European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries [1st ed.] 9783030415396, 9783030415402

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European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries [1st ed.]
 9783030415396, 9783030415402

Table of contents :
Front Matter ....Pages i-xxix
European Socialists and the State: A Comparative and Transnational Approach (Mathieu Fulla, Marc Lazar)....Pages 1-26
Front Matter ....Pages 27-27
Using the State to Democratise it. Introduction to Part I (Mathieu Fulla)....Pages 29-33
Between Challenging the Authoritarian State and Democratising It: German Social Democracy, 1914–1945 (Stefan Berger)....Pages 35-55
French Socialists and the State, 1905–2017 (Alain Bergounioux)....Pages 57-75
The Planist Temptation: Belgian Social Democracy and the State During the Great Depression, c. 1929–c. 1936 (Tommaso Milani)....Pages 77-96
Paradoxes of Hegemony: Scandinavian Social Democracy and the State (Yohann Aucante)....Pages 97-118
Front Matter ....Pages 119-119
Socialists and Civil Servants. Introduction to Part II (Mathieu Fulla)....Pages 121-127
The British Labour Party and the Civil Service in the Twentieth Century (Kevin Theakston)....Pages 129-148
Social Democracy, Labour Unions and Civil Service in West Germany since the Second World War (Bernd Faulenbach)....Pages 149-169
The French Socialist Party, Civil Servants and the State. A Comparative Approach to Social Reforms Between the Popular Front Period (1936–1938) and the Early Years of the Mitterrand Presidency (1981–1983) (Laure Machu, Matthieu Tracol)....Pages 171-188
Socialism, the State and Civil Service in Spain: Two Experiences in Perspective (Second Republic and Democratic Transition) (Juan Francisco Fuentes)....Pages 189-205
The Swedish Social Democracy: Civil Servants, Social Engineers and Welfare Bureaucrats (Kjell Östberg)....Pages 207-222
The Divorce between Public-Sector Employees and West European Socialist Parties (Luc Rouban)....Pages 223-244
Front Matter ....Pages 245-245
Socialists and Changes in Capitalism and States: Introduction to Part III (Marc Lazar)....Pages 247-254
French Socialists, Capitalism and the State: A Unique Approach within West European Social Democracy? (Mathieu Fulla)....Pages 255-282
From Marxism to “Agenda 2010”: German Social Democratic Notions of the State from Its Founding until Today (Sebastian Voigt)....Pages 283-302
“K. u. k. Social Democracy” Reloaded: Austria’s SPÖ and the State After 1945 (Maria Mesner)....Pages 303-321
The Swedish Social Democrats, Reform Socialism and the state after the Golden Era (Jenny Andersson, Kjell Östberg)....Pages 323-343
What’s Left of Blairism? The Labour Party’s Changing Conception of the State since the 1980s (Emmanuelle Avril)....Pages 345-362
The Italian Socialist Party from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s: Socialists and a Weak State (Marc Lazar)....Pages 363-378
Superficial Social Democracy: PASOK, the State and the Shipwreck of the Greek Economy (Gerassimos Moschonas)....Pages 379-400

Citation preview

European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

Edited by Mathieu Fulla · Marc Lazar

Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements

Series Editors Stefan Berger Institute for Social Movements Ruhr University Bochum Bochum, Germany Holger Nehring Contemporary European History University of Stirling Stirling, UK

Around the world, social movements have become legitimate, yet contested, actors in  local, national and global politics and civil society, yet we still know relatively little about their longer histories and the trajectories of their development. This series seeks to promote innovative historical research on the history of social movements in the modern period since around 1750. We bring together conceptually-informed studies that analyse labour movements, new social movements and other forms of protest from early modernity to the present. We conceive of ‘social movements’ in the broadest possible sense, encompassing social formations that lie between formal organisations and mere protest events. We also offer a home for studies that systematically explore the political, social, economic and cultural conditions in which social movements can emerge. We are especially interested in transnational and global perspectives on the history of social movements, and in studies that engage critically and creatively with political, social and sociological theories in order to make historically grounded arguments about social movements. This new series seeks to offer innovative historical work on social movements, while also helping to historicise the concept of ‘social movement’. It hopes to revitalise the conversation between historians and historical sociologists in analysing what Charles Tilly has called the ‘dynamics of contention’. More information about this series at

Mathieu Fulla  •  Marc Lazar Editors

European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

Editors Mathieu Fulla Centre of History Sciences Po Centre of History Paris, France

Marc Lazar Centre of History Sciences Po Centre of History Paris, France

Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements ISBN 978-3-030-41539-6    ISBN 978-3-030-41540-2 (eBook) © The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2020 This work is subject to copyright. All rights are solely and exclusively licensed by the Publisher, whether the whole or part of the material is concerned, specifically the rights of translation, reprinting, reuse of illustrations, recitation, broadcasting, reproduction on microfilms or in any other physical way, and transmission or information storage and retrieval, electronic adaptation, computer software, or by similar or dissimilar methodology now known or hereafter developed. The use of general descriptive names, registered names, trademarks, service marks, etc. in this publication does not imply, even in the absence of a specific statement, that such names are exempt from the relevant protective laws and regulations and therefore free for general use. The publisher, the authors and the editors are safe to assume that the advice and information in this book are believed to be true and accurate at the date of publication. Neither the publisher nor the authors or the editors give a warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the material contained herein or for any errors or omissions that may have been made. The publisher remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations. Cover illustration: blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo This Palgrave Macmillan imprint is published by the registered company Springer Nature Switzerland AG. The registered company address is: Gewerbestrasse 11, 6330 Cham, Switzerland


Around the world, social movements have become legitimate, yet contested, actors in local, national and global politics and civil society, yet we know relatively little about their longer histories and the trajectories of their development. Our series reacts to what can be described as a recent boom in the history of social movements. We can observe a development from the crisis of labour history in the 1980s to the boom in research on social movements in the 2000s. The rise of historical interests in the development of civil society and the role of strong civil societies as well as non-­ governmental organisations in stabilizing democratically constituted polities has strengthened the interest in social movements as a constituent element of civil societies. In different parts of the world, social movements continue to have a strong influence on contemporary politics. In Latin America, trade unions, labour parties and various left-of-centre civil society organisations have succeeded in supporting left-of-centre governments. In Europe, peace movements, ecological movements and alliances intent on campaigning against poverty and racial discrimination and discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation have been able to set important political agendas for decades. In other parts of the world, including Africa, India and South East Asia, social movements have played a significant role in various forms of community building and community politics. The contemporary political relevance of social movements has undoubtedly contributed to a growing historical interest in the topic. Contemporary historians are not only beginning to historicise these relatively recent political developments; they are also trying to relate them v



to a longer history of social movements, including traditional labour organisations, such as working-class parties and trade unions. In the longue durée, we recognise that social movements are by no means a recent phenomenon and are not even an exclusively modern phenomenon, although we realise that the onset of modernity emanating from Europe and North America across the wider world from the eighteenth century onwards marks an important departure point for the development of civil societies and social movements. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the dominance of national history over all other forms of history writing led to a thorough nationalisation of the historical sciences. Hence, social movements have been examined traditionally within the framework of the nation state. Only during the last two decades have historians begun to question the validity of such methodological nationalism and to explore the development of social movements in comparative, connective and transnational perspective taking into account processes of transfer, reception and adaptation. Whilst our book series does not preclude work that is still being carried out within national frameworks (for, clearly, there is a place for such studies, given the historical importance of the nation state in history), it hopes to encourage comparative and transnational histories on social movements. At the same time as historians have begun to research the history of those movements, a range of social theorists, from Jürgen Habermas to Pierre Bourdieu and from Slavoj Žižek to Alain Badiou as well as Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe to Miguel Abensour, to name but a few, have attempted to provide philosophical-cum-theoretical frameworks in which to place and contextualise the development of social movements. History has arguably been the most empirical of all the social and human sciences, but it will be necessary for historians to explore further to what extent these social theories can be helpful in guiding and framing the empirical work of the historian in making sense of the historical development of social movements. Hence, the current series is also hoping to make a contribution to the ongoing dialogue between social theory and the history of social movements. This series seeks to promote innovative historical research on the history of social movements in the modern period since around 1750. We bring together conceptually informed studies that analyse labour movements, new social movements and other forms of protest from early modernity to the present. With this series, we seek to revive, within the context of historiographical developments since the 1970s, a conversation between



historians on the one hand and sociologists, anthropologists and political scientists on the other. Unlike most of the concepts and theories developed by social scientists, we do not see social movements as directly linked, a priori, to processes of social and cultural change and therefore do not adhere to a view that distinguishes between old (labour) and new (middle-class) social movements. Instead, we want to establish the concept ‘social movement’ as a heuristic device that allows historians of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries to investigate social and political protests in novel settings. Our aim is to historicise notions of social and political activism in order to highlight different notions of political and social protest on both left and right. Hence, we conceive of ‘social movements’ in the broadest possible sense, encompassing social formations that lie between formal organisations and mere protest events. But we also include processes of social and cultural change more generally in our understanding of social movements: this goes back to nineteenth-century understandings of ‘social movement’ as processes of social and cultural change more generally. We also offer a home for studies that systematically explore the political, social, economic and cultural conditions in which social movements can emerge. We are especially interested in transnational and global perspectives on the history of social movements, and in studies that engage critically and creatively with political, social and sociological theories in order to make historically grounded arguments about social movements. In short, this series seeks to offer innovative historical work on social movements, while also helping to historicise the concept of ‘social movement’. It also hopes to revitalise the conversation between historians and historical sociologists in analysing what Charles Tilly has called the ‘dynamics of contention’. Socialism, Socialists and the State: Comparative and Transnational Perspectives is a timely contribution to our book series in at least two ways. First, it reflects an ongoing comparative and transnational turn of the history of socialism and socialists that has found expression in major monographs, such as the ones by Donald Sassoon and Geoff Eley. Secondly, it reflects a desire to bring back the state into considerations of the development of socialism in different parts of the world. Under the impact of the cultural turn in historical writing more generally and in labour history specifically, many studies concentrated on cultures of work and labour, thereby side-lining the organisational and ideological studies that had dominated an older labour history. If the labour movement was considered at all after the ‘cultural turn’, then studies focussed on



establishing how particular representations of labour were fostered by the labour movement. The current collection of essays is, among other things, a timely reminder that the cultural history of labour, for all the benefits it brought to labour history, was also occasionally in danger of neglecting some of the basics, for example power relationships. And when we talk about power relationships, then we are, very quickly, talking about the state. By examining the relationship between socialism and the state, the current volume is able to dispel a whole range of long-held beliefs about the alleged proximity of socialism to the state that had much to do with the dominance of Marxism over socialism in large parts of Europe during the nineteenth century. Marxist theories called for the revolutionary or evolutionary capture of the state and the transformation of the economic and social spheres through the power of the state. Statism and social engineering have long been held to be the defining characteristics of socialism. Until this very day, enemies of socialist and social democratic parties wield the stick of statism and social engineering when they want to criticise socialist politicians for what they allegedly stand for. And socialists at times, also until this very day, feel the need to apologize for and distance themselves from anything that smacks of statism and social engineering. Yet, as the more complex investigations between the relationship of socialism and the state in this volume show, the actual relationship of socialist parties to statism and social engineering was far more multi-­ layered, contradictory and ambiguous than the myths about socialism and statism would suggest. Thus, socialists sought, from early on in the twentieth century, to unleash the powers of civil society in their pursuit of a better society for those it claimed to represent: the labouring people of the world. Whether it was through ideas of municipal socialism or ideas of the self-organisation of workers, socialists were not blind to powers of civil engagement beyond and below the level of the state. Having established this point very clearly, the current volume, however, also contributes to a re-evaluation of social engineering and statism. As several contributions clearly show, using the powers of the state to ensure better health services and a more comprehensive insurance against the vagaries of life as well as establishing through the state a welfare system that benefitted the labouring people was as important in shaping the Western European societies during the second half of the twentieth century as was the recognition that the state could give the people the feeling of being protected and looked after. It could help sustain and build



communities and was thus a necessary accompaniment to strong civil societies. The neoliberal attacks on statism and social engineering justified the undoing of many of those communal ties and it vilified the kind of solidarities that had once been the hallmark of strong labour movements and strong welfare states. Thus, as Lazar and Fulla show, state and civil society have to be brought together again in contemporary social thought of socialist movements. Turning to history in order to see how socialists have done that in the past will turn out to be instructive for a contemporary generation of socialist leaders in Europe and the wider world who have disappointed its former constituencies and driven them into the arms of right-wing populists in different parts of the world. And, of course, the plurality of concepts does not only concern the phenomenon of socialism but it rings equally true for the phenomenon of the state. It mattered whether socialists operated in a central state like France or a federal state like Germany. As socialists in post-war Western Europe came to shape the state in their own image, they had to contend with different shapes of the state and they had to engage with diverse expert cultures that were employed by and fostered by states in different policy-relevant areas. The current volume does a marvellous job at drawing attention to the importance of carefully analysing these relationships between socialists and those expert cultures that together came to form the state in major ways as an instrument of social reform in the second half of the twentieth century. Together, expert cultures and socialist cultures provided policies of transformative change that affected the lives of millions of people in the post-war world and that were, to many, the basis for hope for a better world and a better future. As neoliberalism has not only destroyed that hope but also the attempts even to imagine better and more socially equal worlds, the current volume fulfils an important role in reminding us of a past that had not yet lost such perspectives of a policy of hope. The book also draws attention to the fact that socialists were hardly the only ones keen on capturing the state and influencing social and economic developments in the state. Throughout the twentieth century, Christian democrats, Liberals, Conservatives and right-wing authoritarian, including fascist parties, all followed the same strategy. At several conjunctures in different West European states, which form the focus of this volume, socialists could only use state power in alliance with other political forces willing to do the same. Thus, we need to examine the common ground



that socialists shared with other political ideologies just as much as we have to delineate and bring out the differences of socialist attitudes towards the state vis-à-vis other ambitions. In the first part of this excellent addition to our series, a range of authors reflect on the diverse ways in which (largely) West European socialist parties managed to capture the state and develop it into an instrument for social and economic reform. Not least, they used the state for a more comprehensive democratisation of their respective societies—an aim that went to the very core of what socialists had been about since the nineteenth century. In the second part of the book, a range of different authors analyse the diverse ways in which socialist parties communicated and allied with experts and civil servants to make the state an instrument of reform. It emerges clearly from this section that these processes of alignment were crucial to both the successes and failures of socialist state policies. In the third and final part of this book, the authors reflect on the contemporary transformations of the state and its diverse meanings of socialist policies today. Overall, this volume will be read with great benefit by anyone interested in the history of the complex and multi-layered relationship between socialism, one of the great ideologies of the modern age, and the state, one of the most influential shapers of human existence in the modern world. Bochum, Germany Stirling, Scotland 

Stefan Berger Holger Nehring


We are grateful to all the institutions that supported this project and the publication of this book: the Jean-Jaurès Foundation, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, the Center for History at Sciences Po and the Scientific Direction of Sciences Po. We are also particularly thankful to Marie-Laure Dagieu, finance and accounting manager at the Center for History at Sciences Po. We also want to thank all the participants and contributors to the yearly seminar on “Socialism, Socialists and the State in Europe 19th–21st century” organized by Marc Lazar (2013–2014) then by Marc Lazar and Mathieu Fulla (2014–2016) at the Center for History at Sciences Po. Thank you also to the participants to the International Conference on Socialism and the State held on 7–9 December 2016 at the Center for History at Sciences Po. This volume, which was conceived from the outset as a self-standing book and not simply as conference proceedings, draws on these years-long experiences, in which most of the contributors have been involved. We have received the very helpful advice of several colleagues in preparing the book proposal. Jenny Andersson, Stefan Berger, Michele Di Donato, Gerd-Rainer Horn, and Benoît Pellistrandi were especially generous with their time. We are also very grateful to Cynthia Schor and Ethan Rundell, who translated and/or edited many contributions in this volume.




At Palgrave, we highly appreciated the enthusiasm and patience of Molly Beck, Maeve Sinnott, and Mahalakshmi Mariappan. We were also fortunate to benefit from the comments made by an anonymous reviewer. His/Her thorough feedback was extremely useful for strengthening the preliminary version of the manuscript. We hope he/ she will be satisfied by the final product. The responsibility for the volume’s content falls, of course, entirely on us.


1 European Socialists and the State: A Comparative and Transnational Approach  1 Mathieu Fulla and Marc Lazar Part I Using the State to Democratise Society  27 2 Using the State to Democratise it. Introduction to Part I 29 Mathieu Fulla 3 Between Challenging the Authoritarian State and Democratising It: German Social Democracy, 1914–1945 35 Stefan Berger 4 French Socialists and the State, 1905–2017 57 Alain Bergounioux 5 The Planist Temptation: Belgian Social Democracy and the State During the Great Depression, c. 1929–c. 1936 77 Tommaso Milani 6 Paradoxes of Hegemony: Scandinavian Social Democracy and the State 97 Yohann Aucante xiii



Part II Socialists and Civil Servants 119 7 Socialists and Civil Servants. Introduction to Part II121 Mathieu Fulla 8 The British Labour Party and the Civil Service in the Twentieth Century129 Kevin Theakston 9 Social Democracy, Labour Unions and Civil Service in West Germany since the Second World War149 Bernd Faulenbach 10 The French Socialist Party, Civil Servants and the State. A Comparative Approach to Social Reforms Between the Popular Front Period (1936–1938) and the Early Years of the Mitterrand Presidency (1981–1983)171 Laure Machu and Matthieu Tracol 11 Socialism, the State and Civil Service in Spain: Two Experiences in Perspective (Second Republic and Democratic Transition)189 Juan Francisco Fuentes 12 The Swedish Social Democracy: Civil Servants, Social Engineers and Welfare Bureaucrats207 Kjell Östberg 13 The Divorce between Public-Sector Employees and West European Socialist Parties223 Luc Rouban Part III Socialists and Changes in Capitalism and States 245 14 Socialists and Changes in Capitalism and States: Introduction to Part III247 Marc Lazar



15 French Socialists, Capitalism and the State: A Unique Approach within West European Social Democracy?255 Mathieu Fulla 16 From Marxism to “Agenda 2010”: German Social Democratic Notions of the State from Its Founding until Today283 Sebastian Voigt 17 “K. u. k. Social Democracy” Reloaded: Austria’s SPÖ and the State After 1945303 Maria Mesner 18 The Swedish Social Democrats, Reform Socialism and the state after the Golden Era323 Jenny Andersson and Kjell Östberg 19 What’s Left of Blairism? The Labour Party’s Changing Conception of the State since the 1980s345 Emmanuelle Avril 20 The Italian Socialist Party from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s: Socialists and a Weak State363 Marc Lazar 21 Superficial Social Democracy: PASOK, the State and the Shipwreck of the Greek Economy379 Gerassimos Moschonas

Notes on Contributors

Jenny Andersson  is CNRS Research Professor at the Center for European Studies and Comparative Politics of Sciences Po, Paris, and a guest professor at the Department of the History of Ideas and Science at Uppsala University. Her work has been published extensively on the topic of social democracy, for instance the book The Library and the Workshop. Social Democracy and Capitalism in the Knowledge Age (2010). Her most recent book is, The Future of the World. Futurology, Futurists, and the Struggle for the Post Cold War Imagination (2018). Massimo  Asta  is Marie Sklodowska-Curie Fellow at the University of Cambridge. His current research explores the interweaving between engagement, profession and economic ideas, taking as its focus the left-­ wing economists’ commitment in France, United Kingdom and Italy from the 1930s to the 1960s. He is author of Girolamo Li Causi, un rivoluzionario del Novecento, 1896–1977 (Carocci, 2017). Yohann  Aucante is a research lecturer at the School of Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS-CESPRA, Paris). His focus is on North European politics and societies. He has published a handbook on Nordic democracies and he is editor in chief of the interdisciplinary journal Nordiques. Emmanuelle  Avril is Professor of Contemporary British Politics and Society at the Sorbonne Nouvelle University. Her main line of research is intra-party democracy, organisational change and mobilisation within the




Labour Party. Her latest publications include Labour United and Divided from the 1830s to the Present (2018, co-ed.) and Democracy, Participation and Contestation. Civil Society, Governance and the Future of Liberal Democracy (2016, co-ed.). Stefan Berger  is Professor of Social History and Director of the Institute for Social Movements at Ruhr-Universitaet Bochum, where he is also Executive Chair of the Foundation History of the Ruhr. He is additionally an honorary professor at Cardiff University. His main research areas are the history of social movements, including labour movements; the history of de-industrialization; the history of nationalism; the history of historiography; and the history of British-German relations. Among his most recent publications is Constructing Industrial Pasts: Heritage, Historical Culture and Identity in Regions Undergoing Structural Economic Transformation (2020). Alain  Bergounioux  is an emeritus associate professor in Sciences Po (Paris). His research focuses on the history of socialism and unionism in France and Europe. His recent published works were (with Jean-François Merle) Le Rocardisme. Devoir d’inventaire, Seuil, (2018), and (with Laurent Bouvet) Lettres sur la laïcité, Fondation Jean Jaurès (2019). Bernd  Faulenbach is Professor of Contemporary History at Ruhr-­ University, Bochum. His main research fields are German and European History in the twentieth century, in particular from 1945 to the present. In recent years he published Das sozialdemokratische Jahrzehnt, Bonn (2011), Geschichte der SPD.  Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, München (2012), with Bernd Rother Außenpolitik zur Eindämmung entgrenzter Gewalt, Essen (2016), with Andrea Kaltofen Hölle im Moor. Die Emslandlager 1933–1945, Göttingen (2017). Juan  Francisco  Fuentes is Professor of Modern History at the Complutense University of Madrid, Department of International Relations and Global History. He has been a visiting scholar or visiting senior fellow at Harvard University, London School of Economics, Sciences Po (Paris), Université de Provence and Paris 3-Sorbonne Nouvelle. His main fields of research are conceptual history, totalitarianisms and the democratic transition in Spain. He recently published the book Totalitarianisms: The Closed Society and Its Friends. A History of Crossed languages (2019). Fuentes is running a research project for a dictionary of twentieth-century social and political symbols in Spain.



Mathieu Fulla  is a faculty member at the Center for History at Sciences Po (Paris). His main research areas are the history of West European Labour Movement (twentieth–twenty-first centuries), and political and economic history of Europe from 1945 to the present. He has published Les socialistes français et l’économie (1944–1981), Paris: Presses de Sciences Po (2016), and numerous articles in French and Italian top-­notch peer-­ reviewed journals about the history of European socialism. Marc Lazar  is Professor in History and Political Sociology, Director of the Center for History at Sciences Po (Paris). His main research areas are Left Parties in Western Europe, Political history of France and Italy after WWII and populism and populists in Europe. He recently published, with Riccardo Brizzi (eds), La France d’Emmanuel Macron (2018), and with Ilvo Diamanti Popolocrazia, Laterza, (2018) (published in French in February 2019). Laure Machu  is an associate professor at Paris Nanterre University. She is also a member of the laboratory “Institutions et dynamiques historiques de l’économie et de la société” (IDHE.S). Her research focuses on labour history, including labour law history and history of collective bargaining during the twentieth century. She recently published (co-­ editor with Vincent Viet and Isabelle Lespinet-Moret) Mains-d’oeuvre en guerre, Paris, La Découverte (2018). Maria Mesner  is Director of History Studies at the University of Vienna and teaches at its Department of Contemporary History. She is head of the Bruno Kreisky Archives and co-editor of the journal Österreichische Zeitschrift für Geschichtswissenschaften (Austrian Journal of Historical Studies). Her main research interest is the political history of Austria during the twentieth century in a gender perspective, de-nazification, and the comparative history of reproduction in Europe and the US.  She heads a research and editorial project on the diaries of Josef Staribacher (Austrian state secretary of commerce from 1970 to 1983) and the perception of economic crisis by Austria’s leading politicians during that era. Tommaso Milani  is a teaching fellow at Sciences Po (Paris) and a former stipendiary lecturer at Balliol College, University of Oxford. His main research interests include the history of interwar social democracy, competing models of economic planning, and the role of international institutions in promoting transnational cooperation during the Great Depression. His publications include ‘Retreat from the Global?



British Progressive Intellectuals and the Idea of European Unity, 1930–1945’ (International History Review, 2020) and ‘From Laissez-­ Faire to Supranational Planning: The Economic Debate within Federal Union (1938–1945)’ (European Review of History: Revue européenne d’histoire, 2016). His first monograph, Hendrik de Man and Social Democracy: The Idea of Planning in Western Europe, 1914–1940, is forthcoming. Gerassimos  Moschonas is Professor of Comparative Politics in the Department of Political Science and History, Panteion University of Political and Social Sciences, Athens, Greece. He is the author of In the Name of Social Democracy, The Great Transformation: 1945 to the Present (2002) and La Social-démocratie de 1945 à nos jours (Paris: Montchrestien, 1994). His research and most recent publications are focused on the history of the European Left, the European Union and political parties, with particular emphasis on the parties of social democracy and the radical Left, the Europarties, the theory of the party phenomenon, and the Greek debt crisis. His most recent publication is ‘European Social Democracy, Communism and the Erfurtian Model’ in W.  Outhwaite and S. Turner (eds), The SAGE Handbook of Political Sociology (2018). Kjell  Östberg  is a professor at the Swedish Institute of Contemporary History at Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden. His main field of research is processes of democratization and bureaucratization in twentieth-­century Sweden, with special attention to the role of social movements. Among his publications are (co-editor with Harriet Jones and Nico Randeraad) Contemporary History on Trial. Europe since 1989 and the role of the expert historian (2006); I takt med tiden: Olof Palme 1927–1969, Leopard, Stockholm (2008); När vinden vände: Olof Palme 1969–1986, Leopard, Stockholm (2009); Olof Palme. A man for his time. A two volume biography (2002); När allting var in rörelse, 60-­talsradikaliseringen och de sociala rörelserna (When Everything Was in Movement: The Radicalization of the 1960s and the Social Movements), Röda rummet förlag (2019). Luc Rouban  is CNRS Senior Researcher at Sciences Po (Paris), Center for Political Research (Cevipof). His main research field is about the state reform and civil services, elites and political institutions in France and Europe. He recently published La démocratie représentative est-elle en crise ?, Paris, La Documentation française (2018), Le paradoxe du mac-



ronisme, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po (2018) and La matière noire de la démocratie, Paris, Presses de Sciences Po (2019). Kevin Theakston  is Professor of British Government at the University of Leeds. His research and publications have covered the history of the British civil service and Whitehall, government ministers and prime ministers in the UK, constitutional issues and constitutional reform. His latest book (co-authored with Philip Connelly) was William Armstrong and British Policy Making, London, Palgrave Macmillan (2018). His book, The Labour Party and Whitehall, first published in 1992, has recently been republished: The Labour Movement (2019). Matthieu Tracol  holds his PhD in contemporary history from the Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University. His research focuses on the history of the French left and European social policies since 1945. He recently published “From economic to social and political crisis: The Mauroy government’s struggle with deindustrialization”, 20 & 21. Revue d’histoire, 2019/4, n°144, pp. 65–79. Sebastian  Voigt is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich and a fellow at the Institute for Social Movements in Bochum. He has widely written in the fields of Western German Labor Unions, Labor History and Antisemitism. He recently published (with Bernd Heyl and Edgar Weick) Ernest Jouhy—zur Aktualität eines leidenschaftlichen Pädagogen, Brandes & Apsel Verlag, Frankfurt am Main (2017); Wandel der Arbeitswelt—Ökonomische Transformationen, Gewerkschaften und soziale Ungleichheit seit den 1970er Jahren, in: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 4/2018, pp.  685–699; Kapital und Arbeit in Bewegung. Zu einigen Neuerscheinungen über die Geschichte des Kapitalismus, der Arbeit(-swelt), der Arbeiterbewegung und der Gewerkschaften, in: Neue Politische Literatur Jg. 65 (2020), H. 1, pp. 45–76. He is also the editor of the forthcoming book Since the Boom: Continuity and Change in the Western Industrialized World since 1970, University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2021.



Spanish Indignados Movement Greek civil servants’ union German Social Democratic Trade Union Federation Working Group for Employees’ Issues American Federation of Labor German Extra-Parliamentary Opposition Greek Supreme Council for Civil Personnel Selection Commission for Social Studies created by the Belgian Socialist Party British Labour Party French Socialist Party (a clandestine party started during the Second World War (1941–1943)) Spanish Workers’Commissions (Comisiones Obreras) Christian Democratic Union, Germany (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) Left-wing current in the French Socialist Party (Centre d’études, de recherches et d’éducation socialiste) French Democratic Confederation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail) French Confederation of Christian Workers (Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens) Italian Confederation of Labour (Confederazione generale italiana del lavoro) French Central Planning Office (Commissariat général du Plan) French General Confederation of small and medium-size firms (Confédération générale des petites et moyennes entreprises) French Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail)





French Confederation of Labour—Workers’Force (Confédération générale du travail–Force ouvrière) CIO American Congress of Industrial Organizations CISL Italian (Catholic) Labour Confederation (Confederazione italiana sindicati lavoratori) CNE French National Economic Council CNR French National Council of the Resistance (during the Second World War) CNT Spanish Confederation of Labour (Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo) CS Belgian socialist trade union (Commission syndicale) DAG German Salaried Employees’ Union (Deutsche Angestellten-Gewerkschaft) DC Italian Christian Democracy DDP German Democratic Party DEA British Department of Economic Affairs DGB German Trade Union Confederation (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund) DNA Norwegian Social Democratic Party ENA French École nationale d’administration ESO Expert group of Swedish economists appointed by Olof Palme in 1981 EU European Union FDG French Left Front (Front de gauche) FDP Liberal Democratic Party of Germany (Freie Demokratische Partei Deutschlands) FGDS French Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left (Fédération de la gauche démocrate et socialiste) FN French Front national (Radical Right Party) FPÖ Austrian Freedom Party FRG Federal Republic of Germany GEW German Education and Science Workers’ Union (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft) ICFTU International Confederation of Free Trade Unions IG Bau German Construction Industry Trade Union (Industriegewerkschaft Bau, Steine, Erden) IG Metall, IGM German Industrial Union of Metalworkers (Industriegewerkschaft Metall) INI Spanish National Institute of Industry INSEE French National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies (Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques) IRI Italian Institute for Industrial Reconstruction




International Workingmen’s Association (1864–1876) Belgian Youth Movement (Jeunes Gardes Socialistes) Young Socialists in the German Social Democratic Party Greek Citizens Service Centres Greek Centre of Planning and Economic Research German Communist Party Kaiserlich und königlich (imperial and royal, a notion which designated official institutions of the dual Habsburg Monarchy) Swedish Trade Union Confederation French 2001 Organic Budget Law Labour and Socialist International (1923–1940) Japan Ministry of International Trade and Industry French Popular Republican Movement Italian Social Movement (neo-fascist) Majority Social Democratic Party of Germany Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Austrian Trade Union Federation Belgian Organization for Economic Recovery created in 1935 (Office de redressement économique) Union for Public Services, Transport and Traffic (Gewerkschaft öffentliche Dienste, Transport und Verkehr) Austrian People’s Party Panhellenic Socialist Movement (Greek Socialist Party) Spanish Communist Party French Communist Party Italian Communist Party Communist Party of the Soviet Union German Party of Democratic Socialism (Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus) Party of European Socialists Parliament Labour Party of the British Labour Party Belgian Workers’ Party French Socialist Party (from 1971 to the present day) French Autonomous Socialist Party (1958–1960) Italian Socialist Party Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party Spanish Popular Socialist Party (Partido Socialista Popular) French Unified Socialist Party (1960–1989) Italian state-owned enterprise that managed the radio and television sectors Rally for the French Republic (close to Gaullism under the Fourth Republic)




Swedish Trade Union for academic workers Swedish Social Democratic Party Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria British Social Democratic Party German Socialist Student Body (Sozialistischer Deutscher Studentenbund) SED East German Socialist Party SFIO French Socialist Party (1905–1969) SI Socialist International (after 1945) SPD German Social Democratic Party SPÖ Austrian Socialist Party SSU Swedish Social Democratic Youth League TCO Swedish Trade Union for white-collar workers TULO British Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation UCD Spanish Union of the Democratic Centre UGT General Workers’ Union of Spain (Union General de Trabajadores) UKIP United Kingdom Independence Party UMP/LR French Conservative Party (Union pour un mouvement populaire—since 2015 Les Républicains) UN United Nations USLs Italian local health authorities USPD The Independent German Social Democrats ver.di United Union of Service Sector Workers (Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft) WASG German Election Alternative Social Justice (a political movement founded above all by unionists in 2005)

List of Figures

Fig. 13.1 Fig. 13.2 Fig. 13.3

French civil servants’ electoral choice in the first round of the presidential election, by votes cast (%). (Source: CEVIPOF electoral surveys) Party proximity to the French PS (%). (Source: CEVIPOF electoral surveys) Left-right self-placement of voters in the active population, 2012 and 2017 (%). (Source: CEVIPOF election panel 2012 and French election survey 2017)

231 233 237


List of Tables

Table 13.1

Party proximity of public-­sector employees in Europe, 2004 and 2014 (%) Table 13.2 Public-sector employees’ self-placement on the left-right scale (%) Table 13.3 The electoral choice of French civil servants (CS) and private-sector employees (PSE) in the first round of the presidential election, by votes cast (%) Table 13.4 Values of private-sector employees and civil servants by category (index average) Table 21.1 Greece and eurozone: General government expenditure (in % of GDP) Table 21.2 Greece and eurozone: Tax receipts (in % of GDP)

228 229 232 235 384 385



European Socialists and the State: A Comparative and Transnational Approach Mathieu Fulla and Marc Lazar

Many political observers in Western democratic countries equate socialism with statism.1 Surprisingly, from the late 1970s onwards, many socialist elites and experts have helped to nurture this widespread belief, according to which West European socialist parties relentlessly put their faith in the state to solve political problems. In many cases, their proclaimed hostility towards the “big” or the “nanny” state, supposedly adored by their predecessors, is part of a broader strategy aimed at convincing the socialist electorate and activists about the need to redefine the role of the state and roll back its frontiers—albeit in a very different sense (but not radically so) than the project promoted by their right-wing adversaries. The former leader of the British Labour Party, Tony Blair, was thus undoubtedly one of the most radical and successful supporters of this kind of re-engineered 1  The authors warmly thank Jenny Andersson, Alain Chatriot, Michele Di Donato, and Gerassimos Moschonas for their insightful comments on earlier versions of this text.

M. Fulla (*) • M. Lazar Sciences Po Paris, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected]; [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




approach to the state, which emerged from the 1980s under Neil Kinnock’s leadership, and culminated in New Labour’s articulation of the Third Way in 1994. In 2003, Blair’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, offered a clear and unnuanced narrative of the relationship between the British left and the state that was both clear and historically dubious: “for nearly a century the left in Britain wrongly equated the public interest with public ownership, and at times came near to redefining one means—public ownership—as a sole end in itself.” In the same speech delivered to the Social Market Foundation at the Cass Business School, a prominent institution for training future financial global elites, he then urged New Labour’s supporters to revert “to the left’s old, often knee-jerk, anti-­ market sentiment, to assert with confidence that promoting the market economy helps us achieve our goals of a stronger economy and a fairer society” (Brown 2003). This volume aims to dispel this reductive, indeed incorrect, account of the relationship between West European socialism and the idea, form, and use of the state. It challenges what remains a dominant interpretation of the left’s propensity for state intervention in political and journalistic debates. The collection of chapters gathered herein promotes a comparative and transnational approach over the longue durée, which is likely to produce a better understanding of West European socialism. In so doing, it also casts an original light on the history of the contemporary state in Europe and its intersections both with the social movements of socialism and trade unions and the organised parties of the left, their intellectuals and experts. It is striking that these two topics have rarely been studied together. States are constantly subject to pressure from groups, lobbies, and political parties that strive to control, influence, and shape them. Conversely, they have an impact on these different organisations, and socialist parties are not immune to this influence; confrontation with the Leviathan has led to sometimes extensive transformations and reconfigurations within them. Each of the chapters in the volume dealing with a national case highlights reciprocal influences, transfers of experience, and the circulation of ideas, practices, and actors, but also oppositions between one party and another in relation to the state—because socialism is unique and many-layered, unified and diversified, homogeneous and heterogeneous. Parties claiming allegiance to it have both points in common and differences, which may have faded over time without disappearing for all that. Socialist parties have been exposed to many similar issues in their management of state relations across time but have also come up with a



variety of different solutions to the theoretical, strategic, and ideological problem of the state. A workers’ movement activist born in the first half of the nineteenth century (very presumably a male person) would probably have been surprised if he knew that his successors would invest so much energy in order to take control over the state, and so much effort at transforming an institution that by early worker’s movements was identified as one of the main causes of his exploitation. This was so since the conservative Europe of the Vienna Congress (1814–1815). From the French Revolution to the 1848 Year of Revolution, at a moment in time when labour was becoming globalised and industrialisation was taking off, organisations of international working-class solidarity sprang up despite the hostility of counter-­ revolutionary states (Bensimon 2014). Socialists and trade unionists, many of them in exile, were the principal actors in these mutual aid organisations that were central in the early socialist movement and whose main centres could be found in London, Paris, and Brussels. They provided valuable support to the workers’ fight against capitalism, the repressive state, and “the moral authority of established Christianity” within the nation space (Eley 2002). The revolutionary period of the 1840s was a major turning point in this history of confrontation between the working class and the nation-state. The famous maxim of the Communist Party Manifesto, published in 1848, according to which “the proletariat has no country” should not be interpreted as an unconditional ode to the internationalist cause; indeed, Marx and Engels immediately made clear that “the proletariat must first conquer political power, must rise to be the dominant class of the nation, must constitute itself as the nation and is so far national itself, though not at all in the bourgeois sense” (quoted in Weill 2005). From the 1860s onwards, the European left started to wonder what to do with the modern state. This problem sparked heated debate within the International Workingmen’s Association (IWMA), with which the names of Marx and Bakunin are associated. Some of its members, while denigrating the imperial and bourgeois state, supported the foundation of a transnational “state of workers”, which would have induced a significant degree of centralisation and co-ordination of their organisation; others, among them the anarchist groups but also the British trade unions, continued to deny the state any legitimacy and argued for an international association based on decentralisation and self-help principles (Delalande 2019).



This seminal controversy continued throughout the twentieth century. Although feelings of distrust towards the state never disappeared within socialist and social democratic parties that were increasingly an integral part of their respective national politics, the dominant aim among ruling elites as well as activists was to make the conquest of power an essential goal. The contributions collected in this volume address three crucial issues through which to grasp this phenomenon and its limits: What were the different ideological approaches to the state developed within the socialist and social democratic parties, and how can one explain their early acculturation to the modern state? What have they done with the state and what has the state done with socialists? And finally, how do the reconfigurations of the state, which is no longer the repository but rather the principal administrator of political authority (Genshel and Zangl 2011), affect European socialists, and how do socialists in their turn deal with them?

