Wednesday, January 19, 2011

What are the Roles and Functions of the Political Party?

In Gramsci’s thought, political party has a very wide meaning. In accordance with that, the responsibilities or the functions of the party are also very broadly defined. The political party, for instance, is thought to have the aim of founding a new type of State, and for Gramsci a political party is actually rationally and historically created for that end.[1] 

Secondly, it can be said that a party’s role is to represent its social base, the social class, and defend its interest in the society. Gramsci argues that a “party is the expression and the most advanced element of the social group.”[2] 

In accordance with the aim of founding a new state, we can speak of a third role of the political party in Gramsci’s thought. In that regard he argues that “the Modern Prince must be and cannot but be the proclaimer and organizer of an intellectual and moral reform, which also means creating the terrain for a subsequent development of the national popular collective will towards the realization of a superior, total form of modern civilization.”[3] 

The political party, it can be argued, has a dual relationship with the collective will. That is to say, the political party is both an expression of the collective will, but also the carrier and developer of it. This can be counted as the fourth role or function of the political party. As Gramsci puts it, “these two fundamental points – the formation of a national-popular collective will of which the modern Prince is at the same time the organizer and active working expression, and a moral and intellectual reform – should constitute the structure of the work.”[4] 

In addition to these, parties also have policing functions, that is to say they function to safeguard a certain political and legal order. In doing that, parties can either be progressive or regressive. That is to say, whether the party carries out its policing function “in order to conserve an outward, extrinsic order which is a fetter on the vital forces of history; or does it carry it out in the sense of tending to raise the people to a new level of civilization expressed programmatically in its political and legal order?”[5]

For Gramsci, the policing function of a party is progressive when “it tends to keep the dispossessed reactionary forces within the bounds of legality, and to raise the backward masses to the level of the new legality.”[6] On the other hand, “it is regressive when it tends to hold back the vital forces of history and to maintain a legality which has been superseded, which is anti-historical, which has become extrinsic.”[7] Furthermore, Gramsci argues that when the party is progressive it functions democratically, while in the second case, when it is regressive, it functions bureaucratically.[8]

[1] Ibid., p. 147.
[2] Ibid., p. 151.
[3] Gramsci, The Modern Prince and Other Writings, ibid., p. 139.
[4] Ibid., p. 140.
[5] Gramsci, Selections From Prison Notebooks, ibid., p. 155.
[6] Ibid., p. 155.
[7] Ibid., p. 155.
[8] Ibid., p. 155.

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