The concept of a leadership ‘vanguard’ runs through a section of the anti-capitalist left like a solid strand of DNA. This concept keeps replicating itself across generations and despite trying to evolve to fit into the changed environment it now finds itself in, its advocates are steadily shrinking. After an early 20th century rapid growth and domination, this ‘vanguard’ concept now increasingly finds itself facing a slow extinction. Of the originators and promoters of this concept on the anti-capitalist left, Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin stand out as the most celebrated advocates. They were the middle-class giants of the early 20th century anti-capitalist left who passed on this concept to future generations. Since their deaths, numerous modified variations of this species have appeared, but none have proved viable in the modern socio-political environment.
However, an alternative, species of anti-capitalism, previously crowded out of the anti-capitalist socio-economic environment, by this once dominant ‘vanguard’ leadership concept, has now an opportunity to develop. The human embodiments of this alternative are best described as ‘facilitators’. The intellectual giants of this alternative species of anti-capitalist activism are none other than Fredrick Engels and Karl Marx. In the Communist Manifesto of 1849 appears, the following perspective, stated negatively. Anti-Capitalist activists do not;
“..form a separate party opposed to other working class parties….They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own, by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement.” (Manifesto page 49 Peking Edition.)
The whole point of the Leninist/Trotskyist/Stalinist leadership model of the anti-capitalist left is to form a separate party and to shape and mould those working class and oppressed forces which its advocates seek to lead. Over a decade after the above noted extract, the rules of the 1st International commence with..“..the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves.” This assertion by Marx and Engels, was no isolated example for in responding to an alternative manifesto promoted by three members of a Zurich commission in 1879, Marx and Engels wrote;
“The emancipation of the working classes must be achieved by the working classes themselves. We cannot therefore co-operate with people who openly state that the workers are too uneducated to emancipate themselves and must be freed from above by philanthropic persons from the upper and lower middle classes.” (Circular Letter. September 1879.)
These repeated assertions over thirty years clearly refute the concept and consequential ideology of a vanguard leadership. Elsewhere I have produced evidence of the distortions introduced into the anti-capitalist struggle and post-capitalist construction in Russia by the adoption of this Bolshevik vanguardist model. [see ‘The Revolutionary Party’], Here I will argue that the activist model suggested by Marx and which is still the relevant one for the present and in the future, is one of facilitator. For Marx then, no separate ‘Political Parties’, no ‘sectarian principles’ and no patronising leadership help needed from the upper and lower middle classes. So if this is the case, how should anti-capitalist activists who have rejected the Bolshevik leadership model relate to the working classes and their struggles? Marx again;
“…we do not confront the world in a doctrinaire way with a new principle; here is the truth kneel down before it. …We do not say to the world: cease your struggles, they are foolish; we will give you the true slogan of struggle. We merely show the world what it is really fighting for, and consciousness is something that it has to acquire, even if it doesn’t want to…..” (Marx/Engels Collected Works. Vol 3 page 144.
The paragraph from which the above is taken continues by advocating that anti-capitalist activists explain to those around them – if this is needed – the “meaning of their own actions.” In other words anti-capitalists following this model ‘facilitate’ the understanding and actions of those they support in their struggles. They do so in three practical ways. First by offering to share their knowledge and understanding alongside and with those in struggle. Second by stressing the importance of the existing collective knowledge of the group or community. Third, by assisting in practical ways the fulfilment of the tasks identified by the collective. This means seriously listening to workers in struggle, recognising and acknowledging what they wish to achieve and bringing to that struggle any knowledge and skills which appear to be missing. Such a role includes pointing out any reactionary or sectional potentials which the aims of the struggle may involve.
Some practical contrasts between the concepts of ‘Leader’ and ‘Facilitator’.
Leaders mostly use their knowledge in order to tell people what to think, what they should do to change things and what the implications are.
Facilitators use their knowledge to ask people what they think, suggest how they could change things and also discuss the implications of such change.
A group or movement based upon leadership principles usually have members come together to listen to their own leaders knowledge and experience before returning to activity.
A group or movement based upon facilitators will usually have members come together to collectively discuss and learn from each others knowledge and experiences before returning to activity.
Leaders want and need followers.
Facilitators do not want or need followers.
Leaders seldom really try to empower ordinary members or people.
Facilitators always try to really empower ordinary members or people.
Leaders frequently are/or become part of an elite. They are potential or actual Captains of whatever ship they manage to board.
Facilitators are (and stay) part of the group. They join as, and stay as, part of the crew when they get on board.
Leaders desire and often demand that others should follow their particular viewpoint.
Facilitators explain but never demand that others should follow their particular viewpoint.
Leaders try to make themselves indispensable.
Facilitators try to make themselves dispensable.
Leaders are inconsistent collectivists within their own groups – they often pull rank.
Facilitators are consistent collectivists within their groups – they never pull rank.
Leaders frequently mislead and then try to rationalise this rather than apologise.
Facilitators rarely mislead and openly apologise if on rare occasions their input proves wrong or counter-productive.
Leaders rarely seriously or openly evaluate the results of their suggestions or actions.
Facilitators always seriously and openly evaluate the results of their suggestions or actions.
So anti-capitalist ‘facilitators’ are also active and not passive. They seek out those whose struggles they identify with, ally themselves with them, studiously listen and ask questions. Only then do they offer information and assistance. A group of facilitators wishing to support a struggle would meet after listening to workers and others to discuss how they can help. They would not meet before to get their group line sorted out and then try to impose it upon the workers either individually or at their meetings. There will be times when decisive initiative needs to be taken within a struggle, but this will not be the rule for facilitators and where it occurs and the activist facilitator is involved, the action would be quickly explained to the others and presented for ratification, alteration or rejection.
To sum up.
The vanguard leadership model of Lenin and the Bolsheviks did not – and never could have – assisted the complete self-activity of the working class. Indeed, the leadership model in general assumes the working and oppressed classes cannot ’emancipate themselves and must be freed from above’ by those who have beforehand declared their own candidature and appointed themselves for this position. Even ‘leaders’ drawn from within the working class will want to do the thinking for the working class and lead them – as so many have already done in the Trade Union Movement and Political Parties. In this way they help maintain the dependency of working people which is part of the ‘muck of ages’. In the coming struggles, the independence and self-activity of the working and oppressed classes is something anti-capitalists need to facilitate not inhibit.
Finally! The task of facilitating is no less demanding than that of ‘leadership’ and indeed it is perhaps more demanding in that it requires a blend of subject knowledge, patience, self-criticism and humility. To me the concept and practice of facilitating therefore also holds to two allied principles taken from philosophy and science. The first is that guideline of all rational thought ‘whenever you are sure of something; maintain it with doubt‘: for new evidence may surface which may alter the certainty you previously supposed. The second is derived from really accepting the collective nature of all knowledge and reasons that in a disagreement; ‘others may be right and I may be wrong or vice versa, or we both may be wrong; but only in respectful discussion and reflection on practice will we be likely to really enhance our collective knowledge.
R. Ratcliffe (March 2013.)