Political Parties
Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy is a book by sociologist Robert Michels
Robert Michels
Robert Michels was a German sociologist who wrote on the political behavior of intellectual elites and contributed to elite theory...

, published in 1911 (translated to English in 1915), and first introducing the concept of iron law of oligarchy
Iron law of oligarchy
The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory, first developed by the German syndicalist sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties. It states that all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic they may be at the start, will eventually and inevitably develop into...

. It is considered one of the classics of sociology
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...

 and political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...


This work analyzes the power structure
Power structure
Power Structure may refer to:* Hierarchy* The Establishment...

s of organizations such as political parties
Political Parties
Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracy is a book by sociologist Robert Michels, published in 1911 , and first introducing the concept of iron law of oligarchy...

 and trade union
Trade union
A trade union, trades union or labor union is an organization of workers that have banded together to achieve common goals such as better working conditions. The trade union, through its leadership, bargains with the employer on behalf of union members and negotiates labour contracts with...

s. Michels's main argument is that like all organization
An organization is a social group which distributes tasks for a collective goal. The word itself is derived from the Greek word organon, itself derived from the better-known word ergon - as we know `organ` - and it means a compartment for a particular job.There are a variety of legal types of...

s, even those in theory most egalatarian and most committed to democracy - like socialist political parties - are in fact oligarchical, and dominated by a small group of leadership. The book also provides a first systematic analysis of how a radical political party loses its revolutionary goals under the dynamics of electoral participation. The origins of moderation theory
Moderation theory
Moderation theory is a set of interrelated hypotheses that explain the process through which political groups eschew radical platforms in favor of more moderate policies and prefer electoral, compromising and non-confrontational strategies over non-electoral, exclusive, and confrontational strategies...

 can be found in this analysis.


  • "Who says organization, says oligarchy."
  • "A party of the landed gentry which should appeal only to the members of its own class and to those of identical economic interests, would not win a single seat, would not send a single representative to parliament. A conservative candidate who should present himself to his electors by declaring to them that he did not regard them as capable of playing an active part in influencing the destinies of the country, and should tell them that for this reason they ought to be deprived of the suffrage, would be a man of incomparable sincerity, but politically insane."

See also

  • elite theory
    Elite theory
    In political science and sociology, elite theory is a theory of the state which seeks to describe and explain the power relationships in contemporary society. The theory posits that a small minority, consisting of members of the economic elite and policy-planning networks, holds the most power and...

  • Union Democracy
    Union Democracy
    Union Democracy: The Internal Politics of the International Typographical Union is a book by Seymour Martin Lipset, Martin Trow and James S...

  • The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism

Further reading

  • Gordon Hands, Roberto Michels and the Study of Political Parties , British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Apr., 1971), pp. 155-172, JSTOR
  • For a powerful critique of Michels see Colin Barker ‘Robert Michels and the “Cruel Game”’ in Colin Barker et al eds. Leadership and Social Movements (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001)

External links

  • Political Parties, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
  • Robert Michels index, a site featuring a translation of Political Parties by Eden
    Eden Paul
    Maurice Eden Paul, most commonly known simply as Eden Paul was a socialist physician, writer and translator.-Biography:...

     and Cedar Paul
    Cedar Paul
    Cedar Paul, née Gertrude Mary Davenport was a singer, author, translator and journalist.-Biography:Gertrude Davenport came from a musical family: she was the grand-daughter of the composer George Alexander Macfarren and the daughter of the composer Francis William Davenport...

     in PDF.
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