Democratic centralism

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Democratic centralism is the name given to the principles of internal organization used by Leninist political parties. The democratic aspect of this organizational method describes the freedom of members of the political party to discuss and debate matters of policy and direction, but once the decision of the party is made by majority vote, all members are expected to uphold that decision. This latter aspect represents the centralism. As Lenin described it, democratic centralism consisted of "freedom of discussion, unity of action."[1]

Before Stalin

The Sixth Party Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) held at Petrograd between July 26 and August 3, 1917 defined democratic centralism as follows:

  1. That all directing bodies of the Party, from top to bottom, shall be elected;
  2. That Party bodies shall give periodical accounts of their activities to their respective Party organizations;
  3. That there shall be strict Party discipline and the subordination of the minority to the majority;
  4. That all decisions of higher bodies shall be absolutely binding on lower bodies and on all Party members.[2]

The text What Is to Be Done? from 1902 is popularly seen as the founding text of democratic centralism. At this time, democratic centralism was generally viewed as a set of principles for the organizing of a revolutionary workers' party. However, Lenin's model for such a party, which he repeatedly discussed as being "democratic centralist", was the German Social Democratic Party, inspired by remarks made by the social-democrat Jean Baptista von Schweitzer.

The doctrine of democratic centralism served as one of the sources of the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The Mensheviks supported a looser party discipline within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903, as did Leon Trotsky, in Our Political Tasks,[3] although Trotsky joined ranks with the Bolsheviks in 1917.

After the successful consolidation of power by the Communist Party following the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik leadership, including Lenin, instituted a ban on factions in the Party as Resolution No. 12 of the 10th Party Congress in 1921. It was passed in the morning session on March 16, 1921.[4] Supporters of Trotsky sometimes claim that this ban was intended to be temporary. But there is no language in the discussion at the 10th Party Congress suggesting that it was intended to be temporary.[5]

The Group of Democratic Centralism was a group in the Soviet Communist Party who advocated different concepts of party democracy.

Soviet Union

During the era of Joseph Stalin, the principle of democratic centralism had evolved to the point that the Supreme Soviet, while nominally vested with great lawmaking powers, did little more than approve decisions already made at the highest levels of the Communist Party. Thus, decisions made by the Party's top leaders de facto had the force of law. This arrangement soon became the norm in nearly all Communist states.

By the Brezhnev period, democratic centralism was described, in the 1977 Soviet Constitution, as a principle for organizing the state: "The Soviet state is organized and functions on the principle of democratic centralism, namely the electiveness of all bodies of state authority from the lowest to the highest, their accountability to the people, and the obligation of lower bodies to observe the decisions of higher ones." Democratic centralism combines central leadership with local initiative and creative activity and with the responsibility of each state body and official for the work entrusted to them.

The democratic centralist principle extended to elections. All Communist countries were — either de jure or de factoone-party states. In most cases, the voters were presented with a single list, which usually won 90 percent or more of the vote. In some countries, those who voted against the lone candidate on the ballot could face serious reprisals.[6][page needed][7]


Democratic centralism is also stated in Article 3 of the present Constitution of the People's Republic of China:

Article 3. The state organs of the People's Republic of China apply the principle of democratic centralism. The National People's Congress and the local people's congresses at different levels are instituted through democratic election. They are responsible to the people and subject to their supervision. All administrative, judicial and procuratorial organs of the state are created by the people's congresses to which they are responsible and under whose supervision they operate. The division of functions and powers between the central and local state organs is guided by the principle of giving full play to the initiative and enthusiasm of the local authorities under the unified leadership of the central authorities.[8]

This idea is translated into the supremacy of the National People's Congress, which represents the China's citizens and exercises legislative authority on their behalf. Other powers, including the power to appoint the head of state and head of government, are also vested in this body.

See also


  1. Lenin, V. (1906). "Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P." Retrieved 2008-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks). Short Course. New York: International Publishers, 1939, p. 198
  3. Leon Trotsky (1904). "Our Political Tasks". Retrieved 2008-08-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Protokoly 1933 ed. 585–7; 1963 ed. 571–3
  5. Protokoly 1933 ed. 523–548
  6. Sebetsyen, Victor (2009). Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. New York City: Pantheon Books. ISBN 0-375-42532-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Nohlen, D & Stöver, P (2010) Elections in Europe: A data handbook, p457 ISBN 978-3-8329-5609-7
  8. English-language text of Constitution of the People's Republic of China, adopted 4 December 1982, Chapter 1, Article 3. Accessed 29 December 2014

External links