Lenin on Democratic Centralism,
Discipline, Breach of Discipline and The Status of
Central Party Leadership

November 1, 2022 0 By Yatharth

On Party BuildingAn over view of what needs to be done for the formation of the revolutionary party of the proletariat in India and some light on our own experience

Ajay Sinha

What we are going to discuss is based on, and is warranted, by our own real experience obtained in the process of our efforts at forming a Revolutionary Party based on Leninist principles. While we haven’t fully summed up our all experiences, what has transpired is saddening. It is a difficult task from the day one. What it primarily necessitates is a gigantic effort even in initiating the process of party building based on Leninist teachings. To train such comrades whose dedication is single-minded for the cause and the party, the effort required is simply enormous and the task is unending that absorbs all attention. There is needed a leadership which emerges through this process whose destiny is fixed and pre-determined from the day one i.e., he/she is to become the target of all kinds of attack from all those whose purpose differs from the realisation of the ultimate cause of proletarian revolution, either knowingly or unknowingly.

This question involves many other questions, too. The discussion required extends to every arena, from that of family where property relations dominate and hence need to be fought tooth and nail, to personal relations, or even to men-women revolutionary relationships, where the ultimate cause normally must supersede everything and preside over all other considerations and cause, but here too the cause eventually recedes to the background, even if the property relations that are typical of a family-based relations aren’t present.

Four decades of direct experience has shown that a pointed discussion on how to obtain single-minded dedication to the ultimate cause goes beyond the one based on routine-like discussion based on teachings and writings of our great teachers like Marx, Engels and Lenin and Stalin. It is more their life than their writings from where one can learn the lessons of single-minded dedication. The way they led their revolutionary life is exactly what offers a great opportunity to learn important teachings of being single-minded and learn other lessons in this regard.

But everything, however important, can’t be dealt with or discussed in-depth in just one article. Therefore, I restrict my present article to discussing the organisational and ideological questions involved in the central question of Leninist party building. On other issues that are ideologically and philosophically related with this central question, we shall come later, in another article or articles.

This is a valuable part of our experience that many new intellectual comrades joined us but left after some time. All except a few quit the party in haste, without a proper discussion, even though party was ready to give, and really gave, fullest possible democracy and freedom to discuss their own issues of differences on any platform of their choice within the party. Some even left without properly joining our party i.e., during the course of joining after a few years of working together on some projects related with the proletarian cause.

What led to this? One thing is clear that most of the comrades, who belonged to middle class backgrounds and were intellectuals, were made of stuff that can survive in a (discipline wise) loosely built structure of the party where informal or family type environment, instead of a formal and disciplined atmosphere dominates. The moment the informal family type atmosphere gives way to formal and disciplined one, comrades made of such stuff feel tremendous pressure, for they have to abide by some norms now. Their individual freedom or liberty is put on check and curtailed in some form or the other. They feel suffocated. 

There are of course many reasons, apart from this one, but what we are going to discuss is this: Is there any fault with us as seen in the light of Lenin’s and Marx’s teachings and principles that guide the organisational methods and norms of the formation of a truly revolutionary party of the   working class?

Take for example, the democratic centralism. We find that the Leninist principle of Democratic Centralism is something that acts like a burden upon many of us, not only on them who has left us. It is although another matter that we have taken a firm decision to implement it.

For many of us in the Communist revolutionary movement, democratic centralism appears in the form of two completely distinct entities i.e., democracy and centralism are taken as two mutually different and opposing entities or things. Due to this, it is natural that democracy and centralism reflect in their mind as mutually exclusive things. For those who aren’t at the helm or are in minority, it is but natural that democracy comes first and becomes a thing of the foremost importance.

We have always and emphatically underlined that this understanding of democratic centralism is wrong and lacks in the elementary basic Leninist principles. We will let Lenin himself speak on behalf of us. It need not be mentioned that our party is completely in support of Lenin’s basic principles of democratic centralism.

Lenin writes –

“Democratic centralism in the communist party organization should be a real synthesis, a fusion of centralism and proletarian democracy. This fusion can be attained only on the basis of the constant common activity, the constant common struggle of the entire party organization.” (Emphases in bold added)

So, for Lenin, and also naturally for us, Democratic centralism is not a loose combination or an admixture of two different entities i.e., democracy and centralism, but, a fusion of centralism and proletarian democracy. For those who oppose this Leninist orientation, proletarian democracy (certainly not the bourgeois democracy) and centralism seem to stand face to face against each other as Hegelian negative unity of thesis and anti-thesis. This is a caricature of Leninism and Leninist principles of party building. That proletarian democracy has got centralism in-built into it is something that is even more difficult for such people to understand and grasp. What these people understand about the principle of democratic centralism is not the Leninist one, but, a liberal-bourgeois one that abounds in plenty in the present-day communist movement.

