The Bolshevik Party and democratic centralism: A response to Murray Smith

Links No 29 (2006)
By Doug Lorimer

In Links No. 26, Murray Smith, a former leading member of the Scottish Socialist Party and now a leading member of the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (the French section of the Trotskyist Fourth International), made extensive comments on my article ``The Bolshevik Party and `Zinovievism’ Comments on a Caricature of Leninism printed in Links No. 24., focusing in particular on the issue of the public expression and debate of political differences within the Bolshevik Party.(1)

At the end of his article, Smith argues that ``the idea that discussions take place within the party and that only the decisions are made public can work only in the early stages in the development of a party, when it has weak links with the working class. In fact, as we have seen, there never really was such a stage in Russia: even in the early stages the key debates were public. But in the far-left groups that developed from the opposition to Stalinism, this tradition definitely developed. Why? Probably as a result of a long period of being on the defensive and of relative isolation.”

Smith goes on to argue that the ``public expression of differences should be the normal procedure for revolutionary Marxist parties that seek to base themselves on the lessons of the Bolshevik experience: ``To the degree parties start to gain an audience among sectors of the working class, even those sectors will be interested in its debates. This is reinforced by the experiences of Stalinism. Organisations that try to pretend there are no differences in their ranks evoke suspicion. Workers want to know what’s going on, especially if they are thinking of joining a party.

The latter consideration is one reason why it has been a norm for Bolshevik-type parties since the early 1920s to have a category of candidate or provisional membership. However, since the early 1920s, it has generally been accepted that the public expression of differences is not the normal procedure for Bolshevik-type parties, for parties that operate according to the Leninist principle of democratic centralism. To the contrary, it has generally been accepted that the Leninist system of party organisation involves the right of a minority to present its case within the party for consideration and decision of the party membership but that at all times all party members publicly abide by and promote the policy adopted by the majority of the party. Thus, for example, the Workers Party of the United States (the successor organisation of the Communist League of America formed by the supporters of Trotsky’s revolutionary opposition to Stalinism expelled from the US Communist Party in 1928) affirmed in 1935 that:  

Democratic centralism means the right of discussion inside the party, at times and in ways laid down by the party. Democratic centralism also means discipline; it means the subordination of the minority to the majority; it means the centralisation of authority, between conventions [i.e., party congresses - DL], in one leading committee selected by the convention; it means that the party always confronts the outside world with a single policy, the policy of the majority of its authoritative bodies. Democratic centralism means that the individual party member always and under all circumstances must subordinate himself in his public action and expression to the policy and decisions of the party.(2)

The Leninist conception of democratic centralism

This conception of the Leninist principle of democratic centralist party organisation was not, as Smith suggests, a ``result of a long period of being on the defensive and of relative isolation. Rather, it was a restatement of the lessons drawn from the experience of the Bolshevik Party by the Russian Bolshevik leaders themselves summarised in the theses on ``The Organisational Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods and Content of Their Work adopted by the third congress of the Communist International in July 1921. Theses 50 of this resolution stated:  

In their public appearances members of the party are obliged to act at all times as disciplined members of a militant organisation. If there are disagreements on the correct method of action on this or that question, these should, as far as possible, be settled in the party organisation before any public activity is embarked upon and the members should then act in accordance with the decision made. In order that every party decision is carried out fully by all party organisations and party members, the largest possible number of party members should be involved in discussing and deciding every issue. The different levels of the party apparatus must decide whether any given question should be publicly discussed by individual comrades (in the press, in pamphlets), in what form and to what extent. If the decision of the organisation or leading party body is in the view of certain other members incorrect, these comrades must not forget, when they speak or act in public, that to weaken or break the unity of the common front is the worst breach of discipline and the worst mistake that can be made in the revolutionary struggle.

