Martin Shaw

Social democracy in the unfinished global revolution

 Conference paper, 1999. Contents:


Globalism and social democracy go somewhat uneasily together, according to conventional wisdom. Globalisation is identified with the global free market, which is widely seen as the apotheosis of unbridled capitalism that John Gray condemns. Some contemporary social-democratic theorists, like Paul Hirst and Grahame Thompson, even argue that globalization is largely mythical. They explain that nation-states retain the capacities to manage national economies which globalization is seen as eroding. Only at the Blairite end of the social-democratic spectrum does a more positive attitude to global change manifest itself, for example in the conception of the ‘third way’ advocated by Anthony Giddens. As Giddens himself notes, however, ‘The critics see the third way … as warmed-over neo-liberalism’– or as an unsympathetic Marxist puts it, ‘not so much a powerful case for a refashioned social democracy as a rather depressing symptom of Giddens’s own political and intellectual evolution to the right.’ Giddens can look after himself, of course, and his ideas about globalisation are well established in influential texts, as well as supported by the empirical analyses of David Held and his collaborators. Clearly, however, the principal ‘globalist’ vision of social democracy remains controversial.

The dismissal of the viability of social democracy in global conditions, by ex-new right pessimists like Gray as well as by Marxists, is undoubtedly, as Andrew Gamble argues, ‘too final’. Not only do governments have national discretion but the potential for international co-operation is common ground among more traditional social democrats and advocates of the ‘third way’. As social democratic politicians dominate the turn-of-the-millennium European Union, an internationalised, if not globalised, centre-left reformism is close to becoming the common sense of mainstream politics, with influence in north America too after the excesses of the Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich years. While statist socialism is a forlorn doctrine, and radical Marxism remains marginal, social democracy has enjoyed a broad, if not necessarily very profound, worldwide renaissance in the reaction against the excesses of post-1989 neo-liberal triumphalism.

This chapter seeks both to explore and to further this expansion of social-democratic politics on a world scale. It takes a position which is neither global-enthusiast nor global-sceptic, but which in Held’s terms is ‘global-transformationist’ in a particular way. I argue that the meaning of ‘globality’ is more political than economic, and that we are in the midst of a socio-political transformation on a world scale which while apparently accommodating to Western liberal democracy, is in fact profoundly challenging to all established forms of politics. Western social democracy, I contend, needs to come to terms with revolutionary changes, in the non-Western as well as Western world, that are changing the face of world order. Not only most forms of mainstream social-democratic thinking, including the ‘third way’, but established modes of critiquing social democracy – notably Marxism – are so thoroughly implicated in the historic socio-political forms of Western capitalism and the state that they miss the central political questions of our time.

In order to pursue this argument, I want first to suggest a major revision of historical perspective on the theory and practice of social democracy. Not only does the unfinished global revolution present a fundamental challenge to our established ways of thought. The failure to grasp its significance follows from a long history of failure on the part of theorists, practitioners and critics of social democracy. For none of them have grasped the full significance of the world, and specifically international, contexts for the understanding of politics. In order to sharpen the presentation of current dilemmas, I need first to outline, however schematically, a historical theory. In doing this I shall try to show, from a historical-sociological point of view, the changing ways in which social democracy have been implicated in world political change over the last century have been crucial to its evolution.

Historicising social democracy in a world perspective

I want to stress two essential points about the history of social democracy. On the one hand, we should never lose sight of the relations between social democracy and wider democratic movement and ideas. On the other, we need always to remember how closely developments in social democracy have been bound up with changes in the worldwide configurations of state power, especially the military relations of the major centres. These two points are closely interrelated.

Although social democracy can trace its lineage to early nineteenth-, eighteenth- and even seventeenth-century democratic movements, there is no doubt that modern socialist parties emerged and became important political actors in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Social democracy became the dominant political form of labour in the period in which, on the one hand, industrial capitalism spread across western Europe and north America, and on the other, the system of European empires achieved its greatest worldwide extent, especially in Asia and Africa. As Michael Mann has shown, within this historical matrix, ‘class’ and ‘nation’ grew together as foci of collective social action. Social democratic parties, and the broader social movements of the working class in which they were embedded, were from the start caught up in the synthesis of these two powerful social forces.

