The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory, first developed by the German sociologist Robert Michels in his 1911 book, Political Parties. It claims that rule by an elite, or oligarchy, is inevitable as an “iron law” within any democratic organization as part of the “tactical and technical necessities” of organization.
According to Michels all organizations eventually come to be run by a “leadership class,” who often function as paid administrators, executives, spokespersons, political strategists, organizers, etc. for the organization. Far from being “servants of the masses,” Michels argues this “leadership class” will inevitably grow to dominate the organization’s power structures rather than its membership. Michels argues that democratic attempts to hold leadership positions accountable are prone to fail, since with power comes the ability to reward loyalty, the ability to control information about the organization, and the ability to control what procedures the organization follows when making decisions. All of these mechanisms can be used to strongly influence the outcome of any decisions made ‘democratically’ by members.
Michels stated that the official goal of representative democracy of eliminating elite rule was impossible, that representative democracy is a façade legitimizing the rule of a particular elite, and that elite rule, which he refers to as oligarchy, is inevitable.