Anarchy in Action : Chapter 3 - The Dissolution of Leadership

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(1924 - 2010) ~ British Anarchist Writer and Social Historian : ...lived with the title of Britain's most famous anarchist for nearly half a ­century, bemused by this ambivalent sobriquet. In Anarchy in Action (1973), he set out his belief that an anarchist society was not an end goal. (From : Guardian Obituary.)
• "...the bombs you are worried about are not the bombs which cartoonists attribute to the anarchists, but the bombs which governments have perfected, at your expense." (From : "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," by Colin ....)
• "It is, after all, the principle of authority which ensures that people will work for someone else for the greater part of their lives, not because they enjoy it or have any control over their work, but because they see it as their only means of livelihood." (From : "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," by Colin ....)
• "The anarchists, who have always distinguished between the state and society, adhere to the social principle, which can be seen where-ever men link themselves in an association based on a common need or a common interest." (From : "Anarchism as a Theory of Organization," by Colin ....)


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Chapter 3 - The Dissolution of Leadership

Chapter III. The Dissolution of Leadership

Accustomed as is this age to artificial leadership ... it is difficult for it to realize the truth that leaders require no training or appointing, but emerge spontaneously when conditions require them. Studying their members in the free-for-all of the Peckham Center, the observing scientists saw over and over again how one member instinctively became, and was instinctively but not officially recognized as, leader to meet the needs of one particular moment. Such leaders appeared and disappeared as the flux of the Center required. Because they were not consciously appointed, neither (when they had fulfilled their purpose) where they consciously overthrown. Nor was any particular gratitude shown by members to a leader either at the time of his services or after for services rendered. They followed his guidance just as long as his guidance was helpful and what they wanted. They melted away from him without regrets when some widening of experience beckoned them on to some fresh adventure, which would in turn throw up its spontaneous leader, or when their self-confidence was such that any form of constrained leadership would have been a restraint to them.

John Comerford, Health the Unknown:
The Story of the Peckham Experiment

Take me to your leader! This is the first demand made by Martians to Earthlings, policemen to demonstrators, journalists to revolutionaries. “Some journalists”, said one of them to Daniel Cohn-Bendit, “have described you as the leader of the revolution ...” He replied, “Let them write their rubbish. These people will never be able to understand that the student movement doesn’t need any chiefs. I am neither a leader nor a professional revolutionary. I am simply a mouthpiece, a megaphone.” Anarchists believe in leaderless groups, and if this phrase is familiar it is because of the paradox that what was known as the leaderless group technique was adopted in the British and Australian armies during the war — and in industrial management since then — as a means of selecting leaders. The military psychologists learned that what they considered to be leader or follower traits are not exhibited in isolation. They are, as one of them wrote, “relative to a specific social situation — leadership varied from situation to situation and from group to group.” Or as the anarchist, Michael Bakunin, put it over a hundred years ago: “I receive and I give — such is human life. Each directs and is directed in his turn. Therefore there is no fixed and constant authority, but a continual exchange of mutual, temporary and, above all, voluntary authority and subordination.”

Don’t be deceived by the sweet reasonableness of all this. The anarchist concept of leadership is completely revolutionary in its implications — as you can see if you look around, for you will see everywhere in operation the opposite concept: that of hierarchical, authoritarian, privileged and permanent leadership. There are very few comparative studies available of the effects of these two opposite approaches to the organization of work. Two of them are mentioned in Chapter XI. Another comes from the architectural profession. The Royal Institute of British Architects sponsored a report on the methods of organization in architects’ offices.[42] The survey team felt able to distinguish two opposite approaches to the process of design, which gave rise to very different ways of working and methods of organization. “One was characterized by a procedure which began by the invention of a building shape and was followed by a molding of the client’s needs to fit inside this three-dimensional preconception. The other began with an attempt to understand fully the needs of the people who were to use the building around which, when they were clarified, the building would be fitted.”

For the first type, once the basic act of invention and imagination is over, the rest is easy and the architect makes decisions quickly, produces work to time and quickly enough to make a reasonable profit. “The evidence suggests that this attitude is the predominant one in the group of offices which we found to be using a centralized type of work organization, and it clearly goes with rather autocratic forms of control.” But “the other philosophy — from user’s needs to building form — makes decision making more difficult ... The work takes longer and is often unprofitable to the architect, although the client may end up with a much cheaper building put up more quickly than he had expected. Many offices working in this way had found themselves better suited by a dispersed type of work organization which can promote an informal atmosphere of free-flowing ideas ...” The team found that (apart from a small “hybrid” group of large public offices with a very rigid and hierarchical structure, a poor quality of design, poor technical and managerial efficiency) the offices surveyed could be classed as either centralized or dispersed types. Staff turnover, which bore no relation at all to earnings, was high in the centralized offices and low or very low in the dispersed ones, where there was considerable delegation of responsibility to assistants, and where we found a lively working atmosphere”.

