Political party

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A political party ( Latin pars , genitive partis 'part', 'direction') is an association of people organized in different ways who, within a larger political association (a state or the like), strive to gain as much political say as possible in order to realize their own objective or ideal goals and / or to gain personal advantages. An essential part of gaining or exercising such political power is to fill leading positions in state and other institutions (e.g. public broadcasting ) with party members or people close to the party.

Within a multi-party system , political parties compete with one another to fill political decision-making positions; they contribute to the formation of political will and to this extent form an important pillar of the political constitution of a democratic state . In a one-party system , the structure and function of a party also necessarily change. Such a “new type” party usually takes on a “ totalitarian ” character.


At the time when parliaments were formed, parties were mostly loose associations that were mainly active shortly before elections to support candidates. The first parties in a clearly defined party system existed in the English Parliament around 1690–1695. Whig and Tory increasingly defined a political predilection for a variety of political issues. Since the 1830s, parties in England have been fully associated with government and opposition for the first time . The formation of party structures at the local, regional and national level as well as the establishment of party secretariats with salaried party secretaries can largely be traced back to social democracy .

Parties in modern democracy

In mass democracy, the political will is formed by the voter electing various candidates from the individual parties. Parliament and government influence the people through laws and administrative acts. In this process of mutual interaction, the parties have the task of integrating and representing the will of the electorate towards the state. In the democratic structure, parties have to provide time-consuming and costly services for the state organs as well as for those entitled to vote and vote, which cannot be performed by state organs or other private institutions. The time is provided by the party members, and the costs are raised from the membership fees, in Germany meanwhile through party funding largely taken over by the state .

A particularly important and valuable task of the parties is the evaluation (assessment) and nomination (nomination) of candidates for government tasks. The state organs also expect the parties to comment promptly and professionally on all business transactions. Those entitled to vote expect to be informed by the parties.

There are multi-party and two-party systems, which is due not least to the prevailing electoral law. Majority suffrage contributes to the formation of two-party systems, e.g. B. United Kingdom , USA . Only one ruling and one opposition party is represented in parliament, albeit with a comparatively low commitment of the MP to the specifications of his party (above all the USA, in the case of the UK stronger ties to the party due to intra-parliamentary opposition). Proportional suffrage, on the other hand, favors the formation of a parliament with several parties, although in general faction discipline plays a greater role (e.g. Netherlands , Germany ). Two-party systems lead to clear majorities, and the formation of a government is relatively easy to carry out. Multi-party systems lead to coalition governments that are more difficult to form and that are easily prone to internal conflict. On the other hand, a multi-party system maps the complex social reality better. The median voter model is used in this context .

One-party systems can only be found in non-democratic states.

Tasks of a party

  • Personnel: Recruiting and training personnel and nominating candidates for elections to fill political offices.
  • Articulation and aggregation of interests: Formulating and bundling the interests and opinions of members and voters.
  • Interaction: Connection between state and citizens, two-way communication channel: on the one hand, articulation of interests vis-à-vis state institutions and, on the other hand, explanation, information and explanation of state decisions vis-à-vis the citizens.
  • Party program : development of political programs for a longer period of time.
  • Government: Setting up and influencing the government, creating a well-established system in parliament . Political groups and the corresponding division of labor ensure a functioning parliament and organize majorities for government proposals.
  • Accountability: Ensuring that a decision maker bears the consequences for bad policies. Particularly in presidential systems , in which the president cannot be re-elected and is not part of a strong party, problems with the responsibility of the president can arise. Because he cannot be “punished” by non-re-election or by weakening “his party”, there is a risk that the president will deviate significantly from his positions in the election campaign. On the other hand, a strong party (which, unlike the president, still has to win elections) ensures that promises are kept.

Types of parties


Today one still broadly differentiates between “ left ” and “ right ” parties. This distinction goes back to the time of the French Revolution . In the National Assembly , those in favor of a new order were grouped on the left and those who wanted to maintain the previous monarchy on the right.

Other and often more significant "distinctions" are:

A special case are the so-called block parties , such as existed in the GDR , for example . Their function was to involve broader sections of the population in the system of rule and thus to secure the rule of the hegemonic SED .

