Monday, 24 November 2014

The Age of Neoliberal Austerity: Part 4: Revolutionary Organisation

Picture from RT


In three earlier articles in this series I discussed the economic crisis, neoliberal society, and the new urban uprisings. From each analysis I attempted to draw conclusions relevant to the task of rebuilding revolutionary organisation in the early 21st century.

I decided not to publish an early draft of a fourth article in this series – the one that addressed directly the question, ‘What sort of revolutionary organisation should we be attempting to build in the early 21st century?’

This was a wise decision. My thinking has been radically altered by new experience. I wrote the original articles a year ago, and since then, in company with a group of young activists, I have left the small revolutionary organisation of which I was then a member and become, for the first time in 40 years, a ‘non-aligned socialist’ (something I had always regarded as virtually a contradiction in terms).

We have now begun to experiment with alternative ways of organising; something we could not have done while remaining members of a small, top-down, overly prescriptive Old Left organisation. This experience has not only confirmed, amplified, and clarified earlier conclusions; it has also led to a paradigm shift in my thinking about revolutionary organisation in the early 21st century.

It is time to share these thoughts. They bear upon a vital historical task. We face the greatest crisis in human history and a stark choice between barbarism (war, poverty, and ecological catastrophe) and revolution (by which I mean the overthrow of the rich, the banks, and the corporations, and the transfer of power to a participatory democracy representing the 99%). To be able to exercise this choice, we have to create mass revolutionary organisation; if we do not, the 1% will continue to rule, and they will drive humanity and the planet into the abyss.

This question is too important for tip-toeing around sensitivities; it is necessary to speak plainly. If we are serious about changing the world, we must stare reality in the face.

For 35 years, I have subscribed to something called ‘democratic-centralism’. I now consider ‘democratic-centralism’ (I will retain the inverted commas to indicate that I consider this term/concept to be a shibboleth of the post-war Far Left) little more than a justification for undemocratic, exclusionary, and sometimes abusive top-down practice by largely self-perpetuating and self-selecting leaderships. The effect has been to turn Far Left groups into revolving-doors, their alienating internal regime repelling people as quickly as new ones are recruited.

History repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. In the heyday of the Far Left, from the late 60s to the mid 80s, no group ever grew beyond a few thousand members; the air of democracy around the great struggles of the period seems to have been too strong for such organisations to thrive. This was tragedy: the possibility of building mass revolutionary organisation was lost.

Now, when many groups are tiny splinters of 50 or 100, the ‘democratic-centralist’ model has become farce. These splinters, which have virtually zero gravitational pull on activists, no sooner form than they set up oppressive ‘democratic-centralist’ regimes that guarantee they will not grow.

Compounding the farce is the fact that the multiplication of such splinters occurs at a time when a) we face the greatest crisis of the capitalist system in its 250 years of existence, b) record numbers of people appear to think that revolution is needed, and c) there is a broader measure of agreement across the Left than at any time in the last century. The definition of madness is to persist in doing something that has already been shown not to work. By this definition, the Old Left, organised in its multiplicity of tiny sects with their top-down model, is mad.

Evidence of the madness – small size and failure to grow – is rationalised in two ways. First, members are told that ‘the period’ is unfavourable to the growth of revolutionary organisation. Without mass struggle, it is unrealistic to expect revolutionary organisations to grow, and one must patiently await ‘the upturn’ while dutifully recruiting ‘ones and twos’. Second, members are assured that only their group, however small, has the correct ‘line’, and that therefore they are the real revolutionaries; everyone else is some form of ‘sectarian’, or ‘autonomist’, or ‘reformist’, or whatever.

Both of these arguments are bogus. By one critical measure, there has in fact been a very high level of struggle since 1999, when a new era of street protest began. Demonstrations of a hundred thousand used to be once-in-a-decade events, but they have been relatively frequent over the last 15 years. This, of course, is related to the wider radical mood – the general alienation from the system, the state, and the social elite, and the conviction among an exceptionally large minority that revolutionary change is necessary.

In any case, history suggests that revolutionary organisation can often grow very rapidly as an expression of such a mood even in the absence of – perhaps, indeed, as a substitute for – mass struggle.

Consider the experience of the British Communist Party (CP) in the 1930s. Though no longer a revolutionary party, the CP was widely seen as such at the time, and was the natural home for working-class activists who considered themselves revolutionaries. The British CP never achieved the mass membership of its European counterparts; throughout its history it was (and remains) a ‘fringe’ party. Nonetheless, its achievement, in terms of membership, places it in a different category from the whole of the post-war Far Left.

