[Marxism] John Molyneux on party democracy

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Oct 27 11:20:28 MDT 2009

In the latest issue of International Socialism, a quarterly put 
out by the British SWP, John Molyneux has an 8600 word article “On 
Party Democracy”  that raises some interesting questions but fails 
to get to the heart of the real problem in self-declared Leninist 
vanguards like the SWP. The real threat to democracy in such 
formations is not ham-fisted bureaucratic interventions, such as 
the kind that typified the American SWP during its sad decline or 
the CPUSA throughout most of its life. It is instead 
self-censorship by the rank and file all the way up to key leaders 
who are very wary of challenging adopted party positions out of 
fear of being tarnished as “petty bourgeois”, not “understanding 
Marxism” and all the other insults that have found their way into 
this political subculture over ninety-plus years. As painful as it 
is to hear yourself addressed in such terms at a party meeting, it 
is even worse to become ostracized as is the fate of most 
dissidents who have the temerity to challenge the wisdom of 
whoever is at the very top of the party hierarchy. In the case of 
groups like the American SWP, this tends to be a single person who 
functions like a virtual pope. In healthier groups, such as the 
British SWP, it tends to be a core of people whose ranks change 
over the years.

For reasons that are not totally clear to me, Molyneux frames his 
discussion in terms of a response to a German sociologist of the 
early 20th century named Robert Michels who eventually became a 
fascist. Michels, who believed that the abuse of power is a 
function of “the cult of veneration among the masses”, wrote:

"As the chiefs become detached from the mass they show themselves 
more and more inclined, when gaps in their own ranks appear, to 
effect this not by popular election, but by co-optation, and also 
to increase their own effectiveness wherever possible by creating 
new posts upon their own initiative. There arises in leaders a 
tendency to isolate themselves, to form a sort of cartel, and to 
surround themselves, as it were, with a wall, within which they 
will admit those only who are of their own way of thinking."

Hmmm, sort of rings a bell, doesn’t it?

read full article: 

More information about the Marxism mailing list