Robert Michels

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Michels, Robert


Born Jan. 9, 1876, in Cologne; died May 3, 1936, in Rome. Historian, economist, and sociologist. German by birth; became an Italian citizen in 1926. Taught history, economics, and sociology at the Universities of Brussels, Basel, Rome, Turin, and Perugia from 1903.

Michels was influenced by the ideas of V. Pareto and G. Mosca. He studied social classes in bourgeois society and the political role of the intelligentsia. In his principal work, Political Parties: A Sociological Study of the Oligarchic Tendencies of Modern Democracy (1911), he proposed his “iron law of oligarchy” in bourgeois democracy. The law states that democracy is restricted by the need for organization based on an “active minority,” or elite, since “the direct rule of the masses is technically impossible” and leads to the destruction of democracy. Michels also warned against the dangers of “bossism” in democratic organizations.

On the eve of World War I, Michels broke with the German and Italian socialist movements, in which he had worked for several years, and sharply criticized Marxism. Toward the end of his life he praised fascism. Lenin noted Michels’ superficiality but acknowledged that he had collected valuable information in his book on Italian imperialism (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27, pp. 14—15). Michels’ reactionary views were criticized by Italian Communists, especially Gramsci (Izbr. proizv., vol. 2, 1957, p. 63; vol. 3, 1959, pp. 137–38).


Proletariat und Bourgeoisie in der sozialistischen Bewegung Italiens, vols. 1–2. Tübingen, 1905–06.
Zur Soziologie des Parteiwesens in der modernen Demokratie. Berlin, 1911.
Probleme der Sozialphilosophie. Leipzig-Berlin, 1914.
Problemi di sociologia applicata. Turin, 1919.
Corso di sociologia politico. Milan, 1927.
Studi sulla democrazia e sulVautorita. Florence, 1933.
Nuovi studi sulla classe politico. Rome, 1936.
In Russian translation:
Chto takoe patriotizm. Kiev, 1906.


References in periodicals archive ?
Robert Michels said at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.
Fine connoisseur of the German and Italian social-democratic movement, Robert Michels has tried to apply Vilfedo Pareto and especially Gaetano Mosca's elite theory to the capitalist working class.
Referring to a party or a union, the same Robert Michels was saying "the mechanism of organization gives it a solid structure and, at the same time, determines important changes at the level of the organized mass.
Although Robert Michels in his study had in view the working class from the capitalist society, his theory is still valid in the case of the working class from the socialist society.
Justice of the Peace Robert Michels fined the city $50,000 under the Occupational Health and Safety Act, while the supervisor was fined $2,000
Who says organization, says oligarchy," wrote German sociologist Robert Michels in a treatise called Iron Law of Oligarchies.
In his discussion of SDS, Ellis raises a deep analytical issue that relates to what the German sociologist Robert Michels, in his 1911 book Political Parties, called the "iron law of oligarchy.