Vanguards

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meanoldman
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Jul 6 2006 15:09
Vanguards

The first of several disjointed and poorly constructed threads on questions that have been travelling around in my mind. This one comes from two sources.

1. Long running arguments with various shades of Marxists about 'false consciousness'. In general in these arguments it has been presented as anarchist idea that consciousness is not a useful concept.

2. Going through Bookchin's work. In particular in several of the essays in Marxism, Anarchism and the Future of the Left (and Reflections on Marxism and Marx in particular) he makes a defence of the word, and indeed the concept, of a revolutionary vanguard and furthermore uses the concept of consciousness without even considering it necessary to defend such a concept.

Do anarchists (particularly those anarchists I've seen arguing with Trots and IWCA members over the consciousness and the role of revolutionary organisations) really reject the idea that the working class has varied 'consciousness' or is a specific rejection of the idea of false consciousness and trade-union consciousness? Anarchist organisations appear to assign themselves two intellectual characteristics. Firstly a greater knowledge of the interrelatedness of the struggles that exist and the common roots of the problems we face in capitalism and hierachy. Secondly much greater confidence than most people in our collective ability to transform society and manage our lives. The second seems to me to be precisely a form of consciousness, so 'class confidence' has replaced 'class consciousness' and the anarchist disagreement with the idea of consciousness appears to be more a linguistic attempt to distance ourselves from the Leninist conception of consciousness rather than a real (and undesirable) rejection of the idea of varieted consciousness/confidence within the working class.

Kropotkin actually once edited a periodical called L'Avant-Garde and in the 1940s there was an anarchist publication actually Vanguard. The word has clearly fallen out of favour since, presumably to distinguish anarchist views on the role of revolutionary organisations from Leninist ideas. But combined with refutations of the idea that consciousness can be graded seems to create a gap in how anarchists portray themselves. Take Solidarity's description of their role

"We do not see ourselves as yet another leadership, but merely as an instrument of working class action. The function of SOLIDARITY is to help all those who are in conflict with the present authoritarian social structure, both in industry and in society at large, to generalise their experience, to make a total critique of their condition and of its causes, and to develop the mass revolutionary consciousness necessary if society is to be totally transformed."

Whilst it denies their forming some kind of leadership (or a leadership in waiting) it does have them as more advanced politically. Does this constitute a vanguard? Whilst they reject an explicit organisational role for themselves it does appear to constitute some kind of intellectual vanguard? What was say Kropotkin's idea of a vanguard and how does Solidarity's non-vanguard self-image differ from this? Their rejection of an organisational role certainly does seem to seperate them both from the role of say the FAI and also from the kind of vanguard that Bookchin argues for:

"As a libertarian communist, I would call for a vanguard organization that is confederal in structure. It would consist of interlinked affinity groups that would play a ldeading role in democratic popular assemblies in towns, neighborhoods, and cities."

"My study of these revolutions whilst writing The Thid Revolution has caused me to feel an unbearable frustration with the anti-organizational kinds of militants who think that basic social change will occur because of a mystical popular will or some "instinct" for revolution that exists in the people. This idea of nonsense."

"The real problem with vanguards arises after the ruling classes have been defeated. Such defeats are usually momentary' the ruling classes invariably rally their forces and try again, usually in a more organised and more centralised way than the revolutionary masses, to regain their power. In some cases, social democratic types like Ebert in 1919 will say "Enough, we don't have to go any further, the revolution should end here." A contest may develop amongst the revolutionaries over how far the revolution should go, what steps should be taken to complete it, and what kind of organised movement they should form to effect those steps. At that phase of a revolutinoary development, the masses decidedly need an organisation to push the revolution forward, to drive it to its conclusion. At this point the need for the militants for form a distinct organisation, a more structure type of vanguard, becomes acute."

(all from Reflections on Marx and Marxism, original emphasis)

Is this any different from the AF's aims and principles? (my emphasis)

"As anarchists we organise in all areas of life to try to advance the revolutionary process. We believe a strong anarchist organisation is necessary to help us to this end. Unlike other so-called socialists or communists we do not want power or control for our organisation. We recognise that the revolution can only be carried out directly by the working class. However, the revolution must be preceded by organisations able to convince people of the anarchist communist alternative and method. We participate in struggle as anarchist communists, and organise on a federative basis. We reject sectarianism and work for a united revolutionary anarchist movement."

Is the AF a vanguardist organisation in Bookchin's sense of the word?

luke

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Volin
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Jul 7 2006 23:14
meanoldman wrote:
Is the AF a vanguardist organisation in Bookchin's sense of the word?

The word has a rightfully negative connotation, but none of this is controversial. Obviously the AF's goal isn't so much to attract as many people as possible but, IMO, to to try to relate and find (anarchist) communist ideas in and from social practice. It's vanguardism in the purely useful and libertarian sense - propaganda, interpretation, encouragement and common solidarity.

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sam sanchez
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Jul 8 2006 01:25

I think that the consciousness that we want people tp come to is the realisation that they should take over their workplaces, communities, and put themselves in a position to control all of the decisions that effect them directly, and run things themselves without hierarchy.

