The Vanguard of the Proletariat

The Vanguard of the Proletariat. The party may have hoped that its easy success on November 7 would gain the overwhelming support of the masses, but if so that hope was soon dispelled by its poor showing in the elections for the Constituent Assembly. Accordingly, though the party had supported the calling of that body, it was promptly dispersed, an act which, as Trotsky said long after, struck formal democracy the beneficent blow from which it will never again recover.


The true democracy of the soviets, then, must replace the rotten bourgeois democracy of a parliament. But the party was still faced with a dilemma it might admit other parties, some of which were socialist and some even Marxian, to a coalition with the hope of retaining the leadership but also at the risk of sometime having to relinquish power to an opposition, or it might govern alone as a minority at the risk of civil war.

That the decision should even have been in question shows how hazy ideas of procedures then were. The choice in fact occasioned a violent controversy from which the policy of Trotsky and Lenin, to make no compromises and to form a homogeneous Bolshevik government, emerged as the policy of the party.

The middle-class parties wore outlawed as counter-revolutionary, and a little later the socialist parties including the Marxian Mensheviks, were first silenced and then banned. By 1921 every form of opposition had been forced underground. One implication of the vanguard of the proletariat was settled the party was to be the sole tolerated spokesman of the proletariat, in whose name it governed, and of semi-proletarian peasants.

It had, indeed, an overwhelming majority, for its majority included everyone not prepared to attempt a counter-revolution. As far as government was concerned, there was to be no center of power except the party, and the party could consult the preferences of its subjects when and how it chose, or not at all.

Encouraged by the prestige of the successful revolution among radical groups everywhere, Lenin proceeded in 1919 to draw these together in the Third or Communist International, and a year tater, in the summer of 1920, he formulated with a good deal of care some definitions of key terms in the Bolshevik vocabulary and the conditions on which national parties might be admitted to the new organization.

The internal history of the International paralleled that of the Russian party, which was always its leader during Lenin’s lifetime ts meetings permitted some real exchange of opinion; under Stalin merely a rubber stamp. The plan of the new organization, however, was far different from the Socialist International which it planned to supersede.

Its member parties were required by its conditions for membership to copy both the organization and the tactics of the Russian party, which thus became a model for communist parties everywhere, and they were all to be strictly bound by decisions of the International, its ideal, Zinoviev said, was a single, world-wide communist party, centrally controlled, with national branches. One of its Theses, adopted in July, 1920, stated the following definition of a communist party. The definition was evidently based on ideas that Lenin had expressed in 1902 but at was also far more explicit than anything he had then said.

The communist party is a part of the working class, the most advanced, most class-conscious, and hence most revolutionary part. By a process of natural selection the communist party is formed of the best, most class-conscious, most devoted and far-sighted workers. The communist party has no interests other than the interests of the working class as a whole. The communist party is differentiated from the working class as a whole by the fact that it has a clear view of the entire historical path of the-working class in its totality and is concerned, at every bend in this read, to defend the interests not of separate groups or occupations, but of the working class in its totality. The communist party is the organizational and political lever which the most advanced section of the working class uses to direct the entire mass of the proletariat and the semi-proletariat along the right road.

In a pamphlet which preceded the meeting of the International Lenin gave explicit instructions to would-be imitators of the Russian party about the methods on which its success depended and its relationship both to a communist government and to workers organizations like labor unions. It was, indeed, an explication of the meaning in practice of the vanguard of the proletariat, and it gave on the whole a very different color to party rule from that suggested by State and Revolution. It looked, Lenin said, like real oligarchy, which in fact it was.

Not a single important political or organizational question is decided by any state institution in our republic without guiding instructions of the Central Committee of the Party. In its work the party relies directly on the trade unions, which at present… have over four million members, and which, formally, are non-party. Actually, all the controlling bodies of the over whelming majority of the unions, and primarily, of course the all-Russian general trade union center or bureau consists of communists and carry out all the instructions of the party. Thus, on the whole, we have a formally non-communist, flexible, relatively wide, and very powerful proletarian apparatus, by means of which the Party is closely linked up with the class and with the masses, and by means of which, under the leadership of the Party, the dictatorship of the class is effected. Without close contact with the trade unions, without their hearty support and self sacrificing work, not only in economic, but also in military construction, it would, of course, have been impossible for us to govern the country and to maintain the dictatorship for two months, let alone two years of course, in practice, this close contact calls for very complicated and diversified work in the form of propaganda, agitation, timely and frequent conferences not only with the leading, but also with influential trade union workers generally.

