JOHN KEANE. Money, Capitalism and the Slow Death of Social Democracy.

May 21, 2016

In this article, John Keane speaks of the slow death of social democracy but suggests that there may be possibilities that social democracy could embrace Green movements, intellectuals and parties that have common interests. See extracts from article below and link to the full article in The Conversation.

A decade ago, most people interested in politics associated the words social democracy with business-friendly governments, lower taxes, economic growth, high wages and low unemployment. Social democracy seemed to be the guardian of a new Gilded Age. It meant good times, a positive Third Way between capitalism and socialism. It represented a progressive vision of market reforms, new public management and rising consumption, a shift from savings capitalism to a capitalism of easy lending, the triumph of a new era of ‘privatised Keynesianism’ led by the governments of David Lange, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder.

The reputation of social democracy has since been damaged. The phrase nowadays connotes things much less positive: career politicians, scripted speeches, intellectual emptiness, declining party membership, discredited defenders of ‘too big to fail’ banks and austerity like Felipe González and François Hollande. And crushing electoral defeat, of the kind recently suffered (at the hands of the far-right populist Norbert Hofer) in the first round of presidential elections by the Austrian Social Democratic Party, whose ancestor (SDAPÖ) was once among the most powerful, dynamic and forward-thinking party machines of the modern world. ….

Not all of these thinking social democrats are sympathetic to the greening of politics. In the German capitalism and democracy debate, for instance, Wolfgang Merkel is among those who who are insisting that ‘post-material progressivism’ centred on issues such as ‘gender equality, ecology, minority and gay rights’ have lulled social democrats into complacency about questions of class. Other social democrats see things differently. Their rethinking of the parameters of traditional social democracy leads them leftwards, towards the realisation that green movements, intellectuals and parties are potentially poised to wage the same struggle against market fundamentalism that social democracy began over a century and a half ago.

How viable is their hope that red and green can be mixed? Presuming that red-green co-operation is possible, can the result be more than bland shades of neutral brown? Might the old and new be combined into a powerful force for democratic equality against the power of money and markets run by the rich and powerful? Time will tell whether the proposed metamorphosis can happen successfully. As things stand, only one thing can safely be said. If the red-to-green metamorphosis happened then it would confirm an an old political axiom famously outlined by William Morris (1834 – 1896): when people fight for just causes, the battles and wars they lose sometimes inspire others to carry on their fight, this time with new and improved means, under an entirely different name, in much-changed circumstances.

John Keane is Professor of Politics, University of Sydney. This article first appeared in The Conversation on 14 May, 2016. 

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