It is the supreme duty of every member of the party to defend the Communist Party and the Communist International against all enemies of Communism. Anyone who forgets this or goes so far as to attack the party or the Communist International in public must be considered an enemy of the party.(3)

It should be noted that the above thesis does not rule out the public discussion of differences among party members. However, in accordance with the Leninist conception of party democracy (the subordination of the activity of individual party members to the decisions of the party majority), it specifies ``whether any given question be publicly discussed by individual members, its form and extent, is to be decided on by the party. If the public discussion of differences over what the party policy and actions should be was regarded by the Bolshevik as the normal procedure for discussion of such differences within a Leninist party, this stricture would be superfluous.

The Leninist conception of the revolutionary workers party is that it should be a ``militant organisation, a fighting organisation of class-conscious workers that strives to organise the class struggle of the proletariat against the capitalist class in all its forms (economic, political and ideological) , the ultimate aim of which is the seizure of state power by the working class and the building of a classless society of freely associated producers (socialism/communism). It functions best when its members are able to freely discuss party policy among themselves. Hence the importance of the fullest inner-party democracy. But a fundamental part of that democracy is the acceptance of majority rule in the conduct of all party activities, including in the conduct of the discussion of differences among party members.

Furthermore, democracy is meaningless minorities accept the right of the majority to have its decisions implemented by the party as a whole, including its leaders.

`Absolute centralisation and `iron discipline

In his June 1920 pamphlet ``Left-Wing Communism“ an infantile disorder, in which he sought to provide a foreign communists with an exposition of Bolshevik strategy and tactics, Lenin pointed out that the ``absolute centralisation and rigorous discipline of the proletariat are an essential condition of victory over the bourgeoisie. He went on to write:  

This is often dwelt on. However, not nearly enough thought is given to what it means, and under what conditions it is possible. Would it not be better if the salutations addressed to the soviets and the Bolsheviks [by foreign communists] were more frequently accompanied by a profound analysis of the reasons why the Bolsheviks have been able to build up the discipline needed by the revolutionary proletariat. As a current of political thought and as a political party, Bolshevism has existed since 1903.

Only the history of Bolshevism during the entire period of its existence can satisfactorily explain why it has been able to build up and maintain, under most difficult conditions, the iron discipline needed for the victory of the proletariat...

The fact, that in 1917-20, Bolshevism was able, under unprecedentedly difficult conditions, to build up and successfully maintain the strictest centralisation and iron discipline was due simply to a number of historical peculiarities of Russia. On the one hand, Bolshevism arose in 1903 on a very firm foundation of Marxist theory.

[in particular, of the Marxist of the organisation of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat and of the tasks and methods of building a class-conscious workers party, which were expounded in Lenin’s polemics against the opportunist economist trend, above all, in his 1902 booklet What Is To Be Done? - DL]. On the other hand, Bolshevism, which had arisen on this granite foundation of theory, went through 15 years of practical history (1903-17) unequalled  nywhere in the world in its wealth of experience ... of different forms of the [revolutionary workers movement legal and illegal, peaceful and stormy, underground and open, local circles and mass movement, and parliamentary and terrorist forms.(4)

In other words, it was only the combination of these two conditions the establishment in 1903 of a party organisation(5) on the Marxist theory of the revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat and the subsequent 15 years of practical experience of striving to lead the Russian workers class struggle that produced, in 1917-20, the sort of militant party organisation that the 1921 Comintern resolution urged foreign communists to seek to emulate.

This is a point that has often been overlooked by those striving to build such parties. This was why in ``Left-Wing Communism Lenin emphasised that it was necessary for foreign communists to study ``the entire period of the history of Bolshevism up to 1917-20, and not simply the theoretical foundations upon which it began in 1903, which explained how the Bolshevik Party, in 1917-20, had been able ``to build up and maintain, under most difficult conditions, the iron discipline needed for the victory of the proletariat. Attempts by small communist propaganda organisations to mechanically copy the Bolshevik Party of 1917-20, Lenin warned, would ``inevitably fall flat and end up in phrase mongering and clowning, i.e., the creation of ``toy Bolshevik parties.

