A GENUINELY REVOLUTIONARY MOVEMENT WILL NOT HAVE A "BIG LEADER," AND HERE'S WHY
[Also see "Who's Our Leader?"]
August 9, 2016
To see why a genuinely revolutionary movement will not have a "Big Leader," one must first keep in mind what exactly makes a revolutionary movement genuinely revolutionary.
A genuinely revolutionary movement is one that has an explicit goal--a vision of what it wants--that, when achieved, will mean the end of class inequality and the end of all the horrible things that upper classes do to remain in power over people.
A genuinely revolutionary movement knows why it is possible for it to win: because the values it aims to shape all of society by are the values with which most people are already trying to shape the little corner of the world over which they have any real control today--equality and concern for one another.
A genuinely revolutionary movement knows who its friends and potential friends are, and who its enemies are. It does not attack scape goats or good people who happen to be of the "wrong" race or ethnicity or religion.
The actual leaders of a genuinely revolutionary movement are all of the people in it who help their friends and neighbors see clearly the above things.
But a genuinely revolutionary movement will not have a BIG LEADER, meaning a nationally famous person with a platform from which to speak to and give genuinely revolutionary leadership to millions of people. As soon as such a BIG LEADER emerges, the ruling class will do whatever it takes to shut him or her up. Here are some of the things the ruling class can do.
* The ruling class can take away the BIG LEADER's platform (ban the person from the airwaves, shut down the internet if necessary, put the person under house arrest or in prison, etc.)
* The ruling class can bribe the BIG LEADER to change his/her tune to be mis-leadership that renders the revolutionary movement no longer genuinely revolutionary.
* The ruling class can threaten the BIG LEADER, with threats to his/her person or threats to his/her loved ones, to make him/her change his/her tune.
Such a threat is likely why Ted Kennedy, when he was running to be the Democratic Party candidate for President on a populist platform similar to that of Bernie Sanders, suddenly became tongue-tied, incoherent, vague and repetitive when T.V. interviewer, Roger Mudd, asked him the simple question, "Why do you want to be president?" Kennedy replied as if he didn't know why, saying at best that he wanted the country to "move forward." [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6qLFAnBIFg ] This is how one talks after receiving a mortal threat and reminder of what happened to one's older brothers when they displeased the billionaire ruling plutocrats.
The Beatles member, John Lennon's, outspoken opposition to the War in Vietnam frightened the ruling class because Lennon had literally millions of avid followers who looked to him for a kind of leadership and who passionately sang his songs, such as "All We Are Saying Is Give Peace a Chance." Lennon was a self-declared revolutionary. Here are his spoken words: [in the documentary "US versus John Lennon" at time points 23:46 and 1:05:34; the quotations below of G. Gordon Liddy, John Lennon and Yoko Ono are from the same documentary.]
”If I’m a revolutionary or we’re revolutionaries, we’re revolutionary artists, not gunmen. I believe in the Black Panther original statement, the 10 Point Program, which is not violent, which says to defend yourself against attack, I might consider that, but anything else I don’t consider.”
“Our job now is to tell them that there Is still hope. And we still have things to do. And we must get out there and change their heads, and tell them, ‘It’s OK, we can change it.’ It isn’t over just because flower power didn’t work. It’s only the beginning. We’re just in the inception of revolution. We’re just in the beginning of change. And they’re all apathetic because they’re young and they think, ‘Oh, it didn’t work today so it’s all over.’ We must get them excited about what we can do again. And that’s why we’re gonna go on the road [that would end up with a free 3-day rock festival outside the Republican National Convention.] From America it will spread to the rest of the world. Viva La Revolucion."
As President Nixon's henchman, G. Gordon Liddy, explained,
“It was our perspective of Lennon that, most of the time, he was walking around stoned, whacked out of his mind. But he was a high-profile figure and so his activities were being monitored." [time point 1:06:13]
Yoko Ono and John Lennon explained why, despite their passionate and outspoken opposition to the War in Vietnam, they later refused to go to (and essentially help lead) the planned big anti-war event at the 1972 Republican convention in Miami. Why? Perceived threats on their lives.
Lennon was interviewed prior to the Republican convention:
Interviewer: Do you think that they are kind of picking on you, John?
John: Oh yeah, they picked on me. I’m telling you. When it first started I was followed in the car, and my phone was tapped, and I think they wanted me to know, to scare me, and I was scared, paranoid. And people thought I was crazy then, you know. I mean, they do anyway, but I mean more so. You know, ‘Lennon, Oh, you big-headed little maniac, right? Whose gonna follow you around? What do they want?” You know? “What do they want?” You know? That’s what I’m saying. I’m not going to cause them any problem. [time point 1:07:14]
Yoko Ono: They [Jerry Rubin et al] really tried to make us go to Miami. And we [Yoko and John] kept saying, ‘We’re not going to do it.’ But Jerry, for political reasons, just announced that we were going to be there.
John Lennon: They think we’re going to San Diego and Miami, wherever it is, but we’ve never said we’re going. We ain’t going. There’ll be no big jam with us and Dylan because there’s too much going on. That’s it.
Yoko Ono: By then John and I realized that it would have been very, very dangerous for us. We had a very distinct clear feeling that if we had gone to the Republican Convention, we would have been in danger of our lives. [time point 1:20:29]
"In danger of our lives." Could something like this be why Bernie Sanders suddenly did a 180 turn-around to the consternation of his followers and lavished unseemly praise on Hillary Clinton, totally ignoring and refusing to make an issue out of the notorious voter fraud that denied him primary wins in states including California, where a law suit about this was launched?
