Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Tue May 21 06:21:01 MDT 1996

On Mon, 20 May 1996 JenaSee846 at aol.com wrote:

> However, when I originally brought up discussing vanguardism, I was refering
> more to the idea of a certain sector of the population (the proletariat,
> women, or whomever) being viewed has having a higher political or social
> conciousness, and therefore, being better equipped to lead the rest of the
> masses to revolution.  Mimi brought up something different (but just as

Louis: This definition of a vanguard is the sort of thing one would find
in the textbooks for a Political Science 101 course. It attempts to
explain phenomena such as Stalin's dictatorship as an outgrowth of some
concepts Lenin laid out around the turn of the century. This, of course,
has nothing in common with Marxism which attempts to explain dictatorships
in class terms.

Lenin's understanding of the term vanguard had more to do with the
phenomenon of different levels of political consciousness existing in the
Russian working-class. This existed in Czarist Russia and it exists in the
USA today. A Chicano member of the Farmworkers Union is more likely to
have a higher level of political consciousness than a white, ethnic
construction worker in NYC who got his high-paying job through family

Within the most politically advanced sections of the working-class and a
significant section of the middle-class, socialist ideas tend to gain
currency. The whole idea of a "vanguard" is simply to gather together
these types of individuals into a party which can act in a united fashion
to spread socialist ideas and coordinate battles against the capitalist

The term "vanguard" has lost its meaning in the world of revolutionary
politics today. It has become a term that groups use to describe their
privileged relationship to the rest of the left. They describe themselves
as a vanguard on the basis of having some really special ideas that nobody
else has, while Lenin thought of a vanguard as an ongoing project. In a
very real sense, no group can really be absolutely called a vanguard until
it wins power.

Finally, on the question of "higher" consciousness. Nobody in their right
mind believes that workers have any higher consciousness than the rest of
society. In any society, the dominant ideology is that of the class which
rules society. In the United States, capitalist ideology is found
everywhere--in the boardrooms of General Motors and on the assembly line
of GM plants. The reason Marxists orient to the working-class is that this
class has the social power to overturn capitalism. If capitalism is not
overturned, then surely we and the rest of the natural world will perish.

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