H.5 What is vanguardism and why do anarchists reject it?

Many socialists follow the ideas of Lenin and, in particular, his ideas on vanguard parties. These ideas were expounded by Lenin in his (in)famous work, What is to be Done?, which is considered as one of the important books in the development of Bolshevism.

The core of these ideas is the concept of "vanguardism," or the "vanguard party." According to this perspective, socialists need to organise together in a party, based on the principles of "democratic centralism," which aims to gain a decisive influence in the class struggle. The ultimate aim of such a party is revolution and its seizure of power. Its short term aim is to gather into it all "class conscious" workers into a "efficient" and "effective" party, alongside members of other classes who consider themselves as revolutionary Marxists. The party would be strictly centralised, with all members expected to submit to party decisions, speak in one voice and act in one way. Without this "vanguard," injecting its politics into the working class (who, it is argued, can only reach trade union consciousness by its own efforts), a revolution is impossible.

Lenin laid the foundation of this kind of party in his book What is to be Done? and the vision of the "vanguard" party was explicitly formalised in the Communist International. As Lenin put it, "Bolshevism has created the ideological and tactical foundations of a Third International . . . Bolshevism can serve as a model of tactics for all." [Collected Works, vol. 28, p. 292-3] Using the Russian Communist Party as its model, Bolshevik ideas on party organisation were raised as a model for revolutionaries across the world. Since then, the various followers of Leninism and its offshoots like Trotskyism have organised themselves in this manner (with varying success).

The wisdom of applying an organisational model that had been developed in the semi-feudal conditions of Tsarist Russia to every country, regardless of its level of development, has been questioned by anarchists from the start. After all, could it not be wiser to build upon the revolutionary tendencies which had developed in specific countries rather than import a new model which had been created for, and shaped by, radically different social, political and economic conditions? The wisdom of applying the vanguard model is not questioned on these (essentially materialist) points by those who subscribe to it. While revolutionary workers in the advanced capitalist nations subscribed to anarchist and syndicalist ideas, this tradition is rejected in favour of one developed by, in the main, bourgeois intellectuals in a nation which was still primarily feudal and absolutist. The lessons learned from years of struggle in actual capitalist societies were simply rejected in favour of those from a party operating under Tsarism. While most supporters of vanguardism will admit that conditions now are different than in Tsarist Russia, they still subscribe to organisational method developed in that context and justify it, ironically enough, because of its "success" in the totally different conditions that prevailed in Russia in the early 20th Century! And Leninists claim to be materialists! Perhaps the reason why Bolshevism rejected the materialist approach was because most of the revolutionary movements in advanced capitalist countries were explicitly anti-parliamentarian, direct actionist, decentralist, federalist and influenced by libertarian ideas? This materialist analysis was a key aspect of the council-communist critique of Lenin's Left-Wing Communism, for example (see Herman Gorter's Open Letter to Comrade Lenin for one excellent reply to Bolshevik arguments, tactics and assumptions).

However, this attempt to squeeze every working class movement into one "officially approved" model dates back to Marx and Engels. Faced with any working class movement which did not subscribe to their vision of what they should be doing (namely organised in political parties to take part in "political action," i.e. standing in bourgeois elections) they simply labelled it as the product of non-proletarian "sects." They went so far as to gerrymander the 1872 conference of the First International to make acceptance of "political action" mandatory on all sections in an attempt to destroy anarchist influence in it.

So this section of our FAQ will explain why anarchists reject this model. In our view, the whole concept of a "vanguard party" is fundamentally anti-socialist. Rather than present an effective and efficient means of achieving revolution, the Leninist model is elitist, hierarchical and highly inefficient in achieving a socialist society. At best, these parties play a harmful effect in the class struggle by alienating activists and militants with their organisational principles and manipulative tactics within popular structures and groups. At worse, these parties can seize power and create a new form of class society (a state capitalist one) in which the working class is oppressed by new bosses (namely, the party hierarchy and its appointees). As we discuss in section H.5.9, their "efficiency" is a false economy.

However, before discussing why anarchists reject "vanguardism" we need to stress a few points. Firstly, anarchists recognise the obvious fact that the working class is divided in terms of political consciousness. Secondly, from this fact most anarchists recognise the need to organise together to spread our ideas as well as taking part in, influencing and learning from the class struggle. As such, anarchists have long been aware of the need for revolutionaries to organise as revolutionaries. Thirdly, anarchists are well aware of the importance of revolutionary minorities playing an inspiring and "leading" role in the class struggle. We do not reject the need for revolutionaries to "give a lead" in struggles, we reject the idea of institutionalised leadership and the creation of a leader/led hierarchy implicit (and sometimes no so implicit) in vanguardism.

As such, we do not oppose "vanguardism" for these reasons. So when Leninists like Tony Cliff argue that it is "unevenness in the class [which] makes the party necessary," anarchists reply that "unevenness in the class" makes it essential that revolutionaries organise together to influence the class but that organisation does not and need not take the form of a vanguard party. [Tony Cliff, Lenin, vol. 2, p. 149] This is because we reject the concept and practice for three reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, anarchists reject the underlying assumption of vanguardism. As we discuss in the next section, vanguardism is based on the argument that "socialist consciousness" has to be introduced into the working class from outside. We argue that not only is this position is empirically false, it is fundamentally anti-socialist in nature. This is because it logically denies that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself. Moreover, it serves to justify elite rule. Some Leninists, embarrassed by the obvious anti-socialist nature of this concept, try and argue that Lenin (and so Leninism) does not hold this position. As we prove in section H.5.4, such claims are false.

Secondly, there is the question of organisational structure. Vanguard parties are based on the principle of "democratic centralism" (see section H.5.5). Anarchists argue that such parties, while centralised, are not, in fact, democratic nor can they be. As such, the "revolutionary" or "socialist" party is no such thing as it reflects the structure of the capitalist system it claims to oppose. We discuss this in sections H.5.6 and H.5.10.

Lastly, anarchists argue that such parties are, despite the claims of their supporters, not actually very efficient or effective in the revolutionary sense of the word. At best, they hinder the class struggle by being slow to respond to rapidly changing situations. At worse, they are "efficient" in shaping both the revolution and the post-revolutionary society in a hierarchical fashion, so re-creating class rule. We discuss this aspect of vanguardism in section H.5.9.

So these are key aspects of the anarchist critique of vanguardism, which we discuss in more depth in the following sections. It is a bit artificial to divide these issues into different sections because they are all related. The role of the party implies a specific form of organisation (as Lenin himself stressed), the form of the party influences its effectiveness. However, it is for ease of presentation we divide up our discussion so.

H.5.1 Why are vanguard parties anti-socialist?

The reason why vanguard parties are anti-socialist is simply because of the role assigned to them by Lenin, which he thought was vital. Simply put, without the party, no revolution would be possible. As Lenin put it in 1900, "[i]solated from Social-Democracy, the working class movement becomes petty and inevitably becomes bourgeois." [Collected Works, vol. 4, p. 368]

In What is to be Done?, he expands on this position:

"Class political consciousness can be brought to the workers only from without, that is, only outside of the economic sruggle, outside the sphere of relations between workers and employers. The sphere from which alone it is possible to obtain this knowledge is the sphere of relationships between all the various classes and strata and the state and the government -- the sphere of the interrelations between all the various classes." [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 112]

Thus the role of the party is to inject socialist politics into a class incapable of developing them itself.

Lenin is at pains to stress the Marxist orthodoxy of his claims and quotes the "profoundly true and important" comments of Karl Kautsky on the subject. [Op. Cit., p. 81] Kautsky, considered the "pope" of Social-Democracy, stated that it was "absolutely untrue" that "socialist consciousness" was a "necessary and direct result of the proletarian class struggle." Rather, "socialism and the class struggle arise side by side and not one out of the other . . . Modern socialist consciousness can arise only on the basis of profound scientific knowledge . . . The vehicles of science are not the proletariat, but the bourgeois intellegentsia: it was on the minds of some members of this stratum that modern socialism originated, and it was they who communicated it to the more intellectually developed proletarians who, in their turn, introduced it into the proletarian class struggle." Kautsky stressed that "socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without." [quoted by Lenin, Op. Cit., pp. 81-2]

Lenin, as is obvious, wholeheartedly agreed with this position (any attempt to claim that he did not or later rejected it is nonsense, as we prove in section H.5.4). Lenin, with his usual modesty, claimed to speak on behalf of the workers when he wrote that "intellectuals must talk to us, and tell us more about what we do not know and what we can never learn from our factory and 'economic' experience, that is, you must give us political knowledge." [Op. Cit., p. 108] Thus we have Lenin painting a picture of a working class incapable of developing "political knowledge" or "socialist consciousness" by its own efforts and so is reliant on members of the party, themselves either radical elements of the bourgeoisie and petty-bourgeoisie or educated by them, to provide it with such knowledge.

The obvious implication of this argument is that the working class cannot liberate itself by its own efforts. After all, if the working class cannot develop its own political theory by its own efforts then it cannot conceive of transforming society and, at best, can see only the need to work within capitalism for reforms to improve its position in society. Without the radical bourgeois to provide the working class with "socialist" ideas, a socialist movement, let alone society, is impossible. A class whose members cannot develop political knowledge by its own actions cannot emancipate itself. It is, by necessity, dependent on others to shape and form its movements. To quote Trotsky's telling analogy on the respective roles of party and class, leaders and led:

"Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston. But nevertheless, what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam." [History of the Russian Revolution, vol. 1, p. 17]

While Trotsky's mechanistic analogy may be considered as somewhat crude, it does expose the underlying assumptions of Bolshevism. After all, did not Lenin argue that the working class could not develop "socialist consciousness" by themselves and that it had to be introduced from without? How can you expect steam to create a piston? You cannot. Thus we have a blind, elemental force incapable of conscious thought being guided by a creation of science, the piston (which, of course, is a product of the work of the "vehicles of science," namely the bourgeois intellegentsia). In the Leninist perspective, if revolutions are the locomotives of history (to use Marx's words) then the masses are the steam, the party the locomotive and the leaders the train driver. The idea of a future society being constructed democratically from below by the workers themselves rather than through occasionally elected leaders seems to have passed Bolshevism past. This is unsurprising, given that the Bolsheviks saw the workers in terms of blindly moving steam in a box, something incapable of being creative unless an outside force gave them direction (instructions).

Cornelius Castoriadis provides a good critique of the implications of the Leninist position:

"No positive content, nothing new capable of providing the foundation for the reconstruction of society could arise out of a mere awareness of poverty. From the experience of life under capitalism the proletariat could derive no new principles either for organising this new society or for orientating it in another direction. Under such conditions, the proletarian revolution becomes . . . a simple reflex revolt against hunger. It is impossible to see how socialist society could ever be the result of such a reflex . . . Their situation forces them to suffer the consequences of capitalism's contradictions, but in no way does it lead them to discover its causes. An acquaintance with these causes comes not from experiencing the production process but from theoretical knowledge . . . This knowledge may be accessible to individual workers, but not to the proletariat qua proletariat. Driven by its revolt against poverty, but incapable of self-direction since its experiences does not give it a privileged viewpoint on reality, the proletariat according to this outlook, can only be an infantry in the service of a general staff of specialists. These specialists know (from considerations that the proletariat as such does not have access to) what is going wrong with present-day society and how it must be modified. The traditional view of the economy and its revolutionary perspective can only found, and actually throughout history has only founded, a bureaucratic politics . . . [W]hat we have outlined are the consequences that follow objectively from this theory. And they have been affirmed in an ever clearer fashion within the actual historical movement of Marxism, culminating in Stalinism." [Social and Political Writings, vol. 2, pp. 257-8]

Thus we have a privileged position for the party and a perspective which can (and did) justify party dictatorship over the proletariat. Given the perspective that the working class cannot formulate its own "ideology" by its own efforts, of its incapacity to move beyond "trade union consciousness" independently of the party, the clear implication is that the party could in no way be bound by the predominant views of the working class. As the party embodies "socialist consciousness" (and this arises outside the working class and its struggles) then opposition of the working class to the party signifies a failure of the class to resist alien influences. As Lenin put it:

"Since there can be no talk of an independent ideology being developed by the masses of the workers in the process of their movement, the only choice is: either bourgeois or socialist ideology. There is no middle course . . . Hence, to belittle socialist ideology in any way, to deviate from it in the slightest degree means strengthening bourgeois ideology. There is a lot of talk about spontaneity, but the spontaneous development of the labour movement leads to its becoming subordinated to bourgeois ideology . . . Hence our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the labour movement from its spontaneous, trade unionist striving to go under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy." [Lenin, Op. Cit., pp. 82-3]

The implications of this argument became clear once the Bolsheviks seized power. As a justification for party dictatorship, you would be hard pressed to find any better. If the working class revolts against the ruling party, then we have a "spontaneous" development which, inevitably, is an expression of bourgeois ideology. As the party represents socialist consciousness, any deviation in working class support for it simply meant that the working class was being "subordinated" to the bourgeoisie. This meant, obviously, that to "belittle" the "role" of the party by questioning its rule meant to "strengthen bourgeois ideology" and when workers spontaneously went on strike or protested against the party's rule, the party had to "combat" these strivings in order to maintain working class rule! As the "masses of the workers" cannot develop an "independent ideology," the workers are rejecting socialist ideology in favour of bourgeois ideology. The party, in order to defend the "the revolution" (even the "rule of the workers") has to impose its will onto the class, to "combat spontaneity."