Understanding Socialism Through the State and the State Through Socialist Parties As all the authors involved in this work demonstrate, the socialist relationship to and with the state is dense, complex, ambiguous, contradictory, and constantly evolving over time. This represents a challenge to bring together the literature on socialism and that on the state, which have largely ignored each other. A considerable number of academic books and articles by historians, political scientists, and sociologists have been devoted to European socialism—to its origins, development, progress, successes, and crises— either by juxtaposing national case studies or by making comparative studies or offering a global approach (Delwit 2005; De Waele et al. 2013; Eley 2002; Grunberg 1997; Lazar 1996; Moschonas 2002; Sassoon 2014 [1996]; Schmidt 2016). In a new preface to the 2014 edition of his history of twentieth-century socialism, however, Donald Sassoon rightly pointed out the centrality of the “capture of the state” in the social democratic project: “Having correctly identified the state as the principal regulator of the capitalist economy, socialists sought, successfully, to democratize it and use it” (Sassoon 2014 [1996]). But neither historians of socialism (Donald Sassoon’s book included) nor their colleagues dealing with the history of the modern state ever really addressed this astute comment. In the 1980s, political scientists started contributing elements of a solution to this puzzle. In the wake of Theda Skocpol’s famous call to “Bring



the state back in”, scholars questioned the neo-Marxist theory of a radical autonomy of the state from organised social interests (among them political parties) in policymaking. Many of them argued that political parties (and other societal organisations), even when they were not in office, succeeded in influencing policymaking by mobilising multiple resources and networks.2 But this methodological approach to the relationship between parties and the state remained extremely macropolitical. The former were generally apprehended as monolithic blocs, thereby precluding any detailed study of the strategies their members or sympathisers initiated to penetrate the Leviathan. Since the 2000s, a substantial number of publications in sociology and political science deliberately left aside political parties to focus on the question of the state—its construction in the national context, its development, its public policies, and its profound changes in the more recent period (Hay 2014; King and Le Galès 2017; Le Galès and Vezinat 2014; Levy, 2006; Manow et al. 2018). No research in these fields aims systematically to theorise socialism and the state together, even though these two entities are at the heart of Europe’s political history in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In their important work devoted to the reconfigurations of European states, whose crisis they diagnose, political scientists Desmond King and Patrick Le Galès deliberately leave aside the study of relations between public authorities and state institutions such as courts of justice, parliaments, and political parties. They felt that applying such an approach would have opened up so many new questions that it would have required a second volume. The recent team research coordinated by political scientists Philip Manow, Bruno Palier, and Hanna Schwander does, however, underline the interest of a combined approach to politics and the state in order to gain an understanding of the changes in the different types of welfare state on the European continent over the recent period. They highlight the burden of change in party systems in the return to a more favourable perception of the welfare state in Western Europe at the turn of the 2000s, after two decades during which it had been subject to fierce criticism. This turnaround is explained by the decision of anti-system parties (Capiocca 2002) on the radical left and right to prioritise the welfare state on their political agendas—even

2  A detailed presentation of this debate does not fall within the scope of this introduction. For a clear explanation of its key issues, see, for instance, Heclo 1974; Orloff and Skocpol 1984; Hall 1993.



though the welfare chauvinism promoted by the radical right completely subverts the original ideal of universality. Relying on the body of works on socialism mentioned above, the perspective we offer considers socialist and social democratic parties not as homogeneous and united entities but as competitive organisations with profound ideological divergences, fierce struggles for control of the party apparatus, and continuous confrontations over the correct strategy with which to win power at local and/or national levels, as well as how to exercise this very power. We pay attention to the sociological realities of these parties by discussing their membership and electorate and by considering the way they are embedded in society. Unlike some—including recent— research which has essentially focused on the party structure only to the detriment of its broader relations with the labour movement (Imlay 2017), the complexity of party reality and its connections with non-political organisations has been taken into account as far as possible. Parties are systems for action which, in most cases, maintain relations with trade unions and associations but also with larger networks of international, national, and local influence. Municipal socialism appears in many countries as a testing ground for training officials who gradually took over the tools necessary for exercising responsibility on the local and national levels. From the late nineteenth century to the post-1945 period, running a town hall was a very effective means for socialist elites of becoming familiar with the language and practices of the state. After several years spent exercising local responsibilities, many town councillors came to think of government authority not as a tool of the dominant class or a system of repression but as a lever enabling social reforms implemented in their towns and cities to be realised on a grand scale (Chamouard 2013; Dogliani 2018). The local experience was thus key for the development of a statist strategy. To fully understand the socialist acculturation to the modern state in the twentieth century, particular attention should also be turned to the groups of experts who, to a far greater extent than previously, played a key role as intermediaries in the process of accelerated interpenetration between socialism and the state, mainly after 1945 (even though this process started earlier in the Nordic countries). Through contact with these experts or under their impetus, socialist leaders and officials acquired the codes, skills, and language of government which they had mostly lacked in the preceding period. Nowhere else than in Western Europe was this trend so intense. Within this space, the contributors have focused on a certain



number of case studies involving France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Austria, Germany, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and Scandinavia, with particular attention to Sweden. In this way, without being exhaustive, our study acquires real pertinence. It includes the diversity of parties within European socialism, thus recapturing, here too, an ideal-typical distinction between socialist parties with relatively lightweight structures and fairly loose links and social democratic parties founded on a solid apparatus and an organic relationship with the trade unions. However, as the French, West German, Austrian, Swedish, and British cases show, these structural differences did not bring about strong divergence in the way of viewing the modern state. From 1945 to the late 1970s at least, all these parties shared pro-statist inclinations, even though they gave rise to vigorous debate. Western Europe here is considered in its widest geohistorical and geopolitical sense. It is in fact where socialism originated, and its organisations were established sooner and more firmly than anywhere in the world. A second reason prompting us to focus on Western Europe is the prominent role played by the state in this space. As the sociologist Alan Scott rightly pointed out, there is an “agreement [among social scientists] that the state—conceived as an impersonal authority—is both product and motor of European modernity” (Scott 2018). In the late nineteenth century, Western Europe was the cradle of the welfare state, which was the component of the modern state apparatus that mobilised most socialist efforts to transform it. As Sassoon convincingly noted in the aforementioned preface, the socialist struggle to improve the welfare state profoundly influenced their ideas and practices by gradually reducing “the importance of the older goal of abolishing capitalism” (Sassoon 2014 [1996]). Looking at the state through the prism of socialist parties appears thus as an insightful means to improve our knowledge of the West European state, especially the welfare state, without claiming to have learned all there is to know about it. As mentioned earlier, contributors to this volume view the state as a modern state. They define it as a political entity based on the rule of law and the plurality of competing elites struggling for (temporary) control over the state apparatus. Furthermore, as Alan Scott reminds us, “the dominant model is that of the ‘modest’ nation-­ state that does not seek to govern, regulate, or define all aspects of society” and does not question capitalism (Scott 2018). Following Max Weber, Joseph Schumpeter, Gianfranco Poggi, and Michael Mann’s research on the state in contemporary Western societies, this analytical approach prompts the different contributors presented herein to speak of



the state in both singular and plural. By state they mean, in its most functional sense, a set of specialised, interdependent, and lawful government institutions exercising their authority over a given territory, and a set of administrative and bureaucratic structures that are sometimes rivals, sometimes allies, depending on the public policies being implemented. Far from being a monolithic entity the modern state is criss-crossed by many actors and institutions. It has many levers with which to establish authority and legitimacy (Morgan and Orloff 2017). Simultaneously, in line with Max Weber’s work and that of many others after him, the modern state is also apprehended in its abstract and symbolic dimension. For socialists, it is not only an apparatus over which to gain control and to transform but also a myth laden with ambiguities. The multiple uses public discourse makes of it highlight this relationship of fascination-repulsion maintained by socialists towards the state. At one moment the proclaimed objective of gaining victory over the Leviathan and transforming it serves to mobilise masses of supporters, while at another—and often in the same action—a considerable number of members or sympathisers, particularly those also engaged in trade-unionism, express their anxiety about extending state prerogatives too far in social and economic areas, and even more in the domain of surveillance and repression. From the 1980s onwards, socialist (minoritarian) elites and grassroots activists expressed vigorous opposition to the pro-market state policies implemented by their parties in office. Hostility towards pro-business policies implemented by Gerhard Schröder in Germany, and more recently by François Hollande in France, even led to splits in their parties. More widely, no reflection on the state can disregard the intrinsic plurality of the concept. The national histories of the state differ; it is not defined in the same way; it does not express the same reality; its political institutions and government authorities are not organised in the same way. There are major differences, for example, between centralised and decentralised states, between states considered to be strong and those said to be weak.3 They do not always play the same role in the economy or in the social sphere understood in the broad sense (welfare state, professional relationships, etc.) and do not enjoy the same legitimacy. Neither are they bearers of the same mythologies, particularly in relation to two basic 3  This dichotomy has given rise to many debates in the recent literature. For a critical exchange based on the example of the US federal government, see Novak 2008, and Orren and Skowronek 2017.



entities—nation and people—which are both sources of intense mobilisation within the history of the left. Put differently, national historical backgrounds exert considerable influence on the parties being studied, just as the parties’ own conceptions of the nation and people rebound on to states. As for the socialist and social democratic parties, their relation to the state varies not only according to country but also on whether they are speaking of the state when they do not control it or whether they are acting upon it (or trying to do so) when they are in power. They comprehend the state in its institutional and political dimensions—in the conceptual sense of the word (polity)—as well as in terms of public policies for economic and social matters, education, and culture. They also see it as a bureaucratic machine that has personnel (civil servants, public sector workers) who might share some of their ideals, and who may or may not vote for them, especially in recent times marked by mounting criticism of the state coming from socialist or social democratic ranks epitomised by Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder. For these reasons, the present volume dismisses any top-down approach to socialist and social democratic parties and the state, because some parties may declare themselves in favour of weak  state intervention in the economy and yet defend its role in the welfare state, education, and culture, and champion a large administration and powerful state or para-state personnel. Others on the contrary may advocate cultural liberalism while supporting vigorous intervention by the public authorities to regulate capitalism. There is a broad spectrum of socialist positions with regard to the state across time and space. Therefore, a major issue addressed here is to what extent does Western socialist relationship to the state, beyond national peculiarities, appear exceptional when compared with those developed by its political adversaries?

A Not-So-Special Relationship From the late nineteenth century onwards, following Engels’s recommendations, socialist and social democratic parties began a long process of acculturation to the nation-state as built by their political opponents. In the 1880s, during plans to create a new International to replace the defunct IWMA, a choice was made in favour of a structure based on labour movements that were firmly embedded in national-state contexts and represented mass parties with the firm ambition to influence the parliamentary process in order to control the state. The Second International was



thus an organisation dominated and structured by the great socialist parties in the United Kingdom, France, and especially Germany (Haupt et al. 1974; Dogliani 2017; Alayrac 2018). The socialist elites could not ignore the process of nationalisation of the European working classes. This led them to develop a growing interest in the machinery of the modern state. The latter was increasingly seen as an effective tool with which to initiate a transition towards a socialist society. Was not one of the principal objectives shared by socialist parties at the turn of the twentieth century the building of a “welfare state avant la lettre” (Moschonas 2017), distinct from a Bismarckian conservative social state? Animosity towards repressive state institutions—the police, the army, the judiciary, and the fiscal authorities—and regular denunciation of state collusion with private capitalists certainly remained a key concern in pre-1914 socialist circles, especially at their national and international congresses. But in actual fact socialist elites were already demonstrating a desire to take control of the state so that its formidable power could serve the interests of the workers’ movement, as the journalist John Rae, one of the best observers of the international left during this period, already noticed in 1901: Revolutionary socialism, growing more opportunist of late years, seems losing much of its old phrenzy, and getting domesticated into a shifty State socialism,4 fighting a parliamentary for minor, though still probably mischievous, changes within the line of existing society, instead of the old war à l’outrance against existing theory in whatever shape or form. (Quoted in Mazower 2012)

This analysis led the socialist elites to regard the modern state designed by their adversaries as a legitimate polity within which to do politics and elaborate public policies aiming at democratising it, notably by permitting the integration of the working class and relentlessly calling for the introduction of (male) universal suffrage. They dealt with the “colonial question” at the turn of the twentieth century in the same way. The matter therefore deserves particular attention—especially since the various contributions herein do not focus on this issue. In their introduction to a pioneering study on the relationship between socialism and colonialism before 1914, the French historians Madeleine Rebérioux and Georges Haupt noted three types of position with regard to colonialism, positions which 4

 Our italics.



crystallised—and hardened—during the Stuttgart Congress of the Second International in 1907 (Rebérioux and Haupt 1963). The right-wing position, defended by a minority faction but united around the German socialist deputy for Mainz, Eduard David, justified the colonialist project and, by so doing, accepted the almost total integration of socialism into the imperial state. Much more tempered, the majority of the congress— including most of the great leaders such as Jaurès, Vandervelde, MacDonald, Bernstein, and Bebel—rallied around the “reformist” approach supported by the Dutchman Henri Van Kol. While leaving plenty of room for the denunciation of “colonial barbarism”, Van Kol defended a motion acknowledging that colonisation was difficult to reverse. The document demanded the development of a “socialist colonial program” that would allow progress to be brought to the colonies and would lead them (very) gradually towards self-determination. The anti-­ colonial left was in a minority at the congress and, despite Kautsky’s support, its unconditional condemnation of imperialism appears barely to have been heard. From the First World War to post-1945 decolonisation, the call to reform the imperial state—and not to destroy it—remained broadly supported by the majority in European socialist circles, even if the two other trends previously referred to did not disappear. In the inter-war period, the positions adopted by the Labour and Socialist International (LSI), created in 1923 and dominated by West European parties, presented many features in common with those prevailing in the international liberal political spectrum, which strongly supported the principles of Wilsonianism (Manela 2007; Laqua 2015). Although with some qualifications and without really admitting to it, socialists and liberals therefore shared the same conception of what the post-war international order should be like: a world organised by democratic nation-states where colonisation could not disappear in the short term. The motion voted by the LSI at its 1928 congress in Brussels was symbolic. In the colonies which they considered to be “primitive”, the socialists defended the preservation of the colonial state, judged to be necessary on pain of leaving colonised populations “at the mercy of a ‘minority of white settlers or… native despotism’” (quoted in Imlay 2017). With the advent of decolonisation, their reluctance to let go of such positions made French, British, Belgian, and Dutch socialists ill-equipped to understand the aspiration of Asian, North African, and African nationalists to build a nation-state unfettered by foreign control (Imlay 2013). From 1945 onwards, however, decolonisation aroused fierce debates within the socialist and social democratic parties,



thereby bringing on internal fractures that sometimes led, like in the French case, to a scission between the socialists remaining firmly convinced that colonial empires could be still reformed, and those supporting nationalist demands for independence. National and colonial issues thus had significant consequences for socialist thinking about the state. From the 1900s onwards, the exacerbation of nationalism and imperial rivalries between European powers dealt a severe blow to the internationalist ideal. Far from putting an end to patriotic attitudes the war accentuated the divisions within the European labour movement. At the international socialist conferences at Zimmerwald (1915) and Kienthal (1916), those demanding a “revolutionary social democracy”, personified particularly by Lenin, Trotsky, and Rosa Luxemburg, berated the “social chauvinism” and “opportunism” of social democratic leaders who had supported their country’s participation in the war, going against the commitments made at Basel in 1912. By the end of the war, the socialist movement had to face a greater challenge from the birth of communism. The Third International established in 1919 was actually resolutely against—in words and in deeds—the two principles which were the backbone of post-war social democratic internationalism, namely the defence of the democratic nation-state. These antagonistic positions adopted towards the state contributed to the increasing divergence between socialist and communist ideologies during the inter-war period. Socialist parties remained highly suspicious towards the Bolshevik experience—even if socialist economists demonstrated genuine interest in economic planning set up under Stalinism in the 1930s. The experience of planning led them to moderate their ambition to radically change the administrative apparatus when they (occasionally) seized power in the 1920s, for instance in Great Britain and Germany. Distrust towards a strong state in economic matters, whose effect was most visible in the refusal to make a clean break with capitalism, drastically increased during the following decade due to the threatening rise of fascism. Strong fascist and communist states were clear counter-models for any socialist government seizing power after the Second World War. Their aversion to Stalin and Hitler’s totalitarian states reinforced their attachment to the liberal democratic state. Although they regularly pointed out its shortcomings, failures, and supposed betrayals, Western European socialists have since considered that this entity was unsurpassably preferable to any other. Throughout the Cold War, while remaining interested in the experiences of economic planning carried out in Eastern and Central Europe,



especially in the 1950s–1960s (Christian et  al. 2018), they never really attempted to initiate a radical transformation of the modern state when they held office at the national level. Nordic social democracy is, however, an interesting counter-example to this general trend. As shown by several authors in this volume, the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP), owing to an extended period in power at national and local levels, shaped an original welfare state in a democratic regime. The differences between this model and the continental or British experience were considerable, especially regarding the design and principles ruling the welfare state, as Gøsta Esping-Andersen convincingly demonstrated almost thirty years ago (Esping-Andersen 1990). But the Nordic parties, like their counterparts, did not break with capitalism. They used the state to implement their own public policies, for instance on fiscal and social issues (progressive taxation, universal social rights, etc.). However, they guaranteed the rule of law and the primacy of liberal democracy in much the same way as their centre-right and conservative opponents. A crucial cause explaining this “not-so-special” relationship between Western socialism and the state resulted from the absence of any clear blueprint designed by socialist experts to radically change its functioning, including after the Second World War. The reflections about the state in European socialist parties are actually not the result of pure intellectual speculation. It is primarily a political affair, determined by several factors— for example, whether the party is in opposition or in power, with this latter situation frequently causing an ideological aggiornamento. It is common to stress the influence of Marxism on socialist parties and therefore on their perception of the state, but this assertion demands many qualifications. First, Marxism does not occupy the same place in all parties: it has a prominent place in Germany—or at least did until the celebrated Bad Godesberg Congress of 1959—as well as in Austria, France, Italy, and in Spain until relatively recently; but Marxism was less influential in Scandinavia where local interpretations of functional socialism prevailed. Furthermore, Marxism was not identical from one party to another, being little more than rhetorical in France and more sophisticated in Germany and Italy. What is more, Marxism was not the only doctrinal reference for socialists when they thought about the state. The members of the Fabian Society were one of the main intellectual influences on the British Labour Party in the late nineteenth century, but that influence extended well beyond the borders of the United Kingdom, to France and Spain, for example, in the



1930s. Socialists were also occasionally inspired by the thinking and practices developed by the Christian Socialists, as the French historian Jacques Droz already noted in his work on democratic socialism (Droz 1966). Then, after the Second World War, Keynes replaced Marx in economic theory and action, leading to considerable changes in socialist relation to the state in a capitalist regime. Furthermore, in many countries, there was very little theorising about the idea of the state; perception of it was based mainly on political practice, as in Sweden and the United Kingdom. Last but not least, by the end of the twentieth century, socialists were being influenced by neo-liberal theories, which they did not embrace unreservedly, but which they brought them back into an agonistic relationship to the state and particularly the welfare state. Critical thinkers of this neo-­ liberal orthodoxy, such as Norberto Bobbio, Michael Walzer, Jürgen Habermas, and even Amartya Sen, each in his specific way, have also influenced some socialist intellectuals. Moreover, the socialist relationship with the state is far from being limited to its theoretical aspect. In parallel with these debates, the socialist parties underwent an important sociological change, which contributed in no small measure to marginalising the tendencies within them that were passionately hostile to the state following the First World War. From the inter-war period and to a still greater extent after 1945, these parties, which were or wished to be parties of the working class—and therefore very suspicious of civil servants—started to penetrate those social classes that were dependent on or close to the state. The comparison is difficult since the ideas, status, and existence of civil servants and public employees vary so much historically and by country, but in many instances this proved decisive. In the twentieth century, socialist and social democratic parties wanted to move away from their traditional class base and appeal to the middle classes, among them those linked to the public sector, because society was changing and it was necessary to adapt to these changes, but sometimes also because of the presence of powerful communist parties that were firmly embedded in the working classes. This was the case in France during the 1930s and after the Second World War, in Italy—mainly from 1945 until the early 1980s—and in Spain just when it was emerging from the Franco dictatorship. Among these categories of public employees, teachers occupied a crucial place. On the other hand, forming a relationship of trust with the senior administration proved somewhat more delicate. In most cases, it was not until after 1945 that the socialists were



able to truly penetrate it and assimilate some of its behaviour, habitus, and vision of society. Although the socialists influenced the state and helped to change it, they were also themselves affected by the state. They made incursions into the state, using it for their own ends, but they were in turn exploited by the state and deeply marked by their statist experience. This is one of the central points highlighted in this collective research. As partners in power, socialists, like other political parties, were integrated into the state system and sometimes fell prey to the same vices that afflicted conservative or Christian democratic parties as a result of occupying the bureaucratic machine: clientelist politics, which for example, explain Pasok’s refusal to embark on fiscal reform in Greece (however essential it was due to the country’s situation), or sometimes the practice of corruption, particularly in France, Spain, and Italy and, once again, in Greece. Socialist parties gradually became dependent on the state and reliant on the expectations, aspirations, and interests of state employees, who came to form an essential pillar of their electoral base, much more decisively so than workers by the end of the twentieth century. In the 1960s and 1970s, these groups were able to press the parties to take measures in favour of extending public sector prerogatives, but in the decades after, the reform of the state by socialists also left these groups embittered. After 1945, the growing affinities with the senior bureaucracy—sometimes bordering on collusion— could hamper plans to radically reform the state machine. In some parties, such as the British Labour Party, the prestige and authority of senior civil servants led Harold Wilson’s governments in the 1960s to quickly abandon the democratisation of Whitehall (Theakston 1992). From being independent organisations coordinating social and societal representation in the political arena, socialist and social democratic parties became increasingly a part of state structures, even “cartel parties” to borrow the notion of Richard Katz and Peter Mair (1995). This trend was a part of a more general one for Western European parties of government, such as German, Italian, Belgian, or Dutch Christian democratic parties, to take a striking example. In Katz and Mair’s opinion, the parties of government, whatever their political hue, gradually changed from the 1970s onwards into semi-public, centralised agencies, increasingly cut off from their electoral and membership base, which was itself gradually diminishing. Their survival depended mainly on “state resources and, in particular, public financing” (Aucante and Dézé 2008), which put them in danger in the event of resounding electoral defeat.



However controversial, to some degree it was a fitting description for social and social democratic parties which were less present on the ground but became powerful machines linked to the state, particularly where matters of finance were concerned. This dependence was also sociological, as these parties had been reduced to being appendices of social groups that were closely linked to the functioning of the state. The consequences of these theoretical and sociological changes on the practices of socialist governments and the attitude of their elites to public authorities are crucial.

An Increasingly Common Destiny What emerges over time is a five-stage development that was followed by most socialists, albeit at slightly different paces. These sequences are roughly outlined here with an indication of their dominant characteristics, certainly at the risk of oversimplifying them, whereas in fact each one gave rise to lively debate among socialist officials. From the late nineteenth century until the First World War, and against liberal thinking, the state was generally considered to be at the service of the dominant bourgeois class. It therefore had to be radically transformed, just as capitalism had to be overturned, in order to achieve a socialist order. However, attempts to render more complex the understanding of the state were voiced inside socialist parties: Jaurès in France, Bernstein in Germany, and Vandervelde in Belgium were its most prominent spokesmen. From the First World War, a decisive turning point, the question of the state and national political issues outweighed any other consideration. This focus on it was not confined to socialism, as Lenin had already noted in 1919: “Nearly all political disputes and differences turn upon the concept of the state, and more particularly upon the question: what is the state?” (quoted in Abrams 1988). Of course, not all of Lenin’s analyses were equally germane. This one, however, proved to be particularly astute, especially for understanding changes in the European socialist movement. In the inter-war period, most socialists came to accept the state. They considered they could occupy it or even gain control of it to make it serve their ends; in fact these ends themselves were being redefined and were no longer limited to socialisation of the means of production. The state was then thought of as a tool at the service of the political, economic, and social changes they wished to promote. Here too, some minorities refused this prospect and socialists were divided on how far state prerogatives should go. This first great change was the result of several factors: the



experience of the First World War with socialist participation in the governments of belligerent countries (with the exception of the Italian socialists); the effects of the 1929 crisis; the mounting power of Fascism and Nazism, as well as Stalinism and state planning; the early achievements of the Swedish social democrats but also the lessons learned from Roosevelt’s New Deal in America; the fact that Keynesian ideas were starting to infuse and that socialism was beginning its breakthrough into new social categories, notably state employees—a composite whole that included public sector manual workers but also office workers and middle-grade managers, who had long been unmoved by socialist discourse. While expressing their fascination with the efficiency of the state machine, many socialists became aware of the difficulty of bringing about radical change, especially in challenging political, economic, and social circumstances. A third phase began after the Second World War: the modern state was now seen to increase its scope of activities as well as its boundaries and prestige almost everywhere. The socialists were carried along on this wave and helped to boost it (Callaghan and Favretto 2006; Callaghan et  al. 2009). At the same time, many of them, particularly the German Socialist Party (SPD) and the Austrian, Belgian, and Scandinavian parties, redefined the basic tenets of socialism and also their understanding of capitalism, which led them to speak more about the market economy that could be regulated. They also played an important role in developing and implementing the post-war planning consensus: it was a time of great faith in the state and the competence of its technocrats to provide “technically correct solutions to the social and economic problems” of the moment (Müller 2011). Large-scale planning was perceived as the appropriate means to guarantee growth and stability in a political context that had been deliberately mollified, so enthusiasm for it was rife within government parties of both left and right (Christian et al. 2018). Contrary to a received idea, however, their main contributions did not fall within the area of economics. While exercising responsibility during this period, the British, German, Austrian, and Scandinavian social democrats did not in fact ever implement a “democratic plan” for capitalism that was specifically socialist. The inertia of central administrations, which were generally resistant to any large-scale reform proposed by a socialist government, only partly explains this phenomenon. It also—perhaps mainly—resulted from the firm conviction of many socialist leaders that private enterprise was more efficient than public authorities in producing market goods and services; this was allied to the fear that too much economic planning could



lead to a drift towards authoritarian regimes along the lines of those in the Eastern bloc. On the other hand, social democratic decision-makers left their mark on the transformations and reinforcement of the social and cultural state at national, regional, and local levels. A more sombre side of this “social democratic moment” was that they also supported the unfortunate initiatives of public authorities in spatial and urban planning (Sanyal 2005), which according to Tony Judt contributed to a disfigurement of the living environment that was hard for some West European populations, especially younger ones, to accept (Judt 2005). In the years 1960–1970, this socialist state-centrism was therefore strongly criticised by parties and personalities situated not only to their left and right but also within the party’s own ranks. In the British case, the rise of state socialism, symbolised by the post-war Labour government of Clement Attlee, did not prevent socialist alternatives persisting. These claimed to represent a pluralist liberalism following in the wake of those— among whom G.D.H.  Cole was unquestionably the main figure—who propounded decentralised socialism (Ackers and Reid 2016). On the continent, the anti-authoritarian and anti-bureaucratic culture espoused by 1960s protesters affected the margins of socialist groupings, particularly their youth movements, even though the party elites remained very largely impervious to this new political culture (Sassoon 2014 [1996]). The late 1970s saw a fresh onset of censure condemning state power. This time the accusations coming from neo-liberal circles. They repeated certain elements and concepts developed by 1960s left-wing protesters, but now putting them at the service of their own political aims. The welfare state was the favourite target of these criticisms; the socialists were accused of being totalitarian, dependent on entitlements, and conservative. Other accusations against the “strong state” emerged from their own ranks in the name of solidarity with dissident movements harassed by the communist surveillance states in Central and Eastern Europe. On the defensive, the socialists were divided among several viewpoints: those wishing to maintain the welfare state of the preceding period and even to extend it, and those whose intention was to modernise the state, accepting some of the liberal criticisms while advocating a regulatory, strategic, and organising state. This observation leads to evoke a permanent feature of socialist parties. Each of the phases previously described marks a turning point, an adaptation, or a reconversion, without the previous dominating position disappearing completely. Having now become a minority position, this continues to exist in the form of malleable residues and remnants, ready to



spring into life again as a resurgence. The changes in democracy and capitalism in Western Europe since the late 1970s seem, however, to have created a tendency for homogenisation in the way socialist elites think about and engage with the state, at least with regard to the economic and social policies pursued since the 1980s.

In the Era of the “Neo-Liberal Turn”: What Socialism and with What State? When in power, in the era of the “Thatcher-Reagan revolution”, the socialists proved to be pragmatic. They were able to reject economic state control and, at the same time, use the state to bring pressure to bear on social, educational, and cultural domains or to see through social reforms. However, more fundamentally, their situation of near-subjection to the state put socialists in an insurmountable contradiction throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Most socialist parties, again with considerable differences according to their national situation, were moving towards an economic and social policy in which the state no longer had the same central role. This was due, among other things, to globalisation, Europeanisation, and the “relative permeability” of public policies (European Union and national) to the neo-liberal paradigm—an “amorphous and malleable set of ideas” based on a belief in the undisputed superiority of the market over state intervention as a mechanism for allocating resources (Crespy and Ravinet 2014). This change was perfectly symbolised by Lionel Jospin’s reaction to the closure of a Michelin factory on September 13, 1999. Although he was critical of Tony Blair’s Third Way, the French prime minister, loyal to the realist approach he had defended since the 1997 electoral campaign, announced on television that people should not expect everything from the state. The remark triggered a violent controversy and caused real turmoil within the left-wing coalition then in power: this doctrinal change of direction, which affected the whole of European socialism, struck at the heart of state employee and public sector interests, as well as those of their trade unions on which both governments and socialist parties depended. The result was disengagement on the part of militants and voters, which landed these parties in difficulty. The partial disaffection by public sector workers was one of the factors in the present crisis of European social democracy which, furthermore, lost its popular and working-class support (Rennwald 2015).



This crisis has been the subject of much research and many interpretations (Andersson 2010; Bailey et al. 2014; Cronin et al. 2011; Escalona 2018; Evans and Schmidt 2012; Rueda 2007). It appears inseparable from the reconfigurations of European states which had begun in the mid-­1970s. As Desmond King and Patrick Le Galès have shown, states have less autonomy, and their room for action is limited by European rules and pressures, and even the injunctions of financial markets, multinationals, and rating agencies. Modern states appear to be more fragmented, less characterised by overall coherence, and often disconnected from society, which itself is becoming fractured. They have lost what the Italian sociologist Gianfranco Poggi calls their “unifying energy” (Poggi 2001) which, during the post-war growth years, was expressed in a series of measures to reduce inequality—particularly in matters of taxation (Piketty 2013). In the 1950s and 1960s, West European Welfare state thus ensured a certain level of prosperity, though for all that it does not mean this period should be held up as an irenic golden age. The internal divergences of European Socialists about the state crystallised around the turn of the twenty-first century with the controversy opened by the so-called Third Way proposals, of which Tony Blair made himself the champion, and those of the “new centre” (Neue Mitte) promoted by Gerhard Schröder. In June 1999, the two men published a common declaration, which went down in history as the “Blair-Schröder Manifesto”. This document promoted a new approach to the state which was largely inspired by—but not reduced to—the work of the sociologist Anthony Giddens, one of Tony Blair’s close advisers. The British prime minister, like his German counterpart, unambiguously espoused a “social-liberal approach”—to the great displeasure of their French comrades. Although they did not call for the state to disappear, since it had to continue guaranteeing certain public benefits, they refused any broadening of its remit or its bureaucracy and claimed that certain tasks that socialists traditionally considered to be the domain of public services could be carried out by non-state actors, the role of the state then being to ensure that everyone had access to these services (Giddens 1998; Crowley 1999; Faucher-King and Le Galès 2010). In the theory as in the practice of those advocating the Third Way, the state thus played a lesser role, or rather a different role, with regard to the economy and the welfare state. The latter had to be “modernised”—meaning reduced—but not “dismantled”.5 In their view, 5  Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder’s Manifesto, “Europe: The Third Way/Die Neue Mitte”, June 8, 1999, gauche/3voie/blairvo.html [Accessed September 12, 2018].



socialists and social democrats had to accept this evolution in the mission of public authorities on pain of disappearing from the political scene. To the promoters of the Third Way the twenty-first-century social democratic state should focus its efforts on forming a culture of enterprise and continue—even intensify—the state’s regulatory activity in sectors other than economic and social ones, such as human resources, research, education, culture, surveillance, or social mores. In the economic and social spheres, the Blair and Schröder governments carried out deregulatory policies which, without being entirely similar, shared a common ideological filiation. Like the right-wing West European parties, social democracy so directly contributed to the transformation and reconfiguration of the modern states in democracy. These profound changes have directly affected socialist and social democratic parties—the political coherence of which, gradually developed after 1945, was already shaken during the 1980s and even more so with the financial and economic crisis of 2008. Socialists have therefore no longer been able to build the welfare state within the framework of the nation-state only, and those belonging to the European Union have not succeeded in developing common social policies. Their perception of the state has been profoundly affected by this. The present migration crisis also partakes of the feeling of disaffection or at least a declining attachment of European populations to the welfare state. Socialist groups too are affected by this phenomenon. As Tony Judt pointed out in 2009, in a context where migrations were less topical than they are today, “where immigration and visible minorities have altered the demography of a country, we typically find increased suspicion of others and a loss of enthusiasm for the institutions of the welfare state” (Judt 2009). However, socialist parties, like their political opponents in fact, do not passively resign themselves to these crises. As in the late 1990s with the Third Way, they attempt to participate in reconfigurations of the state by offering proposals and initiatives when they are in power or in opposition. Some of them have expressed the desire to return to a strong state, as exemplified by the (electorally unsuccessful) project developed by the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbin. This kind of posture expresses the willingness manifested by some socialists to remain loyal to what they saw as an accepted part of their history, that being the existence of a privileged relationship with the state. It also highlights a political strategy. Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the generalisation of austerity policies all across Europe (Schäfer and Streeck 2013), voicing their faith in a strong state in



economic and social matters has appeared to some socialist elites and activists to be all the more necessary, given that new social movements, such as, among others, the anti-austerity Spanish 15-M (Indignados) Movement, have sprung up and are demanding, inter alia, state protection against widespread deregulation. The Covid-19 pandemic once more illustrates for the socialists (and not only them) the importance, not to say the centrality, of the state in hard times. The big question is whether the socialist parties are still in a position to really influence these processes, given that they have been weakened electorally, lost a substantial number of their members, and no longer have the cultural sway they once had. The present period is therefore one of incomplete transition, for states but also for the socialists, who are confronted with an extremely serious identity crisis. According to some of them, socialism is finished. It has a glorious history but has been overtaken by current political, economic, and social changes, by the new divisions emerging between pro-­Europeans and Eurosceptics and between advocates of an open society and those crusading for a closed society. Changes in the tools for state action, and indeed the rise of populism, make the socialist idea obsolete. They therefore describe themselves as belonging to the centre left or to a so-called progressive movement. Against them are those socialists who consider that social democracy still has a future. This camp, which is keen to maintain a state with influence over the affairs of the nation, is divided into two strands: those who, while proclaiming their loyalty to social democracy, accept the need for it to evolve and also for the state to be modernised; and those who strongly support maintaining the tasks of the state just as they were set out in the aftermath of the Second World War. This book is divided into three parts, each one illuminating a particular aspect of the problematic relationship between socialism and the state, as described above. Each part is introduced by a short text raising common issues addressed by the contributors and their main findings. The first consists in a study of the ways by which West European socialist and social democratic parties conquered and acculturated to the modern state. It therefore reflects upon the fuzzy goal of “democratising the state and society”, relentlessly expressed by socialist elites and activists from the early twentieth century at least until the late 1970s. The second part of the book is dedicated to the relations between socialists and state personnel in the longue durée. It notably shows how civil servants engaged in socialism as activists and/or experts playing a crucial role as intermediaries between socialist parties and the state machinery. It is nearly impossible to



understand the success of socialist acculturation to the state without focusing on the penetration of civil servants in these organisations from the inter-war period onwards. It is also difficult not to consider their current divorce as a significant cause of the decline of socialism in Western Europe. The third part of this volume deals with what is most contemporary, that is the crisis and changes in European socialism in the context of the transformation of the state and of states in Europe, especially their economic and social prerogatives. Currently, the fate of European socialism depends on the parties themselves but also on any new configurations that states may assume. The future of states will also depend partly on the choices made by socialists—if they still exist and still have the means to shape decisions and make their voices heard.

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Giddens, Anthony. 1998. The Third Way. The Renewal of Social Democracy. Cambridge: Polity Press. Grunberg, Gérard. 1997. Vers un socialisme européen? Paris: Hachette. Hall, Peter. 1993. Policy Paradigms, Social Learning, and the State. The Case of Economic Policymaking in Britain. Comparative Politics 25 (3): 275–296. Haupt, Georges, Löwy Michel, and Weill Claudie, eds. 1974. Les marxistes et la question nationale 1848–1914. Paris: Maspero. Hay, Colin. 2014. Globalization and the State. Palgrave: Basingstoke. Heclo, Hugh. 1974. Modern Social Politics in Britain and Sweden. New Haven: Yale University Press. Imlay, Talbot. 2013. International Socialism and Decolonization During the 1950s: Competing Rights and the Postcolonial Order. American Historical Review 118 (4): 1105–1132. ———. 2017. The Practice of Socialist Internationalism: European Socialists and International Politics, 1914–1960. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Judt, Tony. 2005. Postwar: A History of Europe since 1945. New  York: The Penguin Press. ——— 2009. What Is Living and What Is Dead in Social Democracy? The New York Review of Books, December 17. Katz, Richard, and Peter Mair. 1995. Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy: The Emergence of the Cartel Party. Party Politics 1 (1). King, Desmond, and Le Galès Patrick, eds. 2017. Reconfiguring European States in Crisis. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Laqua, Daniel. 2015. Democratic Politics and the League of Nations: The Labour and Socialist International as a Protagonist of Interwar Internationalism. Contemporary European History 24 (2): 175–192. Lazar, Marc, ed. 1996. La gauche en Europe. Invariants et mutations de la gauche européenne. Paris: PUF. Le Galès, Patrick, and Nadège Vezinat. 2014. L’État recomposé. Paris: PUF. Levy, Jonah D. 2006. The State After Statism: New State Activities in the Age of Liberalization. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Manela, Erez. 2007. The Wilsonian Moment. Self-Determination and the International Origins of Anticolonial Nationalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Manow, Philip, Bruno Palier, and Hanna Schwander. 2018. Welfare Democracies and Party Politics: Explaining Electoral Dynamics in Times of Changing Welfare Capitalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Mazower, Mark. 2012. Governing the World: The Rise and Fall of an Idea, 1815 to the Present. New York: Penguin Press. Morgan, Kimberly J., and Ana Shola Orloff, eds. 2017. The Many Hands of the State: Theorizing Political Authority and Social Control. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Moschonas, Gerassimos. 2002. In the Name of Social Democracy. The Great Transformation 1945 to the Present. London: Verso. ———. 2017. European Social Democracy, Communism, and the Erfurtian Model. In The Sage Handbook of Political Sociology, ed. William Outhwaite and Stephen Turner, vol. 1, 516–547. London: Sage Publications Ltd. Müller, Jan-Werner. 2011. Contesting Democracy: Political Ideas in Twentieth-­ Century Europe. New Haven: Yale University Press. Novak, William J. 2008. The Myth of the ‘Weak’ American State. The American Historical Review 113 (3): 752–772. Orloff, Ann Shola, and Theda Skocpol. 1984. Why Not Equal Protection? Explaining the Politics of Public Social Spending in Britain, 1900–1911, and the United States, 1880s–1920s. American Sociological Review 49 (6): 726–750. Orren, Karen, and Stephen Skorownek. 2017. The Policy State. An American Predicament. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Piketty, Thomas. 2013. Le capital au XXIe siècle. Paris: Seuil. Poggi, Gianfranco. 2001. Forms of Power. Cambridge: Polity Press. Rebérioux, Madeleine, and Georges Haupt. 1963. L’attitude de l’Internationale. Le Mouvement social 45: 7–37. Rennwald, Line. 2015. Partis socialistes et classe ouvrière. Ruptures et continuités du lien électoral en Suisse, en Autriche, en Allemagne, en Grande-Bretagne et en France (1970–2008). Neufchâtel: Éditions Alphil-Presses universitaires suisses. Rueda, David. 2007. Social Democracy Inside Out: Government Partisanship, Insiders and Outsiders in Industrialized Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Sanyal, Bishwapriya, ed. 2005. Comparative Planning Cultures. London: Routledge. Sassoon, Donald. 1996. One Hundred Years of Socialism. The West European Left in the Twentieth Century. London: Fontana Press. Schäfer, Armin, and Wolfgang Streeck, eds. 2013. Politics in the Age of Austerity. Polity: Cambridge. Schmidt, Ingo, ed. 2016. The Three Worlds of Social Democracy: A Global view. London: Pluto Press. Scott, Alan. 2018. The State. In The Sage Handbook of Political Sociology, ed. William Outhwaite and Stephen Turner, vol. 2, 363–378. London: Sage Publications Ltd. Theakston, Kevin. 1992. The Labour Party and Whitehall. London: Routledge. Weill, Claudie. 2005. Les Internationales et la question nationale. In Histoire des gauches en France, ed. Becker Jean-Jacques and Candar Gilles, vol. 1, 489–505. Paris: La Découverte.


