The cult of the individual is a rotten carry-over from the long history of mankind. The cult of the individual is rooted not only in the exploiting classes but also in the small producers. As is well known, patriarchism is a product of small-producer economy…Mao: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-7/mswv7_467.htm
Updated 08.03.2019 – added a summary regarding “Jefatura”
Update 29.04.2021: Even CIA recognized that it was collective leadership in Soviet during Stalins time: https://www.cia.gov/readingroom/docs/CIA-RDP80-00810A006000360009-0.pdf
The Communist Party of Peru (PCP) has a theory about “Jefatura” – which Struggle Sessions (SS) translates to “Great Leadership”. I have written “Great Leader” in the tittle of this article, because as I understand what PCP and SS mean is that they stress the necessity for each party in each country to have one Great Leader. “Great Leadership” can – if we just look at it isolated from the theories by PCP and Struggle Sessions – be something every communist should strive for.
Our work as communists is to build a strong communist party which can lead the masses in an revolution. Our task is therefore to build communist leaders. Every member of the communist party needs to be a leader.
Mao writes about collective leadership many times. I think that Maos theories and thinking about leadership is totally different and incompatible with what PCP and SS writes on the topic. The reason is that while PCP and SS writes about one great leader – Mao writes on collective leadership – that groups of people forms leadership everywhere and it is the quality of such leading groups who are the core question for building strong and good communist leadership.
In the excellent article “SOME QUESTIONS CONCERNING METHODS OF LEADERSHIP” by Mao he writes:
… a leading group should be formed in each unit in the course of the movement, made up of a small number of activists and with the heads of the given unit as its nucleus, and that this leading group should link itself closely with the masses taking part in the movement. However active the leading group may be, its activity will amount to fruitless effort by a handful of people unless combined with the activity of the masses.https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-3/mswv3_13.htm
In this article (which I think every communist should study) we see how Mao writes about the need for leadership made by a group or collective of leaders. He doesn’t write about The Leader, but about the group, and heads (in plural) of leaders. This is the correct way of building communist (or “Great Leadership”) – not trough making a cult round one specific “Great Leader”.
When we uses the pictures of our 5 most influential communist leaders in history – we don’t do this for making a cult around those persons, but we use it as a picture symbolizing the modern communist theories that we are following and learning from.
What is collective leadership?
All leadership is concrete leadership:
In all the practical work of our Party, all correct leadership is necessarily “from the masses, to the masses”. This means: take the ideas of the masses (scattered and unsystematic ideas) and concentrate them (through study turn them into concentrated and systematic ideas), then go to the masses and propagate and explain these ideas until the masses embrace them as their own, hold fast to them and translate them into action, and test the correctness of these ideas in such action. Then once again concentrate ideas from the masses and once again go to the masses so that the ideas are persevered in and carried through. And so on, over and over again in an endless spiral, with the ideas becoming more correct, more vital and richer each time. Such is the Marxist theory of knowledge.Mao: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-3/mswv3_13.htm
Leadership is to listen to knowledge, experience etc. from cadres you are leading. Make suggestions of solutions of concrete problems, to give support, advise, rise questions they have to a higher level if required, and in every other way to follow up cadres you have a leading role over.
Every task needs leadership. It’s therefore everybody needs to be a leader. But to be a good leader, you have to get input from others with knowledge about the task you are trying to solve. It’s therefore necessary to form groups of leaders who divide the tasks among each other, discuss and give advises on how to solve the task etc.
No single leader, whatever how “great” can lead an organization by his own. He needs the whole collective to do the task. No matter how great he is – he don’t know everything, and he will also needs advises, critics of errors he make etc.
The masses are the real heroes, while we ourselves are often childish and ignorant, and without this understanding, it is impossible to acquire even the most rudimentary knowledge.Mao: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/works/red-book/ch11.htm
Collective leadership is also about making a climate where discussions among comrades can be done in a way where everybody learns and corrects when they are mistaken. A climate where some tries to make himself “great” through making others small is toxic for the organization. The task is to make everybody better – not to make one individual leader greater then the rest.