As we saw in section H.1.2, none of the leading Bolsheviks were shy about drawing these conclusions once in power and faced with working class revolt against their rule. Indeed, they raised the idea that the "dictatorship of the proletariat" was also, in fact, the "dictatorship of the party" and, as we discuss in section H.3.8 integrated this into their theory of the state. Thus, Leninist ideology implies that "workers' power" exists independently of the workers. This means that the sight of the "dictatorship of the proletariat" (i.e. the Bolshevik government) repressing the proletariat, who cannot develop socialist conscious by themselves, is to be expected.

This elitist perspective of the party, the idea that it and it alone possesses knowledge can be seen from the resolution of the Communist International on the role of the party. It stated that "the working class without an independent political party is a body without a head." [Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920, vol. 1, p. 194] This use of biological analogies says more about Bolshevism that its authors intended. After all, it suggests a division of labour which is unchangeable. Can the hands evolve to do their own thinking? Of course not. Thus, yet again, we have an image of the class as unthinking brute force.

The implications of this model can be draw from Victor Serge's comments from 1919. As he put it, the party "is in a sense the nervous system of the class. Simultaneously the consciousness and the active, physical organisation of the dispersed forces of the proletariat, which are often ignorant of themselves and often remain latent or express themselves contradictorily." And the masses, what is their role? Well, the party is "supported by the entire working population," although, strangely enough, "it maintains its unique situation in dictatorial fashion." He admits "the energies which have just triumphed . . . exist outside" the party and that "they constitute its strength only because it represents them knowingly." Thus the workers are "[b]ehind" the communists, "sympathising instinctively with the party and carrying out the menial tasks required by the revolution." [Revolution in Danger, p. 67, p. 66 and p. 6] Can we be surprised that the workers have the "menial tasks" to perform when the party is the conscious element? Equally, can we be surprised that this situation is maintained "in dictatorial fashion"? It was precisely this kind of social division of labour between manual and mental labour which helped cause the Russian revolution in the first place!

As the Cohen-Bendit brothers argue, the "Leninist belief that the workers cannot spontaneously go beyond the level of trade union consciousness is tantamount to beheading the proletariat, and then insinuating the Party as the head . . . Lenin was wrong, and in fact, in Russia the Party was forced to decapitate the workers' movement with the help of the political police and the Red Army under the brilliant leadership of Trotsky and Lenin." [Obsolute Communism, pp. 194-5]

As well as explaining the subsequent embrace of party dictatorship over the working class, vanguardism also explains the notorious inefficiency of Leninist parties faced with revolutionary situations we discuss in section H.5.8. After all, basing themselves on the perspective that all spontaneous movements are inherently bourgeois they could not help but be opposed to autonomous class struggle and the organisations and tactics it generates. James C. Scott, in his excellent discussion of the roots and flaws in Lenin's ideas on the party, makes the obvious point that since, for Lenin, "authentic, revolutionary class consciousness could never develop autonomously within the working class, it followed that that the actual political outlook of workers was always a threat to the vanguard party." [Seeing like a State, p. 155] As Maurice Brinton argues, the "Bolshevik cadres saw their role as the leadership of the revolution. Any movement not initiated by them or independent of their control could only evoke their suspicion." These developments, of course, did not occur by chance or accidentally. As Brinton notes, "a given ideological premise (the preordained hegemony of the Party) led necessarily to certain conclusions in practice." [The Bolsheviks and Workers' Control, p. xi and p. xii]

Bakunin expressed the implications of the vanguardist perspective extremely well. It is worthwhile quoting him at length:

"Idealists of all sorts, metaphysicians, positivists, those who uphold the priority of science over life, the doctrinaire revolutionists -- all of them champion with equal zeal although differing in their argumentation, the idea of the State and State power, seeing in them, quite logically from their point of view, the only salvation of society. Quite logically, I say, having take as their basis the tenet -- a fallacious tenet in our opinion -- that thought is prior to life, and abstract theory is prior to social practice, and that therefore sociological science must become the starting point for social upheavals and social reconstruction -- they necessarily arrived at the conclusion that since thought, theory, and science are, for the present at least, the property of only a very few people, those few should direct social life; and that on the morrow of the Revolution the new social organisation should be set up not by the free integration of workers' associations, villages, communes, and regions from below upward, conforming to the needs and instincts of the people, but solely by the dictatorial power of this learned minority, allegedly expressing the general will of the people." [The Political Philosophy of Bakunin, pp. 283-4]

The idea that "socialist consciousness" can exist independently of the working class and its struggle suggests exactly the perspective Bakunin was critiquing. For vanguardism, the abstract theory of socialism exists prior to the class struggle and exists waiting to be brought to the masses by the educated few. The net effect is, as we have argued, to lay the ground for party dictatorship. The basic idea of vanguardism, namely that the working class is incapable of developing "socialist consciousness" by its own efforts, contradictions the socialist maxim that "the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself." Thus the concept is fundamentally anti-socialist, a justification for elite rule and the continuation of class society in new, party approved, ways.

H.5.2 Have vanguardist assumptions been validated?

As discussed in the last section, Lenin claimed that workers can only reach a "trade union consciousness" by their own efforts. Anarchists argued that such an assertion is empirically false. The history of the labour movement is marked by revolts and struggles which went far further than just seeking reforms and revolutionary theories derived from such experiences.

As such, the category of the "economic struggle" corresponds to no known social reality. Every "economic" struggle is "political" in some sense and those involved can, and do, learn political lessons from them. As Kropotkin noted in the 1880s, there "is almost no serious strike which occurs together wwith the appearance of troops, the exchange of blows and some acts of revolt. Here they fight with the troops; there they march on the factories . . . Thanks to government intervention the rebel against the factory becomes the rebel against the State." [quoted by Caroline Cahm, Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism, p. 256] If history shows anything, it shows that workers are more than capable of going beyond "trade union consciousness." The Paris Commune, the 1848 revolts and, ironically enough, the 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions show that the masses are capable of revolutionary struggles in which the self-proclaimed "vanguard" of socialists spend most of their time trying to catch up with them!

These last two examples, the Russian Revolutions, also help to discredit Lenin's argument that the workers cannot develop socialist consciousness alone due to the power of bourgeois ideology. This, according to Lenin, required the bourgeois intelligentsia to import "socialist" ideology from outside the movement. Lenin's argument is flawed. Simply put, if the working class is subjected to bourgeois influences, then so are the "professional" revolutionaries within the party. Indeed, the strength of such influences on the "professionals" of revolution must be higher as they are not part of proletarian life. After all, if social being determines consciousness than if a revolutionary is no longer part of the working class, then they no longer are rooted in the social conditions which generate socialist theory and action. Rootless and no longer connected with collective labour and working class life, the "professional" revolutionary is more likely to be influenced by the social milieu he or she now is part of (i.e. a bourgeois, or at best petit-bourgeois, environment). This may explain the terrible performance of such "vanguards" in revolutionary situations (see section H.5.8).

This tendency for the "professional" revolutionary and intellectuals to be subject to the bourgeois influences which Lenin subscribes solely to the working class can continually be seen from the history of the Bolshevik party. For example, as Trotsky himself notes:

"It should not be forgotten that the political machine of the Bolshevik Party was predominantly made up of the intelligentsia, which was petty bourgeois in its origin and conditions of life and Marxist in its ideas and in its relations with the proletariat. Workers who turned professional revolutionists joined this set with great eagerness and lost their identity in it. The peculiar social structure of the Party machine and its authority over the proletariat (neither of which is accidental but dictated by strict historical necessity) were more than once the cause of the Party's vacillation and finally became the source of its degeneration . . . In most cases they lacked independent daily contact with the labouring masses as well as a comprehensive understanding of the historical process. They thus left themselves exposed to the influence of alien classes." [Stalin, vol. 1, pp. 297-8]

He pointed to the example of the First World War, when, "even the Bolshevik party did not at once find its way in the labyrinth of war. As a general rule, the confusion was most pervasive and lasted longest amongst the Party's higher-ups, who came in direct contact with bourgeois public opinion." Thus the professional revolutionaries "were largely affected by compromisist tendencies, which emanated from bourgeois circles, while the rank and file Bolshevik workingmen displayed far greater stability resisting the patriotic hysteria that had swept the country." [Op. Cit., p. 248 and p. 298] It should be noted that he is repeating earlier comments from his History of the Russian Revolution when he argued that the "immense intellectual backsliding of the upper stratum of the Bolsheviks during the war" was caused by "isolation from the masses and isolation from those abroad -- that is primarily from Lenin." [vol. 3, p. 134] As we discuss in the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", even Trotsky had to admit that during 1917 the working class was far more revolutionary than the party and the party more revolutionary than the "party machine" of "professional revolutionaries."

Ironically enough, Lenin himself recognised this aspect of the intellectuals after he had praised their role in bringing "revolutionary" consciousness to the working class in his 1904 work One Step Forward, Two Steps Back. He argued that it was now the "presence of large numbers of radical intellectuals in the ranks . . . [which] has made . . . the existence of opportunism, produced by their mentality, inevitable." [contained in Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, vol. 1, p. 25] According to Lenin's new philosophy, the working class simply needs to have been through the "schooling of the factory" in order to give the intelligentsia lessons in political discipline, the very same intelligentsia which up until then had played the leading role in the Party and had given political consciousness to the working class. In his words:

"The factory, which seems only a bogey to some, represents that highest form of capitalist co-operation which has united and disciplined the proletariat, taught it to organise . . . And it is precisely Marxism, the ideology of the proletariat trained by capitalism, that has taught . . . unstable intellectuals to distinguish between the factory as a means of exploitation (discipline based on fear of starvation) and the factory as a means of organisation (discipline based on collective work . . ). The discipline and organisation which come so hard to the bourgeois intellectual are especially easily acquired by the proletariat just because of this factory 'schooling.'" [Op. Cit., p. 24]

Lenin's analogy is, of course, flawed. The factory is a "means of exploitation" because its "means of organisation" is top-down and hierarchical. The "collective work" which the workers are subjected to is organised by the boss and the "discipline" is that of the barracks, not that of free individuals. In fact, the "schooling" for revolutionaries is not the factory, but the class struggle. As such, healthy and positive discipline is generated by the struggle against the way the workplace is organised under capitalism. Factory discipline, in other words, is completely different from the discipline required for social struggle or revolution. Thus the workers become revolutionary in so far as they reject the hierarchical discipline of the workplace and develop the self-discipline required to fight that discipline.

A key task of anarchism is encourage working class revolt against this type of discipline, particularly in the capitalist workplace. The "discipline" Lenin praises simply replaces human thought and association with the following of orders and hierarchy. Thus anarchism aims to undermine capitalist (imposed and brutalising) discipline in favour of solidarity, the "discipline" of free association and agreement based on the community of struggle and the political consciousness and revolutionary enthusiasm that struggle creates. To the factory discipline Lenin argues for, anarchists argue for the discipline produced in workplace struggles and conflicts against that hierarchical discipline. Thus, for anarchists, the model of the factory can never be the model for a revolutionary organisation any more than Lenin's vision of society as "one big workplace" could be our vision of socialism (see section H.3.1). Ultimately, the factory exists to reproduce hierarchical social relationships and class society just as much as it exists to produce goods.

It should be noted that Lenin's argument does not contradict his earlier arguments. The proletarian and intellectual have complementary jobs in the party. The proletariat is to give lessons in political discipline to the intellectuals as they have been through the process of factory (i.e. hierarchical) discipline. The role of the intellectuals as providers of "political consciousness" is the same and so they give political lessons to the workers.

Moreover, his vision of the vanguard party is basically the same as in What is to Be Done?. This can be seen from his comments that his opponent (the leading Menshevik Martov) "wants to lump together organised and unorganised elements in the Party, those who submit to direction and those who do not, the advanced and the incorrigibly backward." He stressed that the "division of labour under the direction of a centre evokes from him [the intellectual] a tragicomical outcry against people being transformed into 'wheels and cogs'" [Op. Cit., p. 21 and p. 24] Thus there is the same division of labour as in the capitalist factory, with the boss ("the centre") having the power to direct the workers (who "submit to direction"). Thus we have a "revolutionary" party organised in a capitalist manner, with the same "division of labour" between order givers and order takers.

