Social Democracy Today

Against the Current, No 6, January/February 1987

Perry Anderson

WITHIN THE ADVANCED capitalist world, Western Europe has been distinguished ever since the turn of the century by the presence of significant social-democratic movements. Modem social democracy was born there. Its ability to spread outside its original homelands proved quite limited. North American and Japanese societies–despite major episodes of labor militancy and socialist organization–have not produced movements of comparable strength or stability.

For four decades now, governments of big business have ruled without qualification or dilution in Washington or Tokyo. In the same period, every single West European capital has had some experience of Social-Democratic administration or coalition-often for years on end-proclaiming its pursuit of the interests of the working class. This difference is one of the most familiar features of the political scenery of postwar imperialism.

But big changes have been occurring within West European Social-Democracy in recent years. These have reflected major shifts in the international accumulation of capital and the correlation of class forces across the advanced capitalist belt as a whole. Both the function and the distribution of social-democratic movements have been altered in the Old World.

To get these transformations into perspective, it is necessary to look back at the history of European social democracy. The classical homelands of this kind of labor movement have lain in the northern zone of Western Europe. It is there-in Scandinavia, Britain, the Low Countries, and the German-speaking lands-that the mass parties of the Second International [world federation of social-democratic parties, now called the Second International] have had the longest continuous history in the world, enjoyed the lengthiest periods of governmental office, and enacted the most extensive legislation.

The reasons for this northern lead are not hard to seek. The societies where classical social democracy flourished were economically the most advanced and prosperous in the continent. England, Belgium and Germany-in that order-were the three great success-stories of 19th century industrialization in Europe. Austria, Scandinavia and the Netherlands were to become their privileged periphery. In these countries the working class was either industrially stronger and more numerous than anywhere else-the cases of Britain, Belgium, Germany or Austria; or it enjoyed favorable social alliances with a rural population of small independent farmers-the typical pattern in Scandinavia.

In this environment, Northern Social Democracy won its electoral spurs early on. It is now some eighty years since the first plurality was won by a party of the Second International, in Finland in 1907. Within another few years German Social Democracy was already the largest party in the Reichstag. The First World War, of course, demonstrated how far such accumulation of votes-for that matter, of members either-was from representing any preparation for an assault on capitalist power or the bourgeois state.

The major parties of the Second International collaborated with their own ruling classes in the inter-imperialist massacre, and they did everything to avert a social-revolutionary crisis after it-when the old order had fallen into deep discredit and mass upheavals were breaking out against it.

Germany and Austrian Social Democracy entered government for the first time in 1918-1919, as coalition partners with bourgeois parties in joint efforts to contain popular unrest and stabilize a parliamentary state. The British Labor Party, when it got its chance to form a minority government a few years later, proved equally cautious and constitutional. So did the Swedish Social Democratic leaders during their country’s tense political crisis after the war. The historic induction of Northern Social Democracy into government was essentially as emergency shock-absorbers in the great European turbulence that followed World War I.

These years radicalized the most militant sections of the working class in country after country, turning them against the Second and into the Third [Communist] International. But the same crisis also politicized previously dormant or unorganized sectors of the working class, which for the most part swelled the trade union and electoral bases of Social Democracy. So even though the Social-Democratic parties lost office once the immediate postwar dangers to the political dominance of capital were over, many of these parties had a second chance when the economic crash hit Europe at the end of the twenties. What did they do with it?

For the most part, they had no idea what to do. None attempted to nationalize anything. Some tried out a few minor social reforms, in the style of prewar social insurance liberalism. Mainly, however, they made ineffectual attempts to enforce neoclassical financial orthodoxy. Snowden in Britain and Hilferding in Germany were to the forefront in responding to the onset of the Depression with purgative doses of deflation. Even the British Liberals-let alone the Nazis-were bolder than this.

A somewhat more unconventional policy to maintain employment was (in part inadvertently) adopted in Sweden; but even there the main initiative taken was a standard currency devaluation [a common technique by which capitalist governments seek to improve their trading position at others’ expense. J Social Democracy as a whole simply had no distinctive policy in the face of the most catastrophic economic crisis of the century. Its inter-war record was-by even the most modest reformist criteria-a barren one.

