Open Polemic Abandons Democratic Centralism.

Multanimity: The Prospect Of Disaster.

John B. Green.

The case against the 'Open Polemic' group, who have argued that the Leninist concept of Democratic Centralism needs to be replaced by the very different notion of "Multanimity".

The Open Polemic grouping some time ago published a journal, "Prospect", claiming to be in favour of democratic centralism in the (future) Communist Party. The publication begins with statements in support of Lenin's formulation, but apparently palming off the addition of the modifying adjective "multanimous" as if it did not fundamentally alter Lenin's concept. The "multanimous", democratic centralist party is a term that seeks to revise the already fully explicit leninist concept of democratic centralism.

It is characteristic of the Open Polemic to insist on the use of neologisms. It employs other new terms, such as "leader centralism", which the reader is invited in Prospect to substitute both for the trotskyist term "Stalinism" and for forms of centralist organisation (centralism). Views are often denounced as "particular, historically specific" (any view based on a consideration of historical data which represents a political disagreement is dismissed in this way) and their proponents as "dogmatists", which term they revise for use in attacking Marxist-Leninists who draw conclusions taking into consideration the history of the movement.

But theirs is not just some kind of late twentieth-century Newspeak. Their distorted notions are designed to airbrush away existing demarcations or problems of the contemporary revolutionary movement. The prospect being held out for the future Party is a bleak one. It would be a Party characterised by factionalism encouraged by the notion of "multanimity".

The positive side of Open Polemic was that it drew attention to real problems, which will have to be resolved for unity to be achieved. The journal Open Polemic proclaimed itself to be "For Revolutionary Unity". Originally it saw the fragmented movement in this country as comparable with Russia in the 1890s, but with an historical obstacle to unity: each grouplet imposed its own iron discipline and was run on democratic centralist lines, and in practice was more centralist than democratic. The Open Polemic stated that this form of organisation would have to be surrendered in order for Communists to unite in a single democratic centralist organisation.

The problem is that the "left" today is already "multanimous", that is, divided. No amount of formal, organisational manoeuvres will efface the very real differences between the tendencies. Only political struggle will do that. And such struggle, between the two political trends (trotskyism and Marxism-Leninism) that expressed themselves throughout the 20th century, could not exist in unity within a single political party.

The tendency of the Open Polemic to call for encouraging factionalism ("multanimity") in a future Party is the result of the desire to efface differences and demarcations in the revolutionary movement. At first sight, the addition of the term "multanimity" appears to strengthen the democratic element in democratic centralism, but in fact it can only undermine and smash it by encouraging and even institutionalising factionalism. Instead of the proletarian principle of unity, the multanimity principle legitimises disunity in the future Party. In fact, this principle stands in opposition to the leninist principle of democratic centralism. It is not difficult to foresee such a party rapidly disintegrating into a multanimous, multicentral body with the hydra-headed multiplicity of the countless committees of the Fourth Internationals.

The "multanimous" party theory stands in opposition to the leninist theory of different levels of political consciousness in the class. Instead of raising the level of the average element to an advanced level, it instead institutionally promotes all views as of equal value.

This theory downgrades the leadership role of the central institutions, offering them an organising role only. This stands opposed to the principle of democratic centralism, which makes the central institutions the "top" between party congresses. Beginning by attacking "leader centralism", the Open Polemic grouping arrive at an attack on leadership itself!

The idea put forward by the Open Polemic that "historically specific" formulations are wrong reflects a desire to dispense with the history of the movement. The idea that we can do so, or airbrush it away with neologisms such as when Bob Smith invites us to substitute their new term "leader centralism" for the bourgeois word "Stalinism", reflects an impatience to do away with problems and attain unity without resolving them in practice. In dismissing views as "historically specific" The Open Polemic is not arguing that solutions arrived at concerning specific historical problems are not applicable generally, as might be inferred. They use this brickbat to suggest that major historical experiences, such as the experience of trotskyism over decades, cannot assist us in understanding the present. This is an absurd attempt to create unity based on deliberate ignorance. How surprised we would all be when these old differences surface in the future with "historically specific" and tragic consequences.


Our organisation, Partisan (Britain) [now part of CP Alliance - Ed.], has always upheld democratic centralism as the organisational form of the party of the proletariat (Lenin's "party of a new type"). In our contributions to the publications of the Open Polemic and elsewhere, we have always made this very clear. For example, in OP number 4, in the contribution "Socialist Democracy", we discussed it with reference to Lenin's work, as follows:

"In What Is To Be Done? Lenin noted the elements of party democracy as full publicity, election, accountability and open political activity enabling everyone to see the attitude of each party member, resulting in 'the survival of the fittest'."