Membership had peaked at 12,000 at the time of the General Strike in 1926. It thereafter collapsed, mainly because of the downturn in struggle due to the defeat of the strike and then the impact of mass unemployment after the 1929 financial crash, hitting a low of fewer than 2,500 members.

But strong united-front work through the dark years of the 1930s – mainly around unemployment, high rents, fascism, and international solidarity – resulted in substantial growth. Party membership was 6,500 in 1935, 11,000 in 1936, and 18,000 in 1939. In the middle of the Second World War, party membership peaked at around 50,000. In other words, the CP became the primary expression of the radicalisation of working-class activists, growing very substantially as a result, even though the level of class struggle, certainly in the workplaces, was relatively low.

As for the argument that one should remain a member of a sect in order to preserve the purity of one’s ‘line’, how ludicrous is that? A sectarian can be defined as someone who places more importance on disagreement than agreement. A serious revolutionary, on the other hand, seeks a political relationship with as many other people as possible, and that means starting with what unites, not what divides. The revolutionary organisation should contain all shades of opinion and provide the main framework for debate about perspective and strategy. That way, we test our ideas in debate, we win people to them if we are right, and we change our own thinking if we are wrong. A revolutionary organisation of 10,000 is likely to be a ferment of debate: this should be welcomed. It is politically pathological to prefer an organisation of 100 characterised by dreary uniformity.

The Jacobins

Let us turn from the sorry state of the British Far Left to some examples of healthy revolutionary organisation. When we review the historical experience, we discover that there is no single all-purpose model. Take the Jacobin Club of the French Revolution.

The Jacobin Club was – as it said on the lid of the tin – a club. Initially, its members were well-heeled revolutionaries who wanted to come together to discuss the great events in which they were active participants. Later, as the more conservative upper-bourgeois members peeled off, the Jacobin Club came to represent the more radical lower-bourgeois revolutionaries, who were in alliance with the democratic popular movement of the sansculottes (essentially the urban petty-bourgeoisie).

The Jacobins became a nationwide mass movement: the Paris mother-club spawned numerous provincial offspring, and these formed a network, linked together by regular correspondence and mutual visits.

As forging-houses of revolutionary ideas, disseminators of revolutionary propaganda, and a nationwide network of revolutionaries, the Jacobin Clubs evolved into a great revolutionary party. To be a Jacobin meant to be a radical revolutionary. Leading Jacobins formed the ruling Committee of Public Safety – the government of France – during the Revolution’s decisive year (1793-1794).

The Jacobin Club was large, diverse, and often deeply divided within itself. Its history is a history of rows and splits. But the arguments, note, took place inside the party.

The Bolsheviks

The modern Far Left shares a common model of the party based on the experience of the Bolshevik Party of 1903-1917 – the only historical example so far of a revolutionary party which has carried out a successful working-class revolution.

The dominant scheme of Bolshevik history goes something like this. Russian Marxism started as a small propaganda group, the Emancipation of Labour Group. Lenin then developed the model of the interventionist revolutionary party, combining theory and practice, propaganda and agitation. On this basis, the membership of the Russian Social-Democratic and Labour Party (as it became) grew first into hundreds, then into a few thousands.

In 1903, however, the Bolsheviks (‘the majority’) split from the Mensheviks (‘the minority’) to form ‘a new type of party’. The Bolshevik Party then grew, mainly in the context of two great upsurges of struggle, as a result of its mix of propaganda, agitation, workplace activity, and the establishment of a socialist paper. It then arrived on the eve of 1917 with the hardened cadre, the organisational infrastructure, and the ideological clarity necessary to play a decisive role in the events about to unfold.

The basic narrative of the Bolshevik Party’s development was recast by the post-war Far Left in conscious opposition to the dominant Social-Democratic and Stalinist traditions of party organisation. This had the effect of fossilising an over-simplified analysis of Bolshevik history in keeping with its polemical purpose. This analysis needs to be radically revised.

Lenin’s party was built in a vast, backward country with primitive communications, in the face of severe police repression. Despite this, when, in the 1905 Revolution, the struggle erupted and the autocracy was reeling, everything changed and Lenin threw himself into an all-out internal struggle against ‘the committee-men’ of the underground party he had created. They were now considered barriers to recruitment, democracy, and spontaneity; barriers to the initiative and energy of the newly radicalised masses. He wanted the doors of the party thrown wide open and the highest levels of internal democracy and debate.

