Democracy in a Communist Party: Poland's Experience since 1980

Democracy in a Communist Party: Poland's Experience since 1980

Democracy in a Communist Party: Poland's Experience since 1980

Democracy in a Communist Party: Poland's Experience since 1980

Excerpt

Can a communist party be democratic, i.e., operate with such features of internal democracy as uncontrolled secret elections with a choice of candidates and open debate? Past experience of virtually all communist parties has indicated that this would be a contradiction in terms, that the very nature of a communist party as a disciplined instrument carrying out orders from a small group of leaders precludes openness and decisions by majority vote of rank and file members. Yet the Polish United Workers Party (PZPR) during the "renewal" from August 1980 to December 1981 developed features which were unmistakably democratic and which in fact worked for much of a year -- before martial law suspended normal communist party operations. The PZPR appeared to have done the impossible, in effect, inventing a square wheel and, somehow, making it roll.

Communist parties have operated on the basis of the top deciding and the bottom obeying -- the principle called "democratic centralism," which normally consists of much centralism and precious little democracy. The first duty of party members and local party organizations has been to carry out the decisions of the party leadership, even if they disagree with those decisions. Criticism of decisions on policy or personnel risks censure as violation of party discipline or even factionalism, violations punishable by expulsion from the party. Party organizations are obliged to elect as their leaders officials selected from above -- officials whose first loyalty is normally to those who selected them, their patrons higher up, rather than to the organizations they lead. The nomination of candidates from below or the possibility of choice between two or more candidates would threaten the whole system, since the higher organs, and ultimately the central Politburo, would no longer be assured of control. The central leadership itself, immune from challenge from below and in control of . . .

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