By Jaye Gaskia
Setting The Context:
Recent mass popular struggles that have erupted unto the stage of history and unfolded on the streets, disrupting the political economy of countries, and threatening ruling class hegemony, have continued to bring up and put on the front burner the question of leadership and organisation, as well as of strategy and tactics for our struggle.
From the January Uprising of 2012 to the #EndSARS youth rebellion of October 2020 in Nigeria; From the massive upsurge of protests in Seattle in 1999 to the mass organising and mass actions that characterised the World Social Forums of the early 2000s; From the Arab Spring of 2011 to the Sudanese, Algerian and Malian Uprisings of the last three years; And from the mass uprising in Hong Kong to the mass uprising in Lebanon; the outburst of mass anger and its growth into mass protests and popular uprisings have not only shaken and continue to shake the world, but it has also raised the question of power – that is the question of who wields power, and in whose interest power is being wielded?
In the places where these massquakes have rocked regimes to their foundations and frightened the ruling class, led to the fall of regimes, the overthrow of hated and unpopular governments, and the continuous rocking of the boat of normalcy; we have seen the role and imprint of organisations and their leaderships.
Ultimately, the outcomes have depended to a large extent on the goals set by leaderships, as well as on the level of development and political consciousness of organisations and leaderships, and the quality and dynamics of their interactions with the masses in revolt.
What has also been clear is that regardless of how the nature of the immediate triggers for the protests, and of how the protests were initiated, that is whether planned or spontaneously ignited; the working classes and their organisations have played the most decisive role in the qualitative growth in scale and scope of the protests, their transition from protests to uprisings, and the ability of the protests to challenge the political power and hegemony of not only sitting governments, but also the ruling class, who found the feathers of their class rule more than ruffled by the protests.
Furthermore, whether the question of power was ultimately posed, and whether the uprisings were able to themselves take power, has been dependent on the level of independent political organisation of the working class and the masses in revolt, as well as the level of political consciousness and self-awareness of the class and its leading organisations.
Leadership, Organisation And Accountability:
But why is leadership necessary? Why is organisation necessary? Why do we need leadership and organisation? What difference does or would having a leadership and organisation make/have made? This question is important because in recent times, radicalized elements of the middle classes and the elites, with relatively high levels of exposure and access to the means and opportunity to influence the mass of the people, sometimes peddle and glorify, consciously or unconsciously the notion, ideologically laden, that leaders are not required, that leadership is a constraint, and that organisations are obstacles to the unfurling of the freewill of the masses in revolt.
They say this and push these positions, while exploiting their leverage and exposure to speak for the movements, to determine the politics and direction of the movement, to foist strategy and tactics on the movement, and essentially become the face and anointed leaders of the movement.
It is not surprising however that significant segments of the radicalized middle class push these positions, that are variants and various forms of expression of autonomism, essentially because as a class, the middle class or petty bourgeoisie is atomized, dispersed, and individualistic. This character of the class fosters the psychology of self-sufficiency, individualism, distrust for organisation, disdain for the discipline that comes with organisation and subjecting oneself to the collective.
The middle class, because it is caught between the ruling class – the bourgeoisie and the working class – the proletariat, is also intrinsically ambiguous, hence it vacillates between the ruling class and the working class in its politics, depending on the interplay of the class struggle and the level of organised and conscious resistance of the working class and the other oppressed classes in society.
So, when they say organisation is not necessary and leadership is a constraint, they are voicing their fear of the organised working classes, of the organisations of the working peoples, and their fear of being subjected to the leadership and the discipline of this class and its organisations.
It is also inherently a manifestation of their fear of challenging and in a decisive and systemic way – that is system threatening manner, the leadership and hegemony of the ruling class in society.
But why is it necessary to organise, to have organisation, to be organised, and to have leadership? What is the nexus and or interplay between organisation and leadership?
When a resistance struggle is being waged, when a struggle for social transformation is being conducted, when a protest erupts, when a protest creates a moment, when a protest is growing into an uprising, when the uprising is unfolding, organisation, that is structured organisation, and clear leadership are a fundamental requirement. Why? Because the organisation is the memory of the movement, of the struggle; it is the arena within which the education of the movement is taking place and being undertaken.
The organisation is needed as the collective educator of the movement and of the mass that it leads; as well as the collective memory of the class and movement. But beyond these, the organisation is also needed because the questions of strategy and tactics, of the nature of the movement’s politics, the character of its relationships and interactions, the choice of who to ally with, and which direction to take; all of these can only take place in a structured and systematic way within the context of a structure organisation.
The organisation is the platform and mechanism, or structure that can ensure and enable inclusivity of all segments participating in the struggle in the discussions and discourses that every struggle, protest and uprising necessarily engender.
