[Marxism] Numbers question

Jurriaan Bendien andromeda246 at hetnet.nl
Sat Aug 7 06:24:49 MDT 2004

Hi Rod,

>Do you mean by "financial members" contributors of money?

I had mistakenly thought that party bodies in the different US states
actually had party membership lists of people who had affiliated and paid
party dues, and that somebody would then have aggregated the numbers of
members nationally, so that you could say that the Democrats have X number
of "members" nationally and Republicans have Y number of "members"
nationally. But this turns out not to be the case, at most you can estimate
a political participation level around election time, which typically varies
from about 300,000 to 600,000 people (paid staffs, volunteers, cheerleaders,

In assessing party membership numbers, normally political scientists refer
to "financial members" of a political party as a base-line (as distinct from
"supporters"). Because supporters or sympathisers is a much vaguer concept,
difficult to define the exact boundaries of, so then you don't know exactly
what you are counting. This data is usually based on annual reports provided
by parties to their members, or to government agencies.

But from what I understand, party membership has a somewhat different
meaning in the United States, at least as far as Republican and Democrat
parties is concerned, and making financial donations of any kind do not
automatically entail party membership of a dues-paying kind, or regular
participation in party activities, it may mean only that a vote is cast for
a given candidate at election time.

With some exceptions, the general trend in Europe has been for traditional
mass parties to lose more and more financial members over the last decades,
reflecting an accelerating decline in formal party-political participation.
For example, over the last year, the German Social-democratic party rather
spectacularly lost 100,000 members, but this figure refers to financial
(card-carrying) members. This reflects both depoliticisation or political
disaffection, and changes in political alignments and orientations.

In Holland (population 16.3 million) where I live, the Christian Democrats
similarly went from 112,000 members in 1992 to 77,000 members in 2004, the
Liberals from 54,000 in 1992 to 44,000 in 2004 and the social democrats from
73,000 in 1992 to 62,000 in 2004. This of course does not necessarily imply
anything for the number of votes cast for those parties.

However, the Dutch Socialist Party has gone from 15,000 in 1992 to 43,000 in
2004, and the Green Left from 13,500 in 1992 to 20,500 in 2004, and
increased their parliamentary representation. The small christian parties
have also made slight gains in members.

The reason why the main Dutch left parties have grown significantly, counter
to the general trend, is basically for three reasons - first, they have made
joining up easy and inexpensive, with well-developed Internet sites (a good
portion of their membership consists of supporters who are not politically
active in party organisations). Second, these parties engage in campaigns of
various kinds continuously, and not just around election time, both at
parliamentary, local-body and grassroots level. Third, a very high
proportion of Dutch citizens are dependent on the state for (part of) their
personal income, and thus government cutbacks have a direct personal effect
for the less well-off.

By contrast, the Dutch Trotskyists (FI and IS) and CPs require a much higher
financial personal contribution, they operate a "cadre" regime, and have
sophisticated ideologies rather than a populist appeal, which requires a lot
higher level of personal commitment and political participation from
members - consequently they only have a few hundred members, and then a
periphery of a few more hundred contacts and sympathisers or donateurs.

In New Zealand, the "jewel" in the crown of neoliberal marketisation and
privatisation, party-political participation levels became so low that the
government started subsidising political parties subsequent, to the
introduction of mixed-member proportional representation. This government
funding already happens in a number of European countries - for example, in
Sweden if you publish a party-political newspaper with a certain
circulation, the government funds it. In France, if you gain a certain
number of votes, the government refunds campaign costs, and so on.


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