Using the State to Democratise Society


Using the State to Democratise it. Introduction to Part I Mathieu Fulla

A superficial approach to the Western European socialist movement in the late nineteenth century would exaggerate the popularity of the Marxist call to destroy the bourgeois state. To simply mention two striking examples at the turn of the twentieth century, the followers of Jules Guesde in the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO) and the left wing of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) vehemently called for the eradication of this “class state”, considering reform to be impossible. The first part of this volume strongly questions this view. The different contributions gathered herein point out the contrast between recurrent pleas for a complete remodelling of the state and the reality of day-to-day practices inside socialist and social democratic parties. They offer useful arguments to grasp the evolution of the balance of power between those who supported acculturation to the bourgeois state and those who remained irrevocably hostile to this entity as such.

M. Fulla (*) Sciences Po Paris, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




In the early 1900s, this balance was in a state of equilibrium. Far from being a simple revolutionary manifesto, the Erfurt programme adopted by the SPD in 1891 (which exerted considerable influence on the socialists until the First World War) was more complex and less critical of public authorities than it appeared to be at first sight. Certainly, this document endorsed the main features of the Marxist analysis, but it also called for extending the rule of law, building a “welfare state avant la lettre” and redistributing income through a progressive tax on labour and capital (Moschonas 2018). Karl Kautsky, Eduard Bernstein, Jean Jaurès and Emile Vandervelde each in his own way defended a hybrid approach to the state, somewhere between criticism of its class character and a plea for immediate reforms. The German, French, Belgian and Scandinavian case studies discussed in the following contributions show that a rather positive view of the state dominated among the socialist ruling elites, who had two main goals: conquest and democratisation. This implied acculturation to its codes, functioning and language, which took place at local levels much more than at national levels. Although many European socialist parties exercised responsibilities at municipal or regional levels, they gave different meanings to this experience. In Germany, as Stefan Berger shows, it played a prominent role in the increasing identification of the SPD with the imperial nation-state. Conversely, in many other countries, the leading critics of the bourgeois state were defenders of municipal socialism and the cooperative movement. The Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) programme of 1897, the “possibilist” socialism developed by the French socialist Paul Brousse evoked by Alain Bergounioux in his contribution, and the “guild socialism” of G.D.H.  Cole and S.G.  Hobson in Great Britain are revealing examples of this line of thinking (Ackers and Reid 2016). In Belgium, the consumer cooperative even constituted “the main economic and social stronghold of the socialist workers’ movement” in those days (Delwit 2012 [2009]). More broadly, this socialist penetration of the state through subnational levels provoked lively debates within the different parties. Hostile tendencies towards the state remained active and developed an energetic propaganda to denounce the growing collusion of the leadership of their organisations with the bourgeois parliamentary state, as noted by Stefan Berger and Alain Bergounioux. The outbreak of the First World War bolstered the pro-state camp. All the contributions gathered in this first part highlight the admiration of numerous socialist elites (politicians as well as experts) for the efficiency of the warfare state. The state was then increasingly considered the most efficient lever to achieve a gradual transition from capitalism to socialism.



In the 1920s, socialist fascination for the state apparatus, of varying intensity depending on the country and the degree of power held, once more found its most complete expression in the SPD’s political strategy in Weimar Germany. But all socialist parties shared a set of common beliefs and practices towards the state: they considered its political democratisation through the introduction of male universal suffrage as a top priority (with the exception of France where it had been in effect since 1848); they ruled out violence as an acceptable means to conquer the state and recognised liberal parliamentary democracy as the only legitimate framework for structural reforms; in power, they used the state to implement immediate social reforms for the working class. Hostile tendencies towards the state still survived within these parties, and even more within trade unions, but they were undoubtedly in the minority—knowing that a large part of their supporters were joining the nascent Communist parties. The troubled political and economic context of the interwar period, however, halted the convergence of socialist approaches to the state. In the early 1930s, Scandinavian social democracy took an original path. Largely spared by the fascist threat, the Swedish SAP seized power in 1932 and initiated a socialist transformation of the state. Yohann Aucante shows how this organisation, allied to the agrarian parties, took advantage of its special relationships with trade unions, municipalities and cooperative societies to pursue its goal of a more egalitarian society. The author also notes that access to responsibility led to early colonisation of the state apparatus, which did not translate into a collectivist experience but into a “productivist compromise” between the state, the workers’ movement and employers. Conversely, the ambition of continental and British socialists to change the state radically collided with the rise of fascist and authoritarian regimes and with the Great Depression. Alain Bergounioux and Tommaso Milani stress Léon Blum and Emile Vandervelde’s refusal to envisage any radical transformation of the state in those days. The transnational controversies around planisme, analysed by Tommaso Milani, bear witness to their disinclination to provoke a major doctrinal turnaround where the state was concerned. Although, in private, figures close to Léon Blum and Emile Vandervelde acknowledged the importance of the ideas developed by the Belgium socialist thinker and politician Henri De Man, the main theorist of planisme, they judged them to be politically dangerous. These politicians and experts were convinced that reinforcing the state’s economic prerogatives would inevitably lead their country into a drift towards fascism. Therefore, on the eve of the Second World War, West European socialism, with the exception of Scandinavia, faced a major



challenge: although socialist parties had successfully begun to penetrate the state, no socialist governments had ever tried to radically transform it, and even less to replace it with another political framework, either local or supranational. This attitude seems to be explained basically by the absolute primacy accorded to respect for liberal democracy in West European socialist political culture after 1918. Changing the state was an option only if it did not endanger democracy. Nonetheless, the fascist and Stalinist approaches to the state in the interwar period pushed the socialists to rethink the meaning they gave to the concept of democratisation and more broadly to address the crucial issue once again: what should they do with the state? Accordingly, in the wake of the Second World War, democratisation referred to an economic and social project based on the building of a welfare state, and in some cases on the reinforcement of economic powers of the state through planning and nationalisation. The contributions by Alain Bergounioux and Yohann Aucante, which take a long-term perspective, highlight the classic observation that the post-war period was a time when socialists placed great trust in the state—a sentiment shared, incidentally, by most government parties, whatever their political hue. They also emphasise the less well-known persistence of hostile tendencies within social democratic parties towards too much government interference in relations between trade union and employer organisations. Critical discourse against the state, which was accused of serving capital interests, thus continued to be present in post-war socialist circles. It did not focus on purely economic and social questions but also condemned the state’s repressive character and its conservatism with regard to cultural and societal issues. The great groundswell of protest in the 1960s gave it a new lease of life. Therefore, only the Scandinavian parties, particularly the SAP, whose governmental experience was highly revered in Western European democracies, met with no opposition to its plan to strengthen the welfare state. The first symptoms of the 1970s economic crisis, however, would force them to question their special relationship with the state. More broadly speaking, while the West European social democratic parties were gradually integrating the state in the 1960s and 1970s, their ruling elites were losing their faith in the capacity of its administrative apparatus to take up the challenges raised by the “shock of the global” (Ferguson et al. 2010). Furthermore, they were more and more sceptical about their own ability to design a democratic socialist state that was fundamentally different from the entity built and managed by their conservative or liberal opponents. By the 1980s, the



credo of modernisation replaced democratisation in socialist public policy as illustrated, among many other examples, by the Mitterrand socialist governments in France (1981–1986; 1988–1993) or the Palme government in Sweden (1982–1986). From then to the present, pleas for a workers’ democracy or self-management were no longer appropriate and have become exclusive to the far left. A new form of targeted and ambiguous reformism of the state gradually emerged. At a time when Reaganism and Thatcherism were triumphant, the socialists adopted a bivalent approach. On the one hand they consented (or resigned themselves) to economic and financial liberalisation in the name of a necessary adaptation to globalisation, and, in the case of European Union member states, to building the European Community. On the other hand, they did not abandon their defence of the social state and put their efforts into new fields, such as social customs and culture, which they tried to liberalise. This ideological compromise on the state, however, remained extremely fragile, and was severely damaged by the 2008 financial crisis, leaving socialist and social democratic parties in turmoil.

References Ackers, Peter, and Alastair J.  Reid, eds. 2016. Alternative to State-Socialism in Britain: Other Worlds of Labour in the Twentieth Century. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Delwit, Pascal. 2012 [2009]. La vie politique en Belgique de 1830 à nos jours. Bruxelles: Éditions de l’Université de Bruxelles. Ferguson, Niall, et al., eds. 2010. The Shock of the Global: The 1970s in Perspective. Cambridge, MA and London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Moschonas, Gerassimos. 2018. European Social Democracy, Communism, and the Erfurtian Model. In The Sage Handbook of Political Sociology, ed. William Outhwaite and Stephen Turner, vol. 1, 516–547. London: Sage Publications Ltd.


Between Challenging the Authoritarian State and Democratising It: German Social Democracy, 1914–1945 Stefan Berger

In this chapter I trace the relationship of German Social Democracy (SPD) to the state during the first half of the twentieth century. I argue that the Marxist conceptions of the state that the SPD adopted in Imperial Germany were shot through with a commitment to the existing class state already before 1914. During the years of the Weimar Republic the SPD managed to shape the state in its image to a certain degree. This chapter comments on the way in which German Social Democracy acculturated to the state inaugurated and shaped by its political adversaries. For a brief time, during the Weimar Republic, the Social Democrats managed to capture the state in order to implement their own social ideas. But those attempts were limited by the difficult search for reliable political allies. The destruction of the labour movement in 1933 put an end to SPD attempts

S. Berger (*) Institute for Social Movements, Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




to capture the state. In exile, parts of the SPD became more radical and returned to revolutionary conceptions such as the need to destroy the existing class state. However, the vast majority of the party leadership, especially those who spent their exile years in the West, adopted an anti-­ totalitarian and Western understanding of the state that played an influential role in the post-Second World War orientations of the party that will be analysed in the chapter by Sebastian Voigt.

On the Eve of the First World War: Overthrowing or Reforming the Capitalist State In the decade before the First World War, Social Democracy was struggling with the legacy of the Anti-Socialist Laws (1878–1890) and the discrimination and persecution the party had to endure from the Imperial German state. It was not by coincidence that the party adopted, for the first time, a self-consciously Marxist and revolutionary programme, the Erfurt programme, just at the end of the Anti-Socialist Laws. The party was thus ‘officially’ committed to overthrowing the existing ‘capitalist’ state as the first step in building the socialist state. In the writings of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, the state was portrayed as an instrument in the hands of the ruling classes. It was the task of the working classes to capture the state and initiate the socialist transformation. But even the grand masters of Marxism were not entirely clear how this transformation was to be achieved. Especially where the class state had a strong military-­bureaucratic complex, it had to be overcome by force, they argued. Where it was more liberal in orientation, such as in Britain and the US, the labour movement could also capture the state peacefully and gradually1 (Möller 1991). These dilemmas over the ‘how’, that were already inherent in Marx’s and Engels’ writings, could also be found in German Social Democracy. The Marxist SPD was, in Karl Kautsky’s words, ‘a revolutionary party but not a revolution-making party’ (Kautsky 1909). Behind this rather awkward phrase lays a deep fear that open calls for a violent overthrow of the state might result in renewed persecution. As the second part of the Erfurt programme also contained detailed reformist agendas, the SPD concentrated after 1890 on building up its formidable organisation, participating in the parliamentary political system at local, regional, and national levels as far as possible, whilst putting the revolution in a horizon of expectation 1

 MEW 18/60; MEW 19/344 f.; MEW 33/205.



that was firmly situated in the future. Dieter Groh has characterised this development with the terms ‘organisational patriotism’, ‘revolutionary attentism’, and ‘negative integration’ (Groh 1973; Ritter 1990). Social Democratic workers, as their pub talk clearly indicates, experienced the Imperial German state as oppressive in its police harassment, unfair imprisonment, and dubious legal proceedings (Evans 1982: 151). On the other hand, there is plenty of evidence of a strong self-identification of Social Democrats with the German nation-state, even if they ideally imagined that state differently from the one that was a reality in Imperial Germany (Berger 1994: 18–35). The so-called Marxist centre of pre-war Social Democracy is well described by Groh’s term ‘negative integration’. However, the SPD also consisted of a left wing and a right wing that were both equally unhappy with this state of affairs and wanted a more dynamic and less static strategy for the party. All of these factions were quite heterogeneous in terms of generational experience, occupation, and political socialisation so that it is nearly impossible to draw any conclusions regarding these factors and attitudes to the state. On the right, a reformist wing, broadly supported by the trade unions, was abandoning calls for a socialist transformation of the state. Instead they were pushing for incremental reforms within existing state structures. Here we also find increasing identification with the Imperial German state and its values and norms. Social Democratic revisionism, identified most strongly with Eduard Bernstein, is often perceived as part and parcel of that reformist wing of the party, but there were significant ideological differences. Whereas many reformists were simply uninterested in political theory and philosophy and acted as pragmatic politicians, Bernstein always insisted that he was a Marxist, albeit one who was thinking Marxism further and not adopting it as quasi-theological dogma. This commitment to Marxism meant that, unlike many reformists, Bernstein wanted to overcome the capitalist state. Yet the means, he argued, were no longer a violent overthrow of the state but a gradual capturing of that state through the ballot box and through parliamentary alliances (Steger 1997). Bernstein was also a key figure in developing, from a Social Democratic viewpoint, a liberal-democratic constitutional conception of the state before 1914 (Steinbach 1983: 33–37). On the left wing of the SPD, Rosa Luxemburg became one of the key spokespersons for all those who wanted to be more pro-active in bringing about the revolution. Inspired by the 1905 Russian Revolution, the left was dissatisfied with what it perceived as the increasing parliamentary



orientation of the SPD. Luxemburg championed ideas of direct democracy based on elected workers’ councils. She promoted the political mass strike as a weapon in the struggle against the class state and a means to bring about the revolution. Her reading of the history of the Paris commune had convinced her that it would be simply impossible for the socialists to capture the bourgeois class state and command it in the interest of the working classes. It had to be completely remodelled in a council-­ democratic way for it to become a means for the promotion of the new socialist society (Hudis and Anderson 1969: 358; Nettl: 1969). If Luxemburg did not so much reject the state as insist on changing the organisation and personnel of the state apparatus after a successful socialist revolution, her arch-­ rival in the pre-war SPD, fellow Marxist Eduard Bernstein, like many other Marxists, was strongly statist, believing in the regulatory power of the state. The latter, through its legislative and administrative power, was to deliver major social change. He believed Social Democrats, by forging parliamentary alliances with left liberals and Catholic social reformers, should put themselves at the helm of a broader progressive alliance. Those ideas were undoubtedly influenced by the long years of exile Bernstein had spent in Britain (Hirsch 1977). On the eve of the First World War the integration of Social Democrats into the Imperial German state was quite advanced. It arguably went beyond the ‘negative integration’ perceived by Dieter Groh and incorporated much positive integration, especially in the southwestern states of Germany and in municipalities where left liberalism and social Catholicism were strong. The regional differences in Germany were thus vitally important for the prospects of a Bernsteinian progressive alliance. As the parliament had also gradually increased its importance in the constitutional system of Imperial Germany by 1914, at least in comparison with the 1870s, a certain optimism regarding the reformability of the constitutional monarchy was justifiable (Rauh 1973, 1977). To Social Democrats like Bernstein it looked as though a parliamentary system was achievable within the framework of the Imperial German state. The impressive electoral successes of the party seemed to put parliamentary power within its reach, especially if it could find alliance partners. Thus, in 1912, with party membership standing at more than one million individual party members, a third of the electorate, 4.25 million voters in total, opted for the SPD, making it by far the strongest party in the Reichstag. Many Social Democrats, like other Germans, were impressed by the modernity and success of that state after 1871. Its economy had overtaken that of



Britain as the strongest economy in Europe, its system of social reforms was widely studied abroad, its administrative systems were copied in other countries, its science was world-leading, and its cities had become a cultural hub for the international avant-garde. Belief in the state and commitment to the nation were thus unsurprising, although the ideal nation-state of Social Democracy was far removed from the reality of the Imperial German state.

During the First World War: Towards Positive Integration The reaction to the outbreak of the war underlined that the SPD was ready for more positive steps of integration. The parliamentary party, despite some disquiet among a minority of parliamentarians, unanimously supported the war in August 1914. On 2 December 1914, Karl Liebknecht was the first to break ranks and in subsequent months more and more Social Democrats distanced themselves from a war that many, like Liebknecht, saw rooted in imperialism and in capitalist competition. Yet in August 1914, even left-wing members of Social Democracy, such as the member of the Reichstag Konrad Haenisch, admitted that it felt good to be in line with what appeared the majority opinion in the German Reich. Emotionally and strategically the war offered an opportunity to align Social Democracy with the Imperial state—not only in Germany but in many of the West European countries participating in the war. Of course, the mood in the wider party and among its supporters is far more difficult to gauge. After all, the SPD led large peace demonstrations almost up until the outbreak of war. Many Social Democrats would have been utterly confused between a desire for peace and a desire to defend the nation-­ state, which had achieved so much since 1871 and that promised to achieve even more with Social Democratic reforms. In this sense, it is probably accurate to speak of two souls in one breast in many Social Democrats during the First World War (Schorske 1955; Miller 1974). The Imperial German state, for its part, also made substantial attempts to integrate the Social Democratic labour movement into the state and persuade it to support the German war effort. It directed its efforts in particular at the union movement, as many unionists had already belonged to the reformist wing of Social Democracy before the war and as it appeared particularly important to prevent any strikes or unrest among workers in factories that were important to the war effort. The union



movement, in turn, including the socialist unions, responded to the state’s overtures in the hope that it would allow the unions to ally with the state against recalcitrant employers (Ruck 2017: 67–90), and their hopes were not unrealistic. The Auxiliary Services Law, adopted in December 1916, ended the free movement of labour between different forms of employment and made all workers between 17 and 60 liable to work in armaments-­ related factories if they were not serving in the army or ensuring smooth agricultural production. Whilst this was a typical wartime measure, its explosiveness in terms of industrial relations lay in its paragraph 11, which made it obligatory for all employers employing more than 50 workers to create works councils that had the right to represent workers vis-à-vis the factory management. It marked the end of managerial absolutism in Germany and is widely seen as precursor to the works council law enacted by the Weimar Republic in 1921 (Milert and Tschirbs 2012; Neumann 2015; Teuteberg 1961). The works councils established after December 1916 were already freely elected by all employees at the workplace. They had the right to bring grievances of workers to the attention of the management and negotiate with management on behalf of the workforce. If no agreement could be found, a conciliation committee would be established consisting of three worker representatives and three management representatives plus one representative from the war office, that is, the state. If still no agreement could be found, the latter had the deciding vote. The Auxiliary Service Law marked a decisive break with the ‘master in one’s own house’ standpoint of the employers in Imperial Germany and gave the unions an important say inside the factories, as most works councillors were also active union members. Undoubtedly the Auxiliary Services Law was a functional measure directed first and foremost at creating a more efficient war machinery. The German chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg talked about the law bringing forth ‘an army of labour’ that was to support ‘the fighting army’ behind the lines.2 Had Germany won the war, would the Imperial German state have revoked the law and returned to the traditional company paternalism that had characterised industrial relations in Imperial Germany? It is difficult to say, but the revolutionary parliamentary democracy could certainly build on this law after 1919. The willingness of Social Democrats to take responsibility within and for the Imperial German state was also visible in the parliamentary party’s alliance building in the Reichstag. When Matthias Erzberger, a deputy 2

 Reichstagsdebatte Hilfsdienstgesetz, 29.11. and 2.12.1916, S. 164.



from the Centre Party, suggested a resolution promoting the end of unlimited U-boat warfare and the search for a negotiated peace in July 1917, the leadership of the Majority Social Democratic Party (MSPD) backed the idea. Its leaders, Friedrich Ebert, Philipp Scheidemann, and Eduard David, together with Erzberger, were to bring the resolution to the Reichstag and it was adopted with the votes of the MSPD, Centre Party, and left liberals. It cemented the alliance at the heart of many democratic coalition governments in the Weimar Republic which was best known as ‘Weimar coalition’ (Ribhegge 1988). The MSPD also managed to open productive channels of communication to the Imperial German elites, and when the last Imperial chancellor placed the government of the Imperial state in the hands of Friedrich Ebert on 9 November 1918, it was also a sign that the government trusted the Majority Social Democrats with channelling the revolution into a peaceful transition to a post-war regime. Already in September 1918 the MSPD, together with the Centre Party and the left liberals, supported the chancellorship of Max von Baden and urged for an end to the quasi-­ military dictatorship of the Oberste Heeresleitung, a rapidly negotiated peace with the Western allies and political reforms that would lead to a parliamentary democracy. Ebert and the MSPD leadership were very much aware of what had happened in Russia one year earlier and they were adamant that everything should be done to prevent a German revolution. In October 1918, two leading Majority Social Democrats, Philipp Scheidemann and Gustav Noske, entered the governments as ministers. Ebert had already declared in September, If we now opt against agreement with the bourgeois parties and the government, we will have to let developments run their course, endorse the revolutionary tactics, stand on our own feet and leave the fate of the party to the revolution. Whoever witnessed the developments in Russia cannot wish similar development with us, in the interest of the proletariat. On the contrary, we must throw ourselves into the breach; we must endeavour to gain enough influence, in order to push through our demands, and, if possible, to combine them with saving the country; it is our damned responsibility and duty to do this. (Mühlhausen 2006: 100)

The MSPD leadership provided one end of the very broad Social Democratic spectrum in wartime. The tensions over how to react to the war, coupled with the very different ideological positions outlined above



and a strong tradition of party discipline, led to a formal split of the party in 1916 (Lehnert 2016: 123–162). The Independent Social Democrats (USPD) amounted to a heterogeneous alliance of those, like Bernstein, who were opposed to the war and those, like Luxemburg, who saw the war as an opportunity to bring about revolution. It is ironic that these two ideological opponents should find themselves in the same party after 1916. The USPD benefitted from the massive crisis of the state during the last two years of the war, when its leadership increasingly militarised German society without being able to provide the people with even the basic necessities in terms of food and clothing. The working class, which suffered most under these conditions, increasingly veered towards the working-­ class party that stood for an end to war and for revolutionary change. The massive strike movement that threatened to engulf whole industrial sectors in 1917/1918 had specific grievances in terms of wages, working conditions, and the provision of basic necessities of life, but many strikers also became politicised, so that political demands for a change of government and for socialist democracy were increasingly heard (Wheeler 1970; Morgan 1975). Hence, at the end of the war, Social Democracy found itself in a rather peculiar situation: the MSPD had embarked on the road of revolution from above, by capturing the Imperial German state and making it into a parliamentary democracy, whilst the USPD insisted on revolution from below, demanding the destruction of the Imperial German state and the erection of a council republic. Both parties were intent on democratising the state and pushed developments that were common across a very wide range of states in Europe in and around the immediate post-war years.

During the Weimar Republic: Attempting to Forge the Social Democratic State The MSPD, entering an alliance with the more reform-minded sections of the Imperial German elites, was ultimately successful in defeating all those who wanted a German ‘October’ and those who aimed for a more thorough transformation to a socialist state and society (Niess 2013).3 The outcome of the German Revolution, in line with MSPD wishes, was a parliamentary democracy and a republic (although sections of the MSPD 3  The interpretation of the German Revolution of 1918/1919 has been highly contested for decades.



would have been content with the continuation of the monarchy). In the constitutional assembly of the new democratic state, the MSPD, together with its old parliamentary allies, the Centre Party and the left liberals, laid the foundations of the new state which for the duration of its ill-fated and short existence had no better champion than Social Democracy. The president of the constitutional assembly was a Social Democrat, Eduard David. Social Democrats worked hard to anchor the right of workers to form trade unions in the constitution and they also succeeded in formulating a paragraph stating the social responsibility of private property. For the first time social rights were enshrined in the constitution. Against Social Democratic intentions, however, the right to strike did not become a constitutional right in the Weimar Republic (Bollmeyer 2007). The Social Democrats Marie Juchacz (MSPD) and Luise Zietz (USPD) worked hard to enshrine the equality of women in the constitution. The constitutional elections of January 1919 were the first in which all women over the age of 20 were allowed to vote. The Social Democrat Max Quark was equally important in the debates on whether and where the basic human rights should be enshrined in the constitution. Sinzheimer tried in vain to enshrine the abolition of the death penalty into the constitution. The Weimar coalition here failed to work, as the left liberals (DDP), who were in principle in favour of abolition, argued that it should not be part of the constitution. The position of the MSPD in the constitutional assembly in many discussions stood between those of the USPD and its parliamentary allies, the Centre Party and the DDP. The latter two were generally able to impede any progress, together with the more right-wing parties, where only MSPD and USPD were supportive, for example over the equal treatment of single mothers and children born out of wedlock, or over the extension of forms of direct legislation by the people through referenda, or on the question of youth welfare (Gruhlich 2012). If Majority Social Democrats were unable to push through all of their ideas in the constitutional assembly, Independent Social Democrats were even less successful in leaving their mark on the constitution. Hence there was the notion in parts of Social Democracy that Weimar democracy was a transitory stage on the road to socialism, that socialism remained the ultimate aim and democracy at best was the means to achieve that aim. One of the prominent slogans of the Social Democratic youth movement in the Weimar Republic was ‘Republic, that isn’t much; Socialism is the aim’ (‘Republik, das ist nicht viel, Sozialismus ist das Ziel’) (Walter 2011). If the republic was not yet the state that at least some Social Democrats



imagined the socialist state of the future to be, it has to be reiterated here that the Republic had no supporters more willing to defend it than Social Democrats, not the least because they saw the Weimar state as lever to effect social change (Winkler 1984, 1985, 1987). Unlike in Imperial Germany, where Social Democrats could forge alliances and influence municipal politics only in exceptional circumstances, in Weimar Germany they captured the state at national, regional, and local levels to a considerable degree. Electorally, the party reached its all-time high in national elections in January 1919, when it received 37.9 per cent in the elections to the constitutional assembly of the Weimar Republic. It plummeted to 21.6 per cent in June 1920, with the left-wing Independent Socialists, competing for the first time in national elections, receiving 18 per cent. Thereafter, in free elections, the SPD always scored above 20 per cent with another high of 29.8 per cent in May 1928 (Miller and Potthoff 1987: 293–298). Social Democracy was a party of government at the national level for many years and it also was influential in many of the federal states, notably Prussia, where it built a strong alliance with the Centre Party. The social-liberal profile that had already developed within parts of Social Democracy before 1914 now fully came to the fore (Lehnert 2015: 7–38). Its constitutional theory moved further in the direction of a strong endorsement of parliamentarianism and classical liberal constitutional values (Luthardt 1986). Hans Kelsen, Hugo Sinzheimer, Otto Kirchheimer, Ernst Fraenkel, Franz Neumann, and Hermann Heller became the key constitutional theorists within the SPD for whom the rule of law and the constitution was the frame in which to develop the social state of the future. For them, it was the openness of the constitution that was at the same time its promise and the basis for its wholehearted defence. In many city halls and municipalities, Social Democrats guided municipal politics, in several cases successfully implementing forms of municipal socialism. They encouraged producer and consumer cooperatives and sought to engage the municipality in economic activity, often setting up municipally owned and run companies, especially in fields such as electricity and power supply, public transport, and water (Saldern 1984: 193–214; 1977: 18–62; Lehnert 1991; Kühl 2001). Overall, in a variety of different areas Social Democracy encouraged a more pro-active state in the years of the Weimar Republic. Take, for example, the field of social policy, where, undoubtedly, the introduction of an unemployment insurance law in 1927 was a path-breaking measure on the road to a more extensive welfare state. The law itself was prepared by a



Catholic social reformer, Heinrich Brauns, and the SPD was in opposition when it was passed in parliament. For the first time it gave the unemployed some kind of social net that protected them from rapid and complete immiseration in case they were made redundant. In the economic crisis after 1929, the SPD defended this landmark achievement against all attempts to undermine it, even risking what turned out to be the last government that could rely on a parliamentary majority in 1930 (Winkler 1985: 590–605). The revolution also brought the eight-hour workday, a long-standing demand of Social Democracy, and although the employers were quite successful in undermining the principle of the eight-hour day in the course of the Weimar Republic, it should nevertheless be seen as another landmark achievement (Euchner et al. 2005: 207 f.). Social Democrats also ensured that social housing was increased substantially, with new affordable working-­class housing estates springing up in many German cities, often with the active participation of Social Democratic municipalities and cooperatives (Kähler 1985). Insurance against sickness was also extended significantly during the years of the Weimar Republic (Prange 1954: 209–230). In economic policy, the Reich Economic Council that was based on paragraph 165 of the Weimar constitution, drafted by the Social Democrat Sinzheimer, was supposed to advise the government and parliament on economic matters and prepare economic legislation. However, due to wide differences of opinion between unions and employers in the Weimar Republic, it never functioned well and rarely was important in economic decision-making (Tarnow 1951: 562–568). Social Democrats had to come to terms with the fact that they were still living with and under a capitalist economy. Of particular importance here was Rudolf Hilferding’s notion of ‘organised capitalism’. Like many other Social Democrats, he was fascinated with the development of capitalism in the US. Studying the cartelisation and concentration of capital in what was widely perceived as the most advanced capitalist economy of its age, Hilferding came to the conclusion that capitalism had to be ‘ripe’ for socialism to become its inheritor. The more the economy became concentrated and the more industry and banking became integrated, the easier it would ultimately be for the Social Democratic state to nationalise the economy (Smaldone 2000; Chaloupek 2011). The theory of organised capitalism was ultimately a theory that was attentist and in line with the pre-war attentism of German Social Democracy, as socialists had to do little else but wait until



capitalism had organised itself to such an extent that the state could simply take over as a kind of super- or uber-capitalist. In practice, of course, Social Democracy was far removed from any opportunity to achieve nationalisation, but that made its attentist position all the more appealing. Less attentist were the ideas developed by Social Democrats around the concept of ‘economic democracy’ (Wirtschaftsdemokratie). It involved economic participation at the workplace and in industry. Originally, Social Democrats and Social Democratic Unions had opposed the Works Council Law of 1921, as the works councils were independent from the trade unions. Yet in practice, it turned out that many works councillors were also active trade unionists, so that the Social Democratic unions quickly made the works council idea their own. The notion of ‘economic democracy’ went far beyond the idea of representation of workers at company level. It contained a strong notion of counter-power to the employers. Whereas the Christian labour movement was first to endorse the works council idea and championed notions of social partnership between capital and labour during the Weimar Republic, Social Democrats wanted to democratise the economy as a necessary accompanying measure to the democratisation of the state (Hoffrogge 2011). The Social Democratic trade union federation (ADGB) asked a commission headed by some of its leading theoreticians, including Hilferding, Sinzheimer, Fritz Naphtali, Ernst Nölting, and Fritz Baade, to work out a concept for such democratisation. In 1928 the ADGB congress adopted the report and made it official ADGB policy. Twelve demands resulted from the detailed economic analysis on which the concept of ‘economic democracy’ was based. Among them, the further development of the employment law and workers’ protection legislation, as well as the extension of social insurance legislation, increased power for works councillors, state control of monopolies and cartels, and the encouragement of cooperatives had pride of place (Naphtali 1966, 184–186). Overall it amounted to nothing less than a step-by-step programme to nationalisation. However, Social Democracy remained far removed from ever achieving the political power via coalition-building in Weimar to put some of the more ambitious parts of the programme into practice (Weinzen 1982; Milert and Tschirbs 2012; Bois and Hüttner 2011). Yet it was not only in the field of social and economic policy that Social Democrats sought to shape the state in its image in the interwar period. In foreign policy, it contributed to international discussions around a socialist foreign policy that characterised all socialist parties in the interwar period and played an important part in the reconstituted Socialist International after 1923. Rudolf Breitscheid was one of the leading Social Democrats



trying to formulate a coherent Social Democratic rationale for a socialist foreign policy in the interwar period. He gave special attention to peace policies and the fight against warmongering as well as to disarmament. There was also considerable attention to the problems of secret diplomacy and the need for greater transparency in foreign relations (Brandt 2016). Social Democracy was from its inception in the nineteenth century very much a cultural and educational movement. Hence it is hardly surprising that it also sought to influence the state’s cultural and educational policies. In Imperial Germany, its initial societal isolation led it to setting up its own libraries, reading circles, theatre groups, choirs, and so forth. The workers’ cultural movement was indeed the fourth pillar of the labour movement alongside the pillars of political party, trade union, and the cooperative movement. In Imperial Germany it formed, by and large, a parallel world outside of the structures of the state and apart from the many middle-class cultural and educational associations (Lidtke 1985). In the Weimar Republic that cultural and educational fourth pillar continued. It was in fact a particularly interesting wing of the labour movement, because here Social Democrats and Communists continued to be members of the same organisations in many places until the Kommunistische Partei Deutschland’s (KPD) social fascism thesis forced an organisational split in the late 1920s (Lösche and Walter 1989; Saage 1986). Yet in the Weimar Republic, Social Democrats worked hard to use the state to provide educational and cultural facilities for workers, including municipal libraries, theatres, adult education centres (Volkshochschulen), and sports’ clubs. Indeed, it scaled back its own activities and encouraged workers to make use of the various state facilities that were now open to them (Guttsman 1990). Social Democrats also attempted to shape the understanding of law in the Weimar Republic. Gustav Radbruch, professor of law in Heidelberg, Königsberg, and Kiel, a Social Democratic member of parliament between 1920 and 1924, and justice minister in 1921/1922 and again, briefly, in 1923, laid the foundations for overcoming a positivist understanding of law by arguing that where statutory law was directed against the principles of justice and equality that underpinned all legal systems, the justice principle stood above statutory law. It was to become the principle self-­understanding of the legal system only in the Federal Republic of Germany after 1949 (Kaufmann and Radbrucg 1987). Apart from a new understanding of law, Social Democrats also implemented and/or supported a range of legal reforms that made the Weimar Republic a more liberal place than many others in the West during the interwar period. In 1926, a new labour law was implemented that saw the setting up of labour



law courts to which workers, often with the help of their unions, could appeal in event of differences with their employers. Hugo Sinzheimer, widely regarded as one of the most important thinkers on labour law, and one of the founding members of the Academy of Work in 1921, wrote many contributions to labour law that got a wide international hearing in the interwar period (Kubo 1995; Blanke 2005).

In Exile After 1933: Between Combatting the Class State and Adapting Liberal-Democratic Ideas of the State In Weimar Germany, Social Democrats, who had been key ‘outsiders’ in Imperial Germany, had become ‘insiders’ in many ways (Gay 1968). They, together with their liberal and Catholic allies, brought forth the new republican state and its parliamentary democracy. This ‘Weimar coalition’ had influenced the shape of the Weimar constitution, and over a wide range of political fields, they implemented state measures to liberalise and Social Democratise the state. Social Democratic efforts to make the Weimar state more of a welfare state found their limits in the political will of their coalition partners and the stubborn refusal of sections of German society to accept the former outsiders. The destruction of the German labour movement at the hands of National Socialism marked a major defeat and setback for Social Democratising the state. The strong statism within the SPD contributed to the willingness of a small minority of Social Democrats to seek some form of understanding with German fascism. Already in 1932 Lothar Erdmann, for example, the editor of the theoretical journal of the Social Democratic union federation, the ADGB, argued in favour of an alliance of the unions with the National Socialists (Querfront), seeing the considerable socialist potential in National Socialism. His conception of a strong state, influenced by the ideas of the ‘conservative revolution’ in Germany, played an important role in his realignment at the end of the Weimar Republic (Fischer 2004). However, overall the vast majority of Social Democrats stood steadfast against National Socialism. The parliamentary party’s vote against the Enabling Law in 1933 and Otto Wels’ speech on that occasion can count among the finest moments in the history of Social Democracy.4 Many Social Democrats were killed by 4   Reichstagsdebatte vom 23.3.1933 zum Ermächtigungsgesetz. Verhandlungen des Reichstags, 6. WP., vol. 457.



the Nazis, on the streets and in the concentration camps. To many Social Democrats, the capture of the state that they had envisioned as a gradual process under Weimar was now only a distant dream. The conclusion that some Social Democrats drew from this was a distinct radicalisation of their positioning vis-à-vis the state. Was it not the class state that had shown its ugly face in 1933? Were the National Socialists not protecting the class interests of the bourgeoisie and doing the latter’s bidding by destroying the labour movement? The victory of National Socialism confirmed Marxist ideas of the class state and instilled in some Social Democrats the belief that this class state could only be brought down with a broad alliance of all working-class parties in a revolutionary act. Hence some were re-engaging with the Communist movement seeking a united front in the struggle against fascism. The smashing of the class state rather than its gradual transformation now seemed the only way forward. Some left-wing socialists developed a rather rose-tinted view of the Soviet Union and imagined a post-war order in which Europe, allied to the Soviet Union, would champion the future socialist order in a vast Eurasian block (Behring 1999). On the other hand, the renewed Social Democratic exile, especially in Britain and the US, also brought encounters with Western forms of pluralism and democracy that was to be a major inspiration for Social Democrats and contributed to their intellectual ‘Westernisation’ with major consequences for the direction of Social Democracy after 1945 (Angster 2003). The state was now imagined by many Social Democratic leaders, even more so than during the Weimar Republic, as a Western state, a parliamentary democracy with a strong civil society and public sphere. Increasingly the SPD in exile argued in favour of an anti-totalitarian consensus, distancing itself from both fascism and communism. Its foreign policy conceptions were pro-European, internationalist, and multilateral, and it championed the democratisation of all life spheres, thereby developing a broad understanding of politics. Overall, a more liberal understanding of the state thus was strengthened in exile, but it still sat, often somewhat uneasily, next to remnants of a Marxist class understanding of the state that had characterised the theorising of the state on behalf of the SPD from the 1880s onwards. * * *



German Social Democracy emerged out of different ideological traditions in the nineteenth century. The Lassallean tradition was critical of the political liberalism of its time and looked towards the state, even the authoritarian Bismarckian state, for solutions to the social question. However, there were also more left-liberal and utopian socialist-inspired thinkers, who criticised the authoritarian state and developed alternative visions of the state, without being necessarily less statist. The breakthrough of Marxism within the SPD at the time of the Anti-Socialist Laws brought with it a perception of the state as a class state that acted in the interests of the bourgeoisie. Nothing short of a revolution would destroy that class state and see it replaced by the socialist state of the future and, ultimately, the stateless association of individuals. Both of those ideas remained, however, extremely fuzzy and without much content. As the oppression under the Anti-Socialist Law became a heroic memory of self-assertion inside the party, and as many came to identify with the successes of the Imperial German state, commitment to revolution was increasingly replaced with attempts to work towards the Social Democratic ideal of the state through political reform. Many Social Democrats thus accommodated more and more to the state form in Imperial Germany, whilst insisting on the need to democratise the state from a constitutional monarchy in the direction of a parliamentary democracy. The developments during the First World War saw an accelerated integration of many leading Social Democrats into the existing state and an increasing division within the party between those committed to revolution and those intent on gradual change. Amongst the latter we even find Social Democrats who sought to save the monarchy in the midst of revolution in 1918. The break-up of the party in 1916 and the subsequent emergence of the German Communist Party in 1919 saw the continuation of the revolutionary Marxist tradition in the pre-war SPD, whilst the Social Democrats became the single most supportive party of the Weimar state. Whilst Marxist theories of the state were never very developed within pre-war Social Democracy, and whilst Bernstein had given some attention to theorising the state within his brand of Marxist revisionism before 1914, it was only during the Weimar Republic that Social Democratic theoreticians of the state came to the fore and influenced major developments in labour law, constitutional law, international law, and many other areas of legal thinking on education, culture, economic order, and the rights of the



individual. The names of Hugo Sinzheimer, Hermann Heller, and Gustav Radbruch stand for landmark Social Democratic legal thinkers who influenced the Weimar state and who often also were to have a major influence on the development of the state in the Federal Republic of Germany after 1949. In Weimar Germany many leading Social Democrats envisioned a gradual development of the Weimar state in the direction of the key programmatic ideas of Social Democracy. In their view, the open framework of the parliamentary state made this possible, and the democratic state was the key lever to effect such change. Yet, they were to be disappointed, and the exile years brought both a return to older notions of the class state that could only be overcome through an act of revolution and the further development of liberal constitutional theory as framework in which to realise socialism. In the Federal Republic, under conditions of the Cold War, it was the latter ideas that were to be prominently represented within the Social Democratic leadership.