H.5.3 Why does vanguardism imply party power?

As we discussed in section H.5.1, anarchists argue that the assumptions of vanguardism leads to party rule over the working class. Needless to say, followers of Lenin disagree that the idea that vanguardism results in such an outcome. For example, Chris Harman of the British Socialist Workers Party argues the opposite case in his essay "Party and Class." However, his own argument suggests the elitist conclusions we have draw from Lenin's.

Harman argues that there are two ways to look at the revolutionary party, the Leninist way and the traditional social-democratic way (as represented by the likes of Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg in 1903-5). "The latter," he argues, "was thought of as a party of the whole [working] class . . . All the tendencies within the class had to be represented within it. Any split within it was to be conceived of as a split within the class. Centralisation, although recognised as necessary, was feared as a centralisation over and against the spontaneous activity of the class. Yet it was precisely in this kind of party that the 'autocratic' tendencies warned against by Luxemburg were to develop most. For within it the confusion of member and sympathiser, the massive apparatus needed to hold together a mass of only half-politicised members in a series of social activities, led to a toning down of political debate, a lack of political seriousness, which in turn reduced the ability of the members to make independent political evaluations and increased the need for apparatus-induced involvement." [Party and Class, p. 32]

Thus, the lumping together into one organisation all those who consider themselves as "socialist" and agree with the party's aims creates in a mass which results in "autocratic" tendencies within the party organisation. As such, it is important to remember that "the Party, as the vanguard of the working class, must not be confused with the entire class." [Op. Cit., p. 22] For this reason, the party must be organised in a specific manner which reflect his Leninist assumptions:

"The alternative [to the vanguard party] is the 'marsh' -- where elements motivated by scientific precision are so mixed up with those who are irremediably confused as to prevent any decisive action, effectively allowing the most backward to lead." [Op. Cit., p. 30]

The problem for Harman is now how to explain how the proletariat can become the ruling class if this is true. He argues that "the party is not the embryo of the workers' state -- the workers' council is. The working class as a whole will be involved in the organisations that constitute the state, the most backward as well as the most progressive elements." As such, the "function of the party is not to be the state." [Op. Cit., p. 33] Thus, the implication is that the working class will take an active part in the decision making process during the revolution (although the level of this "involvement" is unspecified, probably for good reasons as we explain). If this is the case, then the problem of the mass party reappears, but in a new form (we must also note that this problem must have also appearing in 1917, when the Bolshevik party opened its doors to become a mass party).

As the "organisations that constitute the state" are made up of the working class "as a whole," then, obviously, they cannot be expected to wield power (i.e. directly manage the revolution from below). If they did, then the party would be "mixed up" with the "irremediably confused" and so could not lead (as we discuss in section H.5.5, Lenin links "opportunism" to "primitive" democracy, i.e. self-management, within the party). Hence the need for party power. Which, of course, explains Lenin's 1920 comments that an organisation embracing the whole working class cannot exercise the "dictatorship of the proletariat" and that a "vanguard" is required to do so (see section H.1.2 for details). Of course, Harman does not explain how the "irremediably confused" are able to judge that the party is the best representative of its interests. Surely if someone is competent enough to pick their ruler, they must also be competent enough to manage their own affairs directly? Equally, if the "irremediably confused" vote against the party once it is in power, what happens? Will the party submit to the "leadership" of what it considers "the most backward"? If the Bolsheviks are anything to go by, the answer has to be no.

Ironically, he argues that it "is worth noting that in Russia a real victory of the apparatus over the party required precisely the bringing into the party hundreds of thousands of 'sympathisers,' a dilution of the 'party' by the 'class.' . . . The Leninist party does not suffer from this tendency to bureaucratic control precisely because it restricts its membership to those willing to be serious and disciplined enough to take political and theoretical issues as their starting point, and to subordinate all their activities to those." [Op. Cit., p. 33] Yet, in order to have a socialist revolution, the working class as a whole must participate in the process and that implies self-management. Thus the decision making organisations will be based on the party being "mixed up" with the "irremediably confused" as if they were part of a non-Leninist party.

From Harman's own assumptions, this by necessity results in an "autocratic" regime within the new "workers' state." This was implicitly recognised by the Bolsheviks when they stressed that the function of the party was to become the government, the head of the state. Lenin and Trotsky continually stressed this fact, urging that the party "assume power," that the Bolsheviks "can and must take state power into their own hands." Indeed, "take over full state power alone." [Lenin, Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 329, p. 328 and p. 352] Thus, while the working class "as a whole" will be "involved in the organisations that constitute the state," the party (in practice, its leadership) will hold power (see section H.3.8 for a further discussion of this Bolshevik position). And for Trotsky, this substitution of the party for the class was inevitable:

"We have more than once been accused of having substituted for the dictatorship of the Soviets the dictatorship of our party. Yet it can be said with complete justice that the dictatorship of the Soviets became possible only by means of the dictatorship of the party. It is thanks to the clarity of its theoretical vision and its strong revolutionary organisation that the party has afforded to the Soviets the possibility of becoming transformed from shapeless parliaments of labour into the apparatus of the supremacy of labour. In this 'substitution' of the power of the party for the power of the working class there is nothing accidental, and in reality there is no substitution at all. The Communists express the fundamental interests of the working class. It is quite natural that, in the period in which history brings up those interests . . . the Communists have become the recognised representatives of the working class as a whole." [Terrorism and Communism, p. 109]

He notes that within the state, "the last word belongs to the Central Committee of the party." [Op. Cit., p. 107] In 1937, he repeats this argument, explicitly linking the "objective necessity" of the "revolutionary dictatorship of a proletarian party" to the "heterogeneity of the revolutionary class, the necessity for a selected vanguard in order to assure the victory." Stressed the "dictatorship of a party," he argued that "[a]bstractly speaking, it would be very well if the party dictatorship could be replaced by the 'dictatorship' of the whole toiling people without any party, but this presupposes such a high level of political development among the masses that it can never be achieved under capitalist conditions." [Writings 1936-37, pp. 513-4]

This means that given Harman's own assumptions, autocratic rule by the party is inevitable. Ironically, he argues that "to be a 'vanguard' is not the same as to substitute one's own desires, or policies or interests, for those of the class." He stresses that an "organisation that is concerned with participating in the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism by the working class cannot conceive of substituting itself for the organs of the direct rule of that class." [Op. Cit., p. 33 and p. 34] However, the logic of his argument suggests otherwise. Simply put, his arguments against a broad party organisation are also applicable to self-management during the class struggle and revolution. The rank and file party members are "mixed up" in the class. This leads to party members becoming subject to bourgeois influences. This necessitates the power of the higher bodies over the lower (see section H.5.5). The highest party organ, the central committee, must rule over the party machine, which in turn rules over the party members, who, in turn, rule over the workers. This logical chain was, ironically enough, recognised by Trotsky in 1904 in his polemic against Lenin. He argued:

"The organisation of the party substitutes itself for the party as a whole; then the central committee substitutes itself for the organisation; and finally the 'dictator' substitutes himself for the central committee." [quoted by Harman, Op. Cit., p. 22]

Obviously once in power in 1920 this substitution was less of a concern for him than in 1904! Which, however, does not deny the insight Trotsky showed in 1904 about the dangers inherent in the Bolshevik assumptions on working class spontaneity and how revolutionary ideas develop. Dangers which he, ironically, helped provide empirical evidence for.

This false picture of the party (and its role) explains the progression of the Bolshevik party after 1917. As the soviets organised all workers, we have the problem that the party (with its "scientific" knowledge) is swamped by the class. The task of the party is to "persuade, not coerce these [workers] into accepting its lead" and, as Lenin made clear, for it to take political power. [Harman, Op. Cit., p. 34] Once in power, the decisions of the party are in constant danger of being overthrown by the working class, which necessitates a state run with "iron discipline" (and the necessary means of coercion) by the party. With the disempowering of the mass organisations by the party, the party itself becomes a substitute for popular democracy as being a party member is the only way to influence policy. As the party grows, the influx of new members "dilutes" the organisation, necessitating a similar growth of centralised power at the top of the organisation. This eliminates the substitute for proletarian democracy which had developed within the party (which explains the banning of factions within the Bolshevik party in 1921). Slowly but surely, power concentrates into fewer and fewer hands, which, ironically enough, necessitates a bureaucracy to feed the party leaders information and execute its will. Isolated from all, the party inevitably degenerates and Stalinism results.

We are sure that many Trotskyists will object to our analysis, arguing that we ignore the problems facing the Russian Revolution in our discussion. Harman argues that it was "not the form of the party that produces party as opposed to soviet rule, but the decimation of the working class" that occurred during the Russian Revolution. [Op. Cit., p. 37] This is false. As noted, Lenin was always explicit that about the fact that the Bolshevik's sought party rule ("full state power") and that their rule was working class rule. As such, we have the first, most basic, substitution of party power for workers power. Secondly, as we discuss in section 6 of the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", the Bolshevik party had been gerrymandering and disbanding soviets before the start of the Civil War, so proving that it cannot be held accountable for this process of substitution. Thirdly, Leninists are meant to know that civil war is inevitable during a revolution. To blame the inevitable for the degeneration of the revolution is hardly convincing (particularly as the degeneration started before the civil war broke out).

Unsurprisingly, anarchists reject the underlying basis of this progression, the idea that the working class, by its own efforts, is incapable of developing beyond a "trade union consciousness." The actions of the working class itself condemned these attitudes as outdated and simply wrong long before Lenin's infamous comments were put on paper. In every struggle, the working class has created its own organisations to co-ordinate its struggle (to use Trotsky's analogy, the steam creates its own piston and constantly has). In the process of struggle, the working class changes its perspectives. This process is uneven in both quantity and quality, but it does happen. As such, anarchists do not think that all working class people will, at the same time, spontaneously become anarchists. If they did, we would be in an anarchist society today!

As we argued in sections J.3 and H.2.10, anarchists acknowledge that political development within the working class is uneven. The difference between anarchism and Leninism is how we see socialist ideas developing. In every class struggle there is a radical minority which takes the lead and many of this miinority develop revolutionary conclusions from their experiences. As such, members of the working class develop their own revolutionary theory and it does not need bourgeois intellectuals to inject it into them.

Anarchists go on to argue that this minority (along with any members of other classes who have broken with their background and become libertarians) should organise and work together. The role of this revolutionary organisation is to co-ordinate revolutionary activity, discuss and revise ideas and help others draw the same conclusions as they have from their own, and others, experiences. The aim of such a group is, by word and deed, to assist the working class in its struggles and to draw out and clarify the libertarian aspects of this struggle. It seeks to abolish the rigid division between leaders and led which is the hallmark of class society by drawing the vast majority of the working class into social struggle and revolutionary politics by encouraging their direct management of the class struggle. Only this participation and the political discussion it generates will allow revolutionary ideas to become widespread.

In other words, anarchists argue that precisely because of political differences ("unevenness") we need the fullest possible democracy and freedom to discuss issues and reach agreements. Only by discussion and self-activity can the political perspectives of those in struggle develop and change. In other words, the fact Bolshevism uses to justify its support for party power is the strongest argument against it.

Our differences with vanguardism could not be more clear.

H.5.4 Did Lenin abandon vanguardism?

As discussed in section H.5.1, vanguardism rests on the premise that the working class cannot emancipate itself. As such, the ideas of Lenin as expounded in What is to be Done? contradicts the key idea of Marx that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself. Thus the paradox of Leninism. On the one hand, it subscribes to an ideology allegedly based on working class self-liberation. On the other, the founder of that school wrote an obviously influential work whose premise not only logically implies that they cannot, it also provides the perfect rationale for party dictatorship over the working class (and as the history of Leninism in power showed, this underlying premise was much stronger than any democratic-sounding rhetoric -- see "What happened during the Russian Revolution?").

It is for this reason that many Leninists are somewhat embarrassed by Lenin's argument in What is to be Done?. Hence we see Chris Harman writing that "the real theoretical basis for his [Lenin's] argument on the party is not that the working class is incapable on its own of coming to theoretical socialist consciousness . . . The real basis for his argument is that the level of consciousness in the working class is never uniform." [Party and Class, pp. 25-6] In other words, Harman changes the focus of the question away from the point explicitly and repeatedly stated by Lenin that the working class was incapable on its own of coming to theoretical socialist consciousness and that he was simply repeating Marxist orthodoxy when he did.

Harman bases his revision on Lenin's later comments regarding his book, namely that he sought to "straighten matters out" by "pull[ing] in the other direction" to the "extreme" which the "economists" had went to. He repeated this in 1907 (see below). While Lenin may have been right to attack the "economists," his argument that socialist consciousness comes to the working class only "from without" is not a case of going too far in the other direction; it is wrong. Simply put, you do not attack ideas you disagree with arguing an equally false set of ideas. This suggests that Harman's attempt to downplay Lenin's elitist position is flawed. Simply put, the "real theoretical basis" of the argument was precisely the issue Lenin himself raised, namely the incapacity of the working class to achieve socialist consciousness by itself. It is probably the elitist conclusions of this argument which drives Harman to try and change the focus to another issue, namely the political unevenness within the working class.

