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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #231 - Interview with Yves Cohen: "The leader is present at all levels of command" (fr) [machine translation]

Date Mon, 09 Dec 2013 11:47:23 +0200


Yves Cohen is a historian, director of studies at the EHESS. He is the author of The Age of leaders, just published by Editions Amsterdam. In his work, he analyzes how authoritarianism developed at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century. This " need "Rampant leader in the political sphere as well as in the economic sphere, will not be the preserve of" totalitarian "countries, but will also theorized in the" democracies "that capitalists are France, the United States and the Weimar Republic. ---- Libertarian Alternative: What are the main ideas of this book? ---- Yves Cohen: This book is the result of twenty years of research on command and the figure of the head between the late 1890s and 1940s. He studied France, the United States, Germany and the USSR, and the flow of ideas between these countries, including the psychology of crowds, whose figurehead is Gustave Le Bon. It was at this period that a culture of head develops. This is to control the masses, to make them obey, to guide the crowds in the right direction. A fear of the masses is observed at the plant but also in politics. It will be averted by invoking the figure of the leader. It is not only the great leader, like Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin. Instead, the "head" is present at all levels of command in large organizations. Society as a whole is considered a multitude of hierarchies headed by chiefs. This manufacturing leader is not only thought by the elites, it is also within the socialist movement. This is how we can interpret the formation of Bolshevism. It builds on what to do? (1902) Lenin who says not only that the party must be composed of professionals, but it must be an "organization leaders," according to its own terms. It takes the traditional Russian word vozhd '("Guide") which will be used for himself and used more to describe Stalin.

Why have you chosen to limit this work in 1940? How is it that the figure of the leader is changing after the Second World War?

My basic idea is that this obsession leader is something that endures, from the early twentieth century to the years 60-70. 68 years have been years of challenge to authority in France and in other countries, the share of workers and students but also intellectuals. Today we live in a time when the figure of the leader who had formed the twentieth century is struggling to exist. It has not disappeared, but there are many movements around the world and not just protest movements, which seek to discourage the allocation of authority in one person permanently.

The period of the 30s and 40s is that the twentieth century saw the apotheosis of the figure of the leader. In the postwar period, there is a transformation even if the political and industry remain very attached to this figure. Major equipment and highly organized systems for science, politics and production have their own inertia which redistributes control and human hand. Figure continues today especially in countries with constitutions-presidential.

What are the links between the development of the figure of the leader and of capitalism?

The nineteenth century was a century of great concern for the dominant as the aristocracy is implicated in its naturalness class command, which causes the search for new authority figures. Mass movements of the era and the Industrial Revolution show that birth and money are no longer sufficient as supporting the authority to hold the aspirations of the people.

We must invent a secular figure: the head, which can be anyone, as long as it has "skills" of leadership. It develops practices to scientifically select and train leaders to come. We see that this emergence is closely linked to capitalism and the development of large-scale production.

The figure of the leader thus develops also in the socialist movement. Will it has anti-authoritarian tendencies that will oppose it?

Indeed, there is a lively discussion between anarchists and communists. There is very little explicit about Marx's authority, but against there is a small text Engels, in response to the anarchists, said there was a need for authority, including after the revolution. He justified by the requirements of industrial production. For him, " the authority of the steam does not care about individual autonomy. " Include this aspect in Lenin, in a discussion with Rosa Luxembourg (communist but anti-authoritarian), replied that " the working class needs authorities. " In infantile disorder communism leftism, social vision of Lenin is that of masses divided into classes with parties to lead and leaders to lead the party.

Found that conflict in Spain where anarchists vision faces the Bolsheviks, although in a context of war, the anarchists do not reject the military authority for themselves. On one side, anti-authoritarians defend the lack of leadership, cooperation, equality while Leninists see the advice, support soviets as a beautiful and well-hierarchical policy.

What are the avenues for social organization without a leader?

I try to observe the present reality, but I do not have a miracle solution. Even to make history, you have to be in the present. In social movements, I watch a lot of work to disqualify the leader figure, which is not easy because we inherit centuries of hierarchical thinking. In 2010 in Tunisia, the fact that the movement is leaderless became a claim. A movement without a leader is much more dangerous to the powers of a movement that has, for the authority does not know who to ask. This is reflected for example in Brazil, where many social movements have no leaders. It is this research that is interesting. I do not think that everything can change. Rather it should be considered a long social, political and technical dynamics also. But I think the reign of head as a universal solution is questioned.

Interview by Matthijs (AL Montpellier)

Yves Cohen, The Century leaders. Transnational history of command and authority (1890-1940), Editions Amsterdam, 2013, 870 p, 25 euros.
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