Michels: Democracy and the Iron Law of Oligarchy

ROBERTO MICHELS — While the majority of the socialist schools believe that in a future more or less remote it will be possible to attain to a genuinely democratic order, and while the greater number of those who adhere to aristocratic political views consider that democracy, however dangerous to society, is at least realizable, we find in the scientific world a conservative tendency voiced by those who deny resolutely and once for all that there is any such possibility. As was shown in an earlier chapter, this tendency is particularly strong in Italy, where it is led by a man of weight, Gaetano Mosca, who declares that no highly developed social order is possible without a “political class,” that is to say, a politically dominant class, the class of a minority. Those who do not believe in the god of democracy are never weary of affirming that this god is the creation of a childlike mythopoeic faculty, and they contend that all phrases representing the idea of the rule of the masses, such terms as state, civic rights, popular representation, nation, are descriptive merely of a legal principle, and do not correspond to any actually existing facts. They contend that the eternal struggles between aristocracy and democracy of which we read in history have never been anything more than struggles between an old minority, defending its actual predominance, and a new and ambitious minority, intent upon the conquest of power, desiring either to fuse with the former or to dethrone and replace it. On this theory, these class struggles consist merely of struggles between successively dominant minorities. The social classes which under our eyes engage in gigantic battles upon the scene of history, battles whose ultimate causes are to be found in economic antagonism, may thus be compared to two groups of dancers executing a chasse croise in a quadrille.

The democracy has an inherent preference for the authoritarian solution of important questions. It thirsts simultaneously for splendor and for power. When the English burghers had conquered their liberties, they made it their highest ambition to possess an aristocracy. Gladstone declared that the love of the English people for their liberties was equalled only by their love for the nobility. Similarly it may be said that it is a matter of pride with the socialists to show themselves capable of maintaining a discipline which, although it is to a certain extent voluntary, none the less signifies the submission of the majority to the orders issued by the minority, or at least to the rules “issued by the minority in obedience to the majority’s instruc- tions. Vilfredo Pareto has even recommended socialism as a means favorable for the creation of a new working-class elite, and he regards the courage with which the socialist leaders face attack and persecution as a sign of their vigor, and as the first condition requisite to the formation of a new “political class.” ((V. Pareto, Les Systèmes socialistes, ed. cit., vol. i, pp. 62 et seq.)) Pareto’s theorie de la circulation des elites must, however, be accepted with considerable reserve, for in most cases there is not a simple replacement of one group of elites by another, but a continuous process of intermixture, the old elements incessantly attracting, absorbing, and assimilating the new.

This phenomenon was perhaps recognized at an earlier date, in so far as the circulation des elites was effected within the limits of a single great social class and took place on the political plane. In states where a purely representative government prevails, the constitutional opposition aims simply at such a circulation. In England, for instance, the opposition possesses the same simple and resistant structure as the party which holds the reins of government; its program is clearly formulated, directed to purely practical and proximate ends; it is thoroughly disciplined, and is led by one lacking theoretical profundity but endowed with strategic talent; all its energies are devoted to overthrowing the government, to taking the reins of power into its own hands, while in other respects leaving matters exactly as they were; it aims, in a word, at the substitution of one clique of the dominant classes for another. Sooner or later the competition between the various cliques of the dominant classes ends in a reconciliation which is effected with the instinctive aim of retaining dominion over the masses by sharing it among themselves. The opinion is very generally held that as a result of the French Revolution, or that in any case in the Third Republic, the old order had socially speaking been completely suppressed in France. This view is utterly erroneous. In the present year of grace we find that the French nobility is represented in the cavalry regiments and in the republican diplomatic service to an extent altogether disproportionate to its numerical strength; and although in the French Chamber there does not exist, as in Germany, a declared conservative party of the nobility, we find that of 584 deputies no less than 61 belong to the old aristocracy (noblesse d’epee and noblesse de robe).

As we have said, the theory that a directive social group is absolutely essential is by no means a new one. Gaetano Mosca, the most distinguished living advocate of this sociological conception, and, with Vilfredo Pareto, its ablest and most authoritative exponent, while disputing priority with Pareto, recognizes as precursors Hippolyte Taine and Ludwig Gumplowicz. ((Gaetano Mosca, Piccola Polemica, “Riforma Sociale,” anno xiv, vol. xvii, fasc. 4.)) It is a less familiar fact, but one no less interesting, that the leading intellectual progenitors of the theory of Mosca and Pareto are to be found among the members of the school against which these writers more especially direct their attacks, namely among socialist thinkers, and especially among the earlier French socialists. In their work we discover the germs of the doctrine which at a later date was elaborated by Mosca and Pareto into a sociological system.

