Down With Social Democracy!

By Ryne Tipton

Firmly Grasp the Rose / DeviantArt

For many across the world, social democracy is the staple of a civilized society. A hefty state that is able to provide a number of social protections: maternity leave, universal healthcare, guaranteed pensions, and the like has been the ideal goal of most modern, self-described social democrats. Shifting from the central issues of socialist theory- namely the alienation of labor and the dialectic relationship between the interests of labor and capital, social democrats have deviated from their original course of "evolutionary socialism" a la Bernstein and Lassalle to a modern course of neoliberal, Third Way politics- concerned only with alleviating the most basic ills of capitalism without fundamentally rejecting the system itself.

This rightward shift in thinking has been in progress for some time. Its beginnings were rooted in the post-War era in which labor and social democratic political parties across Europe sought to become more appealing to a middle-class electorate. Anthony Crosland, famous British Labour politician and social democratic theorist, was one of the first social democrats to advocate a new view of socialism.

In essence, he argued that the traditional policies iterated by socialists (such as nationalization of industry) were obsolete and that the Keynesian economic policies of the post-war era had brought enough prosperity, negating the need for any kind of "traditional" transformation in the ownership of the means of production. Even though Crosland was entirely correct on the issue of nationalization (and in turn, a bureaucratic, top-down view of social democracy), he was entirely wrong on the core issue of transformation. By rejecting the need for a change of economic system in the capitalist world, Crosland redefined socialism as welfarist capitalism, ignoring the most basic tenet of socialism itself- autogestion or workers' self-management.

Crosland's thinking- a change from actual reformism to reformism in name only, spread throughout Western Europe after the publication of Crosland's The Future of Socialism in 1956. Keynesianism became the new Marxism, culminating in major blows to classical social democracy- including the removal of Clause IV from the Labour Party constitution in the United Kingdom, and a succession of leaders across the developed world (such as Blair, Rudd, Prodi, Schroder, Barak, etc.) who stressed cooperation between labor and capital, instead of opposition- progressive taxation and social welfare measures without mention of economic democracy.

So what as democratic socialists, as evolutionaries, are we supposed to do? There are four major points that I want to stress. One, if we are to make any progress, the term social democracy should no longer be used to describe our political position. In an effort to avoid the "S" word and appeal to the American public, many democratic socialists have argued that it would be preferable to use the term social democracy to capture a larger audience, but I say otherwise. We should not be ashamed of who we are, and we are not capitalists! If we recede into a doctrine of opportunism, we fail to advance socialist principles and dig ourselves into a Third Way grave in the same way that most labor and social democratic movements have across the world. The only way to actually save classical social democracy is to use a language that speaks more clearly and fully of our position.

Two, the reform and revolution dichotomy must be abolished. Actual reform that advances workers' control of their own labor and brings capital back under control of the public is revolutionary in and of itself. The question of revolution versus reform is always posed in a way that equates reformism with non-socialist politics, and it is an inherently unfair assumption, one that must be righted by activism and outreach.

Third, evolutionary socialists must stress internal democracy as much as possible. One of the greatest reasons for the split between left-wing socialists and "right-wing" social-democrats was over the issue of nationalization, a policy that in many cases was undoubtedly undemocratic, inefficient, and ineffective at returning labor power back to the working class. Socialists in a neoliberal age must argue for economic democracy, placing what belongs to workers in the hands of workers, not necessarily in the hands of the state and most definitely not in the hands of large-scale private capital.

Finally, it is not enough to "stress" the principles of socialism, but to act on them through a comprehensive praxis. We can learn a lot from our allies in the anarchist movement about prefigurative politics, revealing to all working class people- poor or wealthy, what a socialist movement might look like in the future by creating that movement in the present: organizing in the most democratic way possible, encouraging debate and dissent even when it is unpopular.

I'm Ryne Tipton, student and activist at Dobyns-Bennett High School in East Tennessee. I'm also a current member of the YDS.


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Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump

February 17, 2017 · $20.00 USD

Location: MayDay Space
Where: 176 St Nicholas Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237
When: Friday, February 17th at 6 PM to Sunday, February 19th to 4 PM

Political Context

This Presidents’ Day weekend, the Young Democratic Socialists will gather for our annual winter conference in New York City titled Revolution at the Crossroads: Igniting the Socialist Resistance Against Trump. We did not choose the name lightly. In doing so, we call for leftists to collectively confront Trump and Trumpism at every possible opportunity. When a Trump administration attempts mass deportations of undocumented workers, when it attempts to register Muslims or roll back worker protections, when it attempts to take away reproductive, LGTBQ, civil, or any other rights, then we must militantly resist to prevent such measures.

To succeed, this must be explicitly socialist resistance. With liberalism having repeatedly shown itself incapable of combating the far right, it is now the time for socialists to openly declare our place in building the mass, multi-racial, and working class movement necessary for defeating the Trump administration. In this struggle, millennials will play an outsized role. That is why this conference comes at such a critical time—together we must create spaces for democratic and strategic discussion, spaces to gain organizing skills, and most importantly, spaces to form networks of young radicals for the future struggles ahead. These spaces will only come together if socialists come together. Join us this Presidents Weekend and help ignite the movement to defeat the Trump administration, continue the political revolution, and build the socialist alternative.

Key Deadlines

  • January 8th: Travel Scholarship for Air Travel (for application see below)
  • January 15th: Travel Scholarship for Non-Air Travel (ex: bus, car, train, etc.)
  • February 3rd: Early Bird Registration Ends - Tickets prices go up from $5 to $10
  • February 10th: Free Housing - We have limited free housing. You need to first register, then you will be sent an application for free housing.

Apply for a travel scholarship here! (First Deadline January 8, 2017)

Check out the working program (subject to change)