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Continuity and Change: Adaptation Strategies of Agrarian Parties in Scandinavia and Central Eastern Europe Compared

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2003 28 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Region: Eastern Europe

Excerpt

Contents

1. Introduction

2. The Theoretical Framework

3. The Historical Development ofAgrarian Parties

4. The Adaptation Strategies of the Scandinavian Agrarian/Center Parties

5. Strategies of the Post-Communist Agrarian Parties in Poland and Hungary

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The party systems of Scandinavia and Central Eastern Europe (CEE) share an interesting pattern – the existence of significant agrarian parties. These parties played a decisive role in shaping the political landscape of the early and mid-20th century in the two regions. Nowadays they are still present in Scandinavia and re-emerged after the collapse of Communism in CEE. This paper is going to compare the strategies that secured the survival and the successful reorientation of peasant parties in Scandinavia and their re-emergence and re-establishment in CEE. A contrasting perspective is intended to shed light on the way environmental change influences incentive structures for strategic adaptation and how specific organizational features interact with these strategies.

At first the theoretical framework using Katz and Mair’s approach of different party models and Panebianco’s framework concerning the impact of organizational structures on party change with Kirchheimer’s concept of the ‘catch-all party’ as an aspired strategic aim will be briefly introduced.[1] A qualitative analysis of the adaptation strategies of the Scandinavian Agrarian/Centre parties with a particular focus on Sweden will be undertaken and then the findings compared to the cases of the biggest and most successful CEE agrarian parties, the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) and the Hungarian Smallholders’ Party (FKGP).[2] The findings might contribute to an improved picture of both party development in CEE and party adaptation strategies in general. Linking CEE and Scandinavia in a comparative perspective also redraws some historical parallels between the two regions with regards to party development and avoids a theoretical approach stressing the ‘uniqueness’ of CEE.

2. The Theoretical Framework

Political parties are embedded in socio-economic structures. They interact and mediate between the spheres of society and political decision-makers. Since socio-economic relations are constantly undergoing change also parties need to adapt to these changes. According to Katz and Mair particular historical periods are characterized by specific dominant party types.[3] Particular patterns of change in party organization and electoral strategies therefore reflect adaptation to long and medium-term evolutionary environmental changes. One example is the development of right-wing cadre parties into catch-all parties in the wake of extended suffrage and working class mobilization. But party strategies in turn also influence the societal environment, e.g. the left-wing mass party movements’ success in establishing universal suffrage or the emergence of signs for cartel-like penetrations of the state by parties. These considerations are also relevant for Agrarian parties, which are not explicitly covered by Katz and Mair. It needs to be investigated how Agrarian parties adapted to environmental change, in particular to the threat of losing their core electorate in the light of growing industrialization and urbanization.

In fact, changes in the structural environment are both constraining in reducing electoral returns for particular strategies, and enabling in opening up new opportunities to attract voters. Newly emerging cleavages and political issues offer incentives to adopt new positions. Also the institutional environment is important. In particular in CEE where the ‘rules of the game’ are relatively new or still being changed, institutional arrangements such as electoral systems, thresholds for entering parliament, state party financing but also the institutions of economic transformation play an essential role in determining the success of party performance. At the same time the parties themselves strongly shape these rules in the transition societies.

Yet, not only the environment matters for party adaptation. Also the internal organizational configuration of a party is a decisive factor. Although organizational features are to a large extent a dependent variable of its positioning in society, as Katz and Mair point out, party organization can also be an intervening variable influencing the success of adaptation strategies of a given party.[4] As Panebianco shows certain organizational features of a given party have a crucial impact on its ability to adapt to external changes, in particular a high degree of institutionalization impedes rapid changes in party strategy.[5] Therefore also genetic features of the parties under scrutiny have to be considered in the analysis of its adaptation strategies.

One essential stage in the transformation of modern parties in post-war Western Europe can be conceptualized within the framework of Otto Kirchheimer’s ‘catch-all’ party.[6] Becoming a catch-all party appears to be a possible strategy for the increasingly marginalized peasant parties. As Kirchheimer points out, ‘under the present conditions of spreading secular and mass consumer-goods orientation, with shifting and less obtrusive class lines, both the former class-based mass parties and denominational mass parties are under pressure to become catch-all parties’.[7] Kirchheimer presents five categories for establishing the success of such a transformation: a) a drastic reduction in ‘ideological baggage’, b) further strengthening of the top leadership whose actions should now be judged from the viewpoint of the group interest but rather from the interest of the entire social system, c) a downgrading of the role of individual members, d) a de-emphasis of the particular clientele in favor of recruiting votes from the population at large, and e) securing access to various interest groups.[8] It will be investigated in how far the investigated peasant parties fulfill these requirements.

Having outlined the theoretical framework of this inquiry I will turn in the following to the Scandinavian Agrarian parties after a brief historical reference and look into their adaptation strategies in applying the concepts of Katz/Mair, Panebianco and Kirchheimer. These strategies will then be contrasted with the cases of the post-communist Hungarian FKGP and the Polish PSL before drawing a conclusion.