A New Era

The Second World War transformed the position and prospects of Social Democracy in Northern Europe. It did so in two ways. Firstly, and most fundamentally, global military conflict installed Keynesian economic management [government spending] at the heart of capitalism. The Third Reich had pioneered practical implementation of Keynes’ doctrines in its rearmament drive in the run up to the war (to the gratification of Keynes himself, candidly expressed in the German edition of his General Theory).

The British Treasury, traditionally the most blinkered bastion of neoclassical rigidity in the world, underwent a speedy conversion once German armor was in Channel ports and was soon outdoing Berlin itself in state-directed mobilization of resources and deficit spending to finance the war effort. The U.S.A. under Roosevelt still sunk in deep depression–for all the rhetoric of the New Deal–when the war broke out, was the last to discover the sovereign remedy of military Keynesianism, but then reaped the most benefit from it.

A new economic agenda for the West had been tabled by the time the war was over. Its end also brought a second major change in Northern Europe. The defeat of fascism released a powerful wave of popular radicalization, as wide in scale if not as deep in drive as after the end of the First World War. The Social-Democratic organizations in place were the recipients of this new influx of workers into unions and politics, amidst high hopes for a different postwar world.

Britain’s Labor Party led the way with its big electoral victory in 1945. Social Democracy now possessed a stronger mass base than before the war, and inherited a ready-made formula for administering capitalism. Counter-cyclical demand management could simultaneously boost the rate of profit for capital and raise the real living standards of labor, by expanding domestic consumption through state expenditures.

Of course, the efficacy of this fine-tuning rested on the underlying dynamic of world-wide accumulation. But there, precisely, the long interwar downswing was giving way to an unprecedented international boom, founded initially on reconstruction of fixed capital and then on the generalization of Fordism [modern industrial assembly-line methods]. Hence, amidst twenty-five years of prosperity, Social-Democratic governments could typically preside over full employment, rising incomes and improved social services in their own countries.

Public ownership-once formally a prime goal of these parties-was relegated to deficitary industries designed to provide cheap inputs for private accumulation: a “margin” rather than a “mixture” in the economy that could be dispensed with virtually entirely in the most successful of all cases of Northern Social Democracy, in Sweden.

Capitalism was at once ameliorated and strengthened by these administrations. The presence of Social-Democratic governments at the helm of the state was not the primary determinant of the material improvement in the conditions of life of working people in Northern Europe in these years. Far greater transformations of the living standards of the masses occurred in Japan or Spain under Conservative or Fascist regimes, than in Britain or Norway under Labor governments. What was decisive was the overall growth rate of the national capitalism in question.

Keynesianism was an invention, not of Social Democracy but of bourgeois liberalism, and could be put to use by any capitalist state of the time–as it had been by the Nazi minister of economy Schacht in the thirties. But–n contrast with the interwar period–Social Democracy in Northern Europe did have at least one distinctive achievement to its credit in the postwar epoch. It constructed the scaffolding of a welfare state incorporating genuine social gains for labor–in health services, public housing, educational provision, and pension rights–which had no close equivalents in those advanced capitalist states without any Social-Democratic presence, above all, Japan and the United States.

The welfare state was not an inevitable or invariable accompaniment of full employment and fast growth. The role played by Social Democracy, for all its longtime abandonment of the political goals of socialism, also helped to preserve a sense of separate class identity within the ranks of labor, as against capital, to a degree significantly greater than in either North America or Japan.

In the best of cases, these two dimensions of Social Democracy were mutually reinforcing-welfare reforms promoting class confidence and organization, class mobilization giving renewed electoral mandates for further reform, through a dense patchwork of trade union and party structures. This dialectic was most fully realized in Sweden and Austria, least of all in Britain-a difference that had much to do with the international context of the social-democratic experiences of the time.

The British Labor government was an active junior partner in U.S. global counter-revolutionary policing, and in fostering the Cold War. It was the prime mover in the creation of NATO, for example, whose first Secretary General became the Belgian Socialist Henri Spaak. Most of the continental parties were similarly servile members of the anti-communist crusade. The Cold War framework put certain rigid ideological and political limits on Social-Democratic practice domestically. Outside it, in a neutral context, the Swedish or Austrian models could go further and entrench themselves more firmly.

