Saturday, 23 June 2012

Their Leadership and Ours

Along with the previous post, The Tyranny of Coffee, this piece is part of a larger article I submitted to Resistance Pre-Conference Discussion discussing how socialists, particularly youth, should organise in Australia today.

UPDATE: 4000 page views, w00t!

The kind of leaders and the vision of leadership prevalent in society today today are fundamentally deformed by the nature of class society. Under modern global capitalism, leadership – whether in civil society, parliament or industry – is structured hierachically. Leaders, whether formally elected or, like Rinehart,Palmer and Forrest, not at all, are expected to command those below them, and implement their own individual vision of how to carry out decisions that are made, either by them or collectively.

The socialist vision of leaders is something radically different. Socialists understand that, as human beings, we are best equipped to solve our problems collectively, through collaboration and teamwork. Our vision of leadership is collective too; decisions that are made by a group should be carried out by a group, with the different ideas of how to carry things out that all members hold tested out in practice. Our organisers are not "leaders" to instruct members on how to carry out their assignments or tasks they have taken on, or take on responsibility for doing everything themselves, but members of the team, there to ensure decisions made collectively through branches or executives are actually getting carried out in practice, and to help comrades out when they need it.

Failures should not lead to individual shame or demotion, but are also the responsibility of the whole team involved. Going it alone as activists or taking on too much work as individuals rather than as a team, no matter how much easier or more efficient it might seem in the short term, is a quick route to developing bad ideas unchecked, becoming more and more alienated from those we are seeking to lead, and in the long run, burning out and losing faith in people or activism altogether.

Youth are particularly vulnerable to being under-developed as leaders in class society – we are underrepresented in leadership positions both in politics and the economy, under-developed or mis-developed as leaders by civil society programs and official forms of student politics, and super-exploited and in the workplace. Yet since we haven't yet risen to better jobs with better perks, and we haven't yet been as ground down by the capitalist system as the rest of the working class, we are also most open to ideas about changing the society that we live in in a revolutionary way.

Unless we actively take steps to safeguard against it, the dominant consciousness of leadership developed under class society also plays out within activist spaces. This is true for a variety of oppressed groups in society, but particularly so for youth and new members – given the seriousness with which socialists committed to building an organisation take our task of fighting to overthrow the system, it is only natural for older and more experienced comrades to step in when new ones are making mistakes or unsure of what is to be done – and this isn't always a bad thing. But if it happens repeatedly, then it means that we aren't allowing space for young activists to develop as real leaders, with confidence in their own abilities, but who understand they aren't operating alone.

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