The problems of leadership


I recently found myself on a morning flight from London to Dublin with two leaders - David Trimble and Ken Magennis. If that plane had crashed it can almost be guaranteed that there would have been some conspiracy theory surrounding it. The crash would have meant that this article would never have been written - but in the greater scheme of things it would be remembered due to the fact that these leaders' lives would have been lost.

Trimble and McGuiness are not viewed as ordinary people, they're seen as leaders. Thus they are viewed as extra-ordinary figures who have a different status to the rest of us. As anarchists we question that view. Leaders get into positions of power where they tend to make decisions that don't represent the views of the people who put them there - and then they spend their time convincing people that it's the only option - or you might call it selling the deal to them. Political leaders are very dependent on popularity for survival. It is their oxygen.

In the case of the above gentlemen, an argument could be made that they've crawled into their positions of power by utilising the old bigotry and sectarianism of days gone by. Feeling their views to be increasingly marginalised, and their positions of power to be under threat, they were forced to partake in the peace process.

Indeed, due to the slow pace at which they moved, other Loyalist leaders were able to eat into their support. If it wasn't for the leaders and it was left up to the vast majority of people in the six counties, who's to say how quickly we could have had peace?

So why the leader - why the led?

Convenience is king for capitalism. If you're talking to someone and you want a decision, it's easier to get one from one person than to consult all affected. It is more time consuming to discuss the issue, educate people about what's happened in similar cases, and then have a decision based on each person having a say and a vote. That is not the easiest way but it is the fairest way.

Decisions made on that basis are truly democratic. When someone votes for something, it means that they are more interested in ensuring that it is adopted and are more likely to work towards seeing it implemented. Effectively this is all about wresting back control of our own lives.

From an early age, we are taught to put our hands into the air in school before the teacher chooses one of us to answer a question. We are often split into groups and one person will act as a spokesperson to give a report back to the teacher. The person is chosen to make the whole process easier - but effectively what is happening is we are being taught the lessons of leadership.

Capitalism is a busy system. Factories are run, countries are governed, wars are fought and profits are made while people starve. In order to function in an efficient manner, it is convenient and deliberate that a leadership system exists. Bills are drafted and they become laws when the leaders pass them.

If the production at the factory needs to be increased, the owner or boss just gets the managers to schedule more overtime. In Chechnya the Russian General just decides to send in a few more tank divisions to crush the rebels in Grozny. All these decisions can be made in an instant - no real time wasted on consultation, debate or argument.

Leaderless - wouldn't that be great

We do not need to make most decisions so quickly. The reason why this system of leaders and led continues to survive and flourish is because it's the method that best suits those in power. Of course Alexander was a Great man, of course Napoleon once ruled over half the earth. History continues to propagate the myth that all great movements were just down to the inspiration of a few great men. Leaders only exist because we follow them.

It's also possible to buy off/bribe one man or woman but you cannot generally buy off the entire population. Leadership suits the men (& women) in black who run this society. But as Anarchists we know that all of us are capable of making good decisions. All we need is to be in full possession of all the facts and the consequences of that decision. Then we can make up our own minds. You hold opinions about everything, including this article, and I'm sure you'd share them with me if I asked. Leaders rarely ask - they just decide for us.

We just have to make sure that we don't let it happen in our lives. Don't vote for them, don't let them make decisions for you. Anarchists also believe that unity is strength (it's not just business heads like Mr. Barron above you know) and if we stand united perhaps we can stop the schoolyard bully from growing up to run the country. Ideas are like the blood that circulates throughout human society and history. They are the important matter. Anyone can make a decision, and just because some are quick to shouldn't mean they will forever drink from the gravy train.

One of the basic functions of leadership is to unite people: bring people together to achieve common objectives. There is truth in the statement, where there is unity there is strength..." Charles Barron (some business guru)

From Workers Solidarity 59, Spring 2000