Iron law of oligarchy, a sociological thesis according to which all organizations, including those attached to democratic ideals and practices, will inevitably succumb to the domination of an elite (an oligarchy). The iron law of oligarchy claims that organizational democracy is an oxymoron. While elite control makes internal democracy untenable, it is also intended to shape the long-term development of all organizations—including the most rhetorically radical—in a conservative direction. One of the best-known exceptions to the iron law of oligarchy is the now-defunct International Typographical Union, described by Seymour Martin Lipset in his 1956 book Union Democracy.  Lipset points to a number of factors that existed at the ITU and are supposed to counteract this tendency towards bureaucratic oligarchy. The first, and perhaps most important, is how the union was formed. Unlike many other unions (e.g. the CWI`s United Steel Workers of America (USWA) and many other craft unions) that were organized from the top down, ITU had a number of large, strong local unions that valued the autonomy that existed long before the founding of the International. This local autonomy was reinforced by the economics of the printing industry, which operated in largely local and regional markets, with little competition from other geographical areas. The great inhabitants continued to jealously protect this autonomy from attacks by international officers. Second, the existence of factions helped curb the oligarchic tendencies that existed at the national headquarters. Executives who are not vetted tend to develop higher salaries and a more lavish lifestyle, which does not make them ready to return to their previous job.
But with a powerful faction ready to denounce profligacy, no leader dared to accept overly generous personal compensation. Both of these factors were mandatory in the case of ITU. Bureaucracy by design leads to the centralization of power by rulers. Leaders also have control over sanctions and rewards. They tend to promote those who share their views, which inevitably leads to an autonomous oligarchy. People rise to leadership positions because they have above-average political skills (see Charismatic Authority). As they advance in their careers, their power and prestige increase. Leaders control the information that flows through communication channels and censor what they don`t want the base to know.
Leaders will also allocate significant resources to convince the grassroots of the correctness of their views. This is compatible with most societies: people are taught to obey those in positions of authority. As a result, the rank and file shows little initiative and expects leaders to exercise judgment and give instructions to follow. Relying on the term oligarchy, a system in which many are ruled by a few, sociologist Robert Michels (1876-1936) coined the term iron law of oligarchy to refer to how organizations are dominated by a small autonomous elite. Most members of voluntary associations are passive, and a small circle of elites cling to power by handing over leadership positions to their members. Bureaucratization and specialization are the driving processes of the iron law. They lead to the rise of a group of professional administrators into a hierarchical organization, which in turn leads to the rationalization and routinization of authority and decision-making, a process first and perhaps best described by Max Weber, later by John Kenneth Galbraith, and to a lesser extent and more cynical by Peter`s principle. People are excluded from leadership because they do not represent the values of the inner circle – or, in some cases, their background. This applies even to organizations committed to democratic principles.
The iron law of oligarchy is, of course, not without limits. In this article, I will deal exclusively with the attempt to make the law of oligarchy understandable. The aim is to formulate the generalization as precisely as possible, to define its important terms and to indicate its sources of evidence. This is not an examination of what Michels “really meant”, but an examination of what he said, which is good political theory. I am free to make any changes or additions I deem necessary. But these changes will be above all questions of definition and logical organization. Titus Gregory argues that today`s student unions “have both oligarchic and democratic tendencies.” Unlike unions, they have ideologically diverse members and often have competitive democratic elections covered by independent campus media that protect their independence. These factors are strongly influences of democratization and create conditions similar to those described by Lipset in relation to ITU. However, Gregory argues that student unions can also be highly undemocratic and oligarchic due to the temporary membership of the students involved. Each year, between a quarter and a half of members are converted, and Gregory argues that this creates a situation where elected student leaders become dependent on student union staff for institutional memory and guidance. Since many student unions remove mandatory fees from their temporary membership, and many small colleges and/or suburban campuses can withdraw this money with little responsibility, oligarchic behavior is encouraged. For example, Gregory points out how often the student union`s voting rules “operate according to tyrannical rules and regulations,” often used by those in power to disqualify or expel potential candidates.
Gregory concludes that student unions “can resist the iron law of oligarchy” if they have “an engaged student community,” “independent student media,” a “strong tradition of freedom of information,” and an “impartial election authority” capable of handling elections fairly.  Michels explained that the official goal of representative democracy, to eliminate elite domination, is impossible, that representative democracy is a façade that legitimizes the domination of a particular elite, and that the domination of the elite, which he calls oligarchy, is inevitable. Michels later emigrated to Italy and joined Benito Mussolini`s fascist party, believing it to be the legitimate next step for modern societies. The thesis became popular again in postwar America with the publication of Union Democracy: The Internal Politics of the International Typographical Union (1956) and during the Red Scare of McCarthyism. The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory first developed by the German-born Italian sociologist Robert Michels in his book Political Parties published in 1911.  He argues that the domination of an elite or oligarchy as an “iron law” within any democratic organization is inevitable within the framework of the organization`s “tactical and technical necessities.”  One of the most interesting generalizations in the social sciences is Robert Michels` “iron law of oligarchy”. Comments on this hypothesis were generally motivated by a desire to attack or support it; Rarely has anyone made a serious attempt to understand it before passing judgment. Michels is partly responsible for this situation, as his account of the law of oligarchy is very confused and rather incomplete. Nevertheless, the idea that “oligarchies dominate” has a high degree of general credibility, and even the recognition that Michels` statement on this subject is inadequate and that his evidence is inconclusive does not destroy its intellectual appeal. The iron law became a central theme in the study of organized labor, political parties and pluralist democracy in the post-war period. While much of this research has essentially confirmed Michels` arguments, a number of important papers have begun to identify important anomalies and limitations of the brass law. The analysis of the International Typographic Union (ITU) by Seymour Lipset, Martin Trow and James Coleman, for example, showed that sustainable union democracy was possible because printers mastered relatively equal incomes and status, communication skills, and general political skills, underpinning ITU`s unusual history of supporting independents and progressives who reflected the American two-party system.