Social Democracy’s Incomplete Legacy


Chris Maisano in Jacobin:

While it may be premature to sound the death knell for social democracy, it is clear that the current crisis has accelerated the long-term decline of social-democratic politics in Europe. Social-democratic parties may still be able to win elections and form governments, but they’ve shown little inclination to break decisively from neoliberal policy prescriptions when in power. From Greece to Spain to Ireland to France to Germany, the principles of solidarity and social welfare that have underpinned the kinder, gentler form of capitalism embodied in the phrase “social Europe” are under attack. They may not hold up under the combined pressures of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and European Central Bank as they pursue neoliberal structural adjustment. Citizens across the continent have protested against the dismantling of their social protections, sometimes ferociously, but to date they have not been able to turn the tide. At the moment, at least, an “asocial Europe” appears to be the continent’s future.

In the recently published book What’s Left of the Left, a group of prominent political scientists, sociologists, and policy experts attempt to make sense of social democracy’s long transition from left to center-left, from opposition to capitalism to its humane and rational administration. This is not a neutral or objective piece of scholarship. All of the volume’s contributors can be counted among the partisans of social democracy and accept the putative wisdom of the center-left’s rejection of socialist visions in favor of capitalism with a human face. Edited by James Cronin, George Ross, and James Schoch, and including contributions from such luminaries of the academic center-left as Sheri Berman, Gerassimos Moschonas, and Jonas Pontusson, it attempts to provide an intellectual framework to advance the project of “progressive politics in tough times.” The book is far too long and detailed to permit comprehensive treatment here, so I will focus primarily on those contributions that are most relevant to our purposes. While valuable for anyone seeking to attain an introduction to the contemporary European center-left, it reflects the profound limitations of the political tradition it seeks to defend.

More here.