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Mass or Elite?


John Tyndall, 1934–2005

3,759 words

Mass movement or elite hard core? Force of numbers or force of ideology and dedication? Quantity or quality? These are questions that have always preoccupied British nationalists as they have contemplated the way forward for our movement, and they are indeed very relevant today as we are in the throes of a drastic stocktaking and reappraisal of our political strategy following some hard reverses.

I am grateful to Mr. Colin Jordan for making his own thoughtful and stimulating contribution to this debate in last month’s issue, for he made many points which carry strong weight. The very rapid development of the National Front in the 1970s to an organization of considerable size was bought at the price of harboring within its fold numerous elements that had neither the strength of conviction nor the personal fortitude to endure the political setback that came with the General Election of 1979—or indeed the harsh climate of struggle in which such a movement was destined always to operate. The viciousness of the political foe, in both its verbal and physical aspect, took its toll on will power and morale. And the heterogeneousness of belief, always inevitable in a party grown so large so quickly, met its nemesis in a series of ideological splits and arguments that followed the failure of the first major attempt to break from fringe politics into the contest for national power.

Not that the National Front, even at the peak of its numerical growth, became a true “mass movement” in the sense in which we usually understand the term. When we speak of its size, we are speaking relatively. It was large by comparison with all other racial nationalist organizations to emerge in Britain in the post-war era, and its size furthermore compared favorably with most other modern movements around the Western world of a similar political orientation. That having been said, we must acknowledge that it was still very far from attaining the dimensions that would make it a real political force in a country of 56 million people.

Nevertheless, the NF was seen as a mass movement in embryo. To many of its adherents, its immediate objective simply was to grow as large as possible as soon as possible and to seek power with the greatest possible speed through the ballot box. Numbers were crucial to its strategy for development.

Condition of Mass Support

The aim of pursuing large-scale electoral support presupposes that a large part of the electorate is in possession of sufficiently well developed political consciousness to be receptive to one’s party’s message despite a barrage of hostile propaganda assaulting its ears. Some of us recognized that in the 1970s no such condition existed and that therefore there was a strict ceiling to the electoral support that the NF could win; its electoral campaigns were seen first and foremost as a public relations and advertising exercise out of which it was hoped that the party would at least succeed in the outcome in adding sufficiently to its ranks of committed members and activists. The actual votes won would be incidental to this objective and anyway were bound to fluctuate up and down according to the political climate and not in proportion to the quality of the party’s appeal.

The trouble is that in a party of the size which the NF attained in the late 1970s and in a campaign of the dimensions to which it committed itself in the General Election of 1979 it is exceedingly difficult to drill the membership into a common way of thinking in this regard. What is the party leadership to tell its followers? If it tells them that only limited results can be derived from the campaign to which they are supposed to dedicate so much of their energies, there is the risk that many of them will wane in their enthusiasm and slacken in their effort. If, on the other hand, the leadership sustains the enthusiasm and effort of the rank-and-file by offering the prospect of big gains to be made at the end of the campaign, anything short of those big gains is likely to be regarded as failure and the cause for dejection and disillusionment.

This problem is compounded by the fact that in the course of the development of the party during such a period of rapid growth many new adherents are recruited who are full of enthusiasm for the party’s cause and eager to work for its success but who at the same time are woefully lacking in practical political experience, in particular of the extremely adverse conditions in which a racial nationalist movement operates in a society where all the commanding heights of power and influence are occupied by the enemy. It is a common habit of such people to transport themselves into a cloud cuckoo land of optimism from which they subsequently descend with a sickening crash when the harsh realities of our struggle manifest themselves in hopes unfulfilled. On some of these people that experience has an effect which educates and hardens—rather like the impact of the first taste of real battle on young army rookies who are short on service but of basically sound fighting material. But on many the experience is shattering; they become victims to the political equivalent of shell shock. They then may drop out of the struggle altogether, or otherwise they may become vulnerable—as did parts of the French Army in 1917—to the seductions of the merchants of mutiny and serve as cannon fodder in the promotion of internal splits—a business in which there are always skilled practitioners waiting in the wings for the moment of opportunity.

