A decade has gone by since I built the first version of this website. These have been years in which social democracy has not fared well in Germany, Austria, and other industrialized nations. The reasons for that are long-standing and deep.
Following World War II and continuing into the 1970s, social democratic governments in West Germany enacted many reforms. This was an era of economic growth, co-determination by workers in running their workplaces, and widespread support for human rights and peace.
When the SPD (Social Democratic Party) lost national elections, it remained influential at local and regional levels, improving educational opportunities for all and supporting the construction of public housing. During the 1960s the SPD participated in coalition governments that expanded the welfare state, raised the wages of blue-collar workers, and enacted Keynesian economic policies.
In the United States too, the Democratic Party was reform-minded. It was a “big tent” that brought together moderates and leftists, trade unionists and owners of small businesses, rural and urban voters. In the 1960s the Party was instrumental in passing civil rights legislation that countered segregation and other forms of discrimination against people of color. (That became politically possible when conservative Democrats from the South –“Dixiecrats,” as they were called — quit the Party and became Republicans.) Medicare and Medicaid, Headstart , the Job Corps and the Food Stamp Act were additional achievements won during that decade.
Since the mid-1970s, however, industrial economies have suffered reverses that have contributed to rolling back many of these gains. In the past decade, economic inequality and insecurity have continued to increase in European countries and the U.S. Young people especially face an uncertain future. Accompanying this economic downturn, we have seen over the past decade widening cultural and political polarization, while the twin threats of nuclear war and climate change continue unabated.
At the same time, though, the pandemic has helped us to understand that we all need to work together to protect the earth and its inhabitants. There is more political awareness today that we have to find common ground. In Germany, Chancellor Merkel will step down this year, and the Social Democratic Party may govern in alliance with the Greens and other parties. In the United States a far-reaching Green New Deal is supported by most Americans and by the current Democratic administration.
In brief, the promise of social democracy — a just, peaceful, sustainable world — relies today and always on the willingness of people with diverse backgrounds, interests, and loyalties to unite.