Most libertarians agree on common questions

Parties in Germany

Frank Decker

To person

Prof. Dr. Frank Decker teaches and researches at the Institute for Political Science and Sociology at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn. His research interests include political parties, western systems of government and right-wing populism in an international comparison.

Parties can be very different. However, there are numerous characteristics according to which they can be distinguished and assigned to different types. What is a People's Party? What are the special characteristics of an entrepreneurial party? And what type of party is hiding behind terms such as prophets or pragmatists?

Election poster of the Bavarian Party: The goals of regional parties typically range from the demand for more autonomy to efforts to separate. (& copy picture-alliance / dpa)

Concept of party

In political science there is no shared definition of the political party. The problem begins with the question of whether unity or state parties in non-democratic systems also fall under the term. Maurice Duverger (1959: 266 ff) included the Unity Party in his presentation. For him, the agreements with the democratic parties in structural terms were decisive. Giovanni Sartori (1976: 39 ff.), On the other hand, only includes parties in democratic systems under the term. For him, the main characteristic of the party is participation in free or at least semi-free elections. "A party is any political group that has and uses the opportunity to present candidates for public office in elections" (ibid .: 76).

Sartori's definition is a minimum definition that only includes those features that are absolutely necessary for the definition of the term. This differs from most of the other definitions offered in the literature, which usually name three elements or characteristics of the party (e.g. Decker 2011: 10):
  • It is a more or less firmly established (= organized) association of people;
  • these people share common political views and interests;
  • their goal is participation in state rule (= gaining government power).
Proponents of a minimal definition consider this definition to be overloaded, since counter-examples would be found for all characteristics - parties that are completely unorganized, parties that have nothing in common except for a common label in terms of content or goals, and parties whose actions are an end in itself and even for whom it is not about gaining power or political influence. These are deviations that occur extremely rarely and mostly only affect parties on the fringes of political events. Such deviations do not change the fundamental validity of the criteria. Even against the supposedly decisive feature of participation in the elections, one could argue that it does not necessarily apply to every party in every situation. If this feature - as in the definition suggested above - is left out and replaced by the goal of gaining power or exercising power, this would also have the advantage that the unity party is included in the definition.

Typological features

The general term of the party deliberately leaves open how a party is specifically organized, what views and interests it represents and what relationship it has with the people and the state. It thus offers a basis for typological differentiations (Jun 2013). By creating types, one tries in the social sciences to summarize different characteristics of an object of investigation in one term. Types and typologies thus form the basis for comparison. Which features of an object are essential and which must be used for the formation of types is often controversial among scientists. In party research, too, there is no uniform typology of parties that is shared by everyone. If one compares the various suggestions in the literature, however, a broad consensus emerges as to which features are to be considered the most important (Lucardie 2018). Parties should and can be differentiated according to five aspects:
  1. Ideological-political affiliation and program
  2. Historical origin and creation
  3. organization structure
  4. Structure of the following
  5. Goal orientation and functions in the political system
The five characteristics are not to be considered independently of one another, but mutually influence one another and show various overlaps. There are also "typical", that is to say more frequently occurring, but also unusual, therefore "atypical" combinations. In addition, the characteristics are subject to change over time, which is also reflected in the development of the party systems.

Ideological-political affiliation and program

This feature can be found in most cases in the self-designation and naming of the parties and thus has a superordinate character. The affiliation of the parties is either linked to descriptive content (conservative, social democratic, green, etc.) or directional terms (right, left).

Emerged from the great ideological currents of the 19th century liberal, Christian democratic / conservative and socialist / social democratic Parties to this day more or less prominently represented in all European countries. Often these "extended families" are represented not just by one but by several parties within a country, which leads to different degrees of fragmentation of the party systems. In addition, since the seventies and eighties of the 20th century, two new currents - the ecological / green Parties and the Right-wing populists - establish it permanently in many countries.

The left-right scheme goes back historically to the time of the French Revolution and the distribution of seats in the French National Assembly. With its help, the positions of the parties on the relevant political issues can be mapped spatially. In today's political science, these controversial issues are usually grouped into two basic social conflicts: the socio-economic distribution and the socio-cultural conflict of values. In the first case, the basic positions of market freedom and social justice oppose each other as the right and left poles, in the second case conservative-authoritarian and libertarian values.

