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Alfred de Grazia: Discovering National Elites





A power shift is a marked change in the composition of the elite. The term marked is used because all elites, like the whole of society, are undergoing some change in composition, even though under certain conditions, as for example, at one period of caste society in India, the change may be almost imperceptible. So again, the operator must make a judgment about how much change is to be designated "marked". Ordinarily, he will estimate the point at which greatly different behavior will come form the elite because of the change, and that will be his dividing point.

By change in the composition of the elite is meant its important and relevant composition vis a vis power, and not merely the advent of personnel of the same characteristics as their predecessors. Naturally, all elites have about the same rate of change, owing to the death of members. A number of elites also have high turnovers of a physical kind that do not necessarily indicate changes in their composition. One would have to know whether changed characteristics accompany the new incumbents of office. Thus, the fall of the Conservative cabinet in 1945 and its replacement by a Labor cabinet in England was much more significant for the analysis of elite mobility than the more frequent shifts and falls of French cabinets in the same post-war period.

It is important to know about power shifts because a shift in power may mean a change in elite strategy, either by new plans of action or new uses of propaganda symbols it may mean a change in elite tactics in action or in symbols, in the short run, if not in the long run. In other words, a power shift ordinarily signifies a re-orientation of the elite that may be favorable or unfavorable (potentially or actually) to the operator.


XV-1. Basic data for detecting power shifts. It is necessary to know the composition of the existing elite before plotting the metabolism or movement of the elite. The following dimensions should have been provided before one undertakes analysis of power shifts.

Who has actual power in the group surveyed? How much power do the components of the group have? What are the power holders using their power for, that is, to what ends or issues? And what is the normal political mobility? Since some degree of mobility always exists, one should not interpret a noticeable normal movement as a great power shift.

XV-2. General indicators of power shifts. The general questions to be asked in order to get at possible power shifts include these: Are there changes in who has power? This may be answered generally by studies of the officeholders and informal leaders to determine whether major shifts are occurring in those positions. Thus, are workers moving into legislatures? Are institutions formerly monopolized by upper-class groups being "packed"? (for instance, Augustus packed the Roman Senate, Cromwell packed the Commons of England, Northerners packed the Southern reconstruction legislatures, and the House of Lords of England has suffered attrition in its composition from continuous moderately-paced packing and was once threatened with packing by the Liberals over the question of home-rule for Ireland).

The next question is: Are there changes in the quanta of power possessed by the new as against the old elements of the elite? For instance, significant in English history of elite study was the triumph of the Commons representing large new commercial, mercantile and industrial interests over the Court party in the late seventeenth century, and a century later the growing restrictions on the freedom of action of the House of Lords, culminating in practical helplessness today. In these instances, rather than a complete substitution of personnel and physical transformation of elite institutions, the load of power has shifted from certain institutions to others.

A third general indicator of power shifts is discovered by the answer to the general question: Is there a major change in the orientation of the elite? Normally, answers to the first two questions will produce an answer to the third, because a re-orientation of the elite towards different sets of issues and towards a different ideology and pattern of practices will accompany the preceding changes. Only rarely does an elite have within itself, without external infiltration, or upset by revolt, the capacity for self-change or inner transformation. The elite of the Roman city state accomplished a re-orientation to a republican empire without losing its original character or personnel. Ordinarily, however, a threatened elite exhibits confusion, self-contradiction, escapism, or other decadent symptoms.

XV-3 Major types of shifts:
from single to plural elite or vice versa
. A study of the connections and communications among the elite should reveal the decreasing or increasing integration of the elite on the same level, that is, are those who share the major decision-making powers themselves organized into separate groups, or part of a single well integrated group, and is this tendency decreasing or increasing? The obvious importance of this is that integrated elites though more heterogeneous than the separate pluralities and less vulnerable to separatistic propaganda, and more capable of swift and decisive action on behalf of the whole elite. Centralization is also to be watched for the same reason. Are the elite on a lower level being disciplined less or more by the upper level elites or is there a great deal of autonomy of behavior on the part of the lower elite personnel on those matters or decisions consigned to their limited purview?

