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Politics against pessimism

Social democratic possibilities since Ernst Wigforss

Geoff Dow and Winton Higgins

Neoliberalism has now failed, so can a social democratic resurgence replace it? This book retrieves the political thought of Swedish politician Ernst Wigforss to explore the unrealised potential of social democracy. Wigforss drew on many schools of thought to produce an alternative social democratic strategy.
It outflanked economic liberalism, allowed his party to dominate Swedish politics for a half-century, and his country to achieve affluence and social equity as converging rather than competing objectives.
OECD economies have since evolved political capacities – the welfare state, corporatist regulation, expanded citizen entitlements, civic amenity – far in excess of pessimistic evaluations offered by mainstream analyses. This book suggests that such developments confirm Wigforss’s ideas, confounding conventional pessimism.
Full employment, social equity, economic democracy, new political institutions, and transformative economic management are now more imaginable than ever in western countries. But their achievement depends on a radical reformist political mobilisation of the kind that Wigforss inspired, one which integrates these aspirations as mutually reinforcing goals.

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4. The democratisation and politicisation of capitalism: from British collectivist liberalism to Swedish social democracy in the 1920s 99

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99 4. The democratisation and politicisation of capitalism: from British collectivist liberalism to Swedish social democracy in the 1920s Nothing is as revolutionising as genuine reformism Rudolf Meidner As soon as universal suffrage and a democratic state became immediate prospects, the original strategy of Swedish social democracy became pal- pably obsolete. Constitutional issues around democratic government and the new world of policy formation fell outside its limited and speculative conceptions of the state and of the transition to socialism. Despite clinch- ing at least one important (but traditionally ameliorative) reform – the eight-hour working day – social democratic minority governments in the 1920s failed to make a significant impact on the acute socio-economic predicaments – mass unemployment and poverty – facing their working class constituency, or even to announce policy lines that showed promise of doing so. Indeed, the SAP under Branting became yet another parlia- mentary and ministerial bearer of orthodox economic liberal policy, and as such a source rather than the means of supersession of these predica- ments. Electoral stagnation inevitably set in: the anticipated socialist ma- jority, the fruit of universal suffrage, was clearly not emerging. Two contenders to replace the old democratic socialism as the politi- cal stock-in-trade of the SAP emerged, both products of second-genera- tion intellectuals. One, associated with Nils Karleby, was an early version of social liberalism, and as such affirmed the claimed optimality of capi- talist market economy while promising to equitably redistribute its prod- uct. The socialist project in this revision thus collapsed into a...

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