Still working to recover. Please don't edit quite yet.


From Anarchopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Social democracy, also vaguely identified as centre leftism, moderate socialism, democratic socialism is a political ideology emerging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from supporters of Marxism who believed that the transition to a socialist society could be achieved through democratic evolutionary rather than revolutionary means. During the early and mid-20th century, social democrats were in favor of stronger labor laws, nationalization of major industries, and a strong welfare state. Over the course of the 20th century, most social democrats gradually distanced themselves from Marxism and class struggle. As of 2004, social democrats generally do not see a conflict between a capitalist market economy and their definition of a socialist society, and support reforming capitalism in an attempt to make it more equitable through the creation and maintenance of a welfare state (see also the more extreme ideology of welfarism). Most social democratic parties are members of the Socialist International, which is a successor to the Second International.

Often, the term socialism is used to denote social democrats, although in many countries socialism is a broader concept including democratic socialists, Marxists, communists, libertarian socialists and sometimes anarchists.

In the past, social democrats were often described as reformist socialists (since they advocated the implementation of socialism through gradual reforms). They were contrasted with the revolutionary socialists, who advocated the implementation of socialism through a workers' revolution. Today, however, the democratic socialists carry on the legacy of reformist socialism and seek to bring about a fully socialist system through electoral means, while most of the social democrats only wish to make capitalism more equitable (and see the abolition of capitalism as unnecessary).

Social democratic parties are among the largest parties in most countries in Europe, as well as in the majority of European-influenced parts of the world (with the notable exception of the United States). Social democrats are seen as centre left in orientation. Globally, some studies claim, more people share the basic ideals of social democracy than of any other political movement.


Pre-war—social democracy and Marxism[edit]

Many parties in the second half of the 19th century described themselves as social democratic, such as the German Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein and the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei (which merged to form the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands), the British Social Democratic Federation and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. In most cases these parties were avowedly revolutionary socialists that were not only seeking to introduce socialism, but also to introduce democracy in undemocratic countries. Most of these parties were to some degree influenced by the works of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who were still actively working to influence European politics from London.

The modern social democratic current came into being through a break within the socialist movement in the early 20th century, between two groups holding different views on the ideas of Karl Marx.[1] Many related movements, including pacifism, anarchism, and syndicalism, arose at the same time; these ideologies were often promulgated by individuals who split from the preexisting socialist movement, and held a variety of quite different objections to Marxism. The social democrats, who had created the largest socialist organizations of that era, did not reject Marxism (and in fact claimed to uphold it), but a number of key individuals wanted to reform Marx's arguments in order to promulgate a less hostile criticism of capitalism. They argued that socialism should be achieved through evolution of society rather than revolution. Such views were strongly opposed by the revolutionary socialists, who argued that any attempt to reform capitalism was doomed to fail, for the reformers would be gradually corrupted and eventually turn into capitalists themselves.

Despite their differences, the reformist and revolutionary branches of socialism remained united through the Second Internationale until the outbreak of World War I. A differing view on the legitimacy of the war proved to be the final straw for this tenuous union. The reformist socialists supported their respective national governments in the war, a fact that was seen by the revolutionary socialists as outright treason against the working class; in other words, the revolutionary socialists believed that this stance betrayed the principle that the workers of all nations should unite in overthrowing capitalism, and decried the fact that usually the lowest classes are the ones sent into the war to fight and die. Bitter arguments ensued within socialist parties, as for example between Eduard Bernstein, the leading reformist socialist, and Rosa Luxemburg, one of the leading revolutionary socialists within the SPD in Germany. Eventually, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, most of the world's socialist parties fractured. The reformist socialists kept the name social democrats, while many revolutionary socialists began calling themselves communists, and they soon formed the modern Communist movement. These communist parties soon formed an exclusive Third Internationale known globally as the Comintern.

By the 1920s, the doctrinal differences between social democrats and communists of all factions (be they Orthodox Marxists, Bolsheviks, or Mensheviks) had solidified. These differences only became more dramatic as the years passed.