Some go to even more extreme lengths, denying that Lenin even held such a position. For example, Hal Draper argues at length that Lenin did not, in fact, hold the opinions he actually expressed in his book! While Draper covers many aspects of what he calls the "Myth of Lenin's 'Concept of The Party,'" in his essay of the same name, we will concentrate on the key idea, namely that socialist ideas are developed outside the class struggle by the radical intelligentsia and introduced into the working class from without. Here, as argued in section H.5.1, is the root of the anti-socialist basis of Leninism.

So what does Draper say? On the one hand, he denies that Lenin held this theory (he states that it is a "virtually non-existent theory" and "non-existent after WITBD"). He argues that those who hold the position that Lenin actually meant what he said in his book "never quote anything other than WITBD," and states that this is a "curious fact" (a fact we will disprove shortly). Draper argues as follows: "Did Lenin put this theory forward even in WITBD? Not exactly." He then notes that Lenin "had just read this theory in the most prestigious theoretical organ of Marxism of the whole international socialist movement" and it had been "put forward in an important article by the leading Marxist authority," Karl Kautsky. Draper notes that "Lenin first paraphrased Kautsky" and then "quoted a long passage from Kautsky's article."

This much, of course, is well known by anyone who has read Lenin's book. By paraphrasing and quoting Kautsky as he does, Lenin is showing his agreement with Kautsky's argument. Indeed, Lenin states before quoting Kautsky that his comments are "profoundly true and important" [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 79] As such, by explicitly and obviously agreeing with Kautsky, it can be said that it also becomes Lenin's theory as well! Over time, particularly after Kautsky had been labelled a "renegade" by Lenin, Kautsky's star waned and Lenin's rose. Little wonder the argument became associated with Lenin rather than the discredited Kautsky. Draper then speculates that "it is curious . . . that no one has sought to prove that by launching this theory . . . Kautsky was laying the basis for the demon of totalitarianism." A simply reason exists for this, namely the fact that Kautsky, unlike Lenin, was never the head of a one-party dictatorship and justified this system politically. Indeed, Kautsky attacked the Bolsheviks for this, which caused Lenin to label him a "renegade." Kautsky, in this sense, can be considered as being inconsistent with his political assumptions, unlike Lenin who took his assumptions to their logical conclusions.

How, after showing the obvious fact that "the crucial 'Leninist' theory was really Kautsky's," he then wonders "[d]id Lenin, in WITBD, adopt Kautsky's theory?" He answers his own question with an astounding "Again, not exactly"! Clearly, quoting approvingly of a theory and stating it is "profoundly true" does not, in fact, make you a supporter of it! What evidence does Draper present for his amazing answer? Well, Draper argued that Lenin "tried to get maximum mileage out of it against the right wing; this was the point of his quoting it. If it did something for Kautsky's polemic, he no doubt figured that it would do something for his." Or, to present a more simple and obvious explanation, Lenin agreed with Kautsky's "profoundly true" argument!

Aware of this possibility, Draper tries to combat it. "Certainly," he argues, "this young man Lenin was not (yet) so brash as to attack his 'pope' or correct him overtly. But there was obviously a feeling of discomfort. While showing some modesty and attempting to avoid the appearance of a head-on criticism, the fact is that Lenin inserted two longish footnotes rejecting (or if you wish, amending) precisely what was worst about the Kautsky theory on the role of the proletariat." So, here we have Lenin quoting Kautsky to prove his own argument (and noting that Kautsky's words were "profoundly true and important"!) but "feeling discomfort" over what he has just approvingly quoted! Incredible!

So how does Lenin "amend" Kautsky's "profoundly true and important" argument? In two ways, according to Draper. Firstly, in a footnote which "was appended right after the Kautsky passage" Lenin quoted. Draper argued that it "was specifically formulated to undermine and weaken the theoretical content of Kautsky's position. It began: 'This does not mean, of course, that the workers have no part in creating such an ideology.' But this was exactly what Kautsky did mean and say. In the guise of offering a caution, Lenin was proposing a modified view. 'They [the workers] take part, however,' Lenin's footnote continued, 'not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians, as Proudhons and Weitlings; in other words, they take part only when they are able . . .' In short, Lenin was reminding the reader that Kautsky's sweeping statements were not even 100% true historically; he pointed to exceptions." Yes, Lenin did point to exceptions in order to refute objections to Kautsky's argument before they were raised! It is clear that Lenin is not refuting Kautsky. He is agreeing with him and raising possible counter-examples in order to refute potential objections based on them. Thus Proudhon adds to socialist ideology in so far as he is a "socialist theoretician" and not a worker! How clear can you be? As Lenin continues, people like Proudhon "take part only to the extent that they are able, more or less, to acquire the knowledge of their age and advance that knowledge." In other words, insofar as they learn from the "vehicles of science." Neither Kautsky or Lenin denied that it was possible for workers to acquire such knowledge and pass it on. However this does not mean that they thought workers, as part of their daily life and struggle as workers, could develop "socialist theory." Thus Lenin's footnote reiterates Kautsky's argument rather than, as Draper hopes, refutes it.

Draper turns to another footnote, which he notes "was not directly tied to the Kautsky article, but discussed the 'spontaneity of the socialist idea. 'It is often said,' Lenin began, 'that the working class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism. This is perfectly true in the sense that socialist theory reveals the causes of the misery of the working class ... and for that reason the workers are able to assimilate it so easily,' but he reminded that this process itself was not subordinated to mere spontaneity. 'The working class spontaneously gravitates towards socialism; nevertheless, ... bourgeois ideology spontaneously imposes itself upon the working class to a still greater degree.'" Draper argues that this "was obviously written to modify and recast the Kautsky theory, without coming out and saying that the Master was wrong." So, here we have Lenin approvingly quoting Kautsky in the main text while, at the same time, providing a footnote to show that, in fact, he did not agree with what he has just quoted! Truly amazing -- and easily refuted. After all, the footnote stresses that workers appreciate socialist theory "provided, however, that this theory does not step aside for spontaneity and provided it subordinates spontaneity to itself." In other words, workers "assimilate" socialist theory only when socialist theory does not adjust itself to the "spontaneous" forces at work in the class struggle. Thus, rather than refuting Kautsky by the backdoor, Lenin in this footnote still agrees with him. Socialism does not develop, as Kautsky stressed, from the class struggle but rather has to be injected into it. This means, by necessity, the theory "subordinates spontaneity to itself."

Draper argues that this "modification" simply meant that there "are several things that happen 'spontaneously,' and what will win out is not decided only by spontaneity" but as can be seen, this is not the case. Only when "spontaneity" is subordinated to the theory (i.e. the party) can socialism be won, a totally different position. As such, when Draper asserts that "[a]ll that was clear at this point was that Lenin was justifiably dissatisfied with the formulation of Kautsky's theory," he is simply expressing wishful thinking. This footnote, like the first one, continues the argument developed by Lenin in the main text and in no way is in contradiction to it. As is obvious.

Draper argues that the key problem is that critics of Lenin "run two different questions together: (a) What was, historically, the initial role of intellectuals in the beginnings of the socialist movement, and (b) what is - and above all, what should be - the role of bourgeois intellectuals in a working-class party today." He argues that Kautsky did not believe that "if it can be shown that intellectuals historically played a certain initiatory role, they must and should continue to play the same role now and forever. It does not follow; as the working class matured, it tended to throw off leading strings." However, this is unconvincing. After all, if socialist consciousness cannot be generated by the working class by its own struggles then this is applicable now and in the future. Thus workers who join the socialist movement will be repeating the party ideology, as developed by intellectuals in the past. If they do develop new theory, it would be, as Lenin stressed, "not as workers, but as socialist theoreticians" and so socialist consciousness still does not derive from their own class experiences. This places the party in a privileged position vis--vis the working class and so the elitism remains.

Ironically, Draper agrees with Kautsky and Lenin as regards the claim that socialism does not develop out of the class struggle. As he put it, "[a]s a matter of fact, in the International of 1902 no one really had any doubts about the historical facts concerning the beginnings of the movement." The question is, "[b]ut what followed from those facts?" To which he argues that Marx and Engels "concluded, from the same facts and subsequent experiences, that the movement had to be sternly warned against the influence of bourgeois intellectuals inside the party." (We wonder if Marx and Engels included themselves in the list of "bourgeois intellectuals" the workers had to be "sternly warned" about?) Thus, amusingly enough, Draper argues that Marx, Engels, Kautsky and Lenin all held to the "same facts" that socialist consciousness developed outside the experiences of the working classes!

Draper, after rewriting history somewhat in his laborious and hardly convincing arguments, states that it "is a curious fact that no one has ever found this alleged theory anywhere else in Lenin's voluminous writings, not before and not after [What is to be Done?]. It never appeared in Lenin again. No Leninologist has ever quoted such a theory from any other place in Lenin." However, as this theory was the orthodox Marxist position, Lenin had no real need to reiterate this argument continuously. After all, he had quoted the acknowledged leader of Marxism on the subject explicitly to show the orthodoxy of his argument and the "non-Marxist" base of those he argued against. Once the debate had been won and orthodox Marxism triumphant, why repeat the argument again? As we will see below, this was exactly the position Lenin did take in 1907 when he wrote an introduction to a book which contained What is to Be Done?.

In contradiction to Draper's claim, Lenin did return to this matter. In October 1905 he wrote an a short article in praise of an article by Stalin on this very subject. Stalin had sought to explain Lenin's ideas to the Georgian Social-Democracy and, like Lenin, had sought to root the argument in Marxist orthodoxy (partly to justify the argument, partly to expose the Menshevik opposition as being "non-Marxists"). Stalin argues along similar lines to Lenin:

"the question now is: who works out, who is able to work out this socialist consciousness (i.e. scientific socialism)? Kautsky says, and I repeat his idea, that the masses of proletarians, as long as they remain proletarians, have neither the time nor the opportunity to work out socialist consciousness . . . The vehicles of science are the intellectuals . . . who have both the time and opportunity to put themselves in the van of science and workout socialist consciousness. Clearly, socialist consciousness is worked out by a few Social-Democratic intellectuals who posses the time and opportunity to do so." [Collected Works, vol. 1, p. 164]

Stalin stresses the Marxist orthodoxy by stating Social-Democracy "comes in and introduces socialist consciousness into the working class movement. This is what Kautsky has in mind when he says 'socialist consciousness is something introduced into the proletarian class struggle from without.'" [Op. Cit., pp. 164-5] That Stalin is simply repeating Lenin's and Kautsky's arguments is clear, as is the fact it was considered the orthodox position within social-democracy.

If Draper is right, then Lenin would have taken the opportunity to attack Stalin's article and express the alternative viewpoint Draper is convinced he held. However, Lenin put pen to paper to praise Stalin's work, noting "the splendid way in which the problem of the celebrated 'introduction of a consciousness from without' had been posed." Lenin explicitly agrees with Stalin's summary of his argument. He argues that "social being determines consciousness . . . Socialist consciousness corresponds to the position of the proletariat" and then quotes Stalin: "'Who can and does evolve this consciousness (scientific socialism)?'" and answers (again approvingly quoting Stalin) that "its 'evolution' is a matter for a few Social-Democratic intellectuals who posses the necessary means and time.'" Lenin does argue that Social-Democracy meets "an instinctive urge towards socialism" when it "comes to the proletariat with the message of socialism," but this does not counter the main argument that the working class cannot develop socialist consciousness by it own efforts and the, by necessity, elitist and hierarchical politics that flow from this position. [Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 9, p. 388]

That Lenin did not reject his early formulations can also be seen from in his introduction to the pamphlet "Twelve Years" which contained What is to be Done?. Rather than explaining the false nature of that work's more infamous arguments, Lenin in fact defended them. For example, as regards the question of professional revolutionaries, he argued that the statements of his opponents now "look ridiculous" as "today the idea of an organisation of professional revolutionaries has already scored a complete victory," a victory which "would have been impossible if this idea had not been pushed to the forefront at the time." He noted that his work had "vanquished Economism . . . and finally created this organisation." On the question of socialist consciousness, he simply reiterates the Marxist orthodoxy of his position, noting that its "formulation of the relationship between spontaneity and political consciousness was agreed upon by all the Iskra editors . . . Consequently, there could be no question of any difference in principle between the draft Party programme and What is to be Done? on this issue." So while Lenin argues that he had "straighten out what had been twisted by the Economists," he did not correct his early arguments. [Collected Works, vol. 13, p. 101, p. 102 and p. 107]

Looking at Lenin's arguments at the Communist International on the question of the party we see an obvious return to the ideas of What is to be Done?. Here was have a similar legal/illegal duality, strict centralism, strong hierarchy and the vision of the party as the "head" of the working class (i.e. its consciousness). In Left-Wing Communism, Lenin mocks those who reject the idea that dictatorship by the party is the same as that of the class.

