JV Stalin: On Why the Communist Party is Not Like an Army (1923)

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JV Stalin – UK

In my article in Pravda (No. 285) “The Discussion, Rafail, etc.” I said that according to a statement Ra-fail made at a meeting in the Presnya District “our Party has practically been turned into an army organisation, its discipline is army discipline and, in view of this, it is necessary to shake up the entire Party apparatus from top to bottom, because it is unfit.” Concerning this, Rafail says in his article in Pravda that I did not correctly convey his views, that I “simplified” them “in the heat of debate,” and so forth. Ra-fail says that he merely drew an analogy (comparison) between the Party and an army, that analogy is not identity. “The system of administration in the Party is analogous to the system of administration in an army—this does not mean,” he says, “that it is an exact copy; it only draws a parallel.”

Is Rafail right?

No. And for the following reasons.

First. In his speech at the meeting in the Presnya District, Rafail did not simply compare the Party with an army, as he now asserts, but actually identified it with an army, being of the opinion that the Party is built on the lines of an army. I have before me the verbatim report of Rafail’s speech, revised by the speaker. There it is stated: “Our entire Party is built on the lines of an army from top to bottom.” It can scarcely be denied that we have here not simply an analogy, but an identification of the Party’s structure with that of an army; the two are placed on a par.

Can it be asserted that our Party is built on the lines of an army? Obviously not, for the Party is built from below, on the voluntary principle; it is not materially dependent on its General Staff, which the Party elects. An army, however, is, of course, built from above, on the basis of compulsion; it is completely dependent materially upon its General Staff, which is not elected, but appointed from above. Etc., etc.

Secondly. Rafail does not simply compare the system of administration in the Party with that in an army, but puts one on a par with the other, identifies them, without any “verbal frills.” This is what he writes in his article: “We assert that the system of administration in the Party is identical with the system of administration in an army not on any extraneous grounds, but on the basis of an objective analysis of the state of the Party.” It is impossible to deny that here Rafail does not confine himself to drawing an analogy between the administration of the Party and that of an army, for he “simply” identifies them, “without verbal frills.”

Can these two systems of administration be identified? No, they cannot; for the system of administration in an army, as a system, is incompatible with the very nature of the Party and with its methods of influencing both its own members and the non-Party masses.

Thirdly. Rafail asserts in his article that, in the last analysis, the fate of the Party as a whole, and of its individual members, depends upon the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee, that “the members of the Party are regarded as mobilised, the Registration and Distribution Department puts everybody in his job, nobody has the slightest right to choose his work, and it is the Registration and Distribution Department, or ‘General Staff,’ that determines the amount of supplies, i.e., pay, form of work, etc.” Is all this true? Of course not! In peace time, the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee usually deals in the course of a year with barely eight to ten thousand people. We know from the Central Committee’s report to the Twelfth Congress of the R.C.P. that, in 1922, the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee dealt with 10,700 people (i.e., half the number it dealt with in 1921). If from this number we subtract 1,500 people sent by their local organisations to various educational institutions, and the people who went on sick leave (over 400), there remain something over 8,000. Of these, the Central Committee, in the course of the year, distributed 5,167 responsible workers (i.e., less than half of the total number dealt with by the Registration and Distribution Department). But at that time the Party as a whole had not 5,000, and not 10,000, but about 500,000 members, the bulk of whom were not, and could not, be affected by the distribution work of the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee. Evidently, Rafail has forgotten that in peace time the Central Committee usually distributes only responsible workers, that the Registration and Distribution Department of the Central Committee does not, cannot, and should not, determine the “pay” of all the members of the Party, who now number over 400,000. Why did Rafail have to exaggerate in this ridiculous way? Evidently, in order to prove “with facts” the “identity” between the system of administration in the Party and that in an army. Such are the facts.

That is why I thought, and still think, that Ra-fail “is not clear in his mind about what the Party and what an army is.”

As regards the passages Rafail quotes from the decisions of the Tenth Congress, they have nothing to do with the present case, for they apply only to the survivals of the war period in our Party and not to the alleged “identity between the system of administration in the Party and that in an army.”

Rafail is right when he says that mistakes must be corrected, that one must not persist in one’s mistakes. And that is precisely why I do not lose hope that Rafail will, in the end, correct the mistakes he has made.

Pravda, No. 294, December 28, 1923

JV Stalin: Collected Works Volume V – A Necessary Comment –
(Concerning Rafail) – December 28, 1923 – Pages 398-401

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