Anti-factionalist cartoon by the exiled section of the Romanian Communist Party, December 1931

Democratic centralism is the organisational principle of communist states and of most communist parties to reach dictatorship of the proletariat. In practice, democratic centralism means that political decisions reached by voting processes are binding upon all members of the political party. It is mainly associated with Leninism, wherein the party's political vanguard of revolutionaries practice democratic centralism to select leaders and officers, determine policy, and execute it.[1]

Democratic centralism has primarily been associated with Marxist–Leninist and Trotskyist parties, but has also occasionally been practised by other democratic socialist and social democratic parties.[2][3] Scholars have disputed whether democratic centralism was implemented in practice in the Soviet Union and China, pointing to violent power struggles, backhanded political maneuvering, historical antagonisms and the politics of personal prestige in those states.[4]

Socialist states, such as the former Soviet Union and present-day China, have made democratic centralism the organisational principle of the state, and the political power principle being unitary power.

In practice

This section relies excessively on references to primary sources. Please improve this section by adding secondary or tertiary sources. Find sources: "Democratic centralism" – news · newspapers · books · scholar · JSTOR (March 2023) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)

In party meetings, a motion (new policy or amendment, goal, plan or any other kind of political question) is moved (proposed). After a period of debate, a vote is taken. If one vote clearly wins (gaining a share of 60% or above among two options, for example) all party members are expected to follow that decision, and not continue debating it. The goal is to avoid decisions being undermined by participants whose views are in the minority. In the development of socialism in the Soviet Union and China, it was implemented in response to rapid political developments, which required faster mechanisms of decision-making.

Before and after an issue has been voted on and actioned, discussion and criticism is permitted in all forms. Once a resolution is being actioned, discussion and criticism which may disrupt unity in performing the action is forbidden, to ensure that the action is not derailed.[5] In several socialist states, related practices were also adopted to ensure freedom of discussion, such as Mao's "Don't Blame the Speaker".[6]

Lenin's conception and practice

The text What Is to Be Done? from 1902 is popularly seen as the founding text of democratic centralism. At this time, democratic centralism was generally viewed as a set of principles for the organizing of a revolutionary workers' party. However, Vladimir Lenin's model for such a party, which he repeatedly discussed as being "democratic centralist", was the German Social Democratic Party, inspired by remarks made by the social democrat Jean Baptista von Schweitzer. Lenin described democratic centralism as consisting of "freedom of discussion, unity of action".[1]

The doctrine of democratic centralism served as one of the sources of the split between the Bolsheviks and the Mensheviks. The Mensheviks supported a looser party discipline within the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party in 1903 as did Leon Trotsky, in Our Political Tasks,[7] although Trotsky joined ranks with the Bolsheviks in 1917.

The Sixth Party Congress of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party (Bolsheviks) held at Petrograd between 26 July and 3 August 1917 defined democratic centralism as follows:

  1. That all directing bodies of the Party, from top to bottom, shall be elected.
  2. That Party bodies shall give periodical accounts of their activities to their respective Party organization.
  3. That there shall be strict Party discipline and the subordination of the minority to the majority.
  4. That all decisions of higher bodies shall be absolutely binding on lower bodies and on all Party members.[8]

After the successful consolidation of power by the Communist Party following the October Revolution and the Russian Civil War, the Bolshevik leadership, including Lenin, instituted a ban on factions in the party as Resolution No. 12 of the 10th Party Congress in 1921. It was passed in the morning session on 16 March 1921.[9] Trotskyists sometimes claim that this ban was intended to be temporary, but there is no language in the discussion at the 10th Party Congress suggesting such.[10]

The Group of Democratic Centralism was a group in the Soviet Communist Party who advocated different concepts of party democracy.

In On Party Unity, Lenin argued that democratic centralism prevents factionalism. He argued that factionalism leads to less friendly relations among members and that it can be exploited by enemies of the party. Lenin wrote of democratic centralism that it "implies universal and full freedom to criticise, so long as this does not disturb the unity of a definite action; it rules out all criticism which disrupts or makes difficult the unity of an action decided on by the Party."[11]

By the Brezhnev period, democratic centralism was described in the 1977 Soviet Constitution as a principle for organizing the state: "The Soviet state is organized and functions on the principle of democratic centralism, namely the electiveness of all bodies of state authority from the lowest to the highest, their accountability to the people, and the obligation of lower bodies to observe the decisions of higher ones."

