“In The UK Now, Social Democracy Is Unrecognisable”. Discuss. (50 marks)
Social democracy is a moderate or reformist strand of socialism which aims to reform the capitalist system to reduce inequality and promote social justice. Thus it advocates a balance between the state and the market rather than the abolition of capitalism altogether. For most of its time in office (1924, 1945-51, 1964-70, 1974-79) the Labour Party has been committed to the principles of social democracy, despite the old Clause IV of its constitution – the ‘socialist’ clause committing the Labour Party to the workers as the owners of the means of production.
Keynesian social democracy was thought to have triumphed during the early post-1945 period, though it was based on an unstable compromise between a pragmatic acceptance of the market and a continued commitment to social justice. So, at the heart of the Keynesian social democracy lay a conflict between its commitment to economic efficiency and egalitarianism, a conflict not truly approached until the polarisation of socialism in the 1970s and 1980s. Thus in the 1970s and 1980s social democracy struggled to retain its electoral and political relevance in the face of the advance of neoliberalism and changed economic and social circumstances. The crisis of social democracy was heightened in the 1990s for numerous reasons. For one, social democracy was underpinned by deindustrialisation and the shrinking of the traditional working class, the social base of Keynesian social democracy. Furthermore, the integration of national economies into a larger, global capitalist system rendered Keynesian social democracy unworkable. Thirdly, the collapse of communism in 1991 severely damaged the credibility to social democracy. Hence Keynesian social democracy could be viewed as merely a ‘top-down’ state socialism that was abruptly discarded in the years 1989-1991.
Since the 1980s reformist socialist parties have undergone a further bout of...