Why Socialists Oppose Leadership
If we are without knowledge, as, for instance, in social affairs, we are at the mercy of those who say that they know, and who are endeavouring to persuade or drive us to follow out a course of action that they say is for our good.
There is a group of people who propagate the view that the working class are an ignorant lot, incapable of deciding what form of society is best for them, or, in the event of a new form of society coming into existence, running such a society in a proper businesslike manner. This group of people proclaim that it is necessary for a few intellectuals to apply their cultured brains to social problems, tell the workers what must be done, prepare the framework of a new society, and occupy all the important posts under any new arrangement of social affairs. To such people leadership is an essential idea, as democracy is supposed to be incapable of managing its own affairs.
Now, democratic methods may result in slow motion, may have many faults, but they are as nothing against the waste of effort, the sickening failures, and the empty achievements obtained by methods of autocratic rule, or rule by faction or clique.
The case for the capable man in the right job sounds plausible until we look at the results before our eyes. The temptation to stay in a good job, prolonging its lease of life, and blind the eyes of the trusting followers has, so far, been irresistible to the majority of the cultured that have sought a career in labour affairs. Once having got ahead of the crowd, they do their best to stay there and make the job as comfortable and lucrative as possible.
The weakness of the intellectuals’ position is apparent once we look at the matter, with a little attention. Let us take the case of a man we are entrusting with the carrying out of certain work. How can we judge of the capabilities of such a man unless we ourselves have a fair knowledge of the work he is to do and the results he is to achieve?
Knowledge is the only safeguard for the workers against trickery and false advocates, and it is also the only doorway through which society can pass to a society based upon common ownership. If the mass of those who are seeking a new arrangement of social affairs do not possess knowledge of what they want and how it is to be attained, then a new society can only be a new chaos, be the leaders of the people as cultured as they may.
The way of the intellectual is a curious one. He points out that the mass of the people are ignorant, but, instead of showing how they can obtain knowledge, he contends for the improvement in affairs according to his own plan, so that the people will, unconsciously, come into the new Jerusalem. Instead of seeing that it is possible for the people to be educated, he sets out with the assumption that such a thing is absurd.
The leadership group is composed of two elements; the one lays stress upon the “capable man” side, and the other lays stress upon the “trusted leader” of spectacular movements.
That modern society is a complex affair is a fact that should hardly need labouring, yet there are many who think that, like the prophet, they can blow down the walls of Jericho with a trumpet. This false idea leads to the enthusiastic and futile strike demonstrations and the like, that are much favoured by the Communists, although Russian example ought to have knocked such rubbish out of most people’s heads. However, it has not done so. It is still necessary to point out that the running of society requires a vast amount of technical and administrative knowledge. This knowledge the worker can obtain by study and taking active part in the work of a political organisation having for its object the establishment of Socialism and for its methods democratic principles.
It will not be by mob rule, nor yet by the rule of intellectuals, but the rule of educated democracy that the new society will be ushered in and its needs met. Educated democracy would adopt means to select the most fitting people for given occupations, and, having the knowledge themselves as to the general course to be followed, would see that those selected carried out their duties properly.
There is a tendency to confuse the appointment of capable men for a job with the appointment of leaders, and this confusing of the two is done by the intellectual type above mentioned.
Take a leaf out of the book of an ordinary capitalist business organisation. When a company is formed a Board of Directors takes charge of affairs and appoints managers and the like. Now, the Directors are, themselves, by no means necessarily capable managers and so forth, but they know quite well what they want and have a general idea how it is to be obtained. We are, of course, referring to the Directors who really act as such, and not to the ornamental figureheads who frequently figure on Boards. Above all, they want the business to pay, and, therefore, before the managers can embark on any enterprise they must first of all convince the Board that such an enterprise is a paying proposition. This analogy will serve to illustrate the point. The educated worker will have to be convinced by reason, and not emotion, before he gives his support to any proposition.
A man who can speak well and move an audience by emotional outbursts is usually lacking in the accomplishments necessary to perform work of any administrative nature, and yet, under the influence of the leadership idea, this is just the type of man who generally falls into the administrative vacancy.
Let us leave the intellectual and emotional leaders to take care of themselves, and conclude this brief article with a question and an answer.
How would society have to organise in the future, assuming te workers were in the seat of power?
The first consideration of society, in such circumstances, would be to provide a living equally for all its members and the second consideration would be that the living should be a comfortable one. First the hunger problem would have to be settled and the housing and clothing ; and then the aesthetic side of life could receive attention.
It is argued that if we were all comfortably placed, that life would be dull and drab, and that it is the ups and downs that make life interesting. It would be difficult to prove this point to the sleeper on the Thames Embankment, the dweller in the slum, the sufferer from lead poisoning, or the prostitute. It is small comfort to such as these, whose lives are made up of “downs,” to appreciate the delight of the alternating phases. It will usually be noticed that those who preach the gospel of the alternating phases are they who have been favoured with the “ups” ! It is equivalent to the moral sermon preached bv the rich to the man who steals a loaf because he is hungry.
Most of us lead dull, drab lives from our earliest to our latest days, and yet we can end this state of affairs if we wish. The chief consideration is that the majority of us must do the wishing. The father to this wish is the acquirement of the knowledge of why we are poor, and how to end our poverty.
(Editorial, Socialist Standard, December 1925)