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Book Review:

Food for thought

From Authortarian Leader Party to Mass Membership Party

Author: Prof. Dr. Thomas Meyer, Dortmund University, Germany

Published by Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office

Price: Undisclosed

Pages: 28

The booklet titled, From Authoritarian Leader Party to Mass Membership Party, under review is not focused on a particular country or continent. Written by a prominent German citizen with a strong academic career, it deals with issues around the political parties which need to retain the relevance of democracy worldwide. Professor Meyer discusses the transition of political parties from the ones directed in an authoritarian manner to the ones having base on mass membership. The preference of the author, for the latter variety, is clear as one goes on reading his observations and interpretations spread over 28 pages.

"Political parties are the motors and the most important means of making society democratic, but only if they are democratically organised themselves," is how the author begins his treatise. The second part of this statement carries a lot of food for thought to those politicians who have led their parties in an arbitrary manner, ignoring the importance of inner-party democracy as well as transparency of its activities and funds used to carry them out.

Professor Meyer alludes to three types of political parties: Authoritarian leader party, dignitary-centred party and mass-membership party. It will be useful for Nepal’s leaders of Seven Party Alliance (SPA) to figure out the nature of the party each one of them is heading. The author briefly presents the case of Germany’s social democratic party and the cohesive leadership Willy Brandt gave to it for an extended period.

While taking up the case of civil society, Professor Meyer leaves no room to speculate that the civil society can ever take the role of political parties. The civil society is separate, and meant to be a separate movement. The civil society, nevertheless, works side by side with political parties where party members provide the necessary "link". Civil society activities are, says the author, determined by a pledge for voluntary involvement, self-organisation and predominant orientation towards common good.

Political parties would be more effective, contends the author, only when they are made to be participatory entities, having foundation at the grassroots level. An lively civil society movement can make significant contribution to make the parties what they basically expected to be: " Political parties are people’s institutions," writes Dev Raj Dahal in the foreword to the publication brought out by the Nepal Office of Germany’s Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES). The booklet that says a lot succinctly is worth a read.

ä Reviewed by Dhruba Hari Adhikary

The book review was published in the NewsFront dated 10 December 2007

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