Political Ideology

Topic Six                                            

Lectures 11&12.

October, 23-25.


The study of political ideology is important because it:

1. Shows the relationship between ideology, parties and voting preferences;

2. Indicates the salience of ideology in politics in the past and the present;

3. Shows the ideological spectrum from the old and Anew left@ to the old and Anew right.@


Ideology refers to the set of ideas and programme of action that a party or political movement usually associates itself with. It aims at mass mobilisation and a better future.The term originated soon after the French revolution and modern political ideologies came out of the European process of industrialization and democratisation since. The initial idea of ideology was part of the Enlightenment movement of the period, a movement that promoted the idea that people could use science to improve social and political conditions. Ideology was supposed to have represented a new science - a science of ideas.

Karl Marx and Frederich Engels did not see ideology as a science but as part of the consciousness of reality perpetuated by a ruling class to rationalize and justify its system of rule.

Thus, a capitalist class would promote a capitalist ideology.

Ideology emerged from the Enlightenment or the Age of Reason and developed from the industrial revolution. It is a particularly European phenomenon and has less appeal in the United States and Japan, or the developing countries least culturally affected by Europe such as East Asia.

The Political Revolution in Ideas.

Ideology usually comes about to promote the interests of a particular political agent such as a state, a party, a class or movement. For instance as sovereign nation-states emerged they developed ideologies of nationalism to engender loyalty to the state. Parties and classes too, developed ideologies to mobilize support around their interests as they took shape.

Modern ideologies have emerged against the background of three main western phenomena:

(1) Industrialization and the growth of capitalism and industrial classes - capitalist versus working class versus middle class; and cross-class issues - who pays, who benefits, what costs.

(2) Democracy and the debate over rights -individual versus the collective; liberal versus social and economic;

(3) Enlightenment and the contest of ideas based on science and reason versus those of religion an faith and material versus moral.

Ideologies then have been tied into class positions, the nature of rights and responsibility and the basis of authority.

Ideologies - Old and New.

European ideologies have evolved from the traditional to a new paradigm of ideologies in recent decades. Traditionally, the dominant ideologies were nationalism, liberalism, social democracy/ socialism, and communism. In simpler terms, ideologies were divided according to those associated with capitalism and those associated with socialism. Since the end of the cold war, such divisions or categorizations have not been in much use. What has become more popular is a new categorization between >new right= and >new left= ideologies and social movements.This has come about to facilitate two new developments:

1. The relative decline in membership of political parties and the growing importance of social movements, including non-governmental movements (NGO=s) spanning political parties, has broadened or gone beyond the ideologies that were limited to what parties stood for. For example, the rise of the environmental movement has brought its own ecological ideology of sustainable development and preceded the existence of any party specifically devoted to environmental matters. Now however, there are >green parties= but the environmental movement has been incorporated by traditional parties so environmentalism as a movement and ideology spans different parties.

2. Traditional ideologies were limited to class questions - working class versus capitalist class. Modern ideologies encompass new issues and new agents such as women and gender issues, planetary and environmental issues, democracy and human (and even animal), children=s rights, markets and consumer rights, globalization and trading and investor=s rights, regionalism and national rights, abortion and the right to choose, the cultural rights of minorities and immigrants, the rights of indigenous peoples, and so on. These have taken on a life of their own and traditional party ideologies have been forced to adapt to them. But at the same time, people have associated themselves with these movements separate from or alternatively to any association with political parties. Most if not all of these issue-based ideologies have their own divisions into a >leftist= and >rightist= tradition but because they are different from or add a new dimension to the old left and old right, they are separated as new left or new right issues.


Nationalism is the ideology of the nation-state. Some scholars regard it as the most potent of ideologies because it links identity with the nation and patriotism to the state with complete sacrifice to the cause of the state. Such an ideology was necessary if people were to be motivated to fight wars and sacrifice home, family and life for the cause of the state as the state demanded.

Nationalism requires defense of the nation - its historical reputation, present interests and future goals. In other words, it calls for sacrifice to the common good over individual preferences, and to the cause of generations past, present and future; or as Edmund Burke put it, those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are yet to be born. Burke considered nationalism to be irrational for this reason and based purely on emotion rather than on reason.

As an ideology nationalism continues to have a strong impact on the emotions of people in societies. It precedes other ideologies in the political learning stages of the individual=s lifetime.