Argument for Elite

These hazards are the inevitable price that one pays if one is committed to political aims that are dependent on mobilizing large numbers, and they add considerable force to the arguments of those who advocate the elitist approach, i.e. the building of small cadres of highly developed political awareness and motivation which, in theory at least, are inured to struggle and will not melt away or splinter at the first sign of adversity—the type which, in the words of Mr. Jordan, will have “the will power to turn his back on the tempting but futile distractions of ordinary politics,” and furthermore be “the one capable of operating on his own, if needs be, not the dependent weakling who needs some pre-existing organization to take him by the hand and arrange things for him.”

Mr. Jordan expands on this theme when he says:

Be assured that numbers are more than anything else an illusion whenever, regardless of quality, being weakness masquerading as strength! Realize that the greatest force in the world is the power of the will residing in the excellence of the few! Believe this: a tiny minority which is good enough—dedicated enough, knowledgeable enough, trained enough, organized enough—can move mountains, and can topple the vulnerable edifice of the complicated modern state!

I do not quarrel with these words; on the contrary, all the experience I have had in the politics of numbers and mass confirm the basic truth of them. Even in the National Front, which at first sight might seem to serve as the antithesis of the sort of organization of which Mr. Jordan is speaking, what he says has been borne out in practice. Notwithstanding the thousands that at one time or another were listed as fee-paying members, the vital brains, talent, initiative and determination which fueled the growth of that party came at all times from a tiny few.

So the principle of the importance of an elite is accepted. There are in the elite concept, however, certain dangers that must be avoided, and I will mention a few of them here.

The Ivory Tower

The elitist approach must never be regarded as an end in itself. The organizing of the elite must always be seen to be a means towards the mobilizing of the mass. All political power in modern Western states rests ultimately with those who can get the mass on their side. Even in those phases of struggle when mass support is not within reach, sight must never be lost of the fact that that mass support remains the eventual objective. The activity of the elite must therefore never be of the kind which separates elite from mass, physically or psychologically.

The elite must avoid the temptation to retire to its own ivory tower, from where it looks disdainfully down on the mass, and isolates itself from the real world where things are happening. This can lead to a mentality in which the elite is content just to book its ticket to heaven by virtue of the rightness and purity of its principles, while playing no part in the shaping of the human events that make history.

In the fields of thought and action the elite must at all times involve itself in the process of political power. This applies just as much in times when the possibilities of power are limited as in times when they are boundless. Indeed it is by intelligent exploitation of limited possibilities that the bounds of those possibilities can become widened.

What Constitutes the Elite?

What is the elite? How does an individual establish his claim to be considered part of it? Too often I have heard these questions answered in terms of stereotypes.

Is the elitist the type who is the most uncompromising in his commitment to the full implications of the racial nationalist ideology, i.e. the one who embraces that ideology in its purest and most extreme form? If so, what if he is at the same time an individual lacking in qualities of character by which he may, in both his active political and private life, live up in practice to the strength of his ideals?

And what is to be the position of another who is of the very soundest and strongest personal character but who stops some way short of the acceptance of racial nationalist ideology in its most extreme form?

And is sound personal character necessarily the foundation of the spirit of the most militant and dedicated activist? In my experience, no. The most stable individuals among our race tend to be the hardest working and most responsible in their occupations as well as being good family men and women, committed very much to their domestic duties. It is so often they who have the least time, and tend to be prepared to take the least risk, when it comes to political activity. Those, on the other hand, who are prepared to give the most time and take the greatest risk are often the ones who, from the private point of view, lead drab and unfulfilled lives and have the least to lose. They are sometimes, though by no means always, people of inadequate personality and/or unstable character—or simply very limited brains and aptitude.

The ideal member of the elite is the one who scores highly in all the desirable attributes. But he or she is a very rare species, so small in numbers and so scattered geographically as to make it very difficult for the species to be organized to any effective political purpose—at least without large auxiliary forces of lesser quality.

