Donate to Links

Click on Links masthead to clear previous query from search box

GLW Radio on 3CR


Syndicate content

The Bolshevik Party and democratic centralism: A response to Murray Smith

By Doug Lorimer
In Links No. 26, Murray Smith, a former leading member of the Scottish Socialist Party and now a leading member of the Ligue Communiste
Révolutionnaire (the French section of the Trotskyist Fourth International),
made extensive comments on my article ``The Bolshevik Party and `Zinovievism’: Comments on a Caricature of Leninism’’ printed in Links No. 24., focussing in particular on the issue of the public expression and debate of political differences within the Bolshevik Party.(1)

At the end of his article, Smith argues that ``the idea that
discussions take place within the party and that only the decisions are made public can work only in the early stages in the development of a party, when it has weak links with the working class. In fact, as we have seen, there never really was such a stage in Russia: even in the early stages the key debates were public. But in the far-left groups that developed from the opposition to
Stalinism, this tradition definitely developed. Why? Probably as a result of a
long period of being on the defensive and of relative isolation.’’

Smith goes on to argue that the ``public expression of differences’’
should be the normal procedure for revolutionary Marxist parties that seek to
base themselves on the lessons of the Bolshevik experience: ``To the degree
parties start to gain an audience among sectors of the working class, even
those sectors will be interested in its debates. This is reinforced by the
experiences of Stalinism. Organisations that try to pretend there are no
differences in their ranks evoke suspicion. Workers want to know what’s going
on, especially if they are thinking of joining a party.’’

The latter consideration is one reason why it has been a norm for
Bolshevik-type parties since the early 1920s to have a category of candidate or
provisional membership. However, since the early 1920s, it has generally been
accepted that the public expression of differences is not the normal procedure
for Bolshevik-type parties, for parties that operate according to the Leninist
principle of democratic centralism. To the contrary, it has generally been
accepted that the Leninist system of party organisation involves the right of a
minority to present its case within the party for consideration and decision of
the party membership but that at all times all party members publicly abide by
and promote the policy adopted by the majority of the party. Thus, for example,
the Workers Party of the United States (the successor organisation of the
Communist League of America formed by the supporters of Trotsky’s revolutionary
opposition to Stalinism expelled from the US Communist Party in 1928) affirmed
in 1935 that:

@quote = Democratic centralism means the right of discussion inside the
party, at times and in ways laid down by the party. Democratic centralism also
means discipline; it means the subordination of the minority to the majority;
it means the centralisation of authority, between conventions [i.e., party
congresses - DL], in one leading committee selected by the convention; it means
that the party always confronts the outside world with a single policy, the
policy of the majority of its authoritative bodies. Democratic centralism means
that the individual party member always and under all circumstances must
subordinate himself in his public action and expression to the policy and
decisions of the party.(2)

The Leninist conception of democratic centralism

This conception of the Leninist principle of democratic centralist
party organisation was not, as Smith suggests, a ``result of a long period of
being on the defensive and of relative isolation’’. Rather, it was a
restatement of the lessons drawn from the experience of the Bolshevik Party by
the Russian Bolshevik leaders themselves summarised in the theses on ``The
Organisational Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods and Content of
Their Work’’ adopted by the third congress of the Communist International in
July 1921. Theses 50 of this resolution stated:

@quote = In their public appearances members of the party are obliged to
act at all times as disciplined members of a militant organisation
. If
there are disagreements on the correct method of action on this or that
question, these should, as far as possible, be settled in the party
organisation before any public activity is embarked upon and the members should
then act in accordance with the decision made. In order that every party
decision is carried out fully by all party organisations and party members, the
largest possible number of party members should be involved in discussing and
deciding every issue. The different levels of the party apparatus must decide
whether any given question should be publicly discussed by individual comrades
(in the press, in pamphlets), in what form and to what extent. If the decision
of the organisation or leading party body is in the view of certain other
members incorrect, these comrades must not forget, when they speak or act in
public, that to weaken or break the unity of the common front is the
worst breach of discipline
and the worst mistake that can be made in the
revolutionary struggle.

