“American Exceptionalism” and the decline of social democracy

Steven Welzer
2 min readApr 25, 2021

The Jacobin article below details a major turn of events that most Americans would probably not be aware of due to “American Exceptionalism.”

What’s that?

It’s the absence of a mass social democratic party.

The major geopolitical phenomenon of the late-19th and early-20th centuries was the ascendance of socialist parties. After the Russian Revolution of 1917 the socialist movement split. Roughly speaking, those in the movement who supported the Bolshevik regime and identified as “revolutionaries” started to call themselves Communists and formed a Communist International (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_International). Those who thought the implementation of socialism should unfold gradually (as the masses gradually came to embrace socialist consciousness) identified as Social Democrats and formed the Socialist International (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Socialist_International). The latter were oriented toward reformism and electoralism. They became the dominant political parties throughout Europe after World War II. There were significantly influential social democratic parties in every advanced democracy except one — the United States.

The Communist movement started to decline even before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. But the Social Democratic movement remained strong. Until recently:

https://jacobinmag.com/2021/04/uk-labour-party-greece-pasok-brexit-syriza

That article only talks about the fate of social democratic parties in four countries (France, Greece, Holland, and England). But the problem is more widespread. For example, the article doesn’t mention that the national vote-share of the flagship Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) has declined precipitously:

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/25/opinion/germany-social-democrats.html

In the last federal election, in 2017, the SPD won 20 percent of the vote, down from 34 in the mid-2000s and 40 percent in 1998. Today it is down to about 15 percent in polls. Once the dominant voice of the German left, it is now regularly outpolled by the Greens, especially among younger voters.

Some keep trying to establish a mass social democratic (in the US called “progressive”) party in this country:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Movement_for_a_People%27s_Party

The project of DSA is try to transform the Democratic Party into a social democratic party. My guess is that it’s just too late for any endeavor of that kind (new party or Dem transformation). The social democratic movement in general is in decline worldwide.

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Steven Welzer

The editor of Green Horizon Magazine, Steve has been a movement activist for many years (he was an original co-editor of DSA’s “Ecosocialist Review”).