Ultimately, the whole rationale for the kind of wishful thinking that Draper inflicts on us is flawed. As noted above, you do not combat what you think is an incorrect position with one which you consider as also being wrong or do not agree with! You counter what you consider as an incorrect position with one you consider correct and agree with. As Lenin, in WITBD, explicitly did. This means that later attempts by his followers to downplay the ideas raised in Lenin's book are unconvincing. Moreover, as he was simply repeating Social-Democratic orthodoxy it seems doubly unconvincing.

Clearly, Draper is wrong. Lenin did, as indicated above, actually mean what he said in What is to be Done?. The fact that Lenin quoted Kautsky simply shows that this position was the orthodox Social-Democratic one, held by the mainstream of the party. Given that Leninism was (and still is) a "radical" offshoot of this movement, this should come as no surprise. However, Draper's comments remind us how religious many forms of Marxism are. After all, why do we need facts when we have the true faith?

H.5.5 What is "democratic centralism"?

As noted above, anarchists oppose vanguardism for three reasons, one of which is the way it recommends how revolutionaries should organise to influence the class struggle.

So how is a "vanguard" party organised? To quote the Communist International's 1920 resolution on the role of the Communist Party in the revolution, the party must have a "centralised political apparatus" and "must be organised on the basis of iron proletarian centralism." This, of course, suggests a top-down structure internally, which the resolution explicitly calls for. In its words, "Communist cells of every kind must be subordinate to one another as precisely as possible in a strict hierarchy." [Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920, vol. 1, p. 193, p. 198 and p. 199] Therefore, the vanguard party is organised in a centralised, top-down way. However, this is not all, as well as being "centralised," the party is also meant to be democratic, hence the expression "democratic centralism." On this the resolution states:

"The Communist Party must be organised on the basis of democratic centralism. The most important principle of democratic centralism is election of the higher party organs by the lowest, the fact that all instructions by a superior body are unconditionally and necessarily binding on lower ones, and existence of a strong central party leadership whose authority over all leading party comrades in the period between one party congress and the next is universally accepted." [Op. Cit., p. 198]

For Lenin, speaking in the same year, democratic centralism meant "only that representatives from the localities meet and elect a responsible body which must then govern . . . Democratic centralism consists in the Congress checking on the Central Committee, removing it and electing a new one." [quoted by Robert Service, The Bolshevik Party in Revolution, p. 131] Thus, "democratic centralism" is inherently top-down, although the "higher" party organs are, in principle, elected by the "lower." Without this, of course, there would be no "democratic" aspect to the party. The real question is whether such democracy is effective, a topic we will return to. However, the key point is that the central committee is the active element, the one whose decisions are implemented and so the focus of the structure is in the "centralism" rather than the "democratic" part of the formula.

As we noted in section H.2.14, the Communist Party was expected to have a dual structure, one legal and the other illegal. The resolution states that "[i]n countries where the bourgeoisie . . . is still in power, the Communist parties must learn to combine legal and illegal activity in a planned way. However, the legal work must be placed under the actual control of the illegal party at all times." [Proceedings and Documents of the Second Congress 1920, vol. 1, p. 198-9] It goes without saying that the illegal structure is the real power in the party and that it cannot be expected to be as democratic as the legal party, which in turn would be less that democratic as the illegal would have the real power within the organisation.

All this has clear parallels with Lenin's infamous work, What is to be done?. In that work Lenin argues for "a powerful and strictly secret organisation, which concentrates in its hands all the threads of secret activities, an organisation which of necessity must be a centralised organisation." This call for centralisation is not totally dependent on secrecy, though. As he notes, "specialisation necessarily presupposes centralisation, and in its turn imperatively calls for it." Such a centralised organisation would need leaders and Lenin argues that "no movement can be durable without a stable organisation of leaders to maintain continuity." As such, "the organisation must consist chiefly of persons engaged in revolutionary activities as a profession." Thus, we have a centralised organisation which is managed by specialists, by "professional revolutionaries." [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 158, p. 153, p. 147 and p. 148]

This does not mean that these "professional revolutionaries" all come from the bourgeoisie or petit bourgeoisie. According to Lenin:

"A workingman agitator who is at all talented and 'promising' must not be left to work eleven hours a day in a factory. We must arrange that he be maintained by the Party, that he may in due time go underground." [Op. Cit., p. 155]

Thus the full time professional revolutionaries are drawn from all classes into the party apparatus. However, in practice the majority of such full-timers were/are middle class. Trotsky notes that "just as in the Bolshevik committees, so at the [1905] Congress itself, there were almost no workingmen. The intellectuals predominated." [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 101] This did not change, even after the influx of working class members in 1917 the "incidence of middle-class activists increases at the highest echelons of the hierarchy of executive committees." [Robert Service, The Bolshevik Party in Revolution, p. 47] An ex-worker was a rare sight in the Bolshevik Central Committee, an actual worker non-existent. However, regardless of their original class background what unites the full-timers is not their origin but rather their current relationship with the working class, one of separation and hierarchy.

The organisational structure of this system was made clear at around the same time as What is to be Done?, with Lenin arguing that the factory group (or cell) of the party "must consist of a small number of revolutionaries, receiving direct from the [central] committee orders and power to conduct the whole social-democratic work in the factory. All members of the factory committee must regard themselves as agents of the [central] committee, bound to submit to all its directions, bound to observe all 'laws and customs' of this 'army in the field' in which they have entered and which they cannot leave without permission of the commander." [quoted by E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, vol. 1, p. 33] The similarities to the structure proposed by Lenin and agreed to by the Comintern in 1920 is obvious. Thus we have a highly centralised party, one run by "professional revolutionaries" from the top down (as we noted in section H.3.3 Lenin stressed that the organisational principle of Marxism was from top down).

It will be objected that Lenin was discussing the means of party building under Tsarism and advocated wider democracy under legality. However, given that in 1920 he universalised the Bolshevik experience and urged the creation of a dual party structure (based on legal and illegal structures), his comments on centralisation are applicable to vanguardism in general. Moreover, in 1902 he based his argument on experiences drawn from democratic capitalist regimes. As he argued, "no revolutionary organisation has ever practised broad democracy, nor could it, however much it desired to do so." This was not considered as just applicable in Russia under the Tsar as Lenin then goes on to quote the Webb's "book on trade unionism" in order to clarify what he calls "the confusion of ideas concerning the meaning of democracy." He notes that "in the first period of existence in their unions, the British workers thought it was an indispensable sign of democracy for all members to do all the work of managing the unions." This involved "all questions [being] decided by the votes of all the members" and all "official duties" being "fulfilled by all the members in turn." He dismisses "such a conception of democracy" as "absurd" and "historical experience" made them "understand the necessity for representative institutions" and "full-time professional officials." [Essential Works of Lenin, p. 161 and pp. 162-3]

Needless to say, Lenin links this to Kautsky, who "shows the need for professional journalists, parliamentarians, etc., for the Social-Democratic leadership of the proletarian class struggle" and who "attacks the 'socialism of anarchists and litterateurs' who . . . proclaim the principle that laws should be passed directly by the whole people, completely failing to understand that in modern society this principle can have only a relative application." [Op. Cit., p. 163] The universal nature of his dismissal of self-management within the revolutionary organisation in favour of representative forms is thus stressed.

Significantly, Lenin states that this "'primitive' conception of democracy" exists in two groups, the "masses of the students and workers" and the "Economists of the Bernstein persuasion" (i.e. reformists). Thus the idea of directly democratic working class organisations is associated with opportunism. He was generous, noting that he "would not, of course, . . . condemn practical workers who have had too few opportunities for studying the theory and practice of real [sic!] democratic [sic!] organisation" but individuals "play[ing] a leading role" in the movement should be so condemned! [Op. Cit., p. 163] These people should know better! Thus "real" democratic organisation implies the restriction of democracy to that of electing leaders and any attempt to widen the input of ordinary members is simply an expression of workers who need educating from their "primitive" failings!

In summary, we have a model of a "revolutionary" party which is based on full-time "professional revolutionaries" in which the concept of direct democracy is replaced by a system of, at best, representative democracy. It is highly centralised, as befitting a specialised organisation. As noted in section H.3.3, the "organisational principle of revolutionary Social-Democracy" was "to proceed from the top downward" rather than "from the bottom upward." [Lenin, Collected Works, vol. 7, pp. 396-7] Rather than being only applicable in Tsarist Russia, Lenin drew on examples from advanced, democratic capitalist countries to justify his model in 1902 and in 1920 he advocated a similar hierarchical and top-down organisation with a dual secret and public organisation in the Communist International. The continuity of ideas is clear.

H.5.6 Why do anarchists oppose "democratic centralism"?

What to make of Lenin's suggested model of "democratic centralism" discussed in the last section? It is, to use Cornelius Castoriadis's term, a "revolutionary party organised on a capitalist manner." He argues that in practice the "democratic centralist" party, while being centralised, will not be very democratic. In fact, the level of democracy would reflect that in a capitalist republic rather than a socialist society. In his words:

"The dividing up of tasks, which is indispensable wherever there is a need for co-operation, becomes a real division of labour, the labour of giving orders being separate from that of carrying them out . . . this division between directors and executants tends to broaden and deepen by itself. The leaders specialise in their role and become indispensable while those who carry out orders become absorbed in their concrete tasks. Deprived of information, of the general view of the situation, and of the problems of organisation, arrested in their development by their lack of participation in the overall life of the Party, the organisation's rank-and-file militants less and less have the means or the possibility of having any control over those at the top.

"This division of labour is supposed to be limited by 'democracy.' But democracy, which should mean that the majority rules, is reduced to meaning that the majority designates its rulers; copied in this way from the model of bourgeois parliamentary democracy, drained of any real meaning, it quickly becomes a veil thrown over the unlimited power of the rulers. The base does not run the organisation just because once a year it elects delegates who designate the central committee, no more than the people are sovereign in a parliamentary-type republic because they periodically elect deputies who designate the government.

"Let us consider, for example, 'democratic centralism' as it is supposed to function in an ideal Leninist party. That the central committee is designated by a 'democratically elected' congress makes no difference since, once it is elected, it has complete (statutory) control over the body of the Party (and can dissolve the base organisations, kick out militants, etc.) or that, under such conditions, it can determine the composition of the next congress. The central committee could use its powers in an honourable way, these powers could be reduced; the members of the Party might enjoy 'political rights' such as being able to form factions, etc. Fundamentally this would not change the situation, for the central committee would still remain the organ that defines the political line of the organisation and controls its application from top to bottom, that, in a word, has permanent monopoly on the job of leadership. The expression of opinions only has a limited value once the way the group functions prevents this opinion from forming on solid bases, i.e. permanent participation in the organisation's activities and in the solution of problems that arise. If the way the organisation is run makes the solution of general problems he specific task and permanent work of a separate category of militants, only their opinion will, or will appear, to count to the others." [Social and Political Writings, vol. 2, pp. 204-5]

Castoridis' insight is important and strikes at the heart of the problem with vanguard parties. They simply reflect the capitalist society they claim to represent. As such, Lenin's argument against "primitive" democracy in the revolutionary and labour movements is significant. When he asserts that those who argue for direct democracy "completely" fail to "understand that in modern society this principle can have only a relative application," he is letting the cat out of the bag. [Lenin, Op. Cit., p. 163] After all, "modern society" is capitalism, a class society. In such a society, it is understandable that self-management should not be applied as it strikes at the heart of class society and how it operates. That Lenin can appeal to "modern society" without recognising its class basis says a lot. The question becomes, if such a "principle" is valid for a class system, is it applicable in a socialist society one and in the movement aiming to create such a society? Can we postpone the application of our ideas until "after the revolution" or can the revolution only occur when we apply our socialist principles in resisting class society?

In a nutshell, can the same set of organisational structures be used for the different ends? Can bourgeois structures be considered neutral or have they, in fact, evolved to ensure and protect minority rule? Ultimately, form and content are not independent of each other. Form and content adapt to fit each other and they cannot be divorced in reality. Thus, if the bourgeoisie embrace centralisation and representation they have done so because it fits perfectly with their specific form of class society. Neither centralisation and representation can undermine minority rule and, if they did, they would quickly be eliminated. This can be seen from the fate of radicals utilising representative democracy. If they are in a position to threaten bourgeois society, representative government is eliminated in favour of even stronger forms of centralisation (e.g. fascism or some other form of dictatorship).

