Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

San Diego Organizing Committee

Winning the Vanguard to Communism

First Published: The Communist, Vol. IV, No. 2, November 17, 1977.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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Workers Congress (M-L) Introduction: The following article sums up the experience of a local collective on the task of winning the vanguard to communism. It is important in speaking to common errors that have been made in this work and in bringing out the protracted nature of the struggle and its all-sided character.

As the article points out, “winning the vanguard to communism” has been confused over the past period by a false debate which counterposed the slogans “Marxist-Leninists Unite” and “Win the Advanced,” meaning advanced workers specifically. While individuals and organizations vacillated in seeing one or the other of these slogans as primary, the dispute did nothing to advance our tasks. One slogan was used to isolate the tasks of party building from the workers movement; the other was used to justify a narrow scope of factory work. In neither case was the slogan used by Lenin and Stalin grasped: “Win the Vanguard to Communism.”

The vanguard must be Marxist-Leninists and the best elements of the proletariat. As the San Diego Organizing Committee emphasizes, the struggle for Marxist-Leninist unity develops in the course of going deeper into the industrial masses. “Win the vanguard to communism” sums this up very well and for that reason we stand by it.

Over two years ago SDOC declared its unity with the ISKRA plan of our organization in an article for THE COMMUNIST called “SDOC Joins the Iskra Effort.” Since that time our organizations have struggled hard for ideological unity within the framework of a plan to build a single, common Iskra type newspaper for our movement. SDOC has consistently contributed local, national and international exposures in a reliable way and our regular work to build a common newspaper has provided a good basis to carry out the struggle over our differences. As ideological unity grew we took up in a step by step way the task of transforming ideological unity into the material unity of organization. The San Diego Organizing Committee has been liquidated and its members have joined the Workers Congress (M-L). In the next issue of THE COMMUNIST we will carry an article summing up the lessons of our struggle.

* * *

In order to meet the demands of the deepening spontaneous struggle, our first step must be to develop the class consciousness of the vanguard. We must consolidate the vanguard leadership of the working class ideologically, politically and organizationally. We must sink deep roots in the industrial proletariat, where the conditions bring forward advanced workers more rapidly, and further, we must wage a relentless struggle against opportunism within the ranks of the working class movement.

From the outset our organization was committed to carrying out these principles. With each step we took to carry out these tasks we were confronted with new questions around how to push forward these principles in our day to day work. In the movement as a whole we had seen retreat after retreat on questions of principle, over who the advanced were, over the struggle against opportunism and over the character of propaganda and agitation. But we chose to hold firm to these principles and deepen our theoretical understanding of the questions by relying on orthodoxy, not “creative” formulations, to push us forward. The economists of our movement, on the other hand, when confronted with the task of applying orthodox principles, failed to remain firm and backed off from the correct path.


Within our movement the slogans “Win the Advanced” and “Unite Marxist-Leninists” were raised as two different tasks and spread confusion among many honest forces, as to how to proceed in carrying out our central task in this period, the building of a new communist party. This separation was a false debate, and in essence was a cover for retreating from our main task. This line spread confusion in our own ranks, which pointed to the fact that we needed to push forward our understanding and grasp of these principles.

We began by studying Lenin’s definition of an advanced worker in A RETROGRADE TREND OF RUSSIAN SOCIAL-DEMOCRACY:

The history of the working class movement in all countries shows that the better-situated strata of the working class respond to the ideas of socialism more rapidly and more easily. From among these come, in the main, the advanced workers that every working class movement brings to the fore, those who can win the confidence of the laboring masses, who devote themselves entirely to the education and organization of the proletariat, who accept socialism consciously, and who even elaborate independent socialist theories... At a time when educated society is losing interest in honest, illegal literature, an impassioned desire for knowledge and for socialism is growing among workers, real heroes are coming to the fore amongst the workers, who despite their wretched living conditions, despite the stultifying penal servitude of factory labor, possess so much character and will-power that they study, study, study and turn themselves into conscious Social-Democrats, ’the working class intelligentsia’.

When we first grappled with the question of the advanced, we did not grasp the concept of the vanguard. We were confused by the counter-posing of advanced workers and Marxist-Leninists. We tended to apply Lenin’s definition in a mechanical and dogmatic way. Within our movement there was an idealist view that there were some absolutely precise characteristics that perfectly defined all advanced individuals This view created the tendency to look for the “perfect advanced worker”–a ready-made Marxist-Leninist. This undialectical approach led to demoralization within the ranks of our movement, especially when comrades found that workers from the class did not “live up to” their expectations. This demoralization was fertile ground for strengthening the economist tendencies within the movement.

These economist tendencies took the form of wanting to lower the level of our propaganda and agitation to appeal to more average workers. It also capitulated to the petty bourgeois tendency to evaluate who was advanced on the basis of how well an individual could read, articulate and answer questions. In essence this approach saw the vanguard as those individuals with backgrounds in the radical intelligentsia.

But whether it was appealing to the more average workers or to the radical intelligentsia, the result was the same–following the path of least resistance. This reflected the tendency to shy away from the difficult task of winning the advanced from among the industrial proletariat.