One learns nationalism at an earlier age than he learns other ideologies. Later on in life, nationalism is not supplanted by other ideologies but coexists with them. Often for example, socialists and conservatives might debate which cause is more patriotic and better for the national interest. The ideologies of other political agents - party, class, race - all claim to be nationalistic.

Nationalism competes for the individual=s identity and loyalty with three other concepts or levels of consciousness: self (individual and its extensions such as family), community (race, class, province, state and nation)  and humanity (internationalism). Nationalism has sought to subject all to the state=s interest either in the form of leftist extremism (communism) or rightist extremism (fascism). Indeed, some have seen both communism (e.g. Soviet Union) and fascism (e.g.. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy) primarily as nationalist ideologies or ideologies of the nation-state and only secondarily as ideologies of other agents.

Nationalism can be managed another way. In the more liberal way, the individual orders his priority in how he identifies his loyalties to the himself  (individual), community and humanity according to the issue, circumstances and principles to be considered. The Frenchman for instance, has the choice whether to retain citizenship of France or not, whether to support France in a war or whether to support an international humanitarian cause that France opposes. In the former, nationalism as an ideology is subject more to faith in the state and its cause. In the latter, it is more subject to reason and the individual.

The >new nationalism.=

Since the 1970's a new nationalism has arisen as part of the >new right= or >radical right= ideology of right-wing extremists in industrial countries, sometimes called neo-fascists. The term fascism comes from the Latin fasces which meant a bundle of sticks held together and which was a symbol of strength of ancient Rome. In the fascist ideology it symbolized the strength of the nation and promoted strong national identification with the nation. The new nationalism resembles the >old right= nationalism (like Hitler=s Germany and Mussolini=s Italy) in certain ways:

1.  It is a form of extreme nationalism. It asks for total identification with the idea of a pure and true nation. This means rejection of everything and everyone that is alien to the nation. Hitler, for example, exterminated the Jews. Neo-fascists do not want mass extermination but deportation of aliens or immigrants, or anti-immigration policies that keep foreigners out of the country. They want to preserve the race, its genetic purity and its culture and so reject mixed marriages, interracial partnerships, or multiculturalism. It rejects homosexuality and gays as a human defect not fitting to the race and its reproduction. It rejects welfare programmes as support for the weak and lazy and the weak and lazy cannot form a part of a strong race and a strong nation.

2. It is a form of national exclusivism. Hitler and Mussolini were enemies of socialism and communism because the latter were internationalist - they were based on the solidarity of working classes and the poor across nations. The communist ideology, for example, called on the workers of the world to unite against capitalist exploitation. Fascists thought socialism and communism were unpatriotic ideologies. (Mussolini was expelled from the socialist party because of this position and Hitler=s party was the National Socialist (Nazi) party only because he wanted to emphasize the >national= and use the term >socialist= to get the support of working class Germans). Neo-fascists reject global cooperation between nations. They blame globalism for a number of ills in the economies of their countries and for global competition which might cause loss of jobs on the part of nationals. In Europe, they are against the European Union because such a union and globalism more widely would mean opening up their economies and societies and having to deal with foreigners, including immigrants and non-western cultures.

3. The national ideal is greater than state and market. Hitler and Mussolini did use the state for military power, mass propaganda, repression and law and order. They did not particularly like market competition which, for them, was too disorderly, nor did they believe the capitalist motive of making profit to be the highest ideal. Rather that ideal was a strong nation and a pure race. The neo-fascists object to a strong welfare state but want an authoritarian state that enforces the priorities of the nation. They reject the role of state bureaucrats who they blame for welfare programmes, high taxes to support welfare, and laws that permit foreigners and multiculturalism. They favour individualism in the market. But at the same time, they want strong leaders who can impose their authority on conformity with national values and will accept a subjection of individualism to national values.

4. They reject mainstream parties and established politics. Mussolini and Hitler based their regimes on populist politics. They attracted mass support by blaming the traditional political establishment on the past failures of their countries, such as German defeat in the First World War. Neo-fascists similarly blame the established parties and the political class for the ills of their societies. They blame them for bureaucracy and the welfare state, immigration, regional unification, and social decay which they blame immigrants for - drugs, unemployment, crime. They appeal to the mass, the poorer people and the unemployed for support against the established parties. They form their own parties, parties that do not call themselves fascist and which pretend to be democratic. These parties use labels such as The National Front (France), The Republicans (Germany), New Democracy (Sweden), The Progress Party (Norway). They blame these parties for not being tough enough - on immigration and its associated crime, unemployment, social decay, homosexuals, alien religions, welfare benefits to the weak. In other words, the established politicians have been too soft and have compromised the real interests of having a strong, pure nation.



