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PASOK, PSOE: the suicide of social democracy

After three decades during which the centre left first adapted to neoliberalism, and then adopted it wholesale, it is sometimes difficult to establish what exactly social democracy stands for these days.

All of the major European parties that occupy this political space initially came into being to articulate working class demands, and were nominally committed to socialism. Even after Blair’s clause four rewrite, the Labour Party still officially defines itself as ‘a democratic socialist party’.

Few members these days expect social democratic formations to build the New Jerusalem; if we are going to employ that analogy, I suspect that Labour would be hard pushed to construct a jerry-built shed on the outskirts of greater Tel Aviv at the moment.

But what supporters still do expect is some sort of protection from the worst that rightwing governments can throw at them. Labour’s promise of cuts pitched somewhere between those of the Thatcher years and those being implemented by the ConDems is hardly an inspiring vista, but millions of voters still cling to that as the best deal on the table.

Labour, however, has the luxury of opposition; Spain’s PSOE and Greece’s PASOK do not. These two social democratic parties find themselves right now implementing wrong-head policies that directly contradict their stated values. PASOK may find its standing reduced from governing party to coalition partner by the time you read this, but the thrust of the argument still stands.

Both of them face obliteration at the next election, largely because of they have rejected the alternatives put forward by radical Keynesian and Marxist economists, and instead force through programmes of immense detriment to their electoral base.

That is, in itself, a comment on the state of democracy. Given the choice between acting in the interests of those upon whom their existence depends and acting in the interests of the financial elite, they have chosen to follow the latter course. Indeed, they do not appear to have even considered any other strategy.

The irony is that both PSOE and PASOK were founded by activists who had in some cases found the courage to resist military dictatorship, even if that meant prison or torture.

Only a generation later, their successors have caved in to mere bankers and have condemned themselves to almost certain destruction in the process. This is not what social democracy, at least at its best, was supposed to be all about.

4 Comments

  1. Paul Evans says:

    The centre-left’s problem has always been that it articulates short-term economic demands rather than long-term democratic ones – partly, at least, because the short-termist electoral considerations stopped them from addressing issues like the power of media monopolies, the degree to which commercial pressure groups dominate policy, the way that shareholders no longer run companies, or the power that Parliament has over the executive.

    A left that had a strong principled stand on the values of liberal democracy wouldn’t have allowed the current crisis of capitalism to happen in the way that it did. It would have an answer to most of the questions that leave it floundering at the moment.

    The whole question of Union contributions to Labour is a classic case in point. There’s a strong principled democratic argument why this should continue and what terms it could be negotiated away on – but I can’t remember the last time I saw *any* Labour spokesperson offer any evidence that they know what this argument is.

    Our problem is that a lot of articulate socialist has a half-formed belief that some kind of vanguardist direct action may be an option at some point in the foreseeable.

    It won’t be. It really, really won’t.

  2. Mick Hall says:

    Paul

    We actually agree on something, I am with you completely on the vanguard crap, but old habits die hard, as we know from the Lib dems, who are behaving in government as if it were the 19th century not the 21st, as too are the tories. Having said that NL was vanguardist in all but name.

    it is interesting Miliband found the courage to wound Murdoch, but despite this, still fears the MSM, hence he acts timidly over the economy, fearing to move outside the mainstream box which has failed so spectacularly. It is as if he refuses to recognise neo liberalism has run its course and it is time for a new regime of regulation etc.

    We are entering dangerous times when cold trade wars could turn hot. Barbarism lurks. As to the union link, unless the LP moves to the left, this issue will be solved by the unions, who will not spend another decade bankrolling a party which works against their members best interest.

  3. Chris says:

    The case for a radical socialist program in Greece looks pretty good. Surely the country can’t carry on being a whipping boy for the market and its richer neighbours indefinitely? Why on Earth should Greek people accept that?

  4. Matty says:

    A good article but the history here is a bit hit and miss at least regards the PSOE. The PSOE was formed in 1879. It had a bit of a clause 4 moment in the late 70’s when its constitutional commitment to Marxism was eradicated at the impetus of Felipe Gonzalez. It was under Felipe that the PSOE moved further and further to the right, there was a big bust up with the UGT trade union over labour reforms but in the 80’s Spain’s economy grew strongly so the PSOE maintained a fairly strong electoral support. If anything, I would have said that Zapatero was slightly to the left of Felipe G but as the article indicates not anything like a Tony Benn.

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