* The ruling class can threaten to deprive one of the financial backing for one's organization, or make it impossible for one to succeed in one's personal career, if one gives truly good egalitarian revolutionary leadership, as opposed to the ineffectual reformist leadership with which we are all, unfortunately, too familiar. I believe that something along this line is the reason why the leaders of the anti-Zionist movement do not frame their opposition to Zionism in the way that would make it impossible for Zionist leaders to persuade good people that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism; I discuss this in some detail here.
* The ruling class can use character assassination to make followers no longer trust the BIG LEADER.
* The ruling class can use actual assassination to eliminate the BIG LEADER. Read here how--and why--the ruling class assassinated Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. Read here and here and here how--and why--our rulers assassinated JFK. Read here how the FBI assassinated Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and other Black Panthers.
This is why we lost BIG LEADERS to assassination even when they were not explicitly revolutionary but simply effective in bringing millions of people together for widely shared goals the ruling class opposed, such as ending the Cold War (JFK), abolishing Jim Crow AND ending the Vietnam War (Martin Luther King, Jr., who towards the end of his life saw class, not race, as the dividing line) and uniting people of ALL races against racial discrimination (Malcolm X did this near the end of his life when, for example, he gave a speech to the virtually all white student body of Dartmouth College [I was in the audience] and received a standing ovation.)
EXAMPLES OF STRONG MOVEMENTS WITH NO BIG LEADER
The Black Lives Matters movement has no "Big Leader," no Martin Luther King, Jr. or Bernie Sanders. And yet the BLM movement mobilized literally millions of people in cities and towns all across the United States over and over again. "An estimated 15 million to 26 million people participated in the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in the United States, making it one of the largest movements in the country's history."
Likewise, the Occupy Wall Street movement, with not a single "Big Leader," in 2011 went global, mobilizing millions of people in towns and cities around the world.
Earlier in the 1960s the anti-Vietnam War movement included not only the big demonstrations in Washington DC at which sort-of "Big Leaders" and celebrities spoke, but also and far more importantly countless local anti-war actions what were entirely organized by "small leaders" known only to their local community: things such as campus building take-overs, anti-war teach-ins, student strikes (in practically every little obscure college when Nixon invaded Cambodia), and GI refusals to fight the Viet Cong.
Let's not fail to recall some of our labor movement history: Faced with a working class insurrection [this linked article has the sources for the following history facts], Roosevelt pushed Congress to enact the National Labor Relations Act to channel labor militancy into safe orderly collective bargaining. But his strategy was not completely successful. Rubber workers in Akron, Ohio had become disgusted with their sellout union and the National Labor Relations Board, and developed the tactic of the sit-down strike to guarantee that rank-and-file workers and not union leaders would be in control.
By 1936 "a week seldom passed without one or more sit-down" strikes in the Goodyear rubber plant, and workers had as much power in the plant as the company. Then auto workers began using the sit-down strike at General Motors plants on such a large scale that in the first 10 days of February 1937 GM produced only 151 cars in the entire country. The largest sit-down occurred at the plant in Flint, Michigan where Governor Frank Murphy called out the National Guard. Thousands of workers traveled hundreds of miles to join and support the Flint sit-down, and auto plants in Detroit and Toledo were shut down just due to the exodus. A crowd of 10,000 workers occupied Flint, and surrounded the plant armed with 30-inch wooden braces from the factory.
Fearing an armed assault by police,union war veterans had a plan to "muster an armed force among their own number" to "take over the city hall, the courthouse and police headquarters, capture and imprison all officials and release union men." On February 11 General Motors agreed to recognize the United Auto Workers Union, whose leadership then called off the strike.
But in the next four months there were 170 sit-downs in GM plants because the sit-downs were really not mainly about union recognition; they were a struggle over whether workers or capitalists were going to have actual power in the plants over issues from the speed of the line, to safety and hiring and firing. Following the GM sit down, workers sat down at Chrysler. Chrysler Corporation "secured an injunction ordering the 6,000 sit-downers to leave, but as the evacuation hour came near, a huge crowd of pickets gathered--10,000 at the main Dodge plant in Hamtramck; 10,000 at the Chrysler Jefferson plant; smaller numbers at other Chrysler, Dodge, Plymouth, and DeSoto plants; 30,000 to 50,000 in all--demonstrating the consequences of an attempted eviction." The New York Times underscored what was at stake, writing, "It is generally feared that an attempt to evict the strikers with special deputies would lead to an inevitable large amount of bloodshedand the state of armed insurrection."
In 1937 400,000 workers engaged in sit-down strikes all over the country and in all sorts of jobs from municipal trash collectors to retail store clerks to grave diggers and even blind workers at the New York Association for the Blind. Michigan's Governor Murphy warned the state might have to use force to restore respect for the courts and other public authority, to protect personal and property rights, and to uphold the "structure of organized society."
None of these sit down strikes depended on any "Big Leader," and none of them could be suppressed by eliminating any individual such leader.
DON'T WAIT FOR, OR RELY ON, A 'BIG LEADER'
Huge mass movements do not need a "Big Leader"; they need an inspiring vision and some ideas about how to fight for it. To the extent that a movement relies on a "Big Leader," instead of the independent initiative and thinking of its ordinary members, it is weaker than it otherwise could be even when the "Big Leader" is giving good leadership. When the "Big Leader" is forced (inevitably, one way or another) to stop giving good leadership the movement is at high risk of folding.
Our genuinely revolutionary movement will thus never have a genuinely and lasting revolutionary BIG LEADER. We need to understand that the only "BIG LEADERS" we are likely to see will be ones that the ruling class wants us to have: mis-leaders.
We are going to have to use our own brains to provide ourselves, on the local level, the leadership we need. Everybody can help do this in one way or another.