Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Left, Center and Social Democracy

....social democratic parties acknowledged capitalism’s upsides and downsides. In contrast to Communists, center-left parties recognized that markets were the most effective engine for producing economic growth and prosperity. But in contrast to classical liberals and many conservatives, social democrats did not embrace markets wholeheartedly. Instead, the center-left insisted that it was possible — indeed, necessary — for governments to cushion markets’ most destabilizing effects. Capitalism would be kept subservient to the goals of social stability and solidarity, rather than the other way around.....

I guess at this point in my political evolution - or de-evolution --- the above pretty much describes where I stand today --- but check back with me tomorrow -- I may be either to the left - or right of that. My Marxist friends would say - no way - capitalism cannot survive under any conditions. And in fact the description of the decline of traditional SD may be a sign of the decline of capitalism itself.

Witness the attack on unions as being capitalism in crisis where it cannot handle the existence of unions and has to morph into a form of state capitalism.

Was FDR forced march into a version of social democracy?

This is an interesting point:
the left became dominated by two camps.
The first was epitomized by Tony Blair of Britain and Gerhard Schröder of Germany. These new center-left politicians celebrated the market’s upsides but ignored its downsides. They differed from classical liberals and conservatives by supporting a social safety net to buffer markets’ worst effects, but they didn’t offer a fundamental critique of capitalism or any sense that market forces should be redirected to protect social needs. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, this attitude repelled those who viewed globalization as the cause of their suffering and wanted not merely renewed growth, but also less inequality and instability.
Notice she doesn't include the Clintons and Obama - but she is talking about the European versions --- many term this version as neo-liberal which often works in tandem with the right.

Now take our own union -- founded by SDs - but right wing cold warriors who morphed into Neo-liberals of a sort. Our opposition forces over the years -- which was left or very left - mostly led by  versions of Marxists or left wing SDs -- brought up the fact that one of the major roles of our teacher union -- the AFT, UFT complex -- was to buck up capitalism and the war machine even if education suffered. Shanker took things in a new direction c. 1983 when he jumped onto the neo-liberal critique of education and took our union along with him. Standards, accountability, etc were uttered out of the mouths of our union leaders. So ignored in the article is the point that there are many flavors of SD and even of Marxism.

We see versions of all of this even in the microcosm of a small group like MORE.

There's a lot to chew on in this Monday NY Times op ed.
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/opinion/europe-center-left-.html?nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20171002&_r=0


The Disastrous Decline of the European Center-Left

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Among the many worrying outcomes of the recent German elections was the further collapse of the main center-left party, the Social Democrats, which received only 20.5 percent of the vote, its worst performance since World War II.

Across Europe, social democratic or center-left parties are in decline. In elections this year in France and the Netherlands, the socialist and labor parties did so poorly that many question their future existence. Even in Scandinavia, considered the world’s social democratic stronghold, long-dominant parties have been reduced to vote shares in the high 20s and low 30s.

Even if you don’t support the left, this should be cause for concern. Social democratic parties were crucial to rebuilding democracy in Western Europe after 1945. They remain essential to democracy on the Continent today.

During the postwar years, social democratic parties acknowledged capitalism’s upsides and downsides. In contrast to Communists, center-left parties recognized that markets were the most effective engine for producing economic growth and prosperity. But in contrast to classical liberals and many conservatives, social democrats did not embrace markets wholeheartedly. Instead, the center-left insisted that it was possible — indeed, necessary — for governments to cushion markets’ most destabilizing effects. 

Capitalism would be kept subservient to the goals of social stability and solidarity, rather than the other way around.

By the late 20th century, this distinctive message had been mostly discarded. Instead, the left became dominated by two camps.

The first was epitomized by Tony Blair of Britain and Gerhard Schröder of Germany. These new center-left politicians celebrated the market’s upsides but ignored its downsides. They differed from classical liberals and conservatives by supporting a social safety net to buffer markets’ worst effects, but they didn’t offer a fundamental critique of capitalism or any sense that market forces should be redirected to protect social needs. When the financial crisis hit in 2008, this attitude repelled those who viewed globalization as the cause of their suffering and wanted not merely renewed growth, but also less inequality and instability.

The second camp is an anti-globalization far left, represented by the Occupy movement, Jeremy Corbyn’s wing of Britain’s Labour Party and Syriza in Greece. This camp took seriously the market’s downsides but saw few upsides. Lacking a conviction that capitalism can and should be reformed, these parties generally offer an impractical mishmash of attacks on the wealthy, protectionism, increased welfare spending and high taxes. These policies may appeal to the angry and frustrated, but they turn off voters looking for viable policy and a progressive, rather than utopian, view of the future.

During the postwar decades, social democracy promoted solidarity and a sense of shared national purpose so as to avoid the fractures that undermined European democracy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In contrast to Communists, who exclusively focused on class conflict, the center-left built bridges between workers and others. And in contrast to the individualism of classical liberals and many conservatives, the center-left’s emphasis was on citizens’ obligations to one another and the government’s duty to promote the good of society.

By the late 20th century, however, this understanding of social democracy’s goals had been largely abandoned. Some failed to address concerns generated by social and cultural change, either out of lack of understanding or out of a hope that solving economic problems would make them disappear. Others uncritically embraced these changes, promoting both cosmopolitanism and the interests and cultural distinctiveness of minority groups. This camp became associated with the politically deadly idea that strong national identities were anachronistic, even dangerous, and citizens made uneasy by their erosion were bigots.

These attitudes have fragmented the left’s constituency and made it impossible to rebuild the social solidarity or sense of shared national purpose necessary to support high taxes, robust welfare programs and activist governments.

But the decline of the center-left has larger implications. Most obviously, it has created a space for a populist right whose commitment to liberalism, and even democracy, is questionable. In many European countries, now including Germany, these parties have succeeded in part by attracting groups that have historically supported the center-left, like workers and the uneducated, by forthrightly addressing the economic fears generated by globalization as well as those generated by social and cultural change.

During the postwar period, European politics was dominated by competition between a center-left and center-right that offered real policy differences but agreed on the basic framework of liberal, capitalist democracy. These parties were large enough to form governments, set agendas and get policies enacted. But as the outcome of the recent German elections makes clear, the center-left’s electoral demise has rendered it unable to form stable, coherent governments — which makes it more difficult to solve problems and leaves voters more frustrated with traditional parties and institutions.

This is one part of what has allowed populists to make inroads, as was clear during the German elections, where the far-right Alternative for Germany party promoted itself as the true “alternative” to the status quo. Even many within the Social Democrats acknowledged their party lacked a vision of where it wanted Germany to go.

If the Social Democrats and other center-left parties are unable once again to offer voters solutions to the challenges their countries face, their decline will continue, populism will flourish and democracy will decay.


Sheri Berman is a professor of political science at Barnard College and the author of the forthcoming “Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe: From the Ancien Regime to the Present Day.”

1 comment:

  1. The internet has lifted the fog. Millions worldwide know what the trilateral commission is about. The centrist parties are finished.

    ReplyDelete

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