Dunayevskaya on the Vanguardists’ “No Blueprints” Line

The following is excerpted verbatim from Raya Dunayevskaya’s article, “An Historical Event and an Organizational Incident,” originally printed in the April 16, 1953 issue (vol. IV, no. 2) of Correspondence. Her letters on Hegel’s “Absolute Idea” and Absolute Mind,” which she regarded as having birth to her Marxist-Humanist philosophy, were written the following month. — Andrew Kliman

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… To the ex-radical this worker “didn’t understand anything.” That is no different than the way this worker appeared to him when he was a radical. All the old radical organizations constantly complain that the workers “don’t understand” the intricacies of politics, the complexities of “theory,” and, being “backward,” they ask impossible questions, just like children. The attitude of these radicals to the ranks in their own party is not different than the one they express to the average worker. It is one of arrogance. “We cannot give you a blueprint of what will happen after we gain power –– a problem we have not yet met,” they saw, with the thinly-concealed forbearance of parents who have stood all they can possibly stand from their overly inquisitive youngsters. “There will be time enough to see about that after we get rid of the capitalists.[”]

Whatever this type of argumentation did to keep the small parties intact, it definitely had no wide mass appeal. The average worker did not join these so-called vanguard groupings. He felt he had a right to demand and answer to what was a real problem. For what stood out as big as life was the fact that Stalinist totalitarianism followed upon the heels of workers gaining power in Russia. Was it Russian backwardness or was it a natural consequence of gaining state power? The workers wanted to know, had to know because that is the $64 question that is gripping them by the throat everytime the [union’s] committeeman asks them not to wildcat but to obey the contract. They want to know: what makes him behave as he does when only yesterday he was a worker like us and acted like we do?

The workers not belonging to any radical organizations are a thousand times more right than these so-called vanguard groupings when they demand an answer to the question now. And in fact, in embryo, these problems that confront us today were posed back in 1920,[1] although the old radicals haven’t grasped this yet. That is why our friends are studying a debate that took place some thirty years ago. There is nothing pedantic about that desire “to study[.”] It arises from the fact that there isn’t a problem that we face today that wasn’t posed then. It is this which explains the sudden interest in the famous trade union debate that took place in Russia in 1920.


[1] This is a reference to the debate on the role of trade unions in socialist society that took place in Russia in 1920. V. I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, and Alexander Shliapnikov of the Workers’ Opposition each put forward markedly different views. Dunayevskaya’s 1958 book, Marxism and Freedom, contains a summary of and commentary on the debate.

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