Concept of the Vanguard Party

A contribution towards the Concept of the Vanguard Party

This article is based on Maziar Razi’s contribution to a discussion on the vanguard party that took place on June 3, 2010.


The discussion on the vanguard party is very important for the future formation of an international organisation and it is one of the central issues that Marxists have to discuss and reach a common understanding. It will be necessary to write articles and eventually a resolution on it before we can build an international.

In order to form a new organisation many points about the content of the future organisation will really have to be clarified. First, in particular, the issue of the vanguard organisation is one of the crucial discussions that must be had. Although most Marxists will be acquainted with the idea and have in the past talked many times about it, however, to begin building a new international it will be very, very important that before anything else – even though, of course, there are also many other important issues – before we start any organisational formation of activities and concentrating on developing our ideas, we must be clear about this concept.

Second, I wanted to mention is that the ideas I am putting forward are an introduction to the Leninist Party. They are not going to be complete by any means. I myself don’t believe that I, or the IRMT, have yet reached any deep conclusion on that. So what we like to do is to have a dialogue with other comrades with different experiences and understanding to reach a concept of the Leninist Party together. For this is not in fact a finalised version of our ideas. It is just a discussion to pass on our experiences to other comrades, so it is in fact at this stage of the discussion that we can develop something together.

Two concepts of the party

Generally speaking, historically in the working class tradition there have been two basic concepts of the Party in the last 150 years or so. One concept has been that of the mass party that in fact was initiated in the Second International at its peak, in the presence of Engels. Eventually the idea of the mass party became known as a social democratic party that involves and attracts many thousands of workers in different parts of the world. This party intervenes within the working class and is active against the capitalist system.

However the idea of the mass party, at that time and the initiation of that was in a situation that in actuality the question of revolution was not posed on a world scale. Even though Marx himself talked about the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, the need for capitalism to be demolished and a new order to come into being but still the actuality of the revolution was not on the order of the day in that period.

So the mass parties developed two separate programmes: one was the minimum programme which was a programme for reform, for putting pressure on the system in order to gain some concessions for the workers. And the other of course was the maximum programme, a programme that they never intended to use immediately or in the near future. It was something that was in their programme, it was postponed for a long time to come until the revolutionary upheavals, but they were not seeing revolutionary upheavals on the order of the day at that particular time. Also the idea of Marx himself, and many activists at that time, was that socialist consciousness in the working class will develop in a linear way. This means that gradually the workers will develop this consciousness on a smaller scale and then a larger scale and that it will eventually become deeper and deeper until the time of the revolution.

So their concept, generally because of the objective situation of that period, was in this manner that the actuality of the revolution was not on the order of the day and that the consciousness of the workers develops gradually. So they would fight against capitalism, they would pressurise the state, the capitalist state, to give concessions and reforms within the society they were living in but then gradually these activities, this consistent fight against capitalism, will develop the fight against capitalism until a revolutionary period a bit further away from that particular moment. They were fighting for the minimum demands, fighting for the reform of the society. So this was one idea of the workers’ party at the peak of the Second International under the leadership of Engels himself and many other revolutionaries after him like Kautsky and others who developed this idea at that time.

In 1902 Lenin developed another concept of a workers’ party that became known as a ‘vanguard party’. That is his concept written in ‘What is to be done?’, and because he was initiating this idea of the new party in opposition to the mass workers’ party that was developed by the Second International, we gradually came to call it the Leninist Party. But in fact the real description of it is the vanguard party. Lenin, of course, was one of the first people who developed the idea of this vanguard party consistently and fought for it. But then there were other revolutionaries at that time, and even after him, who developed this theory, this theory of the vanguard party to a fuller scale. One of them was Antonio Gramsci, who contributed a great deal to this idea of the vanguard party and after that, even Rosa Luxembourg who in criticising this idea in her writings, also made a contribution to this idea. And there was also Trotsky himself and after that Lukas and Karl Korsch and many other revolutionaries, who from different angles, actually developed this idea from that period onwards. So the idea of the vanguard party was in fact completely different to the idea of the mass parties that had been witnessed at that period.