Consequences of the Downturn

The postwar good fortune of Social Democracy ran out in the early ’70s. Its springs had been Keynesian. Once Keynesian techniques collapsed with the breakdown of Fordist accumulation and the onset of the long recession, Social Democracy had no alternative formulas of regulation of its own.

The result was inevitably a generalized crisis of Northern Social Democracy. Socializations as a goal it had long relinquished. But now, as stagflation set in and unemployment started to mount, the very welfare state it had constructed came to be increasingly identified as the culprit of the downswing.

Lacking any outlook independent of current capitalist consensus, Social Democracy as a whole was in no position to resist the turn to monetarism that followed the first major increase in oil prices. The result was the deflationary squeeze on public spending of the Callaghan and Schmidt Social Democratic regimes in Britain and West Germany, jettisoning welfare services and creating unemployment in direct contradiction of the policies that had been the historical mainstay for Social Democracy in the postwar period. In due course British Labor and German Social Democratic Party (SPD) alike were ejected from office, as large numbers of their working-class supporters went over to the local conservative parties.

In Scandinavia, the Social-Democratic adaptation to monetarism was less clamorous and abrupt, but there too the later ’70s saw the fall of one longstanding Social-Democratic regime after another-over four decades of SAP rule coming to an end in Sweden in 1976, Norwegian Labor ousted by a bourgeois coalition in 1981.

Today Northern Europe, traditionally the bulwark of international Social Democracy, has become the stomping ground of regimes of the tough right. These are vigorously reactionary administrations with a strong popular base, devoted to the dismantling of social services, weakening of trade unions, privatizing of public enterprises: in a word, to rolling back much of the legacy of the Social-Democratic years.

As in 1945, Britain set the trend with the advent of the Thatcher government, a year before Reagan himself was elected in the States. The regimes of Kohl in West Germany, Martins in Belgium, Lubbers in The Netherlands, Schluter in Denmark are now all cut from the same cloth. With the exception of the first, they are headed by capable right-wing politicians with proven populist appeal. Most of these governments, like Thatcher’s, have crushed major trade-union challenges (miners in Britain; public-sector workers in Belgium and The Netherlands; general strike in Denmark) and gone on to win second terms. In Norway Labor is briefly back in office with a minority government.

The SAP in Sweden has clung on to power by keeping up employment, principally thanks to a drastic devaluation in 1981 (shades of the same in 1931) that primed its export industries. But after Palme [the murdered Social-Democratic leader] even this last holdout looks shaky, as the competitive effects wear off and the familiar processes of “industrial restructuring”-job losses-set in, with mounting trade union unrest against official austerity. Social Democracy has lost ground, everywhere significantly, sometimes spectacularly, in Northern Europe.

Meanwhile, however, the political trajectory of Southern Eur6pe was moving precisely in the opposite direction. Up to the late ’60s, this was a region of the continent that did not possess a single social-democratic movement of real weight. Yet by the early ’80s, as conservative regimes ruled the roost in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Bonn or Copenhagen, there were Social-Democratic premiers in Paris, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon and Athens.

What explains the contrast? Historically, industrialization for the most part got underway later or more slowly in Southern than Northern Europe, and in an environment much less favorable for the labor movement. In the 19th and early 20th centuries a more backward and sluggish urban capitalism developed, against a more conservative rural hinterland of peasantry and clergy. French industry, the most considerable of the region, never achieved the dynamism of Belgian or German, its specific weight always being less within a society still dominated by an archaic parcelized agriculture. Much of the countryside in Italy or Spain was in the grip of semi-feudal latifundia. Portugal or Greece were on a still lower socio-economic rung.

In this setting, a quite distinct balance of political forces resulted. On the one hand, the working class tended to generate more revolutionary traditions than in the reformist north-initially anarchist or syndicalist, subsequently Communist; sometimes with a limited peasant component. On the other hand, the weight of the dominant bloc–typically with its reactionary clerical component–was proportionately greater too. Labor was more combative in spirit but objectively weaker and more isolated.

By the time that northern Social Democracy was enjoying its heyday after the Second World War, in the mid ’60s, the southern working classes were everywhere led by Communist parties. But these were in turn either ghettoized-the PCF in France and the PC! In Italy–or repressed into the underground in the cases of the PCE in Spain, the PCP in Portugal and the KKE in Greece.