It was only through deepening our study and practice that we were able to expose these tendencies. Critical to this development was the Workers Congress’ article “Win the Vanguard”, which appeared in THE COMMUNIST, v. II, no. 11 Applying that article to our own experience, we saw our failure to grasp Lenin’s definition of an advanced worker in a dialectical and common-sense manner. We saw that Lenin brought forward in A RETROGRADE TREND OF RUSSIAN SOCIAL-DEMOCRACY three categories of advanced workers. First, there are leading theoreticians who advance independent socialist theories. Secondly, there is the great bulk of practical party workers who have devoted their entire lives to the education and organization of the working class. These advanced would correspond to the cadres of the communist organizations in our movement. Thirdly, Lenin includes among the advanced those individuals who, despite being subjected to the stultifying penal servitude of factory labor, come to the forefront from among the workers. Unlike leading theoreticians and rank-and-file cadre, these workers do not yet necessarily consider themselves communists, but they are willing to “study, study, study” and turn themselves into communists.


Through our work we had also come to more firmly grasp that when Lenin says that advanced workers in the main come from “the better situated strata”, he has in mind the more concentrated and socialized workers, especially members of the industrial proletariat. The task of winning over the vanguard is therefore a task of going to the decisive sectors of the proletariat and winning over the advanced in those situations. For this reason we united behind the slogan of the Workers Congress (M-L) “Deeper into the Industrial Masses!”.

As the Workers Congress (M-L)’s resolution on factory nuclei states:

We base ourselves in the industrial proletariat in the large factories and mills as the decisive sectors of the revolutionary proletariat in regards to numbers and concentration, breadth of outlook and influence, and strategic position and fighting capacity to overthrow monopoly capitalism. At the present time our whole task must be to go lower and deeper among the working masses and to consolidate our position in the working class.

We had come to realize that winning the vanguard from among these decisive sectors of the working class was critical if party building was to be a step in fusing communism with the workers’ movement. At the same time, we recognized that testing the leadership of the great bulk of practical party workers and their actual ability to play a vanguard role, also meant going lower and deeper among the working masses.

In this light we understood why the debate over “Marxist-Leninists Unite” and “Win the Advanced” had caused such confusion. Both slogans reflected a retreat from the tasks of party-building. By counterposing uniting Marxist-Leninists to going lower and deeper among the industrial masses, the slogan “Marxist-Leninists Unite” isolated the tasks of communist collectives like ourselves from the task of developing work in the workers’ movement.

“Win the Advanced”, on the other hand, showed a tendency to back off the job of taking Marxism-Leninism to the class and seeking to consolidate the advanced on the basis of Marxism-Leninism. It became a justification for narrowness and economism in factory work, isolated from the broad national and international responsibilities we needed to take on as Marxist-Leninists, and promoted-sectarian attitudes towards working with other Marxist-Leninists.

Evaluating our experience, we were convinced of the correctness of the slogan “Win the Vanguard to Communism” and of the position of the Workers Congress (M-L) that the struggle tor Marxist-Leninist unity develops and can only develop in the course of going deeper into the industrial masses. In other words, we saw the ultimate source of the abstract and one-sided squabbling over “Win the Advanced” and “Marxist-Leninists Unite” as being the result of the failure to take communism to decisive sectors of the industrial proletariat. An advanced worker must become a Marxist-Leninist and a Marxist-Leninist must be an actual leader of the class.


In the struggle to win the vanguard, we must never belittle the struggle against opportunism. The bourgeoisie, through super-profits reaped from its gross exploitation of the peoples of the third world, has been able to bribe the upper strata of the working class. This bribed strata, the labor aristocracy, is the chief social prop of the bourgeoisie in the working class. Through these agents the bourgeoisie attempts to divert the working class away from revolutionary class struggle. It is the opportunist leadership of these class collaborators that has split the working class in a thousand and one different ways, and undermined the revolutionary class consciousness by promoting only the most narrow economic interests of workers.

The heavy influence of bourgeois ideology and organization in the working class can never be spontaneously overcome. Only if we systematically take-socialist ideology to the workplace can we defeat opportunism and lay the basis to weld the class conscious vanguard of the proletariat into a Bolshevik core capable of giving revolutionary leadership to the struggle of the working and oppressed masses.


When we first took up the struggle to win the vanguard to communism, we did not at all grasp the protracted nature and all-sided character of the task, nor the demand for consistent leadership required of us. For a comrade, from whatever background, to become a communist, means making changes in a whole way of life. It requires a consistent struggle against all manifestations of bourgeois ideology in all aspects of life. We learned that we have to be better prepared to give direction and establish communist policies for all the varied questions and contradictions in peoples’ lives.

For example, in our work with the advanced, many contradictions arose around the woman question, particularly with respect to the role of the family. Many times we were inadequately prepared to provide correct communist leadership to advanced contacts about their relationships with their spouses, who often were not advanced, about their children–especially in the case of divorced parents, to the role of courtship, proletarian morality, etc. In the process we found the same contradictions existed in our own organizational ranks and that weaknesses on these questions held back our work in winning the vanguard.

The struggle against opportunism, in other words, was not limited to other opportunist forces. To win confidence in our leadership, it was necessary for us to struggle with opportunist tendencies in our midst that limited our ability to act as vanguard leadership of the class in all aspects of our lives and work. In summing up, it is true that we still lack experience, that our movement is still characterized by amateurishness, and that winning the vanguard is hard work. But the experience we have gained, and the success we have achieved on this question, does give us confidence in the lesson of Lenin that:

Revolutionary experience and organizational skills are things that can be acquired provided the desire is there to acquire them, provided the shortcomings are recognized.

We can confidently guard against backsliding on our central task by putting Marxist-Leninist politics in command and conscientiously applying the slogan to go deeper into the industrial masses.