Party Machines and Democracy

Party Machines and Democracy

The boundless power of the party machine over public life is constantly being confirmed; in private conversation and on the printed page we return to this problem in the weary tones of recrimination and impotence. Is there any point, we ask ourselves, in continuing to talk of democracy? On the other hand, is a democracy conceivable without parties? And a modern party without its machinery?

I remember a sentence of Karl Radek’s from the days when the crushing power of the Stalinist machine was beginning to take form. “Once,” he said, “Russia was under the rule of a matriarchy, then a patriarchy ruled, now we are entering the age of the secretariarchy.”

Today we also live in an age when bureaucrats are tyrants. The regime of the secretariat has expanded rapidly in every country, civilized and uncivilized alike. The Secretary General has become the true representative of our times, while the old oligarchies of prominent citizens (survivors of the political geriarchy, heads of the Mafia, publicists, great orators) are thrust from their pedestal. Among these notables a few have saved themselves—by serving as rubber stamps for one or another of the more efficient machines; the cynical ones excuse their actions, pleading the necessities of the times, the hypocrites invoke “the lesser of two evils.”

Curiously enough, the pretense of fighting the dangers of Communism or of clericalism—always for the sake of liberty—can lead with terrible ease to the surrender of all personal freedom. This surrender is justified, naturally, on grounds of expediency: once again the means devour the end. In view of the present situation it is not an exaggeration to say that Italian political life today is almost completely Stalinized. For the technique of the modern machine undoubtedly has that origin. This is the irony of the strategy of the opposition: the fear of the enemy leads to imitation. The Communists copy the clerical party, and the Democratic-Christian civic committees imitate the Communists. Do you wish proof of this? In those fortunate Western countries where the Communist following is small, the democratic parties have less rigid organizations. Our own situation is far worse. With us the anti-Communist mass organizations have come to adopt, bit by bit, the whole Stalinist system: the block and factory factions, the small organized cells in the cooperatives, the agit-prop in the crowd, the meetings reserved for the most active members, the party schools at every level of organization, and finally, what is most important and most essential for Stalinism, the two-faced ideology, one, opportunistic and demagogic, for the mass public, the other for the initiates of the central apparatus.

As the Stalinist technique of arousing, stupefying and brutally managing the masses is imitated by the opposition, the Communist machine is given a taste of its own medicine, far more...

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