This is a guest post by RAJINDER CHAUDHARY; you can view his previous post on democratic centralism, on Kafila here.
The title of this note uses a quotation from ‘On Democratic Centralism’ by Com Prakash Karat carried in The Marxist, XXVI, 1, January-March 2010. This piece by the then General Secretary of the CPI(M) and the constitution of CPI(M) available on its official site (as updated in October 2015) throws interesting insights into operationalisation of the principle of democratic centralism, which recently once again came into public view in the Jagmati Sangwan episode. (All quotations henceforth are from either of these two documents.)
Prima facie ‘unity in action’ appears quite desirable but is it really so in all situations? Does it require to ‘bind the entire collective into implementing that decision’ in all situations as Karat argues, or ‘the individual shall subordinate himself to the will of the collective’ as article XIII 1(b) of party constitution requires? Do all actions-decisions that a communist party undertakes in a parliamentary democracy like ours are of the war like situation requiring marshalling of all resources without exception? Obviously, all organisational decisions cannot be equally crucial to require binding the whole organization to it. Why can’t there be freedom of action where some members or units decide to focus on health issues and others on educational issues, and some may refrain from either? Why can’t some members/units try particular tactics of organization, follow a calendar of their own and others a different one? If it sounds that one is stretching the centralism aspect a bit too far, it may be noted that Karat points out that the ‘democracy is practiced, before the conference when the political line is being formulated. Centralism comes in when the line is being implemented’, ‘when the party is formulating its policies, at the time of conferences etc., there will be democracy in action, free discussions within the party forums. Once a call for action is given, the aspect of centralism will predominate’. As if defining the political line once in three years, clinches everything and thereafter, on no other issues independent and dencentralised decisions can be taken. In fact article XXXIII of the party constitution, makes it explicit that democratic centralism means “the centralised leadership based on inner-Party democracy under the guidance of the centralised leadership”. There is a whole article on “Inner-Party Discussions” (article XXI) which states that “State Committee can initiate inner-Party discussion on an important question of Party policy concerning that particular State… with the approval of the Central Committee” (emphasis added). So, even discussion at state level on state issues can only be initiated with the approval of the Central Committee (and off course format has to be approved too). This amply clarifies the meaning of ‘freedom of thought (sic.) and unity in action’ and where emphasis lies in ‘democratic centralism’. No wonder many times one has come across situation where Party members are just curious to know what the party line on particular issue was and not the detailed arguments and would not speak on a current issue until unless party line was clear.