The Party: Organization for Action
As we pointed out in the first chapter, those who feel the poet’s impulse to wreck this sorry scheme of things entire And mold it nearer to the heart’s desire are confronted first of all with the problems of a social system which does not work and the tasks of conceiving, inaugurating, and operating a successor system which will. Whatever else they may wish to accomplish, such as special types of social protection and social security, this they must first achieve and maintain, namely, an orderly functioning social order. Translating the poet’s desire into an enterprise of social action, therefore, must be the work of leaders and followers, or a party of persons, with a will to power and will, through the use of power, to change what they may find intolerable and to conserve what they may find desirable. Such an association is a political party.
In this enterprise government is the principal tool or instrument to be used by efficient group or party organization for desired ends, which may be considered good or bad from different points of view. Contrary to liberal assumptions, government is not a neutral machine like a ship, of which public agents are the crew and the majority vote the owner. Nor, to use another simile, is government to be thought of as a sort of slot machine which will play any tune called by a majority vote. Nor, again, is it useful to consider government as a sort of divinity to whom prayers or petitions may be addressed. Government cannot be completely controlled by periodical exercises of the ballot and it responds to pressure more than to petition. Modern government controls public opinion more than public opinion controls government. Here I include within the meaning of the term government the powers who rule the chief agencies of opinion formation. Government can either be conducted by a political party having certain social objectives or, as happens under liberal capitalism, it can be conducted by the resultants of innumerable contradictory but efficiently applied force pressures of minority groups. In the one case, that of a planned society, the objectives make up a plan of national interest which has to appear rational and good to many people. In the other case the liberal type of government, for instance — the plan of national interest resulting from the blind play of minority group pressures in the pursuit of individual and small group interests has to be assumed to be both rational and good. The chief object or good of this liberal scheme is to play that type of game. If millions go unemployed indefinitely or suffer needlessly, these facts are regrettable but unavoidable incidents to playing the game.
If any number of people, even the largest majority, find themselves so dissatisfied with the results of this game that they want other results, they cannot achieve their wish by voting changes in the rules of the game. They must, more or less, outline the results they desire and set out to achieve these results. This means that they must capture control of the government machine, keep control of it, and use it efficiently for the ends they desire. If a majority of the people share this desire and join this enterprise, it would seem fair to say that their party and the resulting government are quite as democratic as any other. The fact they no longer will to uphold a game which suits our big financiers, promoters, and their batteries of lawyers, the fountain heads of exposition and definition of Americanism, the American system and the American Constitution, is not tantamount to saying that the people no longer wish liberty, law, order, and security, or that government has ceased to be representative of the people.
The chief aim of this chapter is to emphasize the logic and inevitability of a disciplined political party organization for effective and responsible action through the instrumentalities of government by any large association of people having a set of common social purposes and not having the advantages for action in self-interest commanded by combinations of small numbers of the wealthy and economically mighty. The chief point of this final emphasis on the mechanics of party organization for action-not protest or petition — will be found to dispose of most of the objections to fascism as being chiefly a thing of shirted armies and their violent acts. These objections usually go with a failure or refusal to see in liberal capitalism the realities and meaning of existent uniformed legions of the state and private corporations.
Combinations of small numbers of the economically mighty, nowadays usually of large corporations and banks, for specific enterprises of self-interest, are exceedingly effective and disciplined in action. A popular movement of several hundred thousand or several million people for some idealized scheme of national interest has to have a discipline and technique somewhat military or hierarchical in character in order to be able to cope with the effective uses of money and power made by these minority group combinations of the rich and mighty. The old liberal idea that law, justice, and court rule enforced by executive action will suffice to enable the people to deal with minority combinations exercising power for private gain is absurdly false, as has been pointed out throughout this book. A score of great corporations can raise ten million dollars for anti-social purposes of price-fixing or public-opinion manipulation more easily than the Republican or the Democratic Party can raise a million-dollar campaign fund. As for the chances of an incipient socialist, reform or populist party of the frustrated and discontented raising a million-dollar campaign fund, they are not worth talking about. And the combine of a small number of vast economic interests can use its funds more efficiently and more unscrupulously than any popular movement.