Post war—social democracy and democratic socialism[edit]

Following the split between social democrats and communists, another split developed within social democracy, between those who still believed it was necessary to abolish capitalism (without revolution) and replace it with a socialist system through democratic parliamentary means, and those who believed that the capitalist system could be retained but needed dramatic reform, such as the nationalization of large businesses, the implementation of social programs (public education, universal healthcare, and the like) and the partial redistribution of wealth through the permanent establishment of a welfare state based on progressive taxation. Eventually, most social democratic parties have come to be dominated by the latter position and, in the post-World War II era, have abandoned any commitment to abolish capitalism. For instance, in 1959, the Social Democratic Party of Germany adopted the Godesberg Program, which rejected class struggle and Marxism. While "social democrat" and "democratic socialist" continued to be used interchangeably, by the 1990s in the English-speaking world at least, the two terms had generally come to signify respectively the latter and former positions.

In Italy, the Italian Democratic Socialist Party was founded in 1947, and from 1948 on supported the idea of a centrist alliance. Since the late 1980s, many other social democratic parties have adopted the "Third Way", either formally or in practice. Modern social democrats are generally in favor of a mixed economy, which is in many ways capitalistic, but explicitly defend governmental provision of certain social services. Many social democratic parties have shifted emphasis from their traditional goals of social justice to human rights and environmental issues. In this, they are facing an increasing challenge from Greens, who view ecology as fundamental to peace, require reform of money supply, and promote safe trade measures to ensure ecological integrity. In Germany in particular, Greens, Social Democrats, and other left-wing parties have cooperated in so-called red–green alliances. This is also not uncommon in Norway.

The Third Way[edit]

In recent years, a number of social democratic parties and governments have moved away from some traditional elements of social democracy by supporting both the privatization of certain state-controlled industries and services and the reduction of certain forms of regulation of the market. These changes have been perceived in the policies of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin in Canada; Bob Hawke, Paul Keating, and Kevin Rudd in Australia; Fernando Henrique Cardoso in Brazil; Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in the United Kingdom;[2][3] Gerhard Schröder in Germany; Bill Clinton in The United States of America; Jens Stoltenberg in Norway; Mona Sahlin in Sweden; David Lange and Roger Douglas in New Zealand; Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in Denmark; Wim Kok in the Netherlands; and Ricardo Lagos in Chile. In general, these apparent reversals in policy have encountered significant opposition among party members and core voters: many of the latter, indeed, have claimed that their leaders have betrayed their traditional principles.[3]

Modernizing social democrats counter that their Third Way ideals merely represent a necessary or pragmatic adaptation of social democracy to the realities of the modern world: traditional social democracy thrived during the prevailing international climate of the post-war Bretton Woods consensus, which collapsed in the 1970s. It has, moreover, become difficult for political parties in the developed world to win elections on a distinctively left-wing platform now that electorates are increasingly middle-class, aspirational and consumeristic. In Britain, where such an electorate rejected the Labour Party four times consecutively between 1979 and 1992, Tony Blair and his colleagues (the New Labour movement) took the strategic decision to overtly disassociate themselves from the previous, strongly democratic socialist incarnations of their party. This challenge alienated many backbenchers, including some who advocated the less militant ideology of social democracy.

The development of new social democratic policies in this environment is the subject of wide-ranging debate within the centre-left. A number of political think-tanks, such as Policy Network and Wiardi Beckman Stichting, have been active in facilitating and promoting this debate.

See also History of Socialism.

Basic assumptions of social democracy[edit]

The modern Social Democrat or Liberal Democrat or Green Parties or Labour Parties are all adherents of some tenets of social democracy, though the latter three have specific differences with its major doctrines.

Some consider social democracy itself to be a debate between left-wing politics and green politics about how best to achieve human development. Others dismiss social democracy as right-wing politics masquerading as left-wing politics. Rather than a doctrine, it is more a set of constraints, like human rights and gender equality, that democracy is forbidden to override or overrule. Social democracy differs from libertarian views or the ideal republic in that the rights and guarantees are quite extensive. They are however guaranteed by the same mechanism: legal codes and the violent enforcement of same against resisters by the state and its police.

In general social democracy assumes:

  • Representative democracy is at least a first step to any more genuine or effective democracy - those who would change society must participate in it and become effective at persuasion and achieving change within its limits - in contrast to the views of most anarchist or communist.
  • Human rights and other international treaty-based agreements on rights between nation-states are at least a first step to any deeper or more effective method of achieving human development and gender equality - in contrast to libertarian or nationalist assumptions that generally hold that abstract top-down "rights" exist only on paper, and must be backed by effective force to work, as human rights laws simply aren't.
  • Courts are effective means of making law work at least in the short term - though long term social and attitude changes are the only long term way to achieve social justice - in contrast to anarchist and syndicalist views which emphasize direct action as much more effective.

