Sunday 8 November 2009

Cadre Parties and Mass Parties

Following last week's foray into political science, I thought I'd post up a slightly rejigged presentation I gave five years back on cadre parties and mass parties. In the absence of blogging inspiration I hope at least some readers will find it of interest.

The formal structure of the majority of parties in West European liberal democracies is based on an extensive permanent organisation supported by a mass membership. However these party structures are a comparatively recent development, emerging relatively late as Europe was industrialising and coincident with the development of mass suffrage. In this presentation we will be tracing the roots of the mass party to social and political developments in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, looking at cadre parties, the relationship between the two, their respective structures and possible futures.
Max Weber in his famous lecture Politics as a Vocation, looked at party origins in elite politics and the subsequent “massification” of politics. Beginning his account with medieval Italian city-states, proto-party formations were essentially a personal followings of notables. As a loose association tied to their patron’s ambitions they did not espouse any kind of coherent politics independently of their master’s beliefs. For Weber this situation was also a common characteristic of Britain’s polity from the late medieval period up until the 1832 English Reform Act. For example, if an aristocrat or a ‘notable’ switched their allegiances, their party/retinue would automatically follow suit.

Following the Reform Act, the familial, ideological, and economic interests around which these groupings were organised gradually adopted a more permanent character. Under the impact of the struggles of the petit-bourgeoisie and emerging working class, a cohesive centre of gravity started developing around parliamentary representatives and their relationship with the notables that nominated/elected them. This relationship was mutually beneficial for a number of reasons. The representatives acted to secure their notable allies' interests through their privileged access to the state. In turn the notables would assist in their election (the absence of organisation outside the main cities meant the representative had to rely on friendly notables for political action in many locations). Eventually these arrangements assumed a more permanent character.

Despite this symbiotic relationship, for Weber the structural location of representatives predisposed them toward the professionalisation of politics. He argued, “members or parliament are interested in the possibility of inter-local electoral compromises, in vigorous and unified programmes endorsed by broad circles, and in a unified agitation throughout the country. In general, these interests form the driving force of a party organisation which becomes more and more strict” (The Advent of Plebiscitarian Democracy, in Mair, P. (ed.) 1990
The West European Party System, pp.33-4).

Initially this form assumed continuity with the past, and Weber uses the French Third Republic to illustrate his point. Here party structures relied on linkages between representatives and notables. Programmes were drafted by either candidates, patrons, or from cribbing together parliamentary resolutions – or sometimes all three.

If one was to take a strict institutional approach to these parties, it could be argued their party structure is best suited to a party system in which the masses are excluded from the political process, and where competitive politics is the preserve of elites.

Therefore a number of conclusions about early parties can be made from Weber’s arguments:

1) Parliamentary politics was primarily an elite affair. Parties were essentially just linkages between representatives and local elites (notables) that served their mutual interests.

2) Parties were more or less informal networks shaped by economic, ideological, and familial interests and affinities. Crucially they had no independent life outside the representative-notable nexus.

3) Despite the mutually beneficial relationships between the elites, parliamentary representatives had a clear interest in the institutionalisation of parties.
Maurice Duverger in his 1951 seminal work, The Political Parties explored the structure of this system in greater depth, teasing out the proto-party organisation that existed during the period of representative-notable domination. For Duverger parties here were federations of caucuses. In keeping with the relationships described by Weber, Duverger argued the caucus is a de facto autonomous group of notables: it has no formal membership, no desire to expand its numbers, and new “members” can only be co-opted or nominated. The power and influence of the caucus rests on the quality of its members, the composition of which depended on its political orientation. For example, conservative caucuses were made up of notables drawn from aristocratic, industrialist, banking, and ecclesiastical backgrounds. Liberal/radical caucuses on the other hand consisted of small business notables, journalists, lawyers, and so on. In organisational terms these caucuses provided the base for the representative’s electoral committees. When these committees began to sustain a permanent existence between elections, the caucuses also underwent transformation, becoming party caucuses. This point marked the birth of the cadre party.

Neumann (1956) classified these as parties of individual representation. But toward the end of the 19th century parties with a fundamentally different orientation were developing. These were, for the most part, organised outside of the parliamentary system and were concerned with representing groups (usually the working class or large religious minorities) locked out of the political process. This was the party of social integration, an organisation of permanent fees-paying members committed to achieving collective political objectives and, as a by-product, simultaneously socialised its adherents into set of political values and norms. As opposed to the cadre parties who had few members but made up for it from their "quality", the strength of the mass party rested on its numbers.

For Duverger the basic unit of the mass party lay in its branch structure. Unlike the caucus the branch has an extensive character. Its primary purpose is to recruit new members to the party, adding them to the overall resource pool available to the party. Further differences include its dependence on the wider (national) party, its geographical specificity (allowing it to keep in close contact with members and supporters in a given location), and its permanence. In contrast to a caucus that may only exist at election time, the branch is an institution carrying out a number of political activities at any one time.

In addition a number of mass parties – especially but not exclusively those Duverger labelled ‘devotee’ parties - complimented their branch structures with other basic units: cells and militias.

