FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Dusk of Social Democracy

What a blessing it has been. Here we are at the beginning of the silly season. A time when news traditionally evaporates in the heat of a British summer. A time when journos are reduced to inventing trivia to fill in the spaces between newspaper advertisements. Perhaps it was through Saint Francis de Sales, journalists’ very own patron saint, that divine blessings – yes plural – were so delivered to us.

If so, thank God for Brexit (the UK exiting the European Union) and the lesser star dust of UK Prime Minster resignation, replacement, and government reshuffle. The media managers really did get a break and good cause for celebration. No need to send their minions into the wilderness in search of tales of endless woe about the opposition Labour party. In particular its leader, by popular acclaim and parliamentary disclaim, Jeremy Corbyn.

The majority of Labour Members of Parliament (MP) don’t much care for Comrade Corbyn. Although the majority of party members outside the hallowed halls of Westminster appear to be quite pleased, supporting his consistent leftist positions on the economy, social affairs and international conflicts. Old hat socialism, say the MPs who thought former prime ministers Blair and Brown had well and truly buried the hatchet in that particular scalp.

The media men and women are nothing if not focused. Corbyn can never be elected and Labour will be in opposition for a decade or more, they say. And I suspect, they hope. Even worse may be in store. The party could split. Rich backers will payroll the modernizers, ranked on the reduced benches of the once great social democratic tradition. A leftist rump of Stalinists, Trotskyites, anarchists and fellow travelers carrying placards of protest will be left out in the cold.

Who is to say what the future holds? The past is a safer bet. Is it not true that even in the recent past, under capitalism but with social democracy in attendance, the days were brighter and the nights less lonesome? Where now there is despair there were once qualifiable signs of hope and a better future. Job security and other gains in industrialized societies, decolonialisation in much of what was once called the Third World, which asserted itself through the Non Aligned Movement and in other ways.

But that hasn’t lasted. The British Labour party and others of the social democratic tradition may lick their wounds but the condition is terminal. It’s had a good run; from the end of WW2 until the mid 1970s. Then the rot set in. There are some who said it would always be thus, others who denied it and none it seems, who were able to stop it.

An indicator that the end was nigh was writ large in the early 1970s. The US, in an effort to preserve home grown capitalism decided to abandon the gold standard. The US dollar was no longer valued to a certain fraction of an ounce of gold. It took some time to play out but the finance dudes won the day. The oligopolies of the extraction and manufacturing industries along with transport, pharmaceuticals, agribusiness, to say nothing of the media, fell in behind. Political parties of the left, right and centre changed step.

Social democracy holds the position that capitalism is part of the reality of life and the best course of action is to ensure that those without meaningful capital get the best deal possible within the confines of this particular reality. The reality can be challenged, stretched, made to include those who have traditionally been excluded. Improvements in the general condition of women are a good example of this last point.

Just accept the reality then live with it and work to improve it, says social democracy. To be fair, not all of the British Labour party believed acceptance was the only option. Being seen as a mass party many believed Labour was in a position to make radical changes beyond the pale of the predominant reality. Others believed it was capable of fundamental leftward change.

Another post WW2 paradigm was to be shattered. During the 1990s the reality which was the Soviet inspired model of socialism imploded. The oligopolies were emboldened as finance capital was now calling the shots. They saw new markets. New markets for recruiting cheap labour, acquiring raw materials to be processed under conditions more to their liking, and selling goods and services, often to a new class of well heeled buyers.

Given this, social democracy had its license to operate under the system of representative democracy revoked. It had become surplus to requirement. In Britain a long list Labour leaders, assisted by the media, took their party to the recycling plant. New Labour was the new ‘business friendly’ byproduct, fit for a brave new world. Some among the membership resigned, some protested. Others gladly accepted the new mantle, others played follow the leader. And, I don’t doubt, some are still playing follow the leader.

Along this arc of history, starting in the early 1970s there have been less spectacular stellar catastrophes. The decline of the shop stewards movement in the manufacturing industry is one. The movement of radical Christians who found a home and cause in Liberation Theology, is another. Perhaps not so well known or understood in the countries of north Atlantic hegemony, it is badly missed in Latin America. Alongside this is the Non Aligned Movement of poorer nations.

Yet another stellar catastrophe of the spectacular variety has risen above the horizon. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) represent the enfants terribles of monopoly capitalism’s free trade deals. President Obama and State Department officials now appear on TV speaking of “trans Atlantic” in a context which would have previously been expressed by the word NATO. Be alarmed.

These proposed shake downs are reminiscent of that scene in Godfather 2 where the assembled bosses of the Mob meet in pre revolutionary Havana to work out business deals. The Batista dictatorship offered the perfect setting for their carve up of the narcotics, illegal gambling practices, prostitution and protectionism trades.

One of the bosses remarks that in Cuba, 90 miles from the US, they are in partnership with a friendly government, free to make profits without, “the goddamn Justice Department and the FBI.” To which Michael, the up and coming Godfather replies, “We’re bigger than US Steel.” No Lincolnian impediments such as, government of the people, by the people, for the people.

What an inspiring vision it offered the Mobsters. And how it has come to pass in today’s reality. Be done with government interference and interventionist thinking inspired by social democracy. Privatise public services, deregulated the private sector; that’s the new role of government.