The school of Saint-Simon, while holding that the concept of class would some day cease to be characterized by any economic attribute, did not look for a future without class distinctions. The Saint-Simonians dreamed of the creation of a new hierarchy which was to be founded, not upon the privileges of birth, but upon acquired privileges. This class was to consist of “the most vital, the most intelligent and the strongest, the living personification of the threefold progress of society,” and “capable of directing it in the widest course.” ((Trans. from E. Barrault, La Hierarchie, in Religion Saint-Simonienne, Receuil et Prédications, Aux bureaux du “Globe,” Paris, 1832, vol. i, p. 196.)) At the head of their socialist state the Saint-Simonians desired to place those whom they termed “hommes generaux,” who would be able to prescribe for each individual his quantum of social labor, the individual’s special aptitudes being taken into account in this connection; here it is obvious that dependence must be placed upon the discretion of these supermen. ((Œuvres de Saint-Simon et Enfantin, vol. xli, Doctrines Saint-Simoniennes, Exposition par Bozard, Leroux, Paris, 1877, p. 275.)) One of the most ardent followers of Saint-Simon, an enthusiastic advocate of the “nouvelle dynastic,” when forced to defend himself against the accusation that his doctrine paved the way for despotism, did not hesitate to declare that the majority of human beings ought to obey the orders of the most capable; they should do this, he contended, not only for the love of God, but also on grounds of personal egoism, and finally because, man, even if he could live in isolation, would always need some external support. The necessity for issuing orders on one side and the necessity for complying with them on the other are furnished with metaphysical justification. Such authority would only be “a political transformation of love which unites all men in God. And can you prefer the pathetic independence which at present isolates feelings, opinions, efforts, and which, beneath a pompous name, is nothing but egoism accompanied by all the habits it engenders?” ((Ibid.)) The Saint-Simonian system is authoritarian and hierarchical through and through. The disciples of Saint-Simon were so little shocked by the Caesarism of Napoleon in that most of them joyfully accepted it, imagining that they would find in it the principles of economic socialization.

The school of Fourier went further still. With a wealth of detail bordering on pedantry and exhibiting more than one grotesque feature, Fourier thought out a vast and complex system. Today we can hardly restrain a smile when we study the tables he drew up describing his “spherical hierarchy,” consisting of a thousand grades and embracing all possible forms of dominion from “anarchie” to “omniarchie,” each of them having its special “hautes dignite” and its appropriate “hautes fonctions.” ((Ferdinand Guillon, Accord des Principes, Travail des Ecoles sociétaires. Charles Fourier, Libr. Phalanst., Paris, 1850, p. 97.)) Sorel has well shown that the socialism of the days prior to Louis Blanc was intimately connected with the Napoleonic era, so that the Saint-Simonian and Fourierist Utopias could not live and prosper elsewhere than in the soil of the idea of authority to which the great Corsican had furnished a new splendor. ((Preface by George Sorel to the work of Fernand Pelloutier, Historie des Bourses du Travail, ed. cit., pp. 7 et seq.)) According to Berth, Fourier’s whole system presupposes for its working the invisible but real and indispensable ubiquity of Fourier himself, for he alone, the Napoleon, as it were, of socialism, would be capable of activating and harmonizing the diverse passions of humanity. ((Edouard Berth, Marchands, intellectuels et politiques, “Mouvement Socialiste,” anno ix. No. 192, p. 385.))