While the northern countries were undergoing major spells of Social-Democratic government, within a regular alternation of parties in office, the southern countries had no similar experience of either party alternation or any reforming labor administration. Spain and Portugal had been ruled by fascist dictatorships since the prewar epoch. Greece was in the grip of a military junta. Italy had been governed by unbroken Christian-Democrat coalitions since the onset of the Cold War. France was subject to the uninterrupted dominion of the right for twenty years.

But this rightist political monopoly was accompanied, from the late ’50s, by accelerating economic development and rapid social change. France, Spain and Italy all registered very high rates of growth at the height of the world boom. Peasants poured off the land. Manufacturing and service industries multiplied. New middle classes expanded. Religious ideology weakened. Popular living standards and expectations alike were transformed in this process.

By the early ’70s, it was clear that major political changes would have to occur to accommodate the new social realities created by capitalist modernization. It is against this background that the phenomenon of Euro-communism should be understood. Essentially it consisted in the abandonment by Southern Communist parties of the traditions of the Third International (themselves greatly altered since the ’20s, but still visible as late as the ’60s) and their adoption of strategic perspectives similar to those which the Northern Social-Democratic parties had held when they still formally envisaged a transition to socialism. Nearly all the terms of the new Eurocommunist discourse were in fact revivals of the original Social Democratic language on the gradual, peaceful, constitutional road to power.

It is not hard to see why this change occurred when it did. The larger Southern European capitalist societies had now reached levels of economic and social development not far from those of Northern Europe. France indeed was now much more prosperous than Britain. It was thus always possible that these countries would sooner or later enter upon a similar political cycle, embarking in turn on their own social-democratic experience, once the corsets of authoritarian reaction were released. The room for welfare and fiscal reforms was clearly very wide in these societies. Eurocommunisrn represented an objective anticipation of this new situation, and a sustained attempt to adapt to it.

From Eurocommunism to Eurosocialism

The bid for moderation and respectability by Latin [Southern European] Communism, however, was fatally handicapped from the start. For however close to classical social-democratic themes its ideological discourse, its organizational forms remained those of the traditional Communist movement as they had set in the Stalinist epoch. Its international links–however residual or ambiguous–tied it to the post-revolutionary societies of the East. The result was that Eurocommunism in Southern Europe by and large simply prepared the way for the rise of “Eurosocialism”–the sudden ascent of newfound or revamped Social-Democratic parties proper, from very modest or marginal positions to the center of the stage, at the expense of the Communist parties themselves.

The logic of this substitution is no mystery. If the masses in an advanced capitalist society have to choose between two parties, each of which proclaims a social-democratic politics, there is likely to be a strong tendency for them to choose the more coherent version-the one based on explicitly social-democratic models of organization and international affiliations. The degree to which this logic worked itself out has varied in the three main countries concerned.

The substitution was most dramatic in Spain. There the local Social-Democratic party, the PSOE, had made only a fitful and feeble contribution to the resistance against Franco, emerging at his death with a handful of members. The Spanish Communist Party (PCE) was a mass organization whose cadres had provided decades of leadership of the underground struggle against the dictatorship. Yet within a few years as the PEC jettisoned its militant past for fulsome adhesion to the monarchy, “national unity” and capitalist constitutionalism, the relationship of forces was completely reversed. By 1981, the PSOE had won a massive electoral victory, giving it an outright parliamentary majority, while the PCE was a shriveled and demoralized remnant of itself, with fewer than 5% of the vote.

In France, when the Communist PCF set out on a course of alliance with a newly minted and far from robust Socialist Party (PS) in the early ’70s, the PCF was overwhelmingly stronger-the majority party of the French working class ever since the Second World War. Again, within a few years, in which the PCF suddenly discovered the evils of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the virtues of the French nuclear deterrent, the PS was visibly gaining the upper hand and reverting to anti-communist hype to boot. Backing away from the alliance at the last minute in 1978 merely weakened the PCF still further. By the early ’80s it was reduced to the role of stirrup-holder for a Socialist President, who had kicked it into political powerlessness.