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Reichstagsdebatte vom 23.3.1933 zum Ermächtigungsgesetz. Verhandlungen des Reichstags, 6. WP., vol. 457. AIc. Accessed 27 Dec 2017. Ribhegge, Wilhelm. 1988. Frieden für Europa: die Politik der deutschen Reichstagsmehrheit 1917/18. Berlin: Hobbing. Ritter, Gerhard A., ed. 1990. Der Aufstieg der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung. Sozialdemokratie und freie Gewerkschaften im Parteiensystem und Sozialmilieu des Kaiserreiches. Munich: De Gruyter. Ruck, Michael. 2017. Die deutschen Gewerkschaften als Protagonisten nationaler Belange 1914–1923. In Gegner  – Instrument  – Partner. Gewerkschaftliche Staatsverständnisse vom Industrialismus bis zum Informationszeitalter, ed. Michael Ruck, 76–90. Baden-Baden: Nomos. Saage, Richard, ed. 1986. Solidargemeinschaft und Klassenkampf: Politische Konzeptionen der Sozialdemokratie zwischen den Weltkriegen. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. von Saldern, Adelheid. 1977. Sozialdemokratische Kommunalpolitik in wilhelminischer Zeit. In Kommunalpolitik und Sozialdemokratie, ed. Karl-Heinz Nassmacher, 18–62. Bonn: Dietz. ———. 1984. SPD und Kommunalpolitik im deutschen Kaiserreich. Archiv für Kommunalwissenschaften 23 (2): 193–214. Schorske, Carl E. 1955. German Social Democracy 1905–1917: The Development of the Great Schism. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Smaldone, William. 2000. Rudolf Hilferding: Tragödie eines deutschen Sozialdemokraten. Bonn: Dietz. Steger, Manfred B. 1997. The Quest for Evolutionary Socialism. Eduard Bernstein and Social Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Steinbach, Peter. 1983. Sozialdemokratie und Verfassungsordnung. Zur Ausbildung einer liberaldemokratischen Verfassungskonzeption in der Sozialdemokratie seit der Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts. Wiesbaden: Springer. Tarnow, Fritz Tarnow. 1951. Der Reichswirtschaftsrat in der Weimarer Republik. Gewerkschaftliche Monatshefte: 562–568. Teuteberg, Hans Jürgen. 1961. Geschichte der industriellen Mitbestimmung in Deutschland: Ursprung und Entwicklung ihrer Vorläufer im Denken und in der Wirklichkeit des 19. Jahrhunderts. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck). Walter, Franz. 2011. ‘Republik, das ist nicht viel’: Partei und Jugend in der Krise des Weimarer Sozialismus. Bielefeld: Transcript. Weinzen, Hans Willi. 1982. Gewerkschaften und Sozialismus. Naphtalis Wirtschaftsdemokratie und Agartz’ Wirtschaftsneuordnung. Frankfurt am Main: Campus. Wheeler, Robert F. 1970. The Independent Social Democratic Party and the Internationals: an Examination of Socialist Internationalism in Germany. New York: University of Pittsburgh.



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French Socialists and the State, 1905–2017 Alain Bergounioux

The question of the state, its nature and its role has been and remains the major problem for French socialism. The question has been posed at all stages of the movement’s history. Socialist thinking was forged through criticism of the liberal state: its initial aim, despite major differences between the socialist schools of thought, was to transform the state entirely, mostly through a different organization of society. Then came a gradual acceptance of the state—accompanied by demands for its democratization—as socialist parties gradually increased their influence over the electorate from the late nineteenth century onwards and their public offices increased. The effects of liberal globalization, buttressed by a new technological revolution, even led most European socialist parties to pose, not without some incongruity, as champions of the state, following the dictates of the European choices endorsed by most of them.

Translated by Cynthia Schoch and Rosemary Rodwell. A. Bergounioux (*) Fondation Jean Jaurès, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




This historical trend has been a feature of all European socialism and is found in every European country to varying degrees depending on their different situations and national cultures. In France, however, the relationship with the state has been particularly critical. This is due, primarily, to the state’s importance in nation-building—it has even been said that the state “produced the nation”—and to its increasingly preponderant role throughout the twentieth century (Rosanvallon 2000). But, for socialists and the left, account must also be taken of the force of Jacobin tradition which, ever since the French Revolution, has viewed the republican state, hardily reinforced by the Consulate and Empire, as a people’s victory that must be preserved. It is therefore understandable that ideological debates have been bitter and unceasing. There is no period in which real ideological uniformity has existed among successive socialist parties; rather, there has been a—more or less—vehement clash of ideas. However, depending on how deeply the socialists were rooted in society and, of course, the extent to which they exercised local and national power, this question of the state was not limited to ideological confrontations, important though these may have been. Indeed, the state stands both for public policy, which contributes to resolving different and sometimes opposing interests—and inevitably influences the way in which socialists have understood and judged their action over the decades—and social reality, which means electoral realities, owing to the increasing number of public servants and of those dependent on them. Since before the First World War, it is this intertwining of ideological conceptions, public policies and social and electoral interests that make up the thread of this already long history. The purpose of this study is to account for the thinking underlying and organizing it.

From the Jaurès-Guesde Controversy over the Nature of the State to the Post-War Dilemma in the French Left Before 1914, the main orientations of French socialism sprang from its Marxist strand represented by Jules Guesde; this influenced the structures of the new party as much as its doctrine. Originating in 1905, the Section française de l’Internationale ouvrière (SFIO) defined itself as a “party of class struggle” and “revolution”, in “fundamental and implacable opposition to the whole of the bourgeois class and to the state as its agent”



(Bergounioux 2016).1 In the late nineteenth century, this critique of the republican state was certainly shared by workers’ movements, both in the socialist party and in trade unions, most notably by the Confédération générale du travail (CGT or General Confederation of Labour). It was not, however, shared by the whole of socialism and trade unionism, and so reforming overtures by the state found more fertile ground in the years preceding the First World War. Jean Jaurès was the person responsible for synthesizing conflicting visions of the state: that of Jules Guesde and his followers, which still held sway; that of the reformists, whose concern was to penetrate institutions; and that of the trade unionists, who promoted self-organization of the proletariat. He mainly achieved it at the 1908 SFIO Congress in Toulouse by putting forward the notion of “revolutionary evolution”: this, by accumulating reforms, would lead the “oligarchic and bourgeois” state to gradually give way to a “proletarian and socialist” state.2 What was clear for Jaurès led to something of a juxtaposition in socialist culture. On the eve of war, it was difficult to present a distinctly outlined and acceptable concept of state. The representations and proposals that were made expressed a doctrine which, in large part, still remained external to the existing republican state and favoured the future construction of a radical citizens’ democracy. The First World War was a turning point in the history of the state (Rosanvallon 2000). It rapidly and considerably increased the government’s remit to organize and mobilize the country’s material and human resources. But for most socialists, the war, together with the “union sacrée” against the enemy, was understood as arising from “exceptional circumstances”. Certainly, two ministers—Jules Guesde in a symbolic role and Marcel Sembat, the Minister of Transport, who had practical responsibility—were members of the government until December 1916. Albert Thomas especially, the pre-war “linchpin of these reformist networks” who was Under-Secretary of State for Munitions and then occupied the essential post of Armaments Minister, conducted a policy tending to make the state a tool for economic rationalization: he found formulas for cooperating with private industry to comply with the demands of the public authorities by setting up arbitration committees in armament factories 1  Cited in Alain Bergounioux, Déclaration de principes socialistes (1905–2008), L’Encyclopédie socialiste, 2008. 2  Jean Jaurès, Revue socialiste, no. 221. Id. 5th SFIO National Congress, Toulouse, 15–18 October 1908, shorthand minutes.



to resolve social conflicts. This war experience led him to think that “organized socialism” based on state action might play a major role after the war (Roussellier 2014). But his action and theorizing did not arouse the enthusiasm of French socialists. The Bolshevik Revolution caused all the questions that the “Jaurès synthesis” had tried to resolve to resurface and destroyed the balance established between revolutionary hope and reformist practice. The conflict of legitimacies which led to the SFIO schism at the Tours Congress, in December 1920, restored pre-eminence to the orthodox Marxist criticism of “the bourgeois state”. The “rump” SFIO that re-formed in the 1920s found itself in a paradoxical situation, with more than two-thirds of its members choosing to go over to the newly formed Communist Party. The existence of an intransigent French Communist Party (PCF) embracing Marxist criticism of the state as its own might have given the socialists more freedom in their analyses. But the SFIO did not want to let the Communist Party have the monopoly of revolutionary legitimacy—all the more so since its internal equilibrium, with the important Guesdist centre-ground led by the general secretary, Paul Faure, who was attached to Marxist models, and an even more radical left faced with a parliamentary socialist right wing ready for an alliance with the Parti radical, a kind of centre left republican party that played a prominent role under the Third Republic, led to doctrinal conservatism. The deadlock manifested itself in 1924, with the electoral victory of the Cartel des gauches [Coalition of the Left] whose position of “support without participation” did not last more than a year. The opposition between the movements led Léon Blum in 1926 to propose a “synthesis” distinguishing “the conquest of power” from “the exercise of power”. Since conquering power was the party’s aim, he defined this as the moment when the party takes over the state in order to transform it and change the system of property ownership. The exercise of power, made possible by electoral reality, corresponded to governmental experience that would accelerate the pace of reform. But exercise could not turn into conquest, because “the possession” of power was not sufficient to create the conditions for it.3 This dichotomy, which satisfied none of the party’s currents of opinion, did not provide for an overall conception of the state that would clearly distinguish between notions of government, parliament and administration. 3  Léon Blum and Paul Faure, Le Parti socialiste et la participation ministérielle, Speech at the Extraordinary Congress of 10 and 11 January 1926, Librairie du Populaire, 1926.



A Gradual But Controversial Acculturation to the State During the Interwar Period But this doctrinal deadlock did not hinder real development. Now installed as a parliamentary party, with 104 deputies in 1924, the SFIO used all resources of parliamentary influence in order to act within the state. Its socialist electoral programmes showed it was ready to enter into “the exercise of power”. The techniques of financial and tax legislation were given particular attention. The socialists committed themselves to progressive taxation, capital levies, price stability and the establishment of state monopolies. This functional acculturation did not, however, prevent socialist deputies from continuing to distance themselves from the state’s monarchical aspects. For example, there were repeated instructions not to vote on the military budget. The SFIO was therefore essentially defending a social state. In contrast to the old traditional, centralized state, it was proposing for the future a new state which would be “divided up, fragmented, under the influence of organized forces”.4 The growing support of civil service trade unions, which joined the CGT, then the main French trade union, in 1924, confirmed the vision of a state designed as an organ for coordinating professional groups under the authority of parliament. However, these realities did not produce a debate on overall organization. The question of participation in government carried the day and prevented any deeper reflection. This situation appeared unsatisfactory to the younger generation of socialists who were more curious about foreign experiences and more concerned with concrete achievements. The Great Depression of 1929, which gradually began to affect the French economy, reframed the question of the state’s role in socialist debate. The discussion mainly crystallized around the notion of planification,5 which found partisans within different schools of thought: among Marxist intellectuals, in CGT reformist trade unionism and in the SFIO.  Evident in this was the influence of Soviet planning, after the onset of the crisis in the Western world in 1928. The beginnings of the New Deal, in 1932, were also of interest to the socialists. The work of the Belgian socialist theoretician Henri de Man, in particular,  Léon Blum “La restauration de l’État”, Le Populaire, 21 January 1928.  By way of example, see Lucien Laurat, Economie planée contre économie enchaînée, Paris 1932; Jules Moch, Socialisme et rationalisation, Paris, 1927; and Marcel Déat, Perspectives socialistes, Paris, 1930. 4 5



provided elements for a doctrine of action studied by the European left. The adoption of a Working Plan by the Parti ouvrier belge [Belgian Workers’ Party], in December 1933, initiated a debate within the CGT on the possibility of a planned economy within a capitalist regime. But the SFIO did not develop in the same way, despite its political proximity to the CGT, because the planned economy concept was defended by the party’s right wing—that is to say by the individuals advocating participation within the governments ruled by the Parti radical. In Perspectives socialistes, in 1930, their leader, Marcel Déat, returning to the shared idea in reformist thinking that the state is only a balance of power between the classes, made this an instrument for controlling the economy, which allowed it to be separated from capitalism. The question of property ownership was secondary to the question of power. This meant that Blum’s binary opposition between exercising power and conquering it no longer had any validity. The contradictions between the working class and the middle classes, which were the lever of fascism, could be resolved by the role of a state representing the general interest in the face of financial capitalism. Under the dual effect of the deepening economic crisis and the growth of the fascist threat, neo-socialism, as its supporters themselves called it, radicalized its position still further after January 1933 by giving primacy to national interests. It advocated an intermediary regime, different from both socialism and capitalism, as demonstrated in the experiences of the New Deal, fascism and national-socialism. This political construct took on an ambiguous meaning, dividing the neo-socialists and, above all, drawing condemnation from most of the socialists. The main criticism came from Léon Blum, whose proposals for French socialism had been directly challenged. Without denying the usefulness of nationalization—which figured in the party programmes—he saw it as having no potency in the capitalist crisis: only the effects of this crisis could be combated as the causes resided in the very internal logic of capitalism. He then refused the prospect of a strong state within a national framework, which would lead to dictatorship and nationalism: “Liberty cannot be saved by authority”. Léon Blum viewed neo-socialism as an error in line with communism, which made power an end in itself, with no account being taken of the conditions that made it possible. Finally, the SFIO leader accorded no socialist value to the plan; he dismissed the notion of an “intermediary regime” that would lay the ground for lasting co-existence between the public and private sectors, when the objective remained the abolition of wage labour. The disagreement over



doctrine—also political, perhaps mainly so—was fundamental and led to a schism in the SFIO in November 1933. The principal reasons for the doctrinal rigidity evidenced by Léon Blum lay in his desire to maintain the SFIO’s political identity. But it should not hide the fact that, in practice, under the influence of SFIO “experts”, both in the parliamentary group and the Union des techniciens socialistes [Socialist Technicians’ Union] led by Jules Moch and François Moch, many of the technical measures debated after the late 1920s were adopted in socialist programmes. Nationalizations were proposed, insofar as they were not presented as socialism, but they were not part of a global rationale for transforming the state. In the end, the political conditions presiding over the formation of the Front populaire [Popular Front] were obeying a call to “defend the Republic” against fascism. But the Parti radical, like the communists, refused to countenance the inclusion of a set of “structural reforms” in the Front Populaire’s programme of January 1936, as they were likely to frighten off the middle classes. The framework of the capitalist economy remained and the state was not granted new methods of action. The Front Populaire’s difficulties have been closely analysed (Vigreux 2016). The developments assigned to the state’s role were less concerned with the economy—Léon Blum’s government remained within a liberal economy dependent on capital holders—than with government itself and with labour relations. In keeping with his Lettres sur la réforme gouvernementale, which appeared in 1928, Léon Blum gave the executive power a new style of organization by making presidency of the Council the mainspring of government action, in order to “inspire, guide and arbitrate it”, and by using new legal instruments—framework laws and legislative decrees—to make public policies more effective (Roussellier 2015). The Matignon Agreements of 6 June 1936 organized tripartite Labour negotiations between government, trade unions and employers for the first time; these were followed by the law on collective bargaining, which gave the state power to extend agreements negotiated by management and labour.6 Both these developments lay the foundations for a new social order (Chatriot 2009). The gains remained fragile, in light of the contradictions marking the end of the Front Populaire. Nevertheless, the exercise of power caused socialist thinking to evolve. The controversies of the early 1930s vanished. One of the lessons drawn 6

 The Hôtel Matignon is the residence and office of French prime ministers.



by most socialist leaders was that the Front Populaire’s main weakness stemmed from the fact that the state did not have the means to put its policies into action. Léon Blum himself now accepted the notion of structural reforms to enable the state to exercise its democratic sovereignty.7 Acceptance of a capitalism corrected by state intervention is one of the legacies of this period that began with the 1929 crisis.

Forging an Original Social State After the Second World War: From Utopia to Disillusionment At the Liberation, and in the years following it, the socialists appear to have taken a decisive step forwards, accepting the need for a state with responsibility for production, planning and regulation. The work carried out in the Resistance, whether by the Comité d’action socialiste (CAS) [Socialist Action Committee], or the Socialist Party in London and Algiers, was all conducted along the same lines. The CAS programme, published in the clandestine newspaper Le Populaire in 1943, was built around nationalizations designed to control banks, the key industries and foreign trade. State economic interventionism was fully embraced. The same types of proposals were found in the work of the Commission studying post-war economic problems, under the leadership of André Philip in Algiers (Fulla 2016a; Bergounioux 2016). The socialists played an important role in the debates leading up to the drafting of the Conseil national de la Résistance [National Resistance Council] programme. “Pro-planning” ideas were in the air during this period, causing Léon Blum to think that “socialism ruled the day” (le socialisme maître de l’heure). Despite strong competition from the French Communist Party and the Christian democratic Mouvement républicain populaire (MRP) [Popular Republican Movement], the SFIO was effectively at the centre of political life and installed as a party of government. This acceptance of the state’s role in the economy was accompanied by an acknowledgement of sovereign state rule, from which, until then, the party had maintained a critical distance. One of the socialist preoccupations in 1944—shared with General de Gaulle—was to re-establish the authority and functioning of the republican state as quickly as possible. This was explained by the difficulties of reconstruction and an equal fear that communist influence would extend 7  Léon Blum’s speech at the SFIO national congress, Marseilles, 10–13 July 1937, shorthand minutes, pp. 479–480.



too far. The same causes, allied to the increasingly obvious takeover of the CGT by the communists, led the SFIO to abandon the socialization objective it had given to nationalization and now accept effective state control of certain industries. In 1946, the institutional debate held pride of place. The SFIO defended the notion of a parliamentary system as the best method of guaranteeing the role and autonomy of the parties, over and against General de Gaulle’s plan to reinforce the executive. Forced to agree to a compromise with the MRP after the failure of the first constitutional referendum in 1946, the SFIO ended up accepting a constitution that was close to the way the Third Republic functioned, and to defend it against the French Communist Party and the Gaullist Rassemblement pour la République française (RPF) [Rally for the French Republic]. What is striking is that the SFIO’s different positions with regard to the state, some of them innovative and others traditional, did not provoke wide discussion. This was, firstly, because the party’s doctrinal debate continued to revolve around the place to be given to Marxism. Léon Blum’s considered wish to revise the doctrine failed, and Guy Mollet’s victory at the 1946 Congress gave Marxist analysis of the state a lasting place in socialist culture. Secondly, the realities of social discontent, with the difficulties of state interventionism when faced with food shortages, wage demands, electoral disappointments for the socialists throughout 1946 and, finally, entry into the Cold War from May 1947, all combined to lead the SFIO to fall back on social policy (Fulla 2016a), and it did not oppose the progressive liberalization of the economy led by Third Force governments in which it often played a part. The period following the Liberation might therefore appear to be a missed opportunity. The socialists had certainly progressed as regards their conception of the state, but without having thought through economic factors alongside social ones; while steeped in parliamentary and trade union culture, they had not become aware of the transformation that the administrative state was starting to undergo (Roussellier 2016). These conditions prevailed until the end of the Fourth Republic, with emphasis remaining on social reform. When Guy Mollet was leading the Republican Front government, from February 1956 until June 1957, several notable reforms—in particular a national old-age pension fund— reinforced the social state (Lefeuvre 1990). Extension of the public sector was not part of the debate. The major innovation lay in the conclusion of negotiations to create the Common Market, through the Treaty of Rome, which curbed economic protectionism. It should be noted that the



different European socialist parties operating in other national contexts also prioritized questions of wealth distribution. But, unlike them, the SFIO drew no doctrinal lessons from this, continuing to combine Marxist ideology with reformist practices. In any case, after 1957, attention became entirely focused on the Algerian situation and the crisis of government.

Socialism and the State Under the Fifth Republic: From Opposition to Convergence After Mitterrand’s Election in 1981 With the advent of the Fifth Republic, the question of the state came to occupy a major place in the political debate. This was because the new institutions established in 1958 and 1962 gave primacy to the executive branch, and particularly to the president of the Republic, who was now to be elected by universal suffrage. France was consequently adopting a decision model, in which the assertion and major influence of a state technocracy saw its role in driving public policy sanctioned. This represented a dual challenge for the socialists. The institutional debate loomed largest, being the most disputed and the most apparent (Duhamel 1980). The majority of the SFIO, along with Guy Mollet, would have accepted the 1958 Constitution with a rationalized regime and an arbiter president. The SFIO minorities, on the other hand, which made up the Parti socialiste autonome (PSA) [Autonomous Socialist Party] and joined with other leftist movements to found the Parti socialiste unifié (PSU) [Unified Socialist Party] in 1960, condemned its principles, as did some important leaders of the left such as Pierre Mendès France and François Mitterrand. In 1962, however, the whole of the left came together to reject “personal power” after the referendum. But this did not end the debate. Although the defence of parliamentary rights remained a hallowed tradition, the acceptance (or not) of presidential election by universal suffrage headed the conditions laid down by the left in order to accede to power. This issue was tied up with the strategic problem: in order to reach 50% of voters, were alliances needed with the left, and therefore the Communist Party, or with the centre left and centre right? The socialist Gaston Defferre espoused this second strategy, while François Mitterrand, who was not a member of the SFIO but who was an influential leader of the non-­ communist left, favoured the first. The latter’s unexpectedly strong performance in the 1965 presidential election—forcing General de Gaulle



into a second round of voting—caused the socialists, in the form of the Fédération de la gauche démocrate et socialiste (FGDS), but also the Communist Party, to go from being in opposition to the regime itself— upheld by Pierre Mendès France and the PSU—to opposition within the regime. Commitments were made, during conferences and in devising programmes, to reform institutions along parliamentary lines, whenever conditions permitted. The position and discourse maintained by the socialist left right up until the present day were therefore laid down in the 1960s—with all the inherent tensions and contradictions of such a rather schizophrenic stance. This new institutional situation made the idea of knowing how to use the state and democratize it all the more crucial. The interest in economic planning therefore found renewed vigour amongst the left, since its principle meant using the power of the state—on condition, however, that such planning was democratic and not technocratic. These initiatives were led by trade union groups. Foremost among them was the group known as Reconstruction, founded by Paul Vignaux within the Confédération française des travailleurs chrétiens (CFTC) [French Confederation of Christian Workers] and clubs such as the Jean Moulin Club and the PSU. In 1959, a report on democratic planning was presented to the 30th Congress of the CFTC, which aimed to restore most investment activity to the nation in the context of a market economy, the plan’s objectives being worked out democratically, with the trade unions a driving force (Hamon and Rotman 1982). In 1963, the PSU drew up a counterplan. In 1964, Pierre Mendès France published La République moderne which was shaped by a demand for highly detailed planning. In the mid-1960s, a planning consensus therefore appears to have taken root among the socialist left, incorporating a reformist approach to capitalism and the state; these latter could be detached from one another, something not possible with the “Pompidou system” which organized close cooperation between the state and large companies (Martinet 1973; Fulla 2016a). But from 1965 onwards, the political rapprochement between François Mitterrand’s FGDS and the Communist Party made extension of the public sector, with the projected nationalization of banks and large industrial groups, a priority uniting the two main bodies of the left. The theory of state monopoly capitalism, put forward by communist economists, served as a basis for discussing programmes. Planning, which for communists and some of the socialists was far too accommodating with respect to the market economy, then became merely a means to an end.



The events of May 1968 had a paradoxical effect: on the one hand, they reinforced the resurgence of Marxism, already at work in socialist discourse, and accentuated the anti-capitalist stance of their programmes; on the other hand, they encouraged challenges to power, prompted by criticism developed in the social sciences, and particularly of state power, sanctioning the notion of worker self-management that exceeded the company sphere and was extended to the whole of society (Dreyfus-Armand et al. 2000; Audier 2014). The Socialist Party, led by François Mitterrand, was re-founded in the Parisian suburb of Épinay in June 1971. Mitterrand gradually rallied the socialist left, which thus became the main theatre of controversy concerning the state. The Épinay “line” which shaped the socialist programme, Changer la vie, of April 1972, was drafted by Jean-­ Pierre Chevènement, leader of the party’s left wing, the Centre d’études, de recherches et d’éducation socialiste (CERES). He was defending a brand of political voluntarism aiming to restore full independence to the state by nationalizing banks and industrial groups deemed to be strategic, strengthening economic planning and introducing workplace democracy.8 Despite difficult negotiations preceding a wave of nationalizations, the government’s common programme, agreed in June with the Communist Party and the Radical Party, showed evidence of the same line of thinking. The view espoused was one of a state that was at once economic planner, banker and industrialist. However, it came up against criticism from the PSU and from intellectuals of the “second left”, an informal and heterogeneous socialist current suspicious of a “strong state” and more interested in social movements and the role of civil society. Such critics did not denounce the anti-capitalist character of the state promoted by the French Socialist Party (PS) and the PCF but expressed strong concerns about its potentially bureaucratic nature. Thus, from 1974 onwards, the triptych of “nationalization, planning and worker self-management”, which summed up the Socialist Party’s economic position, took on its share of ambiguities and interpretations. The major conflict over the state’s role came with the confrontation of the “two lefts”, between François Mitterrand and Michel Rocard, in the late 1970s (Bergounioux and Grunberg 2007). Evident in this was their clash of ambitions to be candidates in the 1981 presidential election. But the debate reopened and expanded all the differences that had accumulated since the 1960s. Michel Rocard and, to a lesser extent, Pierre Mauroy, 8

 Changer la vie—Programme de gouvernement du Parti socialiste, Paris, Flammarion, 1972.



his ally at the 1979 Metz Congress, intended to redefine the role of the state, which was not designed to produce but had a planning and regulatory function. It could not bear the weight of social transformation all on its own: this depended on the action of collectives in industry and at the town government level. “Two cultures” were said to be in conflict on the left, according to Michel Rocard’s theory: one of them was “Jacobin, centralizing, state-based, nationalist and protectionist”, while the other was “decentralizing, regionalist, liberalizing, refusing arbitrary domination, whether by bosses or the state, and preferring the autonomy of grassroots communities and experimentation”.9 The ensuing recognition of the function of market regulation gave rise to strong ideological opposition. The resulting defeat of this “second left” at the 1979 Metz Congress led to the Socialist Party adopting a tougher line doctrinally, reaffirming nationalization as the touchstone of socialist identity. The 1980 socialist plan, drawn up by the CERES, stipulated the need for social redistribution to curb recession, structural reforms to enable the state to target investment and diffusion of power to mobilize energy.10 As candidate, François Mitterrand essentially repeated the same arguments in his 110 proposals, while stressing the need to implement substantial decentralization of power, since constitutional and administrative reforms remained limited (Jalabert 2011). Mitterrand’s election on 10 May 1981 opened a new phase, one of government, which lasted until May 2017, although interspersed with periods in opposition. But it was the years between 1981 and 1984 which really established the framework of the socialists’ relationship to the state with regard to its institutions, administrative organization and, above all, its economic and social role. In accordance with his tacit positions during the 1970s, François Mitterrand exercised the full gamut of presidential powers during his two seven-year terms of office (Grunberg 2013). He is famous for the statement, “The [Fifth Republic] institutions were dangerous before me, and will remain so after me”. While maintaining aspirations for a parliamentary system of government, the Socialist Party, which was the de facto presidential party, acted in accordance with the institutions of the Fifth Republic. This ambiguity, while useful for enhancing socialist 9  Michel Rocard, speech at the Socialist Party Congress, Nantes, 1977, repeated in Parler vrai. Textes politiques, Paris, Seuil, 1979, pp. 79–80. 10  Projet socialiste pour la France des années quatre-vingt, Paris, Club socialiste du livre, 1980.



influence, did not provide the party with a real constitutional ideology, since presidentialization remained unthinkable. In 1991, Lionel Jospin attempted to resolve this contradiction by proposing the explicit introduction of a “French-style presidential regime”. But as prime minister, in 1997, he opted for a re-presidentialization of the regime as it was, by introducing the five-year term of office in 2000 and making the presidential election come before the legislative elections—two reforms which made the president of the Republic more than ever head of the executive. Lionel Jospin’s elimination from the second round of the 2002 presidential election meant that the ensuing debates over the definition of a Sixth Republic came to naught. Nevertheless, all the socialist programmes renewed proposals to increase parliamentary powers and strengthen the prime minister’s position. But François Hollande, elected in 2012, while attempting—by pitching himself as “Mr Normal”—to make a distinction between the person of the president and the institutions, changed nothing fundamental and replicated the doctrinal ambiguities of the socialists, who remained critical of “personal power”. At the same time, the divisions within the socialist parliamentary group during the previous legislature— mainly caused by disagreements over economic choices—challenged presidential power in the name of parliamentary rights. The institutional debate therefore still remained open for a socialist party that was now seriously weakened.

Significant Transformations of the State Implemented in Office Of all the great debates over the transformation of the state and its democratization, decentralization was the major outcome. The 1982 decentralization laws, prepared before 1981, were the work of mayors of large cities, with no distinction being made between departments and regions. The effect of these laws was to give great autonomy to local councillors, for whom they were mainly designed (Rondin 1981). The much-­ trumpeted “new citizenship” remained empty talk, since the new powers were given mainly to local elected officials. The new name for prefects— who briefly became commissioners of the Republic—proved fleeting and could not conceal the close interdependence being created with decentralized state departments. The plan contracts established by Michel Rocard, who was Minister of Planning and Regional Development, shared



common objectives which increased the financial contribution of local governments—by the early years of the twenty-first century these were providing 70% of public investment. The increasing power of the regions, redrawn in 2014, did not fundamentally change the nature of this decentralized organization of the Republic. It even reinforced the influence of elected representatives. The creation of a territorial civil service in 1983, which soon showed a marked increase in staff, led to the Socialist Party depending on local governments for its electorate and for recruiting its personnel. The second radical change occurring in 1982 has received little attention but had momentous consequences: it was the abolition of the state monopoly of audio-visual communication and the introduction of an independent regulating authority. Both these reforms tended towards a liberal pluralism with which the state was forced to come to terms. However, democratization had very little effect on the senior civil service. The institution of a “third track” by the École nationale d’administration (ENA)—the top training school for civil service élites—to allow entry to promising members of trade unions or voluntary associations, was repealed by the right in 1987 and subsequently re-established in a more limited way; but it did not change the form of the French senior civil service and neither did it reduce the weight of its senior civil servants. The Ministry of Finance maintained its supremacy. Socialist governments tended, therefore, to use state resources without introducing any great reforms to modify the Fifth Republic’s social and cultural codes. Reforms of the state civil service, cautiously carried out by Lionel Jospin in 1999, came up against resistance from civil servants and their unions, notably at the Finance Ministry, and were not pursued. This is understandable given the importance of civil servants among the socialist electorate. The Socialist Party in power and, still more, in opposition made defence of public services one of the main priorities of its programmes. But representation and the effectiveness of the state’s role hinged primarily on economic and social matters. In 1981 and 1982, Pierre Mauroy’s government lost no time in presenting itself as Colbertist, Keynesian and socialist. The nationalization programme was carried through to a successful conclusion, the budgetary deficit sustained, and all the socialist benefits increased. State forms of action meant that attempts at contract implementation remained secondary, while the principles of state control prevailed (Tracol 2015). But economic stimulus in isolation, without any benefit from the expected global recovery, was undermined by trade and



budgetary deficits and the constraints imposed by exchange and interest rates. Policy adjustment, prepared by Finance Ministry experts after Jacques Delors called for a pause in reforms in autumn 1981, and taken over by experts from the prime minister’s and president’s offices, was expressed first in a series of restrictive measures in spring 1982 and confirmed the following spring with an austerity policy (Fulla 2016b; Boublil 2017). But this was not simply a political change linked to the current economic climate, a “parenthesis” in the words of Lionel Jospin. This new course of action led to a liberalization of financial markets, a disentangling of industry from the state, and integration into a European system making competitive deflation the means of maintaining parity between the franc and the mark. France was emerging from an economy that was still tightly controlled until the 1980s debate. “Modernization” became the leitmotiv of Laurent Fabius’s government, which succeeded Pierre Mauroy’s government in summer 1984. That same year, François Mitterrand’s desire to further European integration by subsequently setting up the single market and, later on, creating the euro (decided at the 1992 Maastricht summit) was in keeping with the plan—a “wager” according to Jean-Pierre Chevènement who left the Socialist Party in 1993—to find the extra room for manoeuvre that the national state now lacked. The socialist governments which followed until 1993, and then from 1997 to 2002 with Lionel Jospin, and from 2012 to 2017 under François Hollande’s presidency, fit within this context but with different emphases. Liberalization essentially applied to the economy rather than the role of the social state. However, each government endeavoured to improve social welfare: examples of this are the 1988 Minimum Income with the Rocard government, Universal Health Coverage with Lionel Jospin and the Individual Activity Account with François Hollande, a measure designed to make benefits portable and no longer contingent on a person’s job. It is mistaken, from a factual point of view, to talk of acceptance of a neoliberal vision of the state. The substantial state levies socialist governments embraced and the growth in the number of civil servants provide sufficient proof of this. The main concern was to defend a social model and not to define a new economic doctrine. This French socialist position with regard to state action explains why socialists did not accept the notion of the “third way” favoured by Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder, notably in the PES Manifesto of June 1999, which was precisely about the question of the state’s role: for supporters of a new way for European socialism, this role was mainly to ensure that the market



functioned well by providing effective health and education systems and through policies favouring the reintegration of those excluded from society. For French socialists, on the other hand, the state remained, in spite of everything, the focal point for defining collective rationality and regulating society.11 Public policies instigated since 1984 have therefore attempted to reconcile several demands: to seek for competitiveness in macro-economic policy, to adapt to globalization by furthering European integration and to maintain and even extend the social state. The difficulties of this “trilemma” account for the electoral defeats which have followed each term of office. * * * All European socialist parties have undergone a process by which they have moved from criticizing the state, which supposedly expresses capitalist interests, to appropriating the means offered by the state. But in France this has been more marked due to the revolutionary tradition of the French left and, still more importantly, the major role of the state in its history. However, this has not been a linear progression. There have been several turning points when major developments have taken place. The general tendency has, of course, been to integrate democratic socialism with the state. Everyday reformist action in local governments and in parliament tells the tale. For all that, reformist socialists have nevertheless long harboured the idea that the administrative state needs to be fundamentally changed in order to create decentralized public services. The main turning point was not the First World War, despite increased state control over organization of the economy and society; rather, it was the great crisis of capitalism in 1929 that gave rise to vigorous debate, finally convincing people that socialism could not govern without implementing structural reforms changing the nature of the state. These reforms pertained as much to the economy as to the social sphere. The years following Liberation confirmed this trend. However, the unfavourable balance of power under the Fourth Republic led the socialists to fall back on social reform. It was not until the 1960s that they finally identified fully with a “reforming Keynesian state” based on an extension of the public sector. These were also the decades when debate about state democratization 11  Blair Schröder—Le texte du Manifeste—Les analyses critiques, Paris, Jean Jaurès Foundation Notes, no. 13, August 1999.



between the “two lefts”—one of them more Jacobin, and the other more Girondin—was at its most lively and comprehensive. But the conditions of acceding to power, dictated by the alliance between socialists and communists, took their toll on giving priority to the principle of state control and marked the socialist return to power in 1981, despite reforms in the areas of decentralization and liberalization. Repeated limitations on attempts at institutionalized social compromises left the law pre-eminent. The final turning point coincided with the onset of globalization and the affirmation of Europeanization. From this standpoint, the years 1982–1984 were decisive and influenced the framework of government policies to follow. The socialists no longer viewed the national state as the essential player in the country’s modernization; indeed, they incorporated an element of economic liberalism, but without abandoning either the idea of a regulatory role for the state or, above all, the will to strengthen the social state. But this was done at the cost of deep divisions within the left and among socialists. Since then, debates over shifting balances have never ceased. And their latest term of office, from 2012 to 2017, has left the socialists seriously weakened, without having been able to find a coherent answer as to exactly what the state’s role should be.

References Audier, Serge. 2014. Foucault, le néo-libéralisme et nous. Paris: Grasset. Bergounioux, Alain. 2016. Penser la reconstruction économique de la France. In Les socialistes français à l’heure de la Libération : perspectives françaises et européennes (1943–1949), ed. Noëlline Castagnez et al. Paris: OURS. Bergounioux, Alain, and Gérard Grunberg. 2007. Les socialistes français et le pouvoir: l’ambition et le remords. Paris: Hachette. Boublil, Alain. 2017. Une vie avec la gauche. Paris: L’Archipel. Chatriot, Alain. 2009. Réformer le social sous la Troisième République. Revue d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, n°56-4 bis. Dreyfus-Armand, Geneviève, et al., eds. 2000. Les années 68: le temps de la contestation. Brussels: Complexe. Duhamel, Olivier. 1980. La gauche et la Ve République. Paris: PUF. Fulla, Mathieu. 2016a. Penser la reconstruction économique de la France. In Les socialistes français à l’heure de la Libération : perspectives françaises et européennes (1943–1949), ed. Noëlline Castagnez et al. Paris: OURS. ———. 2016b. Les socialistes français et l’économie (1944–1981): une histoire économique du politique. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po.