3. The Historical Development ofAgrarian Parties

Agrarian parties emerged in the wake of the growing rural-urban conflict from the late 19th century onwards. Yet, strong agrarian parties developed only in regions such as Scandinavia and CEE where towns were still relatively small during the extension of franchise, i.e. where a significant ‘agrarian proletariat’ existed. Moreover, agrarian parties flourished in countries with a late process of nation-building in which the peasantry was not so much in conflict with a domestic establishment but rather with a foreign power. Furthermore, the respective ownership structure of agricultural holdings mattered for the political orientation of the emerging Agrarian parties. In Scandinavia where the rural population was able to assert its independence against large landowners, more progressive or liberal farmers’ parties developed, whereas in Hungary and elsewhere in CEE populist and traditionalist smallholders’ parties dominated.[9] The alignment with a religious, often sectarian approach was also conducive to agrarian parties’ success. This proves to be the case with the Scandinavian and Hungarian peasant parties, which showed a high affinity with sectarian Protestantism while the Polish case rather seems to be the exception that proves the rule.[10]

Agrarian parties developed as a reaction to the modernization process in asserting the interests of the peasantry against old and new urban classes. They were arguing against rapid industrialization and emphasizing traditional values. In Scandinavia these parties showed some affinity with both Liberal and Conservative parties while in CEE they tended more towards the Conservatives. Agrarian parties often had a strong membership base, were usually related to farmers’ unions and had a number of ancillary organizations for women, youth, the elderly etc. Analogously to the Social Democratic and Labor parties in the industrial centers the Agrarian parties were the mass parties of the countryside and thus traditionally cleavage-based class parties.[11]

After the end of WWII there was a short period of revived political Agrarianism in CEE. Following the landslide electoral victory of the reestablished Hungarian Smallholders’ Party (FKGP) in late 1945 and in the wake of gradual Sovietization and Stalinization of CEE all independent party activity was abolished. While the FKGP had been dissolved by 1949 (and only briefly revived during the 1956 revolution) the equally popular Polish Peasant Party (PSL, between 1949-89 United Polish Peasant Party ZSL) survived organizationally but politically only as a dependent ally and ‘transmission belt’ of the ruling Communists. Its ideological function was to represent the peasantry, which unlike in the other CEE countries successfully resisted any attempts to collectivization.[12]

Remaining both organizationally intact and unaffected in their political independence by WWII and the Cold War the Scandinavian Agrarian parties faced new challenges in the post-war period which I will cover in the next chapter.[13]

4. The Adaptation Strategies of the Scandinavian Agrarian/Center Parties

Although the support from farmers for the Scandinavian Agrarian parties continued throughout the second half of the 20th century the overall peasant constituency increasingly shrunk. Ongoing urbanization and industrial development made the rural-urban cleavage increasingly irrelevant.[14] The process of globalization and its differentiating impact on the working population which Herbert Kitschelt observed for the Social Democrats made also peasant-based class politics increasingly impossible.[15] Urban and industrial clusters also spread in peripheral rural regions and agriculture was no longer the predominant occupation in these areas. The deep structural change in the environment forced the Agrarians to seek new votes outside the peasant constituency.

In 1957 the Swedish Agrarian Party changed its name to Center Party soon to be followed by its Norwegian and Finnish sister parties. This was accompanied by a change in party strategy. At first the new Center Party’s strategy targeted the general rural population, i.e. also non-farmers. It promoted itself as the party of the countryside arguing in favor of the development of small rural industries and the improvement of life conditions in the peripheral regions. Also the promotion of regional policies and decentralization became central to the party program. Yet, nowadays only a small share of the overall Center Party votes comes from the countryside.[16] In the course of its transformation the party has dropped claims for protectionist agricultural policies and income equality between industrial and agricultural labor in favor of general market-liberal and tight fiscal policies.[17] The once defining conflict between countryside and city is increasingly de-emphasized. The ultimate collapse of the urban-rural cleavage was vividly demonstrated by the merger between the (traditionally urban-based) Finnish Liberal Party with the Center in 1983.[18]

In the last decades the Center increasingly adopted the image of a catch-all party targeting all groups of the population, starting with seeking support from the younger first-generation urban population which still had roots in the countryside.[19] While being a frequent coalition partner of the Social Democrats in the first half of the century and decisively contributing to create the famous Scandinavian welfare-state from which farmers greatly profited, too, the Center Party increasingly moved to the center-right on the socio-economic axis. As the name suggests, the party claims to occupy a moderate, central position in the political spectrum.[20] In co-operation with Liberals and Conservatives it sought to break the political hegemony of the Social Democrats and lead a center-right government as the biggest non-socialist party in the mid-1970s.[21] Being a pivotal party was thus another important point in strengthening and re-asserting the party’s position since the party was often able to choose between establishing a non-socialist center-right government or to govern with the Social-Democrats when the latter was short of an absolute majority.