Socialist consciousness

The central idea of the concept of the vanguard party was about socialist consciousness: how to preserve this socialist consciousness, how to make it immune and develop this socialist consciousness which develops within the mass of the working class or the vanguard of the working class. Lenin’s criticism of the mass party in ‘What is to be done?’ was based on this idea that socialist consciousness can develop within the workers but that within the mass workers parties these socialist ideas and consciousness are subject to both ups as well as downs. That socialist consciousness can be influenced by bourgeois ideology which is the dominant ideology of any capitalist society.

Therefore if this socialist consciousness, which develops in these mass parties is left on its own, although some workers will reach these ideas and consciousness, but then at the same time they may lose it after a while. Because in a capitalist society, within the struggle of the workers against capitalism, socialist consciousness of course develops; but, at the same time, illusions also develop within the working class because of this heavy and deep publicity of bourgeois ideology through various means inside the working class. So therefore the workers who gain socialist consciousness at one particular time may then lose it during the next year. Maybe in a period when they cannot consistently guard these ideas for the longer term, they may lose it. And also within the mass parties there are other ideologies, petit-bourgeois ideologies and other ideologies that penetrate within the mass movements, and they in turn, will stop the development of a revolutionary socialist consciousness within these layers of the working class. So it will in fact, to some extent, stop them fighting against capitalism right to the end – that means for the downfall of capitalism and the creation of a workers’ state and then a socialist society.

Petit-bourgeois ideas like anarchism, syndicalism, anarcho-syndicalism and various other sorts of petit-bourgeois tendencies exist within the working class. Therefore within the mass parties the preparation for a socialist revolution cannot really be achieved. Because in the final analysis these mass parties are dominated by bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideology and that will be the obstruction to guarding and developing socialist ideas within the workers for the insurrection and creation of a workers’ state.

So therefore the central issue of Lenin at that time, in 1902, was that we should in fact separate ourselves from the masses to an extent. Although we want to be within the masses, we want to intervene for the working class to gain power and create a socialist society, but at that same time because of this situation, because of this dominance of the bourgeois and petit-bourgeois ideology and programmes within the mass parties, there is a need for the separation of the vanguard of the workers, of the socialist vanguard of the workers from the masses of the people. So therefore the proposal of an organisation which is a minority organisation was posed in 1902 by Lenin.

This book, in spite of the many things we can discuss and analyse about it, and to say that many things in it were in fact not a correct analysis at that time (but we can come back to that); but generally speaking, I think that the book has been a development in Marxism in the direction of building a party, a workers’ party. This concept was quite new, it had not existed in the past and it was a new development within the working class movement and consequently we see that on the basis of this concept the Russian Revolution succeeded in struggling against Tsarism and the bourgeois state afterwards and the creation of the workers’ state.

On the question of the necessity of the creation of the Leninist Party there is one important issue and that is the idea of socialist consciousness that I mentioned. Socialist consciousness, contrary to some phrases written in 1902 and were later corrected by Lenin himself, does not come from the outside into the working class’s field of activities. Socialist consciousness develops within the working class. Within the everyday struggle, through gaining practical activities and experiences within their everyday life they gain socialist consciousness in the sense that they understand, without reading Marxist literature or knowing about Marxist ideas, the workers themselves come to the conclusion that the capitalist order is confronting their interests and that this system has to be done away with and a new order should replace it. This sort of embryonic socialist consciousness develops within the workers themselves.

So this aspect of Leninism itself, this aspect of the vanguard party that was pointed out in 1902 in ‘What is to be done?’, is not correct in that specific sense. Of course, one has to realise that Lenin at that time was a young man with very little experience of organisational activities and Kautsky was a very prominent Marxist and it was Kautsky who developed this idea that socialist consciousness comes from certain intellectuals outside of the masses of the workers. Because the masses of the workers cannot develop any socialist consciousness, and therefore this idea of socialist theory coming from outside the working class to inside the working class was developed originally by Kautsky.

After that obviously Lenin used the idea as such. A few years later in 1907 he said that at that time he was ‘bending the stick too far to the other side’ against the economists, who were saying that the working class is everything, that we have to tail-end the working class, that whatever the working class is saying is correct and the masses know what they are doing etc. So therefore that was a reaction to the economists who were way too workerist and too much followers of whatever the workers were saying. Therefore Lenin was saying ‘no that’s not the case’, this theory cannot develop within the working class itself as such it has to come from some intellectuals, from outside the working class into the working class arena. And that, of course, was a reaction at that time and then a few years later Lenin himself mentioned that that wasn’t the case and that he had actually exaggerated that idea. He now believed that the vanguard of the workers can develop theories through their practical activities, however, if this vanguard is left alone within the parties or society at large then they will lose this consciousness.