It is necessary, of course, Lenin adds, to resort to all sorts of stratagems, maneuvers and illegal methods, to evasions and subterfuges to get into and to stay in labor unions. The vanguard of the proletariat, then, means that the party, by infiltration and subversion, will occupy positions of influence or control in government and in all mass organizations until it can replace these methods by outright force.

Lenin’s frank declaration of methods aroused a good deal of dissent among delegates to the Congress, especially from British delegates, even though these came from groups with avowed revolutionary intentions. The gist of the objections was that in effect Lenin was substituting the party for the working class. His reply was a characteristic piece of semantic juggling. There really is nothing to argue about. Everyone agrees that socialism is rule by the workers; the workers must be led by-a party; the party must be a minority; the minority must be the best organized part of the working class; and this is what the communist party is Seven years later, at the end of the devious process of manipulation and intrigue that made him undisputed master of the party, Stalin, with an oblique reference to this debate and with a quotation from Left wing Communism, drew the indicated conclusion.

The highest expression of the leading role of the party, here, in the Soviet Union, in the land of the dictatorship of the proletariat, for example, Is the fact that not a single important political or organizational question is decided by our soviet and other mass organizations without guiding directions from the party in this sense it could be said that the dictatorship of the proletariat is in essence the dictatorship of its vanguard, the  dictatorship of its party, as the main guiding force of the proletariat.

What emerged from the vanguard of the proletariat, then, was a simple but explicit philosophy of a communist state. It is government for the people (by its own profession) but definitely not by the people, who indeed have no control over it. It is government by a self-chosen and self-perpetuating elite that comprises the best qualified part of the people (again by its own profession). And it is rule without constitutional limitations, or indeed without any limitation of method except those imposed by success and by its own professed good intentions. The elite is in possession of a very superior science of government again by its own profession, which gives it the clear view claimed in the definition of the party and later described in the party’s official history.

The power of the Marxist-Leninist theory lies in the fact that it enables the Party to find the right orientation in any situation, to understand the inner connection of current events, to foresee their course and to perceive not only how and in what direction they are developing in the present, but how and in what direction they are bound to develop in the future.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the elite can decide not only questions of policy but also the correctness of opinions and the esthetic value of art. Its pretensions have rarely been equaled by an institution that expressly disclaimed the inspiration of divinity.

The description of the party formulated by the Second Congress of the Communist International was adopted in substance into its charter of 1934 and its amended charter of 1939. It was retained also in the Constitution of 1936, which first gave it legal status. According to the last the party represents the leading nucleus of all organizations of the working people.

This Constitution included also what sounded like the guarantees of civil liberties that occur in liberal constitutions in Western Europe, but this was only because its adoption was an incident in the then current policy of a popular front.

In introducing the Constitution Stalin was careful to say that it in no way affected the position of the party. He explained also the rationalization which justified one-party government in the Soviet Union the class struggle has been abolished.

I must admit that the draft of the new Constitution does preserve the regime of the dictatorship of the working class, just as it also preserves unchanged the present leading position of the Communist Party of the U.S.S.R….

A party is part of a class, its most advanced part. Several parties, and, consequently, freedom for parties, can exist only in a society in which there are antagonistic classes whose inter, are mutually hostile and irreconcilable. . . .

In the U.S.S.R. there are only two classes, workers and peasant, whose interests-far from being mutually hostile-are, on the contrary, friendly. Hence there is no ground in the US.S.R. far the existence of several parties, and, consequently, for freedom for these parties.

Lenin’s party thus got its final and, as far as law can make it so, its permanent definition.

Read More Related Topics:

The Philosophy of Communism
Russian Marxism
Lenin’s Theory of The Party
Lenin on Dialectical Materialism
The Bourgeois and the Proletarian Revolutions
Imperialist Capitalism
Approach to March Revolution
Revolution in Prospect
The Problem of Success in Bolshevik Revolution
Lenin Doctrine of Democratic Centralism
Socialism in One Country
Communism in China
The Temper of Communism

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