In socialist states

Soviet Union

For much of the time between the era of Joseph Stalin and the 1980s, the principle of democratic centralism meant that the Supreme Soviet, while nominally vested with great lawmaking powers, did little more than approve decisions already made at the highest levels of the Communist Party. When the Supreme Soviet was not in session, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet performed its ordinary functions. It also had the power to issue decrees in lieu of law. Nominally, if such decrees were not ratified at the Supreme Soviet's next session, they were considered revoked. However, ratification was usually a mere formality, though occasionally even this formality was not observed.[12] Thus, decisions made by the Party's top leaders de facto had the force of law.

The democratic centralist principle extended to elections in the Soviet Union. All socialist countries were—either de jure or de factoone-party states. In most cases, the voters were presented with a single list of unopposed candidates, which usually won 90 percent or more of the vote.[13]

The Third International, in contrast with the First and the Second Internationals, held the Soviet Union in a central position and functioned as one big body instead of many independent communist parties in different countries.[14]

People's Republic of China

The Leninist practice of democratic centralism was introduced during the Republic of China era to the Kuomintang in 1923. It was allied with the Chinese Communist Party during the Warlord Era and received support from the Soviet Union. The organizational structures of the Kuomintang would remain in place until the democratization on Taiwan in the 1990s and would serve as a structural basis of several Taiwanese political parties such as the Democratic Progressive Party.[15][16][17]

Since 1945, the Chinese Communist Party's constitution has defined the party's view of democratic centralism.[18]: 23  Democratic centralism is also stated in Article 3 of the current constitution of the People's Republic of China:

Article 3. The state organs of the People's Republic of China apply the principle of democratic centralism. The National People's Congress and the local people's congresses at different levels are instituted through democratic election. They are responsible to the people and subject to their supervision. All administrative, judicial, and procuratorial organs of the state are created by the people's congresses to which they are responsible and under whose supervision they operate. The division of functions and powers between the central and local state organs is guided by the principle of giving full play to the initiative and enthusiasm of the local authorities under the unified leadership of the central authorities.[19]


The Communist Party of Vietnam is organized according to the Leninist principle of democratic centralism. According to the regulations of the Party, democratic centralism is performed following these rules:[20]

  1. Party leadership bodies at all level are chosen by voting. Practicing the collective leadership with individual responsibility.
  2. Highest Party leadership body is the National Congress. Regional leadership bodies are the corresponding representative assembly. Between the two congress events, the executive leadership body is the Central Committee, regional executing leadership bodies are the Party Committees.
  3. A regional committee has to report to and take responsibility before the Party assembly at the same level and the committees at the below and above level. It has to periodically report its situation to the relevant Party bodies and perform criticism and self-criticism.
  4. Party members and bodies have to obey the Party Resolutions. Minority has to obey majority, bodies at lower level has to obey the ones at higher level, individual has to obey the whole team, the Party bodies have to obey the National Congress and Central Committee.
  5. The draft Resolution can only be passed when over half of the corresponding assembly members approve. Before voting, all assembly members have the rights to debate and express their own opinions. Members of the minority groups have the right to reserve their own opinions, but they have to fully obey the Party Resolution and are not allowed to sabotage the Resolution. The authoritative Party bodies should conduct a research about the minority opinions and are not allowed to discriminate against the "minority" members.
  6. The Party bodies are allowed to make decisions within their assigned authority, however the decisions are not allowed to violate the general principles and policies of the Party, the state's laws, the Resolution of the Party bodies at the higher levels.