Therefore the party, the vanguard party, became the necessity for immunising this development of consciousness and also for summing up the experiences and bringing a programme for the party in order to have a better and deeper intervention in the working class and make preparations for the revolution. So therefore at that particular time, in 1907, Lenin was more or less saying that socialist consciousness is developing within the workers and the vanguard of the workers and we have to relate ourselves to the vanguard of the workers rather than some intellectuals with some theories from outside. Now around this time, Lenin develops in fact this idea that theory itself is ‘concentrated experience’. Therefore theory is not developed behind close doors by theoreticians, who by reading a few books then show the workers what to do and what not do. The theory is in fact a condensed form of practical activities of the workers. In their struggle against the state they gain some tactics, certain ideas, approaches that the culmination of all these which comes into the party which will be enhancing and developing the programme of the party to a better scale and this programme can be developed in theory that will help the workers to prepare for the revolution.

Theory has always had two aspects to it: one which comes in particular through experience, practical experience of the working class, and, the second aspect, which is generally historical and international theory that comes from reading history, by developing the ideas which belong to international and past and historical development of the working class. So therefore the party as such, the vanguard party, in fact bases itself on these aspects of the theory. One aspect is the historical, international theories that are basically made by revolutionary intellectuals within the party, there can be no doubt about that, because they have more time to read and comprehend and to develop the international and historical theories. But at the same time, the other aspect of theory is precisely theory which is the condensed form or concentrated from of practical activities of the workers themselves or activists in society.

An instrument for preparing the revolution

This concept, particularly put forward by Lenin, actually gives us an instrument in order to preserve and make immune this socialist consciousness that starts developing within the working class. Against trade unionist ideas, against anarchist ideas, against whatever exists in society.

So therefore the party in fact is, if you like, a place to win the most developed and the vanguard of the working class who are gaining socialist consciousness in order to sum up their experiences and also develop through their experiences, with them, specially the working class who have had very rich experiences, they struggle and develop a programme. They implement that programme back in a cycle, in society and try to do activities in society.

Therefore this party that has to be created as an instrument has to be the most democratic form of any institution that exists. This means that it has to be quite open in the sense that anybody can give their views. That’s why we’ve been talking about democratic centralism. The terminology of democratic centralism, has been misused by the Stalinists, but it means precisely that there is a democratic system, that people can give their views and with the right of forming a tendency and faction etc.
Also the centralisation means again, as I mentioned it before, what I mean by centralisation is a two way process. There are two aspects of centralisation: one is that the experiences come up into the party and are summed up, experiences become concentrated practical activities which develop into theory and the summation of that is centralised and back into and is in fact tested again in society until the next round, which is the next year after the next congress.

What this instrument is doing is precisely that, in this period, the period before the revolution we need an isolated place if you like that a minority of people get together and they develop these ideas, the aim is for the preparation of the revolution by the working class, not just by their party. Of course, they prepare themselves as a party but then prepare the working class for the revolution.

Therefore in this way Lenin argues that we can actually experience united action and the theories are also developed in the historical and international level all within this party, this party will be active within the working class itself.
Workers and Intellectuals

The other aspect that I’d like to explain here is that in our opinion in today’s society we have nowadays the vanguard workers, and vanguard workers are – I’d like to expand because some people have a workerist attitude, they say any workers, the vanguard and any worker have the same consciousness. On the other hand we have certain tendency that point out that only intellectuals within the party are the ones who can read and write, have the time to learn or read history, write books etc. They are the theoreticians or the ‘ideologues’ of the working class. I would like to disagree with both of these deviations or concepts: I think that among the workers we have the vanguard workers. By the vanguard workers I mean workers who are the intellectuals of the workers, we call them worker-intellectuals, that means the workers who are capable of reading, writing, even reading theoretical books and also they’re on the factory floor, working at the same time, they become the practical leaders of the working class. These are the vanguard workers that are fundamentally attracted, that we have to find and attract to the workers’ vanguard party.
On the other hand we have the intellectuals who come from the intelligentsia or from a student background, people with middle class families who have the time to read and write more than others, however, these also have to show themselves in practice that they are credible and that their orientation is towards the working class, that they are known within the working class and they are accepted and respected by the working class. This layer or group we call intellectual-workers.

