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Challenges of dissident political moods

By Paul T. Shipale
Given the issue of cohesion, I went to revisit and dust off some of the issues discussed in Farrell Dobbs' series of talks, at the Socialist Activists and Educational Conference held in Oberlin, Ohio, in August 1970, and prepared this paper on parties' structures and organizational principles to talk about the challenges of dissident political moods focusing, in particular, on minority's opinion, the formation of factionalism and cliques as well as the principle of democratic centralism, to enable us to learn today from past experiences and no less important, to help us avoid repetition of old mistakes and stand on the shoulders of our predecessors in going forward to meet today's challenges.

Like all social formations, Farrell says, a party is subject to external influences and internal change. At times this generates dissident political moods in the ranks of the organization. When that happens, an attack usually follows on the principle of majority rule, taking the form of demands for special minority rights. Political dissidents tend to develop an urge to violate democratic centralism and to debase party norms. As a consequence, organizational differences become a corollary of a sharp political dispute inside the party. By minority here, Farrell is referring to minority in opinion in a given party.

It then follows that the party must be constructed as a cohesive and disciplined organization based on the tested and proven rules of organization. These can be summed up in the concept of democratic centralism, which defined in a broad generalization, constitutes an interrelated process of democracy in deciding party policy, and centralized action in carrying it out. Under democratic centralist procedures, after a decision has been made in a dispute, those in the minority are bound by the decision reached by majority vote. A dissident minority is not asked to give up its views. It must simply await an appropriate time to raise the disputed issues inside the party again. This is done in order to ensure that party work is not disrupted and disorganized. To see how democratic centralism is operative, we should look at it from another aspect as well.

Democratic centralism requires political cohesiveness inside the party, which in turn, lays the foundation for the application of discipline in the party. Discipline, in turn, permits united action with a common purpose. On this basis, given the necessary sense of party loyalty, comrades can argue out questions and are able to act from the standpoint of principles. Through this approach, to the degree that it is attained, political differences can be resolved democratically, the party can maintain its internal stability, its policies can be carried out in a centralized manner, and it is able to correct mistakes it may make without disruption or internal convulsion. A relatively homogeneous party, where there is essential agreement on all sides as to the basic aspects of the party's program and principles, can resolve episodic differences without resorting to factionalism. Through this approach, the party also gives attention to the problem of windbags, who seem to turn up in all seasons and from all quarters.

A party is not a discussion club. It does not debate endlessly without reaching a binding decision that leads to action. The rights of individual members do not contravene the rights of the party as a whole. In this way, the party proscribes advocacy of wrecking expeditions inside its ranks. As a voluntary organization, one which people are free to join or not according to their own inclinations, the party must sets limits on the right of advocacy within its ranks. One cannot be a member of the party and advocate support for opposition, nor can he/she advocates crossing into racist, tribal, regional politics that are contrary to the party's principles and values. The membership of the party has the right to demand and expect the greatest responsibility from the leaders precisely because of the position they occupy in the party.

The warrant for this position must be proved, not once, but continuously by the leadership itself which is under obligation to set the highest example of responsibility, devotion, sacrifice and complete identification with the party. While temporary groupings may arise in the party as a result of conjunctural political differences, such groupings should not be artificially perpetuated after the given question in dispute has been decided.

An artificially perpetuated grouping risks degenerating into an unprincipled clique and then develops a tendency to act as a mutual advancement society inside the party: you rub my back, I'll rub yours; you push to enhance my prestige and position in the party, and I will reciprocate for you.

A given leadership can set up a faction to serve a particular aim, but, as Engels said in the introduction to 'The Dialectics of Nature', when you set controlled forces in motion according to a plan, you also set in motion uncontrolled forces with the result that there is often a wide disproportion between aims and results. The important thing is not whether you like this or that individual member of the party. The important thing is whether you both agree on the program, the aims, the perspectives, the principles of the party.

On the other hand, in addition to the molecular process of individual recruitment, a party is also built through a combined process of unifications and splits. So, from time to time the party deeply assimilates those who have the capacity to identify with the movement, and tends to throw off other elements that have not proven to be assimilable. Farrell Dobbs cites as an example, the rise and decline of the so-called New Left at that time. A get-rich-quick scheme, comprising mainly of a gang of factional sharpies and personally ambitious political ignoramuses who misled the young rebels attracted to the New Left into a variety of political escapades ranging from ultra left adventurism to new forms of sorties. As such, according to Farrell Dobbs, the organizational structure must derive from the political objectives it is designed to serve. History shows that the party program is the key to the answer. Without a correct program, an organization is built of political straw, and it will inevitably collapse in the winds of social conflict. The fate of the New Left was no surprise to experienced revolutionists. Its so-called "participatory democracy" was nothing more than a long-known concept that has gone by the name of political allinclusiveness. It is an old concept, and it was long ago refuted by experience.