Parties with a particularly small circle of members and low election results are also referred to as small parties or splinter parties.

Differentiation according to the type of origin

  • Parties that emerged from parliament: These parties are formed by an amalgamation of different parliamentarians whose interests or ideologies are relatively similar.
  • Parties emerging outside parliament: These political influence groups are often described as the new type of party. Historically, parties that arose outside of parliament were often on the left . Today it is more about citizen lists and related phenomena.

Differentiation according to the degree of organization

  • Voting Party: When the parties came into being, they mostly had very few members. Influential citizens came together loosely and often carried out their work on a voluntary basis ( honorary party ). Nowadays one speaks more of a voters' party. This means that the number of voters is disproportionately high compared to the members. The ties to the party are usually only weak. Most of the funding must come from external sources. Historically, dignitaries' parties often emerged from parliaments and were founded by parliamentarians. For the groupings that have always existed in parliament (the predecessors of today's parliamentary groups ), it became necessary to set up organizational structures in the constituencies in order to secure voters due to the expansion of the right to vote to larger parts of the population. Such parties were mostly conservative.
  • Member party: In contrast to the bourgeois parties, the workers' parties emerged from extra-parliamentary organizations that had a fixed, well-organized apparatus at their disposal at an early stage and had a relatively high proportion of members (mass party). A member party, so the expression that has prevailed in the present, shows a considerable degree of organization. Therefore, a significant part of their expenses can be covered by membership fees.
  • People's party : Verbal equivalent often used in the modern media for member party , in Germany thisrefersto the Union parties ( CDU / CSU ) and the SPD ; The SPD hasa large, but now declining, anchoring in the populationthrough the mass organizations trade unions and the charity organization Arbeiterwohlfahrt . In Austria, the term “People's Party” (or “Big Party”) means the SPÖ and the ÖVP . In Switzerland the term “People's Party” only exists as part of the name of individual parties of various sizes (e.g. SVP 26% of the vote; EPP 2.3% of the vote). The parties represented in the government arecalled Bundesrat parties.

Differentiation according to socio-political goals

The following categories emerged mainly in European politics. They reflect the social furrows, i.e. lines of conflict that can be very different in different countries. In principle, however, a resolution or weakening of the conflicts has been observed since the mid-1980s.

The "classic" furrows in party research are:

  • Agricultural interests vs. Industrial interests
  • Work vs. capital
  • materialistic vs. post-materialistic
  • economic vs. ecologically
  • Secularism vs. Church / Christian values
  • Central government vs. regional units

These lines of conflict partially cross each other or overlap each other, so that in the individual parties, v. a. the larger several lines of conflict can be found.

Differentiation according to the political catchment area

  • People's Party : It tries to take into account the interests and needs of all sections of the population, so it does not distance itself from certain sections of the population, but instead integrates as many citizens as possible. This does not mean that a people's party does not set any priorities in the membership and electoral structure. Philosophical viewpoints play only a subordinate role for the program of a people's party.

Several types can be distinguished among the parties that are not part of the popular parties:

  • Interest party : It feels obliged to the interests of a very special (e.g. social, denominational, regional) group and does not claim to be equally eligible for all sections of the population. The party program is often very pronounced here. A variant of the interest party is the class party. Examples: peasant parties or parties of national minorities
  • Weltanschauung party (also program party ): It feels particularly strongly committed to a certain worldview, to which it aligns its program in all political fields and which it often tries to enforce as binding for society as a whole. Examples: Orthodox religious parties, communist and national socialist parties.
  • Thematic party: Although it addresses the general population in principle, it largely limits its political program to one or a few political topics. Since attention to major political issues often fluctuates, thematic parties are often short-lived or gradually broaden their programmatic basis. Examples: The Greens of different countries in their development phase as environmental protection and disarmament parties , law-and-order parties like the PRO .
  • Regional party : A party that competes exclusively in a specific region or district of a country and is accordingly programmatically oriented.

Differentiation according to the function in the political system

  • Governing party : This party was victorious in the elections and will remain in government until the next election. There can be several ruling parties that together - as a coalition - form the government.
  • Opposition party: This party lost out in the elections and forms the opposition in parliament. There can also be several opposition parties whose aim is to recommend themselves to the voter by showing alternatives for the next election.



As an authoritarian state with its self-interpretation as a "non-partisan" entity, the German Reich denied the parties access to state organs within which they could have come into effect. Hegel's doctrine of the state as the “moral whole” equates “party” with the “violence of a few”, the “special, accidental interest”. Here she met with Jean-Jacques Rousseau's fictional radical democracy. It was not the monarchy or the military and civil civil service that hindered the formation of the parties; for parties arise against authoritarian rule in that a hitherto excluded part demands to participate in the rule, according to the English model, where one party exercises parliamentary rule and the other forms an opposition capable of governing. At the time of the creation of the German nation-state on the basis of popular sovereignty , parties are theoretically excluded for the sake of unity, which requires an identity of rulers and ruled.

Also, the state law was divided on the party state. “We can expect to find the parties mentioned in three passages of the imperial constitution: where the origin of all state power is mentioned, the parties would have to be seen as the ultimate creative organs of all other organs of the party state; where the position of the elected MPs is mentioned, the classification of the MPs in his parliamentary group should not be denied; where the government is mentioned, the coalition of parliamentary groups that supports it should also be mentioned. "But the" lifelong lie of the governmental state "about the non-partisan nature of the state leaves the Weimar Constitution only" with a negative gesture of the most brittle defense " (Leo Wittmayer).

In Article 130 of the Weimar Constitution , “which in any case could not be doubted, that the personal freedom of the civil servant, in particular the freedom of speech, freedom of the press, assembly and association, is not only subject to the general, but also to the particular restrictions which arise from the duties of his office and class. ”And:“ The Reichstag representative is nobody's representative but only the German Reich, which is not different from the 'whole people' but rather is identical to it. From a constitutional point of view, it is an imperial organ. Today, as before (cf. the cited provisions of the old constitutions), the exercise of this unity takes place with full independence from everyone: from the party… ”In political practice this meant: "If the Reich constitution only knows the member of parliament as an individual, only subject to his conscience and not bound by orders, then the rules of procedure for the Reichstag of December 12, 1922 show him to be able to act almost only within his parliamentary group." The same happened in the area of Elections: "If, according to the Imperial Constitution, the power of the state proceeds from the people as a whole, without considering its structure, then, according to the electoral laws, it arises from the people divided into parties."

There were several stages of development. “While the first version of the Reich Election Act in some of the state election laws stipulated that the indication of a party on the ballot paper was irrelevant, the Reich Act of October 24, 1922 allowed the parties to be stated in addition to or instead of the names of the candidates and finally determined the Reich Election Act in its current form (Section 25) and the Reich voting regulations (Section 44, Paragraph 2) that the ballot papers must contain the name of the party. ”The view that parties are essential for parliamentarism as“ the division of the whole into forces that compete with one another ”, had not yet prevailed.

In the Bonn Basic Law , however, a new understanding of the parties found expression. “The party will is a one-sided expression of the common will of the state that is always sought after. The spirit of the whole already lives in the party, which is only a 'moment' in the whole, namely in the hidden popular will that is pressing for political shaping. In contrast to the directions of will of particular interest groups, the will of the party only makes sense in relation to the general will of the state. The activities of the parties serve the well-being of the whole people. "

The “participation in the formation of political will” provided for in the Basic Law means in this context the constant and direct participation of the parties in the formation of political will in parliament in the sense of participation in legislation, the organization of a majority capable of governing and the formation of a government, on the other hand the formation of an opposition through which the dissenting groups assert themselves in state life. ”The Federal Constitutional Court described this singular middle position, which was alien to the previous constitutional law, with the expression“ incorporation into the constitutional structure ”.

In Article 21.1 of the Basic Law it says:

“The parties contribute to the formation of the political will of the people. Its establishment is free. Your internal order must correspond to democratic principles. They must give a public account of the origin and use of their funds as well as their assets. "

Section 2 (1) of the German Political Parties Act (PartG) defines parties as follows:

"Parties are associations of citizens who permanently or for a longer period of time exert influence on the formation of political will for the federal or state level and want to participate in the representation of the people in the German Bundestag or a state parliament , if they are based on the overall picture of the actual conditions in particular according to the scope and strength of their organization, according to the number of their members and according to their appearance in public, offer a sufficient guarantee of the seriousness of this objective. Members of a party can only be natural persons . "

If a party aims at the removal or impairment of the free democratic basic order, it is unconstitutional according to Article 21.2 sentence 1 GG and can be banned by the Federal Constitutional Court . It is important, however, that only the Federal Constitutional Court has to decide on this according to Article 21, Paragraph 2, Sentence 2 of the Basic Law. Such a party only loses the protection of the constitution through a corresponding judgment.

“The so-called party privilege protects the parties from the general intervention options of the executive, insofar as the actual activity of the party as a participant in the formation of political will is in question.” However, “the Basic Law has decidedly departed from the view of the democratic state as one averted a community based on relativistic thinking. It is based on the conviction that the democratic state has certain firm foundations on which its entire constitutional order is based. Its essence is shaped by them, such as the recognition of human dignity or the rule of law. He is therefore unable to give it up. The Basic Law has withdrawn this basis of the free democratic basic order in Art. 1 , 20 , 28 , 79 GG from any constitutional amendment and with this commitment to inalienable fundamental beliefs and with the readiness to defend oneself against attacks on them, for the Type of a 'defensive' democracy decided ( BVerfGE 5, 85 139). "

The law on political parties provided for in Article 21 (3) of the Basic Law only came into being in 1967. The party law stipulates, among other things, that a party must be democratically organized and must also disclose where it has its (financial) resources from. In Germany, parties and their subdivisions (e.g. local associations) generally have the legal form of an unincorporated (i.e. not registered) association within the meaning of Section 54 BGB . Exceptions are the CSU and the FDP, which are run as registered associations (e.V.). However, their subdivisions are also their own, unincorporated associations. The legal form of the non-incorporated association previously meant that parties had to use the construction of a trustee if they wanted to buy and hold real estate and company assets. Since the Federal Court of Justice changed its case law on joint handicrafts doctrine in 2001 , the unincorporated association (despite its name) has also been treated as legally and party- capable , so that the trustee construction became unnecessary. Since, according to current case law, only the highest and second highest organizational level of a party (usually the federal association and the regional associations) can be entered in the land register as the owner of a property , the trustee structure for holding real estate can continue to make sense.


In order to found a party in Germany, a political association is required, for example, according to Section 2 PartG , this must have a minimum number of members; a number of 55 people was judged to be too low by a court. In contrast, the “No! Idea” party with 61 members was recognized as a party by the Federal Election Committee for the 2013 Bundestag election. The party must take part in at least one Bundestag or Landtag election within six years in order to continue to be recognized as a party. Only natural persons can be members of a party.

The admission of parties to elections is regulated by electoral laws - e.g. B. in Bundestag elections via the Federal Election Act .


Anyone who wants to become a member of a party submits an application for membership to the relevant national association. The board of the district or sub-association in which the applicant lives decides on the admission of the member by vote. A hearing can be arranged for this. Depending on the internal party regulations, a declaration of membership without the approval of a party committee may be sufficient to achieve membership. However, the parties concerned usually have the explicit option of being excluded from the party under certain conditions. Party members can be elected to differently tiered party committees (city / sub-association board, district, district board, state and federal board, state and federal technical committees). Anyone wishing to be elected to a parliament for a party must be nominated as a candidate by their association. While direct candidates are elected by constituency conferences (assembly of all members who are eligible to vote in the constituency), places on the list are filled by ballots at a state party conference to be scheduled for this purpose (state delegate assembly).

Ban on party

A party can be banned through proceedings before the Federal Constitutional Court . For this, the criteria of Article 21, Paragraph 2 of the Basic Law must be met. Further criteria result from the constant case law of the courts . If a party is banned, an appeal is available to the European Court of Human Rights .


In Austria, according to Section 1 of the Political Parties Act 2012, a political party is “a permanently organized association that aims to exert a comprehensive influence on state decision-making through joint activities, in particular by participating in elections for general representative bodies and the European Parliament”. Political parties acquire legal personality by depositing their statutes with the Federal Ministry of the Interior . Since the Federal Ministry of the Interior has no control or decision-making powers in connection with the founding process, the existence of a political party can only be assessed in a different procedure as a preliminary question .

The right to participate in elections is completely independent of the establishment of a political party; in Austrian Constitutional Law is strictly between the political parties on the one hand and for the purpose of candidacy at a single choice formed "political parties in" (or " dial parties " mentioned) on the other. The respective electoral regulations are the legal basis for the campaigning parties.

The Political Parties Act 2012 contains more detailed regulations on auditing of accounting and disclosure obligations; In addition to the political parties, these also partially apply to the campaigning parties. Deregistration of a party has only been envisaged since the Political Parties Act 2012 came into force; therefore there are over 710 so-called “party members” in Austria.


In Switzerland, parties are organized as associations within the meaning of Article 60 of the Civil Code  (ZGB). They are free, unregulated, have their own statutes and can also impose restrictions such as age limits, origin or voting rights, etc. [Ref. (Restrictions) add] Legal persons can also join a party, provided that the party does not restrict this. They do not have any of the privileges that are common elsewhere and are not financed by the state, from taxes.


In Poland, a party can be founded if at least one per thousand of Polish citizens sign a founding application stating the personal registration number and this is recognized as legally valid by the Warsaw District Court. Party members must be at least 18 years old. The abbreviation of the name and the logo of the party to be founded must be added to the application . Participation in elections is not compulsory for Polish parties, but "participation in the public through democratic activities for the purpose of shaping state politics or exercising state authority."


Criticism of the party state has a long tradition. In Germany it is traced back to the authoritarian state , which supposedly manages the fate of the people in a non-partisan way, while parties represent nothing more than special interests. This view was favored by the fact that the German revolution of 1848 had failed and no party had gained parliamentary power of its own accord. The practical test by government responsibility therefore failed to materialize, and the parties could afford the luxury of ideological splitting. This was followed by the politically turbulent years after the First World War, which led to an overheated politicization of formerly apolitical layers, with the political system becoming unable to integrate.

For some decades, the reputation of the parties has been declining, even in the present day of the Federal Republic, because on the one hand prosperity is reducing political interest, on the other hand ruling parties are more often accused of being distant from the citizens, be it because of criticism of certain individual decisions, be it for economic interests or ideology Motifs. (see also disaffection with politics ).

The Russian Nobel Prize for Literature Alexander Isayevich Solzhenitsyn is one of the best-known critics of party parliamentarism. In an interview with Spiegel , he said:

“I am a staunch and consistent critic of party parliamentarism and a supporter of a system in which true representatives of the people are elected regardless of their party affiliation. They then know about their personal responsibility in the regions and districts, and they can also be recalled if they have done poorly. I see and respect business associations, cooperative associations, territorial alliances, educational and professional organizations, but I do not understand the nature of political parties. A bond that is based on political convictions does not necessarily have to be stable, and it is often not without selfishness either. "

