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Social democracy

Social democracy is a political ideology that considers itself to be a form of reformist democratic socialism.[1] Social democracy rejects the "either/or" polarization interpretation of capitalism versus socialism.[2] It claims that fostering a progressive evolution of capitalism will gradually result in the evolution of capitalist economy into socialist economy.[3] Social democracy argues that all citizens should be legally entitled to certain social rights. These are made up of universal access to public services such as: education, health care, workers' compensation, and other services including child care and care for the elderly.[4] Social democracy is connected with the trade union labour movement and supports collective bargaining rights for workers.[5] Contemporary social democracy advocates freedom from discrimination based on differences of: ability/disability, age, ethnicity, gender, language, race, religion, sexual orientation, and social class.[6] Most social democratic parties are affiliated with the Socialist International.[7]

Social democracy in its current form was originally developed by revisionist Marxist Eduard Bernstein who opposed orthodox Marxism's support of revolution and class conflict, claiming that socialism could be achieved through evolutionary means via representative democracy and cooperation between people regardless of class.[8] Bernstein accepted the Marxist analysis that the creation of socialism is interconnected with the evolution of capitalism.[9] Bernstein claimed that a mixed economy of public, cooperative and private enterprise would be necessary for a long period of time before private enterprises would evolve of their own accord into cooperative enterprise.[8][10] Bernstein supported state ownership only for certain parts of the economy that could be best managed by the state, and he rejected a mass scale of state ownership as being too burdensome to be manageable.[8]

By the post-World War II period, most social democrats in Europe had abandoned all remaining ideological connection to Marxism.[11] The development of liberal socialism that began in the 1920s by figures such as G. D. H. Cole, R. H. Tawney, and Carlo Rosselli that fused liberal and socialist ideals while rejecting both Marxism and state socialism, has influenced social democracy including social democrats in favour of the Third Way.[12]

Critics of contemporary social democracy such as Jonas Hinnfors argue that when social democracy abandoned Marxism it also abandoned socialism and has become in effect a liberal capitalist movement.[13] Those who believe that social democracy abandoned socialism contend that it did so in the 1930s by endorsing Keynesian welfare capitalism.[14][15] Socialist political theorist Michael Harrington argues that social democracy historically supported Keynesianism as part of a "social democratic compromise" between capitalism and socialism.[16] This compromise created welfare states which Harrington contends that although it did not allow for the creation of socialism, it "recognized noncapitalist, and even anticapitalist, principles of human need over and above the imperatives of profit".[17]



Pre-reformist usage of the term "social democracy", 1848-1889

In the 19th Century, the term "Social Democrat" was used as a broad catch-all for international socialists owing their basic ideological allegiance to Karl Marx or Ferdinand Lassalle, in contrast to those advocating various forms of utopian socialism. In one of the first scholarly works on European socialism written for an American audience, Richard T. Ely's 1883 book, French and German Socialism in Modern Times, Social Democrats were characterized as "the extreme wing of the socialists" who were "inclined to lay so much stress on equality of enjoyment, regardless of the value of one's labor, that they might, perhaps, more properly be called communists."[18] Ely continued:

"They have two distinguishing characteristics. The vast majority of them are laborers, and, as a rule, they expect the violent overthrow of existing institutions by revolution to precede the introduction of the socialistic state. I would not, by any means, say that they are all revolutionists, but the most of them undoubtedly are. * * *

"The most general demands of the social democrats are the following: The state should exist exclusively for the laborers; land and capital must become collective property, and production be carried on unitedly. Private competition, in the ordinary sense of the term, is to cease."[19]

Many parties in this era described themselves as "social democratic," including the General German Workers' Association and the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Germany (which merged to form the Social Democratic Party of Germany), the British Social Democratic Federation, and the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. The term "social democracy" continued to be used in this context up to the time of the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917, at which time the term "communist" came into vogue for individuals and organizations espousing a revolutionary road to socialism.

