Is social democracy ripe for a museum?

Political scientist Anton Pelinka has analyzed “his” party razor-sharp – and advises it to be less provincial.

When the political scientist Anton Pelinka writes about social democracy, he calls it a “tightrope walk between a shameful declaration of love and a barely hidden declaration of war”.

Pelinka is indeed ruthless in his analysis. He has a lot to criticize in his polemic. For example, that the SPÖ simply slept through some developments, such as the ecological movement. He also disagrees with the “male oligarchy” in the party, which regards a woman at the top as only a “provisional”, not a sign of change. And he misses international solidarity. In this context, the Burgenland Governor Hans Peter Doskozil and his own definition of “basic left politics” in refugee policy have received criticism. But that actually corresponds to the “attitude of a frightened petty bourgeoisie, which is prepared to give as little as possible of what has been achieved (also thanks to social democracy) to Syrian war refugees or Afghan asylum seekers,” says Pelinka.

Of course, he comes to the conclusion that you need social democracy “despite everything”. Because who else should “oppose the drifting of political systems into neo-feudal permanent rule of individuals in China and Russia” and also offer an answer to “nationalist populism à la Orbán”?

Structurally conservative

But for this the SPÖ would have to credibly occupy the middle again and be a “people’s party” – but not by opposing the “ÖVP, which has been transformed into a personalized glossy brochure with a similarly empty strategy”. Incidentally, Pelinka sees Bruno Kreisky and the entire SPÖ of the 1970s as the master of positioning in the middle.

The scientist regards “the structurally conservative inertia of a substantial part of the base” and the victim myth, in which the party likes to persist, as internal obstacles to modernization. It is about the memory of February 12, 1934, while the party’s approval of the war policy between 1914 and 1918 and the defection of many Social Democrats to Adolf Hitler are covered in silence.

Anton PelinkaCourier / Jeff Mangione

“Provincial idyll”

Pelinka recommends his party to break out of the “Austrian dwarfism” and to understand European integration and globalization as an opportunity instead of being caught in the “illusion of a provincial idyll”. His battle cry: “Social democracy will be European – or it will no longer be.” It could have used the Corona crisis to seek a common, social democratic answer as a “family of parties committed to internationality”. All in all, she must break away from “social chauvinism” and resolutely fight the emergence of a (migrant) “sub-proletariat”. It is about the “creation of social democratic creative power for tomorrow”, because one cannot limit oneself to “our people”. And he warns against illusions: “You go bankrupt if you distribute more in the long term than you / he earns.”

Conclusion: A profound expert on social democracy writes with a razor-sharp analysis and yet full of respect and affection about a party in crisis and how it could reconnect with its historical significance.

Anton Pelinka: “The Social Democracy. Off to the museum? “Leykam polemics, 128 pages. 12.50 euros


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