So the first group which is within the working class we call them worker-intellectuals and these intellectuals are intellectual-workers. Therefore this combination of these two layers in society that means intellectual-workers and worker-intellectuals will be creating the foundation of this vanguard party. The vanguard party is preparing itself for the revolution and is preparing the working class for the revolution. Because if this combination does not exist, if a party is formed without the worker-intellectuals, without intervention within the working class and without attracting the leaders of the working class – not just any workers – but the leaders of the workers, then the party that we call the vanguard party becomes degenerated, it becomes a bureaucratic party, an intellectuals’ party, although they call themselves a Leninist party still or whatever they call themselves, but this is not the concept of the vanguard party we have. We don’t believe that building a group, an organisation on the national or international level with 150 or even 200,000 intellectuals, is worthy of this name of the vanguard party. The vanguard party has to have, absolutely must have, a close connection and the centre of attraction of worker-intellectuals, workers who are the leading workers of the mass movement.

Therefore on the one hand this so-called party becomes a caricature of a vanguard party if these workers are absent, that means if five or 10 intellectuals get together and read a few books, or are able to write a few articles or whatever, and then they announce a party without even attempting to attract those leading workers in society, there are hundreds of them in society, therefore this will deviate. That’s not the party that we are intending to build, so that caricature of the party will lead after one or two years to – it doesn’t matter whether they believe in democracy or if they don’t believe in democracy – democracy is any issue that only the vanguard party in that sense is formed then the democracy is important, but if 20, 30, 50 or 100 intellectuals sit together and give democratic rights to each other this is still not a vanguard party. So the criterion is not having democratic debates, the criterion is having the vanguard of the workers within the party. And that is what the Bolshevik party was all about, they recruited or attracted the most progressive and leading elements within working class movement, within the soviets later on.

On the other hand, if we have some sort of party which is purely workers and the vanguard of the workers even, without this experience of historical and international experience within them, then again they will also deviate after a while. They will become bureaucratic etc. So the combination of these two the necessity of the creation of the vanguard party and that’s what we mean by vanguard party and because it has a democratic atmosphere it has understood that it needs democratic regime in order to develop the practical lines that come directly from the working class. Therefore it cannot become degenerated. That means it can serve its purpose, it can actually concentrate on the preparation of the revolution and recruiting more workers etc.

Of course this is a minority party however it is only a minority party until the political crisis starts in a society. That means this minority party can become a majority party eventually. But while the dominant ideology is bourgeois ideology and the petit-bourgeois are infiltrating the working class and the economic crisis has reached its peak and there is no workers’ party with power in society and everything is in the hands of the bourgeoisie, of course, this is going to be a minority party and will remain as such.

Even more important than that, capitalism and bourgeois ideology has sometimes, especially in this period, they encourage other ideologies than bourgeois ideology to infiltrate within the working class. In fact there are petit-bourgeois ideologies that infiltrate into the working class in the name of the working class, in the name of Marxism, in the name of the Leninist party. They are the petit-bourgeois encouraged by the bourgeois to infiltrate and to deviate the preparations for the socialist revolution. So what we are witnessing is this: we have the bourgeoisie and the ideology of the bourgeoisie, they have their press, their parliament and all means open to them. Like today they try to suppress or stop the socialist revolution. On top of that we have the petit-bourgeoisie, and petit-bourgeoisie can appear in any form or shape. Some of them appear in the form of Marxism. They call themselves Marxists, like many of these Trotskyist organisations like the SWP in Britain and many other organisations they call themselves Marxists and their sites and press relate to Marxism. In fact, they are actually stopping the genuine socialist revolution, they’re creating confusion, they’re creating illusions about the present system by their reformist ideas, by the workers who are in the syndicalist movement, workers who are anarchists and so on. We’ve seen many of these.

The question is this now: given this present situation that this ideology, infiltration of ideology within the workers, in particular from the petit-bourgeoisie, is stopping the socialist revolution, what instruments do we have to create in order to preserve the genuine socialist consciousness that develops within certain layers of the working class. That is the question.

