"Vanguard" follies and Organizing Realities

Mark Lause lause at worldnet.att.net
Sun May 6 11:33:40 MDT 2001


Hunter,

This is definately THE question of all questions for the Left.  Right now I'm
plowing through microfilms and other sources trying to unravel a series of
conferences and conventions organized by radicals to address the presidential
election of 1864.  This is exactly the matter they were debating.  Some radicals
wanted to establish a coherent national organization with a detailed platform as
a way to get more accomplished; others feared that any organization would
enshrine another "creed" that would deradicalize the movement.

If we break it down, we might see some different facets of it.
* Do we think that past experience justifies the model of a "vanguard" in that
any social movement has various layers?
* Do we think that leadership necessarily involves coercion of the ranks?  And
what does coercion mean?
* To what extent is a self defined "vanguard" different from an organic
"vanguard"?

In solidarity,
Mark Lause

Hunter Gray wrote:

> Another discussion list's very interesting back-and-forth on the "Vanguard"
> concept prompted these practical thoughts of mine.  I spread them into a
> broader arena -- making it clear that this is not an effort to subject the
> Great Socialists of history to any minimization.  It has always seemed to me
> that they  -- more than some [not all by any means!] of their disciples --
> certainly recognized the critical nature of broad-based local leadership.
>
> I try to imagine what I as an organizer would  evoke in the way of a
> grassroots reaction, [all sorts of ethnicities over the years involving the
> people "of the fewest alternatives"], were I  to even think of myself as
> "Vanguard." And I definitely don't like the scenario that emerges in my
> mind.  No one ever accused me of having a minimal little ego, but I'm not a
> damn fool.  I have no problem recognizing my anarcho-syndicalist
> catechism -- my first and deepest love! -- something, by the way, quite akin
> to Native tribalism at some key points.  But, far more than that, we
> radicals need to organize at the grassroots -- always organize and fight  --
> the hardest and toughest and ultimately most satisfying work there is --
> and, very much in conjunction with that, we need always to be developing
> strong and vigorous local leadership.  "Pitchy-pine" fires -- the hot, fast
> stuff -- are fine at certain junctures; but the fight is a long one -- even
> under the best of circumstances -- and it's the "oak wood" fires that will
> carry through the long winters and deserts and to the green oases and the
> Red Water of effective and significant struggle.  Martin King was a great
> man and the old SCLC a fine movement -- but the top down stuff of too many
> [not all] of the clergy in SCLC and in the hinterland, often left movements
> which were breaking up even as the organizers moved on.  The
> grassroots/leadership development approaches by other civil rights
> organizers [so well and consistently advocated by Miss Ella J. Baker],  have
> left outfits that have endured through the decades.  Saul Alinsky had an
> organizing style that focused primarily on bringing together the leaders of
> existent organizations -- some of them very fine organizations and some not
> so fine  -- and, out of that, he would create something like the Back of the
> Yards Council in the Chicago packinghouse district. But, in the late '60s
> into the mid-'70s, when I was directing large scale grassroots community
> organization of poor people [Black, Puerto Rican, Chicano, some Native, and
> some Anglo], we had to fight practically everything around us -- Daley
> Machine, Republicans, cops, racists, finks of all kinds -- and a prime enemy
> was the old Back of the Yards Council, degenerated into something run by
> Daley through Joe Meegan.  It was reactionary and it was racist.  In fact,
> even Alinsky himself -- never recognizing the inherent flaw in his top-down
> organizing approach -- was finally referring by then to the Back of the
> Yards Council as a "frankenstein."  We organized about 300 block clubs and
> related organizations in two large umbrella groups and almost all of that
> still remains active and effective.  The old Mine-Mill union -- like the
> other Left unions -- was radical and equalitarian and militant and, very
> fundamentally, a model of rank-and-file democracy.  It was that ethos that
> enabled Mine-Mill to effectively resist some of the most vicious
> witch-hunting [Feds, bosses, state, vigilantes, conservative unions] endured
> by any labor organization in the 20th century -- and to very effectively,
> always, service its membership and substantially address the broader social
> justice and visionary concerns.  In contrast, the authoritarian  and
> top-down Steel union -- well-heeled financially and "respectable,"
> floundered at all sorts of critical points. Having absorbed almost all of
> Mine-Mill in 1967, following two decades of Government-backed  Steel union
> red-baiting and raiding,  it lost the 1983-84 Phelps-Dodge strike  -- and
> several of the old copper locals as well, which broke up.  Talk of
> "Vanguard" and "militant minority"  frankly bothers me a great deal.  Good
> organizers are always  needed -- sensibly pragmatic, visionary, radical --
> and they are needed by the grassroots.  The organizers also need to listen.
> And they -- the organizers -- certainly need the grassroots people and
> emergent local leadership: strong, tough, and -- in the view of power
> structures  -- dangerous!
>
> Hunter Gray [Hunterbear]
> Hunter Gray
> www.hunterbear.org

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