The ‘cell’ had a structure very similar to the caucus of the cadre party: its primary consideration was employing the quality of its adherents to achieve a set of political objectives in a given field of operation. Though only a mass party in terms of formal structure, the Communist Party in the 1930s built a number of cells in the Burnley cotton mills with the express purpose of increasing the general effectiveness of workplace organisation, issuing party propaganda, and recruiting workers to the local party branch (but not the cell). Cell membership was on the basis of formal co-option and comprised experienced activists and militants.

The ‘militia’ is the paramilitary wing of a party and tend only to emerge at times of generalised crisis and/or military struggle. For example, all the parties of inter-war Germany had militias attached to them.

In sum the basic distinction between cadre and mass parties lies in their structure. As Duverger puts it “what the mass party secures by numbers, the cadre party achieves by selection”. (cit Mair 1990, p.42). This is not to say the two types stand in absolute isolation from one another. For example the cadre party did not completely die out with the achievement of mass suffrage. In some countries the masses began working through the existing party system, giving the caucuses an opportunity to influence them. For Duverger such attempts inevitably led them to adopt mass-modes of organising, meaning the caucus was superseded by modern party organisation. Similarly other cadre parties opened their doors to mass membership but still primarily relied on its pre-existing caucus structure for finance and policy determination. Nevertheless the adoption of a branch system, a “contagion” mass socialist parties were responsible for in Duverger’s opinion, was necessary if a party was to survive in the long term.

The suggestion that the adoption of the mass party structure is primarily the result of working class political mobilisation has been the subject of some debate. Whereas Duverger labelled it “the contagion from the left”, others have seen the developments of party organisation in terms of electoral competition. For example
Leon Epstein in his 1967 book, Political Parties in Western Democracies viewed the American party system as the most perfect expression of electoral politics. The caucus-like structures of the Republicans and Democrats meant they were flexible enough to adapt to new modes of political communication the mass media offered. Their proven ability to attract funding from elites for the more expensive media-based campaigns has circumvented the need for a large party machine with its mass membership, This has resulted in a ‘contagion from the right’. Colin Crouch in his 2004 booklet, Post-Democracy agrees, pointing to the manifestation of a number of analogous features in British politics from the late 80s.

If these arguments are taken to their logical conclusion, mass parties could well turn out to be a passing phenomenon. Current trends seem to be favouring a hybrid form of party, similar the old cadre parties albeit with a (smaller) mass membership. Here the members are locked out of meaningful policy making decisions. If this is the case, will the experience of founding mass parties against those already part of the system have to be repeated?


Dave Semple said...

This is one of the reason I worry about the development of a British system of primaries. The American system is unsurpassed at appearing democratic, whilst in reality abolishing the checks on money in politics - the volunteer activist cadres who carry the traditions of party and class with them.

What I find interesting as well is that Weber's (and many others too) idea that politics in historical eras were factional rather than class based is intriguing. Obviously various politicians carry a professional coterie, who rely for sustenance on the politician - a bit like the aristocratic factions, where the 'leader' chose his own direction and everyone else followed. Ancient Rome was like this too.

Most irritating, however, is the argument that this sort of factional politics precludes class struggle. Obviously the nature of factional struggle was shaped by wider material and class oppositions in society.

One of the mistakes I find this side in historical political science to make all too often is that when they can't see a clear 'good guy' - in the absence of a 'universal' class like the proletariat - they begin to abandon the notion of class altogether.

(My apologies, I could probably word all that better, but it's late and I'm tired. May come back to it in a proper essay).

Simon said...

Would you agree that the principle internal project of New Labour has been the increasing cadrification (I know it's not a word) of the Labour Party as a whole?

I'm thinking in terms of encouraging the voluntary self-purge of the mass membership, the transfer of decision making power from the membership to the MP cadre and co-opted think tanks and the increasing focus on professional politicians rather than intra-party democracy.

Dave Riley said...

The only complication being that you counterpose "mass" to "cadre" which tends to suggests that a "cadre" party cannot be a "mass" party.

And you then resort to a rather unMarxist (but very sociologicalese) distinction,"In sum the basic distinction between cadre and mass parties lies in their structure."

I think the difference is in what they do, not necessarily how they organise themselves.

This is where all the bull written about 'democratic centralism' goes wrong. It presumes a certain rigidity of form when the whole concept is very fluid in application. Done right, "democratic centralism' is both a self evident form of organising and the most democratic form of organising parties.But it presumes enagagement by the membership in contrast to the way a passive or ruled membership is not engaged.

It is not about being locked out of decision making in the way you rule on cadre parties.

In our shift here with the DSP -- a cadre party -- into merge mode in the Socialist Alliance the question of preserving cadre and growing new ones is top of the list of things to do.

With the intention of not relying on a separate from to do it the transition should make for an interesting experience which, like the LCR transition in France -- proves or disproves the viability of cadreisation within broad parties.

I point out that the SPP also travelled that route and while the SSP doesn't refer to itself in those terms it has always been a cadre party.

