why did social democracy work?

If the Anglo-American countries have tried to stay just on the liberal side of the line between liberalism and fascism, social democracies like Sweden started out trying to stay on the socialist side of the line between liberalism and socialism. How did the Social Democrats manage to do it?

The number one reason they could do it is that a major communist country existed in Europe. It radicalized American capital, but it kept European capital in some kind of line. Now that socialism has died in the North, social democracy has all but thrown in the towel.

The number two reason they could do it is that originally they managed to convince the middle class that they were workers too; their interests were working class. Structurally, that’s true; but with a little help from liberal entrepreneurial ideological hegemony, the middle class increasingly comes to see themselves as potential capitalists (and future angels in heaven). As the middle class views themselves apart from the working class, social democracy becomes unviable.

Still, left coalition politicians in Sweden swear that they will keep social democracy alive through sheer pluck. They believe themselves to be the last defenders of a vision of a liberalism that doesn’t hurt. But the anomaly is over.

What is the reason Social Democrats insist that they can still make a happy capitalism real?

They have no good reason. For one thing, liberal theory asserts it’s possible. But that tends to mean that no matter how despotic the capitalist country, liberals see it as de facto emancipatory. In the U.S. that has come down to depicting as “emancipation” the elite market domination of society, car ownership, theological populism, and allowing the hoi poloi infreqent, mediated, formal voting exercises. The social democratic countries will increasingly lose the objective bases of widespread quality of life as well.

In Sweden, it comes down to the left believing their own hegemonic work. If they labored to convince Swedes that they are the people that strive for equality, then now they reason that that hegemonic achievement must be divorced from hegemony and structural context–it must rather have become inherent in biological Swedishness, accessible simply through moral suasion. The danger and weakness of nationalism is in its tendency to naturalize political-economic luck and accomplishment. When social democracy loses socialism, all it’s got left is nationalism.

Swedish Soc Dems feel that simply by being Swedish, they promote women and unions, and “care” about the “poor”. But the last item is a hollow phrase, and the confessed commitment to the first two will evaporate fast once capital divests women and labor of their seats in political power. The Swedish Social Demcratic Party is close on the heels of the British Labour Party.

Without a widespread understanding that capital exploits labor, you have no reason to use the state to intervene on behalf of labor. The state devolves quickly into an instrument of capital, the raison d’etre of a capitalist society: channeling pork barrel, privatising and other methods of redistributing social wealth to the rich, building up police forces and prisons, and imperial adventuring. The increasingly stratified population develops habits of thought to support the hyper-exploitative way of life.


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