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This is the second of a 3 part series on the dearth of progressive politics within the Western world.

Social Democracy is bankrupt. Their policies have led millions across Europe to lose faith in democracy. The Conservative parties screw the population. They are voted out only to have the Social Democrats screw the population harder and worse. Within the parameters of European parliamentary politics the Left is discredited. They are for all intent and purposes dead.

  Contrary to North America, Liberalism has a completely different meaning in Europe. Liberals are considered to be free market ideologues who want absolutely no State or governmental interference in business or in public life. Though they support individual rights and defend justice against tyranny against State repression, they absolutely reject social equality. They are opposed to the funding and running of public education. Liberals oppose national health care, public housing and the government administering of public transit and other infrastructure. Support for these initiatives came from Social Democracy. In North America, the United States in particular, Socialism is the Bogeyman. Canada , which is closer to Europe in its political and social orientation, has a Social Democratic party. The New Democratic Party (NDP) has governed for decades in more than half of Canadian provinces but have never been elected to federal government. The task of social equality has been the domain of the Liberal Party of Canada. In the US, it was the liberal wing of the Democratic Party which initiated social and political reforms.

European Social Democracy first appeared on the political scene in the 1880s in Germany. At first, they called themselves Socialists. They consisted of a wide layer of political streams ranging from Democratic reformists to revolutionaries. The conflicting trends were unsustainable which ultimately led to the splintering of the Socialists. Those who advocated reforms through elections to various national parliaments  became known as Social Democrats. The revolutionaries attacked and opposed the Social Democrats as reformists. The revolutionary camp splintered due to widening differences. Those who adhered to revolutionary Marxism would call themselves Communists. Those who were opposed to any form of government and the State called themselves Anarchists.

The German Social Democrats were the first socialist group to make significant electoral gains in Europe by the first decade of the 20th century. They demanded the 8 hour work day, the end to child labour, a minimum wage, universal free education, better housing for the working class, the separation of the church from public affairs and a host of other reforms.  Their main opponents were the Liberals who represented the industrial capitalists and the Conservatives and Christian Socialists who represented the monarchist and the Catholic church.

The end of the First World War resulted in the fall of the German and Austro-Hungarian monarchies. In the wreckage of war and political vacuum, the Social Democrats found themselves propelled to power. The Social Democrats were the founders of the first republics of Austria and Germany. Those were the first nations in the world governed by Social Democrats. The Russian Revolution of 1917 staggered the Social Democrats. Their old allies had seized power in a violent overthrow of the Russian Tsar. In Hungary, the Communists under Bela Kun were staging ever more militant and violent street protests. Afraid of the violence of revolution and not wanting to abolish capitalism, the German and Austrian Social Democrats viewed the Communists with fear and loathing. The old allies would become become bitter enemies.

In the decade after the First World War , the Austrian Social Democrats concentrated their power in the capital, Vienna. The party undertook the most impressive and successful reforms of any country in the world. To alleviate the acute housing crisis and homelessness, the Social Democrats had built dozens of public housing complexes known as Wohnparks (Apartment Parks). Complexes such as Karl Max Hof, Friederich Engles Platz and Raben Hof were designed and built as castles for the working class.The Vienna Social Democrats hiked the taxes on the rich to finance the construction. Banks were excluded from financing or sponsoring the Wohnparks. The Wohnparks became world renowned for their luxury. Never before in history had the poor classes been provided with so much splendor and opulence. The Wohnparks, unlike the housing projects later built in the US or the Council Estates of the UK, were urban oasis’. Not only were lawns and trees planted but many of the complexes had their own free kindergartens. Many complexes had their own theatres and theatre workshops where working class writers and actors would work and put on plays for their neighbours. In addition to the Wohnparks, the Social Democrats of Vienna built “Settlements”.These are small one story houses built on the periphery of the city. They are noted for their unique design of gardens and bungalows. In esscene the working class with given large plots of land where they could plant their own vegetables. Until today, there has never been any replication of the housing scheme as in Vienna during the 1920s and early 30s. Up until today they remain considered to be the best examples of urban and social planning.

