D. D. Kosambi

Exasperating Essays

The Function of Leaders in a Mass Movement

To what extent do "mere agitators" determine the course of a revolution? Would it be possible to suppress all such upheavals by the judicious and timely action of a few people? Or is a change of nature inevitably the inner contradictions of a system are manifested in leadership inevitable too? Dialectical materialism leads to the latter conclusion, but the nature of this inevitability has be closely examined, even from a dialectical point of view.

This view claims that a change of quantity inevitably leads to a change of quality. Water cooled indefinitely remain a fluid, but must solidify into ice when enough heat been lost; the same liquid, when it has absorbed no will be transformed into a gas, steam. Similarly, contradictions latent in any form of production develop, the form of society will inevitably change. This is simple enough, but the circumstances that prevail at the critical point need further examination.

First, there is a minimum or threshold value below no transformation can possibly take place. Secondly, this threshold value can be surpassed, sometimes to a surprising extent, if certain conditions, which are otherwise insignificant do not obtain. To give an illustration: we can never get the solution of a given salt to solidify, i.e., change of a mass of crystals, unless the solution is concentrated. But supersaturated solutions can always be obtained with a 1ittle care. If a small crystal be added to such a supersaturated solution, the whole mass will crystallize, often with amazing rapidity. The small parent crystal, which does not appreciably increase percentage of supersaturation of the total solution, is necessary for the crystallization. Moreover, some substances can exist in several distinct crystalline forms; then the crystal added will determine the form of crystallization for the whole mass.

I submit that this analogy explains the position of leadership in a social movement. Below the threshold level of objective conditions in the society as a whole, little can be done. But good leadership recognizes when this level has been surpassed, and can produce the desired transformation with very little supersaturation. Of course, if the social forces are strong enough, they can overcome the handicap of an indifferent or even bad leadership, but the entire process of transformation must naturally take place at a correspondingly later stage of development.

It is this postulation that explains why the communist revolution was successful in Russia, but failed in Germany where Marx and Engels expected it to occur first because of greater concentration of productivity. Trotsky, in his history of the Russian revolution, says, "Lenin was not a demi- urge of the revolutionary process, ...he merely entered into a chain of objective historic forces. But he was a great link in that chain." Our present analogy seems to me more constructive than that of a chain. Lenin recognised that the war of 1914 was a purely imperialist clash; he alone insisted upon carrying out the resolution of the second international which suggested the conversion of such an outbreak into civil war. It was he, of all the socialists in Russia, who first recognised the true function of the soviets as the organ of the proletariat, and brushed aside the wobbling theorists who postulated an intermediate bourgeois-liberal democratic stage in the development of the revolution. His letter drove the communists to armed insurrection on November 7, 1917; the time was ripe for such procedure in the seizure of power, and probably no other method could then have been as effective. Not only in the beginning, but even in after years, when the revolution had to be saved by strategic retreats such as unfavourable treaties with hostile aggressors and the New Economic Policy, Lenin showed what leadership can really accomplish. The other revolutions in Europe, i.e. Hungary, Germany, Italy etc., were lost not simply because the social conditions were relatively less favourable but because the guiding spirits were less able. On the other hand, we may note that Lenin himself, in his Geneva exile, could not shake the complacent inertia of the Swiss working class.

Now there is another type of leadership (that we have often seen in history) which does not itself participate in the upheaval in a manner similar to the above example. We see this in most religious movements, which gain head suddenly, become revolutionary for a while, put a new set of rulers in power, and then settle down to a parasitic routine, all without the least apparent change of ideology. Of course, the change is there in practice, if not in theory. One can hardly expect the poor of any era to understand and to fight for abstract theological problems which even learned bishops could not settle. Why should the people of one age fight for Athariasius against the Arians while, a couple of centuries after the creed was established, their descendants fought with much less vigour against Islam? The fact is not that there are periods of sudden theological understanding for the masses, but that the religious leadership knew how to stand firm on some point in a way that suddenly activated the social discontent. The analogy here is not with our supersaturated solutions, but rather with the position of catalysts in chemical reactions. Many reactions take place very slowly, or not at all unless substances like sponge-platinum or kaolin are present. These substances remain unassimilated and undiminished after the reaction has been completed, but their presence does materially accelerate the reaction.

Finally, we have seen cases of leadership by dispersion as well as leadership that concentrates social forces. This often happens when a class not in power gains its predominance by uniting with a lower class which it must normally exploit. In that case, methods have to be devised for the dissipation of the excess of energy available; methods that usually come with the label of "restoration of law and order." Some Marxists (of whom I am one) claim that a part of the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi must fall under this head. When the 1930 Satyagraha got out of hand and was about to be transformed into a fundamentally different movement by the no-rent and no-tax campaigns in 1932, he discovered the need for the uplift of our untouchables, and the whole movement was neatly sidetracked. At Rajkot this year, he put himself at the head of a campaign that would have lighted a fire not easily put out in the kindling of our social discontent and that too was effectively sidetracked by newer and finer points in the theory of non-violence-points of a purely theological minuteness. Both of these had a pre- cursor in the cancellation of the first civil disobedience movement after Chouri-Choura. But in the two later cases, it was quite clear that the forces of social change were scattered precisely at a stage when their continued focussing would have been dangerous to the class that wanted power, the Indian money-owners. This is not to say that the leadership was a deliberate, conscious act. That is why the Congress movement had its periods of glum depression. Its usefulness to the class mentioned was low in just those times.

At least one difference exists between a social group and the solutions that we have used for the purposes of analogy: the lack of uniformity. The concentration in a social movement need not be the same throughout the whole region affected. This leads to two distinct types of development after the initial stages. Either the transformation that has taken place in a small portion will spread over the rest of the social group-which again implies the existence of a minimum threshold value over the entire aggregation, or there will be produced a deconcentration, a rarefaction as it were, over the untransformed portion. In the latter case, the transformed portion must temporarily isolate itself, or again dissolve into its surroundings. I take it that this will explain why the Marxist revolution in one part of the world did not spread with the rapidity that was expected of it. Its very occurrence in that part sharpened the contradictions that existed elsewhere; but it threw hesitant leaders back into a reactionary attitude, because they had not themselves developed to the necessary level.

Fergusson and Willingdon College Magazine, (Poona) 1939, pp. 6-9.

One of the obvious conclusions is that when the major, immediate objective of the mass movement has been gained, both the people and the leadership must remain vigilant against the ripening of inner contradictions by studying the needs of the next stage. Class-reaction and the cult of personality can be avoided only by the broadest active participation of the whole people in the transformed movement, e.g. after a revolution, in self-government and in national planning. On the other hand, the very success of national planning and resultant increase in the quantity of production-even socialist planning and socialist production-must inevitably lead to a change of quality in the leadership. This accounts at least in part for the 'de-Stalinization' policy of the USSR, which is now the second greatest industrial country in the whole world, with the greatest output of trained technicians, engineers, and scientists.

Fergusson & Willingdon College Magazine, Poona, 1939, pp.10-12 The initial two-thirds of this story was written as an English At theme at Harvard in 1924.

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