Amongst Marxists, it is widely recognized that specific classes and groups play leading roles in movements, social struggles and revolutions. The recognition of these leading forces, one that proceeds from historical record and inference, is often described in terms of the vanguard. As well, those revolutionary struggles which, when faced with reactionary violence, coalesce into a highly disciplined and centralized cadre fighting force are more likely to be victorious against reactionary/imperialist intervention. Hence, in situations involving proletarian struggle, the vanguard must assume specific forms according to such conditions.
These broad constructions of objective realities are just that, i.e. broad conceptual overlays on top of general historical realities. Thus, such conceptual overlays within Marxism have always been subject to additional review based on changes in social-historic circumstance and experience. It is worth mentioning that notions such as class warfare, revolutionary violence and the vanguard of struggles are not those selected by the masses, but rather terms imposed on them by the exigencies of the struggle against oppression and capitalist-imperialism. If it were up to the average person, individual will and action would be enough to correct social problems and inequality. Yet because these problems are social and not individual or inter-personal, they necessitate solutions of wide social implication. Because the bourgeoisie will not peaceably alter social relations and give up their hold on the reigns of power, it becomes necessary for the proletariat and its allies to organize themselves for class warfare. Various classes and social forces play different roles, some leading and some not, and different forms are used as part of such struggle in which revolutionary violence is used to combat reactionary violence.
The point of such a struggle can only be to seize power for the broad masses, to secure a reasonable climate for the transition of social and economic relations for the broad empowerment of oppressed people and to act as a plebiscite through which territorial defense and revolutionary foreign policy can be conducted.
What is notable about the above is not its narrow prescriptions, but its rather broad implications. Through such a broad, non-constrictive interpretation, it is possible to seek additional truth through practice toward socialism and liberation, and to better act as an agent of revolution. The vanguard, applied to classes and social forces, such as intellectuals and groups, is a broad conceptual idea, universal in many aspects when speaking of leading forces, which gets narrowed down through practice.
As a broad conception, the notion of vanguard is applicable in many ways. As some leading comrades noted during the early 2000’s, radical Muslims were playing the role of a vanguard in the anti-imperialist struggle by doing more than other forces in pinning down and depleting the forces of imperialism. The possibility certainly exists, outside a proletarian-led struggle, that the national bourgeoisie will continue to play a vanguard role (albeit a poor one) in securing concessions for the global South against North-based monopoly capital.
Should we recognize where we differ from others in movements, assert our own insights, offer our own contributions and try to win over those part of peoples’ movement as conscious revolutionaries? Of course, but we can only do that as part of the broad struggle against imperialism. Do we view our line as superior to the vast majority of the First World nominal ‘left’ as well as in some regards to many ‘vanguard’ parties globally? We’ve said so repeatedly.
We should not hesitate to note ourselves, specifically the ideas we present and the potential they bring to people’s movement globally, as a vanguard, but along with many others as part of a broad conception and within the specific social-historic circumstances we face.