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“The Iceberg Principle Explained”: a reader’s response

Written by: (Contributed) on 7 October 2020


The following response to our earlier article on revolutionary organisation has been written by a non-member comrade who draws on international experiences.  We thank him for this response.

The recent Vanguard article, “Revolutionary Organisation: The Iceberg Principle Explained”, 14 September 2020, provided a timely reminder about effective political organisation in the present Cold War, with several references to previous problematic periods of class and state repression.

The Iceberg Principle has, historically, assisted politically progressive organisations, including Communist Parties and National Liberation Movements with the ability to safeguard their political organisations and continue to operate under a multitude of circumstances.
The Iceberg Principle has, however, been elaborated upon elsewhere, to provide more technical and organisational stand-points of basic principles, from the initial Leninist conception of party organisation to the present day.
Leninist conception of the Party
The basic Leninist conception of party was clearly defined in numerous publications as consisting of highly disciplined group of professional revolutionaries dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism, a specific mode of economic production based on exploitation of labour and foisted upon working people through class and state repression. (1)
The Bolshevik conception of party organisation was different to previous models which arose elsewhere through the nineteenth century as capitalism emerged as the dominant mode of production. It was also based upon Marxist political economy and the Three Component Parts of Marxism, by Lenin, published in 1913, which provide the basic theoretical principles on which the organisation rested, together with other numerous publications. 
The subsequent success of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 had a dramatic impact upon revolutionary movements in the emerging capitalist countries and also the struggles for national liberation against imperialist tyranny, particularly in Africa, the Middle East and Asia-Pacific region in what became the developing countries.
Ho Chi Minh, veteran of the Vietnamese people's liberation struggle, pointed out that Lenin was the ‘first to realise and emphasise the full importance of a correct solution to the colonial question as a contribution to the world revolution … Lenin was the first to realise and assess the full importance of drawing the colonial peoples into the revolutionary movement … With his inborn clear-sightedness, Lenin realised that in order to know how to work in the colonies successfully, it was necessary to know how to take full advantage of the national liberation movement which was gaining ground in these countries, he realised that with the support of the world proletariat for this movement we will have new, strong allies in the struggle for the socialist revolution’. (2)  
Similar studies in Southern Africa have shown the importance of party organisation for effective action. (3)
Subsequent economic development in the capitalist and later developing countries, however, created new challenges for the revolutionary movements. In countries such as Australia the emerging dominance of social-democracy over working-class organisations tended to isolate progressive and revolutionary movements. 
Contributing to that isolation was a sometimes incorrect tendency to engage in personal attacks on the leadership of social-democratic based organisations including trade-unions and other bodies. At other times, criticism by name of people consciously betraying the workers was indeed necessary.  What really mattered was effective mass work designed to raise the political and ideological consciousness of workers at their various levels of understanding about the limitations of social democracy and trade union politics, and of the bourgeois ideology underlying them.
Expanding influence through the three tiers
One alternative model used elsewhere, in Europe, of basic party organisation to avoid confrontations with social-democratic organisations used a three-layer structure, whereby:
a.   the party itself was composed of a small number of largely full-time and professional activists;
b.   which rested upon a second tier, composed of known supporters, who formed part of  networks linked to activists in tier one. Supporters, often members of other political, social and religious organisations read party documents and publications on the regular basis;
c.    a third tier, of those who were trusted although they did not form part of usual organisational networks but nevertheless could be used for establishing front organisations and safe-houses when required.
It was noted that the strength of the party itself, as tier one, rested upon the larger support provided by tier two to enable wider levels of support.
The recent Vanguard article also drew attention to the problem of class and state repression, where infiltration took place. In open political organisations it is a two-fold problem: party members and supporters can be identified and political work compromised; agent provocateurs can undertake actions designed to be counter-productive. (4) A compartmentalised party organisation reduces the problem.
It is also important to note from declassified documents how class and state power has operated historically. Documents relating to the notorious US military Project X program which was used extensively in allied countries, revealed how widespread infiltration of political parties and profiling of members and known supporters took the form of listings which included 'creating black, grey and white lists of potential adversaries and in making block-by-block inventories of families and their assets to keep tabs on the population'. (5)
Under such circumstances, where modern vetting procedures regularly use family traces for three generations, together with known contacts and acquaintances, confidentiality has remained a matter of the utmost importance for protecting those involved with Communist Parties and National Liberation Movements and their families.
It is also important to note the importance of secret organisation for difficult conditions.
The three tiers of the party model also ran parallel to another similar structure which was highly clandestine and only made operational in times of repression, including military involvement in civilian affairs. Both parallel structures were separated, to avoid unnecessary surveillance. When necessary, the main party would immediately dissolve itself and rely upon the clandestine structure to maintain essential activism with a shift from legal to illegal party organisation and operations.
A good example of the work of an illegal Communist Party in operation was Portugal, where the entire organisation was clandestine, including extensive sections inside the military. (6) They were in the forefront of the military coup, April 1974, which toppled the long-time dictatorship and accepted the liberated colonies in Africa and Asia. Another, modern-day example, can be seen with the development of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).   
A further example of clandestine work assisting illegal National Liberation Movements operated in Paris through the 1950s/70s under the guidance of Henry Curiel. (7) The Solidarite organisation was responsible for political training which included a wide range of technical services used for political opposition work against colonial administrations and neo-colonial governments across three continents.
In conclusion, the Iceberg Principal would appear to have served its purpose well, where the previous Cold War was a major problem for communists and progressive political activists, including Australia. With a second Cold War now upon us, there are, once again, new challenges; we should therefore be on our guard about unnecessarily exposing our members and followers to the forces of reaction.
1.     Leninism Today, A Collection of Articles, Novosti Press Agency, Moscow, 1970.
2.     Lenin and the National Liberation in the East, Edited, B.G. Gafurov and G.F. Kim, USSR Academy of Sciences, Institute of Oriental Studies, Progress Publishers, Moscow, 1978, quoted, page 6.  
3.     See: South African History On-line, South African Communist Party, numerous exhibits, including training schools, party organisation, recruitment, communications, the armed struggle.
4.     See: Wikipedia – Aginter Press, Aginter Strategic Document; and, Stefano Delle Chiaie, Portrait of a Black Terrorist, (London, 1984), The Strategy of Tension, pp. 14-32; and, Appendix C, pp. 60-61; and, Delle Chiaie's CIA contacts, with extensive contact details of five intelligence officers, page 75; and, CIA infiltration of the labour movement,   Richard Fletcher, (London, 1982), pp. 5-62.
5.     Army's Project X had wider audience, The Washington Post, 6 March 1997.         
6.     Portugal's Revolution, Gil Green, (New York, 1976), Chapter 8, pp. 52-57.
7.     See: A Crime in Paris, The Assassination of Henri Curiel, an Egyptian Guevara, MEFLO, 5 July 2019; and, The strange case of Henri Curiel, Claire Stirling, The Washington Post, 15 March 1981.


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