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Social Democracy

Social Democrats originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as 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. 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 reformists, democratic socialists, Marxists, communists and sometimes anarchists.

Social democrats are often described, particularly by revolutionary socialists as being
reformists that is in favour of change through gradual reforms in the capitalist system. While some social democrats contend that a process of gradual reforms will eventually bring about socialism many, including most of the leadership of social democratic parties, now argue that the goal of reforms is to make capitalism more equitable and that this makes the abolition of capitalism unnecessary.

Social democratic parties are among the largest parties in most countries in Europe. Some studies claim that globally, more people share the basic ideals of Social Democrats than of any other political movement. These parties are seen as centre left in orientation.

Most social democratic parties belong to the Socialist International.

Table of contents [hide]

1 History
2 In general, contemporary Social Democrats support:
3 Common criticism of
social democracy
4 Social Democratic Parties
5 Social Democratic Parties in the United States


The modern social democratic current came into being by a break within the socialist movement in the early twentieth century between supporters of Karl Marx. Many related movements, including pacifism, anarchism and syndicalism, arose at this time and had various quite different objections to the "class war" concept espoused by most Marxists. Although initially the terms social democrat and socialist were seen as synonymous, after the Russian Revolution social democrats were seen as those who reject revolutionary socialism in favour of evolutionary socialism, or reformism, as advocated by Eduard Bernstein.

Historians claim that several key figures were important in this shift: the Russian Prince Kropotkin, César de Paepe of the Belgian International Working Men's Association, and Jean Juares who led the French Socialist Party until his assassination on July 31, 1914, one day before the general mobilization of forces that began World War I.

The argument between evolutionary socialists and revolutionary socialists, for an example the debates between Bernstein and Rosa Luxemburg occurred initially within the German Social Democratic Party (
SPD). With the outbreak of World War I in which the SPD voted in the Reichstag in favour of war credits and as social democratic parties in other European nations backed their own nations in the war effort, the split between reformist and revolutionary strands became final and revolutionary socialists left the social democratic parties eventually forming Communist parties.

According to historian Barbara Tuchman, a slow shift of European public opinion from 1880-1914, especially in Germany, had aligned nationalist and capitalist forces politically in favor of confrontation and war, and generally silenced pacifism and discredited revolutionary anarchism. Moderate syndicalist and socialist views of such leaders as César de Paepe and Jean Juares were gradually marginalized by concessions to the labor movement, especially in Germany, which from 1900-1914 instituted the shortest working week, longest vacations, and best fringe benefit programs in Europe - all while arming for the conflict that most European powers expected.

Following the split between revolutionary socialists and evolutionary socialists 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 parliamentary means and those who believed that the capitalist system could be retained but simply needed adjustements such as social transfers to redistribute income and the implementation of social programs through a welfare state in order to make capitalism more humane. In practice, social democratic parties have come to be dominated by the latter position and, in the post World War II era, abandoned any commitment to abolish capitalism. For instance, in 1959 the Social Democratic Party of Germany adopted the Godesberg Program which abandoned any commitment to class struggle and Marxism. These two streams are often referred to as democratic socialists advocating socialism through democratic means and social democrats advocating reforming, rather than replacing, capitalism.

Although social democrats had been influential in this period, and a moderate breed of
Euro-Communism had developed, in general nationalist, fundamentalist and capitalist forces were seen as allies of the United States, and there was some suspicion of Social Democrats as potentially "soft on Communism" and seeking to implement something like Stalinism in Western Europe. During the 1960s and culminating in the signal year 1968, these concerns were dispelled, and the countries that would later join in the European Union generally followed a path set by (Christian or Secular) social democrats, who differed little on core policies.

Since World War
II, differences between social democratic parties and communists have grown. Previously, many western European social democrats advocated central planning of the economy an widespread nationalisation of industry on the Soviet model while having a democratic political system. Gradually these positions were abandoned by every social democratic and labour party in the west.

Most modern social democratic parties have adopted the Third Way either formally or in practice. Modern social democrats are in favor of a capitalist market economy, but with a strong and large government. Many social democratic parties have shifted emphasis from the traditional goal of creating a socialist economy 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 more extreme socialist parties, have cooperated in so-called
Red-Green Alliances. In other countries the Greens tend to the right and have co-operated with liberal or even conservative parties as in Mexico.

This marks a break with the theories of Karl Marx who, in the Communist Manifesto of 1848 stated that workers should seize the control of means of production from the capital owners and form a state dictatorship of working class. This is in sharp contrast to social democratic ideas, such as workers' unions and employers' unions debating over the wages of the workers to better the working people's living conditions, while control of the means of production would remain in the hands of capitalists. However, most commentators agree that social democrats have been largely successful in implementing the program of the original Communist Manifesto - with the notable exception of land reform and the abolishment of rents.

A number of the policies advocated by social democrats have endured such as progressive income tax and publicly funded medicine have endured. Other measures such as tuition-free university education have largely been overturned, often by social democratic governments themselves. Social democrats have, for the most part, also abandoned the concept of nationalization and have instead fully or partly privatised state owned industry and services. The Labour Party in Britain is especially enthusiastic about implementing
Public-Private Partnerships to deliver public services, has introduced tuition fees for post secondary education and have cut back on social programs.

