December 18, 2016


Corbyn Versus the Third Way : Jeremy Corbyn is attempting to transform a Labour Party that represents labor in name only. (Jason Schulman, September 2015, Jacobin)

For decades, the leaders of Europe's social-democratic and labor parties attempted to use the machinery of the liberal-democratic state to transform capitalism from within. But as Gerassimos Moschonas demonstrates in his 2002 book In the Name of Social Democracy, it is capitalism that has transformed social democracy -- not the other way around.

Over the last thirty years, virtually all social-democratic parties have presided over some degree of market deregulation, commercialization, and privatization of the public sector, and at least the piecemeal implementation of welfare-state retrenchment. One might expect working-class parties, even ones with fairly autocratic internal lives, to be largely immune from an intellectual, ideological embrace of neoliberal doctrine. Workers and union leaders tend not to demand that austerity measures be imposed upon themselves.

Yet social-democratic parties have hardly inoculated themselves and are increasingly led by advocates of deregulation, privatization, and the free market. Social-democratic parties have generally made no concerted effort to find alternatives to what all countries but the United States call "neoliberalism" -- their role in government in recent decades has been, at best, to slightly dull the sharpest edges of the market.

This has been true both for the continental European social-democratic parties and for the union-based labor parties of Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. In the case of the New Zealand Labour government of 1984-1990 and the British Labour government of 1997-2007, the shift at the macroeconomic level involved a fundamental refutation of traditional left policies. A similar shift also occurred in Australia under Labor governments between 1983 and 1996, even though it was less radical and was accompanied by some renovation of the welfare state.

Various explanations for this dramatic change in how social-democratic parties govern have been offered. Most frequently, they have pointed to the globalization of production and finance, the shrinking of the blue-collar working class, and the rise of "post-materialist politics" (feminism, environmentalism, gay and lesbian rights, etc.).

This is the great danger for the Democrats, that they too will decide to rebel against economic reality. 

Posted by at December 18, 2016 8:30 AM