Social democracy

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Social democracy is a political ideology that emerged out of classical socialism in the late 19th century. Many social democratic parties have embraced 'Third Way' ideology.

The Socialist International (SI) – the worldwide organisation of social democratic and democratic socialist parties – defines social democracy as an ideal form of liberal democracy that can solve the problems found in unregulated capitalism. The SI emphasizes the following principles: First, freedom – not only individual liberties, but also freedom from discrimination and freedom from dependence on either the owners of the means of production or the holders of abusive political power. Second, equality and social justice – not only before the law but also economic and socio-cultural equality as well, and equal opportunities for all including those with physical, mental, or social disabilities. Finally, solidarity – unity and a sense of compassion for the victims of injustice and inequality. See The SI's Declaration of Principles.

Social democratic parties originally included both democratic socialists and revolutionary socialists such as Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin. After World War I and the Russian Revolution, social democracy became exclusively associated with the non-revolutionary path.

The term "social democracy" can also refer to the particular kind of society that social democrats advocate.


[edit] Social democratic political parties

Social democratic political parties are a feature of many democratic countries, and are found in Europe, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere. Over the course of the twentieth century, parties such as the British Labour Party, the German SPD and the Australian Labor Party stood in elections on political platforms that included policies such as stronger labor laws, nationalization of major industries, and a strong welfare state. Most European social democratic parties are members of the Party of European Socialists, which is one of the main political parties at the European level, and most social democratic parties are members of the Socialist International, which is the historical successor to the Second International.

During the latter part of the twentieth century, most social democratic parties distanced themselves from socialist economic policies and socialism in general. Many modern social democrats have broadened their objectives to include aspects of feminism, racial equality and multiculturalism.

Since the 1980s, a number of social democratic parties have adopted policies which support a relatively lightly regulated economy and emphasise equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome as the benchmark for social justice. This trend, known as the Third Way, is highly controversial among those on the left, many of whom argue that Third Way parties (such as New Labour in the United Kingdom) have "sold out" to conservative ideology, and have ceased to be social democratic or even left-wing.

See also List of social democratic parties.

[edit] "Democratic socialism" versus "social democracy"

Social democracy is often distinguished from democratic socialism on the basis that most social democrats would be content with a society that combined elements of capitalism and socialism, while democratic socialists still have the objective of establishing, by democratic means, a wholly socialist society with a socialist economic system. Some observers claim, however, that democratic socialists are in fact simply left-wing social democrats; and, conversely, many social democrats openly acknowledge their Marxist inheritance and debate politics in terms that many more orthodox Marxists would recognise.

Some "democratic socialist" parties and individuals are arguably more accurately classed as social democratic, and vice versa, the misleading terms being used for historical reasons.

Many social democratic parties have sought to distance themselves from their democratic socialist counterparts, particularly with the rise of the Third Way movement. Some democratic socialists remain associated with social democratic parties, however, in an effort to render them more avowedly socialist.

[edit] History

[edit] Pre-war – social democracy and Marxism

Many parties in the second half of the 19th century described themselves as social democratic, such as the British Social Democratic Federation, and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. In most cases these were revolutionary socialist or Marxist groups, who were not only seeking to introduce socialism, but also democracy in un-democratic countries.

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. Many related movements, including pacifism, anarchism, and syndicalism, arose at the same time (often by splitting from the main socialist movement, but also by emerging of new theories.) and had various quite different objections to Marxism. The social democrats, who were the majority of socialists at this time, did not reject Marxism (and in fact claimed to uphold it), but wanted to reform it in certain ways and tone down their criticism of capitalism. They argued that socialism should be achieved through evolution rather than revolution. Such views were strongly opposed by the revolutionary socialists, who argued that any attempt to reform capitalism was doomed to fail, because the reformers would be gradually corrupted and eventually turn into capitalists themselves.

Despite their differences, the reformist and revolutionary branches of socialism remained united until the outbreak of World War I. The war proved to be the final straw that pushed the tensions between them to breaking point. 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 (Since it betrayed the principle that the workers of all nations should unite in overthrowing capitalism, and the fact that usually the lowest classes are the ones sent into the war to fight, and die, putting the cause at the side). Bitter arguments ensued within socialist parties, as for example between Eduard Bernstein (reformist socialist) and Rosa Luxemburg (revolutionary socialist) within the SPD in Germany. Eventually, after the Russian Revolution of 1917, most of the world's socialist parties fractured. The reformist socialists often kept the name "Social democrats", while many revolutionary socialists began calling themselves "Communists", and soon formed the modern Communist movement (see also Comintern).

Since the 1920s, doctrinal differences have been constantly growing between social democrats and Communists (who themselves are not unified on the way to achieve communism).

