Parties and Party Systems: A Framework for Analysis

By Giovanni Sartori | Go to book overview

Chapter
four
the party from within

1. FRACTIONS, FACTION AND TENDENCIES

By studying parties we imply that the party is a meaningful unit of analysis. Yet we go above the party as a unit, for we also study the party system. By the same token we can go below the party as a unit and study, thereby, the party subunits. Even if the party is the major unit of analysis, the analysis is incomplete unless it probes how these subunits enter – and alter – the party. As Eldersveld well puts it, in and by itself the party is [a miniature political system. It has an authority structure…. It has a representative process, an electoral system, and sub-processes for recruiting leaders, defining goals, and resolving internal system conflicts. Above all, the party is a decision-making system….]1 As the foregoing suggests, there are many ways of studying parties from within – as many, almost, as there are of studying political systems themselves. Two lines of inquiry, however, have received most of the attention: The issue of intra-party democracy, and the organisational approach.

The first goes back to Michels' 'iron law of oligarchy' and has been, in effect, the major focus and concern in the study of intra-party processes.2 Even though one would not expect totalitarian and authoritarian parties to practice democracy within their ranks any more than they practice democracy in the management of the polity, nevertheless the single party often claims, today, to be internally democratic. Hence one must decide, first, whether a given form is democratic and, second, whether the form corresponds to the substance of democracy. Given the variety of yardsticks by which 'democracy' can be assessed, the problem posed by Michels is likely to remain an endlessly debated issue. But whether intra-party processes are really democratic is not my concern here.

The organisational approach is more recent: It was prompted by Duverger and leads the study of parties into the general area of organisation theory. To be sure, the study of the organisational structure has a bearing on the democracy issue, for a democratic process requires certain structures and not others. On the other hand, organisation theory is concerned with organisational problems, not with democracy – let alone that a structure may be democratic and the actual processes oligarchic or pseudo-democratic. The organisational focus pursues, then, its own

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