Second International era, 1889-1914

Eduard Bernstein The modern social democratic movement came into being through a division within the socialist movement, this division can be described as a parting of ways between those who insisted upon political revolution as a precondition for the achievement of socialist goals and those who maintained that a gradual or evolutionary path to socialism was both possible and desirable.[20]

One of the key founders of contemporary social democracy was Eduard Bernstein, a proponent of reformist socialism and an adherent of Marxism. The term "revisionist" was applied to Bernstein by his critics who referred to themselves as "orthodox" Marxists, even though Bernstein claimed that his principles were consistent with Karl Marx's and Friedrich Engels' stances, especially in their later years when Marx and Engels advocated that socialism should be achieved through parliamentary democratic means where-ever possible.[21] Revisionists have criticized orthodox Marxism and particularly its founder Karl Kautsky, for having disregarded Marx's view of the necessity of evolution of capitalism to achieve socialism by replacing it with an "either/or" polarization between capitalism and socialism; for disregarding Marx's emphasis on the role of parliamentary democracy in achieving socialism; as well as criticizing Kautsky for his idealism of state socialism.[22]

Bernstein had held close association to Marx and Engels, but he saw flaws in Marxian thinking and began such criticism when he investigated and challenged the Marxian materialist theory of history.[23] He rejected significant parts of Marxian theory that were based upon Hegelian metaphysics, he rejected the Hegelian dialectical perspective.[24] Bernstein declared that the massive and homogeneous working-class claimed in the Communist Manifesto did not exist, and that contrary to claims of a proletarian majority emerging, the middle-class was growing under capitalism and not disappearing as Marx had claimed.[25] Bernstein noted that the working-class was not homogeneous but heterogeneous, with divisions and factions within it, including socialist and non-socialist trade unions.[26] Marx himself later in his life acknowledged that the middle-class was not disappearing, in his work Theories of Surplus Value.[27] However due to the popularity of the Communist Manifesto and the obscurity of Theories of Surplus Value, Marx's acknowledgement of this error is not well known.[28]

Bernstein criticized Marxism's concept of "irreconciliable class conflicts" and Marxism's hostility to liberalism.[29] He challenged Marx's position on liberalism by claiming that liberal democrats and social democrats held common grounds that he claimed could be utilized to create a "socialist republic".[29] He believed that economic class disparities between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat would gradually be eliminated through legal reforms and economic redistribution programs.[29] Bernstein rejected the Marxian principle of dictatorship of the proletariat, claiming that gradualist democratic reforms will improve the rights of the working class.[30] According to Bernstein, unlike orthodox Marxism, social democracy did not seek to create a socialism separate from bourgeois society but instead sought to create a common development based on Western humanism.[31] The development of socialism under social democracy does not seek to rupture existing society and its cultural traditions but to act as an enterprise of extension and growth.[32] Furthermore, he believed that class cooperation was a preferable course to achieve socialism, rather than class conflict.[33] On the issue of class conflict and responding to the Marxian principle of dictatorship of the proletariat, Bernstein said:

"No one thinks of destroying civil society as a community ordered in a civilized war. Quite to the contrary, Social Democracy does not want to break up civil society and make all its members proletarians together; rather, it ceaselessly labors to raise the worker from the social position of a proletarian to that of a citizen and thus make citizenship universal. It does not want to replace civil society with a proletarian society but a capitalist order of society with a socialist one." Eduard Bernstein[34]

Bernstein urged social democrats to be committed to a long-term agenda of transforming the capitalist economy to a socialist economy rather than a sudden upheaval of capitalism, saying:

"Social democracy should neither expect nor desire the imminent collapse of the existing economic system What social democracy should be doing, and doing for a long time to come, is organize the working class politically, train it for democracy, and fight for any and all reforms in the state which are designed to raise the working class and make the state more democratic." Eduard Bernstein[35]

Bernstein accepted a mixed economy for an unspecified amount of time:[36]

"It [socialism] would be completely mad to burden itself with the additional tasks of so complex a nature as the setting up and controlling of comprehensive state production centers on a mass scale quite apart from the fact that only certain specific branches of production can be run on a national basis Competition would have to be reckoned with, at least in the transitional period." Eduard Bernstein.[36]