@quote = It is the supreme duty of every member of the party to defend
the Communist Party and the Communist International against all enemies of
Communism. Anyone who forgets this or goes so far as to attack the party or the
Communist International in public must be considered an enemy of the party.(3)

It should be noted that the above thesis does not rule out the public
discussion of differences among party members. However, in accordance with the
Leninist conception of party democracy (the subordination of the activity of
individual party members to the decisions of the party majority), it specifies
``whether any given question be publicly discussed by individual members’’, its
form and extent, is to be decided on by the party. If the public discussion of
differences over what the party’s policy and actions should be was
regarded by the Bolshevik as the normal procedure for discussion of such
differences within a Leninist party, this stricture would be superfluous.

The Leninist conception of the revolutionary workers’ party is that it
should be a ``militant organisation’’ – a fighting organisation of
class-conscious workers that strives to organise the class struggle of the
proletariat against the capitalist class in all its forms (economic, political
and ideological) , the ultimate aim of which is the seizure of state power by
the working class and the building of a classless society of freely associated
producers (socialism/communism). It functions best when its members are able to
freely discuss party policy among themselves. Hence the importance of
the fullest inner-party democracy. But a fundamental part of that democracy is
the acceptance of majority rule in the conduct of all party activities,
including in the conduct of the discussion of differences among party members.
Furthermore, democracy is meaningless minorities accept the right of the
majority to have its decisions implemented by the party as a whole, including
its leaders.

`Absolute centralisation’ and `iron discipline’

In his June 1920 pamphlet ``Left-Wing’’ Communism – an infantile
, in which he sought to provide a foreign communists with an
exposition of Bolshevik strategy and tactics, Lenin pointed out that the
``absolute centralisation and rigorous discipline of the proletariat are an
essential condition of victory over the bourgeoisie’’. He went on to write:

@quote = This is often dwelt on. However, not nearly enough thought is
given to what it means, and under what conditions it is possible. Would it not
be better if the salutations addressed to the soviets and the Bolsheviks [by
foreign communists] were more frequently accompanied by a profound
of the reasons why the Bolsheviks have been able to build up the
discipline needed by the revolutionary proletariat.

@quote = As a current of political thought and as a political party,
Bolshevism has existed since 1903. Only the history of Bolshevism during the entire
period of its existence can satisfactorily explain why it has been able to
build up and maintain, under most difficult conditions, the iron discipline
needed for the victory of the proletariat...

@quote = The fact, that in 1917-20, Bolshevism was able, under
unprecedentedly difficult conditions, to build up and successfully maintain the
strictest centralisation and iron discipline was due simply to a number of
historical peculiarities of Russia.

@quote = On the one hand, Bolshevism arose in 1903 on a very firm
foundation of Marxist theory.. [in particular, of the Marxist of the
organisation of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat and of the
tasks and methods of building a class-conscious workers’ party, which were
expounded in Lenin’s polemics against the opportunist Economist trend, above
all, in his 1902 booklet What Is To Be Done? - DL].

@quote = On the other hand, Bolshevism, which had arisen on this
granite foundation of theory, went through 15 years of practical history
(1903-17) unequalled anywhere in the world in its wealth of experience ... of
different forms of the [revolutionary workers’] movement – legal and illegal,
peaceful and stormy, underground and open, local circles and mass movement, and
parliamentary and terrorist forms.(4)

In other words, it was only the combination of these two conditions –
the establishment in 1903 of a party organisation(5) on the Marxist theory of
the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat and the subsequent
15 years of practical experience
of striving to lead the Russian
workers’ class struggle – that produced, in 1917-20, the sort of militant party
organisation that the 1921 Comintern resolution urged foreign communists to
seek to emulate.

This is a point that has often been overlooked by those striving to
build such parties. This was why in ``Left-Wing Communism
emphasised that it was necessary for foreign communists to study ``the entire
period’’ of the history of Bolshevism up to 1917-20, and not simply the
theoretical foundations upon which it began in 1903, which explained how the
Bolshevik Party, in 1917-20, had been able ``to build up and maintain, under
most difficult conditions, the iron discipline needed for the victory of the
proletariat’’. Attempts by small communist propaganda organisations to
mechanically copy the Bolshevik Party of 1917-20, Lenin warned, would
``inevitably fall flat and end up in phrasemongering and clowning’’, i.e., the
creation of ``toy’’ Bolshevik parties. The conditions necessary to produce a
``revolutionary party. really capable of being the party of the advanced
class’’, Lenin stressed, ``cannot emerge at once. They are created only by
prolonged effort and hard-won experience.’’(6)

