Local Parties in Political and Organizational Perspective

By Martin Saiz; Hans Geser | Go to book overview
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5
Local Parties in the
German Countryside

HERBERT SCHNEIDER Institut für Politische, Germany

Editors' note: This chapter on local parties in small communities shows how national parties only slowly colonized the countryside. Initially, Germany's traditional small-town political culture, which stressed values of personalized trust and reputation, hampered the spread of the formal parties. Thus, local politics, even through the 1950s and 1960s, was dominated by local notables. As in Great Britain, the acceptance of parties locally was conditioned by territorial reforms adopted in the 1970s that diminished the numbers and increased the average size of communities. The larger communities, in turn, offered more professional and powerful political positions, making it more attractive for parties to engage in competition for community power and for party candidates to seek political careers in local political arenas. In the process, the hitherto informal "free voters' groups" were forced to adopt more complex formalized structures in order to remain competitive with the newly founded sections of the three national parties.

Because patronage jobs are limited in smaller communities, German local parties make extensive use of social activities (like bowling events, Christmas parties, and so forth) to further member cohesion. At the same time, Schneider observes, though local parties are quite strong in recruitment functions, they remain quite weak in programmatic activities. When it comes to policies, inhabitants of small German communities tend to suppress overt political conflict to the point of avoiding political topics in private conversation. Thus, politics in small German communities is still guided by the assumption (characterized by "free voters' groups") that community issues should be decided by "objective" criteria. The elaboration of ideology and programs is still left to higher levels.

The Federal Republic of Germany, like other European countries, is highly populated. When speaking of Germany, we therefore imagine

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