I wrote this one in the beginning of May 2007. It was an experiment in blitz blogging, where I gave myself fifteen minutes to just write as quickly as I could. The idea was to just get something out quickly, and then go back and polish it up – if the quick write-up merited further pursuing the topic. I quite liked where I was going with it, but life intruded and I just didn’t get back to it and, well, I guess I forgot about it.
I’m not sure which work it was in, but it was definitely Trotsky who wrote ‘Discipline begins where conviction ends.’ As I’ve said, I’m not too sure which work that was in, but I’m pretty sure it was a reflective work concerning organisational issues during the 1905 Revo. Trotsky at this time seemed to be close to what later became known as ‘Left Communism.’ Later, especially during his period as War Commissar and later with his ‘militarisation of labour’ maxim, Trotsky largely came over to the strict centralisation of power that came to be the hallmark of the authoritarian Soviet system. Despite his later writing in ‘The Revolution Betrayed’ that socialism needed democracy like living animals need oxygen, in practice Trotsky had a hand in building and reinforcing the very authoritarian system that exiled him, assasinated him and led to the purges and liquidation of any and all opposition groups within the totalitarian Soviet system.
But what did he mean by this statement ‘Discipline begins where conviction ends’?
He was referring to Party discipline, to towing the Party Line, what New Labour calls ‘staying on message.’ His basic argument was that the Party disciplinary machinery, that can take the form of obvious in the open discipline (up to and including official expulsion), censorship in Party controlled media, or the less obvious and hard to confirm ‘soft’ tactics of whispering campaigns, undermining support, witholding of assistance (even to the detriment of the Party), and general harrassment; all this can and will be used by the ‘powers that be’ within the Party, that hold the reins of this machinery, is used only as a last resort where conviction ends.
Conviction stems from being convinced of the validity of an action, the legitimacy of a decision, accepting this as correct. Obviously if you agree, that is, one is convinced, that this or that action, or policy, of the Party is correct, or is defensible and makes sense, one isn’t going to deviate from it. One does not need to be coerced (disciplined) to support something one agrees with. It is only when one is not convinced that discipline/coercion comes into play.
Gramsci also wrote on this topic. He was writing more in the general sense of how the Capitalists maintain power, hegemony, and how to challenge this hegemony and replace it with a socialist one. He argued that capitalist hegemony is primarily based on consent, ideology, where the combination of socialisation into capitalist society and the reinforcement of this socialisation daily through media and education, one internalises the ideology of capitalism, one does not question it. Only when this fails, during revolutionary periods, when a critical mass of the population begins to critically evaluate the status quo (and there are always some who, for whatever reason critically oppose the status quo) that rule by force comes vital. The idea is that through force the revolution can be reversed, contained, destroyed. Rule by force alone can only ever be a temporary situation and only effective during a crisis. Rule by consent is much more effective and longer lasting. Of course, there is a constant unity between the two, thus Gramsci’s symbolism of the Centuar, the hybrid of human (thought-ideology-consent) and beast (violence-force-coercion). Both methods are employed continously, but each is primary according to the situation, the context.
Now, when it comes to political parties, it is generally assumed that one joins the Party which most closely represents ones own ideology. One agrees with the principles with which the Party originated and at least superficially claims to represent. But there is the catch. Sometimes the Party only superficially supports these principles, and in practice often acts contrary to these principles, and will enforce such doublethink through the invocation of Party discipline. I believe…