Grunberg, Gérard. 2013. La loi et les prophètes : les socialistes français et les institutions politiques. Paris: CNRS éditions. Hamon, Hervé, and Patrick Rotman. 1982. La Deuxième gauche. Paris: Ramsay. Jalabert, Laurent. 2011. Mitterrand président: racines et sens d’une victoire. Paris: L’Encyclopédie du socialisme. Lefeuvre, Daniel. 1990. La politique économique du gouvernement Guy Mollet. In Paul Ramadier: la République et le socialisme, ed. Serge Berstein. Brussels: Complexe. Martinet, Gilles. 1973. Le système Pompidou. Paris: Seuil. Rondin, Jacques. 1981. Le sacre des notables: la France en décentralisation. Paris: Fayard. Rosanvallon, Pierre. 2000. L’État en France de 1789 à nos jours. Paris: Seuil. Roussellier, Nicolas. 2014. Le gouvernement de guerre et les socialistes. In Les socialistes dans l’Europe en guerre: réseaux, parcours, expérience, ed. Romain Ducoulombier. Paris: L’Harmattan. ———. 2015. La force de gouverner: le pouvoir exécutif en France, XIXe-XXe siècles. Paris: Gallimard. ———. 2016. Les cinq rendez-vous manqués de la gauche française. In Les socialistes français à l’heure de la Libération : perspectives françaises et européennes (1943–1949), ed. Noëlline Castagnez et al. Paris: OURS. Tracol, Matthieu. 2015. La rigueur et les réformes: histoire des politiques du travail et de l’emploi du gouvernement Mauroy (1981–1984). PhD in history. University of Paris 1 Sorbonne. Vigreux, Jean. 2016. Histoire du Front populaire: l’échappée belle. Paris: Tallandier.


The Planist Temptation: Belgian Social Democracy and the State During the Great Depression, c. 1929–c. 1936 Tommaso Milani

Introduction In late 1926, two Belgian socialists, Antony Vienne and Arthur Wauters, authored a critical assessment of the post-war policy of their party under the title La réforme du réformisme? Having acknowledged the satisfactory results of governmental participation in 1918–1921 and in 1925–1926, they expressed the wish that the platform of the Parti Ouvrier Belge (POB) would soon be updated as many of the measures advocated since its foundation, in 1885, had already been put into effect. In addition, Vienne and Wauters encouraged Belgian reformists to develop a more coherent doctrine as they thought socialism had to “take a step forward and engage in a more radical, transformative, and constructive action” (Vienne and Wauters 1926).

T. Milani (*) Sciences Po Paris, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




Vienne and Wauters were not alone in expressing this view: three years earlier, even Emile Vandervelde—one of the party’s most distinguished leaders and theoreticians who became known as Le Patron for his towering influence—had raised the question: “Shall We Change Our Programme?” (Vandervelde 1923). Vienne, Wauters, and Vandervelde did not intend to challenge the founding principles of the POB as encapsulated in the Charter of Quaregnon, originally approved in 1894. Nevertheless, they had an appetite for new ideas, including the seizure of monopolies, workers’ control of industry, and a fresh approach to foreign policy. They were also concerned that the rapid growth in membership and the accomplishments of the previous decades could make the POB too complacent, diluting its commitment to a revolutionary transition to socialism. The prospect of an accommodation with the bourgeoisie was far from remote for a party whose eclectic ideology blended German Marxism with various strands of French and British idealistic socialist thought, and leaned towards common-­ sense solutions (Destrée and Vandervelde 1898; Delsinne 1955). This chapter shows that, during the first half of the 1930s, Belgian socialists seemingly yearned for a much stronger and far-reaching role for the state in managing the economy than ever before, and included a limited set of nationalisations among the short-term measures to be enacted as soon as their party found a majority in Parliament. By endorsing and actively campaigning for the Labour Plan crafted by one of the party’s rising stars, Hendrik de Man, the POB stood for the establishment of a mixed, intermediary regime—neither fully socialist nor entirely capitalist—which was intended to end the Depression by taking over the commanding heights of the economy, first and foremost the financial sector. Unlike de Man, however, most Belgian socialists retained their allegiance to the traditional parliamentary system and had no enthusiasm for those sections of the Labour Plan contemplating a stronger executive and the creation of councils and commissions aimed at streamlining the legislative process. Although the tension between the anti-statism of the older leaders, most notably Vandervelde, and the vision championed by de Man and his “planist” acolytes was only one of the many reasons behind the demise of the Plan, those frictions indicate that Belgian socialists struggled to square their recent embrace of the mixed economy with the fact that large-scale economic planning might require some changes to their country’s institutional framework. Ultimately, the POB’s well-established tendency to



identify democracy with the parliamentary system proved stronger than the desire of pursuing structural reforms within the economic sphere, and the “more radical, transformative, and constructive action” Vienne and Wauters had longed for came to nothing.

Origins: The Intellectual Roots of Belgian Socialism In order to understand the relationship Belgian socialism developed with the state, it is essential to highlight the multifaceted nature of the former. As Vandervelde pointed out in 1925, “elsewhere, there are trade unionists, co-operators, members of the mutual insurance organisations, and members of the party. Here, each socialist is at the same time a trade unionist, a co-operator, a member of the mutual insurance organisations, and vice versa” (Vandervelde 1925a). From a financial standpoint, however, cooperatives were the real backbone of the movement. Since the 1880s, consumer organisations such as Vooruit, in Ghent, or the Maison du Peuple, in Brussels, had provided militants with material resources to support their political activities (Landauer 1959). Only after 1918 socialist trade unionism gained enough traction to have an impact on industrial relations and, indirectly, on the POB: the membership of the socialist trade union Commission Syndicale (CS), which represented just 12% of the workforce in 1910, rose to 42% by 1933 (Delsinne 1936). The weight of the cooperatives, the low number of intellectuals and skilled workers as registered members, and the marginalisation of anarchists and republican elements contributed to reconciling the POB with parliamentary democracy. Universal suffrage became the party’s overriding goal, for—in the words of one of its founders—fair and competitive elections would enable the working class to “conquer the state, and through it, constantly change the present society, by eliminating and expelling, little by little, all the parasitic elements” (Bertrand 1886). In practice, this gradualist conception implied that a radical transformation of the economic order would be postponed until the workers had gained full control of political power, and only ameliorative measures would be possible in the meantime. Characteristically, despite professing the intention of seizing the state, Belgian socialists did not produce a grand theory on how to actively use the latter to serve the interests of the proletariat. Rather, they seemed wedded to Marx’s and Engels’ prediction, enshrined in the Charter of



Quaregnon, that the state would wither away following a successful socialist revolution (Balibar 1982). A more nuanced version of this argument was set forth by Vandervelde, whose book Le socialisme contre l’État, published in 1918, became the reference point for Belgian socialists on this matter. A liberal in his youth, Vandervelde called himself “a Marxist with, however, some reminiscence of my own primitive state” (Lévy 1933) and indeed the book’s title is a conscious tribute to Herbert Spencer’s warning against the dangers of state coercion (Spencer 1884). Vandervelde’s main purpose was to draw a sharp line between the centralising, monopolistic tendencies of modern capitalism and the future socialist commonwealth, which would be highly pluralistic, being based on self-government and self-management. Le Patron was at pains to stress that, in the long run at least, socialism would replace, not magnify, “statism” for the “management of things” would finally supplant “the government of men”: “within the economic order, as within the political order and, in a general way, within all sphere of collective life, socialism is not pro-state but anti-state” (Vandervelde 1918). It is true that Vandervelde distanced himself from the anarcho-syndicalist tradition and made an important distinction between the state “as an organ of authority” and the state as “an organ of administration”: under socialism, the first would be reduced to a minimum whereas the second, albeit transfigured, would presumably remain in place (Vandervelde 1918). Nevertheless, he also argued that a classless society would be significantly less regimented and bureaucratised than the bourgeois one as its economic system would be less dependent on state intervention: the socialist polity would operate as a “great co-operative of social labour” which, “having achieved its full autonomy, administers itself, free from all governmental interference” (Vandervelde 1918). Consistently with this approach, Vandervelde maintained throughout the 1920s that democratic socialism was to strive for the socialisation of existing industries, for example by increasing workers’ control over them, rather than for their nationalisation, that is by transferring ownership to the state (Vandervelde 1925b). Regrettably, Vandervelde stopped short of clarifying how public management, under certain conditions, might advance the socialist cause, a position that he defended in principle contra Jules Guesde and the older, more dogmatic generation of French Marxists (Vandervelde 1918). Furthermore, his libertarian instincts and dislike for state authority seemed hardly compatible with the POB’s long-term strategy of integration within the Belgian national community through governmental participation and



piecemeal reforms (Sztejnberg 1965; Liebman 1979). Vandervelde insisted that the “transition from capitalism to socialism can be nothing but the result of a long evolution, during which workers will have to wage many struggles and go through a series of historical conquests which will transform material circumstances as well as men” (Vandervelde 1928a), a case he relentlessly made until the end of his life.1 Yet the state appeared to be powerless throughout that process. Heavily influenced by Karl Kautsky, Vandervelde clung to the belief that rising capital concentration and universal male suffrage would result into an increased representation of the working class, hence expanding the boundaries of bourgeois democracy, but this phenomenon would not dramatically alter the relationship between the state and the economic system until times were ripe for a proper revolutionary leap forward (Vandervelde 1928b). In other words, socialists were to occupy the liberal state in stages without overhauling it, at least within the foreseeable future.

Crisis: Reformists, Radicals, and the Lack of a Programme The consequences of this refusal to think positively about the state became all too apparent at the outbreak of the Great Depression. At that time, despite being in opposition since 1926, the POB was largely controlled by a self-styled reformist wing, generally well disposed towards governmental participation. This group included the editor of the socialist newspaper Le Peuple, Arthur Wauters; journalists Auguste Dewinne and Léon Delsinne; the veteran Louis Bertrand; the writer and President of the Borinage Federation Louis Piérard. Their views were largely shared by the parliamentary group: more than half of its members worked for the unions, the cooperatives, or the mutual insurance organisations, all of which wanted to have a voice in governmental decisions and block any attempt to dismantle social legislation (Pletinckx 1976). Broadly speaking, reformists acknowledged the historical significance of Marx’s thought but emphasised the need for a new mindset, much less antagonistic towards the middle classes (classes moyennes).2 In fact, some of 1  See, for example, Emile Vandervelde, ‘L’évolution révolutionnaire’, Le Peuple, 13 February 1938. 2  See, for example, Auguste Dewinne, ‘A temps nouveau, mentalité nouvelle’, Le Peuple, 17 September 1931; Auguste Dewinne, ‘Sur le vocable: prolétariat’, Le Peuple, 2 September 1933; Auguste Dewinne, ‘Suis-je marxiste?’, Le Peuple, 14 September 1933.



them proposed to rename the POB “Parti Socialiste” to broaden its electoral base.3 Similarly, they urged the party not to stand for the interests of the sole industrial working class but rather to “harmonise” these with legitimate demands from other classes, carrying out “the most complete realisation of social justice”.4 Struck by this “sublimation” of the workers’ goals, the lower bourgeoisie might then very well decide to desert reactionary, pro-capitalist parties.5 Reformists were proud of the legalistic and incrementalist course the POB had generally followed in the past.6 Conversely, they lambasted those radicals who, by hinting at the possibility of violent insurrections against the established order, were providing the conservatives in power with a pretext for enforcing repressive measures.7 Nevertheless, the reformist stance was fatally weakened by the lack of a positive theory of state intervention during times of economic contraction. Similarly to German Social Democrats, Belgian reformists too had envisaged a “strategy of conciliation” (Sassoon 1996) by which the organised working class could extract more and more concessions from the employers when the latter benefited from rising productivity and increased levels of economic activity. Yet this pragmatic disposition did not yield tangible results in presence of falling investments, decreasing demand, and mounting pressures to cut wages, namely a situation of heightened social conflict. Between 1931 and 1933, reformists found themselves on the defensive as their inability to articulate a comprehensive policy response to the economic crisis made them an easy target for younger militants (Pletinckx 1976). The group Jeunes Gardes Socialistes (JGS) engaged in vehemently

3  See Léon Delsinne, ‘Parti ouvrier ou parti socialiste?’, Le Peuple, 15 September 1933; Louis Bertrand, ‘Parti ouvrier ou parti socialiste?’, Le Peuple, 25 September 1933; Léon Delsinne, ‘Parti ouvrier ou parti socialiste? Réponse aux traditionalistes’, Le Peuple, 29 September 1933. 4  Léon Delsinne, ‘Intérêt de classe ou justice sociale’, Le Peuple, 13 October 1933. 5  Léon Delsinne, ‘Pour la conquête des classes moyennes’, Le Peuple, 3 November 1933. 6  See Auguste Dewinne, ‘Qu’est-ce-que le réformisme?’, Le Peuple, 22 September 1932; Louis Bertrand, ‘Réformisme, évolution, révolution’, Le Peuple, 16 October 1933; Louis Bertrand, ‘Suffrage universel, démocratie, parlementarisme’, Le Peuple, 15 January 1934. 7  See Louis Piérard, ‘Les intellectuels et le socialisme’, Le Peuple, 2 November 1932; Auguste Dewinne, ‘En attendant le “Grand Soir”’, Le Peuple, 19 October 1933; Léon Delsinne, ‘Pour les ardents et les impatients’, Le Peuple, 25 November 1933; Louis Bertrand, ‘Réformistes et révolutionnaires’, Le Peuple, 8 October 1934.



anti-militarist and anti-crisis campaigns: as a result, the JGS’ membership rose from 6000  in 1929 to 25,000  in 1933 (Colignon 2000). In the region of Borinage, a far-left tendency called “daugisme”, named after his leader Walter Dauge, took root despite the hostility of local party cadres (Lefèbvre 1979). Within the Brussels Federation, the lawyer, activist, and soon-to-be deputy Paul-Henri Spaak mounted a strident offensive against the party establishment (Dumoulin 1999). At first, however, the POB parliamentary group remained passive, on the grounds that, since the crisis was international and had been caused by the structural imbalance between production and consumption under capitalism, little could be done at national level to reverse it (Pletinckx 1977). The only noteworthy policy initiative put together in this period, the Plan de Salut Public, amounted to a list of palliative measures to be negotiated in Parliament—from the establishment to a minimum wage to a generic call for public works, from the 40-hour week to the creation dedicated fund for farmers—wrapped in a flat and uninspiring language.8 Even its main proponent, Wauters, admitted that the Plan fitted in “the realist traditions of the party”.9 Spaak heavily criticised the document for being written “in a spirit of collaboration” with the bourgeoisie.10 In 1932, the two engaged in an unusually bitter controversy about the alleged inadequacy of reformism, in which Spaak openly attacked the restraining influence of the trade unions on the party line.11 The widening gulf between the senior, more self-restrained generation of POB politicians and the radicalised new breed was noted by the

8  See ‘Le socialisme belge devant la crise: son plan de Salut Public’, Le Peuple, 25 October 1931. 9  Arthur Wauters, ‘Pour un Plan de Salut Public: agir ou périr’, Le Peuple, 6 October 1931. See also Arthur Wauters, ‘Pour un Plan de Salut Public: des secours ou des salaires’, Le Peuple, 7 October 1931, Arthur Wauters, ‘Pour un Plan de Salut Public: économie anarchique ou économie dirigée’, Le Peuple, 8 October 1931; Arthur Wauters, ‘Pour un Plan de Salut Public: transition ou révolution’, Le Peuple, 9 October 1931. 10  ‘La fédération bruxelloise du P.O.B. a consacré une troisième séance à l’exam de la situation politique’, Le Peuple, 5 November 1931. 11  See Arthur Wauters, ‘La crise du capitalisme et les devoirs urgents du socialisme’, Le Peuple, 1 May 1932; Paul-Henri Spaak, ‘La crise du capitalisme et les devoirs urgents du socialisme’, Le Peuple, 13 May 1932; Arthur Wauters, ‘La doctrine et le mouvement’, Le Peuple, 20 May 1932; Paul-Henri Spaak, ‘Réponse à quarante et une questions’, Le Peuple, 10 June 1932; Arthur Wauters, ‘Le socialisme hermétique’, Le Peuple, 17 June 1932; PaulHenri Spaak, ‘Disciple de Lénine!’, Le Peuple, 24 June 1932.



non-­socialist press, which often predicted, somewhat anxiously, the imminent extinction of the former.12 In truth, neither faction had a clear, compelling vision for reversing the downturn: by and large, radicals had little to offer beyond the resumption of the general strike, which had been repeatedly deployed in the fight for universal suffrage (Polasky 1992). This impasse was made more critical by the working class’ increasingly insubordinate reaction to the toxic combination of tax hikes and budget cuts imposed by the Catholic-Liberal government. In the summer of 1932, a wave of spontaneous strikes in Hainault revealed that the unions were struggling to retain control over their members: this episode bolstered calls within the POB for a more assertive strategy (Pletinckx 1977). Nor was the mining sector the only one in turmoil: a small, open economy heavily dependent on international trade, Belgium had been severely hurt by the imposition of tariff barriers abroad and deflation at home, experiencing a downfall of the industrial output of almost 40% and a rise of unemployment in industry from 2% to 20% since 1929 (Feinstein et al. 2008; Goossens, Peeters and Pepermans 1988). By that stage, Vandervelde had concluded that a new synthesis was needed to restore party unity and diffuse tensions with the rank and file: “this is not a time for compromises, transitions, or collaborations, but for the intransigent affirmation of socialist principles”, he bluntly stated in August 1932.13 In a new book, he argued that socialism “cannot cease” to be “a revolutionary doctrine (…) without ceasing to be itself” (Vandervelde 1933) and repeatedly expressed sympathy for the youth’s grievances and aspirations, an attitude which left his old friend Dewinne baffled.14 Moreover, to the dismay of most reformists, he contributed to keeping the party in opposition despite the small but significant gains made in the 1932 election (Vandervelde 1936). Yet Vandervelde was doing more than shrewdly redressing the POB’s internal balance towards the left: behind 12  See, for example, ‘Quand les anciens n’y seront plus… que deviendra l’unité socialiste?’, L’Independence Belge, 14 April 1931; Le Huron [Robert Poulet], ‘Le désarroi du Parti Socialiste’, La Nation Belge, 2 October 1932. 13   Emile Vandervelde, ‘Le temps difficiles et les devoirs nouveaux’, Le Peuple, 21 August 1932. 14  See Emile Vandervelde, ‘La question des jaunes’, Le Peuple, 27 September 1932; Auguste Dewinne, ‘Réformisme et révolution’, Le Peuple, 29 September 1932; Emile Vandervelde, ‘Pour Auguste Dewinne’, Le Peuple, 2 October 1932; Auguste Dewinne, ‘Sommes-nous prêts?’, Le Peuple, 6 October 1932.



the scenes, he was also liaising with an individual who could provide Belgian socialists with a much-needed economic programme. By doing so, he wished to prevent Belgian democracy from falling victim to the authoritarian temptations of the capitalist class all across the world, which had become especially visible in Germany (Vandervelde 1933).

Response: Hendrik de Man and the Labour Plan Between November 1931 and May 1932 Vandervelde invited Hendrik de Man, then professor of social psychology at the University of Frankfurt, to chair a POB-funded think tank aimed at providing innovative solutions to the economic crisis.15 De Man eventually accepted and the Bureau d’Études Sociales (BES) was inaugurated in December of that year.16 De Man was no stranger to party politics: born in Antwerp, he had joined the POB’s semi-anarchist fringe before the First World War and had directed the Ecole Ouvrière Supérieure during the 1920s, before moving to Germany (De Man 1941; Dodge 1966). A notorious maverick, he was also a self-declared pacifist who volunteered for the Belgian army in August 1914 and a former admirer of Kautsky who, by the mid-1920s, was urging socialists to go ‘beyond Marxism’ from an ethical and anti-materialistic perspective (De Man 1941; Brélaz 1985). During the final years of the Weimar Republic, de Man had become convinced that fascism was on the rise mainly due to the socialists’ lack of a radical economic programme and inability to win over all the classes beset by the crisis (De Man 1931; De Man 1934b). In his view, only the establishment of a mixed economy based on extensive economic planning could stabilise democracy while laying the groundwork for a transition from capitalism to socialism (De Man 1932; De Man 1933). Under the influence of German ideas of Planwirtschaft, de Man’s notion of a robust, dynamic, entrepreneurial state came to resemble that of the German industrialist and reformer Walther Rathenau (Dauphin-Meunier 1974). Building on his exchanges with other experts appointed to the BES, such as the economists Max Buset, Robert J. Lemoine, and Albert Halasi, 15  See Emile Vandervelde, ‘Un appel: pour le Plan du Travail’, Le Peuple, 14 January 1934; ‘L’exécution du Plan du Travail: un lettre d’Henri de Man à Emile Vandervelde du 14 mai 1932’, Le Peuple, 24 March 1935. 16  See ‘A propos du Bureau d’Études Sociales et du Bureau d’Action pour le Plan’, Le mouvement syndical belge, 12, 20 December 1934, 275–277.



de Man was invited to outline a “programme of immediate action” before the CS’ Economic Council in October 1933.17 Soon afterwards, a joint commission of POB parliamentarians and trade unionists helped him complete a first full draft of what became known as the Labour Plan (Plan du Travail or Plan van de Arbeid). Eventually, the Plan was approved with 567,451 votes in favour and merely 8500 abstentions during the POB’s Christmas Congress, wherein the party celebrated its renewed unity.18 The joint appointment of Vandervelde and de Man as president and vice-­ president of the POB at the Christmas Congress symbolised the party establishment’s consent to de Man’s endeavour.19 In a nutshell, the Labour Plan aimed to carry out a “profound transformation of the country’s economic structure” by nationalising the credit sector (De Man 1934a). Most notably, the Plan—to be passed by the Belgian Parliament—envisaged the creation of a state-owned “Credit Institute”, subjecting banks’ operations, financial institutions already under state control, the National Bank, and insurance companies to the Plan’s directives, and of “Financial Commissariat” under legislative control in charge of the general direction of credit, the monetary regime, and the current account balance (De Man 1934a). Elsewhere, with the exception of raw materials and motive power monopolies, the Plan proposed “no change (…) to the property regime”: savings would be protected and free competition would be promoted; an inheritance tax would prevent “the reconstitution of a hereditary financial oligarchy” while some restrictions would be imposed on foreign capital but only to safeguard “national prosperity” (De Man 1934a). A consultative “Economic Council” would also be set up, supervising the operations of the Commissariats of Industry and Transport and submitting legislation to Parliament (De Man 1934a). Following these reforms, further measures in the field of investment, credit, price, labour, monetary, commercial, fiscal, and social policy would be passed (De Man 1934a). Last but not least, the Plan outlined a “political reform” aimed at strengthening the executive branch. In particular, the

17  See Henri de Man, ‘Un Plan économique pour la Belgique’, Le mouvement syndical belge, 11, 20 November 1933, 292–298. 18  See ‘Le Congrès du Parti Ouvrier belge a terminé, lundi, dans le plus grand enthousiasme l’examen du “Plan du Travail”’, Le Peuple, 26 December 1933; Auguste Dewinne, ‘Pour nous, la crise est passé’, Le Peuple, 28 December 1933. 19  See Parti Ouvrier Belge (1933), 80.



legislative power would be exercised by a single chamber, to be assisted by consultative councils providing technical expertise and by agencies in charge of the implementation of economic policy: this was meant to ensure rapidity, accountability, and efficiency in decision-making, hence and avoiding “the pitfalls of statism” (De Man 1934a). For the first time in history, Belgian socialists rallied behind a document which implied a drastic shift in the checks and balances ingrained in the 1831 Constitution. As a liberal critic warned, under the Plan the state would “be equipped with new functions” as well as with “new institutions” aimed at taking “quick and energetic decisions”, a system that would have severely constrained the autonomy of the Parliament, and perhaps even eroded it, if ever put into practice (Speyer 1935). Nevertheless, the proposed institutional reform attracted very little attention at the time. There were other, more immediate reasons why the Plan could win nearly unanimous support from the reformist as well as from the radical wing of the POB in late 1933. On the one hand, reformists could praise de Man’s commitment to legal means of struggle, his desire to reach out to the middle classes, and his willingness to strike a balance between the public and the private sector, hence ruling out an utterly unrealistic all-out socialisation of the means of production.20 On the other hand, Spaak and other radicals were pleased by de Man’s denunciation of reformist tactics and by the Plan’s unambiguous commitment to a limited but unequivocal form of socialisation.21 A major reassurance for them came from the fact that the POB pledged to approve the whole Plan once in power and join forces only with parties that agreed to do the same, thus assuaging fears that the reformist majority might drag the radical minority into generic, unqualified governmental participation.22 Furthermore, by setting a common 20  See, for example, Louis Bertrand, ‘A propos du Plan du Travail’, Le Peuple, 27 November 1933; Auguste Dewinne, ‘Nouveau socialisme’, Le Peuple, 7 December 1933; Piérard (1933). 21  See, for example, Paul-Henri Spaak, ‘Le Plan du Travail: I. La conjoncture politique’, L’Action Socialiste: Hebdomadaire de doctrine et de combat, 1:47, 2 December 1933; PaulHenri Spaak, ‘Le Plan du Travail: II. Ses mérites’, L’Action Socialiste: Hebdomadaire de doctrine et de combat, 1:48, 9 December 1933; Paul-Henri Spaak, ‘Le Plan du Travail: III. Ses mérites’, L’Action Socialiste: Hebdomadaire de doctrine et de combat, 1:49, 16 December 1933. 22  See Piérard’s and Spaak’s speeches in Parti Ouvrier Belge (1933), 58–65; 99–109. Advocates of governmental participation in mid-1933 included the mayor of Antwerp Camille Huysmans (see René Hislaire, ‘Plaidoyer pour la tripartite … Un conversation avec Camille Huysmans’, La Nation Belge, 21 June 1933) and Dewinne (see Auguste Dewinne, ‘A la croisée des chemins’, Le Peuple, 29 June 1933).



goal, reformists and radicals alike felt that they could avoid a split like the one suffered by French socialists in the same period: the Paris congress of July 1933 and the subsequent expulsion of neo-socialists had sent shockwaves throughout the POB.23

Compromise: From the Labour Plan to National Renovation In January 1934, the POB began an extraordinary propaganda campaign to mobilise the working class around the Labour Plan. A Bureau d’Action pour le Plan, headed by Buset, and a magazine, Plan, were set up; more than two million copies of the Plan’s text were circulated across the country; rallies, conferences, and workshops were held; appeals and manifestos were issued to woo constituencies traditionally hostile to the socialists, including farmers and Catholic manual workers; cartoons were drawn; marches were composed; and even a popular catéchisme was produced. This exceptional effort culminated in enormous mass demonstrations, the biggest of which took place in Antwerp, Charleroi, and Ghent (Horn 1996; Vandervelde 1936). Despite the financial difficulties plaguing the party—in 1934 the Banque Belge du Travail, controlled by the cooperatives, went bankrupt—the Plan gathered popular support and attracted attention abroad (Hansen 1981; Biard 1985; Vergnon 1997). To substantiate the headings of the Plan, 22 commissions were created; in early 1935, they published the draft legislation required to put the Plan into force (VV. AA. 1935). Yet it is highly significant that the POB presented the Plan mainly as an economic rather than a political project: while its anti-crisis measures were widely advertised, the reform of the state was relegated to the background. In all likelihood, this reflected a fundamental disagreement between the party establishment and the main author of the Plan. By late 1933 de Man had come to the conclusion that old-fashioned parliamentary rule was obsolete in the age of mass politics: strong, stable, competent government had to be protected against vested interests and undue interferences by professional politicians. His penchant for a more authoritarian form of democracy appalled some of his fellow comrades, including Vandervelde who, being reminiscent of the Weimar crisis, began fearing that the 23  See, for example, Louis De Brouckère, ‘Scission en France!’, Le Peuple, 7 November 1933; Jexas, ‘Ou vont les néo-socialistes?’, Le Peuple, 5 December 1933.



institutional innovations brought about by the Plan might inadvertently pave the ground for a dictatorship hostile to the working class (Dodge 1966; Luyten 1993). Whereas the POB agreed with the thrust of de Man’s model of planning, his unorthodox conception of government, ostensibly inspired by presidential systems, was more controversial and, from time to time, became a genuine source of apprehension. Most notably, when de Man provocatively challenged conservative Catholics by claiming that true corporatism could be accomplished only by socialist means, an unabashed reformist like Delsinne criticised him for using a terminology that could play into the hands of the anti-democratic right.24 Overall, elderly leaders were keen to praise political institutions as they were, a defensive position that isolated de Man even further.25 Having previously whitewashed parts of their Plan made easier for socialists to join a cabinet of national unity, called “of national renovation”, which was formed in late March 1935. Facing the steady deterioration of public finances and a currency crisis, the POB gave green light to the appointment of a widely respected technocrat, the former vice-­ governor of the Belgian National Bank Paul Van Zeeland, as prime minister. In return, five socialists—de Man, Spaak, Vandervelde, Achille Delattre, and Eugène Soudan—were sworn in as ministers. The Van Zeeland cabinet, however, in many ways resembled a conventional tripartite coalition. No commitment to implement the Labour Plan was made by Van Zeeland, who focused instead on the delicate task of devaluating the Belgian franc by 28% (Dujardin and Dumoulin 1997). His reform of the banking sector was also remarkably prudent, setting strict limits to governmental oversight (Vanthemsche 1980). The only significant concession to economic planning was the creation of an Office de Redressement Economique (OREC), directed by de Man and put in charge of 24  See, for example, Henri de Man, ‘Le corporatisme et nous’, Le Peuple, 25 July 1934; Henri de Man, ‘Le vrai et le faux corporatisme’, Le Peuple, 26 September 1934; Léon Delsinne, ‘Peut-il y avoir un corporatisme socialiste?’, Le Peuple, 5 October 1934; Léon Delsinne, ‘Le corporatisme ne peut plus avoir sens de sens au XXe siècle’, Le Peuple, 12 October 1934; Léon Delsinne, ‘Corporatisme ou socialisme?’, Le Peuple, 26 October 1934. For an overview of the debate on corporatism in Belgium during the interwar years, see Luyten (2005). 25  See, for example, Léon Delsinne, ‘Défendre vigoureusement la liberté’, Le Peuple, 10 November 1933; Louis Bertrand, ‘La réforme de l’état et le régime parlementaire’, Le Peuple, 13 November 1933; Auguste Dewinne, ‘Sur la réforme de l’état’, Le Peuple, 30 November 1933.



coordinating various infrastructural projects aimed at curbing unemployment. From the outset, however, the uncompromising hostility of economic liberals and of the Treasury restrained the functions of this proto-Keynesian body, which never acted as a springboard for expanding state intervention (Vanthemsche 1982; Kurgan-van Hentenryk 2010). Above all, the Plan’s promise of carrying out institutional reforms remained a dead letter. Although the negotiations leading to the formation of the first Van Zeeland government have been meticulously studied (Henkens 1996), less attention has been paid to the reasons why the POB, in a rather abrupt and unforeseen fashion, dropped demands for a complete, non-negotiable enactment of the Labour Plan. Some scholars suggested that fears of popular insurrections ran high and convinced party leaders, including de Man, that participation was preferable to protracted political gridlock (Dodge 1966; Horn 1996). Without denying the relevance of this element, other factors must also be taken into account. First, de Man and his aides probably believed that overcoming widespread resistances to planning would be easier by taking action from within the government than from without, also due to the somewhat misleading yet widely held perception that Van Zeeland wanted to usher in some kind of Belgian New Deal (Roger 1935). In this context, it is worth stressing that planist endeavours to win over public opinion continued until late 1936, even though, one of de Man’s closest collaborators would later concede, “there was no more energy” left for them (Rens 1987). Second, since early 1934 de Man had been losing faith in the POB’s cadres as they tended to view the Plan as a mere propaganda tool, with no real intention of putting it into practice (De Man 1941). Third, de Man’s relationship with his guarantor, Vandervelde, deteriorated due to the former’s refusal to conform to the party’s orthodoxy. The conflict broke out in late 1934, after de Man, speaking in public, daringly contended that the Labour Plan originated from a new ideological paradigm called planisme, which would soon displace Marxism. This was anathema to Le Patron, who had always couched the Plan into terms that were compatible with the Charter of Quaregnon and with the POB’s general programme (Parti Ouvrier Belge 1933). Moreover, Vandervelde refused to let de Man’s inner circle curtail the autonomy of the POB parliamentary group. Coupled with Vandervelde’s growing uneasiness with de Man’s fascination with a strong state, these incidents turned former allies into rivals: later on, de Man went so far to claim that Vandervelde “contributed more than anyone else to the failure of the



planist movement” (De Man 1941). Fourth, while striking a chord with the POB’s militants and the unemployed, the Plan failed to get traction among Catholic trade unionists, a key target of their campaign, and therefore a solid, broad-based Labour Front that de Man had originally envisaged was slow to emerge. 26 Fifth, the truce between reformists and radicals did not last for long as, already in mid-1934, Spaak’s journal Action Socialiste resumed its fight against moderate party members and trade unionists. A large part of the 1934 POB Congress was devoted to the issue of discipline with the Action Socialiste being finally put under tight control (Parti Ouvier Belge 1934). In light of these difficulties, there is little wonder that compromising on the Labour Plan appeared to many, de Man included, a reasonable price to pay in exchange for greater political stability and the abandonment of deflationary policies.

Conclusion The Labour Plan was conceived under the assumption that only a set of drastic, all-encompassing measures could put an end to Belgium’s excruciating economic crisis. Ironically, it was the shelving of the Plan—that is, the POB’s decision to stop pushing for its full implementation—that created the conditions for the Belgian recovery of the mid-1930s. By supporting Van Zeeland, the POB helped secure a parliamentary majority strong enough to carry out a complex and then unpopular devaluation; as a result, cheaper money brought relief to the Belgian population by boosting exports and allowing large amounts of capital to flow back into the country (Baudhuin 1935; Poisson 1937). Economic growth, however, curbed popular discontent, reduced pressure for more ambitious reforms, and reduced the appeal of the Plan among the lower middle class (Michel 1936). By the same token, the more favourable economic climate undermined support for the far right, including the Catholic movement Rex, which experienced only fleeting success in 1936–1937 (Strikwerda 1990; Conway 1996). On the whole, between 1929 and 1936, Belgian socialists contributed more to the defence of capitalism and of parliamentary rule than to their contestation. In hindsight, the stabilising role performed by the POB, which remained in power without interruptions until April 1939, hence 26  See, for example, Jef Rens, ‘Les chrétiens et le Plan’, Le mouvement syndical belge, 3, 20 March 1934, 54–58.



balancing the influence of Catholics and Liberals (Höjer 1946), deserves some praise. While its leaders failed to deliver a quick response to the economic crisis between 1930 and 1933, their subsequent conduct was at the same time bold and responsible. Bold, because they threw their weight behind a Plan which rekindled the faith of the labour movement, with all its anger and frustration, into democratic rule. Responsible, because they adjusted their strategy to the evolving conditions of the time, setting aside that very Plan when they realised it had become a stumbling block in finding common ground with other democratic forces. From a long-term perspective, the “politics of loyal compromise” (Piérard 1935) that informed the Van Zeeland experience marked a further step in the process of national integration of the working class that had begun in the 1870s (Van der Linden 1988). Nevertheless, the great deal of suppleness exhibited by the POB could barely conceal an underlying weakness: its inability to think creatively and imaginatively about the role of the state, due to its unrepentant anti-statist bias. Indeed, a shortage of ideas almost paralysed the party between 1929 and 1933. By co-opting de Man and subscribing to his Plan, Belgian socialists espoused a groundbreaking economic agenda but soon recoiled from the institutional reforms attached to the project. Obviously, the fact that “de Man moved more and more in an authoritarian direction” in the second half of the 1930s (Luyten 1992), eventually pursuing collaboration with the Nazi occupying forces during the Second World War, can be seen as a vindication of Vandervelde’s misgivings. However, the planist turn that de Man’s sought to impose upon Belgian institutions should not be dismissed as inherently undemocratic, especially if compared with similar, evolving attitudes towards institutional reform within other Western European socialist parties, particularly in Sweden, Britain, and France. In fact, the argument that socialist planning required a more coherent, efficient, and functional system of governance than the nineteenth-century liberal state gained wide currency among left-wing groups and intellectuals who were never tainted by collaboration. Moreover, in the words of Julian Jackson, “that planism was one possible—even common—route on an intellectual itinerary from socialism to fascism is not the same as assimilating it to fascism, any more than, say, syndicalism can be assimilated to fascism” (Jackson 1985). Within the history of the POB, interwar planism features as a passing temptation. The institutional conservatism of the party—well captured by



the line “all projects of ‘state reform’ are reactionary”27—persisted after 1945. The malleability of Belgian reformism fed into the socialists’ overriding desire to achieve a smooth reconstruction, in which schemes for nationalising key industries and abolishing the Senate were quickly discarded not to frighten les classes moyennes (Timperman 1998; Conway 2012). Even more critically, Belgian socialists failed to come up with an alternative to the rigidly centralistic system of government created in 1831, despite the growth of Flemish and Francophone movements which openly challenged it. It must therefore be noted that the POB’s inhibitions played some role in perpetuating the “immobility of Belgian post-­ war political structure”, whose “international rigidities” made the country highly vulnerable to the social, economic, and cultural developments of the 1960s and the 1970s (Conway 2012). By jettisoning de Man’s Plan, the POB may have shored up democracy—but hardly improved its chances of fostering the socialist democracy it paid lip service to.

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Paradoxes of Hegemony: Scandinavian Social Democracy and the State Yohann Aucante When considering the social democratic experience in Scandinavia, one is confronted with a number of interesting paradoxes.1 Almost nowhere else in the democratic world have social democratic political parties occupied such a privileged position in relation to executive power and the state. It is well known that the Swedish and Norwegian cases are exceptional in this regard and, if the Danish case is much more a story of weak minority cabinets, the record of the left in power there is hardly negligible. The facts are well established yet it is very hard to find studies that explicitly address what is an essential dimension of this success story, namely the special relationship between the state—in its various and varied aspects— and these parties (Aucante 2003; Pempel 1992; Rothstein 1996; Skjeie 1999; Sejersted 2011).2 Even in the field of welfare research, where the “power resources” approach was once a point of reference, the issue of state-party relationships was often obscured by a desire to identify the 1  This chapter draws partly on two older and unpublished works by the author: Aucante 2003, 2005. 2  In the limited space of this chapter, I will not be able to quote every relevant research.

Y. Aucante (*) École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (EHESS), Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




causal mechanisms that might explain social welfare policies, their implementation and their effects (Castles 1978; Esping-Andersen 1985; Korpi 1978; Stephens 1980). For a more explicit discussion of the matter, one often had to turn to pamphlets and works of social critique. To be sure, this “golden age” is now behind us and Scandinavian social democracy, though hardly to be written off, is no longer the dominant force it once was. Neoliberalism has also brought profound changes to the doctrine of the state and its institutions. Yet, like the tail of a comet, the social democratic heritage has left a long trail and cannot be easily discounted. In what follows, I will argue that comparing these three Scandinavian countries offers interesting insights into the role of the (social democratic) state in the neoliberal era. One reason for the difficulty in grasping this relationship to the state has to do with the mixed historical identity of Scandinavian social democracy as both an unusual social movement and an incumbent in power. While social democracy has been an essential actor in the process of democratization, its remarkable dominance, particularly in Sweden and Norway, also long led it to be equated with the state itself. This picture has gradually changed since the 1980s as a result of the combined forces of electoral normalization, public sector and municipal remodeling and shifting ideology. In many respects, however, the role of the state has not shrunk and understanding that role remains a key issue to grasping the current electoral predicament that social democracy finds itself in. This chapter considers the enduring puzzle of state-party relations and democratization by taking into account different dimensions of the phenomenon. One of these relates to the state as a flexible instrument for producing policies in accordance with political programs (mostly economic and social in nature). However, in other policy areas, not directly addressed by the present article—security, for instance, or foreign policy— questions of national interest may imbue this relationship with a very different hue. Another aspect of the problem concerns the state as an institution, or system of positions and power, in which political parties are the dominant actors. The first and second dimensions are to some extent interwoven since the question of controlling and reforming the administrative apparatus has always been connected to the predicament of implementing real social democratic policies (Rothstein 1996). Although the lack of working-class representation in the state bureaucracy was a constant source of criticism in the early years of social democratic rule, the extent to which the parties succeeded in remedying this situation very much remains an open question. Social democratic parties nevertheless



downplayed the full extent of their dominance, preferring instead to emphasize their roots in a social movement. The nation-state presents a third dimension—that is, the issue of legitimate political community and its frontiers. In this area, too, Nordic social democratic discourse also managed to achieve dominance as the vehicle of a democratic discourse on national identity (at least until it became more heavily contested by the right and populists). Drawing upon the experiences of Norway, Sweden and, to a lesser extent, Denmark, I shall examine how this special relationship with the state developed and the many contradictions with which it came to be saddled. For further discussion of these issues, readers may turn to the two case studies on Sweden in the present volume.

