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

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

Chapter 6

Accessory Peculiarities of the Masses

TO ENABLE us to understand and properly to appreciate the superiority of the leaders over the mass it is necessary to turn our attention to the characteristics of the rank and file. The question arises, what are these masses?

It has already been shown that a general sentiment of indifference towards the management of its own affairs is natural to the crowd, even when organized to form political parties.

The very composition of the mass is such as to render it unable to resist the power of an order of leaders aware of its own strength. An analysis of the German trade unions in respect of the age of their members gives a sufficiently faithful picture of the composition also of the various socialist parties. The great majority of the membership ranges in age from 25 to 39 years.1 Quite young men find other ways of employing their leisure; they are heedless, their thoughts run in erotic channels, they are always hoping that some miracle will deliver them from the need of passing their whole lives as simple wage- earners, and for these reasons they are slow to join a trade union. The men over forty, weary and disillusioned, commonly resign their membership (unless retained in the union by purely personal interest, to secure out-of-work pay, insurance against illness, and the like). Consequently there is lacking in the organization the force of control of ardent and irreverent youth and also that of experienced maturity. In other words, the leaders have to do with a mass of members to whom they are superior in respect of age and experience of life, whilst they have nothing to fear from the relentless criticism which is so peculiarly characteristic of men who have just attained to virility.

Another important consideration as to the composition of the rank and file who have to be led is its fluctuating character. It seems, at any rate, that this may be deduced from a report of the socialist section of Munich for the year 1906. It contains statistics, showing analytically the individual duration of membership. The figures in parenthesis indicate the total number

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1
Adolf Braun, Organisierbarkeit der Arbeiter, "Annalen für soziale Politik und Gesetzebung," i, No. 1, p. 47.

-105-

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