Reading Lenin: Scientific Centralism in the Party Building of the Bolsheviks

Recently, between the supporters of democratic centralism (DC) and scientific centralism (SC), disputes on the forms and methods of party building of the future communist party have not ceased. We immediately stipulate, and focus the reader’s attention on this fact, that the article will focus on the party organizational principle of democratic centralism, and not on the principle of the organizational structure of the socialist state, which has the same name.

For those who are not aware of the discussions, we explain that scientific centralism is an organizational party principle that implies the exclusion of compromises in the ideology of the Communist Party and, accordingly, the most stringent control over the quality of party personnel. It was this way of posing the question that provoked fierce resistance in the Russian left-wing milieu.

The essence of this ideological conflict lies in the fact that one part of the vast camp of the modern left, in substance, advocates for the leading role of the democratic principle in the party. They argue that the main thing in the principle of democratic centralism is democracy, which rightly allows the party majority to dictate its will to the minority. In terms of content, their argumentation is based on the democratic illusion that «the majority is always right» and the proletarist illusion that «the working class cannot be wrong.»

The other part of the left, in particular those organized around the Proriv magazine, advocates the greatest possible centralization of the future party of a new type (Party of Scientific Centralism), where centralism would play a leading role. However, centralism is not just any kind of centralism or centralism in general, but only centralism based on scientific knowledge and methodology. As the history of the defeats of the communist parties has shown, the majority, even the party majority, cannot always stand on the positions of objective truth and, therefore, can make mistakes.

Scientific centralists say that the absolutization of the opinion of the majority is the main philosophical mistake of the democentralists (decists). It is known that the decision made by the majority does not guarantee its correctness. The ideological position of the majority does not always reflect the objective truth. But since the fetish of the “majority” plays a decisive role in the consciousness of the democentralist, then very often the opinion of the majority is identified with objective truth. At the same time, the decists also cherish a hidden, soft factionalism, i.e. «the rights of the ideological minority» to remain in the party while formally submitting to the majority.

Supporters of the democratic principle accuse the supporters of SC of a whole set of «sins», the essence of which supposedly comes down to a departure from Marxism-Leninism: this is the «bulging out» of centralism, the creation of a «theory of elites», sectarianism, separation from the masses, usurpation of objective truth, etc.

In response, scientific centralists point out their opponents’ theoretical ignorance in Marxism, their non-recognition of objective truth and its cognizability, and as a result, their inability to take the position of scientific unanimity, which is a serious obstacle to organizing the future communist party without splits and defeats.

This is a brief alignment of forces and ideas in the left movement regarding organizational building. In order to sort out this theoretical dispute about who actually distorts Marxism-Leninism, it is worth comparing the position of the debaters with the Leninist position of party building. Let us take as the basis of Lenin’s position his work of 1902, «Letter to a comrade on our organizational tasks,» which is the first outline of Lenin’s organizational plan in detail. This line of party building was realized in the Bolshevik Party. It was then that the process of disengagement from the other part of the party, which was later called the Mensheviks, began.

It was a time when handicrafts, dilettantism, circleism, economism, democracy, admiration for spontaneity, and ideological and theoretical confusion were real scourges within the social-democratic movement of the early 20th century. A significant part of the local committees did not want to know anything except their local petty practical work, did not understand the harm of the lack of organizational and ideological unity of the party, got used to fragmentation, and, in fact, believed that it was possible to do without a single centralized party. As we can see, the absence of scientific unanimity in the social-democracy of that time was the norm. Lenin struggled with these vices with all his might and wrote about the «burning shame» that he experienced: «…by our primitiveness we have lowered the prestige of revolutionaries in Russia.» (1)

For example, the opponents of the Bolsheviks — the Mensheviks and the Bundists — advocated a more democratic nature of the party’s structure, for the autonomy of party committees, for the creation of a party on the principles of federation, and insisted on the use of a broad electoral principle. It should be added that the demands of opponents about the democratic nature of the party were the norm among the world parties of social-democracy of that time.