As a social movement, labour confronted from this period not one but two powerful centres of social power. On the one hand, as Karl Marx and many other socialist thinkers emphasised, there was the growing social power of capital, as well as of older propertied classes, on a worldwide scale. But on the other was the state, which throughout the regions in which social democracy grew was increasingly national and imperial in character, and in most places highly authoritarian and oligarchic. In the late nineteenth century, a major part of labour’s task everywhere was to establish the conditions of democracy, based on freedom of expression, organisation and action as well as on universal suffrage. Even Marx believed that the suffrage might be the key that, in some countries at least, unlocked the door to the social programme of the socialist parties.

In adopting the name ‘social democracy’, socialists were simultaneously acknowledging their roots – and, as they saw it, special role – in the older and broader democratic movement, and their specific goals of achieving social and economic democracy. In any socialist programme of the period before 1914, the importance of democratic aims could hardly be minimised: hardly anywhere had universal male, let alone female suffrage been achieved; nowhere were political freedoms securely established. (It was not until after 1945, indeed, that democracy became clearly established as the normal political form of Western capitalist states.)

From the point of view of the state, democratic rights for the working class were often conceded in return for military duty - which states increasingly expected all adult males to perform (mass armies became normal in Europe in the second half of the nineteenth century). Similarly, recognition of social-democratic and other workers’ parties as legitimate parts of the state depended on their implicit acceptance of states’ national and imperial claims. In establishing social democracy as a legal and constitutional party, its leaders also embraced these characters of the states within which they existed. Social democrats were of course organised ‘internationally’, but the potential for conflict between their aspiration for European or world co-operation and the realities of national power was always strong.

Social democrats’ ideas ill-equipped them to deal with the contradictions of the state system within which their movements were growing. Although most nineteenth-century socialist thinkers were critical of the institution of the centralised state, they had only limited understanding of the forces which pushing in this direction. Even Marx mistakenly saw the main driving force as class conflict; his epigone, Lenin, was still repeating this argument decades later, even though it had become obvious that military mobilisation was a far more powerful lever than class repression for building up state power. Engels was a perceptive commentator on military power, but his misjudgement of its significance was shown in the comment that ‘the warship is being developed to pitch of perfection that is making it outrageously costly and unusable in war’. Socialist thought was already characterised, as this remark showed, by the economism that remains a hallmark of all its main varieties to this day.

The mainstream social-democratic leaders of the early twentieth century infamously bowed to national claims once the First World War broke out in 1914. While this is widely marked as a ‘betrayal’ of internationalist aspirations, it reflected the reality that social democracy had become deeply based in the discrete national-imperial centres of state power. The left-wing social democrats who broke away from their parties, eventually forming the basis of the new communist international, argued that democracy was bound to suffer in conditions of inter-imperialist war. Certainly democratic institutions were precariously established in many European states, and eventually gave way to anti-democratic counter-revolution in Italy, Germany and elsewhere. However the new soviet democracy of workers’ councils, led by the communists, also gave way just as rapidly to Stalinist dictatorship. Only in the United States, Britain and its dominions, France and the north-western regions of Europe did some kind of parliamentary democracy survive. Only in these regions did social democracy (now clearly distinguished from the communist breakaway) continue to have some hold; but only in relatively marginal states like Sweden was it politically dominant.

That social democracy’s future was closely linked to that of democracy in general, on the one hand, and the configurations of power in the inter-state system, on the other, is clear from its dramatic revival in the 1940s and 1950s. It was because the US and Britain were the major victors of the Second World War that democracy was restored in continental north-western Europe and imposed on Japan. It was because of the wartime participation effect that social democracy advanced strongly in Britain, leading to the first majority Labour government in 1945. It was because the war broke the back of even the most victorious empire, that independent parliamentary democracies were instituted in the Indian sub-continent in 1947. It was because everywhere war meant that the power of the state was greatly strengthened, that statist ideas of economic and social planning (with which social democracy had become identified) became the new common sense. Everywhere in Europe grave social needs were apparent in the aftermath of war: broadly social-democratic policies were pursued even by conservative and Christian-democratic governments, while social democrats became parties of government in most European states.

