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From Negative Vanguard to Positive Vanguard

This article is an excerpt from "Unite All Who Can Be United," which was a series excerpted from "Strategic Questions," a tape-recorded talk by Bob Avakian.

It is crucial to understand—and to continue to deepen our understanding of—how overall the changes in technology, in the economy and the "social-class configuration" are creating more favorable objective conditions, strategically, for our work and for the prospects of proletarian revolution right within the "belly of the beast" as well as internationally.

In the series of "Communications" that were published in the RW a couple of years ago, one of the main articles was on the question of how to look at the enemy's strength and how to deal with it. This "Communication"1 basically identified two main strengths that the ruling class in the U.S. has. One, its military power—what we refer to, in shorthand, as "all that." And the other strength is "the great middle class of America," which acts as a "stabilizing" force for the system and a conservatizing force. It was said in that "Communication" that this "great middle class" sort of sits on the head of the masses in a certain sense, while it was also stressed that we shouldn't view this so-called "great middle class" as monolithic—as one uniform undifferentiated block—it consists of many different strata, and we have to learn how to work among and apply our strategy among these various strata. But one of the things that the current economic-social transformations going on are bringing about, which is strategically more favorable, is that a lot of the basis for this great middle class to act as this kind of weight on the masses and buffer for the bourgeoisie IS being undermined.

Even different spokespeople and analysts for the bourgeoisie are commenting on this. There was that comment that was in the RW, from a Boston banker, a while back—that "the changes in the world economy mean that we can no longer afford to give a bourgeois lifestyle to our white and blue-collar workers." Or, there is Labor Secretary Robert Reich saying that there's going to be a polarization between the 20 percent of intellectual workers ("symbolic analysts," or whatever he calls them) and the 80 percent of people whose conditions are going to be pushed down. We need to understand this more deeply as well. But there is obviously something going on here and it is pretty clear that strategically this is favorable for us, while tactically it poses a lot of difficulties.

In other words, one of their two great strengths is being undermined by the operation of their own system—and we have to figure out how to maximize the political gains out of this through all of our work. But, of course, at the same time we have to recognize that this is contradictory and the subjective (that is, the political and ideological) effects of this are very sharply contradictory right now. Many—though far from all—who are being affected by these profound changes are being "spontaneously" driven toward the Right (and the "radical right" movements, etc.) more than in our direction. This stresses the whole point and the great importance of repolarization.

Another particular "angle" on this, another aspect of looking at the vanguard role of the "real proletariat"—including the particular role of the masses of Black people and other oppressed nationalities—in this so-called "new technological era" is what you could describe with the formulation: "from negative vanguard to positive vanguard." What I mean by that is that historically, even before the latest wave of high-tech shit, it's been the case that the whole "last-hired, first-fired" phenomenon has been a continuing part of the reality of Black proletarians and other people from the oppressed nationalities. And there's been a particularly acute expression of that associated with this high technology.

The Need for Repolarization

It's one of the things that's spoken to in the book The End of Work by Jeremy Rifkin. Rifkin does raise an interesting point—and I think a very important point, politically and ideologically—which is that really for several decades Black people in particular have been experiencing the effects of this technological revolution in devastating ways, in advance of most other sections of the "labor force," blue-collar and white-collar. I think there's a lot of truth to that, and this is what I meant by "vanguard in the negative sense"—or the aspect of "negative vanguard"—being a vanguard in terms of being hit first and hardest by a lot of these technological changes, in combination with the whole structure of white supremacy and how that plays out.

There's a question of systematizing, re-casting, sifting through and re-synthesizing what people like Rifkin are saying. But there is something substantial and even profound there. A lot of these technological changes are now being applied much more broadly in society—to other strata of blue-collar workers, to white-collar workers—and in a series of waves. You get "recycled" downward from your job to a lesser-paying job (if you don't become unemployed); and then you get "recycled" again downward; and then maybe you get "downsized" out of a job altogether: this is a significant phenomenon, including among the more privileged middle strata, and so they're experiencing something similar, in some ways and to a certain extent, to what Black people have been going through for several decades, being hit the first and the hardest with waves of technology replacing human labor.

The ruling class recognizes this, and is obviously working very hard to make this serve the polarization it wants and needs. In various ways, it is pushing this line that "Somebody's got to pay for this shit"—for the fact that many blue-collar and white-collar workers who have been enjoying a more bourgeois lifestyle are no longer able to do so. The ruling class is trying to promote this revenge notion and revanchist sentiment among these strata: "somebody's got to pay for it—and it might as well be people who have been going through all this shit first and worst."

This is the way the bourgeoisie is pushing the polarization: "Take your frustration and anger out on the people who've always had it worse than you and who have been hit hardest and first by these waves of technological changes, including the latest ones." That goes with spontaneity, because to a significant degree what people in the middle strata and more privileged strata have made the defining quality of their lives—or the way it's been defined for them in bourgeois society and by the bourgeoisie—is to distinguish themselves from the lower section of the proletariat and the oppressed nationalities. That's been an important ingredient of how they've defined themselves, and their lifestyle and their lives. And now they see themselves being pushed that way, toward those very sections of society that they've tried to distinguish themselves from, so spontaneously there is a lot of basis for the bourgeoisie to do a lot of manipulation off of this and create a polarization in its interests.

We have the crucial task of re-polarizing. We have to pose the question to the people in these middle strata: "Look, this is the road that the people that you're taking your anger out on have been pushed down before you and worse than you. Not in all the same exact ways, not to the same degree or extreme, but in some important ways, you're being pushed in the same direction by the same economic and social forces, the same political forces. Now, you can either rally with the same forces that are doing this to you and take out your anger on the people who have been through it first and worst (the "negative vanguard") or you can recognize your own fate in them—recognize that your fate lies with them—and unite with them to fight those who are really responsible and to change the whole society, because this is all completely unnecessary.

That's a fundamental point we have to make. All this talk about how this is all unavoidable: it's "unavoidable" that there has to be downsizing; it's "unavoidable" that technological changes have to bring hardship for people and throw people out of work and cause massive dislocation and upheaval and suffering in people's lives. Well, it's not unavoidable at all. It's only unavoidable within the confines of the present system—and, yes, within the confines of the present system, it is unavoidable. But stepping back from that and looking beyond it, it's completely unnecessary for this shit to be going on in society and the world at this stage of history.

It's only because the world economy is shaped by the underlying contradictions of capitalism in the imperialist stage—a completely outmoded system—that this shit is "necessary and inevitable" and unavoidable. It's ridiculous—if we step back for a minute—that, with all the productive forces that have been developed and unleashed, that anybody is going through this, let alone what the great majority of people in the world are going through.

So, this is an important aspect of the repolarization we have to be working on. And you could put it this way if you want to be a little provocative: "From negative vanguard to positive vanguard," from being the first and hardest hit by these technological changes—in particular the "high-tech revolution"—to positive vanguard, that is, leading all those pushed down by this to liberation through the overthrow of the economic and social conditions and the political rule through which this "high-tech revolution" and its consequences are taking place. And, of course, in making this happen it's a question of rallying the proletariat as a class to take up this banner, and in all this our Party has a decisive role as "the vanguard of the vanguard."



1. "The Enemy's Strength—How to Look at It, How to Deal with It," RW#694, February 21, 1993 [back]