The shirted legions of fascism are the answers of the popular will to correspondingly effective uses of power by economically mighty minority groups.. The liberally conducted parties of reform or socialism in various countries at various times have captured political offices. They have even captured the titular headship of the government. But they have never captured power. Only Lenin, with the aid of the soldiery of a nation in arms, has been able to capture power for Marxian socialism. And only the fascists, with the aid of their disciplined legions, have been able to capture power for an effective scheme of national collectivism.
It is incorrect to say, as do many liberal and socialist critics, that control of the machinery of government rests with any one person, group, or clique of persons or groups. Wall Street, the big bankers, and the heads of the great corporations, no more control government than the gangsters and exploiters of gambling and prostitution. No group or coterie of groups controls liberal government or could control it. And no group acting for a minority money-making interest would want to control government. Such control would impose all sorts of obligations and cares and yield none of the financial rewards so generally coveted and so often obtained either from legitimate business or illegitimate rackets. Any two-by-four bank operator or speculator will, with a little luck, make and salt away a fortune such as no fascist leader would ever dream of acquiring. No; the interests, legal and illegal, which are often incorrectly said to control government in America, wish only to control the making of certain specific decisions of government affecting them. And in return for these particular exercises of power they are willing to allow and aid other predatory interests to do likewise. Thus, an interest opposing a given tax will support any public extravagance in return for support of the tax reduction sought. In this connection, it should be remarked that a party seeking political power or control of government must have a large mass following, such as no group of private interests could long command, and such a political party is never likely to be initiated by a group of individuals on the make. For the latter, liberalism is the perfect system. It allows power and control only when and where power and control can be exercised momentarily for private interest and it exempts those who thus use power from any real responsibility to the people. But, playing the liberal game prevents any reform, socialist, or popular party from ever being able to do much about serious social problems. The fundamental reason why the party receiving a majority mandate to clean up a city government or to effect some large social or economic reform on a national scale cannot exercise political power or control adequate for these purposes is this: Such an organization or party, including its candidates elected to office, lacks the only type of organization and group discipline with which political control can be acquired and exercised.
As an eminent English economist on a recent visit to this country has so aptly put it, one cannot legislate successfully beyond the ability of administration to execute. And administration requires the right personnel and the right technique of using personnel. Reform, socialism, or a really new deal cannot be effected by passing laws alone or by law enforcement by officials unsympathetic with the new program, or by law enforcement under the rulings of a judiciary loyal to legal and constitutional theories incompatible with the new program.
To accomplish its purposes, a reform or socialist party must take over control of government quite as thoroughly and masterfully as an invading army of occupation. This the liberal mandatories of the people cannot do, for the excellent reason that they have not an army or do not constitute an army. The liberals who undertook to set up and conduct a liberal republican government in Germany after the war were doomed by the fact that, having no army of their own, they had to rely on a hostile army for the execution of their policies. An organization of mere joiners, button-wearers, membership-dues-payers, party-meeting-attenders, and straight-ticket-voters is not an organization with which anything important of a governmental or constructive character can be done. The button-wearers and dues-paying members neither constitute an army nor can they hire an army, something which, not only a billion-dollar industrial corporation, public utility, or bank can do, but something which even any first-class gangster is able to do.
It is, however, a great mistake to infer from the arguments for a disciplined party organization that, if it includes some semi-militarized units of men, the chief reason for this type of organization is to enable the leaders one fine day to seize power by a violent coup d’état. The gates to power were opened to the fascists in Italy and Germany in perfectly legal ways, not because the government had reason to fear an armed fascist attack on the government (for, at that time those in charge of the government could have liquidated the fascist organizations with a few whiffs of powder), but because the titular head of government felt that the fascists alone were able to exercise political control once they took office.
It is strange how people who regularly sing “Like a mighty army, moves the Church of God,” and who regularly drill and parade in the uniform of one or more fraternal orders, will see in fascism only militarized organization for violence. The chief end of disciplined organization is not violent overthrow of government. For, in any country or moment, except a conjuncture like Russia just before the communists made a violent seizure of power, a disciplined fascist party would naturally seek to come to power in the easiest possible way, which would be a legal or conventional way. The chief end of disciplined organization is the efficient and responsible exercise of political control after it has been obtained.