The linkage of social democracy to the Western state was confirmed in the conditions of Cold War. On the one hand, even after the victory of the ‘democracies’, only in North America, Western Europe, Japan and the British Commonwealth was democracy a widespread political form. Within these democratic zones, only in Western Europe and Australasia was social democracy strong. In the Soviet-dominated Eastern Europe, democratic institutions were extinguished in the late 1940s, and independent social-democratic parties were no longer allowed. In much of Asia, Latin America and post-colonial as well as colonial Africa, democratic institutions were precarious and social-democratic movements and ideas weak.

Given the subordination of western Europe and the rest of the West to the United States, mainstream social democracy became, in conditions of Cold War, resolutely ‘Atlanticist’ - especially in Britain, Germany, Japan and Australasia. There were always pro-Soviet and neutralist minorities in the social-democratic parties of Atlantic alliance states – and of course states with important social-democratic influence, like Sweden, Finland and Austria, remained neutral throughout this period. However we can say that in general, social democracy as a political movement sheltered within the American-led Western consensus throughout the Cold War period.

These Cold War conditions had mixed effects on social democracy. On the one hand, social-democratic parties and (especially) governments were implicated in United States policies in the Cold War, and in support for authoritarian, anti-Communist regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The disciplining effect of anti-Communism was felt within the social-democratic movements themselves, where autocratic right-wing groups often dominated party and union organisations. The tendency of the social-democratic left towards sympathies with Soviet-bloc and other communist states in turn restricted its influence. Alliances with communist parties, even where (as in Italy) the latter succeeded somewhat in emancipating themselves from Soviet tutelage, were always inhibited, and the division of the left helped to keep right-wing parties in power in a number of countries.

On the other hand, during the Cold War period, European social democracy was able to begin reconstructing its ideology and practice in more constructive ways. The new conditions for international co-operation in Western Europe enabled continental social democrats to play key parts in developing the European Economic Community. Although, with long periods of right-wing political hegemony in the principal member-states, the free-market rationale remained dominant, a social-democratic element was always part of the politics of integration. As the Community developed into the European Union of the 1990s, the role of social-democrats, such as Commission president Jacques Delors, in defining its strategy became stronger; by the late 1990s, the Union was dominated by broadly social-democratic governments in the large majority member-states, including the four largest.

The conversion of European social democracy to integrationist politics was, of course, a long and conflict-ridden process. In Britain and Scandinavia, especially, social democracy as a whole was strongly wedded to national (in Britain, imperial) forms: in 1960 the right-wing Labour leader, Hugh Gaitskell, famously appealed to ‘a thousand years of British history’ to justify choosing the British Commonwealth over the European project. Left-wing social democrats were even more overwhelmingly opposed to European integration: for them, the project’s connections to the Atlantic alliance, as well as its free-market ideology, combined with nationalist ideology and even the anti-colonialist idea of solidarity with the Third World, to over-determine rejection.

It is easy to forget, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, the extent of the divisions which Cold War politics caused in social democracy as recently as the 1980s. Indeed the term ‘social democracy’ became associated with right-wing Atlanticism. The social-democratic name was chosen by several right-wing breakaways from the main labour or socialist parties, from the 1950s until as late as the 1981 foundation of the Social Democratic Party in Britain (although Labour was effectively social-democratic, the name had never been widely used within the party). For right-wing ‘social democrats’, Atlanticism, nuclear deterrence and European integration were political totems. For left-wing ‘socialists’, as for communists, all three were anathema.

