Of Democracy and Centralism

Arup Baisya

The term ‘Democratic centralism’ seems somewhat misleading. It can only be explained as the unity of two different categories of democracy and centralism. If one considers that every category that comes to sensuous perception is in kinetic motion and the presence of ‘us’ is historically ingrained within that motion, the interactions in the development of this process makes us conscious of it during the travel in time dimension in this motion. The term ‘democratic centralism’ entails that democracy does not have any centralism and vice versa. But the democracy, throughout its historical development, got accelerated or retarded in a perceptively negative or positive dimension within the complex human civilisational movement and conflict and also within the separation and conflict between human and nature.

It means that the category ‘democracy’ takes a concrete institutional form based on the characteristics of a particular historical moment. This institutional arrangement asserts some form of centralism within Democracy. The category democracy is by itself carries within it the category of centralism and exists as a dialectical unity of opposites of democracy and centralism in its kinetic motion.

Going by the law of conservation of energy, the kinetic motion of one category transforms itself into another category when the momentum for acceleration or retardation for that particular category becomes zero. In this scheme of things, the democracy after reaching to its peak or highest stage in the process of human civilisational conflict and the conflict between human and nature, energy required for conservation of democracy dissolves and transforms itself to take another form within the process of building of new society based on co-operation and associated labour and finally to communist society. In this final stage, democracy, centralism, politics all become gradually redundant or ‘withered away’ in the process of withering away of state and class. It connotes that democracy exists within the ambit of an institution, and institutional mechanism has its own centralism.

But if we use the term ‘Democratic centralism’, we intrinsically overemphasise centralism as a separate entity outside the premise of democracy. It is observed that communist parties always vow for democratic centralism and act on the premise of centralism in the name of safeguarding democracy. But the praxis emanates from this perception is anathema to democracy which is a prime requirement for human liberty and for the construction of a society based on cooperation, not competition.

In the Indian geo-political landscape, the constitutional democracy or the bourgeois democracy is at stake now and as such, the working class vis-à-vis Indian masses has a concrete strategic and tactical task to safeguard this democracy and resist any form of fascistic transition. But from the perspective of liberty and freedom and for building a new society, this bourgeois democracy has its own deficits. It is impossible to draw a distinctly defined canvass to delineate the all-encompassing forms of such ‘deficits. Actually, bourgeois does not have any project for democracy; their project revolves only around the question of profit and accumulation. To ensure the best implementation of their project in a given concrete situation, a form of democracy becomes the integral part of their project based on social relations of production and balance of forces. So the bourgeois democracy is always in a flux within a vast range of ‘deficits’ and in a continuous motion from one end to another till it breaks this contour to reach to an autocratic or fascist rule. So the fullest development of democracy gradually surpassing the deficits of bourgeois democracy lies within the practice of socialist democracy when working class has transformed into a ruling class by dethroning the bourgeois class from state machinery, though the power of the bourgeois exists so long as state exists.

But in this world of high technology and automation and the overwhelming managerial control over the production process, the practice of democracy and its development for its withering away has become a very complex phenomenon that needs to be unveiled and formulated through the praxis within the evolving social relations and class struggle.

But the concept of democratic centralism when philosophically misguides the communist party to apply the means of centralism as a separate category is anathema to constantly emphasising the importance of democracy for building a new society and for human liberty and freedom.

Communist parties have hitherto formulated some guideline for practising democracy in a post-revolutionary state. This includes the dismantling of coercive apparatus like standing army, state police to be replaced by people’s militia engaged in productive activities, top-down power structure to be replaced by bottom-up decentralized power structure that supports production units of associated labour. The form of working-class state as emerged in Paris Commune was articulated in Marx’s Gotha Programme and this is, till date, the only guideline for a working-class state. Furthermore, it has been widely accepted that the form of democracy and democratic rights such as multi-party election, freedom of speech, freedom of press etc which the liberal bourgeois state can maintain must be retained and extended further through election to every sphere of executive, legislative and judiciary based on universal franchise and division among these three wings of the state must be removed.

But the fundamental premise of withering away of state is guaranteed in the continuation of class-struggle and ensuring of the collective opinion of the toiling masses as a whole to prevail over the decision of the leaders and party leading the toiling masses. The formulaic task can be followed if the leaders and party remain strictly adhere to the task. But the most difficult question is to ensure working class-struggle and class-opinion to always prevail over the leaders and the party deciding and dominating the life of the masses, and that also leads to unintentional deviation from formulaic task too. This is most difficult because there cannot be any well-defined visible yardstick that can reveal the continuous dialectical interaction between class interest and class opinion. This is the arena where some new ideas need to be evolved from the praxis of parties from the beginning i.e. from pre-revolutionary period. Latin American praxis has thrown some lights on this, but this is in a very inchoate stage. This aspect of democracy is also related with the question of consciousness. In the party praxis, emphasis is put on instilling consciousness on the working class vis-à-vis masses from outside or from without following Lenin’s footstep. This is a misconception which was both promoted and negated by Lenin.

From the material science, we understand that energy and mass are the two forms of a single matter and the conversion of mass into energy is dependent on the velocity of matter. There can be no velocity which is higher than that of light which is defined as both particle or quanta of energy and wave or wave-particle duality, and the electricity and magnetism are the manifestation of a same underlying phenomenon called electromagnetism and light is a form of electromagnetic radiation. This understanding of matter, force and energy are the internal dynamics of matter. The consciousness or social enlightenment is also such a phenomenon of continuous transformation of social masses radiating certain form of energy and this is dependent on social motion. The disparate elements of the masses come closer together through an internal dynamics of motion generated from the interaction and conflict with the nature and classes of their adversary; here we consider the nature of interaction and conflict that generates creative energy, not destructive one. This continuous phenomenon of transforming disparate elements of the society into a collective mass releases a form of energy which can be identified as consciousness. When we say, history of human civilisation as the history of class-struggle and pre-history of human beings as classless class-struggle, we put emphasis on such internal dynamics which is fundamentally responsible for change of civilisation. When Marx said, Men make their own history but they do not make it as they please, he emphasised on such internal dynamics. That internal dynamics creates a field like electromagnetism. When the party in praxis defines and articulates the role of the party in instilling consciousness into the masses from outside, the party cannot take part in revolutionary transformation of the society because their participation from outside, in every possibility, acts as a counteracting force that inactivate the masses from their vibrant creative collective life action. The party organisers who find themselves within the realm of that energy-field can only truly be the participants of guiding the actions emanated from such enlightenment or consciousness to a higher level for a desired goal of making new history. This is something more than the Gramscian sense of organic link. The idea of such path of consciousness needs to be evolved, developed and concertised further.


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Vol 55, No. 1, Jul 3 - 9, 2022