Of course, the Social Democrats made enemies. They all but banned the influence of the Catholic Church from public life. The pay-what-you-can scheme for the housing complexes bristled the banks. The building of workers palaces in the rich areas alienated the bourgeoisie. To complicate matters more, the Social Democrats were thoroughly urban and had snobbish attitudes towards the rural population outside of Vienna. Many of the leading and most influential members of the Social Democrats were ethnic Jews though most of them were non-religious and atheists. Within 5 years of founding the First Republic, the Social Democrats lost federal power to the Catholic Church. The Social Democrats reinforced their position in Vienna. Red Vienna became the Social Democratic fortress.  The onset of the Great Depression in 1929 brought the political and social fissures to a head. In February 1934, the reactionary forces of the Catholic Church with their petit-bourgeoisie allies assembled an army consisting of residents from the provinces and led an assault on Vienna. The 4 day civil war was the first war against fascism in Europe. The Catholics won. Red Vienna was defeated and the era of AustroFascism had begun and lasted until the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in 1938.

In Germany, the Social Democrats of the Weimar Republic had been dealt a difficult hand to play. With Germany bearing the full responsibility for the start of the First World War (when in reality it was Austria-Hungary ), the government found itself in a debt trap of forced reparations to the victorious Allied Powers. The German Social Democrats were not in the position as their Austrian counterparts to enact such far reaching reforms as in Vienna. However, the German Social Democrats found success where the Austrians didn’t. The German Social Democrats wrote the most advanced constitution that the world has ever seen. It guaranteed more rights than the American Constitution. It was one of the first constitutions to explicitly guarantee equal rights between men and women. It gave women the right to vote more than a year before the US and more than 20 years before France. Also, the Social Democrats had a broader base throughout the country as opposed to their Austrian counterparts who only had power in Vienna. The social and political tensions were more explosive in Germany than in Austria. The Social Democrats adopted authoritarian laws and repression in an desperate attempt to maintain order. By 1930, they lost Federal power and in 1933, the Nazis came to power.

What is completely ignored in the official history books and forgotten in social memory were the revolutionary uprisings which swept across Europe in the days after the defeat of the Axis Powers in 1945. From Belgium to Greece , the masses of Europe rose up violently in disgust of imperialist and capitalist war. Indeed, The Netherlands , Belgium, Italy and Greece were all on the verge of becoming Peoples Republics. It took Allied soldiers who had just finished fighting Nazi soldiers to put down the rebellions in Belgium and The Netherlands. In Italy, the American military authorities restored the Fascists to power to brutally crush the revolution. In Greece, Joseph Stalin ordered the Greek Communist Party to repress the revolution.

Alarmed by these developments the Social Democrats were brought in to control the population and to stamp out the fires of revolution. Reforms were rushed through and along with American money, Western Europe was rebuilt physically and socially. New social contracts were enacted into law which raised the living standards for the masses dramatically. 5 week paid holidays, free universal education from pre-school to university, massive constructions of social housing complexes, workers rights were all the results of the fear of the capitalists and Social Democrats of revolution. Wrongly worried about the influence of the USSR , which under Stalin had completely abandoned the goal of world socialist revolution, the Social Democrats played the role in preserving capitalism under strict regulation.

Before the Second War War was completed, Winston Churchill was defeated and the Labour Party under Clement Atlee was elected. Atlee established the National Health Service (NHS) which became the model for national health care schemes across Europe. Labour nationalised a quarter of key industries such as steel, coal and the railways. Labour also weakened and reduced the power of the un-elected and monarchist House of Lords .

By the late 1960s, the social upheavals spread to Europe most famously with theMay 1968 General Strike in France. West Germany and France had been governed by conservatives since the end of the war. Fed up with the authoritarian governments of Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer , the masses exploded in anger. In 1968, Willy Brandt led the German SPD to a majority government. That same year, Bruno Kreisky led the Austrian Social Democrats also to a majority government. Once again the Social Democrats came to the rescue and helped to defuse social tensions.