[edit] Post war – social democracy and democratic socialism

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 simply needed adjustments and improvements such as the nationalization of large businesses, the implementation of social programs (public education, universal healthcare, etc.) and the (partial) redistribution of wealth through a welfare state and 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 real commitment to abolish capitalism. For instance, in 1959, the Social Democratic Party of Germany adopted the Godesberg Program which rejected class struggle and Marxism.

In Italy there was a particular Social Democratic Party, in fact it represented a current of right in the international social democratic ideology. The Italian Social Democratic Party in fact, was founded in 1947 and from 1948 the position of the party was in the "centrist alliance". Since the late 1980s, the 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 should be mainly capitalistic but with 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 increasing challenge from Greens, who view ecology as fundamental to peace, and require reform of money supply and 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, although the "green" party there is usually the Centrist party (former 'farmers' party') or under their wings.

[edit] The Third Way

In recent years, a number of social democratic parties and governments have arguably moved away from some traditional elements of social democracy - supporting, for example, the privatisation of state-controlled industries and services and a reduction in the regulation of the market. These changes have been perceived in the policies of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in Australia, Tony Blair in the United Kingdom, Gerhard Schröder in Germany, Göran Persson in Sweden, David Lange, Roger Douglas in New Zealand 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.

'Modernising' social democrats counter that their policies merely represent a necessary or pragmatic adaptation of social democracy to the realities of the modern world: 'traditional' social democracy is now generally regarded as having been possible only because of the prevailing international climate - the post-war Bretton Woods consensus, which collapsed in the 1970s (whether and how a comparable consensus might be rebuilt continues to be a matter of interest to social democrats). 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 took the strategic decision to overtly disassociate themselves from the previous, strongly social democratic incarnations of their party. The challenge of developing 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.

[edit] Views of social democrats today

In general, contemporary social democrats support:

  • Regulatory systems over private enterprise in the interests of workers, consumers and small enterprise.
  • A social market economy over a free market, if not, in some cases and to some extent, planned economy.
  • Advocacy of fair trade over free trade.
  • An extensive system of social security (though usually not to the extent advocated by democratic socialists or other socialist groups), notably to counteract the effects of poverty and to insure the citizens against loss of income following illness or unemployment. (see welfare state)
  • Government-owned or subsidised programs of education, healthcare, child care, etc. for all citizens.
  • Moderate to high levels of taxation to fund government expenditure and a progressive taxation system.
  • A system of industrial regulation (statutory or union-established minimum wages, working conditions, protection against arbitrary dismissal).
  • Environmental protection laws (although not always to the extent advocated by Greens).
  • Immigration and multiculturalism.
  • A secular and progressive social policy, although this varies markedly in degree. Most social democrats support gay marriage, abortion rights and a liberal drug policy, while others are either non-committed or openly opposed strongly to these policies, although feigned opposition may be employed for political expediency.
  • A foreign policy supporting the promotion of democracy, the protection of human rights and, where possible, effective multilateralism.
  • Dissimilar to many liberals, social democrats advocate social rights, rather than just human rights.

[edit] Examples of social democracy

The prime example of social democracy is Sweden, which prospered considerably in the 1990s and 2000s [1]. Sweden has produced a strong economy from sole proprietorships up through to multinationals (e.g., Saab, Ikea, and Ericsson), while maintaining one of the longest life expectancies in the world, low unemployment, inflation, infant mortality, national debt, and cost of living, all while registering sizable economic growth.[2] On the other hand, in comparison with other developed countries Sweden did fall behind in that period.[3] The centre-right bloc reigned three years from 1991 to 1994 under Carl Bildt. Also, Sweden experiences welfare dependency of around 20% of the working age population according to the Swedish Trade Union Confederation. Likewise, reported crime has been steadily rising from 195,000 reported crimes in 1950 to 1,237,000 reported crimes in 2005. However, by far the greatest rise in the crime rate occurred during the 1990s, when social democratic policies began to be diminished and rolled back. The number of reported attempted murders or manslaughters have increased from 482 in 1990 to 690 in 2005, and reported sex crimes such as rape have increased from 5,246 in 1990 to 12,768 in 2005.[4] 2005 showed the lowest number of violence with fatal results in 20 years, 79 victims.[5] [6] In the 2000s the figures have fallen to an average 88 compared with an average 100 during the 1980s and 1990s. The number of reported cases are much higher due to write-offs, accidents et cetera.

Others also point to Norway as an example of a social democratic nation[7], where the Norwegian Labour Party played a critical role in Norway's recent political history by making social democratic reforms after WWII. In Norway, progressive taxation was introduced and the public sector greatly increased in size. Recently, Norway's economy has grown (believed to be caused by oil deposits in the country).

Finland has also been pointed out as a social democracy. In fact, all of Scandinavia is considered social democratic (as is the Scandinavian welfare model).