The conditions necessary to produce a ``revolutionary party really capable of being the party of the advanced class, Lenin stressed, ``cannot emerge at once. They are created only by prolonged effort and hard-won experience.(6)

Bolshevism and Kautskyism

In his article in Links No. 26, Smith also overlooks this point. He cites numerous examples from the history of Bolshevism before 1917-20 indeed, even from the period before the birth of Bolshevism in 1903 in which Lenin conducted public debates with other members of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP) in an attempt to prove that prior to 1917 the Bolshevik Party did not in practice abide by the mature Leninist conception of party organisation set out in the 1921 Comintern theses, or that Lenin advocated the public expression of differences among the Bolsheviks as a norm of party organisation . Thus Smith writes:

Doug Lorimer says, ``... full freedom to discuss and criticise party decisions “including in public“ has often been misinterpreted as Lenin’s view of the norm of functioning of a revolutionary Marxist party. And he argues that ``Lenin’s argument in favour of freedom of public criticism of party decisions [in 1906 - DL] must be seen in the context that the RSDLP of 1906 was not a revolutionary Marxist party and that he wanted full freedom for the Bolsheviks faction, which was then in a minority,

to criticise [the Menshevik leadership of the RSDLP - DL] publicly. Now certainly the RSDLP of 1906 was not the same thing as the Bolshevik Party after 1912. But that does not change much concerning how publicly debates were conducted.

Let us look at the record.

However, instead of examining the record of Lenin’s approach to conducting public debates of differences among the members of the post-1912 independently constituted Bolshevik Party, Smith reviews Lenin’s polemics with opportunist groupings “groupings such as the Economists, the Mensheviks and the Menshevik-liquidationists that Lenin retrospectively described in 1915 as ``bourgeois ideological trends within the Russian workers movement, on the same par as he put the social-chauvinists and Kautskyites after August 1914. Smith thus assumes that prior to August 1914 Lenin held the same conception of party organisation as he did after August 1914.

However, as I explain in my article in Links No. 24, ``Prior to 1914, Lenin accepted [Karl] Kautsky’s view  endorsed by the 1904 conference of the Second International “ that the Marxist parties should inclusive of all those proclaimed themselves adherents of Marxism, even if, like [Eduard] Bernstein, they rejected the need for a proletarian revolution to achieve socialism and openly advocated a reformist perspective.Thus, in 1909 Lenin argued that a class-conscious workers party ``can contain a whole gamut of opinions and shades of opinion, the extremes of which may be sharply contradictory. In the German party, side by side with the pronouncedly revolutionary wing [sic] of Kautsky, we see the ultra-revisionist wing of Bernstein(7)

At the same time, Lenin strove to build a mass workers party in Russia in which the consciously revolutionary elements predominated and in which party members acted at all times as disciplined members of a militant organisation.

This led Lenin to have to make contradictory justifications to explain why the Bolsheviks had expelled the Mensheviks from the RSDLP in 1912. In his written report on the 1912 Bolshevik-Menshevik split to the conference of Russian adherents of the Second International convened in Brussels in July 1914 at Rosa Luxemburg’s initiative by the International Socialist Bureau, Lenin argued that the split was justified because (a) the politico-organisational views of the Menshevik-liquidators put them to the right of the German opportunists (the Bernsteinians) and (b) the Menshevik leaders refused to abide by the decisions of the party majority.

Most of Lenin’s report consisted of detailed figures proving that the Bolsheviks represented ``a majority of four-fifths of the of the class-conscious workers of Russia, while the Mensheviks had the support of the remaining one-fifth. He considered this an ``extremely significant argument. In his private notes to Inessa Armand, the chief Bolshevik delegate to the conference, Lenin wrote:  

In Russia, nearly every group, or `faction ... accuses the other of being not a workers party, but a bourgeois intellectualist group. We consider this accusation or rather argument, this reference to the social significance of a particular group, extremely important in principle.