Bolshevism and Kautskyism

In his article in Links No. 26, Smith also overlooks this point.
He cites numerous examples from the history of Bolshevism before 1917-20 –
indeed, even from the period before the birth of Bolshevism in 1903 – in which
Lenin conducted public debates with other members of the Russian
Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in an attempt to prove that prior to
1917 the Bolshevik Party did not in practice abide by the mature Leninist
conception of party organisation set out in the 1921 Comintern theses, or that
Lenin advocated the public expression of differences among the Bolsheviks as a
norm of party organisation . Thus Smith writes:

@quote = Doug Lorimer says, ``... full freedom to discuss and criticise
party decisions – including in public – has often been misinterpreted as
Lenin’s view of the norm of functioning of a revolutionary Marxist party’’. And
he argues that ``Lenin’s argument in favour of freedom of public criticism of
party decisions’’ [in 1906 - DL] must be seen in the context that the RSDLP of
1906 was not a revolutionary Marxist party and that he wanted full freedom for
the Bolsheviks faction, which was then in a minority, to criticise [the
Menshevik leadership of the RSDLP - DL] publicly. Now certainly the RSDLP of
1906 was not the same thing as the Bolshevik Party after 1912. But that does
not change much concerning how publicly debates were conducted. Let us look at
the record.

However, instead of examining the record of Lenin’s approach to conducting public
debates of differences among the members of the post-1912 independently
constituted Bolshevik Party, Smith reviews Lenin’s polemics with opportunist
groupings – groupings such as the Economists, the Mensheviks and the
Menshevik-liquidationists that Lenin retrospectively described in 1915 as ``bourgeois ideological trends’’ within the
Russian workers’ movement, on the same par as he put the social-chauvinists and
Kautskyites after August 1914. Smith thus assumes that prior to August 1914
Lenin held the same conception of party organisation as he did after August

However, as I explain in my article in Links No. 24, ``Prior to
1914, Lenin accepted [Karl] Kautsky’s view – endorsed by the 1904 conference of
the Second International – that the Marxist parties should inclusive of all
those proclaimed themselves adherents of Marxism, even if, like [Eduard]
Bernstein, they rejected the need for a proletarian revolution to achieve
socialism and openly advocated a reformist perspective.’’ Thus, in 1909 Lenin
argued that a class-conscious workers’ party ``can contain a whole gamut of
opinions and shades of opinion, the extremes of which may be sharply
contradictory. In the German party, side by side with the pronouncedly
revolutionary wing [sic] of Kautsky, we see the ultra-revisionist wing of

At the same time, Lenin strove to build a mass workers’ party in Russia
in which the consciously revolutionary elements predominated and in which party
members acted at all times as disciplined members of a militant organisation.
This led Lenin to have to make contradictory justifications to explain why the
Bolsheviks had expelled the Mensheviks from the RSDLP in 1912. In his written
report on the 1912 Bolshevik-Menshevik split to the conference of Russian
adherents of the Second International convened in Brussels in July 1914 at Rosa
Luxemburg’s initiative by the International Socialist Bureau, Lenin argued that
the split was justified because (a) the politico-organisational views of the
Menshevik-liquidators put them to the right of the German opportunists (the
Bernsteinians) and (b) the Menshevik leaders refused to abide by the decisions
of the party majority.

Most of Lenin’s report consisted of detailed figures proving that the
Bolsheviks represented ``a majority of four-fifths of the of the
class-conscious workers of Russia’’, while the Mensheviks had the support of
the remaining one-fifth. He considered this an ``extremely significant’’
argument. In his private notes to Inessa Armand, the chief Bolshevik delegate to
the conference, Lenin wrote:

@quote= In Russia, nearly every group, or `faction’ ... accuses the
other of being not a workers’ party, but a bourgeois intellectualist group. We
consider this accusation or rather argument, this reference to the social significance
of a particular group , extremely important in principle. But precisely because
we consider it extremely important, we deem it our duty not to make sweeping
statements about the social significance of the other groups, but to back our
statements with objective facts. For these objective facts prove absolutely and
irrefutably that Pravdism [i.e., Bolshevism - DL] alone is a workers’ trend in
Russia, whereas liquidationism and Socialist-Revolutionism are in fact
bourgeois-intellectualist trends.(8)

If, in 1912-14, the Mensheviks had had the support of the majority of
class-conscious workers in Russia (as they had in 1906), then Lenin would been
hard pressed to provide a convincing argument, within the Kautskyist conception
of the proletarian party that he still accepted, to justify the split.