It is remarkable that these divisions have been radically overcome in little more than a decade. Their transcendence is clearly connected with the end of the Cold War, which transformed the context in which European social democracy operated. However it is also to do with the ways in which the Cold War ended, and the roles of social democrats in this process. Right-wing social-democratic leaders like Helmut Schmidt, German chancellor, and James Callaghan, outgoing British prime minister, played key roles in the 1979 adoption by NATO of its ‘dual track’ policy of deploying new intermediate nuclear systems in Europe while simultaneously seeking agreed reductions with the Soviet Union. The subsequent development of peace movements, dedicated to preventing these deployments, played a large part in transforming the Cold War political situation in both parts of Europe, including in both left- and right-wing sections of social democracy.

The west European peace movements were unsuccessful in their manifest aims, and initially polarised politics – helping indeed to precipitate the right-wing ‘social-democratic’ breakaway from the British Labour party. However, their successful mobilisation of wide swathes of public opinion in most West European states had a powerful impact. Opposition social-democratic parties, especially in Britain and Germany, were largely converted to their aims. Left-wing social-democrats witnessed a vivid demonstration of the possibilities of pan-European co-operation: in Britain, particularly, the development of a Europeanist peace current, represented by European Nuclear Disarmament, was critical in shifting left opinion towards support for European integration. The international ascendancy of the Reagan-Thatcher New Right, Cold

War nationalist as well as aggressively free-market, also encouraged labour movements to see a more integrated Europe under social-democratic influence as an alternative.

These developments explain why, once the Cold War logjam broke, a major reconfiguration of western European social democracy was able to take place quite rapidly. We should not underestimate the extent of the changes. On the one hand, where barriers between old social-democratic and communist parties had become artificial these have been overcome, so that for the first time in almost a century European social democracy represents a single movement. On the other, the old divisions between pacifist left and Atlanticist right within social democracy have equally been transcended. The ideological field of social-democratic politics appears more fluid than for generations, and the relations between social democracy and other currents – liberal and green as well as ex-communist – appear more open than hitherto. Nowhere, perhaps, are these changes clearer than in Italy, where the main Cold War parties fell apart in the early 1990s and the post-Communist Party of the Democratic Left has formed the core of a new left-reformist coalition. But the transformative trends are at work more widely, even where changes have been less dramatic.

If basic democratic concerns and changing international configurations have been central to the historical evolution of social democracy, as I have tried to suggest in this sketchy overview, then it would be na´ve to believe that they have gone away. ‘It’s the economy, stupid’, the watchword of Clinton’s first election campaign, has been widely understood as the bottom line of left electoral politics in Western societies. Certainly, fixing economic conditions to produce a satisfied majority is a sine qua non of electoral success. But in a broader historical perspective, larger forces shape changes in political forces and ideologies. It is the argument of this chapter that the larger historical questions of world order which have overshadowed social democracy’s evolution to date are still, and will remain, central to its development. Neither the narrow economism of electoral politics nor the broader economism of socialist thought, to which I referred earlier, helps social democracy to be aware of either the constraints or the possibilities that this situation creates. But it is vital that those concerned with the future of this movement, whether as politicians, citizens or indeed academics, grasp the meaning of the global challenge.

Social democracy and the globalised Western state

What I call the global revolution has two principal dimensions, centred on transformations in the relations of state and society. On the one hand, there is a fundamental change in the state system, on the other, a worldwide political upheaval centred on democracy and human rights, that is bringing about a crisis in power relations. Both of these closely linked changes have their origins in the Cold War period, but they are coming to fruition in new ways in the new era that opened up in 1989.

The transformations in the state system, upon which I have already touched, are in their superficial expressions widely acknowledged. The demise of the Soviet Union and the supremacy of the West are obviously fundamental changes. However, their causes and implications are more far-reaching than is generally recognised. The structural basis of the nation-state has been radically altered within the West. The anarchic system of nation-state-empires within which social democracy developed until 1945 has been replaced within half a century by an increasingly integrated Western state. The interdependence of the expanded West, which many saw as a contingent result of American supremacy after 1945, and of the Cold War itself, has been confirmed in the new post-1989 conditions. Both the pressures of the global revolution and the logic of institutional development have been powerful factors in this development.