In the statutes of the German Social Democratic Party, the membership clause read: «A member of the party is anyone who recognizes the principles of the party program and supports the party to the best of his ability.» In the statute of the Italian Socialist Party, it was written that «everyone who shares its principles and promotes it with his own strength is considered a member of the party.» These parties did not even require their members to work under their control.

In the statutes of the parties of the Second International there was no demand for centralism or strict discipline. The Austrian Social Democratic Party was a federation of six independent national parties. The French Socialist Party was a federation of departmental organizations for which the decisions of a higher federal body were not binding (2).

As you can see, a party that was not centralized, was vague and anarchist, and actually split into factions was the ideal for the then social-democratic movement, and the leaders of the Second International so denied scientific unanimity that it was not by chance that they took the position of the Mensheviks in conflicts with the Bolsheviks on organizational issues of party building. The theses that «the majority is always right,» and “the minority may not obey it” then dominated the ideology of social-democracy. The party structure of the old social democracy reflected the fact that the workers’ parties of that time were usually formed by compromise between Marxists and non-Marxist socialists.

Lenin’s merit was that he ideologically defeated the principles of party building of the old Social-Democratic parties of the type of the Second International and, in spite of everything, created a party of a new type. It was here that a historical breakthrough occurred in the issues of party building and further historical movement towards communism.

Now let’s follow the course of thought of the classic in his article and apply them to the realities of modern times.
Let’s start with the fact that Lenin, answering a comrade, literally from the first lines identifies three organizational shortcomings of the Social-Democratic movement of that time. Here is a quote so that there are no accusations of distorting it:

“First of all, let me express my complete agreement with your explanation of the unsuitableness of the former (“league type,” as you term it) organisation of the “League.” You refer to the lack of serious training and revolutionary education among the progressive workers, to the so-called elective system, which Rabocheye Dyelo supporters are championing so proudly and stubbornly on the grounds of “democratic” principles, and to the workers’ alienation from active work.

That precisely is the case: 1) the lack of serious training and revolutionary education (not only among the workers, but among the intellectuals as well), 2) the misplaced and immoderate application of the elective principle, and 3) the workers’ alienation from active revolutionary work— that is where the main shortcoming of the St. Petersburg organisation and of many other local organisations of our Party really lies”. (3)

That is, Lenin states the state of affairs at that time: the cadre of revolutionaries was very ideologically and theoretically weak, these revolutionaries abused the democratic principle, and the proletariat was not active in revolutionary activity. Obviously, all three shortcomings were related.

It is noteworthy that if we compare this with the current state of affairs in the leftist movement in modern Russia, and not only in Russia, but throughout the world, then the analogy can be traced here:

1. the ideological and theoretical quality of personnel on the left leaves much to be desired, and the lack of quality personnel means the absence of quality communist organization built on scientific foundations;
2. the left ignores scientific unanimity in public matters and exercises democracy in every possible way, creating an innumerable number of organizations with programs and slogans that contradict each other;
3. the masses are naturally «confused» and do not respond to the «r-revolutionary» calls of the left, because the horde of organizations created by them cannot offer powerful propaganda based on a single scientific program of communist construction.

Having established in his «Letter to a Comrade» the «diagnosis» of the disease of the social democratic movement of the early 20th century, the classic «writes out a prescription» for combating these vices:

1. Centralization of the party;
2. Decentralization of responsibility and awareness of the party;
3. Ideological unanimity of party members;
4. Secrecy of activities;
5. Co-optation of governing bodies in the underground.

Since the volume of the article is large, we will touch on the issues of centralization, decentralization of party responsibility, and the scientific unanimity of party members, as the most pressing issues of modern party building.