Believing that socialist consciousness does not come from the heads of some theoreticians or some intellectuals, or by reading a few books by some so-called Marxists and university or party intellectuals and so on, socialist consciousness is primarily gained through the everyday practical activity of various layers in society. Practical activity against capitalism, practical activity that people are under pressure and they are forced to organise for a strike and that creates and establishes committees, strike committees that gain socialist consciousness in the sense that they come to understand the necessity of creating another formation to replace the present state, the bourgeois state.

Therefore gradually people in this society and we see it everyday today, that people regardless of any party, regardless of the ideas of Marxism, the people through their everyday struggle gain socialist consciousness and they come to the conclusion that this bourgeois state has to be toppled, it has to be done away with, it has to be demolished, in order to establish some new government to genuinely preserve the interests of the working class as a whole.

So this type of consciousness exists in society. What instruments do we have to create in order to in fact stop this consciousness from changing its character? Because it is very, very easy for a vanguard worker who is not in any organisation, or is just at large in society, to gain socialist consciousness and then to lose it the next year or in six months’ time. For whatever reason, because of the pressure of the bourgeoisie, it can even reach the opposite conclusion. Some workers who have been genuinely revolutionary at some stage through economic pressures, family pressures and many other pressures that exist in society can become counter-revolutionary at one stage and start saying strange things.

Therefore the bourgeoisie not only creates socialist consciousness through the struggle, they also create illusions in the bourgeoisie. The bourgeoisie is in fact based on creating illusions. The pure concept that from the very beginning they have created that you come to the market where there is an equal exchange between those who have the labour power and those who buy the labour power. They are equal, that means that the bourgeoisies is equal to the working class. That means that this type of illusion goes to a deeper extent and that it is continuously reproducing itself in society. Therefore what we have to find is the instrument that can keep this socialist consciousness immune from attack, immune not only from physical attacks but from ideological attacks in society. This is the only way we can create this immunity, and also not only to make it immune, but also to develop it, develop this practical consciousness into a programme and also into revolutionary theory.

The only way is to separate these vanguard workers who have gained socialist consciousness for some period from the masses of the workers. So this is the centrality of the concept that Lenin put forward, regardless of his intention at the time and how he changed his position after a while and whether he mentioned what Kautsky had said rightly or wrongly, whatever. I’m not defending anything that Lenin has said. What I’m saying is this that what differed from other concepts in the past or that period, the concept of the mass workers’ party, even the idea that what was even said by Marx or Lenin articles, that we have gradually through linear growth consciousness develops within the working class in mass parties etc.

Democratic centralism and the rights of a minority

As a result of this theory and this understanding of the vanguard party, the idea of democratic centralism as part of this vanguard party comes into being. This concept of democratic centralism should not be used as an administrative term. This means that our understanding of democratic centralism must include the concept of consciousness. So if we say, as some have said, that the idea of democratic centralism of a party is to have internal democracy and unity in action; or free speeches, free discussions together with unity of action, then this is not enough in order to describe democratic centralism in the vanguard party.

What has to be added is that it should have three aspects in this concept of organisation. The concept is centralisation or concentration of the experience of the workers, students, whoever are activists in the organisation in the society ‘upwards’ into the organisation. This is one aspect of the centralisation, the socialist consciousness that the individual gains in a particular activity, and, of course, when this comes to the party it is certainly going to be free discussions and a democratic atmosphere in order to be able to discuss these different views which come ‘up’ to the party. After this aspect of democratic centralism, after the discussion there is another aspect of centralisation, then there is unity in action. That means we go ‘down’ to society again with this enriched development of our programme which has been reached at our congresses and so on, and it is implemented in society.

Now on the question of who decides which ideas go into society obviously we say the majority members of the party at that time, having heard all the views, which come up and are centralised in the party through a democratic discussion and then the majority vote and eventually they will implement that. The minority do not necessarily have to be enforced to keep quiet or repeat whatever the majority say but, at the same time, they should have the possibility of discussing their point of view even if they are in the minority until the next period.