Economic rivalry between Europe, America and Japan takes place now on the basis of military and political unity, and of common structural arrangements in the Western-defined world economy. Western political elites collaborate within myriad international organizations as well as through bilateral relations. Although there is a veritable mess of overlapping national and international jurisdictions, in effect the Western state has become a single conglomerate of state power. The Western state mobilises, moreover, the resources of the world’s largest and richest economies. Its combined expenditures dwarf those of all other states. Its military forces are the strongest, the most sophisticated, with capabilities of projection which greatly exceed those of the great non-Western powers (Russia, China, India, etc.). Its political influence in legitimate world institutions (such as the United Nations Security Council) is indisputably dominant, if not entirely undisputed. Its economic model, the free market, and its political model, liberal democracy, are widely attractive to populations and to increasing extents accepted, or at least paid lip-service, by political elites everywhere.

In essentials, this power of the Western state was already mobilised during the Cold War. However, so long as the Soviet bloc, with its alternative models, existed in rivalry with the West, the extent of the latter’s dominance was less complete; even the fact of dominance was superficially masked. However the Soviet bloc-state, while appearing as the twin of the West, lacked most of the characteristics of its success. Its economic resources were always decidedly weaker. Its military rivalry of the West was achieved at the cost of economic burdens that only exacerbated both national and social contradictions. Its economic model became manifestly inefficient, even if it had some attractions for anti-imperialist national elites seeking an alternative to the world market. Its political model lacked extensive legitimacy. Despite the communist ideology of international co-operation, the Soviet bloc never succeeded in developing cohesive integration.

The collapse of the Soviet bloc, and then the Soviet Union itself, in 1989-91, allowed the real supremacy of the West to become manifest. At the same time, however, it has greatly extended the scope of Western political and ideological, as well as economic, power. The former Communist economies – and those Third World economies that had attempted development outside – were already increasingly, if unevenly, integrated into the Western-dominated world economy. Now most of the barriers to world market flows were removed, and Western capital became dominant on a fully world scale. Likewise, however, Western political and military power became manifestly supreme. Post-Soviet Russia, although (like China) still nuclear-armed and with a seat in the Security Council, is a shadow of the former superpower. The West became the clear centre of world economic, military and political power and all the problems of world order landed at its door. These problems, especially those caused by political upheaval and violence, are far more demanding than anyone foresaw in 1989.

These transformations of the relations between Western and non-Western centres of state power have also transformed relations within the West, both between different national centres and between nation-states and international organisations. Long before 1989, of course, a shift in economic relations was apparent, in which American dominance was challenged by revived European and Japanese economies. This became reflected in a more genuinely multilateral character for Western political and (to a lesser extent) military institutions. The other two corners of the Western triangle became increasingly influential. The paradox of the 1990s has been that while the relative dominance of the American economy has been restored, while Japan and Europe have faltered, internationalising processes in the Western state have strengthened. Indeed America has encouraged other sectors of the larger West to shoulder the military and political burdens of world order.

Three complementary features of the transition from Western to global state have accentuated the role of Western Europe. First, the problem of European order was central to the Cold War, and the creation of a stable order in Europe has been manifestly central to the ‘new’ world order. (Indeed some of the most acute military-political crises resulting from the collapse of the Soviet bloc have arisen in southern and east-central Europe).

Second, maturating Western unity and its extended global reach have been accompanied by extensive international institutionalisation. Since America has largely relied on projecting its vastly superior national power, it has often shown a limited, even opportunistic commitment to international organisation. For European states, in contrast, the development of the European international institutions has been a central concern; in addition, a number of states have made particularly strong contributions to the United Nations and other wider international organisations

Third, in contrast to the United States where levels of even electoral participation are exceptionally low, in Europe democratisation has been an ongoing process. Both the geographical spread of democracy and the reform of institutions in existing democracies has been more intense, a process which has been reinforced by the development of European institutions – both in the unique development of a directly elected international parliament, and in the democratic criteria for admitting new member-states.

