Government and politics political parties

What is a Political Party?

A political party is a group of people who come together with similar ideas to contest the election in order to hold governmental power. The party has some proposed policies and programs in a view to promote welfare and development. Their immediate aim is to determine their ideas, win the election and operate the government within their specific time and then formulate planned policy programs. They follow an ideology and have their ideas in written platforms with specific goals.

Political parties around the world do a variety of works. They are an essential part of democracy. They have undergone exclusive transformation since its inception.

In the 19th century Europe and America the idea of democracy flourished and with that, the new young form of a political party was developed. It was usually some aristocratic and monarchical regimes that prevailed and the policies involved saw an overrun of factions and groups who were competing to hold the power.

In the 20th century, political parties spread all over the world. There are different types of political parties today. After the end of second world war, with the rise of newly independent states, the nature of political parties changed. There became more explicit, vaster and their areas became vaster than earlier. Socialist parties, military forms, large modern parties based on ethnicity, race or religious affiliations have been found.

Nature of Political Parties

Political parties perform varieties of tasks. They are very important to democracy. Their importance lies in the fact that democracy cannot function without political parties. They bring people to form the government, formulate policies in favour to their ideology. Their basic aim is to win the elections or win as many seats as possible so that they can get the control of the government. Here, we have to understand that political parties are not the government, they are just a platform where candidates contest the election and gain leverage for controlling the political power. Political parties represent the people (groups as well as individuals) in the government.

They shape the form of a political system of the country. They are the reflection of the kind of society and the political behaviour of the system. They aim to advance their political interests and gain support from the people. Political parties are the result of the socio-economic-cultural and political factors that prevail in the society. A multicultural society with vast diversities in social, economic, political, cultural, religious and linguistics are bound to follow the multi-party system. Besides, the political party which came into existence as a result of a single ideology such as Marxist Communism is bound to follow a single party-political system.

Role of Political Parties

All Political parties have 4 critical roles in their functioning:

  • Selection: Political parties select and nominate the candidates for the elections. They narrow their search to few credible candidates among their many members which essentially simplifies the voter’s choices.
  • Mobilization: Political parties organize and inform the voters by sending out brochures, campaigns, organizing meetings and hold conferences and debates. Parties usually have a vast network of party workers that help in promoting their ideology and in getting information as much as needed to the voters. They also have fundraising campaigns as a part of generating funds and finances to carry forward their works.
  • Facilitation: They facilitate their role in policy legislation and implementation. The party in power and the opposition work alongside in order to achieve a common goal.
  • Monitoring: The political party (opposition party) act as the public watchdog in order to create an atmosphere free of corruption and to check domination by one party.

Types of Political Parties

One party system

One Party system is also known as the Single party system. In a one-party system, the political power is concentrated in one political party only. It usually degenerates to an autocratic or dictatorial form of government. Elections conducted will be among their own members where they fill out the forms and the people have to choose among them for different positions. Such governments are often Communists (North Korea, Cuba and China). The opposition is considered harmful to the government. For example, the Fascist party in Italy, the Nazi party in Germany, the Soviet in USSR.

Two party system

The two-party system prevails where there are two main political parties. Other parties might exist but they might not have any direct relevance in elections. America and UK have the most important two parties political system in the world. In America, the two dominant parties are the Republican and the Democrats. In Britain, it is the Labour party and the Conservative party which dominates the UK politics. The two parties in the contest may hold the power at regular intervals or they may share the political power from time to time.

Multi-party system

In a Multi-Party system, there are multiple numbers of political parties which are actively involved in political processes. India, France, Switzerland, Japan and Italy are the best example of this system. There is chronic political instability in Italy and France as the coalition parties are often in conflict with each other and their actions prove to promote insecurity in the political scenario. In India, the major parties are the Congress, BJP, CPI, CPM, BSP. This system has resulted in the emergence of coalition politics in today’s India.

