ANARCHISM AS PROPHYLACTIC. Excerpts from Robert Michels’ Political Parties. A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy (1915) PART FIVE: ATTEMPTS TO RESTRICT THE INFLUENCE OF THE LEADERS.

Domela
Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (1846 –1919)

CHAPTER 4: ANARCHISM AS PROPHYLACTIC

Anarchists were the first to insist upon the hierarchical and oligarchical consequences of party organisation. Their view of the defects of organisation is much clearer than that of socialists and even than that of syndicalists. They resist authority as the source of servility and slavery, if not the source of all the ills of the world. For them constraint is “synonymous with prison and police.” 1 They know how readily the individualism of the leaders checks and paralyses the socialism of the led. In order to elude this danger, anarchists, notwithstanding the practical inconveniences entailed, have refrained from constituting a party, at least in the strict sense of the term. Their adherents are not organized under any stable form. They are not united by any discipline. They know nothing of obligations or duties, such as elections, pecuniary contributions, participation in regular meetings, and so on.

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SYNDICALISM AS PROPHYLACTIC. Excerpts from Robert Michels’ Political Parties. A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy (1915) PART FIVE: ATTEMPTS TO RESTRICT THE INFLUENCE OF THE LEADERS.

Dockstrike
Report on the Dockers’ Strike of 1889

CHAPTER 3: SYNDICALISM AS PROPHYLACTIC

According to the syndicalist doctrine, it is essential to transfer the revolutionary centre of gravity of the proletariat from the political party to the trade union. The union is conceived as a politically neutral organism, one which does not adhere to any party, but which is socialist in inspiration and aim.

It is the great merit of the syndicalists that they have understood how disastrous would be isolated syndicalist activity, devoid of any general theory, living simply from day to day; and to have advocated with much energy the indissoluble union of the working class, organized in its trade unions, with the socialist idea as spiritus rector and as ultimate aim. The syndicalists desire (and here, for once, they agree with the Marxist politicians) to diffuse among the organized workers the conviction that the trade union cannot attain its aim except by the elimination of capitalism, that is to say, by the abolition of the existing economic order. But the syndicalists also desire (and here they are in open conflict with all the other currents of contemporary socialism) that the trade union should not merely be an asylum for socialist ideas, but that it should also directly promote socialist activity, pursuing not simply a trade- unionist policy in the amplest sense of the term, but in addition and above all a socialist policy. Syndicalism is to put an end to the dualism of the labour movement by substituting for the party, whose sole functions are politico-electoral, and for the trade union, whose sole functions are economic, a completer organism that shall represent a synthesis of the political and of the economic function.1

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THE POSTULATE OF RENUNCIATION. Excerpts from Robert Michels’ Political Parties. A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy (1915) PART FIVE: ATTEMPTS TO RESTRICT THE INFLUENCE OF THE LEADERS.

Bakunin2
Michael Bakunin (1814 –1876)

CHAPTER II: THE POSTULATE OF RENUNCIATION

The dissolution of the democratic consciousness of the leaders may doubtless be retarded, if not completely arrested, by the influence of intellectual or purely ideological factors. “So long as the guidance and representation of the party remains in the hands of persons who have grown grey in the great tradition of socialism,”1 so long, that is to say, as the party is still dominated by vigorous socialistic idealism, it is possible that in certain conditions the leaders will retain their ancient democratic sentiments, and that they will continue to regard themselves as the servitors of the masses from whom their power is derived. We have already discussed the drastic measures that have been proposed to prevent the embourgeoisement of the leaders of proletarian origin. But it is not enough to prevent the proletarian elements among the leaders from adopting a bourgeois mode of life; it is also essential, on this line of thought, to insist upon the proletarianization of the leaders of bourgeois origin. In order to render it impossible for the socialist intellectuals to return to their former environment it has been proposed to insist that they should assimilate the tenor of their lives to that of the proletarian masses, and should thus descend to the level of their followers. It is supposed that their bourgeois instincts would undergo atrophy if their habits were to be in external respects harmonized as closely as possible with those of the proletariat.

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THE REFERENDUM: Excerpts from Robert Michels’ Political Parties. A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy (1915) PART FIVE: ATTEMPTS TO RESTRICT THE INFLUENCE OF THE LEADERS

CHAPTER I: THE REFERENDUM

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Robert Michels (1876-1936)

In the domain of public law, democracy attains its culminating point in that complex of institutions that exists in Switzerland, where the people possesses the right of the referendum and that of the initiative. The use of the referendum is compulsory in Switzerland upon a number of questions that are statutorily determined. The legislative measures drawn up by the representative body must then be submitted to a popular vote, for acceptance or rejection. In addition, the burghers exercise the power of direct legislation. “When a certain number of voters demand the repeal of an existing law or the introduction of a new one, the matter must be submitted to popular vote. These important popular rights are supplemented by the direct popular election of the supreme executive authorities, as in the United States. Although these democratic ordinances have often in actual practice proved but little democratic in their results (the referendum, above all, having frequently shown that the democratic masses possess less democratic understanding than the representative government), and although leading socialists have therefore with good reason sharply criticised these manifestations of democracy, – other socialists look to these institutions for the definitive solution of all questions of public law, and for the practical contradiction of the opinion that oligarchy arises by natural necessity, contending that by the referendum and by the initiative the decisive influence in legislative matters is transferred from the representative assembly to the totality of the citizens.

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