The 1970s are widely regarded as the golden era of European Social Democracy. Scandinavia, The Netherlands, and Belgium all had Social Democratic governments. The overthrow of the fascist Salazar dictatorship in Portugal ushered in democracy under the rule of the Socialists. In Spain , Franco negotiated the transition from fascist dictatorship to democracy  with the Socialist Party. The 14 year reign of the German SPD was characterised most with its war against the Red Army Faction (RAF ). It added a few more social reforms but most of those had already been enacted in the past. The 15 year reign of the SPOe in Austria had more notable success. Kreisky played a key role in diffusing tensions between the US and the USSR during the Cold War . Austria was officially neutral and  was nearly surrounded by communists countries. The Austrians had the best of both worlds. They had all the social rights and protections of socialism but enjoyed all the political freedoms of liberal democracy. When it came to true Social Democracy, Austria was the lead country.

In the UK, both Labour and the Conservatives stumbled and staggered from one crisis to the next. Britain was mortally wounded as an economic power during the Second World War. Britain in the 1970s was a country in turmoil. Neither party was able to propose any solutions. Labour returned to power in 1974 under which there were conditions of mass unemployment and racial warfare on the streets of the country. Labour would eventually lose the 1979 election to Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives and the the course of history was forever altered (More below about New Labour).

France elected a Social Democrat President relatively late. Francois Mitterrand was elected in 1981. His regime got off to a bad start as the government attempted to impose an economic dictatorship. Capital fled out of the country. The French Franc lost nearly half its value within a few months. Controls on how much individuals could withdraw from the bank were imposed. When French citizens left the country, they were subjected to aggressive and instrusive inspections to ensure they had not more than $1000US in possession. The right took control of the National Assembly and Mitterrand was forced to scale back his economic program or else face bankruptcy. Mitterrand was a philosopher king.  However, he did very little to improve the lot for racial minorities in France. Arabs and Africans found themselves increasingly marginalised from society locked in the Banlieu ghettos which ring the major cities of France. Though Mitterrand raged against the conditions and accurately foresaw the danger to the republic, he never once attempted to implement any reforms to combat discrimination and racism. Mitterrand finished his political career utterly discredited. He had crafted a carefully constructed image as an anti-Nazi. He was known to have been part of  the French resistance. In 1994, he was exposed as having many high contacts and personal friends who were part of the Vichy Nazi collaborist regime. Mitterrand hedged his bets. When it seemed that the Nazis were on a roll, he was preparing himself for high politics as a fascist. In 1942 after the battle of Stalingrad and it was clear that the tide had turned against the Nazis did he join the resistance.

The 1980s and 1990s were the wilderness years for Social Democrats in West Germany and the UK. In Germany, the Christian Democrats ruled for 16 years. The British Conservatives ruled for 18 years. During these long years in opposition, the SPD and Labour organised internal witch hunts against left wingers. Socialists were expelled from the parties. Each successive election defeats resulted with the Social Democrats moving further and further to the right. In 1994, a young man by the name of Tony Blair became the leader of the Labour Party. He would change the nature of Social Democracy for ever.


Tony Blair was never shy about his enthusiasm for the policies of Margaret Thatcher. Before the 1997 general election, Blair had the Labour Party constitution changed. Article 4, which called for the nationalisation of industry, was removed. Blair went into an alliance with Rupert Murdoch by promising he would govern far to the right of the Conservatives. Tony Blair’s central campaign platform was “Education” but he ran on a right wing campaign modelled after Bill Clinton. Indeed, the Clinton White House overtly advised Blair’s election campaigned. The traditional calls for social justice and equality were dumped in favour of a law and order campaign.

It wasn’t difficult for Labour to win the election. 18 years of Conservative government were too much just as it wasn’t difficult for Barack Obama to win after 8 years of Bush. Blair implemented two pieces of reform. He overturned a law which criminalised open displays of homosexuality and ratified the European Charter of Rights . Blair proceeded to implement some of the most regressive policies in the world. He went on a privatisation rampage which saw state schools privatised and closed down. Labour made more cuts to education than the Conservatives. The Terrorism Act of 2000 criminalised nearly all forms of political protest.CCTV surveillance cameras sprouted like wild weeds on every street, bus and intersections in the country making the UK the country under the most surveillance in the world. Labour enacted anti-social behaviour ordinances where previously minor offensives were punishable by heavy fines, electronic ankle trackers, and community service sentences. Parents were penalised if their children committed anti-social offenses. For example, if they lived in social housing, entire families would be evicted if a member of the household was arrested or charged for an anti-social infraction. The police were given expanded powers. The UK was the first country in the world where the police had the right to take DNA samples from persons arrested. Even when those persons have charges dropped or acquitted in court, the police still keep their DNA for the rest of their lives.