Another prominent example is the Canadian province of Saskatchewan, which has been politically dominated by the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation and its successor the New Democratic Party since 1944. While in office the CCF and NDP have nationalized major industries, initiated wide ranging public works, and introduced generous social services such as universal health care (later implemented nationally in Canada) and public automobile insurance. Today, however, while retaining its social democratic philosophy, the Saskatchewan NDP is no longer as far to the left as it once was, in comparison with the federal NDP.

To a lesser extent, the Canadian Province of Manitoba is viewed as social democratic, with nationalized businesses such as Manitoba Hydro. However the Manitoba NDP is also more moderate in comparison to the Federal NDP. Generally speaking, the provincial wings of the NDP that are major contenders for government (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba & Nova Scotia) tend to be more in the modern Third Way mould of social democracy, as opposed to the federal party and smaller provincial wings that still follow the older style of democratic socialism (reminiscent of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation).

[edit] Criticism of social democracy

Social democracy has been criticized both from the right, by economic liberals and conservatives, and from the left, by socialists and communists. Most criticism of social democracy comes from social and economic liberals, who advance the following arguments:

  • Social democratic systems restrict individual rights, especially economic freedoms, to an excessive degree (this argument was put forward strongly by Friedrich von Hayek, who greatly influenced Margaret Thatcher).
  • The restrictions placed on the market by social democracy lower its efficiency and depress economic growth, leading to a lower living standard for the population as a whole.
  • Social democracy encourages large government budget deficits. (Social democrats reply that conservative administrations in the United States and Britain have also been responsible for large deficits. This argument is held to be logically fallacious by conservative critics.)
  • State provision of education, healthcare, childcare and other services diminishes individual choice.

Social democrats reply that their policies in fact enhance individual rights by raising the standard of living of the great majority of the population, increasing social mobility, and eliminating the threat of extreme poverty. It is also argued that, by restricting some economic rights, social democracy makes the market more fair - and free - for smaller businesses.

There is also extensive criticism of social democracy on the left. Many social democrats explicitly reject the label "socialist" and the goal of achieving socialism, while, for their part, socialists regard social democracy as an obstacle to truly radical reform of society and claim that social democrats buy into the capitalist system to such an extent that they become indistinguishable from conservatives. Left-wing critics allege that some professed social democrats, such as Tony Blair (UK), Gerhard Schröder (Germany), and to a lesser extent Göran Persson (Sweden), have violated the principles of social justice and equity by implementing tax cuts, cuts in social spending and the welfare state, privatisation and industrial deregulation. Tony Blair has also drawn particularly strong criticism for his support for President George W. Bush and the Iraq War.

[edit] The record and the future of social democracy

Many of the policies espoused by social democrats at the beginning of the twentieth century have since been put into practice by social democratic governments throughout the industrialised world. Large-scale nationalisations have taken place, the role of the state in providing free or subsidised healthcare and education has increased greatly, and redistributive tax and welfare systems have substantially reduced inequalities of wealth. Whether or not such policies are ultimately beneficial to society is, of course, a disputed question, and conservatives continue to press for the removal of obstacles to the free operation of the market, arguing that this is the most effective means of bringing about social progress while maximising individual liberty.

It is widely perceived that social democracy has been on the retreat since the 1980s, with the election of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Britain and the subsequent adoption by many social democrats of Third Way ideology. In Britain, for example, most of the nationalised industries were sold off in the 1980s and 1990s, and Tony Blair's Labour government, rather than reversing this process, has unapologetically continued it. Inequalities of wealth have also risen in some countries. On the other hand, it is unlikely that some reforms made by social democrats will be reversed in the foreseeable future. It is difficult, for example, to imagine tax rates returning to the levels seen in the nineteenth century. Even in a relatively conservative country such as the United States, there is a significant level of (for example) public health and environmental protection regulation, and programmes such as Medicare and Medicaid remain in place, against the opposition of a significant number of conservatives.

[edit] List of famous social democrats

[edit] See also

Look up Social democracy in
Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

[edit] External links

cs:Sociální demokracie da:Socialdemokratisme de:Sozialdemokratie et:Sotsiaaldemokraatia es:Socialdemocracia fa:سوسیال‌دموکراسی fr:Social-démocratie ko:사회민주주의 it:Socialdemocrazia he:סוציאל דמוקרטיה lt:Socialinė demokratija mk:Социјалдемократија nl:Sociaal-democratie ja:社会民主主義 no:Sosialdemokrati nn:Sosialdemokrati pl:Socjaldemokracja pt:Socialdemocracia ro:Democraţie socială ru:Социал-демократия su:Sosiali demoratia fi:Sosiaalidemokratia sv:Socialdemokrati yi:סאציאל דעמאקראטיע zh:社會民主主義

Social democracy

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