The concept of political all-inclusiveness has nothing to do with the question of non-exclusion in uniting a broad formation around a single issue. When you speak of political all-inclusiveness, as implied in the concept of "participatory democracy," you are not talking about organizing a united front around a single issue. You're talking about the question of building a political party. And that is altogether different.

When the conduct of the petty bourgeois minority opinion took the form of a disdain for the party, a sneering, and contemptuous attitude, a resolution was adopted to cleanse the party from the attitudes manifested by the minority and to get rid of any discussion club atmosphere inside the party's ranks.

Cynical and smart aleck disrespect for the party had to be rooted out. All the minority leaders joined in the attack on majority rule that came in the form of opposition to the suspension of the minority for their disloyal conduct inside the party. They accused the party leadership of trying to introduce Stalinist monolithism into the party.

This took the form, they said, of settling political differences by suppressing organized dissent. They alleged that discipline applies only to the public activities of party members, and that official party bodies have no right to regulate a minority's internal party activities.

Loyalty to the party, they contended, is only an idea. It can't be legislated. And disciplinary action, they alleged, can be taken only on specific proof of overt acts. The position put forward by the minority meant that they were demanding special license that would assure them an opportunity to do what they pleased under any circumstance. In rebuttal of the minority argument, the majority pointed out that loyalty to the party is not at all an abstract idea. It is a standard of political conduct. Without loyalty, a voluntary organization would be absolutely unable to maintain discipline.

Only comrades who believe in the party and are loyal to it will accept discipline. No one can be compelled to be loyal to the party, but they can be thrown out of its ranks if they are not. If the party as a whole was to be stripped of the right to regulate its internal affairs, as the minority demanded, the whole democratic centralist structure of the party would be undermined. Discipline in public activity would be impossible. And internally, the party would have degenerated into a jungle characterized by perpetual factional warfare.

Similarly, sustained party activity presupposes continuity of leadership. This can be attained on a sound basis through cadres that have come up through the ranks because of demonstrated leadership ability; that is, in the eyes of the rank and file they have earned the votes to be elected as leaders and their election to leadership affords a preliminary test of their endurance and trustworthiness.

From this evolves a process of selection, through which leadership ability and continuity can be maintained. Nevertheless, the warrant for leadership's trust must be continuously proven before the party ranks in a periodic appraisal, in order to make readjustments from time to time, in the leadership, and safeguards the party against the development of dry rot as well as to keep the organization alive, dynamic, and in touch with the times, by minimizing conflicts between the older and younger cadres in the party. The Congress, as the highest decision making body in the party, should pronounce itself on any dispute, in order to allow the principle of democratic centralism to reign. As one can see, there is nothing new under the sun; all has been done before, only those who dare going against set principles, thinking that they are untouchable, stand to lose in the end.

According to Dr Cornel West, an African-American Princeton and Harvard Graduate, the biggest threat to our democracies comes in the form of one anti-democratic dogma of free-market fundamentalism of capitalism which is rendering our democracies vacuous when it posits the unregulated and unfettered market. This is so because this largely unexamined and unquestioned dogma yields an obscene level of wealth inequality, along with its corollary of intensified class, race and ethnic hostility when it glamorizes materialistic gain and the pursuit of narrow individualistic preoccupations with a profit driven vision that turns our attention away from schools to prisons, from workers' conditions to profit margins because it puts a premium on buying, selling, and consuming and thus devaluates the improvement of the general quality of life. So the problem is neither the structural constraints for employment nor the behavioral impediments on upward mobility. The real enemy is the free-market system of capitals.

In this regard, I agree with those who advocated for a strong developmental State with a mix economy and a meritocratic public service that would fairly redistribute resources, improve the provision of basic goods and services and develop infrastructures as well as extend social grants, impose a minimum wage while creating a conducive environment for the private sector to flourish. So let us cut through the cow dung; you can't lead the people if you don't love the people and you can't save the people if you don't serve the people."

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen"


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