But precisely because we consider it extremely important, we deem it our duty not to make sweeping statements about the social significance of the other groups, but to back our statements with objective facts. For these objective facts prove absolutely and irrefutably that Pravdism [i.e., Bolshevism - DL] alone is a workers trend in Russia, whereas liquidationism and Socialist-Revolutionism are in fact bourgeois-intellectualist trends.(8)

If, in 1912-14, the Mensheviks had had the support of the majority of class-conscious workers in Russia (as they had in 1906), then Lenin would been hard pressed to provide a convincing argument, within the Kautskyist conception of the proletarian party that he still accepted, to justify the split.

Following the outbreak the first imperialist war in August 1914 and the decision of all the parties of the Second International, with the exceptions of the Russian Serbian parties, to politically endorse the war efforts of their own ruling classes, Lenin rejected the Kautskyist conception of the proletarian party and adopted an authentically Marxist conception. Lenin now argued that an organisational separation of the revolutionary Marxists from all varieties of opportunism, as had been accomplished in Russia, was an essential condition for the revival of the international socialist movement:  

The Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party has long parted company with its opportunists. Besides, the Russian opportunists have now become chauvinists. This only fortifies us in our opinion that a split with them is essential in the interests of socialism...

We are firmly convinced that, in the present state of affairs, a split with the opportunists and chauvinists is the prime duty of revolutionaries, just as a split with the yellow trade unions, the anti-Semites, the liberal workers' unions, was essential in helping speed the enlightenment of backward workers and draw them into the ranks of the Social Democracy.

In our opinion, the Third International should be built up on that kind of revolutionary basis. To our party, the question of the expediency of a break with the social-chauvinists does not exist, it has been answered with finality. The only question that exists for our party is whether this can be achieved on an international scale in the immediate future.(9)

The record of mature Leninism

Was the public expression of differences among the Bolsheviks regarded as a normal procedure in this new, mature, phase of Leninism? Let us examine the record.

Smith acknowledges that Lenin was opposed to a public debate of his differences with Nikolai Bukharin in 1915-16. However, he points out that in the first issue of the Bolsheviks theoretical journal, Sbornik Sotsial-Demokrata, ``there was an article by [Karl] Radek on the national question with a reply by Lenin. Radek, a Polish Marxist, however, was not at that time a member of the Bolshevik Party. He first joined the ranks of the Bolshevik Party in 1917.

According to Smith, ``On Lenin’s return to Russia, he immediately launched publicly “ what was arguably the most important debate in the party’s history, the one that led to the adoption of the April Theses. However, in this debate “ which lasted only three weeks“ Lenin only had one polemical article publicly printed (``Letters on Tactics, printed as a pamphlet in April 1917), and this was done, as Lenin noted in the foreword, after a ``number of consultations with the editors of Pravda in which it was ``unanimously concluded that it would be advisable openly to discuss our differences, and thus provide material for the all-Russia conference of our party (the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party, united under the central committee) which is to meet in Petrograd on April 20, 1917.(10)

The conference, held on April 24-29, 1917, unanimously endorsed the Lenin’s position, as expressed in the April Theses (``The Tasks of the Proletariat in the Present Revolution),which thus became the party’s policy. It set the Bolshevik Party on a line of march toward a struggle to bring to power a government of the soviets of workers™ and soldiers (and later peasants) deputies.

The April Theses [Smith writes] outlined the political objective of the dictatorship of the proletariat supported by the poor peasantry, to be realised by through the soviets. One might expect that the debate on the delicate question of the actual insurrection would be conducted more discreetly.

However, what do we see? Forced underground after the July Days, Lenin continued to defend his ideas within the party. To a considerable extent, this consisted of a battle to convince the party leadership to prepare and lead the insurrection.

The fundamentals of this debate were public. Lenin’s article ``The political situation (four theses)'' was published in the Bolshevik press on July 23. In it, he argued for combining legal and illegal work as in 1912-14, but for fixing the objective of armed insurrection. ``The armed insurrection can have no other objective than the passage of power to the proletariat supported by the poor peasants, in view of the application of the programme of the party. The political analysis is clear and publicly stated. This was followed by a series of other articles. Along the way, Lenin published a public criticism of Kamenev over his speech concerning the international socialist conference in Stockholm.

