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

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

Chapter 3
The Modern Democratic Party as a Fighting Party, Dominated by Militarist Ideas and Methods

LOUIS XIV understood the art of government as have few princes either before or since, and this was the case above all in the first half of his reign, when his spirit was still young and fresh. In his memoirs of the year 1666, he lays down for every branch of the adminstration, and more especially for the conduct of military affairs, the following essential rules: "Resolutions ought to be prompt, discipline exact, commands absolute, obedience punctual."1 The essentials thus enumerated by the Roi Soleil (promptness of decision, unity of command, and strictness of discipline) are equally applicable, mutatis mutandis, to the various aggregates of modern political life, for these are in a perpetual condition of latent warfare.

The modern party is a fighting organization in the political sense of the term, and must as such conform to the laws of tactics. Now the first article of these laws is facility of mobilization. Ferdinand Lassalle, the founder of a revolutionary labor party, recognized this long ago, contending that the dictatorship which existed in fact in the society over which he presided was as thoroughly justified in theory as it was indispensable in practice. The rank and file, he said, must follow their chief blindly, and the whole organization must be like a hammer in the hands of its president.

This view of the matter was in correspondence with political necessity, especially in Lassalle's day, when the labor movement was in its infancy, and when it was only by a rigorous discipline that this movement could hope to obtain respect and consideration from the bourgeois parties. Centralization guaranteed, and always guarantees, the rapid formation of resolutions. An extensive organization is per se a heavy piece of mechanism, and one difficult to put in operation. When we have to do with a mass distributed over a considerable area, to consult the rank and file upon every question would involve an enormous loss of time, and the opinion thus obtained would

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1
Trans. from Mémoires de Louis XIV pour l'instruction du Dauphin, annotées par Charles Deyss, Paris, 1860, vol. ii, p. 123.

-78-

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