Vanguard parties, meaning revolutionary parties/organizations that have the backing and confidence of the masses and are recognized by them as leadership, particularly the proletariat and other revolutionary classes (classes with a material interest in destroying the capitalist-imperialist system), don’t just pop out of thin air, nor are they declared. There are a myriad of groupings scattered around the First World claiming to be “vanguards”, yet in many instances nobody among the masses knows who these groups are and their prestige, if they have any, comes from notorious (embarrassing, stupid, ultra-left acts like those committed by the Symbionese Liberation Army, which got caught when one of their “cadre” stole a pair of socks leading the police to their hideout in LA) actions and the subsequent incarceration/deaths of key individuals and the collapse of said organization. As a result, the masses are either appalled or casually indifferent to the affairs and actions of these organizations and don’t care whether they live or die. They aren’t vanguards because they are accepted by nobody that matters (the masses) as leadership, rightfully so.
A vanguard is a title earned. A vanguard party, 9.9 times out of 10, is illegal and subject to state repression. Note, this doesn’t mean “go out and do stupid things and invite state repression that nobody can handle by picking fights”. This means “your breakfast program gets raided” and “cadres get shot in the head in front of their families like Fred Hampton”. The Black Panther Party, for all its internal contradictions and problems (which would eventually open the Party up to degeneration and destruction) was the closest thing that the Black masses in this country had to a vanguard. Why? Because it was a material force opposed to and posing an existential threat to the existing capitalist-imperialist order and thus was marked for destruction. The BPP had weapons, but most importantly, it had mass support.To get a mass base, you have to serve the people, meaning listen to them entirely (not just to what you want to hear), take their ideas, analyze them using Communist theory, and develop a line that is subject to change according to the demands of the masses. A failed line is shown by consistent lack of interest in the masses in your activities, failure to attract attention or publicity to your events, and consistent lackluster performance and turnout. If you’re still turning out less than twenty people to your demonstrations after existing for 2–3 years as an organization, you probably need to reconsider some things and study the mass line. The mass line can be distorted and twisted resulting in subpar performance, in the US we see mainly what a former RCP member calls the sectarian-dogmatist interpretation, where basically the masses are told what they want to hear and get harangued instead of being listened to. As a result, there is no real mass movement, and no real vanguard. The RCP tried their sectarian-dogmatist nonsense at a Haitian demonstration in NYC recently and almost got ran off the Brooklyn Bridge by the masses themselves.
Development of a Party as vanguard requires the masses being trusting of and loving the Party and its cadre. This necessitates close links, careful checking up on work, constant formation and strengthening of ties with the people. When I talk to people I come of as a normal person, of course a well spoken one with an education but that’s what black people tend to like and trust, a young brother going to college. We also have to remember that different segments of the masses have different concerns and different interests and must be approached differently. I don’t talk to pastors like I’d talk to a brother on the street. If you come off as a lunatic or are a loudmouth white person waving guns in everybody’s face, nobody is going to listen to a word you say, they’ll either tell you to fuck off or nod their head until you go away. Development of respect among the masses requires a level head, a capacity to both listen, analyze, and explain, patience, and humility. Building ties and links in a community is a process that takes years, and a wrong word or bad mistake can destroy one’s reputation and squander years of hard work. I am not with my people like I am with people in academic tendencies and useless activists, the first are important to me and where our strength comes from, the second are in for their own self-aggrandizement and are of no importance in the long run. If there is to be a true MLM party in this country, a vanguard, cadre in party building must build firm bases of support through building firm united fronts within our communities and dual power. This means building up our own armed forces (the prerequisite to a people’s army), but not placing the majority of our efforts into this task, it’s only one aspect of base building. Community gardens, serve the people programs, health clinics, free tutoring programs, all of these things serve the purpose of addressing the needs and concerns of the masses of people and most importantly showing through practice that things such as food stamps, WIC, Medicaid, etc., when cut, can be easily replaced through the efforts of the masses of people. Those who can conduct these programs well in accordance with the wishes and needs of the people will earn respect and support from the masses. Those who work for unity among the community instead of working for splits, sowing discord, and lording over the masses will be the vanguard. Those who neglect the essential base building work and who simply see revolution as a matter of guns + books + machismo will ultimately drop their rocks on their own feet and will follow the footsteps of the Weather Underground and SLA, who had many guns but no mass support. Study and learn from history and aspire to earn the title you seek.