All these things considered, there must be, even in the most highly developed elite conception, some modification of the 100 per-cent ideal, and of course in the world of real politics there always is. We must never forget that we are cast by fate in the role of revolutionaries. Revolutions are made by the most turbulent and restless personalities in any population; revolutionary movements must contain in the human element which forms them an abundance of what the Germans call Sturm und Drang, otherwise they will peter out from sheer lack of impetus and drive. The revolutionary leader must recognize the importance of these forces and learn to harness them to the common objective. This means in practice that he must be prepared to recruit some unusual characters among his collaborators and not expect all of them to be saints.

Test of the Elite

No army can prove its quality without being tested in battle, or at least in conditions approximating nearly to battle. Likewise no political elite can be regarded as such unless its members have been tested in the fiery crucible of political action—and by action I mean political operations carried out in the full face of the enemy and under the pressure of enemy counter-fire, both psychological and physical. Adherents to the cause recruited in drawing rooms by means of intellectual persuasion and who in turn give evidence of a good intellectual and spiritual grasp of our point of view may on first impression seem to be the material out of which an elite is made, but they may then later prove to be completely useless for any overt activity when it exposes them to physical danger and/or the light of publicity and controversy out of which embarrassment in career or business may result.

This is not to say that such people cannot under any circumstances be considered valuable. There is much to be said for the idea of echelons of racial nationalism being formed which will operate by covert methods, penetrating established institutions of business, politics and the professions in a manner similar to that carried out by the South African Broederbond. Here brains and intelligence are the foremost prerequisites and our operatives must comprise an elite in these respects, though they may not do so in other respects. This simply underlines what has been said earlier—that we should not use a particular stereotype in our conception of what makes an elite; there are different elites for different purposes.

Unity and Cohesion

An elite cannot serve as an elite unless it is an organized force, and not a collection of individuals each working to his or her own purpose. Those who may best qualify to be the elite in terms of individual merit will be less of an elite, considered collectively, than a body of people representing a smaller aggregate of individual attributes but who work as a co-ordinated team.

It is in the nature of things that among those who possess the highest personal attributes and the strongest drive to action there will be some in whom there burns the fire of ambition. In all who possess qualities of leadership there must be the element of self-confidence and at least some degree of egotism—not an objectionable trait as long as it is subordinated to the higher requirements of the cause.

In an elite comprising people of leadership qualities it is almost inevitable that there will periodically be struggles for hegemony, and much more frequently strong disagreement, thus diminishing the cohesion and teamwork that are so necessary to the effective performance of political tasks. It may therefore be the case that an alternative body comprising less leaders but more loyal followers (and in consequence possibly a lesser pool of talents) may be much more suitable for the carrying out of political operations.

The Base of the Pyramid

No pyramid can have a peak without a base. No high command can function without troops. No operations, of however great skill, complexity or sophistication, can be effective without certain basic raw materials.

In politics a vital raw material is money. A great idea may germinate in the mind of an exceptional political thinker, but this idea is useless unless the facilities exist for it to be communicated to a wider audience of people. This is impossible unless it goes into print and then, having been printed, it is widely distributed.

Printing operations cost money. There are only two alternative ways, in our situation, in which that money can be found.

One is that it is provided by some rich benefactor or number of benefactors. These are extremely hard to find within the spectrum of racial nationalist politics, and if they are found, dependence upon them can be hazardous. It means that they may dictate the terms on which their money is to be given, and these may not be in accordance with what is politically right. Benefactors should indeed be welcomed but we should never be in a position in which we cannot say No to them when necessary.

The other alternative is to build an organization large enough to be able to generate, through member subscriptions and small donations, the finance necessary to sustain printing and other costly operations, and to provide the distributive network by which printed material can be sold in a quantity that recovers printing costs.

The latter process involves, inevitably, some departure from the purist and elitist principle. It means that we must go out to recruit as many members as possible—with the qualification that obvious undesirables must be kept at arms’ length. In other words, while rejecting the thoroughly bad we must accept, and use, a quantity of the mediocre.

