ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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On Democratic Centralism

I read with great interest Javeed Alam’s article “Can Democratic Centralism Be Conducive to Democracy?” (EPW, 19 September 2009). It brings out very well the complex issues connected with the subject. Such discussion one hardly comes across in the writings of the Indian left. This is praiseworthy. However, this admirable piece is not free from problems.

First, Alam maintains that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) took two “disastrous decisions” at its 10th Congress. These concern, first, abolition of factions within the Party, while the second, the author points out, “went on to abolish the Soviets”. However, while the first statement of the author is undoubtedly true, the second is astonishingly untrue. At a formal level the Soviets were never “abolished” as long as the regime lasted. The regime could not simply “abolish” them without delegitimising its very existence pretending to be a workers’ state. In fact, the constitutions of the country after 1918 always bore the expression “Soviet Republic(s)” till the evaporation of the regime. The first constitution called the regime All-Russian Federal Socialist Soviet Republic (1919), the second, adopted after the 10th Congress of the Party, by the Second All-Union Congress of Soviets (1924) called it Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. This title endured till the end. Of course all this is at a formal level. In reality the Soviets in their original revolutionary-emancipatory sense of workers’ self-governing organs of power had ceased to exist beginning with the summer of 1918, a few months after the Bolsheviks had seized power, not from Kerensky but from these Soviets. Even before October (1917) Lenin had shown utter mistrust in, if not disdain for, these organs of self-rule as seen in his confidential correspondence with the members of the Central Committee denigrating the Soviets while insisting on the urgency of seizing power by the Party, independently of the Congress of Soviets and behind its back (these letters were naturally published after the event) while all the time advancing and repeating in public the slogan “All Power to the Soviets”! Let us add that by this single act – the seizure of power by the Party – the Congress of Soviets was deprived of all right to paternity (maternity) regarding the founding act of the new order and any claim to legitimacy. So when our author, lamenting the decision of the 10th Congress of the Party, writes that the Soviets were the “one site where every issue was thoroughly debated by the workers, peasants and soldiers” this was something already passé long before the claimed “abolition” of the Soviets, having been consigned to the prehistory of the “Soviet Union”.

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