KOENEN: Comrades, first of all a little apology. The report on the organization of the parties, the methods and content of their work, was assigned to me only in the course of the last week; consequently there was a certain delay in dealing with it, and it was also not possible to finish revising the Theses in an entirely regular way. You must also pardon me if—since this assignment was given only last week—I could not carry it out comprehensively or thoroughly. The report I have to give is, by virtue of its subject, very extensive. I am to discuss not just the organizational tasks, but also the methods and content of work, and likewise the organizational structure of the Communist International and its relationship to the different parties—a complex of questions which would demand a very comprehensive exposition. I want to say in advance that because of the breadth of the subject I must completely dispense with any historical introduction on the development of the various parties or of the concept of the Communist Party. Insofar as it is necessary to go into the economic preconditions for the parties, the methods of work of the parties, I will have to do it at particular points in the course of the report.
It is already common knowledge in all the parties that, for a Communist Party, organization is not an end in itself; rather organization, particularly the organizational apparatus, is only a means to the higher aim of furthering the revolutionary cause, of driving the revolution forward, of erecting a communist society—our goal. Karl Marx, in the first General Statutes of the First International Workingmens Association, had already formulated the idea that the economic emancipation of the working class is the great end to which every movement must be subordinated as a means. And in line with the spirit of those statutes, an organization will work most effectively for the solution of the social question when it achieves the theoretical and practical collaboration of the most advanced groups. In the modern working-class movement the organizational apparatus must be structured to guarantee that the proletarians in their struggles will at every given moment receive the greatest possible assistance from similarly organized proletarian groups.
In the present turbulent period of latent civil war it is self-evident that the Communist International seeks to bring about a mutual strengthening of the organizational and active forces by means of strict centralization. The goal of organization is clear. The immediate goal of organization is to achieve the conquest of political power for the proletariat. A combat leadership which aims to achieve this end must be able to act within the communist organizations according to a definite plan, with forces that can be relied on. The struggle demands concentrated preparation through education and persuasive agitation, by means of which the total attention of the struggling proletariat is at every moment directed at the great goal shared by the entire class, the goal which actually unites all forces which in any way want to take up the struggle. The organization must therefore be tied together centrally, as a union of forces; it must be held together as a union not only of the consciously revolutionary workers, but of those with genuinely revolutionary impulses as well.
In his remarks on the organizational lessons of the March Action comrade Béla Kun, who originally was supposed to give this report, was quite right to formulate the idea that in the last analysis the question of revolution is not an organizational question. We must keep in mind that, in dealing with this question—in solving this problem—we must perform an important revolutionary task.
If we look at the organizational forms in the various countries, we must admit that the International still constitutes a very colorful jumble of the most diverse organizational forms. And we should not believe that in this respect the Second Congress has already effected a decisive change; we should not hope that even the Third Congress can and will bring about this change. But although we recognize this multiplicity of organizational forms, we must nonetheless work insistently toward standardizing our organizational forms because we are well aware that despite the varying circumstances in the different countries, despite the fact that they condition the various forms of organization in various countries, nonetheless we must achieve a certain identity of methods, of content, since the goal—the conquest of power—is the same. In addition the enemy, namely the bourgeoisie, is the same everywhere and employs the same forms of struggle against us. This compels us to press for a certain homogeneity in the methods of struggle and in the content of the work of Communist Parties.
Some parties still contain all the weaknesses of the old bureaucratic centralization, of the old social-democratic parties. They are still dragging this old tradition around because they have a very brief communist past. In fact one can say that the large mass parties are still dragging along remnants of this old social-democratic bureaucracy. Other parties came into being through a rebellion initiated against this bureaucratic centralism, against this bureaucratic sort of party structure. This was, for example, the case with one wing from which the German Party emerged. The USPD was typically a party which arose from the rebellion of the active elements against the passive center. In the old Social Democracy during the war this passive center necessarily of itself provoked a rebellion by the active elements, and eventually the rebelling individual districts joined together and a certain federalistic basis for the party then arose. These elements were dragging the remnants of federalism around with them and they had to break the independence of the individual districts, and to insist that only this federalism has a right to independence, and the passive center no longer has a say.1
These federalist symptoms must be combatted just as energetically as the centralist heritage of the old social-democratic party.
The parties must increasingly become the center of action, of activization. We are faced with the task of structuring the bodies of the party to accord with the goals set for us in the Communist Manifesto. To begin with then, our first task is to secure a firm leadership at the head of a centralist organization. It is unfortunately still necessary to insist on this firm leadership—indeed, any leadership which occupies a pre-eminent position—because certain tendencies opposed even to this can still be observed in the KAP.2 Unified, strict leadership must be expressly insisted on in opposition to these tendencies. A broader justification is surely unnecessary at this Congress. I need only state that we consider this clear, centralist leadership necessary. But equally necessary for the party bodies to accomplish their work is that this leadership have good ties with the masses. Thus, in concrete terms, the task posed is that along with centralist, strict, unified, clear, firm leadership we must establish good, well-developed ties with the masses which extend even to details.
