[Marxism] Critical comments on democratic centralism

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Jul 16 12:12:12 MDT 2010

(Tomorrow I will post Barry Sheppard’s review of Peter Camejo’s 
“North Star” on my blog, to be followed by my response to Barry. 
As you probably know already, I am in sympathy with Peter’s 
party-building ideas while Barry’s tend to map to the “good old 
days” of the SWP before Jack Barnes turned it into a cult, at 
least that’s one version of what happened. This is a guest post by 
Joaquin Bustelo, a former member of the SWP who is in agreement 
with Peter. His article originally appeared in a Solidarity bulletin.)

Critical Comments on “Democratic Centralism”

By Joaquin Bustelo, Atlanta

There are several things that I disagree with in the “Draft Call 
for Refounding Solidarity’” platform that has been presented by 21 
comrades. For the moment, however, I want to focus on just one 
aspect of their document, their organizational proposal, and in 
reality, only a few sentences, their general motivation.

And I am going to draw this out quite a bit because I think it is 
a very important subject that has been a focus of much informal 
discussion in Solidarity as long as I’ve been a member and it 
deserves a thorough airing.

My thesis is, quite simply, that Lenin wasn’t a “Leninist.” The 
pre-1917 Bolsheviks were not, as far as he understood things “a 
party of a new type” in the sense-that this phrase has been used 
on the left for decades.

Instead, the “Leninist Party” model arose after the revolution and 
had two main drivers, the first, trying to spread the revolution 
by copying the Russians, and the second being the need of the 
emerging Soviet bureaucracy to silence criticism and shut down 
independent political organization. The end result was a harmful 
cult of the organization that Lenin never shared.

I have held views roughly similar to what I outline here since the 
mid-1980s, when I resigned from the SWP. Many years later with the 
Internet I became acquainted with others who held similar or 
parallel views, and undoubtedly that influenced what I say about 
these questions today.

I would recommend two articles especially, “The Myth of Lenin’s 
‘Concept of the Party,” by Hal Draper and Peter Camejo’s ”Return 
to Materialism.” Both can be found by googling the names, and in 
Draper’s case, it is useful to also read his earlier writings on 
sects, which are in the same archives as the article I mention above.


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