Vanguard Party

Posted: April 20, 2011 in TANIT-Forum

Vanguard Party (TANIT Stockholm Conference Contribution)

The question of the vanguard party (Programmatic platform, leadership, internal regime/organizational culture and relations to the mass parties and the working class) Contribution to the International Conference of TANIT Stockholm, April 15 – 17, 2011

In our opinion this discussion is about approaches towards the programmatic platform, leadership, internal regimes (organizational culture) and the relations towards the mass parties, the working class and oppressed people.

We believe that these areas represent the core elements of the question of the vanguard party.

1. The vanguard party and the attitude towards the masses

At least some of our opponents seem to think that we have a sectarian approach towards the working class and its traditional organizations, because we want to build a vanguard party.

The thought that there is some kind of inevitable and permanent link between the orientation towards a vanguard party and sectarianism is false and stands in obvious contradiction to the experiences and teachings of the Bolsheviks under Lenin and of the Fourth International under Trotsky. Sectarianism is “a refusal to struggle for partial and transitional demands, i. e., for the elementary interests and needs of the working masses, as they are today.

Preparing for the revolution means to the sectarians, convincing themselves of the superiority of socialism”, as the Transitional Program puts it. Within TANIT it is rather our opponents who are the most inclined to sectarianism. It is naturally so that a small number of comrades, just trying to constitute themselves as a political group of revolutionary Marxists, in the beginning has to focus on their own political clarity and homogenization, as thus in a sense be a “sect”, but this can only be a temporary stage and in no sense a model or a basis for criticizing others who already have left that stage behind them.

The goal to which any revolutionary Marxist group must strive, and one of the central contents around which the homogenization must occur during the initial formation of such a group, is to find ways to the masses, because the emancipation of workers will be the task of workers themselves. The working class is of course not homogenous. There are different levels of consciousness and of political orientation within the working class, and furthermore, these vary over time with the development of the economic, social and political situation on a world scale and in each country.

The tasks of the revolutionary Marxists in relationship to the working class are double: Firstly, in pre-revolutionary situations, the strategic orientation in the building of a vanguard party is materialized in fusions on a constantly broader basis with the vanguard of the working class, which consist of the most conscious workers leading the struggles in their workplaces, in the unions etc.

By the way, there is absolutely no contradiction in speaking both of a vanguard party and of the vanguard of the working class, as some of our opponents assert, because, as Trotsky says, the revolutionary organization is the vanguard of the proletarian vanguard. Secondly, in revolutionary situations, when a vanguard party already exists and the seizure of power is directly on the agenda, the party must strive to transform itself and become a broad mass party, outflanking the traditional, reformist and centrist leaderships of all kinds.

This is what happened in Russia in 1917. Of course, this double task should not be considered as a scheme that can be applied independently of the concrete situation. In Tunisia today for example, there is a situation of a proletarian revolution, but without a vanguard party, or actually without any real workers party at all. In this situation you have to combine the tasks, for example in building a broad party open to all workers supporting the ongoing revolution, and at the same time organize the most advanced workers and revolutionary Marxists in a current within that party. It is also possible in certain countries that the building of the vanguard party, or rather vanguard organization or current in this case, takes the form of an open or secret faction within a traditional bourgeois workers party, lead by a treacherous leadership serving imperialism. It is a principle to orient towards the working-class as such and to build an independent vanguard organization, but it is a tactical question if this is combined with a participation in a traditional mass party, with a participation in building a new broader party or if you simply build the vanguard organization.

In general we have to be very flexible on how we implement the building of the vanguard party and adopt the concrete forms to the actual situation in each specific country as well as to our own strength. So far we have been focusing on the strategy for party building, but this is just one aspect of our relationship to the masses and their organizations – an aspect that should be treated as indissolubly linked to the general question of interventions in the class struggle. The other aspect concerns the strategy and the tactics for our direct interventions in the concrete ongoing struggles of the working class against the bourgeoisie and of the oppressed peoples fighting against the policies of imperialist oppression and exploitation.