The organisation, provides the mechanism for clarifying the message of the movement, harmonisng and amplifying the message, and enables the development through moderated debate and intense discussions of a common narrative of the struggle, of the protest, of the uprising. The organisation in this sense is the voice and face of the movement and the struggle, and becomes collective articulator of the variegated interests, aspirations and demands of the masses in revolt.
The Organisation, enables the movement to undertake and carry on a sustained discourse with the wider society, enabling the movement to convince and win over to its side wider segments of the society in turmoil.
But an organisation is impossible without leadership. While the organisation is indeed the collective leadership of the protest and the uprising, the organisation itself must also be led, it must engender the emergence of its own internal collective leadership. But the organisation, is the only way to ensure that the leadership so sorely required by the movement, the protest and the uprising, emerges in an inclusive, participatory, and democratic way, ensuring that all segments of the movement are involved in the processes leading to the emergence of such leadership, and ensuring that such leadership is responsible to the organisation, and can be held accountable by the members of the organisation and the wider movement.
The organisation ensures and enables coordination of the movement and the protest and uprising, as well as synergy within the protests, enabling the movement to focus its demands and concentrate its immense energy on where it can achieve the most impact. The leadership of the organisation, that is leadership at all levels of the organisation, essentially plays the same role within the organisation – coordination, building synergy, concentration of effort and energy, focusing and targeting how, where and when to strike, to act, to deliver the punch.
Organisation and leadership mean and ensures that there can be accountability. It requires taking ownership of the process and taking responsibility for actions and inactions, for failures and successes of the movement, protest and uprising. Without this intrinsic necessity, activists and revolutionaries can not undertake useful reflection on their struggles, draw appropriate lessons, and internalize and integrate lessons learnt.
Without this, the educator cannot be educated, nor can the organiser be effectively organised. Acting together requires working together, working together requires coming together, coming together requires space and platform for this to happen.
How can we draw appropriate lessons from our actions and practice, if we are not reflecting together, if we are not engaged in a structured discourse and process of discussion? How can we achieve this without being organised, without having an organisation as our common home, our collective class room, our collective memory, our collective archive?
Leadership means not just taking ownership, but also taking responsibility, and being able to be held accountable for one’s deeds. This is an irreducible minimum for taking any sort of action, or embarking on any sort of process that by its very nature will impact on others.
That organisations can become moribund and that leaders can become authoritarian, is not reason enough to dismiss the necessity for either, or to dispense with both.
The duty and the task is to strive to establish and nurture inclusive and democratic organisations, that can breed accountable and recallable collective leaderships, responsible and accountable to the organisation that they lead at all the levels of the organisation.
When the proponents of the narrative that leaders and organisations are not necessary, point to the roles played by leaderships and organisations in previous struggles as justification for their ideas, they are doing two contradictory things. First, they are holding those organisations and leaderships accountable for the failure and or betrayal of the past. And this is good, this is necessary. But this wouldn’t have been possible if those activists who played key roles in organising those past protests and mobilising the mass of the people to participate, had not taken responsibility.
Second, whether consciously or unconsciously, but through a seeming sleight of hands, they are saying that no one, certainly not themselves should be liable to being held accountable for their own actions and their own protests; except perhaps, only the so-called hoodlums, who hijacked their struggle!
If the Labour Civil Society Coalition at the heart of the January Uprising of 2012, had not taken responsibility for organising the protests, mobilising support for the protest and leading the unfolding of the protest and its growth from protest to uprising, how would it have been possible for these people who want to dispense with leadership and organisation, on the basis of the conclusions they drew from the failure and retreat of that uprising, to have been able to hold anyone accountable and responsible, let alone justify their current preferences?
On The Subject Of So-called Hoodlums:
Before we conclude, it is important to discuss the subject of the so-called hoodlums. Who are these hoodlums? They are categorised by Marxists as the lumpen proletariat, that is those who are part of the working and exploited classes, but have not been able to be accommodated by the capitalist system within the structures of the means of production of capitalism, that is within the processes of how goods and services are produced and distributed within the capitalist system. They are unable to hold jobs whether in the formal or informal sector, they are often homeless and left to survive on the streets, and to thrive through crime and other illegalities; which is their way of exploiting the system which has failed to accommodate them to earn their precarious living. Fanon, called this subsector of the working class, and this segment of society, the wretched of the earth. Others, including Cabral, have referred to this subclass as de-classed elements of society.
But the ruling class, responsible for their life of crime, call them hoodlums, in order to shift the blame for their inhuman conditions of existence on the same victims. The middle class follows suit in taking up this categorization. And while the ruling class treats the lumpen as a law-and-order matter, the middle class holds outright contempt and disdain for the lumpen.