The difference between the Leninist conception of the party in 1903 and that of 1905 could not have been greater. Before the revolution, Lenin had insisted that ‘the leadership of the movement should be entrusted to the smallest possible number of the most homogeneous possible groups of professional revolutionaries with great practical experience’. Two years later he was writing:

Really, I sometimes think that nine-tenths of the Bolsheviks are actually formalists … We need young forces. I am for shooting on the spot anyone who presumes to say that there are no people to be had. The people in Russia are legion; all we have to do is to recruit young people more widely and boldly … without fearing them. This is a time of war. The youth – students, and still more so the young workers – will decide the issue of the struggle. Get rid of all the old habits of immobility, of respect for rank, and so on. Form hundreds of [party] circles … from among the youth and encourage them to work full-blast… Allow every sub-committee to write and publish leaflets without any red tape (there is no harm if they do make a mistake) … Do not fear their lack of training, do not tremble at their inexperience and lack of development … Only you must be sure to organise, organise, and organise hundreds of circles, completely pushing into the background the customary, well-meant committee (hierarchic) stupidities.

A similar internal struggle erupted at the beginning of the 1917 Revolution, again pitting Lenin against most of the established cadre of the Bolshevik Party. What is absolutely clear from the historical record is this: whenever it was possible to engage in open political activity, Lenin favoured the highest possible level of inner party democracy. I challenge any defender of ‘democratic-centralism’ to substantiate a contrary view.

But we must take this discussion a stage further by posing two questions. First, why was Bolshevik practice relatively ‘undemocratic’ in other periods? And second, during these ‘undemocratic’ phases, what did ‘democratic-centralism’ actually mean?

The answers are surprising for anyone brought up in the post-war Far Left tradition of party organisation. Why on earth would a socialist revolutionary like Lenin want to restrict ‘the leadership of the movement’ to ‘the smallest possible number of the most homogeneous possible groups of professional revolutionaries’? After all, since Marx, we have believed that ‘the emancipation of the working class will be the act of the working class’, and that the socialist revolution – a revolution of the immense majority in the interests of the immense majority – will necessarily involve an explosion of collective action and participatory democracy.

There is no evidence that Lenin ever thought differently. All the evidence is that he was seeking to build a Russian equivalent of the German Social-Democratic Party (SDP), which was the model for socialists across Europe at the time. All the evidence is that his every instinct was profoundly democratic.

The party of 1905 and 1917 was the ideal: an open, mass, democratic party. The problem was that Russia was a police state. You cannot build an open, mass, democratic party in a police state. If you allow amateurs (new members) to run an underground party, you will expose it to crippling state repression. Democracy was the ideal, but the exigencies of underground work precluded it. Most of the time, there could be no party conferences or public meetings, no open debates or elections, inside Russia; had there been, the participants would have been rounded up by the Tsarist police.

As for ‘democratic-centralism’, it is not a Leninist term or concept. Had Lenin really created ‘a new type of party’, we can assume, great polemicist that he was, that he would have spelt this out clearly, presumably in the work usually cited as the manual of ‘democratic-centralism’, the pamphlet What Is To Be Done. But in fact, neither the term nor the concept appears here. Instead, a handful of passages, ripped from context and then, over the decades, encrusted with layers of gloss, have been used to create the myth of ‘democratic-centralism’.

The reason What Is To Be Done makes no reference to ‘democratic-centralism’ is twofold. First, Lenin was not a ‘democratic-centralist’, but a democrat. He did not invent, propagate, or practice any such concept as ‘democratic-centralism’. He merely proposed sensible security measures to protect fragile socialist organisation from police repression.

Second, even if Lenin had been a ‘democratic-centralist’, he could not have practised it, since there was no mechanism for imposing the rule of exiled party leaders on a network of small, widely scattered, secretly organised socialist groups, with whom communications were intermittent and highly tenuous. Indeed, any such thing would have been madness, for the leadership was in no position to know how, say, the Baku oil-workers, the Moscow textile-workers, or the Petersburg engineering-workers should best operate in the circumstances confronting them. Any attempt to presume such knowledge from an exile enclave in distant Zurich would, given the intensity of police repression, have been the height of irresponsibility, quite possibly exposing activists to arrest and whole groups to liquidation.

Here is the Bolshevik leader Piatnitsky making this explicit: ‘The initiative of the local party organisations, of the cells, was encouraged. Were the Bolsheviks of Odessa, or Moscow, or Baku, or Tiflis, always to have waited for the directives from the Central Committee, the provincial committees, etc, which during the years of the reaction and of the war frequently did not exist at all owing to arrests, what would have been the result? The Bolsheviks would not have captured the working masses and exercised any influence over them.’

