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?