On some problems of classification of political parties

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On some problems of classification of political parties

Major methodological problem in the study of political parties is their
classification (typology). Since it has always faced by all researchers
of political history and thesis, making sure the theoretical complexity
and ambiguity of the problem, in the absence of a unified or at least
“basic” classification, expressed in a multiplicity of approaches and
criteria for the typology of parties and the need to develop some basic
consensus in the block theoretic and methodological issues.

It should be stressed that this issue is generally better developed by
political scientists than historians, though among them there is no
expression of the unity of approaches, criteria for the classification
of political parties both in historical terms, and especially in modern
conditions. In political science usually focuses on the possibility of
using different criteria, among whom some consider the root
characteristics parties, and others – and even minor random.

Modern western political science in most cases it carries out the
classification of parties based on the recognition of plurality and the
equivalence of various characters. Therefore, both parties used the
division of authoritarian and democratic, ideological and pragmatic,
national and regional, religious and secular, the massive, human and
elitist, representative and mobilizing etc. Such a classification allows
to characterize the party with the various parties. At the same time,
recognition of the multiple criteria poses a risk of ignoring or
belittling the basic characteristics of the parties (their software and
ideological beliefs, strategies, tactics, etc. [1, p.30].

It should be recognized as a practical value of modern political science
thesis on the appropriateness of including the association of specific
variants of the typology of political parties with the objectives of a
particular scientific study of the relationship types of parties and
party systems in terms of social development [2, p.4].

Russia’s modern history political science does not operate,
unfortunately, a single (common) typology of political parties as the
pre-revolutionary Russia, and modern Russia. Thus, some experts focus on
the party systems of the past and the degree of political opposition
parties in the present [3, s.278-350]. Another group of scientists
shared the western methodological principle of equal criteria for
analyzing the plurality of political parties [4, p.231-232]. Third
exercise typology based on the organizational structure and membership,
the scale of the two – and a multiparty system [5, p.183-187], etc.

In our opinion, in Russia (and Belarussian) science of history and
political science at hand: a) inappropriate recognition of absolute
mass, at least, the class classification criterion of political parties,
and b) the absence of a single scheme (hence the common criteria)
typology of domestic and foreign parties; c) attempt to provide
universal and the most commonly accepted classification system of
parties. In this third problem is solved very slow and difficult, when
confronted with the contradictions and discrepancies of scientific,
political, ideological and subjective nature.

Nevertheless, there is the feeling that the system of political parties
is not chaos and, therefore, can be theoretically rationalized.
Petersburg researcher SI Stepanov wrote that “the classification as a
method of learning a large number of empirical material, as a sign of
comprehension of essence of the phenomenon … is a value in themselves
political science instrument to adequately reflect the political reality
of the retrospective and predictive functions” [6, p.16 ].

Certainly, there is almost universally accepted fact that reduction is
attributed to the ability of social-class approach, previously the most
common in the Soviet historical science. The current realities of the
information society requires a change outdated view of politics as a
“concentrated expression of economics”, a review of the political party
as the exponent of the interests of certain social classes and groups.

At the same time, even in modern Russian generalizing “History of the
Party” works are conspicuously absent unity of approaches, criteria and
opinions as a matter of classification of political parties and the
general methodological understanding of party-political issues.

For example, a textbook on the history of political parties of Russia in
1994 the publication pointed out that the classification of parties is
carried out “on all of the inherent characteristic features: a social
framework, political program, strategic and tactical principles. The
authors insisted that the basis for the classification of parties must
be shown the entire set of factors (social class, political, national,
moral and ethical, religious, etc.). However, they noted that, depending
on the goals and objectives of the analysis of political parties is one
of many criteria could speak to the fore, while the other plays a
supporting role [7, p.8-9]. Then as in the textbook were identified: a)
All-Russia party and the national b) the monarchy, the bourgeois and
petty-bourgeois and separately Bolsheviks [7, p.11].

Encyclopedic edition on the history of political parties in
pre-revolutionary Russia (1996) assumed that the fundamental differences
between the parties and movements clearly traced to the doctrinal level,
and therefore proposed to allocate three software-political bloc
(directions): conservative, liberal and socialist parties [8 , p.5-6].
Immediately it should be noted that instead of the category of
“socialist” was more appropriate to use the term “radical”.