Centralism as the Organizational Core of the Bolshevik Party

What Lenin says about the centralization of the party and the decentralization of responsibility:

“We have now come to a very important principle of the whole party organization and activity: if in regard to the ideological and practical leadership of the movement and the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, greater centralization is perhaps necessary, then in regard to the awareness of the movement of the center of the party (and, consequently, of the whole party in general), as far as responsibility to the Party is concerned, the greatest possible decentralization is needed” (4).

He goes on to reiterate his argument and refine it:

“We must centralise the leadership of the movement. We must also (and for that very reason, since without information centralisation is impossible) as far as possible decentralise responsibility to the Party on the part of its individual members, of every participant in its work, and of every circle belonging to or associated with the Party. This decentralisation is an essential prerequisite of revolutionary centralisation and an essential corrective to it. Only when centralisation has been carried through to the end and when we have a C.O. [central organ] and a C.C. [central committee,] will it be possible for every group, however small, to communicate with them—and not only communicate with them, but to do so regularly as a result of a system established by years of experience—only then will the possibility of grievous consequences resulting from an accidentally unfortunate composition of a local committee be eliminated.

Now that we are coming close to actual unity in the Party and to the creation of a real leading centre, we must well remember that this centre will be powerless if we do not at the same time introduce the maximum of decentralisation both with regard to responsibility to the centre and with regard to keeping it informed of all the cogs and wheels of the Party machine. This decentralisation is nothing but the reverse side of the division of labour which is generally recognised to be one of the most urgent practical needs of our movement” (5).

That is, Lenin, to the surprise of modern decists, does not advocate the predominance of the democratic principle in the party; he advocates, on the contrary, for the most disciplined, centralized party machine. Pay attention, he says: “the greatest possible centralization is needed,” that is, from the point of view of Lenin, the democratic principle in the matter of party leadership should have been reduced to a minimum. And the «skeleton» around which the new type of party is being built is not democracy, but centralism.

Decentralization of responsibility, according to Ilyich, must be understood as the fact that responsibility in the party is borne not only by the central and leading bodies, but by all members of the organization without exception. The centralization of the party and the decentralization of responsibility — here Lenin’s position is extremely consistent, for fighting against circleism and autonomism, he then led the democratized movement into a centralized one.

On the leading role of the central authorities

The democratic centralists accuse the representatives of scientific centralism of wanting to transfer power functions to the center of the party, leaving the masses of the party without any powers. However, Lenin, talking in absentia with a comrade, argues with them:

“For this reason it would be desirable that Clause One of the Rules (according to your draft) should not only indicate which Party organ is recognised as the leading organ (that, of course, is necessary), but should also state that the given local organisation sets itself the task of working actively for the creation, support, and consolidation of those central institutions without which our Party cannot exist as a party” (6).

On the leading role of the central organs in party life, he adds:

“When we have the C.O. and the new committees should be set up only with their co-operation and their consent. As far as possible, the committees should not have very many members (so that they consist of well-educated people, each well versed in the technique of his particular branch of revolutionary activity), but at the same time they should include a sufficient number to take charge of all aspects of the work, and to ensure full representation [lit. trans. “completeness of meetings”] and binding decisions” (7).

“But only a special central group (let us call it the Central Committee, say) can be the direct practical leader of the movement, maintaining personal connections with all the committees, embracing all the best revolutionary forces among the Russian Social-Democrats, and managing all the general affairs of the Party, such as the distribution of literature, the issuing of leaflets, the allocation of forces, the appointment of individuals and groups to take charge of special undertakings, the preparation of demonstrations and an uprising on an all-Russian scale, etc.” (8)

Thus, from Lenin’s point of view, the party masses were obliged to work on strengthening the central organs and to obey them. This, too, is understandable, for in conditions when the central organs had not yet been finally formed and were weak, it was necessary to direct all forces towards the hegemony of the «brain» of the party. The Central Committee, according to Lenin’s idea, is the best, high-quality part of the party, and the ideological and theoretical training of its members should have been at the highest level, which is logical.