A leading core where everybody strive to make the leading groups better is a much stronger core, than a core compositing of only one leader. “Together we are stronger” – is also correct when it comes to leadership. One leader is after all just one person.
Every leading groups should have at least one leader, and one second in charge in cases where the leader is unavailable. The task for the leader in the group is to organize meetings, check that the other leaders is doing their tasks and give them help, guiding, suggestions, lift their problems to the whole core, or to higher level if required etc. if they need.
Summary of reasons for why the theory about “Jefatura” is wrong
- You can’t know if a leadership is capable of leading a revolution successfully before actually doing it in practice. To say in advance that you have a leader who has proven that he / she can lead the revolution – is to say indirectly that you should follow this leader uncritically. If you think he / she is doing or saying something that you think is contrary to reality or Marxist theories – then you are proven wrong and do not have to ask questions. Marx said we should be critical of everything, even our own thoughts. It is in this way that we can correct erroneous thoughts.
- It is not necessary to have a leader who is very good at all the qualities needed by a leadership to lead a revolution. Marx and Engels eg. were open to the fact that they were not good at building organizations, but they were very good at explaining the society and thus providing a basic understanding of what we need to do. A leading collective that together has all the necessary qualities to be a leader of the revolution is good enough – you do not need all these qualities in one and the same person.
- It’s not good for any leader to be put on a pedestal where he is hailed as a fantastic good leader. He can become full of himself and his own infallibility and become uncritical for his own writing and actions.
- It will quickly flock a bunch of leftist dogmatics who will be full of zeal in profiling themselves as protectors of the “correct” “left” line and who will uncritically follow the “right teachings” of the “great leader”. These will go to rabid attacks on anyone who has criticism of the leader, when he full of himself is leading in the wrong direction. This will create an atmosphere where proper criticism of the leader becomes impossible. We are already seeing strong tendencies to this in this discussion, where people who support much of Gonzalo’s contribution to Marxism are being scolded as right wing reactionaries and “disguised attacks on Gonzalo” when criticizing some of Gonzalo’s theories (such as this on leadership ). (I’m not thinking here primarily about RVR, even though we see tendencies also with him for such an attitude).
Quotations relevant to this topic
All leaders are experienced. But Great Leaders unify the militarized Party around themselves and embody the revolution through correct navigation of two-line struggle.https://struggle-sessions.com/2018/07/20/on-the-maoist-principle-of-great-leadership/
But Communism is not humanism or some ideology based on peace and love. It is a machine of hatred against the bourgeoisie. It is a highly-centralized and authoritative militarized body from generals to privates, the lower-body members subordinate to leadership, and both subordinate to the ideology of the proletariat and its specific application in PPW through a central figure as a guiding thought.SS: https://struggle-sessions.com/2018/07/20/on-the-maoist-principle-of-great-leadership/
Stalin erroneously exaggerated his own role and counterposed his individual authority to the collective leadership, and as a result certain of his actions were opposed to certain fundamental Marxist-Leninist concepts he himself had propagated….Mao: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-7/mswv7_467.htm
Marxist-Leninists hold that leaders play a big role in history. The people and their parties need forerunners who are able to represent the interests and will of the people, stand in the forefront of their historic struggles, and serve as their leaders. But when any leader of the Party or the state places himself over and above the Party and the masses, instead of in their midst, when he alienates himself from the masses, he ceases to have all-round, penetrating insight into the affairs of the state. As long as this was the case, even so outstanding a personality as Stalin could not avoid making unrealistic and erroneous decisions on certain important matters… During the later part of his life, Stalin took more and more pleasure in this cult of the individual and violated the Party’s system of democratic centralism and the principle of combining collective leadership with individual responsibility. As a result, he made some serious mistakes: for example, he broadened the scope of the suppression of counter- revolution; he lacked the necessary vigilance on the eve of the anti- fascist war; he failed to pay proper attention to the further development of agriculture and the material welfare of peasantry; he gave certain wrong advice on the international communist movement, and, in particular, made a wrong decision on the question of Yugoslavia. On these issues, Stalin full victim to subjectivism and one-sidedness and divorced himself from objective reality and from the masses.
