A Talk on Democratic Centralism

This is a talk on the question of democratic centralism given by a comrade in German-speaking Switzerland during a meeting. The author has produced this revised English edition for publication among a wider audience; the German original will be released once the revisions have been made.


#November 2023

There is a lack of understanding of democratic centralism and organizational discipline in our committee. In particular, one comrade has committed mistakes as a result of this lack of understanding: the comrade refused to carry out directives issued by the comrade acting as secretary of our committee, and did so without rebuking the directives on the basis of fundamental Marxist principles. In order to ensure that such mistakes are not repeated in the future, I will now give a brief exposition of certain questions of democratic centralism and organizational discipline; on the basis of this exposition, we should then all take a clear stand — are we for or against this interpretation of democratic centralism, and do we reaffirm our organizational basis of unity in the light of this interpretation or not? — so as to reinforce the unity of our committee.


The first topic of my talk is this: What is democratic centralism?

Democratic centralism is one of the three aspects of the basis of unity of our committee — it constitutes our organizational basis of unity, together with organizational discipline, underground organization, secret work, and vigilance against revisionism, infiltration, surveillance, repression, and carelessness. Moreover, it is the guiding organizational principle for all Communist work, as established by Comrades Marx, Lenin, and Mao.

Democratic centralism is a contradiction, a unity of two contradictory aspects — democracy and centralism. Of the two, democracy is the basis, or the fundamental aspect, and centralism is the guide, or the leading aspect. Which is the primary and which the secondary aspect depends on the organization in question. In a Communist Party, centralism is usually the primary aspect, the one that determines the character of the organization, but democracy is still a necessary supplement. In our committee, likewise, centralism is the primary aspect.

What does this mean in practice?

First of all, it means that our committee practises centralization of leadership and decentralization of responsibility. In other words, we centralize the task of leading the work of the committee in one person — the secretary of the committee — and decentralize all other tasks to the members of the committee. This is what is known as a division of labour. Of course, this goes both ways — in fact, we practise both individual leadership and collective leadership. Collective leadership is practised at meetings, where the secretary participates on an equal footing with all the other members. Individual leadership is practised between meetings, where the secretary is responsible for ensuring that the decisions adopted at meetings are enforced and correctly interpreted in the light of changes in the objective situation. Moreover, the secretary should strive as much as possible to consult the committee members between meetings, so as to lend a collective character to individual leadership as well. Finally, we are not a dictatorship, we do not practise bureaucratic centralism, but democratic centralism — the secretary is elected at meetings and can also be recalled at meetings if the committee members think that they are doing a bad job. Thus, collective leadership is the primary aspect of the two types of leadership. Finally, leadership itself is a form of responsibility, so the decentralization of responsibility and centralization of leadership are only relative terms.

Second, it means that information is centralized in the form of reports from the committee members — in this committee, we operate on the basis of verbal briefings at the beginning of each meeting, in which everyone reports on the security situation, their organizational tasks, developments in the objective situation, their mass work, and their personal situation, but higher organizational forms may operate on the basis of written reports — and decentralized in the form of reports from the secretary. All information, including the contact information of lower-level comrades and contacts, and reports from lower-level committees, is concentrated at the committee meetings and centralized to the higher levels, while relevant information — according to the «need-to-know» principle of secret work — is decentralized in the form of selective reports from higher to lower levels. Without this kind of centralization of information, as Lenin pointed out in Our Organizational Tasks (September 1902), it is impossible to have a coherent organizational structure.

Third, it means that we have freedom of discussion and unity of action. At committee meetings, each item on the agenda is first presented by the person who proposed it; second, there is a free discussion of the item by all committee members; third, the secretary makes a summary of the general opinion of the committee, or the different opinions if agreement was not reached, as faithfully as possible; fourth, the committee members take a formal stand on this summary; and, fifth, if there is unanimity, a decision is adopted, or, if there is disagreement, a vote may be held, and the minority will be allowed to reserve its opinion. Then, after the decision is adopted, all the committee members are required to act according to the decision, regardless of whether they personally agree with it or not. Moreover, they are not allowed to express disagreement with it outside of the organizational context.

Finally, it means that the leadership is elected by the membership at meetings and may be recalled by the membership at meetings of the same quality, and that the leadership must work within the decisions adopted by those meetings, and cannot violate them in any way — unless the objective situation changes so rapidly that emergency changes must be made, in which case the changes made by the leadership must be subject to approval by the next membership meeting.