It is certainly true that Lenin made a public criticism of Lev Kamenev’s August 6 speech in the central executive committee of the soviets in favour of participation in the international conference of the social-patriots in Stockholm “ because it was contrary to decision of the April party conference. However, Smith’s claim that with his article ``The Political Situation (Four Theses) Lenin opened a public debate over the issue of an armed insurrection is false. Lenin’s article was discussed at a meeting of the central committee of the Bolshevik Party held on July 13-14, 1917, and was then published in the July 20 (August 2 in the Western calendar) edition of the Bolshevik paper Proletarskaya Dyelo. It did not contain a call for the Bolsheviks to lead an immediate armed insurrection against the Provisional Government.. It argued that the repression unleashed by this government after the July Days meant that::

All hopes for the peaceful development of the Russian revolution have vanished for good. This is the objective situation: either complete victory for the military dictatorship, or victory for the workers armed uprising; the latter victory is only possible when the insurrection coincides with a deep, mass upheaval against the government and the bourgeoisie caused by economic disruption and the prolongation of the war...

Reckless actions, revolts, partial resistance, or hopeless hit-and-run attempts to oppose reaction will not help. What will help is a clear understanding of the situation, endurance and determination of the workers vanguard, preparation of forces for the armed uprising, for the victory of which conditions at present are extremely difficult, but still possible if the facts and trends mentioned above coincide. Let us have no constitutional or republican illusions of any kind, no more illusions about a peaceful path, no sporadic actions, no yielding now to provocation from the Black Hundreds and Cossacks. Let us gather forces, reorganise them, and resolutely prepare for the armed uprising, if the course of the crisis permits it on a really mass, country-wide scale.(11)

The debate within the Bolshevik Party over the carrying out of an armed insurrection against the Provisional Government actually began when Lenin, on September 13-14, wrote a letter to party’s central committee in which he argued that the ``Bolsheviks, having obtained a majority in the soviets of workers and soldiers deputies of both capitals [i.e., Petrograd and Moscow - DL], can and must take state power into their hands.(12)

The debate was not conducted publicly until October 16 when Kamenev and Grigory Zinoviev issued a public declaration stating that ``to take the initiative in an armed insurrection at the present moment, with the given correlation of social forces, independently of and several days before the [second] congress of soviets, is an inadmissible step ruinous to the proletariat and the revolution.(13)

At the next meeting of the CC, held on October 20, a letter from Lenin was read out in which he denounced Kamenev and Zinoviev as strikebreakers for publicly opposing the central committee’s decision, adopted by 10 votes to 2 on October 10, to lead an armed insurrection against the Provisional Government, and demanded their expulsion from the party. Lenin’s demand was not agreed to by the CC, which instead adopted a resolution instructing Kamenev and Zinoviev to cease their public struggle against the CC’s policy. Lenin dropped his demand that Kamenev and Zinoviev be expelled from the party when they energetically threw themselves into the organisation of the insurrection four days later.

Smith argues that ``Democratic centralism excludes debate while an action is going on. It does not exclude debate before and after and, since it is not about achieving public uniformity, that debate can be public and generally was. Given that the armed insurrection was not ``going on at the time Kamenev and Zinoviev publicly stated their view that conditions did not yet exist to initiate an ``armed insurrection at the present moment ... independently of and several days before the [second] congress of soviets, their public statement was not a violation of the Leninist conception of democratic centralism according to the Smith’s interpretation of it.

The Bolshevik CC’s demand that they desist from making any further public statements of their views on the issue of an armed insurrection was clearly aimed at ``achieving public uniformity among all members of the Bolshevik Party behind the CC’s policy of carrying out intensive propaganda and agitation to politically convince the masses of the need for an armed insurrection. It was a demand that Kamenev and Zinoviev act as ``disciplined members of a militant organisation; it was a formal instruction to them to remember that if ``the decision of the organisation or leading party body is in the view of certain other members incorrect, these comrades must not forget when they speak or act in public that to weaken or break the unity of the common front [including in the carrying out of propaganda and agitation - DL] is the worst breach of discipline and the worst mistake that can be made in the revolutionary struggle.

