Tuesday, January 18, 2011

What is Political Party?

Gramsci argues that for a party to exist, three fundamental elements have to converge. That is to say, they can exist in a certain society on their own; however, they have to come together in organized way to become a political party.

The first of these three fundamental elements, according to Gramsci, is the mass element. It is composed of ordinary, average men, whose participation takes the form of discipline and loyalty, but nothing more.[1] Without this element, a party cannot exist; however, a party cannot exist with this element alone either. As Gramsci indicates, “they are a force in so far as there is somebody to centralize, organize and discipline them. In the absence of this cohesive force, they would scatter into an impotent diaspora and vanish into nothing.”[2] Deriving from this, it can be followed that the next fundamental element should be the cohesive element which centralizes, organizes and disciplines the masses. Gramsci argues that with the power of innovation and disciplinary powers, this element becomes the basis for the other elements; but “it is also not true that neither could this element form the party alone; however, it could do so more than could the first element considered.”[3] To support this argument with an example, Gramsci, then, talks about the generals and the army relationship, and says that:

One speaks of generals without an army, but in reality it is easier to form an army than to form generals. So much is this true that an already existing army is destroyed if it loses its generals, while the existence of a united group of generals who agree among themselves and have common aims soon creates an army even where none exists.[4]

That is to say, the masses hold the potential to become formed as a party by the cohesive element: the generals, the organizers. However, without the cohesive element, the masses continue to stay in their potential form and cannot become active in the form of a party. This can only be maintained by the cohesive element. In that regard, the cohesive element turns the passive masses into an active organization which is the party or in other words, the Modern Prince.

In addition to these two elements, cohesive element being the basis, there must be one more element, which Gramsci calls the intermediate element, which articulates the first element (the mass element) with the second one (the cohesive element), and maintains contact between them, not only physically but also morally and intellectually.[5] 

From this background, it can perhaps be argued that the masses for Gramsci have relatively a secondary role in the establishment and the development of the party. Or in other words, the existence of the mass element is like necessary condition for the founding of a party, but not a sufficient condition. The sufficient condition is the existence of generals, the cohesive element, which can lead this mass element to a certain direction.

Finally, when does a party cease to exist? A party ceases to exist when the classes, or the certain class of which the party is an expression, no longer exist since every party is only the nomenclature for a class, or in other words, the expression of a particular social class. When the cohesive element doesn’t exist, it can also be argued that a political party cannot exist. Gramsci argues that, the second element, the cohesive element, “must necessarily be in existence (if it is not, discussion is meaningless); its appearance is related to the existence of objective material conditions, even if still in fragmented and unstable state.”[6]

[1] Ibid., p. 152.
[2] Ibid., p. 152.
[3] Ibid., p. 152.
[4] Ibid., pp. 152-153.
[5] Ibid., p. 153.
[6] Ibid., p. 153.

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