Moisei Yakovlevich Ostrogorskii
["Ostrogorski" on title pages],
Democracy and the Organization of Political Parties
(1897:Original French edition | 1902:English edition | 1964:Later edition)
These excerpts are selections from the two-volume 1902:English edition,
adhering closely to an extensive table of contents and wherever possible adhering to the language of that edition.
SAC editor put certain passages in boldface, and provided some hypertext linkage to SAC
© Alan Kimball
A SAC Narrative Extension
This book addresses the problem of Government caused by the advent of democracy.
Ostrogorskii began his research on this theme in 1883 and published his findings in 1897.
At that time he defined “advent of democracy” as the collapse of medieval political forms and the feudal social system, followed by the advent of mass participation in the business of governance. In other words, he meant something very much like what SAC calls "The First Phase of the European Revolution" [ID]. And he heartily approved of it, in fact he was an active participant in Russian political action aimed to realize this "First Phase" in his homeland.
He defined the advent of Democracy this way = “severance of the old social ties and the [introduction of] supremacy accorded to numbers in the State”.
Extra-constitutional organization of the electoral masses [political parties] evolved in the effort to solve problems some perceived in democratic Government, problems caused by spontaneous and free popular political activism.
Typically the democratic political party throughout the 19th century came under the control of the Caucus. The caucus was the direct opposite of what we could call the democratic institutional and political equivalent of Adam Smith's economic notion of "the invisible hand" [ID]. Here is a précis of Ostrogorskii’s description of the Caucus.
In other words, Ostrogorskii's study described the historical evolution of political institutions in leading "democratic" countries, England and USA, institutions that contributed significantly to the rise of what SAC calls "The Third Phase of the European Revolution" [ID]. England and USA provided Ostrogorskii two somewhat surprising case studies in this universal or, at first, general European or "Western" development. There was little of Adam Smith reflected in political and economic trends of the late 19th- and early 20th-centuries. Laissez-faire described none of the emerging features of politics and economics in the third phase of the European (and soon world) Revolution.
Table of Contents =
SUMMARY OF VOLUME ONE (about English political parties in the late 19th-century)
SUMMARY OF VOLUME TWO (about political parties in late 19th-century USA)
Volume one, part 3, chapter 1, The Machinery of the Political Caucus
SUMMARY OF VOLUME ONE (England)
Studying the late 19th-century role of the English Caucus [the central
managerial authority within the modern political party], Ostrogorskii discovered that
the design of the
Caucus, at first intended to make party government more democratic, in fact
failed to do that, most notably in British liberal political parties. It made
little difference, however, whether parties are leftist or rightist, liberal or conservative,
they all worked to the detriment of the democratic ideal which created them. This failure was
more in form than in essence. The Caucus tried to apply the
democratic principle in all its strictness, even to extra-constitutional political relations,
as in public volunteer societies and political parties. Instead, the Caucus accentuated the
divergence between “institutions and manners” [i.e., between political
institutions and social norms] made inevitable by the English electoral reform of 1867
[ID]. The Caucus offered
only a mechanical organizational contrivance for reconciling
institutions and manners. Deposed in theory, the middle class recovered power by
surreptitious devices, in spite of the democratized organization of the party.
But the story is not completely bleak. The Caucus did in fact enhance the
importance of small folk in party counsels, and contributed especially to their
advancement up the social scale.
Yet the Caucus did nothing to raise the public spirit of the masses. It has demonstrated a radical inability to serve as an instrument of political education. Far from stimulating the exercise of political judgment, it tended to stereotype opinion. In this, however, it moved in harmony with general trends of that epoch, the effect of which was to obliterate individuality = “we now think in battalions”. The Caucus made party unity an object of pious devotion, dispensing with the necessity of professing reasoned principles. It encouraged impatience of discussion, fanaticism, and intolerance, while inclining men's minds towards moral and intellectual opportunism, towards a policy of “quarterly dividends”.
After 1868, these properties made the Caucus an admirable vehicle for new political tendencies, for a Radicalism that brought with it formal and sentimental democracy. The modus operandi of the Caucus encouraged this sort of democracy. The Caucus appealed by preference to the emotions and employed wholesale, rigid processes, regulated beforehand by cut-and-dried methods. These methods worked on behalf of an external orthodoxy and had the effect of shaping all political relations attempted by the Caucus in a mechanical way, whether these were manifestations of reason or demonstrations of political feeling.