In Italy the Communist Party (PC!) went one further, attempting to forge a coalition with the ruling Christian Democracy (DC), the linchpin of the right, rather than with the Socialist Party, and rallying ardently to NATO. Used and dismissed after the “Historic Compromise” had ceased to interest the DC, the Italian Communist Party has since had to witness the steady rise to power and influence of the Socialist Party it had sought to bypass, which by the early ’80s had captured both the presidency and the premiership, in a partnership with Christian Democracy at which the PCI had failed.

Developments in Portugal and Greece were rather different. For all the changes of the ’60s, these still remained substantially poorer societies, with less of the preconditions for bourgeois political “normalcy.” In both cases, the end of the old order was precipitated by the overseas adventures of their respective dictatorships, the Portuguese military in southern Africa and the Greek junta in Cyprus, rather than by internal upheavals. In neither country did the local Communist party show much eagerness to follow down the Eurocommunist road, each of them remaining more traditionalist in outlook.

The opening for Eurosocialism here took another form. Greece and Portugal are the two Western societies which have come closest to social revolutions in the postwar era–Greece in 1944-48 and Portugal in 1974-75. The Communist parties were central forces in both of these crises, which left not only the ruling classes but also urban middle strata and regional peasant clienteles traumatized by the memory. Thus when the old order was gone, and the mainstays of the right with it, there was a vacuum at the center that could be filled by an emergent Social Democracy.

PASOK, the Greek version, was actually a direct descendant of the Center-Union of the ’60s. But because the Greek Civil War had occurred so much longer ago, the Greek party was in fact much more radical than the Portuguese Socialist Party (PSP) of Mario Soares, which owed its success in the late ’70s much more directly to its role as counter-revolutionary windshield against the gales of the revolution of April 25, 1974.

By 1982, Eurosocialism was triumphant throughout the South-Mitterrand in power in France, Craxi in Italy, Gonzalez in Spain, Soares in Portugal, Papandreou in Greece, Southern Europe seemed about to be entering its own cycle of reformist administrations, comparable to that of Northern Europe after World War II. Migration to the sunbelt of Europe appeared to have given Social Democracy a second life.

In fact, of course, no historical experience is ever simply or exactly a repetition of another one. The fate of the Mitterrand regime was soon to demonstrate this with diagrammatic clarity. The French Socialist administration was always going to be the central test of Southern Social Democracy. France possessed by far the largest and most advanced economy of the region, a second-rank industrial and military power on a world scale. The PS controlled both presidency and parliament, giving it untrammeled political powers within the Gaullist constitution. The French working class had the longest history of social insurgency in Western Europe, from the June days of 1848 to the May days of 1968. Mitterrand’s program, in these circumstances, was the most ambitious to be advanced within the ambit of Eurosocialism. It promised a broad package of nationalizations, minimum wage legislation, reduction in the working week, increased holidays and welfare improvements, all designed to pull France out of the recession by public expenditures that would stimulate demand and restore full employment.

The similarity of this package to the program of the Attlee Labor government in England in 1945-51 is striking. Its outcome was very different, however. Within a year the attempt to run a Keynesian reflation had collapsed under a balance of payments crisis. Wage freezes, cuts in social spending and attacks on the unions followed. Unemployment, instead of declining, increased. Educational reform and immigrant voting rights were ditched.

Meanwhile, the French Socialist government sent jets to crush rebels in Chad, troops to help Reagan bombard Lebanon, agents to murder pacifists in New Zealand. Amidst joblessness at home and militarism abroad, the conditions were created for the appearance of a xenophobic fascism [Jean-Marie Le Pen] beneath the canopy of official chauvinism, soon claiming 10% of the vote, and the return to power of an aggressive right.

Today, new conservative French prime minister Chirac is erasing the short-lived nationalizations of 1981, in a wave of privatization that will reduce the public sector in France back below the levels of the Fourth Republic. This reversal was prepared by Mitterrand’s government itself, which ended its days extolling the imperatives of the market and selling off public television to the Italian equivalent of Rupert Murdoch. Little is left of the PS years.

A Record of Failure

The fiasco of social Keynesianism in France had its impact on the neighboring experiences. No other Social Democracy in the South tried anything comparable. The Gonzalez regime in Spain came to power also promising to wipe out unemployment. But it practiced an orthodox liberalism, concentrating on balanced budgets, tight money and export promotion. This was “progressive austerity” of the kind the PC! had long preached in Italy but never had an opportunity to implement. Joblessness has climbed as a result-rising above 20% of the labor force, the highest rate in Europe. Social expenditures were held down, dismissal procedures eased, the unofficial economy of unregistered labor quietly encouraged. The public sector is now targeted for further shakeout and rationalization.

