The Iron Law by Robert Michels, The Interior of Political Parties.


n the internal functioning of political parties, on the “iron law of the oligarchies” by Robert Michels.

“The organization is what gives rise to the dominance of the elected over the electors, of the leaders over the constituents, of the delegates over the delegates. Whoever says organization says oligarchy, what is crushes what should be ”.

(Robert Michels, 1909, “Iron law of the oligarchies”)

It is very important to know, although irrelevant in terms of the citizens’ concern in the political sphere, the functioning of the political parties within them, since it can help us not to make any naive mistakes and believe in the partisan propaganda that we are used to hearing about the functioning of political parties and what they tell us about the internal democracy of the groups. We are going to start by saying and pointing out that thanks to the study carried out on the functioning of Robert Michels at the beginning of the 20th century on political parties and the only one to date, we can know how political groups work within them.

We have to start from three essential points that Michels points out to us, which are;

-Individuals who know and handle complex issues are the elite, technocrats and the bureaucracy.

-There is no internal democracy, a strong leader who communicates is what is important.

-The leaders form a caste that supports each other, the masses are apathetic and their only interest is that they solve their problems and for that they choose their leaders from time to time.

In every political party elites are formed to control power and make decisions, they derive in three tendencies;

-The nature of the organization.

-Bureaucratic nature of the organization.

-Tendency to leadership.

Political parties are based on;

-The larger the organization, the more bureaucratic it becomes.

-A dichotomy is generated between efficiency and internal democracy.

-The psychology of the masses makes a strong leadership.

We could then define, in my opinion, what an oligarchy is, and it is as simple as saying that it is a form of government that power resides in a few people, although for the classical world, according to Aristotle, oligarchy is degeneration of the aristocracy.

According to different authors who talk about how to define what an oligarchy is, the Italian philosopher of political science Nomberto Bobbio (photo) (1909-2004), defines it as; a group of small, homogeneous, stable and well-organized power within, and with strong nuclei among its members, which governs in an authoritarian manner, reinforcing the executive, controlling the judiciary and marginalizing or excluding the (legislative) parliament, and discouraging or eliminating the opposition.

The Royal Academy of the Spanish language says that an oligarchy is; a form and government in which power is exercised by a group of people who come together to maintain their privileges, it also says that it is a reduced group of people who have power or influence in a certain social, economic or political sector.

After the collectivist governments succeed each other, the degree of oligarchy of political society increases, it is because processes of institutional involution are imposed that break the legal framework, we can put some examples such as the non-separation of powers, the non-independence of the judiciary , the non-independence of the legislative power, non-compliance with the law and internal non-democracy and illegal and non-transparent financing of political parties, collectivism and interventionism.

The characterization of oligarchy by the succession of collectivist governments; And it is what we have commonly and have lived together during practically the entire 20th century and part of the 21st, and it is the derivative of the collectivization to the oligarchy that ends up creating a religion and feeling the State as an authentic religion, everything depends and part of the State .

The characterization of a collectivist regime is derived in five points that are; the permanent increase in the size of the State, the crystallization of a political caste, the tyranny of the consumption of collectivist values, an institutional deterioration with an intervention to the legislature as we are very used to seeing, and as a result of the non-separation of powers, corruption systematic and systemic and generalized of all institutions.

Michels, shows that there is an iron law that is insurmountable, and to such an extent demonstrated that in the argument it shows a clear reality saying that it imposes out of necessity the political organizations that are the mass parties, to be directed by a small committee. This small committee cannot be renewed by means of internal party elections but by co-option, it is in short what Michels calls “the iron law of the oligarchies”. That study by the sociologist in 1911 has shown to this day that it is true, and that it happens in all countries, times and circumstances. There are no internal elections in any mass party. Although it is heard in the media that there are internal primary elections, it is not true, because in the end it will be the elite of the party apparatus who chooses to decide, that is, no one decides anything without the consent of the party elite.

For the democratic functioning of the governmental institutions of a country, it is totally irrelevant whether the internal functioning of a party is democratic or not; The first because it does not depend on the head of the party or the elite of the party that there is democracy or that it is a corrupt government or simply a bad government, that depends on the power structure as such, that is, that there is representation of the citizen and that the powers are radically separated. As in religions, for a believer it is not relevant who is in office or how they get there, the church for example is not democratic and it does not concern anyone, not being a believer, who commands within the institutions, who elects the bishops , the cardinals or the pope. It is the same in the army, when no military man or soldier cares how their senior positions are chosen. (An exception would be the Bolshevik army, where officers are chosen in soldiers’ elections.) It can only matter how a party or administration structure is chosen, whoever wants to participate or be part of it within it, but those who are outside are completely indifferent.

