chapter  6
Political Participation
Pages 18

Political participation is the involvement of the individual at various levels of activity in the political system, ranging from non-involvement to the holding of political office. Inevitably political participation is closely linked to political socialisation, but it should not be seen solely as either an extension or the product of socialisation. Moreover, it is relevant to a number of theories important in political sociology. For instance, it is essential to both elite and pluralist theories, though its role in each is profoundly different. Elite theory confines significant political participation to the elite, leaving the masses as largely inactive or to be manipulated by the elite. For pluralism, however, political participation is the key to political behaviour in that it constitutes a major factor in explaining the distribution of power and the deciding of policy. Political participation is just as crucial to Marxist theory: class consciousness leads to action or participation, ultimately in the form of revolution, while neo-Marxists, such as Gramsci and Althusser, explain the survival of capitalism by its ability to control participation through hegemony. Leninist theory stresses the participatory role of the Communist Party as the 'vanguard of the proletariat'. Indeed, unless it is defined narrowly as a synonym for democracy, political participation may be said to be a universal phenomenon, not in the sense that all individuals necessarily engage in political activity, nor that it is equally common in form or extent in all societies, but that it is found in all societies.