Asked & Answered

[To the editor.]
Manchester, 12.5.1912.
Sir,—Your article in the current issue of the “S.S.” on “Why we oppose Labour Leaders,” prompts me to reply as follows.

In the first place what do you mean by “Labour Leaders” ? My conception of the term may or may not coincide with yours, but to put it to the test let me define what I take the term to mean.

I would say that a “Labour Leader” is one who, in the opinion of the rank and file of the organisation he belongs to, political or industrial, is the most capable exponent of that organisation’s principles. The most capable man to be found in the organisation who, in addition to expounding its principles and objects, can effectively retaliate and confound its critics. Thnt is my conception of a prominent man in “Labour circles,” who nowadays is popularly termed a “leader.”

But this applies equally to the S.P.G.B. Does it not elect its representatives in debate ? Do not the industrial organisations elect their “leaders” in like manner ? Aye, even more democratically than does the S.P.G.B. its debaters and official speakers, for the S.P.G.B. Executive have absolute control over the appointment of them, while a trade union does elect, either by ballot of the membership or at its business meetings, its officers and representatives. So, to speak, as your article does, of “placing themselves at the head” of their organisations is hardly correct—as your contributor admits later on, when he says that “leading, after all, is by consent,” which is somewhat different to “placing themselves.”

Personally, I am inclined to think that leaders are more or less necessary to any movement. Take, for instance, the official organ of the S.P.G.B. Its articles generally come from the same pens month after month, and those articles are taken by almost every member of the Party as the official utterances of the whole Party, yet the decision of that is vested in either an editorial committee or the whole Executive. Where do the rank and file come in ? It has to be published before they can agree or disagree, and if they disagree, as did a section of your members over the “W.B.” (Upton Park) reply (Feb. 1910), they have an almost insuperable task before them to convince, not the Party, but the Executive Committee. Anyhow, that by the way.

To my mind, so great a number of the working class have the unfortunate practice of “following” that I am inclined to think that even on the stroke of capitalism’s doom they would be “following” rather than “conscious” of their “historic mission,” and would enjoy the “fun of the fight.” For the same contributor, in his article “Might is Right,” tells us that it is only “opportunity” that is wanted to establish the workers’ right to the full products of their labour, brought about, of course, by might. Whether each and every one of the struggling workers is to be a conscious instrument or merely a “tool” in the execution of their mission we are not told. Men will “follow the crowd.” Again, there are men who lead and at the same time preach doctrines identical with your own. They lead because the “led” recognise their ability and worth. I myself have questioned the “led” on such occasions, and frequently they have been unable to say in anything like an intelligent manner, much less clear, why they allowed them to lead, or themselves to be led.
Fraternally yours,


My dear Mr. Garvey, though, as a student of Darwin, I am well aware that some people do have funny children, I really am surprised at you. If you have been a purchaser of the “S.S.” ever since “Might is Right” appeared, and have learnt no more than this, then we have been taking your money for nothing, and I must see about getting it refunded.

Your conception of a “Labour leader” indeed. Well, you must have got it from the “Labour leaders” themselves. It is just what they say about themselves whenever they can get a mug to listen to them.

But you must have had somebody in your mind, Mr. Garvey, surely. Who was it ? Was it the Right Honourable John Burns, who so warmly defended the Featherstone butchery ? Was it Mr. Philip Snowden, M.P., who exhibits such fine contempt lor the “drink-sodden democracy” ? Was it Mr. J. R. Macdonald, who called the Civil Servants sponges and said that it is “high time” they were told they would have to submit to the same terms as labour in the outside market ? Was it Mr. H. Quelch, whose only definite principle is what he calls the “One-and-one Principle” ? Was it Mr. W. Thorne, M.P., who assured his audiences from his election platform that he did not stand as a Socialist candidate, and then said, on the balcony of the Stratford Town Hall on the night of the “count” : “It is a great victory for Socialism and Labour” ? Was it any one of the forty-two so-called Labour M.P.s who sit cheek by jowl with tbe Liberal party in the House of Commons, and dare not vote for their own amendments for fear of embarrassing their allies ? Who was it, good friend Garvey, whom you took for type when you painted what you term your conception of a “Labour Leader” ? Perhaps you nodded in some tin chapel, where your hero was sacrificing himself to make a “Pleasant Sunday Afternoon,” and you got him mixed up with the stained glass angels on the windows.