The important thing is always to ensure that the elite retains control. To this point I will return.

How Is the Elite to Be Recruited?

Stipulating the desirability of an elite is one thing. Finding it is another. Those who would seek to build an elite for the carrying out of a political objective must go to the scene of political activity where politically inclined people are to be found. Adherents to the cause must be recruited, and then the elite selected from these in the process of acquaintance and action.

I know of no way in which this is possible except by means of a political movement that makes some attempt to win people in considerable numbers. If by the law of averages we find one elite type among twenty ordinary recruits, to find five for the elite we must gain a hundred ordinary recruits and to find fifty for the elite we must gain a thousand ordinary recruits.

You do not generally find any gold without digging up much useless earth and stone. You do not find athletic champions of Olympic caliber without staging events in which many ordinary run-of-the-mill performers take part. The same principles apply in the quest for dedicated racial nationalists of the highest caliber. To pick them up, you must cast the net as wide as possible.


This brings us back to the question with which I began this article: elite or mass? The answer must be elite and mass. The pursuit of quality, not instead of but along with, the pursuit of numbers. The two must not be seen as mutually exclusive alternatives but as thoroughly complementary to one another. Without one, the other is not possible.

This is always provided that we recognize the limitations facing us in the way of mass support at this particular time. When we speak of numbers, we are speaking not of the numbers necessary to bring us to political power, for these cannot be won over at the present time; we are speaking of the greatest numbers presently attainable given existing political conditions and given our own campaigning resources.

What is all important in circumstances where the recruitment of elite and mass are being pursued simultaneously is that the former must, as has been said before, have its hands on all the vital reins of control and must impress its standards and values upon the latter rather than the other way round. Elite and mass must always be in the correct order of hierarchy.

I am convinced that this need can only be met if our nationalist movement is structured and organized on a non-democratic basis. If the opposite is the case, as has existed in the National Front since 1971, the objectives of elite and mass, of qualitative and quantitative recruitment, will indeed become irreconcilable. Quantity will prevail over quality, as has occurred in the larger state and society of Britain in which we operate. The self-destructive tendencies that work in all societies governed by liberal-democratic procedures will destroy us too.

Among those who favor the elitist principles of political development, I risk provoking some disagreement when I say that in my own view the nationalist movement in Britain must in the future, as in the past, aim to recruit supporters in the greatest possible numbers—within the limits that I have mentioned. It must at the same time endeavor much more than in the past to form leadership cadres along the lines of a kind of “General Staff [2],” the best available model for this being the Prussian General Staff system founded by Count von Moltke, in which the attempt was made to imbue all those involved with the broad conceptions of strategy and organization handed down from the top while encouraging the development of individual initiative in the details of execution. A very careful selection of men and women must be made in this process and in it heed must be paid to a balance of all the qualities constituting an elite. No such procedure of selection is remotely possible if the method of selection is by election from below by means of popular vote—that opens the way to the smooth talker, publicity-seeker and con-artist that always comes to the top in a “democracy”; it can only be achieved by appointment from above, where merit becomes the sole criterion.

This is not to say that whoever makes the appointment will never err in his judgment. What is important is that when the evidence of error becomes apparent the decision to appoint can instantly be reversed by the simple act of dismissal—unencumbered by the need to gain the favor of a majority.

All this presupposes of course that the ideals of elite and quality are realized at the very top level of leadership itself, for if it is at that level that the quality at lower levels is to be controlled the question may be asked: how is the quality at the top itself controlled?

The answer is that it is controlled by a process of selection no different in principle, but only different in form, to that which operates at the other levels. The top leadership will sustain itself in success and it will fall in failure. The verdict against unsatisfactory standards will be expressed simply by the withdrawal of support, and without that support no leadership will be able to survive. Ultimately it is in the harsh natural order of survival and non-survival, of victory and defeat, of life and death, that all elites evolve.

Source: Spearhead, no. 160, February 1982, pp. 8–10.