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The “third way” as an example, redefining the ideological identity of modern social democracy (in the second half of the 20th century)

Wojciech Ziętara

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A starting point for this article will be an expression used by Samuel Huntington stating that social democracy is a situation ideology. It is difficult to explicitly define a term of social democracy because it is a conglomeration of different concepts and ideas which are subject to on-going modifications being a reaction to widely understood social changes. This means that, firstly social democracy refers to other political doctrines from which it borrows chosen ideas. Secondly, social democratic movement changes and transforms these ideas. And thirdly, social democracy meets social expectations. It tries to adjust to them and simultaneously it supports some social processes which are beneficiary for it. We deal here with mutual co-operation of society and political movement. How, in the case of social democratic movement, did the tem of the third way appear as explanation of a political doctrine? The creation of the social democratic movement in the second half of the 20th century took place in a situation of existing conservative and liberal movements. Moreover radical movements against existing social order were present at the time: Marxist (communist) and anarchist movement. Appearance, for instance in the Great Britain of the Fabian movements or in Germany of supporters of Eduard Bernstein ideas meant searching own identity among already existing doctrines and political movements. Social democracy shared a critical analysis of social relations presented by radical and revolutionary movements but it fully rejected fighting methods i.e. revolution, uprising and other not legal activities. In this way social democracy became a moderate version of radicals and revolutionists and simultaneously accepting democratic methods of political struggle it went closer to pro-system movements such as liberalism and conservatism. In this way social democracy specified its place as the third solution between two extremities. Some solutions were adopted from both doctrines and some ideas were simply rejected. In relation to a fact that the Socialist International has been operating for more than 60 years, I would like to focus solely on the latest historic period and based on the example of this organisation I would like to point examples of situating the doctrine „between” as “the third way”. In this article I would like to present the three cases of meaningful placing of social democracy activities in “between”: firstly, till the decade of the 50s finding a way between communism and liberalism, secondly: till the 70s finding a way between super powers and blocs of the cold war and thirdly till the 90s – finding solutions to globalization processes and presenting a doctrine between the old Left and liberalism. Using examples of three above mentioned cases, this article argues that modern social democracy tries to refer to the concept of “the third way” because it is a situational and inclusive doctrine.

Keywords: Third way – Social democracy – the Socialist International


Bibliography: Ziętara, Wojciech: The “third way” as an example, redefining the ideological identity of modern social democracy (in the second half of the 20th century), PCS, 2-2014, pp. 154-169.