Of course, according to the classic, not every central body should have a leading role, but only such a body that is able to correctly reflect objective reality. For example, the Second International was formally the central body for the Bolsheviks, but in view of the fact that this body could not take a consistent scientific position in social science issues, its supremacy for the Bolsheviks became irrelevant.

Such a formulation of the question, where the qualitative part of the party should have the maximum opportunity to influence the policy of the entire organization, is not accidental. Here attention should be paid to how, at the turning points in the history of the party, Lenin and his inner circle were opposed to the party majority. These are good examples of how centralism, based on scientific knowledge, each time, having ideologically defeated the majority, stood in the vanguard of this majority.

1. Suffice it to recall Lenin’s struggle with Machism, where he was practically alone, defending a consistent scientific view on the fundamental question of philosophy in his work “Materialism and Empirio-Criticism.” But the situation at that time was really catastrophic because the leaders of the Second International argued that the working class could be guided simultaneously by both idealistic and materialistic philosophies. At that time, the majority of the party was still firmly on idealistic positions, not to mention the near-party masses. Then the classic, having really carried out a titanic work in philosophy, came out victorious, defeating the subjective idealism that dominated the party.

2. Or the famous «April Theses,» which were met with criticism in the party, even from the Bolsheviks. “Both the theses and my report,” Lenin admitted, “caused disagreements among the Bolsheviks themselves and the editorial board of Pravda itself. ” For example, on March 14 (27), 1917, the newspaper Pravda, in an Appeal to the Peoples of the World, took the position of “revolutionary defencism”, declaring that “Let the Hohenzollerns and Habsburgs not count on profiting at the expense of the Russian revolution. Our revolutionary army will give them such a rebuff, which was out of the question under the rule of the traitorous gang of Nicholas the Last.” Kamenev opposed the «corrupting influence» of Lenin’s theses with the article «Our Differences.» Emphasizing that the “April Theses” expressed exclusively Lenin’s “personal opinion,” he declared: “As for the general scheme of Comrade Lenin, it seems to us unacceptable, since it proceeds from the recognition of the bourgeois-democratic revolution as finished and counts on the immediate degeneration of this revolution into the socialist revolution.” And only later, after numerous explanations and the persistence of Lenin, the theses were supported by the party majority. It was the successful pushing through of the only true scientific position by a narrow circle of party members through the party majority that served to carry out the October Socialist Revolution in Russia, not to mention other victories.

3. No less remarkable was the situation with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Lenin formulated his position on it as follows: “For a revolutionary war, an army is needed, but we don’t have an army … Undoubtedly, the peace that we are forced to conclude now is an obscene peace, but if a war breaks out, our government will be swept away and peace will be concluded by another government.» Initially, in the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks, the balance of power was not in favor of Lenin’s position. Only 15 participants in the meeting voted for Lenin’s theses on the immediate conclusion of a separate peace, 32 people supported the position of the «Left Communists» and 16 supported the position of Trotsky. The 3rd Congress of the Soviets also took an anti-Leninist position, although it did not formalize this by decision, delegating authority in this matter to the government. Here is what Philip Price, a British journalist, writes about Trotsky’s report: “The main speech of the evening was delivered by Trotsky, whose report … was listened to with enthusiastic attention. They did not take their eyes off him, for he had reached the zenith of his strength… The man who embodied the revolutionary will of Russia turned to the outside world… When Trotsky finished his speech, a huge host of Russian workers, soldiers and peasants rose and… triumphantly sang the Internationale. It was as spontaneous an impulse as it was exciting for those who, as the author, were its eyewitnesses.” As we can see, the only true Leninist version of solving the military problem was not accepted by the majority, both in the party and in the Soviets. And if Lenin and his associates had not maintained their position through the ignorance of the majority, the fate of the country would have been different.