The ties between the leadership and the masses should be created by constructing the party on the basis of democratic centralism, in accordance with the decisions of the Second Congress. This democratic centralism is not an empty bureaucratic formula but rather may be defined in other words as centralization of activity, concentration for the party of the results of its work and struggle. This is the only way to conceive of centralization. We considered it necessary, in the course of the most recent revision of our Theses, to express this idea even more explicitly. Points two and six contain an easily misunderstood formulation, which we have deleted and replaced with new language intended to express the concept of democratic centralism even more explicitly and clearly. Our proposed new version reads:
Democratic centralism in the communist party organization must be a real synthesis, a fusion of centralism and proletarian democracy. This fusion can be attained only on the basis of the ongoing common activity, the ongoing common struggle of the entire party organization.
Centralization in the communist party organization does not mean a formal and mechanical centralization but rather a centralization of communist activity, i.e., building a leadership which is strong, quick to react and at the same time flexible.
Formal or mechanical centralization would be centralization in order to dominate the rest of the membership or the masses of the revolutionary proletariat outside the party. But only the enemies of communism can assert that the Communist Party wants to dominate through its leadership of the proletarian class struggles and through the centralization of this communist leadership of the revolutionary proletariat. That is a lie; and equally incompatible with the fundamental principles of democratic centralism adopted by the Communist International is a power struggle or a fight for domination within the party. 3
To underline this briefly once more: what we are saying here is that no leadership clique should form in the party, a leadership clique which for instance believes that because it has been handed the leadership of a central apparatus it is therefore justified in using this central apparatus to work against the express will of the majority of the party—that it, as a narrow leadership clique, can turn the central apparatus into a mechanism to impose its rule. Dangers of this sort have often been pointed out. Here it must be stated that allowing this kind of leadership domination to develop does not correspond to the will of the International. It is solely our work and the direction of this work which are to be centralist. This way we shall be able to begin our work, our struggles, and lead them in a really centralistic fashion. The road to the actual development of this democratic centralization is long. The Guidelines adopted at the Second Congress already stated that the introduction of such democratic centralization was not going to be the work of a short time or of just one year.
It was emphasized that to crystallize out the concentration and centralization of the real leadership of the party is a lengthy and difficult process. And in the Guidelines we stress that, through improvements and diligent testing of their apparatus, the parties must make sure they really have a centralization of their work and not bureaucratic centralism, so that they can achieve a real concentration of the leadership of this work.
The best insurance against bureaucratization of the apparatus is extremely active ties between the party leadership and all party bodies. These active ties also have to bring the masses of members—through constant contact with the central leadership—to realize and understand that such centralization constitutes an objectively justified strengthening and development of their collective work and struggles. The members must feel and experience for themselves that this genuinely means not an alien leadership, but rather a strengthening of their own fighting power. If centralism comes alive in this way, if it does not remain a formality but pulses with life, we will have the best protection against the danger of bureaucratism and the ossification of the apparatus. What comrade Béla Kun says in his article must be granted: namely that, aside from the Russian and this or that small party, there is scarcely any party which has yet attained the necessary living centralism; that instead centralism is still being applied much too mechanically; that we cannot yet speak of its being politically applied.
How do we arrive at a truly political application of this concept? To achieve this we inserted a section on the obligation to do work right after the section on democratic centralism. When all members are drawn into the work, they themselves are brought into very intensive contact with the leadership. And if this obligation to do work, complemented by communists obligation to fight, is implemented we can be assured that bureaucratism cannot hold sway. If we want to arrive at living centralism, if we want a concentration of forces which pulses with life, then we must strongly insist on the obligation to do work. Up until now it has not been possible for the great majority of our parties to activate the partys total forces for one goal, one movement, one struggle. This must be the aim of the leaderships in the Communist Parties. They must strive zealously to integrate the entire party membership not only into the partys work but also into its campaigns.
In the Guidelines we have given a number of instructions on this. The section is so long in order to make this clear in detail. It would not be sufficient for the Congress to pass a resolution on the obligation to do work—then nothing would change. The point is to give concrete advice on how it should be implemented. We have regarded organizational instructions for the party leaderships as necessary: how the integration, the organizing, the division of labor is to take place, how the groups and cells are to work. And we have said that the party leaderships themselves should personally take on the task of organizing such working groups and getting them going. This is absolutely necessary, for we know that working groups have still hardly gotten a foothold in the International.
