Robert Michels - Oligarchy


This reading is taken from Oscar Grusky and George A. Miller,The Sociology of Organizations: Basic Studies. New York: FreePress, 1970, pp. 25-43.

Reprinted from Political Parties (New York: Free PressPaperback, 1966), pp. 61-62, 65-73, 81-84, 87-89, 99-100, 103-4,109-11, 167-68, 170-71, 172-73, 177-80, 364-71.


Introductory--the need for organization

Democracy is inconceivable without organization. A few words willsuffice to demonstrate this proposition.

A class which unfurls in the face of society the banner of certaindefinite claims, and which aspires to the realization of a complex ofideal aims deriving from the economic functions which that classfulfils, needs an organization. Be the claims economic or be theypolitical, organization appears the only means for the creation of acollective will. Organization, based as it is upon the principle ofleast effort, that is to say, upon the greatest possible economy ofenergy, is the weapon of the weak in their struggle with the strong.

The chances of success in any struggle will depend upon the degreeto which this struggle is carried out upon a basis of solidaritybetween individuals whose interests are identical. In objecting,therefore, to the theories of the individualist anarchists thatnothing could please the employers better than the dispersion anddisaggregation of the forces of the workers, the socialists, the mostfanatical of all the partisans of the idea of organization, enunciatean argument which harmonizes well with the results of scientificstudy of the nature of parties.

We live in a time in which the idea of cooperation has become sofirmly established that even millionaires perceive the necessity ofcommon action. It is easy to understand, then, that organization hasbecome a vital principle of the working class, for in default of ittheir success is a priori impossible. The refusal of theworker to participate in the collective life of his class cannot failto entail disastrous consequences. ln respect of culture and ofeconomic, physical, and physiological conditions, the proletarian isthe weakest element of our society. In fact, the isolated member ofthe working classes is defenseless in the hands of those who areeconomically stronger. It is only by combination to form a structuralaggregate that the proletarians can acquire the faculty of politicalresistance and attain to a social dignity. The importance and theinfluence of the working class are directly proportional to itsnumerical strength. But for the representation of that numericalstrength organization and coordination are indispensable. Theprinciple of organization is an absolutely essential condition forthe political struggle of the masses.

Yet this politically necessary principle of organization, while itovercomes that disorganization of forces which would be favorable tothe adversary, brings other dangers in its train. We escape Scyllaonly to dash ourselves on Charybdis. Organization is, in fact, thesource from which the conservative currents flow over the plain ofdemocracy, occasioning there disastrous floods and rendering theplain unrecognizable.


Government by the masses


It is obvious that such a gigantic number of persons belonging toa unitary organization cannot do any practical work upon a system ofdirect discussion. The regular holding of deliberative assemblies ofa thousand members encounters the gravest difficulties in respect ofroom and distance; while from the topographical point of view such anassembly would become altogether impossible if the members numberedten thousand. Even if we imagined the means of communication tobecome much better than those which now exist, how would it bepossible to assemble such a multitude in a given place, at a statedtime, and with the frequency demanded by the exigencies of partylife? In addition must be considered the physiological impossibilityeven for the most powerful orator of making himself heard by a crowdof ten thousand persons. There are, however, other persons of atechnical and administrative character which render impossible thedirect self-government of large groups. If Peter wrongs Paul, it isout of the question that all the other citizens should hasten to thespot to undertake a personal examination of the matter in dispute,and to take the part of Paul against Peter. By parity of reasoning,in the modern democratic party, it is impossible for the collectivityto undertake the direct settlement of all the controversies that mayarise.

Hence the need for delegation, for the system in which delegatesrepresent the mass and carry out its will. Even in groups sincerelyanimated with the democratic spirit, current business, thepreparation and the carrying out of the most important actions, isnecessarily left in the hands of individuals. It is well known thatthe impossibility for the people to exercise a legislative powerdirectly in popular assemblies led the democratic idealists of Spainto demand, as the least of evils, a system of popular representationand a parliamentary state. (1)

Originally the chief is merely the servant of the mass. Theorganization is based upon the absolute equality of all its members.Equality is here understood in its most general sense, as an equalityof like men. In many countries, as in idealist Italy (and in certainregions in Germany where the socialist movement is still in itsinfancy), this equality is manifested, among other ways, by themutual use of the familiar "thou," which is employed by the mostpoorly paid wage-laborer in addressing the most distinguishedintellectual. This generic conception of equality is, however,gradually replaced by the idea of equality among comrades belongingto the same organization, all of whose members enjoy the same rights.The democratic principle aims at guaranteeing to all an equalinfluence and an equal participation in the regulation of the commoninterests. All are electors, and all are eligible for office. Thefundamental postulate of the Declaration des Droits de l'Hommefinds here its theoretical application. All the offices are filled byelection. The officials, executive organs of the general will, play amerely subordinate part, are always dependent upon the collectivity,and can be deprived of their office at any moment. The mass of theparty is omnipotent.

 

At the outset, the attempt is made to depart as little as possiblefrom pure democracy by subordinating the delegates altogether to thewill of the mass, by tieing them hand and foot. In the early days ofthe movement of the Italian agricultural workers, the chief of theleague required a majority of four-fifths of the votes to secureelection. When disputes arose with the employers about wages, therepresentative of the organization, before undertaking anynegotiations, had to be furnished with a written authority,authorized by the signature of every member of the corporation. Allthe accounts of the body were open to the examination of the members,at any time. There were two reasons for this. First of all, thedesire was to avoid the spread of mistrust through the mass, "thispoison which gradually destroys even the strongest organism." In thesecond place, this usage allowed each one of the members to learnbookkeeping, and to acquire such a general knowledge of the workingof the corporation as to enable him at any time to take over itsleadership. (2) It is obvious that democracy in this sense isapplicable only on a very small scale. In the infancy of the Englishlabor movement, in many of the trade unions, the delegates wereeither appointed in rotation from among all the members, or werechosen by lot. (3) Gradually, however, the delegates' duties becamemore complicated; some individual ability becomes essential, acertain oratorical gift, and a considerable amount of objectiveknowledge. It thus becomes impossible to trust to blind chance, tothe fortune of alphabetic succession, or to the order of priority, inthe choice of a delegation whose members must possess certainpeculiar personal aptitudes if they are to discharge their mission tothe general advantage.

Such were the methods which prevailed in the early days of thelabor movement to enable the masses to participate in party andtrade-union administration. Today they are falling into disuse, andin the development of the modern political aggregate there is atendency to shorten and stereotype the process which transforms theled into a leader--a process which has hitherto developed by thenatural course of events. Here and there voices make themselves hearddemanding a sort of official consecration for the leaders, insistingthat it is necessary to constitute a class of professionalpoliticians, of approved and registered experts in political life.Ferdinand Tonnies advocates that the party should institute regularexaminations for the nomination of socialist parliamentarycandidates, and for the appointment of party secretaries. (4)Heinrich Herkner goes even farther. He contends that the great tradeunions cannot long maintain their existence if they persist inentrusting the management of their affairs to persons drawn from therank and file, who have risen to command stage by stage solely inconsequence of practical aptitudes acquired in the service of theorganization. He refers, in this connection, to the unions that arecontrolled by the employers, whose officials are for the most partuniversity men. He foresees that in the near future all the labororganizations will be forced to abandon proletarian exclusiveness,and in the choice of their officials to give the preference topersons of an education that is superior alike in economic, legal,technical, and commercial respects. (5)