Lenin further says –

“In the organizations of the old, non-revolutionary workers movement a thorough going dualism developed of the same kind as had arisen in the organization of the bourgeois state: the dualism between the bureaucracy and the “people”. … under the ossifying influence of the bourgeois environment the functionaries of these parties became estranged: the vital working collective was replaced by mere formal democracy, and the organization was split into active functionaries and passive masses. Inevitably, even the revolutionary workers movement to a certain degree inherits this tendency toward formalism and dualism from the bourgeois environment. The Communist Party must thoroughly overcome these divisions by systematic and persevering political and organizational work and by repeated improvement and review.” (Emphases in bold added)

“Centralization in the communist party organization does not mean a formal and mechanical centralization but rather a centralization of communist activity, i.e., building a leadership which is strong, quick to react and at the same time flexible.”

On the question of the task of the leading bodies, Lenin writes –

“This fundamental organizational task obligates the leading party bodies to exercise continual, tireless and direct leadership of and systematic influence on the party’s work. This demands the most varied efforts from those comrades who are part of the leadership of the party organizations. The leaders of communist work must not only see to it that the comrades in fact have party work to do; they must assist the comrades, directing their work systematically and expertly, with precise information as to the particular conditions they are working in. They must also try to uncover any mistakes made in their own work, attempt to constantly improve their methods of work on the basis of experience, and at the same time strive never to lose sight of the goal of the struggle.” (Emphases in bold added)

About continuous reporting of work and assignments, Lenin writes –

“In a communist organization the obligation to do work necessarily includes the duty to report. This applies to all organizations and bodies of the party as well as to each individual member. General reports covering short periods of time must be made regularly. They must cover the fulfillment of special party assignments in particular. It is important to enforce the duty to report so systematically that it takes root as one of the best traditions in the communist movement.”

What to say of those who violate these Leninist principles? So far as CC is concerned, we humbly say, we have not violated these teachings, nor do we intend to do it in future. Our resolve is to implement these teachings, even if there are many difficulties ahead on this tortuous path.

Lenin clearly writes again –

“Each subordinate body of the party must report to its immediately superior committee (for example, monthly reports of the local organizations to the appropriate party committee).”

CC can well understand that those who are scared of iron-discipline that is demanded in the party of the proletariat, as shown above in Lenin’s writings, must have been feeling suffocation. But how can we help them? 

Lenin further writes and thus tightens the grip –

Reports must always be made at the first opportunity. The recipient of a report is responsible for safeguarding information that would be damaging if made public, and for forwarding important reports to the appropriate leading party body without delay.” (Emphases in bold added)

On Magazines, newspapers and other press materials, Lenin expressly writes –

No newspaper may be recognized as a communist organ if it does not submit to the directives of the party. Analogously, this principle is to be applied to all literary products such as periodicals, books, pamphlets, etc., with due regard for their theoretical, propagandistic or other character.” (Emphases in bold added)

Further Lenin clearly talks of unifying all the efforts and work of communist press. He says –

“Without this unifying, purposive organizational work of the communist press, particularly the main newspaper, it will hardly be possible to achieve democratic centralism, to implement an effective division of labor in the Communist Party or, consequently, to fulfill the party’s historic mission.”       

On full time organisers, Lenin writes that their election by district committees must be approved by the central committee. He writes thus –

“The full-time organizers of such a district, who are to be elected by the district conference or the district party congress and approved by the party central committee, must be required to participate regularly in the party life of the district’s main city.”

On the question of leadership task that may be given to provincial or regional committees, Lenin rules it out as a general principle with few exceptions where there is large number of memberships. He writes –

“In larger countries, of course, the party needs certain intermediate bodies to serve as connecting links between the central leadership and the various district leaderships (provincial leaderships, regions and the like) as well as between a given district leadership and the various local bodies (subdistrict or county leaderships). Under certain circumstances it may become useful for one or another of these intermediate bodies, for example that of a major city with a strong membership, to be given a leadership role. However, as a general rule this should be avoided as decentralization.”

So according to Lenin, leadership of the entire party lies in the hands of the central committee.