Socialists of the subsequent epoch, and above all revolutionary socialists, while not denying the possibility, in the remote future, of a democratic government by majority, absolutely denied that such a government could exist in the concrete present. Bakunin opposed any participation of the working class in elections. He was convinced that in a society where the people, the mass of the wage-earners, is under the economic dominion of a minority consisting of possessors, the freest of electoral systems could be nothing more than an illusion. “He who speaks of power, speaks of domination, and all dominations presumes the existence of a dominated mass.” ((Trans. from Bakunin, L’Empire Knouto-Germanique et la Révolution sociale, ed. cit., vol. ii, p. 126.)) Democracy is even regarded as the worst of all the bourgeois regimes. The republic, which is presented to us as the most elevated form of bourgeois democracy, was said by Proudhon to possess to an extreme degree that fanatical and petty authoritative spirit (zele gouvernemental) which believes that it can dare everything with impunity, being always ready to justify its despotic acts under the convenient pretext that they are done for the good of the republic and in the general interest. Even the political revolution signifies merely “un deplacement de l’autorite.” ((Proudhon, Les Confessions d’un Révolutionnaire, ed. cit., p. 24.))

The only scientific doctrine which can boast of ability to make an effective reply to all the theories, old or new, affirming the immanent necesssity for the perennial existence of the “political class” is the Marxist doctrine. In this doctrine the state is identified with the ruling class — an identification from which Bakunin, Marx’s pupil, drew the extreme consequences. The state is merely the executive committee of the ruling class, or, to quote the expression of a recent neo-Marxist, the state is merely a “trade-union formed to defend the interest of the powers-that-be.” ((Angelo Oliviero Olivetti, Problema del Socialismo Contemporaneo, Canoni, Lugano, 1906, p. 41.)) It is obvious that this theory greatly resembles the conservative theory of Gaetano Mosca. Mosca, in fact, from a study of the same diagnostic signs, deduces a similar prognosis, but abstains from lamentations and recriminations on account of a phenomenon which, in the light of his general political views, he regards not merely as inevitable, but as actually advantageous to society. Aristide Briand, in the days when he was an active member of the Socialist Party, and before he had become prime minister of the “class-state,” pushed the Marxist notion of the state to its utmost limits by recommending the workers to abandon isolated and local economic struggles, to refrain from dissipating their energies in partial strikes, and to deliver a united assault upon the state in the form of the general strike, for, he said, you can reach the bourgeoisie with your weapons in no other way than by attacking the state. ((Aristide Briand, La Grève Générale et la Révolution. Speech published in 1907. Girard, Paris, p. 7.))

The Marxist theory of the state, when conjoined with a faith in the revolutionary energy of the working class and in the democratic effects of the socialization of the means of production, leads logically to the idea of a new social order which to the school of Mosca appears Utopian. According to the Marxists the capitalist mode of production transforms the great majority of the population into proletarians, and thus digs its own grave. As soon as it has attained maturity, the proletariat will seize political power, and will immediately transform private property into state property. “In this way it will eliminate itself, for it will thus put an end to all social differences, and consequently to all class antagonisms. In other words, the proletariat will annul the state, qua state. Capitalist society, divided into classes, has need of the state as an organization of the ruling class, whose purpose it is to maintain the capitalist system of production in its own interest and in order to effect the continued exploitation of the proletariat. Thus to put an end to the state is synonymous with putting an end to the existence of the dominant class.” ((Friedrich Engels, Die Entwicklung des Sozialismus von der Utopie zur Wissenschaft, Buchhandlung “Vorwärts,” Berlin, 1891, 4th ed., p. 40.)) But the new collectivist society, the society without classes, which is to be established upon the ruins of the ancient state, will also need elective elements. It may be said that by the adoption of the preventive rules formulated by Rousseau in the Contrat Sociale, and subsequently reproduced by the French revolutionists in the Declaration des Droits de I’Homme, above all by the strict application of the principle that all offices are to be held on a revocable tenure, the activity of these representatives may be confined within rigid limits. ((Many believe with Hobson (Boodle and Cant, ed. cit., pp. 587 and 590) that the socialist state will require a larger number of leaders, including political leaders, than any other state that has hitherto existed. Bernstein declares that the administrative body of socialist society will for a long time differ very little from that of the existing state (Eduard Bernstein, Zur Geschichte, etc., ed. cit., p. 212).)) It is none the less true that social wealth cannot be satisfactorily administered in any other manner than by the creation of an extensive bureaucracy. In this way we are led by an inevitable logic to the flat denial of the possibility of a state without classes. The administration of an immeasurably large capital, above all when this capital is collective property, confers upon the administrator influence at least equal to that possessed by the private owner of capital. Consequently the critics in advance of the Marxist social order ask whether the instinct which today leads the members of the possessing classes to transmit to their children the wealth which they (the parents) have amassed, will not exist also in the administrators of the public wealth of the socialist state, and whether these administrators will not utilize their immense influence in order to secure for their children the succession to the offices which they themselves hold.

