Bibliography on Party Politics in EL SALVADOR, 1950-1962

John C. Thomas

The most striking feature of the literature on Salvadorean political parties is its virtual non-existence. This is part of a more general lack of literature on Salvadorean phenomena of any kind, and is probably largely due to the fact that El Salvador is the smallest of the numerous small Central American countries.

Fortunately for this undertaking, two aspects of recent Salvadorean political history have attracted attention from both journalists and academics thus producing at least a minimal literature. Journalists accorded the country considerable attention during the crises surrounding a 1960 coup d'etat. The crises were scarcely as interesting to journalists as was the potent Communist movement in neighboring Guatemala in the early 1950's, but the events were sufficiently exciting to arouse some world press interest. A few academics--particularly Raymond Ashton--have been intrigued by the activities of a civilian-military elite which, operating under first one and then another party identity, attempted during the course of the time period under study to mobilize the Salvadorean economy. The attempts were regarded as worthy of study in the context of the comparative study of developing nations. Without these two phenomena there might be no extant literature on recent Salvadorean politics. However, some of this literature could not be indexed into the ICPP files because of its limited relevance to the study of parties.

Salvadorean parties, like many Latin American parties, are primarily electorally oriented with little activity between elections and little in the way of organization at any time. Realizing these facts, most writers seem to have concluded, rightly or wrongly, that understanding Salvadorean parties is not critical for an understanding of the broader phenomena of Salvadorean politics. The conclusion seems to be the same whether the writer is scholar, journalist, or partisan.

In view of these problems with the English literature, the decision was made to index whatever Spanish literature was available and relevant. Availability was a problem since many of the citations located in the bibliography search had never circulated outside of El Salvador, and could not be obtained from sources in El Salvador. As with the English sources, much of what was available was not relevant. On this basis, only 45 pages--less than twenty percent of the total pages indexed--were indexed from Spanish sources. By far the best of this literature was Eleodoro Ventocilla's Lemus y la Revolucion Salvadorena of which 21 pages were indexed. The work is topical and certainly not scholarly, but it is informative and particularly welcome for the view it presents of Salvadorean politics from within.

Material Processed into ICPP Information Files

A total of 288 pages from 35 documents were selected from the literature search for inclusion in the ICPP files. A description of the major indexing categories and their frequency of use is presented in the first table.

Several points made in the introductory description of the literature are illustrated by the usage of the codes. One of these is the generic Latin American theme of the electorally oriented party. Codes 210 (conducts election campaigns) and 340 (party candidates) are the most prominent manifestation of this theme. Taken together, they indicate not only the electoral orientation of Salvadorean parties, but also the strong candidate or personality orientation of electoral activities. Somewhat less prominent, but equally illustrative, are codes 620 (electoral system) and 500 (gain control of government). The popularity of the former code can be traced to the reiterated claim of the non-governmental parties that the electoral system was biased toward the ruling Partido Revolucionano de Unificacion Democratica (and later toward its successor, the Partido de Conciliacion Nacional).

Many of the other frequently used codes are more subtle by-products of the focus on electoral activities. Statements of party goals in office--represented by code 530 (issue orientation) appeared frequently in descriptions of candidate or party platforms. Much of the literature on "party supporters" (code 300), appeared as election-time journalistic speculation on the voting bases of the various parties. The literature on "interparty cooperation" and "competition" (codes 830 and 840), dealt with the frequent minor party coalitions (code 840) in electoral opposition (code 830) to the PRUD.

The scholarly interest in Salvador's mobilizing government is also well documented in the coding frequencies. Documents with this focus tended to stress the efforts of the party in government (with, however, the government in primary position and party as secondary). Accordingly, we note the frequent usage of code 350 (party members in government posts). The difficult differentiation between party and government roles resulted in the frequent usage of codes 660 (the executive) and 650 (the administrative bureaucracy). Elaboration of the mobilization theme entailed descriptions of the formation of government policy, usually captured under code 230 (influences government policy). The mobilization goals themselves, as distinct from issue orientations, were coded as 560 (organizational goals).

The journalistic interest in the country's political instability has only a couple of obvious coding manifestations. The most obvious is code 750 (activities of the military), which often denoted military take-over of government. The other is code 600 (national crises), which refers in most of its usages to the crises of the early 1960's.

Some Observations on the State of the Literature

The deficiencies in the literature are too numerous to be mentioned. However, the frequency distributions of the major coding categories indicate two major problems--the absence of both theoretical and organizational treatments of Salvadorean parties. The 4-- codes (party organization) and 0-- codes (study of parties) together constitute only 3.8% of the total coding. Given the lack of organizational literature, one should expect to find similar deficiencies in many of the individual codes on non-electoral party activities and on lower level party membership. This is indeed the case despite the overall high frequency of codes 2-- (party activities) and 3-- (party composition). Needless to say, these are critical deficiencies whether one desires to study parties cross-nationally or simply in the Salvadorean context.

The second table summarizes the data quality codes of the 35 indexed documents. This summary is deceptive in many ways because it gives equal weighting to all documents when, in fact, the literature is disproportionately concentrated in a small number of documents.

Ashton's thesis, for instance, alone accounts for over a third of the indexed literature. Nonetheless, a few conclusions can be drawn from the table.

Several points made earlier can be reiterated from the evidence in the table. The bulk of the literature was credited to scholars and academics; here only three who do not fit into either category are listed as authors. The non-party orientation of the literature is evidenced in the fact that only one of the documents had a political party as the scope of its study. The theoretical failings of the literature are confirmed through the complete lack of propositions. Along similar lines, we note that only four of the documents contained any kind of quantitative data in tabular form.

The table does suggest a few positive characteristics of the literature. For one, all of the documents dealt primarily with the time period under study. For another, the objectivity of most documents is not questioned, nor is there much problem with the distortion that often comes with ideological approaches. And, there are at least two indicators which show that the majority of the authors were not complete strangers to Salvador and its culture. First, most of the authors utilized Spanish language resources of some kind. Second, many had spent some time either in Salvador or in other parts of Central America.

Any kind of critical analysis of the literature on Salvadorean political parties must return to the initial assertion made in this essay: the central problem is the lack of literature. Furthermore, the inducements to study Salvadorean parties are not such to suggest that this deficiency will be corrected at any time in the near future. There is a possibility, based on the fact that social science often thrives on the tragedies of others, that the literature will expand significantly as a consequence of the Salvadorean conflict with Honduras. Undoubtedly, the literature on Salvador will expand greatly. Whether that expansion will be accompanied by a corresponding expansion in the attention accorded to parties in the country is doubtful. In the absence of any strong inducement to study Salvadorean parties, the best descriptions and analyses may in the future be found in area studies of Central American parties. Such area studies exist in significant numbers today, but unfortunately, they suffer from many of the deficiencies that characterize the Salvadorean party literature--lack of theory, lack of description of internal party organization, and lack of detail on non-electoral activities. Perhaps as the pressures for theory, comparative study, and quantification diffuse further in political science, the area studies will improve in these respects.