Following the outbreak the first imperialist war in August 1914 and the
decision of all the parties of the Second International, with the exceptions of
the Russian Serbian parties, to politically endorse the war efforts of their
own ruling classes, Leninrejected the
Kautskyist conception of the proletarian party and adopted an authentically
Marxist conception. Lenin now argued that an organisational separation of the
revolutionary Marxists from all varieties of opportunism, as had been
accomplished in Russia, was an essential condition for the revival of the
international socialist movement:

@quote = The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party has long parted
company with its opportunists. Besides, the Russian opportunists have now
become chauvinists. This only fortifies us in our opinion that a split with
them is essential in the interests of socialism...

@quote = We are firmly convinced that, in the present state of affairs,
a split with the opportunists and chauvinists is the prime duty of
revolutionaries, just as a split with the yellow trade unions, the
anti-Semites, the liberal workers’ unions, was essential in helping speed the
enlightenment of backward workers and draw them into the ranks of the Social Democracy.

@quote = In our opinion, the Third International should be built up on
that kind of revolutionary basis. To our party, the question of the expediency
of a break with the social-chauvinists does not exist, it has been answered
with finality. The only question that exists for our party is whether this can
be achieved on an international scale in the immediate future.(9)

The record of mature Leninism

Was the public expression of differences among the Bolsheviks regarded
as a normal procedure in this new, mature, phase of Leninism? Let us examine
the record.

Smith acknowledges that Lenin was opposed to a public debate of his
differences with Nikolai Bukharin in 1915-16. However, he points out that in
the first issue of the Bolsheviks’ theoretical journal, Sbornik
, ``there was an article by [Karl] Radek on the national
question with a reply by Lenin’’. Radek, a Polish Marxist, however, was not at
that time a member of the Bolshevik Party. He first joined the ranks of the
Bolshevik Party in 1917.

According to Smith, ``On Lenin’s return to Russia, he immediately
launched – publicly – what was arguably the most important debate in the
party’s history, the one that led to the adoption of the April Theses.’’
However, in this debate – which lasted only three weeks – Lenin only had one
polemical article publicly printed (``Letters on Tactics’’, printed as a
pamphlet in April 1917), and this was done, as Lenin noted in the foreword,
after a ``number of consultations’’ with the editors of Pravda in which
it was ``unanimously concluded that it would be advisable openly to discuss our
differences, and thus provide material for the all-Russia conference of our
party (the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, united under the central
committee) which is to meet in Petrograd on April 20, 1917’’.(10)

The conference, held on April 24-29, 1917, unanimously endorsed the
Lenin’s position, as expressed in the April Theses (``The Tasks of the
Proletariat in the Present Revolution ‘’),which thus became the party’s
policy. It set the Bolshevik Party on a line of march toward a struggle to
bring to power a government of the soviets of workers’ and soldiers’ (and later
peasants’) deputies.

@quote = The April Theses [Smith writes] outlined the political
objective of the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the poor
peasantry, to be realised by through the soviets. One might expect that the
debate on the delicate question of the actual insurrection would be conducted
more discreetly’’ However, what do we see? Forced underground after the July
Days, Lenin continued to defend his ideas within the party. To a considerable
extent, this consisted of a battle to convince the party leadership to prepare
and lead the insurrection.

@quote = The fundamentals of this debate were public. Lenin’s article
``The political situation (four theses)’’ was published in the Bolshevik press
on July 23. In it, he argued for combining legal and illegal work as in
1912-14, but for fixing the objective of armed insurrection. ``The armed
insurrection can have no other objective than the passage of power to the
proletariat supported by the poor peasants, in view of the application of the
programme of the party.’’ The political analysis is clear and publicly stated.
This was followed by a series of other articles. Along the way, Lenin published
a public criticism of Kamenev over his speech concerning the international
socialist conference in Stockholm.

