I. Wallerstein: The Social-Democratic Illusion

By Immanuel Wallerstein, ZNet, September 20, 2011

Social-democracy had its apogee in the period 1945 to the late 1960s. At that time, it represented an ideology and a movement that stood for the use of state resources to ensure some redistribution to the majority of the population in various concrete ways: expansion of educational and health facilities; guarantees of lifelong income levels by programs to support the needs of the non-“wage-employed” groups, particularly children and seniors; and programs to minimize unemployment. Social-democracy promised an ever-better future for future generations, a sort of permanent rising level of national and family incomes. This was called the welfare state. It was an ideology that reflected the view that capitalism could be “reformed” and acquire a more human face.

The Social-Democrats were most powerful in western Europe, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Canada, and the United States (where they were called New Deal Democrats) – in short, in the wealthy countries of the world-system, those that constituted what might be called the pan-European world. They were so successful that their right-of-center opponents also endorsed the concept of the welfare state, trying merely to reduce its costs and extent. In the rest of the world, the states tried to jump onto this bandwagon by projects of national “development.”

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