In a recent issue of the new york review of books (Sept 24), Tony Judt described social democracy as the “ideology that dare not speak its name”, such has been the decline of the political ideology that once dominated Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and ‘new deal’ America. (Obviously, Judt doesn’t read Kevin Rudd’s essays.)

This decline can be traced back to the oil shocks of the 1970s that helped undermine confidence in the Keynesian, welfare state approach that had been the mainstream orthodoxy at least since the second world war. The decline of the Left got a further big kick along with the collapse of the Soviet Union and China’s emergence as a major (state) capitalist power. Instead of social democracy, we got the third way and new Labour.

When the GFC hit, the neo-liberal consensus seemed shaky. There was a return to Keynesian approaches by governments around the world, particularly in the english-speaking west where neo-liberalism had been most vigorously on the march. The sales of Marx’s works were on the rise, and academic political economists wrote stacks of ‘we told you so’ articles.

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But the outcome of the German election which saw the end of the grand coalition and the exit of the social democrats from government might be another sign that any hoped-for social democratic revival will be short-lived:

German voters clobbered the Social Democratic Party on Sunday, giving it only 23 percent of the vote, its worst performance since World War II.Voters also punished left-leaning candidates in the summer’s European Parliament elections and trounced French Socialists in 2007. Where the left holds power, as in Spain and Britain, it is under attack. Where it is out, as in France, Italy and now Germany, it is divided and listless.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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