Even today, the candidates for the secretaryship of a trade unionare subject to examination as to their knowledge of legal matters andtheir capacity as letter-writers. The socialist organizations engagedin political action also directly undertake the training of their ownofficials. Everywhere there are coming into existence "nurseries" forthe rapid supply of officials possessing a certain amount of"scientific culture." Since 1906 there has existed in Berlin aParty-School in which courses of instruction are given for thetraining of those who wish to take office in the socialist party orin trade unions. The instructors are paid out of the funds of thesocialist party, which was directly responsible for the foundation ofthe school. The other expenses of the undertaking, including themaintenance of the pupils, are furnished from a common fund suppliedby the party and the various trade unions interested. In addition,the families of the pupils, in so far as the attendance of these atthe school deprives the families of their breadwinners, receive anallowance from the provincial branch of the party or from the localbranch of the union to which each pupil belongs. The third course ofthis school, from October 1, 1908, to April 3, 1909, was attended bytwenty-six pupils, while the first year there had been thirty-one andthe second year thirty-three. As pupils, preference is given tocomrades who already hold office in the party or in one of the laborunions. (6) Those who do not already belong to the labor bureaucracymake it their aim to enter that body, and cherish the secret hopethat attendance at the school will smooth their path. Those who failto attain this end are apt to exhibit a certain discontent with theparty which, after having encouraged their studies, has sent themback to manual labor. Among the 141 students of the year 1910-1l,three classes were to be distinguished: one of these consisted of oldand tried employees in the different branches of the labor movement(fifty-two persons); a second consisted of those who obtainedemployment in the party or the trade unions directly the course wasfinished (forty-nine persons); the third consisted of those who hadto return to manual labor (forty persons). (7)

In Italy, L'Umanitaria, a philanthropic organization run bythe socialists, founded at Milan in 1905 a "Practical School ofSocial Legislation," whose aim it is to give to a certain number ofworkers an education which will fit them for becoming factoryinspectors, or for taking official positions in the various labororganizations, in the friendly societies, or in the labor exchanges.(8) The course of instruction lasts for two years, and at its closethe pupils receive, after examination, a diploma which entitles themto the title of "Labor Expert." In 1908 there were two hundred andtwo pupils, thirty-seven of whom were employees of trade unions or ofcooperative societies, four were secretaries of labor exchanges,forty-five employees in or members of the liberal professions, and ahundred and twelve working men. (9) At the outset most of the pupilscame to the school as a matter of personal taste, or with the aim ofobtaining the diploma in order to secure some comparatively lucrativeprivate employment. But quite recently the governing body hasdetermined to suppress the diploma, and to institute a supplementarycourse open to those only who are already employed by some labororganization or who definitely intend to enter such employment. Forthose engaged upon this special course of study there will beprovided scholarships of 2 a week, the funds for this purpose beingsupplied in part by L'Umanitaria and in part by the labororganizations which wish to send their employees to the school. (10)In the year 1909, under the auspices of the Bourse du Travail,there was founded at Turin a similar school (Scuola Pratica diCultura e Legislazione Sociale), which, however, soon succumbed.

In England the trade unions and cooperative societies make use ofRuskin College, Oxford, sending thither those of their members whoaspire to office in the labor organizations, and who have displayedspecial aptitudes for this career. In Austria it is proposed to founda party school upon the German model.

It is undeniable that all these educational institutions for theofficials of the party and of the labor organizations tend, aboveall, towards the artificial creation of an elite of theworking class, of a caste of cadets composed of persons who aspire tothe command of the proletarian rank and file. Without wishing it,there is thus effected a continuous enlargement of the gulf whichdivides the leaders from the masses.

The technical specialization that inevitably results from allextensive organization renders necessary what is called expertleadership. Consequently the power of determination comes to beconsidered one of the specific attributes of leadership, and isgradually withdrawn from the masses to be concentrated in the handsof the leaders alone. Thus the leaders, who were at first no morethan the executive organs of the collective w ill, soon emancipatethemselves from the mass and become independent of its control.

Organization implies the tendency to oligarchy. In everyorganization, whether it be a political party, a professional union,or any other association of the kind, the aristocratic tendencymanifests itself very clearly. The mechanism of the organization,while conferring a solidity of structure, induces serious changes inthe organized mass, completely inverting the respective position ofthe leaders and the led. As a result of organization, every party orprofessional union becomes divided into a minority of directors and amajority of directed.

It has been remarked that in the lower stages of civilizationtyranny is dominant. Democracy cannot come into existence until thereis attained a subsequent and more highly developed stage of sociallife. Freedoms and privileges, and among these latter the privilegeof taking part in the direction of public affairs, are at firstrestricted to the few. Recent times have been characterized by thegradual extension of these privileges to a widening circle. This iswhat we know as the era of democracy. But if we pass from the sphereof the state to the sphere of party, we may observe that as democracycontinues to develop, a backwash sets in. With the advance oforganization, democracy tends to decline. Democratic evolution has aparabolic course. At the present time, at any rate as far as partylife is concerned, democracy is in the descending phase. It may beenunciated as a general rule that the increase in the power of theleaders is directly proportional with the extension of theorganization. In the various parties and labor organizations ofdifferent countries the influence of the leaders is mainly determined(apart from racial and individual grounds) by the varying developmentof organization. Where organization is stronger, we find that thereis a lesser degree of applied democracy.

Every solidly constructed organization, whether it be a democraticstate, a political party, or a league of proletarians for theresistance of economic oppression, presents a soil eminentlyfavorable for the differentiation of organs and of functions. Themore extended and the more ramified the official apparatus of theorganization, the greater the number of its members, the fuller itstreasury and the more widely circulated its press, the less efficientbecomes the direct control exercised by the rank and file, and themore is this control replaced by the increasing power of committees.Into all parties there insinuates itself that indirect electoralsystem which in public life the democratic parties fight against withall possible vigor. Yet in party life the influence of this systemmust be more disastrous than in the far more extensive life of thestate. Even in the party congresses, which represent the party-lifeseven times sifted, we find that it becomes more and more general torefer all important questions to committees which debate incamera.

As organization develops, not only do the tasks of theadministration become more difficult and more complicated, but,further, its duties become enlarged and specialized to such a degreethat it is no longer possible to take them all in at a single glance.In a rapidly progressive movement, it is not only the growth in thenumber of duties, but also the higher quality of these, which imposesa more extensive differentiation of function. Nominally, andaccording to the letter of the rules, all the acts of the leaders aresubject to the ever vigilant criticism of the rank and file. Intheory the leader is merely an employee bound by the instruction hereceives. He has to carry out the orders of the mass, of which he isno more than the executive organ. But in actual fact, as theorganization increases in size, this control becomes purelyfictitious. The members have to give up the idea of themselvesconducting or even supervising the whole administration, and arecompelled to hand these tasks over to trustworthy persons speciallynominated for the purpose, to salaried officials. The rank and filemust content themselves with summary reports, and with theappointment of occasional special committees of inquiry. Yet thisdoes not derive from any special change in the rules of theorganization. It is by very necessity that a simple employeegradually becomes a "leader," acquiring a freedom of action which heought not to possess. The chief then becomes accustomed to dispatchimportant business on his own responsibility, and to decide variousquestions relating to the life of the party without any attempt toconsult the rank and file. It is obvious that democratic control thusundergoes a progressive diminution, and is ultimately reduced to aninfinitesimal minimum. In all the socialist parties there is acontinual increase in the number of functions withdrawn from theelectoral assemblies and transferred to the executive committees. Inthis way there is constructed a powerful and complicated edifice. Theprinciple of division of labor coming more and more into operation,executive authority undergoes division and subdivision. There is thusconstituted a rigorously defined and hierarchical bureaucracy. In thecatechism of party duties, the strict observance of hierarchicalrules becomes the first article. The hierarchy comes into existenceas the outcome of technical conditions, and its constitution is anessential postulate of the regular functioning of the party machine.

It is indisputable that the oligarchical and bureaucratic tendencyof party organization is a matter of technical and practicalnecessity. It is the inevitable product of the very principle oforganization. Not even the most radical wing of the various socialistparties raises any objection to this retrogressive evolution, thecontention being that democracy is only a form of organization andthat where it ceases to be possible to harmonize democracy withorganization, it is better to abandon the former than the latter.Organization, since it is the only means of attaining the ends ofsocialism, is considered to comprise within itself the revolutionarycontent of the party, and this essential content must never besacrificed for the sake of form.