In sum, democratic centralism is the unity of democracy and centralism, and neither aspect can exist without the other. Democracy is the basis, the fundamental aspect, upon which centralism is built and from which it draws nourishment; centralism is the guide, the leading aspect, in which democracy is expressed and from which it receives the necessary guidance and unity. The objective of all this is to achieve the «Five Unities» of which Mao spoke — unity of understanding, policy, plan, command, and action — which can only be achieved if everyone understands what democratic centralism is and learns how to work according to its principles and norms.

By practising democratic centralism, we distinguish ourselves from the opportunists. On the one hand, the Anarchists and Populists hold their «Monday meetings» and so on, where they discuss endlessly in an attempt to reach «consensus», or hold more or less formal meetings where policy is discussed. However, at the end of the day, once the decisions are made, nothing can force anyone to adhere to them or to carry them out, and certainly not to defend them to the outside world. Other opportunists, like the Social-Democrats, do not even pretend to have democratic centralism, and the Trotskijites abuse the term in order to maintain their top-down structure, in which the «national sections» cannot even raise a finger if the «international centre» disapproves.

On the other hand, the dogmato-revisionists preach democratic centralism, but practise bureaucratic centralism. They only have centralized leadership, centralization of information, unity of action, and their leadership is neither elected nor accountable to anyone — they completely negate the necessity of decentralized responsibility, decentralization of information, freedom of discussion, and elections, and they justify this by referring to anyone advocating democracy as an «ultra-democrat», an «Anarchist», or a «factionalist». We have heard many «horror stories» from Germany, the United States, and Brazil about how the dogmato-revisionist «leaders» maintain their unquestionable command, for example, by demoting, transferring, or expelling members for as much as asking the «wrong» questions, issuing death threats for minor infractions (or no infractions at all!), and so on — in fact, the dogmato-revisionists operate entirely without organizational rules and elections, and the only thing that sustains their «authority» is their ability to convince inexperienced people with their vulgar quote-mongering, peer pressure, cult-like rituals, and empty threats of violence.

We broke with both of these categories of opportunists a long time ago, and we are still determined never again to be anything like them, to constantly purge ourselves of anything that reminds one of Anarchism and dogmato-revisionism. That is why I want to emphasize once again that you should criticize the leadership, not just of this committee, but of the organization as a whole, any time expressions of bureaucracy and of ultra-democracy come to light, and particularly expressions of bureaucracy, which was our main deviation in the recent past.


I will now move on to the second topic of my talk: What is organizational discipline?

Organization discipline is a necessary supplement to democratic centralism. If we compare democratic centralism to the brick structure that allows a house under construction to stand strong instead of falling apart, then we can compare organizational discipline to the mortar that keeps the bricks sticking together. It is the material expression, the confirmation of democratic centralism in practice.

What, then, does organizational discipline consist of? Mao summed up the four main rules of organizational discipline as follows:

In view of Zhang Guotao's serious violations of discipline, we must affirm anew the discipline of the Party, namely:

  • First, the individual is subordinate to the organization.
  • Second, the minority is subordinate to the majority.
  • Third, the lower level is subordinate to the higher level.
  • Fourth, the entire membership is subordinate to the Central Committee.

Whoever violates these articles of discipline disrupts Party unity. Experience proves that some people violate Party discipline through not knowing what it is, while others, like Zhang Guotao, violate it knowingly and take advantage of many Party members' ignorance to achieve their treacherous purposes. Hence, it is necessary to educate members in Party discipline, so that the militants will not only observe discipline themselves, but will exercise supervision over the directors, so that they, too, observe it, thus preventing the recurrence of cases like Zhang Guotao's. If we are to ensure the development of inner-Party relations along the right lines, besides the four most important articles of discipline mentioned above, we must work out a set of fairly detailed Party Rules, which will serve to unify the actions of the leading bodies at all levels.1

I would like to give a little bit of context surrounding the case of Zhang Guotao before I go into explaining the four principles elaborated by Mao in this quotation.

