two-party system

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two-party system

a political system (found in e.g. the UK or the USA) in which the electoral contest is dominated by two main parties. Generally one party is ‘left wing’, and the other ‘right wing’, but not always (e.g. the Republic of Ireland). An elective system based on single-member constituencies and first-past-the-post elections usually underlies this. The existence of such systems would also appear to depend on the elimination of social and political divisions (e.g. religious or ethnic) which might cross cut those based on class interest. See also CLASS CLEAVAGE, STABLE DEMOCRACY.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Two-Party System


a commonly accepted definition of the political system of a number of bourgeois states, in which the two leading parties in the country periodically alternate in running the government, thus serving the interests of the ruling class.

The two-party system is found in the USA (the Republican and Democratic parties), Great Britain (the Conservative Party and at first the Liberal Party, whose place was taken by the Labor Party in the 1920’s), Canada (the Liberal and the Progressive Conservative parties), and certain other countries. During election campaigns the two parties usually stage political fights without any substance. The monopoly bourgeoisie controls and directs the activity of the two parties through the official party machinery (also through bosses in the USA) and through immense financial support. (The cost of presidential campaigns in the USA reached several hundred million dollars in the 1960’s.) The two-party system does not exclude the existence of other parties. However, for a variety of reasons the other parties usually do not play a major political role. The ruling classes use the two-party system to prevent the formation of a large third party that could become a genuine spokesman of the interests of the popular masses. While the two parties have identical positions on the major questions of the government’s domestic and foreign policy, they differ somewhat in political tactics and the methods and techniques the leaders and functionaries use to attain victory over their opponents.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Soch., 2nd ed., vol 22, pp. 199–200.
Lenin, V. I. Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 22, pp. 192–94.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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