"One does not have to be extreme to be radical. One does not have to be dogmatic to be principled. "
First problem – Social democracy is no longer playing its role. It is no longer a “legitimating” force or transmission belt for new ideas. In many ways it has ceased to play its role as parliamentary reformer at all. Or with the Blairites, even worse, becoming outright reactionary. I would like to see Social Democrats act like social democrats and not like the smiley-face wing of corporate capitalism. There are a wealth of new movements that could be drawn upon and they are being ignored. Such ideas growing out of these movements as direct democracy, consensus politics, subsidiary, decentralization, self-management, worker-cooperatives, critiques of the banking system, seriously attacking the problem of peak oil and global warming, all could be help re-vitalize social democracy, but so far they have been ignored. Some ideas of the older social democracy like the Meidner Plan deserve to be dusted off and applied.
Second Problem – And this applies mostly to the “Anglosphere,” is the failure of social democracy from the 1950's-on to maintain a mass media and an educational approach. What progressive media we now have came about almost exclusively through the radicals - “underground” and alternative papers, coop and campus radio, alternative video, Indymedia etc. It took the New Left radicals to promote labor history, to expose the crimes committed against Native People, the Doukhabors, and the racism against immigrants. Media and education are not frills. A population that lacks information is one that is open to right-wing propaganda. A working population that is unaware of its long history of suffering and struggle can be manipulated.
The roots of problem lie in 1950's “revisionism.” Nothing wrong with revisionism, everything ought to be reviewed from time-to-time, but the baby was thrown out with the bath.
The “revisionists” were “ ...those who believed that the capitalist system could be retained but simply needed adjustments and improvements such as the nationalization of large businesses, the implementation of social programs (public education, universal healthcare, etc.) and the (partial) redistribution of wealth through a welfare state and progressive taxation. Eventually, most social democratic parties have come to be dominated by the latter position and... have abandoned any real commitment to abolish capitalism. For instance, in 1959, the Social Democratic Party of Germany adopted the Godesberg Program which rejected class struggle ...”
The theories of this new social democracy were based upon a brief moment in history – the post-war prosperity and the social democratic consensus, a consensus that soon fell apart, a mere 15 years later. And when the consensus broke up they were left seemingly with no where to go and no ideas of how to challenge the new capitalist consensus of neoliberalism, other than, as is the case with Blair, pandering to it. Indeed, limited nationalization was dropped quite early on. Here lay a failure to understand that other forms of social ownership beside statist nationalization exist. (2)
Social democracy gave up on the notion of class and opted to become “a party for all the nation”. Now it was very true that the vulgar Marxist concept of class (workers only, and worker meant blue collar exclusively) needed chucking onto the garbage pile. But it was wrong to go to the other extreme and reject a class position entirely. Around the same time social democracy was getting de-classed, new sophisticated concepts of class were being developed, which could have been adopted. Concepts like Mill's Power Elite, Castoriadis and his concept of “order givers and order takers”, Andre Gortz and his white collar-professional New Working Class. The failure to adopt a sophisticated class perspective may well be the reason why social democracy abandoned its attempts at education and mass media. (Since class no longer matters, one should abandon class-based media and education and let the schools and newspapers handle it.)
Lacking a notion of transformation, social democracy thus abandoned hope and inspiration. Daily life was not to be changed. Society was only to be tinkered with. Little wonder a New Left arose! Lacking a realistic notion of societal structure, it held out its hand to a ruling class that has never “played fair”, and never will. The rulers saw such an opening as a weakness to be exploited. When indeed, have the media ever given the NDP a fair shake? When has a daily ever supported the NDP? When have the rulers not tried “salami tactics” (or worse) to take back our gains?
(1) Yes, there is the issue of cooption, but this is inevitable within a capitalist-dominated society
(2) Such as the stake-holder coop, invented by French syndicalists just after WW1 See the section, “A Neo-Proudhonist Program” in “Reform and Revolution” http://dwardmac.pitzer.edu/Anarchist_Archives/worldwidemovements/reform.html
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