Zhang Guotao was one of the founding members of the Communist Party of China and a main rival of Mao Zedong for the leading post in the Party. During the 1920s, although Zhang had made some contributions to the Chinese revolution, he had generally pursued a «Left»-opportunist line of paying little attention to the peasant movement and overemphasizing the role of the labour movement, which was wrong in the context of China, where the working class was quite small and mainly located in a number of isolated cities on the Coast, while the peasants constituted 80% of the population and were spread across the country. Mao's line enabled the Party to wage a people's war by surrounding the cities from the countryside, while Zhang's line, wherever it was followed, isolated the Party in the few big cities and led to military defeats in the course of the failed armed uprisings there in the late 1920s.

During the mid-1930s, the Nationalists — the Chinese reactionaries led by Jiang Jieshi, who represented the interests of imperialism, its sub-contractors, and their feudal allies — carried out a series of «encirclement and suppression» campaigns against the Red areas, where the Communist Party had set up the Council Power and was carrying out the agrarian revolution. Under Mao's leadership, the Red Army led by the Communists was able to beat back four of the five big «encirclement and suppression» campaigns. However, during the fifth such campaign, the Party's opportunist leadership circumvented Mao and forced the Red Army to adopt a wrong military tactic, which led to the loss of 90% of the Red Army and Red areas, and 99% of the Party's forces in the big cities. The Red Army had to make a big retreat if it didn't want to give up. So, Mao proposed the Long March, a 12'500-kilometre retreat through China's most inhospitable terrain, which would allow the Red Army to break through the Nationalist encirclement, retreat to northern China, and set up a new central Red area from which to continue the revolution. Given the conditions, this was the only possible tactic at that time. However, Zhang Guotao — who, at this time, was the commander of the Fourth Field Army of the Red Army — disagreed with Mao's tactic, which had been approved by the Party leadership after the disastrous defeat of 1934. In January 1935, Mao was elected to the top leading post in the Party, and his tactic approved. Instead of submitting to organizational discipline, however, Zhang mutinied, leading the whole Fourth Field Army of some 80'000 troops astray in an attempt to go south to conquer a new Red area in southern China, where the Communists lacked the mass support to do so. As a result of this military adventure, Zhang lost more than 75% of his troops. The remainder rejoined Mao's Red Army in northern China after this fact, and even though Mao offered Zhang a second chance, Zhang defected to join, first, the Nationalist secret police, and, later, to flee to Canada, where he became a Christian fundamentalist and spent the rest of his life writing articles and books slandering the Communist Party of China.

Mao's point about Zhang Guotao was two-fold:

  • First, there will always be people, like Zhang Guotao, who knowingly violate organizational discipline to serve their own personal interests. This is part of living in a class society; people who do not adequately take the class standpoint of the proletariat are liable to fall into individualism at any time, because they do not put the interests of the revolution before their own personal interests. This is unavoidable, so we must be vigilant against such people and their splitting attempts.
  • Second, other people, who are well-meaning, but ignorant about organizational discipline, may be misled by people like Zhang Guotao, or, in the absence of such people, may commit similar mistakes on their own, because they do not understand our organizational principles well enough.

This second point is exactly what happened in our committee, when one of the comrades disobeyed explicit directives issued by the secretary, thereby not only violating organizational discipline, but also putting the secrecy of the committee's work in danger and risking repression. I emphasize that this is the result of a lack of understanding of organizational discipline, and that none of our comrades resembles Zhang Guotao in any way whatsoever — that is simply not the point. The point is that we must adopt a self-critical attitude toward the comrade who erred and take responsibility for not having explained our organizational principles well enough, which is what led to this misunderstanding in the first place.

Now, I will return to the four principles mentioned by Mao.

The first point is that the individual member of the organization is subordinate to the organization as a whole. In other words, as members of a democratic-centralist organization, we all put the organizational life first, and our personal lives second. Both are necessary, but one is primary, while the other is secondary. It would make no sense if comrades lost their jobs, got sick, didn't sleep or eat, or anything like that — the political work would suffer and collapse if that were the case. At the same time, however, it would make no sense if comrades spent the time they should spend on political work on doing other things, like going clubbing, going on dates, playing video games, or sleeping too long. Of course, if comrades don't go clubbing, go on dates, play video games, or sleep in every once in a while, they will become depressed, and they will be unable to do their political work — thus, even these seemingly «unnecessary» parts of our personal lives have a political significance, and must be done if we are to be able to continue our political work, just like we have to go to work, or eat, or shit, or sleep — but we Communists do these things in order to be able to continue doing political work. This is what we mean when we say that «the political work must be done in a sustainable way». However, this does not imply that political work is not the primary aspect, nor does it imply that one's personal life cannot be neglected at times — for example, in an emergency, during a particularly intense campaign, or in wartime. As Communists, we put ourselves at the service of the revolution, even when it gets uncomfortable. However, whenever there is not a very good reason to ignore one's own personal life, the organization must take into account that comrades need a proper work-life balance, so to say — after all, we are not robots. This is even more the case when we work with young people, who need time to make and keep friends, get drunk every few weekends, sleep around, and think about their future — if we forced them to stop doing these things, then we wouldn't be any different from the dogmato-revisionist cults — I repeat, we are not in wartime, so we should let people live and let young people be young.

