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All political parties are prey to the iron law of oligarchy

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 5 (1200 words)
Categories: Law, Political Parties
Downloads: 43
Views: 84

 

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’.

(Duverger)13

Few have found Michels’ judgments easy to disprove, although some do see the ‘iron rule’ theory as an over simplistic way of describing party activity which does not take into account the vast numbers of political parties, each with their own aims and goals. Angelo Panebianco is one such political scientist, claiming that the theory does not explain why some parties actively penalise themselves, by pursing policies which do not appeal to the electorate en masse – he uses the French Communist Party and European Green parties as examples of this.

14 Panebianco agrees with most of Michels’ assertions, but claims that while parties do seem to have a tendency to take on oligarchic rule they would always retain some of the characteristics of the original or genetic form. 15 So if a party is created ‘indirectly’ it will always retain a certain commitment to a democratic and feudal organisation, such as the French Socialist Party, who are still highly fractionalised or Swiss parties that are still organised through cantons.

16 There is also a slightly different argument claiming that while ‘indirect’ parties do have a tendency to form oligarchies, these oligarchies are dispersed throughout the party, forming sub-oligarchies, preventing a centralised elite within the party. 17 The ‘iron law of oligarchy’ also makes a number of assumptions about political parties which are not always justified; It assumes that there is a certain amount of unity among the political elite in the party, which is very rarely completely true, as many officials will still hold allegiances to different territorial areas, or sections of society.

A study by the trio of Lipset, Trow and Coleman, proved that political parties did not always form oligarchies, by studying the democratically formed International Typographers Union in America. They found that oligarchies were not created because the workers had developed a high level of collective pride in their institution and that the financial incentive lay not in heading a Trade Union, but by gaining prominence in the craft.

18 Examples like this have led to people devaluing the ‘iron law’ as a rule of political science – LaPalombara and Weiner described it as ‘defective as a empirical theory or even as an heuristic tool. ’19 pointing also to the fact that oligarchies have only come into place in recent years in countries which have had their democracies threatened and feudal parties have a chance of survival in countries of democratic stability. 20 This is why in America a large amount of political power within parties lies at the state level. 21.

There are few if any academics who will argue against a common tendency for political organisation to produce an oligarchy of elites, but to what extent Michels’ theory can be described as an ‘iron rule’ still seems debatable. 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’.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Bartolini, S & Mair, P, Party Politics in Contemporary Western Europe, Cass, 1985. Duverger M, Politcal Parties, Thomas Nelson, 1954 Duverger, Party Politics and Pressure Groups, Thomas Nelson, 1972. Graham, B D, Representative and Party Politics, Blackwell, 1993.

Gallagher, Laver & Mair, Representative Government in Modern Europe, McGraw-Hill, 1995, 2 ed. LaPalombara, J & Weiner M, Political Parties and Political Development, Princetown 1966. Michels, R. Political Parties, Jarrold, 1916. Orum, A M, Introduction to Political Sociology, Prentice Hall, 1987. Panebianco, Political Parties: Organisation and Power, Cambridge, 1992. Ware, A, Political Parties and Party System, Oxford, 1996. 1 Michels, R. Political Parties, Jarrold, 1916, p399. 2 Michels, R. Political Parties, Jarrold, 1916, p402 3 Graham, B D, Representative and Party Politics, Blackwell, 1993, p64.

4 Panebianco, Political Parties: Organisation and Power, Cambridge, 1992, p6. 5 Gallagher, Laver & Mair, Representative Government in Modern Europe, McGraw-Hill, 1995, 2 ed, p 243. 6 LaPalombara, J & Weiner M, Political Parties and Political Development, Princetown 1966, p135. 7 Graham, B D, Representative and Party Politics, Blackwell, 1993, p60. 8 Panebianco, Political Parties: Organisation and Power, Cambridge, 1992, p15. 9 Ware, A, Political Parties and Party System, Oxford, 1996, p 110. 10 Orum, A M, Introduction to Political Sociology, Prentice Hall, 1987, p212.

11 Gallagher, Laver & Mair, Representative Government in Modern Europe, McGraw-Hill, 1995, 2 ed, p 251. 12 Orum, A M, Introduction to Political Sociology, Prentice Hall, 1987, p212. 13 Duverger M, Politcal Parties, Thomas Nelson, 1954, 116. 14 Panebianco, Political Parties: Organisation and Power, Cambridge, 1992, p6. 15 Graham, B D, Representative and Party Politics, Blackwell, 1993, p56. 16 Gallagher, Laver & Mair, Representative Government in Modern Europe, McGraw-Hill, 1995, 2 ed, p243. 17 Ware, A, Political Parties and Party System, Oxford, 1996, p 214.

18 Orum, A M, Introduction to Political Sociology, Prentice Hall, 1987, p214. 19 LaPalombara, J & Weiner M, Political Parties and Political Development, Princetown 1966, p71. 20 LaPalombara, J & Weiner M, Political Parties and Political Development, Princetown 1966, p71. 21 Graham, B D, Representative and Party Politics, Blackwell, 1993, p55. 22 LaPalombara, J & Weiner M, Political Parties and Political Development, Princetown 1966, p71. 23 LaPalombara, J & Weiner M, Political Parties and Political Development, Princetown 1966, p76.

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All political parties are prey to the iron law of oligarchy. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/political-parties-prey-iron-law-oligarchy-11425-new-essay

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