Debate and party discipline

If, as Smith asserts, the public expression of differences among the Bolsheviks was regarded as normal procedure for a Leninist party then one would expect that the public expression of disagreement with the policy of the party majority ``before or after  it is implemented would not have been considered grounds for disciplinary action.

In my article in Links No. 24, I argued that David Riazanov and Solomon Lozovsky were not subject to disciplinary action after they publicly voted on November 4 (November 17 in the Western calendar), 1917, in a meeting of the central executive committee of the soviets against a resolution put by Lenin on behalf of the Bolshevik-Led Soviet government endorsing its expropriation of the capitalist-owned printing presses because they were new to the party. Smith disputes this. He writes:

Lorimer gives the example of Riazanov and Lozovsky voting against the banning of bourgeois newspapers. His explanation that they were ``recent recruits is unconvincing. In the first place, Riazanov and Lozovsky were hardly new: they both had about twenty years of party membership, and Lozovsky had been a Bolshevik from 1905 to at least 1909 before becoming primarily involved in the French workers movement.

Riazanov and Lozovsky had ``both had about twenty years of party membership, but not membership of the Leninist Bolshevik Party. Riazanov was admitted to the ranks of the Bolsheviks for the first time in July 1917. Lozovsky, as Smith himself notes, had been a Bolshevik from 1905 to 1909, i.e., when the Bolsheviks adhered to the Kautskyist conception of the proletarian party and functioned as a faction within the ``all-inclusive RSDLP. In 1917 they were both new to the separately constituted Bolshevik Party.

A few paragraphs later in his article, Smith notes that ``Lozovsky was expelled [from the Bolshevik Party] in 1918 and readmitted a year later. In fact, he was expelled in December 1917. At the time of his expulsion he was the secretary of the All-Russia Central Council of Trade Unions, i.e., he was the leading trade union official in Soviet Russia. The resolution expelling Lozovsky, which Lenin drafted for the party central committee on December 30, 1917, noted that the CC had already adopted a resolution in early November 1917 expelling Lozovsky but that this resolution had not been ``carried out only because of the hopes expressed by some comrades that the vacillations of Comrade Lozovsky were of a temporary nature caused by his inability to quickly grasp the significance of the historic upheaval that was taking place with such extraordinary speed, but that ``the expectations of the comrades who wished to give Comrade Lozovsky time to fully grasp the significance of the revolution that took place have not been justified...

The resolution went on to explain that ``joint work in the ranks of a single party is impossible with a person who does not understand the necessity for the dictatorship of the proletariat, which I recognised by our party programme, who does not understand that without such a dictatorship, that is, without a systematic, ruthless suppression of the resistance of the exploiters, which sticks at the bourgeois-democratic formulas, one cannot conceive of any consistently democratic, leave alone socialist, revolution, nor of any serious measures for coping with the crisis and economic chaos caused by the [imperialist] war; that joint work in the ranks of a single party is impossible with a person who repudiates the socialist tasks of the proletariat, which has won political power; with a person who refuses to accept the idea tht it is the duty of the trade unions to take upon themselves state functions and carry through with the greatest vigour and determination the socialist reorganisation of production and distribution on a nation-wide scale'' (14).

Lozovsky was readmitted to the Bolshevik Party in early 1919 because during the course of 1918 he come to accept the fundamental correctness of the Bolshevik’s policy and having from ``hard-won experience the need to ``act as a discipline member of a militant organisation had loyally collaborated with the party..

