"Democratic decentralism" (was: RE: [Marxism] Joaquin sets new high water mark re "what kind of party":

Lou Paulsen Loupaulsen at sbcglobal.net
Thu Aug 19 19:15:35 MDT 2004

Joaquin B. wrote: 

>>>Lou Paulsen writes (to Scot): >>First: is your new party going to be
centralist, or will individuals and subunits be free to have political
fights with other individuals and subunits in public?  If they are, then how
will the situation differ from what we have today?  All the existing
groupings would just be independent factions of the new party.<<

Joaquin then flattens me with: 
This is the sort of undialectical, all-or-nothing, Zinovievist school of
"democratic centralism" that has contributed to creating the mess on the
left that we have. <<<

Dan loves this: 


"After reading this and the rest of Joaquin's post, I started to wonder if
he'd been hacking into my brainwaves:) "

And he goes on to share the following schema: 

"Democratic Decentralism: The membership decides the policy in our
organization.  The majority has the right to determine organizational
policies. Minorities on any question have the right to abstain from
implementing policies with which they disagree and to express their dissent
publicly.  Only members in leadership roles as officers, staff, candidates
or delegates to larger associations are obligated to implement and
articulate organizational policies so that majority decisions have
organizational effect."

- - - - -

OK, so everybody hates democratic centralism now.  But I would still like to
see how the alternative works out in practice.  Let's suppose the whole left
is now in the United Party of Socialism using Dan's scheme.  "The
membership", by some means, which I hope is better than the means that the
Greens used this year, decides that the policy of the party is "anybody but
Bush."  The treasury of the party, its press, etc., are now in the service
of the Kerry campaign.  Let's say I am on the party staff in Chicago, and I
think this is an absolutely horrible move.  What happens then?

- If I go on strike and refuse to "articulate organizational policies" on
the Kerry campaign, do I get expelled, stripped of my staff position, or
does nothing happen?

- Does the answer to the above change if the majority of the Chicago
organization of UPS is also anti-Kerry?  Does the national organization have
to strip us all of our posts, put the city organization in receivership,

- Will I get expelled if I decide that I can no longer subsidize the Kerry
campaign with my UPS dues? 

- Suppose that I start organizing for Nader, or for John Parker for that
matter, in Chicago.  I reach out to those of my fellow members of UPS whom I
think might be interested.  By late October, we are meeting every week in
each other's homes and stuff.  Meanwhile the Kerry members of UPS are doing
the same thing.  We of the anti-Kerry faction don't want to show people our
newspaper, "UPS with People", because at the moment it is all full of Kerry
crap.  So we start publishing our own newsletter, "Liberated UPS".  At what
point does this become the same thing as having two parties, not one?

- Is it worse, or better, for the movement as a whole if the two parts of
UPS split apart, no longer are obliged to beat each other up all the time,
and are free to work together where it is possible and to work separately
where it is not?

- Why do people think that doing away with democratic centralism is going to
make serious, principled differences within the left disappear or become
unproblematic?  Democratic centralism is a way to deal with these
differences.  It has problems, but I think the alternatives have more

- Wasn't it Lenin who said "a good split is better than a bad bloc"?  Or was
that Zinoviev? :-)

Now, someone may say that ABB is a "straw man" issue because "of course"
"all of us" would agree that supporting Kerry is just out of the question.
All of who?  The FRSO whose newspaper is "Fight Back"*, which contains a lot
of really great people and is as close to us on a whole range of issues as
any group in the movement, nevertheless decided this year that it had to be
with the workers in the drive to defeat Bush.  If you want to bring a lot of
the "natural leaders" of the workers and oppressed into the same
organization, the fact is that a lot of these leaders really are trying to
defeat Bush this year.  I don't think my scenarios above are the least bit

Lou Paulsen
Member, WWP, Chicago

*The Freedom Road Socialist Organization had a split a couple years back,
and both successor organizations, last I looked, are keeping the name.

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