Liberalism was not just a philosophy of individualism, it was about where authority - the right to decide, to choose - should ultimately lie. It arose in England in resistance to the authority of the Catholic Church especially among the Puritans in the second half of the 1600's. Because the Church controlled or strongly influenced the state/government, the rejection of Catholic authority meant resisting government authority. Puritans believed that individuals should interpret (decide, choose) their Christian principles (the Protestant and Calvinist basis of the Reformation) rather than the Catholic hierarchy choosing for them, because people by their own reason could choose their faith - a tenet of the Enlightenment. In short, Puritans rejected any government that was not controlled by the people it governed. Liberalism evolved around the right to life, liberty and property.

Political liberalism.

The liberal movement to subject the Monarchy and its religious influence to a secular parliament after the Glorious Revolution (so called because it was practically bloodless) in England in 1688 (When parliament won a Bill of Rights) is marked as the beginning of political liberalism.

The idea of liberalism came to be associated with the historical events for which it is credited: the limitation of the power of the Monarchy/government; a set of parliamentary rights - elected memberships, the right to legislate, and to meet frequently. 

Economic liberalism.

Ideas of liberalism also arose in the early phase of capitalism. John Locke (1632-1704), liberalism=s chief spokesperson established the liberal=s view on private property. The right to private property was a chief element of the rising capitalist ideology. But Locke=s theory of property was that although he individual had a right to own private property he did not have a right to own a limitless amount of private property but only what he needed.

Social liberalism.


This gave liberalism a social philosophy as well. It recognized the right to privacy as the notion of private life emerged in distinction from public life and public property. In addition, property was not so much an end in itself as a means to probably a higher end. In Locke=s view the ownership of property would provide one with the means to better achieve economic security, after which he could devote himself to develop their character, their human qualities, a civilisation and a civilized society. Being British, this idea of liberalism gave the British the civilisation mission, based on liberalism.

This liberal philosophy came to take the form of a liberal ideology - one based more on the higher economic value of property for individual profit than on the individual per se and so, the association between liberalism and capitalism. This form of liberalism took strong root in American capitalism, known more for its stress on profits than on the civilising qualities of liberalism.


Since the 1980's, liberalism saw a resurgence in a newer form referred to as neo-liberalism. Whereas the original liberalism arose in opposition to feudalism and conservative thinking, neo-liberalism arose in opposition to social democracy and socialism which had overtaken the original liberalism in popularity since the second half of the 1800's. The end of the cold war and the era of democracy, markets, globalism and human rights have given an added impetus to neo-liberalism.

Neo-liberalism is associated with the Reagan and Thatcher administrations in the United States and Britain respectively in the 1980's. It was used as an ideological tool in the cold war against socialism and communism. Its aim was to roll back the gains of socialism since the working class and its political agenda began influencing government and politics from the 1870's. It attacks government economic management and so favours privatization of industries that had come under government ownership, and  supports de-regulation to weaken government=s regulatory role in economy and society; it attacks government intervention to build welfare states and favours cutbacks in government spending on health, education and government benefits for the poor and disadvantaged; it is against the political influence of trade unions and employer-labour relations in the areas of employment benefits and wages and it rejected the pre-existing accommodation that liberalism had made with social democracy on issues such as the welfare state thus creating a sharp and distinct break with the consensus between the two that had existed for much of the 20th century.

On the one hand, neo-liberalism has been seen to be an ideology lacking in compassion. But it won enough support for certain reasons. The welfare state had become bureaucratic and costly leading to high taxation which the new and stronger middle classes of the industrial countries revolted against. Labour politics led to higher wages that caused inflation and along with strikes, hurt production and competitiveness. The rise of the new market made people come to feel that those who were living off welfare were parasites who should become self-reliant in the market on the basis of their individual initiative.

Neo-liberalism or its more extreme form had alienated many voters so that by the 1990's, Britain, the US and many European countries had adopted a more moderate form, accepting many aspects of neo-liberalism but adopting social policies as well. So, in Britain the New Labour government of Tony Blair and Clinton=s government in the United States have taken a position in the centre. In fact, liberalism has merged with the social democratic tradition to form a middle-of-the road ideology referred to as the social market.

