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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Challenges of the new period

The French Communist Party (PCF) is in the process of preparing for its 28th Congress early in 1994. A draft manifesto and draft amendments to the party's constitution (dropping, among other things, democratic centralism) has unleashed a wide debate within the party. Among the many contributions to the debate one intervention, in particular, has caused some controversy. It is jointly signed by leading PCF personalities: Jean-Michel Catala, Roland Favaro, Charles Fiterman, Guy Hermier, Roger Martelli, Jack Ralite and Lucien Seve. We publish extracts from the intervention

It now four years since the French Communist Party (PCF) launched an appeal for the re-casting of a modern communist identity. The reason was simple: in a France and in a world experiencing unprecedented changes, the challenges to communism occur within conditions radically different from those prevailing at the time of the birth of communist parties in the immediate aftermath of the October Revolution. Communists have to draw all the necessary conclusions for what they do and for what they are.

The PCF can make a major contribution to the renewal of a broad movement for social and human emancipation in our country. Without unilaterally initiating such a movement, the party can with others launch and sustain such a movement. With this strategic perspective, the party's own transformation can overcome many obstacles, and help to sustain many initiatives. Beyond a simple revision of our constitution, this implies the rejection of a large number of unwritten codes and practices, of a whole culture of organisation rooted in a vision which is thoroughly outdated, but which is, in practice, extremely tenacious. This is the vision of a vanguard instructing and directing the masses.

In this regard, the worst enemy of real change in the party is verbal window-dressing. The new draft constitution abandons the formula "democratic centralism", while carefully ensuring the continued dominance of the centre - for instance, by introducing into the constitution practices which, until now, were never constitutional requirements, like the single text as the basis for discussion at congress, or like the official list of candidates to be elected. There are other examples of conceptual duplicity, like the exaltation of diversity without making practically possible the free expression of differences, for instance, through the circulation of different proposals. Another example is the appeal to individual communists to consider themselves sovereign while concealing from them elementary information on the party's actual assets. This reign of window-dressing does more damage to the party than many hostile projects.

This whole area is absolutely crucial, and only political interventions which are free of all ambiguity can begin to redress the problem. For instance:

     We must engage in an open critica'. reflection on the history of the parties of the Third International, and in particular of the PCF, and state in a clear manner what precisely was this "democratic centralism" that we are now abandoning - this is an elementary requirement, but one which has notoriously not been met thus far.

     We must put an end to the primacy of the leadership in the preparation and running of our congresses. Thus, amongst other things, we must end the monopoly of the majority point of view in determining the basis for debate, we must end the filtering of discussion and the selection of delegates and the compiling of official lists by the leadership.

     We must put an end to the monarchical role of the general secretary, by limiting the duration that any one individual can occupy the position, to prevent the ossification of the full-time officials of the party.

     We must promote by all means possible a pluralist democracy within the party, assuring complete freedom of expression and of initiative to members and structures...this includes the possibility of horizontal contacts between different party structures, full disclosure of information, and the taking into account of minority points of view.

Only a combination of measures of this kind is capable of transforming lip-service to the sovereignty of individual party members into a reality. Only such measures can root our political practice in the diversity of social experiences, and build the credibility of the communist struggle among the living forces of our country.

(The full text of this intervention was published in the PCF's daily newspaper and central organ, L'Humanite, October 29, 1993)

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.