On the Danger of the Party being Diluted by the Masses

Regarding the local party level, the classic’s idea of ​​centralization can also be traced:

“Of course, conferences to discuss all Party questions will take place in the district circles as well, but decisions on all general questions of the local movement should be made only by the committee. The district groups should be permitted to act independently only on questions concerning the technical aspect of transmission and distribution. The composition of the district groups should be determined by the committee, i.e., the committee appoints one or two of its members (or even comrades who are not on the committee) as delegates to this or that district and instructs them to establish a district group, all the members of which are likewise installed in office, so to speak, by the committee. The district group is a branch of the committee, deriving its powers only from the latter” (9).

Obviously, Lenin, speaking about the powers of the local committee, understood that in the conditions of the beginning of party building, one should not give the right to make decisions to the lowest level, because there is always a danger of diluting the party ranks with cadres ignorant of Marxism and, as a result, of them making wrong decisions. But as the practice of the defeats of the communist parties of the 20th century showed, such a threat turned out to be a reality not only in the conditions of the underground, but also during the period the party was in power, moreover, it played a decisive role in the defeat of socialism throughout the world.
The question of the dilution of party cadres by the masses should be dealt with in more detail, because this is the key point in the causes of the defeat of socialism. If we trace the history of the relationship between the party and the masses, where there was a danger of eliminating the Marxist line in the party, then we can distinguish three main episodes:

One. The first episode is the pre-revolutionary period, the beginning of the 20th century, after the ideological victory of Marxism over populism. Then Marxism became the fashion and whole masses of revolutionary youths from the intelligentsia poured into Marxist organizations. As a rule, these young people were weak in theory, had a vague idea of ​​Marxism, gleaned from the opportunist writings of «legal Marxists.» Naturally, this circumstance greatly reduced the level of Marxist organizations and increased the ideological confusion, political vacillation, and organizational confusion described above. The Mensheviks at that time were in favor of broad recruitment of new forces into the party, which would turn the party into a «workers’ congress» that would essentially dissolve the party into the non-party masses. These shortcomings were basically eliminated by the ideological and theoretical struggle of Lenin and his associates in the work we are discussing, “Letter to a Comrade,” and other works, «What is to be done?» and «One Step Forward, Two Steps Back» .

But during the revolution of 1905. Lenin, on the contrary, threw the slogan of the democratization of the party into the masses in his article «The Reorganization of the Party.» It would seem that the classic contradicts himself. But Lenin was afraid that the huge masses of workers who had risen on the wave of the revolution would not remain in line with the Bolshevik policy, and, consequently, would lead anti-communist activities, let’s say, headed by the Zubatov organizations or the next «pop Gapon.» This circumstance dictated a concession, a compromise towards the democratization of the party, to the detriment of centralization. Here is how he substantiated his position: If we do not seize this opportunity, we shall lose it—in the sense that the need for organisation which the workers are feeling so acutely will find its expression in distorted, dangerous forms, strengthen some “Independents” (10).

He further expressed the hope that the masses of workers who came would not dilute the party, and that the Marxist line would still be preserved in the party. As the results of the 1905 revolution showed, this hope for an early victory over tsarism turned out to be illusory. But the dilution of the party by opportunism still happened. During the “days of freedom,” the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks recruited large masses of intelligentsia and workers who had nothing to do with consistent Marxism, so much so that in 1906, at the so-called “unifying” congress of the RSDLP in Stockholm (Sweden), the Bolsheviks were in the minority. The struggle against opportunism in the Party continued with renewed vigor. The Bolsheviks, as we see, really used democratic centralism, but they never made the principle “for all time” out of it.

2. The second episode is the period after the victory in the civil war. In August 1917, the number of the RCP(b) was 220 thousand people.11 After Lenin’s death in 1924, a mass recruitment into the workers’ party («Lenin’s Call») was held.