Moreover, revolutions are not made by individual super-humans, but by the masses of working people. Mao said: «The people, and the people alone, are the motive force of world history.»2 He also said: «We have always maintained that the revolution must rely on the masses of the people, on everybody's taking a hand, and have opposed relying merely on a few persons issuing orders.»3 Even if we all did political work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, without ever taking a break — that would not be anywhere near enough to make a revolution. At the same time as we Communists must be the people who work the hardest and the most for the revolutionary cause, both in order to fulfil our tasks and to set an example to others, we are also human beings, and, moreover, our main task is to serve the working people by mobilizing, educating, organizing, and arming them for the revolution, not to do the job for them. Marx famously said: «The emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself.»4 This is true for every kind of practical activity. We Communists shouldn't treat the masses like helicopter parents treat their children — in fact, we shouldn't be paternal toward them at all. This even applies to our organization itself, as Lenin pointed out: «The whole art of running a secret organization should consist in making use of everything possible, in ‹giving everyone something to do›, at the same time retaining leadership of the whole movement, not by virtue of having the power, of course, but by virtue of authority, energy, greater experience, greater versatility, and greater talent.»5

Moving on. Another point, which is essential for understanding organizational discipline, is the question of posts, instructions, and ranks. As I have already said above, in a democratic-centralist organization, such as our committee, the leadership is elected at plenary sessions (that is, meetings of the whole membership) and can also be recalled at plenary sessions. Thus, all responsible comrades are elected to their posts by the committee to which they belong. Moreover, comrades who are elected to posts of responsibility have the right to exercise individual leadership over the sphere of work that their post covers. This also includes the general post of responsibility, that is, the post of secretary of our committee. We elect our secretary at our meetings, and the secretary then has the right and duty to exercise individual leadership of our general work when the collective leadership (all the members) is not in session (at our meetings). How this is carried out in practice depends on the organization, but, in our committee, this means that the secretary, as the person responsible for all the work of our committee, may issue instructions concerning all aspects of our work.

What are instructions? They are the means by which individual leadership is exercised. In a Communist Party, instructions take the form of directives. A directive is an instruction which must be fulfilled accurately and immediately once received, unless it either contradicts fundamental Communist principles or organizational decisions, or it is physically impossible to fulfil. For example, if our secretary were to issue a directive to blow up the Moon, that would be physically impossible, given the level of development of the social productive forces, and would therefore be an incorrect directive. Alternatively, if our secretary were to issue a directive to a comrade to the effect of that comrade having to miss work, but the comrade had already been late too often, and would risk being fired if they called in sick, then that directive, too, cannot be fulfilled, although the fault would lie with the comrade for having been late too often, not with the comrade issuing the directive. On the other hand, if our secretary issued a directive that explicitly contradicted one of the decisions of our meetings, and we were not in an emergency situation, or a directive to go and spray some Anarchist slogan on a wall somewhere, then that directive should be refuted and not carried out, because it would contradict fundamental Marxist principles. However, in order not to carry out a directive, the comrade receiving it must justify this in a Marxist way. Individualism is never an excuse for not carrying out a directive. In this sense, as the Peruvian comrades used to say, «a directive given is a directive fulfilled».

In a military organization, instructions take the form of orders, which must be carried out under any circumstances unless they explicitly violate the rules of that military organization — for example, not to shoot at the people's militia, as the Chinese People's Liberation Army did in 1976 during the counter-revolutionary coup, in violation of the law and this principle. However, I emphasize that, in a Communist-led army, democracy must still be practised: the officers must be elected by the soldiers, soldiers' councils must govern the day-to-day work of the army, orders must be discussed and approved at soldiers' meetings after they are carried out, and so on; the point is not that a people's army should be undemocratically organized, but rather simply that the orders themselves are undemocratic, and that their use should therefore be minimized as much as possible — for instance, to combat situations and emergencies.

