--

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