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Social Democrat

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Social Democrats are supporters of a moderate form of Socialism.

Often, the term "Socialism" is used to specifically denote Social Democrats, although in many countries Socialism is a broader concept containing reformist Social Democrats and many kinds of revolutionary Communists and sometimes Anarchists.

Social Democratic parties are among the largest parties in most countries in Europe. Globally, some studies claim, more people share the basic ideals of Social Democrats than of any other political movement.

The Social Democratic current came into being by a break within the Socialist movement in the early 20th century. One reformist group of Socialists rejected the idea of a Socialist revolution, and instead tried to achieve the Socialist ideals through Democratic means. Many related movements, including Pacifism, Anarchism and Syndicalism, arose at this time and had various quite different objections to the "class war" concept espoused by most Marxists.

Historians claim that several key figures were important in this shift: the Russian Prince Peter Kropotkin, César de Paepe[?] of the Belgian International Working Men's Association, and Jean Jaurès who led the French Socialist Party[?] until his assassination on July 31, 1914, one day before the general mobilization of forces that began World War I.

According to historian Barbara Tuchman, a slow shift of European public opinion from 1880-1914, especially in Germany, had aligned Nationalist and Capitalist forces politically in favor of confrontation and war, and generally silenced Pacifism and discredited revolutionary Anarchism. Moderate Syndicalist and Socialist views of such leaders as César de Paepe[?] and Jean Jaurès were gradually marginalized by concessions to the Labor Movement[?], especially in Germany, which from 1900-1914 instituted the shortest working week, longest vacations, and best fringe benefit programs in Europe - all while arming for the conflict that most European powers expected.

The period 1914-1962 in Europe was dominated by World War I, World War II, and the Cold War, culminating in the construction of the Berlin Wall. Although social democrats had been influential in this period, and a moderate breed of Euro-Communism[?] had developed, in general Nationalist, Fundamentalist and Capitalist forces were seen as allies of the United States, and there was some suspicion of Social Democrats as potentially "soft on Communism" and seeking to implement something like Stalinism in Western Europe.

During the 1960s and culminating in the signal year 1968, these concerns were dispelled, and the countries that would later join in the European Union generally followed a path set by (Christian or Secular) Social Democrats, who differed little on core policies.

Today most conservative parties are, by the prewar definition, social democrats in favor of a slightly less generous program.

Since the 1960s, differences between all forms of Social Democrats and Communists have grown. Nowadays, Social Democrats are in favor of a Capitalist market economy, but with a strong and large government. Many Social Democratic parties are also shifting emphasis from the traditional goal of creating a Socialist economy to human rights and environmental issues. In this, they are facing increasing challenge from Greens who view ecology as fundamental to peace, and require reform of money supply and safe trade measures to ensure ecological integrity. However, Greens, Social Democrats, and more extreme Socialist parties, have often cooperated in a so-called Red-Green Alliance.

Most commentators agree that Social Democrats have been largely successful in implementing the program of the original Communist Manifesto of 1848 - with the notable exception of land reform and the abolishment of rents. However, Marx believed that the ideals of Communism/Socialism could only be achieved through the self-liberation of the working class, NOT through legislation enacted by a small government elite.

Most would also agree that late-20th-century Europe, culminating in the 1992 formation of the European Union, demonstrates that developed nations can cooperate under the general policies of Social Democrats to achieve a lasting peace. Whether similar policies can work elsewhere is a matter of much debate, especially in the anti-globalization movement, where advocates on both sides argue about the degree to which regulation has fostered growth and tolerance. Some argue that the protectionist policies followed by Social Democrats to protect fragile national economies during growth or rebuilding, are exactly the policies that developing nations are today prevented from following by the IMF. Beyond that, as in the early 20th century, there is substantial difference of opinion depending on general views of Capitalism.

It is an interesting phenomenon that Social Democrats often succeed in their aims to the point of political irrelevance - then spending some time out of favor with voters who turn to more Conservative parties, e.g. Margaret Thatcher, who then inherit economies with the strong educational and infrastructural foundations favored by Social Democrats.

However, also these Conservative successors are often perceived as going too far for comfort, particularly in foreign policy, trade, and warfare, so Social Democrats may never disappear, even if the entire original program of Socialism would have been accomplished. Through the 20th century, few of the benefits instituted by any Social Democratic government have been successfully repealed by successors: an income tax, universal medical insurance[?], tuition-free university education, are seemingly permanent features of most European nations. The services may vary in quality but never seem to be withdrawn completely - the gains made by Social Democrats politically are seemingly seen by the public as public goods. In Canada, however, cutbacks by successive Progressive Conservative and Liberal governments in the last two decades have succeeded in reducing the effectiveness of the Social Democratic measures that had been implanted under previous governments (Liberal and Liberal in coalition with New Democrats).

In general, Social Democrats worldwide today are in favor of:

  • Private enterprise, but strongly regulated to protect the interests of workers, consumers and small enterprise (in stark contrast to libertarian and some green approaches, e.g. Natural Capitalism which minimizes regulation by controlling commodity prices more directly).
  • An extensive system of social security network (see welfare state), notably to counteract effects of poverty and to insure the citizens against loss of income following illness and unemployment (although not to the extent of communists).
  • Ensuring good education, health care, child care, et cetera for all citizens through government fundings.
  • High taxes (necessary to pay for the former), especially for the higher income groups.
  • Extensive social laws (minimum wages, working circumstances, protection against firing).
  • Generally support environmental protection laws (although not to the extent of Greens).
  • Generally support of anti-xenophobic and non-fundamentalist legislations (pro-choice, anti-racist, anti-homophobic, some environmental laws specifically opposing monoculture) (although not to the extent of anarchists).

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