Blair is distinguished as the first Social Democrat to embrace war and militarism. He is an international war criminal and terrorist. He is guilty for 3 illegal wars (Yugoslavia 1999, Afghanistan 2001 and Iraq 2003). He has transformed the United Kingdom into an Orwellian police state . He has abused the powers of his office. Blair became Prime Minister solely for the purpose of becoming a millionaire . Under his watch, inequality in the UK is the greatest since the reign of Queen Victoria . The UK is one of the most unequal countries in the EU only behind Romania and Bulgaria. 25% of children in the UK live below poverty compared with 20% in the UK. The UK imprisons more people than any other EU country. It has the distinguished honour of being 2nd behind the US for the number of people incarcerated or under anti-social behaviour punishment.


The results of Blair were bad enough but he set the template for all other Social Democrats in Europe. In 1998, the German SPD in coalition with the Greens took power. The results are staggering. 100,000 people in Germany only earn 1 Euro per hour as dictated under the vicious Hartz IV welfare “reform” laws. In the capital of Berlin the unemployment rate ranges between 30 to 40%. It was under the Social Democrats and the supposedly pacifist Greens, when during the NATO bombing against Yugoslavia, that Germany engaged in its first act of war since 1945. The military budget grew under the Social Democrats as billions were slashed in social welfare, wages, pensions, education and health care. It was under the Social Democrats of Gerhard Schroeder that Germany has re-militarized.  Prominent Social Democratic politicians in the Berlin city government have recently made racist and xenophobic rants disguised as speeches.

In Austria, the Socialists peddled in open racism. In one of the most frightening and horrible spectacles in modern history, hundreds of Africans were rounded up and arrested in 1999 and charged with selling drugs during Operation Spring. Their only crime was protesting the police killing of the Nigerian Marcus Omofuma while he was being deported out of Austria. In a cynical ploy to fend off defeat at the hands of the far right in the upcoming elections, the Socialist Democrats resorted to naked racism and threw out the most elementary rules of justice. In the end, they were ejected from office and replaced by a far-right wing government for their efforts.

With the onset of the economic crisis, it is the Social Democratic governments of Spain, Portugal and Greece which are implementing a savage assault on the quality of life of the masses. Unlike their political ancestors, who would have taxed the rich and raised corporate taxes, they absolutely refuse to do that. Instead, the take away the bread, wages and health of the poor and middle classes.

The social and political crisis in Europe and the world have many sources. The roots date back to 1982, when Neoliberalism became the official religion of the world. Social Democrats, who historically opposed exploitation of the masses by the rich few, have embraced the religion. The collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe which called themselves “Real Existing Socialism” has had the effect of discrediting Marxism. However, the Social Democrats have discarded the goals of achieving more equality and improving the quality of life for the most vulnerable. They have joined their one time Conservative and Liberal foes in pursuing the impoverishment of the masses and a return to the most extreme forms of exploitation.

The masses in Europe are as angry as they are disillusioned. The German SPD share of the vote in the last national elections was the lowest in its history. Hundreds of thousands of people stayed at home not bothering to vote. In the UK, the Labour Party is on the verge of defeat. The only thing which may prevent them from a Canadian Progressive-Conservative electorial disaster is that most people are aware that the Conservatives aren’t any better and are probably worst. In Austria, the Socialists may find themselves winning their very last elections scheduled for Vienna this year. It seems inevitable that the fascist Freedom Party will form the next national government.

Social Democracy is bankrupt. Their policies have led millions across Europe to lose faith in democracy. The Conservative parties screw the population. They are voted out only to have the Social Democrats screw the population harder and worse. Within the parameters of European parliamentary politics the Left is discredited. They are for all intent and purposes dead.

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