Internet free-for-all

Bob Smith of ‘For a Polemic Committee’ - which advocates a permanent Party polemic committee - on the internet and Party democracy

HELEN ELLIS (Weekly Worker 107) in her fervour to denounce the leader-centralism of the Socialist Workers Party misses the opportunity to reflect soberly on the possibilities and implications of the electronic highway for the democratic centralist revolutionary party. Obviously the rapid advances in information technology and in particular the use of the internet by communists requires a fuller investigation, but some preliminary points can be made now.

Firstly ‘democracy’ - be it bourgeois, socialist or any other - is always in a form of state and thus a phenomenon related to class society. As such it will always contain proscribed rights and a good number of limitations. This is equally true of democracy within a revolutionary party. Amongst Leninists there should be no confusion on this.

Secondly it should be remembered that democracy in a revolutionary party serves specific purposes, namely to allow majority and minority views to emerge, after which the whole party can willingly and confidently unite around its leading bodies in the direction and implementation of those majority views. The more profound the democracy, the more effective will be the centralism and the more resilient will be the party unity. This after all is no more than the ABC of democratic centralism.

We should not lose sight of the fact that party democracy does not exist as an end in itself. Democratic centralism is the political and organisational means to allow the revolutionary party to act in a vanguard role to the class as a whole. Contrary to the wishes of some left intelligentsia, a communist party is a combative unit and not an egalitarian debating society. In short, our attempts to enhance democratic centralism and to expose all manifestations of ‘leader-centralism’ should not lead us to make a fetish of democracy.

With the above in mind we should conclude that the leading bodies of a revolutionary party, and in particular the central committee, have a duty to ensure that the security of the party is not compromised, and that open polemic within the party is always directed ultimately at assisting the national congress of the party to reach the most revolutionary conclusions.

A laissez-faire libertarian approach to democracy and debate - be it in the pub or on the internet - is not in the interests of the revolutionary party. Whatever the machiavellian motives of Cliff and Co in issuing their internet dictat and however much we may sympathise with SWP members who turn to the internet in an attempt to break out of the ideological straight-jacket of the SWP leadership, this should not tempt us to depart from the Leninist principle of the central committee being responsible for the secret functions of the party.

Communists, in our legitimate endeavours to eradicate leader-centralism, must not bend the stick too far. Party democracy, whatever forms it adopts, must operate on a level playing field within the rules of the party, not generate into an ill-disciplined free-for-all. Helen Ellis in her blanket denunciation of Cliff implicitly advocates just such a free-for-all.