Social Democratic Dominance and Democracy The idea of social democratic dominance in Scandinavia is an old theme. In spite of the steady erosion of their electoral power, the Swedish SAP (S)3 and Norwegian DNA (AP) remained in executive office for record long periods, with as many as 44 consecutive years of unbroken rule in Sweden between 1932 and 1976. In more recent times, these parties have lost ground and have more frequently found themselves in opposition or obliged to rely on coalitions in place of the one-party cabinets of the past. The Danish SD’s record is in this respect less extraordinary but still quite impressive from the point of view of incumbency, even though it has mostly fielded minority cabinets. Over the years, the social democrats became the principal architects of the most developed and generous welfare regimes at both state and local levels (Sejersted 2011). They have also taken part in the profound reforms that have restructured welfare since the mid-1980s (Klitgaard 2007; Brandal et al. 2013). Three main reasons explain why social scientists have so far shown little interest in the issue of state-party relationships in this context: (1) the parties in question were deeply rooted in broad-based social movements and have sought to preserve an identity that is based on the legacy of these movements; (2) these parties have positioned themselves as the bearers of a narrative (folkhem-type) of democratic nationalism meant to reconcile opposing forces; and (3) Nordic social democracy has come to epitomize the success story of egalitarian welfare states throughout the world. These are among the reasons why phenomena relating to the organizational transformation of the stateparty complex have received little direct attention. One exception may be  SAP : Socialdemokratiska arbetarepartiet, later S : Socialdemokraterna ; DNA : Det norske arbeiderpartiet, later AP, Arbeiderpartiet. 3



found in Norwegian historian Jens Aarup Seip’s seminal conference on the “One-Party State” (Seip 1963), a rather harsh Norwegian-language pamphlet criticizing social democratic dominance that Stein Rokkan has criticized for its exaggerations. Though interested in the limits of pluralism, Rokkan himself played down these issues of social democratic institutionalization and the potential effects of single-party dominance (Rokkan 1966). For the last 60 years, analysts have often prophesied the inevitable decline of Scandinavia’s dominant parties. In his seminal work, Duverger wrote that “the dominant party wears itself out in office, it loses its vigor, its arteries harden. It would thus be possible to show that every domination bears within itself the seeds of its own destruction” (Duverger 1954). While there is certainly some empirical truth to this observation, the metaphor is arguably too organic and developmental. It has the effect of eliding the fact that parties may draw upon and even expand the strategic resources of state power and incumbency. Herbert Tingsten’s essay, Från idéer till idyll, makes a number of stimulating points in this connection, As Tingsten remarks on Seip’s views regarding state power in Norway: The governing parties in Sweden and Norway have succeeded in reaching and preserving their position as state parties precisely to the degree that they see themselves—and are seen by a supporting clientele—as skilled and flexible tools for all political action. (…) A central feature of Marxism remains the belief that the party means progress or, to put it more precisely, history (…) a big and successful party precisely holds together through power, constantly providing its partisans and believers with benefits. (Tingsten 1966: 124–126, my translation)

While access to these benefits may not suffice for remaining in power, Tingsten’s remarks alert us to the specific resources that may be derived from power and the impact that long periods of incumbency may have on political institutions and culture.

The Formative Period Before coming to power, Scandinavian social democrats had a complicated and contradictory relationship to the state. This was the joint consequence of the Marxist doctrine that had informed the parties’ programs since their inception, which led to gradual and pragmatic acculturation to the institutions of power at different levels. Social democracy was grounded in broad social movements, organic ties to strong workers’ unions and many ancillary organizations. Ideological radicalization could go very far, as in the case of



the Norwegian DNA, the only social democratic party in Western Europe to join the Komintern (albeit for just a few years in the 1920s). At the same time, however, its Swedish and Danish counterparts had already embarked on a strategy of elite accommodation in a broader context of democratization. This led to the first coalition governments or at least to municipal experiments in Norway. The democratization process was gradual and neither constitutional nor electoral liberalization meant that state institutions and elites surrendered their positions of power (Knudsen 2001: 158). In fact, this was one of the main dilemmas facing many reformist governments at the time: given the strength of established elites in the state apparatus and parliament, to what extent was it possible to formulate and implement coherent policies? If the problem was shared by the three Scandinavian countries, each nevertheless possessed its own, distinct administrative tradition. Of the three, Denmark’s bureaucracy was perhaps the least open and most conservative. In Norway, by contrast, state bureaucrats had long played a significant role in politics (Slagstad 2001). In all three countries, however, liberal reformist parties had already laid the groundwork in parliament and government since the turn of the century. The fact that these political liberals were a mixed bag of bourgeois and rural elements often favoring state intervention helped pave the way for the modernization and growth of the state and even organized corporatism (Rothstein 1992). Some scholars have postulated a “hidden state doctrine” in modern politics whereby most parties actually adhere to stronger public institutions and welfare, as was the case of Sweden’s early “universal” pension reforms prior to the First World War (Uddhammar 1993). Social democratic programs may in this respect diverge from the parties’ actual commitments and actions. This is quite clearly demonstrated by the discrepancy between the Marxist doctrines of interwar social democracy and the increasingly reformist practices they adopted once in office (Berman 2006; Östberg 1990). It is worth noting that this development took place in the absence of war—a powerful factor of state growth and intervention in other European countries—though the alliance between state and industry did deepen over the course of the Second World War. In the case of Denmark, however, this state doctrine calls for qualification: there, economic liberalism was much more entrenched and unions were organized on a more professional basis. This makes Denmark a very special case of “liberal collectivism”. As Francis Sejersted has noted, when large state projects to build hydroelectric infrastructures were put forward by



conservative governments in Sweden in the early 1900s, the social democrats had no objections. In Norway, the production regime was more mixed, with foreign companies and municipalities both playing a role, a reflection of the relatively immature state structure there (Sejersted 2011: 33–34). Yet even within the more radical Norwegian branch of social democracy, there was growing support for economic modernization requiring more active state intervention (Angell 2002, 306). It may be interesting to note that the first social democratic programs contained few direct references to the state. In the 1897 program of the Swedish SAP, for instance, the party stated its objective to control “public power” and strongly develop state and communal “activity as producer and controller of communication and distribution” and “credit”. It also called for the “state church” to be abolished (Socialdemokratins program 1897 till 1990 2001). Subsequent revisions, such as those of 1911, mentioned the “conquest of political power”, a “constitutional change, that introduces a republican and democratic regime” and a social responsibility to develop “People’s insurance”. In Swedish the words for “society” (samhälle) and “state” are frequently used interchangeably; it is the former that is employed here in reference to the ownership of “natural riches”. This is significant for the term may refer to the state but could just as well be used to refer to the cooperative arrangements that figured so prominently in the SAP’s program. This is not the place to study such issues of semantics, which also reflect the shifting dominant coalitions within the parties. In their discourse, one readily perceives the mixture of classical Marxist rhetoric and more local considerations relating to trade unions, the nineteenth-­ century dynamics of “popular movements” (folkrörelse) and cooperation. Yet this discourse also lays much stress on the need for democratizing state institutions, symbolically represented by the Crown and its army. The process by which Scandinavian labor movements came to be institutionalized as modern parties and potential incumbents throughout the first half of the twentieth century is rather well documented, especially in the Swedish case (Gröning 1988; Hentilä 1979; Hjellum 1990; Simonson 1987), revealing the growing gap between radical programs and much more moderate practices. The particular effect of this process on this sort of “cradle-to-grave” movement has received more critical attention in Norway, particularly in regard to increasing labor movement bureaucratization after 1945 (Keul and Kjestadli 1973). In Sweden, by contrast, the mythology of the great integrative “labor movement” has arguably won greater assent from historians and social scientists.



Each Scandinavian case exhibits markedly different patterns of alliance between the liberal and social democratic parties of the time, with Sweden and especially Denmark showing much greater proximity in this respect. In Norway, by contrast, the liberal Venstre Party became the champion of national independence (acquired in 1905 from Sweden) and remained fiercely anti-socialist. The electoral system also made the Norwegian DNA more isolated and prone to increasing radicalization, resulting in serious splits in the 1920s. One of its leaders, Martin Tranmæl, was a supporter of revolutionary methods based on union struggles. There were other tendencies, particularly inspired by agrarian and municipal ideologies, that were weary of the state, but they did not play a decisive role. The earlier eviction of the Swedish “young socialists” in 1917, on the other hand, was testimony to the growing parliamentarization of the Social Democratic Party, which under its charismatic leader, Hjalmar Branting, had been the largest force in the second chamber since 1914. Indeed, Zeth Höglund’s more leftist faction even explicitly referred at the time to Roberto Michel’s thesis regarding the bureaucratization of proletarian movements (Johansson 1997). The 1920s was a period of transition and experimentation for Scandinavian social democrats, a time marked by growing awareness that they had to adjust their doctrine and organization if they were to take command of the state. As Bo Stråth aptly put it: The insight was that the state was at once the strongest hindrance to the promotion of the working class and the only tool strong enough to change social conditions. From this perspective came the conviction that the working class should assume state power and therefore adjust its organization to this goal. (Stråth 1993: 50)

Although this transition took place more slowly and faced greater hurdles in Norway, it did take place there as well and not merely as the result of a reformist group takeover of the party. Indeed, the process was far more complex: since 1920s-era social democracy was divided between several tendencies, there were considerable tensions between the “party on the ground” (and, to some extent, unions) and the party’s parliamentary representatives. Matters were not simplified by the addition of one layer of “party in government”, as evidenced by the failure of the first and very short-lived labor government in 1928. In Denmark and Sweden, the Social Democrats did prove instrumental in establishing and expanding a Ministry of Social Affairs over the middle years of the 1920s. In the interwar



years, energetic leaders—Karl Kristian Steincke and Gustav Möller, respectively—would take the helm of these ministries. The conversion of social democracy to a more national stance at the turn of the 1930s has also been extensively remarked on by historians (Berman 2006; Dahl 1969; Finn Christiansen 1992; Trägårdh 1993; Jonsson 2000). This process arguably started much earlier, however. Already in the 1890s, the Swedish and Danish parties were fighting for a type of democratic nationalism, demanding an expanded electoral franchise and constitutional reform, and they often resorted to patriotic rhetoric— albeit a rhetoric much less militaristic than that of the conservatives (Angell 2002: 79).4 Indeed, some themes that would be central to the Swedish folkhem (people’s home) discourse of the late 1920s were already present at the time. In the next decade (1932–1935), the swift transition toward majority coalitions, based on unorthodox red-green alliances with agrarian interests, gave social democracy a new role in highly troubled times, raising the expectations of its growing constituency. With war approaching, however, the parties were also responsible for keeping law and order and managing defense and foreign policy. In such a situation, the state-party relationship was bound to drastically change. In assessing the early relationship between the state and social democratic movements in the first half of the twentieth century, it must be kept in mind that this was a time of rapid change. In the Scandinavian case, in particular, it is important to recall that Denmark, Norway and Sweden had a rather peculiar history of interdependency and that Norway had only taken its final steps toward national independence in 1905. Its public and private institutions were thus far less developed than those of neighboring countries and the process of nation-building also diverged significantly. In fact, the democratization of the Norwegian regime was part and parcel of the struggle for self-determination. In this process, social democracy played only a secondary role, making it all the more critical of the new liberal state that emerged at the dawn of the twentieth century.

4  The Swedish Social Democrats—most prominently, Hjalmar Branting—helped allay concerns regarding Norway’s move toward independence in 1905, something that cannot be said of all of their Norwegian counterparts (Sejersted 2011: 131).



Institutionalization One of the key questions in public policy and political party studies has been to determine which actors have an impact on policy-making and implementation. This question is posed with particular acuity in relation to political parties of the left promising significant change and socioeconomic progress. Political science tends to regard the political parties of pluralist systems as functionally interchangeable competitors for public office, thereby disregarding such phenomena as institutionalization, dominance and the possibility of collusion between organized actors (Aucante and Dézé 2008; Katz and Mair 1995; Panebianco 1987). In the 1930s, Scandinavian social democracy faced daunting expectations that it would carry out its reform program, a challenge all the greater given its relative lack of government experience, reliance upon awkward coalitions and the profound economic and political crises of the interwar era. In carrying out its program, however, social democracy did not exclusively rely on the state nor did it have any ambitious projects of nationalization. Instrumental to its efforts to achieve a more egalitarian society was its special relationship to unions, cooperative societies, municipalities and other types of organization (Petersen et al. 2014: 102). While the public sector would ultimately expand in an unprecedented way under social democracy, social democratic government was hardly synonymous with economic socialization, the substantial differences between a war-torn country with weak infrastructure like Norway and Sweden and Denmark notwithstanding. Nor was there any clear plan for a comprehensive welfare policy in times of crisis. Indeed, prior to the 1950s, the notion that every major social “risk” should be covered by tax-financed universal schemes was hardly a given (Baldwin 1990). In this respect, the 1934 Swedish Ghent-type (voluntary) unemployment insurance program provides a striking example of a strategy seeking to preserve the strength of unions (Rothstein 1996). In the interwar years, there was little effort to use public works to foster economic recovery. The parties promoted greater state intervention but sometimes in ways that ran counter to their own ideology (e.g., by propping up agricultural and food prices). They also supported broad labor market agreements between unions and employers and helped design tax policies that did not too adversely impact the exports and industrial interests of their respective countries. If there was any pre-Keynesian revolution in the 1930s, it was at the level of economic thinking, though fiscal spending did steadily increase under the social



democratic governments of the time. Deficit spending, however, was certainly not the rule and coalitions with agrarian interests were reflected in agricultural price stabilization policies that ran counter to other workingclass priorities (Notermans 2007; Steinmo 1993). Nevertheless, by the end of the 1930s, Sweden had begun to implement a series of reforms in health care and family policy that would prove decisive after the war. Denmark soon followed suit while Norway ultimately advanced toward a more universal public pension scheme and was the only country to opt for compulsory unemployment insurance (Åmark 2005). During the war, social democracy passed its most serious test as a party overseeing the defense and fate of the nation (the circumstances of Norway were quite special in this connection, as its government was in exile). In the wake of the war, social planning became a matter of heated debate. In a context marked by the emergent Cold War, communist mobilization and the Marshall Plan, it could be regarded as an alternative to outright socialization (Petersen et al. 2014: 75). Postwar social democratic manifestos often struck a bold tone, partly in response to these parties’ ideological competitors to the left. Implementing their programs, however, proved a difficult undertaking—as during the interwar period, central planning and Keynesianism were reined in by various political and macroeconomic constraints, something that is often not well understood (Notermans 2007: 156). Economic trends did not particularly call for countercyclical measures, with the possible exception of Denmark. Since Norwegian industrial infrastructure had particularly suffered during the war, there was both a need and an opportunity for more planning. Between 1945 and 1953, special legislation, known as “Lex Thagaard”, was enacted on price and production to support planning efforts, though it proved politically controversial. In Denmark and Sweden, by contrast, little was done in the way of planning (Nordby 1992; Sejersted 2011). Nevertheless all three countries continued to develop welfare institutions and policies. This was especially so in Denmark and Sweden, where the public sector witnessed rapid growth. In the latter, 1957 was a decisive year, with a heated referendum campaign sponsored by the Social Democrats that resulted in compulsory public supplementary pensions. As Prime Minister Tage Erlander remarked at the time: Does the party hold a mission that distinguishes itself radically from the other parties? This time around, I believe we have to take the risk and



c­ onfront this question in all its depth: Social Democracy is and remains the party that carries the burden of social and cultural reform.5

The debate around the issue of pension reform was fierce since the other parties feared the resulting concentration of money in the hands of the state. One referendum campaign ad issued by the agrarian Center Party put it quite plainly, asking if Swedes really wanted “to be seated on uncle state’s knees”.6 Indeed, pension savings plans would be later used to finance large public investments in the housing sector and elsewhere. This also marked a turn for the SAP, which broke away from its long-standing coalitions with the Agrarian/Center Party. It would be another 60 years before it once again participated in a coalition government,7

Democratic Hegemony? One of the essential questions in bringing about significant reform was whether and to what extent social democracy should reform state institutions and their staff. Labor movements continued to regard the state as largely controlled by public servants recruited from the upper classes and lacking a whole-hearted commitment to their program. This is the theme that Bo Rothstein investigated in his 1996 book regarding the Scandinavian context, The Social Democratic State (Rothstein 1996). In their efforts to pursue reform and their overwhelming dominance notwithstanding, did the Social Democrats encounter significant resistance within the state apparatus? Answering this question is far from straightforward. Social Democrats used to frequently complain about the small size of the cabinet in comparison with the state administration and that it was difficult to recruit public servants from any but the already established channels. Despite their many years of experience in Parliament, there was indeed much to learn for the first Social Democratic cabinets, which included such figures as Fredrik Thorsson, a former shoemaker who became Minister of Finance. After 20 years of more or less unbroken power, the situation was quite different. As the leader of the Swedish Conservative 5  Tage Erlander, proceedings of the SAP Steering Committee protocol, 25 September 1956, Labor Movement archives, Stockholm (translation mine). 6  “Vill ni sitta i farbror statens knä”. Quoted in Elvander (1968: 396). 7  While there have been ad hoc parliamentary coalitions, the system of “negative parliamentarism” equates abstention with tacit support of a policy.



Party wrote in 1963: “In fact, the concentration of power in the government and in the governing party is the most characteristic feature of contemporary Swedish politics. We are rapidly moving away from the politics of compromise based on reciprocal concessions that was typical of our country from the mid-thirties to the mid-fifties” (cited in Stjernquist 1966: 116). The parties were still regarded as the political branch of a strong labor movement but they had managed to bring about significant institutional and policy change. Rothstein studies the example of the Swedish labor market standing committee, which became a full-time board in 1948 and was to be an important axis of Social Democratic and union strategies, contrasting it with the education administration and its more sustained resistance to comprehensive school reform (Rothstein 1996). In postwar Norway, a country undergoing reconstruction and where there was no established bureaucratic tradition after the model of Sweden or Denmark, the reorganization and politicization of the administration under the leadership of strong Social Democratic cabinets went much further. New institutions such as the Health Directorate, led by Karl Evang within the Ministry of Social Affairs, were established and subsequently acquired great power (Grønlie 1999: 47). In the case of Norway, the subsequent discovery of oil reserves in 1969 and the creation of the national firm Statoil opened a new era of strong state intervention in this highly capitalistic sector. The Social Democratic elite played a leading role in this process, putting Norway in a special (and often underestimated) position in contemporary Scandinavia (Sejersted 2011). Since its bureaucracy was more independent, Danish social democracy had less leeway in reshaping it but did succeed, as in Sweden, in drastically reducing the number of municipalities over the course of the 1950s and 1960s so as to make them more functional elements of the welfare system and more amenable to the direction of political parties (Knudsen 2001: 191). When referring to the state in Denmark or Scandinavia, it is thus important to include the municipal dimension as a major provider of public services. Danish Social Democracy was also one of the principal engines of the country’s formidable growth in public spending. Well beneath the level of Sweden and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) average in the early 1960s, its rate of public spending was among the highest in the world some 20 years later, with predictable consequences for its public debt (Munk-Christiansen 2008: 151). Until the early 1970s, however, most political parties more or less consented to these developments.



The growth of party politics at all levels after 1945 cannot be denied. It should be recalled that, before the war, some ministries (e.g., foreign affairs) were still traditionally staffed by professional diplomats or high-­ ranking civil servants. It is among the specificities of Scandinavia that this growth coincided with a period of one-party dominance, a rather unusual development in the world of pluralist democracies. Those political scientists who have recognized this phenomenon have generally been more interested in explaining it rather than examining its specific organizational forms and consequences, except where the production of social welfare policies is concerned. Several aspects directly relating to what might be called the institutionalization of state-dominant parties are worth mentioning here. One of these concerns the public financing of political parties themselves. In all three countries, Social Democrats held power for most of the 1960s, the period during which the public financing system was established, and argued for increasing public support and indexing it to election performance. Between 1964 and 1965, the annual public grant received by Sweden’s Social Democratic Party increased almost fourfold while other parties received as much as twice their former grants (Pierre and Widfeldt 1992: 824–825). This discrepancy was officially justified on the grounds that “bourgeois parties” enjoyed much greater private support as well as ideologically favorable coverage in the national press. In making this argument, the Social Democrats conveniently elided the decisive role played by trade unions in their campaigns and communication strategies as well as the financial support they provided (e.g., through the indirect membership of union affiliates in the party). Under the new public financing regime, this type of support would continue to be deemed legitimate while private and corporate support for bourgeois parties increasingly came to be seen as disreputable. Targeted state funding also allowed the Social Democrats to revitalize their many press organs, many of which found themselves in dire economic straights prior to the public financing reform (Wallenberg 1987: 117). Most of all, Social Democracy was able to take advantage of the resources of public institutions themselves, including expert staff and committees, thereby constructing a political class without parallel that extended from the spheres of the state to the labor movement and its ancillary organizations. This is what Norwegian historian Jens Aarup Seip was referring to with his pamphlet on the “one-party state” in the 1960s (Seip 1963). Indeed, the Scandinavian state even captured the attention of



French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who noted that a “‘social democratic elite’ in office for generations was bound to accumulate social and political capital that may even reproduce itself in ‘networks of family relations’, leading to quasi-dynasties” (Bourdieu 1994: 33–34). In the context of expanding public bureaucracies at the state and local levels, there are numerous examples of this phenomenon in the Scandinavian countries but few studies have tried to map its contours, with this neglect even extending to the official power and democracy audits that took place in Norway and Sweden starting in the late 1970s (Berntzen 1992; Isaksson 1986; Skjeie 1999; Wallenberg 1987). With the golden age of social democracy now behind us, academic interest in this phenomenon can only further diminish. In her very unusual study of social democratic dominance in Norway, Hege Skjeie refers to the “power of habit” (vanens makt) and “governing tradition” that have shaped the party over time. Forty years earlier, Jens Aarup Seip went even further, arguing that studying the make-up of the Social Democratic Party was even more important to understanding the power structure in Norway than was the national constitution itself, which dated from 1814 (Seip 1963: 22). Even from a purely electoral point of view, the Social Democrats increasingly came to rely on public sector employees for votes. Significantly, public sector employees (particularly at the municipal level) had by the mid-1970s come to represent a majority of all members. Yet, even as it made new recruits from among the public service class, social democracy continued to benefit from the fidelity of its historic working-class base (Keul and Kjestadli 1973). Its public sector clientele has certainly become more volatile over time, as have the workers themselves, but they nevertheless represented another key element on the road to social democracy’s institutionalization. Their fidelity may have continued to have an impact even when these parties found themselves in opposition and to some extent after they apparently ceased to be dominant. One might doubtlessly characterize the nature of social democratic dominance and the intimate relationship it entailed with the state apparatus in other, possibly more symbolic ways (Aucante 2008). For example, its heterogeneity notwithstanding, social democracy has come to be equated with the very essence of the Scandinavian welfare regime, to the extent that it is sometimes hard to distinguish the party itself from the entire system in public and academic discourse. The state is also embodied by a dynasty of leaders who, while some may lack charisma in the early



stages of their career, often rise to the challenge in their own, individual ways. Identifying these leaders is facilitated by the fact that there have been so few of them and they enjoyed such long tenure in office in the postwar years. Per Albin Hansson, Thorvald Stauning, Einar Gerhardsen, Tage Erlander, Jens Otto Krag, Olof Palme and Gro Harlem Brundtland, to name just a few of the better-known figures (at least in Scandinavia), are so many illustrations of this phenomenon. This effect of leadership has clearly diminished since the 1980s, as the era of social democracy’s founding fathers faded from view, but figures such as Gro Harlem Brundtland, Göran Persson, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and Jens Stoltenberg nevertheless continued to have a significant impact.

Post-Social Democracy? Starting in the mid-1970s, the relationship between social democracy and the state substantially changed, its variations increasingly taking divergent forms from one country to the next. One warning sign of this divergence was to be found in the inroads made into public opinion by new right attacks on the welfare state, bureaucracy and the social democratic political monopoly. In both Denmark and Norway, protest parties emerged. Calling themselves “progress parties”, they opposed high taxes, rampant socialism and red tape. With the economic crisis of the mid-1970s and the historic loss of power between 1976 and 1982, Sweden’s reformist left felt obliged to modify both its agenda and its vision of the state. This did not take place in the same way in all three countries. From above came the story of globalization, liberalization and Europeanization, all of which tended to erode the theoretical foundations of state power. The case of Norway and oil, however, shows that this process has not been as straightforward as one might have supposed. Seen from below, this was another story about rejuvenating local government and democracy, transferring greater responsibility and autonomy to this level. In times of fiscal constraint, however, it could also be seen as an instrument of deregulation. It is important to recall, however, that the public sector and welfare state continued to grow well into the 1980s and that, even during the so-called era of liberalization, contradictory tendencies were at work. In its early phase in the 1990s, for example, the famed Danish policy of flexisecurity was part of a rather classical neo-Keynesian package seeking to boost the economy and employment (Munk-Christiansen 2008), even if it also involved welfare-to-work measures that would gradually be strengthened.



A distinctive trait of modern social democracy is to have found a bridge between market forces and the state via union power and welfare building (Svenson 2002). It is possible to track the origins and salience of a pro-­ market discourse quite far back in time (Hinnfors 2006). This stance has become more widespread since the 1980s, however, and has contributed to the evolution from a welfare state to a more (social) competitive state (Pedersen 2011). Right-wing forces were instrumental in this transformation but social democracy contributed to it as well in its own way. As this is one of the most intensely debated topics in contemporary studies of social democracy and welfare, it would be difficult to summarize it in the context of the present discussion. Instead, I shall consider a few of the major differences and similarities among the three Scandinavian cases discussed above. My aim here is not so much to describe the transformations of the state as it is to map out the state’s relationship to social democracy. The special status enjoyed by social democratic parties as the natural incumbents of the political system and the pillars of social reform has not withstood the fact of electoral decline. Where these parties once received between 40 and 45 percent of the vote, they now receive no more than 25 or 30 percent, with much of this loss having been recuperated by their liberal-­conservative counterparts. As a result, the latter are now capable of forming governments of their own. The rise of national-populist parties has also sapped votes from social democratic parties, particularly among their historic, working-class base (Knudsen 2007). At the same time, the special relationship these parties enjoyed with the workers’ trade unions (especially in Norway and Sweden) has also waned as wage negotiations became less corporatist and more decentralized (Rothstein 1992). Hence social democratic parties have become more normal in both of these respects, as extraordinary incumbents and social movement. In many ways, their ideological stance has converged with that of the liberal right, accommodating itself to a vision of a state that, from the point of view of public spending and personnel, is at once smaller and more efficient. In addition to transferring responsibility to local government and “managers”, social democratic parties have increasingly come to rely on market and competitive mechanisms to provide services, including those central to their respective welfare regimes (Halvorsen and Stjernø 2008; Rothstein and Blomqvist 2008; Pedersen 2011). This process has gone hand in hand with the growing Europeanization of Scandinavian political economies.



Some studies have argued that the decision to make universal public welfare and services more efficient and thereby legitimate them vis-à-vis economic and budgetary constraints represented a strategic move on the part of social democratic parties—an effort facilitated by appeals to their old market-friendly repertoire (Hinnfors 2006; Klitgaard 2007). Others, however, see this as reflecting a much deeper transformation of the social democratic ethos and state structure to bring them into line with modern capitalism (Andersson 2009; Pedersen 2011) without for all that making them strictly synonymous with neoliberalism. As Jenny Andersson has put it: There is nothing neoliberal about contemporary social democracy if by neoliberal we mean an economic and social philosophy based on the free market and free individuals, both postulates that contemporary social democracy rejects. (Andersson 2009: 42)

From a political-economic point of view, Norwegian social democracy took a quite different path due to the discovery of gas and oil in the late 1960s, a circumstance often neglected in comparative discussions of Scandinavian countries. The unexpected extent of the resource called for extraordinary measures if the state was to secure proper control of potential fields and revenue. Indeed, in the 1970s the initial social democratic strategy was to build a national champion, Statoil, that would not only compete with already established oil companies but also facilitate potential nationalization of the resource (Sejersted 2011: 346). This was a costly strategy requiring major public investment and brought Norway, at a time of repeated oil shocks, to the verge of financial collapse by the end of the decade. Since the nationalization option had become impossible to sustain, it was decided that the state should concentrate on defending property rights and licensing while channeling the massive royalties into a special sovereign fund that in the 1990s would subsequently be managed by the central bank. During the 1980s, when Social Democratic Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland coined the concept of sustainable development, her party decided to set a limit to oil prospection investment. As it turned out, this limit was exceeded without compunction, in the process making the Norwegian state and its fund the world’s largest sovereign financial actors, with control over nearly 1.5 percent of global stocks and shares. While this wealth is employed in a rather “Protestant” spirit, it nevertheless



confers unprecedented power and responsibility upon the state in regard to Norway’s environmental and ethical commitments, commitments that the Social Democrats have done much to promote (Aucante 2016). While Norway has carried out liberal reforms of its public sector, the state nevertheless retains a prominent position and enjoys nearly unrivaled resources as a welfare provider. There are further exceptions to this dynamic of state decline, including defense, security, foreign affairs and immigration policy, domains in which social democratic parties and others have retained a strong stance on the role of the nation-state while sometimes (particularly in the case of Sweden) seeking to maintain a distinct humanitarian profile (Hinnfors et  al. 2012; Sejersted 2011: 404). More radical right-wing parties—the Danish people’s party, Sweden’s Democrats and the Norwegian Progress Party—may take a stricter position on immigration but their ideas have already significantly influenced their principal rivals, especially in Denmark where legislation in the area has been severely tightened over the past 15 years. At the same time, however, these radical right-wing parties have also been tempted to adopt a more chauvinistic stance on welfare, defending the welfare state as a core element of national identity and a matter of trust—trust eroded by growing immigration and cultural diversity. This backlash against globalization in what were formerly quite open countries may well appeal to a number of social democratic voters who feel nostalgic about an idealized image of a homogeneous welfare society, the “people’s home” of old times (folkhemmet) (Hellström 2016). In regard to immigration and social welfare, the social democrats are thus no longer able to present themselves as the dominant defenders of a strong state in the context of a globalized economy. *** In conclusion, it is tempting to say that a central aspect of social democracy’s unique success in Scandinavia has been its ability to present itself as an architect and pillar of a universal welfare state understood as a specifically democratic form of nationalism, the benefits of which are at once universal and limited to a homogeneous national community characterized by a high degree of social solidarity. Decades of deep reforms to the public sphere show that the liberal—and perhaps nationalist—right have gained an upper hand over the agenda at a time when it has proven increasingly



difficult to define the borders of the legitimate national community, who should benefit from welfare and the legitimate form of state action (Barker 2019). Seen in comparative perspective, Scandinavian social democracy so far appears resilient. Yet if it is to meet the challenge presented by the liberal and radical populist right and distinguish itself from both, it will ultimately need to recast its concept of the democratic state.

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Socialists and Civil Servants


Socialists and Civil Servants. Introduction to Part II Mathieu Fulla

Socialist acculturation to the state implied the acquisition of its codes, functioning and language by the leaders of the different national parties. Civil servants engaged in socialism thus played a crucial role as intermediaries between these organisations and the state apparatus. Their adherence to the state is crucial in a democratic regime to push through an ambitious programme of economic and social democratisation—based in particular on achieving full employment, raising real wages and administering a generous welfare state (Eley 2002). As noted by Luc Rouban in his contribution, this standpoint raises methodological difficulties, which are explained not only by the highly variable definition of “civil servant” depending on the country concerned but also by the diversity of this community. Beyond these methodological issues, carefully addressed in this second part, all the authors point out the increasing overlap between the socialist parties and public authorities from the First World War to the late 1990s and reflect on its political, sociological and cultural consequences both for these organisations

M. Fulla (*) Sciences Po Paris, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




and for the West modern state. The penetration of civil servants in the social and social democratic parties was strongly linked to the acceptance by the latter of liberal democracy and the willingness of their leaders, albeit at different paces according to the national contexts, to conquest power. However, there is still a widespread belief, notably among commentators and former political actors (socialists and non-socialists), that the growing importance of civil servants within these parties as voters, as activists and sometimes as experts started in 1945. All the case studies presented herein show that this phenomenon had older roots dating back at least to the First World War. Dealing with the French case, Laure Machu and Matthieu Tracol point out that since the interwar period the French Section of the Workers’ International (SFIO) had a socially composite electorate and membership, in which teachers and civil servants far outnumbered manual workers. These two groups of public sector workers played a key role in spreading the party’s anti-fascist and pacifist message during the 1930s (Sawicki 2004). Social recruitment was enlarged to bring in state workers even earlier in the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) case. In his seminal work of 1911, Roberto Michels, who did not spare his criticism with regard to “party employees”, whom he regarded as symbols of the “oligarchical tendencies” typical of party organisations, already emphasised this collusion (Michels 2001 [1911]). Bernd Faulenbach’s analysis confirms his observation by emphasising the rise of civil servants among the party membership under the Weimar Republic, especially in Prussia. Moreover, penetration of the state by less powerful socialist parties during this period was also underway. Analysing the sociological structure of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE), Juan Francisco Fuentes underscores that 33% of its elected representatives came from teaching backgrounds. The Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) took a further step in this direction from 1932. Kjell Östberg’s contribution shows how its leaders, relying on a solid alliance with the agrarian party, set up educational institutions responsible for training a “local welfare bureaucracy” that favoured the plan of building a socialist welfare state at both the local and national levels. Nonetheless, the overall picture of the interwar period should be nuanced in two respects. Firstly, most of senior civil servants remained suspicious of the SPD, the British Labour Party and the SFIO when they exercised responsibility. On the eve of the Popular Front gaining power in 1936, Léon Blum’s SFIO was relying on a mixture of expertise from which senior civil servants were very much a minority in these circles and did not regard themselves as possessing knowledge of the state which they



needed to instil in the organisation of which they were members. Secondly, as the PSOE case showed, the rise of civil servants in socialist parties did not necessarily lead to a reformist conversion of these organisations. Its leader, Largo Caballero, renewed the classic criticism of the bourgeois state in 1933, considering it incapable of radically restructuring the economy. Causing his organisation to take a “Bolshevik turn”, he urged his followers, among whom many civil servants, to weaken the Republican state from within, not to consolidate it to safeguard a fragile liberal democracy. On the other hand, it is hardly surprising that all the contributions point out that the post-war period marked a crucial intensification of the relationship between West European socialism and the state. The role increasingly played by civil servants within these organisations, as well as the enlargement of state prerogatives (especially in economic and social matters) in the post-war Western World, are two of the strongest factors boosting socialist acculturation to the state. Unsurprisingly, Sweden, where the SAP experienced a political golden age, offered the most accomplished example of what a welfare state designed by socialists in a democratic regime could be. The welfare bureaucracy entered a new phase in the 1960s–1970s; a broadening spectrum of well-educated men and women, all clearly sympathetic to the social democratic project of building a welfare state, was now available to manage it. The emergence of such affinities between socialists and civil servants was made possible not only by the then consensus of government parties concerning the welfare state, but also by the tendency of European democracies to “cartelize”, which is intricately associated with the professionalisation of partisan elites (Katz and Mair 1995). The SPD thus could count on the support of a substantial base of state employees (police, social workers, primary-school teachers) and public sector workers in various regions. The significant reinforcement of links between civil servants and socialist parties is largely explained by the public policies implemented by the latter, which had mostly become parties of government by the late 1960s. The socialists actively contributed to building the welfare state and establishing a regulated capitalism; this favoured the advent of growth societies and access to relative prosperity for the middle and working classes. Once more, the Swedish case epitomised a state ruled by a social democratic party over a long period. However, official reactions of party leaders to the penetration of civil servants differed according to the landscape of the “Left” in each country.



The SPD is an ideal type in this case, having publicly announced its willingness to open the party up to the middle classes in general and the civil service in particular after the Bad Godesberg party conference in 1959. Conversely, Guy Mollet’s SFIO (1947–1969), in which most of the cadres were civil servants (Rimbert 1952), was reluctant to acknowledge this sociological reality because it did not want to leave the powerful French Communist Party the monopoly of worker representation. Beneath these political contingencies, mostly function of the importance of communism on the national stage, the process of West European socialist parties opening up to state employees and, more widely, to the middle strata of the public and private sectors was accomplished without too much difficulty in the second half of the twentieth century—provided that the country in which they operated was ruled by a democratic regime. Juan Francisco Fuentes thus shows how in Spain, making the transition to democracy in the second half of the 1970s, Felipe Gonzalez’s PSOE broke with the ambiguities of the Second Republic, the accepted counter-model, and asserted itself as a party of the middle classes, in which civil servants provided a significant pool of voters and activists. Socialist relationships with the higher echelons of the civil service were, however, much more bumpy. Between the two wars, suspicion reigned. From the French socialist Vincent Auriol to the Swedish social democrat Per-Albin Hansson to Largo Caballero, important figures in 1930s socialism cast doubt on the loyalty of central government officials when they acceded to power. Although the British Labour Party member Douglas Jay, the Party’s top economic expert in the 1930s, claimed in 1937 that the gentlemen of Whitehall knew better than the British people what was good for them, this remained a minority view in the party ranks, as Kevin Theakston recalls in his chapter. Under Ramsey MacDonald’s second government of 1929–1931, several Labour ministers and trade unionists expressed bitter criticism against the orthodox economic policy relentlessly recommended by the British Treasury (Wrigley in Heppel and Theakston 2013). Not all doubts were removed after the war; mutual mistrust persisted. The SAP’s attitude appeared symbolic of this. The post-war social democrat craftsmen of the welfare state were mainly—but not exclusively—recruited among industrial workers in order to prevent “sabotage” from the top of the administration. Throughout the golden age of this “welfare bureaucracy”, Prime Minister Tage Erlander, followed by Olof Palme in the 1970s, accepted openly political nominations at the



top levels of state and on the boards of directors of strategic public enterprises. Although the Swedish case is exceptional due to the degree to which the party penetrated the state, this practice affected all West European socialist parties. The growing popularity of many socialist parties among the post-war electorate was accompanied by a massive influx of top civil servants at the head of their organisations, sometimes as senior managers, sometimes as experts and often both at the same time. The SPD under Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt thus followed the same path than the SAP.  In 1976, 131 of its 224 elected representatives in the Bundestag came from the civil service (Bernd Faulenbach). This close relationship between socialism and state elites was also a feature of French socialism. Laure Machu and Matthieu Tracol show how the relationship between the French Socialist Party (PS) and top civil servants was radically different compared to the Popular Front period. State expertise had now become central to the designing of PS platforms. When the party seized power in 1981, it could rely, like its Swedish and German counterparts, on a host of sympathetic state elites to design and implement its social policies—and more fundamentally—take control of the state apparatus after 23 years during which Gaullist and centre right governments were in office. This close association between partisan leaders and state elites (sometimes the same person) raises a significant issue: did the specific nature of socialist political culture evaporate through regular contact with the top of the national administrations? The tendency for socialist governments to conform to the institutional norm of the democratic and capitalist state seems to be the norm. From Ramsay MacDonald to James Callaghan, Labour governments never seriously envisaged a radical reform of Whitehall, as Kevin Theakston mentions. The revolution in state management would certainly take place, but it was the work of Conservative governments under Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Especially since the late 1970s, European labour, socialist and social democratic governments, advised by a new generation of experts from the senior civil service and academe but also the private sector, encouraged the withdrawal of public authorities from certain economic and social spheres. All the contributions emphasise the influence exerted by state socialist elites on this process. In West Germany, the SPD began this change of direction in the final few years of the Schmidt government (1974–1982) by launching its “state modernisation strategy” (Sassoon 2014 [1996]). In France, due to the requirement of further deepening European integration, the Fabius



government (1984–1986) put an end to the era of industrial voluntarism, symbolised by the 1982 nationalisations, and adopted a policy similar to that of West Germany. In Spain, despite a very different economic and social context, the government of Felipe Gonzalez carried out substantial privatisations and closed many public companies. The Prime Minister justified these measures by using the same arguments as his German and French counterparts. The Swedish SAP itself, having returned to power in 1982, embarked on policies to reduce the state’s role in economic regulation to the benefit of market forces on the strong recommendation of a young brain trust of monetarist economists (Kjell Östberg). The sociology and economic culture of this brain trust symbolised the scaling of the summit by socialist party experts attempting to convince leaders of the political need to transform the role and even the nature of the state. This was not inconsequential for the loosening of ties between socialism and the civil service during the 2000–2010 period. Any defence of the welfare state and social solidarity prompted total dismay among state employees. In the UK and Germany, privatisations and reforms of the welfare state initiated by the Blair and Schröder governments which, without being carbon copies (Powell 2008; Fleckenstein 2011), broadly continued those of their conservative predecessors, resulting in a loss of social status for public sector employees. After the 2008 economic and financial crisis, the austerity policies of Southern European socialist governments, such as that of José Socrates in Portugal, produced a comparable feeling among the socio-professional classes, leading to strikes and demonstrations against the drop in the workforce and cuts in wages and retirement pensions, as Luc Rouban noted. Something therefore seems to have broken down in the relationship between socialists and state employees. The question now on the table is whether or not this situation can be reversed. Have socialist parties been permanently replaced in the hearts of public sector workers by the far left, ecologists and extreme-right populist movements, now viewed by these electors as better able to champion their interests? Or do these parties, which are currently facing serious voter disaffection, place winning back these groups at the heart of a (hypothetical) strategy to re-invest their traditional networks and social milieus?



