Michels, Robert

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

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.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.