XV-4. Major types, continued:
from one skill base to another
. Are the present personnel being replaced by recruits of different skills who promise a different orientation of action by the elites? Are men skilled in the use of coercion substituting for those skilled in bargaining, oratory, or religious practices?

XV-5. Major types; continued:
From one personality type to another
. Is a re-orientation of the elite being accomplished by co-optation from other social sectors or from the mass, or from the sources within the elite itself of different character types who are more or less decisive, more or less radical within the limits acceptable to the elite? By illustration here is meant such phenomena as the replacement of a Chamberlain by a Churchill as prime minister, or the replacement of a Hindenburg by a Hitler.

XV-6. Major types, continued:
From one set of issues to another
. Sometimes the principle component of a power shift is the moving of elite attention from one to another group of issues. This may occur without any of the other types of powershifts, though normally, like all other changes, it is usually part of a multiple action complex. Sometimes the very success of an elite presents it with a set of issues to which it must face up. Thus, the American leadership over a generation exhibits pretty much the same basic traits with some skill changes, but its orientation has become noticeably international so that one cannot say about it today that it is isolationist in the sense of a generation ago, but rather is divided among several types of interventionism. Similarly, the elites of other countries have become oriented towards America. Formerly they were dealt with by the propagandist very much as an unknown tribe is dealt with by an explorer who is trying to explain his own culture to them. Today, they are likely to argue within the same frame of orientation as the American operator.

A major power shift of this type may occur solely as a result of focussing upon new "threats" new issues thrown up by public opinion, or other new orientations, mainly caused by any one or a number of the conditions of political mobility already cited. Then the new issues are politized. What before has been irrelevant to politics because it has been part of business or part or religion contemplated as the source of political struggle, now becomes a political issue. This in itself tends to bring forward new leadership who are acquainted with the new issues. It also upsets pre-existing communication channels, which through they may be highly general and capable of carrying all kinds of qualitatively different messages, are nevertheless somewhat specialized. Some new channels must develop from the politizing of new issues, and the operator should try to discover whenever there are new issues, what new routes he will have to plot in his communication new of the society.

XV-7. Major types, continued:
From one social-economic base to another.
The infiltration of the merchant into the Chinese elite groups of the twentieth century, alongside the literati, the bureaucracy, and the warriors would be one example of the change in the social economic base of the elite. Many examples are afforded from Western history such as the taking over of Western European legislatures by representatives of the rising middle classes in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and the subsequent movement into the legislatures of representatives of worker and union groups, this kind of transformation ordinarily involved drastic shifts of other kinds: in orientation, in personalities, in skills, and shifts from one type of mass base of the elite to another.

XV-8 Mass-elite connections. For ideological and other reasons, including an increase of education and organization of the public, the question of the relationship of the elite with the mass develops great importance. Some of the major types of power shifts occurring are those in which an opposing elite or a segment of the elite professes or manages to obtain the affection and support of the mass against the "unrepresentative" existing elite or some fraction thereof. Ordinarily, this mass relationship of the elite is not easily discovered as long as any powerful or controlling elite or part thereof feels that it will suffer greatly from such a revelation. At other times the factions or parties without mass connections will have nevertheless succeeded in building mass support to the point where they may contend with the original mass parties on equal terms in action and propaganda. That is, wherever free political agitation and propaganda may be engaged in, all factions will insist upon their excellent mass connections. It remains for the operator, then, to discover the true extent of these connections in the case if each of the factions. The development of closer connections, whether through organizations or through symbols is to be carefully watched because, especially in a crisis of revolution, or war, or economics, the party with the actual active mass connections has a great weapon at its command.

XV-9. Mobility indicators continued:
Business politics.
The penetration of the business elite by politicians and the penetration of the political elite by businessmen are common features of the changing elite process. How many politicians got their starts in business or were co-opted from business? How many businessmen originated from political leaders who used power as means to wealth? Frequently the converse processes occur at the same time. Also, from the political side, come not only politicians proper, but bureaucrats and judges. Probably, the business-politics exchange is much more alive than the theology-politics or education-politics and perhaps more even than worker-politics, other forms of inter-penetration and accommodation among elites. Naturally, or orientation aimed at taking account of the business interests of politics and the political interests of business can be expected where the process is going on at a rapid rate.