References Eley, Geoff. 2002. Forging Democracy. The History of the Left in Europe, 1850–2000. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fleckenstein, Timo. 2011. Institutions, Ideas, and Learning in Welfare State Change. Labour Market Reforms in Germany. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Katz, Richard, and Peter Mair. 1995. Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy: The Emergence of the Cartel Party. Party Politics 1 (1). Michels, Robert. 2001 [1911]. Political Parties. A Sociological Study of the Oligarchical Tendencies of Modern Democracies. Trans. Eden & Cedar Paul. Kitchener, ON: Batoche Books. Powell, Martin, ed. 2008. Modernizing the Welfare State. The Blair Legacy. Bristol: Policy Press. Rimbert, Pierre. 1952. L’avenir du PS. Âge et composition sociale. La Revue socialiste, March 1952. Sassoon, Donald. 1996. One Hundred Years of Socialism. The West European Left in the Twentieth Century. London: Fontana Press. Sawicki, Frédéric. 2004. Les socialistes. In Histoire des gauches en France, ed. Gilles Candar and Jean-Jacques Becker, vol. 2, 27–50. Paris: La Découverte. Wrigley, Chris. 2013. The Fall of the Second MacDonald Government, 1931. In How Labour Governments Fall, ed. Timothy Heppell and Kevin Theakston, 38–60. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


The British Labour Party and the Civil Service in the Twentieth Century Kevin Theakston

‘Socialists … idealise the salaried public servant’, explained the Fabian socialist Beatrice Webb in 1924 as the first Labour government (in which her husband, Sidney, was a minister) was taking office in Britain: ‘they look to him [sic] to save the world’ (Cole 1956: 9). ‘The gentleman in Whitehall knows best’, insisted another socialist thinker and a future government minister, Douglas Jay (1937: 317), in the 1930s. The dominance of a centralist and statist approach in the British Labour Party’s political thinking and practice in the twentieth century gave a vital role to the civil service and the Whitehall bureaucratic machine in the transformation of society and the achievement of socialism. Alternative ideas about decentralisation, ‘guild socialism’ or ‘municipal socialism’ faded away as Labour became a major parliamentary party and the actual or alternative government in the 1920s and 1930s. The Labour Party became firmly

K. Theakston (*) University of Leeds, Leeds, UK e-mail: k.theaks[email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




assimilated into the traditional ‘Westminster model’ of the British state, with its emphasis on strong government, parliamentary sovereignty, ministerial responsibility and civil service neutrality. However, outside a small Fabian Society circle of intellectuals and gradual reformists, and apart from spasmodic left-wing attacks, Labour has generally not paid much serious or sustained attention to the civil service and the central government machine (or the ‘Whitehall system’) despite the fact that its success or failure in office depends to a crucial extent on its relations with the civil service, on the quality of the administrative apparatus and personnel available to it and on the efficient use of the government machine. There was and is no single, coherent ‘Labour Party view’ about the nature and problems of the civil service or its reform. Different views and opinions can be found cutting across (and within) left- and right-wing factions in the party, in periods of opposition compared to periods of government, between socialist intellectuals and Labour’s professional politicians and between ministers and the party organisation or rank-andfile members. Opinion on the question of civil service power and (alleged) obstruction of socialist policies and ministers, for instance, seems in some respects to have reflected evaluations of the success or otherwise of Labour governments: many ministers always denied ‘sabotage’ claims and this was less of an issue in the party after the 1945–1951 government than after (and during) the 1964–70 and 1974–79 terms of office. ‘Civil service reform alone will not restore [sic] parliamentary democracy or Cabinet responsibility in Britain. It cannot by itself create the basis for a successful Socialist Government. It is, however, one of the most essential and fundamental preconditions of both.’ This was the opinion of Thomas Balogh, a close adviser to Harold Wilson and a fierce critic of the Whitehall mandarins, writing in the late 1950s (Balogh 1959). However, in office, Labour prime ministers from Ramsay MacDonald (1924, 1929–31) to Clement Attlee (1945–51), Harold Wilson (1964–70, 1974–76) and James Callaghan (1976–79) have been institutionally conservative and have not pushed through thoroughgoing radical reform of the civil service. Unlike some of their followers, they appear to have been reasonably satisfied with the Whitehall status quo and to have given administrative reform a low priority. In fact, the Labour Party has never had a clear blueprint for reform of the Whitehall bureaucracy, though certain lines of criticism of civil service organisation, management, power and accountability recur through the party’s history, together with proposals for reform. The continual recycling over the years of very similar ideas and



proposals for reform stands out in this analysis, as does the fact that in practice Labour governments made only patchy progress towards the implementation of Whitehall reforms from the 1920s through to the 1970s (Theakston 1992). The frequent lack of clarity, the confusion, the tensions and ambiguities that mark Labour and British socialist thinking about the civil service should not be seen in isolation for they also characterise its approach to the British state and the constitution in general. The British Labour Party has ‘rarely given any sustained attention to the form of the state whose power and role it is pledged to extend’ (Jones and Keating 1985: 2). It has spent little time thinking about the ground rules and key features of the British constitution. And in fact a key feature historically in the course of the party’s emergence and development and its integration into the British political system has been Labour’s ‘relatively uncritical acceptance of existing constitutional norms’ and its ‘uncritical inheritance of a British pre-­ democratic state form’ (Jones and Keating 1985: 163, 193). Labour’s attitudes and (in office) its actions towards reform of the institutions and practices of the state—including the civil service—have not been based on clear reasoning about constitutional first principles or about the institutional requirements of socialism, but have instead been piecemeal and pragmatic, and sometimes actually inconsistent and incoherent (Dorey 2008). There has been a long-term alignment to the traditional Westminster and Whitehall model, and the established structures of the state, with its traditions and practices of executive dominance and top-­down, hierarchical public administration—seen as the way of pushing through Labour’s radical programme and achieving the party’s policy aims (Diamond 2011). This chapter surveys British Labour Party thinking and practice on the issue of the civil service in the twentieth century up to the advent of the ‘New Labour’ government in 1997, reviewing the experience of office and socialist ideas about reform of the government bureaucracy. The chapter is organised largely thematically, starting with the long-running debates over Whitehall efficiency and management, and the Fabian critique of the civil service. It then looks at the problems of bureaucratic power and control and of alleged civil service obstruction of socialist ministers and measures. The third section of the chapter relates to the issues around the democratic accountability of government and administration. While the first three sections of the chapter deal largely with Labour’s ideas and experiences from the 1920s to the 1970s, the final section reviews the



party’s reactions to developments after 1979 and to the radical changes and reforms introduced into Whitehall by the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major.

The Fabian Reform Tradition The reformist Fabian critique accepted the political neutrality of the state machine and the civil service but suggested that it was an inefficient instrument for a progressive government. This theme can be traced back to Sidney and Beatrice Webb, who—drawing on ideas developed as part of the wider cross-party pre-First World War campaign for ‘national efficiency’—in their Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain urged the need for what they called ‘a civil service of a new kind’— more expert, specialised and trained in modern administrative techniques and the social sciences (Webb 1920: 175–6). A direct line can subsequently be traced in this vein from the writings of socialist theorists like Harold Laski and G.D.H.  Cole, through various Fabian Society reports, to the Fabian high tide in the 1960s, marked by Harold Wilson’s modernising drive and the Whitehall reforms he instigated by setting up the Fulton Committee on the reform of the civil service (1966–68). It is a fair criticism of the Fabians throughout the twentieth century that their concern was largely with civil service inefficiency rather than with the democratisation of a socially unrepresentative higher bureaucracy, perhaps reflecting the shared educational and social class backgrounds and culture of Labour’s intellectual elite and the leading mandarins (Hetzner 1985). In particular, the envious eyes cast in the 1960s at the confident planners and technocrats formed by the French École Nationale d’Administration (ENA) also suggested a move towards a more meritocratic elite and not an egalitarian remodelling of the civil service. The Fabian reformers also anticipated greater interchange between the civil service and private industry and business, though, of course, many on the Labour left have always been suspicious of what they see as the already close and sympathetic relations between the bureaucracy and business interests. A fundamental weakness in the Fabian-Fulton approach was the exaggerated emphasis on managerial efficiency and the neglect of the constraints imposed by the political and parliamentary environment on the organisation and working of the civil service. The reluctance of Labour governments to reconsider the constitutional conventions governing the



relations of ministers, civil servants and parliament has been a key factor limiting the extent to which Whitehall could be remodelled according to this managerialist model. Let Us Face the Future, the Labour Party’s 1945 election manifesto, had promised ‘the better organisation of Government departments and the Civil Service’, but made no specific commitments. There had in fact been no proper attempt to work out a detailed reorganisation blueprint for Whitehall as part of the preparations in the 1930s and early 1940s for a future Labour government. The party leadership’s experience in the wartime Churchill coalition (1940–45) served mostly to reinforce ministers’ cautious and pragmatic ‘insiders’ attitude. As Peter Hennessy has put it: ‘Attlee and his ministers, despite being a radically intentioned government, did not embark on a reform of the Civil Service because they knew the war-time machine personally and liked what they saw. They had seen the recent administrative past and it had worked’ (Hennessy 1986: 37). In the 1930s Labour’s leader Clement Attlee had mused over schemes for the reorganisation of the Cabinet system and the government machine from first principles, also criticising the absence of a ‘general staff’ or a central planning staff in Whitehall. He was clear, however, that the system of government and administration in Britain had in the past adapted to new conditions, and while it needed some specific improvements and reforms, it could be used to ‘bring about the fundamental changes which we desire’ (Attlee 1937: 136). During the war, as deputy prime minister, he urged the removal of Sir Horace Wilson, the permanent secretary of the Treasury and head of the civil service, partly because of the mistrust Wilson stirred in Labour circles as a key eminence grise figure in the Chamberlain regime and partly because of the cramping effect of the Treasury running the civil service. ‘The impetus of vigorous government decisions comes up against a certain resistance, not wilful but instinctive and habitual in the ranks of Higher Civil Servants’, he told Winston Churchill (who himself thought there was ‘much to be said’ for that view).1 Attlee also put some moderately reformist (and pretty standard-­ issue Fabian-type) proposals to the wartime Cabinet’s machinery of government committee, backing a civil service staff college, greater interchange with other public organisations and outside business, and splitting the Treasury to put ‘establishments’ (personnel and management functions) 1

 Churchill Archive Centre: CHAR 20/20/28-31.



directly under the prime minister.2 But later, senior officials could not hide their relief when, in November 1945, after he had become prime minister, he conceded that these ideas needed ‘reconsideration in the light of experience’. Calls for an overhaul of the civil service came after 1945 from left-wing Tribune circles (‘new tasks are calling for new men and new methods’, wrote one critic; the existing bureaucracy ‘was supposed to serve the political system we are just about to consign to perdition’) and from some of the able and ambitious new Labour MPs who had served as wartime ‘temporaries’, notably Hugh Gaitskell and Evan Durbin, who were reformist social democrats wanting a more dynamic and economically expert officialdom. But after 1945 there was nothing like an administrative revolution in Whitehall and the civil service largely settled back into its old pattern. The Whitehall top brass instead supervised an in-house exercise involving limited, piecemeal and pragmatic adjustments to the civil service and machinery of government, not a fundamental remodelling—a great ‘missed opportunity’, according to historian Peter Hennessy. The key to this, though, was ‘not timidity … but self-confidence’, as he acknowledges. Top Labour ministers, including Attlee, now felt the system worked well enough and that large-scale reorganisation would be an unnecessary distraction. They had experienced none of the bureaucratic resistance or sabotage that Laski and others had predicted and that might have spurred a major programme of reform (see Theakston 1992, ch. 3). Two decades later, the Fulton Committee on the civil service (1966–68) was the product of Harold Wilson’s brief ‘white heat’ phase of technological modernisation and reform. Into it flowed long-standing left-wing and Fabian ideas about civil service reform (dating back to the 1930s), the questioning and critical 1960s’ attitude towards supposedly out-of-date and inefficient institutions that were held to be obstacles to economic and social modernisation and fashionable contemporary ideas about planning, expertise, business methods and management efficiency (see Theakston 1992, ch. 4). In Opposition in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Labour Party opinion about the need for civil service reform had been shaped by Thomas Balogh’s blistering attacks on both the Treasury and civil service amateurism (Balogh 1959) and by the publication in 1964 of an influential Fabian group report, The Administrators, which called for a more 2  Note by the Deputy Prime Minister, MG (42) 6, 31 December 1942, National Archives: CAB 87/74.



professional, specialised, dynamic and expert civil service. Wilson’s political need to project his image as a reformer also dovetailed with an important reform impulse inside Whitehall itself in the 1960s, where, compared to the 1940s, there was a recognition in some parts of the leadership of the civil service that changes were now needed (Theakston and Connelly 2018). Based as it was upon collectivist assumptions about ‘big government’, and emphasising the need for management expertise in an era of rising public expenditure, the expansion of government activities and large departments, the Fulton report sounded more radical than it really was. There was, however, little sustained top-level political interest in its implementation after 1968, and in practice, the report largely served to assist, encourage and accelerate developments already underway or in the pipeline in the civil service (in terms of organisation, personnel management, recruitment and training) rather than amounting to the sort of ‘big-bang’ administrative revolution that the most strident of Whitehall’s outside critics looked for (often then going on to complain about the bureaucracy ‘defeating’ the reform cause). The fact was that Harold Wilson was always very much at home in Whitehall. He had a close and intimate knowledge of the government machine and its leading personalities, going back to his successful stint as a high-flying wartime ‘temporary’ civil servant in the 1940s. As prime minister in the 1960s, a contemporary observer described him as displaying ‘a profound reverence for the orders and mysteries of the civil service … He would be most upset if he ever thought he had caused serious offence to a permanent secretary.’ He was proud of being ‘house trained’, in the Whitehall phrase, and generally worked well with civil servants, holding them in high regard. For Marcia Williams, Wilson’s Personal and Political Secretary in Number 10, this was a problem: ‘It is the fact that he does have such an admiration for and such a working knowledge of “the System” that he tends to lean over backwards in his relationship towards it. He gives it the benefit of the doubt. He doesn’t really want to argue with it. He admires the way it is organised and its methods of working. He admires its efficiency and he is often myopic about its failings and its shortcomings and its inefficiencies, and this is a great drawback’ (Theakston 2006: 148). Wilson was ever aware of the presentational advantages of reorganisation and redesign in government institutions, and endlessly tinkered with the machinery of government—creating new government departments in Whitehall and merging or renaming old ones (Blick 2006). But his



approach was ad hoc and very political (concerned with short-term headlines and with reshuffling, balancing or playing-off against each other the personalities round the Cabinet table and his political rivals), showing little evidence of strategic purpose or design. Wilson is said by Hennessy to have had ‘a career-long animus against the Treasury’ (Hennessy 1989: 180), and his personal economic adviser Thomas Balogh absolutely hated that department and what it stood for. The Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) was created in 1964 with the hope that it would be a champion of industrial modernisation, economic growth and planning and a rival to the Treasury with its narrower finance-dominated focus. But this attempt at introducing ‘creative tension’ into Whitehall failed to break the Treasury’s predominance over economic policy. The division of functions between the two departments was ill thought out, ministerial leadership of the DEA was volatile and unstable and—crucially—the Labour government’s decision to give priority to the defence of the exchange rate and the balance of payments ensured that the Treasury would inevitably emerge victorious in the interdepartmental struggles.

Labour’s Experience in Office The first, short-lived minority Labour governments under Ramsay MacDonald (1924 and 1929–31) did little to disturb the organisation, methods of working or personnel of the civil service. Left-wing critics argued at the time that class prejudice meant that senior officials would necessarily block the socialist policy of a working-class government. But it is clear that some Labour ministers were simply not equipped or experienced enough to use properly the bureaucratic machine, were carried by their officials and/or lacked the clear policy ideas to challenge Whitehall’s established ‘departmental views’. The Treasury became a particular hate object among socialist critics of Whitehall after 1931, following the second Labour government’s inadequacies and collapse in the face of mass unemployment and financial crisis. Reactionary officials there had obstructed and hindered ministers, argued George Lansbury. But the real problem was more that Labour’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, was a stereotypical ‘strong’ minister who was not under the thumb of his civil servants but held tenaciously onto financial and economic orthodoxies, and his policy views were widely held and dominant inside the Labour Party and the government at that time.



Discounting the experience of the MacDonald governments, the left-­wing theorist Harold Laski argued in the 1930s that the neutrality of the civil service had not yet been tested by the need to work in support of a Labour government with a full-blown socialist programme. Liberal and Conservative governments before 1924 had differed in degree, not kind. A socialist government would challenge the economic foundations of society and the traditional ideas for which the civil service had stood. Labour could not be sure that the mandarins would serve it with their customary disinterested zeal (Laski 1938: 317). Because of the top officials’ class backgrounds and elite public school and Oxbridge education, ‘the predominant temper and outlook of the administrative class represent too narrow an area of public opinion… The major assumptions of the important officials are roughly those of the ruling class’ (Laski 1942: 7). However, later revisiting the subject in his lectures Reflections on the Constitution in 1950, Laski was curiously silent on this point, perhaps because he recognised that the Attlee government had no reason to complain about civil service resistance or sabotage. When Attlee succeeded Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister in 1945, and returned to the Potsdam peace conference, the same team of civil servants accompanied him that had made up his predecessor’s delegation. This continuity of bureaucratic personnel surprised the Americans and the Russians, but the officials concerned made the transition without apparent difficulty and the Labour leader insisted that he had no doubts about the impartiality or loyalty of his staff. Out of office in the 1950s, Attlee would boast to international socialist conferences that the British career civil service was unequalled in the world, one of the strongest bulwarks of democracy, and applauded the fact that the same officials who had worked out the details of Labour’s programme were now busy pulling it to pieces for their Conservative masters (Attlee 1954). Other leading members of the 1945–51 Labour Government also praised the Whitehall machine—Herbert Morrison, for instance, later penning an uncritical account of the working of the British system of government that ended with a ‘Tribute to the British Civil Service’ (Morrison 1964). ‘On balance’, says Kenneth Morgan in his history of the Attlee government, ‘evidence of civil service obstruction of the activities and policies of the Labour government is very hard to uncover’ (Morgan 1985: 85). Hugh Dalton admittedly called civil servants ‘congenital snag-hunters’ in his memoirs, but it would be nonsense to claim that officials undermined the policies of Dalton and then Stafford Cripps at the Treasury or thwarted



the reforms of the left-wing Aneurin Bevan at the Ministry of Health. Ernest Bevin was certainly not the Foreign Office’s poodle, and the powerful working-class titan and trade union chief robustly rejected attacks at the 1946 and 1947 party conferences on the unrepresentative, upper-class character of the diplomatic service. Labour’s ministerial team in 1945 had the twin advantages of a five-year apprenticeship in government in the Churchill coalition and a bureaucracy ready to build upon wartime developments in economic planning and social reconstruction. On the other hand, Labour’s plans in key areas—economic planning, nationalisation and the welfare state—were fairly vague. Without adequate blueprints, ministers inevitably had to rely upon civil servants to work out detailed schemes, which predictably reflected Whitehall’s traditional methods of operation (Barker 1986). The disappointing record of the 1964–70 Government, according to Marcia Williams, Wilson’s Number 10 aide, could be attributed largely to Labour’s ‘defeats’ in the ‘battle… against the civil service’. Like Laski, she believed that ‘a glance at the service, and particularly recruitment at higher levels, makes it quite impossible to accept the neutrality argument’. Politically inclined more to the right than to the left, the civil service, she wrote, is ‘undemocratic, particularly at the top; exclusive; and with a strange personality of its own, half reminiscent of the Army, half of a masonic society. Certainly many members of the Administrative Class seem unrelated to the outside world.’ However, her boss disagreed. ‘The idea of some people that a change of government means sabotage from the civil service is, I think, nonsense’, Wilson had declared before he became prime minister. From his experience in Whitehall during the 1940s, he was convinced that however great officials’ influence might be, the power to get things done rested with ministers. He subscribed to the robust ‘Attlee view’, arguing that ‘if a minister cannot control his civil servants, he ought to go’, and insisting, in a 1967 interview, that ‘civil servants do what is required once they get a clear lead’ (Theakston 2006: 148–50). Critical comments on Whitehall personalities, civil service obstruction and the negative power of the Treasury litter the diaries written by ministers serving in the Wilson and Callaghan Governments, such as Richard Crossman, Tony Benn and Barbara Castle. They reflected and reinforced the view of the Labour left that, without major reform of Whitehall, the mandarins could not be relied upon to assist Labour’s socialist project but would systematically sabotage it. Giving evidence to the Fulton Committee



in 1967, Crossman described the higher civil service as ‘a coherent and cohesive oligarchy’ and as an organised ‘conspiracy’ against ministers.3 His verdict was that the Attlee government had ‘quietly expired in the arms of the Whitehall Establishment’ and that ministers should automatically mistrust their civil servants. In a similar vein, Joe Haines, Harold Wilson’s Press Secretary 1974–76, recalled a constant struggle ‘against being suffocated by the civil service’, Whitehall’s ‘contempt’ for the Government’s manifesto and its ‘instinct for coalition’, and accused the Treasury of attempting ‘to make the Government put its policies totally in reverse, abandon its manifesto commitments and commit suicide’ by trying to ‘bounce’ it into introducing a compulsory pay policy in 1975. Had they succeeded, ‘it would have been a civilian coup against the Government’ (Haines 1977: 16–39, 57–8). As Tony Benn saw it, civil service power had grown to such an extent that it threatened the working of British parliamentary democracy. Outlining the ‘process of civil service containment successfully practised against both Conservative and Labour governments’ in the post-war period, Benn argued that ‘it would be a mistake to suppose  – as some socialists have suggested  – that the senior ranks of the civil service are active Conservatives posing as impartial administrators … The problem arises from the fact that the civil service sees itself as being above the party battle, with a political position of its own to defend against all-corners, including incoming governments armed with their philosophy and programme’ (Benn 1981: 44–67). To the extent that criticisms such as these rest on an association between civil servants’ social class backgrounds and public school/Oxbridge education and political views supposedly hostile to Labour, they can be dismissed as based on dubious sociological theory. Whitehall’s political views or policy stances have never been monolithic. Contrary to Laski’s view, one senior and well-informed civil service insider, H.E. Dale, writing in 1941, judged that ‘the general temper of mind and character’ of interwar Whitehall was ‘Left Centre’. His estimate was that ‘in their political principles, not always expressed by their votes, about one-fourth of the Higher Civil Service are Conservative, one-half or slightly more are Liberal, and the remainder Labour of one shade or another’. Mandarins with progressive and left-of-centre views have worked closely with Labour (and Conservative) ministers: in the Attlee period, Robert Hall and ‘Otto’ 3

 National Archives: BA 1/6.



Clark at the Treasury and Andrew Cohen (who hoped to find a Labour seat in the 1950s) at the Colonial Office stand out; Sir William Nield, a senior official in the DEA and the Cabinet Office in the 1960s, had worked in the Labour Party’s Research and Policy Department in the late 1930s; and Sir Leo Pliatzky, a key figure at the Treasury in the 1970s, never made any secret of his active Fabian background. A survey conducted (in what was admittedly one of Labour’s best years, 1966) for the Fulton Committee found that among the small group of junior-rank administrators who had joined the civil service in 1956, Labour voters outnumbered Conservatives by almost three to one. And despite Labour’s traditional suspicions of the Foreign Office, one former career diplomat wrote in 1981 (just before Labour’s split and the social democrat breakaway to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP)) that ‘it was common knowledge that two-thirds of the Foreign Office and Service voted Labour nowadays’. Although impressionistic, such insider evidence does not square with the crude demonology found in some Labour circles (Theakston 1992: 146). The ‘failures’ of the Wilson period were political in origin rather than due to bureaucratic subversion. In his Godkin Lectures in 1970, Richard Crossman asked himself the question: If the Labour Government (of 1964-70) has made mistakes and suffered failures, would I attribute these failures and mistakes to the Civil Service? My answer is ‘no’ … I would say that normally when a Government fails it is not because the Civil Service blocks its plans, but because the Government team has not had a clear enough sense of direction. A Government which really knows where it is going, a Government which has a series of measures ready, prepared, well thought out, has to hand … an instrument which will enable it to carry out all it wants. (Crossman 1972: 77)

Earlier, Laski too had seen that unless a government had come in knowing what it wanted to do in some detail, it had to ‘trust to the ingenuity of the civil service to improvise a policy after office has been taken’. It was hardly surprising that departments should, in those circumstances, be able to impose their own orthodoxies upon unprepared ministers. A party’s programme had to be more than slogans or wishful thinking. ‘This predicates, of course, for the modern political party something like a civil service of its own. It must have at its disposal not merely men who can write well-­sounding propaganda leaflets’ (Laski 1938: 294–9). Seen in this light, the MacDonald Labour governments’ commitments were misty and vague, with the means of achieving their desired ends not spelt out. More



progress had been made by the 1940s in producing a feasible party programme, but there were still many gaps and the specifics of the Attlee government’s policy commitments (e.g. around nationalisation of industry and economic planning) were not fully developed. And Labour’s policy preparations in opposition, before 1964, were also characteristically flimsy. The party had no detailed plans worked out to deal with the sterling crises it encountered immediately on taking office. Almost as soon as he entered the Cabinet in 1964, Crossman was complaining that ‘what we lacked was any comprehensive, thoroughly thought-out Government strategy. The policies are being thrown together’ (Crossman 1975: 39). This weakness was compounded by the fact that the 1964 ministerial team was largely ignorant of the techniques of governing after Labour’s thirteen years out of office. Further, Wilson’s regular reshuffles meant that too many ministers were switched between departments just as they were beginning to become effective in their posts. None of this can be blamed on the civil service: Labour’s mistakes were its own. The experience of Tony Benn at the Department of Industry (1974–75) suggests that when a Labour Prime Minister and Cabinet are clear about what they want, they do not find the civil service blocking their way, though, as in that case, a left-wing minister out of step with his more centrist and social democratic political colleagues may well choose to complain of civil service obstruction. ‘The loneliness of the short distance runner’, is how Barbara Castle famously described the feeling of ministerial isolation in the face of ‘mandarin power’: it was ‘one person against the vast department’ (Castle 1973). Many socialist critics of Whitehall have, over the years, raised the problem of bureaucratic power in relation to ministers, making the argument that to supplement the information and advice coming from the civil service machine and to develop a stronger political control over policy-­ making, Labour ministers need political allies in their departments (Theakston 1992: 45–61). Following the recommendations of a Fabian group in 1964, the Labour Party’s evidence to the Fulton Committee called for two types of political appointments: politically committed experts in particular subjects and a ministerial cabinet—a small number of personal assistants to act as the minister’s eyes and ears, to advise on policy and to liaise with the party. This theme can in fact be traced back to 1925 when, suspicious of the Foreign Office’s role in the ‘Zinoviev Letter’ incident, the party’s International Advisory Committee proposed that a Labour government should be prepared to exercise a firmer political influence over diplomatic appointments and that the Foreign Secretary should have a ‘political’ Private Secretary who should be a Labour Party member.



Noting Arthur Henderson’s appointment of Philip Noel-Baker as a prototype special adviser at the Foreign office in 1929, Laski, in the 1930s, appears to have been the first to suggest the introduction of something akin to the French ministerial cabinet (Laski 1938: 302–4)—borrowing from, but perhaps not always fully understanding, the French system in this way becoming a long-standing Labour theme. Although Dalton appointed Hugh Gaitskell his Chef de Cabinet during the wartime government, and Attlee used Douglas Jay as his personal economic adviser in Number 10 for a year after 1945, these ideas were however slow to get off the ground. In the 1964–70 government, a number of ministers and the prime minister brought in personal aides and advisers, often economists, but on a fairly small scale. Their record was mixed and some—notably Thomas Balogh—clashed with ‘the system’ (Morris 2007). Only later in the 1974–79 Labour government did the total number of special advisers (including the No. 10 Policy Unit—an important Harold Wilson innovation in 1974) reach more than twenty (eventually reaching a much bigger number still under Tony Blair after 1997). This innovation must be put in perspective, however: special advisers in the 1960s and 1970s were too few in number to supplant the mass of career bureaucrats and they had no place in the administrative chain of command implementing decisions. And it is important to note that apart from Lansbury, leading Labour figures—such as MacDonald, Attlee, Morrison, Wilson and even Benn—always rejected the introduction of anything like a US-style ‘spoils system’ or bringing in on a large scale outsiders to the civil service appointed on political grounds or with a party ‘label’. During Labour governments (as in Conservative governments before 1979), ministers were largely excluded from civil service appointment and promotion decisions, although discreet consultations generally ensured that personal incompatibilities were taken into account. But when Barbara Castle, for instance, tried to remove her permanent secretary at the Ministry of Transport in 1966 she failed.

Labour’s Stance on Bureaucratic Accountability and Secrecy A third theme concerning Labour’s relations with the civil service in this period relates to the bureaucracy’s and the government’s wider democratic accountability. For some in the party it was not a problem: ‘if Labour



Ministers are going to do better than Tory Ministers, why not give them a chance?’ was one front-bencher’s view in the 1960s, concerned that even raising the issue of strengthening government accountability could undermine citizens’ confidence in public administration and rebound against the party.4 Labour governments have always accepted the constitutional conventions of individual ministerial responsibility and collective Cabinet responsibility, and this has produced rather conservative views on issues such as civil service anonymity, Whitehall secrecy and the mechanisms of parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. Although some in the party, in the anti-bureaucratic, radical-liberal tradition, have been suspicious of executive power (Gwyn 1971), there has—as noted above—also been the contrary (and predominant) tradition of support for a strong government, dominating parliament and pushing through the party’s electorally legitimated programme. The conventions of the executive-dominated Westminster system were on this view not only no hindrance, but were actually essential to the furthering of the socialist cause. Over the years, though, many in the party have advocated measures designed to subject the civil service machine to greater democratic oversight and accountability, albeit with only limited success and making slow progress in terms of practical change. Often unfairly criticised as illiberal ‘administrative socialists’, the Webbs actually believed that the existing methods of parliamentary supervision of the administration were inadequate, and proposed a complex structure of social and political parliaments, decentralisation, ‘control departments’ and parliamentary committees. They also attacked the ‘disease’ of official secrecy and described the ‘searchlight’ of publicity as essential for securing democratic control over government (Webb 1920). Before the First World War, Ramsay MacDonald had questioned the bureaucracy’s ‘methods of secrecy’, and he and other Labour MPs had voted against the draconian and restrictive 1911 Official Secrets Act. In the 1920s Laski wanted to establish powerful House of Commons committees to inquire into departmental policy-making. But when Labour ministers got their feet under ministerial desks, parliamentary reform was not a priority and Whitehall’s barriers of secrecy also survived the MacDonald governments intact. Later, in the 1930s, Fabian theorists such as W.A.  Robson and Ivor Jennings proposed strengthened judicial controls and the creation of an administrative court (see Theakston 1992, ch. 6). 4

 Labour Party Archives: RD774/May 1964.



This sort of agenda did not, however, appeal to the Attlee government. It set up backbench Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) committees, though did not envisage them as a means of giving Labour MPs an active part in policy-making but rather as a way of diverting and occupying potentially troublesome critics and gadflies. The traditions of ‘closed’ government were accepted without question. ‘No Government can be successful which cannot keep its secrets’, Attlee minuted his ministerial colleagues in 1945 (National Archives: CAB 129/4). Out of office in the 1950s and early 1960s liberal ideas again resurfaced as some thinkers tried to respond to the concerns about bureaucracy, controls and ‘red tape’ that had proved so potent in Conservative attacks on the Attlee government, and to broaden the party’s electoral appeal in a changing society. In his controversial 1956 Fabian pamphlet Socialism and the New Despotism, Richard Crossman identified the control of the concentration of power in a vast, centralised state bureaucracy as one of the main, and neglected, tasks of socialism. Bureaucracy was a vehicle of social democracy but also a grave potential threat to it. Socialist extensions of state power should be matched and counterbalanced by new socialist defences for individual freedom. The Labour government after 1964 can claim credit for innovations like the creation of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration or ombudsman (an idea borrowed from Scandinavia), but that was only a modest step in terms of bolstering citizen rights and protections against bureaucratic excess and in handling complaints about administrative decisions. Attempts at parliamentary reform in the 1960s—including experiments initiated by Crossman with specialist House of Commons select committees to scrutinise government departments—were pretty half-­hearted and made little headway. When one minister argued that ‘our backbenchers should be grateful that as a socialist government we want to keep the Executive strong, not to strengthen parliamentary control’, he was actually applauded by others around the Cabinet table. The Wilson government reduced from fifty years to thirty years the time limit placed on the opening of government records—in the face of opposition within the Cabinet and in Whitehall—but that was hardly a massive move in the direction of greater access to information. Arguments for greater openness in government came onto the agenda in the 1960s, often couched in Fabian terms about improving policy-making by allowing better-informed public discussion and outside research and analysis, and the Fulton Committee called for a review of the Official Secrets Act. But in an



adversarial party-political system, Labour ministers believed that there was no such thing as a politically neutral piece of official information. As James Callaghan put it, their attitude was ‘We are not going to tell you anything more than we can about what is going to discredit us’. The party’s October 1974 election manifesto included a pledge to replace the Official Secrets Act but the Callaghan government’s stonewalling and abject failure to implement freedom of information reform served only to fuel demands for change from critics on the left of the party and outside campaigners for open government. It was left to later governments (of both main parties) to make more significant changes on this front: a proper system of parliamentary select committees appearing only after 1979 when Mrs Thatcher came to power, and with moves to open government and freedom of information reform finally coming under John Major and Tony Blair. To later campaigners and reformers on these issues, the Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan Labour governments were very much part of the Westminster and Whitehall ancien regime.

Labour and the Civil Service After 1979 While Labour governments from MacDonald through to Callaghan had, on the whole, done little to disturb the established order in Whitehall, it was actually the Conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major in the 1980s and 1990s that set about making some of the most far-reaching changes in the twentieth century to the way in which the British civil service machine was organised and operated. In the 1980s, in particular, Labour’s interest in questions about the civil service and its reform was at a low ebb (Lipsey 1982). The mind-­ concentrating prospect of office was remote, and the issues were not a priority for Michael Foot (1980–83) and then Neil Kinnock (1983–92) (Stone 1996: 119–20). Looking back, Kinnock thought that the SDP breakaway and the lurch to the left in the early 1980s may have damaged the relationships and mutual understanding between Labour and the mandarinate that had been built up in an earlier period of Fabian/social democratic politics (Stone 1996: 151). Nevertheless, the Fabian Society organised seminars and meetings in the run-up to the 1992 and 1997 general elections to try to promote greater understanding between Labour front-bench figures and senior civil servants, aiming to educate the party about the issues it would face on its return to office in relation to the machinery of government and Whitehall (Fabian Society 1991; Hennessy et al. 1997).



Some Labour politicians expressed concerns about the ‘politicisation’ of the higher civil service under Thatcher, Major and the Conservatives. There was a lack of credible evidence to support the cruder allegations about a so-called is he one of us? partisan promotions policy, however. Kinnock insisted that, given loyalty and enthusiasm for a Labour government’s policies, he was prepared to work on ‘the conventional basis’ with top mandarins while John Smith (party leader 1992–94) was worried that ‘a Conservative mind-set’ had developed among officials but felt that this could be reversed (Hennessy and Coates 1992). The real point, however, was that the government machine was more effectively subject to ministerial control and direction than was the case in the Wilson-Heath-Callaghan years. Mrs Thatcher reasserted the power of the politicians, and Tony Blair later did not put that particular clock back. In Opposition after 1979, Labour solidified its commitment to freedom of information reform (something that Tony Blair, with hindsight, later regretted) and was happy to go along with calls for a Whitehall code of ethics, seeing both as useful sticks with which to beat the Conservative government and as fitting into the party’s developing programme for wider constitutional reform. The Conservatives’ managerial revolution, gathering momentum through the 1980s and 1990s, produced massive, irreversible, changes in Whitehall, as in other parts of the public sector. Labour responded pragmatically to the ‘new public management’ reforms (Theakston 1998). Next Steps executive agencies could be seen as a natural progression from the Labour-appointed Fulton report of 1968. Herbert Morrison had invented the term ‘the Citizen’s Charter’ back in the 1920s, and Labour councils in the 1980s had pioneered the idea of charters aimed at improving the quality of local services. ‘It is not in the interests of the British left to be uninterested in efficiency’, argued the prominent Fabian MP Giles Radice, ‘socialism and efficiency are not mutually exclusive’. Acceptance of ‘charterism’ and its themes of quality, responsiveness, individual empowerment and the shift from a ‘producer’ to a ‘consumer’ emphasis was bound up with the wider transformation and modernisation of the party in the 1990s. Traditionally, Labour had placed the emphasis on the desirable end—providing state services—ignoring the fact that public services often turned out to be inflexible, unresponsive and customer-­unfriendly. The new thinking signalled the end of the old top-­ down Fabian paternalism. It also meant a party identified with public sector employees coming to acknowledge that a public bureaucracy could



be a vested interest just like any other. Given the need to squeeze as much as possible from every public sector pound spent, ‘New Labour’ knew in the 1990s that it could not afford to halt the public sector efficiency drive and the management revolution started by the Conservatives (Richards 2008).