The constitution of a new dominant minority would, in addition, be especially facilitated by the manner in which, according to the Marxist conception of the revolution, the social transformation is to be effected. Marx held that the period between the destruction of capitalist society and the establishment of communist society would be bridged by a period of revolutionary transition in the economic field, to which would correspond a period of political transition, “when the state could not be anything other than the revolutionary dictatorship of the proletariat.” ((Karl Marx, Randglossen zum Programm der deutschen Arbeiterpartei, “Waf fenkammer des Sozialismus,” 10th semi-annual vol. Fraukfort-on-the-Main, 1908, p. 18.)) To put the matter less euphemistically, there will then exist a dictatorship in the hands of those leaders who have been sufficiently astute and sufficiently powerful to grasp the scepter of dominion in the name of socialism, and to wrest it from the hand of the expiring bourgeois society.

A revolutionary dictatorship was also foreshadowed in the minimum program of Mazzini’s republican party, and this led to a rupture between Young Italy and the socialist elements of the carbonari. Filippo Buonarroti, the Florentine, friend and biographer of Gracchus Babeuf, a man who at one time played a heroic part in the French Revolution, ((Filippo Buonarroti, Conspiration pour I’Egalité, dites de Babeuf, Brussels, 1828. Cf. especially p. 48.)) and who had had opportunities for direct observation of the way in which the victorious revolutionists maintained inequality and endeavored to found a new aristocracy, resisted with all his might the plan of concentrating the power of the carbonari in the hands of a single individual. Among the theoretical reasons he alleged against this concentration, the principal was that individual dictatorship was merely a stage on the way to monarchy. To Mazzini and his friends, Buonarroti objected that all the political changes they had in view were purely formal in character, aiming simply at the gratification of personal needs, and above all at the acquirement and exercise of unrestricted authority. For this reason Buonarroti opposed the armed rising organized by Mazzini in 1833, issuing a secret decree in which he forbade his comrades of the carbonari to give any assistance to the insurgents, whose triumph, he said, could not fail to give rise to the creation of a new ambitious aristocracy. “The ideal republic of Mazzini,” he wrote, “differs from monarchy in this respect alone, that it possesses a dignity the less and an elective post the more.” ((Giuseppe Romano-Catania, Filippo Buonarroti, Sandron, Palermo, 1902, 2nd ed., pp. 211–12, 213, 218, and 228.))

There is little difference, as far as practical results are concerned, between individual dictatorship and the dictatorship of a group of oligarchs. Now it is manifest that the concept dictatorship is the direct antithesis of the concept democracy. The attempt to make dictatorship serve the ends of democracy is tantamount to the endeavor to utilize war as the most efficient means for the defense of peace, or to employ alcohol in the struggle against alcoholism. ((“There continually recurs the dream of Schiller’s Marquis Posa (in Don Carlos), who endeavours to make absolutism the instrument of liberation; or the dream of the gentle Abbé Pierre (in Zola’s Rome), who wishes to use the church as a lever to secure socialism” (Kropotkin, Die historische Rolle des Staates, Grunau, Berlin, 1898, p. 52).)) It is extremely probable that a social group which had secured control of the instruments of collective power would do all that was possible to retain that control. Theophrastus noted long ago that the strongest desire of men who have attained to leadership in a popularly governed state is not so much the acquirement of personal wealth as the gradual establishment of their own sovereignty at the expense of popular sover- eignty. ((Labruyère, Caractères, ed. cit., p. 28.)) The danger is imminent lest the social revolution should replace the visible and tangible dominant classes which now exist and act openly, by a clandestine demagogic oligarchy, pursuing its ends under the cloak of equality.

