Political Party and Democracy

Robert Michels was a German intellectual and politician.  In the early part of the last Century, Michels joined the Social Democratic Party of Germany.  He left the party because he thought the party had deviated from its democratic principles, and later joined the Italian Socialist Party, which he saw as a more democratic form of socialism.  Michels believed in true democracy but, as he moved through the ranks of the Socialist Party, he found out, that even among more militant factions of the party, that the slogan of people-participation was nothing more than oligarchic bureaucracy.  Michels was consumed with the asymmetry between political parties and true democracy.  He concluded that it was impossible for any party to bring about true democracy in practice—that oligarchy was inevitable.

Michels explained that for any party with a democratic base to consolidate the legitimacy it requires, it must have an organization that delegates tasks.  He reasoned that the rank and file within the party would not have the time, energy, wherewithal or inclination to participate in the many, often minute decisions necessary to keep the party functioning.  Over time, this bureaucracy becomes permanent, full-time cadre of leadership.  And, inexorably, there grows up a great “gulf which divides the leaders from the masses.” The leaders now control the tools with which to manipulate the opinion of the masses and subvert the party’s democratic process.  Thus the leaders, who were at first no more than workers within the party, will soon become independent of the party’s control.

A political party is an organization of people that utilizes political power by leveraging the goals and objectives common to its members.   Some political parties have ideological objectives, and others do not; some are formed around social or economic issues while some champion their ethnic or cultural identities.  In spite, the formation of political parties, in most countries, are organic—political parties typically coalesce around the goals, objectives or ideologies common to the group.

National Council of Nigerians and Cameroons (NCNC) was formed to eradicate colonialism; while Northern People’s Congress (NPC) and Action Group (AG) were both formed as socio-ethnic organizations.  On the other hand, the Northern Element Progressive Union (NEPU), the first party formed in the North, was more ideological.   In the United States, the stark differences in thought between the factions of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson gradually led to the formation of the Democratic and Republican parties.  In the United Kingdom, the differences between those advocating constitutional and absolute monarchy led to the creation of the Whig and the Tories.

The current political associations in Nigeria, with antecedents in past political parties, do not follow any of these trends.  While the political and socio-economic conditions of the past appears to have moderated for newer ones, the two dominant political parties, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and All Progressive Congress (APC) lack discernible goals, objectives and ideologies to match those current conditions.  As such, it is difficult or impossible to critique/analyze the means and objectives each of the parties proposes to solve those current challenges.  Equally, the lack of discernible goals, objectives and ideologies blur any differences that might exist between the parties, if there was any at all.

True democracy, on the other hand, is the government by the people.  Among a small set of people, it is easy to have each member of the group participate in the act of governing but this becomes rowdy and impractical as the group enlarges.  As such, a representative democracy is established to correct the anomaly.  In a representative democracy, each subset of a larger set selects a member from the subset, and the selected members combine to govern on behalf of all members of the larger set.  Representative democracy does not need party organization to succeed.  The central argument of this essay is that party organization or political party, on the other hand, destroys representative democracy.  In the United States, the first party to be formed, the Democratic Party was formed around 1832—more than forty years after representative democracy started.

The end goal of a political party is to integrate the power inherent in each representative for common ends.  This power can both be positive or negative.  It is important to note, as Michels did, that political parties, by its nature, promotes insularity and impedes the free flow of ideas.  In the United States, the Republican Party was formed to prevent Kansas from becoming a slave-friendly State and promote industrialization; while the Party has recently formed opposition to expanding healthcare to all Americans and immigration.  Polls taken of how each representative would have voted if immigration were to be introduced in the US House of Representatives indicate, contrary to the Party’s position, that immigration would pass the House by a significant margin.

In conclusion, flexibility and durability are the hallmarks of a people Constitution; and the goals and objectives of a people Constitution are to enhance the human capacity within its geographical area.  At the heart of democracy is the capacity for each individual in the society to influence governance.  As such, human growth is the outcome of the interplay between a people Constitution and true democracy.  A political party, as Michels concluded, is antithetical to true democracy; it substitutes its internal organization—designed for its survival, for true democracy.  Political parties crush the individual in a democracy to create, at best, its persona and ideology.  As such, instituting party politics over true democracy in a people Constitution is unnecessary and repressive, and superfluous at best.  Sections 221 and 222 of the Nigerian Constitution establishes rather than allow the organic formation of political parties.  The two sections are the military’s attempt to foster uniformity and organization upon true democracy, while the energy that fuels true democracy is the wide diversity in the people’s ability—it is what makes democratic institutions succeed.

While representative democracy is the bridge between true democracy and political parties, it is not necessary for the State to promote political parties above true democracy.  Political parties are natural and organic, and not mechanical creations.

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