So therefore in this organisation we should have ‘tendencies’ which are necessary when the discussions or the differences are very superficial or even not that deep. Therefore the tendencies develop, everybody should have the right to create a tendency and it will be based on their own demand, by any comrade or any group of comrades who have a particular difference. Because what will happen is this: that when these different ideas come and are centralised from the ‘bottom of society’ into the party of course we try to discuss in a democratic manner but some comrades may still not be convinced of the arguments and they still insist that a certain tactic should be done in a particular way. So therefore the majority line they will not accept, they may not be convinced by the majority line, so they have the right to form a tendency. This tendency can discuss the matter and they have to see in practice what the majority line will be, how it will be implemented and after a year they will either accept it or the majority will accept their line or they will come together to form a third line. So therefore they have the right, immediately without anybody’s permission, the right in the constitution and the majority has to accept it.

If in the discussions the differences get a bit deeper what we are proposing should be a ‘faction’ in the party. This is the next step. Finally, when the differences get to a point when some group form their own point of view and believe that the majority line is going towards a counter-revolutionary line in the future, that it is so deep that there is going to be a devastating effect if this majority line is implemented, then again before splitting, before making a big issue, they have the right to form an ‘open faction’.

The idea behind this is not that the faction is open; it is that they approach the masses of the workers in order to convince the masses directly of their ideas and attract the masses in society at large to put pressure on the majority to not adopt that so-called counter-revolutionary line from their point of view. And in many respects if we follow the Russian Revolution we see that type of developments on the question of peace with Germany where for example there were two tendencies in the Bolshevik Party. These two tendencies discussed the issue in the Soviets and even the Soviets actually voted on which way they wanted. There were three actual tendencies, one for peace, one for war, one for ‘neither peace nor war’ and they voted for that. So therefore in fact, certain elements within the Bolshevik Party through the effect and the vote, majority vote of the Soviets, they abandoned their position.

This is what is meant by an open faction. It means that when the time comes that there is no hope that the majority will change its position, then the minority inside the organisation can have another channel open to them and they have the right to do that. They can openly approach the working class while still within the party, in order to expose the majority’s point of view and to attract the attention of workers in society and to gain the support of the majority of workers and to say that ‘enough is enough’. So with this line, we believe the majority of workers can be approached that the majority’s line is wrong.

I would also like to highlight two common misunderstandings about the vanguard party:

Is vanguard party only for underdeveloped countries?

The concept of the vanguard party does not belong only to underdeveloped countries that are under repression. There are those who say that this concept is justifiable or is valid for so-called Third World countries like Iran or some other countries and that is not relevant to other countries anymore. That may be so from the aspect of secrecy of this party. That means when there is repression in Iran obviously the organisation, the vanguard party, is going to be clandestine, it has to be underground, nobody would know anything about it. So it’s going to be fewer people doing this type of activity because of the repression.
In a country like Britain or Germany or some other countries, of course, it is going to be a larger organisation and will have certain figures that are public figures. Then the form of it changes, but the content of it is going to remain the same all over the world. Wherever we are the content of this combination of worker-intellectuals and intellectual-workers in one organisation with democratic centralism, in that sense that I explained, which centres experiences coming to the party and uniting action going to the society and democratic debates etc, that is on the order of the day for any country for the preparation of the revolution. Therefore it is not an exception, it’s not just a Russian phenomenon and for Russian society. Or nowadays it can be implemented in Iranian society as well as others. In Britain we have to do the same thing, in Russia, in America, in Germany, France and Iran the content is going to be the same. The sort of approach is going to be the same. This theory whatever name we want to put on it, it’s come from that experience, it has come from the idea of a party in opposition to the mass parties.

Besides, to make such claim, comrades should show that the proletariat is not exploited say in Sweden but it is exploited in Iran; The capitalist law of value is different is Sweden to Iran; the anti-capitalist struggle of Swedish workers are different to the one in Iran; The nature of capitalist state in Sweden is different to class nature of capitalist state in Iran etc. If all these claims are true, then we have to prove that we have different modes of production in different parts of the world. Say in Sweden a “modern and progressive” capitalist mode of production (which workers need not replace it with workers state), and a “reactionary” feudal type mode of production in Iran, which has to be toppled.

This line of argument is non-marxist, which brings under question the whole of the analysis of Karl Marx’s Capital, finds flaws in Marx’s labor theory of value. Calles the theory of “Permanent Revolution” of Trotsky as obsolete and null! This type of arguments is very dangerous and creates the ground for worst type of reformism (worst than reformism of Eduard Brenstan and Karl Kautsky).