Left Right Political Alternative

The left - right political alternative is used to describe a basic course of direction or position. Left and right opinionated groups are often termed as opposed to each other. An individual is either a leftist or a rightist when describing their political thoughts. The left-wing group is often emphasized by ideas influenced by freedom, equality, fraternity, progress, reforms and internationalism while the right wing is often denoted by ideas such as hierarchy, nationalism, order and duty, traditions and authority. Usually, political scientists and analysts club the Left as anarchists, communists, socialists, liberals and progressives. The Rightists are clubbed as conservatives, Christian Democrats, imperialists, reactionary, monarchists, fascists and traditionalists.

In dealing with various political behaviour we often come across terms like the radicals, liberals, moderate, conservative and reactionary. It is very important to understand their political positions in the spectrum. People on the right are often characterized as those who adore authority, tradition, religion, elitism and property rights and those on the left adore political liberty, social change, human equality and rights. The Radicals lie in the extreme left in the spectrum while the Reactionary lie in the extreme right.

Radicals are those who are extremely discontented with the status quo. Therefore, they constantly aim to bring about a revolutionary change in the society. The Liberals are also somewhat dissatisfied with the system but do not seek a radical change in the system. They share a common belief in equality, intelligence and competition of all people. The Moderates, on the other hand, find very little dissatisfaction within the existing society and may or may not want to bring about a change in the society. Conservatives are sceptical about any change in the society as they believe in holding onto the traditions and age old shared values that have passed down in history. The Reactionaries reject all kinds of current prevailing institutions and values. They believe in retracing steps in old societal values.

Historically, the left wing is associated with liberalism which advocates for increased social equality, awareness and rights and believed in the power of the people to influence the government. Liberalism rejects the idea that the age-old tradition is better at governing than people. The actually want the transfer of rule of law to rule of men. The right wing, on the other hand, is usually described as conservatives who advocate for continuity of old traditions and customs (monarchy, caste systems, religious supremacy etc) on the basis that this system will help in maintaining order.

Major Political Ideologies

A political ideology is a set of beliefs and principles to be followed in pursuing a political interest. Over the course of history, scholars and philosophers have elaborated and debated on ideological discourses on ways of governing the society. This has ultimately culminated today into some notable political ideologies of organizing the form of governments.

LIBERALISM

Liberalism is a broad political ideological spectrum founded on the idea of equality and freedom. They adopt various views depending on the foundational basis of freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, free markets, civil rights, democratic societies, secular governments, and international cooperation.

Liberalism set foot in Europe for the first time in the 1500s. There were a series of events which changed the entire course of history in the world: The discovery of America, rise of Protestant belief, the emergence of free market economy and rise in the early application of scientific knowledge and great inventions. In Europe 1600s, a type of new classic liberalism emerged as a political ideology with the release of John Locke’s books and essays. It magnified individual’s rights and aimed to transform the relationship between the government and the people. These ideas formed the basic foundation of today’s political system.

The French Revolution of 1789 also marked the end of monarchism, nepotism and old tradition of authoritarian government. It attacked the traditional laws and traditions, the church and all the age-old habits and customs which burdened the society.

Main Concepts of Liberalism

The major concepts of liberalism are:

  • Individualism: The individual is characterized to be more important and above everything else. This includes his or her individual rights and equality. Individual’s comfort and rights come before the government's authorities.
  • Freedom: This means that Individuals have the right to make choices for themselves. But it is not absolute. There will be checks and punishments for actions which are harmful to another individual.
  • Equality: The idea that nobody is morally or politically superior to others culminated in the concept of equality. Equality means there is the equal opportunity for resources and work available to all. There will be no discrimination on the basis of birth but there may be of capabilities.
  • Rationalism: logical thinking and applying human reason is the most valuable asset as human beings. This means that people apply their minds to their work and people may not accept a decree as it is. They have the mind to understand right and wrong.
  • Progress: liberalism truly believes in progress. They believe in human progress as well as the progress of the entire society. Traditions with values should be followed but not without applying logical thinking. New ideas are an important ingredient of progress.
  • Free market: This concept is in tune with Capitalism. Therefore, liberalism and capitalism go hand in hand. The free market promotes individual profit and free ideas. It usually believes in limited restriction of government and regulations in the conduct of economy and trade.