And, of course, when it did become possible to impose a ‘democratic-centralist’ model, Lenin advocated the opposite: as the quote above demonstrates, when the party came into the open, he favoured maximum democracy and declared war on the Bolshevik Old Guard!

The key argument in What Is To Be Done concerns the party paper. Lenin’s argument was that a single organ and an efficient distribution mechanism would have the effect of binding the different branches of the RSDLP into a more coherent, united, and therefore effective organisation. (Note: the RSDLP as a whole, not the Bolshevik faction alone. For, in formal terms, the Bolsheviks remained a faction of the RSDLP, albeit an increasingly dominant one, in conformity with Lenin’s conception of a mass socialist party on the model of the German SDP.)

The whole theory of ‘democratic-centralism’ as expounded and practised by the post-war Far Left – operating legally and openly in the conditions of a liberal parliamentary democracy – appears to have nothing to do with Lenin and the Bolsheviks. 

The International Socialists

The results of the ‘democratic-centralist’ model – in terms of membership and party building – have always been poor. The classic pattern for post-war Far Left groups has been as follows.

A small propaganda group would start with less than a hundred people, usually having split from a larger group on the basis of some sort of ‘deviation’, ‘degeneration’, or ‘betrayal’. The main British Trotskyist groups, for example, can all trace their roots back to the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) of the 1940s.

The more successful groups would then grow slowly through abstract propaganda (the winning of small numbers of people on the basis of large numbers of general ideas). This ‘primitive accumulation of cadre’ might be assisted by spurts of growth associated with large mass movements or particular campaigns and struggles involving the group’s members. In Britain, the Socialist Labour League (later the Workers Revolutionary Party), the International Marxist Group, the International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers Party), and the Militant (later the Socialist Party) all seem to have reached this stage by the late 1960s, in each case having a membership in the low hundreds. Numerous groups in the rest of Europe also reached this stage at about the same time.

Some groups then made the next leap, becoming what might be described as ‘small mass parties’, with membership in the low thousands and branches in most sizeable towns, having grown mainly through intervention in the mass struggles of 1968-1975 and after. Let us take the experience of the International Socialists (IS) as an example.

During the 1950s, a period shaped by the Second Great Boom and the Cold War, IS was a small propaganda group of less than 100. Between 1960 and 1964, the emergence of CND, the first mass movement in post-war Britain, provided an opportunity for agitation and intervention among a new generation of young activists. Because the Labour Party Young Socialists was a natural home for such activists, IS members were active within it, and IS membership topped 200 for the first time. Agitation and intervention, including some industrial work, allowed IS to double in size again during the first three years of the new Labour Government (1964-1967).

With about 450 members at the beginning of 1968, IS was able to grow dramatically during the Left’s annus mirabilis, ending the year with a thousand members. Between 1968 and 1975, IS ‘turned’ its mainly student and white-collar members towards the organised working class, just as the post-war industrial struggle reached its peak. The membership gains, both quantitative and qualitative, were impressive: from about 900 members in 1970 to 2,350 in 1972, of whom 26% were manual workers and 31% white-collar workers.

Further gains followed, membership apparently hitting 3,900 in 1974 (though Far Left organisations are notorious for exaggerating, often grossly, their own membership figures). This was the year in which a miners’ strike brought down a Tory government. The rest of the decade was one of protracted and convoluted crisis, characterised by mass unemployment, high inflation, attacks on living standards, a Labour government imposing cuts, an employers’ offensive against workplace union organisation, and an upsurge of racism and fascist violence. IS (which became the SWP in 1977) was at the heart of the resistance.

It remained so under the Thatcher government in the 1980s. Though the working class was now very much on the defensive, the space for revolutionary politics was wide. The Bolsheviks had continued to grow during the revolutionary downturn from late 1905 to the end of 1907 (reaching a peak of 45,000 members only at the end of this period). The British Communist Party grew dramatically during the Great Depression (see above). There is good reason for seeing the period from the mid 1970s to the late 1980s as potentially propitious for the growth of revolutionary organisation. Labour was discredited by its record in government, and the new Thatcher government’s determination to smash the unions and the post-war ‘welfare consensus’ triggered a succession of massive class battles, of which the 1984-1985 Miners’ Strike and the 1989-1990 Poll Tax Revolt were the most significant. The polarised class politics of the 1980s, with a militant working class bitterly defending its post-war gains, might have produced a stronger revolutionary Left. It did not.