A very important issue in the changed party strategy is its pro-environment stance. Although nowadays a valence issue, the Center Party was the first one to consequently promote environmental protection and gained a reputation in this field of policy calling itself ‘eco-humanist’.[22] Since the 1970s it was the first party to campaign for the complete phasing out of nuclear energy in Sweden which is now scheduled for 2010.[23] In 1997 it broke the coalition with the Social Democrats in protest over the building of a huge bridge connecting Sweden and Denmark.[24] The ‘eco-humanist’ position is claimed to be based in social liberalism. The party also pays attention to gender issues, multi-culturalism and social equality. Since the 1980s the Center’s position of the most credible environmentalist party is undermined by the more radical Green parties.[25] The adoption of pro-environment positions also created some tensions with the older farm issues which were consequently more and more abandoned.[26]

[...]


[1] R Katz / P Mair, Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy – The Emergence of the Cartel Party, Party Politics, Vol. 1, No.1, 1995, pp. 5-27;

A Panebianco, Political Parties: Organization and Power, CUP, 1988;

O Kirchheimer, The Catch-All Party, in: P Mair (ed.), The West European Party System, OUP, 1990, pp. 50-60.

[2] Other less prominent peasant parties such as in Romania and Bulgaria will not be covered here.

[3] R Katz / P Mair, Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy – The Emergence of the Cartel Party, Party Politics, Vol. 1, No.1, 1995, pp. 5-27.

[4] R Katz / P Mair, Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy – The Emergence of the Cartel Party, Party Politics, Vol. 1, No.1, 1995, pp. 5-27.

[5] A Panebianco, Political Parties: Organization and Power, CUP, 1988, pp. 8-30.

[6] O Kirchheimer, The Catch-All Party, in: P Mair (ed.), The West European Party System, OUP, 1990, pp. 50-60.

[7] O Kirchheimer, The Catch-All Party, in: P Mair (ed.), The West European Party System, OUP, 1990, p. 58.

[8] O Kirchheimer, The Catch-All Party, in: P Mair (ed.), The West European Party System, OUP, 1990, pp. 58-59.

[9] J Rothschild / N Wigfield, Return to Diversity, 3rd edition, OUP, 2000, pp. 11-14.

[10] K von Beyme, Political Parties in Western Democracies, Aldershot: Gower, 1985, pp. 112-115.

[11] T Pogutke, Parteiorganisation im Wandel, Wiesbaden: Westdeutscher Verlag, 2000, p. 78;

D Christensen, Adaptation of Agrarian Parties in Norway and Sweden, Party Politics, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1997, pp. 395-397.

[12] J Rothschild / N Wigfield, Return to Diversity, 3rd edition, OUP, 2000, pp. 78-88; 96-103.

[13] I will concentrate in particular on the Swedish Agrarian/Center Party as it was the first and most successful one in changing its political strategies and therefore to a large extent a model for the other Scandinavian Agrarian parties. If not explicitly stated differently ‘Center Party’ refers to the Swedish case.

[14] D Arter, From Class Party to Catchall Party?: The Adaptation of the Finnish Agrarian-Center Party, Scandinavian Political Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1999, pp. 173-175.

[15] H Kitschelt, The Transformation of European Social Democracy, CUP, 1994, pp. 8-30.

[16] D Christensen, Adaptation of Agrarian Parties in Norway and Sweden, Party Politics, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1997, p. 392.

[17] The Economist, 22/08/98, Vol.348, Issue 8082, p. 44.

[18] D Arter, Scandinavian Politics today, Manchester UP, 1999, p. 121.

[19] D Arter, From Class Party to Catchall Party?: The Adaptation of the Finnish Agrarian-Center Party, Scandinavian Political Studies, Vol. 22, No. 2, 1999, p. 172.

[20] Centerpartiet – The Centre Party of Sweden, online party program (no title), http://www.centerpartiet.se, login: 01/03/03.

[21] D Hancock, Sweden – The Politics of Postindustrial Change, Hinsdale: The Dryden Press, 1972, pp. 131-137.

[22] Centerpartiet – The Centre Party of Sweden, online party program (no title), http://www.centerpartiet.se, login: 01/03/03.

[23] The Economist, 29/04/95, Vol. 335, No. 7912, p. 64.

[24] The Economist, 08/02/97, Vol. 342, No. 8003, p. 54.

[25] D Arter, Scandinavian Politics today, Manchester UP, 1999, p. 108.

[26] D Christensen, Adaptation of Agrarian Parties in Norway and Sweden, Party Politics, Vol. 3, No. 3, 1997, p. 402.

Details

Pages
28
Year
2003
ISBN (eBook)
9783638189903
ISBN (Book)
9783638642811
File size
529 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v13301
Institution / College
Central European University Budapest – Department of Political Science
Grade
A-
Tags
Partei political parties party adaptation Bauernpartei peasant party Ungarn Hungary Poland Polen Scandinavia Skandinavisch Sweden Schweden catch-all party system mass party Massenpart

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Title: Continuity and Change: Adaptation Strategies of Agrarian Parties in Scandinavia and Central Eastern Europe Compared