Classical and Modern Liberalism

Classical liberalism as an eminent political ideology lays emphasis on individual freedom and liberation. It signifies civil liberties and limited form of government under the rule of law, support of private property and free market economy. Classical liberals fairly believe that human beings are self-sufficient and rational and always seek their self-interests. They aim at securing freedom of the individual. Another aspect is the economic factor of classical liberalism: laissez - faire concept propounded by the British philosopher Adam Smith. This means a belief in the self-regulating market system and very little or no government intervention in this regard.

Modern liberalism began in the 19th-century world where there were problems in free market ideas. There was rise of the economic gap between the rich and the poor and the gap was increasing incessantly. Profits were owned by few huge multinational companies which extracted more and more resources from the developing and the underdeveloped countries while they owned most of the financial assets of the world. In the early 1900s there was more supply than demand due to which there was world economic depression. For the first time, capitalism or the free flow of the market and monetary assets were in jeopardy. Therefore, liberals of the 19th century such as TH Green and LT Hobhouse who were influenced by planned for reform in the liberal structure which became the foundation of modern liberalism.

Main concepts of modern liberalism are equality of opportunity, positive freedom, enabling characteristics of the state, developmental individualism and welfare. Modern liberalism believes that individuals should not be left alone and if left alone then he/she will be faced with numerous problems. Therefore, the government should follow social welfare and inclusiveness. The nature of the state is transformed from a receiver to an enabler which acts as a regulating mechanism for social welfare. Here again, we see a shift in power as the state has become more systematically efficient. Modern liberalism reached its prime in the post war period where societal foundations and institutions had to be re built.

Neoliberalism

Neo liberalism is a new concept in the element of modern liberalism. This concept was first propounded by theorists such as Friedrich Hayek and Robert Nozick. The 1970s saw the decline of the economy and decelerating economic growth throughout the world. One major problem was the state being the sole proprietor of public services and work. In order to solve such issues, theorists and political economists founded on the idea of ‘self-help and individualism’.

Few major elements of neo liberalism are:

  • Going back to the Rule of the Market: It includes accepting that the world economy would flourish only when the government interventions would reduce significantly.
  • Deregulation: Government regulations and interventions should be removed and let the market do its thing.
  • Privatization: Privatization means the government should give up their hold on public services and let private actors should come to play. It also means selling of state owned companies to the private enterprises in order to gain profit and also for the benefit of the society.

Due to the above elements, it is seen that neo liberalism is characterized and imposed by powerful companies like MNCs and Intergovernmental organizations such as the World Bank, IMF etc.

Conservatism

Conservatism is a political philosophy which favours tradition. It emphasizes the values of traditional institutions as opposed to new concepts and ideas. Their basic idea is that society is the main object of study and there is nothing between or above it. It stands against the normal view that society is just a cluster of people. The conservatives rather believe that society is organic in nature. That means it is growing and each member of the society is interlinked and are closely related to each other. There should be no case to disrupt this harmony. Therefore, they prefer to accept and follow age old traditions that have evolved gradually and reveal continuity and stability. They are bound to resist any form of change in the society. The government exists for the individual.

It was in the 18th century that the ideological concept of conservatism came into existence. The 1789 French Revolution brought about new liberal ideas and the people against this upheaval focussed on conserving the nature of political power that existed in France. Edmund Burke the British philosopher whose Reflection on the Revolution in France 1790 was a significant reaction to criticize the French Revolution. The violent method of uprooting the age-old traditions clearly outweighed the liberal ideas.

One major characteristic of conservatism is that they reject the optimistic views of human nature. They believe that human beings cannot be morally improved through political and social change alone. This is linked to the Christian concept of the ‘original sin’ where they believe that all human beings are born with the original sin of Adam and Eve. According to them, all human beings are selfish, irrational and violent in nature and are driven by self-motivated desires and evil passions. The only way is to rely on traditional political and cultural institutions to control human instinctive nature which is destructive and brutish.