Militant, ensconced inside the Labour Party and dominating some Labour councils, notably Liverpool, gained members, but never enough to break out of the ‘small mass party’ league. The SWP membership figures seem to be disputed. The party may have sustained membership at around 4,000 throughout this period, or it may have dipped in the late 1970s and the early to mid 1980s, only to return to peak level towards the end of the decade. Either way, there was no real breakthrough.

The British pattern was replicated elsewhere. No Trotskyist party has ever become a mass party. None has ever been able to play a role comparable with that of the mass Communist parties in the interwar period. The crisis of the 1970s and the great class battles of the 1980s might have been expected to produce a growth in revolutionary organisation comparable with that of the (by then less-than-revolutionary) CP in the 1930s. It did not.

Equally, the crisis that broke in 2008 – unquestionably comparable with that of the 1930s – might also have been expected to produce such growth. It has not – despite the strong tradition of mass street protest since 1999. These hard realities must be faced.

What is to be done?

I have presented a number of arguments – in this and the previous three articles – which I feel should frame any discussion of revolutionary organisation in the early 21st century. They can be summarised as follows:

1. The contradiction between the scale of the capitalist crisis and the political weakness of the working class is probably greater than at any time in history.

2. The ongoing centralisation and concentration of capital has weakened the state as an independent economic actor, reducing opportunities for social reform, and eroding the effectiveness of parliamentary democracy.

3. While fostering globalisation, financialisation, and growing corporate power, neoliberalism has weakened civil-society institutions, most importantly the trade unions, undermined the tradition of collective provision and social welfare, and engineered a more atomised and privatised social order.

4. The result has been, on the one hand, high levels of alienation, disaffection, and resistance, but, on the other, an erosion of the political and industrial organisation necessary to structure and sustain resistance. One consequence of this is that street protest predominates over industrial action. Another is that protest tends to be spontaneous, explosive, and short-lived.

5. The revolutionary vanguard has been reconfigured by these economic, social, political, and cultural changes. It still includes (in Britain) some tens of thousands of ‘traditional’ left activists rooted in unions, parties, and campaigns. But it also includes a more amorphous, shifting group of ‘new’ activists, mainly young, typically students and/or precarious workers, usually ‘non-aligned’, often suspicious of formal organisation. Indeed, in terms of numbers, this group is potentially much larger than the first. The revolutionary vanguard today is largely formed of radicalised urban youth prepared to come onto the streets.

6. All post-war attempts to build mass revolutionary parties on a ‘democratic-centralist’ model have to be regarded as failures, especially when set against the opportunities for growth represented by the period from 1968 to the late 1980s, and again in the period since 1999, and especially since 2008. This model, in any case, turns out to be a modern myth – not so much a caricature of the theory and practice of Lenin’s Bolshevik Party as a wholesale inversion of its deeply democratic and dynamic character.

We have to return to an earlier, more successful model. The ‘democratic-centralist’ model of revolutionary organisation was developed during the Great Boom (1948-1973) – not, in fact, as the myth has it, during the building of the Bolshevik Party (1903-1917). It seemed to fit a period when revolutionary ideas were marginalised by full employment, rising living-standards, and the expansion of the welfare state; reformism seemed to be working, and relatively few working-class activists could be won to revolutionary politics, at least before 1968.

We live in a very different world. Capitalism is in deep, long-term, intractable crisis. The system is propelling humanity and the planet towards cataclysm. Social Democracy is effectively dead: the Labour Party has been transformed into an alternative party of the corporations and the rich. Millions are alienated from the political and business elite, and hundreds of thousands think revolution necessary.

There is, moreover, a new mood among young activists. After 15 years of mass protest, the state of the world today is worse than ever. Six years into the economic crisis, the gulf between rich and poor continues to widen, and the mass of ordinary people face an ever-mounting burden of low pay, rising prices, and welfare cuts. Things are getting worse, and more quickly.

One-off demonstrations, single-issue campaigns, protest movements that go up like a rocket and down like a stick are no longer enough. The question of organisation has moved to centre-stage. But this does not mean deciding which ‘democratic-centralist’ sect to join; a choice which the great majority of young activists will not take. It means building a mass revolutionary organisation on a broad democratic basis.

The criteria for creating such an organisation are, I would suggest, very simple:

1. An understanding that we confront a single system and a compound crisis of that system, and that to end war, poverty, and climate change, and to create a world of peace, equality, democracy, and sustainability, we need a red-green revolution to overthrow that system.