This is a very live issue among architects and it was not a young revolutionary architect but Sir William Pile, when he was head of the Architects and Buildings Branch of the Ministry of Education, who specified among the things he looked for in a member of the building team that “He must have a belief in what I call the nonhierarchical organization of the work. The work has got to be organized not on the star system but on the repertory system. The team leader may often be junior to a team member. That will only be accepted if it is commonly accepted that primacy lies with the best idea and not with the senior man.” Again from the architectural world, Walter Gropius proclaimed what he called the technique of “collaboration among men, which would release the creative instincts of the individual instead of smothering them. The essence of such technique should be to emphasize individual freedom of initiative, instead of authoritarian direction by a boss ... synchronizing individual effort by a continuous give and take of its members...”[43]

Similar findings to those of the RIBA survey come from comparative studies of the organization of scientific research. Some remarks of Wilhelm Reich on his concept of “work democracy” are relevant here. I am bound to say that I doubt if he really practiced the philosophy he describes, but it certainly corresponds to my experience of working in anarchist groups. He asks, “... On what principle, then, was our organization based, if there were no votes, no directives and commands, no secretaries, presidents, vise-presidents, etc.?” And he answers:

What kept us together was our work, our mutual interdependencies in this work, our factual interest in one gigantic problem with its many specialist ramifications. I had not solicited coworkers. They had come of themselves. They remained, or they left when the work no longer held them. We had not formed a political group or worked out a program of action ... Each one made his contribution according to his interest in the work ... There are, then, objective biological work interests and work functions capable of regulating human cooperation. Exemplary work organizes its forms of functioning organically and spontaneously, even though only gradually, gropingly and often making mistakes. In contra-distinction, the political organizations, with their “campaigns” and “platforms” proceed without any connection with the tasks and problems of daily life.[44]

Elsewhere in his paper on “work democracy” he notes that: “If personal enmities, intrigues and political maneuvers make their appearance in an organization, one can be sure that its members no longer have a factual meeting ground in common, that they are no longer held together by a common work interest ... Just as organizational ties result from common work interests, so they dissolve when the work interests dissolve or begin to conflict with each other.”[45]

This fluid, changing leadership derives from authority, but this authority derives from each person’s self-chosen function in performing the task in hand. You can be in authority, or you can be an authority, or you can have authority. The first derives from your rank in some chain of command, the second derives from special knowledge, and the third from special wisdom. But knowledge and wisdom are not distributed in order of rank, and they are no one person’s monopoly in any undertaking. The fantastic inefficiency of any hierarchical organization — any factory, office, university, warehouse or hospital — is the outcome of two almost invariable characteristics. One is that the knowledge and wisdom of the people at the bottom of the pyramid finds no place in the decision-making leadership hierarchy of the institution. Frequently it is devoted to making the institution work in spite of the formal leadership structure, or alternatively to sabotaging the ostensible function of the institution, because it is none of their choosing. The other is that they would rather not be there anyway: they are there through economic necessity rather than through identification with a common task which throws up its own shifting and functional leadership.

Perhaps the greatest crime of the industrial system is the way in which it systematically thwarts the inventive genius of the majority of its workers. As Kropotkin asked, “What can a man invent who is condemned for life to bind together the ends of two threads with the greatest celerity, and knows nothing beyond making a knot?”

At the outset of modern industry, three generations of workers have invented; now they cease to do so. As to the inventions of the engineers, specially trained for devising machines, they are either devoid of genius or not practical enough ... None but he who knows the machine — not in its drawings and models only, but in its breathing and throbbings — who unconsciously thinks of it while standing by it, can really improve it. Smeaton and Newcomen surely were excellent engineers; but in their engines a boy had to open the steam valve at each stroke of the piston; and it was one of those boys who once managed to connect the valve with the remainder of the machine, so as to make it open automatically, while he ran away to play with the other boys. But in the modern machinery there is no room left for naive improvements of that kind. Scientific education on a wide scale has become necessary for further inventions, and that education is refused to the workers. So that there is no issue out of the difficulty, unless scientific education and handicraft are combined together — unless integration of knowledge takes the place of the present divisions.[46]

The situation today is actually worse than Kropotkin envisaged. The divorce between design and execution, between “manager” and worker, is more complete. Most people in fact are “educated” beyond their level in the industrial pyramid. Their capacity for invention and innovation is not wanted by the system. “You’re not paid to think, just get on with it,” says the foreman. “We are happy that we have reestablished the most fundamental principle — management’s right to manage,” said Sir Alick Dick when he took over as chairman of the Standard Motor Company (only to be “resigned” himself when Leylands decided to manage instead).

The remark I value most among the things that were said about the anarchist journal I used to edit, was that of a reviewer who remarked that it was concerned with “the way in which individual human beings are prevented from developing” and that “at the same time there is a vision of the unfulfilled potentialities of every human being”.[47] However much this described the intention rather than the result, the sentiment is true. People do go from womb to tomb without ever realizing their human potential, precisely because the power to initiate, to participate in innovating, choosing, judging, and deciding is reserved for the top men. It is no accident that the examples I have given of leadership revolving around functional activities come from “creative” occupations like architecture or scientific research. If ideas are your business, you cannot afford to condemn most of the people in the organization to being merely machines programmed by somebody else.

But why are there these privileged enclaves where different rules apply?

Creativity is for the gifted few: the rest of us are compelled to live in the environments constructed by the gifted few, listen to the gifted few’s music, use the gifted few’s inventions and art, and read the poems, fantasies and plays by the gifted few. This is what our education and culture condition us to believe, and this is a culturally induced and perpetuated lie.[48]

The system makes its morons, then despises them for their ineptitude, and rewards its “gifted few” for their rarity.

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November 30, 1995 :
Chapter 3 - The Dissolution of Leadership -- Publication.

July 22, 2019 18:44:04 :
Chapter 3 - The Dissolution of Leadership -- Added to


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