It is certainly true that Lenin made a public criticism of Lev
Kamenev’s August 6 speech in the central executive committee of the soviets in
favour of participation in the international conference of the social-patriots
in Stockholm – because it was contrary to decision of the April party
. However, Smith’s claim that with his article ``The Political Situation (Four
) Lenin opened a public debate over the issue of an armed
insurrection is false. Lenin’s article was discussed at a meeting of the
central committee of the Bolshevik Party held on July 13-14, 1917, and was then
published in the July 20 (August 2 in the Western calendar) edition of the
Bolshevik paper Proletarskaya Dyelo. It did not contain a call for the
Bolsheviks to lead an immediate armed insurrection against the Provisional
Government.. It argued that the repression unleashed by this government after
the July Days meant that::

@quote = All hopes for the peaceful development of the Russian
revolution have vanished for good. This is the objective situation: either
complete victory for the military dictatorship, or victory for the workers’
armed uprising; the latter victory is only possible when the insurrection
coincides with a deep, mass upheaval against the government and the bourgeoisie
caused by economic disruption and the prolongation of the war...

@quote = Reckless actions, revolts, partial resistance, or hopeless
hit-and-run attempts to oppose reaction will not help. What will help is a
clear understanding of the situation, endurance and determination of the
workers’ vanguard, preparation of forces for the armed uprising, for the
victory of which conditions at present are extremely difficult, but still
possible if the facts and trends mentioned above coincide. Let us have no
constitutional or republican illusions of any kind, no more illusions about a
peaceful path, no sporadic actions, no yielding now to provocation from the
Black Hundreds and Cossacks. Let us gather forces, reorganise them, and
resolutely prepare for the armed uprising, if the course of the crisis permits
it on a really mass, country-wide scale.(11)

The debate within the Bolshevik Party over the carrying out of an armed
insurrection against the Provisional Government actually began when Lenin, on
September 13-14, wrote a letter to party’s central committee in which he argued
that the ``Bolsheviks, having obtained a majority in the soviets of workers’
and soldiers’ deputies of both capitals [i.e., Petrograd and Moscow - DL], can
and must take state power into their hands.’’(12) The debate was not conducted publicly until
October 16 when Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev issued a public declaration
stating that ``to take the initiative in an armed insurrection at the present
moment, with the given correlation of social forces, independently of and
several days before the [second] congress of soviets, is an inadmissible step
ruinous to the proletariat and the revolution.’’(13)

At the next meeting of the CC, held on October 20, a letter from Lenin
was read out in which he denounced Kamenev and Zinoviev as strikebreakers for
publicly opposing the central committee’s decision, adopted by 10 votes to 2 on
October 10, to lead an armed insurrection against the Provisional Government,
and demanded their expulsion from the party. Lenin’s demand was not agreed to
by the CC, which instead adopted a resolution instructing Kamenev and Zinoviev
to cease their public struggle against the CC’s policy. Lenin dropped his
demand that Kamenev and Zinoviev be expelled from the party when they
energetically threw themselves into the organisation of the insurrection four
days later.

Smith argues that ``Democratic centralism excludes debate while an
action is going on. It does not exclude debate before and after and, since it
is not about achieving public uniformity, that debate can be public and
generally was.’’ Given that the armed insurrection was not ``going on’’ on at
the time Kamenev and Zinoviev publicly stated their view that conditions did
not yet exist to initiate an ``armed
insurrection at the present moment ... independently of and several days before
the [second] congress of soviets’’, their public statement was not a violation
of the Leninist conception of democratic centralism according to the Smith’s
interpretation of it.

The Bolshevik CC’s demand that they desist from making any further
public statements of their views on the issue of an armed insurrection was
clearly aimed at ``achieving public uniformity’’ among all members of the
Bolshevik Party behind the CC’s policy of carrying out intensive propaganda
and agitation
to politically convince the masses of the need for an
armed insurrection. It was a demand that Kamenev and Zinoviev act as
``disciplined members of a militant organisation’’; it was a formal instruction
to them to remember that if ``the decision of the organisation or leading party
body is in the view of certain other members incorrect, these comrades must not
forget when they speak or act in public that to weaken or break the unity of
the common front
[including in the carrying out of propaganda and agitation
- DL] is the worst breach of discipline and the worst mistake that can
be made in the revolutionary struggle.’’