Considerations of mass responses indicate disciplined organization. Men and women of the sort who are useful in any constructive undertaking prefer a political party or an organization of any sort to be orderly and disciplined. There are, of course, many people who prefer disorderly associations and meetings in which there is no real leadership, authority, or order. Such people merely want organized mass gesturing and argument. They make up the rank and file of the socialist, populist, and reformist parties. But the vast majority of people prefer group behavior patterns which are orderly and seemingly effective to some end other than that of merely blowing off steam. The fact, of course, is that more than half of our working population, in their daily occupations, are subject to an organizational discipline which differs from that of an army only in unessential respects. Our large city political machines have been disciplined organizations with hierarchical command for generations, facts which explain why they frustrate, defeat, and survive reform mayors and administrations.
Then there is the consideration that only through a type of organization in which there are appropriate units for administration and the transmission of orders is it possible to make efficient use of the resources of men, just men, for whatever the ends may be. The usual trouble with a party and leader elected to office on a reform, square deal, new freedom, new deal, or socialist platform is a failure to fill up the lesser executive posts of government with sympathizers with the new ideals. And this failure is due, not to a lack of such sympathizers qualified for these posts, but simply to lack of a type of organization which can make available personnel known to the chief and subject to direction by him. The liberal system tends to put personnel choice and management in hands like those of a Mr. Farley.
Another important consideration indicating the inevitability of disciplined organization is that only with such a type of organization is there likely to be clarity as to objectives and unity in action as well as an enlightened use of men and means for a given end. It would be easy to enumerate absurdities in personnel and policy choices as means to announced ends of liberal administrations. If policy decisions and governmental orders have to be formulated with a view to the needs of orderly administration by a disciplined party organization, most of the (utilities and contradictions of liberal reform or liberal socialist parties in office will be averted.
The realistic political party machines of liberalism, such as those of Tammany Hall or the old Republican Party National Committee had rather more order and efficiency in action than the reformist leaders. After all, these machines had considerable organization discipline and clarity of aims, for the chief aim was spoils and the means of obtaining and retaining power in order to get more spoils. In the city and state governments these machines can still operate fairly well by simply passing the buck to the national government on all serious social problems, be it the war on organized crime and abusive monopoly, or be it unemployment relief. But the political machines of both the Republican and the Democratic Party of old are now doomed by the need for drastic social solutions. They can no longer side-step social issues, and maintain party unity and discipline on the central issue of getting and holding power as a means to spoils. The farmers of the West or the unemployed anywhere are going to force the issues on those in charge of government or running for office.
The imperatives and controls of a hierarchical party organization are now needed as never before, and they can no longer hold together an organization built around spoils. In groping after drastic social solutions, a political party must have the guiding and controlling forces of a disciplined organization, operating through members of a party council who are exercising governmental powers and who arc constantly at grips with current problems. The guiding and controlling function of a majority vote, recorded every two or four years, was always largely mythical. Today, administration cannot be guided or controlled by majority votes every two or four years. The majority vote, for instance, cannot decide in between elections whether government should follow a policy leading to war, declare war or maintain neutrality. The majority vote cannot control the day-today decisions of government about economic policies, nor can the majority vote indicate a body of legal rules which can possibly bind government to any fixed course on the uncharted seas of economic control in which government is now everywhere navigating. Only the party council, constituted more or less as the general staff of an army in war time, can guide or control public administration in these vital matters. The most dangerous and vicious possible guidance for public administration is that of a vote-catching opportunism or that of a defensive mechanism trying to make day-to-day adjustments to minority group pressures. Control of public administration is not a matter of having public debates and organized group manifestations, culminating in periodical majority votes. This is true today as it never was before on account of the potentialities of propaganda and the command of such potentialities by minority interests which have no genuine concern with public interest. One could go on indefinitely elaborating reasons or supplying concrete examples showing why a disciplined political party organization is essential to the orderly conduct of government in the present world crisis. Once his thought is directed along this line of inquiry, the reader’s knowledge of conditions and imagination should enable him to develop this thesis to almost any length.
