On Leadership: Vanguard or Vanguardism?


by Gerye Proletari

(February 22, 2015)

In our political organizing it is important that the most advanced sections of the working class are organized and that they organize the rest or as many as they could. To be clear, there is a difference between leadership connected to the masses and a select group which imposes itself as the “vanguard”. We must differentiate between the two and understand that the advanced leadership connected to the masses with a base in the masses is the actual vanguard, this is not a bureaucratic relation. When a select group of people or organizations proclaim themselves to be the vanguard without an organic base sprouting from the masses or the classes they claim to lead, this is a bureaucratic imposition on the people.


If for example, there is a group of workers in a factory that has organized into committees or councils based on the interests of the workers, this is in fact the leadership of the worker’s struggle in that factory and they are a vanguard. It does not mean that their relationship to the rest of the workers is undemocratic, it is rather the fact that they took the initiative to organize based on their interests, that they are working towards organizing the rest of the workers that makes them to leadership or vanguard. If however in the same factory, a union for example, sends union organizers into the factory to tell the workers what to do, declaring itself the representative of the workers and stops autonomous worker organizations, this is a bureaucratic relationship. In the latter case, there is no actual organic base in the factory and if there is some support it is typically not democratic and based on the worker’s interests. It is typically not the workers of the factory that control these union locales or councils or committees but professional union organizers.

This latter case is not leadership. If the same happens with a group of workers calling themselves the “worker’s vanguard” without an organic democratic social base in the factory, this too is not a worker’s vanguard but rather bureaucratic vanguardism. In all struggles in the history of humanity there has been leadership, sometimes the leadership comes from within the people based on the people and is the vanguard of the people, whose job it is to organize the people or the class. Sometimes, self proclaimed vanguards and leaders are imposed on the struggle to mislead it, co-opt it, or opportunistically deform it in one way or another.


The vanguard is a natural phenomenon resulting from class struggle it is not something inherently “evil”. In fact, a correct proletarian vanguard is something we should be constructing in our organizing. A genuine vanguard is crucial for constructing a worker’s movement, as well as any anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist mass movement, it organizes the most advanced section of the proletariat, and constantly elevates the level (of both commitment and political unity) of the organizations based within the workers and the masses, it constantly pushes the struggle forward. The vanguard, when truly a vanguard, plays that important leadership role of the working class. At the same time, any group of people proclaiming themselves such without actually having that connection to the masses, learning from the masses, without a political line to actually organize as many as possible democratically and principled, is bureaucratic and should always be struggled against. The working class and the popular masses should struggle against all forms of capitalist organization and relations. Because if successful, it would lead to a society where these types of bureaucratic relationships are dominant, just as bad as Capitalism/Imperialism is now, or perhaps even worse.