Debate and party discipline

If, as Smith asserts, the public expression of differences among the
Bolsheviks was regarded as normal procedure for a Leninist party then one would
expect that the public expression of disagreement with the policy of the party
majority ``before or after’’ it is implemented would not have been considered
grounds for disciplinary action.

In my article in Links No. 24, I argued that David Riazanov and
Solomon Lozovsky were not subject to disciplinary action after they publicly
voted on November 4 (November 17 in the Western calendar), 1917, in a meeting
of the central executive committee of the soviets against a resolution put by
Lenin on behalf of the Bolshevik-Led Soviet government endorsing its
expropriation of the capitalist-owned printing presses because they were new to
the party. Smith disputes this. He writes:

@quote = Lorimer gives the example of Riazanov and Lozovsky voting
against the banning of bourgeois newspapers. His explanation that they were
``recent recruits’’ is unconvincing. In the first place, Riazanov and Lozovsky
were hardly new: they both had about twenty years of party membership, and Lozovsky
had been a Bolshevik from 1905 to at least 1909 before becoming primarily
involved in the French workers’ movement.

Riazanov and Lozovsky had ``both had about twenty years of party
membership’’, but not membership of the Leninist Bolshevik Party. Riazanov was
admitted to the ranks of the Bolsheviks for the first time in July 1917.
Lozovsky, as Smith himself notes, had been a Bolshevik from 1905 to 1909, i.e.,
when the Bolsheviks adhered to the Kautskyist conception of the proletarian
party and functioned as a faction within the ``all-inclusive’’ RSDLP. In 1917
they were both new to the separately constituted Bolshevik Party.

A few paragraphs later in his article, Smith notes that ``Lozovsky was
expelled [from the Bolshevik Party] in 1918 and readmitted a year later.’’. In
fact, he was expelled in December 1917. At the time of his expulsion he was the
secretary of the All-Russia Central Council of Trade Unions, i.e., he was the
leading trade union official in Soviet Russia. The resolution expelling Lozovsky, which Lenin drafted for
the party central committee on December 30, 1917, noted that the CC had already
adopted a resolution in early November 1917 expelling Lozovsky but that this
resolution had not been ``carried out only because of the hopes expressed by
some comrades that the vacillations of Comrade Lozovsky were of a temporary
nature caused by his inability to quickly grasp the significance of the
historic upheaval that was taking place with such extraordinary speed’’, but
that ``the expectations of the comrades who wished to give Comrade Lozovsky
time to fully grasp the significance of the revolution that took place have not
been justified...’’

The resolution went on to explain that ``joint work in the ranks of a
single party is impossible with a person who does not understand the necessity
for the dictatorship of the proletariat, which I recognised by our party
programme, who does not understand that without such a dictatorship, that is,
without a systematic, ruthless suppression of the resistance of the exploiters,
which sticks at the bourgeois-democratic formulas, one cannot conceive of any
consistently democratic, leave alone socialist, revolution, nor of any serious
measures for coping with the crisis and economic chaos caused by the [imperialist]
war; that joint work in the ranks of a single party is impossible with a person
who repudiates the socialist tasks of the proletariat, which has won political
power; with a person who refuses to accept the idea tht it is the duty of the
trade unions to take upon themselves state functions and carry through with the
greatest vigour and determination the socialist reorganisation of production
and distribution on a nation-wide scale'' (14).

Lozovsky was readmitted to the Bolshevik Party in early 1919 because.
during the course of 1918 he come to accept the fundamental correctness of the
Bolshevik’s policy and having from ``hard-won experience’’ the need to ``act as
a discipline member of a militant organisation’’ had loyally collaborated with
the party..

Once again on the expulsion of Paul Levi

I pointed out in my article in Links No. 24 that the third
congress of the Comintern endorsed the explosion of Paul Levi from the
Communist Party of Germany (KPD) for publicly attacking the party leadership’s
assessment of the 1921 ``March Action’’. While acknowledging that much of
Levi’s criticism was politically correct, Lenin defended the expulsion on the
grounds that Levi ``had behaved like an `anarchist intellectual’ – instead of
behaving like an organised member of the proletarian Communist International’’.