We take very seriously the experiences and teachings from the history of revolutionary Marxism and we fully adhere to the non-sectarian line of Trotsky: “The Bolshevik-Leninist stands in the front-line trenches of all kinds of struggles, even when they involve only the most modest material interests or democratic rights of the working class” (Transitional Program). This “when they involve only” obviously means that it is not the role of the revolutionary Marxist to raise, in each and every moment, the perspective of socialism in a propagandistic way.

Even if the conditions for socialism are riper then ever, the consciousness of the workers is not. Therefore we believe that the theory of the permanent revolution as well as the transitional method have kept all their validity. The working class develops a socialist consciousness by experiences in the class struggle rather than by reading socialist propaganda on a website.Most of us present here today might agree on this in words, but when it comes to implementation I am not so sure. We always try to be careful to draw hasty conclusions from isolated tactical examples or isolated formulations, but it is in this context that we do see a trend toward a sectarian orientation of our opponents. We see a trend of trying to convince others and themselves of the need for socialism as a substitute for transitional demands, in the interventions towards the traditional mass organizations, as well as in formulating a line for the liberation of oppressed people such as the Palestinians. Furthermore, I have learned that the IMT was against the building of a broad tendency with social-democrats who were not ready to join the IMT, with the motivation that “we are the tendency”.

We do see a trend amongst our opponents to be stuck in that sectarian refusal of the IMT to engage in the building of transitional organizational forms on a united front perspective. We have no doubt that our opponents will refuse to admit that they have any sectarian tendencies whatsoever and we are of course aware of the need of more developed proof, but this sectarianism is actually very much linked to the rejection of the vanguard party.

As far as we are concerned, the experiences of revolutionary Marxism and its deviations, show that it is only a vanguard organization that can have the political homogeneity and collective perspective that permits bold united front initiatives and transitional demands that seems to be reformist, but constitute the necessary first steps in a series of demands adopted to the consciousness of the masses. For us it is quite obvious that an organization of the kind our opponents want to build – with a minimal platform, a downgrading of the role of the leadership, loose membership criteria and internal discipline, individualistic interventions in the class struggle, refusal of all secrecy etc. – will end up compensating the internal looseness and heterogeneity with a restricted use of united front initiatives and transitional demands.

In a situation where the ruling class and their supporters within the labor movement very consciously use huge resources and all kind of manipulations to uphold the idea that there is no alternative to capitalism, despite the fact that it has lost its objective reason to exist and despite its continuous crises, the revolutionary marxists need the kind of backup that only a vanguard party can provide, if they want to meet the illusions amongst the masses without falling into all kinds of deviations, including adaptation and sectarianism. With this I conclude this first part, dealing with the vanguard organization and the attitude towards the masses. The second part deals with the nature of the vanguard organization as such.

2. The nature of a vanguard organization

The quality of a vanguard organization (actually of any organization) is first and foremost determined by the quality of its leadership and of the political program incarnated by that leadership. At least some of our opponents consider that our program, or political platform, should, by principle, be limited to three basic standpoints, or principles:

• A democratic internal regime

• An orientation towards the labor movement

• Socialist revolution

They put these three points in opposition to “agreeing about every detail”, as if this was the only alternative to their three points. For our part, we reject the idea about a minimal platform, as well as the caricature about “agreeing on everything”, as we simply base ourselves on the traditional view of the Marxist program that was expressed, in different forms, by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky.

Our viewpoint, as well as our programmatic passport, is fully explained in the text called Political Bases, which is a commented summary of the programmatic bases of the Fourth International. As Trotsky himself explains, a full program is necessary to gain a common view, which is essential for a coordinated collective action. Advocating a minimal program, it comes as no surprise that our opponents tend towards a minimal leadership.

Let me mention two examples of this: The project of TANIT itself has existed for almost a year without any concrete steps towards the formation of a collective, political leadership. The task of the Coordinating Committee has to an overwhelming extent been purely technical and practical. The idea has been to provide an open and free forum and then wait and see what pops up from the individual participants. The ultimate goal is said to be the formation of an international leadership, but we have not seen anything pointing in that direction during this year. And as my second example will show, an eventual international leadership is likely to be of the minimal kind. The Swedish group Socialisten is one of the very few established groups within TANIT, with a long tradition, and the main initiator to TANIT.