To the extent, therefore, that global state development is about settling the European order, developing mature international institutions and consolidating democracy, there is a distinct European contribution. None of these aspects arises in any simple way from the greater importance of social democracy in European than in American – or Japanese – politics. Rather, the social-democratic influence is probably best seen as a parallel aspect of Europe’s distinctive contribution to the Western state. The importance of this is growing, however, because in the aftermath of the economic crises in Asia, Russia and Latin America in the late 1990s, the excesses of the unrestrained free market are increasingly recognised.

The unprecedented social-democratic hegemony in the European Union at the end of the 1990s partly reflects the recognition of the need for international as well as national regulation of markets, as well as of social protection, in the process of market liberalisation. The renewal of social democracy in Western Europe is matched by a modest movement in east-central parts of the continent, too, towards social-democratic politics, whether of newly-formed parties or of reformed communist parties (although it is true that the social-democratic label is also used by largely unreconstructed ruling parties).

The potential social-democratic contribution to the development of global institutions depends, however, on social-democratic politicians recognising the radical scope of the demands for change in the contemporary world. As Giddens, a sympathetic critic, remarks, ‘In spite of their electoral successes, social democrats have not yet succeeded in creating a new and integrated political outlook.’ The problems we face are not restricted to reconciling social welfare and cohesion with developments in Europe-wide markets and globalisation; or even to the ‘enlargement’ of Europe to include the much poorer ‘transitional’ economies. As is obvious in the European Union’s relations to Turkey as well as former Yugoslavia, economic and social problems are entirely bound up with national, democratic and human rights questions, and with military order. The agenda for social democracy in the twenty-first century remains, as it has been throughout the twentieth, profoundly connected with basic democratic issues on the one hand, and the nature of world order on the other.

Social democracy in the global-democratic revolution

The difference today is that these two questions are intertwined as never before. The old idea that democracy is a question of the political relations within and world order one of the relations between states is outmoded. There is nothing less than a worldwide upheaval that is simultaneously bringing into question national and international political arrangements. The demand for democracy within national borders is inter-linked with the demand for global standards and institutions. It presents profound challenges to the Western state, within which social democracy is established, and to existing world institutions. It also raises the more radical challenge to social democracy to reconstitute itself, not merely with a national or a European programme, but as a genuinely worldwide and global politics.

The literature speaks of ‘democratisation’ as a process, which is spreading worldwide in a rapid way. Before 1989, only a minority of the world’s states were formally democratic, and a minority of the world’s people lived in them: the majority were still controlled by communist, military or other authoritarian regimes. A decade later, the positions are reversed, although substantial proportion of the world’s population still lives in states that are manifestly not democracies (especially China). It is obviously true that in a large number in states where democracy is newly instituted, it remains insecure or shallow in terms of the accountability of state for society. By any standards, however, this is a very significant transformation.

Some accounts stress the role of changes in Western, especially American, policy in producing democratisation. It is clearly true that during the 1980s, American policy began shifting from the support of authoritarian, anti-Communist regimes in the Third World, towards support of democratic movements and reform. In Europe, the tentative moves towards democracy-promotion through negotiations with the Soviet bloc, in the Helsinki process, gave way to more wholehearted support of democratic reform. However the West, especially America, always lagged behind movements for change, which were deeply rooted in society. Official Western institutions maintained strong links with state elites and institutions, in the crumbling Soviet bloc as well as the Third World, and were often caught out by the pace of change from below.

In this respect, the 1989-91 transition in the Soviet bloc was not the exception to the general world pattern, but the standard experience. Neither Soviet nor Western elites anticipated the extent and speed with which Gorbachev’s reform process would cause state institutions and the whole bloc to dissolve. The driving forces for change – notably in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania - were spontaneous popular movements, led by loose new political coalitions in which members of old ‘dissident’ groups played key parts. Certainly, once the revolution had been achieved in central Europe, sections of the old elites re-formed into new parties and would-be ruling groups. In much of the Soviet Union, once the Stalinist counter-revolution was defeated, the democratic revolution was largely bypassed. It was quickly overtaken by self-interested elites using nationalist language and using limited democratic reforms to consolidate new forms of corrupt, authoritarian rule based on the market.

