with Peter Hallward, Frank Ruda & respondents; Moderation: Peter Osborne
Is the recent international eclipse of egalitarian political projects to some extent the result of a failure to address problems of organization? How has it emerged during the 20th century, both in capitalist regimes and in the former socialist bloc? To what degree does mass political organization remain tied to the notion of the political party that originated in 19th century Europe? What alternatives are there for collective empowerment, participation and deliberation?
Frank Ruda: 'Organization and Its Discontents'
It was once argued that a political emancipation implies the following organizational model: masses are divided into classes, classes are represented by parties and parties are led by leaders. This model seems to have suffered on all fronts and with regard to all the involved concepts. Today, the unilateral insistence on horizontalism as crucial element of organization, combined with the omnipresent critique of authoritarianism seems to invalidate the idea of political leadership. The very functioning of contemporary societies and governments seems to have swallowed and digested all emancipatory potential of the concept of the political party. The practical crisis of Marxism seems to have produced far-reaching damage with regard to the conception of class. And what is ultimately left of the concept of the mass seems to be either identifiable with an apolitical entity that needs to be (and can be) administered or boils down to being a conglomerate of opinions (and votes in the last instance). Today, the question of political organization therefore seems to be pressing yet intricate. The paper will argue that the time has come to revivify allegedly outdated concepts and that one should not shy away from defending the organizational need for a new conception of political leadership.
Peter Hallward: 'What is a Political Party?'
A rough history of the notion of a political party suggests that it is a form of organisation defined by three primary characteristics: (a) a capacity to hold a group of people together as a distinct part of a larger and irreducibly divided configuration which it helps to define, for instance as one of two sides in a battle or confrontation; (b) a quasi-military capacity for deliberate action or intervention, in the sense of constituting a detachment or 'vanguard' to achieve a particular purpose (e.g. a 'war party', an advance party, etc.), or in the sense of being party to a dispute or the partisan of a cause; (c) a capacity to persuade or win over dominant (though never complete) portions of a larger body of opinion, in the nineteenth-century sense of a current of opinion, a tendency or a persuasion, e.g. an abolitionist party, workers' party, independence party, conservative party, party of order, etc. The contemporary crisis of both liberal-democratic and revolutionary forms of party is best understood as a failure of capacity on each of these fronts. Re-organisation of these capacities might enable a renewal of party, affirmed as an essential institutional component of a voluntarist conception of democracy.