My experience with Socialisten, explicitly confirmed by their executive, is that the following tasks are not part of the tasks of the leadership:

• To produce regular written analysis of the economic, social and political development, neither internationally nor from a Swedish perspective.

• Consequently, to collectively formulate political positions and lines of intervention for the burning questions on a regular basis.

• To organize a formation circle for new members.

• To initiate routines of, and as individual members promote, regular discussions in the local branches about the concrete interventions in the class struggle the members are (or should be) involved in.

• To actively promote the regular participation of members in the activity of the organization. As you understand, we, on the contrary, consider these to be fundamental tasks of a leadership for a revolutionary Marxist organization. Regarding the membership criteria, they are minimal too. As long as you agree with the minimal program and pay your dues, you are a full member, even if you are not active at all.

Without hesitation, we give our opponents the merit of being consequent with their own line and it comes as no surprise that they consider the very concept itself of a vanguard party being without validity.

The genius of Lenin, as a leader, was that he understood that there is no single organizational model suitable for all occasions and that there is a need for a high degree of flexibility when it comes to organizational questions, and especially to the degree of openness towards the masses. This is not primarily linked to the degree of repression or democracy within a specific state, but, on one hand, to the dynamic of the revolutionary process and to the consciousness and actions of the masses and, on the other hand, to the political maturity and the degree of influence of the revolutionary organization itself. To approach what we consider to be the core of such a flexible vanguard party, we will start with a delimitation from two sides. Amongst the organizations claiming the heritage of the Fourth International, or of revolutionary Marxism in general, the leadership crisis has typically expressed itself in two different kinds of organizational deviations. Either in the form of a dissolution of the hierarchical structure of organization, the negation of the need of a strong leadership and the existence of very fluid political and organizational boundaries of the organization. This is not to be understood as an over-democratization of the organization, but rather as an overdose of freedom – do what you want! Or in the form of an over-centralization leading to a separation of the central leadership (the executive) from the rest of the organization – including from congresses and the broader leading bodies – in a static organizational culture hostile to an open and comradely debate between different ideas and to a dynamic reproduction of new leaders.

Common to both of these deviations is that the organizational culture lacks the necessary flexibility and attention to the needs of the immediate class struggle and that they hamper the growth of new generations of leaders, especially of the most advanced international leaders. In trying to avoid the second deviation, which they experienced with the IMT, our opponents tend to end up in the first type of deviation. The key to overcome both of these deviations, as well as the division and the limited influence of the revolutionary organizations in general is to overcome the political weakness of the leadership.

We believe that the question of organizational culture in general is ultimately reduced to the question of leadership and the question of organizational degeneration is but an expression of the historical crisis of the proletarian leadership. To overcome this crisis involves inevitably a thorough theoretical work, a formation of cadres, direct interventions in the class struggle and strivings to fuse with the workers leading the struggles, based on an appropriate division of labor within the framework of a collective functioning. The internal process (theoretical elaborations and formations of cadres) and the external process (the direct participation in the class struggle and the fusing with the vanguard workers) are mutually dependent in the sense that one genuine step forward in one area, subsequently demands one step forward in the other arena, before it will be possible to take the next step in the first.

When it comes to the internal structure and internal tasks, we believe that a vanguard organization today should be based on four basic pillars, as I wrote in a previous proposal for a resolution about organizational culture.

1. Membership criteria based on activity

2. The principle of democratic centralism ruling the organizational structure and the internal debate

3. A systematic and non-dogmatic political education on all levels and for all members

4. Systematic and open-minded theoretical and programmatic elaborations We believe that the very first step towards the formation of a vanguard organization, and towards a contribution to the solution of the leadership crisis, is the formation of a small group of devoted comrades around a clear understanding of the significance and the contents of a complete revolutionary program. It is obvious that the complete revolutionary program does not exist today and that a new leadership cannot be proclaimed artificially, but this should not stop us from clearly formulate our objectives and engage in a patient collective work towards that objective.

This presentation was presented as a collective contribution by several comrades, including Maziar (present at the conference). Emce

Stockholm, 16 April 2011


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