- Capitalism and Alternatives -

The 'Vanguard'

Posted by: Barry Stoller on October 23, 1999 at 02:31:12:

Back in August, Winslow Wacker posted:

Here's a good M-E quote: "It is not a matter of what this or that proletarian or even the proletariat as a whole present as its goal. It is a matter of what the proletariat is in actuality and what in accordance with this being, it will be historically compelled to do." ("The Holy Family"). It seems to me that this is the exact opposite of Lenin's famous "There can be no revolutionary practice without revolutionary theory." Hmmm.

Well, let us look at these words of Engels (from 1874):

It is the specific duty of the leaders [of the proletarian struggle] to gain an ever clearer understanding of the theoretical problems, to free themselves more and more from the influence of traditional phrases inherited from the world, and constantly keep in mind that Socialism, having become a science, demands the same treatment as every other science---it must be studied. The task of the leaders will be to bring understanding, thus acquired and clarified, to the working masses, to spread it with increased enthusiasm, to close the ranks of the party organizations and of the labor unions with ever greater energy.(1)

It cannot be denied that this quote is far more specific than the one from The Holy Family. It also cannot be credibly said that Lenin 'invented' the idea of the revolutionary vanguard. The more familiar an individual becomes with Lenin's work, the more apparent it becomes how Lenin merely applied the writings of Marx---and, in particular, Engels---to the conditions of the age he lived in.

One may disregard the content of what Engels said, but to separate his words from Lenin's formation of the Bolshevik Party is to misunderstand Lenin's assiduous attention to Marxist theory.

The idea that Marxist revolution shall spontaneously arise from the atomized members of the working class---or the trade unions---is sheer bunk. A vanguard is necessary to lead the revolution. To repudiate the idea of a revolutionary party is to repudiate the idea of revolution.


1. Engels, Preface to the Second Edition of The Peasant War in Germany, International 1926, p. 29.

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