50 Years Ago: On leadership

The leadership idea has cursed the working class movement from the beginning. At an earlier period those supporting the idea had motives of benevolence, its later supporters have also benevolent motives—but the benevolence is directed towards themselves. They make stepping stones of their followers to reach comfort and security.

In France in 1793 Babeuf and his friends sacrificed their fortunes and lives in the attempt to relieve the misery of the mass of oppressed. The method was a sudden attack upon the central seat of power by a courageous and determined minority . . . Babeuf’s intentions were excellent, but his method was rotten at the root. Instead of first getting the mass of the people to understand and desire the new programme, he proposed to force it upon them from without The idea being that the intellectual few knew better what was good for the masses than the masses did themselves.

In 1836, an association of working men was formed in London that blossomed out into the first national movement of wage workers. This association took the name of ‘The London Workingmen’s Association’ and published an address, the concluding words of which put forward a new outlook for the oppressed, telling them to have done with leaders and trust only in themselves:

‘Be assured that the good there is to be must be begun by ourselves’.

Marx has put the case more definitely, as follows:

‘The emancipation of the working class must be the work of the working-class itself’.

In working out his emancipation, the worker must study the conditions that surround and oppress him. He must look to ‘great principles’ and not to ‘great men’ in the struggles.

From an article “Abandon the Idols” by G. McClatchie, SOCIALIST STANDARD, May 1923

Leave a Reply