The democratic revolution has spread to most parts of the world in the 1990s but everywhere it has met with resistance and/or manipulation by local elites, combined with a confused mixture of policies towards the consequent conflicts by Western and global state institutions. Where democratic change has occurred within relatively homogenous existing nation-states, with only moderate economic dislocation and good links with the Western state, reform has been relatively successful. The principal central European states, Asian ‘tigers’ and possibly some of the more advanced Latin American states provide examples. Where democratic change has occurred within more diverse, quasi-imperial states, raising deep national issues, with greater economic dislocation and weaker Western links, it has had more dangerous consequences. Overt counter-revolutionary violence has been the response of state elites from China to Yugoslavia, Burma to Indonesia.

In the ‘new wars’ which have resulted from these conflicts, democratic movements – in both the zones of conflict and the West – have emphasised the universal principles of human rights which were proclaimed globally after 1945 but given little more than lip-service during the Cold War. In this sense, the democratic revolution today is ‘global-democratic’, demanding common standards of freedom and democracy on a world scale, enforced by legitimate global institutions and the dominant global power. These demands, together with the plight of the victims of violence, have forced the Western state to back increasingly widespread international interventions – in political, military, legal and socio-economic forms – in non-Western regions from Yugoslavia to East Timor and many parts of Africa.

In this global-democratic revolution, the West is deeply compromised, of course, by its association with anti-democratic forces during the Cold War. Moreover, Western governments see continuing political interests in maintaining close relationships with those in power in all but the most recalcitrant states, and parallel economic interests in arms sales and general market access. The Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein had earlier received tacit Western backing, in its 1980s war with Iran. During the Yugoslav wars, the West attempted to use the Milosevic regime as a guarantor of the Bosnian settlement – turning against it only when it became responsible for a third major conflict, in Kosovo. The West continued to arm the Indonesian military even as it destroyed East Timor in 1999, necessitating a Western-led UN intervention. And of course in the really big states, like Russia and China, the West always seeks close relations with those in power.

Many, especially smaller Western states have better records of support for global-democratic change than that of the US. Predominantly social-democratic countries, notably in Scandinavia, provided more consistent support for human rights, at times when the US was backing ultra-repressive regimes – in Chile and El Salvador, for example. In the new global era, they have pushed for the development of international institutions, often in the teeth of US resistance – over global environmental standards, and the new International Criminal Court, for example.

Nevertheless the smaller Western states, including those with social-democratic governments, have failed to develop a clear alternative to the national realpolitik of successive US administrations. On the one hand, social-democrats and left-liberals in the West have often seemed to set the agenda of ‘development’ above that of human rights, democracy and peace in the Third World. Thus left-leaning politics has its own history of compromises with less-than-democratic regimes outside the West. On the other hand, new attempts to define human-rights oriented world policies are often compromised by historic commitments of specific Western states to economic co-operation with and arms sales. Thus the Blair government’s commitment to an ‘ethical foreign policy’ has often been tarnished by the realities of Britain’s role as of the world’s major arms-producing states.

The global-democratic revolution poses a fourfold challenge to social democracy. First, global change is centred, not in its traditional homelands of the advanced West, but in the crises of the non-Western world. Second, global demands are first and foremost to consolidate the democratic agenda, to protect human rights and create local institutional accountability, as a precondition of economic and social advance. Third, global reform demands a high priority for creating viable international institutions, in which global norms are embedded, and which protect and strengthen local democracy in the democratising regions. And fourth, the spread of democracy does not mean that traditional social-democratic concerns with economic and social welfare are irrelevant: on the contrary, it raises the prospect that these issues will be raised on an unprecedented worldwide scale and with a huge expansion of militancy. Quite clearly, once the impoverished peoples of democratising regions have gained basic political freedoms, they are going to demand improved economic and social conditions. Globalising social democracy will mean something more than a modest increase in the aid budget, even to the best levels achieved by the best social-democratic Western government.

