democratic centralism

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The official organizing and decision‐making principle of Communist Parties. Formally, the centralist aspect was asserted via the subordination of all lower bodies to the decisions taken by higher ones. Democracy consisted in the fact that the highest body of the Party was its congress to which delegates were elected by local organizations. In theory at least, therefore, although Party members were bound to carry out a policy once it had been adopted, there was room for democratic input in the pre‐congress discussion and elections. In practice, criticism of Party leaders under any circumstances was considered disloyal and grounds for expulsion. Moreover, particularly where Communist Parties were in power, dependence of those below on higher Party officials for promotions and benefits effectively eroded democratic decision‐making. Occasionally, Party leaders such as Stalin, Khrushchev, and Gorbachev, would seek to revive the ‘democratic’ aspect of the principle in campaigns against rivals in the leadership or those undermining the centre in the apparatus. However, the stability of the system and the interests of those at the grass roots were so adversely affected by such campaigns that they tended to be either of short duration or to spin out of control.

Stephen Whitefield


Subjects: Politics.

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