Dwindling individuality and the development of formalism in political relations culminated in the behavior of party leadership. Too rigid an application of the principle of autonomy in the organization of the party has siphoned off central leadership and parceled it out, benefiting only the maintenance of local mediocrity. Unqualified adhesion to the party creed gave special importance to conventional and external qualities in public men. Party loyalty was converted into a supreme political virtue, and the machinery of the Organization defined that party loyalty. Far from having eliminated the plutocratic element [element conducive to the rule of the rich] and the influence of social rank [evident in the old feudal political world], the Caucus itself made use of them. The monopoly of leadership changed only its aspect. It now was more manufactured. It was more divided and less responsible. The party “worker” grew in influence. “Electioneering is now quite a business.” The Caucus favored the rise of the professional politician. The original design of the Caucus was to accelerate the democratic process in political society and organize public life into a moral whole. In this the Caucus failed. The Caucus design tended rather to set up a government by machine instead of a responsible government by human beings. It offered society a new but purely mechanical political synthesis.
[And that is the modern "synthesis" Ostrogorskii claimed was created without proper prior "analysis". He here proposes to analyze this hasty synthesis.]
To be sure, the Caucus has a proper role in the life of political parties. To some extent its organization has ensured a real representation to various elements of the party and proved itself able to serve as a faithful and independent mouthpiece of opinion. The Caucus sometimes hurried the party and at others prevented it from advancing freely. It maintained cohesion in the ranks of the party, not so much by its intrinsic force as by its assuming the role of party standard-bearer. Yet it swelled the contingents of the party by attracting “blanks” into its Organization.
The Caucus popularized the style, the title and the abstract notion of the party. But this abstract notion was slow to lay hold of the popular mind. Eventually the Caucus proved powerless to stop party divisions. Party divisions are an inevitable effect of the growing complexity of social relations. Complex social relations have long since smitten and doomed the classic dualism of parties with their old cohesion. The Caucus is intent on the idea of restoring this cohesion, and it has none but mechanical means and methods at its disposal for reuniting incongruous elements. The Caucus of necessity paved the way for government by machine. The Caucus was unable to set the old party system on its legs again. The Caucus has in fact aggravated the evils of the old system by investing party tyranny with legal claims, by doing away with freedom of candidatures, by usurping the monopoly of party orthodoxy, and by drawing from this a power of moral coercion over its followers. There is no escape from inexorable party orthodoxy save in schism. There is no place for free or independent organizations.
The Caucus has not improved the working of parliamentary government either. On the contrary, it has helped to warp its representative principle, to disturb the equilibrium in the relations between parliamentary leaders and Members, and in the equilibrium between Parliament and public opinion. It has diminished personal confidence in the relations of electors with candidates, and especially with the Members. It has appropriated for its own the obligations ordinarily assumed by the MP [Member of Parliament, elected legislator] in relationship to his constituents. The Member has been transformed by the Caucus into a delegate with diminished responsibility and independence. Great parliamentary leaders have in the past operated within the electoral body, now they have to be mindful of the Caucus. And the Caucus has thus become more powerful and more autocratic. This has been to the detriment of the equilibrium which Cabinet government presupposes between Members and party leaders. More than this, party leaders can shield themselves behind the Caucus. From there they can force the hand of Members in the House without compromising themselves personally. When the Caucus renders assistance to parliamentary leaders, it imposes obligations on them, sometimes of an onerous kind. Arbitration between various opinions in Parliament has become more difficult, owing to the interposition of the Caucus. General concerns about the deterioration of parliamentary government, as well as the other political effects, are attributable to the action of the Caucus. But the “Caucus”, after all, represents but part of a large, complex reservoir formed when many currents of the “democratic movement” flow together. The Caucus both reflects and shapes the phenomena which it represents.
Corruptive Caucus influences have not gone unchecked. They have been attenuated in practice. They face opposition of a sentimental kind — such as the traditional authority of landlords and Church, the fascination which social rank still exercises, even over Radical masses, and the exceptional prestige of illustrious leaders, the personal ascendancy of character and knowledge. They also face opposition of a more substantial kind — such as local considerations and prosaic anxieties about material interests. The Caucus has made insufficient allowance for the living forces of society. And achievement of Caucus goals has been hampered by the slenderness of its material resources and by the shortcomings, as well as merits, of its own personnel. After all, the Caucus is still far from being “enthroned on the ruins of the British Constitution”.
