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

By Robert Michels; Cedar Paul et al. | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
Labor Leaders of Proletarian Origin

ATTEMPTS HAVE not been lacking to solve the insoluble problem, how to obviate the leaders' dominion over the led. Among such attempts, there is one which is made with especial frequency, and which is advocated with considerable heat, to exclude all intellectuals from leadership in the working-class movement. This proposal. reflects the dislike for the intellectuals which, in varying degrees, has been manifested in all countries and at all times. It culminates in the artificial creation of authenticated working-class leaders, and is based upon certain general socialist dogmas, mutilated or imperfectly understood, or interpreted with undue strictness -- on an appeal, for instance, to the principle enunciated at the constitutive congress of the first International held at Geneva in 1866, that the emancipation of the workers can be effected only by the workers themselves.

Above all, however, such proposals are based upon an alleged greater kinship between the leaders of proletarian origin and the proletarians they lead. The leaders who have themselves been manual workers are, we are told, more closely allied to the masses in their mode of thought, understand the workers better, experience the same needs as these, and are animated by the same desires. There is a certain amount of truth in this, inasmuch as the ex-worker cannot only speak with more authority than the intellectual upon technical questions relating to his former occupation, but has a knowledge of the psychology and of the material details of working-class life derived from personal experience. It is unquestionably true that in the leaders of proletarian origin, as compared with the intellectuals, we see conspicuously exhibited the advantages of leadership as well as the disadvantages, since the proletarian commonly possesses a more precise understanding of the psychology of the masses, knows better how to deal with the workers. From this circumstance the deduction is sometimes made that the ex-worker, when he has become immersed in the duties of political leadership, will continue to preserve a steady and secure contact with the rank and file, that he will choose the most practicable routes, and that his own prole

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