Modernize Russia’s textbook on the history of political parties (2000)
concludes that “the current state of knowledge allows us to propose the
following classification: conservative, liberal, centrist and socialist
parties and movements” [9, p.9]. The term “centrist” is not commented
and not explained, so do not understand exactly what the party should be
assigned to this unit.

I think that, firstly, fundamentally unacceptable to classify political
parties on the basis of diverse criteria and need to come to the
greatest possible recognition of the leading (basic) criteria of
historical typology of parties. Second, the structuring of the national
parties (Belarusian, Polish, Jewish, etc.) do not always fit into the
overall classification of political parties.

In our view, the basic criterion for classification can be
software-ideological orientation of political parties, suggesting their
division at the reactionary, conservative, reformist (liberal) and
radical (revolutionary). And within each block must take into account
the degree of political radicalism of certain parties in relation to
related political structures. We believe that this theoretical and
methodological approach can be used both for the parties of the past,
and for the systematization of modern parties.

At the same time does not exclude the possibility of using both
categories of “right – left – the centrist” party. In this case,
however, should pay attention to the fact that: a) the typology (in the
tradition of the French Revolution) greatly simplifies the problem,
because in such a scheme is difficult to squeeze the religious,
ethnic-national and other interests, and b) historically adjustably very
content of the concepts “right” and “Left”, c) is extremely difficult to
more or less clearly defined what constitutes a party-political center.

Underlining the complexity of the classification of national parties in
a public education, we can assume that when they are organizing, in
addition to the base (software-ideological) principle should be
considered: a) the extent of radicalism in relation to public and
political center (Imperial, Federal …) b) the presence (absence),
confessional component, etc.

With Russian historians and political scientists linked classification
of political parties with the state of public consciousness. They use
the categorical chain “value – philosophy – ideology – the doctrine. In
this world view is characterized as a general picture of the world, and
a hierarchy of preferences based on varying values, ideology – as a
description of the desired state of society and the main directions of
movement to it, the doctrine – as the action and tactics to achieve the
goals set by ideology.

Every effort shall be emphasized that in their understanding of the
“Party – consciously organized and socially active representative of a
particular type of mass consciousness” [6, p.17]. In an attempt to give
an absolute historical typology of political parties (especially modern
Russia) St. Petersburg, scientists are taking as a basis for ideological
values (national, liberal, socialist) and allocate the appropriate group
of parties [6, sch.19-23]. We believe that such an approach, on the one
hand, quite convincingly reasoned arguments, but on the other hand,
needs to historical specificity, and further theoretical analysis


1. Piulsky, EV Politics: the texts of lectures: In 2 hours / EV Piulsky.
– Grodno: ГрГУ, 1993. – P.2. – 58 pp.

2. The history of social movements and political parties: the curriculum
/ comp. AN Nechuhrin. – Grodno: Grodn.filial HIS, 1999. – 24.

3. Russia historical political science: a course of lectures / Editorial
Board.: SA Kislitsyn (otv.red.) [And others]. – Rostov on Don: Feniks,
1998. – 608 pp.

4. Politics in Russia against the background: a training manual /
Editorial Board.: PI Simush (otv.red.) [And others]. – Moscow: Luch,
1993. – 426 pp.

5. Hajiyev, KS Introduction to political science: a textbook / KS
Hajiyev. – 2 ed. – M.: Logos, 1997. – 544.

6. Political parties, movements and organizations of modern Russia at
the turn of the century: Anal. Handbook, Ed. JH Barygin. – St.
Petersburg: Izd VA Mikhailova, 1999. – 208 pp.

7. History of political parties in Russia: Textbook. / NG Dumova [and
others], ed. AI Zevelev. – M.: Higher School, 1994. – 447.

8. Political parties in Russia, the end Х1Х – the first third of the
twentieth century: Encyclopedia / Editorial Board.: VV Shelohaev
(otv.red.) [And others]. – M.: ROSSPEN, 1996. – 872 pp.

9. Political parties in Russia: history and modernity: Textbook. /
Editorial Board.: AI Zevelev, VV Shelohaev, Yu P Sviridenko
(otv.redaktory) [and others]. – M.: ROSSPEN, 2000. – 631 pp.

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