In all times, in all phases of development, in all branches ofhuman activity, there have been leaders. It is true that certainsocialists, above all the orthodox Marxists of Germany, seek toconvince us that socialism knows nothing of "leaders," that the partyhas "employees" merely, being a democratic party, and the existenceof leaders being incompatible with democracy. But a false assertionsuch as this cannot override a sociological law. Its only result is,in fact, to strengthen the rule of the leaders, for it serves toconceal from the mass a danger which really threatens democracy.

For technical and administrative reasons, no less than fortactical reasons, a strong organization needs an equally strongleadership. As long as an organization is loosely constructed andvague in its outlines, no professional leadership can arise. Theanarchists, who have a horror of all fixed organization, have noregular leaders. In the early days of German socialism, theVertrauensmann (homme de confiance) continued to exercise hisordinary occupation. If he received any pay for his work for theparty, the remuneration was on an extremely modest scale, and was nomore than a temporary grant. His function could never be regarded byhim as a regular source of income. The employee of the organizationwas still a simple workmate, sharing the mode of life and the socialcondition of his fellows. Today he has been replaced for the mostpart by the professional politician, Bezirksleiter (U.S. wardboss), etc. The more solid the structure of an organization becomesin the course of the evolution of the modern political party, themore marked becomes the tendency to replace the emergency leader bythe professional leader. Every party organization which has attainedto a considerable degree of complication demands that there should bea certain number of persons who devote all their activities to thework of the party. The mass provides these by delegations, and thedelegates, regularly appointed, become permanent representatives ofthe mass for the direction of its affairs.

For democracy, however, the first appearance of professionalleadership marks the beginning of the end, and this, above all, onaccount of the logical impossibility of the "representative" system,whether in parliamentary life or in party delegation.


The establishment of a customary right to the office of delegate


One who holds the office of delegate acquires a moral right tothat office, and delegates remain in office unless removed byextraordinary circumstances or in obedience to rules observed withexceptional strictness. An election made for a definite purposebecomes a life incumbency. Custom becomes a right. One who has for acertain time held the office of delegate ends by regarding thatoffice as his own property. If refused reinstatement, he threatensreprisals (the threat of resignation being the least serious amongthese) which will tend to sow confusion among his comrades, and thisconfusion will continue until he is victorious.

Resignation of office, in so far as it is not a mere expression ofdiscouragement or protest (such as disinclination to accept acandidature in an unpromising constituency), is in most cases a meansfor the retention and fortification of leadership. Even in politicalorganizations greater than party, the leaders often employ thisstratagem, thus disarming their adversaries by a deference which doesnot lack a specious democratic color. The opponent is forced toexhibit in return an even greater deference, and this above all whenthe leader who makes use of the method is really indispensable, or isconsidered indispensable by the mass. The recent history of Germanyaffords numerous examples showing the infallibility of thismachiavellian device for the maintenance of leadership. During thetroubled period of transition from absolute to constitutionalmonarchy, during the ministry of Ludolf Camphausen, King FrederickWilliam IV of Prussia threatened to abdicate whenever liberal ideaswere tending in Prussian politics to gain the upper hand over theromanticist conservatism which was dear to his heart. By this threatthe liberals were placed in a dilemma. Either they must accept theking's abdication, which would involve the accession to the throne ofPrince William of Prussia, a man of ultrareactionary tendencies,whose reign was likely to be initiated by an uprising among the lowerclasses; or else they must abandon their liberal schemes, andmaintain in power the king now become indispensable. Thus FrederickWilliam always succeeded in getting his own way, and in defeating theschemes of his political opponents. Thirty-five years later PrinceBismarck, establishing his strength with the weapon of hisindispensability, consolidated his omnipotence over the German empirewhich he had recently created, by again and again handing in hisresignation to the Emperor William I. His aim was to reduce the oldmonarch to obedience, whenever the latter showed any signs ofexercising an independent will, by suggesting the chaos in internaland external policy which would necessarily result from theretirement of the "founder of the empire," since the aged emperor wasnot competent to undertake the personal direction of affairs. (11)The present president of the Brazilian republic, Hermes da Fonseca,owes his position chiefly to a timely threat of resignation. Havingbeen appointed Minister of War in 1907, Fonseca undertook thereorganization of the Brazilian army. He brought forward a bill forthe introduction of universal compulsory military service, which wasfiercely resisted in both houses of parliament. Through his energeticpersonal advocacy, sustained by a threat of resignation, the measurewas ultimately carried, and secured for its promoter such renown,that not only did he remain in office, but in the year 1910 waselected President of the Republic by 102,000 votes against 52,000.

It is the same in all political parties. Whenever an obstacle isencountered, the leaders are apt to offer to resign, professing thatthey are weary of office, but really aiming to show to thedissentients the indispensability of their own leadership. In 1864,when Vahlteich proposed a change in the rules of the GeneralAssociation of German Workers, Lassalle, the president, was veryangry, and, conscious of his own value to the movement, propoundedthe following alternative: Either you protect me from the recurrenceof such friction as this, or I throw up my office. The immediateresult was the expulsion of the importunate critic. In Holland today,Troelstra, the Dutch Lassalle, likewise succeeds in disarming hisopponents within the party by pathetically threatening to retire intoprivate life, saying that if they go on subjecting his actions to aninopportune criticism, his injured idealism will force him towithdraw from the daily struggles of party life. The same thing hasoccurred more than once in the history of the Italian socialistparty. It often happens that the socialist members of parliament findthemselves in disagreement with the majority of the party upon somequestion of importance, such as that of the opportuneness of ageneral strike; or in the party congresses they may wish to recordtheir votes in opposition to the views of their respective branches.It is easy for them to get their own way and to silence theiropponents by threatening to resign. If necessary, they go stillfurther, and actually resign their seats, appealing to the electorsas the only authority competent to decide the question in dispute. Insuch cases they are nearly always re-elected, and thus attain to anincontestable position of power. At the socialist congress held atBologna in 1904, some of the deputies voted in favor of the reformistresolution, in opposition to the wishes of the majority of thecomrades whose views they were supposed to represent. When called toaccount, they offered to resign their seats, and the party electors,wishing to avoid the expense and trouble of a new election, andafraid of the loss of party seats, hastened to condone the deputies'action. In May, 1906, twenty-four out of the twenty-seven members ofthe socialist group in the Chamber resigned their seats, inconsequence of the difference of views between themselves and therank and file on the subject of the general strike, which thedeputies had repudiated. All but three were re-elected.

 

Such actions have a fine democratic air, and yet hardly serve toconceal the dictatorial spirit of those who perform them. The leaderwho asks for a vote of confidence is in appearance submitting to thejudgment of his followers, but in reality he throws into the scalethe entire weight of his own indispensability, real or supposed, andthus commonly forces submission to his will. The leaders areextremely careful never to admit that the true aim of their threat toresign is the reinforcement of their power over the rank and file.They declare, on the contrary, that their conduct is determined bythe purest democratic spirit, that it is a striking proof of theirfineness of feeling, of their sense of personal dignity, and of theirdeference for the mass. Yet if we really look into the matter wecannot fail to see that, whether they desire it or not, their actionis an oligarchical demonstration, the manifestation of a tendency toenfranchise themselves from the control of the rank and file. Suchresignations, even if not dictated by a self-seeking policy, butoffered solely in order to prevent differences of opinion between theleaders and the mass, and in order to maintain the necessary harmonyof views, always have as their practical outcome the subjection ofthe mass to the authority of the leader.