Socialism and communism.

Liberalism co-existed and competed with the older ideology of conservatism and the newer ideology of social democracy and its more radical forms - socialism and communism. Socialist ideas and their more extreme form in communist ideas grew with the industrial revolution and was more concerned about capitalist class exploitation of the labour of workers. They stressed the interest of the majority class of workers rather than that of the individual. They stressed the importance of labour in production and the creation of wealth over the importance of capital. They stressed the importance of human development in the social and economic spheres, that is, social and economic rights over the improvement of individual liberties. They stressed the importance of the state as the agent for reforming capitalist society and through which workers would manage society through socialist or labour democracy.

They differed however in one major way. Socialists thought that the capitalist economy and polity could be reformed so that there would be a balance between the economic interests and political management of both capitalists and labour both at the levels of representing companies in and in the political representation of policies. This has been referred to as corporatism.

Communists thought there needed to be a violent overthrow of the capitalist order and its complete replacement by a worker=s state, state ownership, state planning and a political system based on a >dictatorship by the proletariat.=

Social Democracy

Socialism and liberalism seem to have merged into a new ideology sometimes referred to as the >social market=. The traditional political parties in the industrial countries have moved towards the centre. The liberal parties emphasize the market and individualistic aspects of capitalism and the social democratic parties emphasize the social policy aspects and partnerships between state, labour, private sector and social sector (NGO=s).

Social democracy places greater emphasis on social policy, the role of the state in shaping macroeconomic policies and industrial peace between management and trade union interests. Social democracy, which remains strong in countries like Germany and Sweden, maintains fairly comprehensive social security programmes, usually in the form of insurance for workers against old age, illness, unemployment, the bankruptcy of companies. It also provides allowances for retraining, allowances for children, rents. In Germany, for example, the social budget can make up as much as one-third of the total budget.

Social democracy in Germany has been supported by the idea of >codetermination.= Going back to 1920, a law was passed to provide for the election of workers in all companies to the management boards which has helped to create a cooperative relationship between management and labour. It has made management more sensitive to the needs and perspectives of labour and labour more sensitive to the problems of management.     

In France, social democracy too had produced a post-war system of government provision of benefits to compensate for unemployment, disability, retirement, health and hospitalization. Allowances for housing, transportation and children were provided.

In Japan there is universal access to medical services, national health insurance, national pensions plan. But the private sector shares in providing  social benefits. About one-third of Japanese is assured of lifetime employment with their companies. This reduces fears of unemployment and state support for the unemployed. Private companies also pay for retraining for those who have lost their jobs. The close-knit Japanese family structure is also important in providing for the aged, again limiting demands on the state to do so and the strong ethic of education keeps the population productive and delinquency low, which keeps government costs down.


Communist parties have existed in the opposition in western Europe since the Second World War, and in eastern Europe since the end of the cold war. Communist parties have been strongest in Italy and France, but have also received fair support in places like Portugal, Spain, Greece and Finland. Communist parties in industrial countries are now committed to electoral democracy as against revolution, multi-party competition as against single party rule, and a role for the market rather than state control of the economy. Their main platform is to bring more social justice to the industrial societies by applying higher taxes on the rich and providing more generous social programmes for the poor.

Marxism today has had to adjust itself to new realities:

- the higher standards of living of workers compared to the nineteenth century;

- greater participation in the market, either directly or through the stock market;

- the rise of middle class societies and a managerial class that has dulled the edges of conflict between capitalists and workers;

- more flexible social structures with opportunities for mobility;

- the consolidation of liberal democracy and the culture of human rights over proletarian democracy and class rights;

- the importance of forms of identification other than economic class, such as religion, race, gender, region; and issues that cut across classes like abortion.

- the consumer society and access of many working class families to homes, cars, vacations, household appliances etc., which gives them a stake in the system.

It is by adjusting to these realities that present day Marxists are better called neo-Marxists because they have to apply Marxism to a situation which did not exist in Marx=s time.


Conservatism takes its basic philosophical position from the pre-Enlightenment world, a world dominated then by religious philosophy, faith and morality. Traditional conservatism associated itself with the political and moral order of the state, the crown and the church. It is conservative in the literal sense of seeking to preserve the established order. It believes in stability rather than change. Change, when necessary should be gradual and only limited to modifying the existing order.