In Italy the Socialist Craxi administration has slashed wage indexation, liberalized the stock market and is now starting to sell off nationalized industries. The Soares governments in Portugal mainly concerned themselves with trying to dismantle the institutional and social conquests of popular mobilization in 1974-75, achieving nothing very spectacular but gradually eroding many of the gains in trade-union power and agrarian reform won at that time.

PASOK in Greece, on the other hand, initially embarked on a major upward indexation of wage levels to compensate for losses incurred in previous years of inflation, and to stimulate domestic demand–also extending price supports and negotiating trade agreements with small farmers. But as in France, these policies were soon brought up short against ballooning imports and falling investments.

Conventional retrenchment ensued. In the absence of fiscal reform, no hope of extended social services was possible. Rather, Papandreou instituted draconian anti-strike controls over public-sector employees to preempt any danger of trade-union resistance to the costs of the new financial course, as unemployment inevitably rose. Only in foreign policy has the PASOK regime diverged qualitatively from the Eurosocialist norm. Although reneging on its promise to get rid of American bases, the threat posed on its left flank by the Communists (KKE) has forced it away from the Cold War stance of Southern Social Democracy as a whole. To stave off Communist militancy at home, which could make serious inroads on its own base, Greek Socialism has cultivated amicable relations with the USSR, including substantial economic cooperation.

In every other country, the New Cold War has been embraced by the new Social Democracy. Mitterrand campaigning for Cruise missiles in Germany, or Gonzalez for Spanish integration into NATO have been in the forefront of Reagan’s drive to mobilize America’s allies against the Evil Empire.

In this respect, the Southern Social Democracy of the ’80s is certainly similar to its northern predecessor of the ’40s and ’50s. But in every other, it is the contrasts which are striking. Above all, Eurosocialism has failed to replicate the two great hallmarks of the postwar cycle of Social Democracy-full employment and extended welfare provision. In every country in which Southern Social Democracy has taken office, the numbers of jobless have increased under its rule. In no country, on the other hand, has any comprehensive set of social benefits comparable to those pioneered in their day by Labor in Britain, the SAP in Sweden or the SPD in West Germany been instituted.

There are two fundamental reasons for this difference, to be found in the overall constellation of capital and labor that has marked the Social-Democratic experience in the South. Northern Social Democracy built its achievements during the long wave of postwar capitalist expansion, on the back of the Fordist boom. The class compromise it institutionalized was the fruit of high rates of accumulation, combined with strong labor organization.

Neither of these conditions obtained when 1970s Euro-socialism set out on its cycle of office. World capitalism was sunk in a long wave of recession, with low rates of accumulation and little margin for social concessions. Moreover, capital was now much more radically internationalized than during the postwar years. The national economic spaces presupposed by Keynesian demand management had been steadily eroded, above all in the weaker economies. That, however, was precisely what most of the South European countries were-economies whose position on the world market was intrinsically much more precarious and marginal than that enjoyed by Britain, Sweden or Germany at the meridian of their Social Democracy.

Even the France of Mitterrand and Fabius, wealthier today than the UK, is a lesser and more vulnerable economy in the global hierarchy of capital than the Britain of Cripps and Attlee yesterday.

Equally important, on the other hand, has been the quite distinct position of labor in the Southern societies. Northern Social Democracy always rested in the last resort on the density and tenacity of its implantation in the trade-union movement. On this substructure massive party organizations could be erected-as in Sweden, West Germany or Austria. Elsewhere, as in Britain, the very strength of the unions allowed an antiquated and ramshackle party organization, with low individual membership, to be attached to it. But in all cases, it was the primary industrial strength of the working class, mobilized in trade unions which-however bureaucratic-were committed to independent political goals that assured the vitality and stability of this Social Democracy.

Nothing like this has lain behind Eurosocialism. For the most part the Southern Social Democracies emerged in environments with extraordinarily weak trade-union movements, by Northern standards. Whereas the rate of unionization of the labor force in Sweden or Austria is 70-80%, and in West Germany or Britain 40-50%, in France it is less than 20%, about the same level as the U.S.A. today, and in Spain it is nearer 15%.