The need for leadership felt by the mass


. . . The same thing happens in party life as happens in thestate. In both, the demand for monetary supplies is upon a coercivefoundation, but the electoral system has no established sanction. Anelectoral right exists, but no electoral duty. Until this duty issuperimposed upon the right, it appears probable that a smallminority only will continue to avail itself of the right which themajority voluntarily renounces, and that the minority will alwaysdictate laws for the indifferent and apathetic mass. The consequenceis that, in the political groupings of democracy, the participationin party life has an echeloned aspect. The extensive base consists ofthe great mass of electors; upon this is superposed the enormouslysmaller mass of enrolled members of the local branch of the party,numbering perhaps one tenth or even as few as one thirtieth of theelectors; above this, again, comes the much smaller number of themembers who regularly attend meetings; next comes the group ofofficials of the party; and highest of all, consisting in part of thesame individuals as the last group, come the half-dozen or so membersof the executive committee. Effective power is here in inverse ratioto the number of those who exercise it. Thus practical democracy isrepresented by the following diagram: (12)

Though it grumbles occasionally, the majority is really delightedto find persons who will take the trouble to look after its affairs.In the mass, and even in the organized mass of the labor parties,there is an immense need for direction and guidance. This need isaccompanied by a genuine cult for the leaders, who are regarded asheroes. Misoneism, the rock upon which so many serious reforms haveat all times been wrecked, is at present rather increasing thandiminishing. This increase is explicable owing to the more extensivedivision of labor in modern civilized society, which renders it moreand more impossible to embrace in a single glance the totality of thepolitical organization of the state and its ever more complicatedmechanism. To this misoneism are superadded, and more particularly inthe popular parties, profound differences of culture and educationamong the members. These differences give to the need for leadershipfelt by the masses a continually increasing dynamic tendency.

This tendency is manifest in the political parties of allcountries. It is true that its intensity varies as between one nationand another, in accordance with contingencies of a historicalcharacter or with the influences of racial psychology. The Germanpeople in especial exhibits to an extreme degree the need for someoneto point out the way and to issue orders. This peculiarity, common toall classes not excepting the proletariat, furnishes a psychologicalsoil upon which a powerful directive hegemony can flourishluxuriantly. There exist among the Germans all the preconditionsnecessary for such a development: a psychical predisposition tosubordination, a profound instinct for discipline, in a word, thewhole still-persistent inheritance of the influence of the Prussiandrill-sergeant, with all its advantages and all its disadvantages; inaddition, a trust in authority which verges on the complete absenceof a critical faculty. It is only the Rhinelanders, possessed of asomewhat more conspicuous individuality, who constitute, to a certainextent, an exception to this generalization. The risks to thedemocratic spirit that are involved by this peculiarity of the Germancharacter were well known to Karl Marx. Although himself a partyleader in the fullest sense of the term, and although endowed to thehighest degree with the qualities necessary for leadership, hethought it necessary to warn the German workers against entertainingtoo rigid a conception of organization. In a letter from Marx toSchweitzer we are told that in Germany, where the workers arebureaucratically controlled from birth upwards, and for this reasonhave a blind faith in constituted authority, it is above allnecessary to teach them to walk by themselves. (l3)


Accessory qualities requisite to leadership


. . . Those who aspire to leadership in the labor organizationsfully recognize the importance of the oratorical art. In March 1909the socialist students of Ruskin College, Oxford, expresseddiscontent with their professors because these gave to sociology andto pure logic a more important place in the curriculum than tooratorical exercises. Embryo politicians, the students fullyrecognized the profit they would derive from oratory in their chosencareer. Resolving to back up their complaint by energetic action,they went on strike until they had got their own way.

The prestige acquired by the orator in the minds of the crowd isalmost unlimited. What the masses appreciate above all are oratoricalgifts as such, beauty and strength of voice, suppleness of mind,badinage; whilst the content of the speech is of quite secondaryimportance. A spouter who, as if bitten by a tarantula, rushes hitherand thither to speak to the people, is apt to be regarded as azealous and active comrade, whereas one who, speaking little butworking much, does valuable service for the party, is regarded withdisdain, and considered but an incomplete socialist.

Unquestionably, the fascination exercised by the beauty of asonorous eloquence is often, for the masses, no more than the preludeto a long series of disillusionments, either because the speaker'spractical activities bear no proportion to his oratorical abilities,or simply because he is a person of altogether common character. Inmost cases however, the masses, intoxicated by the speaker's powers,are hypnotized to such a degree that for long periods to come theysee in him a magnified image of their own ego. Their admiration andenthusiasm for the orator are, in ultimate analysis, no more thanadmiration and enthusiasm for their own personalities, and thesesentiments are fostered by the orator in that he undertakes to speakand to act in the name of the mass, in the name, that is, of everyindividual. In responding to the appeal of the great orator, the massis unconsciously influenced by its own egoism.

Numerous and varied are the personal qualities thanks to whichcertain individuals succeed in ruling the masses. These qualities,which may be considered as specific qualities of leadership, are notnecessarily all assembled in every leader. Among them, the chief isthe force of will which reduces to obedience less powerful wills.Next in importance come the following: a wider extent of knowledgewhich impresses the members of the leader's environment; a catonianstrength of conviction, a force of ideas often verging on fanaticism,and which arouses the respect of the masses by its very intensity;self-sufficiency, even if accompanied by arrogant pride, so long asthe leader knows how to make the crowd share his own pride inhimself; in exceptional cases, finally, goodness of heart anddisinterestedness, qualities which recall in the minds of the crowdthe figure of Christ, and reawaken religious sentiments which aredecayed but not extinct.


Thus the dominion dependent upon distinction acquired outside theparty is comparatively ephemeral. But age in itself is no barrierwhatever to the power of the leaders. The ancient Greeks said thatwhite hairs were the first crown which must decorate the leaders'foreheads. Today, however, we live in an epoch in which there is lessneed for accumulated personal experience of life, for science puts atevery one's disposal efficient means of instruction that even theyoungest may speedily become thoroughly well instructed. Todayeverything is quickly acquired, even that experience in whichformerly consisted the sole and genuine superiority of the old overthe young. Thus, not in consequence of democracy, but simply owing tothe technical type of modern civilization, age has lost much of itsvalue, and therefore has lost, in addition, the respect which itinspired and the influence which it exercised. It might rather besaid that age is a hindrance to progress within the party, just as inany other career which it is better to enter in youth because thereare so many steps to mount. This is true at least in the case of wellorganized parties, and where there is a great influx of new members.It is certainly different as far as concerns leaders who have grownold in the service of the party. Age here constitutes an element ofsuperiority. Apart from the gratitude which the masses feel towardsthe old fighter on account of the services he has rendered to thecause, he also possesses this great advantage over the novice that hehas a better knowledge of his trade. David Hume tells us that inpractical agriculture the superiority of the old farmer over theyoung arises in consequence of a certain uniformity in the effects ofthe sun, the rain, and, the soil upon the growth of plants, andbecause practical experience teaches the rules that determine andguide these influences. (l4) In party life, the old hand has asimilar advantage. He possesses a profounder understanding of therelationships between cause and effect which form the framework ofpopular political life and the substance of popular psychology. Theresult is that his conduct is guided by a fineness of perception towhich the young have not yet attained.


 

Superiority of leaders


. . . All parties today have a parliamentary aim. (There is onlyone exception, that of the anarchists, who are almost withoutpolitical influence, and who, moreover, since they are the declaredenemies of all organization, and who, when they form organizations,do so in defiance of their own principles, cannot be considered toconstitute a political party in the proper sense of the term.) Theypursue legal methods, appealing to the electors, making it theirfirst aim to acquire parliamentary influence, and having for theirultimate goal "the conquest of political power." It is for thisreason that even the representatives of the revolutionary partiesenter the legislature. Their parliamentary labors, undertaken atfirst with reluctance, but subsequently with increasing satisfactionand increasing professional zeal, remove them further and furtherfrom their electors. The questions which they have to decide, andwhose effective decision demand on their part a serious work ofpreparation, involve an increase in their own technical competence,and a consequent increase in the distance between themselves andtheir comrades of the rank and file. Thus the leaders, if they werenot "cultured" already, soon become so. But culture exercises asuggestive influence over the masses.