Still, the living forces which hold the Caucus in check are in decline. The personal influences of rank, as well as of character and knowledge, have more difficulty coming to the fore. This is in part owing to the excessive growth of towns and growing urban absenteeism [in public affairs]. The city estranges men from each other, especially the rich and the poor. Then there are the obstacles raised by the Caucus itself. The Caucus invariably insists on the shibboleth of the party over all else. And the Caucus organization rather favors the rise of local mediocrity. “Deference” is declining and will continue to decline. The Caucus contributes to this decline, even on the Tory side. Liberty itself contributes to the weakening of solidarity within the great religious bodies. Thus another old living force is passing away. At the same time political apathy infects society. Apathy drives cultivated classes away from public life without bringing new strata into it. The Caucus represents the dawn of separation between society at large and the minority engaged in politics. The Caucus also obliterates the distinctive principles which identified different parties. Parties will be reduced to the condition of simple aggregates, with nothing but mechanical organization, without vital system. The Caucus has created a political vacuum, and that vacuum will be filled by the Caucus itself. Party Organizations henceforth represent nothing but convention. Instead of being a means, party Organization will become an end unto itself. Everything will be subordinated to it, in defiance of real interests and to the detriment of purely public manners. Hints as to the future of these trends can be seen, for instance, in municipal life and in the apprehensions excited in this connection by the proposal to pay salary to Members of Parliament. In the other direction certain symptoms promise slightly to hamper the upward movement of the Organizations, for example, growing skepticism with regard to political parties and the Socialist secession from standard political parties.
The more ample experience of the American sector of the Anglo-Saxon world throws more light on all these data and all these forecasts and in general on the whole problem of the organization of electoral masses.
SUMMARY OF VOLUME TWO (USA)
Party Organization set out to
perform a double function in American democracy = (1) upholding the power of
the individual whom the Revolution elevated as a member of a sovereign people,
and (2) ensuring the working of an increasingly more complex governmental
machinery. Relative success was achieved in the second undertaking and complete
failure in the first. Citizen-hold on government weakened. Party Organization
brought under its own control those great public powers enfeebled in the course
of events. The manner in which the President was elected damaged the authority
of the executive. The exercise of executive power was subordinated to
considerations of patronage. This lowered the head of the executive to the
position of an attorney of a party. It curtailed the President’s constitutional
authority with Congress. It degraded the Senate. The Caucus brought inferior men
into the Senate. The Senate encroached on the powers of the House of
Representatives as well as on those of the executive. The Caucus ensured Senate
irresponsibility. The House became a stronghold of private interests. It made
regular raids on the national budget. Congress was no longer a deliberative
assembly. It was stuck in a legislative sterility which amounted to general
failure. Two things combined to devalue or nullify separation of powers = (1)
the Caucus installed in Congress men of low character, and (2) the Caucus
encouraged current legislative methods that have helped bring about all these
The decline of deliberative assemblies is especially clear in State Legislatures and city councils. The judiciary itself has suffered at the hands of the Caucus. The well-spring of government has been depleted or poisoned at every point. Private initiative tried to make up by its own efforts for the inadequacy or irregularity of governmental action. Attempts were made to strengthen private initiative by aggrandizing the executive power at the expense of legislative power, and by development of “police power”. With greater frequency efforts are being made to restrict the sphere of representative government by the direct exercise of the power of the people. Local self-government has relaxed. The Caucus has contributed to these developments by subordinating all elections to national elections with a view to the distribution of federal patronage. Centralization of political life and enfeeblement of local public life, brought about by the Caucus, has not been palliated by the fact that the Caucus as contributed to the beneficent growth of the influence of the Union.
The havoc wrought in public life by the Caucus or with its help has not even been counterbalanced by the success of “party government”, which it claimed to set going. It has not promoted co-ordination between executive and legislative branches of government, nor has it ensured cohesion of Congressional parties. The party discipline which it enforced was of use only for electioneering, with a view to spoils, and this could not be maintained in Congress. The parties which it formed constituted nothing but agglomerates brought together mechanically, the ill-assorted elements of which, left to themselves in the House, sought only to promote the private interests which they represented. In the absence of common principles r divergent ideas, understanding between these interests can be achieved only by means of “deals”. Congress lives in an atmosphere of unprincipled compromise. There is no regular opposition to counterbalance the predominant party. As the traditional see-saw of parties does not work, a remedy for the misgovernment of rulers is sought in Lynch methods = “tidal waves” and “landslides”. The separation of powers is not the main cause of the failure of “party government”. The main cause is this = The Caucus has reduced political parties to an electoral contrivance. The Caucus cannot serve as an instrument of government.
The decline of the political party is confirmed by the decline of a political leadership who is motivated solely by power. Men capable of leading are disqualified for public life under the Caucus regime and are little countenanced by American social conditions. Those who enter public life shirk responsibility. Public men lack civic courage. They have ceased to be leaders of men. Leadership is wielded by outsiders in an irregular and spasmodic manner. The responsibility of public men is all the less evident because there is no control to enforce it. The public is indifferent. Merit is unnoticed just as much as demerit. The action of public men also lacks the advantage of continuity. They lose their ascendancy when they lose political position. Political statesmen have been replaced by political machinists.
