Is Social Democracy Dead? † philosophy magazine

This is perhaps the big question that arises in France after the last presidential election: is social democracy headed for extinction? Ten years ago, she seemed all-powerful when… Francois Hollande came to power † she seems doomed today, with the score of 1.7% of the candidate of the Socialist Party Anne Hidalgo, but also with the support of the socialists for the program of disobedient France. However, with our German or Portuguese neighbours, it is still firmly in power. But what are the real origins and principles of social democracy?

To understand this, we invite you to return in a series of three articles to the foundations of this political and ideological movement, of the reflections dedicated to him Edward Bernstein and Jean Jaures† Far from, as is often believed, a belated conversion from socialism to the market economy, it is indeed a movement in itself, born in France during the Revolution of 1848. For this first issue, we look at the concept’s appearance in 18 Brumaire by Louis Bonaparte (1852) with Karl Marx, who was the first to use the term? “social democracy”† Relief.

Marx and the Rise of Social Democracy

During the Revolution of 1848, when the people of Paris overthrew the July Monarchy, various political forces come together to demand the end of royalty. There are revolutionaries who claim to be the emerging socialism, but there are also bourgeois republicans whose aim was not the establishment of workers’ power, but merely the end of the monarchy. It’s theirs alliance of convenience against royalty which, according to Marx, was the birth of social democracy.

If one had to define a constitutive principle of social democracy, since its appearance until today, it could be this: the compromise. At least, it is through this idea of ​​compromise that Marx describes its beginnings. According to him, social democracy is the product of the revolutionary movement’s need to unite with those he calls the “” “petit bourgeois”that is, the moderate republicans, who are not socialists but are also against the big bourgeoisie and the monarchy. So Marx writes in 18 Brumaire by Louis Bonaparte That“against the united bourgeoisie a coalition had been formed between the petty bourgeoisie and the workers, the so-called social-democratic party”† According to him, petit bourgeois workers have an interest in uniting against the royalists and the rest of the bourgeoisie, because they pose a common threat to them for various reasons. One can easily imagine why Marx thinks that the working class is threatened by the royalists, but the same, in his view, is true of the petty bourgeoisie, whose main demand is the establishment of a republic instead of the monarchy“They saw their material interests threatened and the democratic guarantees to ensure the satisfaction of these interests were called into question by the counter-revolution. So they approached the workers. †

Social democracy is therefore for Marx an alliance of circumstances based on the defense of two demands: on the one hand, the establishment of a democratic regime (supported by the Republicans), and on the other, a certain number of social demands (demanded by the working class). Since these two demands meet with a common enemy that wants to prevent their realization, namely the monarchy, it is the will to defend and implement them that gives rise to the social-democratic compromise. To make this possible, the two opposing forces made concessions: “We have stripped the social demands of the proletariat of their revolutionary advantage and have given them a democratic twist. The democratic demands of the petty bourgeoisie were stripped of their purely political form and their socialist advantage was put forward. This is how social democracy was born. † The term itself describes very well the content of the agreement: it is about reconciling the aim of establishing a democratic system to replace the monarchy with the creation of social policies that would improve the lot of the working class.

Marx, however, judges this alliance sternly, necessarily weakens the claims of the revolutionaries to make them compatible with the present economic system, whose violence against the working class would be reduced in return. And the means of this reconciliation for Marx is the republican regime, which serves as a mediator: “The specificity of social democracy was summed up in the fact that it demanded democratic republican institutions as a means, not to suppress the two extremes, capital and wage labour, but to reduce their antagonism and convert them into harmony. †† According to him, Social Democracy is a deception for the proletariat, a means of drowning its demands in a democratic regime without revolutionary pretensions and thus without any ambition to really change the relations of production. So we find here the idea, which is widespread today, that social democracy aims to defend the social demands within the existing political system – liberal democracy – and of our economic system – capitalism – with no ambition to overthrow them. For Marx, from the nineteenthand century, Social Democracy represents the abandonment by the working class of all revolutionary pretensions: “Regardless of the diversity of measures proposed to achieve this goal, regardless of the more or less revolutionary character of the views with which it may be clothed, the content remains the same. It is the transformation of society by democratic means, but it is a transformation within the petty-bourgeois framework.† To make an alliance of the democratic ambitions of the republicans and the social demands of the proletariat, even against a common enemy, would therefore amount to the former destroying the latter. For Marx, the defense of the so-called “bourgeois” democracy cannot be reconciled with that of the interests of the proletariat: the social-democratic synthesis is therefore a lost gamble for the workers.

We must nevertheless bear in mind that we are here in the presence of a Marxist reading of Social Democracy: Indeed, Marx defends the affirmation of a revolutionary vanguard party capable of overthrowing capitalism † it is therefore natural that he opposes any compromise with forces that do not share this goal. On the contrary, other socialists will consider, from the XIXand century, that the workers’ movement must rely on the existing structures of democratic institutions and trade unions to influence the political game and impose their demands. It is interesting to note, however, that this text, while highly critical, introduces at least two ideas that we still share today about social democracy: the fact that we should use democratic institutions as a means of political conquest, and that compromises are necessary with other democratic forces to fight against its adversaries.

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