Bloc party (politics)

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A bloc party (German: Blockpartei) in politics may refer to a political party that is a constituent member of an electoral bloc. However, this term also has a more specific meaning, referring to non-ruling but legal political parties in an authoritarian or totalitarian regime (most notably Communist regimes) as auxiliary parties and members of a ruling coalition, differing such governments from a pure one-party state, although such parties are not considered opposition parties or alternative sources of power.

Sometimes, bloc party is called a satellite party.

Background[edit]

The concept has its roots in the Popular front idea where Marxist and non-Marxist political parties and other organisations would belong in an umbrella organisation. Following the end of World War II, elections were held in areas already under Soviet influence who would become members of the Eastern Bloc, while giving voters choice, would be seen as a step towards a totalitarian, Communist-led regime. Bloc parties were able to retain their non-Marxist orientation, but in practice were always subordinate to the ruling Communist party, and all legal parties and civic organisations were required to be members of the official coalition. Elections were not competitive as the composition of legislatures was generally pre-determined. Parties only occasionally dissented from the line of the ruling party. Some parties were pre-existing, others had been newly formed, to appeal to specific sectors of society. However, during the fall of Communism, many hitherto subordinate bloc parties would begin to assert their independence and play a role in the democratisation process, while others would be unable to continue functioning either due to a loss of guaranteed yet artificial representation (granted to them by the ruling Communist Party), or due to the stigma of being associated with subservience to the Communists, and would either dissolve or fade into obscurity.

Bloc parties under Communist regimes[edit]

East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Poland operated bloc party systems where non-Marxist parties were constituent members of an official coalition. A similar system operates in China today.

East Germany[edit]

In the German Democratic Republic, the National Front was the umbrella organisation which included the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany, other political parties and various non-party organisations. Along similar lines to the formation of parties in West Germany, new parties in the Soviet zone (that would become the German Democratic Republic) were formed to replace the parties of the pre-Nazi period, whereas the Social Democratic Party of Germany and Communist Party of Germany merged to form the Socialist Unity Party of Germany. These parties were the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (LDPD), and later the National Democratic Party of Germany (NDPD) and Democratic Farmers' Party of Germany (DBD).

As the Communists consolidated their power, the bloc parties all jettisoned their original programs. All of them nominally embraced "socialism," becoming loyal partners of the SED. With few exceptions, they voted unanimously for all government proposals. One of the few notable dissension of a bloc party occurred in 1972 when members of the CDU in the Volkskammer took a stand against the legalisation of abortion, with the party's deputies either voting against the law or abstaining.

During Die Wende the bloc parties began to assert themselves and emerge as independent parties, leading to the first and only free election to the Volkskammer in 1990. During the process of German reunification, the bloc parties merged into their western counterparts. Non-party organisations such as the Free German Youth, Kulturbund and the Democratic Women's League of Germany broke their formal affiliation with the former ruling party and continue as separate organisations today.

Czechoslovakia[edit]

The 1946 elections saw only parties of the National Front, dominated by the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia, take part. However, elections were competitive, with the Communists and Social Democrats prevailing in the Czech lands, and the anti-Communist Democratic Party winning a comfortable majority in Slovakia. In 1948, however, the Communists seized power and non-Marxist parties were made subordinate to the Communists. During the Velvet revolution, the parties became more assertive in pressuring for change, and transformed themselves for democratic politics. The Christian democratic Czechoslovak People's Party remains a player in Czech parliamentary politics.

Poland[edit]

The 1947 elections were blatantly rigged in favour of the Democratic Bloc, with Communist and Socialist parties being merged to form the Polish United Workers' Party (PZPR). In 1952 the Front of National Unity was formed, including the PZPR, the agrarian United People's Party (ZSL) and the centrist Democratic Party (SD), while up to three Catholic associations also had representation in the Sejm. Occasionally, deputies from these groups (most notably the Catholic Znak) offered limited criticism of government policies. A number of deputies from bloc parties also voted against the imposition of Martial Law in Poland, after which the Front of National Unity was replaced by the Patriotic Movement for National Rebirth with the same member organisations.

In 1989, partly free elections were held in which Solidarity won an overwhelming majority of freely contestable seats- only 35% of the Sejm- while the PZPR and bloc parties were reserved 65% of the seats. The ZSL and SD formed a coalition government with Solidarity, thus forming Poland's first non-Communist government since World War II. The SD continues today, whereas the ZSL eventually evolved into today's Polish People's Party. Two of the Catholic associations with Sejm representation continue today as lay Catholic organisations.

Bulgaria[edit]

During Communist rule in Bulgaria, the Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union was the only other legal party. A number of successor parties exist in post-Communist Bulgaria.

Other examples[edit]

In China and North Korea, bloc parties also exist, playing a subordinate role to ruling Communist parties as constituent members of official coalitions.

In non-communist regimes[edit]

A few examples of a bloc party system also exist in non-Communist regimes.

Mexico[edit]

In Mexico during the rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI, 1929–2000), partidos paleros (satellite parties) included the Authentic Party of the Mexican Revolution and the Socialist Popular Party. These helped the PRI government give the superficial appearance of a competitive democratic system. In fact, both satellite parties fully supported the government and co-nominated the PRI candidates for the Presidency of Mexico until 1988.

Syria[edit]

The National Progressive Front is an umbrella organisation comprising the Ba'th Party and several other pro-government parties, who in practice play a subordinate role to the Ba'th Party. Traditionally, legal political parties were required to follow the socialist and Arab nationalist or pan-Arabist orientation of the al-Assad regime. More recently, parties have been no longer required to do so in order to receive legal recognition and one such party, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, was both legalised and admitted to the NPF. This has given rise to suggestions other parties that are neither socialist nor Arab nationalist will gain recognition, but ethnically-based (Kurdish or Assyrian) parties continue to be repressed, and Islamist parties remain illegal.

Uzbekistan[edit]

Although there is no formal coalition group, Uzbekistan may also be classified as having an example of a bloc party system, because all legal political parties are required to support the regime of President Islam Karimov.