1920s >> 1921 >> no-205-september-1921

The Despotism of Leadership

The Clynes’ Example.


Some months ago an article appeared in the Socialist Standard wherein was given an analysis of the relations existing between certain individuals in the trade union and labour movement known as “leaders” and the unfortunate beings who constitute the “led,” Certain further facts regarding leaders and leadership have come .into the possession of the writer, and no apology is needed, in his opinion, for reverting to a subject which is of primary importance to all workers, and more especially to those who happen to be trade union members.


It is tenable to suppose that few working-class men or women have either the time or the opportunity—or, for that matter, the inclination—to read the Official Reports of the Parliamentary Debates, so that in all probability the speech of the Right Hon. John R. Clynes on the 28th June last, on the occasion of the debate on the Settlement ‘Terms of the Coal Industry Dispute, has escaped the notice of those people who would most benefit by its perusal. Doubtless it appeared, in a very attenuated form, in most of the daily papers; but as all capitalist newspapers can, and do, by the omission of certain parts of a debate or speech, give it such a turn as will best propagate the particular political views they hold, and as in no case, if they can possibly avoid it, do they print anything that would be likely to weaken or endanger the present capitalist system, no reliance can be placed on the reports appearing in the papers usually bought by working-class readers. To return to the speech in question.


Clynes’ Candid Moment.


The opinion of the members of the Socialist Party with regard to the mentality of a man who is willing to submit to the dictation and authority of a “leader,” or “leaders,” is well known. But Mr. Clynes is even more severe than we are on those whom, at any rate, he is not too proud to represent, and on whose shoulders he has risen to his present eminence. He considers the trade union machine defective and out of date, and says that “the worst body of men, or the men least capable of forming a true judgment of their own interests, very often are the masses of the workmen themselves.” He pleads “for the great masses of the workmen not merely to have greater faith in their appointed leaders, but to place in their hands the exercise of greater authority and power. ”


Gentle Sarcasm.


I trust that trade unionists will accept with their usual docility and meekness the opinion held by Clynes regarding their mental incapability and lack of true judgment of their own interests; that they will realise, if never before, what abject beings they are in comparison with a Right Hon. full-blown labour-leader; that they will never, never attempt to think and act for themselves, but will listen to the plea of Mr. Clynes and leave to him and his like the arduous task of performing (for a fee) all those social and political functions which the Socialist considers that a man who is worthy to be called a man should perform for himself.


By Bluff and Cajolery!


In the course of the speech, regret is expressed that the miners’ leaders in the late coal dispute had no power and no authority, that they were not even able to negotiate in the sense of discussing in detail terms with the mineowners, that they were compelled to go and listen to what the employers had to say and then carry a message to some larger body, knowing even less than the members of the executive, the larger body in turn delegating the question to the masses of men, who knew least of all what had happened in connection with the discussions. One would think on reading this that the miners’ leaders were only the mouthpieces of the mass of the miners, and that they could not accept the terms offered by the mineowners without consultation with the rank and file; but what actually happened was that at the crucial point in the negotiations the leaders (as is admitted in the speech) “dared to assume a power not properly conferred upon them,’’ which Mr. Clynes says he is glad they did. They then, solely on their own responsibility, accepted what was offered, knowing, it is to be presumed, that by bluff and, cajolery they could always persuade their followers to ratify whatever agreement was arrived at.


Who Rules ?


As a matter of fact, to anyone who takes the trouble to study the development of the late coal trouble, it will be apparent that the so-called consultations between the leaders and the mass of the miners were all so much nonsense. From the beginning to the end the men were in the hands of the leaders, who, actually, in their turn were in the hands of the employers and the Government. The dispute lasted just so long as was desired by the owners and no longer. When it was thought feasible that the men should go back, the employers’ agents were able to persuade the miners’ leaders “to assume a power not properly conferred upon them’’ and’ guarantee the return to work, of the rank and file on the terms offered by the employers.


Clynes in the course of his speech thinks that “it will be a good thing for British industry if trusted and competent leaders, who in the nature of things come up closest to the real merits of the difference, and to the real facts in. dispute, could be vested with greater authority.” Apparently then, when a dispute arises between masters and men, what the men’s leaders have always to keep in view is, not the interests of those they are supposed to lead, but whether the method of ending the dispute will be “a good thing for British industry.”


We have often contended that the majority of “leaders” seem to consider that their duty is to anyone or anything rather than to the men who have elected and pay them, to attend to their interests; and certainly the official report of the speech here dealt with bears out this contention.


To any trade unionist who reads this article we Socialists say: Understand your class position as a wage slave, the evils rampant in society and how such affect you, and finally the means whereby your position as a wage slave may be changed to one of freedom. Is it not better to think for yourselves and act for yourselves, rather. than to leave your thinking and course of action in the hands of men who only seem capable of leading their followers deeper into the quagmires of capitalism, leaving them more weary and dispirited at the end of each journey ?


F. J. Webb.