Views of modern Social Democrat parties[edit]

In general, contemporary Social Democrat parties support:

  • Private enterprise, but strongly regulated to protect the interests of workers, consumers and small enterprise - in stark contrast to libertarian and green approaches, e.g. Natural Capitalism which minimizes regulation.
  • An extensive system of social security, although not to the extent advocated by democratic socialists or communists (see welfare state), notably to counteract the effects of poverty and to insure the citizens against loss of income following illness or unemployment.
  • Ensuring good education, health care, child care, etc. for all citizens through government funding.
  • Higher taxes (necessary to pay for the former), especially for higher income groups.
  • Extensive social laws (minimum wages, working conditions, protection against arbitrary firing).
  • Environmental protection laws (although not to the extent advocated by Greens).
  • Generally support anti-xenophobic legislations (pro-choice, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, some environmental laws specifically opposing monoculture), although not to the extent of anarchists.
  • A foreign policy supporting multilateralism and international institutions such as the United Nations.

Criticism of social democracy[edit]

Obviously, most criticism against social democracy comes from their main political opponents, the right wing. Right-wingers typically argue that social democratic systems are too restrictive on their version of individual rights, particularly the rights of wealthy businessmen, and that individual choice is not as great in systems that provide state-run schools, health care, child care and other services. Social democrats usually retort by arguing that their policies are in fact enhancing individual rights, by raising the standard of living of the vast majority of the population and eliminating the threat of extreme poverty.

Economic conservatives and classic liberals argue that social democracy interferes with market mechanisms and hurts the economy by encouraging large budget deficits and restricting the ability of entrepreneurs to invest as they see fit. In response, social democrats point to the principles of Keynesian economics, which supports the validity of social democratic economic practices, and, indeed, encourages them.

Critics of the welfare state argue that it is unaffordable, particularly as the population ages, thus putting more demands on pensions and health care provisions. Social democrats reply that many different sources of funding exist, and in any case it can never be considered "too costly" to save people's lives.

There is also criticism against social democracy coming from the Left. Democratic socialists and revolutionary socialists criticise social democrats for being so dependent on the capitalist system that they become indistinguishable from modern liberals. Many social democrats explicitly renounce the label "socialist" and the goal of achieving a socialist state. This willingness to work within the capitalist system rather than trying to modify or overturn it leads many on the left to accuse modern social democratic parties of being corrupt and betraying their principles. Left critics allege that some professed social democrats, such as Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder, end up doing the work of the capitalists by implementing tax cuts, cuts in social programs, privatisations, industrial deregulation, and a rolling back of the welfare state rather than extending it. In response to this particular criticism, some British social democrats point out that since Blair became Prime Minister, overall tax as a percentage of GDP has risen in the UK, spending on health and education has been increased, the government has announced its intention to abolish child poverty, and a legally enforceable national minimum wage has been introduced for the first time in British history. However, there are also many critics of Blair and Schröder among the social democrats themselves.

Social Democratic Parties[edit]

This is a short list of the main parties in the world who call themselves social democratic. Note that, in some cases, this label may be disputed.

See Socialist International for a list of members of that body.

See Social Democratic Party for a list of all political parties named that way.

Social Democratic Parties in the United States[edit]

There have been many socialist and social democratic parties in American history, most notably the Socialist Party of America whose best known leaders were Eugene V. Debs and Norman Thomas and the Socialist Labor Party of America led by Daniel DeLeon, but they have been less successful than their European counterparts. In the 1970s the Socialist Party of America split into three factions, the Democratic Socialists of America led by Michael Harrington, the Social Democrats USA and the Socialist Party USA.

Today, the United States Green Party, with 2 to 4 percent of the vote in presidential elections, might be seen as the largest non-capitalist party and has the support of many American socialists. With the 2000 Ralph Nader campaign arguably having cost the Democrats the election, the Democratic Party, which has moved away from welfare state policies under Bill Clinton and Al Gore, is under pressure to adopt some social democratic measures in its platform (such as universal health care). Howard Dean and Dennis Kucinich are particularly strong advocates of such a revision of the Democratic position.

List of notable Social Democrats[edit]


  • Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Berman
  • BBC News: Blair tells socialists to modernise
  • 3.0 3.1 BBC News: Sacrifices in the scramble for power