FEBRUARY 1, 2012
Transformation of radical socialism to radical democracy→ a long run process of
change that begins mid-19 century and continues well into the 20 . th
Transition to social democracy= the working class became politically included,
when social democracy emerges there is a much tamer form of working class
politics, acceptance of the economic institutions of capitalism. Social democrats
recognize the principle of profit and loss and accept the prerogatives of organized
business in the economy. Their attitude towards capitalism is an expression of
working class politics. Social democracy implies a certain way of managing the
economy→ a very distinctive type of welfare regime/welfare state. They use the
welfare state to provide a social wage for workers, which is a substitute or
complement for a wage earned in the economy. It is political streamed via the
institutions of the state.
The key to explaining the transformation lies in the extension of the suffrage
(occurred progressively over the 19 and early 20 century). Extending the right to
vote politically empowers the working class→ the criteria changes from ownership
of property to the larger category of wage earner, and the right to vote becomes
associated with citizenship eventually. It is initially gendered, and women don’t get
suffrage until much later. Extending suffrage to male wage earners empowers an
important element of the working class, and at that point socialists had to think
about ways to pursue the socialist project.
To pursue the socialist project there are two options: First, via Revolution, which
implies violence. With the extension of the suffrage a second path is opened up→ an
electoral path to socialism, to peacefully transition connected to the appropriation
and use of political institutions of power.
That moment in socialism produces a debate within socialist movements about how
to proceed. Purists (suspicious of political route, they fear using electoral
institutions will corrupt their commitments→ electoral democracy will corrupt
socialist virtues and the social project will be coopted and derailed) vs. Pragmatists
(who are willing to take the risks of an electoral transition if it keeps the transition
peaceful→ willing to make compromises).
Why would pragmatists think electoral democracy is something the working class
could use to their advantage? Electoral rules imply a constituency large enough to
form a government. The working class on its own (the natural constituency of
socialism) would need to be large enough to form the government. Did they have
the numbers to win the election?
They must have thought that at some point the working class would be large enough
to elect a socialist party into power. Socialists that chose the democratic route
thought the working class would grow over time because they thought capitalism
would develop and produce a working class electorate that would grow in both
absolute and relative size→ a model of the capitalist economy where they expect it
to go through crises and each one would grow the proletariat.
The proletariat never grew in relative size. At some point, electoral socialists faced
an electoral dilemma. This is when radical socialism begins to mutate into social
The socialist party with the natural constituency in the working class faced a choice.
Either it looks for support outside of its core constituency with the expectation that
this could produce enough support to form a government; or they reconcile the party to a life of permanent political opposition if the working class will never be
The pragmatists were willing to mobilize support from outside the core
constituency, even if it meant some loss of support in the working class. For every
vote you gain in the non-core constituency, do you lose support