In proportion as they become initiated into the details ofpolitical life, as they become familiarized with the differentaspects of the fiscal problem and with questions of foreign policy,the leaders gain an importance which renders them indispensable solong as their party continues to practice a parliamentary tactic, andwhich will perhaps render them important even should this tactic beabandoned. This is perfectly natural, for the leaders cannot bereplaced at a moment's notice, since all the other members of theparty are absorbed in their everyday occupations and are strangers tothe bureaucratic mechanism. This special competence, this expertknowledge, which the leader acquires in matters inaccessible, oralmost inaccessible, to the mass, gives him a security of tenurewhich conflicts with the essential principles of democracy.

The technical competence which definitely elevates the leadersabove the mass and subjects the mass to the leaders, has itsinfluence reinforced by certain other factors, such as routine, thesocial education which the deputies gain in the chamber, and theirspecial training in the work of parliamentary committees. The leadersnaturally endeavor to apply in the normal life of the parties themaneuvers they have learned in the parliamentary environment, and inthis way they often succeed in diverting currents of opposition totheir own dominance. The parliamentarians are past masters in the artof controlling meetings, of applying and interpreting rules, ofproposing motions at opportune moments; in a word, they are skilledin the use of artifices of all kinds in order to avoid the discussionof controversial points, in order to extract from a hostile majoritya vote favorable to themselves, or at least, if the worst comes tothe worst, to reduce the hostile majority to silence. There is nolack of means, varying from an ingenious and often ambiguous mannerof putting the question when the vote is to be taken, to the exerciseon the crowd of a suggestive influence by insinuations which, whilethey have no real bearing on the question at issue, none the lessproduce a strong impression. As referendaries (rapporteurs)and experts, intimately acquainted with all the hidden aspects of thesubject under discussion, many of the deputies are adepts in the artof employing digressions, periphrases, and terminological subtleties,by means of which they surround the simplest matter with a maze ofobscurity to which they alone have the clue. In this way, whetheracting in good faith or in bad, they render it impossible for themasses, whose "theoretical interpreters" they should be, to followthem, and to understand them, and they thus elude all possibility oftechnical control. They are masters of the situation. (l5)

The intangibility of the deputies is increased and theirprivileged position is further consolidated by the renown which theyacquire, at once among their political adversaries and among theirown partisans, by their oratorical talent, by their specializedaptitudes, or by the charm of their intellectual or even theirphysical personalities. The dismissal by the organized masses of auniversally esteemed leader would discredit the party throughout thecountry. Not only would the party suffer from being deprived of itsleaders, if matters were thus pushed to an extreme, but the politicalreaction upon the status of the party would be immeasurablydisastrous. Not only would it be necessary to find substituteswithout delay for the dismissed leaders, who have only becomefamiliar with political affairs after many years of arduous andunremitting toil (and where is the party which between one day andthe next would be able to provide efficient substitutes?); but alsoit has to be remembered that it is largely to the personal influenceof their old parliamentary chiefs that the masses owe their successin social legislation and in the struggle for the conquest of generalpolitical freedom.

The democratic masses are thus compelled to submit to arestriction of their own wills when theyare forced to give theirleaders an authority which is in the long run destructive to the veryprinciple of democracy. The leader's principal source of power isfound in his indispensability . One who is indispensable has in hispower all the lords and masters of the earth. The history of theworking class parties continually furnishes instances in which theleader has been in flagrant contradiction with the fundamentalprinciples of the movement, hut in which the rank and file have notbeen able to make up their minds to draw the logical consequences ofthis conflict, because they feel that they cannot get along withoutthe leader, and cannot dispense with the qualities he has acquired invirtue of the very position to which they have themselves elevatedhim, and because they do not see their way to find an adequatesubstitute. Numerous are the parliamentary orators and thetrade-union leaders who are in opposition to the rank and file atonce theoretically and practically, and who, none the less, continueto think and to act tranquilly on behalf of the rank and file. Theselatter, disconcerted and uneasy, look on at the behavior of the"great men," but seldom dare to throw off their authority and to givethem their dismissal.


The struggle between the leaders and the masses


Those who defend the arbitrary acts committed by the democracy,point out that the masses have at their disposal means whereby theycan react against the violation of their rights. These means consistin the right of controlling and dismissing their leaders.Unquestionably this defense possesses a certain theoretical value,and the authoritarian inclinations of the leaders are in some degreeattenuated by these possibilities. In states with a democratictendency and under a parliamentary regime, to obtain the fall of adetested minister it suffices, in theory, that the people should beweary of him. In the same way, once more in theory, the ill-humor andthe opposition of a socialist group or of an election committee isenough to effect the recall of a deputy's mandate, and in the sameway the hostility of the majority at the annual congress of tradeunions should be enough to secure the dismissal of a secretary. Inpractice, however, the exercise of this theoretical right isinterfered with by the working of the whole series of conservativetendencies to which allusion has previously been made, so that thesupremacy of the autonomous and sovereign masses is rendered purelyillusory. The dread by which Nietzsche was at one time so greatlydisturbed, that every individual might become a functionary of themass, must be completely dissipated in face of the truth that whileall have the right to become functionaries, few only possess thepossibility.

With the institution of leadership there simultaneously begins,owing to the long tenure of office, the transformation of the leadersinto a closed caste.

Unless, as in France, extreme individualism and fanaticalpolitical dogmatism stand in the way, the old leaders presentthemselves to the masses as a compact phalanx--at any rate wheneverthe masses are so much aroused as to endanger the position of theleaders.

The election of the delegates to congresses, etc., is sometimesregulated by the leaders by means of special agreements, whereby themasses are in fact excluded from all decisive influence in themanagement of their affairs. These agreements often assume the aspectof a mutual insurance contract. In the German Socialist Party, a fewyears ago, there came into existence in not a few localities aregular system in accordance with which the leaders nominated oneanother in rotation as delegates to the various party congresses. Inthe meetings at which the delegates were appointed, one of the bigguns would always propose to the comrades the choice as delegate ofthe leader whose "turn" it was. The comrades rarely revolt againstsuch artifices, and often fail even to perceive them. Thuscompetition among the leaders is prevented, in this domain at least;and at the same time there is rendered impossible anything more thanpassive participation of the rank and file in the higher functions ofthe life of that party which they alone sustain with theirsubscriptions. (l6) Notwithstanding the violence of the intestinestruggles which divide the leaders, in all the democracies theymanifest vis-a-vis the masses a vigorous solidarity. "They perceivequickly enough the necessity for agreeing among themselves so thatthe party cannot escape them by becoming divided.'' (l7) This is trueabove all of the German social democracy, in which, in consequence ofthe exceptional solidity of structure which it possesses as comparedwith all the other socialist parties of the world, conservativetendencies have attained an extreme development.

When there is a struggle between the leaders and the masses, theformer are always victorious if only they remain united. At least itrarely happens that the masses succeed in disembarrassing themselvesof one of their leaders.


There is no indication whatever that the power possessed by theoligarchy in party life is likely to be overthrown within anappreciable time. The independence of the leaders increasesconcurrently with their indispensability. Nay more, the influencewhich they exercise and the financial security of their positionbecome more and more fascinating to the masses, stimulating theambition of all the more talented elements to enter the privilegedbureaucracy of the labor movement. Thus the rank and file becomescontinually more impotent to provide new and intelligent forcescapable of leading the opposition which may be latent among themasses. (l8) Even today the masses rarely move except at the commandof their leaders. When the rank and file does take action in conflictwith the wishes of the chiefs, this is almost always the outcome of amisunderstanding. The miners' strike in the Ruhr basin in 1905 brokeout against the desire of the trade-union leaders, and was generallyregarded as a spontaneous explosion of the popular will. But it wassubsequently proved beyond dispute that for many months the leadershad been stimulating the rank and file, mobilizing them against thecoal barons with repeated threats of a strike, so that the mass ofthe workers, when they entered on the struggle, could not possiblyfail to believe that they did so with the full approval of theirchiefs.