It remains to discuss briefly the question of how many political parties are possible or desirable. It may be said briefly that a planned economy, such as either fascism or communism must achieve, precludes most of the features of a multiparty system or even a two-party system along liberal lines. A good part of the case against a plurality of political parties and a periodical rotation of parties in office would be a repetition of much that has already been said about planning, the inevitable uniqueness of a national plan and the evils of minority group pressures which are necessarily irresponsible, anti-social, or anti-national and utterly incompatible with the successful pursuit of any possible scheme of national interest or public welfare. A plurality of political parties, no one of which can ever exercise responsible control, can only mean a plurality of irresponsible minority group pressures, the chief objective of which will be spoils and never the realization of a scheme of national interest.
One can never prove by science or philosophy which of several parties has the right or best scheme of national interest, for the decision or selection in such a matter must express an emotional attitude and depend on the ultimate values preferred and the premises taken for granted without proof. One can, however, sustain in a scientific or philosophical discussion the contention that a country has to make effective one scheme of national interest in order to avert chaos. And one can argue rationally that a country is better off with any one of many possible schemes of national interest efficiently pursued than with the anarchy of innumerable powerful minority interests operating in ways to render any effective social control impossible and, thus, to make any scheme of national interest unattainable. Such an argument would be largely a restatement and explanation of the historical trends and forces which brought order out of medieval chaos on the continent of Europe through the rise of nationalisms during and since the Reformation. Granting that all government, like all human nature, is full of imperfections, there is no good case to be made out today for insistence on periodical changes from one bad government administration to another. Improvement would not seem to be best favored by periodical rotation of parties in government. One does not seek improvement in the management of Ford Motors or the Standard Oil Companies by changing administrations every four or eight years. The best answer to the argument for periodical party changes in administration is that such changes are not changes in anything vital or important to the masses and that such changes prevent the development of competent and responsible leadership. Personalities in administrative offices change, but the dominant interests and the system remain unchanged.
To the question How might an American fascist party, called by another name, of course, arise? it would be idle to attempt a precise reply. The right answer, which only future events can furnish, must depend on a combination of adverse conditions, the reactions of the adversely affected elite, the dynamic personality of a great leader and the opportune moment and set of circumstances for his dramatic emergence from obscurity to leadership.
The objective conditions and the probable reactions of the adversely affected elite we have discussed. The personality of the leader, the point in time of his emergence, and the nature of the circumstances of his emergence we cannot usefully discuss, for these are unpredictable factors. The French and Russian revolutions could be and were predicted. But Napoleon and Lenin could not be and were not predicted.
The fields of analysis and synthesis and, also, of useful speculation in which preliminary work can be done, are those I have attempted to explore. In this concluding chapter I have attempted no discussion of the techniques of disciplined party organization in the United States, because these are matters in which we have already abundant skill. In discussion of the question whether or not a country should prepare for or make a given war, there is no need to discuss the art of war. In arguing for or against the construction of a proposed canal which is admittedly possible, there is little need for an engineering treatise on the building of canals.
The real issue for discussion is whether those who want a different social order with the conservation of many of our present values should organize for the capture and use of government to this end, or whether they should merely go on protesting and petitioning without occupying themselves with the tasks of creating and operating the kind of social order they desire.
Preparatory thinking and discussion at this time can be most useful in exploring the possibilities of uniting a large number of the right people for successful action around a scheme of objectives. In this connection it is important to lay a major stress on the imperatives of order and the possibilities of choice in making up a new program. A successful party might get started with a set of promises to satisfy every interest. But it could not carry on long if it seriously undertook to keep all these promises. We may well get a fascism through a party making and breaking innumerable promises. It will be a better fascism to the extent that enlightened opinion, formed somewhat in advance, forces the new movement to be intellectually honest.
Undoubtedly the easiest way to unite and animate large numbers in political association for action is to exploit the dynamic forces of hate and fear. The most dynamic persons in any new political movement are those in whom frustration and defeat have generated most hate and fear. Obviously, the only way to avoid hates and fears is to prevent frustrations and remove dangers.
If liberal leadership succeeds in doing this for the underprivileged nations and the underprivileged members of the Rite within nations, fascism will not triumph over liberal leadership. If, however, liberal capitalism is doomed, we must expect its successor to be largely the work of angry and frustrated men with a will to power. Preparatory thinking, nevertheless, can bring into alliance with these men the less frustrated and embittered and bring to the new movement their contributions. Only a body of enlightened and sympathetic opinion will be able to impose on an emergent fascism counsels of moderation and avert the extremes of a bitter class war.