Study Guide for Mandel’s Vanguard Parties

Ernest Mandel’s essay on vanguard parties is an explanation of why Marxists believe in the need for a revolutionary party. While Youth for Socialist Action obviously is not a party, through our association with Socialist Action, we seek to build a vanguard party that will be able to successfully lead the working class to socialist revolution, and beyond that, to a classless society. We present this study to help foster a better understanding of this very important concept.

Below is a list of questions that are designed to help draw out some of the most important concepts and ideas in Mandel’s essay. They are arranged in the order in which their topic appears in the essay. Please note that this is not a test, only a suggested guide for studying the essay. They can be used as part of a study group, or to help with your own private study. Use the text in the essay, as well as your own experiences, to try to answer them.

Study Questions for “Vanguard Parties”
1. What are the two ingredients needed in a socialist revolution?2. What is elementary class consciousness? Why is it important? What are its limitations?

3. Why don’t workers rebel all of the time?

4. What tasks does the vanguard party fulfill during low ebbs in the class struggle?

5. What is the political program of the vanguard, and where does it come from?

6. How is the concept of a “centralized” party political as opposed to being simply organizational?

7. In what ways does the vanguard party unify different struggles and experiences?

8. How does a vanguard organization become a vanguard party?

9. What are the different forms that the self-organization of the working class takes, and what stance does the vanguard party take towards them?


10. What was Marx’s favorite saying, and how is it relevant to the question of building a vanguard party? 

11. Why does the vanguard support democracy and open debate within the workers’ movement?12. What role does democracy play in a post-capitalist society?

13. What role does democracy play in the vanguard party?