"In One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, Lenin describes the centralist organisational principle of the communists and distinguishes it from the autonomous organisational principle of opportunism, which is characterized by vagueness and amorphousness...".

"... Those 'leaders' in Britain today who separate democracy from centralism always retain the latter. They are able to do so because their followers are untrained for work as professional revolutionaries and offer unquestioning allegiance to their mentors. It is the experience of such misleaders which has confused the concept of democratic centralism."

"The long-standing refusal of British revolutionaries to insist upon the right... to evaluate and criticize their leaders reflects not the failure of democratic centralism, but the amateurishness of these revolutionaries."

Yet the Open Polemic attempts to depict us in its pages as "leader centralists" rather than as the proponents of democratic centralism. Why would it perpetrate this falsehood? Could it be that it needs to suggest that the leninist concept of democratic centralism, which we consistently advocate, is in need of revision, that it should be replaced by something sounding a lot like it but in fact wholly different?

Yes! The notion they have in mind is "the multanimous, democratic centralist party".

The Open Polemic has, as we have demonstrated, attacked Partisan's principled position (by name-calling, not by argument). If the Open Polemic would have us believe that they are only referring to democratic centralism in writing of "multanimity", then why slander its proponents? If the Open Polemic uphold the principle of democratic centralism, why preface it with the word "multanimous"? Unless the Open Polemic is indulging in mere phrase-mongering, it must signify a departure from the concept of democratic centralism first defined by Lenin, and defended by Marxist-Leninists.

The standpoint of "multanimity", representing a revision of the Leninist concept, is in reality a concealed attack on the organisational principle of democratic centralism.

The "multanimity principle" (as it was called by P. Rowe, a member of the OP editorial board) stands in opposition to the political and organisational principle of democratic centralism. It is no other than the principle of opportunism, which, according to Lenin, "seeks to lessen the responsibility of individual intellectuals to the party of the proletariat, to lessen the influence of the central institutions, to enlarge the autonomy of the least steadfast elements in the Party, to reduce organisational relations to a purely platonic and verbal acceptance of them."

Those "defenders" of democratic centralism who find cause to amend the concept of democratic centralism along opportunist lines, would allow the least steadfast elements among their followers, as members of a communist party, the opportunity to give merely verbal acceptance of any decisions which needed to be made by the leadership after election!

How wonderful to imagine such a multanimous party! It would be the home of middle class intellectuals continually disputing 'in open polemic' and arriving at best at some relative truth, having no reason for unity of action and unable to adhere to a unified programme. Would the Party leadership itself be healthily "multanimous"? How could such a party conduct the struggle, how could it lead the revolution, how defend the dictatorship of the proletariat?

No. We prefer the principle of democratic centralism, which we have steadfastly proposed. We believe the principle is already a developed concept and that the Marxist-Leninist principle must be asserted, not undermined.

We need no "multanimous" adjective, which opens the door to the "equal opportunity" of opportunism, to emphasize the democratic element of this dialectical concept. The "left" in Britain is already multanimous, in the sense that is is faction-ridden. It is this middle-class multanimity (clearly seen in the plurality of trotskyist groups), which is strangely unanimous when it comes to making attacks on Marxism-Leninism. It attempts to deceive the working class and divide its vanguard.

This existing "multanimity" is really a deception, because those who "multanimously" attack the principles of Marxism-Leninism (including democratic centralism) in reality share a great deal of unanimity with the bourgeoisie. It does the Open Polemic no credit when they assert falsely that Partisan, in rejecting their formulation, is therefore somehow in favour of what they call "leader centralism". This term is used by the Open Polemic to describe a combination of formal democracy and centralism. This formal democracy, however, is a negation of democratic centralism as an organisational principle.

The Open Polemic offers a misleading formulation: either multanimity or leader centralism. This is a false set of alternatives. Partisan stands for the leninist concept of democratic centralism. We reject the "multanimous" descent into opportunism. This does not at all mean that we expect the members of a future party to agree on all things. The concept of democratic centralism includes full discussion and democratic decisions open to all. It also includes the concept of election of leaders, party discipline and unity in action. Without such discipline, such unanimity, there could be no party of a new type and no dictatorship of the proletariat. The prospect offered by the Open Polemic is of a divided party, characterized by chronic, institutionalised factionalism encouraged by a democracy committee - a prospect for disaster.

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