In a grassroots organization, instructions take the form of guidelines, which are merely strong recommendations, the non-execution of which nonetheless demands a justification; the latter may also be the same in an independent guerrilla column or other military organization in which orders are inconvenient.

In our committee, we operate on the basis of directives, which corresponds to a political party type of organization. This is important, because to operate on the basis of orders would counteract democracy, and amount to militarism (as is the case in the dogmato-revisionist organizations), whereas to operate on the basis of guidelines would counteract centralism, and amount to ultra-democracy (as is the case in Anarchist and Populist organizations).

Now, moving on to the question of ranks. In a democratic-centralist organization, such as our committee, the members of the committee are categorized according to rank. The rank is determined democratically at meetings just like any other type of election; in fact, determining the ranks can be considered a type of election. Generally speaking, one's rank should correspond to one's general level of competence, taking into account both ideological understanding, political finesse, and organizational reliability, among other factors. Generally speaking (and these things really are only meant to be general in character, as different organizational bodies have different conditions — do not apply this mechanically), highest ranks correspond to the various posts of responsibility. For instance, in our committee, the first-ranked comrade would always be the secretary, whoever that may be.

Now, what does the rank imply, aside from a correlation with our posts? Well, this question is connected with the question of instructions that I discussed above. In a political party, the rank takes the form of an order of seniority; in a military organization, it takes the form of a line of command; and, in a grassroots organization, it takes the form of an order of responsibility. What the rank implies is that, whenever the comrade responsible for some sphere of the work of the organizational body is not present, or is incapacitated, or for some other reason is unable to issue instructions interpreting the decisions, and when the body is not holding a plenary session, that is, whenever collective and individual leadership cannot be exercised, then individual leadership will be exercised by the highest-ranked person present. That is, if, say, two of our comrades were meeting to coordinate some trivial task, such as the writing of an article or the logistical preparation of a presentation, and the secretary was not among them, then the highest-ranked of the two comrades would make the final call if any disagreements were to arise. (Of course, such instructions must always be reported to meetings and to the secretary, so that abuses of power can be prevented and eliminated.) And, as I have said, this system corresponds to the three types of instructions mentioned above — that is to say, in a political party, there is an order of seniority, and directives are issued, which is the form of instructions and ranks that applies to our committee.

I will not go into Mao's other three points in this talk. The important thing to emphasize here is the first point — that the individual is subordinate to the organization.


Now that I have discussed the topics of democratic centralism and organizational discipline, I will return to the topic of the violation of discipline by one of the comrades.

The comrade in question comes from a small-bourgeois background and is an intellectual. Moreover, the comrade has not gone through the same lengthy process of tempering (and, in some cases, proletarianization) as other comrades here. This is the material basis for the comrade's violation of discipline — or, as this comrade themself expressed, their «problem with authority».

There are authorities and authorities. Bourgeois authority and proletarian authority are too quite different things. Authority has a class character, just as everything else in class society has. The comrade doesn't have a problem with «authority» in the abstract, because there is no such thing as abstract authority — as Lenin said, «truth is always concrete».6 Rather, the problem is that the comrade is confusing the two different types of authority, which correspond to two different, mutually antagonistic classes. Lenin once pointed out:

To the individualism of the intellectual, which already manifested itself in the controversy over Paragraph 1, revealing its tendency to opportunist argument and Anarchist phrase-mongering, all proletarian organization and discipline seems to be serfdom. [...]

That is just how the Anarchists argue: the rights of individuals are unlimited; they may conflict; every individual determines the limits of their own rights for themself. [...]