Ironically enough, both Bukharin and Trotsky acknowledged that fascism had appropriated Bolshevik ideas. The former demonstrated at the 12th Congress of the Communist Party in 1923 how Italian fascism had "adopted and applied in practice the experiences of the Russian revolution" in terms of their "methods of combat." In fact, "[i]f one regards them from the formal point of view, that is, from the point of view of the technique of their political methods, then one discovers in them a complete application of Bolshevik tactics. . . in the sense of the rapid concentration of forced [and] energetic action of a tightly structured military organisation." [quoted by R. Pipes, Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime, 1919-1924, p. 253] The latter, in his uncompleted biography on Stalin noted that "Mussolini stole from the Bolsheviks . . . Hitler imitated the Bolsheviks and Mussolini." [Stalin, vol. 2, p. 243] The question arises as to whether the same tactics and structures serve both the needs of fascist reaction and socialist revolution? Now, if Bolshevism can serve as a model for fascism, it must contain structural and functional elements which are also common to fascism. After all, no one has detected a tendency of Hitler or Mussolini, in their crusade against democracy, the organised labour movement and the left, to imitate the organisational principles of anarchism or even of Menshevism.

Simply put, we can expect decisive structural differences to exist between capitalism and socialism if these societies are to have different aims. Where one is centralised to facilitate minority rule, the other must be decentralised and federal to facilitate mass participation. Where one is top-down, the other must be from the bottom-up. If a "socialism" exists which uses bourgeois organisational elements then we should not be surprised if it turns out it is socialist in name only. The same applies to revolutionary organisations.As the anarchists of Trotwatch explain:

"In reality, a Leninist Party simply reproduces and institutionalises existing capitalist power relations inside a supposedly 'revolutionary' organisation: between leaders and led; order givers and order takers; between specialists and the acquiescent and largely powerless party workers. And that elitist power relation is extended to include the relationship between the party and class." [Carry on Recruiting!, p. 41]

If you have an organisation which celebrates centralisation, having an institutionalised "leadership" separate from the mass of members becomes inevitable. Thus the division of labour which exists in the capitalist workplace or state is created. Forms cannot and do not exist independently of people and so imply specific forms of social relationships within them. These social relationships shape those subject to them. Can we expect the same forms of authority to have different impacts simply because the organisation has "socialist" or "revolutionary" in its name? Of course not. It is for this reason that anarchists argue that only in a "libertarian socialist movement the workers learn about non-dominating forms of association through creating and experimenting with forms such as libertarian labour organisations, which put into practice, through struggle against exploitation, principles of equality and free association." [John Clark, The Anarchist Moment, p. 79]

As noted above, a "democratic centralist" party requires that the "lower" party bodies (cells, branches, etc.) should be subordinate to the higher ones (e.g. the central committee). The higher bodies are elected at the (usually) annual conference. As it is impossible to mandate for future developments, the higher bodies therefore are given carte blanche to determine policy which is binding on the whole party (hence the "from top-down" principle). In between conferences, the job of full time (ideally elected, but not always) officers is to lead the party and carry out the policy decided by the central committee. At the next conference, the party membership can show its approval of the leadership by electing another. The problems with this scheme are numerous:

"The first problem is the issue of hierarchy. Why should 'higher' party organs interpret party policy any more accurately than 'lower' ones? The pat answer is that the 'higher' bodies compromise the most capable and experienced members and are (from their lofty heights) in a better position to take an overall view on a given issue. In fact what may well happen is that, for example, central committee members may be more isolated from the outside world than mere branch members. This might ordinarily be the case because given the fact than many central committee members are full timers and therefore detached from more real issues such as making a living . . ." [ACF, Marxism and its Failures, p. 8]

Equally, in order that the "higher" bodies can evaluate the situation they need effective information from the "lower" bodies. If the "lower" bodies are deemed incapable of formulating their own policies, how can they be wise enough, firstly, to select the right leaders and, secondly, determine the appropriate information to communicate to the "higher" bodies? As such, given the assumptions for centralised power in the party, can we not see that "democratic centralised" parties will be extremely inefficient in practice as information and knowledge is lost in the party machine and whatever decisions which are reached at the top are made in ignorance of the real situation on the ground? As we discuss in section H.3.8, this is usually the fate of such parties.

Within the party, as noted, the role of "professional revolutionaries" (or "full timers") is stressed. As Lenin argued, any worker which showed any talent must be removed from the workplace and become a party functionary. Is it surprising that the few Bolshevik cadres (i.e. professional revolutionaries) of working class origin soon lost real contact with the working class? Equally, what will their role within the party be? As we discuss in section 3 of the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", their role in the Bolshevik party was essentially conservative in nature and aimed to maintain their own position. As Bakunin argued (in a somewhat different context) Marxism always "comes down to the same dismal result: government of the vast majority of the people by a privileged minority. But this minority, the Marxists say, will consist of workers. Yes, perhaps of former workers, who, as soon as they become rulers or representatives of the people will cease to be workers and will begin to look upon the whole workers' world from the heights of the state. They will no longer represent the people but themselves and their own pretensions to govern the people." [Statism and Anarchy, p. 178] Replacing "state" with "party machine" and "the people" by "the party" we get a good summation of the way the Bolshevik cadres did look upon the party members (see section H.5.9). It also indicates the importance of organising today in a socialist manner rather than in a bourgeois one.

That the anarchist critique of "democratic centralism" is valid, we need only point to the comments and analysis of numerous members (and often soon to be ex-members) of such parties. Thus we get a continual stream of articles discussing why specific parties are, in fact, "bureaucratic centralist" rather than "democratic centralist" and what is required to reform them. That almost every "democratic centralist" party in existence is not that democratic does not hinder their attempts to create one which is. In a way, the truly "democratic centralist" party is the Holy Grail of modern Leninism. As we discuss in section H.5.10, their goal may be as mythical as that of the Arthurian legends.

H.5.7 Is the way revolutionaries organise important?

As we discussed in the last section, anarchists argue that the way revolutionaries organise today is important. However, according to some of Lenin's followers, the fact that the "revolutionary" party is organised in a non-revolutionary manner does not matter. In the words of Chris Harman, leading member of the British Socialist Workers' Party, "[e]xisting under capitalism, the revolutionary organisation [i.e. the vanguard party] will of necessity have a quite different structure to that of the workers' state that will arise in the process of overthrowing capitalism." [Party and Class, p. 34]

However, in practice this distinction is impossible to make. If the party is organised in specific ways then it is so because this is conceived to be "efficient," "practical" and so on. Hence we find Lenin arguing against "backwardness in organisation" and that the "point at issue is whether our ideological struggle is to have forms of a higher type to clothe it, forms of Party organisation binding on all." [contained in Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism, vol. 1, p. 23] Why would the "workers' state" be based on "backward" or "lower" kinds of organisational forms? If, as Lenin remarked, "the organisational principle of revolutionary Social-Democracy" was "to proceed from the top downward," why would the party, once in power, reject its "organisational principle" in favour of one it thinks is "opportunist," "primitive" and so on?

Therefore, as the vanguard the party represents the level to which the working class is supposed to reach then its organisational principles must, similarly, be those which the class must reach. As such, Harman's comments are incredulous. How we organise today is hardly irrelevant, particularly if the revolutionary organisation in question seeks (to use Lenin's words) to "take over full state power alone." [Selected Works, vol. 2, p. 352] These prejudices (and the political and organisational habits they generate) will influence the shaping of the "workers' state" by the party once it has taken power. This decisive influence of the party and its ideological as well as organisational assumptions can be seen when Trotsky argued in 1923 that "the party created the state apparatus and can rebuild it anew . . . from the party you get the state, but not the party from the state." [Leon Trotsky Speaks, p. 161] This is to be expected, after all the aim of the party is to take, hold and execute power. Given that the vanguard party is organised as it is to ensure effectiveness and efficiency, why should we assume that the ruling party will not seek to recreate these organisational principles once in power? As the Russian Revolution proves, this is the case:

"On 30 October, Sovnarkom [The Council of People's Commissars] unilaterally arrogated to itself legislative power simply by promulgating a decree to this effect. This was, effectively, a Bolshevik coup d'etat that made clear the government's (and party's) pre-eminence over the soviets and their executive organ. Increasingly, the Bolsheviks relied upon the appointment from above of commissars with plenipotentiary powers, and they split up and reconstituted fractious Soviets and intimidated political opponents." [Neil Harding, Leninism, p. 253]

As such, to claim how we organise under capitalism is not important to a revolutionary movement is simply not true. The way revolutionaries organise have an impact both on themselves and how they will view the revolution developing. An ideological prejudice for centralisation and "top-down" organisation will not disappear once the revolution starts. Rather, it will influence the way the party acts within it and, if it aims to seize power, how it will exercise that power once it has.

For these reasons anarchists stress the importance of building the new world in the shell of the old. All organisations exert pressures on their membership and create social relationships which shape them. As the members of these parties will be part of the revolutionary process, they will influence how that revolution will develop and any "transitional" institutions which are created. As the aim of such organisations is to facilitate the creation of socialism, the obvious implication is that the revolutionary organisation must, itself, reflect the society it is trying to create. Clearly, then, the idea that how we organise as revolutionaries today can be considered somehow independent of the revolutionary process and the nature of post-capitalist society and its institutions cannot be maintained (particularly is the aim of the "revolutionary" organisation is to seize power on behalf of the working class).

As we argue elsewhere (see section H.2.10 and J.3) anarchists argue for revolutionary groups based on self-management, federalism and decision making from below. In other words, we apply within our organisations the same principles as those which the working class has evolved in the course of its own struggles. Autonomy is combined with federalism, so ensuring co-ordination of decisions and activities is achieved from below upwards by means of mandated and recallable delegates. Effective co-operation is achieved as it is informed by and reflects the needs on the ground. Simply put, working class organisation and discipline -- as exemplified by the workers' council or strike committee -- represents a completely different thing from capitalist organisation and discipline, of which Leninists are constantly asking for more (albeit draped with the Red Flag and labelled "revolutionary"). And as we discuss in the next section, the Leninist model of top-down centralised parties is marked more by its failures than its successes, suggesting that not only is the vanguard model undesirable, it is also unnecessary.

H.5.8 Are vanguard parties effective?

In a word, no. Vanguard parties have rarely been proven to be effective organs for fermenting revolutionary change which is, let us not forget, their stated purpose. Indeed, rather than being in the vanguard of social struggle, the Leninist parties are often the last to recognise, let alone understand, the initial stirrings of important social movements and events. It is only once these movements have exploded in the streets that the self-proclaimed "vanguards" notice it and decide it requires their leadership.

Part of this process are constant attempts to install their political program onto movements that they do not understand, movements that have proven to be successful using different tactics and methods of organisation. Rather than learn from the experiences of others, social movements are seen as raw material, as a source of new party members, to be used in order to advance the party rather than the autonomy and combativeness of the working class. The latest example of this process is the current "anti-globalisation" or "anti-capitalist" movement which started without the help of these self-appointed vanguards, who have since spent a lot of time trying to catch up with the movement while criticising its proven organisational principles and tactics.

The reasons for such behaviour are not too difficult to find. They lie in organisational structure favoured by these parties and the mentality lying behind them. As anarchists have long argued, a centralised, top-down structure will simply be unresponsive to the needs of those in struggle. The inertia associated with the party hierarchy will ensure that it responds slowly to new developments and its centralised structure means that the leadership is isolated from what is happening on the ground and cannot respond appropriately. The underlying assumption of the vanguard party, namely that the party represents the interests of the working class, makes it unresponsive to new developments within the class struggle. As Lenin argued that spontaneous working class struggle tends to reformism, the leaders of a vanguard party automatically are suspicious of new developments which, by their very nature, rarely fit into previously agreed models of "proletarian" struggle. The example of Bolshevik hostility to the soviets spontaneously formed by workers during the 1905 Russian revolution is one of the best known examples of this tendency.

Murray Bookchin is worth quoting at length on this subject:

"The 'glorious party,' when there is one, almost invariably lags behind the events . . . In the beginning . . . it tends to have an inhibitory function, not a 'vanguard' role. Where it exercises influence, it tends to slow down the flow of events, not 'co- ordinate' the revolutionary forced. This is not accidental. The party is structured along hierarchical lines that reflect the very society it professes to oppose. Despite its theoretical pretensions, it is a bourgeois organism, a miniature state, with an apparatus and a cadre whose function it is to seize power, not dissolve power. Rooted in the pre-revolutionary period, it assimilates all the forms, techniques and mentality of bureaucracy. Its membership is schooled in obedience and in the preconceptions of a rigid dogma and is taught to revere the leadership. The party's leadership, in turn, is schooled in habits born of command, authority, manipulation and egomania. This situation is worsened when the party participates in parliamentary elections. In election campaigns, the vanguard party models itself completely on existing bourgeois forms and even acquires the paraphernalia of the electoral party. . .