Conservatives take this position because they do not believe (unlike the Enlightenment philosophers) that human reason is competent. The social and political systems of society are products of the accumulated wisdom of the centuries. The fact that they have survived for many years means that these institutions have value and it is their habits of tradition that give institutions their legitimacy and strength.

The fundamental role of government, in this way of thinking, was to keep order. Traditional conservatives distrusted democracy and the influence of the people. Democracy was a system, according to conservatives, whereby representatives are chosen to represent the electors not for the electors to represent themselves. They believed that the upper classes were most competent to maintain societies institutions. People with property were the best ones to govern since they would be least likely to desire the property of others and they had the most stake in the preservation of order. Conservatives do not believe in the basic equality of people and believe that some people are better fitted to rule. 

As the suffrage expanded conservatives formed their own political parties to compete with liberals and socialists for seats in parliaments. In reaction to the more modern liberal and socialist ideologies and their emphasis on the natural rights and the material interests of individuals and classes, conservatives drew their philosophical positions from morality, such as religious morality. In Europe, Catholic activists from about 1870, formed parties to seek independence from the Church and to establish their own parties to address social issues in politics which had a religious bearing. On the one hand, they sought to establish religious and family values against attacks by liberals. For instance, an issue was whether the state should or should not subsidise religious education. On the other, these parties sought to unite Catholics of all classes against the class politics of socialists and anti-religious politics of communists. Today, their agenda is largely secular rather than religious that represent Catholic social issues. However, while most Christian democratic parties are Catholic, not all are. Some are Calvinist and were formed in reaction to the Catholic parties. The most important Christian democratic party is the Christian Democratic Union in Germany which has regularly alternated in government and draws support from Catholics and Protestants. But important ones also exist in Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Italy (and Quebec).

The Christian Right.

In the United States in the 1980's a new social movement emerged raising socio-moral issues to popularity. That movement has been called the Christian right and its well known organisations are the Moral Majority led by Jerry Falwell and the Christian Coalition led by Pat Robertson. While it is independent of the Republican Party, it has supported the most conservative positions of that party. In the presidential elections of 2000, it is represented by one of the third party candidates, Pat Buchanan. Robertson had sought the presidential nomination for the Republican party in the 1988 elections and Buchanan unsuccessfully campaigned for the Republican nomination in 1992 and 1996. Unlike the strongest Christian parties in Europe, however, The American Christian right is Protestant.

Its main argument is that America is in decline because it has turned its back on the religious values that made it great. It seeks to politicize Protestants and get them politically active. It attacks the Democratic party of the US as being anti-religion, anti-family, anti-America and anti-God. This is because social liberals of the American left (and the left everywhere) support abortion and the right of women to choose whether to have abortions or not; support equal rights for women whereas fundamentalist religion does not support an equal role for women in church and secular affairs; support the separation of church and state on such matters as not making it mandatory for religious prayers to be said in school since it offends the rights of those of a non-Christian faith; support liberal rights for homosexuals whereas conservatives see homosexuality as anti-Christian and a form of moral decay.

But the Christian right does not have only a religious agenda. It has a conservative, nationalistic agenda which it shares with other conservatives. It supports strong defense, an assertive foreign policy, the unrestricted right to gun ownership, lower taxation, a curb on unions, the removal of restrictive business legislation, a reduction of welfare spending, restrictions on immigration, family values and a general reduction in the power of central government. (Bruce: PS, 48,2, 2000, 266).

The Christian right draws its support in the US mainly from Baptists fundamentalists and do not have much support from Catholics and ethnic minorities like Blacks, Hispanics and Jews. While they have influenced the American political agenda through the Republican party, even in that party they have created splits between the more conservative and the more moderate wings.

Its nationalist vision of America is one where the core values are associated with white, Protestant, middle class prosperity, and as a result it is regarded as too closely associated with racist movements and a racist agenda.


One scholar said, AThe rise of green parties is one of the most important political developments within western European societies in the last two decades. They have gained parliamentary representation on the national level in eight European countries; they have strong local and regional positions; and they still seem to be on the rise in many other nations.@

In fact, by 1998, the greens were junior coalition partners in governments in Finland, France, Germany, Italy and Sweden. In this sense, they have had more significance than the new right.