"[...] in addition to public enterprises and cooperative enterprises, there are enterprises run by private individuals for their own gain. In time, they will of their own accord acquire a cooperative character." Eduard Bernstein.[37]

Jean Jaur s Another prominent figure who influenced social democracy, was French revisionist Marxist and reformist socialist Jean Jaur s.[38] During the 1904 Congress of the Second International, Jaur s challenged orthodox Marxist August Bebel, the mentor of Kautsky, over his promotion of monolithic socialist tactics.[39] Jaur s claimed that no coherent socialist platform could be equally applicable to different countries and regions due to different political systems in them; noting that Bebel's homeland of Germany at the time was very authoritarian and had limited parliamentary democracy.[40] He compared the limited political influence of socialism in government in Germany to the substantial influence that socialism had gained in France due to its stronger parliamentary democracy.[41] He claimed that the example of the political differences between Germany and France demonstrated that monolithic socialist tactics were impossible, given the political differences of various countries.[42]

World War I, collapse of the Second International, revolutions, 1914-1919

As tensions between Europe's Great Powers escalated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Bernstein feared that Germany's arms race with other powers was threatening the possibility of a major war.[43] Bernstein's fears were realized with the outbreak of World War I.[43]

Immediately after the outbreak of World War I, Bernstein traveled from Germany to Britain to meet with British Labour Party leader Ramsay MacDonald. Bernstein regarded the outbreak of the war with great dismay, but even though the two countries were at war with one another, MacDonald honoured Bernstein at the meeting.[44] In spite of Bernstein's and other social democrats' attempts to secure the unity of the Second International, with national tensions increasing between the countries at war, the Second International collapsed in 1914.[43] Anti-war members of the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) refused to support finances being given to the German government to support the war.[43] However a nationalist-revisionist faction of SPD members led by Friedrich Ebert, Gustav Noske, and Philipp Scheidemann, supported the war, arguing that Germany had the "right to its territorial defense" from the "destruction of Tsarist despotism".[45] The SPD's decision to support the war, including Bernstein's decision to support it, was heavily influenced by the fact that the German government lied to the German people, as it claimed that the only reason Germany had declared war on Russia was because Russia was preparing to invade East Prussia, when in fact this was not the case.[45] Jaur s opposed France's intervention in the war and took a pacifist stance, but was soon assassinated in 1914.[46]

Bernstein soon resented the war and by October 1914 was convinced of the German government's war guilt; and contacted the orthodox Marxists of the SPD, to unite to push the SPD to take an anti-war stance.[46] Kautsky attempted to put aside his differences with Bernstein and join forces in opposing the war, and Kautsky praised him for becoming a firm anti-war proponent, saying that although Bernstein had previously supported "civic" and "liberal" forms of nationalism, his committed anti-war position made him the "standard-bearer of the internationalist idea of social democracy".[46] The nationalist position by the SPD leadership under Ebert refused to rescind.[46]

Arthur Henderson Alexander Kerensky In Britain, the British Labour Party became divided on the war. Labour Party leader Ramsay MacDonald was one of a handful of British MPs who had denounced Britain's declaration of war on Germany.[47] MacDonald was denounced by the pro-war press on accusations that he was "pro-German" and a pacifist, both charges that he denied.[48] In response to pro-war sentiments in the Labour Party, MacDonald resigned from being its leader and associated himself with the Independent Labour Party.[49] Arthur Henderson became the new leader of the Labour Party, and served as a cabinet minister in Prime Minister Asquith's war government. After the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia (not to be confused with the October Revolution) in which the Tsarist regime in Russia was overthrown by the Socialist-Revolutionary Party, a democratic socialist movement led by Alexander Kerensky, MacDonald visited the Russian Provisional Government in June 1917, seeking to persuade Russia to oppose the war and seek peace.[50] His efforts to unite the Russian Provisional Government against the war failed after Russia fell back into political violence resulting in the October Revolution in which the Bolsheviks led Vladimir Lenin's rise to power.[51] Though MacDonald critically responded to the Bolsheviks' political violence and rise to power by warning of "the danger of anarchy in Russia", he gave political support to the Bolshevik regime until the end of the war because he then thought that a democratic internationalism could be revived.[52] The British Labour Party's trade union affiliated membership soared during World War I.[53] Henderson with the assistance of Sidney Webb designed a new constitution for the British Labour Party, in which it adopted a strongly left-wing platform in 1918 to ensure that it would not lose support to the new Communist Party, exemplified by Clause IV of the new constitution of the Labour Party.[54]