In 1923 the party numbered 386 thousand people; in 1924, 735 thousand people; in 1927, 1,236 thousand people; in 1930, 1,971 thousand people; and in 1934, 2,809 thousand people. Stalin pointed out the danger of diluting the party in the Organizational Report of the Central Committee to the XIII Congress of the RCP (b) in 1924:

“The position with regard to political literacy among Party members is bad (60 per cent politically illiterate). The Lenin Enrolment will increase the proportion. Systematic work is required to eliminate this drawback, and the task is to go ahead with such work” (12).

In order to understand the logic of that time, it will be useful to read the transcripts of party congresses. So, Bukharin reported to the XIII Congress of the RCP (b) party some interesting data:

“Do you know what percentage of the total number of Komsomol members are politically illiterate? Do you think 30-35%? No, there are 66.6 of them. 66.6% of our Komsomol members are politically illiterate. We tried to find out why they go to the Komsomol. Very many go because they are driven there by youthful enthusiasm; very many go there because the Komsomolets will have a place sooner and will be booked sooner; many go there because here a whole series of additional entertainments that open up before them, etc. But the fact that there are so many illiterates among them, the party needs to think a little. If we turn to the relatively literate, that is, to the Komsomol activists, then here, too, a far-from-brilliant picture is revealed. Komsomol activists without exception say that they have not read anything at all, because they have no time, because they are completely occupied with organizational work, because they are so absorbed in this organizational work and in the leadership of their organization where they are not inferior to party members, that time to study does not remain» (13).

Bukharin says here that a significant part of the Komsomol joined the Komsomol because of prosaic selfish interests, “to settle down in life,” and not to selflessly devote themselves in building a new society; even the activists of the RCP(b) are “without exception” not engaged in Marxist self-education. The unscientific worldview of the majority of party members naturally influenced the spirit of groupism in the party of the 1920s and 1930s.
The reason for this state of the party and the Komsomol was well revealed by Stalin in a polemic against Trotsky at the XIII Conference of the RCP(b) in 1924:

“Trotsky affirms that groups arise because of the bureaucratic regime instituted by the Central Committee, and that if there were no bureaucratic regime, there would be no groups either. This is an un-Marxist approach, comrades. Groups arise, and will continue to arise, because we have in our country the most diverse forms of economy—from embryonic forms of socialism down to medievalism. That in the first place. Then we have the NEP, that is, we have allowed capitalism, the revival of private capital and the revival of the ideas that go with it, and these ideas are penetrating into the Party. That in the second place. And, in the third place, our Party is made up of three component parts: there are workers, peasants and intellectuals in its ranks. These then, if we approach the question in a Marxist way, are the causes why certain elements are drawn from the Party for the formation of groups, which in some cases we must remove by surgical action, and in others dissolve by ideological means, through discussion» (14).

Stalin says here that factionalism, groupism in the party is not the result of its centralization (Trotskyists and anarchists call any attempts at centralization bureaucracy). He says that groupism is the result of the influence of the masses ignorant in social science, who «draw» their ignorance from the conditions of life. This is the influence of the masses who have not yet mastered Marxism as a science, to the extent that would guarantee scientific unanimity in the party on social issues. This is precisely what explains the notorious “year ‘37”, when, in extremely acute, pre-war conditions, it was necessary to “cut off by surgical measures” that part of the opportunist wing of the party that categorically did not accept the primacy of science, the concreteness, unity, and cognizability of objective truth. At the same time, the «opposition,» democratic and ideologically diverse, in a single impulse embarked on the path of terrorism and a conspiracy against the hated general line of the Stalinist majority in the Central Committee. In many years of party discussions, this part of the party was ideologically crushed to smithereens. Whoever doubts the latter can acquaint himself with the transcripts of the party congresses.

