Internal Party Democracy

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Democracy, Internal Party


the basis of the organization and activity of the CPSU and other Marxist-Leninist communist and workers’ parties; the most important aspect of the guiding principle of the party’s organizational structure, democratic centralism. Internal party democracy signifies the active participation of Communists in the resolution of all party matters. Revealing the essence of internal party democracy, V. I. Lenin wrote: “This means that all the affairs of the party are conducted, either directly or through representatives, by all the members of the party, all of whom without exception have equal rights; moreover, all officials, all leading bodies, and all institutions of the party are subject to election, are responsible to their constituents, and are subject to recall” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 14, p. 252).

Before the October Revolution when it functioned in underground conditions, the party was forced to limit internal party democracy, especially the openness, regular elections, and accountability of party committees. An illegal party could operate successfully only on the basis of the strictest secrecy. At that time the Central Committee and local party committees often co-opted professional revolutionaries. However, even under conditions of political persecution all of the most important questions of party life were resolved on a collective basis at party congresses and conferences and at plenums of the Central Committee. The Central Committee was elected at party congresses and was accountable to the party for its activity. The leadership bodies of many local party organizations were also elected and accountable. Every party member had the right to petition the Central Committee, the editors of the Central Organ, and the party congress (see KPSS v rezoliutsiiakh … , 8th ed., vol. 1, 1970, p. 67). In the period of the Revolution of 1905-07, when freedom of assembly, association, and press was won, Lenin proposed “to begin immediately, at once, application of the elective principle” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 12, p. 84). During the years of reaction (1907-10), the party again had to restrict internal party democracy. The fifth conference of the RSDLP (All-Russian, 1908) permitted the use of co-optation.

With the triumph of the Great October Socialist Revolution, the party developed internal party democracy on a wide scale. Even in the severe and difficult conditions of the Civil War of 1918-20, party congresses and conferences were convened annually, and Central Committee plenums were held regularly. Reporting to the Ninth Party Congress (1920) on the work of the Central Committee, Lenin stressed that “only the corporate decisions of the Central Committee adopted in the Organizing Bureau or the Political Bureau, or by a plenary meeting of the Central Committee—only these decisions were carried out by the secretary of the party Central Committee. The work of the Central Committee cannot otherwise proceed properly” (ibid., vol. 40, p. 238). The Tenth Party Congress (1921) adopted a decision on the all-out implementation of internal party democracy in order to en-sure for all Communists active participation in party life and party construction, to preclude any system of office by appointment, and introduce widely the election of party bodies from top to bottom and their accountability and controllability.

In their interpretation of internal party democracy, the Trotskyists and other antiparty elements tried to justify the right of an opposition against the policy adopted by the party majority to exist within the party; in other words, by demagogically hiding behind internal party democracy, they were seeking freedom for factions and groupings to operate in the party. The party condemned these attempts and required all Communists to uphold party unity and root out the slightest manifestations of factional struggle and splitting. The Seventeenth Congress of the ACP (Bolshevik; 1934) supplemented the Rules with a special section on internal party democracy and party discipline.

In connection with the democratization of the Soviet electoral system on the basis of the Constitution of the USSR (1936), the plenum of the ACP (Bolshevik) Central Committee in February 1937 adopted a resolution on the need to reorganize party work on the basis of unconditional and complete implementation of the principles of internal party democracy. These measures were then secured in the ACP (Bolshevik) Rules adopted by the Eighteenth Party Congress (1939). However, in practice, in the atmosphere of Stalin’s personality cult, there were violations of the principles of internal party democracy. The party corrected these violations. The Rules adopted by the Twenty-second Congress of the CPSU (1961) included a special provision on collective leadership as an indispensable condition of the normal activity of party organizations, the proper indoctrination of cadres, and the development of the activity and initiative of Communists. The resolutions of the October and November 1964 plenums of the CPSU Central Committee, which deemed as faulty the subjectivist approach to the resolution of questions, were of great importance for establishing the principles of internal party democracy.

An important provision of internal party democracy secured in the CPSU Rules is the free and businesslike discussion by party members of questions of party policy in individual party organizations and the party as a whole. Every party member may submit proposals and openly express and defend his opinion before the party organization adopts a certain decision. Every party member has the right to criticize any Communist regardless of the position he holds. Persons guilty of stifling criticism or persecuting others for criticism are brought to strict party accountability, even to the point of expulsion from the CPSU. The Summary Report of the Central Committee at the Twenty-fourth Congress of the CPSU said: “The development of internal party democracy is inseparable from the strengthening of party discipline. Experience confirms that the strength and capabilities of the party are determined in large part by how consistently and correctly the principle of democratic centralism is carried out. Anarchic lack of discipline that is passed off as democracy, and bureaucratic centralization, which holds back the development of Communists’ initiative and activity, are equally detrimental to a Marxist-Leninist party” (Materialy XXIV s”ezda KPSS, 1971, p. 95). The most rigorous observance and development of internal party democracy is of enormous importance, not only for the CPSU but also for the entire international communist movement. (SeeDEMOCRATIC CENTRALISM.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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