Brexit, has had a good airing though the media this summer. By the time the next silly season comes around a new headline may well be flavor of the month – Breakup. The constituent parts of the UK are contending with internal contradictions. Scotland is gaining momentum in the call for independence from the UK while pleading to remain in the EU. Some in Wales have similar independence aspirations; contagion could b in the air. Northern Ireland continues to be defined by its own in-built archicture; the international border with the Republic of Ireland.

If the UK atom is split, can the centre hold, can social democracy survive in this new, more predatory world? Probably not, in my view. The powers that be in the darkening world of neoliberalised/neoconservatised capitalism have no reason to give it space. So what is the future for those on the left, with their historic view of stages of socialism and communism?

UK newspapers are full to the brim of articles about Labour intrigue, infighting and contradictions. This is not solely a question of competing personalities and inflated egos. It’s a product of where the party is at in this historical time span and in the political space which now exists. To survive (if only in name), Labour must change and not back to social democracy. The oft vented and so far ill defined option of democratic socialism, in the face of home grown aggression and imperialist might, is largely untried.

The answer for the left, if indeed there is an answer, is probably that only time will tell. The political environment likely to exist after Breakup is hardly going to be confined to the UK. The European Union will feel the rattle of the same contradictions that shook up the off shore islands. If the peoples of the UK and indeed the world, continue to show irreverence for the establish order and those who would impose it on the people then there is hope that something new will emerge.

When Albert Einstein was exercising his mind with splitting atoms, relativity, infinity and space time he said we should be thinking in terms of new dimensions. Whatever the new dimensions of the post Brexit and post Breakup reality are, we, the people, should be defining them and reaching out to grab them.

More articles by:

Sam Gordon worked in a Belfast factory, then an engineer in the merchant navy, a trainer, researcher and co-coordinator of community projects in Scotland. A graduate from various universities, on a good day he claims he’s a decorative artist and sometimes writer. Most days he’s a blacksmith, welder, and painter in Nicaragua.

November 14, 2018
Charles Pierson
Unstoppable: The Keystone XL Oil Pipeline and NAFTA
Sam Bahour
Israel’s Mockery of Security: 101 Actions Israel Could Take
Cesar Chelala
How a Bad Environment Impacts Children’s Health
George Ochenski
What Tester’s Win Means
Louisa Willcox
Saving Romania’s Brown Bears, Sharing Lessons About Coxistence, Conservation
George Wuerthner
Alternatives to Wilderness?
Robert Fisk
Izzeldin Abuelaish’s Three Daughters were Killed in Gaza, But He Still Clings to Hope for the Middle East
Dennis Morgan
For What?
Dana E. Abizaid
The Government is Our Teacher
Bill Martin
The Trump Experiment: Liberals and Leftists Unhinged and Around the Bend
Rivera Sun
After the Vote: An Essay of the Man from the North
Jamie McConnell
Allowing Asbestos to Continue Killing
Thomas Knapp
Talkin’ Jim Acosta Hard Pass Blues: Is White House Press Access a Constitutional Right?
Bill Glahn
Snow Day
November 13, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
The Midterm Results are Challenging Racism in America in Unexpected Ways
Victor Grossman
Germany on a Political Seesaw
Cillian Doyle
Fictitious Assets, Hidden Losses and the Collapse of MDM Bank
Lauren Smith
Amnesia and Impunity Reign: Wall Street Celebrates Halliburton’s 100th Anniversary
Joe Emersberger
Moreno’s Neoliberal Restoration Proceeds in Ecuador
Carol Dansereau
Climate and the Infernal Blue Wave: Straight Talk About Saving Humanity
Dave Lindorff
Hey Right Wingers! Signatures Change over Time
Dan Corjescu
Poetry and Barbarism: Adorno’s Challenge
Patrick Bond
Mining Conflicts Multiply, as Critics of ‘Extractivism’ Gather in Johannesburg
Ed Meek
The Kavanaugh Hearings: Text and Subtext
Binoy Kampmark
Concepts of Nonsense: Australian Soft Power
November 12, 2018
Kerron Ó Luain
Poppy Fascism and the English Education System
Conn Hallinan
Nuclear Treaties: Unwrapping Armageddon
Robert Hunziker
Tropical Trump Declares War on Amazonia
John W. Whitehead
Badge of Shame: the Government’s War on Military Veterans
Will Griffin
Military “Service” Serves the Ruling Class
John Eskow
Harold Pinter’s America: Hard Truths and Easy Targets
Rob Okun
Activists Looking Beyond Midterm Elections
Binoy Kampmark
Mid-Term Divisions: The Trump Take
Dean Baker
Short-Term Health Insurance Plans Destroy Insurance Pools
George Wuerthner
Saving the Buffalohorn/Porcupine: the Lamar Valley of the Gallatin Range
Patrick Howlett-Martin
A Note on the Paris Peace Forum
Joseph G. Ramsey
Does America Have a “Gun Problem”…Or a White Supremacy Capitalist Empire Problem?
Weekend Edition
November 09, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Louis Proyect
Why Democrats Are So Okay With Losing
Andrew Levine
What Now?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Chuck and Nancy’s House of Cards
Brian Cloughley
The Malevolent Hypocrisy of Selective Sanctions
Marc Levy
Welcome, Class of ‘70
David Archuleta Jr.
Facebook Allows Governments to Decide What to Censor
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Zika Scare: a Political and Commercial Maneuver of the Chemical Poisons Industry
Nick Pemberton
When It Comes To Stone Throwing, Democrats Live In A Glass House
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail