Mass party

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In contrast to the loosely organized dignitaries party , a mass party is a bureaucratically structured political party organization that encompasses broad sections of the population. There are mass democratic and totalitarian parties.


With the expansion of the right to vote from small elites to broader strata of the population, the need and opportunity arose towards the end of the 19th century to organize their participation in political life. German social democracy is considered an early and exemplary case of a locally, regionally and nationally tightly organized mass party with salaried party secretaries and high parliamentary group discipline . However, other parties with broad voter appeal also went through similar bureaucratisation processes (for example the Catholic mass parties, the German Center Party, or the Christian Social Party in Austria ). Critics like Robert Michelssaw the " iron law of oligarchy " at work in these trials .

The type of totalitarian mass party shows an even stronger top-down structure. The local and regional branch offices of the party apparatus serve here only to mobilize and control the population ( bloc expectation ). Influencing the decision-making behavior of the leadership elite from the party base is not intended ( leader principle ) or only formally intended (" democratic centralism " in Stalinism ).

In the decades since 1945, the dramatic decline in membership numbers in the spectrum of democratic parties, caused by disenchantment with politics and the failure of established systems of patronage , have begun to question the traditional forms of organization of mass parties. The example of the British Labor Party and in part also the SPD showed, especially in the 1970s, that democratically structured local political associations with few members can be relatively easily "taken over" by small, unrepresentative groups - a mass party without a mass base had to correct these problems in turn, authoritarian control from above is essentially reinforced.


  • Karsten Grabow : Farewell to the mass party. Wiesbaden 2000.
  • Robert Michels: On the Sociology of Party System in Modern Democracy , Leipzig 1911 (available as a current paperback)
  • Hans Setzer: Electoral system and party development in England. Paths to Democratization 1832–1948 , Frankfurt / M. 1973