Category: Social Democratic Theory

Cut to the chase: 15 political truths for the centre-left

by Andrés Velasco & Francisco Diaz

The world has just experienced the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression. Over 80 million jobs were lost worldwide. The United Nations estimates that as many as 145 million more people are living in poverty. Scores of countries have emerged from the crisis with weakened financial systems and huge public debts. These nations may be condemned to slow growth and insufficient job creation for years to come.

Market fundamentalism, weak regulation and misplaced incentives for excessive risk-taking helped cause the crisis. Yet in the aftermath of the meltdown, reforms have been few and far between. Local financial systems remain prone to speculative bubbles and the world economy remains vastly unbalanced between surplus countries that earn far more than they consume and deficit countries that consume far more than they earn.

A crisis of global capitalism might have been an opportunity for the centre-left. Yet social democratic parties have taken more blame for the occurrence of this crisis than credit for their efforts to control it and prevent the next crisis from happening. Electorates in many countries have been swinging to the far right as an illiberal, inward-looking mood becomes a by-product of the crisis.

This all poses a tremendous challenge for the centre-left. The challenge, first of all, is to extract the right lessons from the crisis, and then to translate these lessons into a progressive political action plan. Here are 15 ideas to help leaders in that effort.

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A Year of Revolution

by Thomas McDermott

In a year of revolution, causes have been easier to identify than consequences.

In 1989, following the end of the Cold War, the American political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote in The End of History? of the “unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism”, marking “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”. In the decades since Fukuyama’s landmark essay, the very concept of revolution – at least in the context of the rich, Western world – had itself come to be seen as an almost anachronistic idea. That is, until this year. In 2011, revolution has returned to the center of global geo-political discourse.

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What Future for ‘This Great Movement of Ours’?

by Martin Upchurch

Trade unions in Britain are at a watershed. This month’s public sector strike on November 30th, involves 3 million workers from 27 different unions. It follows the largest ever trade union organised demonstration held in March and the public sector strike of three quarters of a million workers in June. This wave of strikes and protests must be viewed from a wider perspective. The student demonstrations late last year, followed by the Arab Spring and then the Occupy Movement have given  union members confidence to take the plunge and vote to strike. Protest has returned.  In 2010, the number of strikes in Britain were the lowest since records begun, now the masses are taking part.

But do the strikes also mark a major change in the relationship between the unions and the Labour Party? In the post War period trade unions swam with the stream for thirty years. Full employment provided the opportunity for unions to expand their membership, notably in the public sector and among women. When membership peaked in 1979 at nearly 13 million, governments were willing to do business with the unions. Concessions were made to expand the welfare state so long as trade union leaders held back the wage demands of their rank-and-file.

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Going Green without the Moralism

by Heleen de Coninck

There is no question about it: social democrats need to embrace environmental sustainability. Protecting our natural surroundings, keeping our air clean, providing a healthy environment and access to nature for everyone should be at the core of social democratic policies, just like providing economic and social sustainability should be.

However, we have to admit that in the triangle environmental, social and economic sustainability, sometimes simplistically referred to as planet, people and profit, the balance is tilted. While we see that at the moment either type of sustainability is sacrificed to short-term gains, environmental sustainability often loses out even in more prosperous times. Why is that?

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The power split in social democracy

by Patrick Diamond

Ideological contestation over the nature of power in contemporary societies will dominate the post-crisis landscape. Social democrats have to bridge this central state vs. local empowerment divide.There are many different ways of characterising debates about the strategic purpose of contemporary social democracy. Of course, social democracy is a multifaceted and hybrid tradition with no eternal essence and a historical lineage stretching back several centuries. What has endured across time is faith in the capacity of democratically accountable institutions to ameliorate inequality, to promote social and economic justice, and to supplant markets with politics. However, this is not the end of the argument, merely the beginning of a vibrant debate about how social democrats best realise their values in complex and increasingly fragmented domestic and global conditions. It is unlikely that the question of exactly which doctrines best animate social democracy will ever be settled once and for all. Social democracy is an inherently plural and contested tradition.

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