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Matthew Shugart

Well done. I'm glad you linked it today, as I missed it back in July.

I think it is worth noting that "Leninist" may be used another way, too. Rather than referring to a specific tactic for overthrowing a regime (i.e. assaulting the center of power, rather than using an inside-out strategy), the term can also refer to a specific way of organizing.

In this sense, Leninist parties (or other organizations) are built on networks of "cells" that reduce the risk of the entire organization's being compromised if one cell is captured (before seizing power) and that facilitate the take-over of the military and bureuacratic organizations (afterwards, i.e. in the "consolidation" phase).

It also refers to the internal mechanism by which these organizations operate: democratic centralism. That is, encouraging (limited) debate to keep the organization somewhat flexible, but ensuring that ultimate decisions always rest with the center (and often a single charismatic leader). (As an aside, Ken Jowitt has referred to Leninist movements as being typified by the "charisma" being in the organization itself.)

All of the above could be developed further. The point is that "Leninist"--as I have tried to extend the term here--can refer to an organizational structure as well as to a set of tactics.

I think it is safe to say that the organizational structure is probably critical to the success of the revolutionary tactics you define as Leninist. But the structures are also useful for other purposes; i.e. control and middle-leadership circulation AFTER the seizure of power.

Some nominally democratic parties organize themselves in this cell-like fashion--notably the Accion Democratica which used to be the most important party in democratic Venezuela. (Chavez learned as much about creating revolutionary cells from AD as he did from Castro, given that the latter pretty much disdained the entire Leninist approach.)

Matthew Shugart

By the way, I definitely would not classify the FSLN's path to power as emblematic of "Leninist" tactics. In fact, as a tactic for seizing power, Leninism should be reserved for more specific tactics than an assault on the government's center of gravity. The FSLN did that, but in a pattern of far broader alliances with other (mostly middle-class) groups than, for example, Lenin himself.

Upon coming to power, on the other hand, the FSLN turned in a distinctly Leninist organizational direction. It remains such to this day.


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