The need for an open-ended, serious examination of the past, present and future of social democracy was self-evident. Social democrats highlighted the systematic way in which the infant Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was depriving trade unions of independent civil rights and citizens of political freedom. The reality of the dictatorship of the proletariat, they insisted, was a travesty of democratic socialism. British cold war intellectuals and/or politicians who espoused social democracy with zealous rigour found its essence in Kautskyist antagonism to communism and its claim to be the sole heir to the socialist tradition. The underlying similarity between German social democracy and British labourism is undeniable. The German Social Democratic Party (SPD) was the dominant party in the Second Socialist International, not only because of its size and the number of MPs in the Reichstag, but also because of the immense prestige it had gained by successfully defying Bismarck.
This book considers the underlying causes of the end of social democracy's golden age. It argues that the cross-national trend in social democratic parties since the 1970s has been towards an accommodation with neo-liberalism and a corresponding dilution of traditional social democratic commitments. The book looks at the impact of the change in economic conditions on social democracy in general, before examining the specific cases of Germany, Sweden and Australia. It examines the ideological crisis that engulfed social democracy. The book also looks at the post-1970 development of social policy, its fiscal implications and economic consequences in three European countries. It considers the evolution of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) from its re-emergence as a significant political force during the 1970s until the present day under José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The book also examines the evolution of the Swedish model in conjunction with social democratic reformism and the party's relations to the union movement. It explores the latest debate about what the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) stands for. The SPD became the role model for programmatic modernisation for the European centre-left. The book considers how British socialist and social democratic thought from the late nineteenth century to the present has treated the objective of helping people to fulfil their potential, talents and ambitions. It aims to contribute to a broader conversation about the future of social democracy by considering ways in which the political thought of 'third way' social democracy might be radicalised for the twenty-first century.
The new world that social democrats confronted from the 1980s onwards - a world of tax-resistant electorates, the globalisation of capital, and Western deindustrialisation - was one that exercised substantial constraints on traditional social democratic politics. This introduction presents an overview of the key concepts discussed in this book. The book aims to take stock of the crisis of classical social democracy in the 1970s and the consequent efforts to modernise social democracy so that it remained a going electoral concern. It argues that the cross-national trend in social democratic parties since the 1970s has been towards an accommodation with neo-liberalism and a corresponding dilution of traditional social democratic commitments. The book traces the evolution of international approaches to social democracy. It discusses the future of social democracy by considering ways in which the political thought of 'third way' social democracy might be radicalised for the twenty-first century.