The ideological positions of the parties on either side of the political spectrum can differ to a greater or lesser extent. In addition to the directional characteristic, a further distinguishing characteristic must therefore be the intensity or radicality of the ideological orientation (moderate, radical or extreme / extremist Parties). The spectrum of ideological positions thus ranges from the extreme right (= fascist or nationalist) to the extreme left (= communist) Representatives. Because the extremist parties are generally hostile to the system in that they negate central principles of democracy and constitutional statehood, there are greater differences between them and the moderate representatives within one direction (e.g. between conservative and fascist parties) than between the moderate representatives of different directions (e.g. between Christian and Social Democrats). The radical (left socialist or right-wing populist) Parties that are critical of the system, but not necessarily hostile to the system.

While the parties, which are differentiated according to ideological characteristics, usually have a full program that deals with all important political questions, other parties only focus from the outset on individual topics that affect the values ​​and interests of relatively small population groups. These representatives are called One-subject or Niche parties designated. In the Federal Republic of Germany these include, for example, the Animal Welfare Party or the Christian faithful party. The Greens, too, were strongly monothematic when they came into being, but then quickly grew into the status of a full party. The pirates have not yet made it with their central topic of network politics, which, in addition to the party's organizational deficits, is likely to be the main reason for the end of their brief soaring.

Historical origin and creation

Parties can arise either in parliaments or in society. Starting in Great Britain, the factional parties historically preceded the extra-parliamentary parties. Today almost all new parties arise outside the parliaments. It is relatively seldom that MPs who leave a parliamentary group or are expelled from it establish a new party from within parliament.

Three forms of formation of new parties can basically be distinguished (Lucardie 2018: 47 f.): The Spin-off, the emergence of a social movement out and the Merger. Splits usually start at the social base of the party - an example of this is the party "Work & Social Justice - Die Wahlalternative" (WASG), which was founded by union and former SPD members in 2005 in protest against the social and political parties Labor market reforms of the SPD-led federal government was launched. In contrast, the Greens were a product of a social movement with little or no reference to established politics. The most prominent case of a party merger in the Federal Republic of Germany is the merger of the aforementioned WASG with the SED successor party, the PDS, to form the all-German party Die Linke.

Form another form of party formation Reorganizations or new foundations of dissolved or perished partieswhich often take place in times of regime change. This category includes, for example, the CDU, CSU and the FDP, which were able to build on their conservative, Catholic and liberal predecessors in the German Empire and the Weimar Republic. A borderline case are parties whose ideological-programmatic orientation, organization, personnel and electoral structure change so much within a short period of time that they are de facto tantamount to a start-up.

organization structure

Parties assume a mediator position between the state and society. On the one hand, they articulate, shape and channel the opinions and interests of citizens by submitting competing personal and programmatic offers in the elections. On the other hand, as actors in parliament and government, they translate the political will so formed into decisions. In order to do justice to both tasks, the parties have to build organizational relationships with both the people and the state and consolidate them.

The organizations of the parties can be divided into three areas, which form their different "faces" (Wiesendahl 2006: 10 ff.): The base represented by members and groups close to them (party on the ground), the central organization consisting of management bodies and full-time party apparatus (party central office) and the party's public arm, which is concentrated in parliamentary groups and government offices (party in public office). The distinction between territorial and functional organization lies at right angles to this division: The three areas are represented at the various levels of the political system (i.e. at the federal, state and local levels). At the same time, they are structured according to different task or policy fields, which in turn overlap in a variety of ways, both with one another and between the areas.

When differentiating between the types of organization, a three-way division can also be made, which at the same time represents a historical sequence of party development. They form the oldest type Dignitaries or Cadre parties of the 19th century, which see themselves primarily as parliamentary parties and limit their party activities to the function of an electoral association. At the end of the 19th century, the socialist "outsiders", who were not represented in parliament, appeared alongside them as an organizational form Mass parties. These are characterized on the one hand by a broad membership, on the other hand by a tight and bureaucratic management structure, which in turn is democratically controlled by the grassroots. The electoral successes of the left parties and their growing participation in state power are forcing the notables parties of the bourgeois camp to adopt elements of this model. With the social roots of the parties weakening, the parties gradually declined in the sixties of the 20th century. From now on, the parties will give greater priority to the central organization and its public arm and will tailor it to the needs of addressing voters. Panebianco (1988: 264 f.) Describes the type of organization that dominates today as professional voter partyOther authors speak of the "modern cadre party" (Koole 1996), the "party of professional politicians" (Beyme 2001) or the "media communication party" (Jun 2013: 137 f.). However, the last three terms mentioned have just as little established themselves in research as the concept of the "cartel party" introduced by Katz and Mair (1995), which primarily focuses on the party's dependence on state resources.

