By Joe Bast | November 4, 2023
A review of Dedication and Leadership by Douglas Hyde (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 1966 (Sixteenth printing, 2014)).
“Why are Communists so dedicated and successful as leaders whilst others so often are not?” This is the question Douglas Hyde poses in the preface to Dedication and Leadership, a relatively small book originally published in 1966 and reprinted many times since then.
The leaders and staff of every patriotic think tank, advocacy group, and publication ought to read this book because Hyde presents a “To Do List” that can transform an organization from a mere debating society into an effective force for political change.
About the Book
Before leaving the Communist Party in 1948, Douglas Hyde (1911-1996) worked for the party in Britain and other parts of the world. He was the news editor of the party’s daily newspaper, wrote curricula for its courses, and trained activists who then tutored factory workers and members of Communist cells. In 1950 he wrote a more famous book than this one titled I Believed: The Autobiography of a Former British Communist.
“When I left Communism after twenty years in the Party,” he writes, “I knew its evils. But I also believed that the Communists were right in some important respects.”
The Mission Secretariat of the Catholic Church in Washington, DC invited Hyde, a convert from atheism to Catholicism, to speak to its religious and lay leaders at an annual conference, asking him to “examine where Catholics were weak and, by contrast, where the Communists were strong.” Hyde delivered a series of lectures explaining in detail how Communists recruit, train, and motivate dedicated leaders despite the obvious shortcomings and contradictions of their ideology and mission.
The Starting Point: An Inspiring Goal
The book contains dozens of insights into what conservatives can learn from Communists, starting with the need to identify and then focus constant attention on a truly inspiring goal. Communists say “there is a great battle going on all over the world which in the final analysis is a struggle for men’s hearts, minds and souls.” The world is at a turning-point in history, they said, making this “a terrible, yet tremendous time in which to live.”
The goal of the Communist Party is nothing less than to change the world. Hyde writes, “Marx concluded his Communist Manifesto with the words ‘You have a world to win.’ Here is a tremendous aim. In material terms, one could hardly aim higher.”
The promised Communist world would end poverty, oppression, and injustice. It would unleash a new world of prosperity and justice in which the arts would flourish, virtue would be rewarded, and harmony would be restored. This vision appealed to idealists as well as to those who are unable to find meaning or inspiration in other areas of their lives.
Question: How many conservative events begin and end with a description of our vision of a free society that is so bold and bright that it can capture the imagination of young people and fill the hearts of veterans with pride and renewed dedication?
Answer: Too few, indeed.
Donald Trump’s rallies end with an appeal to that vision and as a result they attract tens of thousands of people. People still wear MAGA hats and Trump paraphernalia three years after the last election and a year before the next election because they identify Trump with our vision of a free society.
Having a bold and audacious goal, Communists then demanded great sacrifices from their recruits, asking them to “give until it hurts.” A Communist Party mantra was “If you make mean little demands upon people, you will get a mean little response which is all you deserve, but if you make big demands on them, you will get a heroic response.”
How many conservative groups make “big demands” of their members? Most only ask that they attend events and listen to speakers talk about the need for change. Most do not even ask for annual dues or contributions. Few offer any guidance for what audience members can do to effect change, much less an invitation to join a global movement to change the world. No wonder most conservatives do little more than “meet, eat, and retreat.”
Because they demand so much of their members, “Communism becomes the dominant thing in the life of the Communist. It is something to which he gives himself completely. Quite obviously it meets a need, fills a vacuum at the time when he is first attracted to it. More significant is that it normally continues to be the dominant force in the life of the Communist for as long as he remains in the movement.”
Creating similarly dedicated conservatives ought to be the goal of everything our think tanks and advocacy groups do, yet it is hardly ever pursued or even mentioned out loud.
Communists regarded everyone they met as a possible recruit to the party and told them they could become leaders, not just followers, of something exciting and earth-shattering. Conservatives water down their message, promise entertainment instead of a life-changing mission (and usually fail to deliver even that), and give potential recruits nothing to do, no literature to share, and often don’t even collect their names and contact information.
A Step-by-Step Process
Hyde describes the step-by-step process Communists used to recruit, train, and motivate new members. For example, they focused their recruitment efforts on young men ages 15 to 25 since “young people have always dreamed of better worlds and we must hope that they always will.”
The Communist Party was constantly promoting and organizing for the next campaign, event, or election. It didn’t worry about trying to do too much because joining the Communist Party was meant to be a turning point in the recruit’s life and then a full-time hobby, vocation, and mission. Recruits weren’t given down-time or time to rest (especially not after defeats) because such pauses often led to second thoughts, loss of interest, and attrition.
New Communist recruits were often told to sell party newspapers on street corners, a physically demanding and often humiliating experience. The purpose was not to sell newspapers — few, in fact, were ever sold — but to get the recruit to publicly commit to Communism, and then to turn to the party for more education and training to be able to answer questions and avoid future embarrassment.
Question: Can you imagine one of today’s conservative think tanks asking its staff to sell its publications on street corners?
Communist Party members at all levels were expected to exhibit dedication to the cause by voluntarily sacrificing wages, marching shoulder-to-shoulder with factory workers during strikes, and going to prison if necessary. Most people who were new to Communism joined the party because they knew or knew of a dedicated Communist who was courageous, self-sacrificing, and dedicated.
Question: Can you imagine one of today’s highly paid conservative leaders — Dinesh D’Souza, Tucker Carlson, Steve Bannon, and others — donating their millions of dollars back to the movement or doing anything for free?
Where Did We Go Wrong?
There is much more in this little book than I have summarized here. Buy a copy or, better yet, buy a dozen copies and share them with colleagues, friends, and family members. Read it, and you will look at the conservative movement with new eyes.
“Lenin,” Hyde writes, “said he wanted a party of what he called ‘professional revolutionaries.’ He did not mean by this that they would be paid. They were to be professional in the sense that they would not be amateurs, that their methods would not be amateurish. They would fight for Communism as though they were fighting a war.”
Today’s conservative movement seems to have heard the first part but missed or has deliberately ignored the second part. We have handed our movement over to highly paid amateurs who have no interest in fighting “as though they were fighting a war.” If they did, everything they do would be different. And maybe, just maybe, we’d be winning.
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Joseph Bast cofounded with his wife, Diane, the Wisconsin Patriots Toolbox website and is active with several patriot groups in Wisconsin. He previously was president of The Heartland Institute and retired in 2018.