Chomsky is a bit harsh here, but with some good insights. I will cite this because I have used the term ‘vanguardism’, in a slightly different sense.
I have shared at some point many of the views here, e.g. the opportunism of Lenin and the coup d’etat in October, etc… I have moved away from that somewhat, since it is hard to evaluate the overall context. We realize now that communism was an esoteric movement and its ruthless prophets who foresaw the coming calamity were waiting for any chance for an experiment. The nature of the case was to exploit a unique opportunity created by WWI, and the effort succeeded.
More generally many of the issues raised by marxism were red herrings. It was true and right to found marxism in industrial lore and saga. But the fact is that the question of peasants wasn’t addressed, and yet that was the first stumbling block for marxist robot minds following the canon.
The issue of communism is to create a postcapitalist society. That requires not action according to theory, but a chance to start. But then mechanical thinking wasted the golden opportunity. We should have gotten half the planet in communist ‘rough shape’ by now. But that opportunity was squandered. The next attempt is not far off…
Vanguardism is a bad term to take up, but what I meant was that a proletarian uprising is an abstraction, and leftists frustrated their efforts with an imaginary mechanics of classes.
Most movements start with a core of people who solicit membership, etc… That’s all I meant finally by a vanguard: the idea is/was (cf. Last and First Men) that a core group will constitute a Universal Class (of anyone who shapes up), from there operate toward mobilizing the proletariat, and with a strategy for the other classes.
The proletarian scenario was based on situations where people could starve in the streets. Now a new and more potent strategy is possible, but it is seldom that starvation propels revolution at this point (that could change).
I might point to an example of mass enthusiasm: the Rajneesh Commune experiment, now almost completely denounced. But my point is that people will join such an outfit at the drop of a hat in the tens of thousands and produce an immense amount of donated capital and free labor to construct a new society in embryo in less than five years. Calling it the Commune echoing the french classic with in your face brazenness before the capitalist authorities. There is a long list of problems there, but my point is simply that the left has to be able to propose some form of a new society that will be an object of interest to people mulling their frustration and hopelessness in capitalist society. The Second Internationale achieved that, up to a point. But the same stale breadcrust Stalinist sales pitch (prefaced with claims to not be stalinist) is repeated now with a straight face. Rajneesh exploited the moment of new age fascination with buddhism to a tee. And he understood that people don’t want a new party to brainwash them: they want a way to liberate consciousness and achieve self-realization.
People who are basically asocial individuals by economic default but people of hope and merit would jump at the chance to be a part of some new and vital communism: the issues should be social existence, religion/postreligion, these days, meditation and self-realization, economic fundamentals, educational sectors, boot camps and commune experiments, lifestyle and plain fun, plus work opportunities. As with the Oregon commune the potential of revolution is implicit (as the Osho group, basically still bound in social conformity despite appearances, couldn’t quite grasp. But the CIA understood it well and was all over the place). But that starting point is quite legit, though it might well stand next to preparations for larger social change as revolution.
The vanguard is at risk of crypto-fascism, but my point is that the superset of the proletariat is a ‘Universal Class’ that solicits membership for a form of group activity. I think that the vanguard in this sense has always been the case.
As in antiquity where the revolutionary question (which never materialized even in the Jewish revolt against Rome) turned into a catacombing cult stealth ‘revolution’ so…Well, let’s hope we can bring the revolution to pass, else we will create a pseudo-radical religion to undermine the tyrannies from the underground, waiting for the moment when they begin to decay…