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Closing plenary: The Death of Social Democracy: Platypus 2016 convention

CLOSING PLENARY: The Death of Social Democracy
held on Saturday April 2, 2016

Brian Tokar (Institute for Social Ecology)
Jason Schulman (DSA)
Christoph Lichtenberg (IBT)
William Pelz (Author and Historian)
Panel Description

Given the disintegration of traditional social democratic parties, 2015 saw the rise of novel political formations such as Syriza and Podemos. 2016 has seen the rise of the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party and the mass support for Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party. This panel seeks to address the project of social democracy today, both in light of these new political formations and the long history of social democratic politics on the left.

Once a global movement for the self-emancipation of the working class based on a Marxist revolutionary politics, today’s social democratic parties have fully substituted the task of organizing workers in order to overthrow capitalism with the task of creating and maintaining the conditions for a more just market economy. The present standpoint of social democracy is society as is it is, bound by national economies and mediated by nation-states. Social democracy today promises to fight social injustice in the name of the people, but it no longer promises to realize socialism. Yet what remains is the name, and with it the promise and the problem of “social democracy.”

Is “social democracy” still a project for the Left? While social democracy arose in the late 19th century as an expression of working people’s political demand for socialism, it came into a series of crises over the course of the 20th century. How have these crises transformed the way in which the left understands both historical Social Democracy and current social democratic political formations? Have these transformations—whether the revisionist dispute in the 1890s-1900s, the support of national governments in WWI, the dispute around the Russian and German Revolutions of 1917-19, the New Left of the 1960s, the crisis of the 1970s, the Reagan and Thatcher neoliberal turns of the 1980s, the emergence of “Third Way” politics in the 1990s, or the economic crisis of 2008—meant the death of social democracy? Has the meaning of social revolution and socialism changed for the Left given the changing definition of “social democracy?” How, if at all, could the trajectory of social democracy shed light on tasks yet to be achieved on the Left today?

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