It is a well-known historical fact that the Bolshevik-type parties make a point of the disciplined unity of their members and their pronounced disunity even with those whose position on crucial questions may differ only slightly from that of the Party; it is also an open secret that it uses skillfully the political weapon of striking and disrupting alliances –. shuttling between unity and disunity – in relation to its allies.
When surveying the historical manifestations of the strategy and tactics of unity and disunity within Bolshevik-type parties and around them, one begins to feel that these processes are generated by those who, to put it in Tajfel’s terms quoted above, attach greater importance to the form than to the substance of economic, political, ideological and cultural events: a Bolshevik-type party often attaches less significance to the substance of what members do, say, feel or think as compared to the form by which the fact in question resembles what other Party members (or of them, for instance the followers of Stalin) do, say, think or feel, and differ from what others (including, e. g. Trotsky’s followers within the Party) do, say, think or feel.
To understand rightly the relations organized by Bolshevik-type parties we have to take into account their paradoxical structure. The history of these parties often demonstrates that unity and disunity are defined in reference to such factors the most important of which is the relation of unity and disunity itself. In a party organized on the basis of democratic centralism there must be disciplined unity concerning the requirement that in the Party there must be disciplined unity; at the same time, the Bolshevik-type party always makes efforts to impose disunity to those elements of society from whose totality the Party maintains its disunity.
Usually this tendency of accentuating both its own unity and its adversaries’ disunity is considered only from a sociotechnical point of view, i.e. from that of practicability for a political organization to unify itself and disunify adversaries. However, in case of this type of Party there is a much more profound effect of defining people’s social identity, while the above paradoxes by which social structures establish or undermine themselves are applied. Namely, social identity of those belonging to a Bolshevik-type party turns out to establish itself while the identity of those opposed to that party gets undermined.
Let us consider a continuum of four categories of people: +Be with extreme Bolshevik, +Bm with moderate Bolshevik, -Bm with moderate non-Bolshevik and -Be with extreme non-Bolshevik attitudes. All things considered, the position of +Bm may be as close to that of -Bm (whose is non-Bolshevik, but moderate) as to the one of +Be (Bolshevik, but extremist). And, similarly, the position of -Bm may be as distant from that of +Bm (though moderate, but Bolshevik) as from the position of -Be (although non-Bolshevik, but extremist). A Bolshevik-type organization of relations on that continuum means 1., the accentuation of the unity between +Be and +Bm; 2., sharpening of the disunity between +Bm and -Bm; 3., the suggestion to -Be and -Bm to accentuate their disunity; 4., and the unity between -Bm and +Bm.
Now, the way these four categories of people elaborate their social identity, as referred to their social relations, effectively changes these relations and thus strengthens or weakens the merits of the choice for identity. And namely, strengthens the Bolshevik side of the above continuum and weakens its non-Bolshevik side:
When both extremist and moderate Bolsheviks state their unity the unity in this statement strengthen what they state. On the other hand, the unity of both extremist and moderate non-Bolsheviks in claiming their disunity weaken the relation they are claiming. And as to the relations of two moderate categories, the more the non-Bolsheviks insist on their unity while that of Bolsheviks keeps accentuating their disunity, the more they manifest a disunity and not unity.
An organization that evolves on the basis of some properties’ substance does not necessarily fix the relations’ form in which the bearers of these substantial properties can interact with each other and with the bearers of some other properties. Of course, it is useful for a political organization to be united and to prevent its opposition from forming their own unity. Yet some form of unity is already derived from the fact that members are uniformly workers, for example, and some disunity with others is ensured by the latter not being workers. That would remain unchanged even if the latter gathered in a party of their own, or factions emerged within the former’s party.
Quite different is the case with a party which defines its internal unity and the disunity with the external world not in terms of some substance but in terms of this very form of unity and disunity. Such a party can only distinguish between its own organization and those outside it by accentuating the former’s unity and the latters’ disunity.
It follows from this paradoxical organization that the Bolshevik-type party can tolerate neither those outside the Party forming their own unity (setting up a party besides the Party) nor those within the Party disrupting unity (members aligning themselves by factions): none of these developments would allow for the differentiation between the two formally defined poles.
Within the unity of the Party, the pattern of disunity characterizing the relationship between the Party and those outside it is repeated: the “Centrum” defined by democratic centralism is disunited within the Party from the “Demos” in the same way as the Party is separated from those outside the Party. The “Centrum”, as the bearer of formal unity, is disunited from the “Demos”, which is formally disunited: local Party units get disunited from one another and no relationship can be established between them unless mediated by the “Centrum”.
The pattern of disunity is further repeated within the “Centrum”: the Politburo preserves its unity against the larger Central Committee just as the latter separates itself from the whole membership.
Yeltsin’s memorable faux pas is illuminating in this regard. The first secretary of the Moscow Party committee addressed the plenary meeting of the Central Committee as substitute member of the Politburo without preliminarily thrashing out with the Politburo his highly critical comments on the organizational and personal constraints on perestroika. Thus, in breaching Politburo discipline by divulging secrets to those outside the Politburo, he violated the same structure as a Party member would in breaching Party discipline by releasing Party secrets to outsiders; in the structure of democratic centralism both are seen as cardinal offenses.
In such an organization the inner circle always has power over the outer circle. The pledge of former’s power is, however, resignation from this power in favor of a still more inner circle. For in none of the circles is the position of power differentiated from powerless positions by a definite substance; one cannot say that the power is lodged with the workers, or the bureaucrats, or the managers; one cannot say that power belongs to those whom the army or the security forces obey, who have capital or who have knowledge, who can use the tools of propaganda, who have college degrees or a past record in the workers’ movement The only criterion of a power position is formal: it is the position characterized by unity – in contrast to the powerless position of those disunited from one another. Those who relinquish power on behalf of a still more inner circle demonstrate that they have adopted the position of unity. The position of power, that is.
That explains the exceptional discipline which is characteristic of all circles of power. Those expelled from the innermost circles almost never protest or argue against the expulsion: they do not set up a “true” Politburo, a “true” Central Committee, a “true” Party in opposition to the “false” or “treacherous” Politburo, CC or Party. Should they do so, their acts would immediately reveal that they were not in a position of unity but of disunity. The position of powerlessness, that is.
“We cannot be right unless with, or through the Party”, Trotsky wrote.
For a psychologist, the history of the communist movement is the history of the persons who remained loyal to the Party that expelled them.
This disciplined solidarity with the innermost circles usually remained unchanged even when someone was banished not only from Party leadership or Party membership, but also from among the normal citizens into the world of convicts or forced labour camps, or even from the world of the living.
Savarius recalled a meeting in the anteroom of Rakosi in 1954. He was waiting for his turn to be received by Rakosi when Janos Kadar left Rakosi’s office. Both he and Savarius had just been released from prison; both were aware of this fact and of Rakosi’s responsibility for their imprisonment. But Kadar started telling Savarius how genuinely indignant Rakosi became when he just learned from Kadar how badly certain comrades were treated.
One of the greatest mysteries for the twentieth-century progressive social thinking is why the victims of Stalin’s great terror, who were brought to court openly at a time when they had no longer any hope of a personal future offered heavily damning testimonies against themselves. But, the mystery is resolved when we realize that, in fact, these communists, forced into a tragic situation, confessed to being traitors to the Party in order to manifest their loyalty to it: when they were instructed by the Party to confess to disuniting acts against it, had they declared never having committed any would have been the very disuniting act.