"As the party expands, the distance between the leadership and the ranks inevitably increases. Its leaders not only become 'personages,' they lose contact with the living situation below. The local groups, which know their own immediate situation better than any remote leaders, are obliged to subordinate their insights to directives from above. The leadership, lacking any direct knowledge of local problems, responds sluggishly and prudently. Although it stakes out a claim to the 'larger view,' to greater 'theoretical competence,' the competence of the leadership tends to diminish as one ascends the hierarchy of command. The more one approaches the level where the real decisions are made, the more conservative is the nature of the decision-making process, the more bureaucratic and extraneous are the factors which come into play, the more considerations of prestige and retrenchment supplant creativity, imagination, and a disinterested dedication to revolutionary goals.

"The party becomes less efficient from a revolutionary point of view the more it seeks efficiency by means of hierarchy, cadres and centralisation. Although everyone marches in step, the orders are usually wrong, especially when events begin to move rapidly and take unexpected turns -- as they do in all revolutions. . .

"On the other hand, this kind of party is extremely vulnerable in periods of repression. The bourgeoisie has only to grab its leadership to destroy virtually the entire movement. With its leaders in prison or in hiding, the party becomes paralysed; the obedient membership had no one to obey and tends to flounder. Demoralisation sets in rapidly. The party decomposes not only because of the repressive atmosphere but also because of its poverty of inner resources.

"The foregoing account is not a series of hypothetical inferences, it is a composite sketch of all the mass Marxian parties of the past century -- the Social Democrats, the Communists and the Trotskyist party of Ceylon (the only mass party of its kind. To claim that these parties failed to take their Marxian principles seriously merely conceals another question: why did this failure happen in the first place? The fact is, these parties were co-opted into bourgeois society because they were structured along bourgeois lines. The germ of treachery existed in them from birth." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, pp. 194-8]

Thus, the evidence Bookchin summarises suggests that vanguard parties are less than efficient promoting revolutionary change. Sluggish, unresponsive, undemocratic, they simply cannot adjust to the dynamic nature of social struggle, never mind revolution. This is to be expected:

"For the state centralisation is the appropriate form of organisation, since it aims at the greatest possible uniformity in social life for the maintenance of political and social equilibrium. But for a movement whose very existence depends on prompt action at any favourable moment and on the independent thought and action of its supporters, centralism could but be a curse by weakening its power of decision and systematically repressing all immediate action. If, for example, as was the case in Germany, every local strike had first to be approved by the Central, which was often hundreds of miles away and was not usually in a position to pass a correct judgement on the local conditions, one cannot wonder that the inertia of the apparatus of organisation renders a quick attack quite impossible, and there thus arises a state of affairs where the energetic and intellectually alert groups no longer serve as patterns for the less active, but are condemned by these to inactivity, inevitably bringing the whole movement to stagnation. Organisation is, after all, only a means to an end. When it becomes an end in itself, it kills the spirit and the vital initiative of its members and sets up that domination by mediocrity which is the characteristic of all bureaucracies." [Rudolf Rocker, Anarcho-Syndicalism, p. 54]

As we discuss in section 3 of the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?" the example of the Bolshevik party during the Russian Revolution amply proves Rocker's point. Rather than being a highly centralised, disciplined vanguard party, the Bolshevik party was marked by extensive autonomy throughout its ranks. Party discipline was regularly ignored, including by Lenin in his attempts to get the central party bureaucracy to catch up with the spontaneous revolutionary actions and ideas of the Russian working class. As Bookchin summarises, the "Bolshevik leadership was ordinarily extremely conservative, a trait that Lenin had to fight throughout 1917 -- first in his efforts to reorient the Central Committee against the provisional government (the famous conflict over the 'April Theses'), later in driving the Central Committee toward insurrection in October. In both cases he threatened to resign from the Central Committee and bring his views to 'the lower ranks of the party.'" Once in power, however, "the Bolsheviks tended to centralise their party to the degree that they became isolated from the working class." [Op. Cit., pp. 198-9 and p. 199]

The "vanguard" model of organising is not only inefficient and ineffective from a revolutionary perspective, it generates bureaucratic and elitist tendencies which undermine any revolution unfortunate enough to be dominated by such a party. For these extremely practical and sensible reasons anarchists reject it wholeheartedly.

In summary, vanguard parties have been proven to be less than effective in a revolutionary sense. Their top-down centralised structure is simply not responsive enough to the needs of social struggle and so usually remain out of touch with such movements, spending most of their time trying to catch up with them. As we discuss in the next section, the only thing vanguard parties are effective at is to supplant the diversity produced and required by revolutionary movements with the drab conformity produced by centralisation and to replace popular power and freedom with party power and tyranny.

H.5.9 What are vanguard parties effective at?

As we discussed the last section, vanguard parties are not efficient as agents of revolutionary change. So, it may be asked, what are vanguard parties effective at? If they are harmful to revolutionary struggle, what are they good at? The answer to this is simple. No anarchist would deny that vanguard parties are extremely efficient and effective at certain things, most notably reproducing hierarchy and bourgeois values into so-called "revolutionary" organisations and movements. As Murray Bookchin argues, the party "is efficient in only one respect -- in moulding society in its own hierarchical image if the revolution is successful. It recreates bureaucracy, centralisation and the state. It fosters the very social conditions which justify this kind of society. Hence, instead of 'withering away,' the state controlled by the 'glorious party' preserves the very conditions which 'necessitate' the existence of a state -- and a party to 'guard' it." [Post-Scarcity Anarchism, pp. 197-8]

Thus, by being structured along hierarchical lines that reflect the very system that it professes to oppose, the vanguard party very "effectively" reproduces that system within both the current radical social movements and any revolutionary society that may be created. This means that once in power, it shapes society in its own image. Ironically, this tendency towards conservatism and bureaucracy was noted by Trotsky:

"As often happens, a sharp cleavage developed between the classes in motion and the interests of the party machines. Even the Bolshevik Party cadres, who enjoyed the benefit of exceptional revolutionary training, were definitely inclined to disregard the masses and to identify their own special interests and the interests of the machine on the very day after the monarchy was overthrown. What, then, could be expected of these cadres when they became an all-powerful state bureaucracy?" [Stalin, vol. 1, p. 298]

In such circumstances, it is unsurprising that urging party power and identifying it with working class power would have less than revolutionary results. Discussing the Bolsheviks in 1905 Trotsky points out this tendency existed from the start:

"The habits peculiar to a political machine were already forming in the underground. The young revolutionary bureaucrat was already emerging as a type. The conditions of conspiracy, true enough, offered rather merge scope for such formalities of democracy as electiveness, accountability and control. Yet, undoubtedly the committeemen narrowed these limitations considerably more than necessity demanded and were far more intransigent and severe with the revolutionary workingmen than with themselves, preferring to domineer even on occasions that called for lending an attentive eat to the voice of the masses." [Op. Cit., p. 101]

He quotes Krupskaya on these party bureaucrats, the "committeemen." Krupskaya argues that "as a rule" they "did not recognise any party democracy" and "did not want any innovations. The 'committeeman' did not desire, and did not know how to, adapt himself to rapidly changing conditions." [quoted by Trotsky, Op. Cit., p. 101] This conservatism played havoc in the party during 1917, incidentally. It would be no exaggeration to argue that the Russian revolution occurred in spite of, rather than because of, Bolshevik organisational principles (see next section). These principles, however, came into their own once the party had seized power, ensuring the consolidation of bureaucratic rule by an elite.

That a vanguard party helps to produces a bureaucratic regime once in power should not come as a surprise. If the party, to use Trotsky's expression, exhibits a "caste tendency of the committeemen" can we be surprised if once in power it reproduces such a tendency in the state it is now the master of? [Op. Cit., p. 102] And this "tendency" can be seen today in the multitude of Trotskyist sects that exist.

H.5.10 Why does "democratic centralism" produce "bureaucratic centralism"?

In spite of the almost ritualistic assertions that vanguard parties are "the most democratic the world has seen," an army of ex-members, expelled dissidents and disgruntled members testify that they do not live up to the hype. They argue that most, if not all, "vanguard" parties are not "democratic centralist" but are, in fact, "bureaucratic centralist." Within the party, in other words, a bureaucratic clique controls it from the top-down with little democratic control, never mind participation.

For anarchists, this is hardly surprising. The reasons why this continually happens are rooted in the nature of "democratic centralism" itself.

Firstly, the assumption of "democratic centralism" is that the membership elect a leadership and give them the power to decide policy between conferences and congresses. This has a subtle impact on the membership, as it is assumed that the leadership has a special insight into social problems above and beyond that of anyone else, otherwise they would not have been elected to such an important position. Thus many in the membership come to believe that disagreements with the leadership's analysis, even before they had been clearly articulated, are liable to be wrong. Doubt dares not speak its name. Unquestioning belief in the party leadership has been an all to common recurring theme in many accounts of vanguard parties.

Conformity within such parties is also reinforced by the intense activism expected by members, particularly leading activists and full-time members. Paradoxically, the more deeply people participate in activism, the harder it becomes to reflect on what they are doing. The unrelenting pace often induces exhaustion and depression, while making it harder to "think your way out" -- too many commitments have been made and too little time is left over from party activity for reflection. Moreover, high levels of activism prevent many, particularly the most committed, from having a personal life outside their role as party members. This high-speed political existence assure that rival social networks atrophy through neglect, so ensuring that the party line is the only one which members get exposed to. Members tend to leave, typically, because of exhaustion, crisis, even despair rather than as the result of rational reflection and conscious decision.

Secondly, given that vanguard parties are based on the belief that they are the guardians of "scientific socialism," this means that there is a tendency to squeeze all of social life into the confines of the party's ideology. Moreover, as the party's ideology is a "science" it is expected to explain everything (hence the tendency of Leninists to expound on every subject imaginable, regardless of whether the author knows enough about the subject to discuss it in an informed way). The view that the party's ideology explains everything eliminates the need for fresh or independent thought, precludes the possibility of critically appraising past practice or acknowledging mistakes, and removes the need to seek meaningful intellectual input outside the party's own ideological fortress. As Victor Serge, anarchist turned Bolshevik, admitted in his memoirs, "Bolshevik thinking is grounded in the possession of the truth. The Party is the repository of truth, and any form of thinking which differs from it is a dangerous or reactionary error. Here lies its spiritual source of it intolerance. The absolute conviction of its lofty mission assures it of a moral energy quite astonishing in its intensity -- and, at the same time, a clerical mentality which is quick to becoming Inquisitorial." [Memoirs of a Revolutionary, p. 134]

In fact, the intense levels of activism means that members are bombarded with party propaganda, are in endless party meetings, or spend time reading party literature and so, by virtue of the fact that there is not enough time to read anything, members end up reading nothing but party publications. Most points of contact with the external world are eliminated or drastically curtailed. Indeed, such alternative sources of information and such thinking is regularly dismissed as being contaminated by bourgeois influences. This often goes so far as to label those who question any aspect of the party's analysis revisionists or deviationists, bending to the "pressures of capitalism," and are usually driven from the ranks as heretics. All this is almost always combined with contempt for all other organisations on the Left (indeed, the closer they are to the party's own ideological position the more likely they are to be the targets of abuse).

Thirdly, the practice of "democratic centralism" also aids this process towards conformity. Based on the idea that the party must be a highly disciplined fighting force, the party is endowed with a powerful central committee and a rule that all members must publicly defend the agreed-upon positions of the party and the decisions of the central committee, whatever opinions they might hold to the contrary in private. Between conferences, the party's leading bodies usually have extensive authority to govern the party's affairs, including updating party doctrine and deciding the party's response to current political events.

As unity is the key, there is a tendency to view any opposition as a potential threat. It is not at all clear when "full freedom to criticise" policy internally can be said to disturb the unity of a defined action. The norms of democratic centralism confer all power between conferences onto a central committee, allowing it to become the arbiter of when a dissident viewpoint is in danger of weakening unity. The evidence from numerous vanguard parties suggest that their leaderships usually view any dissent as precisely such a disruption and demand that dissidents cease their action or face expulsion from the party.

It should also be borne in mind that Leninist parties also view themselves as vitally important to the success of any future revolution. This cannot help but reinforce the tendency to view dissent as something which automatically imperils the future of the planet and so something which must be combated at all costs. As Lenin stressed an a polemic directed to the international communist movement in 1920, "[w]hoever brings about even the slightest weakening of the iron discipline of the party of the proletariat (especially during its dictatorship) is actually aiding the bourgeoisie against the proletariat." [Collected Works, vol. 31, p. 45] As can be seen, Lenin stresses the importance of "iron discipline" at all times, not only during the revolution when "the party" is applying "its dictatorship" (see section H.3.8 for more on this aspect of Leninism). This provides a justification of whatever measures are required to restore the illusion of unanimity, including the trampling underfoot of whatever rights the membership may have on paper and the imposition of any decisions the leadership considers as essential between conferences.

