Social Democracy in One Country?

Social Democracy in One Country?

Social democracy has always been a national project, usually with a veneer of internationalist rhetoric and transnational sympathy, but never drifting far from the “national interest.” The year 1914 provided the decisive test in this respect. Nowhere did social democrats cry for war, but everywhere the majority of them followed their national flags into one military alliance or the other or alternatively into a policy of neutrality in alliance with the right. Social democratic reform has always focused on the domestic state, democratizing it, making it socially responsible, economically interventionist, and redistributive. The successes have been uneven, but undeniable. In Scandinavia they have been impressively comprehensive and enduring.

In other words, social democracy in one country has been possible, and single-country social democracy has been the only actually existing one.

True, Scandinavia is a peripheral sub-Arctic region of its own, its labor movements historically linked, its social democratic parties maintaining close touch in office, with considerable inter-governmental contact and exchange of ideas. However, no Scandinavian social democratic program was ever developed. The governing social democracies of the l930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s actually lagged behind the Scandinavian law commissions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, which produced important proposals in commercial and family law. Swedish social democrats gave money to their Finnish comrades fighting communists in trade union elections, but on a more institutional, governmental level there was no help. Each country was on its own. After World War II, Swedish social democrats tried to expand their own successful war neutrality into a Scandinavian defense union, but the leading Norwegian social democrats preferred the American army and the North American Treaty Organization (NATO) to a Scandinavian alliance.

Currently, the European Union (EU) is mainly run by social democratic governments. For the first time in postwar history, the four major countries of Western Europe have social democratic governments (Britain, France, Germany, and Italy), and social democrats are governing or co-governing in nine of the other eleven member states. Has that made for a common social democratic Europe? There is certainly no such project explicitly on the agenda. Social democracy has not led to a more peaceful Europe, as shown by the enthusiastic British and German engagement in the Kosovo war and the British commitment to continue, with the United States, the (economic-cum-low-intensity-military) war against Iraq. Nor is there any renewed European commitment to equality, a basic component of left and center-left politics.

On the other hand, the shift from Christian democracy to social democracy is discernible in contemporary European politics: symbolically, in the boycott of Austria and the welcoming of Turkey (upon U.S. presiden...


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