The one Southern country with a major trade-union movement is Italy; but its bargaining power is much less than its formal membership because of the huge size of the Italian underground economy, operating on sweated rural or household labor.

The new Eurosocialist parties, for their part, have had very tenuous links with any union realities. They are essentially electoral apparatuses, overwhelmingly dominated at their parliamentary and administrative levels by teachers, lawyers, civil servants, economists–in short, a layer of upwardly-mobile professionals without any real roots in working-class life. The French PS, Spanish PSOE, Italian PSI, Portuguese PSP or Greek PASOK have functioned in this sense above all as avenues of social promotion for new middle strata. Their commitment to even minimal defense of labor is far less than that of their Northern predecessors.

In fact, Southern Social Democracy has been marked by a latent-often outright-hostility to unions. For these have on the whole remained areas of Communist strength, even when the Communist parties themselves were being reduced or sidelined by Eurosocialism. No single phenomenon is so revealing of the character of the new Social Democracy in Southern Europe as the fact that trade-union membership has steeply fallen, rather than increased, under it: The contrast with the great expansion of unionization, not merely under North European Social Democracy, but even under the Rooseveltian New Deal, tells its own story.

Does this mean, then, that the record of Social Democracy in the South is likely to be historically null? Not quite. For while it has proved unable to emulate the particular social accomplishments of its Northern counterpart, its propagandists would claim that it has achieved something else namely, the political ‘democratization’ of its societies. More is going to be heard of this slogan, and not only in Southern Europe. But it is true that conditions there give it a special resonance.

The key experiences of Northern Social Democracy unfolded in a stable constitutional environment, in which bourgeois democracy, for the most part, was the product of a lengthy prior evolution of capitalism itself. Social Democracy itself had few political tasks to complete, within the framework of capitalist relations of production: it inherited liberal institutions and then tranquilly used them for social and economic ends of a moderately welfare-type state.

In the South, on the other hand, the state structures encountered by the new Social Democracy were often still far from conforming to the standard liberal pattern. The long ascendancy of dictatorial or ultraright regimes had characteristically left behind clerical or exclusionary legislation, discriminatory civil procedures, authoritarian juridical regulations, and a grossly unreconstructed bureaucratic and police-military apparatus.

An objective space was thus opened for Social Democracy by the incompletion of bourgeois democratic tasks–cultural, legal, familial and administrative reforms of a sort long ago achieved in the North. What has been its performance in this regard?

The answer is-very modest. Mitterrand, after years of denouncing the autocratic nature of the Fifth Republic’s presidency, terming it a “permanent coup d’état,” not only adopted it in office but accentuated it. His government limited itself to mild regional decentralization and elective local authorities. Judicial procedures were liberalized and capital punishment abolished; in the factories a few innocuous rights were granted to employees.

In Italy Craxi put through a limited fiscal reform to diminish tax evasion by the propertied and self­ employed. In Spain, state subsidies to clerical education were linked to public inspection, multiple job-holding by officials was curtailed, and a timid abortion law was passed.

In Greece trade union restrictions were relaxed, Civil War veterans reintegrated into public life, and family law extensively reformed, with a range of progressive measures covering divorce, abortion, dowry and contract, in favor of women. The PASOK government has been the most radical on these fronts.

None of all this, however, has affected the central apparatuses of power or the state in these societies. There, on the contrary, Eurosocialism has unfailingly preserved the traditional machinery of surveillance and repression, no matter how bloodstained or discredited by the past. Mitterrand’s use of the hit squads of the Gaullist secret service against the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior is matched by Gonzalez’s reliance on notorious torturers of Franco’s police for his Ministry of the Interior. No purge of the army has occurred in either Spain or Greece. On the contrary, their generals have been lavished with new equipment more costly than that of the old dictatorships. Within the governing parties themselves, one-man rule of a kind virtually unknown in the North has been imposed in the POSE, PSI and PASOK, with attendant courts and moral atmospheres. Mitterrand and Gonzalez have their Bebe Rebozos-crooked millionaire cronies from Italy or Colombia–and plumbers in the palace. Craxi enjoys links to the gangster world of the P-2. Papandreou runs his party like a Balkan despotism. Soares’ close friend was Frank Carlucci, formerly of the CIA and now aide to Weinberger.