In a number of parties there no doubt exist on paper such ostensible cells in the plants and trade unions, and such commissions and boards or committees, which ostensibly have particular work assignments. But I maintain that they exist only on paper. This, however, is of no use to the communist movement; rather, the point is to translate these paper creations into sober reality and to make the whole party into a working body. This comment applies particularly to legal parties. To be sure, you cannot make a fundamental distinction between legal and illegal parties, but in fact they are still very different. In an illegal party only those members who really work belong to the party, since anyone who did not work would attract attention and make himself suspect. In an illegal party do-nothing members cannot be tolerated. To this extent legal and illegal parties do differ, but this difference must be overcome by giving every individual member of a legal party an assignment. Only then will we overcome the difference between these parties and really create a precise form of party organization. We considered it necessary to give these instructions.
But there are still certain differences—which, I believe, still cannot be definitively resolved at this Congress—over whether from now on the organizations can finally be built on cells in the factories, as the basis of the organizations. The tendency established at the Second Congress was that cells in the factories should be the basis of the organizations. From reports which we have received we also know that a number of organizations, a number of illegal organizations, really do regard these cells as the basis of their organizations. But for the broad mass parties this is not at all the case. I shall have more to say about this later in connection with the section on the party organism.
Because this concept of factory cells does not yet form the basis of the party as a whole, we have so far not talked about the working groups. Working groups are instruments for parties which are still built on the basis of residential districts: even if they have such a district organization, from now on they must be required to mobilize the party forces in their residential districts. They should divide up their groups so that every group has its own work. There is a system of tens, where comrades are organized into groups of 10 to 20 in order to give them specific assignments. It is absolutely not necessary to do this so mechanically; rather, the point is to make these assignments concretely, to actually bring all members into the work. There are numerous such opportunities for work. A number of such tasks are mentioned: agitation for the press, door-to-door agitation, trade-union work, work among women, agitation among youth and much more. Working groups for all these various tasks should simply be established in the organization, and they must be put on their feet by the party leadership if they are going to function at all.
It would be wrong for a party to come here, for us to divide everything up on paper and send this schema out into the world, and then for the party to expect its individual districts to divide up their members just as schematically—and just leave it at that. Such a schematic division would be bureaucratic centralism. Instead, only a few groups and cells should be gotten into shape at first; but we must really get these cells working, in order to set into motion additional working groups in turn. A great deal of perseverance, a great deal of energy, a great deal of vitality, a great deal of time will be required to mobilize the working groups, and the parties will have to demonstrate in the course of the year whether they have grasped the essence of centralism by actually setting about the task of organizing working groups. Only in this way will we get capable parties. In addition, it is necessary to assist these working groups in the type of work they are doing, to give them a whole series of specific instructions, so that they draw the necessary conclusions from their work.
The lessons and conclusions which will result from this practical work amount to the lesson of specialization. We will see a number of specialists grow out of the working groups. This specialization is an absolute necessity. We must have trained forces with various skills corresponding to various arenas of struggle. Without this specialization, the coming struggles will not succeed; we will be unable to win the allegiance of the proletariat if we do not undertake the training of specialists. Such specialization must be cultivated, but in speaking of specialization one must warn against overdoing it. If pulsating life is withdrawn from the party, then we will have a party consisting only of specialists, where no one knows anything of the other. And that makes no sense. So it will be necessary for precisely that comrade who develops into a specialist in one group to be transferred into another group, so that he gets to know the life and efforts of other groups as well. This should by no means involve continual turnover and making a mess out of the assignments. The training of certain specialists is necessary, but a change of assignments is also useful to give an inner balance to the personnel. In this way they will embody the actual working life of the party.
While stressing that this specialization should not be overdone, I also consider it necessary to strongly emphasize the need for such a working and fighting organization to institute the practice of making regular reports. Reporting occurs automatically in the case of a number of organizations which are geared toward coming struggles—the courier system, intelligence-gathering, procuring safe houses and clandestine print shops, etc. In the case of this work the practice of making reports is fairly obvious, but unfortunately it is not obvious in a number of other kinds of activity. For example, it can happen that groups in charge of finding rooms for meetings and making preparations for meetings become ingrown, so that only this one group knows where these rooms are. That is a great error, and it runs the risk that if such teams break up then the whole apparatus is crippled. It is therefore absolutely necessary for these groups to make reports.
The Theses put explicit emphasis on making such reports, and we believe it will become an established practice in all groups, so that in this way the party will be informed of everything and will really be able to put the experiences of this or that group to use. These reports will also be very successful for training new groups in other cities. The ability of the party to act will also be increased a great deal by such reporting. For only when the party center receives a flow of reports on their activity from the widest variety of working groups will the party leadership be able to draw real conclusions concerning the extent to which the partys activity can be increased. If no reports are received from a particular area, changes must be made there. A real activization of the party will be able to proceed through this interaction.