Mildred A. Schwartz. Party Movements in the United States and Canada. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2005. xi + 238 pp. $92.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7425-3967-9; $39.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-7425-3968-6.
Reviewed by Miriam Smith (Department of Politics, Trent University)
Published on H-Canada (August, 2006)
The Politics of Persistence: Parties and Movements in the United States and Canada
Party Movements in the United States and Canada provides an account of strategies of persistence in the politics of party movements in the Canada and the United States, focusing on a paired comparison of eight states and provinces in the upper Midwest and West (Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin) and the Western Canadian provinces (British Columbia [B.C.], Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). Party movements are defined as social movements that aim to change the values and institutions of society and that engage with the party system in order to do so. Mildred Schwartz provides an account of the persistence of such party movements over time and the strategies used by such movements in order to survive. The cross-national design of the research is intended to permit an evaluation of the extent to which there are common organizational and political strategies that are deployed by party movement actors across different external political and institutional environments, thus showing the strength of explanations based at least in part on organizational theory.
The book draws on diverse historical cases of party movements in the eight settings, ranging from farmer and labor protest movements such as the Nonpartisan League, the Farmer-Labor Party, Social Credit, and the Communist Party to contemporary examples such as the Reform Party in the United States and the Reform/Alliance parties in Canada. Schwartz evaluates a number of different strategies that are used by party movements in order to resolve organizational problems and to survive. There are six substantive chapters that survey the main methods. These include the development of factions, the takeover of another political party, purging members, merger with other parties, the makeover of a party movement (such as the transition from Co-operative Commonwealth Federation to New Democratic Party in Canada in 1961), and abeyance (a period in which the party movement survives by closing itself off from outside influences and newcomers). Schwartz views these as strategies that can be deployed by party movement actors in order to resolve organizational problems and to ensure the survival of the party movement.
As such, this book will be of interest to scholars of both political parties and social movements. Generally, social movement scholars, especially in sociology, tend to view contentious politics as a phenomenon that occurs outside the formal political arena, although such politics may be state-focused in their strategies and goals. In the Canadian literature, social movements are sometimes viewed as alternative vehicles to political parties for conveying and expressing the political views of citizens to the state. Current scholarship on Canadian political parties does not pay much attention to social movements or consider the ways in which political parties may have social movement aspects. For this reason, Schwartz's book is a salutary contribution to the literature on social movements and political parties in the United States and Canada. As she points out at the start of the book, the distinction between the formal politics of insiders and the informal politics of outsiders does not bear up in the examination of social movement politics in the cases she examines.
Nonetheless, only certain types of social movements are examined in the book, in part a reflection of the fact that certain types of social movements do not see political parties as an important vehicle for the achievement of their aims. Generally, Schwartz's examples encompass the traditional populist farmer and farmer-labor movements of the American and Canadian West, in keeping with the geographical scope of her work. However, this means that certain types of social movements are excluded from the explanation of persistence. While Schwartz only aims to explain persistence in party movements and not persistence in social movements in general, one wonders if some of the strategies such as factionalism, mergers, or taking over other organizations are a product of the particular forms of collective action that are common in farmer-labor and populist movements. Other recent examples of party movements were excluded from Schwartz's analysis for reasons that are not completely clear. While the Green Party in Wisconsin is discussed, for example, the relatively successful Green Party of B.C. is not included. Of course, the evaluation of persistence dictates a longer historical time period as the base of the analysis; still, the B.C. Green Party is certainly an example of a persistent party movement organization.
The fact that Schwartz draws from diverse historical examples can also be disconcerting to the reader as the external historical context changes greatly across the examples upon which she draws. Schwartz's analysis of the way in which American political parties have tended to co-opt third parties might be undercut by new technologies and changes in election financing in the United States, which have given rise to diverse forms of organizing such as Political Action Committees, 527s (tax-exempt political non-profits that are not subject to state and federal campaign finance limits) and internet-based movements. These forms of organization are not based on organizing and motivating adherents within a particular geographical locale. Given the role of groups such as Move On in the 2004 U.S. elections and the role of internet bloggers in the pending 2006 midterm Congressional elections, one might wonder if such organizations will increasingly permeate the Democratic Party. Similarly, highly organized and well-resourced groups on the political right, such as the National Rifle Association or Americans for Tax Reform, play a key role in primary politics, influencing the agenda of Republican legislators, as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson describe in Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy . Schwartz's concept of the party movement is based on the older model of a territorially based organization in which members and activists guide the political choices made by party movements. This is hard to reconcile with recent changes in the forms of organization for groups that might be defined as highly professionalized NGOs, based on individual contributions, rich donors, and high technology.
Schwartz's central conclusion--that persistence is the result of deliberately chosen strategies by party leaders--is refreshing in its emphasis on the agency of political actors. The U.S./Canada comparison is used to show the similarity in the organizational challenges that face the parties, despite the differences in institutional context. Schwartz emphasizes that party leaders make choices within a larger political context that influences their actions. For example, differences in Canadian and U.S. political institutions mean that party movements are more likely to survive as independent parties in Canada, while they tend to persist as factions within the two main U.S. parties. However, she makes it clear that political choices are not dictated or determined by the environment and institutional context.
Beyond the comparative aspect though, it might have been interesting to consider the trans-nationalization of party movements. Trans-border activism in party movements has a long history, especially among populist farmer movements in the West. More recently, the Christian Right in Canada, while generally considered to be weaker than in the United States, has adopted American-style methods in Canadian electoral politics, specifically, exploiting the candidate nomination process in Canadian ridings in order to ensure the selection of Christian Right candidates. This raises new questions about the extent to which Canada's new governing party--the Conservative Party of Canada, whose founding as a merger of two other parties is discussed in Schwartz's book--is actually a party movement of the Christian Right or the extent to which the party will be taken over by the Christian Right, in the manner Schwartz describes.
This example demonstrates the limitations of the organizational approach. The strategies used by the Christian Right in attempting to infiltrate the Conservative Party may not stem so much from a need to resolve organizational dilemmas as they stem from ideological commitment. Yet, Schwartz's focus on organizational dilemmas can also be applied in this case. The strategy of threatening a sitting candidate through pressure from the Christian Right is quite similar to that described by Hacker and Pierson in the above-mentioned book on American politics. They argue that U.S. politics has polarized, in part, because of the deliberate tactics of the Republican leadership in coordinating threats to moderate Republicans in the primary process. Although Canada lacks a system for primary elections and thus might appear to be closed to this type of tactic, in fact, recent nomination fights in Canadian ridings show that, even without primary elections, pressure can be brought to bear within a political party to push the party leadership in a particular direction. Similar strategies are used in the two countries, despite the limitations of the Canadian institutional context in providing political opportunity for activists to influence the nomination process.
These fascinating recent developments simply point to the importance of Schwartz's choice of subject matter. It is to be hoped that Schwartz's work will encourage scholars of political parties and social movements in the United States and Canada to explore the links more fully between these forms of collective action.
. For different views see Jacquetta Newman and A. Brian Tanguay, "Crashing the Party: The Politics of Interest Groups and Social Movements," in Citizen Politics: Research and Theory in Canadian Political Behaviour, ed. Joanna Everitt and Brenda O'Neill (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2002): pp. 405-406; and Susan D. Phillips, "Social Movements in Canadian Politics: Past Their Apex?" in Canadian Politics, ed. James Bickerton and Alain-G Gagnon, 3rd ed. (Peterborough: Broadview Press, 1999): pp. 331-345.
. See for example Kenneth R. Carty, William Cross and Lisa Young, Rebuilding Canadian Party Politics (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000).
. Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson. Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005).
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