Taming Extremist Parties: Lessons from Europe

Issue Date January 2008
Volume 19
Issue 1
Page Numbers 5-18
file Print
arrow-down-thin Download from Project MUSE
external View Citation

Read the full essay here.

A rise in the power of Islamist parties has lent fresh interest to the old question of how revolutionary movements respond to participation in democracy. Pessimists argue that such movements will use any power they gain at the ballot box to subvert democracy, while optimists believe that participation can turn extremists into moderates. The example of 20th-century European communist parties shows that political context can trump radical essence, for where democratic institutions and structures were relatively effective and legitimate, communist parties were moderated by participation. But such evolution was not universal or inevitable, and in weak democracies communist parties remained committed to revolution and presented a real threat to democracy.

About the Author

Sheri Berman is professor of political science at Barnard College. Her works include Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Régime to the Present Day (2019) and The Primacy of Politics: Social Democracy and the Making of Europe’s Twentieth Century (2006).

View all work by Sheri Berman