In every popular struggle and mass uprising, the lumpen as the wretched of the earth, with everything to gain and nothing to lose, eventually throws itself into the unfolding struggle. Its initial response is that of caution and distrust, then eventually excitement and full embracing of the mass protest. The mass protest and uprising is not called the festival of the oppressed for nothing! But the role that the lumpen will play in the mass protest and uprising, given its precarious existence, its degree of alienation, its generalised anger at society, and its lack of consciousness, ultimately depends on the character, degree of development, and the level of consciousness of the organisation and leadership at the head of the protest and the uprising. Whether it is going to play an independent and erratically disruptive role, or whether it is going to be able to be assimilated into the movement, and become refined by the movement, ultimately depends on whether there is a leading organisation and a leadership directing the uprising or not, as well as the quality in terms of consciousness and experience of this leading organisation and the leadership.
It is not how a person enters the struggle and the movement, the protest that matters; it is what that person becomes and is becoming as a result of his or her participation in the struggle, the movement and the protest, that is of utmost significance and decisive.
The organisation, the movement, and the uprising is like a refinery into which crude oil is poured, and from which emerges the various grades of refined products, including the sludge and the waste.
But the struggle, the movement, the protest, the uprising, cannot play this refining role, without organisation and leadership.
You require a refinery to refine the crude, but you require workers and the management to put the refinery into effective use.
In the January Uprising for instance, the lumpen were not inactive, and they were not quiet, but although there were talk by both the ruling class and some in the organisation’s leadership about hoodlums, and fear of there hijacking of the protests; nevertheless, there were no hijacks. Did the lumpen participate? Of course, they did? Did they participate as an independent and autonomous force? No, they couldn’t. There was organisation and there was leadership, and they became organised and integrated into the protest.
With #EndSARS, the middle-class elite youth that led and influenced the protest, and the mass of the middle-class youths that thronged to the protests, had no understanding of the lumpen, that is the de-classed youth, whom they were weary, if not disdainful of.
The lumpen, were initially cautious and distrustful of the protest. Here were relatively advantaged youths led by the middle class talking about police brutality. They were surprised to say the least. This is because police brutality is the very basis of their day-to-day life and experience. They live with police brutality. But when by the second week they had grown sufficiently confident that this was not a flash in the pan, they threw themselves into the protests, and played the decisive role in generalizing the franchise across the country and across multiple centers in the same cities.
When hired and paid thugs of the state were deployed against the protests, the lumpen played the decisive role in beating these thugs back. Some were even hired as bouncers by the leaders of this leaderless protest.
And when the state decided to directly suppress the protest through its own forces, since the use of surrogates wasn’t working, it was the lumpen that stood its ground, that bore the brunt of state anger after the military attack and killings at Lekki. And significantly, having a better, if not yet sophisticated understanding of the relationship between the police and the state, and of the fact that the police is the instrument of the state and the ruling class in coercing the rest of society to accept ruling class hegemony, they were not hesitant about the target of their anger. This explains why they targeted police stations and the courts. These were the institutions most complicit in maintaining their condition as lumpen and treating them as hoodlums. The other significant indication of their spontaneous consciousness and awareness, was in their second target of choice, the warehouses where palliatives meant for the people and the vulnerable, were being stored, hidden, diverted, and appropriated, stolen, by the ruling class. In the actions of the lumpen, we can see the interplay of the dynamics of the consequences of hunger, poverty, and state brutality that characterise the precarious existence of the lumpen.
The middle-class youth and the lumpen youth were disconnected, without an understanding of the other, with mutual distrust of the other, and with the working-class youth, participating, but in the absence of the organisations of the class, unable to exert any class influence. This was the class dynamics at the hearth of the #EndSARS protests while it lasted.
Without conscious organisation and leadership, the various classes and categories of the youth in revolt could not have a mediated conversation, they could not build sustainable alliances, they could not harmonise their programs.
To conclude, leadership and organisation are decisive necessities for any struggle, any movement, any protest, any uprising, let alone any process of social transformation. Leadership and organisation are key to the mass in revolt taking ownership of a process. They are central to taking responsibility, and germane to accountability.
Leadership and organisation is required for the collective education of the movement, for driving collective reflection and for enabling a movement to be able to identify, draw and integrate lessons from practice.
Without organisation, the movement is unable to accumulate and retain experience in a manner that can be put into effective use. Without organisation, the movement loses the ability to have any memory.
(Jaye Gaskia is a member of Socialist Labour [SL], Alliance on Surviving COVID 19 And Beyond [ASCAB], and The Peoples Alternative Political Movement [TPAP-M])