The Marxist economic doctrine and the Marxist philosophy of history cannot fail to exercise a great attraction upon thinkers. But the defects of Marxism are patent directly we enter the practical domains of administration and public law, without speaking of errors in the psychological field and even in more elementary spheres. Wherever socialist theory has endeavored to furnish guarantees for personal liberty, it has in the end either lapsed into the cloudland of individualist anarchism, or else has made proposals which (doubtless in opposition to the excellent intentions of their authors) could not fail to enslave the individual to the mass. Here is an example: to ensure that the literature of socialist society shall be elevated and moral, and to exclude a priori all licentious books, August Bebel proposed the nomination of a committee of experts to decide what might and what might not be printed. To obviate all danger of injustice and to secure freedom of thought and expression, Bebel added that every author must have the right of appeal to the collectivity. ((A. Bebel, Die Frau und der Sozalismus, J. H. W. Dietz Nachf., Stuttgart, 34th ed., 1903, p. 423.)) It is hardly necessary to point out the impracticability of this proposal, which is in effect that the books, however large, regarding which an appeal is made, must be printed by the million and distributed to the public in order that the public may decide whether they are or are not fit for publication!

The problem of socialism is not merely a problem in economics. In other words, socialism does not seek merely to determine to what extent it is possible to realize a distribution of wealth which shall be at once just and economically productive. Socialism is also an administrative problem, a problem of democracy, and this not in the technical and administrative sphere alone, but also in the sphere of psychol- ogy. In the individualist problem is found the most difficult of all that complex of questions which socialism seeks to answer. Rudolf Goldscheid, who aims at a renascence of the socialist movement by the strengthening of the more energetic elements in that movement, rightly draws attention to a danger which socialism incurs, however brilliantly it may handle the problems of economic organization. If socialism, he says, fails to study the problem of individual rights, individual knowledge, and individual will, it will suffer shipwreck from a defective understanding of the significance of the problem of freedom for the higher evolution of our species — will suffer shipwreck no less disastrous than that of earlier conceptions of world reform which, blinded by the general splendor of their vision, have ignored the individual light-sources which combine to produce that splendor. ((Rudolf Goldscheid, Grundlinien zu einer Kritik de Willenskraft, W. Braumüller, Vienna and Leipzig, 1905, p. 143.))

The youthful German labor party had hardly succeeded in detaching itself, at the cost of severe struggles, from the bourgeois democracy, when one of its sincerest friends drew attention to certain urgent dangers. In an open letter to the Leipzig committee of the Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiterverein, Rodbertus wrote: “You are separating yourselves from a political party because, as you rightly believe, this political party does not adequately represent your social interests. But you are doing this in order to found a new political party. Who will furnish you with guarantees against the danger that in this new party the adversaries of your class (die anti-sozialen Elemente) may some day gain the upper hand?” ((Rodbertus, Offener Brief, etc., in F. Lassalle’s Politische Reden u. Schriften, ed. cit., vol. ii, p. 15.)) In this observation Rodbertus touches the very essence of the political party. An analysis of the elements which enter into the composition of a party will show the perfect justice of his criticism. A party is neither a social unity nor an economic unity. It is based upon its program. In theory this program may be the expression of the interests of a particular class. In practice, however, anyone may join a party, whether his interests coincide or not with the principles enunciated in the party program. The Socialist Party, for example, is the ideological representative of the proletariat. This, however, does not make it a class organism. From the social point of view it is a mixture of classes, being composed of elements fulfiling diverse function in the economic process. But since the program has a class origin, an ostensible social unity is thereby conferred upon the party. All socialists as such, whatever their economic position in private life, admit in theory the absolute pre-eminence of one great class, the proletariat. Those non-proletarians affiliated to the party, and those who are but partial proletarians, “adopt the outlook of the working class, and recognize this class as predominant.” ((Eduard Bernstein, Wird die Sozialdemokratie Volkspartei?, “Sozial. Monatshefte,” August 1905, p. 670.)) It is tacitly presupposed that those members of a party who do not belong to the class which that party represents will renounce their personal interests whenever these conflict with the interests of the proletarian class. On principle, the heterogeneous elements will subordinate themselves to the “idea” of a class to which they themselves do not belong. So much for theory. In practice, the acceptance of the program does not suffice to abolish the conflict of interests between capital and labor. Among the members belonging to higher social strata who have made their adhesion to the political organization of the working class, there will be some who will, when the occasion demands it, know how to sacrifice themselves, who will be able to unclass themselves. The majority of such persons, however, notwithstanding their outward community of ideas with the proletariat, will continue to pursue economic interests opposed to those of the proletariat. There is, in fact, a conflict of interests, and the decision in this conflict will be determined by the relationship which the respective interests bear towards the principal necessities of life. Consequently it is by no means impossible that an economic conflict may arise between the bourgeois members and the proletarian members of the party, and that as this conflict extends it will culminate in political dissensions. Economic antagonisms stifles the ideological superstructure. The program then becomes a dead letter, and beneath the banner of “socialism” and within the bosom of the party, a veritable class struggle goes on. We learn from actual experience that in their conduct towards persons in their employ the bourgeois socialists do not always subordinate personal interests to those of their adoptive class. When the party includes among its members the owners of factories and workshops, it may be noticed that these, notwithstanding personal goodwill and notwithstanding the pressure which is exercised on them by the party, have the same economic conflict with their employees as have those employers whose convictions harmonize with their economic status, and who think not as socialists but as bourgeois.