See also


National party systems



Web links

Wiktionary: Party  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. "Parties should mean societies based on (formally) free advertising with the purpose of giving their leaders within an association power and their active participants thereby (ideal or material) opportunities (the implementation of objective goals or the acquisition of personal advantages or both) . "( Max Weber : Economy and Society. § 18.)
  2. ^ Joseph A. Schumpeter : Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. A. Francke, Tübingen 6th edition 1987 (New York 1942), ISBN 3-7720-1298-1 . The competition for political leadership. P. 427 ff.
  3. ^ Rudolf Heberle: Social Movements. An Introduction to Political Sociology. (1951), 1970. Cape. 15: The Totalitarian Movements and the New Political 'Orders'. P. 331ff. (German: Main Problems of Political Sociology , 1967).
  4. Eva-Maria Trüdinger, Uwe Bollow: Other times, other content. Meaning content and change in meaning of the political directional terms left and right in an intra-German comparison. In: Journal for Parliamentary Issues . Volume 42, No. 2, 2011, pp. 398-418.
  5. ^ Thomas Nipperdey : The organization of the German parties before 1918. Droste Verlag: Düsseldorf 1961, p. 393.
  6. Otto Heinrich v. d. Gablentz: Political parties as an expression of social forces. Gebr. Weiß Verlag Berlin 1952.
  7. Gottfried Salomon-Delatour : Political Sociology. Ferdinand-Enke-Verlag Stuttgart 1959, p. 85.
  8. Quoted from Gustav Radbruch : The political parties in the system of German constitutional law , in: Handbuch des Deutschen Staatsrechts. First volume. Mohr, Tübingen 1930, p. 288; 285 f.
  9. ^ Friedrich Karl Fromme : From the Weimar Constitution to the Bonn Basic Law. JCB Mohr, Tübingen 2nd edition 1962, p. 29.
  10. Quoted from Gerhard Anschütz , The Constitution of the German Reich. Knowledge Buchgemeinschaft Darmstadt, 14th edition 1965, p. 603.
  11. Quoted from Gerhard Anschütz, The Constitution of the German Reich. Knowledge Buchgemeinschaft Darmstadt, 14th edition 1965, pp. 181f.
  12. Quoted from Gustav Radbruch, The political parties in the system of German constitutional law , in: Handbuch des Deutschen Staatsrechts. First volume. Mohr, Tübingen 1930, p. 291 f.
  13. a b quotation from Gustav Radbruch, The political parties in the system of German constitutional law , in: Handbuch des Deutschen Staatsrechts. First volume. Mohr, Tübingen 1930, p. 290.
  14. ^ Theodor Maunz : German constitutional law. CH Becksche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich / Berlin 14th edition 1965, p. 71.
  15. a b Legal order of the party system. Alfred Metzner Verlag, Frankfurt a. M./Berlin 2nd edition 1958, p. 73.
  16. Legal order of the party system. Alfred Metzner Verlag Frankfurt a. M./Berlin 2nd edition 1958, p. 158.
  17. See OVG Lüneburg v. August 27, 1954 DVBL. 1954 p. 719.
  18. Legal order of the party system. Alfred Metzner Verlag, Frankfurt a. M./Berlin 2nd edition 1958, p. 27.
  19. Legal order of the party system. Alfred Metzner Verlag, Frankfurt a. M./Berlin 2nd edition 1958, p. 226.
  20. See Carl Creifelds, Klaus Weber (Ed.): Legal dictionary ; Beck-Verlag Munich 15th edition 1999, on the keyword party; Bamberg Higher Regional Court of July 8, 1981, NJW 1982, 895.
  21. entered in the register of associations at the Munich District Court, VR 5586.
  22. registered in the register of associations at the district court of Berlin (Charlottenburg) VR 139996NzA5.
  23. For example, for a local CSU association, OLG Bamberg, July 8, 1981, NJW 1982, 895.
  24. BGH of January 29, 2001, BGHZ 146, 341.
  25. BGH of July 2, 2007, NJW 2008, 69, 74.
  26. OLG Celle of January 28, 2004, NJW 2004, 1743.
  27. Meeting of the Federal Electoral Committee on July 5, 2013: http://www.bundestag.de/dokumente/textarchiv/2013/45619507_kw27_wahlausuß/index.html
  28. BVerfG, judgment of the Second Senate of January 17, 2017 - 2 BvB 1/13 - Rn. 1–1010 - accessed May 17, 2019
  29. Ustawa z dnia 27 czerwca 1997 o partiach politycznych ( Sejm : Law of June 27, 1997 on political parties)
  30. ^ Wilhelm Grewe : Party state - or what else? , The Month, 3rd year Sept. 1951, No. 36.
  31. ^ Sigmund Neumann : Modern Political Parties. The University of Chicago Press, 4th ed. 1962, p. 356.
  32. ^ Political scientist Claus Leggewie on disaffection with politics, party democracy and the prospects for the federal election; Nico Nissen: "As a rule, party politicians do not think ahead, they lag behind," telepolis, March 13, 2009.
  33. "Written in Blood" . In: Der Spiegel . No. 30 , 2007, p. 100 ( online - Spiegel interview).