The Need for Vanguard Leadership

November 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


Question: But what you're saying goes against this whole view— I'm thinking about the kinds of movements that you pointed to, like Occupy—that highly organized leadership suffocates people.

Raymond Lotta: Yes, that's out there, big time, and it's profoundly wrong. Lenin developed the scientific understanding of the need for a vanguard party based on two critical insights. One, the masses of people cannot spontaneously develop revolutionary consciousness and scientific understanding of how society is structured and functions and the ways, the only ways, it can be radically transformed...from their own daily experience and struggle. Look at Egypt. People have been truly courageous in standing up, but you have all these illusions about the Egyptian military. You need leadership to bring this understanding to the masses of people. Making revolution requires science. Revolution requires passion, heart, courage, and creative energy. But that won't change the world in and of itself...without a scientific grasp of what it takes to make revolution and emancipate humanity.

Question: And the other point?

RL: The need for centralized leadership. To actually enable the masses to break through the obstacles and what the enemy is going to throw at you, not least its military strength. And to be able to navigate through all the twists and turns, including the maneuvering and deceptions of the ruling class in a revolutionary crisis, and to lead people to actually overthrow the old order and to go on to revolutionize society. You need a strategic approach and the strategic ability to marshal all the creativity and resolve of the masses.

When people do break free of "normal routine" and lift their heads, where is this all going to go? The question of leadership is decisive. And, look, there is no such thing as "leaderless-ness." Some program and some force, representing different class interests, is going to be leading, no matter how much people might want to shun leadership. And let's be honest: "leaderless-ness" is actually a program that is being led—and it doesn't lead anywhere radically transformative.

You need centralized leadership. How are you going to coordinate an uprising? How are you going to coordinate the rebuilding of society following the destruction of revolutionary war? How are you going to coordinate the functioning of a new economy? How are you going to coordinate support for world revolution? You need centralized leadership.

Now Lenin wasn't arguing, "Well, we'll just substitute ourselves for the masses." No, the whole point is that the more that leadership plays its vanguard role, the greater is the conscious activism of the masses. The masses make history, but they cannot make history in their highest interests without leadership. Having that leadership is why the Russian revolution took place and changed the whole course of world history.

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