It cannot be denied that the masses revolt from time to time, buttheir revolts are always suppressed. lt is only when the dominantclasses, struck by sudden blindness, pursue a policy which strainssocial relationships to the breaking-point, that the party massesappear actively on the stage of history and overthrow the power ofthe oligarchies. Every autonomous movement of the masses signifies aprofound discordance with the will of the leaders. Apart from suchtransient interruptions, the natural and normal development of theorganization will impress upon the most revolutionary of parties anindelible stamp of conservatism.


The struggle among the leaders themselves


The thesis of the unlimited power of the leaders in democraticparties, requires, however, a certain limitation. Theoretically theleader is bound by the will of the mass, which has only to give asign and the leader is forced to withdraw. He can be discharged andreplaced at any moment. But in practice, as we have learned, forvarious reasons the leaders enjoy a high degree of independence. Itis none the less true that if the Democratic Party cannot dispensewith autocratic leaders, it is at least able to change these.Consequently the most dangerous defect in a leader is that he shouldpossess too blind a confidence in the masses. The aristocratic leaderis more secure than the democratic against surprises at the hands ofthe rank and file. It is an essential characteristic of democracythat every private carries a marshal's baton in his knapsack. It istrue that the mass is always incapable of governing; but it is noless true that each individual in the mass, in so far as hepossesses, for good or for ill, the qualities which are requisite toenable him to rise above the crowd, can attain to the grade of leaderand become a ruler. Now this ascent of new leaders always involvesthe danger, for those who are already in possession of power, thatthey will be forced to surrender their places to the newcomers. Theold leader must therefore keep himself in permanent touch with theopinions and feelings of the masses to which he owes his position.Formally, at least he must act in unison with the crowd, must admithimself to be the instrument of the crowd, must be guided, inappearance at least, by its goodwill and pleasure. Thus it oftenseems as if the mass really controlled the leaders. But whenever thepower of the leaders is seriously threatened, it is in most casesbecause a new leader or a new group of leaders is on the point ofbecoming dominant, and is inculcating views opposed to those of theold rulers of the party. It then seems as if the old leaders, unlessthey are willing to yield to the opinion of the rank and file and towithdraw, must consent to share their power with the new arrivals.If, however, we look more closely into the matter, it is notdifficult to see that their submission is in most cases no more thanan act of foresight intended to obviate the influence of theiryounger rivals. The submission of the old leaders is ostensibly anact of homage to the crowd, but in intention it is a means ofprophylaxis against the peril by which they are threatened--theformation of a new elite.

The semblance of obedience to the mass which is exhibited by theleaders assumes, in the case of the feebler and the more cunningamong them, the form of demagogy. Demagogues are the courtesans ofthe popular will. Instead of raising the masses to their own level,they debase themselves to the level of the masses. Even for the mosthonest among them, the secret of success consists in "knowing how toturn the blind impulsiveness of the crowd to the service of their ownripely pondered plans." (l9) The stronger leaders brave the tempest,well-knowing that their power may be attacked, but cannot be broken.The weak or the base, on the other hand, give ground when the massesmake a vigorous onslaught; their dominion is temporarily impaired orinterrupted. But their submission is feigned; they are well awarethat if they simply remain glued to their posts, their quality asexecutants of the will of the masses will before long lead to arestoration of their former dominance. One of the most noted leadersof German socialism said in a critical period of tension between theleaders and the masses, that he must follow the will of the masses inorder to guide them. (20) A profound psychological truth is hidden inthis sarcasm. He who wishes to command must know how to obey.


The struggle between the old leaders and the aspirants to powerconstitutes a perpetual menace to freedom of speech and thought. Weencounter this menace in every democratic organization in so far asit is well ordered and solidly grounded, and in so far as it isoperating in the field of party politics (for in the wider life ofthe state, in which the various parties are in continual reciprocalconcussion, it is necessary to leave intact a certain liberty ofmovement). The leaders, those who already hold the power of the partyin their hands, make no concealment of their natural inclination tocontrol as strictly as possible the freedom of speech of those oftheir colleagues from whom they differ. The consequence is that thosein office are great zealots for discipline and subordination,declaring that these qualities are indispensable to the veryexistence of the party. They go so far as to exercise a censorshipover any of their colleagues whom they suspect of rebelliousinclinations, forcing them to abandon independent journals, and topublish all their articles in the official organs controlled by theleaders of the majority in the party. The prohibition, in the GermanSocialist Party, of collaboration on the part of its members with thecapitalist press, is in part due to the same tendency; whilst thedemand that the comrades should have nothing to do with periodicalswhich, though socialist, are founded with private capital and are notsubject to the official control of the party executive, arises solelyfrom this suspicion on the part of the leaders.

In the struggle against the young aspirants, the old leader can asa rule count securely upon the support of the masses. The rank andfile of the working-class parties have a certain natural distrust ofall newcomers who have not been openly protected or introduced intothe party by old comrades; and this is above all the case when thenewcomer is derived from another social class. Thus the new recruit,before he can come into the open with his new ideas, must submit, ifhe is not to be exposed to the most violent attacks, to a long periodof quarantine. In the German Socialist Party, this period ofquarantine is especially protracted, for the reason that the Germanparty has been longer established than any of the others, and becauseits leaders therefore enjoy an exceptional prestige. Many of themwere among the actual founders of the party, and their personalitieshave been consecrated by the baptism of fire which they sufferedduring the enforcement of the anti-socialist laws. A socialist whohas had his party card in his pocket for eight or ten years is oftenregarded in his branch as a "young" member. This tendency isreinforced by the respect for age which is so strong among theGermans, and by the tendency towards hierarchy of which even thedemocracy has not been able to divest itself. Finally, it may beadded that the bureaucracy of the German labor movement, like everystrongly developed bureaucracy, tends instinctively towardsexclusivism. Consequently in the German social democracy, incontradistinction to other socialist parties which are less solidlyorganized, we find that not merely the recently enrolled member ofthe party (the so-called Fuchs), but also the ordinary memberwho does not live in the service and by the service of the party buthas preserved his outward independence as a private author or in someother capacity, and has therefore not been incorporated among thecogwheels of the party machine, very rarely succeeds in making hisinfluence felt. There can be no doubt that this fact plays a largepart in the causation of that lack of a number of capable young men,displaying fresh energies, and not greatly inferior to the oldleaders, a lack which has often been deplored. The annual congressesof the Socialist Party have even been spoken of as "congresses of theparty officials." The criticism is not unjust, for among thedelegates to the socialist congresses the percentage of party andtrade-union officials is enormous. It is above all in the superiorgrades of the organization that the tendencies we are here analyzingare especially conspicuous. In Germany, the management of theSocialist Party is not entrusted to young men, as often happens inItaly, or to free publicists, as in France, but to old members,des anciens, elderly officials of the party. Moreover, theconservative psychology of the masses supports the aspirations of theold leaders, for it would never occur to the rank and file to entrustthe care of their interests to persons belonging to their own propersphere, that is to say, to those who have no official position in theparty and who have not pursued a regular bureaucratic career.

Often the struggle between the old leaders in possession of powerand the new aspirants assumes the aspects of a struggle betweenresponsible and irresponsible persons. Many criticisms leveled by thelatter against the former are beside the mark, because the leadershave grave responsibilities from which the aspirants are free. Thisfreedom gives the aspirants a tactical advantage in their conflictwith the old leaders. Moreover, precisely because they areirresponsible, because they do not occupy any official position inthe party, the opponents are not subject to that simulacrum ofdemocratic control which must influence the conduct of those inoffice.

