Saturday, December 2, 2023

‘Take me to your leader’ (2023)

From the December 2023 issue of the Socialist Standard

These five words became the supposed, and somewhat clichéd, request made by any alien stepping from their flying saucer. This brief statement makes a huge supposition; that a society so much more advanced than ours that it can traverse light-years of space still has leaders.

Not so different to humanity at present then. The implication is that leaders will always be a necessary feature of any society. So, no possibility of socialism anywhere in the cosmos, never mind on Earth.

Fiction is often either reflective of what is, or speculative of what might be. Whilst science fiction has an honourable tradition of posing questions as to possible things to come, in this case, the alien(s) represent the world landed in, not some distant galaxy far, far away.

The role of leader in human society has taken a variety of forms, the monarchs of feudal times eventually giving way to presidential heads of state as capitalism developed. Even if, as in Britain, when there is nominally still a crowned head, the king or queen fulfils the role of president. The only difference is the method of selection, by ballot or birth.

It is not only states that have leaders of course. Industries have CEOs, with boards of directors and their chairmen/women.

The Socialist Party is an unusual political organisation in that it does not have leaders. Parties of the openly capitalist sort, usually locating themselves on the right wing, very much favour strong leadership. Those that would identify themselves as left, even those claiming to be socialist, also have prominent roles for leaders.

An ever-present problem for all leaders is that while they occupy the top spot, there are members of their own parties continually plotting their downfall to further personal ambitions. Even those who have no realistic chance of ever achieving exalted prominence will eagerly conspire against their leader if they feel their immediate interests are served. Never allow principles to intrude on personal advantage.

The recent example of Jeremy Corbyn’s brief flirtation with high office is such a case. As Labour Party leader and, therefore, potential future prime minister, he did not exhibit unequivocal loyalty to the British state or its allies.

A toxic mix of media vitriol and Israeli self-interest was unleashed with the added force of his own MPs, fearing for their seats, becoming willing accomplices in his political assassination. The anti-Zionism equals anti-semitism campaign proved, despite its absurdity in the main, a potent force.

However, as is usually the way with a poisoned chalice, it remains toxic for whoever next sups from it. Keir Starmer, proving his overwhelming loyalty to his own ambition, used the anti-Zionism equals anti-semitism weapon to quell and remove any lingering Corbynites, even expelling the man himself from the party he’d led.

However, what Starmer didn’t foresee was the 7 October Hamas atrocities in Israel followed by the savagery of the Israeli response. As the number of dead in Gaza rose beyond 10,000 Starmer found himself politically hobbled by the very weapon that brought him the leadership.

Unable to denounce Israeli military actions or even call for a ceasefire without giving rise to accusations of, by his own use of the term, anti-semitism, his leadership was undermined. Labour politicians at local and parliamentary levels must either resign and undermine him, or deny their own consciences.

Leadership implies control and elevated insight when situations arise. The Boris Johnson Tory administration very quickly began to unravel when his government, based on charismatic populism but with little substance even in terms of its own politics, was confronted by the public health crisis of Covid.

The present inquiry into the handling of that epidemic has revealed self-interested factions vying for influence, but with nothing other than invective to say to each other. At the pinnacle of this maladministration teetered the former Prime Minister who less than a year previously had been lauded for his leadership in turning the ‘red wall’ blue. An appropriate colour considering the language of choice, or the choice language, of his ‘team’.

It has been said that anyone wanting to become a leader must possess a personality that should debar them from becoming one. It is a role for a human demiurge to create a political world in his or her own image for which the required infallibility is always lacking.

Even a cursory scan of history in the capitalist era demonstrates how misguided it is to place human hopes and aspirations in the hands of leaders no matter what qualities they claim to have to navigate ‘their’ people to a better future.

The Russian revolution, whatever the claims of Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin, did not, and could not, lead to human emancipation and socialism. A Führer only leads to barbarity via the rhetoric of lebensraum and a Third Reich. The ‘Great Helmsman’ steered his state vessel onto the rocks of the Cultural Revolution.

Following a leader amounts to an abnegation of responsibility. It is people wanting an individual to deliver a better way of living for them. There is a better way for humanity to live, but it will never come about at the behest of some enlightened leader.

That better way – beyond capitalism and its attendant problems of exploitation, poverty, nationalism and war – is socialism. A moneyless worldwide commonwealth to which people will contribute in the very best way they can and have their needs met. A truly democratic society without need of, or any role for, leaders.

Should a flying saucer or otherwise unimagined vehicle traverse the cosmos and land on Earth, when the being steps from the craft a universal translator may allow a question to be clearly posed: ‘You want to take me to your leader? Why are you still inhibiting human progress with leaders?’
Dave Alton

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