Tailism in questions of organization is a natural and inevitable product of the mentality of the anarchistic individualist when they start to elevate their Anarchist deviations (which, at the outset, may have been accidental) to a system of views, to special differences of principle. [...] For instance, this same «Practical Worker» of the new Iskra [Spark], with whose profundity we are already familiar, denounces me for visualizing the Party «as an immense factory» headed by a director in the shape of the Central Committee (No. 57, Supplement). «Practical Worker» never guesses that this dreadful word of theirs immediately betrays the mentality of the bourgeois intellectual unfamiliar with either the practice or the theory of proletarian organization. For the factory, which seems only a bogey to some, represents that highest form of capitalist cooperation which has united and disciplined the proletariat, taught it to organize, and placed it at the head of all the other sections of the working and exploited population. And Marxism, the ideology of the proletariat trained by capitalism, has been and is teaching unstable intellectuals to distinguish between the factory as a means of exploitation (discipline based on fear of starvation) and the factory as a means of organization (discipline based on collective work united by the conditions of a technically highly developed form of production). The discipline and organization which come so hard to the bourgeois intellectual are very easily acquired by the proletariat just because of this factory «schooling». Mortal fear of this school and utter failure to understand its importance as an organizing factor are characteristic of the ways of thinking which reflect the small-bourgeois mode of life and which give rise to the species of Anarchism that the German Social-Democrats call Edelanarchismus, that is, the anarchism of the «noble excellency», or aristocratic anarchism, as I would call it. This aristocratic anarchism is particularly characteristic of the Russian nihilist. They think of the Party organization as a monstrous «factory»; they regard the subordination of the part to the whole and of the minority to the majority as «serfdom» [...]; division of labour under the direction of a centre evokes from them a tragicomic outcry against transforming people into «cogs and wheels» [...].**6

Authority and discipline are unavoidable, both in political and in economic life, and there is no way anyone can get away from it. Any other opinion is just small-bourgeois Anarchism — the wish of the small-bourgeois individual, who vegetates between the two major classes of society, who drifts between two mutually contradictory class standpoints, two mutually exclusive sides in the class struggle, to lift themself above these classes, these class standpoints, and this class struggle, to be above classes; that is the class background for this intellectual anarchism.

Intellectual anarchism does not imply that one is an advocate of Anarchism as an ideology. However, it does imply a coalescence, a convergence, with Anarchism on the basis of a shared class standpoint.

In the epoch of the proletarian revolution, bourgeois authority and discipline are counter-revolutionary, reactionary, bad things — they have been rendered unnecessary by history; proletarian authority and discipline are revolutionary, progressive, good things — they are rendered necessary by history. If we cannot draw this fundamental line of distinction between the two fundamentally different types of discipline, authority, and organization, then we will not be Communists, not be proletarian revolutionaries, but only small-bourgeois Anarchists.

However, that is not to say that there cannot be bourgeois aspects to a proletarian organization. There certainly can be. Even when the line is generally correct, there may still be certain incorrect ideas or individuals in the organization who act in a bourgeois way. That is inevitable in a class society. These bad aspects must be got rid of — but by supporting the proletarian, positive aspect as opposed to the bourgeois, negative aspect. Mao emphasized time and again the need for drawing precisely this line of demarcation:

Draw two lines of distinction. First, between revolution and counter-revolution, between Yan'an and Xi'an. [At the time in China, Yan'an was the capital of the Communists, and Xi'an of the Nationalists. Therefore, Mao used the two cities as symbols of the revolution and the counter-revolution respectively.] Some do not understand that they must draw this line of distinction. For example, when they combat bureaucracy, they speak of Yan'an as though «nothing is right» there and fail to make a comparison and distinguish between the bureaucracy in Yan'an and the bureaucracy in Xi'an. This is fundamentally wrong. Secondly, within the revolutionary ranks, it is necessary to make a clear distinction between right and wrong, between achievements and shortcomings, and to make clear which of the two is primary and which secondary. For instance, do the achievements amount to 30% or to 70% of the whole? It will not do either to understate or to overstate. We must have a fundamental evaluation of a person's work and establish whether their achievements amount to 30% and their mistakes to 70%, or the other way around. If their achievements amount to 70% of the whole, then their work should in the main be approved. It would be entirely wrong to describe work in which the achievements are primary as work in which the mistakes are primary. In our approach to problems, we must not forget to draw these two lines of distinction, between revolution and counter-revolution and between achievements and shortcomings. We shall be able to handle things well if we bear these two distinctions in mind; otherwise, we shall confuse the nature of the problems. To draw these distinctions well, careful study and analysis are of course necessary. Our attitude toward every person and every matter should be one of analysis and study.7

I think it is safe to say that our organization, its discipline, and the authority of our leadership are mainly correct and appropriate — they are primarily positive, and only secondarily negative. That is to say, in criticizing problems in the work of our committee, we should always bear in mind that we are criticizing these problems, not in order to destroy our organization, discipline, and authority, but in order to strengthen and improve them. That is to say, we draw a line of demarcation, and say that we fall firmly on the side of «Yan'an», that is, the revolution, and not of «Xi'an», that is, the counter-revolution.

