Back when I was a student some time in the early 1990s, I remember discussing with a friend our impatience with the transformations then underway in the economic policies of the Labour Party, then led by John Smith and with Gordon Brown as the Shadow Chancellor. And we joked that we wouldn’t mind the shift to the right so much if the substance of the new policies could be presented to the electorate in properly Marxist language, labour theory of value, declining rate of profit, calculations of relative surplus value and all the rest.
And, as so very often, be careful for what you wish for, just in case it comes to pass. The very same Gordon Brown, freshly arrived at the top of the greasy pole, has just been calling for “vigilance“. So, see over the fold for the entry on “Revolutionary Vigilance” from R. N. Carew Hunt’s indispensable Guide to Communist Jargon (1957), pp.143-5…
The necessity for vigilance, or revolutionary vigilance as it is generally called, is continually stressed in communist propaganda. As good a formulation as any of the reason for it is contained in a circular letter issued by the Central Committee on the occasion of the murder of the Leningrad party chief, S. M. Kirov, in 1934, and quoted in Chpater 11, Section 3 of the Short History of the C.P.S.U. (b):
“We must put an end to the opportunist complacency engendered by the erroneous assumption that as we grow stronger the enemy will become tamer and more inoffensive. This assumption is an utter fallacy. It is a recrudescence of the Right deviation, which assured all and sundry that our enemies would little by little creep into Socialism and in the end become real Socialists. The Bolsheviks have no business to rest on their laurels: they have no business to sleep at their posts. What we need is not complacency, but vigilance, real Bolshevik revolutionary vigilance. It should be remembered that the more hopeless the position of the enemies, the more eagerly will they clutch at ‘extreme measures’ as the only recourse of the doomed in their struggle against the Soviet power. We must remember this, and be vigilant.”
Revolutionary vigilance is thus related to a number of Marxist-Leninist concepts. First, that the Soviet State and any others modelled upon it are surrounded by enemies who will use every means to destroy them, e.g., by employing spies and saboteurs, and by using bourgeois ideology to suborn individuals (see “capitalist encirclement”). Secondly, that the class struggle becomes intensified in the transition period into Socialism, because the doomed capitalist world will intensify its resistance, so that it will be responsible for the eventual revolution and not the proletariat, which is simply fulfilling its historic mission. Thirdly, that in defending its class interests, the bourgeoisie is only doing what is to be expected, and the real enemies of the revolution are the Socialists, since it is their alleged alliance with the bourgeoisie that is keeping the capitalist system alive. Thus the sharpening of the class struggle is invariably stressed when the party line moves to the left, as this carries with it the corollary that the struggle against the Socialists must be intensified; while, conversely, it is played down when the line shifts to the right, as it did at the Twentieth Congress, which insisted that it was now the duty of Communist Parties to form Popular Fronts with other left-wing political groups.
But whoever is the class enemy, and he may very well be found in the ranks of the Party itself, it is the duty of every Communist Party and its members to recognize and destroy him. As usual, the C.P.S.U. sets an example in this regard, and thus an article in the Cominform Journal of November 23 1951 pointed out that it was owing to its revolutionary vigilance that “the aggressive designs of the Fascist-Tito gang were exposed”. An article in the same periodical of February 27th 1953 cited “the exposure of the group of doctor-killers, agents of the American and British imperialists”, as a further illustration of this devotion to duty.
The belief that the capitalist world is forever seeking to corrupt Communists in order to carry out its designs makes it incumbent upon every Party to exercise the utmost vigilance in the conduct of its affairs; and one lapse from this, to which reference is constantly made, is the appointment of “cadres” (q.v.) without sufficient enquiry into their antecedents, with the result that politically unreliable persons are placed in positions where they can act as “betrayers of the people”. The same emphasis upon revolutionary vigilance is reflected in the Penal Code of communist countries, according to which the disclosure of any item of political or economic information which has not been officially released becomes a criminal offence.