Commenting on the Levi case, Smith writes:

@quote = As Lorimer points out, Levi was not expelled for his ideas...
He was expelled for publishing a pamphlet publicly criticising what he
(correctly) considered to be the grossly mistaken position of the party
leadership... Not only did the party suffer severe repression, but it had been
estimated that it lost more than half its membership. Under these
circumstances, coming out publicly against the leadership was bound to create
tensions, but it did not have to automatically lead to expulsion. Why did it in
Levi’s case.

@quote = In a nutshell, the KPD was not the Bolshevik Party. It did not
correspond to the description of the Bolshevik Party outlined in Left-Wing
, above all as far as its leadership was concerned. That
leadership was weak...

@quote = Levi was probably the most talented of the KPD leaders after
the murder of Luxemburg, to whom he was very close. Unfortunately, his
behaviour and judgment as a leader were not on a par with his capacity for
political analysis,. He made a serious error of judgment in launching his
attack. Even then, had he been capable of retreating from his public opposition
and accepting discipline, he could not have been kept out of the party. Lenin
was in favour of him being readmitted
under those circumstances.

It is certainly true that after Levi’s expulsion, Lenin was of the
opinion that if Levi refrained from any further public criticisms of the KPD
leadership and acted as disciplined supporter of the party, he should be
considered for readmission to its ranks. However, Smith’s explanation of why
Lenin supported Levi’s expulsion from the KPD in 1921 – that the KPD ``was not
the Bolshevik party’’ because it had a ``weak’’ leadership – is not supported
by Lenin’s own explanation, given in a June 10, 1921, private letter to
Comintern president Grigory Zinoviev. In that letter, Lenin stated:

@quote = To call the defensive [action] of hundreds of thousands of
workers .. a ``putsch;;, and a
``Bakuninist putsch’’ at that, is worse than a mistake; it is a breach of
revolutionary discipline. Since Levi added to this a number of other breaches
(list them carefully and exactly) he deserves his punishment and has earned his

@quote = The term of this expulsion should be fixed, say, at six months
at least. He should then be permitted to seek readmission to the party,
and the Communist International advises that he be readmitted provided
he has acted loyalty during this time.

@quote = I have not yet read anything, apart from Brandler’s pamphlet,
and am writing this on the basis of Levi’s and Brandler’s pamphlet. Brandler
has proved on thing – if he has proved anything – that the Marzaktion was not a
``Bakuninist putsch {for such abusive language Levi ought to be
expelled) but a heroic defence by revolutionary workers, hundreds of thousands
of them; but however heroic it was, in future such a challenge, provoked
by the government, which, since I. 1919, has already killed by provocations
20,000 workers should not be accepted until the Communists have the
majority behind them all over the country, and not just in one small district.

Lenin, then, added the following comment in parenthesis (which in
passing refutes Smith’s attempt to establish an antithesis between the
Bolshevik Party and the KPD as an explanation for Lenin’s endorsement of Levi’s
expulsion): ``The July days of 1917 were not a Bakuninist putsch. For such an
appraisal we would have expelled a person from the patty. The July days were an
heroic offensive. And the deduction we drew was that we would not launch
the next heroic offensive prematurely. Premature acceptance of a general
battle – that is what the Marzaktion really was. Not a putsch, but a mistake,
mitigated by the heroism of a defensive by hundreds of thousands.(16)

Levi’s expulsion from the KPD was endorsed by the third congress of the
Comintern, the same congress that adopted the theses on ``The Organisational
Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods and Content of Their Work’’.
Smith makes only two very brief references to this document. He writes``Lorimer seems to assume that what is
written in the Theses of the Communist International represents Lenin’s
thinking on party democracy’’. I most definitely think that this particular
document represents Lenin’s mature thinking on party organisation, including
his views on the public expression of differences within a democratic
centralist revolutionary Marxist party. I base that judgment on Lenin’s
comments on the document made in his report on ``Five Years of the Russian
Revolution and the Prospects of the World Revolution’’ presented to the fourth
congress of the Comintern in November 1922, wherein Lenin stated that the
``resolution is excellently drafted, and I am prepared to subscribe to every
one of the fifty or more paragraphs’’.(17)
Smith further claims that the document’s ``model of a highly disciplined
party bore very little resemblance to the actual history of Lenin’s own
party’’. However, this claim is also refuted by Lenin’s own comments on the
document in his 1922 Comintern report. Lenin pointed out that ``everything in
it is based on Russian conditions’’, i.e., on the organisational practice
and experience of the Bolshevik Party
It is understandable why Smith does not discuss the content of the 1921
Comintern resolution on party organisation, particularly thesis 50 (which I
quoted in full above) – because it clearly reveals that Smith’s conception of
democratic centralism is not the same as Lenin’s.


