iron law of oligarchy

… almost all such [democratic] organizations are characterized internally by the rule of a one-party oligarchy. That is, one group, which controls the administration, usually retains power indefinitely, rarely faces organized opposition, and when faced with such opposition often resorts to undemocratic procedures to eliminate it. This is especially true for national organizations.

There is, however, one trade union–the International Typographical Union (ITU), the organization of the men who set type in the print shops of North America–which does not fit this pattern. It is the only American trade union in which organized parties regularly oppose each other for election to the chief union posts, and in which a two-party system has been institutionalized.


Lipset et al., Union Democracy.

Robert Michels “Iron Law of Oligarchy” states, “It is organization which gives birth to the dominion of the elected over the electors, of the mandataries over the mandators, of the delegates over the delegators. Who says organization says oligarchy,” meaning, even the most democratic of institutions becomes in one way or another an oligarchy. The ITU is a deviant organization (Michels, 1911).

expect my next several posts to be excerpts from this book.