Visions

Our look at what the world could be like under socialism---and thoughts on how we get there

Thoughts on the Vanguard Debate
Schuyler Kempton


Perhaps the most poignant debate in the socialist world following the death of Karl Marx has been the question of the vanguard party. While Leninists claim that the Vanguard Party is essential, Left Communists claim that it is an authoritarian force and will lead to the implementation of state capitalism. For the purpose of this article all opposing the Vanguard Party will be labeled as Left Communists, and all supporting it will be labeled Leninists, though this is not strictly the case. 

The best analogy for the function of the Vanguard Party was written by Leon Trotsky in History of the Russian Revolution, who said that the struggle of the working class is analogous to steam, but that steam will dissipate if not put into a piston-box.The Vanguard Party, argued Trotsky, is that box. Trotsky was the quintessential example of a devout Leninist, who fought against both Left Communism and Stalinism. Left Communists argue that it is contradictory to argue that the working class must emancipate itself and yet assert that it should be led by those who are, in effect, professional revolutionaries, leaders in control of the destiny of the working class. Left Communists argue that it is through independent mass action (such as wildcat strikes). Paul Mattick argued in The Masses and the Vanguard “All power to the committees of action and the workers’ councils. This is the class front. This is the road to communism. To render workers conscious of the unity of organizational forms of struggle, of class dictatorship, and of the economic frame of communism, with its abolition of wages – is the task of the militants.” This is in explicit contradiction to the claim by the Leninists that the only way for class struggle to end up anywhere is if it is controlled by a Vanguard Party. This is a debate, ultimately, over how the masses are to achieve power. Is it possible to topple the capitalist system by the sheer force of wildcat strikes and independent mass action? If so, how can a new, socialist society be built from the ashes of the old, capitalist society? Or is it necessary to have a democratic centralist vanguard party, rooted in, but essentially leading the working class? If so, how can this vanguard party, after seizing power, lead the masses to Pure Communism and not degenerate into authoritarianism and state capitalism?

The definitive anti-Left Communist manifesto of the Leninists was written by Lenin himself while leading the new Soviet Union. “Left-Wing” Communism: An Infantile Disorder, is a smoldering critique of the left Communists and an affirmation of Leninism. Mattick’s “The Masses and the Vanguard,” quoted earlier, provides a good counter-argument to Lenin. 

Perhaps the greatest single critique of Left Communism is that it is sectarian: it does not support parliamentary activity nor does it support engagement in trade unions. It does, however, support socialist organizations which attempt to raise the awareness of the proletariat about the conditions which they are in order for them to revolt. The greatest praise which can be placed upon the Left Communists is that they are deeply connected to the working class, they believe that it is only through the working class that a revolution can occur, and that a workers revolution cannot be led by a force outside of the working class.

Perhaps the greatest single critique of Leninism is that it attempts to lead the working class to revolution rather than the working class leading it themselves. Once the party is in power, it need not listen to the will of the working class, and in all historical examples it has not done so. The greatest praise is that rather than adopting the wait-and-see tactics of the Left Communists, the Leninists actively engage in revolutionary activity and have essentially been organizing the great Communist revolution since the turn of the 20thCentury. 

However, is it not possible to have a party that is centralized but rooted in the working class? Is it not possible to have a party that is run not by some revolutionary elites but is dependent upon the decisions made by workers at the shop floor? Is it not possible to have a revolutionary party that includes ALL workers, not just the select few? I would argue that this is indeed possible. Ultimately, the workers had little say in the affairs of the Soviet Union once Lenin took office. This was not necessarily the fault of Lenin at first, as unions were illegal and the means by which the workers of Russia could have a say in their affairs was not readily available. However, it is inexcusable that Lenin and the early Bolshevik government was unable to eventually form workers councils and incorporate their decisions into the policy of the Soviet Union. The truly ironic element of this split between the Left Communists and the Leninists is that the English translation of “soviet” is “council.” That Soviet Communism should be at odds with Council Communism (a predominant Left Communist current) speaks volumes on the state of the left. 

The infrastructure of workers councils and revolutionary union activity does not form by itself. Those among the working class who have come to embrace socialism must form these councils. We have seen these councils formed independent of labor in the form of #OWS General Assemblies. However, this disconnect from labor renders the assemblies capable only of dictating only the conditions at any given occupied park. When the occupants go to work the next day, they enter a land of tyranny. It is extremely difficult for workers to form unions outside of the monopoly of the AFL-CIO and other bourgeois controlled unions. It is possible for workers to function inside these unions and essentially form revolutionary councils. The wildcat strikes considered so powerful by Mattick can be organized by these councils, independent of the union leadership. A network of these underground councils within the unions could hypothetically be formed. They would not only tackle questions immediately related to labor, but also aim to address social issues and inequality in all forms. A revolutionary party could serve the purpose of publicizing the views of these interconnected councils and even bringing these views into the political sphere, therefore further publicizing them.  The first revolutionary action would be overthrowing the union leaders. The second would be overthrowing the leaders of industry, the capitalists. The revolutionary party would be behind them every step of the way, publicizing and consolidating their views, functioning as the centralizing force of an otherwise disconnected web of councils. Once the capitalists are toppled, the government structures would be as well. This central party would then move into the position of leadership, although it would remain controlled by the workers councils. Therefore, it would act as something of a figurehead for the new dictatorship of the proletariat. Eventually, the party would dissolve.

This is one vision of revolutionary unionism that is non-sectarian and a vision of Leninism in which the vanguard party does not lead the masses, but instead supports and centralizes them. In a way, this vision resembles the DeLeonist model. However, it sharply differs in that it does not propose the establishment of unions independent of the existing bourgeois unions, nor does it advocate that the members of the central party are necessarily elected by the various independent unions. This is a tediously specific vision of socialism and one that resembles the parliamentary nature of the current liberal democracies. It is difficult to believe that one man could draw up a model of socialism in a pre-socialist society and expect all workers to follow it to the letter. This plan is somewhat vague, and that is deliberate. It’s goal is to bridge the gap between the two socialist ideologies which have rammed against each other for so much of leftist history.

What is Humanism?
Ken Brofman 

Humanism is the belief that all humans are, no matter what, basically equal and should be treated as such. This means no rich and no poor. Nothing should separate the people. Humanism is also the belief that governments are only legitimate with the consent of the governed. All people should have equal rights and an equal say in what goes on in their country.

Although we like to think otherwise, humans are imperfect creatures and are made more imperfect by temptations like money and power. In a humanist society, there would be no money, and therefore no wealth. Everyone would be equal. A humanist government would, like our own, have a system of checks and balances, so that no branch of government or individual would become too powerful. Every politician would be instructed by his or her district on how to vote, and they would argue for that point accordingly. There would be no filibuster, each faction of agreeing politicians could only have one person speak once.

There would be no political parties, and so it would not be Democrat versus Republican or Liberal versus Conservative, just one point of view versus another. Districts would vote on their representatives, and the
district would also vote to decide how that representative will vote in the end.

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