While we are leaving out programatic issues, I like to look upon cadre as a bunch of people who return to the attack again and again. And they will not return to the attack again and again unless what they attack with -- their program -- is something they agree with wholeheartedly (as being correct) and which they had a big say in deciding. Similarly who leads them into attack has to be those who the cadre folk have absolute confidence in so how these leaders are elected is another key element in the mix.

ModernityBlog said...

I think it is also worthwhile to look at the downside to Party cadres and the various levels of (informal) membership that have existed in a variety of quasi-Leninist groups.

I'd suggest that they almost breed a "leaders and the led" mentality, which ultimately is unhelpful.

Mark P said...


While the SSP may have been a "cadre party" in some of the senses described in this article, it's important to note that back when it mattered an absolute majority of its members were people who bunged it a few quid a year and otherwise had little contact with it.

Now you could be cynical and suggest that this also true of quite a few self-proclaimed cadre parties, but the SSP never regarded this as a serious problem. They weren't ignoring their definition of membership so as to bulk up numbers: That really was their definition of membership.

What the SSP is like in this regard now I couldn't tell you. It's an irrelevance.

Phil said...

This is generally the problem I have with political science, Dave. As a social science discipline it stands second only to economics in terms of formalism, crass positivism and adoption of the disciplinary trappings of the natural sciences. Unlike sociology there are no clashes between rival perspectives, and certainly none of the conceptual fuzziness you can find there. Political science is merely a structural-functionalist perspective married to rational choice theory, and carries with it all the problems those approaches entail.

To the other Dave, I know this isn't a Marxist piece. It was a presentation I gave on these ideas as part of my old MRes degree. As I knew less about political science than your average first year undergrad at the time, it was about examining the ideas as I understood them.

It's also worth pointing out that in the political science jargon cadre parties are very different from how Marxists understand the term. This has probably got more to do with post-war political science mainly developing in countries without mass or politically significant communist parties (America, Britain, West Germany, Scandinavian countries, etc) than anything else.

Phil said...

Yes Simon, I do believe that's the case. What's been interesting is how as New Labour have moved in this direction, the Tories have been crawling very slowly in the other direction. Remember, David Cameron is the first Tory leader to have been voted in by the membership as a whole.

Dave Riley said...

It's a pity that the sociologists should have the floor , so to speak, as the topic is rather important.

Mark P touches on what is a contradictory phenomenon in reference to the SSP: that you can have cadre coexisting with non cadre in the same party organisation.

The SWP played with this notion a bit when it talked about its "united front of a special kind" -- a place where revolutionaries and reformists mix and match. But I don't necessarily see any useful point in making the distinction during day to day activity.Most of the time it isn't going to matter except when the debate warms up.

Everyone who has ever been "a cadre" has had their off days, months or years and in the sense we were discussing it here, the cadre concept could be extended to include the natural leaders of the working class.

My point is that this is a political concept not one necessarily about energy and output but a sort of serious focus on the party tasks and perspectives.

The way it is often used implies that you have to be a 24 hour Bolshevik to win -- and hold onto -- your cadre badge.

Where cadreisation does matter, of course, is in regard to party democracy in that there should be no distinction between deciders and doers.That's a key element I think which many crude adaptions of Lenin's party concepts fail to recognise or apply.

So in that sense a true cadreisation implies a thorough going activism plus a thorough going democracy.

Here in Australia in debates in the SA --= the ISO (local IST affiliate) opposed the creation of an activist oriented party.In fact they baited those who wanted to create a new party with the activism accusation. In a sense they were promoting membership passivity when the challenge is to fight against that without making 'activism' a requisite of membership or voting

Our collective problem is that at the moment, with the current level of struggle and the thwarted traditions we are dealing with, dedicated activist parties -- cadre parties --are rather small affairs, with a shallow growth curve ahead of them.And every one of them is prone to sectdom.

That's a major problem.THE major problem I think. So advancing the struggle isn't simply about pulling people together under the one party banner,nor is it a matter of injecting the coming together with some socialist politics. It is more than this because we have to convince new layers that activity is the key while inspiring older layers to return to the struggle.

And to do that, you have to trade in your shibboleths and open your tradition up to a new partnership culture that does not rely so much on disciplined loyalty. It also requires a very broad approach to inclusiveness.

That's the difficult route that you have to navigate.It's the struggle imperative.There is no other way to do political business.

Dave Riley said...

If I can add one further point -- more for the sake of my own thinking through rather than for some other reason: what distinguishes non aligned sections of new party formations can be a desire to "decide" while others "do".

There's this penchant to want to rule the party senatorially with the right to veto anything they so desire.

The complication is that the 'cadre' are often the ones who are working so hard at the coal face and in effect, the 'senators' seek to direct them.

I think this is a major complication in these new party formations whilst an "aligned" and "non aligned" mindset persists.

In effect our problem on the left -- an anti-party sentiment -- gets played out in many contexts, even among those who may be in a party or seek to form a new one.

And really there's not much you can do about it except prove in practice what can work by actually doing the work together.That requires strict adherence to openness, inclusive discussions, consensual processes rather than line ball decisions.

And on both sides, always keeping "your w eyes on the prize".