The consequence of accepting vanguard party for “under developed” counties and rejecting it for “developed” will lead us to contradictions that we will not be able true to our revolutionary thought, and defend the working class.

In fact the concept of the vanguard party is more relevant today in developed countries as the influence of reformist idea is much more powerful. Entering into reformist parties without having a strong and vanguard party armed with sound theoretical and practical experience, will surely leave the door open for all our comrades to in infected with bourgeois ideology (as the dominant ideology). This negates the central idea of building vanguard party and denies the gains of the experience prior and during the revolution. The idea is having vanguard party is just to keep immune from reformist ideology while preparing for the revolution.

The vanguard party after the revolution

If we start with the end at least, when the revolution happens, we believe that the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the workers themselves. That is one of the crucial things that Marx has talked about many times, particularly in the Critique of the Gotha Programme he mentions the famous and important phrase, which is that any communist, any revolutionary socialist must believe in this that the working class finally has to take its destiny into its own hands.

The party is just an instrument in order to prepare that handing over of power to the working class. And who are the working class? Obviously the highest formation of working class organisation is the soviets. Soviets are the true representative of geographic areas of each country. The people, workers, peasants (if there are peasants), or students, or whatever layers of society that exist in every area, elect their representatives and these bodies, the soviets that are the basic formation of the future power, will take the power in their hands.

Of course during that period one or two or whatever number of parties or activists would have gained credibility within the working class, they would be known leaders, or accepted figures, and then they would also become by default, through the election of the workers, the leaders of the soviets and also participate in the soviets. Therefore the party does not in fact substitute itself for the workers. Soviets are the highest decision making body of the revolution.

This position is opposed by all the Stalinists groups – but many have raised that question. In my view after the soviets take power, the party, whatever party, Leninist, vanguard, whatever name you give to it, it has to wither away. It has to give power to the soviets; preparations should be made and it should annul itself as a party. Because there’s no need for a party when the soviets take power. From that point of view we are fundamentally against the party of any sort whether Leninist or whatever sort, to come into the government and stay for the future in the workers’ state after the revolution.

Therefore the concept of the party is for the period before the revolution. Before the revolution obviously we have the mass of workers within capitalist society, and this capitalist society, the dominant ideology of this capitalist society is bourgeois ideology. After the revolution we believe that the power should be in the hands of the soviets.


In conclusion, therefore, if we want we can say there are three concepts of the party: one is the mass party, one the vanguard party and one caricature of the Leninist party. We are of course opposed to mass parties which are social democratic, which are really bourgeois parties now. We are also opposed to the caricature of the Leninist party that has been implemented by many, not only Stalinist but many Trotskyists also (by the IMT, CWI, Mandelists, etc organisations). But we are for the vanguard party with that explanation, with that formation and also for the reasons out of necessity, that means of preserving and developing the socialist consciousness of vanguard workers against the ideology of the bourgeoisie and the petit-bourgeois.
That is what we propose we should be constructing. So in future if we are going to build a new international or new national organisations from the very start, in order to succeed and to make sure that this is a real vanguard party, that its aim is the creation of preparation for the socialist revolution for the working class and preparing the ground for the soviets to come into power, we have to have these two elements together.

We have to have workers’ leaders in our organisation, we cannot create any organisation with some intellectuals, that is absurd in fact, that is not going to be vanguard party with 30, 50 or 100 intellectuals from a student background, even if they’ve read many books, it doesn’t matter and even if you have democracy it doesn’t matter. What matters is that this democracy to within an organisation that has got the leaders of workers in every society. So therefore if we are in Sweden, Poland, Iran, in England, primarily before we build our organisation we have to go and intervene in the working class and find who the leaders of this strike or that strike are. We have to recruit these people and attract them. I’m sure the vanguard workers who talk about that are also looking for an organisation that they can join. So therefore these two have to find each other

Have some sort of normal numbers of vanguard and these intellectual-workers who are known to the workers, then we can talk about the creation of the vanguard party and then, if there are similar organisations in a few countries, we can talk about building an international. But before that it’s not real and we’ll be creating a caricature of parties that we have just come out of. It may not happen but in a year or two years we’ll have the same sorts of deviations.

Maziar Razi
June 2010

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