Must We Have Leaders?

What distinguishes the Socialist Party of Great Britain and its Companion Parties from all other organisations is its Policy and Principles. In a word, its case. It is just as logical that our way of looking at things should produce one set of consequences as it is that the outlook of the pro-capitalist organisations should produce another.

As an organisation founded upon class consciousness and Socialist understanding, what we say about wars, crises, housing, racism, crime and poverty must be fundamentally different from what those organisations founded upon patriotism and ignorance say about these things.

The question of leadership underlines the difference between Socialists and non-Socialist organisations. In the relationship of leader and follower are to be found the expression of all the prejudice, arrogance, and ignorance which make the continuation of capitalism possible.

In dealing with leadership we cite as an example the Labour Party, who are notorious for their leaders. But they are not alone in either acceptance of the leadership idea. A common cry about the Labour Party, as each set of leaders comes and goes, has always been “ traitors—they have betrayed us,” This cry is typical of the so-called “left” as personified by the Communist Party and the Trotskyites, who also love their leaders.

No leader can advance further than the concepts and limited objectives of those who follow. It is therefore this situation that controls the leader, not the other way round. When a leader finds himself in power or in a position of responsibility, it is the conditions of capitalism that dictate how he shall act. They are at all times the products of events, and their popularity rises and falls according to how they act in given circumstances.

When the rank and file do not get what they have been led to think is good for them, they turn away. This is one factor, among others, in the loss of interest in trade unions and the Labour Party. It is not a question of “betrayal” but the inevitable disillusionment that comes from ignorance.

Capitalism, with its minority class ownership of the means of production, the profit motive, and the seething antagonisms which it generates throughout the world, prevent any fulfilment for the working-class in terms of peace and happiness. Having trusted their leaders of [all] kinds and not having yet achieved socialist understanding, they end up bewildered and frustrated. This pitiful process is already showing itself, in those parts of Africa where capitalism is just coming into its own. As capitalism develops in Africa it brings the same problems and property conflicts common to capitalism everywhere. Nationalism, the expression of the rising capitalist, class interest throws up the “leaders” who are the agents through which the conflicting factions press their property claims. Once more the question of who shall enjoy the rich proceeds of the exploitation of the workers (black and white), who shall get fat from the copper and other mineral deposits, is being fought out in the name of “freedom”. Once more the question of which group of blood-suckers, land-owners or industrialists, home-grown or foreign, shall rule is rallying the workers around the leaders who represent one gang of exploiters or another.

We are told from all sides “you must have leaders—there has to be someone at the top”. Nothing dismays our opponents more than when we tell them that we have no leaders and are opposed to the very idea of them. It is truly amazing, despite the hundreds of leaders in the world (political, religious, trade union) and their utter failure to do anything about the plight of the world, that the faithful persist in believing that we can’t do anything without them..

The more emphasis put on the leader, the more gullible and unthinking are the followers. Hitler, Stalin and the Pope are examples. Yet what good is a leader without the power to make decisions? The more a leader has to listen to the rank and file the more pointless he becomes. The ultimate logic of leadership and its ideal personification is the dictator.

Lenin, who was probably the champion verbal acrobat of all time, was able to negate democracy while posing as its supporter. He said:

“The Soviet Socialist democracy is in no way inconsistent with the role and dictatorship of one person; that the will of a class is at times best realised by a dictator, who sometimes will accomplish more by himself and is frequently more needed.”—Quoted by Martov in his “The State and the Socialist Revolution,” page 31.

This contempt for the ability of the working-class to understand their own interests and to act in an enlightened way, was not shared by the founders of scientific Socialism, Marx and Engels. The Marxist view is found in the Communist Manifesto, the joint work of Marx and Engels who always addressed themselves to the working-class, not to any elite. They spent their lives teaching and explaining, which, of course, is the last thing a leader can do.

“All previous historical movements were movements of minorities or in the interest of minorities. The proletarian movement is the self-conscious, independent movement of the immense majority, in the interest of the immense majority.”

What is true in the political field also holds good in the industrial side of the class-struggle. We have already mentioned trade-unions; a few points in elaboration are worth making Here again lack of class understanding sets the pace. The proper function of a trade union is to organise its members in the fight for better wages and conditions of work. To the extent that nationalism dominates the thinking of trade union members, so they will support the capitalists of a particular country against the international interest of their own class. They get involved in the capitalists’ affairs of markets and production efficiency and, listening to their leaders identifying their interests nationally with the capitalists’, they fall for the idea of doing what is good for their masters’ country.

As a result of trusting leaders, since the war workers have lost many opportunities to increase their wages. They accepted the wage-freeze policy when their trade-union and Labour Party leaders said they should. Even now, unofficial wages in some industries are well ahead of the trade-union rate which shows that there is a discrepancy between what workers can get when labour is relatively scarce, and what the unions accept as sufficient The unofficial struggles at factory and site level tend to isolate the rank and file from their leaders who always condemn unofficial action, but. are powerless to prevent it.

Industrially and politically leadership is nothing but a curse to the class-conscious organisation of the world’s workers for Socialism.


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