Journal Article

Oligarchy in Miniature? Robert Michels and the Marburg Branch of the German Social Democratic Party

Andrew G. Bonnell

in German History

Volume 29, issue 1, pages 23-35
Published in print March 2011 | ISSN: 0266-3554
Published online March 2011 | e-ISSN: 1477-089X | DOI:
Oligarchy in Miniature? Robert Michels and the Marburg Branch of the German Social Democratic Party

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Robert Michels's work Political Parties is often seen as a founding text of modern political science, and its arguments on the tendency of democratic parties to become subject to oligarchical control by full-time functionaries are still widely cited today. The book's influence derives partly from elements of elite theory which Michels took from Pareto, Mosca, and other writers, and partly from the detailed, closely documented account which Michels provides of the pre-1914 German Social Democratic Party. Michels's portrait of the party has often been given particular credence by virtue of his personal involvement with the party over several years. To date, however, the details of Michels's involvement with the Social Democratic Party at the local branch level have not been systematically explored by scholars of his works. Michels’ involvement in the Social Democratic Party took place principally in the small university town of Marburg, a town which lacked any significant industrial working class. The unusual nature of Marburg's social and political profile meant that Michels's experience of Social Democratic politics at the local grass-roots level was anything but representative of the German labour movement as a whole.

Keywords: political science; oligarchy; Robert Michels; Social Democratic Party; Marburg; Reichstag

Journal Article.  7269 words. 

Subjects: European History

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