Democratic Centralism In Practice and Idea A Critical Evaluation

Scott Nappalos (Author)


Publisher: Thoughtcrime Ink
Format: Pamphlet
Binding: pam
Pages: 70
Released: March 1, 2013

Communist parties of the world (present and former rulers of the Soviet block and associated Marxist-Leninist governments) popularized globally the concept of "democratic centralism," or worker activity that answers to centralized leadership—a body of representatives that guides the masses of the working class to whom the working class is subordinate. In a sign of the times, modern socialist organizations have modified the concept, often in more libertarian directions, but still tend to draw an essential relationship between democratic centralism and worker self-organizing. In this short book, Scott Nappalos of Miami Autonomy & Solidarity looks at the historical development of democratic centralism, and sorts out why it cannot be confused with "debate, coming to common decisions, and acting on collective democracy."

Critics from the libertarian left have often been content to merely attack the most obvious and egregious forms of democratic centralism. This leaves these critiques open to quick dismissal and wastes an opportunity to expose core political issues that can help our movement grow.  It is useful then to engage the theory, take on democratic centralism at its best arguments, on its own terms, and provide a more nuanced understanding of the dangers of democratic centralism so that we do not face the same problems under a different banner.

Democratic centralism will be addressed on four fronts to provide a wider scope than is normally given to the concept. First, where did democratic centralism grow out of, and how did it develop in history? Second, what did oppositional revolutionaries who contested the ideas of democratic centralism outside the orthodoxy offer in understanding the debate? Third, moving to the US context, how did democratic centralist practice function in recent history? Lastly what does it look like if we abstract away all the history and practices, and look at it hypothetically as a theory of the process of the internal functioning of organizations?

In opening up this discussion, the intention is not just to point out independent anarchist-communist organizational history, but rather to question the way in which the project of democratic centralist revision approaches organization in our conjuncture: today, here, and with our problems. 

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