1920s >> 1921 >> no-198-february-1921

Leaders and Leadership

The recent appointment of a prominent official of the Miners’ Federation to a remunerative government post emphasises, once again, how logical the Socialist Party is in its fierce opposition to all forms of leaders and leadership. It will, perhaps, be instructive at this juncture to examine and analyse at some length the relative position of the leaders and the led, and to trace the motives that instigate the desire of so many members of the working class to follow blindly anyone with the ability to impress upon them the qualifications generally considered necessary for successful leadership.

The Socialist, holding as he does a materialist conception of the universe, and understanding how great a part environment plays in the development of the individual, realises that the mentality of the majority of the workers is such as provides an excellently fruitful soil for the sowing and growth of the leadership idea. They—the workers—are taught from youth upward that they are beings of a low order of intelligence; that they must obey implicitly the precepts and orders of certain people who are supposed to “be much wiser than they; that theirs is not to reason why, but to do or die in whatever way their “superiors” may ordain. They have instilled into their minds from childhood by the priests of the various religious organisations the idea that the intellect must be quiescent and subservient when coming into conflict with anything that appertains to the doctrines taught.

All religions are forms of mental weakness. They embody, without exception, the desire of feeble minds to find something stronger than themselves on which they can lean and to which they can turn for help and guidance when faced by any tribulation or trial. The Press from the time of its inception has invariably used its power to impress upon the workers the fact that their place is, and should be, the lowest possible at the table of life, while at any orthodox political meeting one is made to feel that the politicians are the elite of social and intellectual refinement and the audience (if it is a working class audience) merely the residue left after the refining process by which politicians are made has been accomplished.

Teachers, priests, pressmen, politicians, all the agents employed to train and bend the proletarian mind in the direction desired by the capitalists have for generations done their business so well that it is really not surprising that most working-class men and women are in a mentally supine condition, willing and eager to follow blindly anyone with a strong and commanding personality, a glibness of tongue, or a persuasive manner. This gullibility is almost incredible, until one remembers past occasions and incidents, such as occurred, for instance, during the late European war and the General Election campaign during the close of 1918.

Thus it is easy for a would-be leader to obtain followers and an enormous ascendency over them. The material he has to work upon has been so well prepared for him that little or no difficulty is found in making people accept at his own valuation; in making them believe in his superior wisdom and attainments ; that it would be all to their benefit to follow unquestioningly whatever dictates he may give or in whatever direction he may lead ; that he is a man to be trusted, a shepherd whose only desire is to bring his sheep to more juicy pastures and better feeding places.

On the part of the leaders themselves, various motives may come into operation in the process of elevating a member of the rank and file to a position as a full blown labour leader. The motive may be a desire on his part for place and power; for a better social position ; for money and the power it gives. He may desire to escape from a hard and uncongenial task to an easier and more congenial one. He may see dangling before his eyes a position in Parliament and the emoluments that generally accompany such a position. He may realise how much more valuable to the capitalist Press (and consequently how much more remunerative to the writer) are articles written by a prominent labour leader in comparison with those written by a mere rank-and-filer. It may even be at the outset that he sincerely believes that in accepting the position offered him he is doing what is best for those from whose ranks he has risen— though in this case, the strength of the social and political environment in which he finds himself—a totally different environment as a leader from that in which he moved before— will very quickly change his outlook and bring him into line with those of his confreres who look down from their high altitude at the plane from which they have sprung and wonder how in the world they could ever have found anything in common with the denizens of such a benighted district.

In any case, whatever the motive may be, it is inevitable that directly a man reaches a position wherein he is able to exercise to their fullest extent his powers of personality, or plausibility, or rhetoric—that is the very powers that have enabled him to occupy the place he does—he is to all intents and purposes a martinet whose word is law and who is able to sway whatever way suits him the people from whom he has risen and who have themselves elected him to the position he holds.

Take the generality of labour leaders. One would have thought that long ere this their followers would have seen on which side—the workers’ or the capitalists’—these men actually were. Their past record is sufficient for any impartial observer to perceive that their sole aim is their own advancement, and that they are astute enough to see that such advancement will be quicker and better obtained by keeping in agreement with the capitalists rather than by opposing them. But their followers are too obtuse to understand what is happening, or even when, in rare instances, their eyes are opened, they prefer to put up with the men they have elected rather than dismiss them and admit that they have been misled, gulled, and betrayed by those to whom they have been stupid enough to give their confidence and trust.

A short time ago a prominent trade union official and member of Parliament was subjected to a good deal of criticism from certain recalcitrant members of his union with regard to his activities on behalf of the capitalists more directly connected with his particular union. His retort to his critics was a threat to resign, whereon all criticism was immediately silenced and as a mark of confidence his salary was raised. Not only so, but soon after he was presented with other pecuniary tokens of his followers’ reverence for authority and their willing acceptance of the fact of their inferiority. When one comes to consider the question, it must really be the easiest thing in the world— for anyone with few scruples and plenty of bluff to lead such a purblind and readily deluded mob as the bulk of the working class is at present. “In the kingdom of the blind the one eyed man is king,” and the workers are so blind to their own interests that the men they elect as leaders, however oblique of vision they may be, apparently appear quite god-like in comparison with the electors own humble opinion of themselves.

It is not surprising that when these “men in authority” are offered a well-paid Government position they jump at the chance of bettering themselves and throw over without the slightest compunction the rather shaky props upon which they have risen. So it will continue as long as the workers remain in their present condition of economic and political ignorance.

They must first of all realise their class position of wage slaves and ascertain why they are wage-slaves. Then will come in due course a knowledge of their tremendous strength as a social force and their organisation in the Socialist Party, which has no leaders in any shape or form, To follow blindly anyone or anything is a sure symptom of mental weakness. The training and strengthening of the working-class intellect is the first step towards the emancipation of the workers from the degradation which is the inevitable outcome of their position as wage-slaves into the freedom of body and mind desired by the Socialist, not only for himself and his class, but for all men and women—even perhaps (though this may sound fantastic) for labour leaders.

F. J. Webb