January 05, 2013

Michels on the crowd (Michels using the crowd to explain why direct democracy can't work) The practical ideal of democracy consists in the self-government of the masses in conformity with the decisions of popular assemblies. But while this system limits the extension of the principle of delegation, it fails to provide any guarantee against the formation of an oligarchical camerilla. Undoubtedly it deprives the natural leaders of their quality as functionaries, for this quality is transferred to the people themselves. The crowd, however, is always subject to suggestion, being readily influenced by the eloquence of great popular orators; moreover, direct government by the people, admitting of no serious discussions or thoughtful deliberations, greatly facilitates coups de main of all kinds by men who are exceptionally bold, energetic, and adroit. It is easier to dominate a large crowd than a small audience. The adhesion of the crowd is tumultuous, summary, and unconditional. Once the suggestions have taken effect, the crowd does not readily tolerate contradiction from a small minority, and still less from isolated individuals. A great multitude assembled within a small area is unquestionably more accessible to panic alarms, to unreflective enthusiasm, and the like, than is a small meeting, whose members can quietly discuss matters among themselves (Roscher). It is a fact of everyday experience that enormous public meetings commonly carry resolutions by acclamation or by general assent, whilst these same assemblies, if divided into small sections, say of fifty persons each, would be much more guarded in their assent. Great party congresses,...
Ernest Mandel: Mandel on Althusser, Party and Class (1982) The most remarkable parts of Althusser’s articles are those which unveil and denounce the internal structure and functioning of the French Communist Party. Althusser doesn’t call it by its real name, a name that we know all too well and that we must proclaim out loud: It is called bureaucratic centralism, antipode of democratic centralism. In a biting style, Althusser dismantles its mechanisms: an organization of full-time officials, virtually cut off from the working class and from civil society and incapable of subsisting outside of the party apparatus; a leadership which manipulates the rank and file and ensures its own survival through the automatic cooptation of the apparatus; a freedom of “discussion” among a rank and file that is strictly compartmentalized into cells or local sections, and powerfully reinforced by the principle of unanimity (of “collegial solidarity”) which the leadership observes in its relations with the base; the myth that “the party is always right” or that “ the central committee never makes mistakes,” a myth which is the ideological correlative of a bureaucratic structure; a manipulative and exhortatory relationship between the party and the working class, in which the former educates the latter but never learns from it, thereby sanctioning, theoretically, the hierarchical and quasi-military relationship between the leadership and the base. ... Against this evil, two kinds of remedies may be used. The first is proposed by Althusser and is essentially political in character. It claims for itself a political theory and practice diametrically opposed to that of...

Jodi Dean

Jodi Dean is a political theorist.

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