Political Sociology: A Reader

By S. N. Eisenstadt | Go to book overview

80
The Origins of Anti-Capitalistic Mass Spirit

Robert Michels


I. The Factory

The Development of "Psychological Mass"
and Class Consciousness

The shift from the handicraft and domestic system to large-scale factory enterprise, from manual to machine labor, engendered a psychological change which in the long run gave the labor force a new and quite specific character. Before the industrial revolution, the working force was atomised into innumerable tiny units; its most striking trait was its parochialism and narrow individualism with all the good and bad this implies. This was true even of those workers who were grouped together in crafts or guilds. These individuals or small economic bodies were pushed into temporary cooperation only by suddenly enflamed political or, more frequently, religious passions, or under extreme stress of serious economic crises.

The new mode of [factory] production first created the modern concept of the working mass. ... [It] taught the proletarians to work together in one shop on one piece. It compelled the combination of innumerable small production units into a far smaller number of large-scale units. In addition, it created new plants which were large-scale enterprises from the start. It hounded workers into factory towns and forced them to perform identical tasks in huge shops. Those who had lived as peasants or domestic workers, or as artisans in small towns and small shops, now became a compact mass, through the manner of their work and the absolute homogeneity of their condition. This mass, spatially and spiritually compact, may be called "psychological mass."

Among the urbanized workers there now emerged the first intimations of a collective feeling of "belonging together." The machine became the center.

This instrument demanded for its service a very large number of ever busy hands. The machine, one may say, is like a great general who gathers around him thousands of battle-ready soldiers in order to assign them their tasks. The machine brings about a militarization of the labor process, not only because it disciplines the dispersed individual units, but also because—in spite of the most thorough division of labor—it orients them towards the achievement of the single goal of maximum production. The mechanized enterprise thus creates a form of industrial cooperation which, in the purely technical realm, leads, without question, to a high degree of solidarity despite all the conflicts which it stimulates in the economic sphere between the managerial and capitalistic elements on the one hand and the wage-receiving element in the enterprise on the other. In other words: The human material of the "factory," while without a common interest in the distribution of income derived from production does, however, share an interest in the technical process of production itself.

The mechanized large-scale factory operates like a model school of solidarity on the tightly concentrated working force, united on the floor of the factory in identical tasks around identical tools. This solidarity is, at first, necessarily restricted to the work process. After finishing its daily stint the working mass of the large-scale enterprise dissolves into its innumerable molecules. When the gates of the factory close in the evening, solidarity is at an end. Individuality with its particularizing influences once more resumes its old and rightful place. However, when early next morning the heavy gates swing open once again, the iron duty of solidarity begins anew. The steady, systematic, eternal repetition of this process; the eternal close contact of working side by side to which the individuals are exposed in the factory; the ease with which workers get to know each other and talk to each other created by this process (on the way home or in the saloons); these encourage in the worker's soul the growth of a new feeling which is based no longer solely on techno

____________________
From Robert Michels, "The Origins of Anti-Capitalist Mass Spirit," in Man In Contemporary Society (New York: Columbia University Press, 1955), pp. 740-745, 758-765. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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