2000s >> 2001 >> no-1165-august-2001

Book Reviews: Leadership

Leadership and Social Movements. Edited by Colin Barker, Alan Johnson and Michael Lavalette. Manchester University Press, 2001.

Socialists are interested in leadership from a number of different perspectives. Capitalism as a class society engenders owners of the means of wealth production, the privileged, the leaders; and non-owners, the unprivileged, the followers. Most of the followers don’t oppose the system, which is why it persists. They elect leaders to get the best deal they can from the system. Socialism as a classless society based on social and political equality (though not on the absence of difference) is inconsistent with leadership. However, socialism is not inconsistent with some functions associated with leadership such as organisation, co-ordination – and even inspiration.


Then there is the perceived necessity and inevitability of leadership as an objection to socialism – “There will always be leaders and followers and you can’t change human nature.” This objection needs to be met.

Leadership and Social Movements touches on some of these issues but doesn’t really deal with them. As an edited book with 14 authors (mostly sociologists, social psychologists and related academics) it lacks the coherence of a single-authored work. The editors are frank about this: they invite readers to find “that it is worth poking about further in the black box of leadership”.

After an introduction, there are chapters on Robert Michels and the “cruel game” (of the alleged inevitability of leadership), Leninism, the French anti-racist movement, the women’s liberation movement, Martin Luther King, the Sefton Two, Brazilian youth leaders, a radical environment group, crowd leadership, suffragette movements, and the Soviet Revolution of 1905. The chapter on Michels has most of the book’s few references to the word socialism – “socialism from above” (the Labour Party’s Clause 4) and socialism as “the enhancement of state power via the nationalisation of property and state planning”. Not socialism at all, in other words, but state capitalism.

Readers interested in how leadership relates to the socialist movement would do better to read the three relevant pages (195-7) in David Perrin’s book The Socialist Party of Great Britain than the 215 pages of this rambling collection.


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