But there exists yet another danger. The leadership of the Socialist Party may fall into the hands of persons whose practical tendencies are in opposition with the program of the working class, so that the labor movement will be utilized for the service of interests diametrically opposed to those of the proletariat. This danger is especially great in countries where the working-class party cannot disperse with the aid and guidance of capitalists who are not economically dependent upon the party; it is least conspicuous where the party has no need of such elements, or can at any rate avoid admitting them to leadership.

When the leaders, whether derived from the bourgeoisie or from the working class, are attached to the party organism as employees, their economic interest coincides as a rule with the interest of the party. This, however, serves to eliminate only one aspect of the danger. Another aspect, graver because more general, depends upon the opposition which inevitably arises between the leaders and the rank and file as the party grows in strength.

The party, regarded as an entity, as a piece of mechanism, is not necessarily identifiable with the totality of its members, and still less so with the class to which these belong. The party is created as a means to secure an end. Having, however, become an end in itself, endowed with aims and interests of its own, it undergoes detachment, from the teleological point of view, from the class which it represents. In a party, it is far from obvious that the interests of the masses which have combined to form the party will coincide with the interests of the bureaucracy in which the party becomes personified. The interests of the body of employees are always conservative, and in a given political situation these interests may dictate a defensive and even a reactionary policy when the interests of the working class demand a bold and aggressive policy; in other cases, although these are very rare, the roles may be reversed. By a universally applicable social law, every organ of the collectivity, brought into existence through the need for the division of labor, creates for itself, as soon as it becomes consolidated, interests peculiar to itself. The existence of these special interests involves a necessary conflict with the interests of the collectivity. Nay, more, social strata fulfiling peculiar functions tend to become isolated, to produce organs fitted for the defense of their own peculiar interests. In the long run they tend to undergo transformation into distinct classes.

The sociological phenomena whose general characteristics have been discussed in this chapter and in preceding ones offer numerous vulnerable points to the scientific opponents of democracy. These phenomena would seem to prove beyond dispute that society cannot exist without a “dominant” or “political” class, and that the ruling class, while its elements are subject to a frequent partial renewal, nevertheless constitutes the only factor of sufficiently durable efficacy in the history of human development. According to this view, the government, or, if the phrase be preferred, the state, cannot be anything other than the organization of a minority. It is the aim of this minority to impose upon the rest of society a “legal order,” which is the outcome of the exigencies of dominion and of the exploitation of the mass of helots effected by the ruling minority, and can never be truly representative of the majority. The majority is thus permanently incapable of self-government. Even when the discontent of the masses culminates in a successful attempt to deprive the bourgeoi- sie of power, this is after all, so Mosca contends, effected only in appearance; always and necessarily there springs from the masses a new organized minority which raises itself to the rank of a governing class. ((Gaetano Mosca, Elementi di Scienza politica, ed. cit., p. 62. — Among the socialists there are a few rare spirits who do not deny the truth of this axiom. One of these is the professor of philosophy, and socialist deputy of the Swedish Upper House, Gustaf F. Steffen, who declares: “Even after the victory, there will always remain in political life the leaders and the led” (Steffen, Die Demokratie in England, Diederichs, Jena, 1911, p. 59).)) Thus the majority of human beings, in a condition of eternal tutelage, are predestined by tragic necessity to submit to the dominion of a small minority, and must be content to constitute the pedestal of an oligarchy.

