Leadership and Crisis: a Question

It is not a very good Marxist practice to spread despondency about revolutionary prospects, but even Marx and Engels became worried towards the end of their lives about the likelihood of war and the power and ruthlessness of the bourgeoisie (the traditional name of the ruling class, with French origins) in defending their wealth and class position. Today we are not in a different situation and there is still good reason to be downbeat rather than too optimistic. A dose of realism is sometimes needed to avoid mistakes caused by over enthusiasm or misplaced optimism.

Today we live in a time when democracy, or perhaps we should say 'bourgeois democracy' as it usually is set up, maintains a very solid kind of status quo in the major advanced capitalist nations. Generally speaking two parties play a false dialectical opposition for the voters who have little choice but to swing from one to the other, and neither are offering a different economic choice (i.e. genuine economic socialism), merely a change in the 'spin'. The financial penalties and the fixed traditions of ascendancy ensure that this remains the case over time despite many scandals (such as MPs expenses in the UK) in the bourgeois parties.

But today there is also a very big economic crisis, the biggest since the 1930s, and this has created an exacerbation of all the social problems of capitalism. In this terrible social situation of increasing poverty people are looking for real and drastic solutions, and if they take the media as their main source of information, they find very few political parties offering anything very different to what has gone before, except, that is, the extreme reactionary factions, such as the US so called Tea Party. What perhaps represents one of the greatest opportunities to put forward the Marxist solution to these problems in history has called forth a peculiarly humble and muted response from Communist parties. Why?

Let's forget the problems of gaining a voice which can be heard amongst all the vested media interests and the fact that the media is owned and generally obedient to its owners. This is normal and has to be taken as a given, and cannot be easily changed anyway. It seems there must be other factors, factors 'internal' to the political parties and groups that wish to put forward their revolutionary project as a viable one.

If I may try to pinpoint this, I think there is a widespread feeling on the 'Left' (a term I don't really like but is suitably general) that their own project is practically impossible and unlikely to succeed, or, unlikely to be a success especially without a great deal of suffering and strife on the part of the usual sufferers in these kinds of circumstance: i.e. the working class. Revolution seems to be an almost impossible dream, because the barriers to it are so strong, violent, and so virulent. The ideology of the bourgeoisie is so triumphant, even more so since the fall of the Soviet Union has become a big apparent identifier of the 'failure' of socialism. Many erstwhile progressive socialists seem to feel that the grand socialist project is defeated already, and they lapse into the cynicism that all power corrupts, even communist power and so "what's the point?".

A danger in all this is that the concept of class is abandoned, and the palpable anger of the people for the crisis is directed against disparate factions and individuals, such as ethnic groups, immigrants, 'speculators', and even bankers. Whilst we might sympathise with those anti-capitalists that rail vehemently against the bankers role in creating the crisis, it is still not quite correct and presents other problems. A shouting match between those who blame bankers and those who blame lazy workers and those on welfare and 'socialist' policies for the crisis is not a good basis for solutions to it, rather it is fertile ground for making scapegoats, and we know where this led, of course, in Germany in the 1930s.

This is the danger, but there appears to be few opponents to these voices. Class remains more-or-less an untouchable idea in the mainstream press. This seems peculiar given that the world is not totally bereft of rich individuals who could fund a news source for genuine socialism. Again it seems there must be other factors at work.

Socialism/Communism has always required a charismatic leader who is not only good at leading people but also theoretically capable and intelligent, someone who can theorize the situation and know how to act and what to do. But what has happened to our leaders? It seems to be the case that this type of individual is missing today, or at least very hard to find. We might see some good leadership of football teams or corporations and businesses, but not in the political sphere, the politicians of all kinds seem lacklustre, conformist, and fairly lightweight in terms of culture and intelligence. Less so perhaps recently in South America, but still they do not match up, on the Left, to our figures from the past.

Is there a problem with leaders and leadership these days? Certainly, without a focus of a good political party with clear revolutionary aims and objectives and without this focus being focused itself in a good leader who can articulate these, all protests end in directionless dissolution, and this is at best. At worst, they inflame the situation towards reactionary and dangerous pseudo solutions.

But this is where we are. It is obvious that communist theory in the form of Marxism has been lacking, perhaps mainly because in recent history it has been attacked relentlessly by an apparently leftish postmodernism that sought to replace it with a kind of advanced super-liberalism. This seemed to be successful and even justified since the fall of the SU and the apparent embracing of capitalism by the Chinese, but of course more recent history and the enormous capitalist economic crisis has spelt out in no uncertain terms that Karl Marx was absolutely right, once again, and once again history inexorably forces the argument to move on, and also to move back to rescue what it thought it had relegated forever.

It is Marxist theory that is needed at this time, and it is needed to be understood and used by persons who can lead in a viable political framework. Therefore creating the conditions where this kind of person may flourish should be a high priority for any Communist party, before almost anything else. Yet I suspect that it is not something that political parties are very good at in general. All forms of institutional structure in fact suffer from a malady that concerns being obedient and conforming to the rules which is backed by the prevailing order. How can this, rather unimaginative setting, result in the kind of person needed at its head? It cannot and does not except in rare cases. But recognising this problem is half the battle won. So the problem must be, why do we (generally) not recognise this as a problem?

There is considerable fear of taking that leap into the unknown which human talent seems to open up before us, and this is true even within Communist circles. The task ahead seems hard enough without having to risk upsetting the applecart even more. But this risk is a necessity. It is not just a question of someone getting the theory 'correct' in terms of the 'letter of the law', the leader must also have the spirit, feelings, and personality to go with it. It is a shame that it seems to require the chaos and extremism of warfare to throw up these individuals and to provide the space where they may rise to the fore. No, it is more than a shame, it is a tragedy that needs correcting through an effort and especially now.

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  • one thing that occurs to me is that here in the US anyway a number of inspiring leaders have been killed or imprisoned or were otherwise destroyed.

    Posted by Barbara R, 11/03/2010 12:07pm (7 years ago)

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