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
Party-Life in War-Time

NEVER IS the power of the state greater, and never are the forces of political parties of opposition less effective, than at the outbreak of war. This deplorable war, come like a storm in the night, when everyone, wearied with the labors of the day, was plunged in well-deserved slumber, rages all over the world with unprecedented violence, and with such a lack of respect for human life and of regard for the eternal creations of art as to endanger the very cornerstones of a civilization dating from more than a thousand years. One of the cornerstones of historical materialism is that the working classes all over the world are united as if by links of iron through the perfect community of economico-social interests which they possess in face of the bourgeoisie, this community of interests effecting a horizontal stratifiacation of classes which runs athwart and supersedes the vertical stratification of nations and of races. The greatest difference, in fact, in the views taken of economico-social classes and of linguistico-ethical nationalities, as between the respective adherents of nationalistic theories and of the theories of historical materialism, consists in this, that the former propound the hypothesis that the concept "nation" is morally and positively predominant over the concept "class," while the latter consider the concept and reality "nation" altogether subordinate to the concept "class." The Marxists, in fact, believed that the consciousness of class had become impressed upon the entire mentality of the proletariat imbued with socialist theories.

The war has shattered this theory at one terrible blow. The German Socialist Party, the strongest, wealthiest, and, best organized section of the working-class international, for thirty years past the leading spirit in that international, suddenly and emphatically declared its entire solidarity with the German Emperor. Throughout the proletarian mass there has not been reported a single instance of moral rebellion against the struggle which enlists socialists to fight on behalf of German imperialism and to contend with the comrades of other lands. Unquestionably, the tactics of the German socialists were largely due to the oligarchical tendencies which manifest them-

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