The modern political party does not give expression to public opinion, it distorts public opinion. External conformity crafted by the Caucus weakens the citizen's private judgment and individual responsibility. It makes him shifty and timorous. It develops in him acquiescence in political abuses, and led him into connivance with abuse. If at the same time party discipline has discharged the function of a regulator in a young and exuberant democracy, it has still proved above all to be a reactionary force. It tends to shackle free play of the public mind, to crystallize opinion. The American community was already only too inclined to an ultra Conservatism by its mercantile character, as well as by a constitution which impeded the spirit of innovation in political and social life. The “regularity” enforced by Caucus works both sides of the street. It curbs public opinion, keeps it imprisoned in old formulas and old titles. At the same time it also thrusts on the political party, against its will, new programs, however extravagant, when the Organization thinks it might benefit them. In the upshot, the Organization creates a sham opinion in the form of parties, and leaves actual opinion no other means of asserting itself except open revolt against the parties. Yet even when victorious, opinion is able to assert itself only by means of repression. Opinion has been shorn of its most essential power, the power of prevention.
The political party failed in its legitimate functions. It served as a lever for private interests and an instrument of their designs on the public weal. It promoted the advent of plutocracy. The power of plutocracy has proved pernicious especially in the political sphere. It has taken up its abode there with the aid of the party Organization. Public opinion does not understand the political source of money power. So it fastens only on the economic effects of money power. A movement against “trusts” has arisen. But the power of money in the State gets too little attention. It appears to be an irresistible force which contributes to the weakening of civic sentiment. The alliance of plutocracy with the Machine has strengthened Machine power and contributed to the degradation of popular government.
How account for the fact that the American people have let government slip from their hands? They were wholly absorbed in material preoccupations. The working of political institutions was subordinated to money-making. Abuses in public life were tolerated so long as they did not entail too serious a threat to pecuniary interests. "Live and let live" describes the generosity of the American. He is insensible to the effects, even of a material kind, which the political disorders threaten to produce in the future. He looks only at immediate results and present-day advantage. He is kept in these views by the boundless optimism which is the national faith, and he is constantly stimulated by it in his materialistic aspirations.
The materialistic spirit deadened the civic conscience with the aid of idealism itself. Idealism is by no means missing in America. All of American idealism is given over to patriotic feeling. The idea of the Union, of the national territory, cast a spell over the American mind. The grandeur of continental natural features, plus the human effort that has made it even better, have fostered American patriotic sensibility. Liberty is the third factor in the creation of the New World. Liberty revealed itself as “mystic and indefinite”, but it became also a facet of the patriotic cult of material success and confirmation of a national pride inspired by that cult. The country is worshiped (“our country, right or wrong”). A patriotism of the second degree, no less a fetish, must also be recognized among Americans, that of political party. This second-degree patriotism of party served as substitute for the citizen's civic conscience, and enabled him to serve an ideal and pay off civic obligations in every-day life with little personal sacrifice.
The cult of party suited the civic piety of the busy American. It corresponded also to the innermost tendencies of his mind, on the one hand, moulded by the Puritan spirit in a jealous sectarianism, and, on the other hand, harassed by the need which the American feels to gather in a herd with his fellows. There is much need to counteract moral isolation in this New World society, leveled, scattered, and destitute of fixed grooves that might offer direction and support to the individual.
The Republic has, nonetheless, been able to withstand the corruptive or disintegrating action of the Caucus [ID]. Government has slipped away from the people, but [seven] exceptional conditions have cushioned the blow =  Government plays only an insignificant role in the economy of American life. [Doesn't this assertion contradict what Ostrogorskii said above about the relationship between wealth and political power?]  The simplicity of administrative responsibilities mitigated the deterioration of public service.  Unbounded national resources made up for the harm done to the public purse.  The usurpation of power by bosses and the machines proved limited in effect, owing to the particular character of the usurpers’ objectives. They aimed not so much at the liberty of the citizens as at the resources available through manipulation of the election business. Additionally, the Constitution surrounds individual rights with solid protection, and the Republic is organized as a federation.  Federations are but little favorable to the rise of an autocracy or of a political oligarchy.  Finally, a vast and thinly peopled continent offers a lot a space and material facilities for escaping oppression. The invasion of the State by plutocracy has not aimed at popular liberties. And, at least until quite recently, it has also not impeded the free pursuit of wealth by the individual. The citizen's faith in his potential strength and in the general strength of public opinion mitigated the decline of active public spirit.
