Does the term "Social Democracy" mean anything anymore?

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Ken Burch
Does the term "Social Democracy" mean anything anymore?

Their is a continuing push, everywhere, to get parties that once identified as socialist and/or fought for socialism to abandon that term and identify, instead, as "social democratic".

The question is...what core values, if any, are still attached to the term "social democracy"?

At one point, it was associated with the valid and still-legitimate idea of creating a socialist society by democratic means- of creating a radical transformation to an egalitarian, oppression-free and more fully democratic society, with a foreign policy that was as non-militarist as possible- and presented itself as such as an alternative to Stalinism.

Over time, though, the parties that called themselves social democratic moved further and further away from this.

After World War II, none of these parties-other than that of historically neutral Sweden- have challenged any part of the perpetual military buildup that has continued throughout the democratic world since 1945, or opposed any of the utterly pointless wars Britain, European countries or North American countries have engaged in since the war against fascism.

After the Fifties, most "social democratic" parties no longer supported putting any significant part of the economy, and were completely unwilling to back any measures to encourage worker ownership and self-management.

After the Seventies, many if not most of these parties stopped pushing for any expansion of "the social wage"(the welfare state which acted as a redistributor of wealth without redistributing economic power to working people at all) and many stopped defending the existing levels of social spending.  In numerous countries, these parties even started cutting the social wage, accepting the idea that the social wage should be no larger than what corporate power would tolerate.

After the Eighties and Nineties, these parties largely stopped supporting any tax increases on the wealthy- and began making smug, dismissive comments about being "extremely casual" about massive concentrations of wealth in the hands of the few.

Since 2000, most "social democratic" parties haven't supported anything progressive other than a few relatively mild antiracist and anti-LGBTQ measures.  They no longer feel any obligation to support the labour movement, no longer stand with the poor against the rich, do not challenge "market values" decision that turn who they no longer feel any obligation to oppose austerity.  They've been, at best, indifferent to "green values".  These parties no longer stand for anything other than getting "our kick at the can", and, in every country where they exist, they are now nothing but the slightly-less-nasty wing of the establishment.

And none of the rightward changes had had positive results for "social democrats" or social democracy in electoral terms.

In every European country, this perpetual rightward swing has brought nothing but defeat and irrelevance for social democratic parties.

In Germany, where the term "social democracy" was coined, the SPD, the world's first social democratic party, is headed for a humiliating defeat in the next elections- the polls there now have the SPD, at best, in third place, behind the Christian Democrats and Greens, and at times just barely ahead of the racist, xenophobic, all-but-Nazi AfD(Alliance for Germany).

In most of the rest of Europe, parties identifying as social democratic are winning only about 20% of the vote in recent election-many have seen their vote share slide in election after election.  Most are third parties, some are FOURTH parties.

All that being the case, why not just retire the term "social democracy" and try to create a radical, democratic, egalitarian, green political force that addresses both the continuing issues of the powerless and dispossed and of the historic working class, while finally taking up the issues of the "precariat", those who do precarious or "gig" labour and are, as a group, facing massive obstacles to their struggle to gain rights in their workplaces and to their ability to organize into unions, the only organizations that can ever effectively fight for their rights?

Social democracy is moderated itself out of relevance and, in many respects, out of existence.

Let's create something that matters, instead.

JKR

Doesn't Germany already have Die Linke or "The Left Party" and the Green Party?

Don't the other countries with social democratic parties already have parties to the left of them and also " green" parties?

In most cases aren't social democratic parties doing better or at least basically as well as these green parties and more leftist parties?

Ken Burch

JKR wrote:

Doesn't Germany already have Die Linke or "The Left Party" and the Green Party?

Don't the other countries with social democratic parties already have parties to the left of them and also " green" parties?

In most cases aren't social democratic parties doing better or at least basically as well as these green parties and more leftist parties?

In Germany, the Greens are running ahead of the SPD in most polls.  Die Linke is consistently at about half the SPD's support, with its vote share held down mainly by people not being willing to let go of the fact that a tiny, largely irrelevant group with Die Linke identified as "communist".

In most European countries the social democratic parties are only slightly ahead of or essentially tied with parties to their left.

In Germany, what probably needs to happen is for the SPD AND Die Linke to disband so that a new socialist party not specifically rooted in either social democracy or Leninism to emerge.

 

kropotkin1951

Ken Burch wrote:

JKR wrote:

Doesn't Germany already have Die Linke or "The Left Party" and the Green Party?

Don't the other countries with social democratic parties already have parties to the left of them and also " green" parties?

In most cases aren't social democratic parties doing better or at least basically as well as these green parties and more leftist parties?