3. The third episode of the dilution of party personnel is connected with the Great Patriotic War and the post-war filling of the party with personnel in the Khrushchev era. During the war years, about 3 million communists died on the fronts, while the number of party members increased by 2 million — from 3.8 to 5.8 million people. In the first months of the war, the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party of Bolsheviks adopted several resolutions aimed at ensuring the growth of army party organizations by admitting servicemen who distinguished themselves in battle from 1942-1944. Party organizations of the army and navy, on average, accepted 100,000 people a month as candidates for party membership, that is, four times more than territorial organizations. In total, from July 1, 1941 to July 1, 1945, 3,788,000 people became party candidates, and 2,376,000 people became party members. During the war, the party organizations of the army increased five times, and the fleet — almost three times.15That is, admission to the party, during the war, was carried out not by conviction, backed up by knowledge and skills, but for the military courage and sincere desire shown. Naturally, one can be recognized as a hero, but at the same time, stand on opportunistic positions. How to evaluate it, in the light of today? It is obvious that tactically there was a need for this; it was another compromise of party centralism with democracy, because the admission to the party of those who distinguished themselves in battles organizationally strengthened combat units. But strategically, this concession was not corrected in the future, in peacetime, by the necessary purge.
Under Khrushchev, and subsequently, this incorrect personnel policy, from the point of view of communist party building, continued, but people, as a rule, who distinguished themselves in the national economy, began to be accepted into the party. According to their social composition, as of January 1, 1973, 40.7% of the members of the CPSU were factory workers, 14.7% were collective farmers.16 When recruiting new members, the party tried to maintain the quota, retaining in its ranks a certain percentage of ordinary collective farmers and factory workers. That is, the party was mainly recruited not based on the principle of knowledge by the party member of Marxism-Leninism, not based on his consistent understanding of the laws of development of society, his mature scientific worldview, and the availability of the necessary skills, but on the basis of his social position, which fundamentally contradicts the idea of ​​​​building communism–a planned society built on scientific foundations.

On Scientific Unanimity in the Party Ranks

Further, scientific centralists are reproached by their opponents who say that the centralization of the party will necessarily lead to the defeat of the organization, because without democratic control of the lower classes, the top will certainly degenerate and, in confirmation, they cite examples from Khrushchev, Gorbachev, and Yeltsin.
What does the classic say about this?

«This remark is made to meet the possible and usual objection that strict centralisation may all too easily ruin the movement if the centre happens to include an incapable person invested with tremendous power. This is, of course, possible, but it cannot be obviated by the elective principle and decentralisation, the application of which is absolutely impermissible to any wide degree and even altogether detrimental to revolutionary work carried on under an autocracy. Nor can any rules provide means against this; such means can be provided only by measures of “comradely influence,” beginning with the resolutions of each and every subgroup, followed up by their appeals to the C.O. and the C.C., and ending (if the worst comes to the worst) with the removal of the persons in authority who are absolutely incapable» (17).

In this quote, Lenin says that elections are not a panacea. He perfectly understands that in the absence of proper scientific training, an ignorant party majority can easily elect an anti-communist to the central bodies. For example, One can get support and get elected because he is a brilliant orator, let’s say like Trotsky. Furthermore, the modern practice of leftist movements and parties with communist names confirms this with enviable regularity.
The «overthrow» of the anti-scientific «authority» in the party, if we proceed from Ilyich’s entire worldview position, is possible only if the grass-roots cadres themselves are sufficiently trained in social science issues. It is impossible otherwise, because the ignorant majority will not be able to critically comprehend the unscientific nature of the leaders and consistently implement their plan. And here, there is the question of scientific-systemic compulsory education, of the rise of universal competence, and not of «bare selection,» as our ideological opponents want to present the matter. Thus, the myths of the Decists about some kind of bourgeois elitism, leaderism, and the exclusivity of scientific centralism have no basis.

Lenin sees the remedy for the degeneration of the leadership of the party in «comradely influence.» But what is such a partnership? A partnership is a community based on the similarity of views, sealed by a common practice. As applied to the Communist Party, this closeness can only be based on the unity of scientific views in social questions. Where objective truth is known and consistently recognized, there is no room for groupism, factionalism, competition and intrigue, and that is where camaraderie reigns.