Aunque es cierto que una administración pública afecta directamente a los gobernados, aunque a estos les importe poco la manera de cómo se ingresen a tales administrativos dentro de la estructura y burocracia del Estado, les puede importar en algunos casos como cuando se eligen a dedo algunos de sus puestos. De tal manera que no le ha de importar al gobernado tampoco, la manera de cómo se elige al jefe de partido, lo que importa al gobernado es la competencia de este. Esa disciplina no viene de cómo estos sean elegidos o no, la razón es, que la administración pública funciona por una estructura jerárquica, de la misma manera que la iglesia o el ejército, y de la misma manera que los partidos políticos, que funcionan como una oligarquía, y nadie que no esté dentro de la asociación partidista no le atañe el modo de elección de sus elites. En resumen es que, un partido jamás será democrático en su interior, y el hecho de que un partido sea democrático o no en su seno, no sería motivo de mejor o de condición para un mejor o peor gobierno, tenga o no en su interior, carácter democrático o no. Que los niveles de corrupción de un país sean altos o bajos, no depende de que los partidos sean democráticos en su interior. Pensar que, porque un partido se riega en su interior democráticamente o no, algo que no puede suceder, pero, aunque así fuera, es una equivocación monumental, porque todo lo que se haga dentro de un partido, queda dentro del partido, es decir en la esfera interior y nunca en la esfera exterior.

To refer to any organization, be it associations, platforms, political parties or other groups that appear in any society, the first thing, we have to know that its internal structure does not affect at all those who support, are interested in or share its cause, to unless they want to be part of their inner game. The internal structure of any association or party can never be democratic, there is always a hierarchy, even if you want to pretend or convey something different, or the opposite. It always requires an elite or small group of individuals who manage, organize and decide the future plans and the way forward of said organization, that is, of any association or party, we will always be talking and as Michels demonstrated to this day and without any opposite demonstration in this regard is that the functioning of the structure of any organization of a partisan or associative nature will be pyramidal, the decisions will come from the top down.

I can justify what I say, since the cause of any organization has nothing to do with how it is governed inside, that is, the internal functioning of this is for those who are outside, totally irrelevant whether what is defended is defended. want to defend in it, because what someone may be interested in what that group, of whatever character, promotes is that their objective or their ideas go forward and not in the way that their bosses arrive at such positions. That can only matter to someone who wants to play on that field, but never to anyone who is out.


For this reason, I want to make it clear, in this article, that it refers to the most exact study to date regarding the internal functioning of associations, political parties or other social groups, how it works within political parties and how it really is. its internal structure. The study is done by the German sociologist that I want to emphasize, being a key piece in the study of political philosophy, known by some of you, his name is Robert Michels, in which he explains and details doing a study, I repeat, on the internal functioning of political parties and other social associations of the time at the beginning of the 20th century, and specifically about the German socialist parties, the work indicates the Iron Law of the oligarchies. 

Many of you will have heard or commented on television and other media about whether political parties are democratic in their midst that, if their internal programs are inclined to be, something totally irrelevant to the course of the political life of a country. Nothing that happens within any political organization or other associations is ever the concern of the governed, since there is a party leader or another does not change anything, as we have been saying, in how the governmental institutions of a country would function. It is only the problem of that organization and not of the citizens of a nation. That is why the blunder and confusion that exists in people to believe that, if a political association is democratic or not within it, it is better or that will make it so for all other citizens is a utopia and it is not It is also true, if that were possible, which it is not and cannot be, it would not cause there to be more or less democracy, or whether or not there would be more or less corruption, nor would anything change in the political sphere of the nation or in its institutions of government. 

What difference does it make to us whether or not the parties are democratic in their interior? What matters to us is whether the institutions guarantee the political freedom of election and revocation of the rulers. Whether or not a party or association is democratic in its interior is something that does not matter to anyone unless the intention is to participate in its game.

There is no political party that functions within it with democratic structures.

The only thing that should matter to an individual governed by any of society is the competition in the external sphere of these.

HR Antonio, March 28, 2021.

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