Another characteristic is that they do not believe in rational discussions and abstract argument. Societies cannot be planned according to principles derived from reason. They embrace empirical traditional theories and traditions.

There are various types of conservatism ideologies as described below:

Cultural Conservatism

Cultural conservatism is a concept that supports the ideals of preservation of the tradition and cultural customs of a nation or culture (or sometimes of language traditions), usually by following norms and traditions in history.

Social Conservativism

Social Conservatism is a subset of Cultural Conservatism where the norms may also be moral (e.g. opposition to homosexuality, covering of women's faces, etc). In Europe, it usually refers to ‘Liberal Conservatives’, who support modern European welfare states.

Religious Conservatism

Religious conservatism aims at preserving the teachings of particular religious ideologies, either by example or by law. Religious Conservatives promotes for a return to traditional values.

Fiscal Conservatism

Fiscal conservatism It refers to the economic side or philosophy of government, arguing that a government does not have the right to gather large debts and then throw the burden on the taxpayer.

Paleo-Conservatism

Paleoconservatism is moderate to an extreme form of Conservatism which is popular in the Bible Belt (Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, Kentucky and usually North Carolina) states of the USA. They emphasize religious heritage, national and Western identity, tradition, civil society, anti-interventionist policies and classical federalism. They specifically oppose illegal immigration, communism, authoritarianism, social democracy and entitlement programs.

Neo-Conservatism

Neoconservatism is the "new" Conservative movement which emerged in the United States in opposition to the Liberalism of the 1960s. It supports and propounds an interventionist foreign policy, free flow of trade and free market economics and western culture.

Bio-Conservatism

Bio-conservatism a stance of reluctance about technological development, and a scepticism about medical and other biotechnological transformations of the living world (e.g. cloning, genetic engineering), especially if it is perceived to threaten a given social order.

Socialism

Socialism is a political economic philosophy which is characterized by public or common ownership of resources and means of productions. The profit of the production is being shared among the members of the society. It is mainly an economic term and the ownership is usually through a democratic elected government. The main economic factor of means of production is labour forces, entrepreneurship, capital goods and natural resources. It seeks freedom from exploitation and oppression of the unequal society. It means that there will be democratic control of the resources. Nobody will be able to personally control of the resources. Democratic control therefore means that each person should be able to participate in decision-making process which affects them. Then there is free access to public services at any time. But this has to be under an eye to ensure that one person does not benefit for the sole purpose of private profit only.

The basic idea of socialism emanates from working men's association and their aim to ensure equality and better wage system for their work. Socialists believe in cooperation and collectiveness. They favour cooperation above competitiveness and collectiveness against individualism. They work to ensure social stability and balance in the wages among the industrial workers.

Objectives of Socialism

The main objectives of socialism are:

  • Elimination of poverty diseases and unequal wage gap.
  • Restriction of private properties and personal ownership.
  • Equal opportunities for all citizens.
  • Ethical and spiritual values to contribute to the enrichment of the individual and communal society.

Tracing its roots, some ideas of socialism can be found in Plato’s Republic which talked about communism of partners and also in education and restriction of private properties by the aristocratic lot.

Modern socialism emerged in the early 19th century Britain and France from a range of doctrines and reactions as against the evils of capitalism such as utter poverty, unequal wage distribution, social inequalities and much more. Karl Marx was the first person to employ scientific analysis on socialism and gave a befitting idea on bringing about a definite change in the society. He exposed the evils of capitalism and propounded on the idea of alienation, dialectic materialism and communism.

Features of Socialism

Public Ownership

A socialist economy is categorized by public ownership of the means of production and its distribution. Means and modes of production such as mines, farms, financial bodies, distribution agencies etc are collectively owned by the society with proper regulation by the state.

Central Planning

A socialist state is controlled by central planning and administration. The central planning body lays down the various objectives and aims to be accomplished during the period. Central economic planning means "the making of major economic decisions such as type of goods and quantity is to be produced, how, when and where it is to be produced, and to whom it is to be allocated by the conscious decision of a determinate authority, on the basis of a wide-ranging survey of the economic system as a whole."