If we were a vanguard, in the sense of an enlightened minority seeking to gain power over others, we could never achieve this aim, because WE would have power, rather than people having power over their own lives, collectively and individually.

From this perspective, its hard to see what sort of consciousness vanguard parties such as the bolsheviks actually had. The fact is that working people might never build an anarchist world, and might even be incapable, but if so, no one else can do it for them.

In any case, to be a vanguard implies we have the arrogance to think we have a monopoly of truth, rather than certain viewpoints which we debate with others, with hopefully everyone, including us, coming to a better viewpoint at the end of it.

But if what you are implying is a sort of "leadership of ideas" (which it looks like from your post) then I don't think anyone would argue with that, although we should seek to be lead in our turn by the experiences and thoughts of other anarchists and working class people.

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madashell
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Jul 8 2006 13:24

I think the problem comes when anarchists see themselves as the agents of working class action, as opposed to people who participate in and seek to promote working class action.

Once you're in a revolutionary situation, creating some specialised network of "millitants" strikes me as exactly what we don't want. It risks placing control over the direction of the movement in the hands of a self-selected elite and their conceptions of what the interests of the working class are, as opposed to the movement being controlled by the needs and desires of working class people.

meanoldman
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Jul 8 2006 16:42
sam_frances wrote:
But if what you are implying is a sort of "leadership of ideas" (which it looks like from your post) then I don't think anyone would argue with that, although we should seek to be lead in our turn by the experiences and thoughts of other anarchists and working class people.

Largely I'm trying to understand how Bookchin's ideas here compare to those of most anarchists in the UK, and from that work out my own position. Bookchin is certainly not suggesting a sort of "leadership of ideas," but is explicitly stating the need for a vanguardist organisation.

"At that phase of a revolutinoary development, the masses decidedly need an organisation to push the revolution forward, to drive it to its conclusion. At this point the need for the militants for form a distinct organisation, a more structure type of vanguard, becomes acute."

""My study of these revolutions whilst writing The Thid Revolution has caused me to feel an unbearable frustration with the anti-organizational kinds of militants who think that basic social change will occur because of a mystical popular will or some "instinct" for revolution that exists in the people. This idea of nonsense."

This appears to me to reflect a distinct shift in anarchist thinking in the last 50 years, and a shift that Bookchin hasn't followed. From social anarchism towards individual anarchism, even among those who still explicitly define themselves as social anarchists. So as well as organisational vanguards going out of fashion we also have things that were uncontrovesial such as the 'right' of a community to force basic codes of social behaviour and majority decisions on dissenting members of that community (the building of a road say) are now debated.

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sam sanchez
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Jul 8 2006 19:04

I wouldn't personally agree with Bookchins position. I don't know what a "leading role" means, but ifit means taking power then its off the agenda as faras I can see.

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organisational vanguards going out of fashion we also have things that were uncontrovesial such as the 'right' of a community to force basic codes of social behaviour and majority decisions on dissenting members of that community

I think a vanguard is fundamentally a different sort of idea to majority decision making in face to face assemblies, which I personally have no problem with within voluntary associations - because its a system without hierarchy where everyone has an equal say. A vanguard, at least in the power taking, marxist sense, is completely different, and results in the centralisation of power into the hands of an elite minority - a goal that is completely anti-anarchist, and not one that seems apparent from any of the stuff by Bookchin that I have read.

There is a big difference between an organisation that produces propoganda and so on, and helps promote popular direct action, and a "vanguard" in the common sense of the word, meaning a party seeking to gain power over the masses. Its the difference between hierarchical power where you put yourself in a position to give orders, and "natural influence", where if people do what you suggest it is only because you have convinced them of your case and they have freely chosen to do so.

I don't think that being against vanguards in this sense is the same as being against organisation. A vanguard is a particular type of organisation, with specific aims and usually hierarchical structures,and to reject vanguardism is not to reject organisation and propoganda. And also,although I have not read the pieces you quote, the idea of vanguardism in the leninist sense of the word seems completely to contradict other things I've read by bookchin which stress direct democracy and anti-hierarchical organisation - notjust within an anarchist organisation, but within society as a whole.

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madashell
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Jul 8 2006 19:46
meanoldman wrote:
This appears to me to reflect a distinct shift in anarchist thinking in the last 50 years, and a shift that Bookchin hasn't followed. From social anarchism towards individual anarchism, even among those who still explicitly define themselves as social anarchists.

(emphasis added)

I don't think that's what is happening though. I think of it as more of a tactical decision, if you have a vanguard, you have potential for them to use the momentum of the revolution to their own ends. Anarchist communists are not special individuals who are immune to being influenced by their position of priveledge.

Quote:
So as well as organisational vanguards going out of fashion we also have things that were uncontrovesial such as the 'right' of a community to force basic codes of social behaviour and majority decisions on dissenting members of that community (the building of a road say) are now debated.

I don't think you'd find many people on these boards who'd dispute that right though.