Friedrich Ebert The overthrow of the Tsarist regime in Russia by Kerensky's Socialist-Revolutionaries in February 1917 impacted politics in Germany, as it ended the legitimation used by Ebert and other pro-war SPD members that Germany was in the war against a reactionary Russian government.[55] With the overthrow of the Tsar and revolutionary socialist agitation increased in Russia, such events influenced socialists in Germany.[56] With rising bread shortages in Germany amid war rationing, mass strikes occurred beginning in April 1917 with 300,000 strikers taking part in a strike in Berlin.[57] The strikers demanded bread, freedom, peace, and the formation of workers' councils as was being done in Russia.[58] Amidst the German public's uproar, the SPD alongside the Progressives and the Catholic labour movement in the Reichstag put forward the "Peace Resolution" on 19 July 1917 that called for a compromise peace to end the war, that was passed by a majority of members of the Reichstag.[59] The German High Command opposed the Peace Resolution, however it did seek to end the war with Russia, and presented the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk to the Bolshevik regime in 1918 that agreed to the terms and the Reichstag passed the treaty, that included the support of the SPD, the Progressives, and the Catholic political movement.[60]

By late 1918 the war situation for Germany had become hopeless, and Kaiser Wilhelm II was pressured to make peace. Wilhelm II appointed a new cabinet that included SPD members in it. At the same time the Imperial Naval Command was determined to make a heroic last stand against the British Royal Navy, and on 24 October 1918 it issued orders for the German Navy to depart to confront while the sailors refused, resulting in the Kiel Mutiny. The Kiel Mutiny resulted in the German Revolution of 1918 1919. Faced with military failure and revolution, Chancellor Max Prince Maximillian of Baden resigned, giving SPD leader Ebert the position of Chancellor, Wihelm II abdicated the German throne immediately afterwards, and the German High Command officials Paul von Hindenburg and Erich Ludendorff resigned whilst refusing to end the war to save face, leaving the Ebert government and the SPD-majority Reichstag to be forced to make the inevitable peace with the Allies and take the blame for having lost the war. With the abdication of Wilhelm II, Ebert declared Germany to be a republic and signed the armistice that ended World War I on 11 November 1918.

Interwar period and the Great Depression, 1919-1939

In 1920, the Social Democratic Party of Sweden was elected to a minority government. It created a Socialization Committee that declared support for a mixed economy that combined the best of private initiative with social ownership or control, it supported substantial socialization "of all necessary natural resources, industrial enterprises, credit institutions, transportation and communication routes" that would be gradually transferred to the state.[61] It permitted private ownership outside of these areas.[61] However in the 1930s several Swedish social democratic leadership figures, including Nils Karleby and Rickard Sandler - the secretary and chairman of the Socialization Committee, considered these policies to be too extreme.[61] Karlby and Sanders developed a new conception of social democratic socialism: the social market economy that called for gradual socialization and redistribution of purchasing power, provision of educational opportunity, support of property rights, permitting private enterprise on the condition that it adheres to the principle that the resources of which it disposes are in reality public means, and the creation of a broad category of social welfare rights.[62]

By the 1920s, the doctrinal differences between social democrats and communists of all factions (be they Orthodox Marxists, Bolsheviks, or Mensheviks) had solidified.

