Marxism, in simple terms, is the science of the liberation of the proletariat. It then follows naturally that one of the key questions which this field of analysis grapples with is how to do that. At the heart of this question is the need for a revolutionary party. As Italian left communist theorist Amadeo Bordiga once put it, “In the party, consciousness precedes action, unlike what takes place among the masses and at the level of the individual.” A revolutionary vanguard party is a necessity for the success of the liberation of the working class. No matter how dire situations get, no matter how agitated the working class becomes, without a strong and theoretically developed party, opportunism will always prevail and revolution will be repelled, as was seen in the 30’s with the destruction of the revolutionary potential of the US proletariat which accompanied FDR’s New Deal, a series of concessions which the admitted purpose of was to buy off the class consciousness of the workers. So, the next question is, how should this revolutionary party be organized? This matter has been heavily debated from Lenin to Luxemburg to Bordiga to Damen, but the purpose of this essay will be to lay out the organizational structure which I find most useful and consistent given the objective of the liberation of the working class- that is, dialectical centralism.
To truly understand Dialectical Centralism, we must first understand centralism, democratic centralism, and organic centralism. Firstly, centralism is a principal as well as a method of organization for the proletariat which is essentially a manifestation of the unification of international class struggle. I find it to be empirically true that between all of the illusory bourgeois constructed identities such as nationality and so on, there lays one true and unifying identity among the people, that being, of course, class. Centralism is merely the practical actualization of this unity; That being the unity of the international proletariat into a centralized entity. Of course, this centralist organization also shares a central goal, that being achieving socialism. However, this organization will inevitably face issues, such as fractionalization, opportunism, possible infiltration from the bourgeoisie, etc. so, then how are these issues to be dealt with? This is the question which the formulations of different kinds of centralism, whether it be democratic, organic, or dialectical, have attempted to address. The first formulation of this answer came in Lenin’s “What is to be done”, where he describes democratic centralism. Democratic centralism, essentially, runs on the principal of “freedom of discussion, unity of action”. What this means is that under democratic centralism, there is a center body which directs the activity of the broader organization- the members of this centralized body are elected democratically by the organization, and things are decided on within the central body democratically, but the democratic decisions of the central body are ultimately binding to all members of the organization- unlike typical representative democracy, wherein when some disagrees with the decisions of the majority they split off into a separate faction, under democratic centralism those who resist the decisions of the center body are expelled- this, according to Lenin, is to prevent fractionalization which would weaken the party and could be exploited by the bourgeoisie
Democratic centralism, however, was not the only idea regarding the internal mechanisms of the centralized party. Amadeo Bordiga of the Italian communist left directly rejected democratic centralism. Bordiga and others of the communist left posit what they deem to be a superior model of centralism, “organic centralism”. Organic centralist critiques of democracy claim that democracy requires bureaucracy, that democracy is an abstraction which relies on an arbitrary statistical cutoff, that democracy is over mechanistic and hinders the true progress of the party, that democracy can lead to the rise of opportunism etc. The proposed alternative to the flawed democratic system is organic centralism. In Bordigas own words, “The communist parties must achieve an organic centralism which, whilst including maximum possible consultation with the base, ensures a spontaneous elimination of any grouping which aims to differentiate itself. This cannot be achieved with, as Lenin put it, the formal and mechanical prescriptions of a hierarchy, but through correct revolutionary politics.” So, organic centralism is a centralized party which expels all opposition and fractionalization spontaneously working not on the basis of democracy but rather the organic organization- for example, the most knowledgeable or smartest members of the party might organically rise to positions of decision making where they hold sole decision making power, unshackled from the limitations of democracy. For many left communists this development was seen as the true form of centralism- however, years later, a theorist by the name of Onorato Damen would go on to write a piece called “centralized party? Yes. Centralism over the party? No!” In which he would lay the framework for a new kind of centralism which defies the dichotomy of organic-democratic centralism: Dialectical Centralism
Dialectical centralism, while understanding the left communist critique of democracy, rejects organic centralism for a few reasons: Firstly, it’s critique of Lenin’s international and democracy in general is in part based on undialectical idealistic notions- specifically, the Bordigists argue that the democratic mechanisms of Lenin’s international was tied inevitably to the happenstance of the time period, as there was no “pure” communist parties. However, Damen argues that to posit the possibility of the existence of such “pure” communist parties is ignorant of fundamental dialectical truths, such as the inherent contradictions which exist within and between all things. As Damen writes, “We can tell these comrades in all certainty that there will be no international of pure communist parties, but only an international that will reflect within it the good and the evil, the contradictions and absurdity, of a society divided into classes, themselves torn by various layers of interest, social conditions, culture, etc. The assumption of communist parties in a pure state with an equally pure world organisation, even as a simple aspiration, is not the result of any serious investigation based on Marxism.” Damen validates this empirically, by demonstrating the objective conditions of communist organizations run on organic centralist principals such as the Communist Programme, which routinely suffer from these contradictions and crisis’.