Definite Objectives

Socialist economy functions within definite socio-economic and political objectives. These objectives may concern full employment, the satisfaction of communal demand, allocation of resources, distribution of income, the amount of capital accumulation, economic development etc. To accomplish, these objectives are laid down in the plan, priorities, and targets.

Freedom of Consumption

Consumers have the freedom to choose their means and needs according to what they need as provided by the state run stores.

Equality of Income Distribution

In a socialist economy, there is equality of income distribution. The government ensures that there is no private accumulation of wealth and profit in the hands of the few. Wages and opportunities are equally available for all.

Factionalism

Factionalism is a political concept which describes an event where the groups of people are formed around a leader who rejects the status quo and work against established authority within a society, such as state institutions, political parties, or economic interests. Factional groups engage in conflict with official power structures by means of verbal contention and sometimes resort to physical action and violence. It means dissension within the group or organization.

The term factionalism derives from faction, which is a French word from the 14th-century. Ultimately it derives from the Latin word factio, which means a political party, class of persons, or a making or doing. Before that, it appeared in ancient Rome, meaning “one of the companies of contractors for the chariot races in the circus”.

Political parties are an essential part of a democratic government. They are usually hierarchical and bureaucratic in their structure. There is no ideal or best form of political party. Party factions are therefore very frequent and a trend of modern political systems.

In its earlier form, factionalism emerged as separatist groups within small villages and tribes. Later, it came to be used to describe guerrilla groups such as the FARC in Columbia or the Red Army Faction in 1970s Germany. It continues to be a term used to define the actions of groups that work against authority outside of the established institutes of dissent, most often in political arenas. Factionalism has also been used to describe contemporary struggles and conflicts in developing areas of the world.

Intra party faction refers to a faction within the existing political party. They exhibit a common political interest and exist for a certain period of time. They actively pursue policies which could be personal or group specific in nature. They are often sometimes known as the ‘bloc’ within the party.

Consensus Politics

Consensus politics is a political concept where there is a general agreement on an issue such as the economy between the major political parties. This can lead to being more differences in political beliefs within political parties as there are between political parties.

In the UK, today there is a general consensus on the importance of the NHS and the welfare state as expected.

The strongest consensus politics that actually prevailed around the world is the “post-war consensus” that existed between 1945 and 1970, in which it was seen as norms that there would be full employment, that the government would intervene in managing the economy, that the main bulk of primary industry (e.g. energy, water, rail, steel) would be ‘nationalised’ (owned and run by the State) and that the welfare state would be reduced to a healthy safety net.

This post-war consensus started to degrade in the 1970s, but it was Margaret Thatcher who ended it, privatizing the utilities, selling off council housing, ending full employment and aimed to control inflation instead.

In 1945 the Labour Party of the UK led by Clement Attlee, won a historical general election victory when they defeated the Conservatives, by thumping majority. This seeks to evaluate arguments surrounding the issue of whether this was a period characterized by consensus and coalition.

Adversary Politics

Adversary politics is a condition when there is an ideological conflict between the main political parties. It is the opposite of consensus politics.

The most recent example of this occurring is in the late 1980s when the Conservative Party and Labour Party were gradually divided over issues such as nuclear weapons, privatization and workers’ rights.

The UK political system seems to encourage adversary politics in a variety of ways. The House of Commons in the UK is set up on adversarial lines, where the government and opposition are physically facing each other with conflicts.

It is a situation that tends to occur when there is a ‘two-party’ system. This occurs when the two main parties contesting for power have very different views. An example of this is the ideologies of the Labour and Conservative parties. In the past, the Labour party has held very socialist, left-wing views in contrast to the Conservative party which was seen as very right-wing, with conservative views. Adversarial politics expounds that the party in power are faced with an opposition with very different ideological beliefs and are contrasting in political views.

The party not in power will try to gain political advantage from difficulties that the government faces, not from comparing policies. An example of adversarial politics is the vast difference between Margaret Thatcher and Michael Foot in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, which offered the UK a choice at the time of the election.

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