Theory: The need for conscious party discipline

In its struggle for power, the working class has two weapons: theory and organisation, but working-class organisation is meaningless unless it is characterised by iron proletarian discipline.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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This subject covers two main aspects of discipline that are absolutely necessary for the Marxist-Leninist party:

1. The discipline of the party with regard to the rights/duties of party organisations and individual members.

2. The discipline of party organisations and individual members with regard to the party as a whole.

The subject of discipline for a Marxist-Leninist party is of high importance. Indeed, conscious discipline is what our party needs to survive, to gain strength, and to become the party our class needs to lead it in the struggle for socialism. But what does this Marxist-Leninist discipline, which we believe is so necessary for the revolutionary overthrow of imperialism and the replacement of the bourgeois dictatorship by the dictatorship of the proletariat, entail?

There are five main points that run like a thread through our party rules. These are:

1. Open discussion in front of the party and the masses;

2. Open criticism in front of the party and the masses;

3. Iron unity in action;

4. The complete fulfilment of tasks assigned by the party;

5. Not to withhold financial resources from the party.

The need for open discussion and criticism within our ranks on political and organisational questions is of paramount importance as a means of finding correct answers to questions and exposing wrong ideas. This can only be done through the active participation of the whole party. It cannot be handed down from on high.

People will only follow a correct line if it has been explained, considered against all other options, and understood. Likewise, wrong ideas cannot be exposed without the glare of open discussion and criticism. Political differences within the party should not be kept secret, since this often leads to vendettas being carried on behind closed doors and an inability to act in unison as petty differences mount and fester into full scale factional war.

People must see that we are strong enough to debate and criticise openly. Far from revealing weaknesses in the party (as some in other parties always fear), this would actually show our strength, in that we would be unafraid to struggle for the correct path in such a way that all could see the arguments and understand why a particular conclusion had been reached.

“Party struggles lend a party strength and vitality; the greatest proof of the weakness of a party is diffuseness and the blurring of clearly defined boundaries; a party becomes strong by purging itself.” (Letter to Marx from Lasalle, 24 June 1852, cited in What Is To Be Done? by VI Lenin, 1902)

Some may also fear that the right to debate and criticise would turn the party into a talking shop, but this also is untrue. While debate and criticism are essential, they must not be allowed to degenerate into sterile circular chatter on matters of no importance to the pursuit of the class struggle. Criticism of such chatter should be swift and ruthless.

Debate must take place at all levels of the party, both regionally and nationally. Our journals should also be used to carry on these debates, but once a debate is finished and a decision has been taken by the party, all members are required to act in unison to promote the position taken.

The ‘iron’ unity in action that we require can only come from participation in such debate and criticism to achieve correct positions that, moreover, are understood and supported by the majority of members. This is explained, for example, by Joseph Stalin in his pamphlet The Foundations Of Leninism, in which he says:

“Iron discipline in the party is inconceivable without unity of will, without complete and absolute unity of action on the part of all members of the party. This does not mean, of course, that the possibility of conflicts of opinion within the party is thereby precluded. On the contrary, iron discipline does not preclude but presupposes criticism and conflict of opinion within the party. Least of all does it mean that discipline must be ‘blind’. On the contrary, iron discipline does not preclude but presupposes conscious and voluntary submission, for only conscious discipline can be truly iron discipline. But after a conflict of opinion has been closed, after criticism has been exhausted and a decision arrived at, unity of will and unity of action of all party members are the necessary conditions without which neither party unity nor iron discipline in the party is conceivable.” (Our emphasis)

This leads us on to the fulfilment of tasks assigned by the party. The party will call on all members to undertake work among the masses and it will also, from time to time, call on certain comrades (some more frequently than others) to undertake vital internal party work, which may not always seem very revolutionary, such as distributing party literature among members, checking on lapsed members, collecting party dues, writing routine letters, etc.

Some may hold the opinion that this is not political work but just bureaucracy. This, of course, exposes a ‘wrong idea’, since it stems from a misunderstanding of the word bureaucracy. Bureaucracy, like many other ‘political’ words (‘democracy’, ‘dictatorship’ and ‘terrorism’, for example), has a different meaning depending on the class position of the person using it. The bourgeois meaning of the word can be found in the Oxford Reference Dictionary: “1 A, government by central administration. B, a state or organisation so governed. 2, the officials of such a government, esp. regarded as oppressive and inflexible. 3, conduct typical of such officials.”

