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Have Social Democratic governments had to limit their ambitions to being mere managers of capitalism?

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Introduction

Have Social Democratic governments had to limit their ambitions to being mere managers of capitalism? Before any political party could come to power as a 'social democratic' government the idea of social democracy had to be developed first. The unfolding of social democratic thought and doctrine that had to happen before the idea could be brought into government is an important pointer toward how these budding 'workers' parties' would act in any future position of rule. I will argue that the policies and practices of social democratic governments can be foreseen from their electoral tactics that were modified from their original purpose into one which would enable the party to be elected. I will also argue that once the history of social democracy in power began, it's various guises throughout western Europe could only hope to be mere interventionist, reformist managers of the capitalist world that they inherited. Firstly, what does social democracy mean? What policies did social democratic parties pursue? What electoral measures did they take to attempt to win the majority vote that would allow them to enter government? And what signs could we see at this stage that would give us an idea of the nature and role of any future social democratic ruling party? Briefly, social democracy developed due to a split in the socialist parties and their following. ...read more.

Middle

Thirdly, the acceptance and almost embracement of capitalist institutions such as the electoral process and the apparatus of the state. Lastly, but equally as important as the former points, was the fact that at the time of social democratic parties coming to power they were doing so in a western Europe that already was rooted and embedded in a capitalist structure of society. " Socialists had to govern in an essentially capitalist world." (Schumpeter 2000, p 364). All four of these factors point toward how social democratic rulers would rule. They all demonstrate a weakening of socialist ideals in the face of capitalism, through it's institutions, it's supporters, and the very fact that it was already cemented into the machinations of the economy, trade, markets and the social institutions and communities of western Europe. The means of pursuing power would be reflected in the ends of power. A reformist, interventionist party in opposition would be a reformist, interventionist party in government. The first time we can see this is in the coalition governments of Sweden and Norway of the 1930s. To be able to have a say in the governance of their respective countries, the social democratic parties had to deal and barter with their opponents in order to gain at least some footing in the ruling coalitions. Although this is not an example of outright, majority social democratic government, it reinforces the four pre-emptive factors of the nature this type of government would take. ...read more.

Conclusion

"The fundamental premise of social democracy is that nationalisation of the means of production is not necessary to overcome the irrationality of capitalism." (Przeworski 1992, p 132). Social democracy's apotheosis in the late 60s and early 70s still made no decisive change to the organisation of wealth and capital. For a political party to gain power through the ballot box it must win a majority of the vote. To do this, the majority of the electorate must be catered for in the policies of a party. In a society that is already predominately made up of capitalists, especially the more entrepreneurial middle-class, a victorious party will only be a reflection of this society. Thus, we see the eternal dilemma of social democracy - capitalism must be paid lip service to gain power in an already capitalist society. By doing this, the ends of social democracy change to ones of capitalist management, reform and intervention. In today's increasingly globalised economy social democratic governments can be seen as having to shift their policies and their practices even further toward a capitalist approach. As the seemingly only eternal principle of governments is to remain in power, all other principles become secondary. Throughout the history of social democracy capitalism has, at best, merely been diluted. From origins of socialism by revolution, through socialism by democracy, to reformist and interventionist governments, the future of social democracy can be predicted as one that finds itself forced to try and limit how far capitalism manages social democratic governments rather then the other way round. ...read more.

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