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

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

Chapter 4
The Position of the Leaders in Relation to the Masses in Actual Practice

IN THE political organizations of the international proletariat, the highest order of the leaders consists chiefly of members of parliament. In proof of this it suffices to mention the names of a few men who were or are the most distinguished socialist leaders of their day, at the same time men of note as parliamentarians: Bebel, Jaurés, Guesde, Adler, Vandervelde, Troelstra, Turati, Keir Hardie, Macdonald, Pablo Iglesias. Hyndman is an exception only because he has never succeeded in winning an election. The section of the English party to which he belongs is unrepresented in parliament.

The fact here noted indicates the essentially parliamentary character of the modern socialist parties. The socialist members of parliament are those who have especially distinguished themselves in the party by their competence and by their capacity. But in addition to this superiority, recognized and consecrated by the party itself, there are two reasons for the great authority exercised by the socialist parliamentarian. In the first place, in virtue of his position, he largely escapes the supervision of the rank and file of the party, and even the control of its executive committee. He owes his comparative independence to the fact that the parliamentary representative is elected for a considerable term of years, and can be dispossessed by no one so long as he retains the confidence of the electors. In the second place, and even at the moment of his election, his dependence on the party is but indirect, for his power is derived from the electoral masses, that is to say, in ultimate analysis from an unorganized body. It is true that in certain countries the independence of the party organization thus enjoyed by the parliamentary deputies is subject to limits more or less strict according to the degree of organization and cohesion of the party. But even then the respect and the power enjoyed by the parliamentarians remains unquestioned, since it is they who within the party fill the principal offices, and whose power predominates to a notable degree in the party executive. This is true, above all, of Germany. Where the rules forbid the deputy to function also as a member of the exec-

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