Why do I think Lenin’s democratic centralism rocks? Despite all those who have heaped abuse on it, some opportunistically to destroy a competitor for young left wing activists, some because they don’t (yet) understand what it means and why it might be a good way of organizing, and others because they don’t have a clue what kind of party they had joined, Leninism is the future. Look at the events in Egypt.
What will socialists do? What will Left Unity do? Those who have gravitated to Left Unity on the basis of its not imposing collective discipline (however democratically determined), will split many ways on Egypt. Some will want to say a plague on both your houses. They’re idiots. Some will choose one side or the other uncritically and they are both wrong. However, they are not equally wrong.
Any ‘socialist’ siding with the generals has lost their bearings: they are poison, pure and simple. Those who want to ignore the anti-democratic elements of the MB leadership (homophobia, humiliation of Christians and atheists/agnostics, etc) can at least be talked to. They can be worked with.
In Egypt on the ground the biggest victims of the generals need to try to create a new alliance with secular democrats and split the army, fomenting unrest and mutiny amongst rank and file soldiers and junior officers, seeing to it that they do not turn their guns against their brothers, sisters, parents, neighbours.
Some in Left Unity will try to shove their fingers in their ears, refusing to debate the pros and cons of what socialists should do when it comes to controversial things like Egypt’s bloody counterrevolution. Any intervention by the left outside Egypt will certainly be tricky. Whatever we do is bound to alienate someone, whether it be feminists or devout Muslims. So these socialists will want to play it safe by trying to focus on something else, something less risky, like whether Left Unity thinks there should be a living wage or rail renationalisation or more money spent on the NHS.
I can see a large section of Left Unity’s leadership wanting to do that, becoming publicly irritated at sections of the membership who want more than lowest common denominator politics.
But many of those who left the SWP, and other groups, will refuse to play it safe. Many will want to realign the left in a positive direction. And many of them will find themselves on the same side as those they so recently tried to humiliate, even destroy. Some of them will want a rapprochement with their one time comrades in the SWP. And olive branches need to be extended to prodigal sons and daughters. Those who want, implicitly or explicitly, to back Egypt’s bloody dictatorship will face massive problems.
What has any of this to do with Lenin’s ‘democratic centralism’?
The SWP can debate issues, settle differences and then intervene united in a way that makes the winning of the argument feasible.
Those who reject democratic centralism may, as individuals, actually start off with a better position than the SWP’s. Nevertheless, their view will be drowned out. They will have no option but to rely on other forces acting as their megaphone, which is why being part of a collective organisation is a good idea if you’re a socialist.
Left Unity, TUSC and other left-wing groups need to opt for the best elements of democratic centralism. Those who glory in their shambolic organizational mush need to go home and think again. Those who champion this anti-Leninist politics inside Left Unity are not helping. They’re just not.