1920s >> 1927 >> no-275-july-1927

A. J. Cook versus Herbert Smith

Those who criticise leaders, but continue to believe in the need for leadership, usually fasten upon the personal defects of the man they condemn. What the workers want, according to these critics, is better leaders, leaders who can be trusted. In Herbert Smith and Arthur Cook, the miners have, so far as it is possible to judge, two leaders who are to be trusted in the sense that no one has ever yet accused them of betraying the miners to the mineowners, and it is hardly conceivable that they have done so or deliberately would do so. Yet we unhesitatingly warn the miners not to put their trust in Smith and Cook, or in anyone else. Our case is that the working-class movement will never succeed until the workers put all of their trust in themselves, formulate their own policy, and instruct their representatives to pursue it, with a full recognition that the responsibility for success or failure must rest on their own shoulders, and cannot without grave danger be placed on those of leaders.


Recently, both Cook and Smith have advised the miners how to escape from the difficulties they are in. A. J. Cook says (“Sunday Worker,” June 5th):—

 We must get power in the shape of a Miners’ National Union backed up by a 100 per cent. organisation. Then we will be able to speak to the owners and the Government in the only language they understand. . . . The only way out is for an International Miners’ Organisation that will engage upon a struggle to arrange the hours, wages and working conditions. This would end the present cut-throat competition that is starving the miners in every capitalist country in the world.

Mr. Herbert Smith, on the contrary, said (“Daily Herald,” June 6th):—

  More and more in the future we have to think, talk and act politically. We have to fight in the House of Commons instead of on the stomachs of the women and children. We can get all we want by marking the ballot paper properly.

Now it is impossible for both Cook and Smith to be right. It cannot be true that each of both political and industrial action is the best of all possible ways. I would go further, and say that as both Cook and Smith are aiming not at Socialism, but at Nationalisation, which will not solve any of the miners’ problems, it does not matter much which means the miners adopt to achieve an undesirable end, and that Cook and Smith are both wrong. The question of the moment is, however, what is the use of leaders? Having heard two conflicting pieces of advice, the miners cannot simply trust their leaders, they have to make a deliberate choice which one of them to trust. As this cannot properly be made without examining critically the advice given, the miners might just as easily recognise that there is no inspired person able to do their thinking and solve their problems for them. The sooner they recognise this, the sooner they will recognise also the limitations and useful qualities of Smith and Cook, and utilise them accordingly to carry out a genuine working-class policy framed by the miners themselves.