report of ‘communist organisation’ session at global commune

On 22nd May The Commune and the Republican Communist Network (Scotland) co-hosted a Global Commune day school in Edinburgh. The day had sessions on politics after the election, internationalism and communist organisation. Full reports on each to follow.

The session on communist organisation was led off by Chris Ford, who produced this paper on the subject. We then broke up into two groups for further discussion. Ellenor from Liberty and Solidarity was unable to give her presentation due to illness. Follow link for Chris’s paper, and see below for feedback at the end of the workshop.


Group 1 – report by Allan Armstrong

1. There is a need to test our ideas with the class.

2. The impact of Stalinism can not be underestimated. Stalinism is the ideology of the centralised bureaucracy. The SPD and early KPD were federalist parties. Many on the Left today still focus on Lenin’s 1903 ‘What Is To Be Done’ to justify their bureaucratic centralism. By the time of the 1905 Revolution, Lenin was arguing for the opening up of the party. In the UK it is not only Stalinism, but other traditions like Trotskysism that are bankrupt.

3. One way to bring about greater organisational unity now is through the use of shared publications. The RCN and The Commune already print articles from each others’ publications. We can go beyond this, particularly by addressing practical issues.

4. The best way to bring about unity is through the struggle. Everybody is concerned about the current World Crisis. We need to present the communist ideas to confront this.

5. We need to be principled and to openly declare who we are. Our organisation needs diversity and pluralism. It is capitalism that wants to impose conformity.

6. Many people have a negative experience of existing communist organisations. Democratic centralism has not brought about unity in action, but the suppression of dissident views.

There was once a local socialist paper in Dundee – the ‘Dundee Standard’. It related to people’s experience in the city and also employed some high quality journalists. It sold well, despite being organised by George Galloway!

7. We have to take up the fight against fascism in a principled way. Giving out leaflets telling people not to vote fascist only helps the mainstream parties that have caused the crisis and doesn’t relate to people’s experience. The BNP takes up and campaigns on local issues.

There is a positive aspect to Utopianism. It enables people to think about an alternative society.

8. One largely unrecognised feature of the Bolsheviks was the variety of local papers they produced. Diversity and unity can be achieved. There should be more freedom in a communist organisation than in capitalist society!

9. When opposing Utopianism, Marx was considering Proudhon and Owen, who opposed workers’ self-organisation. They wanted to impose their views of society on others.

Communists are for de-alienation and human emancipation.

In favouring unification we need firm principles. We can’t be two-faced about our communism. We also have to take practical steps. Unity won’t come about by `Waiting for Godot’

10. Any reasonable organisation is federal. The Moscow organisation of the Bolsheviks was controlled by the Left Communists and openly opposed the Brest Litovsk Treaty. Victor Serge highlighted the many tendencies which could be found in the Bolsheviks

11. The RCN has emphasised the communist project as being for human emancipation and liberation, which is why we chose these words for the title of our magazine. However, engaging with The Commune has made us appreciate the importance of de-alienation too. The `Republic of the Imagination’ section of our magazine has focused on the cultural and artistic aspects of resistance, and through this the ability of people to anticipate a future de-alienated world now.

12. People from various indigenous struggles, e.g. the Zapatistas, are already more aware of the alienation brought about by capitalism.

13. Communist recomposition is a constant process not a single organisational act.

14. You must be open about what you stand for and have confidence in what you are doing.

15. There can be problems using the word `communist’. In many parts of the world it is totally discredited. For example in Estonia it is equated with dictatorial Russian rule.

16. We are dealing here with a problem of identity theft. We have to reclaim the word ‘communism’. Communists have confidence in our class and its capacity for self-organisation. We show our communist ideals in practice.

17. What is needed are local Commune committees, as well as affiliated tendencies like the RCN. There should be an annual conference of these committees and tendencies.

Group 2 – report by Ewan Robertson

Our discussion group focused on issues of federalism and institutionalisation, and the merits and drawbacks of tendencies/platforms within communist (and left) organisations.

Our discussion on federalism was concerned with the specific question of whether The Commune, together with the RCN, should move towards a federalist structure, with local groups appointing an editorial representative for a jointly-published monthly paper.

Concerns were raised that this move, coupled with at least some initial central coordinating group, was too big a step to take at the current stage of The Commune’s development. This rested on the fact that the organisation has limited development outside of London, and would detract from the pluralism and fluidity of thought and actions that is currently being generated from The Commune’s present state. It would put organisational pressure on current members who would end up juggling too many administrative duties (attending endless meetings), while discouraging new members who would feel they were joining a more fully fledged organisation than currently existed.

On the other hand, most people thought that a federalist structure was desirable and likely in the future (medium term). The idea of both local publications and a central publication to promote pluralism was a popular one, and most felt that the process of developing a communist vision for the 21st century in the here and now would require greater organisational cohesion. Comrades in the RCN described how bonds of trust, respect and friendship had been built over years, and the same process would take place (and is taking place) within The Commune. Thus several people thought that The Commune on its current path would continue to develop and organically reach a stage where the move to a federal structure would become a consensus decision.

The other issue connected to the move to federalism was on the existence and desirability of platforms within a more formal organisation. Several Commune members felt that different areas of the country could end up with a dominating tendency that new members ended up adopting rather than developing their ideas in an intellectual atmosphere of plurality. In particular, references were made to the negative experiences comrades had had in some left groups were certain tendencies had tried to dominate or control the ideas and actions of a left organisation (i.e. the SWP).

However, it was pointed out that tendencies exist in every organisation, regardless of whether this is recognised or not. RCN members pointed out that these can be healthy for the development of a wider (communist) organisation if they are formally recognised as such, and operate in a democratic, open, and principled manner. Therefore tendencies within a federalist Commune could contribute to the vibrancy of the organisation if they organised and operated along those lines.

Therefore overall, while issues of timing, political development and tendencies/factions were discussed, a general consensus existed that the move toward a federalist structure would be a likely and positive development for The Commune and for beginning to build for a communist vision in the 21st century.

2 thoughts on “report of ‘communist organisation’ session at global commune

  1. Hold on! It’s very difficult with an article like this that begins with a major error of fact at its very start. To declare then that the SPD and KPD were federalist parties is a nonsense and does not accord with known facts.

    It is, of course, certainly the case that in both the SPD and early KPD not to mention the USPD many decisions that in todays small socialist groups would be decided at a state level were made locally. This is unsurprising given the small size of even the largest left groups and is not without merit as even a group counted in the hundreds must professionalise itself and move away from the primitivism of federalism that prevents the development of a division of labour within the group. Federalism is the sect form hence its attraction to anarchists.

    The fact is that politically and organisationally these parties were centralised which is why Lenin used the SPD as a political model for the RSDLP. That the latter party was more centralised at an organisational level being a function of its clandestine nature rather than a function of Lenins politics which were at this stage that of an orthodox Erfurtian to use Lars Lihs term.

    I can but hope the rest of the article is not as poor…


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