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

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

Chapter 2
Analysis of the Bourgeois Elements in the Socialist Leadership

SOCIALIST LEADERS, considered in respect of their social origin, may be divided into two classes, those who belong primarily to the proletariat, and those derived from the bourgeoisie, or rather from the intellectual stratum of the bourgeoisie. The lower middle class, that of the petty bourgeois, the minor agriculturists, independent artisans, and shopkeepers, have furnished no more than an insignificant contingent of socialist leaders. In the most favorable conditions, the representatives of this lower middle class follow the labor movement as sympathetic onlookers, and at times actually join its ranks. Hardly ever do they become numbered among its leaders.

Of these two classes of leaders, the ex-bourgeois, although at the outset they were naturally opposed to socialism, prove themselves on the average to be animated by a more fervent idealism than the leaders of proletarian origin. The difference is readily explained on psychological grounds. In most cases the proletarian does not need to attain to socialism by a gradual evolutionary process; he is, so to speak, born a socialist, born a member of the party -- at least, this happens often enough, although it does not apply to all strata of the proletariat and to all places. In the countries where capitalist development is of long standing, there exists in certain working- class milieux and even in entire categories of workers a genuine socialist tradition. The son inherits the class spirit of the father, and he doubtless from the grandfather. With them, socialism is "in the blood." To this it must be added that actual economic relationships (with the class struggle inseparable from these, in which every individual, however refractory he may be to socialist theory, is forced to participate) compel the proletarian to join the labor party. Socialism, far from being in opposition to his class sentiment, constitutes its plainest and most conspicuous expression. The proletarian, the wage- earner, the enrolled member of the party, is a socialist on the ground of direct personal interest. Adhesion to socialism may cause him grave material damage, such as the loss of his em

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