what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Confessions of a Social Democrat

Cards on the table? For most of my life I’ve been a “mugwump” – with my mug on one side of the fence and my wump on the other. Hiding inside one of Scotland’s Regional political leaders of the 70s and 80s was someone who sometimes thought he was an anarchist.
I was a sceptic on much conventional wisdom and power - a reader of New Left Review no less – who saw no personal future in parliamentary activity nor went along with the “militants” in their increasingly oppositionist tactics of the late 70s and 80s….

Support for community enterprise was where I put my energy – and then, as I moved continents and roles, in helping to strengthen the capacity of new institutions of civil service and municipal power in central Europe and central Asia.  
As the extent of New Labour’s capitulation to the power of finance capital became clear (from the publication in 2000 of George Monbiot’s The Captive State – the corporate takeover of Britain) my sympathies grew with those struggling against financial, commercial and political power alike – but I still resisted a “leftist” label – even recently….
Like a lot of my generation, I hankered for the “golden age”….when, as Crosland assured us in his powerful Future of Socialism (1956), capitalism had been tamed…..

Given such a personal history, you will appreciate that yesterday’s post was pretty significant for me – in being prepared to recognize that social democracy enjoyed the peak of its power at a particular conjuncture of circumstances which are unlikely to appear again.
Or to express this more precisely - that I should have been more aware that ideas fit particular interests – which have varying degrees of power backing them up……

Put in even more personal terms, I have occupied in my life a very specific academic and political “slot” which has given me the power and interests to pursue specific “reformist” ideas….. 
I have always seen myself as a “realist” in the Niebuhrian sense – but one who perhaps has been too carried away by my ideas and interests to look critically enough at the wider context in which I was living - and at the power of other interests!
I have never been a fan of conspiracy theories but have had to wake up to the fact that what we have called, variously, “globalization”, “neoliberalism”, “managerialism” etc are ideas which have been pushed in sustained and well-funded efforts by Think Tanks to influence academics….    

People are now aware both of (Buchanan) these efforts and also of the potential of technological changes for what is called the “sharing economy” or “the commons” – to such an extent that talk of the end of capitalism is rife….I’m not sure, however, if we have yet given social democracy the funeral rites which are its due……..  
I think it’s time for another list of these internet links which this blog has become famous for producing (I joke!). As on previous occasions, I have annotated them to help you steer the appropriate course. And, like you, I still have to dip into them. They are on the list simply because they seem to be essential reading…  
So happy reading – and let’s see whether some of us can’t perhaps share our reactions?


A “Social Democracy” Resource

Written a year before New Labour took power, this was indeed a prescient book – as well as being so clearly written

A neglected treatment of the ideas of this major British “revisionist” of the 50s and 60s who wrote the seminal “Future of Socialism” (1956). Must be the definitive analysis!

Its sister book – a great read. Here’s a fascinating review of Crosland’s work written in 1963 by the famous Lewis Coser

The Primacy of Politics – social democracy and the making of Europe’s 20th Century; Sheri Berman (2006); The book was the subject of a great seminar whose introduction says – “Like the social democrats who are the heroes of this book, she takes a classic set of arguments and interrogates and updates them, making claims about what works and what doesn’t, what’s relevant to our contemporary situation, and what isn’t. Second, in so doing she decisively demonstrates the importance of ideas to politics”.

Social democracy in power – explaining the capacity to reform; (2007) A paper comparing fiscal, employment, and social policies of six social-democratic governments in Great Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Denmark revealing three distinct types of social democratic governments

A critical assessment by a self-avowed Marxist of the performance of these parties in Australia, Britain, Germany and Sweden which argues that these parties are now impediments to the task of building a better world. This will come, the book argues, from alternative left and global social movements…

The Berman and Lavelle books are reviewed here

An unsurpassable 965 page blockbuster!

A useful short paper written to assess implications for South Korea

Social Democracy After the Cold War; B Evans and I. Schmidt (2012) This 350 page book can be read in full by clicking the link...

Welfare State and Social Democracy (Friedrich Ebert Stiftung 2012) Very thorough (160pp) treatment of the German situation (in English)


Probably the most up-to-date global assessment



Rethinking German political economy – call for papers (2017); This is a great resource I found while googling,,,,, 

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