XV-10. Mobility analysis continued:
Growth of new functions.
The development of new functions of government accounts for the introduction of new elements of the elite. Thus, the high bureaucracy in the United States, and in other countries, has been created by older elite elements to carry on new functions and has come to occupy a respected position among the general elite. Those who have manned the new function are often not the same socially as those who are older to the elite. And of course, along with the new functions, have come transfers of quanta of power from private decision-making, and these have further strengthened the hand of officialdom in many cases.

XV-11. Mobility analysis:
Shifts in the sources of economic chances.
The origins of much of the transformation of the elites comes from changes in the kinds of economic chances that are available and the distribution of those chances. The discovery of new worlds in the sixteenth century expanded the possibilities of wealth and political power among certain nations and among groups within those nations. For instance, the British East India Company used its profits from the Orient to win influence in the parliament and Court of England. Within a given country the development of large corporations as centers of the highest opportunities or pay increases in the government service in a time of recession or the regulation of finances by the government and the consequent loss of autonomous functions by the financial classes or the differential and usual increasing value of land - all of these represent shifts in economic chances that have their effects on the prestige, power and wealth of components of the elite.

XV-12. Mobility analysis :
Development of new types of social organization.
Labor unions, as they grow, become recognized, and acquire their own leadership, are examples of new organizations that take their place in the elite structure. The development of cartels, trade associations lobby organizations, and other types of organizations, all hold significance for the composition of the elite, replacing less well-organized, or defunct, elite elements.

XV-13. Mobility Analysis continued :
New Skills.
The development of new types of social organizations, such as large corporations, or unions, the shifts in sources of economic chances, the growth of new functions, and other elements, frequently go along with the shift in the kinds of skill emphasized by an elite. It is well to discover whether, for example, warrior skills are being superseded by technical skills, whether religious and ceremonial skills are being superseded by bargaining skills, and whether, especially in the more developed societies, bargaining and technical skills are being subordinated to warrior skills. The various techniques of biographical analysis and power analysis already described serve to produce a conclusion or trend.

XV-14. Mobility Analysis Continued:
Social Stratification of Elite.
Using class measures such as the type of house that people live in, their income, and their associates, one can discover whether there is any noticeable acceleration of social mobility or, conversely, a stratification of the population. This kind of criterion is especially useful in judging the extent to which a revolution is slowing down, and in predicting a shift in power from revolutionaries to organizational experts.

XV-15. Mobility Analysis continued:
Education of the Elite.
Is the new elite more Western oriented and Western thinking as the result of education? Are indigenous schools and universities supplying more and more of the local leadership? Are there conflicts among the elite in terms of the types of education they have had? Do these conflicts cut through other divisions among the elite, or are they peculiar to two mutually hostile groups? Table 4 shows some significant differences emerging from a comparison of Chinese communist and nationalist top elites.




UNIVERSITY Kuomintang CEC** Politburo CEC*** Central Committee Communist Party
No percent No percent No percent
Chinese university 86 33.0        
Chinese military school 88 33.7 13 44.8 23 54.8
Chinese classical education 15 5.7        
Japanese university 42 16.1 5 17.2 5 11.9
Japanese military school 26 10        
United States 40 15.3 2 6.9 1 2.4
France 13 5.0 6 20.7 12 28.6
Germany 13 5.0 2 6.9 3 7.1
Grat Britain 15 5.7        
Belgium 2 0.8     1 2.4
Soviet Union 14 5.7 20 69.0 25 59.5
Other 3 1.1        
None 2 0.8 2 6.9 3 7.1
Total known 261 100 29 100 42 100
dont't know 26   13   2  
TOTAL: 287   42   44  

* The table is reproduced from Robert North, Kuomintang and Chinese Communist Elites, p.51. In some instances, the columns are non- additive because individuals attended more than one university and are carried in more than one place.

** 1924-1945, comprising 6 Central Executive Committee

*** 1921-1945, comprising 10 different Politburos.

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