The question of ‘to whom is the central committee responsible’ is also addressed by Lenin. He writes –

“The central leadership of the party is responsible to the party congress and to the leadership of the Communist International”

On maintaining discipline and curing disorders and anarchy, what Lenin writes may seem to be very merciless. He writes –

“By thus constituting the central party leadership more broadly, the legal mass parties in particular will most quickly create for their central committee the best foundation of firm discipline: the unqualified confidence of the membership masses. Moreover, it will lead to more quickly recognizing, curing and overcoming vacillations and disorders which may show up in the party’s layers of functionaries. In this way, the accumulation of such disorders in the party and the need to surgically remove them at subsequent party congresses-with possibly catastrophic results-can be kept to a bearable level. ” (bold ours)

On practical works, too, Lenin writes very clearly that ultimately it is monitored by the central party leadership. He writes –

“It is the job of the leading party district committee, and ultimately the central party leadership, to monitor the practical work as well as the correct composition of all committees subordinate to it. All members engaged in full-time party work, just like the members of the parliamentary faction, are directly subordinate to the leading party committee.”

On whether central leadership of the party is entitled to seek information or report from the subordinate committees and individual members or not, Lenin writes –

“The central leadership of the party, like that of the Communist International, is entitled at all times to demand exhaustive information from all communist organizations, from their component bodies and from individual members.” Similarly, Lenin writes – “All organizations and party bodies, as well as all individual members, are entitled at all times to communicate their desires and initiatives, observations or complaints directly to the central leadership of the party or the International.”

Lenin further writes –

“The directives and decisions of the leading party bodies are binding on subordinate organizations and on individual members. …. Party members are to conduct themselves in their public activity at all times as disciplined members of a combat organization.”

On question of methods and ways of resolving difference of opinion, Lenin writes –

“When differences of opinion arise as to the correct course of action, these should as far as possible be decided beforehand within the party organization and then action must be in accordance with this decision. In order, however, that every party decision be carried out with the greatest energy by all party organizations and members, the broadest mass of the party must whenever possible be involved in examining and deciding every question. Party organizations and party authorities also have the duty of deciding whether questions should be discussed publicly (press, lectures, pamphlets) by individual comrades, and if so, in what form and scope. But even if the decisions of the organization or of the party leadership are regarded as wrong by other members, these comrades must in their public activity never forget that it is the worst breach of discipline and the worst error in combat to disrupt or, worse, to break the unity of the common front.  … It is the supreme duty of every party member to defend the Communist Party…. against all enemies of communism. Anyone who forgets this and instead publicly attacks the party or the Communist International is to be treated as an opponent of the party.”

Now it is time when CC calls upon all the members of the party in particular and all other party organisations in general, to examine our own behaviour, the behaviour of GS and the CC as a whole, in the light of what Lenin has taught. Let there be shown no mercy for anyone. Not even the GS, who is among others and not one not above them or the party.

It is, however, really worrying and shocking that whenever party is about to take a leap in efforts for building up the anti-fascist proletarian front and play a big and decisive role on all India level, it is and has been dragged into some organisational crisis, either from one direction or from the other direction. It’s a fact that the crisis momentarily deviates us and even stops us from doing what we’re doing with attention, but in the last we have shown we come out victorious, having been much more steeled every time. This is our strength which is certainly because of its constant efforts towards implementing the Leninist principles, even when situations are totally inconvenient and non-conducive. It is probably due to this that whenever a crisis comes, we have shown that our main pillars are strong enough to withstand any pressure.

Even then, CC feels sad, particularly for those who once were our real comrade-in-arms. We feel sorry for them who could have greatly contributed to the cause while remaining with us, but due to their over-reactive nature have left us. In all probability, their time and energy will go waste and finally run out quickly.

Though being sad, we are certainly not weak. We as a party are unitedly committed to the cause of proletarian revolution and not just workers or peoples’ immediate demands, and hence we shall have to overcome such emotions as quickly as possible. We are duty bound to understand that only by passing through such odd and hazardous paths, full of zig-zags, ups and downs, and also of victories and defeats, will our party and ourselves finally be like tempered steel and become as much seasoned as possible i.e., like a party of true revolutionaries of Leninist type.

CC feels satisfied that we have not done any injustice to those who have left us. CC’s view is that our line has been entirely correct except for a few weaknesses, and in the process, we have acquired a good level of experience in Leninism, especially in doing concrete analysis of concrete situations. On the basis of this, CC correctly feels that if we are correct in political line and also practice correct Leninist organisational principles to the best of our strength, and also, if we keep dedicated to the cause, no force on earth can detract us and stop us gaining victories in our work, in future too.

From a resolution passed by