In order to combat the new chiefs, who are still in a minority,the old leaders of the majority instinctively avail themselves of aseries of underhand methods through which they often secure victory,or at least notably retard defeat. Among these means, there is onewhich will have to be more fully discussed in another connection. Theleaders of what we may term the "government" arouse in the minds ofthe masses distrust of the leaders of the "opposition" by labelingthem incompetent and profane, terming them spouters, corrupters ofthe party, demagogues, and humbugs, whilst in the name of the massand of democracy they describe themselves as exponents of thecollective will, and demand the submission of the insubordinate andeven of the merely discontented comrades.

In the struggle among the leaders an appeal is often made toloftier motives. When the members of the executive claim the right tointervene in the democratic functions of the individual sections ofthe organization, they base this claim upon their more comprehensivegrasp of all the circumstances of the case, their profounder insight,their superior socialist culture and keener socialist sentiment. Theyoften claim the right of refusing to accept the new elements whichthe inexpert and ignorant masses desire to associate with them in theleadership, basing their refusal on the ground that it is necessaryto sustain the moral and theoretical level of the party. Therevolutionary socialists of Germany demand the maintenance of thecentralized power of the executive committee as a means of defenseagainst the dangers, which would otherwise become inevitable as theparty grows, of the predominant influence of new and theoreticallyuntrustworthy elements. The old leaders, it is said, must control themasses, lest these should force undesirable colleagues upon them.Hence they claim that the constituencies must not nominateparliamentary candidates without the previous approval of the partyexecutive.

The old leaders always endeavor to harness to their own chariotthe forces of those new movements which have not yet found powerfulleaders, so as to obviate from the first all competition and allpossibility of the formation of new and vigorous intellectualcurrents. In Germany, the leaders of the Socialist Party and thetrade-union leaders at first looked askance at the Young Socialistmovement. When, however, they perceived that this movement could notbe suppressed, they hastened to place themselves at its head. Therewas founded for the guidance of the socialist youth a "CentralCommittee of Young German Workers," comprising four representativesfrom each of the three parties, that is to say, four from theexecutive of the Socialist Party, four from the general committee oftrade unions, and four from the Young Socialists (the representativesof the latter being thus outnumbered by two to one). The old leadersendeavor to justify the tutelage thus imposed on the Young Socialistsby alleging (with more opportunist zeal than logical acuteness) theincapacity of the youthful masses, if left to their own guidance, ofwisely choosing their own leaders and of exercising over these anefficient control .


Final considerations


Leadership is a necessary phenomenon, in every form of sociallife. Consequently it is not the task of science to inquire whetherthis phenomenon is good or evil, or predominantly one or the other.But there is great scientific value in the demonstration that everysystem of leadership is incompatible with the most essentialpostulates of democracy. We are now aware that the law of thehistoric necessity of oligarchy is primarily based upon a series offacts of experience. Like all other scientific laws, sociologicallaws are derived from empirical observation. In order, however, todeprive our axiom of its purely descriptive character, and to conferupon it that status of analytical explanation which can alonetransform a formula into a law, it does not suffice to contemplatefrom a unitary outlook those phenomena which may be empiricallyestablished; we must also study the determining causes of thesephenomena. Such has been our task.

Now, if we leave out of consideration the tendency of the leadersto organize themselves and to consolidate their interests, and if weleave also out of consideration the gratitude of the led towards theleaders, and the general immobility and passivity of the masses, weare led to conclude that the principal cause of oligarchy in thedemocratic parties is to be found in the technical indispensabilityof leadership.

The process which has begun in consequence of the differentiationof functions in the party is completed by a complex of qualitieswhich the leaders acquire through their detachment from the mass. Atthe outset, leaders arise SPONTANEOUSLY; their functions areACCESSORY and GRATUITOUS. Soon, however, they become PROFESSIONALleaders, and in this second stage of development they are STABLE andIRREMOVABLE.

It follows that the explanation of the oligarchical phenomenonwhich thus results is partly PSYCHOLOGICAL; oligarchy derives, thatis to say, from the psychical transformations which the leadingpersonalities in the parties undergo in the course of their lives.But also, and still more, oligarchy depends upon what we may term thePSYCHOLOGY OF ORGANIZATION ITSELF, that is to say, upon the tacticaland technical necessities which result from the consolidation ofevery disciplined political aggregate. Reduced to its most conciseexpression, the fundamental sociological law of political parties(the term "political" being here used in its most comprehensivesignificance) may be formulated in the following terms: "It isorganization which gives birth to the dominion of the elected overthe electors, of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delegatesover the delegators. Who says organization, says oligarchy."

Every party organization represents an oligarchical power groundedupon a democratic basis. We find everywhere electors and elected.Also we find everywhere that the power of the elected leaders overthe electing masses is almost unlimited. The oligarchical structureof the building suffocates the basic democratic principle. That whichIS oppresses THAT WHICH OUGHT TO BE. For the masses, this essentialdifference between the reality and the ideal remains a mystery.Socialists often cherish a sincere belief that a new elite ofpoliticians will keep faith better than did the old. The notion ofthe representation of popular interests, a notion to which the greatmajority of democrats, and in especial the working-class masses ofthe German-speaking lands, cleave with so much tenacity andconfidence, is an illusion engendered by a false illumination, is aneffect of mirage. In one of the most delightful pages of his analysisof modern Don Quixotism, Alphonse Daudet shows us how the "brav'commandant" Bravida, who has never quitted Tarascon, gradually comesto persuade himself, influenced by the burning southern sun, that hehas been to Shanghai and has had all kinds of heroic adventures. (21)Similarly the modern proletariat, enduringly influenced byglib-tongued persons intellectually superior to the mass, ends bybelieving that by flocking to the poll and entrusting its social andeconomic cause to a delegate, its direct participation in power willbe assured.

The formation of oligarchies within the various forms of democracyis the outcome of organic necessity, and consequently affects everyorganization, be it socialist or even anarchist. Haller long agonoted that in every form of social life relationships of dominion andof dependence are created by Nature herself. (22) The supremacy ofthe leaders in the democratic and revolutionary parties has to betaken into account in every historic situation present and to come,even though only a few and exceptional minds will be fully consciousof its existence. The mass will never rule except inabstracto. Consequently the question we have to discuss is notwhether ideal democracy is realizable, but rather to what point andin what degree democracy is desirable, possible, and realizable at agiven moment. In the problem as thus stated we recognize thefundamental problem of politics as a science. Whoever fails toperceive this must, as Sombart says, either be so blind and fanaticalas not to see that the democratic current daily makes undeniableadvance, or else must be so inexperienced and devoid of criticalfaculty as to be unable to understand that all order and allcivilization must exhibit aristocratic features. (23) The great errorof socialists, an error committed in consequence of their lack ofadequate psychological knowledge, is to be found in their combinationof pessimism regarding the present, with rosy optimism andimmeasurable confidence regarding the future. A realistic view of themental condition of the masses shows beyond question that even if weadmit the possibility, of moral improvement in mankind, the humanmaterials with whose use politicians and philosophers cannot dispensein their plans of social reconstruction are not of a character tojustify excessive optimism. Within the limits of time for which humanprovision is possible, optimism will remain the exclusive privilegeof utopian thinkers.

