Monday, December 28, 2009


I'm reading discussions about the idea of a communist "vanguard" for the working class, and trying to sort out my feelings about the whole thing.

The bare bones idea seems to be that you can't wait for a group of people who've been marginalized, denied educational opportunities, and denied opportunity for political expression to figure out how to start a revolution and then do it effectively (since all that crap piled on them seems aimed at preventing precisely that). The solution some people have come up with (if I'm understanding what I'm reading correctly) is that what's needed is for a "vanguard" of intellectual working-class-allies to agitate the working class, get them all riled up and carve out some room for them to express themselves and start exercising the power they were always told they didn't have or deserve.

This sounds fairly reasonable, especially because it's speaking to the part of me that gets very frustrated with low-income self-identified conservatives who repeatedly vote against their own self-interest (oddly, in the name of protecting the sanctity of self-interest itself). However, I feel like I have to check that part of me. That part of me also says that these low-income self-destructive conservatives are obviously too stupid to know what's good for them, and clearly a bunch of educated elites like me (since, though it seems odd to me, an education is kind of an "elite" quality, for good or ill) to come in and take their whole lives and all their problems out of their hands so that someone who knows what to do can make it all better.

How fucking disempowering is that logic? That's why I resist it. If I look at people who disagree with me as though they must be saved from their own decisions, I stop being the person who's trying to help them realize their own power.

Seems to me that's the power and the danger of the "vanguard" notion as well. Obviously not all corners of middle- or working- or lower-class society are going to be class-conscious enough (or have the energy to spare, or have safe enough conditions, though those are obstacles I don't see mentioned much in leftist discussions) to go out and kick patriarchal classist capitalist ass. Obviously those people who have a better idea should lend those skills to something useful instead of using them to further their own power.

But they can use this to further their own power. We've seen this with TEA Parties organized by multi-billion dollar insurance companies that are agitating less-conscious working-class people to give their power over from working for their own welfare to working for the welfare of their oh-so-helpful-and-sympathetic new corporate masters. That's the really nasty thing about astroturf organizing like this; it uses people's suffering and gets them all riled up to diffuse that bitterness and hope in a direction that accomplishes nothing and is therefore "safe" for the companies holding their leashes.

How to organize without doing that? How is it possible to get people interested in a cause without taking their energy and directing it as a commodity belonging to whomever can take it?

I think it comes down to something I learned in a women's empowerment circle (and yes, I attended one for a little while, and still would be if my work schedule allowed it). There is a huge difference between offering support to someone while she works through her problems, and taking her problems out of her hands to solve them for her. One of these affirms her right and ability to control her own life, and one undermines it even as it attempts to assist.

It seems to me there's a place for a "vanguard," but the term makes it sound cohesive enough to worry me. The only reason I'm even conceding the term is that--should the seemingly-impossible occur and a revolution come or... or something--these people will have power. They will. Since I am firmly against power being wielded in secret (since power that is openly named can be more easily held accountable), naming this kinda-sorta-group of people is okay with me right now.

I'm just trying to sort out my feelings on the whole thing, and trying to figure out just what it is that people are advocating when they talk about a "vanguard." I guess it might just be like any "ally" out there. White allies to POC are good, but shouldn't use their advantages to take over anti-racist work. Same with hetero and cis allies to LGBT people, men who support feminism, etc.

Maybe this is a case of an archaic word being jammed into a discussion which has moved beyond it. I'm still not sure what I think; I'm just rambling here and hoping it goes somewhere useful.

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