This is why, even in the People's Army, discipline is inseparable from the three democracies (political, economic and military).(25)
Mao Tse-tung's speech to the expanded Central Committee on 30 January 1962 is essentially given over to the question of democratic centralism. We shall quote from it at length because of its interest.
'What is centralism? First of all it is centralising the correct opinions . . . (Now) without democracy, opinions will not come from the masses and it will be impossible to decide on the good line.' In this respect:
When our leading organs decide on a line, guiding principle,
policy or method, they are, so to speak, just a processing plant.
Everybody knows that if a plant does not have raw materials in
the full amount or proper quality, it cannot manufacture a good
finished product. If there is no democracy, you don't understand
what's going on at the lower levels, the situation is unclear,
you don't collect opinions from all sides, you don't let ideas
circulate, and you decide questions only on the one-sided or
insincere materials of the upper level leading organs, then it
will be difficult to avoid subjectivism, impossible to attain
unified knowledge and unified action, and impossible to put
centralism into effect.
In fact, 'Without democracy there can be no genuine centralism and since everybody's opinion is different, without unified knowledge, centralism cannot be established.'
Now there are some comrades who are afraid the masses will open
up discussions and will offer opinions that do not agree with the
leaders of the leading organs. As soon as a problem comes up for
discussion they put a damper on the masses' activism and don't
let anybody speak. This is a very poor attitude . . . Comrades, we
are revolutionaries. If we truly make a mistake . . . we should
seek the opinions of the masses of the people and of the comrades
and do our own soul-searching. This soul-searching sometimes
requires a number of times. Once won't do. Nobody is satisfied.
Twice, still no satisfaction. Do it three times or until nobody
has any more opinions.
In his speech to the Central Committee on 24 September 1962, Mao declared:
Don't be afraid to make mistakes. We permit mistakes. Haven't
you already made some' We also allow you to correct mistakes.
If we did not allow mistakes, we could not allow correction of
mistakes . . . Last year I said you must also allow me to make my
mistakes and allow me to correct my mistakes, and after I have
corrected them, you will accept me!
In fact, on 30 January, Mao had said:
On 12th June last year . . . I talked about my own shortcomings and
mistakes . . . The whole Central Committee makes mistakes and it is
my responsibility both directly and indirectly because I am the
Chairman of the Central Committee.
The press has recently said that after Mao's death, China will have collective leadership. This is presented as a new departure. In fact, it concerns a principle applicable at all levels and one which Mao recalled in the speech which we have just quoted:(26)
The Party Committee's leadership is collective leadership and not
the individual say-so of the first secretary . . . Take the
Standing Committee or Political Bureau of the Central Committee.
It often happens that not everybody approves of what I say and
regardless of whether I'm right or not, I obey them since they're
Democracy on the one hand and centralised leadership on the other, are the means to an end, which is the elaboration and application of a correct political line. Mao tells us that 'Democracy sometimes seems to be an end, but it is in fact only a means'.(27)
Why is it necessary to guarantee to the minority the right to express itself, to reserve an opinion and to bring questions out into the open? Because, Mao tells us, 'Throughout history, new and correct things have often failed at the outset to win recognition from the majority of people and have had to develop by twists and turns in struggle.'(28)
Centralism too is a means which must be used because it is indispensable for all the reasons which we pointed out at the beginning of the chapter, but also so that the party of the proletariat can operate like an army in combat facing an enemy which also has a centralised leadership. Infringements of party discipline, for example, can only be judged in the last instance in terms of considerations linked to the concrete situation. Mao Tse-tung was right not to carry out certain instructions of the Central Committee of his party when he was struggling in the Chingkang Mountains. As far as respect for democracy as well as that for centralism is concerned, it is politics which, as everywhere, must be put in command. Lenin expressed this idea by saying that 'formal democracy must be subordinated to revolutionary opportunity!'(29)
In the same text, 'Once Again on the Trade Unions', he declared that, 'factional pronouncements' and 'even a split' were justified
'if the disagreements are . . . extremely profound and if a wrong trend in the policy of the party . . . cannot be rectified in any other way'.(30)