2. A commitment to creating a broad, inclusive, bottom-up activist organisation, in which alternative perspectives and strategies are argued out and decided democratically, and in which the initiative, creativity, and independence of all members and groups of members are actively fostered.

We need spontaneity and democracy, but we also need organisation. We need the spirit of Occupy, but we also need a network of red-green revolutionary groups that can maintain the momentum and sustain a rising tide of mass protest and mass resistance.

I am a Marxist, a Leninist, and a Trotskyist. It is precisely because of this that I reject the conservatism and pessimism of the Old Left – conservative in upholding a ‘democratic-centralist’ model that has obviously failed, and pessimistic in attributing this failure to society’s lack of revolutionary potential. The Old Left seems no longer to believe, as Lenin did, in ‘the actuality of the revolution’; rather, despite the global crisis and the mass radicalisation, it sees it as something so distant as to be almost unattainable.

We have to break with such conservatism and pessimism, and the false model in which it is rooted, and rediscover an authentic mass revolutionary tradition. We should deliberately set out to build a mass revolutionary organisation, not a sect, and we should understand this to mean the most democratic political organisation imaginable.

A revolutionary organisation is, above all, an amalgam of the most idealistic, the most confident, and the most dynamic of society’s young people. Its primary function is to unleash the transformative political energy they represent. Its end goal is to accumulate the mass forces required to make the red-green revolution we need to save humanity and our planet.

Acknowledgements and Sources

First is the deed. My thinking has been shaped by 30 years in membership of a (relatively) large Far Left organisation and then four years in the leadership of a very small one. I have since broken with that organisation and have been working with others to test alternatives to the failed ‘democratic-centralist’ model.

But while theory without practice is futile, equally, practice without theory is blind. And I must acknowledge one enormous theoretical debt. This is to Lars Lih’s monumental study Lenin Rediscovered: What Is To Be Done in Context (2008). I consider his argument to be unanswerable. I have yet to read any counter-thrust – and there are predictably many – that has succeeded in denting the main argument, let alone demolishing it.

Lars Lih has, in my view, performed a service of immense value to the international Left. He has shown us that the greatest socialist revolutionary in history – the only one to lead a successful working-class revolution – was a democrat, not a ‘democratic-centralist’, and an advocate of mass revolutionary organisation, not of sects led by ‘professional revolutionaries’ who lay down ‘the line’.


  1. I'm struck by a lot of sense about the problems of the more sectarian forms of Leninism but a continuation of the one big push perspective that formed not just the perspective but the justification for such a thing (ie a revolutionary leadership in waiting). There is perhaps a parallel with the early Socialism ou Barbari who before they dropped the catastrophist perspective (in those days not of economic crisis but of imminent nuclear catastrophe) cleaved close to CLR James and Duneskaya. It was when they moved away from this perspective that they began to say more interesting things and began to have a larger cultural impact. Of course they never had the impact that 'Leninists' of a particular kind would have wished but if one takes away that yardstick they didn't do too badly. But the difficulties of forming an actual organisation which really was actively concerned with democratic participation sadly proved a bit too much for them. It ain't easy.

  2. I agree with much of what you say Neil but this bit stood out:
    “5. The revolutionary vanguard has been reconfigured by these economic, social, political, and cultural changes. It still includes (in Britain) some tens of thousands of ‘traditional’ left activists rooted in unions, parties, and campaigns. But it also includes a more amorphous, shifting group of ‘new’ activists, mainly young, typically students and/or precarious workers, usually ‘non-aligned’, often suspicious of formal organisation. Indeed, in terms of numbers, this group is potentially much larger than the first. The revolutionary vanguard today is largely formed of radicalised urban youth prepared to come onto the streets.”
    I don’t know if it’s correct at this point in time to talk of a “revolutionary vanguard”, and I certainly don’t think the people who make up either the activist left, or young people involved in the protest movement can be considered to make it up.
    Traditionally, when Marxists have talked about a “vanguard” they meant the leading, most advanced elements of a much larger, mass working class movement. Even in the 1970s, when the working class movement was much stronger, and socialist ideas were much more widespread, Duncan Hallas argued it was wrong to be talking about a “vanguard” in this sense.
    The danger for me is that revolutionaries like ourselves start looking around for a vanguard when none exists, and we end up projecting those qualities onto parts of the movement. This was the mistake of various Maoist and Trotskyist groups in the 1960s and 1970s, who projected vanguard status onto students and unorganised workers. We should be careful not to do the same with the student and protest movements today.