The lack of democracy within the new party machines has its complement in the cynicism with which they in turn manipulate electoral rules in the society at large. The PS gerrymandered the French voting system to ensure that the Communists were massively under-represented, and at the same time aided the Fascists in splitting the vote of the right. The PSOE has complacently appropriated electoral rules that give it disproportionate majorities, and crudely manipulates the state media to propagate its particular brand of ideological conformism. The PSI has sought-unsuccessfully so far-to rescind the liberties given to smaller political parties by the Italian constitution. PASOK has deformed the fairly equitable suffrage system left by Karamanlis, a conservative, in order to take seats away from the Communists, and rigged trade-union federations to ensure its own control of them. The insistent pattern is one of political greed and lack of principle.

Next: Social Democracy Minus Social?

What conclusions can be drawn from this panorama? The classical formations of Social Democracy in Northern Europe have exhausted their distinctive historical function. The new contingents of Southern Europe have not been able to reproduce it. Revolutionary socialists may consequently be tempted to write the obituary of this kind of politics as a whole. They would be mistaken, however.

The democratic credentials of current Eurosocialism may be in large measure self-serving and counterfeit. But they point to one possible mutation in Social Democracy in the coming years. That would be a shift from “social” to “democratic” discourse as the basic legitimating code of the heirs of the Second International.

What would such a change represent? At this point, a reminder of the wider parameters of international capitalist politics into which West European Social Democracy has always been inserted is necessary. Is it the case that parties representing themselves as a progressive alternative are doomed to dwindle and disappear once they can no longer credibly promise welfare or full employment, nor even make any attempt to do so? Do they have to invoke any principles of social organization to command an electorate?

American readers will have no difficulty supplying the answer. Just such a party has been a centerpiece of U.S. politics for as long as anyone can remember. Its name? No accident-Democratic.

In recent years repentant leftists and neorealists galore have been rediscovering the Democratic Party as the all-American “equivalent” of European Social Democracy, wistfully projecting onto it a class base and a social vocation it never knew it had. The delusions and self-deceptions of this particular accommodation to the politics of capital need little comment here. The irony is, however, that the real approximation that could be in store is just the reverse-the gradual conversion of European Social Democratic organizations into something like the American Democratic Party. That is, the removal of any antagonistic class content and transformation into mere substitute apparatuses of bourgeois rule, with somewhat more popular clienteles and liberal pretensions, but otherwise indistinguishably dedicated to free enterprise and the free world.

The signs of such a potential change are already multiplying. In Britain, the new Labor leadership no longer even pretends that it is going to do away with mass unemployment or seriously tamper with Conservative privatizations. Announcing that “liberty” is the greatest value, Labor Party leader Kinnock confides to TV viewers that his political hero and role model is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In France, presidential sycophant Serge July, editor of the fashionable daily Liberation, tells Spanish inquirers that Mitterrand’s great achievement is to have buried the difference between left and right, to clear the way for a truly “modern” party system like that of the Republicans and Democrats in the U.S.A.

There is no shortage of bellwether intellectuals to theorize this kind of shift, whether in the name of “Analytical Marxism” for which socialism really means “individual autonomy,” or a “Post-Marxism” for which it is simply a misnomer for “radical democracy.”

The final erasure of the traditions of the Third International from the map of the European labor movement, consummated by Eurocommunism, was-for all the faults, and worse, of those traditions a fundamental reversal for the cause of socialism. The final corruption and disappearance of the heritage of the Second International-for all its yet more drastic defects and misdeeds-would compound a historic regression.

Were this to occur, by the end of the century Western Europe could resemble the United States or Japan of today. There is still a long way to go before such a scenario is realized. In the rank and file of both the Communist movements of the South and the Social Democratic movements of the North of Europe forces of ferment and resistance exist, as the bitter industrial struggles and tumultuous peace mobilizations of recent years demonstrate.

The Old World is not an insulated area, and any major upheavals against capital or bureaucracy elsewhere could change the situation within it, as they did, famously, in the late ’60s. Socialists should never forget that there is always more than one current in the sea.

January-February 1987, ATC 6

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