Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy

By Robert Michels; Cedar Paul et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
The Leaders and the Press

THE PRESS constitutes a potent instrument for the conquest, the preservation, and the consolidation of power on the part of the leaders. The press is the most suitable means of diffusing the fame of the individual leaders among the masses, for popularizing their names. The labor press, and this applies equally to the trade-union journals and to those which devote themselves predominantly to political ends, is full of panegyrics concerning the personalities of the leaders, of references to their "disinterestedness and self-sacrificingness," to their "ardent idealism, conjoined with a vigorous force of conviction and with invincible tenacity," qualities which, we are told, have alone made it possible for them to create the great working- class organizations. Such flattering phrases as are from time to time used of the socialist leaders by the capitalist press (mostly dictated by motives of electoral opportunism) are complacently reproduced by socialist journals, and whether taken at par value or not they serve, by their diffusion among the socialist rank and file, to increase the prestige of the leaders.

It is true that the press cannot exert the immediate influence which the popular propagandist exercises over his audience in public meetings, debates, and party congresses. In compensation for this defect, however, the circle of influence of the written word is far more extensive. The press can be used with effect to influence public opinion by cultivating a "sensation" -- a point in which modern party democracy exhibits a fundamental trait which it shares with Bonapartism. This means is frequently employed by the leaders in order to gain or to retain the sympathy of the masses, and to enable them to keep the guidance of the movement in their own hands. The democratic press is also utilized by the leaders in order to make attacks (more or less masked) upon their adversaries; or to launch grave accusations against persons of note in the world of politics or finance. These attacks may or may not be established upon a sufficient foundation of proof, but at any rate they serve to raise a duststorm. Sometimes, again, the leaders endeavor to ingratiate themselves with the masses by employing

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