Some of this agenda has become increasingly visible to liberal as well as social-democratic politicians and analysts since the end of the Cold War. Two of the characteristics of ‘third way’ social democracy – that it takes globalisation seriously and its emphasis on individual as well as collective development – fit well with the enhanced global politics of human rights. Giddens’ attempt to elaborate a ‘renewed’ social-democratic politics includes a final chapter, ‘Into the global age’, with a brief outline of a project for global governance. In line with David Held’s programme for ‘cosmopolitan democracy’, Giddens would create global bodies on the lines of the European Union: a parliament, an executive and developed legal institutions. He champions, too, the idea of the ‘cosmopolitan nation’: the national project is reinvented in globalised terms.

However, even in his version, the new social-democratic project - like most of the liberal discourse of global governance of which it is a distinct variant - very seriously underestimates the violent consequences of the clashes between global revolution and counter-revolution. There is something of a paradox here: Giddens was one of the first major sociologists of recent times to re-emphasise the importance of war in modern society. Writing of Bosnia and Rwanda, he rightly argues that, ‘appalling as these last episodes of violence were, they indicate a change in the pattern of war, away from the earlier geopolitical wars of nation-states.’ But such genocidal wars are constantly reproduced in the current era and represent a central challenge to any kind of world order. Giddens’ account probably also underestimates the dangers of major war between states: as the 1999 clashes between nuclear-armed India and Pakistan remind us, old-fashioned inter-state conflict is hardly dead yet.

The contemporary social-democratic project has hardly got to grips, either, with the enormity of the poverty and social inequality which exists on a world scale, and the extent to which more global markets, society and governance are likely to thrust these problems on to the world agenda. Although social democracy has contributed to Western liberal thinking, so that addressing these issues is now an obligatory part of any progressive politics, the extent of the political and economic change which is necessary to make an impact on them has hardly been understood. The long-term shift in world society, which is seeing the most dynamic growth in population outside the old West, implies a much more radical shift in politics over the medium term than European social democrats are recognising.

We can see these limitations both in the discourse and in the practice of contemporary social democracy. The structure of The Third Way, in which the penultimate ‘global’ chapter is an add-on to thematic discussions cast essentially within the framework of national politics, indicates the kind of political audience that Giddens is addressing. Social democracy is still largely a political doctrine within national parameters; it has been internationalised on a European level, but it has hardly yet made to leap to serious global politics. Other evidence comes from the experience of the Blair government. Elected on an overwhelmingly domestic programme, it has been preoccupied far more than its leaders predicted with international issues. The 1999 Kosovo war, for example, represented a major diversion of energies and resources. Blair appeared, however, much better prepared ideologically than his counterparts in other social-democratic European governments, many of whom could manage no more than an uneasy mismatch between the rhetoric necessary to assuage party and popular constituencies, and their commitment to the NATO campaign.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, therefore, social democracy does indeed face a challenge of ‘global’ renewal, but this is far more profound than its most enlightened thinkers have yet imagined. It is true, in a sense, that as was previously said of neo-liberalism, ‘there is no alternative’. A global society, based on increasing awareness of commonality as well as the realities of global markets and communications, is rapidly developing. Unbridled markets pose so many dangers of instability that even former neo-liberals now recognise the inevitability of global forms of regulation. After the disastrous experience of the Russian transition, the needs for both regulation and social protection are increasingly understood. At the same time, Marxism is still discredited, and the Marxist critics of new social democracy, trapped in the ideology of Cold War anti-imperialism, have little to offer. The spirit of the times is favourable to a renewal of social democracy: and yet there are only small beginnings for the kind of radical reconstruction which would make it truly a global politics for the century now beginning.