The Party committee system is an important Party institution for ensuring collective leadership and preventing any individual from monopolizing the conduct of affairs. It has recently been found that in some (of course not all) leading bodies it is the habitual practice for one individual to monopolize the conduct of affairs and decide important problems. Solutions to important problems are decided not by Party committee meetings but by one individual, and membership in the Party committee has become nominal. Differences of opinion among committee members cannot be resolved and are left unresolved for a long time. Members of the Party committee maintain only formal, not real, unity among themselves. This situation must be changed. From now on, a sound system of Party committee meetings must be instituted in all leading bodies, from the bureaus of the Central Committee to the prefectural Party committees; from the Party committees of the fronts to the Party committees of brigades and military areas (sub-commissions of the Revolutionary Military Commission or leading groups); and the leading Party members’ groups in government bodies, people’s organizations, the news agency and the newspaper offices. All important problems (of course, not the unimportant, trivial problems, or problems whose solutions have already been decided after discussion at meetings and need only be carried out) must be submitted to the committee for discussion, and the committee members present should express their views fully and reach definite decisions which should then be carried out by the members concerned. The same procedure should be followed by Party committees below the prefectural and brigade levels. In the higher leading bodies there should also be meetings of the leading cadres in the departments (for ample, the propaganda department and the organizational department), commissions (for example, the labour women’s and youth commissions), schools (for example, Party schools) and offices (for example, the research offices). Of course, we must see to it that the meetings are not too long or too frequent and they must not get bogged down in discussion of petty matters lest the work be hindered. On important problems which are complicated and on which opinions differ, there must, in addition, be personal consultations before the meeting to enable the members to think things over lest decisions by the meeting become a mere formality or no decision can be reached. Party committee meetings must be divided into two categories, standing committee meetings and plenary sessions, and the two should not be confused. Furthermore, we must take care that neither collective leadership nor personal responsibility is overemphasized to the neglect of the other. In the army, the person in command has the right to make emergency decisions during battle and when circumstances require.Mao: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-4/mswv4_41.htm
To ensure the triumph of the cause of socialism, we must exercise collective leadership and oppose decentralism and subjectivism.Mao: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-5/mswv5_32.htm
We have been acting in accordance with Lenin’s view, which is correct. The cult of personality is a revisionist formulation. Lenin had warned us of the problem of negating leadership just as he emphasized the need for our class, the Party and the revolution to promote our own leaders, and more than that, top leaders, and a Leadership. There’s a difference here that is worth emphasizing. A leader is someone who occupies a certain position, whereas a top leader and Leadership, as we understand it, represent the acknowledgment of Party and revolutionary authority acquired and proven in the course of arduous struggle— those who in theory and practice have shown they are capable of leading and guiding us toward victory and the attainment of the ideals of our class.Gonzalo: http://www.redsun.org/pcp_doc/pcp_0788.htm
When, instead of this customary procedure, it became necessary, because of the stormy development of the revolution and the development of the civil war, to go over rapidly from legality to illegality, to combine the two, and to adopt the “inconvenient” and “undemocratic” methods of selecting, or forming, or preserving “groups of leaders”—people lost their bearings and began to think up some unmitigated nonsense.Lenin: https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/lwc/ch05.htm
Chairman Gonzalo did not invent Great Leadership, but he did develop it and squarely placed it on the red banner of Maoism. He did not take a single step back and apologize or downplay his rise to leadership at the helm of the Peruvian PPW. Leaders rise to Great Leadership through the class struggle, including two-line struggle, and steeled in revolutionary practice and experience. There is no such thing as an inexperienced leader. All leaders are experienced. But Great Leaders unify the militarized Party around themselves and embody the revolution through correct navigation of two-line struggle.
