The story of the Scandinavian social democratic parties is one of impressive success. In terms of vote, office-holding and membership levels, they compare favourably with equivalents elsewhere. Parties exist simultaneously in different arenas: in the institutions of the state, in parliament, in the electoral marketplace and with organized social and economic groups. In this chapter, we examine the ways in which these three parties have responded to their changing political environments. In particular, we look at how they have addressed their declining strength in the parliamentary and electoral arenas by changing their internal organization and their relationships with one type of interest group, that representing organized labour.
Functional analysis of political parties has ascribed to them numerous different roles, but, perhaps above all, the party has often been seen as providing linkage between society and state (Katz 1990:143; Lawson 1980:1). The basic assumption was that society's political and economic preferences are diverse and often non-transitive, and that a party could overcome this social-choice problem by aggregating some of these interests (Almond et al. 1996:104-5). The party provided a forum in which groups would bargain and compromise and produce a policy platform that could be presented to a mass electorate. In the language of modern political analysis, the socio-economic groups were the principals, and the party the agent. The parties that were born out of the working classes of Western Europe around 1900 - those in Scandinavia as much as any - conformed most readily to this model. To use Korpi's (1981:321) phrase, they allowed the interests of labour to be carried beyond the industrial arena and into the political arena; the linkage they offered was thus 'participatory' (Lawson 1980:13-14). They were mass parties, created by organizations external to existing political institutions. Because, in Scandinavia, bureaucratic state apparatus had long been established, the party linked society and state via the promise of collective benefits through implementation of public policy, rather than through the disbursement of selective, clientelistic benefits (see Kitschelt 2000:858-9).