1. Space here does not permit me to respond in any detail to other
issues that Smith raises in his article. For example, he makes the claim
(without providing any supportive argumentation) that the temporary ban on
factions adopted by the tenth congress of the Russian Communist Party
(Bolsheviks) in March 1921 favoured the rise to power of the Stalinist
bureaucracy. I have dealt in detail with this same proposition in the
Resistance Books pamphlet The Collapse of ``Communism’’ in the USSR: Its
Causes and Significance
. I would add to what I have written there that the
fact the only other Leninist parties to have held state power in conditions of
industrial underdevelopment and considerable material scarcity – the Vietnamese
and Cuban Communist parties – prohibit factions but have not undergone
bureaucratic degeneration casts considerable doubt on the proposition that the
Bolshevik Party’s 1921 ban on factions contributed to its bureaucratic

2. From ``Statement of the Political Committee on the Expulsion of
Joseph Zack’’, cited in James P. Cannon, The Struggle for a Proletarian
, Resistance Books, Sydney, 2001, p. 132.

3. ``The Organisational Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods
and Content of Their Work: Theses’’, reproduced in Alan Adler, ed., Theses,
Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third
, Ink Links, London, 1980, pp. 257-58.

4. V.I. Lenin, ``Left-Wing’’ Communism – an infantile disorder,
Resistance Books, Sydney, 1999, pp. 30-33.

5. In fact, it wasn’t until December 1904 that the Bolsheviks, the
defenders of the line of the Iskra journal’s 1900-03 struggle against the
opportunist Economist trend, constituted themselves into a centralised party
organisation – the Bureau of Majority Committees.

6. Lenin, ``Left-Wing’’ Communism – an infantile disorder, p.

7. Links, No. 24, p. 105-06. It should be noted that Kautsky’s
``all-inclusive’’ conception of the proletarian party was directly contrary to
Marx’s and Engels’ conception. When Bernstein first raised his call for a
reformist revision of the German Social-Democratic Party’s program, Marx
characterised Bernstein and his allies as ``poor counterrevolutionaryOn Reformism, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1984). In a
December 18, 1879 letter to August Bebel, Engels wrote of Bernstein and his
allies: ``You continue to regard these people as party comrades. We cannot do
so. The article in the Jahrbuch draws a sharp and absolutely distinct line
between us. We cannot even negotiate with these people so long as they assert
that they belong to the same party as we. The points in question are points
that can no longer be discussed in any proletarian party. To make them a
subject of discussion within the party would be to put in question the whole of
proletarian socialism’’ (ibid., pp. 273-74.).
windbags’’ who should be expelled from the party (see Marx’s September 19, 1879
letter to Friedrich Adolphe Sorge, and his and Engels’ September 17-18, 1879
letter to August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebkneckt, Wilhem Bracke and Others, in Marx
and Engels,

8. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow,
1964, Vol. 20, p. 529

9. ibid., Vol. 21, p. 329.

10. ibid., Vol. 24, pp. 42-43.

11. ibid., Vol. 25, pp. 179-80.

12. ibid. Vol. 26, p. 19.

13. cited in T. Cliff, Lenin: All Power to the Soviets,
Bookmarks, London, 1985, p. 365.

14. V.I. Lenin, op. cit., Vol. 42, p. 50-52.

15. ibid., Vol. 32, p. 517.

16. ibid. Vol. 42, pp. 322-23

17. ibid., Vol. 33, p. 430.

[Doug Lorimer is a member of the national executive of the Democratic Socialist Perspective, a Marxist tendency in the Socialist Alliance in Australia.]

Powered by Drupal - Design by Artinet