Part-2: A Party that empowers the working class requires the basic organization at its foundation
The modern Communist Party is not an electoral machine. It is an instrument for the empowerment of the working class and all the oppressed. The Communist Party must work to ensure that the working class leads all of society out of its current crisis. It must act as the harbinger of the new society, as the force that leads the movement of the workers, peasants, women and youth to become the masters of society. It must organize the working class to lead the transition from capitalism to socialism, which is the first stage of communism. It must fight for a new kind of political power in which the people are sovereign. Working with the aim of creating a new kind of political power, it must necessarily be a new kind of political party, distinct from the parliamentary parties of the bourgeoisie. The distinction is seen most clearly in who sets the agenda and where decision-making power lies in the party.
A bourgeois parliamentary party is organized only for one purpose—to elect its members and form a government. This is why such a party is referred to as an electoral machine. In such parties, the supreme decision-making authority lies in the hands of a small coterie that is often referred to as the "high command". The high command sets the agenda and makes the decisions while the role of the so-called rank and file is to follow those decisions and work for the victory of the party candidates at every election.
In the Communist Party, the supreme decision making authority lies with the Congress of the Party. The Congress is an assembly of delegates from all organizations of the party. The Congress elects the Central Committee, which has the duty to work relentlessly to ensure that the line set by the Congress is defended at all times and the decisions of the Congress are implemented by the entire party. The Central Committee exercises the overall decision-making authority in the party in between two congresses. However, the Central Committee does not have the authority to overturn the decisions of the Congress, which elected it in the first place. It is duty bound to convene another Congress if any of the decisions of the previous Congress are to be changed.
Basic organizations of class struggle are a unique feature of the Communist Party. At the base or foundation of the Communist Party are the basic organizations, which are organs of class struggle in the midst of the workers, peasants, women, youth and progressive intelligentsia. The basic organizations are the link between the party and the broad masses of workers and other oppressed. Far from coming into action only when an election is called, the basic organization of class struggle is intimately involved in the work to empower the working class and people at all times and under all circumstances. It is the place where the fighter for communism is recruited and where he or she is molded as a communist. The basic organizations are the schools of communism.
Lenin deliberated on the concept of the cell or the basic organization many times. He wrote, "In all organizations, unions and associations without exception, and first and foremost in proletarian organizations, but also in those of the non-proletarian toiling and exploited masses (political, trade union, military, co-operative, education, sports, etc.,etc.), groups or cells of Communists should be formed - preferably open groups, but underground groups as well, the latter being essential whenever there is reason to expect their suppression, or the arrest or banishment of their members on the part of the bourgeoisie; these cells, which are to be in close touch with one another and with the Party centre, should, by pooling their experience, carrying on work of agitation, propaganda and organization, adapting themselves to absolutely every sphere of public life and to every variety and category of the toiling masses, systematically educate themselves, the Party, the class, and the masses by means of such diversified work" (Theses on the Fundamental Tasks of the Second Congress of the Communist International, published in July 1920).
In other words, the basic organizations are established wherever the masses of people are to be found, right in their midst. They establish the unbreakable unity between the vanguard of the working class and the mass of workers and broad masses of the people. With such a mandate it is no wonder that the basic organization has become known as the greatest political invention of the 20th century.
Membership in a bourgeois party is like buying something in the market – you purchase a membership. But in the Communist Party people can only join through working in a basic organization as candidate members. A communist, by definition, has to be working as a member of one of the party organizations, under the discipline of a collective of the party.
The Communist Party is an organization of collectives, where each collective exercises the power to make decisions in its own sphere of operation, and is duty bound to implement the decisions it makes. The basic organizations make decisions and plans of action consistent with the line of the Party and fight for the implementation and realization of these decisions and plans. This integration of legislative and executive power, right from the foundation and at all levels of the Communist Party is what makes it an instrument for the empowerment of the working class and people.
According to the doctrine of representative democracy, which appears in various forms and in which parliamentary parties form and run governments, political power must be split into three elements: an executive, a legislature and a judiciary. This split is necessary, the theorists of representative democracy argue, in order to prevent the concentration of power in one place, allegedly to prevent ‘dictatorship’. However, the system that this doctrine justifies is one in which it is the executive—the ruling Cabinet with the bureaucracy and army at its command—that exercises supreme power, subordinating the legislature and judiciary to it. It is a doctrine that justifies the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.
Representative democracy has its origin in the struggle of the bourgeoisie against the absolutism of the monarch in European society. It is this struggle led by propertied classes that eventually gave rise to parliamentary multi-party democracy—an arrangement that enables different sections of the propertied minority to compete for power while the propertyless majority is kept out of power.
Communism and the theory of the dictatorship of the proletariat posit that the legislative and executive powers must be fused into one—those who make decisions must also have the duty to ensure their implementation. The bourgeoisie attacks this proposition by branding it as a ‘dictatorship’, promoting the notion that the guarantee of democracy is to have the three powers separated. In the twentieth century, the doctrine of representative democracy has become a weapon against the doctrine of communism.
In the Communist Party, decision-making power is democratically centralized on the basis of recognizing and upholding the rights of each individual and collective in the party. The integration of legislative and executive powers ensures that every individual is accountable to the collective and every collective is accountable for its deeds. In short, it ensures that there is no arbitrariness. Those who make the decisions are also responsible for their implementation.
The Communist Party organizes all its work on the basis of the principle of collective decisions and individual responsibility. Every collective in the party is responsible for checking up if agreed upon decisions are carried out. Criticism and self-criticism takes place in every basic organization where judgements are made and disciplinary actions are proposed.
For the basic organization to be able to perform its tasks, it is essential that within it there should be lively, active participation of all comrades without exception, in discussing all questions related to the work of advancing the class struggle. It is the duty of the party members to express their opinion and participate in setting the agenda for the work and in finding the path forward for the working class movement.
When the party member notices that the decisions of the Party are not being carried out, or that the line of the Party is not being upheld, or notices disorganization and delay in work, he or she should raise the issue in the basic organization of which he or she is a member. A party member is by no means permitted to remain aloof or passively indifferent when it is a question of the integrity of the line or the decisions of the Party. This is what the Communist Party demands of all its members. The right to participate in discussions and decisions and in fighting for their implementation is an inalienable right of every member of the party. The right to make constructive, sound criticism and self-criticism, which is intended to improve the work, is a party member’s right as well as duty.
Without the basic organizations, there cannot be the party of the new type, the type that will clearly serve the class aims of the working class. The basic organization is crucial, because it is that which empowers the working class and brings it into the political leadership of society. It is the basic building block of the unity of the communists and the unity of the people. Without the basic organizations, the working class cannot prepare itself to become the ruling class.
Those communist parties that do not pay first rate attention to the building and strengthening of basic organizations in the class will necessarily succumb, sooner or later, to the bourgeois ideological pressure and ultimately lose their class character. If democratic centralism is not defended and upheld as the principle of all organizing work, then bureaucracy and liberalism will take over. The Central Committee or the Polit Bureau then becomes the "high command" in the style of the bourgeois parties, and those who disagree with this arbitrary power develop into factions within the party. This is one clear lesson from the experience of the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the CPSU(B), and from the experience of many other communist parties that embraced the parliamentary road and became champions of representative democracy.
While Lenin invented the basic organization, it is now the task of the communists of today to defend and further develop this invention, and to perfect its functioning, both in relation with the masses and in relation with the other organizations and collectives making up the modern Communist Party. The work to define and build the modern basic organization is among the most critical work that communists have to undertake at this time.
Once again, we invite all our readers and all our basic organizations to participate in this important and timely discussion.