Post World War II


Social democracy, as practiced in Europe in 1951, was a socialist movement supporting gradualism; the belief that gradual democratic reforms to capitalist economies will eventually succeed in creating a socialist economy,[64] rejecting forcible imposition of socialism through revolutionary means.[64] This gradualism has resulted in various far left groups, including communists, of accusing social democracy of accepting the values of capitalist society and therefore not being a genuine form of socialism.[64] Social democracy rejects the Marxian principle of dictatorship of the proletariat, claiming that gradualist democratic reforms will improve the rights of the working class.[30]

After World War II, a new international organization to represent social democracy and democratic socialism, the Socialist International in 1951. In the founding Frankfurt Declaration, the Socialist International denounced both capitalism and Bolshevik communism. As for Bolshevik communism, the Declaration denounced it in articles 7, 8, and 9, saying:

  • 7. Meanwhile, as Socialism advances throughout the world, new forces have arisen to threaten the movement towards freedom and social justice. Since the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, Communism has split the International Labour Movement and has set back the realisation of Socialism in many countries for decades.[65]
  • 8. Communism falsely claims a share in the Socialist tradition. In fact it has distorted that tradition beyond recognition. It has built up a rigid theology which is incompatible with the critical spirit of Marxism.[65]
  • 9. Where Socialists aim to achieve freedom and justice by removing the exploitation which divides men under capitalism, Communists seek to sharpen those class divisions only in order to establish the dictatorship of a single party.[65]
  • 10. International Communism is the instrument of a new imperialism. Wherever it has achieved power it has destroyed freedom or the chance of gaining freedom. It is based on a militarist bureaucracy and a terrorist police. By producing glaring contrasts of wealth and privilege it has created a new class society. Forced labour plays an important part in its economic organisation."[65]

Following the split between social democrats and communists, another split developed within social democracy, between those who still believed it was necessary to abolish capitalism (without revolution) and replace it with a socialist system through democratic parliamentary means, and those who believed that the capitalist system could be retained but needed dramatic reform, such as the nationalization of large businesses, the implementation of social programs (public education, universal health care, and the like) and the partial redistribution of wealth through the permanent establishment of a welfare state based on progressive taxation.

Eventually, most social democratic parties have come to be dominated by the latter position and, in the post World War II era, have abandoned any commitment to abolish capitalism. For instance, in 1959, the Social Democratic Party of Germany adopted the Godesberg Program, which rejected class struggle and Marxism. While "social democrat" and "democratic socialist" continued to be used interchangeably, by the 1990s in the English-speaking world at least, the two terms had generally come to signify respectively the latter and former positions.

In Italy, the Italian Democratic Socialist Party was founded in 1947, and from 1948 on supported the idea of a centrist alliance. Since the late 1980s, many other social democratic parties have adopted the "Third Way", either formally or in practice. Modern social democrats are generally in favor of a mixed economy, which is in many ways capitalistic, but explicitly defend governmental provision of certain social services.

In 1982, the social democratic government of Sweden adopted the Meidner Plan of Rudolf Meidner to pursue a gradualist socialist agenda to achieve in order: first, pursue the enhancement of political democracy and citizenship; second, pursue entrenching social rights; third, and lastly it would be then be able to implement economic democracy and social ownership.[66] The Plan focused on a 20 percent annual taxation of private enterprise to be used to create investment funds that were to be owned collectively by employees.[67] Rudolf Meidner stated that his plan was a gradualist "creeping socialism" that through its annual 20 percent taxation on private enterprise and transferring of the money gained to socially-owned investment funds would result in wage-earners gaining a controlling share in their enterprises within twenty-five to fifty years.[67] The Meidner Plan was cancelled in 1990 after the Swedish Social Democrats were defeated in Sweden's election to a new conservative government that scrapped the plan.

