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

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

C. Intellectual Factors

Chapter 1

Superiority of the Professional Leaders in Respect to Culture, and Their Indispensability; the Formal and Real Incompetence of the Mass

IN THE infancy of the socialist party, when the organization is still weak, when its membership is scanty, and when its principal aim is to diffuse a knowledge of the elementary principles of socialism, professional leaders are less numerous than are leaders whose work in this department is no more than an accessory occupation. But with the further progress of the organization, new needs continually arise, at once within the party and in respect of its relationships with the outer world. Thus the moment inevitably comes when neither the idealism and enthusiasm of the intellectuals, nor yet the goodwill with which the proletarians devote their free time on Sundays to the work of the party, suffice any longer to meet the requirements of the case. The provisional must then give place to the permanent, and dilettantism must yield to professionalism.

With the appearance of professional leadership, there ensues a great accentuation of the cultural differences between the leaders and the led. Long experience has shown that among the factors which secure the dominion of minorities over majorities -- money and its equivalents (economic superiority), tradition and hereditary transmission (historical superiority) -- the first place must be given to the formal instruction of the leaders (so-called intellectual superiority). Now the most superficial observation shows that in the parties of the proletariat the leaders are, in matters of education, greatly superior to the led.

Essentially, this superiority is purely formal. Its existence is plainly manifest in those countries in which, as in Italy, the course of political evolution and a widespread psychological predisposition have caused an afflux into the labor party of a great number of barristers, doctors, and, university professors. The deserters from the bourgeoisie become leaders of the proletariat, not in spite of, but because of, that superiority of

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