Democracy and the Iron Law of Oligarchy

Robert Michels

In “Democracy and the Iron Law of Oligarchy”, Michels revealed the nature of communism and capitalism. In the Marxist doctrine, the state is identified with the ruling class. The state is the executive committee of the ruling class, or the state is a “trade-union formed to defend the interest of the powers-that-be”. Similarly, capitalist society, divided into classes, has need of the state as an organization of the ruling class, whose purpose it is to maintain the capitalist system of production in its own interest and in order to effect the continued exploitation of the proletariat.

A party is neither a social unity nor an economic unity. It is based on its program. In theory, this program may be the expression of the interests of a particular class. In practice, anyone may join a party whether his interests coincide or not with the principles enunciated in the party program. Briefly, people are willing to be ruled. And any different regime is for the same purpose—to rule.

Michels thought that social organization is ruled by minority, who hold the supreme authority. The minority express people’s interests and make decisions on behalf of people. The end of democracy, whatever in any form of society and under any kind of party, is oligarchy, since the minority in oligarchy, they know how to cater for the majority’s willingness and rule them.

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