In Germany, the Greens are running ahead of the SPD in most polls.  Die Linke is consistently at about half the SPD's support, with its vote share held down mainly by people not being willing to let go of the fact that a tiny, largely irrelevant group with Die Linke identified as "communist".

In most European countries the social democratic parties are only slightly ahead of or essentially tied with parties to their left.

In Germany, what probably needs to happen is for the SPD AND Die Linke to disband so that a new socialist party not specifically rooted in either social democracy or Leninism to emerge.

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

There's a term I used to see and hear a lot in the media a few decades ago to describe the NDP. They were, according to this view, "Liberals in a hurry." That is, they were perceived to have the same objectives as the Liberals, but were more impatient about getting there. Jack Layton said this very thing in an interview with Peter Mansbridge during the 2011 campaign. Mansbridge stated that the promises Layton was making were pretty similar to the ones Iggy was dishing out. Layton didn't even object to this characterization. Instead he smiled and said that the NDP will keep the promises that the Liberals always break.

Perhaps something like this might also be the fate of many originally social democratic parties. They start out as visionaries who seek to transform society, gradually phasing out capitalism, and phasing in socialism. In this endeavour, they find themselves in natural alliances with liberals to achieve incremental steps, even though the liberals have no desire to phase out capitalism, but rather want to make it more perfect. After a few decades of this, with possibly serious progress made on some issues, the vision is gone, and the social democrats are in fact no more than liberals in a hurry.

kropotkin1951

Indeed the NDP as a party has become a left liberal institution especially in BC. Electorally however that is what voters by and large want. It will not save the planet or end homelessness or inequality but its not bad at looking at individual rights and focusing on those. In Canada things like abortion rights and marriage equality came from court cases not politicians.

Without elected politicians using their power to control capital and direct its flow in the direction that the planet and its people need there is no future. We have the power now but both the Liberals and the BC NDP have chosen to invest in the oil and gas sector. Imagine if they had taken those billions and put them into local infrastructure projects around the country. Every community has a dream for a greener something, just give them the capital.

Ken Burch

Michael Moriarity wrote:

There's a term I used to see and hear a lot in the media a few decades ago to describe the NDP. They were, according to this view, "Liberals in a hurry." That is, they were perceived to have the same objectives as the Liberals, but were more impatient about getting there. Jack Layton said this very thing in an interview with Peter Mansbridge during the 2011 campaign. Mansbridge stated that the promises Layton was making were pretty similar to the ones Iggy was dishing out. Layton didn't even object to this characterization. Instead he smiled and said that the NDP will keep the promises that the Liberals always break.

Perhaps something like this might also be the fate of many originally social democratic parties. They start out as visionaries who seek to transform society, gradually phasing out capitalism, and phasing in socialism. In this endeavour, they find themselves in natural alliances with liberals to achieve incremental steps, even though the liberals have no desire to phase out capitalism, but rather want to make it more perfect. After a few decades of this, with possibly serious progress made on some issues, the vision is gone, and the social democrats are in fact no more than liberals in a hurry.

And then they do The Full Blair, and ditch both the "liberal" and "in a hurry" parts.

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

Ken Burch wrote:

And then they do The Full Blair, and ditch both the "liberal" and "in a hurry" parts.

LOL. Dark humour, but funny to my cynical ear.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

Ken Burch wrote:
At one point, it was associated with the valid and still-legitimate idea of creating a socialist society by democratic means- of creating a radical transformation to an egalitarian, oppression-free and more fully democratic society, with a foreign policy that was as non-militarist as possible- and presented itself as such as an alternative to Stalinism.

The only period in which "social democracy" represented the ideal outlined here was pre-WWI. When the major European social democratic parties voted for war in 1914, they moved away from this ideal. This was about a decade before Stalinism became a thing.

Pondering

I always interpreted it as a democracy that is basically capitalist but has some socialist systems like public education and health care. I've never thought of it as a transition system between the two extremes. 

Michael Moriarity Michael Moriarity's picture

ill-considered post deleted.

Ken Burch

Pondering wrote:

I always interpreted it as a democracy that is basically capitalist but has some socialist systems like public education and health care. I've never thought of it as a transition system between the two extremes. 

If it was about "capitalism with a human face", or(as I've called Blairism) "Thatcherism with a human skin mask", social democracy seems to have given up on the human face part, or at best reduced their argument to "it's enough to have US doing the cuts".

Social democrats clearly seem to have decided that the "free market" Right has permanently won the argument on all major issues, and that no alternative to the status quo, or for that matter no humanization OF the status quo, is possible.

At most, it has reduced itself to being mildly progressive on things like LGBTQ rights and reproductive choice, while supporting the most innocuous and unthreatening forms or antiracism- issues on which it takes decent positions, but supports nothing that challenges the power or threatens the ever-increasing wealth of the 1%.