Many social democratic parties have shifted emphasis from their traditional goals of social justice to human rights and environmental issues. In this, they are facing an increasing challenge from Greens, who view ecology as fundamental to peace, require reform of money supply, and promote safe trade measures to ensure ecological integrity. In Germany in particular, Greens and Social Democrats have cooperated in so-called red green alliances. The present government in Norway is known as the Red-Green Coalition, whilst the opposition bloc in Sweden is the similarly titled Red-Greens, with social democratic parties forming the largest components of both alliances.


The Socialist International logo In the 2000s (decade) and 2010s, several major European social democratic parties lost support, such as the defeat of the Social Democratic Party of Germany in the 2005 German election, and the defeat of the British Labour Party in the 2010 British election, and the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party in the 2011 Spanish election. However there have been major increases in support for social democratic parties elsewhere. In North America there was a massive surge in support for Canada's New Democratic Party in the 2011 Canadian election, allowing the party for its first time to become the second largest political party in the Canadian Parliament. The New Democratic Party is the second strongest social democratic party of a sovereign state in North America. The Institutional Revolutionary Party is one of two parties in Mexico affiliated with the Socialist International (the Party of the Democratic Revolution is the other), and has formed a government at the federal level in Mexico, unlike the New Democratic Party, which has only formed a government in Canada at the provincial level.

Social democracy advocates the creation of legal reforms and economic redistribution programs to eliminate economic class disparities between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.[29] It advocates the development of an economic democracy and the development of cooperative business organizations as an alternative to private enterprise.[68][69] One example of a modern social democratic economic plan was the Meidner Plan in Sweden which was enacted in 1982 and promoted a gradualist market socialist achievement of social ownership through taxation on private enterprise and transferring of the money gained to socially-owned investment funds that gradually will result in wage-earners gaining a controlling share in their enterprises;[67] although by the early 1990s the Social Democrats had lost their enthusiasm for it.[70] Practical modern social democratic policies include the promotion of a welfare state, and the creation of economic democracy as a means to secure workers' rights.[71] The Frankfurt Declaration of the Socialist International in 1951, attended by many social democratic parties from across the world, committed adherents to oppose Bolshevik communism especially Stalinism, and to promote a gradual transformation of capitalism into socialism.[65]

Many of the policies espoused by social democrats in the first half of the 20th century have since been put into practice by social democratic governments throughout the industrialized world. Industries have been nationalized, public spending has seen a large long-term rise, and the role of the state in providing free-to-user or subsidized health care and education has increased greatly. Many of the reforms made by social democrats in Europe, such as the establishment of national health care services, have been embraced by liberals and conservatives, and there is no support outside of a radical fringe for a return to 19th-century levels of public spending and economic regulation. Even in the United States, where no major social democratic party exists, there are regulatory programmes (such as public health and environmental protection) and welfare programmes (such as Medicare[72] and Medicaid[73]) which enjoy bipartisan support.

In recent years, several social democratic parties (in particular, the British Labour Party) have embraced more centrist, Third Way policy positions, and thus supported both the privatization of certain state-controlled industries and services and the reduction of certain forms of regulation of the market. Since the 1980s, there has been a perception that social democracy has been on the retreat in the Western world, particularly in English-speaking countries, where social democratic values are arguably not as firmly rooted in local law and culture as elsewhere. Traditional social democrats argue that Third Way ideology has caused the movement to become too centrist, and even that the movement may be becoming centre-right. In general, apparent reversals in policy have encountered significant opposition among party members and core voters; many of the latter have claimed that their leaders have betrayed the principles of social democracy.[74] The development of Third Way social democracy has resulted in the rise of democratic socialism as a distinct break away ideology from social democracy. In many countries, social democrats continue to exist alongside democratic socialists, who stand to the left of them on the political spectrum. The two movements sometimes operate within the same political party, such as the Brazilian Workers' Party[75] and the Socialist Party of France.

