Democratic Centralism

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3. Flexible Organisation

IT IS not possible in a revolutionary organisation to have an attitude towards forms of organisation which are 'once and for all'. It is necessary, at some stages, to emphasise the need for democracy, discussion, debate, etc. Following a debate it is therefore necessary, without precluding further discussion, to proceed to action, to a degree of centralism, to a period of implementing decisions. Which predominates at each stage, the democratic or the centralist aspect, depends upon the concrete situation.

"Truth is concrete"; this is the most important law of the dialectic. The 'mobile balance' between democracy and centralism is something which cannot be established a priori, but only on the basis of discussion and estimation of the concrete situation, etc. This is the dilemma that has confronted our organisation in the past few years. We face a contradictory situation. In terms of our specific weight, particularly our influence within the working class and labour movement, we occupy a position as important, if not more important than in the past. This is shown by our intervention in and around the debate on the SLP, in the dockers' struggle, in the struggle against racism, etc.

The labour movement in general has declined, in the past few years. Our organisation has not declined dramatically, but nevertheless has lost numerically, while gaining in authority, influence, etc. The bottom line is that we are having to manage our organisation, particularly our apparatus, on the basis of depleted resources. This required a very painful but necessary contraction of our full-time staff. This has reduced the number of full-timers that we have at the centre to a skeleton, the very bare minimum required to carry on the basic national tasks of our organisation at this stage.

Financial Redistribution

IT WAS these factors that led the EC and eventually the NC to agree to a redistribution of our resources, particularly income from subs to the national centre. This was seen again not as a 'once and for all' measure but as a necessary means, at this stage, to retain a national profile and a coherent organisational position. This was necessary because of the unequal and unfair balance between full-timers in some regions and a virtual absence of full-timers in others. It is only the NC, and the EC in between national meetings, who are in the position of having the required overall national view of the situation which could allow a certain reallocation of resources. The national centre has not gained by an increase from 70 to 80 per cent coming to the centre but the resources taken have allowed a necessary redistribution of resources which now means that some full-timers are in areas where otherwise they would not have been.

These general arguments in relation to finance, autonomy, etc. are undoubtedly linked to the hard struggle of the branches to acquire the means, with leaflets, pamphlets, etc., to intervene in the movement in the localities. This is nothing new for our organisation. From its inception difficult choices had to be made between resources for the centre and resources for the regions, districts and branches. It became an axiom in the first, formative period that a revolutionary organisation starts with a central leadership.

Building the Organisation

OUR ORGANISATION did not represent the linking together of formally disunited groups in the localities. Even from the beginning the building of an authoritative leadership and organisation on a national level was the key priority. On this basis comrades were moved from areas like Liverpool, for instance, to London, by myself for instance, as is well known, becoming the first full timer, at least at the rebirth of our organisation in the 1960s. There was nothing bureaucratic, or top down in this approach. It was a recognition that only a national leadership was capable of seeing the overall political and organisational tasks and acting on them. A revolutionary organisation starts at the top, but if it remains there, without seeking vibrant local roots, it will be still born. Therefore, after the first initial assembling of a full-time staff at the centre, first in Kings Cross Road and then in Cambridge Heath Road, regional organisers were then appointed. This again was decided on the basis of a national discussion at the NC as it was then.

What proportion of the resources would go towards the centre, and the proportion in the regions have been constantly discussed over the last 30 years, as has the question of how the branches could finance their activity and at the same time maintaining a national as well as an international organisation. Through heroic self-sacrifice the members in the branches both financed the national centre and managed to require the resources to intervene in the localities. This was in effect a period of extraordinary effort and tremendous sacrifices by a small layer of cadres in order to build up the necessary apparatus.

Ideally, a certain percentage of the subs should be retained not just by the regions, as it is at this moment, but also by the branches. And undoubtedly in the future, when we acquire more forces and grow to the level that we were at in the 1980s and beyond, we will have to move in this direction. But to repeat the most important rule of the dialectic is "truth is concrete". The situation of the organisation at this precise moment in time does not allow us to move in this direction. Indeed it would be fatal for our organisation and for its national profile. Without this approach we would not be able to devote resources, including full-timers, to the paper, which would put in jeopardy the issuing of a weekly, of comrades devoted to the vital trade union work, to the youth work, to the women's work, to those who work in the print, lay-out, etc.