Fourthly, and more subtly, it is well known that when people take a public position in defence of a proposition, there is then a strong tendency for their private attitudes to shift so that they harmonise with their public behaviour. It is difficult to say one thing in public and hold to a set of private beliefs at variance with what is publicly expressed. In short, if people tell others that they support X (for whatever reason), they will slowly begin to change their own opinions and, indeed, internally come to support X. The more public such declarations have been, the more likely it is that such a shift will take place. This has been confirmed by empirical research (see R. Cialdini, Influence: Science and Practice).

This suggests that if, in the name of democratic centralism, party members publicly uphold the party line, it becomes increasingly difficult to hold a private belief at variance with publicly expressed opinions. The evidence suggests that it is not possible to have a group of people presenting a conformist image to society at large while maintaining an inner party regime characterised by frank and full discussion. Conformity in public tends to equal conformity in private. So given what is now known of social influence, "democratic centralism" is almost certainly destined to prevent genuine internal discussion. This is sadly all too often confirmed in the internal regimes of vanguard parties, where debate is often narrowly focused on a few minor issues of emphasis rather than fundamental issues of policy and theory.

It has already been noted (in section H.5.5) that the organisational norms of democratic centralism imply a concentration of power at the top. There is abundant evidence that such a concentration has been a vital feature of every vanguard party and that such a concentration limits party democracy. An authoritarian inner party regime is maintained, which ensures that decision making is concentrated in elite hands. This regime gradually dismantles or ignores all formal controls on its activities. Members are excluded from participation in determining policy, calling leaders to account, or expressing dissent. This is usually combined with persistent assurances about the essentially democratic nature of the organisation, and the existence of exemplary democratic controls -- on paper. Correlated with this inner authoritarianism is a growing tendency toward the abuse of power by the leaders, who act in arbitrary ways, accrue personal power and so on (as noted by Trotsky with regards to the Bolshevik party machine, as mentioned above). Indeed, it is often the case that activities that would provoke outrage if engaged in by rank-and-file members are tolerated when they apply to leaders. As one group of Scottish libertarians notes:

"Further, in so far as our Bolshevik friends reject and defy capitalist and orthodox labourist conceptions, they also are as much 'individualistic' as the anarchist. Is it not boasted, for example, that on many occasions Marx, Lenin and Trotsky were prepared to be in a minority of one -- if they thought they were more correct than all others on the question at issue? In this, like Galileo, they were quite in order. Where they and their followers, obsessed by the importance of their own judgement go wrong, is in their tendency to refuse this inalienable right to other protagonists and fighters for the working class." [APCF, "Our Reply," Class War on the Home Front, p. 70]

As in any hierarchical structure, the tendency is for those in power is to encourage and promote those who agree with them. This means that members usually find their influence and position in the party dependent on their willingness to conform to the hierarchy and its leadership. Dissenters will rarely find their contribution valued and advancement is limited, which produces a strong tendency not to make waves. As Miasnikov, a working class Bolshevik dissident, argued in 1921, "the regime within the party" meant that "if someone dares to have the courage of his convictions," they are called either a self-seeker or, worse, a counter-revolutionary, a Menshevik or an SR. Moreover, within the party, favouritism and corruption were rife. In Miasnikov's eyes a new type of Communist was emerging, the toadying careerist who "knows how to please his superiors." At the last party congress Lenin attended, Miasnikov was expelled. Only one delegate, V. V. Kosior, "argued that Lenin had taken the wrong approach to the question of dissent. If someone, said Kosior, had the courage to point out deficiencies in party work, he was marked down as an oppositionist, relieved of authority, placed under surveillance, and -- a reference to Miasnikov -- even expelled from the party." [Paul Avrich, Bolshevik Opposition to Lenin] Serge notes about the same period that Lenin "proclaimed a purge of the Party, aimed at those revolutionaries who had come in from other parties -- i.e. those who were not saturated with the Bolshevik mentality. This meant the establishment within the Party of a dictatorship of the old Bolsheviks, and the direction of disciplinary measures, not against the unprincipled careerists and conformist late-comers, but against those sections with a critical outlook." [Op. Cit., p. 135]

This, of course, also applies to the party congress, on paper the sovereign body of the organisation. All too often, resolutions at party conferences will either come from the leadership or be completely supportive of its position. If branches or members submit resolutions which are critical of the leadership, enormous pressure is exerted to ensure that they are withdrawn. Moreover, often delegates to the congress are not mandated by their branches, so ensuring that rank and file opinions are not raised, never mind discussed. Other, more drastic measures have been known to occur. Victor Serge saw what he termed the "Party steamroller" at work in early 1921 and saw "the voting rigged for Lenin's and Zinoviev's 'majority'" in one of the districts of Petrograd. [Op. Cit., p.123]

All to often, such parties have "elected" bodies which have, in practice, usurped the normal democratic rights of members and become increasingly removed from formal controls. All practical accountability of the leaders to the membership for their actions is eliminated. Usually this authoritarian structure is combined with militaristic sounding rhetoric and the argument that the "revolutionary" movement needs to be organised in a more centralised way than the current class system, with references to the state's forces of repression (notably the army). As Murray Bookchin argued, the Leninist "has always had a grudging admiration and respect for that most inhuman of all hierarchical institutions, the military." [Toward an Ecological Society, p. 254f]

The modern day effectiveness of the vanguard party can be seen by the strange fact that many Leninists fail to join any of the existing parties due to their bureaucratic internal organisation and that many members are expelled (or leave in disgust) due to their attempts to make them more democratic. If vanguard parties are such positive organisations to be a member of, why do they have such big problems with member retention? Why are there so many vocal ex-members? Why are so many Leninists ex-members of vanguard parties, desperately trying to find an actual party which matches their own vision of democratic centralism rather than the bureaucratic centralism which seems the norm?

Our account of the workings of vanguard parties explains, in part, why many anarchists and other libertarians voice concern about them and their underlying ideology. We do so because their practices are disruptive and alienate new activists, hindering the very goal (socialism/revolution) they claim to be aiming for. As anyone familiar with the numerous groupings and parties in the Leninist left will attest, the anarchist critique of vanguardism seems to be confirmed in reality while the Leninist defence seems sadly lacking (unless, of course, the person is a member of such a party and then their organisation is the exception to the rule!).

H.5.11 Can you provide an example of the negative nature of vanguard parties?

Yes. Our theoretical critique of vanguardism we have presented in the last few sections is more than proved by the empirical evidence of such parties in operation today. Rarely do "vanguard" parties reach in practice the high hopes their supporters like to claim for them. Such parties are usually small, prone to splitting as well as leadership cults, and usually play a negative role in social struggle. A long line of ex-members complain that such parties are elitist, hierarchical and bureaucratic.

Obviously we cannot hope to discuss all such parties. As such, we will take just one example, namely the arguments of one group of dissidents of the biggest British Leninist party, the Socialist Workers Party. It is worth quoting their account of the internal workings of the SWP at length:

"The SWP is not democratic centralist but bureaucratic centralist. The leadership's control of the party is unchecked by the members. New perspectives are initiated exclusively by the central committee (CC), who then implement their perspective against all party opposition, implicit or explicit, legitimate or otherwise.

"Once a new perspective is declared, a new cadre is selected from the top down. The CC select the organisers, who select the district and branch committees - any elections that take place are carried out on the basis of 'slates' so that it is virtually impossible for members to vote against the slate proposed by the leadership. Any members who have doubts or disagreements are written off as 'burnt out' and, depending on their reaction to this, may be marginalised within the party and even expelled.

"These methods have been disastrous for the SWP in a number of ways: Each new perspective requires a new cadre (below the level of the CC), so the existing cadre are actively marginalised in the party. In this way, the SWP has failed to build a stable and experienced cadre capable of acting independently of the leadership. Successive layers of cadres have been driven into passivity, and even out of the revolutionary movement altogether. The result is the loss of hundreds of potential cadres. Instead of appraising the real, uneven development of individual cadres, the history of the party is written in terms of a star system (comrades currently favoured by the party) and a demonology (the 'renegades' who are brushed aside with each turn of the party). As a result of this systematic dissolution of the cadre, the CC grows ever more remote from the membership and increasingly bureaucratic in its methods. In recent years the national committee has been abolished (it obediently voted for its own dissolution, on the recommendation of the CC), to be replaced by party councils made up of those comrades active at any one time (i.e. those who already agree with current perspectives); district committees are appointed rather than elected; the CC monopolise all information concerning the party, so that it is impossible for members to know much about what happens in the party outside their own branch; the CC give a distorted account of events rather than admit their mistakes . . . history is rewritten to reinforce the prestige of the CC . . . The outcome is a party whose conferences have no democratic function, but serve only to orientate party activists to carry out perspectives drawn up before the delegates even set out from their branches. At every level of the party, strategy and tactics are presented from the top down, as pre-digested instructions for action. At every level, the comrades 'below' are seen only as a passive mass to be shifted into action, rather than as a source of new initiatives."

"The only exception is when a branch thinks up a new tactic to carry out the CC's perspective. In this case, the CC may take up this tactic and apply it across the party. In no way do rank and file members play an active role in determining the strategy and theory of the party -- except in the negative sense that if they refuse to implement a perspective eventually even the CC notice, and will modify the line to suit. A political culture has been created in which the leadership outside of the CC consists almost solely of comrades loyal to the CC, willing to follow every turn of the perspective without criticism . . . Increasingly, the bureaucratic methods used by the CC to enforce their control over the political direction of the party have been extended to other areas of party life. In debates over questions of philosophy, culture and even anthropology an informal party 'line' emerged (i.e. concerning matters in which there can be no question of the party taking a 'line'). Often behind these positions lay nothing more substantial than the opinions of this or that CC member, but adherence to the line quickly became a badge of party loyalty, disagreement became a stigma, and the effect was to close down the democracy of the party yet further by placing even questions of theory beyond debate. Many militants, especially working class militants with some experience of trade union democracy, etc., are often repelled by the undemocratic norms in the party and refuse to join, or keep their distance despite accepting our formal politics." [ISG, Discussion Document of Ex-SWP Comrades]

They argue that a "democratic" party would involve the "[r]egular election of all party full-timers, branch and district leadership, conference delegates, etc. with the right of recall," which means that in the SWP appointment of full-timers, leaders and so on is the norm. They argue for the "right of branches to propose motions to the party conference" and for the "right for members to communicate horizontally in the party, to produce and distribute their own documents." They stress the need for "an independent Control Commission to review all disciplinary cases (independent of the leadership bodies that exercise discipline), and the right of any disciplined comrades to appeal directly to party conference." They argue that in a democratic party "no section of the party would have a monopoly of information" which indicates that the SWP's leadership is essentially secretive, withholding information from the party membership. [Ibid.]

Even more significantly, given our discussion on the influence of the party structure on post-revolutionary society in section H.5.7, they argue that "[w]orst of all, the SWP are training a layer of revolutionaries to believe that the organisational norms of the SWP are a shining example of proletarian democracy, applicable to a future socialist society. Not surprisingly, many people are instinctively repelled by this idea." [Ibid.]

Some of these critics of Leninism do not give up hope and still look for a truly democratic centralist party rather than the bureaucratic centralist ones which seem so common. For example, our group of ex-SWP dissidents argue that "[a]nybody who has spent time involved in 'Leninist' organisations will have come across workers who agree with Marxist politics but refuse to join the party because they believe it to be undemocratic and authoritarian. Many draw the conclusion that Leninism itself is at fault, as every organisation that proclaims itself Leninist appears to follow the same pattern." [Lenin vs. the SWP: Bureaucratic Centralism Or Democratic Centralism?] This is a common refrain with Leninists -- when reality says one thing and the theory another, it must be reality that is at fault. Yes, every Leninist organisation may be bureaucratic and authoritarian but it is not the theory's fault that those who apply it are not capable of actually doing so successfully. Such an application of scientific principles by the followers of "scientific socialism" is worthy of note -- obviously the usual scientific method of generalising from facts to produce a theory is inapplicable when evaluating "scientific socialism" itself. However, Rather than ponder the possibility that "democratic centralism" does not actually work and automatically generates the "bureaucratic centralism," they point to the example of the Russian revolution and the original Bolshevik party as proof of the validity of their hopes.

Indeed, it would be no exaggeration to argue that the only reason people take the vanguard party organisational structure seriously is the apparent success of the Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution. However, as noted above, even the Bolshevik party was subject to bureaucratic tendencies and as we discuss in the section 3 of the appendix on "What happened during the Russian Revolution?", the experience of the 1917 Russian Revolutions disprove the effectiveness of "vanguard" style parties. The Bolshevik party of 1917 was a totally different form of organisation than the ideal "democratic centralist" type argued for by Lenin in 1902 and 1920. As a model of revolutionary organisation, the "vanguardist" one has been proven false rather than confirmed by the experience of the Russian revolution. Insofar as the Bolshevik party was effective, it operated in a non-vanguardist way and insofar as it did operate in such a manner, it held back the struggle.