Green parties were initially referred to as such because of their strong identification with environmental or ecological issues when they first came to prominence in the 1980's. However, they are better thought of as >left-libertarian parties= because their agenda goes beyond environmental issues to include women=s rights, peace issues, and civil liberties. They are therefore part of the new left as distinct from the old left as represented by the old socialist and communist parties.

Greens share with the Left a critique of capitalism and generally advocate a radical reform of society. However, they differ in certain ways.

1. Rather than viewing capitalism as a system of exploitation based on class relations of production, they emphasize exploitation based on gender relations of production as well and hence take up the cause of women=s social, political, economic and civil rights.

2. Rather than viewing capitalism as based on the exploitation of people by people, they include the exploitation by people of nature, that is, the destruction of the environment for profit-making commercial enterprises. Thus they favour environmental protection.

3. Rather than seeing capitalism as a system of economic exploitation between capital and labour, they add that it involves political exploitation of the state by the citizen. It involves the exploitation of the civil and political rights and liberties of the people by the state. In this sense, the favour a libertarian programme of protection for civil liberties.

4. Rather than seeing exploitation only between classes within nations they see exploitation by nations of nations, particularly by the superpowers and their allies. They practice warfare which damage the environment, direct resources towards the arms race and away from development and abuse individuals and their rights in the name of ideological competition between communism and capitalism. For this reason, they favour peace, peace movements and international justice.

The new left and the traditional left.

The new left differs from the traditional left and its emphasis on class relations ( as against gender relations), a strong state ( as against civil liberties), economic exploitation ( as against the exploitation of nature) and international peace (as against ideological competition or superpower domination).

The new left and the new right.

The new left also differs from the new right. Whereas the new right champions nationalism, the new left champions internationalism. The state of the global environment is given priority over production that pollutes the environment; international peace is favoured over international competition; and civil rights are preferred over economic privileges.

While the new right concentrates on materialist values such as jobs and welfare, the new left focusses on post-materialist values such as peace, rights, justice, the environment.

Furthermore, while the new right draws its support from the less educated and those of lower incomes or the unemployed who have lost out in the process of globalism and modernization, the new left, especially the green parties, tend to draw their support from young and highly educated members of the new middle class.

But the new right and the new left have certain positions in common. They both distrust the traditional institutions of the state, unions and business corporations because of their power and elitist domination of the state. And they both place a strong emphasis on individualism although the new right favours an illiberal individualism ( which excludes foreigners from enjoying equal rights) while the new left favours a libertarian individualism. However, their differences far outweigh what they have in common. 

Adaptation of the old left parties to new left politics.

It has been the old parties of the left that have adapted best to new circumstances and now constitute a part of the new left.The success of their adaptation can be seen in their electability. New left social democratic parties now dominate in Europe. They govern alone or are the dominant partners in governing coalitions in about 13 of Europe=s 15 members of the EU. The exceptions are Ireland whose main parties are hard to define in traditional left/right terms, and Spain which had a socialist government for 13 years anyway but which just barely lost elections to conservatives.

Importantly, social democratic parties now govern in the three European powers - France, Germany and Britain- for the first time since 1929. Their contemporary impact in Europe is even greater considering the fact that these parties coordinate their programmes through the Party of European Socialists, an umbrella group of socialists and social democratic parties. They coordinate their policies through the European parliament. These programmes and policies include those on education, social welfare, employment, finance.

In their national governments, these parties govern alone (Britain, Portugal, Greece); or in coalition with green parties (Finland, France, Sweden, Germany); or in coalition with reformed communist parties (Italy, France), or with liberal, centre parties (Austria, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands).

Outside of Europe, social democratic parties are doing less well. In the Asia-Pacific region, New Zealand and Australia have recently elected conservative governments. Japan=s Liberal Democratic Party is a party of big business. But in North America where social democratic parties were never strong, the centre parties are in power in the form of the Democrats in the US and the Liberal party in Canada. These parties are to the left relative to their conservative opponents.

These established parties represent the new rather than the old left because of the ways that their programmes differ from traditional socialist programmes. Their attempts to carve out a mission of the new left and an image of the new left party have led to name changes such as New Labour in Britain and missions described as The Third Way in Britain (between capitalism and socialism), democratic socialism in France (between communism and neo-liberalism) or the New Centre in Germany.

How have these parties adapted.

