• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

'All political parties are prey to the iron law of oligarchy.' Discuss

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

'All political parties are prey to the iron law of oligarchy.' Discuss The 'iron law of oligarchy' was a phrase first used by the German sociologist Roberto Michels in his book Political Parties, published in 1916. From historic insight and studies of both the German SPD and the Italian Socialist parties, Michels concluded that all parties, whatever their initial intensions, would be controlled by a political elite or oligarchy, who separated themselves, by the control of the bureaucracy, from the masses of their own party ranks. The reasons for this tendency towards oligarchy were the natural necessity for society to have a ruling class, the self fuelling desire for party officials to gain and retain power, and the effectiveness that centralised parties had in a political environment. Since 1916 Michels' work has gained a huge amount of support, particularly as the pressures of parties to centralise power is becoming more important in an increasingly competitive political world, but it is not without its critics. Opponents claim that Michels and his followers paint too black and white a picture and while there does seem to be a strong tendency for oligarchy to form, it can not be said to be an 'iron rule', as there are a number of examples where political parties have not taken on such a form. ...read more.

Middle

Thus for a firm / party to succeed there must be those that are willing to relinquish authority to others and others who are willing to accept it.7 Once these political organisation gain power the system become self perpetuating, due to two main factors; firstly the parties' political aims change with the preservation of the power becoming the primal goal above all others. This is what Michels described as the 'substitution of ends'- the official ends are abandoned and the organisation's survival becomes the real ends.8 Secondly the recently elevated party officials change as they leave the ranks of the masses and enter the political elite taking on board their issues, interests and values - they undergo their own 'substitution of ends'. This class movement is particularly significant in socialist parties where members will often come from the working classes and thus political power represents a new social base9 and often large financial incentives.10 This can lead to arrogance, with party member looking down upon the rank and file members11 and being convinced that their influence is essential for the party's survival and thus the search of further power is morally sound as it is in the party's interests.12 This is not entirely untrue, as Duverger stated 'The masses are naturally conservative; they become attached to their old leaders, they are suspicious of new faces'. ...read more.

Conclusion

Part of the problem is that Michels limited himself to the analysis of large / mass, capitalist parties, with national or regional aspirations. For many this is too narrower a plane to be able to make an empirical judgement about political parties as a whole, as virtually any social group can define itself as having political interests. It is also possible to point to a number of examples of parties which retain a certain aspect of democratisation, within their party ranks. Supporters of the 'iron rule' theory would counter this argument by claiming that these parties were not an exception to the rule, but just at the early stages, not having been given time to develop from its genetic phase. Like many sociological debates, it is not an argument that is close to being solved as the extent of debate far outweighs concrete evidence for either side.22 But as politics penetrates further into the people's everyday lives, politics is likely to be further polarised23 and political organisations of all kinds will have to become more centralised to compete on a level playing field with each other, giving increasing weight to the 'iron rule of oligarchy'. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree International Politics section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

5 star(s)

5/5

This is an excellent essay. It has a clear structure, detailed critical engagement with the literature, and a strong level of analysis. Conclusions are spelt out well and within a cohesive context. The range of reading is good and clearly thorough. I would have liked to see a bit more consideration of party competition as a factor, and some modern examples to this effect. This aside, this is a very adept answer to a difficult question.

Marked by teacher Grace Thomas 26/03/2012

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related University Degree International Politics essays

  1. Are states still the most powerful actors in global politics?

    A restriction of non-state actors is that NGOs which are internationally recognized are unable to use violence or aggression as a political tactic. (second argument) States possess ultimate sovereignty over their citizens.

  2. World would be a better place if more politicians were female. Do you agree?

    finance minister, and by 2005, Transparency International termed Nigeria as one of 21 most improved states.

  1. Does globalisation undermine the nation-state and national identities?

    ability to create conditions for growth and compensating for the effects of economic competition. Globalisation has ensured that the nation-state is now the enabler rather than the enforcer of economic activity and policy that it once was, meaning that its task is now to act in the 'public interest' and allowing the market to operate freely13.

  2. Text analysis- Give War a Chance

    According to Gasteyger(2006),global security is being increasingly determined by a rapidly shifting configuration of economic and technological forces, as well as by growing internal fragility and external dependence on vital resources. The predictability of action is also getting more and more diffuse.

  1. Kant's theory of international relations.

    and annoyance with "universal violence," that would displace the anarchic system with a "cosmopolitan constitution."10 Thus, Kant's very distinct separation from realist thought is his belief that peace was not a break in war but rather an end.11 Taken as a whole, Kant's theory can be explained in three phases.

  2. Compare the role of interest and pressure groups in the UK, France and Russia.

    This has led to a large, but organised and formal array of interest and pressure groups within the country. In contrast, the French system of interest groups has traditionally mistrusted interest groups. The development of interest group activity was hampered by the elite conception of the proper role of the state.

  1. Is Media the fourth branch of power? Discuss.

    The idea of the expression is to highlight how powerful media is, but it does not have any statutory or constitutional rights to be called a fourth branch of power in none of the countries. In this section it is possible to view four different examples of a link between

  2. What is globalisation and is it a new phenomenon?

    more to find Coca-Cola in rural Vietnam, accenture in Tashkent and Nike shoes in Nigeria. According to Nick Stern the former Chief Economist of the World Bank globalisation is not new. He actually suggests that there are three waves of globalisation among the years.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work