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The little vanguard's tail

Once upon a time there lived a little vanguard. It was only very small, but very hard. It was so tightly packed with cadres that there was not room at all for revision or deviation. No sinister ideas from outside ever penetrated the vanguard. All the cadres were carefully streamed and graded, taught not to step out of line. Consequently, the little vanguard was always extremely pure and correct. Sometimes bits broke away; but they always ended up by deviating or revising something-or-other, and the vanguard used to shake its point over them. “No-one is as correct as the vanguard,” it would say to itself.

Nevertheless, sometimes the vanguard felt lonely: it would long to put its bottom up, have a rest, and not bother to inject its correct ideas anywhere. It got so puffed by its efforts to raise the level of consciousness and, in such moments, it thought how nice it would be to go all soft and floppy and not poke or pull any more. But where would a soft floppy vanguard get you? It might even find itself mistaken for a tail and begin to wag or straggle. Everyone knows that any self-respecting vanguard has to be hard. A floppy vanguard is a contradiction in terms.

The vanguard's task was to poke about until it found some unorganised lumps and clusters; then it had to inject them with the right ideas and turn the people in the lumps and clusters into cadres. Sadly, however, the people were often unresponsive; they didn't want to become cadres or receive correct ideas. The vanguard became quite blunt with all its poking and injecting. It grew lethargic and suffered from lassitude: it was obviously suffering from routinisation.

One day there was a terrible mumbling among the cadres. Splits appeared and the cadres were no longer so tightly packed. One lot were fed up with the disorderly lumps and clusters. They complained, “Where do we get with all our poking and prodding? We get puffed and blunt, but these lumps and clusters never move – they just sit around watching TV. It was okay for the vanguards of the past, the masses weren't so dozy in those days.” These cadres became nostalgic and went off to join the ruling class.

Another lot began to send each other lengthy essays on organisation; they began to question the structure of the vanguard. But the top cadres warned them, “You'd better watch out with that kind of talk – if you're not careful you'll find the vanguard will disappear and where would we be then? The same as any old lump!” However, the bottom cadres were determined and began to say they didn't see what was wrong with people in lumps and clusters: they had been there themselves, after all, and if the vanguard only stopped being so snooty and stuck-up, maybe the lumps and clusters would be more helpful.

After a top cadre meeting at the highest level, the following statement was issued:

“A threat to top cadres is a threat to the whole vanguard. The whole existence of the vanguard is challenged by adventurist, centrist agents of the swamp. Now, at a time of crisis for the entire movement, certain cynical elements are playing on the political immaturity of the bottom cadres to get them to say that they should not be bossed around by us. Comrades, the struggle intensifies, the swamp gets wetter. We have a long haul ahead; but you are fortunate, cadres, in having our leadership. The lumps and clusters are useless without us – we are going to drag them on to the right path.”

This shut up the bottom cadres for a while. Though it sounded like hard work, it was something new. And how could they argue with the so-correct leadership? They had nobody who knew what to do at the highest level of the vanguard. And they also felt quite important, having to drag the unorganised lumps and clusters out of the swamp. Also, if they stopped asking awkward questions and kept quiet, they might become correct enough to be promoted to higher rank.

And so the vanguard turned to the lumps and clusters and started to tug and pull. “Ouch!” cried the lumps; “Let go!” cried the clusters; “Bugger off!” they shouted together. “It's for your own good,” argued the cadres, “you're an ignorant lot, too brain-washed to know your own interests. We are raising you to a higher level.”

“Now look here,” protested a group from the lumps, “we don't want to make trouble – we let you poke us about – but we're not going to be dragged off without knowing why or where we're going, and without having any control over what is happening. Keep an eye on a vanguard, we say: vanguards can get out of hand . . .”

 

“Economism!” barked the top cadres. “Lumpism!”

“They're right,” chirped a commune of clusters. “We groove with the lumps. We've had our disagreements in the past, and we don't dig their lifestyle, but we don't want any vanguard either.”

“Petty-bourgeois anarchism!” hissed the top cadres, quivering with rage at the highest point of the vanguard, top-heavy with stern correction.

More communes of clusters spoke up. “We aren't as solid as the lumps, but we're more mobile. We can get out of the swamp with a little help from the lumps. We are willing to accept that even the most hardened cadres can become people again; we are willing to work together, but not with top cadres bossing us around.”

So the lumps and clusters forged an alliance. “Opportunism!” bellowed the top cadres. “Lumps and clusters are useless without a vanguard! The way through the swamp is dangerous: in order to get anywhere, you must be hard like us. Without us to lead you, you're bound to come to a sticky end.”

“What,” said the lumps, “if you get cut off from us? If you're our leaders and we don't know what to do, we'll be in a worse mess than ever, stuck in the middle of the swamp – very exposed.” “Quite so,” agreed the clusters.

Some bottom cadres started muttering again: “They have a point there, you know. If we all got together, we won't need to be so hard and poky all the time. We could be a bit squelchy and squashy sometimes – more human. After all, when there's a movement of lumps and clusters, the vanguard can become people and join in like anyone else.”

Will the top cadres inject the correct ideas into the bottom cadres? Will the latter be absorbed by the lumps and clusters? Will the latter maintain their unprincipled alliance? Will the top cadres dive into the swamp? Will the lumps and clusters gain the right to make their own mistakes and learn from history? Will they get out of the swamp?

There is no quick answer to these questions: the tail of the little vanguard is very long indeed.

DAVID FINLAY