However, the moral and material resources which neutralized or abated the bad effects of the Caucus regime are dwindling [as represented by the following five trends=]  Free lands are exhausted.  Social life grows more complex, as do the functions of government.  The need for stricter regulation and the decrease of the vis medicatrix [ability of a body to heal itself] that liberty earlier represented is obvious.  Personal character declines under the influence of new economic factors which sap the economic independence of the citizen.  Religious and political skepticism spreads and contributes to this process. Spontaneous play of natural forces can no longer check the destructive action of the Caucus. Now and all along the line, an active resistance must be raised against it.
The task of building levies against the surge of the Caucus regime is gigantic but not hopeless. Progress made already in the last twenty years gives grounds for hope [EG]. The public conscience is awakening and showing a growing interest in public welfare. Party ties are relaxing. Voting becomes more enlightened. Two factors have had a major influence on the progress achieved and to be achieved = (1) the development of general culture, in particular that fostered by Universities, and (2) the improvement of political methods. Most previous attempts at reform were based on defective mechanical conceptions. Experiments which accepted stereotyped parties as a basis have failed. Those that paid no attention whatever to parties have had relative success. New methods of political action must be found in order to assure a future for democracy.
The following chapter defines Ostrogorskii’s meaning of the term “Caucus” =
THE MACHINERY OF THE CAUCUS
We need to understand the working
of the Caucus, the conditions and the methods of its action on the bulk of the
electorate. We can distinguish the constituent parts of the machinery of the
Caucus and the men who set it in motion. Organization centers on the ward.
Members are recruited there. Ward meetings are held there periodically. The
public-house [the “pub”, tavern] is a rallying center. Members are not
numerous, and regular attendance at ward meetings is still less so. The workings
of the Caucus therefore fall into the hands of an inner managerial elite. A ward
secretary prompts an inner coterie in the management of all Caucus business. The
powers of the ward secretary and the part played by him determines everything in
At the next level of the Organization -- the Council -- we find co-opted members and large subscribers more dominant than elected members. Authority is increasingly concentrating in fewer hands. The great majority of members do not contribute at all to the pecuniary resources of the Association. The local "Divisions" of the party [most often called "Hundreds"] thus become marginalized.
The executive committee of the “Hundreds” has a preponderant influence on Caucus life. An “inner circle” arises within it. The concentration of power in the hands of this “inner circle” reaches the highest levels in large towns [cities] with several electoral Divisions.
The secretary of the Association is the factotum of the Organization, and works closely with the President to control the organization. The President is sometimes described as “the man who can tell the biggest lies”, yet his “respectability” must be secured.
The social composition of the Associations is mixed. Aristocracy is hardly represented, and the upper middle class takes very slight part in the daily life of Associations. Leading representatives have great influence on the choice of candidates, yet the working classes are indifferent. The lower middle class alone is left to take an interest in the Caucus, and it does so with alacrity. The victim of social exclusiveness, the lower middle class finds social and political distinction in opportunities provided by the Caucus. The lower middle class in the Tory Caucus [a conservative Caucus] plays a less prominent part.
The intellectual standard of Caucus-men is not high. Their political horizon is low and their ideal of a politician lacks vision. By temperament some Caucus-men are restless and some staid. In either case, Caucus temperament shows itself ready to submit to the impulse given by leaders, to cultivate an unbending political orthodoxy, and, finally, to exclude spontaneity, independence of action and the spirit of criticism. Large Caucus meetings have altogether lost their deliberative character. This encourages a special style of eloquence. A hierarchy of wire-pullers present everything “cut and dried” to the “hundreds” who act simply as registering [yea-saying or “rubber stamp”] assemblies.
The vital force of the Caucus can be analyzed. A sense of duty and an amour-propre [a decorous impulse, an affection for the appearance of propriety] are the motive power which gathers together and sets in motion the varied components of the Caucus. The Organization of the party cultivates and develops the varied components and makes them subservient to organizational ends. The Organization promotes an ideal worship of the party. It prescribes rites for the rank and file. It schedules systematic meetings and presents “resolutions”. The Caucus provides its followers a gradation of satisfactions and a degree of self-esteem adapted to various tastes and requirements. The need to flatter vanities and smooth susceptibilities is, however, counterbalanced by the devotion of the caucus-men to the Organization, their discipline. Party discipline is thus subject to certain limitations, but the general result is to make the Caucus a body little calculated to attract the best elements of society. The quality of Caucus officials has in fact declined.