Of course, the working class has nothing to fear from centralism. On the contrary, for us democratic centralism is the most superior method of organisation and we would only oppose what we would term bureaucratic centralism. For us, bureaucracy means subordinating the interests of the organisation (be it a club, a party or society as a whole) to the interests of one’s own career or financial well being; it means creating petty rules for personal aggrandisement, or making a fetish out of ‘office’ work whilst neglecting practical activity.

This administration work that the party gives comrades is to do is necessary and should be pursued with vigour. To treat this work with disdain or in a slipshod manner is sloppy, petty-bourgeois indiscipline. The correct approach to party work is summed up in this quote from Mikhail Kalinin, who was president of the USSR during the years of socialist construction:

“At times of great uplift (as now, during the British General Strike) every worker who was an indifferent bystander yesterday becomes a hero – he fights for the workers’ interests, and the uplift among the masses brings heroes to the forefront, one after the other, in the struggle for the masses. But, comrades, the forward movement is not always rapid. We frequently have to retreat – and the drab uneventful years, the years of humdrum work occupy 99 percent of a person’s life. The most valuable quality in a party worker is the ability to work with enthusiasm in an ordinary, humdrum situation, and to overcome, day in and day out, one obstacle after another; the ability to preserve his enthusiasm in face of the obstacles with which practical life confronts him daily, hourly, and to let the humdrum, cumbrous obstacles develop and strengthen his zeal; the ability in this day-to-day work to keep in mind and never lose sight of the ultimate aims for which the communist movement is fighting.” (MI Kalinin, On Communist Education)

Of course, this disciplined approach to the needs of our party and, indeed, our class, must be adopted at all levels and in all spheres of our work if we are to be of real service to the proletariat both nationally and internationally. At the moment, this means building our party (increased membership and education of members) and getting our message out, mainly through sales of this paper, but also through our leaflets and willingness to speak to the masses. This is an urgent requirement, for as Lenin said in 1901:

“Work for the establishment of a fighting organisation and for carrying on political agitation must be carried on under all circumstances, no matter how ‘drab and peaceful’ the times may be, and no matter how low the ‘depression of revolutionary spirit’ has sunk. More than that, it is precisely in such conditions and in such periods that this work is particularly required; for it would be too late to start building such an organisation in the midst of uprisings and outbreaks. The organisation must be ready to develop its activity at any moment.” (VI Lenin, ‘Where To Begin?’, Selected Works, Vol 2)

‘Not to withhold financial resources from the party’ – what does this mean? Apart from the possible misappropriation of party funds, it means, quite simply, pay your subscriptions and (if possible) be ready to make financial donations to the party. Paying your subscriptions to the party should be an honour, an act of pleasure undertaken in the knowledge that the money you are paying helps the party to do its work and survive in the capitalist system in which we live. Another reason is given, once again, by Comrade Kalinin:

“You yourselves understand that if you fall behind for a month or two in paying dues, it will not matter much to the party, its treasury will not suffer. Our party is not a poor party now. And if we are discussing this matter with you, it is not because your tardiness in paying dues prevented us from sending our party report in on time. No, that’s not the point. The point is that if you fail to pay your party dues on time, it means that you don’t think about the party, you are attending to your party duties in a slipshod fashion. Anybody who adopts such an attitude to his party duties, and what is more, to such simple, strictly organisational ones as the payment of party dues, does not take the party seriously.” (MI Kalinin, ibid)

Obviously, unlike the Soviet party at the time Comrade Kalinin made this observation, the CPGB-ML is still financially poor, but the quote goes right to the heart of the matter. Do you take the party and its work seriously? To strengthen the CPGB-ML as the vanguard party that the British proletariat deserves and desperately needs, we must work hard for the active fulfilment of these five points of discipline throughout the party. Those who would play leading roles within the party must become people of whom it is said “give them a job to do and you can relax knowing it will be done”. Indeed, this is an aim the party has for every member, and one that every party member should have for him/herself.

Four direct quotes have been used and acknowledged within the text, but indebtedness to a pamphlet by Cemil Silahtar entitled Party Discipline, published by Iscinin Sesi, must also be acknowledged as providing the basis for this article.