The Lao People's Revolutionary Party which governs the nation of Laos applies democratic centralism. The party's centralised and hierarchical organisational structure is based on democratic centralism, which was conceived by Vladimir Lenin.[21][22] This structure entails that lower party organs obey the decisions of the higher ones, such as the LPRP Central Committee.[22] It also entails a ban on internal party factions.[22] In the end, every decision-making organ has to be guided by the principle of collective leadership, a process that emphasises collegial decision-making, in contrast to one-person dominance.[22] LPRP General Secretary Kaysone Phomvihane, in a speech to the 5th National Congress in 1991, stated "that our Party's democracy is a centralised one. Therefore, we must strictly implement the principle according to which the minority must yield to the majority; the lower leading organisation execute the upper leading organisation's orders. The whole Party follows the Central Committee."[23]

Article 5 of the Constitution of Laos states that the state and its organizations "function in accordance with the principle of democratic centralism".[24]

In revolutionary organisations

Democratic Centralism is a form of organization that Marxist-Leninists abide by both when having seized the government and also while trying to seize it. Most communist parties have a democratic centralist structure.

See also


  1. ^ a b Lenin, Vladimir (1906). "Report on the Unity Congress of the R.S.D.L.P." "VIII. The Congress Summed Up". Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  2. ^ Lih, Lars (2005). Lenin Rediscovered: What Is to Be Done? in Context. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-13120-0.
  3. ^ Sunkara, Bhaskar (15 January 2020). "The Long Shot of Democratic Socialism Is Our Only Shot". Jacobin. Retrieved 14 February 2020.
  4. ^ Torigian, Joseph (2022). Prestige, Manipulation, and Coercion: Elite Power Struggles in the Soviet Union and China after Stalin and Mao. Yale University Press.
  5. ^ "Lenin: Freedom to Criticise and Unity of Action". Retrieved 28 March 2023.
  6. ^ Mao Tse Tung (1944). "Mao Tse Tung Quotations from Mao Tse Tung 15. Democracy in the Three Main Fields". Retrieved 9 August 2002.
  7. ^ Trotsky, Leon (1904). "Our Political Tasks". Retrieved 3 March 2020.
  8. ^ History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolsheviks) (1939). New York City: International Publishers. p. 198.
  9. ^ Protokoly (1933). ed. 585–7; 1963 ed. 571–573.
  10. ^ Protokoly (1933) ed. 523–548.
  11. ^ Boer, Roland (2023). Socialism in Power On the History and Theory of Socialist Governance. Springer. p. 78.
  12. ^ Armstrong, John Alexander (1986). Ideology, Politics, and Government in the Soviet Union: An Introduction. University Press of America. ISBN 0819154059.
  13. ^ Smith, Hedrick (1976). The Russians. Quadrangle/New York Times Book Company. pp. 261, 286–287. ISBN 978-0-8129-0521-2.
  14. ^ Gokay, Bulent (2018). "Communist Party of Turkey and Soviet Foreign Policy". Journal of Global Faultlines. 4 (2): 138. doi:10.13169/jglobfaul.4.2.0138. ISSN 2397-7825.
  15. ^ De Francis, John (1952). "The Government and Politics of China. Ch'ien Tuan-Sheng". The Journal of Modern History. 24: 89. doi:10.1086/237490.
  16. ^ Rigger, Shelley (2001). "The Democratic Progressive Party in 2000: Obstacles and Opportunities". The China Quarterly. 168. Cambridge University Press (CUP): 944–959. doi:10.1017/s0009443901000559. S2CID 154393722.
  17. ^ Roctus, Jasper (2020). Democratization of Leninist Parties: Causes for the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese Nationalist Party's Divergence of Reform Outcomes during the Late 20th Century (MA thesis). Universiteit Gent.
  18. ^ Cabestan, Jean-Pierre (2024). "Organisation and (Lack of) Democracy in the Chinese Communist Party: A Critical Reading of the Successive Iterations of the Party Constitution". In Doyon, Jérôme; Froissart, Chloé (eds.). The Chinese Communist Party: a 100-Year Trajectory. Canberra: ANU Press. ISBN 9781760466244.
  19. ^ English language text of Constitution of the People's Republic of China Archived 2020-06-09 at the Wayback Machine adopted 4 December 1982. Chapter 1. Article 3. Retrieved 29 December 2014.
  20. ^ Communist Party regulation, passed at the XI Congress
  21. ^ Creak & Sayalath 2017, p. 181.
  22. ^ a b c d Punya 2019, p. 58.
  23. ^ Meng 1993, pp. 187–8.
  24. ^ Pholsena, Vatthana (2006). Post-war Laos The Politics of Culture, History and Identity. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. p. 5.