Once again on the expulsion of Paul Levi

I pointed out in my article in Links No. 24 that the third congress of the Comintern endorsed the explosion of Paul Levi from the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) for publicly attacking the party leadership’s assessment of the 1921 ``March Action”. While acknowledging that much of Levi’s criticism was politically correct, Lenin defended the expulsion on the grounds that Levi ``had behaved like an `anarchist intellectual“ instead of behaving like an organised member of the proletarian Communist International. (15)

Commenting on the Levi case, Smith writes:  

As Lorimer points out, Levi was not expelled for his ideas... He was expelled for publishing a pamphlet publicly criticising what he (correctly) considered to be the grossly mistaken position of the party leadership... Not only did the party suffer severe repression, but it had been estimated that it lost more than half its membership. Under these circumstances, coming out publicly against the leadership was bound to create tensions, but it did not have to automatically lead to expulsion. Why did it in Levi’s case.

In a nutshell, the KPD was not the Bolshevik Party. It did not correspond to the description of the Bolshevik Party outlined in Left-Wing Communism, above all as far as its leadership was concerned. That leadership was weak...

Levi was probably the most talented of the KPD leaders after the murder of Luxemburg, to whom he was very close. Unfortunately, his behaviour and judgment as a leader were not on a par with his capacity for political analysis,. He made a serious error of judgment in launching his attack. Even then, had he been capable of retreating from his public opposition and accepting discipline, he could not have been kept out of the party. Lenin was in favour of him being readmitted under those circumstances.

It is certainly true that after Levi’s expulsion, Lenin was of the opinion that if Levi refrained from any further public criticisms of the KPD leadership and acted as disciplined supporter of the party, he should be considered for readmission to its ranks. However, Smith’s explanation of why Lenin supported Levi’s expulsion from the KPD in 1921 “that the KPD ``was not the Bolshevik party because it had a ``weak leadership “ is not supported by Lenin’s own explanation, given in a June 10, 1921, private letter to Comintern president Grigory Zinoviev. In that letter, Lenin stated:

To call the defensive [action] of hundreds of thousands of workers .. a ``putsch; and a ``Bakuninist putsch at that, is worse than a mistake; it is a breach of revolutionary discipline.

Since Levi added to this a number of other breaches (list them carefully and exactly)

he deserves his punishment and has earned his expulsion.

The term of this expulsion should be fixed, say, at six months at least. He should then be permitted to seek readmission to the party, and the Communist International advises that he be readmitted provided he has acted loyalty during this time.

I have not yet read anything, apart from Brandler’s pamphlet, and am writing this on the basis of Leviâ’s and Brandler’s pamphlet. Brandler has proved on thing “if he has proved anything“ that the Marzaktion was not a ``Bakuninist putsch (for such abusive language Levi ought to be expelled) but a heroic defence by revolutionary workers, hundreds of thousands of them; but however heroic it was, in future such a challenge, provoked by the government, which, since 1919, has already killed by provocations 20,000 workers should not be accepted until the Communists have the majority behind them all over the country, and not just in one small district.

Lenin, then, added the following comment in parenthesis (which in passing refutes Smith’s attempt to establish an antithesis between the Bolshevik Party and the KPD as an explanation for Lenin’s endorsement of Levi’s expulsion): ``The July days of 1917 were not a Bakuninist putsch. For such an appraisal we would have expelled a person from the patty. The July days were an heroic offensive. And the deduction we drew was that we would not launch the next heroic offensive prematurely. Premature acceptance of a general battle “ that is what the Marzaktion really was. Not a putsch, but a mistake, mitigated by the heroism of a defensive by hundreds of thousands.(16)

Levi’s expulsion from the KPD was endorsed by the third congress of the Comintern, the same congress that adopted the theses on ``The Organisational Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods and Content of Their Work.  

Smith makes only two very brief references to this document. He writes``Lorimer seems to assume that what is written in the Theses of the Communist International represents Lenin’s thinking on party democracy. I most definitely think that this particular document represents Lenin’s mature thinking on party organisation, including his views on the public expression of differences within a democratic centralist revolutionary Marxist party. I base that judgment on Lenin’s comments on the document made in his report on ``Five Years of the Russian Revolution and the Prospects of the World Revolution presented to the fourth congress of the Comintern in November 1922, wherein Lenin stated that the ``resolution is excellently drafted, and I am prepared to subscribe to every one of the fifty or more paragraphs.(17)  

Smith further claims that the document’s ``model of a highly disciplined party bore very little resemblance to the actual history of Lenin’s own party. However, this claim is also refuted by Lenin’s own comments on the document in his 1922 Comintern report. Lenin pointed out that ``everything in it is based on Russian conditions, i.e., on the organisational practice and experience of the Bolshevik Party.  

