The term “cadre party,” first coined by French political scientist Maurice Duverger in 1951,1 neatly encapsulates the traditional reading of Cumann na nGaedheal’s approach to party organization. In his work Duverger distinguished between cadre or elite-based parties and mass-membership political movements. Cadre parties focused on a relatively small number of key adherents and, broadly speaking, symbolized the political cleavage that existed in nineteenth-century Europe between the conservative aristocracy and the liberal bourgeoisie. Cadre parties had flexible, loosely tied structures, did not attempt to enroll supporters in nationwide branch networks, and were organized at election time through people of local or national repute. Moreover, these parties depended heavily on the reputation of their parliamentary candidates and representatives. As such, cadre parties [End Page 91] might be viewed as relics of a time when the franchise was limited to men of property and wealth.2
Conversely, the mass-organized parties identified by Duverger date to the late nineteenth century and the increased politicization of the working classes. Mass-organized Socialist parties first emerged in an attempt to both marshal and educate the ever-growing class of industrial workers in collective political action. Large party apparatuses were built as left-wing movements attempted to promote the cause of industrial workers. The emerging mass parties placed a much greater emphasis on grassroots organization and structured themselves, much like a pyramid, from the level of the local branches, through constituency associations, to the party’s national leadership. Personalities mattered less within these mass movements as members and supporters identified more with the impersonal character of the party’s ideology or ethos and less with individual parliamentarians or notable local leaders. Dependent for their finance on membership subscriptions, mass parties thus endeavored to enlist their supporters in as widespread a network of local branches as possible. Any funds thus generated could then be put into imaginative propaganda campaigns so as to gain the party even more followers.
With the emergence of newly enfranchised electorates in the early decades of the twentieth century, mass-based parties became central political players, maintained internal party bureaucracies, and attempted to reinforce the political identity of their adherents through the establishment of recreational clubs and party newspapers.3 As noted by Duverger, “a man who is bored at the branch meetings of the party will enjoy its sports club.”4 For the older, elite-based parties, the new age of mass politics clearly altered the rules by which they had played. Keener electoral competition in the new, mass electorates of the early twentieth century inflicted an obvious disadvantage on the once dominant cadre parties. They were subsequently forced to modify their own structures in an attempt to become mass-organized parties themselves. This shift in emphasis, however, is easier to conceptualize in theory than it is to identify in practice, since turning [End Page 92] passive support into activism often proved problematic for parties of the right. Duverger has cited middle-class repugnance for political regimentation as one such obstacle hindering the evolution of genuine mass parties of the right.5
Much of what has been written of Cumann na nGaedheal has implied that it was an outdated cadre-type party, with most authors identifying a somewhat casual pro-Treaty approach to party organization as a major problem. Historians and political scientists have argued that Cumann na nGaedheal was badly organized at constituency level. Such analyses contend that Cumann na nGaedheal’s organization was concentrated around local notables, that its leaders saw branches as something of an unnecessary burden, and that the party shied away from developing a rigid and cohesive party machine.6 The theme of a disorganized Cumann na nGaedheal facing a dynamic, well-drilled Fianna Fáil party has been well established,7 and has offered a neat explanation for the electoral triumph of Civil War vanquished over Civil War victor in the Free State general election of February 1932. Even in the decades after 1933, perceived Fine Gael organizational deficiency often served as a convenient explanation for the successor party’s continued electoral eclipse by Fianna Fáil.8
This article will test the prevailing consensus by...