The socialist parties, like the trade unions, are living forms ofsocial life. As such they react with the utmost energy against anyattempt to analyze their structure or their nature, as if it were amethod of vivisection. When science attains to results which conflictwith their apriorist ideology, they revolt with all their power. Yettheir defense is extremely feeble. Those among the representatives ofsuch organizations whose scientific earnestness and personal goodfaith make it impossible for them to deny outright the existence ofoligarchical tendencies in every form of democracy, endeavor toexplain these tendencies as the outcome of a kind of atavism in thementality of the masses, characteristic of the youth of the movement.The masses, they assure us, are still infected by the oligarchicvirus simply because they have been oppressed during long centuriesof slavery, and have never yet enjoyed an autonomous existence. Thesocialist regime, however, will soon restore them to health, and willfurnish them with all the capacity necessary for self-government.Nothing could be more anti-scientific than the supposition that assoon as socialists have gained possession of governmental power itwill suffice for the masses to exercise a little control over theirleaders to secure that the interests of these leaders shall coincideperfectly with the interests of the led. This idea may be comparedwith the view of Jules Guesde, no less antiscientific thananti-Marxist (though Guesde proclaims himself a Marxist), thatwhereas Christianity has made God into a man, socialism will make maninto a god. (24)

The objective immaturity of the mass is not a mere transitoryphenomenon which will disappear with the progress of democratizationau lendemain du socialisme. On the contrary, it derives fromthe very nature of the mass as mass, for this, even when organized,suffers from an incurable incompetence for the solution of thediverse problems which present themselves for solution--because themass per se is amorphous, and therefore needs division of labor,specialization, and guidance. "The human species wants to begoverned; it will be. I am ashamed of my kind," wrote Proudhon fromhis prison in 1850. (25) Man as individual is by nature predestinedto be guided, and to be guided all the more in proportion as thefunctions of life undergo division and subdivision. To an enormouslygreater degree is guidance necessary for the social group.

From this chain of reasoning and from these scientific convictionsit would be erroneous to conclude that we should renounce allendeavors to ascertain the limits which may be imposed upon thepowers exercised over the individual by oligarchies (state, dominantclass, party, etc.). It would be an error to abandon the desperateenterprise of endeavoring to discover a social order which willrender possible the complete realization of the idea of popularsovereignty. In the present work, as the writer said at the outset,it has not been his aim to indicate new paths. But it seemednecessary to lay considerable stress upon the pessimist aspect ofdemocracy which is forced on us by historical study. We had toinquire whether, and within what limits, democracy must remain purelyideal, possessing no other value than that of a moral criterion whichrenders it possible to appreciate the varying degrees of thatoligarchy which is immanent in every social regime. In other words,we have had to inquire if, and in what degree, democracy is an idealwhich we can never hope to realize in practice. A further aim of thiswork was the demolition of some of the facile and superficialdemocratic illusions which trouble science and lead the massesastray. Finally, the author desired to throw light upon certainsociological tendencies which oppose the reign of democracy, and to astill greater extent oppose the reign of socialism.

The writer does not wish to deny that every revolutionaryworking-class movement, and every movement sincerely inspired by thedemocratic spirit, may have a certain value as contributing to theenfeeblement of oligarchic tendencies. The peasant in the fable, whenon his death-bed, tells his sons that a treasure is buried in thefield. After the old man's death the sons dig everywhere in order todiscover the treasure. They do not find it. But their indefatigablelabor improves the soil and secures for them a comparativewell-being. The treasure in the fable may well symbolize democracy.Democracy is a treasure which no one will ever discover by deliberatesearch. But in continuing our search, in laboring in indefatigably todiscover the undiscoverable, we shall perform a work which will havefertile results in the democratic sense. We have seen, indeed, thatwithin the bosom of the democratic working-class party are born thevery tendencies to counteract which that party came into existence.Thanks to the diversity and to the unequal worth of the elements ofthe party, these tendencies often give rise to manifestations whichborder on tyranny. We have seen that the replacement of thetraditional legitimism of the powers-that-be by the brutalplebiscitary rule of Bonapartist parvenus does not furnish thesetendencies with any moral or aesthetic superiority. Historicalevolution mocks all the prophylactic measures that have been adoptedfor the prevention of oligarchy. If laws are passed to control thedominion of the leaders, it is the laws which gradually weaken, andnot the leaders. Sometimes, however, the democratic principle carrieswith it, if not a cure, at least a palliative, for the disease ofoligarchy. When Victor Considerant formulated his"democratico-pacificist" socialism, he declared that socialismsignified, not the rule of society by the lower classes of thepopulation, but the government and organization of society in theinterest of all, through the intermediation of a group of citizens;and he added that the numerical importance of this group mustincrease pari passu with social development. (26) This lastobservation draws attention to a point of capital importance. It is,in fact, a general characteristic of democracy, and hence also of thelabor movement, to stimulate and to strengthen in the individual theintellectual aptitudes for criticism and control. We have seen howthe progressive bureaucratization of the democratic organism tends toneutralize the beneficial effects of such criticism and such control.None the less it is true that the labor movement, in virtue of thetheoretical postulates it proclaims, is apt to bring into existence(in opposition to the will of the leaders) a certain number of freespirits who, moved by principle, by instinct, or by both, desire torevise the base upon which authority is established. Urged on byconviction or by temperament, they are never weary of asking aneternal "Why?" about every human institution. Now this predispositiontowards free inquiry, in which we cannot fail to recognize one of themost precious factors of civilization, will gradually increase inproportion as the economic status of the masses undergoes improvementand becomes more stable, and in proportion as they are admitted moreeffectively to the advantages of civilization. A wider educationinvolves an increasing capacity for exercising control. Can we notobserve every day that among the well-to-do the authority of theleaders over the led, extensive though it be, is never sounrestricted as in the case of the leaders of the poor? Taken in themass, the poor are powerless and disarmed vis-a-vis their leaders.Their intellectual and cultural inferiority makes it impossible forthem to see whither the leader is going, or to estimate in advancethe significance of his actions. It is, consequently, the great taskof social education to raise the intellectual level of the masses, sothat they may be enabled, within the limits of what is possible, tocounteract the oligarchical tendencies of the working-class movement.

In view of the perennial incompetence of the masses, we have torecognize the existence of two regulative principles:--

To the idealist, the analysis of the forms of contemporarydemocracy cannot fail to be a source of bitter deceptions andprofound discouragement. Those alone, perhaps, are in a position topass a fair judgment upon democracy who, without lapsing intodilettantist sentimentalism, recognize that all scientific and humanideals have relative values. If we wish to estimate the value ofdemocracy, we must do so in comparison with its converse, purearistocracy. The defects inherent in democracy are obvious. It isnone the less true that as a form of social life we must choosedemocracy as the least of evils. The ideal government would doubtlessbe that of an aristocracy of persons at once morally good andtechnically efficient. But where shall we discover such anaristocracy? We may find it sometimes, though very rarely, as theoutcome of deliberate selection; but we shall never find it where thehereditary principle remains in operation. Thus monarchy in itspristine purity must be considered as imperfection incarnate, as themost incurable of ills; from the moral point of view it is inferioreven to the most revolting of demagogic dictatorships, for thecorrupt organism of the latter at least contains a healthy principleupon whose working we may continue to base hopes of socialresanation. It may be said, therefore, that the more humanity comesto recognize the advantages which democracy, however imperfect,presents over aristocracy, even at its best, the less likely is itthat a recognition of the defects of democracy will provoke a returnto aristocracy. Apart from certain formal differences and from thequalities which can be acquired only by good education andinheritance (qualities in which aristocracy will always have theadvantage over democracy--qualities which democracy either neglectsaltogether, or, attempting to imitate them, falsifies them to thepoint of caricature), the defects of democracy will be found toinhere in its inability to get rid of its aristocratic scoriae. Onthe other hand, nothing but a serene and frank examination of theoligarchical dangers of democracy will enable us to minimize thesedangers even though they can never be entirely avoided.

The democratic currents of history resemble successive waves. Theybreak ever on the same shoal. They are ever renewed. This enduringspectacle is simultaneously encouraging and depressing. Whendemocracies have gained a certain stage of development, they undergoa gradual transformation, adopting the aristocratic spirit, and inmany cases also the aristocratic forms, against which at the outsetthey struggled so fiercely. Now new accusers arise to denounce thetraitors; after an era of glorious combats and of inglorious power,they end by fusing with the old dominant class; whereupon once morethey are in their turn attacked by fresh opponents who appeal to thename of democracy. It is probable that this cruel game will continuewithout end.


Endnotes:



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