It is understandable why Smith does not discuss the content of the 1921 Comintern resolution on party organisation, particularly thesis 50 (which I quoted in full above) because it clearly reveals that Smith’s conception of democratic centralism is not the same as Lenin’s.


1. Space here does not permit me to respond in any detail to other issues that Smith raises in his article. For example, he makes the claim (without providing any supportive argumentation) that the temporary ban on factions adopted by the tenth congress of the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in March 1921 favoured the rise to power of the Stalinist bureaucracy. I have dealt in detail with this same proposition in the Resistance Books pamphlet The Collapse of ``Communism in the USSR: Its Causes and Significance. I would add to what I have written there that the fact the only other Leninist parties to have held state power in conditions of industrial underdevelopment and considerable material scarcity “ the Vietnamese and Cuban Communist parties“ prohibit factions but have not undergone bureaucratic degeneration casts considerable doubt on the proposition that the Bolshevik Party’s 1921 ban on factions contributed to its bureaucratic degeneration.  

2. From ``Statement of the Political Committee on the Expulsion of Joseph Zack, cited in James P. Cannon, The Struggle for a Proletarian Party, Resistance Books, Sydney, 2001, p. 132.

3. ``The Organisational Structure of the Communist Parties, the Methods and Content of Their Work: Theses, reproduced in Alan Adler, ed., Theses,Resolutions and Manifestos of the First Four Congresses of the Third International, Ink Links, London, 1980, pp. 257-58.

4. V.I. Lenin, ``Left-Wing Communism – an infantile disorder, Resistance Books, Sydney, 1999, pp. 30-33.

5. In fact, it wasn’t until December 1904 that the Bolsheviks, the defenders of the line of the Iskra journal’s 1900-03 struggle against the opportunist Economist trend, constituted themselves into a centralised party organisation the Bureau of Majority Committees.

6. Lenin, ``Left-Wing Communism “ an infantile disorder, p.31.

7. Links, No. 24, p. 105-06. It should be noted that Kautsky’s ``all-inclusive conception of the proletarian party was directly contrary to Marx’s and Engels conception. When Bernstein first raised his call for a reformist revision of the German Social-Democratic Party’s program, Marx characterised Bernstein and his allies as ``poor counterrevolutionary” On Reformism, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1984). In a December 18, 1879 letter to August Bebel, Engels wrote of Bernstein and his allies: ``You continue to regard these people as party comrades. We cannot do so. The article in the Jahrbuch draws a sharp and absolutely distinct line between us. We cannot even negotiate with these people so long as they assert that they belong to the same party as we. The points in question are points that can no longer be discussed in any proletarian party. To make them a subject of discussion within the party would be to put in question the whole of proletarian socialism (ibid., pp. 273-74.). “windbags” who should be expelled from the party (see Marx’s September 19, 1879 letter to Friedrich Adolphe Sorge, and his and Engels September 17-18, 1879 letter to August Bebel, Wilhelm Liebkneckt, Wilhem Bracke and Others, in Marx and Engels,

8. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1964, Vol. 20, p. 529

9. ibid., Vol. 21, p. 329.

10. ibid., Vol. 24, pp. 42-43.

11. ibid., Vol. 25, pp. 179-80.

12. ibid. Vol. 26, p. 19.

13. Cited in T. Cliff, Lenin: All Power to the Soviets, Bookmarks, London, 1985, p. 365.

14. V.I. Lenin, op. cit., Vol. 42, p. 50-52.

15. ibid., Vol. 32, p. 517.

16. ibid. Vol. 42, pp. 322-23

17. ibid., Vol. 33, p. 430.