Most would also agree that late-20th-century Europe, culminating in the 1992 formation of the European Union, demonstrates that developed nations can cooperate under the general policies of social democrats to achieve a lasting peace. Whether similar policies can work elsewhere is a matter of much debate, especially in the anti-globalization movement, where advocates on both sides argue about the degree to which regulation has fostered growth and tolerance. Some argue that the protectionist policies followed by social democrats to protect fragile national economies during growth or rebuilding, are exactly the policies that developing nations are today prevented from following by
the IMF. Beyond that, as in the early 20th century, there is substantial difference of opinion depending on general views of capitalism.

It is an interesting phenomena that social democrats often succeed in their aims to the point of political irrelevance - then spending some time out of favor with voters who turn to more conservative parties, e.g. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan who inherited moribunded economies with the strong educational and infrastructural foundations favored by social democrats.

However, these parties too are often perceived as going too far for comfort, particularly in foreign policy, trade, and warfare, so social democrats may never disappear, even if the entire original program of
socialism has been accomplished. Through the 20th century, few of the benefits instituted by any social democratic government have been successfully repealed by successors: an income tax, universal medical insurance, free university education, are seemingly permanent features of most European nations. The services may vary in quality but never seem to be withdrawn completely - the gains made by social democrats politically are seemingly seen by the public as public goods.

See also: History of Socialism

In general, contemporary Social Democrats support:
Private enterprise, but strongly regulated to protect the interests of workers, consumers and small enterprise (in stark contrast to libertarian and some green approaches, e.g. Natural Capitalism which minimizes regulation by controlling commodity prices more directly).
An extensive system of social security network, although not to the extent of communists (see welfare state), notably to counteract effects of poverty and to insure the citizens against loss of income following illness and unemployment.
Ensuring good education, health care, child care, et cetera for all citizens through government fundings.
Higher taxes (necessary to pay for the former), especially for higher income groups.
Extensive social laws (minimum wages, working circumstances, protection against firing).
Environmental protection laws (like environmental laws specifically opposing monoculture) (although not to the extent of Greens).
Anti-xenophobic and non-fundamentalist legislations (pro-choice, anti-racist, anti-homophobic) (although not to the extent of anarchists).
A foreign policy supporting multilateralism and international institutions such as the United Nations.

Common criticism of social democracy

Critics of social democracy argue that individual rights suffer in favour of the rights of the community and that individual choice is not as great in systems that provide state run schools, health care, child care and other services. Some go as far as to claim that the role of parenthood has been shifted to the state, or that welfare state would be more accurately described as 'client society' as individuals are state nurtured from cradle to grave.

Conservatives and liberals argue that
social democracy interferes with market mechanisms and hurts the economy by encouraging large budget deficits.

There are also criticisms that
social democracy encourages high taxation and hurts the ability of entrepreneurs to invest in the economy.

Critics of the welfare state argue that it is unaffordable, particularly as the population ages putting more demands on pensions and health care provisions.

Socialists criticise social democrats for being so dependent on the capitalist system that they become indistinguishalbe from liberals and end up trying to make the capitalist system work rather than try to overturn it. Thus, social democrats such as Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder end up doing the work of capitalists by implementing tax cuts, cuts in social programs, privatisations and a rolling back of the welfare state rather than extending it.

Social Democratic Parties
Australia: Australian Labor Party
Austria: Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreichs (SPOe) - Social Democratic Party of Austria
Dutch language: Socialistische Partij - anders (SP.a) - Socialist Party Alternative
French language: Parti Socialiste (PS) - Socialist Party
The New Democratic Party
Le Bloc Québécois
The Green Party of Canada
Czech Republic: Česká strana sociálně demokratická (ČSSD) - Czech Social Democratic Party
Denmark: Socialdemokraterne - The Social Democrats
Estonia: Social Democratic Party
Finland: The Social Democratic Party of Finland
France: Le Parti Socialiste - The Socialist Party
Germany: Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) - Social Democratic Party of Germany
Gibraltar: Gibraltar Social-Democrats
Greece: Πανελλήνιο Σοσιαλίστικο Κινήμα / Panellínio Sosialistíko Kiníma (ΠΑΣΟΚ / PASOK) - Panhellenic Socialist Movement
Iceland: Samfylkingin - The Social Democratic Alliance
Ireland, Republic of: Irish Labour Party
Italy: Democratici di Sinistra - Left Democrats
Luxembourg: Lëtzebuergesch Sozialistesch Arbechterpartei - Luxembourg Socialist Workers' Party
Mongolia: Mongol Ardyn Khuv'sgatt Nam (MAKN) - Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP)
Partij van de Arbeid (PvdA) - The Party of Labour
Socialistische Partij - The Dutch Socialist Party
New Zealand: The New Zealand Labour Party
Norway: Arbeiderpartiet (DNA) - The Labour Party
Portugal: Partido Socialista - Socialist Party
Le Parti Québécois
L'Union des Forces Progressistes - The Union of Progressist Forces
Le Parti Vert du Québec - The Green Party of Quebec
Romania: Partidul Social Democrat (PSD) - The Social Democrat Party
Scotland: Scottish National Party
South Africa: African National Congress (ANC)
Spain: Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE) - Spanish Socialist Workers' Party
Sweden: Sveriges Socialdemokratiska Arbetarparti (SAP) - Swedish Social Democratic Workers' Party
United Kingdom: The Labour Party
United States of America:
United States Green Party
Democratic Socialists of America

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

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 anti-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 their platform such as universal health care with Democrats such as Howard Dean pushing for such a revision of the Democratic position.

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