Painful Measures

IT IS not as if the national organisation is proposing to merely swallow up greater and greater resources without seeking to economise and fit our apparatus to our financial base. Indeed, in the last 12 months, the greatest cutbacks have come at the national centre. This was not an easy or painless process, but was absolutely necessary if the financial crippling of our organisation was not to become a fact. This has now allowed us an apparatus which we believe we can sustain on the basis of still big sacrifices by our members, sympathisers, etc.

The issue of finance has always been a key task for the revolutionary movement. A serious approach towards finance is what distinguished the Bolsheviks from the Mensheviks. The latter, although much more loosely organised than the Bolsheviks, could ultimately rely on bourgeois public opinion, with donations from the petit-bourgeois layers who supported them (lawyers, doctors, professors, etc.) to swell their coffers. The Bolsheviks meticulously collected the kopecks from the workers. Trotsky in History of the Russian Revolution quotes from a secret policeman's report about the main attributes of the Bolsheviks: "They have an idea, they have a crowd, and they have money."

They had too little of the latter even during the course of revolutionary upheavals but this feature of the Bolsheviks, as our opponents have commented many times, has also been the hallmark of Militant and now of Militant Labour. The idea that we were 'too hard' on the issue of finance in the past is absolutely false. There are bound to be 'excesses' in the application of any policy. Sometimes comrades carried away with zeal can actually give more than they could reasonably afford. In those cases the leadership has actually intervened in order to reduce the prospect of our members being reduced to absolute penury because of too great a sacrifice for the cause. But nevertheless, it is not possible to create a serious organisation without sacrifices.

What has distinguished our organisation is that the leadership has never asked its membership to make greater sacrifices than they themselves were prepared to undertake. Trotsky once pointed out that the task of evoking sacrifices from a revolutionary organisation, both financial and personal, starts with the leadership. He said of the leadership: that you start, you set an example, you make sacrifices, and you call on others to do the same. Allied to a correct policy this is one reason why Militant was successful, why it was loathed and feared, particularly by the 'drawing-room socialists' and Trotskyist phraseŽmongers' who did not have the slightest intention of making sacrifices for a great cause. Without a serious attitude towards finance, above all building a national apparatus, it would not be possible to build a serious organisation, let alone a mass party at a later stage.

Party Patriotism

WHEN TROTSKY spoke, echoing James Cannon's sentiments, that it was necessary to create a spirit of "party patriotism" he meant this both in relation to the local organisation, which all comrades should be proud of, the region of course, but also and above ail the national organisation, its coherence and profile as a revolutionary organisation. In regards to the national position of an organisation Trotsky in dealing with the French section in the inter-war period denounced methods which led almost to an "anarchist federation" rather than a 'democratic centralist organisation'. There is of course no danger of this with our organisation, nor is it implied here that any comrade in our organisation holds such views. But is it not possible that comrades in the localities, particularly newer comrades without the benefits of seeing the position of the national organisation, can slip into a certain tendency to emphasise the needs of the 'branch' over that of the national centre? Not only is there a danger but we believe that such indications of these dangers were demonstrated in the discussion both before and after congress on the issue of how to finance the national centre as well as maintaining a local presence.

We have received reports that some comrades were threatening "not to pay subs" if most resources were swallowed by the national centre. Such an attitude is totally unacceptable, for the reasons explained above, and must be combated not just by the national centre but by all comrades. This can only be done on the basis of an open and honest explanation of the problems which confront our organisation, including finance, at this stage.

But we have also some comrades reject the idea of 'exhortation' in order to acquire the necessary resources for the organisation at this stage. If what is meant by this is a hectoring approach, and a constant demand for greater and greater sacrifices without political explanation, then we would all agree to oppose this attitude. But if, as I suspect, a layer of comrades have become a bit tired and afraid of the response they will get from the members by calling for necessary financial sacrifices, this would be entirely wrong. 'Exhortation', not in the sense of a bald appeal for finance, but through explaining the political necessity, has been required from the organisation from its inception. It is required now, and will be even more so in the future.

We cannot take refuge in the alleged 'objective situation'. On that basis we would never have set out in the period of the 1960s when reformism and capitalism appeared to be unassailable, to begin to construct the basis of a revolutionary organisation. Of course there were more resources within the working class then, although less sympathy for our ideas. Now, of course, many workers suffer unbelievable poverty, but the general sympathy for our ideas is much greater than it was in the earlier, formative period.