The principle that one dominant class inevitably succeeds to another, and the law deduced from that principle that oligarchy is, as it were, a preordained form of the common life of great social aggregates, far from conflicting with or replacing the materialist conception of history, completes that conception and reinforces it. There is no essential contradiction between the doctrine that history is the record of a continued series of class struggles and the doctrine that class struggles invariably culminate in the creation of new oligarchies which undergo fusion with the old. The existence of a political class does not conflict with the essential content of Marxism, considered not as an economic dogma but as a philosophy of history; for in each particular instance the dominance of a political class arises as the resultant of the relationships between the different social forces competing for supremacy, these forces being of course considered dynamically and not quantitatively.

The Russian socialist Alexandre Herzen, whose chief permanent claim to significance is found in the psychological interest of his writings, declared that from the day in which man became accessory to property and his life a continued struggle for money, the political groups of the bourgeois world underwent division into two camps: the owners, tenaciously keeping hold of their millions; and the dispossessed, who would gladly expropriate the owners, but lack the power to do so. Thus historical evolution merely represents an uninterrupted series of oppositions (in the parliamentary sense of this term), “attaining one after another to power, and passing from the sphere of envy to the sphere of avarice.” ((Alexandre Herzen, Erinnerungen, German translation by Otto Buck Wiegandt u. Grieben, Berlin, 1907, vol. ii, p. 150.))

Thus the social revolution would not effect any real modification of the internal structure of the mass. The socialists might conquer, but not socialism, which would perish in the moment of its adherents’ triumph. We are tempted to speak of this process as a tragicomedy in which the masses are content to devote all their energies to effecting a change of masters. All that is left for the workers is the honor “of participating in government recruiting.” ((Felicien Challaye, Syndicalisme révolutionnaire et Syndicalisme réformiste, Alcan, Paris. 1909, p. 16.)) The result seems a poor one, especially if we take into account the psychological fact that even the purest of idealists who attains to power for a few years is unable to escape the corruption which the exercise of power carries in its train. In France, in working-class circles, the phrase is current, homme elu, homme foutu. The social revolution, like the political revolution, is equivalent to an operation by which, as the Italian proverb expresses it: “Si cambia il maestro di cappella, ma la musica e sempre quella.” ((There is a new conductor, but the music is just the same.))

Fourier defined modern society as a mechanism in which the extremest individual license prevailed, without affording any guarantee to the individual against the usurpations of the mass, or the mass against the usurpations of the individual. ((Charles Fourier, De l’Anarchic industrielle et scientifique, Libr. Phalanst., Paris, 1847, p. 40.)) History seems to teach us that no popular movement, however energetic and vigorous, is capable of producing profound and permanent changes in the social organism of the civilized world. The preponderant elements of the movement, the men who lead and nourish it, end by undergoing a gradual detachment from the masses, and are attracted within the orbit of the “political class.” They perhaps contribute to this class a certain number of “new ideas,” but they also endow it with more creative energy and enhanced practical intelligence, thus providing for the ruling class an ever-renewed youth. The “political class” (continuing to employ Mosca’s convenient phrase) has unquestionably an extremely fine sense of its possibilities and its means of defense. It displays a remarkable force of attraction and a vigorous capacity for absorption which rarely fail to exercise an influence even upon the most embittered and uncompromising of its adversaries. From the historical point of view, the anti-romanticists are perfectly right when they sum up their scepticism in such caustic phraseology as this: “What is a revolution? People fire guns in a street; that breaks many windows; scarcely anyone profits but the glaziers. The wind carries away the smoke. Those who stay on top push the others under. … It is worth the suffering to turn up so many good paving stones which otherwise could not be moved !” ((Trans. from Théophile Gautier, Les Jeunes-France, Charpentier, Paris, 1878, p. xv.)) Or we may say, as the song runs in Madame Angot: “It’s not worth the bother to change the government!” In France, the classic land of social theories and experiments, such pessimism has struck the deepest roots. ((The disillusionment of the French regarding democracy goes back to the Revolution. Guizot declared that this terrible experiment sufficed “to disgust the liberty-seeking world forever, and to dry up the noblest hopes of the human race at their source.”, Trans. from F. Guizot, Du Gouvernement de la France, ed. cit., p. 165.))

**Roberto Michels, Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy. New York: Hearst’s International Library Co., 1915 (Part Six / Synthesis: the Oligarchical Tendencies of Organization, Chapter 2; traduzione di Eden e Cedar Paul)

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