Now I will give you my conception of the term “Labour leader.” First and foremost he is one who desires to lead. There may, course, be various reasons for this desire. It may arise from sheer egoism—the craving to loom large in the public eye ; or it mny proceed from the lust of pelf. But commonly it is due to an admixture of reasons, in which the chief and guiding one is the consideration of the eternal, omnipresent, almighty question of bread and butter. But there it is—he wants to lead, he must lead, he will lead, and, say you and the likes of you, he shall lead. It is that, and you, who make the “Labour leader,” or, that I may not fall behind you in| humble respect for His Nibs, the “labour Leader.”

The second point is that the “Labour leader” must have no principles. Principles are very ugly customers in the eyes of the “Labour leader.” They demand a certain consistency of action which is beastly awkward to the political weathercock. In addition to this, and vastly more important, men who have principles and understand them cannot be led. They are the masters of the situation. They know whither they want to go, for the road is clearly pointed out by their principles. Their collective understanding of these principles, and their collective wisdom, and courage, and determination in the prosecution of the line of action which these principles demand, far outweighs that of any individuals. What men with principles want, therefore, are not leaders and bosses, but servants to do their bidding. This the “Labour leader” understands well enough, and so he has no concern with principles. Indeed, so far, Mr. Garvey, is your conception from, being correct in this particular, that the “Labour leader” cannot arise in an organisation which is firmly grounded upon any set of principles.

It is a very clumsy dodge of yours to profess a conception of a “Labour leader” in such form as precludes him from being a leader, and then asking where he differs from an S.P.G.B. representative. But again you show that it is your misfortune to have to look on these things through eyes which, to put it with becoming courtesy and gentleness, do not focuss accurately. An S.P.G.B. debater is appointed by the E.C. for a specific and temporary purpose. He is not an official of the Party, for there is no office of Party Debater, as there is of Party Organiser, Party Treasurer, and so on. If there were it would be filled, as these offices are, by the Party membership. But the E.C. appoints debaters because the membership elects them to perform that duty among others.

And as for your remarks concerning the publication of the Party Organ, you answer yourself when you say : “It has to be published before they,” the rank and file (your expression, Mr. Garvey, not mine) “can agree or disagree.” Exactly, and I should not be surprised if you have hit upon the very consideration that moved the Party membership to saddle the E.C. with the task of getting it published. Every dog has his day—go up one.

“Where do the rank and file come in ?” you ask. Every member of the Party comes in where and when he receives his copy of the issue. Every member of the Party has an opportunity to agree or disagree before he takes any part in pushing the sale of the Organ. What more would you have after confessing that the paper must be published before they can agree or disagree ?

Your statement that a section who disagreed with the Party position on a certain matter had an almost insuperable task to convince the E.C. falls a trifle short of the truth. They had an absolutely insuperable task, and when they tried to convince the Party, the task was just as insuperable.

The article “Might is Right” does not contain the statement you attribute to it, nor anything like it. Your statement is rubbish and falsehood. As a matter of fact, the opportunity is always present when the workers are sufficiently educated and organised to seize it. And the inconsistency you fancy you can detect in the article you criticise vanishes directly you ask yourself whether, before a person can place himself at the head of a body of men he must be permitted to do so —in other words, he leads by consent.

Your inclination “to think that leaders are more or less necessary to any movement” betrays the Anarchist. The Socialist knows that the strength comes, not from “prominent men,” but from the class as such. While the class has no definite guiding principles, it will be the prey of so-called Labour leaders. The Anarchist, the Individualist, the man who is “inclined to think that leaders are more or less necessary to every movement” has no faith in his class, but only in individuals. Such alone are they who, “even on the stroke of Capitalism’s doom, would be following,” creating confusion, ignorant of the real object, blind to the real enemy, halting when they should march, sparing when they should strike, stampeding when they should snatch the fruits of victory from a beaten foe. Once again I proclaim, as many Socialists have proclaimed before me, and as my comrades are proclaiming from our platforms day by day, there is no hope snve, in the class. There is no hope save in the class. There is no hope save in the working class understanding, not their but its own politics. Therefore the Socialist, who has faith in the inevitability of Socialism, has faith also in the working class. He has faith in its intellect, faith in its courage, faith in its tenacity, faith in its mission, and therefore faith in its triumph. Those who doubt in any one of these matters cannot be Socialists, are unworthy to stand in the ranks of those who are fighting the battle of the working class. They doubt their class ; they have contempt for the capacities of their class ; they can be nothing but enemies of their class. If they be men who have had ample opportunity to learn the truth, then the beet place for them is in the ranks of the B.S.P., where they can sit in open-mouthed adoration of those “leaders” whom they appraise above the class they are part of.


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