1. They distrust capitalism but favour the market. Capitalism works to the benefit of capitalists but the market works to the benefit of economic efficiency and of all stake holders -suppliers, producers, workers, consumers- and of share holders. They advocate a social market economy.

2. They believe in the welfare state but support welfare reforms. The welfare state needs to be more efficient if it is to properly provide cost-effective and efficient services to the poor, unemployed and pensioners. More effort needs to be made to take people off welfare and make them self-reliant.

3. They favour an active state but a more limited state and bureaucracy. The state must be active in social policy and economic regulation. However, the nationalisation of industries must be replaced by privatization. Welfare spending must be cut while maintaining more economical welfare services.

4. They reject the broad options of capitalism or socialism based on class rule. They favour some combination of market individualism and competition with social responsibility. Rather than class struggle between capitalists and workers, they promote class collaboration.

5. They favour more production over redistribution of wealth. They encourage national and internal competition in the context of globalism and place relatively more importance on containing inflation to be cost competitive as against large government spending which is inflationary.

1. Philosophy. These parties are more moderate in their social philosophy than their more radical socialist predecessors. They comprise a mixture of socialists, democratic socialists, and social liberals. They are more left of centre than left proper. They do not subscribe to the old dogma of class struggle, that the state is an instrument of capitalist rule and should be put under the control of the workers, but believe in class collaboration and that the state can be a partner of both labour and capital. They accept liberal democracy and elections over revolution. But they retain the old socialist mission of wanting to reduce class and income inequalities. Most of these parties, for example, do not favour income tax cuts on the rich as conservatives do.

2. The state. They continue to see an important role for the state in social policy and economic regulation but they see less of a role for the state in state ownership or nationalisation of industries. In fact, most have adopted policies of privatization. They wish to maintain the welfare state, but seek welfare reforms in order to obtain more state efficiency in cost and the provision of services. They are attempting to reform the welfare state, not by cutting back on its programmes but by cutting spending on its programmes to make the state leaner.

3. The economy. They advocate neither a capitalist economy nor a socialist one but a social market economy. They are friendly to the market and decouple the idea of the market from capitalism. While they remain suspicious or even critical of capitalism, they believe the regulated market is the best mechanism for achieving economic efficiency, investments, and growth and to facilitate popular ownership and control by giving as many people as possible a stake or a share in the economy. The market will produce wealth and employment. It will not be a capitalist market where only capitalists benefit. For example, in the US, sustained economic growth has allowed the government to convert budget deficits into a surplus. But whereas the Republicans want to use the surplus to create tax cuts (for the rich) to spur investments, the Democrats want to use it to improve social security and pensions for future generations.


In a context of globalism, modern social democrats are less preoccupied with the redistribution of wealth and more with making economies more technologically modern and competitive.

For this reason, they are less inclined to undertake big spending policies to create jobs but which usually cause inflation, to contain spending in order to contain inflation to make economies competitive.

For this reason, social democrats do not want to be captives of trade unions as they were in the past. They want the independence to reward good workers with pay increases rather than to grant pay increases to workers on a whole, good and bad. They emphasize higher productivity to create a new industrial and information-based economy that is globally competitive.

In philosophy and policy, social democratic parties remain closer to workers, minorities and the underprivileged than parties of the right. In the 1998 mid-term US elections the Democrats did much better than expected considering the Clinton scandals because of heavy support from Blacks, Latinos and women. In Britain also, although New Labour is considered one of the most moderate of the social democratic parties, compared to its conservative predecessor, it has increased government spending on child benefits, culture, foreign aid and on the national health service. It has introduced a minimum wage law. It has made it a right for workers to be represented by a trade union. It has improved the salaries of teachers.

Why have these parties been forced to adapt. What circumstances have caused this. One argument combines the post-industrialist and post-materialist phenomena. As industrial societies move from an emphasis on heavy industry to services, the working class has declined and the middle class has grown. The old class structure has changed and so have values. The traditional working class base of socialist parties has been eroded so that they have had to rely more on the new middle class for support and with that, to stress post-materialist values as well.        


The old ideologies of early industrialization have given way to new middle class, consumerist, multicultural, technological and complex societies. The old ideologies have sought to adapt, some more successfully than others, and by so doing, to adopt some of the popular positions of both the new right and the new left. Probably, the result has been that politics in the industrial societies has moved towards the centre, reflecting the strength of the middle class, and away from the extreme positions of capitalist and workers= ideologies.


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