The primacy of science, scientific unanimity, the recognition of objective truth, its concreteness, its unity, its cognizability, already makes the communist partnership a cohesive party organism, protected as much as possible from errors in decision-making. In such an atmosphere of dominance of scientific knowledge, it is already a difficult task for an opportunist to “make his way” into the leadership of an organization, because the applicant for a leading position will have to prove not only the knowledge of Marxism, but also the consistency of understanding Marxism before his comrades, both in theoretical and other forms of practice.

It was in this sense that Lenin understood the thesis of partnership as a party-scientific partnership, and nothing else, for a truly strong and consistent communist partnership can arise only around scientific truth. Only a scientific worldview provides the prerequisite for the actual unification of individuals into a victorious party.
Therefore, the argument that Khrushchev, Brezhnev, Gorbachev, Yeltsin will definitely come to the leadership of the Communist Party, where the organizational principle is the principle of scientific centralism, is untenable, since the organizational principle itself is aimed at cutting off social science ignorance in the party ranks, especially since everything is higher those listed came to power on democratic terms. However, at the same time, it should be understood that scientific centralism is not a magical panacea, but a dialectical-materialist panacea, it is a fundamental increase in the party’s chances of going through the stage of struggle in a hostile environment without being reborn.

Brief conclusions

1. Initially, the party principle of the Bolsheviks was centralism. Moreover, centralism was opposed and fought against by the more dominant social democracy. Democracy was used by the Bolsheviks as a necessary concession in this or that acute political situation. Democracy was not the core organizing principle.

2. The principle of democratic centralism is a compromise form of the organizational structure of the party, for those specific historical conditions. Only the Eighth All-Russian Conference of the RCP(b) (1919) recognized democratic centralism as «the guiding principle of the party’s organizational structure.» This principle, in the end, showed its inefficiency because all the communist parties of the 20th century that were based on the principle of democratic centralism have failed.

3. The rebirth of the communist parties occurred as a result of the dilution of the party’s Marxist cadres by the masses, who were afflicted with petty-bourgeois consumer psychology, which is incompatible with the scientific worldview.

4. A strong connection between the party and the masses is possible only with a constant influx of cadres, not just any cadres, not petty-bourgeois, but cadres who consistently master Marxism-Leninism. The replenishment of the party with cadres with an unscientific outlook and petty-bourgeois psychology, on the contrary, destroys the connection with the masses and makes the party a fiction. Therefore, in order to simultaneously replenish the party and not reduce its theoretical quality, a new organizational principle is needed.

5. The principle of scientific centralism is a modernized principle of Leninist party centralism, reinforced by the primacy of science, brought to its logical end, and taken into account the experience of the defeats of the communist movement of the 20th century.

V. Godyaev

November 2015

  1. Lenin V. I. What is to be done?, p. 80.
  2. Baglikov V. On the work of V.I. Lenin «A step forward, two steps back» 1953. S. 22. No English translation of the work is available. The Russian version can be found here.
  3. Lenin V. I. A Letter to a Comrade on Our Organisational Tasks.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Lenin V. I. The Reorganisation of the Party.
  11. Protocols of the Ninth Congress of the RCP(b). (Party Publishing House Moscow). 1939 P.546. No English translation of the work is available. The Russian version can be found here.
  12. Stalin J. V. Works, Volume 6 (Foreign Language Publishing House 1957), p. 227.
  13. Verbatim report. Thirteenth Congress of the RCP(b). Moscow. 1963. P. 520. No English translation of the work is available. The Russian version can be found here.
  14. Stalin J. V. Works, Volume 6 (Foreign Language Publishing House 1957), p. 22.
  15. History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, v. 5, book. 1, p. 378. No English translation of the work is available. Russian title for this work is: История Коммунистической партии Советского Союза.
  16. Great Soviet Encyclopedia. See Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
  17. Lenin V. I. A Letter to a Comrade on Our Organisational Tasks (Marxist Internet Archive).


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