Thomas Sankara, back to the basics with democratic centralism

Thomas Sankara, back to the basics with democratic centralism

Thomas Sankara would have been 67 years old today. BLF has already given full honors to Sankara for his legacy of women’s liberation which in turn is consistent with the desire for total liberation.

On this anniversary of Sankara’s birth we look at the principle of democratic centralism and draw lessons from its use in the Burkinabe Revolution, so as to strengthen the workings of our own revolutionary movement. To this end, we note that Thomas Sankara used this principle of democratic centralism which led to the liberation of the people of Burkina Faso.

In examining what is required to make democratic centralism work, we will understand why, for example,  Sankara in 4 years resolved all the big questions facing blacks including the women question and the land question. He infact practically demonstrated women’s liberation via land ownership by giving them equal ownership and management of land – something that is not popularly referred to – he facilitated this via democratic centralism.

We shall now examine the workings of this principle via the BLF organisational structure.

BLF Organisational Structure

The BLF Organisational Structure is indicated in the Consitution of the movement.

Very briefly the structure reflects 4 levels of leadership:

1. National Structure i.e. NCC
2. Provincial Structures i.e. the PCC of each province
3. Regional Structures i.e. the RCC’s of each province
4. Branch Structures i.e. the branches of each region

The channel of command will be followed from the lower structure to the next level higher structure.  The highest level of command is the NCC in between national imbizos. The NCC may be approached directly in cases specifically provided for from time to time by the NCC and the National Imbizo. At all other times the channel of command must be strictly observed.

The core organizational principle of BLF is democratic centralism. In terms of this, the whole organization practices democracy in discussion and centralism in action.

When the organisation is still discussing a position, members are free to advance their own views guided by the politics of the movement, but as soon as the movement has taken a position, for example to participate in the LGE, every member must honor that decision. To go against the movement’s decision is a serious form of ill-discipline.

To this end, the guiding principle is that at all times the individual is subordinate to the organization, the minority is subordinate to the majority, the lower level is subordinate to the higher level and the entire BLF is subordinate to the NCC (National Coordinating Committee).

The principles of democratic centralism provides an approach to the process of collective decision making and collective action. It can take a number of forms corresponding to the development of the organization and the changing demands of the struggle.

Unfortunately, the development of democratic centralist theory and practice has been neglected in our movement. We cannot for example simply imitate the organizational forms of parties like Lenin’s Bolsheviks Party and Moa’s Communist Party of China – these were more highly developed organizationally than our movement (we have to still get there) and operated under different circumstances although there were some similarities. Plain mimicry of those organisational forms (which BLF has on paper in so far as democratic centralism is concerned) without any mechanisms in place for the practice of the principles that constitute that form will leave us with a central committee as well as provincial, regional and branch structures intact that has nothing to centralize and a mass approach to struggle that had no mass base.

Democratic centralism is the application of revolutionary method to the question of how best to lead the people in struggle so as to fully transform society.

What is needed to make democratic centralism work?

We need political unity, cadre development, political leadership, criticism and self-criticism so as to genuinely see a true elaboration of democratic centralism. To this end, it is important to understand what each constituent part of this requirement means.

On Political Unity

Firstly, we need overall political unity on BLF politics and ideological perspectives. This entails our stand on everything from land to gender and the economy.

Secondly, we need overall political unity in terms of political tasks. To this end we must all be committed to execute the tasks of the revolution.

This then will accordingly enable us to do the following:

– stimulate individuals to participate in the organization,
– motivate a minority to subordinate itself to the decisions of the majority.

These are the building blocks for developing the organisation along democratic centralist principles. If we force organisational consolidation in the absence of overall political unity on the basic tasks, this will only result in splits and the emergence of cliques and sects in the movement.

On Cadre Development

Members are required to have a firm grasp of the theory and revolutionary practice of Black Consciousness and Pan Afrikanism (BCPA) as well as Thomas Sankara’s leadership ethos. If most members lack this ability the movement will lack the necessary dialogue between its members and its leaders; it’s organisational base and it’s National Coordinating Committee (NCC); as well as between itself as BLF and the black masses. This dialogue is essential for decision making, for practice, and for evaluation.

On Political Leadership

Leadership has the responsibility of guiding the organization’s work through the process of theory, planning, practice, summation, and consolidation. The role of leadership takes on significant importance in times of  crisis. To this end it requires sound political judgment as well as theoretical and practical experience. It must lead the organisation and the people and not just command them. Leadership has the duty to develop new leaders from among the members, and to increase the theoretical and practical capabilities of the base.

On Criticism and Self-Criticism

To make the organisation work we must practice criticism and self-criticism throughout.  We must be brutally honest in assessing the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of both members and the movement as a whole. Not to correct errors or mistakes of members will only lead to harming the movement. Criticism and self-criticism must also be practiced between the organization and the people. We must not place the movement above the criticism of the people.

Watch the documentary outlining Thomas Sankara’s time as Burkina Faso’s president, The Upright Man:

21 December 2016

Issued By Black First Land First
National Secretariat for Political Education

Contact details

Black First Land First Email:[email protected]
Facebook: Black First Land First | Twitter: @black1stland1st

Neo Mokatsanyane
(National Secretary for Political Education)
Cell number: +27 81 416 7288
Email: [email protected]


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