John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

How did Communist parties handle issues of internal discipline and democracy in Lenin’s time? The recent intense discussion within the British Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) and beyond has heard claims that the SWP rests on the traditions of democratic centralism inherited from the Bolsheviks.

John Riddell: Democracy in Lenin's Comintern

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Some extended thoughts about Stephanie Bottrill, the woman who committed suicide because of the bedroom tax.

Richard Atkinson: Death and the Bedroom Tax

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Today marks the 35th anniversary of the killing of Blair Peach by the police. David Renton looks back at Blair Peach’s life as a poet, trade unionist and committed antifascist

Dave Renton: Who Was Blair Peach?

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Bunny La Roche of RS21 on Nigel Farage's visit to Kent

Bunny La Roche: Nasty Little Nigel gets a rude welcome to Kent

Financial Appeal

We're up and running! An appeal for funds to kickstart the IS Network

Financial Appeal

Tim Nelson: Rosa Luxemburg and the revolutionary party

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This is the first in a series of articles this blog plans to run as the IS Network begins a wide-ranging discussion and debate about the IS tradition and the way forward for the left. Each piece reflects the views of the author, not a collective position taken by the network.

Rosa LuxemburgOf the many debates which have emerged out of the crisis in the Socialist Workers Party, one of the most important has been the question of democracy within the movement, and how socialists should organise. Those of us who have questioned the level of democracy have been accused of wishing to abandon Leninist principles of organisation. Although this is not the case, I would argue that there has been, for a number of years, an overreliance on a certain interpretation of Lenin’s writings, which has led us to have a rather limited approach towards revolutionary organisation, and have hindered our growth. Furthermore, I would argue that the International Socialist tradition, particularly before the 1970s, did not limit itself to replicating the methods of Lenin and the Bolsheviks. Tony Cliff, and others within the early I.S., recognised that others, particularly Rosa Luxemburg, had as much to teach us as Lenin when we are discussing methods of organisation.

The debate surrounding Rosa Luxemburg’s contribution to the nature of socialist organisation has been long-running. The roots of the discussion lie in an exchange between Luxemburg and Lenin in 1904. It is often asserted that Luxemburg’s looser, more libertarian model of a revolutionary organisation is to be contrasted with Lenin’s Bolshevik Party, a hierarchical, top-down structure dominated by professional revolutionaries with an all-powerful central committee. This idea has, for a long time, suited both those who wish to reject Lenin out of hand as an authoritarian, and those who wish to reduce Leninism to orthodoxy, and justify undemocratic practice in his name. In other words, this false dichotomy has served both those socialists who wish to distance themselves from the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik Party, and Stalinists and other authoritarian Marxists, who wish to justify their opposition to democracy in the movement by tracing its roots to Lenin.

It is my opinion that, while Luxemburg and Lenin disagreed on a number of important strategic and organisational matters, particularly on the nature of the revolutionary party, much of those disagreements were as a result of the different conditions in which they operated. Due to the success of the Bolshevik Party in leading a successful revolution in October 1917, it has become generally accepted by revolutionary socialists that the 'Leninist model' of a revolutionary party was the correct one. This is unfortunate for two reasons. Firstly, there is much we can learn from Luxemburg’s arguments on the subject of revolutionary organisation, which fit our circumstances now much more than those of Lenin. Secondly, the “Leninist model” proposed by many on the revolutionary left is based on many distortions and misconceptions.