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To what extent are the socialist/ social democratic parties nationally distinct?

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Introduction

To what extent are the socialist/ social democratic parties nationally distinct? "Social Democracy is characterised by mass parties with a large extra-parliamentary base of activists and in principle at least, a democratic structure giving the members control over the party and party control over its representatives in national and local governments. Its electoral base is in the industrial working class through the extent of this varies according to the size of that class and the presence of a communist party competing for the same votes" [Keating, 1993, 41]. This is one author's perspective on social democracy and the factors which determine it's presence in government. Social democracy is a hybrid of socialism and liberalism; hence it encompasses a number of ideas and objectives. The working class movement developed from having its industrial wing, usually based in the trade unions, into forming a political wing - the party. Originally, the party derived its ideology either from the writings of scientific socialists such as Marx and Engels or utopian socialists such as Fourier or Saint-Simon. Commonly, they believed in social harmony, co-operation, collective society and above all egalitarianism. Following the history of social democracy in Western Europe gives an account of a journey of transformation, compromise and controversy. Each country has had to adapt the ideology of social democracy to a model suitable for the political culture of their governing institutions. Also each social democrat party has had to reform its policies and objectives to achieve electoral success, in other words appeal to the majority of the electorate in the country. Therefore the parties in each country will be unquestionably unique in its practice. In this discussion, I will be focussing on the social democrat parties in Sweden, Germany and France because they are so nationally distinct in several ways. There are particular issues I will be comparing and contrasting these three parties on: their origins, their membership and electoral success, their links to the trade unions, their links to the communist party and their ideology and the steps they have taken to modernise. ...read more.

Middle

They believed in revolutionary change because they had no faith in party politics and hierarchical order, also the lack of ideological principle within the SFIO was disconcerting. Also, the 'Amiens Charter' officially ruled out links between the CGT and the SFIO [Meny & Knapp, 1998, 75]. Therefore, during these times the party was reliant on support from the peasantry rather than the working class. In time the CGT actually aligned itself with communist party because they agreed on the means to the end of the problem. The trade unions were never really able to penetrate the workforce, they were structurally weak, they lacked ideological backbone and they were hugely disorganised. Even in the 1970s when another trade union confederation (CFDT emerged with a socialist leader, Edmund Maire, they had the same attributes and no neo-corporatist relations could be formed. The relationship between party and trade union is a difficult one to maintain. However, this is surely inevitable as the conventional labour force associated with trade unions has marginalized significantly in the past few decades. As heavy industries receded, a new group of workers has emerged and whether or not TUs can adapt themselves to represent this new workforce is questionable. Even in Sweden, there has been a small degree of weakening in the link. So to summarise, we have seen that strong ties with trade unions is desirable because it can guarantee electoral support from an entire group of the population. A good relationship should equal to solidarity and consistency as in Sweden where the LO is the 'backbone' of the SAP. The SAP, and to a certain extent the SPD have used their ties with unions to consolidate contractual agreements and bargain with the labour force. In contrast, France historically has weak and fragmented trade unions so mutual relationships could never be secured. And this is often cited as the reason for inconsistent voting levels for the SFIO/PS. ...read more.

Conclusion

The recognition that they had to do something only dawned on them in the late seventies, early eighties when the SFIO transforming itself into the PS. Unlike the SPD's reforms, France was seen as going through an ideological concentration rather than fragmentation. And unlike the SDP and SAP, it seemed as though the PS was moving further to the left than centre ground because of its unison with the communists. During their early period in government, the United Left underwent a programme of nationalisation. This was not successful and within a few years there was a gradual decentralisation programme and at the Toulouse Conference, Mitterand conceded that the PS would have to support a movement towards a mixed economy in order to survive. Therefore, we have seen that all three of the countries have had to undergo some ideological reform due to the growth of the world economy and globalisation. Their goal has been the same, of being a catch-all party and surviving in the electoral race. "Organised social democracy is one of the oldest surviving political forces in Western Europe. Even in the 1990s, the Social Democrats remain the single most important group in contemporary politics" [Gallagher et. al., 2001, 203]. This reiterates the importance of social democracy as a whole and as we have seen it has played a huge part in the history of these three countries in particular. Collectively, the parties in all three countries have had to adapt certain aspects of the original social democratic doctrines in order to gain or sustain the interest of the electorate. Also the parties have had to modernize their outlook on many issues to respond adequately to the world situation. However each party took a different route to achieve this. Whereas the SPD acknowledged a need to reform specifically its economic policies to deal with the effects of globalisation as early as Bad Godesberg, the French socialists were much slower to act. Each country was hugely distinct in its practices of social democracy but the effects of globalisation has possibly drawn them closer together in the centre ground. ...read more.

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