Supporters of Third Way ideals argue that they merely represent a necessary or pragmatic adaptation of social democracy to the realities of the modern world: traditional social democracy thrived during the prevailing international climate of the post-war Bretton Woods consensus, which collapsed in the 1970s. In Britain, where the electorate rejected the Labour Party four times consecutively between 1979 and 1997, Third Way politician Tony Blair and his colleagues in the New Labour movement took the strategic decision to disassociate themselves publicly from the previous, explicitly democratic socialist incarnations of their party. The Labour Government that came to power in 1997 continued the tradition that Margaret Thatcher started in the 1980s of selling out nationalized industries, and the income gap between the rich and the poor grew. This challenge to traditional social democractic ideals alienated many backbenchers, including some who advocated a less militant ideology of social democracy.[76]

The development of new social democratic policies in this environment is the subject of wide-ranging debate within the left and centre-left. A number of political think-tanks, such as Policy Network and Wiardi Beckman Stichting, have been active in facilitating and promoting this debate.

Since the rise in popularity of the New Right and neoliberalism, a number of prominent modern social democratic parties have abandoned the goal of the gradual evolution of capitalism to socialism and instead support welfare state capitalism.[77]

Political parties

Social democratic political parties, which sometimes also include a democratic socialist element, operate in many developed and developing countries, including France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, Israel and Brazil. Most European social democratic parties are members of the Party of European Socialists,[78] which is one of the main political parties at the European level,[79] and its parliamentary group the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats. Globally, most social democratic parties worldwide are members of the Socialist International.[80]

In many cases, social democratic parties are the dominant (India, Portugal, Australia) or second-placed (Canada, Italy, Sweden, Germany, United Kingdom)[81] players within their respective political systems, though in some cases they are minor parties in federal politics (Ireland, Russia). The United States is the only industrial nation that does not currently have an official major social democratic party, although many consider large portions of the Green Party and some liberal factions of the Democratic Party to be social democratic. Some conservatives in the U.S. have accused President Barack Obama of being either a "Democratic Socialist" or "Social Democrat", but Obama and the mainstream of the Democratic Party reject these accusations. Obama identifies with contemporary American Progressivism. Critics of Obama on the left identify him as generally holding centrist views.[82][83][84]

Since the 1960s, many social democrats have broadened their objectives beyond the field of economic policy to include aspects of environmentalism, feminism, racial equality and multiculturalism. Another notable development is the tendency since the 1980s for social democratic parties to distance themselves from distinctively left-wing economic policies such as public ownership and dirigisme, adopting instead policies that support a relatively lightly regulated economy and emphasize equality of opportunity.

This trend, known as the Third Way, is controversial among some of the left, many of whom argue that Third Way politicians (such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton)[74] have moved too far to the centre, or even the centre-right. Others, such as the leadership of the UK Labour Party, reject this critique.[85]


Socialist critics of contemporary social democracy include Democratic socialists , Marxian socialists , revolutionary socialists, Syndicalists and anarchists. The most common criticism leveled against social democracy by socialists is that social democratic programs maintain the capitalist system (and therefore retains its fundamental issues, such as cyclical fluctuations and social contradictions) and as a result, the social democratic reformist policies are used to legitimize capitalism and economic exploitation by making it appear more equitable, thereby becoming an impediment to fundamental restructuring of the social and economic systems.[86]

Marxists further argue that social democratic and welfare state policies limit the incentive system of the market by providing things such as minimum wages, unemployment insurance, taxing profits and reducing the reserve army of labor, resulting in reduced incentives for capitalists to invest in more production. In essence, social welfare policies cripple the capitalism and its incentive system and are thus unsustainable in the long-run.[86] Marxists argue that the establishment of a socialist mode of production is the only way to overcome these deficiencies.

Democratic socialists and libertarian socialists contend that social democracy has degenerated into pragmatic opportunism; rather than changing the world, social democracy merely changed itself to accommodate its tactics.[87] These groups regard social democracy as an elitist and unrealistic movement for relying on electoral changes to reform capitalism, relying solely on liberal parliamentary (representation from above) rather than popular representation and spontaneous organization from the grassroots-level.[88]

Notable social democrats

This is an abbreviated list of well-known social democrats. For a comprehensive list, see List of social democrats

See also

Political theory

Social democracy in practice


External links

Social democratic literature

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