SOCIAL DEMOCRACY YESTERDAY AND TODAY
Social democracy in Europe is now well over a century old. At its best, it has been a powerful movement for human liberation, visionary in its aims and successful in its everyday practice. Health care and public education for all, strong labor unions, retirement benefits, voting rights, women’s rights – these are among the victories that have been won. Social democracy has at times also extended political self-determination into the workplace, so that workers become actors in shaping the aims and conditions of their own labor.
But social democracy has also suffered tragic defeats. Its achievements came about, paradoxically, during an era characterized also by world war, economic collapse, racial injustice, and genocide. Those politically engaged on the left failed to avert Europe’s “dark times,” as Hannah Arendt calls them. In a collection of essays about 20th-century writers and activists, including Rosa Luxemburg and Berthold Brecht, she asks whether their light was the “uncertain, flickering … light of a candle or that of a blazing sun.” Indeed their legacy remains undetermined, as social democracy today struggles to find its way forward.