More prominently, dialectical centralists reject the notion that a party can be run by a leader or central committee which relies only on themself, on their capacity “as related to a “set” of already planned possible moves (our emphasis) in relation to no less foreseen outcomes whilst the so-called membership can usefully be ordered to perform actions indicated by the leadership”. Such a relationship in which the leadership is above the party or separate from it, the dialectical relationship between the center and the party is irreparably destroyed, resulting in the destruction of the revolutionary movement and the reconstruction of capitalism. Dialectical Centralists oppose Organic Centralism on the basis that it will lead to a central organ which operates outside of the organizations membership, the results of which will inevitably be the decay of the revolution. In short, dialectical centralists believe that organic centralism will lead to the destruction of the dialectical relationship between the party and its center, a center which is inextricably tied to a “set” of possible moves, and a center which operates outside of the organization- for this reason, organic centralism cannot be the organizational structure of future proletarian parties. So, what is dialectical centralism? Well, dialectical centralism distances itself from democratic centralism as it realizes the shortcomings and mechanistic nature of the democratic system. However, dialectical centralism distances itself from organic centralism in that it acknowledges that the outcomes of a system in which the central body operates outside of the organization. Dialectical Centralism posits that the organizational structure of the proletariat should be one that is fluid and adaptable rather than adhering to a democratic structure. Dialectical Centralists advocate for a structure that “obeys the need to adapt its organisational structure to the objective condition of the revolutionary struggle.” Dialectical Centrists believe that “The elementary tactical principle of the revolutionary party in action, is that it must take into account the characteristics of the terrain on which it works and that its members are adequately prepared for their tasks. “ Moreover, unlike the Organic Centralists, Dialectical Centralists recognize the constant dialectical relationship between the membership and leadership of the party, and the necessity that this relationship is maintained; In other words, the necessity that while the party remain centralized, the centralized organ stays within the party, without going “above” it and operating on its own. Damen lays out an example of this dialectical relationship in his article, detailing Lenin’s experience: “Lenin, at his most personal and most decisive, by which we mean the Lenin of the “April Theses” had a desperate determination to “go to the sailors,” beyond the formal organisation of the Bolshevik Party’s Central Committee whose positions which were based on misunderstanding and compromise. Lenin was not operating on organic or even democratic centralism here, but acting as the chief pillar of the coming revolution, the only one who had understood and endorsed the demands of the working class and this is because his feet were firmly on a class terrain, because he thought and worked in class terms, and for the class, and had a very lively sense of history which teaches us that revolution loves action and hates cowards who turn up a day late.”
In conclusion, it’s well established that a centralized, theoretically developed party is essential to the success of the revolutionary workers movement. The question of how to organize this party, however, is heavily contested. Though it is true that democracy is a somewhat meaningless principle, and strict adherence to the mechanism of democratic decision making is flawed and shouldn’t define the sole organizational tactic of the working class, the Italian left communist alternative, that being organic centralism, is also heavily flawed, as in this structure lays a tendency for the central body to operate outside of the organization, destroying the relationship between the center and broader organization of the party which is needed in a successful revolutionary organization. The solution is a dialectical centralism, a centralism which while remaining organic, fluid, allowing itself to adapt naturally to the objective conditions of the working class, maintains the dialectical relationship between the body and the center, doesn’t allow the center to operate outside of the body, etc.