As mentioned earlier, all revolutions and revolutionary movements have produced leaders. To deny this is to deny history.
Comrade Stalin understood this and defended the leadership of Lenin and his indispensable role as the main organizer and leader of the Russian Communist Party and the Soviet Union:
In our time of proletarian revolution, when every Party slogan and every utterance of a leader is tested in action, the proletariat makes special demands of its leaders. History knows of proletarian leaders who were leaders in times of storm, practical leaders, self-sacrificing and courageous, but who were weak in theory. The names of such leaders are not soon forgotten by the masses. Such, for example, were Lassalle in Germany and Blanqui in France. But the movement as a whole cannot live on reminiscences alone: it must have a clear goal (a programme), and a firm line (tactics).
There is another type of leader—peacetime leaders, who are strong in theory, but weak in matters of organization and practical work. Such leaders are popular only among an upper layer of the proletariat, and then only up to a certain time. When the epoch of revolution sets in, when practical revolutionary slogans are demanded of the leaders, the theoreticians quit the stage and give way to new men. Such, for example, were Plekhanov in Russia and Kautsky in Germany.
To retain the post of leader of the proletarian revolution and of the proletarian party, one must combine strength in theory with experience in the practical organization of the proletarian movement. P. Axelrod, when he was a Marxist, wrote of Lenin that he “happily combines the experience of a good practical worker with a theoretical education and a broad political outlook” (see P. Axel-rod’s preface to Lenin’s pamphlet: The Tasks of the Russian Social-Democrats10). What Mr. Axelrod, the ideologist of “civilized” capitalism, would say now about Lenin is not difficult to guess. But we who know Lenin well and can judge matters objectively have no doubt that Lenin has fully retained this old quality. It is here, incidentally, that one must seek the reason why it is Lenin, and no one else, who is today the leader of the strongest and most steeled proletarian party in the world.SS: https://struggle-sessions.com/2018/07/20/on-the-maoist-principle-of-great-leadership/
Someone has said that to oppose genius is to oppose me. But I am no genius. I read Confucian books for six years and capitalist books for seven. I did not read Marxist-Leninist books until 1918, so how can I be a genius? Didn’t I put circles round those adverbs several times over? The Party Constitution was settled at the Ninth Congress. Why not take a look at it? I wrote ‘Some Opinions’, which specially criticizes the genius theory, only after looking up some people to talk with them, and after some investigations and research. It is not that I do not want to talk about genius. To be a genius is to be a bit more intelligent. But genius does not depend on one person or a few people. It depends on a party, the party which is the vanguard of the proletariat. Genius is dependent on the mass line, on collective wisdom… I spoke to Comrade Lin Piao and some of the things he said were not very accurate. For example he said that a genius only appears in the world once in a few centuries and in China once in a few millennia. This just doesn’t fit the facts. Marx and Engels were contemporaries, and not one century had elapsed before we had Lenin and Stalin, so how could you say that a genius only appears once in a few centuries? In China there were Ch’en Sheng and Wu Kuang, Hung Hsiu-ch’üan and Sun Yat-sen, so how could you say that a genius only appears once in a few millennia? And then there is all this business about pinnacles and ‘one sentence being worth ten thousand’. Don’t you think this is going too far? One sentence is, after all, just one sentence, how can it be worth ten thousand sentences? We should not appoint a state chairman. I don’t want to be state chairman. I have said this six times already. If each time I said it I used one sentence, that is now the equivalent of sixty thousand sentences.
But they never listen, so each of my sentences is not even worth half a sentence. In fact its value is nil. It’s only Ch’en Po-ta’s sentences that are worth ten thousand apiece to them. He talked about ‘establishing in a big way’, by which he gave the appearance of meaning to establish my prestige. But when you get to the bottom of it, he really meant himself. They also said that the People’s Liberation Army was built and led by me, and commanded personally by Lin. It seems that the person who founded it cannot command it! And I did not build it all by myself either.”Mao, criticizing Lin Biao’s revisionist “genius theory”: https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-9/mswv9_88.htm