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First defined by German sociologist Robert Michels (1876-1936), this refers to the inherent tendency of all complex organizations, including radical or socialist political parties and labour unions, to develop a ruling clique of leaders with interests in the organization itself rather than in its official aims. These leaders, Michels argued, came to desire leadership and its status and rewards more than any commitment to goals. Inevitably, their influence was conservative, seeking to preserve and enhance the organization and not to endanger it by any radical action. Michels based his argument on the simple observation that day-to-day running of a complex organization by its mass membership was impossible. Therefore, professional full-time leadership and direction was required. In theory the leaders of the organization were subject to control by the mass membership, through delegate conferences and membership voting, but, in reality, the leaders were in the dominant position. They possessed the experience and expertise in running the organization, they came to control the means of communication within the organization and they monopolized the public status of representing the organization. It became difficult for the mass membership to provide any effective counterweight to this professional, entrenched, leadership. Michels also argued that these inherent organizational tendencies were strengthened by a mass psychology of leadership dependency, he felt that people had a basic psychological need to be led. See: OLIGARCHY / .

Last updated 2002--0-9-

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