Mass Party | Definition, Features & Examples

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Mass Party | Definition, Features, Examples & Reasons for the Emergence of Mass Party


Definition of Mass Party

A mass party is any political Institutions, which attempts to unite all the elements of the society in its demand for power. It seeks to broaden its support among the citizens by bringing into its fold farmers, workers, traders, students, workers and the employers (bourgeoisie).

The primary objectives of the mass party therefore is to expand its membership to cover all the citizens. It wants every citizen to come under its umbrella.

Features of Mass Party

The characteristics of a mass party include the following:

  1. It may begin as an elite party or a mass party.
  2. Membership of a mass party is open to all citizens regardless of class, religion, tribe, race or language.
  3. Party policies and programs are developed by the party leaders after due and extensive consultation with the members of the party.
  4. A mass party has local branches, which organise local party members and make input into the party’s policies.
  5. It often seeks to increase its membership and expand the support of the electorate for the party.
  6. The leadership of the party can not avoid being influenced by members as the success of the party depends on the votes commanded by affiliate bodies such as trade unions.
  7. In many third world countries, the major purpose of the mass party is to serve both as a means of mobilizing support for the government and also as a means of rendering the masses unavailable to alternative leaders.
  8. The national executive is elected at the annual national conference of the party and it is responsible for the day-to-day administration of the party.
  9. The mass party has direct membership.
  10. The party leaders often exploit the ignorance and political indifference of the members and the veneration, which the masses feel towards their leaders to their own selfish advantages.
  11. There is often tension between the leaders and the mass membership at party conferences on the policy direction of the party.
  12. In terms of organisation and channels of command and control, the lower levels of the party are said to be more important than the top echelons of the organisation. This is because the leadership is elected at the party’s conference in which all sections of the party are represented.

Reasons For The Emergence Of Mass Party

The emergence of the masd party is often associated with certain developments in political history. They include;

  1. Demand for popular participation
  2. Quest for self-rule
  3. Demand for reform of existing institutions
  4. Crisis of integration
  5. Reasons to existing political institutions and structures
#1 – Demand For Popular Participation

The first set of political parties were small and centred around a few politicians. the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party of Britain as well as the Democratic Party and the Republican Party of the United States emerged in this way.

The demand for increased political participation since the 18th century and the decentralisation of political authority compelled the new political parties and groups to seek much of their support from the people who had previously been excluded from any significant political role.

Similarly, the British electoral reforms of 1832, 1867 and 1885 respectively which extended the right to vote to the working classes and other groups precipitated to rapid changes and the structure of parties. The expansion in membership engendered the need for parties to broaden their support in the country and therefore become mass parties.

#2 – Quest For Self Rule

During the colonial era, the educated elites were, in the main, excluded from the political process. The nationalist movements and parties that later sprang up in these colonial territories sought to influence the colonial governments to open up opportunities for the local elites.

Although, the various parties began as small groups whose activities were restricted to a few urban areas, they soon came to realise that their demand for self-rule would come to bought if they failed to broaden their support among the people. In the process, they were compelled to develop a party organisation with mass membership.

#3 – Demand For Reform Of Existing Institutions

Mass parties are sometimes formed in states where some social groups are dissatisfied with the existing traditional Institutions. This is especially so if the ruling groups prove insensitive to the demands of those seeking greater participation. It is a demand by new or existing, but excluded, groups for more participatory role in government.

The mass party so formed usually desire less commitment to the existing social, political and economic institutions. The socialist and revolutionary parties of the late 19th century and early 20th century are examples of such mass parties.

#4 – Crisis Of Integration

Mass parties also emerge where there are problems of national integration. In other words, mass parties are sometimes created to weld the diverse ethnic groups or nationalities together. Many a times, religious, language and tribal groups have often organised political party is in opposition to the predominant political group. In Belgium, for example, the struggle between the Flemish and the Walloons has led to the creation of ethnic parties.

#5 – Response To Existing Political Institutions and Structures

Mass parties may emerge in response to existing political institutions and structures. For example, a federal structure of government is more likely to produce decentralized mass parties.

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