The Story of Jim: A Stuttering, Obese Communist Who Became an Effective Trade Union Leader
May 17, 2012
I first read a version of this in Douglas Hyde's little book, Dedication and Leadership. Hyde had been a Communist Party leader in Great Britain in the 1930s and 1940s. In the late 1940s he defected and joined the Roman Catholic Church. He wrote a fine autobiography, I Believed.
In 1962, he gave a seminar in front of priests and nuns. He called it Dedication and Leadership Techniques. It was later published. I own a photocopy of that seminar. I have reprinted most of it. It is posted on my website, www.GaryNorth.com.
Here, I reproduce the section of that manual on the story of Jim.* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Let me give you the story of one man who came to the Communist Party and how we made a leader of him. You will note the stages in his development and the steps which the communists believe are required in the formation of a leader through instruction.
I had been giving a leadership course. I was the tutor. When I came to the last session, I ended it by saying what the communists the world over say: "The Communist Party is able to take anyone who is willing to be trained in leadership and turn him into a leader." I will repeat that because the communists believe it. The Communist Party is able to take anyone who is willing to be trained in leadership and turn him into a leader.
You note the one qualification--if he is willing to be trained. That presupposes an attitude of mind which communist parties have to try to create.
I closed my series with those words; I got down from the platform. A new recruit who was doing the course came to me and said that he wanted to be made into a leader. He did not say it like that. It was not as simple as that. As I looked at him, I thought I had never seen anyone look less like a leader in my life. He was short, grotesquely fat, with a great, flabby, wide, uninteresting face, as unprepossessing a man as you will find anywhere. He had a cast in one eye, and the poor man had a most distressing stutter too, and so quite literally he said to me--I am not making fun of the man--"C-c-comrade, I w-w-want you t-t-to -t-take me and t-t-train me and t-t-to t-t-t-tum me i-i-into a l-l-leader of m-men." I wondered how I was going to do it. I wondered why we had made that big claim of being able to take anyone who was willing.
Here was Jim, pathetically willing, but how were we going to do it? I thought, this is a challenge, and so I told him: "If you come to our classes, Jim, you will have to study. You will learn dialectical and historical materialism. From that you will learn that the very laws of the universe are on the side of communism. The law of change, progress coming through conflict, is something which we use, which helps us, which guarantees our ultimate victory, provided that we understand our communism sufficiently well."
"You will see that there has been a pattern in history--running through history over the years, building up to the ultimate triumph of communism. We shall only succeed in our aim if a sufficient number of people are trained in leadership, understand the moment of opportunity and seize it when it comes."
I gave him a hope; I gave him a goal. I gave him something to work towards, and I set out to give him confidence in himself. That is the first step on the way to making a man a leader. You must give him self-confidence.
That in itself is not enough. The world is full of people who are bursting with self-confidence and have nothing to back it up. They are not leaders. They are just nuisances. So, the next thing was, of course, to give him something to be confident about. In other words, we gave him his instruction; we gave him something which others had not got. When he had been going to classes some eight or nine months, I went to him one night and I said, "You know, Jim, you ought to be a tutor."
He was absolutely terrified.
I said, "You have been in the Party now for some time. You have been attending classes for eight or nine months. Have you learned anything?"
He said, "Yes, I have learned a lot."
I said, "Well, you know, the majority of people who join the Communist Party know as little as you did when you joined. In other words, they know practically nothing about our theories. Now if you have already learned a lot, this means that you know more than the people who have just joined.
He said, "Yes."
I said, "The whole art of teaching is to know just a little bit more than the people you are teaching--if you do, you can get away with it. If people ask you questions, and you do not know the answers, all right, go to your textbook. Say, 'I do not know the answer, but I will give it to you next week.' Go to the textbook. Find it there. In that way you will learn. If you cannot find it there, I will give it to you."
And so I made him feel that he was adequate to the task. And he was.
I did not send him as a building worker with a minimum of education to teach dialectical materialism to nuclear physicists. I taught him to take a beginners' class for building workers, like himself. This was a tremendous thing in his training as a leader, because here was a new relationship between himself and his fellow workers. They were sitting at his feet at night. He was teaching them what he knew. This was good for his confidence. And in order to do it, he had to think out what we had taught him. He had to get some order into his thinking, some discipline into his thought, which the average man does not have to do. He had to learn to get the ideas, which we put into his head, out of his head and into the head of the other person. In other words, he had to become articulate. You cannot be a leader if you are not, and so we made him articulate. We gave him a clear goal towards which to work. We made him see his role in the wider fight, and, of course, we sent him into action.
Those were important steps in his formation as a leader; ones worth noting and trying to follow, I think. At any rate in due course, I asked him if he would go through a public speaking course. He went. It is a course pretty much the same as the course which Frank Sheed would give to members of the Catholic Evidence Guild.
Then we put him up at the street corner, in the market place. We did not turn him into a great orator. We did not even cure him of his stutter, which became modified as he gained confidence in himself. But he was still agitating for communism and propagandizing twenty years later.
Having given him--and this is an essential part in training a leader--the broader training in leadership, we told him that he must lead in a specialized field, and this is important too. We did not throw him to the wolves and say: "All right, you go into your labor union and start leading them." We gave him six months preparation. We taught him trade union history, trade union procedure, how to chair a meeting, how to move a resolution, how to move an addendum. We taught him the vocabulary of the labor movement, so when he got up, he would not sound like some sort of alien. The average Catholic in the labor union only gets up and speaks when the question of birth control, or Catholic schools, or something like that comes up. We equipped him to talk the ordinary language of the ordinary trade unionist, to know his interests, to be able to speak about those interests, not to appear to be grinding a communist axe, but be a good trade unionist.
Until recently, Britain had just one communist-dominated union, the Electrical Trades Union, and Jim was one of its leaders. I assure you, you are never likely to have a more unpromising pupil than Jim. The Communist Party turned him into a leader. He is still doing an effective job of leadership for it now.
It is an extraordinary paradox that we say that communism is opposed to the individual, and that we are the great defenders of the individual. In practice, the Communist Party does certainly bring out the potentialities of its people where often we neglect them. I think we ought to have greater faith in the human material that God puts in our hands.