While the professional voter party represents the organizational form of the representatives of the main political currents (especially the Christian and Social Democrats) who have emerged from the mass parties, at least two other types must be distinguished below and beyond it, which primarily characterize the newcomers to the party system. In the first type, exemplified by Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia, the organization is founded by a single entrepreneur, largely financed from their own resources and managed according to the principles of a commercial enterprise. This type, known as Business party represents a specific form of the electoral party. The other type is formed by the Motion or Frame partywhose organization consists of a loosely connected network of activists emerging from society. Examples of this are the pirates, the German Greens in their development phase, the five-star movement of Beppe Grillo in Italy and the La République en Marche party of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was elected in 2017. The latter two also overlap with the charismatic type.

Structure of the following

Another distinguishing feature focuses on the population groups that the parties want to reach preferentially in their dispute with their competitors. Here, too, a change can be observed over time, which reflects the ideological-programmatic development of the parties and the change in their organizational structures.

The dignitaries and mass parties of the 19th and early 20th centuries saw themselves as representatives of certain status or professional groups that were largely isolated from one another in society (estates or Class parties). The agrarian and denominational parties can also be subsumed under this type. In today's societies, which are characterized by a high degree of plurality, as a rule only smaller parties succeed in addressing the interests of individual sections of the population; these are then often referred to as Client parties apostrophized. The decreasing importance of class and class barriers in the affluent societies of the post-war period established the triumph of a new type of party, which from now on viewed the entire population as a potential target group of voters. In Germany this type is called People's Party referred to, while in Anglo-Saxon research the term coined by Otto Kirchheimer (1965) is used catch-all party (All World Party) prevailed. Since Kirchheimer was tying the catch-all party to its de-ideologized character, it could also be included in the distinction according to programmatic-ideological characteristics.

Age, gender and ethnicity are obviously difficult to politicize (Lucardie 2018: 53). That's how everyone is Youth, senior, women and migrant parties in the Federal Republic of Germany has so far not got beyond the status of small or very small parties (Decker / Neu 2018). The situation is completely different with territorially concentrated minorities or parts of the population, which, as culturally delimitable communities, show nation-like features. These are from Regional parties represented so successfully in many European countries today that one can speak of an independent political line of conflict. The goals range from the demand for more autonomy to efforts to achieve separation.Examples are the Italian Lega Nord, the Scottish National Party or the Südschleswigsche Voters' Association in the Federal Republic, which, in contrast to the first two mentioned, only represents a numerically very small minority of the population.

Goal orientation and functions in the political system

Participation in state rule was named as a general goal of parties in the definition of the term. In this sense, parties differ from other organized groups such as clubs or associations primarily through their participation in elections. However, the definition leaves open what participation in rule should look like and how one would like to achieve it. The characteristic therefore needs to be broken down further.

Kaare Strøm (1990) proposed such a breakdown and identified three main goals of the parties: that Advertise for votes (vote-seeking), that Pursuit of government offices (office-seeking) and the political shaping. It is obvious that most parties pursue all three goals at the same time. On the one hand, these are closely related: Just as electoral success is a prerequisite for gaining government power, only government power gives you the opportunity to achieve your own political goals. On the other hand, they are in a tense relationship with one another that requires different priorities depending on the party or point in time. For example, parties can refrain from participating in government if they believe it will harm them in subsequent elections.

Paul Lucardie (2018: 46 f.) Makes a similar distinction, who identifies three types of parties based on the dominant goals. On the one hand there are Prophetsfor whom the purity of their own ideology and adherence to ideals are more important than gaining political power. As a rule, they represent a closed worldview with extremist or fundamentalist features. They form the opposite pole to the prophets pragmatistwho are primarily concerned with the "thing". The representatives of this group quickly adapt their positions to changing circumstances and power opportunities, which requires a consistent renunciation of any ideological superstructure. The interests of the voters they prefer to represent are always at the center of their politics. In contrast, the so-called Ideology guardian. These are committed to certain ideological goals and values, but they develop over time and handle them flexibly in practice. The will to power and the ability to compromise are two sides of the same coin for them.


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