Please find below a call for papers for the Workshop we are organizing on ‘Leadership in Radical Left Parties’. The Workshop will take place on 5-6 June 2023 at the University of Glasgow. We look forward to receiving paper proposals until the 31st of January 2023.
Workshop Title: Leadership in European Radical Left Parties
Organisers: Professor Myrto Tsakatika, University of Glasgow, Professor Luke March, University of Edinburgh and Dr Petar Bankov, University of Glasgow
Date: 5-6 June 2023
Location: University of Glasgow
Call for Papers
European radical left party leaders have been vital agents in the political success (or failure) and transformation of their respective parties in the post-communist period. Some have led governments (Christophias, Voronin, Tsipras), or their parties into government coalitions/external supply arrangements (Bertinotti, Hue, Halvorsen, Martins, Filip). Others have spearheaded vociferous, anti-establishment challenges to party systems as leading opposition figures (Melanchon, Marjiansen, Lafontaine). A select few have gained support and achieved notoriety beyond national borders offering new impetus and new faces for the European and international radical left (Tsipras, Inglesias, Corbyn). In the era of the personalisation, polarisation and mediatisation of politics, leadership increasingly matters.
The extant social science literature on radical left parties (e.g March 2011, Hudson 2012, Ramiro 2016, March and Keith 2016, Chiocchetti 2017, Katsambekis and Kioupkiolis 2019, March et al 2022), has tended to focus on questions of party profile (ideology/strategy), membership, electoral and governmental performance, and policy impact. There is an emergent literature focussing more explicitly on radical left party organisation (e.g. Tsakatika and Lisi 2013, Charalambous and Lamprianou 2016) which is however as yet under-developed. Despite the importance of contemporary radical left leadership, hardly any social science research has focused on analysing the phenomenon, particularly in comparative perspective.
It is worth noting how diverse the radical left party family is in terms of leadership: there are examples of collective leadership as well as virtual leaders-for-life; gender-balanced and feminised organisations co-exist with rather ‘macho’ male-dominated leaderships, bureaucratic leadership features alongside populist maverick leadership. The radical left thus makes a good party family to examine, with one over-riding question: is there anything distinctive about radical left party leadership in terms of its function, style and communication?
We are particularly interested in five major aspects of radical left party leadership:
1) Leadership as a function of party organisation. Biographical studies of pre-1989 radical left party leaders have stressed the strong grip that the latter have exercised upon their party organisations and the extent to which they have fostered or countered the centralisation of power. Little insight is on the contrary available on the impact of contemporary RLP leadership on their parties’ internal organisation. Previous studies have touched upon party organisational linkages with members, supporters and external organisations. However, few studies, particularly on a comparative basis, have focussed on the role that leadership plays in party linkages and in the maintenance of organisational and factional equilibria.
2) Leadership and gender. There are few studies of the radical left and gender (although see Keith and Verge 2016). Formally speaking, the radical left is a very gender-conscious party family, with commitments to feminism and 50:50 gender quotas for candidate and leadership positions widespread. However, these commitments are regularly informally flouted, with many parties (particularly the ‘old left’) being male dominated. Nor has the radical left been immune to scandals relating to harassment or exploitation. We would argue that claims to ‘strive for a society, which transgresses the capitalist and patriarchal logic’ (Party of the European Left, 2019), need to be analysed, not taken at face value.
3) Leadership and political communication. It used to be said that there was a very distinct form of communist leadership, sometimes dubbed ‘non-charismatic personalism’ (Ansell and Fish 2002), whereby (male) communist leaders acted primarily as arbitrators within the party bureaucracy rather than figures who courted wider electoral popularity. Such leaders represented the distinctly bureaucratic apparatchik style of ‘comrade card-index’ as was Stalin’s one-time nickname. In the post-communist era, it is less evident that there is a distinct ‘radical left’ leadership style. Radical left leaders have become increasingly office and vote-seeking, increasingly telegenic and focussed on (new) media communication, and less obviously simply the ciphers of the party bureaucracy (March 2008). Indeed, left-populist leaders are regularly regarded as charismatic (a term which is inexact and now increasingly contested within the populist literature itself [e.g. Pappas 2016]). Our focus is on what (if anything) is still distinct about radical left party leadership political communication? What explains national variations? Is left-populist leadership itself especially distinct?
4) Leadership and electoral performance. Due to the overarching trends of the personalisation and mediatisation of politics, party leader effects on the vote are argued to be not only real (Holmberg and Oscarsson 2011, Curtin and Lobo 2014) but increasingly important (Clark et al 2004). That said, voters on the radical left were traditionally understood to vote for ideology, programmes and party policies, not for leaders. Research shows that voters’ political competence is considered to be negatively associated with voting for leaders (rather than for parties), while leadership is less important in voter choice for small parties (Aardal and Binder 2011) as most RLPs tend to be. Few studies have focused on RLPs’ electoral performance (Ramiro, Gomez, March and Rommerskirtchen), but none of these studies have so far have zeroed in on what the specific impact of leadership is on voting for RLPs’. What role does leadership play in bolstering RLPs’ electoral success (or failure)? Is leadership important (or becoming more important) for the RLP voter? Is there a specific type of leadership that is more conducive to RLPs’ electoral success?
5) Leadership and office. How do radical left party leaders perform when yielding government power? The few recent studies that have been conducted on left parties in government tend to focus on the way these parties navigated state power (Katsourides 2016), the policy priorities they set or the strategic compromises that they were forced to make (Olsen, Koss and Hough 2011). None of these studies particularly focused specifically on leadership. Is there anything that distinguishes radical left party leaders in office? Are they, for instance characterised by a particular governing style? Do they retain the radical and sometimes populist mantle that brought them to power or do they end up leading their party towards the mainstream?
We welcome approaches to the above questions, particularly those that have a comparative perspective. Theoretically-informed case studies are also welcome, particularly those which analyse lesser-known national cases, in both Western and Eastern Europe.
Deadline for paper proposals: 31 January 2023