The case is different with, say, dogmato-revisionist organization, discipline, and authority. Not only are these things in themselves bad in the dogmato-revisionist cults — their organizations are not political organizations, but religious sects; their discipline is not conscious, proletarian discipline, but the mindless subjection of the «crowd» of «followers» to undeserving «leaders»; and the authority of their leaders is based on their narcissistic self-aggrandizement — but they also serve a counter-revolutionary, revisionist line, that is, the dogmato-revisionist line, a Right-opportunist line covered up with «Left»-opportunist phrases. I use this example, because we have the concrete experience of having fought against these organizations, their discipline, and their authority, because we recognized that they were of a negative character, were counter-revolutionary, and belonged to the category of «Xi'an». This realization came when they began to negate the struggle for the reconstitution of the Communist Party in Switzerland, telling comrades here that they should not try to learn from past experience, such as the work of Comrade Leonie Kascher, one of the founders of the Communist Party, and should instead focus on learning dogmato-revisionism by heart. They had no use for a Swiss Communist movement — they wanted their own German «Communist» movement to extend into this country. It was a complete negation of the revolution to which we had pledged ourselves — the Swiss revolution, which is part of and serves the world revolution. As such, we destroyed their bourgeois organization, discipline, and authority here, and restored proletarian organization, discipline, and authority in Switzerland.

However, I emphasize — this only came after the realization that they were counter-revolutionary revisionists, not before. Before the split, before the Anti-Revisionist Lightning Campaign, we focused on trying to fix their problems, so as to improve their organization, discipline, and authority. This was a mistake on our part, for which we must always be self-critical — after all, they had been counter-revolutionaries all along — but it also serves as a lesson for our comrades today. This lesson is: As long as your organization has a mainly correct line, that is, as long as it belongs to the revolutionary and not to the counter-revolutionary camp, then you must work inside of it to fix the problems it has for the purpose of strengthening the organization, not of weakening or destroying it. Only if our organization becomes counter-revolutionary is it permissible to fight it. But, and I emphasize this, in such a case, you should not stick around, but should leave and found a different organization, because then we would have different understands of what would constitute counter-revolutionary behaviour. Perhaps, then, we could still work together on the basis of an alliance or something of the sort — after all, we state openly that we are willing to work with anyone who is progressive and who does not collaborate with the State, no matter what differences we may have — but that is beside the point. The point is that, as long as you find yourself in Yan'an, you have a duty to fight against individual problems in order to improve Yan'an; should you one day find yourself in Xi'an, you would have the duty to fight against systematic problems in order to destroy Xi'an.

To sum up. What is democratic centralism? It is the organizational expression of the Marxist theory of knowledge. Democratic centralism is to the organizational sphere what the Marxist theory of knowledge is to the ideological sphere and what the method of leadership, «from the masses, to the masses»,8 is to the political sphere. All correct ideas come from practice; all correct politics comes from the masses; all correct leadership comes from the membership. This is the essence of democratic centralism, and why it is the key link in the whole chain of Communist organizational principles, the link that keeps the whole chain together.

I hope that this little talk of mine has helped everyone in our committee to raise their level of understanding of democratic centralism, at least a little bit. In the future, I hope to be able to clear up other problems as well.

  1. Mao Zedong: On the New Stage (12th to 14th of October, 1938) 

  2. Mao Zedong: On Coalition Government (24th of April, 1945) 

  3. Mao Zedong: A Talk to the Editorial Staff of the «Shanxi-Suiyuan Daily» (2nd of April, 1948) 

  4. Karl Marx: Provisional Rules of the International Workers' Association (21st to 27th of October, 1864) 

  5. Nikolaj Lenin: Our Organizational Tasks (September 1902) 

  6. Nikolaj Lenin: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back (February-May 1904) 

  7. Mao Zedong: On Certain Problems in the Communist Party of China (13th of March, 1949) 

  8. Mao Zedong: Some Questions Concerning Methods of Leadership (1st of June, 1943)