References Attlee, C.R. 1937. The Labour Party in Perspective. London: Gollancz. ———. 1954. Civil Servants, Ministers, Parliament and the Public. Political Quarterly 25: 308–315. Balogh, T. 1959. The Apotheosis of the Dilettante. In The Establishment, ed. H. Thomas. London: Anthony Blond. Barker, R.S. 1986. Civil Service Attitudes and the Economic Planning of the Attlee Government. Journal of Contemporary History 21: 473–486. Benn, T. 1981. Arguments for Democracy. London: Cape. Blick, A. 2006. Harold Wilson, Labour and the Machinery of Government. Contemporary British History 20 (3): 343–362. Castle, B. 1973. Mandarin Power. The Sunday Times, June 10. Cole, M., ed. 1956. Beatrice Webb’s Diaries 1924–1932. London: Longman. Crossman, R. 1972. Inside View. London: Jonathan Cape. ———. 1975. The Diaries of a Cabinet Minister. Vol. 1. London: Hamish Hamilton and Jonathan Cape. Diamond, P. 2011. Beyond the Westminster Model: The Labour Party and the Machinery of the British Parliamentary State. Renewal 19 (1): 64–74. Dorey, P. 2008. The Labour Party and Constitutional Reform. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Fabian Society. 1991. Labour and Whitehall: A Fabian Enquiry into the Machinery of Government. London: Fabian Society. Gwyn, W. 1971. The Labour Party and the Threat of Bureaucracy. Political Studies 19 (4): 383–402. Haines, J. 1977. The Politics of Power. London: Cape. Hennessy, P. 1986. Cabinet. Oxford: Blackwell. ———. 1989. Whitehall. London: Secker and Warburg. Hennessy, P., and S. Coates. 1992. Bluehall SW1? The Civil Service, the Opposition and the Government During a Fourth Conservative Term. Glasgow: Strathclyde Papers on Government and Politics, No. 11. Hennessy, P., R. Hughes, and J. Seaton. 1997. Ready, Steady Go! New Labour and Whitehall. London: Fabian Society. Hetzner, C. 1985. Social Democracy and Bureaucracy: The Labour Party and Higher Civil Service Recruitment. Administration and Society 17 (1): 97–128.



Jay, D. 1937. The Socialist Case. London: Faber & Faber. Jones, B., and M. Keating. 1985. Labour and the British State. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Laski, H.J. 1938. Parliamentary Government in England. London: Allen & Unwin. ———. 1942. Introduction. In Passed to You, Please, ed. J.P.W.  Mallalieu. London: Gollancz. Lipsey, D. 1982. Making Government Work. London: Fabian Society. Morgan, K.O. 1985. Labour in Power 1945–1951. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Morris, J. 2007. The Life and Times of Thomas Balogh: A Macaw Among Mandarins. Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press. Morrison, H. 1964. Government and Parliament: A Survey from the Inside. 3rd ed. London: Oxford University Press. Richards, D. 2008. New Labour and the Civil Service. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Stone, N. 1996. The Development of Labour Party Thinking on the Civil Service 1945–1995. Unpublished M.Phil thesis, University of Kent. Theakston, K. 1992. The Labour Party and Whitehall. London: Routledge. ———. 1998. New Labour, New Whitehall? Public Policy and Administration 13 (1): 13–34. ———. 2006. Whitehall Reform. In The Labour Governments 1964–1970, ed. P. Dorey. London: Routledge. Theakston, K., and P.  Connelly. 2018. William Armstrong and British Policy Making. London: Palgrave Macmillan. Webb, S. and B. (1920) A Constitution for the Socialist Commonwealth of Great Britain (Cambridge: London School of Economics and Cambridge University Press, reprinted 1975).


Social Democracy, Labour Unions and Civil Service in West Germany since the Second World War Bernd Faulenbach

In the discussion about the present crisis affecting social democratic and socialist parties, the relationship between parties and the state plays a specific role. It is a popular cliché to view social democracy as closely connected with the state and the civil service. Some regard the social democratic party in a specific sense as a state party that has lost sight of social reality. However, the relationship varies considerably in different countries as can be seen if the German case is compared with developments in Western Europe. While a strong state, a politically weak bourgeoisie and an early labour movement were features of nineteenth-century Germany, the twentieth century was characterized by radical changes, especially in the national-socialist period, the Second World War and the subsequent division of Germany, which led to a restructuring of relations between social democracy, trade unions and the state.

B. Faulenbach (*) Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Bochum, Germany © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




Today, the expression “deutscher Sonderweg” (special German path) is rarely used (Steinmetz 1996; Winkler 2000). In European history, there is no such thing as a “normal way” for socio-political change, and each national state takes its own particular path. Nonetheless, German social democracy, labour unions as well as the German state with its civil service have manifested certain particularities since the nineteenth century (Faulenbach 1981; Faulenbach 2015; Tenfelde 2001). After the Second World War, however, a Unity Union (Einheitsgewerkschaft) was created with the blessing of unionists that had shown resistance to Hitler. This creation, to which the allied forces had contributed, resulted in a Unity Union subdivided into branch sections which included social democratic, communist and Christian workers. This placed them outside the realm of politics or at least outside party politics. In the long run, however, the social democrats established themselves in leading positions—this has sometimes been referred to as the “social democratization” (“Sozialdemokratisierung”) of unions (von Plato 1984; Faulenbach 1987), but workers with different political orientations nonetheless retained their union membership. Outside the Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (DGB) (German Federation of Unions), which consisted—as far as the civil service was concerned—of the ÖTV (Gewerkschaft Öffentliche Dienste, Transport und Verkehr/Union for Public Services, Transport and Traffic), the GEW (Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft/Education and Science Workers’ Union), the Postal Workers’ Union as well as the Railway Trade Union and the Police Union since 1978, the Deutsche Angestellten-­ Gewerkschaft (DAG) (German Salaried Employees’ Union) and the Deutscher Beamtenbund (German Federation of Civil Servants) also came into being. This chapter examines the special features of these German structures and the conflicts arising within the triangular relationship between the social democratic party, trade unions and the state and the civil service, respectively, since the Second World War in the “old” Federal Republic of Germany, less so in reunified Germany.1

1  Dealing with German historical and political singularities raises a number of problems. It is difficult to find appropriate English terms for the German terms. The list of abbreviations and translations at the end of this text might be helpful. As a rule, the German terms (with their abbreviations) are explained in English in the text when first mentioned. Afterward, the English expressions or the German abbreviations are mostly used (for practical reasons). Many thanks to Vivian Strotmann and Catherine Kuebart for the translation.



Continuity and Discontinuity Within the Social Democratic Party, the oldest political party in Germany and which never strayed from democracy, the forces of continuity were dominant, despite the fact that its first party leader after the war, Kurt Schumacher, also strove towards re-orientation and social diversification of the party (Faulenbach 2012; Dowe 1996; Grebing 1988). A plurality of worldviews, the renunciation of traditional historical belief and the close combination of democracy and socialism succeeded in moving the SPD forward. After three defeats in the federal elections of 1949, 1953 and 1957, the party assigned itself a new programme in 1959, known as the Godesberg Program. This programme revealed the SPD to be a moderate left people’s party within a pluralistic society (Klotzbach 1982; Lösche and Walter 1992). It altered the SPD-union relationship, however, just as the transition to a Unity Union did. As far as the civil service was concerned, elements of continuity were predominant in 1945. Without trained administrative personnel, teachers, members of the judiciary and the police force, the structures of state and society could not be re-built. True, for a minority, de-Nazification meant dismissal from the civil service, but, nonetheless, the tradition of the civil service remained dominant—or rather, as it had partly been challenged by the NS-system—it was restored. This included—despite opposition from the Allied forces—retaining the “Beamten” (civil service status), whose members somehow still thought of themselves as “allgemeiner Stand” characterized by a certain ethos (Ritter 1998). Since the early nineteenth century, the civil service had, for a time, promoted processes of modernization within German society and had partly shaped these processes. For certain groups, working in the civil service facilitated political activity (beyond the narrower context of the job). The relationship of SPD, unions and the public sector in the former Federal Republic has to be considered against the backdrop of a state supported by the civil service. During the time of the German Empire, the SPD was without doubt shaped by a working-class background characterized by industrial work and an urban environment (Grebing 1993; Kocka 1997). Its core consisted of skilled workers, many of them rooted in traditional trades and crafts. But besides these skilled workers, the party included white-collar workers, elementary school teachers, an increasing number of Jewish intellectuals and last but not least lawyers. As early as 1905, Eduard



Bernstein asked: Will the SPD become a people’s party?2 The process of socio-cultural differentiation within German society had its effect on the development of social democracy under the Weimar Republic. Thus, the percentage of salaried employees (ca. 10%) and civil servants (4%) was already growing. In a number of cities, especially in Berlin, a significant number of members were employed in the civil service within local administration, Prussian ministries and Reichsministerien. In Prussia, this amounted to 13% (policemen, elementary school teachers, social workers, workers from public companies, etc.). As the political influence of the party grew, so did the percentage of civil servants within it. It is hard to determine, however, whether members of the civil service turned towards the SPD or whether the SPD appealed to them as clientele. Soon after the Second World War, the SPD achieved astounding membership numbers extending well beyond their traditional milieu. For some members, the SPD’s democratic orientation, which it had steadfastly retained, may be regarded as a motive for joining. Others may have seen it as an organization offering patronage and a means to further their careers. After a few years, however, membership numbers began to dwindle considerably, presumably because the party ended up in the opposition at the federal level, thus losing its appeal.3 Yet developments in Berlin were remarkably different (Lösche and Walter 1992; Faulenbach 2012). Under the Governing Mayor, Ernst Reuter, and his successors, the SPD became the party that embodied the Berliners’ struggle for freedom, contributing to a considerable opening up of the party’s social structure. It was attractive to many and, in the eyes of its members and voters, was considered to be quite competent. On this basis—continuing a trend from Weimar times—the SPD in Berlin became the party of the civil service, while elsewhere, it consisted primarily (between 50% and 66%) of workers. In Berlin, only approximately one-fifth were workers. The Berlin SPD certainly experienced tensions between the traditional milieu and new members from other segments of society, but due to its great electoral success, it nonetheless became a beacon of hope for the SPD in West Germany. 2  In 1905, Bernstein saw the SPD on its way to becoming a people’s party that reached beyond workers and implemented reforms through parliament (Eduard Bernstein, Wird die Sozialdemokratie Volkspartei? in: Sozialistische Monatshefte 2, 1905, p. 670). 3  For the statistics see Handbuch der Statistik der Parlamente und Parteien in den westlichen Besatzungszonen und in der Bundesrepublik. SPD, KPD und kleinere Parteien des linken Spektrums sowie der Grünen. Mitgliedschaft und Sozialstruktur (Düsseldorf 2005).



The SPD in fact succeeded in overcoming its former limits and in attracting new members and voters. This was the result of a process that had begun with the passing of the Godesberg Program, which basically symbolized the party’s opening up. From one Bundestag election to the next, the SPD gained seats during the 1960s. At the same time, its membership grew and it gradually succeeded in reaching Catholic employees. From the mid-1960s on, it also attracted more and more white-collar salaried employees and civil servants. This trend was especially reflected among the higher tiers of the party, the parliamentary members of the Landtage and the Bundestag, where members of the civil service occupied an increasing number of positions. The impetus towards modernization within the party grew in intensity during the years 1969–1976. In 1969, the SPD campaigned for the Bundestag election with the motto “We are creating modern Germany” (Faulenbach 2011). And since the 1960s, it has been regarded as a particularly modern party. The increasing fundamental politicization of society was especially favourable for the SPD (likewise benefitting the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands [CDU]), and including, at the end of the 1970s, the establishment of the new Green Party. The SPD was one party that—under Chancellor Willy Brandt— responded to the widespread endeavour for internal reform and which through the new Eastern policy (Neue Ostpolitik) also encouraged further developments in German and foreign policymaking. The SPD had become attractive to young people, especially students, who had in part become politicized through the Außerparlamentarische Opposition (APO) (Extra-­ parliamentary Opposition) and the student movement. In addition, there were groups that understood the SPD to be a modernizing force, such as the so-called Schiller Voters (“Schiller-Wähler”), some of whom also found their way into the party as they were seeking a career in the civil service (Lösche and Walter 1992). 4 During those years, there were of course also new members from the traditional social democratic milieu, which itself began to break up. But at that time, there were—as Lösche and Walter aptly showed years ago— three main trends that Helga Grebing rightly connected to the end of the traditional labour movement (Grebing 2007). First of all, a certain “bourgeoisification“ (Verbürgerlichung) set in. The proportion of civil 4  “Schiller Voters” was a contemporary term for middle-class voters of the social democracy giving their vote, at the end of the 1960s, to the SPD because of Karl Schiller, its popular minister for Economic affairs.



servants and white-collar employees grew significantly. Eventually, blue-­ collar workers became underrepresented in relation to the population as a whole, while civil servants and salaried employees were overrepresented. This was true even for North Rhine Westphalia, where workers in the Ruhr area continued to play a dominant role within the party (Lösche and Walter 1992). Secondly, a trend towards academization became evident. The education policies initiated by the SPD led to a strong increase in the numbers of students. The percentage of members with an academic degree and/or A-levels increased significantly. Thirdly, the SPD became younger. The large number of new members with their particular profile that differed from that of the party’s previous membership led to political and cultural conflicts and, with time, to a new profile of the SPD. There were various attitudes to this development within the party. In 1981, on the tenth anniversary of the death of Willi Eichler—the man generally regarded as the mastermind behind the Godesberg Program— Willy Brandt (Brandt 2002) said: “Today’s SPD may be understood as an alliance between the great block of skilled workers and technical intelligence on the one hand and new groups that may decide the result of the elections from the service sector, from those with ‘office jobs’ and from the civil service on the other hand. At this point I do not want to discuss whether these are new middle classes and I certainly would not deny that the civil service in general and the educational system in particular are exceptionally strongly represented in parts of the party that are active and representative to the outside. On principle, we wanted the party to open up and we must continue to want this. It was part of its success, and remains necessary in the fight against those who are backwards.”5 Brandt obviously saw a connection between the modernization of the party and a departure from its former milieu. Linked to this was an increase in party members employed in the civil service. This is particularly true of the various tiers of leadership and the members of the Landtage and the Bundestag. Among the 224 SPD members elected to the Bundestag in 1976, there were 131 members from the civil service unions. Of these, 89 were ÖTV members and 32 were members of the GEW; 75.5% were salaried employees and civil servants; the 5  Willy Brandt, Berliner Ausgabe, Bd. 5, Bonn 2002, pp. 354–363, here p. 356. See also Richard Löwenthal, Identität und Zukunft der SPD, in: Die Neue Gesellschaft 28, 1981, pp.  1085–1089. Löwenthal underscores the connection between social democracy and industrial society.



percentage of blue-collar workers had decreased significantly. A mere 5.4% had only an elementary school education and many of them had, in the meantime, become union officials (Lösche and Walter 1992). The dominance of the civil service is quite obvious. If the number of delegates at the Bundesparteitage (party congresses on the federal level) is taken as the benchmark for officials’ profiles, it becomes clear that the percentage of delegates with an academic degree rose from 50% to 61% between the mid-1970s and 1986 (Lösche and Walter 1992). The growing percentage of representatives with a degree in the arts and humanities cannot be ignored, while one-fifth came from the legal profession and only one-­ tenth had science or engineering degrees—a fact that indicates a lack of party closeness to the world of industry and technology. It can be assumed that the high percentage of civil service employees shaped the forms of communication within the party. To what extent that was also true of the issues under discussion is hard to say. But apparently, for them policy was government action. There are, however, no indications of employees of the civil service regarding themselves as a distinct unit. In fact, they tended to follow varying movements and points of view within the party. That the civil service was the most important source of recruits for officials and mandate holders is not a characteristic that is unique to the SPD.  There was a similar tendency with the Christlich-­ Soziale Union in Bayern (CSU) (Christian Social Union in Bavaria) and more especially with the Green Party (Lösche and Walter 1992). Within the SPD, however, quite a large number of people in the civil service had originally worked in blue-collar occupations. The civil service is far from being a homogeneous unit. It employs blue- and white-collar workers, and civil servants with diverse professions, ranging from bus drivers and university professors to administration officials and gardeners, to teachers and refuse collectors, and nurses and police officers. There is no such thing as the typical civil servant. However, this means employees are basically incapable of forming a homogeneous interest group for activities within and for the SPD. The question is, what is responsible for this trend? Conditions for political activity are apparently more favourable in the civil service than in other areas. Civil servants have greater availability and the opportunity to be released from work (Abkömmlichkeit) to pursue political activities within the party or in parliament. But it would also seem that civil servants are particularly suited for such work. “Through their profession, members of the civil service acquire experiences and also information that they can use



politically: they know how to deal with an agenda efficiently, how to lead a discussion and how to formulate a statement effectively” (Lösche and Walter 1992). The special role of the civil service among SPD members and especially among officials and parliamentarians is not unusual when seen in the context of German tradition. But it has entailed the disadvantage of widening the distance between SPD voters on the one hand and the party and its representatives on the other. However, parliament has never truly reflected the composition of the population. Overall—despite the limiting factors—it is appropriate to say that members and functionaries have become increasingly “close to the state”.

Differences and Conflicts Between Social Democracy and Unions, 1945–1989 Structural changes in the unions and the evolution of the SPD towards a leftist people’s party complicated the relationship between social democracy and unions and, to some extent, led to the SPD and the unions exchanging roles. Where, before 1933, the unions had been pragmatic and moderate and the SPD more ideological and oriented towards socialist goals, these opposites no longer entirely applied during the post-war period. In some respects, there was in fact a reversal of positions. Social democratic union members initially had to contend with communist-­ oriented union members attempting to gain influence over the works councils. Consequently, during the post-war years, the SPD established Betriebsgruppen (site groups, i.e. groups of SPD members working within a plant). In the long run, social democrats prevailed in the Unity Union, but it still remained a politically autonomous factor incorporating various movements independent from the Social Democratic Party. As indicated above, during the post-war years, the SPD began to open up, from both a political and a social standpoint, to potential members and voters outside its traditional milieu, in line with the initial post-war intentions of its first post-war party leader, Kurt Schumacher. This course was strengthened following three defeats in federal elections, and the launching of the Godesberg Program most definitely turned the SPD into a people’s party. As such, it was not always possible to prioritize union interests. These had to be interwoven with other interests while remaining focused on the common good. This was bound to lead to increasing differences of



opinion on the part of the unions and the social democrats.6 Certain leftist forces that were advocates of Marxist thought or saw workers as the main target group now pinned their hopes on the unions, which were even regarded by some as a substitute party (although anarcho-syndicalist positions were poorly anchored in Germany). Some left-leaning unions, such as the Industriegewerkschaft Metall (IG-Metall, Union of Metalworkers), increasingly welcomed allies from the leftist spectrum during the 1960s (Schneider 1989; Abelshauser 2009). However, social democracy and unions were connected not only by their shared historical background, and even by their persecution during the Nazi era, but also by their political positions during the 1950s—such as their sceptical attitude towards rearmament and the fight against atomic weapons. But when the SPD took with a stand in favour of the Western Treaties, their common ground shrank. They at least continued to agree on social policy. No other party was open to union issues to this extent, due largely to the joint sharing of staff mentioned above. Of the 217 social democratic members of the Bundestag who were elected in 1965, 188 (86.6%) were trade union members and among these were prominent union chairpersons or board members, such as Walter Arendt, Heinz Frehsee, Kurt Gscheidle, Georg Leber and Philipp Seibert. Additionally, there were union officials (Schönhoven 2004). Nonetheless, the unions began increasingly to involve themselves directly in the field of politics, thereby partly calling into question the traditional division of labour. This is especially true for the disputes surrounding the Emergency Laws. The Emergency Legislation (Notstandsgesetzgebung) (Schneider 1986; Schönhoven 2004) was the focus of a long-lasting disagreement between social democracy and the unions. This legislation was intended to provide a legal framework for a state of emergency, but above all, it concerned the abolition of the Allied Forces’ rights of control (Vorbehaltsrechte) and therefore the re-institution of state sovereignty. Had the previous situation been retained, the Allied Forces would have been responsible in a state of emergency. The traumata of the past, the destruction of the Weimar Republic and the Hitler’s seizure of power were elements that decisively 6  A subchapter of the chapter “Economic and Social Order” of the Godesberg Program is devoted to unions. The importance of unions is stressed (“The employee has to be transformed from being a subject of the economy into a citizen of the economy”). And it demanded the extension of codetermination beyond the realm of the coal and steel industry. Dieter Dowe/Kurt Klotzbach, Programmatische Dokumente der deutschen Sozialdemokratie (Bonn 1990, pp. 349–370, here pp. 360–361).



shaped the conflict around this legislation, presenting a challenge, particularly to social democracy and to the unions, which saw themselves as guardians of democracy, as well as to the critical left and the liberal leftist public. Differences of opinion characterized their different relationship to state authority. Initially, party and unions rejected the Emergency Laws, laws intended to ensure the state’s capacity to act in a state of emergency, but which also affected fundamental rights, the right to strike and the rights of the members of parliament. In the eyes of Gerhard Schröder, the interior minister at the time, the state of emergency was—as he put it in 1960—the “hour of the executive” (Schönhoven 2004). In a context of the absolute necessity of removing the rights of control and guided by the desire to be free from the image of a naysayers’ party, the SPD began to modify its position by formulating conditions for its approval of the Emergency Laws as of the early 1960s. Over the course of eight years, SPD leaders and the party’s legal experts succeeded in overcoming the government’s initial concepts and in bringing most of their own concepts to bear on the distinction between external and internal cases of emergency, between a state of tension and a case of emergency, in strengthening the emergency parliament, refraining from a right to emergency decrees for the government (which was reminiscent of the notorious article 48 of the Weimar constitution, on which the draft initially advocated by the government had been modelled). The majority of DGB unions, however, retained their negative attitude, especially the Union of Metalworkers, with its charismatic leader Otto Brenner, stuck to its “no”. Other left-wing unions followed the Union of Metalworkers which, at the time, boasted of being the largest union in the world. There was support for the metalworkers’ union from university lecturers, students and other people on the left who had founded a movement against the Emergency Laws, which was particularly strong in South Hesse. Other union leaders, such as the chairman of the Industriegewerkschaft Bau, Steine, Erden (IG Bau, Construction Industry Trade Union), the SPD member of the Bundestag, Georg Leber, were supportive of the positions advocated by the SPD. The legislation entered its final phase with the making of the Grand Coalition, in which it became apparent that a minority of the SPD parliamentary party were opposed even to the modified draft. Among them were Hans Matthöfer (Abelshauser 2009), a Union of Metalworkers functionary, chairman of the section for union educational work on its executive board and SPD member of the Bundestag, together with the head of the Postal Workers’ Union, Kurt



Gscheidle. It was the chairman of the parliamentary party group, Helmut Schmidt, who played a vital part in passing the Emergency Laws (for parts of which a two-third majority was required in the Bundestag); overcoming this difficult situation created a bond of trust between Schmidt and Matthöfer that was to be significant for both in the future (Soell 2003; Schmidt 1996). In the final vote, 53 out of 217 members of the Bundestag voted “no”, and 2 abstained from voting. On the one hand, this meant that a quarter of SPD delegates voted “no”. But on the other, it also meant that a clear majority of those members of the parliamentary group who were organized in unions approved the Emergency Laws. Even before the final vote, the link between the unions and the APO had been severed. Despite their rejection of the Emergency Acts, the majority of the unions did not want to follow the radicalization of the opponents of the Emergency Acts in the APO, as expressed in the Easter Unrests of 1968. For them, a political strike against the Emergency Laws was not an option either (Schönhoven 2004). The fears harboured by opponents of the emergency legislation, who in the debate had drawn too many parallels between the Federal Republic and the Weimar Republic, proved unjustified. The DGB-chairman for Rhineland-Palatinate’s attempt in 1967 to establish working groups on employees’ issues inside the SPD was symptomatic of the tense relationship between the SPD and the unions. These groups were to consist of union members, but at the time the party leadership rejected the idea as it did not permit the formation of parliamentary sub-groups. At the party congress in Nuremberg in 1968, Brandt, the chairman of the party, employed a term from the communist theory of organization to emphasize that the unions could not turn the SPD into their “transmission belt”, something which the SPD did not wish to become. Brandt defended the people’s party which, according to him, one could not both approve and call an “antiquated workers’ party”. At this point in time, Brandt was categorically opposed to working groups for employees’ issues: “Employees are the body of this party, not its wings”.7 During this phase, the SPD met the unions halfway by establishing a trade union council, a move that was approved during the Nuremberg party congress. The union council was charged with “participating in the 7  Protokoll der Verhandlungen der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands vom 17. bis 21. März 1968 in Nürnberg, Hannover-Bonn 1968, pp. 104–107.



formation of the union-related demands of the party”.8 The trade union council, in which social democratic union leaders were to be members, was to be chaired by the head of the party to “advise the party regarding important socio-political issues”.9 Indeed, party executives and trade union council were to meet and discuss important issues jointly. The overall reaction of the unions was positive (Schönhoven 2004). Regarding the significance of the trade union council, historian Klaus Schönhoven concludes: “Even though the trade union council became neither a switchboard for social democratic employee policy, nor a flywheel for the unions within the party, its mere existence was significant for both sides”. Through the formation of the trade union council relations between the SPD and the unions improved once again. Remarkably, only a few years later, between 1970 and 1973, the SPD leadership reactivated its former Betriebsgruppen (site groups) and merged them into the Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Arbeitnehmerfragen (AfA) (Working Group for Employee Questions) (Faulenbach 2011). The motive of the SPD leadership was not to avoid making concessions to the unions, but to counterbalance the influx of new members, students, teachers and academics. These were now asserting themselves in many places and changing the political culture of the party to quite an extent, thus causing severe conflict in a number of big cities, including university cities. This was a particular problem between the party and the Jungsozialisten in der SPD (Jusos). The expansion of the AfA, however, only worked in industrial centres, especially in the Ruhr area and the Hanseatic towns in the north. To a certain degree, the site groups and their members even achieved a counterbalance to the works council and the trade union representatives. In any case, they were mostly more than mere branches of the unions and tended to go their own way. Their influence within the SPD was limited. The AfA kept watch over the government’s policies, sharply criticizing cuts in social welfare and—at least verbally—radicalizing their ideas. However, the main goals of the site groups and AfA-chairpersons were to ensure appropriate consideration of employees in party-internal elections and the selection of candidates. In the big industrial plants of the Ruhr area, the AfA was indeed present during the 1980s. But it is frequently forgotten that the numbers involved in the site groups in the local administrations were sometimes higher than in the larger factories. Quite a few 8 9

 Ibid., pp. 966–967.  Ibid., pp. 1066 f.



members of these groups hoped to foster their own career through their membership—and some of them succeeded. The closeness of the administration to politics worked in favour of support for the SPD. Besides social policies, which cannot be dealt with here, the SPD’s support for a revision of the Corporate Constitution Act was one of the factors linking the SPD and trade unions. Since the 1960s, the SPD had supported the trade unions’ desire to extend codetermination for employees by introducing such a law. The fact that codetermination and the expansion of corporate codetermination became central to social democratic ideas for reform from 1968 on fitted into the social democratic concept of “democratization”. It quickly became apparent that these reforms would also cause difficulties in the coalition of the SPD and the FDP (the liberals). The Works Constitution Act (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz) was revised quite smoothly, although the unions were not fully satisfied since the works council was an independent advocate of employees’ interests. However, the Act facilitated union access to factories and businesses. But regarding corporate codetermination, concepts in the SPD and the FDP diverged (Lauschke 2006; Soell 2008; Faulenbach 2011). The FDP was not prepared to extend codetermination with parity, as found in the coal and steel industry, to the whole of large-­ scale industry though it was prepared to allow an extension of the employees’ influence on the supervisory board. A conflict began that was to last for years. For the SPD, it had to do with the idea of economic democracy; for the FDP, the point was to guarantee the shareholders’ right to have the final say. A compromise that proposed parity by having a leading employee join the employees’ side of the board met with opposition from employers, who also voiced constitutional concerns about parity codetermination. In the end, the SPD had no other option than to push through a bill that allowed for the extension of codetermination without complete parity in big companies. Chancellor Schmidt and party chairman Brandt considered this a step forward. Nonetheless, it was criticized, sometimes heavily, by the unions. At a mass rally in Dortmund, they reaffirmed their positions. Some of the unions focused their criticism not on the FDP and the employers, but rather on the SPD for failing to achieve more. The result was growing tension between the unions and the SPD, even though Helmut Schmidt relied more heavily on union leaderships than his predecessor, Willy Brandt. Nevertheless, union leaders, especially the DGB’s chairman, Heinz-Oskar Vetter, stressed the political aspect of the unions’ function, which clearly extended beyond tariff policy, working conditions



and questions of qualification (Faulenbach 2011). At the same time, the fact cannot be overlooked that codetermination in the large-scale industry altered power structures within businesses, leading to an integration of employees and unions. This meant unions were not merely an opposition force but also an ordering factor within corporate structures linking society and state. However, there are a number of examples of the unions enforcing their policies in the post-war period without consideration for the SPD or its leadership. A particularly notable case was the ÖTV strike in February 1974, which contributed to no small degree to the erosion of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s authority and thus to his resignation a few months later. During the collective bargaining sessions in spring 1974, the ÖTV demanded a pay rise of 15%, at least 185 DM, as well as 300 DM holiday pay and 50 DM for each child. The ÖTV leadership, under pressure from their working members, who had not yet grasped the meaning of the 1973/1974 crisis, argued their case on the grounds that salaries in the civil service lagged behind those in the private sector, as well as with regard to the rate of inflation. When token strikes did nothing to sway the employees’ side, a high percentage of their members declared themselves in favour of strikes. A total of 300,000 employees, mostly garbage collectors, public transport workers and so on, consequently went on strike. Through this strike, the unions’ negotiations achieved a pay rise of more than 11%, plus additional benefits. Brandt’s already crumpling authority was further undermined by this agreement, which put great strain on the public budget and was generally seen as too generous. Previously, he had stated that a double-digit pay rise was impossible, which further heightened ÖTV-head Kluncker’s motivation to insist on a pay rise of more than 10%, even though he had been strongly warned against the consequences this would have for Willy Brandt (Faulenbach 2011; Weiß 1978). The agreement reached by the ÖTV, which needs to be interpreted in light of the heyday of union power, caused manifold discussions and today is considered a symbol of reckless tariff policymaking on the part of the German civil service. All in all, the 1970s was a time when social democracy was at the centre of German politics (it was the only time in the former Federal Republic when there were social democratic chancellors) and when the unions also experienced a heyday, as reflected in their membership numbers (Schroeder 2004). Nonetheless, their relationship was not unblemished, as the examples of the ÖTV strike and, to some extent, the discussion



about codetermination showed. Overall, certain sections of the unions increasingly considered themselves as independent agents with the right to influence macrosocial developments, a trend that was fostered by the re-ideologization occurring in some unions.

Social Democracy and Unions on the Defensive The unions were slower to recognize the epochal watershed of 1973/1974 than social democracy as a whole. This pivotal moment was characterized by the end of the great post-war cycle of economic development. Political events, such as the Yom Kippur War, and its consequences as well as other factors also contributed to this, as did the end of the Bretton Woods system. Psychologically, this was aggravated by a growing consciousness of the finite nature of natural resources and of growing economic problems. In this constellation, the so-called New Social Movements developed in the Federal Republic, posing a challenge to both social democracy and the unions. Their point of departure was mainly the changes in living conditions, which their protests focused on, such as the construction of motorways, airports and nuclear power stations, or they protested against growing environmental pollution. Additionally, there were the issues of women’s emancipation and peace. The proponents of these protests not only attempted to develop alternative concepts to start with mainly within the confines of everyday life, but also increasingly raising political questions concerning the industrial system in which social democracy and unions had developed. In a discussion in which the development of infrastructure, progress and jobs were contrasted with the environment, alternative thinking and new, social and individual ways of living, unions and social democracy mostly opted for the progress paradigm. Here, the SPD was doubtlessly under pressure from the unions and union members in the SPD. The SPD supported the building of nuclear power stations, airports and motorways. It defended the industrial system and its jobs, working closely with the unions concerned and the members they represented. However, as early as the 1970s, a force was developing within the SPD focusing on the “quality of life” and taking up environmental issues and the problem of nuclear power. This “post-materialist” alternative thinking resonated with students and other young people, as well as with people employed in the civil service. One might venture the hypothesis that it was the civil service that



supported these forces among the trade unions and trade union members in the SPD. Job security was hardly an issue here. During the early 1980s, the SPD found itself on the defensive in more than one respect. The peace movement opposed the NATO Double-Track Decision and rearmament, measures that had largely been implemented on the initiative of the social democratic chancellor Helmut Schmidt. At the same time, a renewed economic crisis forced the federal government to adopt a policy that limited public spending and entailed social budget cuts. This produced an estrangement between Chancellor Schmidt and the unions, some of whose leaders were often put under pressure by the union base. The result was demonstrations organized by the unions. Historian Wolfgang Schroeder stated: “During the 1970s, the unions developed from one of the most important groups supporting the social democratic government into one of its most awkward critics” (Schroeder 2004). Union members participated in the peace movement, together with a number of social democrats, so there was no conflict between unions and social democracy in this respect. The structural transformation and the advent of neoliberalism as the prevalent economic doctrine, which also led to a change of government in Bonn, not only weakened social democracy but the unions as well, a fact they could not ignore for long. That social democracy was in the opposition after 1982 and therefore could no longer play a key role in shaping policy and increasingly addressed issues regarding the new social movements also contributed to a growing distance with the unions. The upheavals in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in 1989, German reunification in 1990 and the ensuing process of inner unification, which encompassed the transformation of GDR society as well as a completely new role for Germany in international politics, presented social democracy with entirely new questions, which cannot be addressed here. The construction of new political and union structures had to be tackled. With the Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus (PDS) (Party of Democratic Socialism) and the Linkspartei (Left Party), social democracy faced political competition that in the long run was attractive to a number of union members. Nonetheless, the SPD remained the main addressee of political requests from the unions—an addressee who, at the same time, was confronted with the constraints of international economic developments and neo-liberal zeitgeist. In this context, social democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the SPD-led federal government developed the so-called Agenda 2010 policy, a policy which was economically successful, certainly,



but which reformed the welfare state and put considerable strain on the relationship with the unions. Frequently failing to act as one, the unions protested against these policies. Struggling to adapt their organization and interest-driven policy to the changing conditions in the economy and altered corporate structures conditioned by technological change as well as by growing globalization, the unions continued to lose influence. Eventually, the service sector union Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft (ver.di) (United Union of Service Sector Workers) was formed in 2001 to overcome competition among the different service sector unions. Whether this strengthened the political influence of the service sector unions is doubtful. * * * Apparently, contrasting state and society is firmly entrenched in German history. In a way, this “opposition” still resonated in the division of labour between social democracy and trade unions after the Second World War. In this division of labour, the party mostly claimed priority over the unions, which, over the course of a drawn-out process, had managed to assert their independence, but remained linked to the party in political matters. Since the Second World War, there have been a variety of changes. The political aspect—especially since the 1960s—lost some of its aura but nonetheless, a strong trend towards regulating the social framework by means of legislation, that is, through political activity, remained, including questions of labour law, works constitutions and corporate constitutions. In most European countries, labour relations were not as comprehensively incorporated into law-making as in Germany. The unions gained a new structure. This provided a new basis for the relationship between party and unions, increasing their independence from each other, while retaining their political proximity. But the relationship also grew more tense because, during the post-war years, the SPD resolutely continued on its path to becoming a people’s party. Nonetheless, for historical reasons, the relationship remained special on both sides, not least due to overlaps in membership. Since the 1960s, the unions increasingly acted as an independent political player, claiming their right to speak their mind regarding all socio-­political issues and to be heard. Some even wanted to think of the unions as a substitute party. This was particularly evident in the context of the ÖTV strike of 1974.



The interconnections between party and unions were obvious. There were numerous union members among party members, and especially among officials and mandate holders. Conversely, most union members who were part of a political party had chosen the SPD. All union leaders except one were members of the SPD.  With the founding of the trade union council in 1968, a body was set up that could be used by union leaders to exert influence over the SPD and that served as a clearing house between SPD and unions. As late as 1968, the SPD leadership rejected motions to establish working groups for union members within the SPD. However, only a few years later, they reactivated their site groups, which were merged into the AfA with the goal of counterbalancing the Jusos and the influx of new members who did not belong to the traditional clientele. The site groups did not so much serve as advocates of union interests within the SPD as the voice of the employee base in party-­ internal decision processes. Their significance declined over time, but the percentage within the SPD of union members working in the civil service increased, especially among officials and mandate holders. The shift in the composition of the SPD, its officials and its voters was an important aspect of the SPD’s modernization. Its development as a people’s party, which was open to all social groups insofar as they shared social democratic positions, was one of the reasons that the party increasingly became a party of the civil service. Nonetheless, in Germany the role of the members of industrial unions was not marginalized. It should also be noted that civil service employees never acted as a joint group within social democracy, but rather were drawn towards different party-internal groups and wings. In Germany, a predominantly state-based understanding of politics was by no means limited to the civil service. Rather, it was a fundamental trait of German political culture, now in decline. Changes in its membership structure and the assumption of government responsibility both in federal countries and at the federal level moved the SPD closer to the state during the post-war period. Partly due to social democratic policies, the state itself was regarded in a much more rational light than had previously been the case. Political concepts had the same effects. Seen from this point of view, one might say that the SPD became a “state party” (“Staatspartei”) (Klotzbach 1982). Nonetheless, it cannot be called a “cartel party”, since it remained intertwined with society, in which, admittedly, the influence of the civil service had grown. Generally speaking, the term “cartel party” seems of limited use in relation to the party system in Germany, since this system, through the foundation and establishment of



new parties such as the Green Party, demonstrated its relative openness (Mair and Katz 1995). To some extent, the German politico-cultural path finds its continuation in the German party state (Parteienstaat), which is bound together with a pluralistic civil society.

Abbreviations and Translations AfA

Arbeitsgemeinschaft für Arbeitnehmerfragen (Working Group for Employees’ Issues) APO Außerparlamentarische Opposition (Extra-­ Parliamentary Opposition) CDU Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands (Christian Democratic Union of Germany) CSU Christlich-Soziale Union in Bayern (Christian Social Union in Bavaria) DAG Deutsche Angestellten-Gewerkschaft (German Salaried Employees’ Union) DGB Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund (German Federation of Unions) FDP Freie Demokratische Partei Deutschlands (Liberal Democratic Party of Germany) GEW Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft (Education and Science Workers’ Union) IG Bau Industriegewerkschaft Bau, Steine, Erden (Construction Industry Trade Union) IG-Metall, IGM Industriegewerkschaft Metall (Industrial Union of Metalworkers) Jusos Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Jungsozialisten in der SPD (Working Group of Young Socialists in the SPD) ÖTV Gewerkschaft Öffentliche Dienste, Transport und Verkehr (Union for Public Services, Transport and Traffic) PDS Partei des Demokratischen Sozialismus (Party of Democratic Socialism) SPD Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (German Social Democratic Party) ver.di Vereinte Dienstleistungsgewerkschaft (United Union of Service Sector Workers)



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Lösche, Peter, and Franz Walter. 1992. Die SPD: Klassenpartei  – Volkspartei  – Quotenpartei. Zur Entwicklung der Sozialdemokratie von Weimar bis zur deutschen Vereinigung. Darmstadt. Löwenthal, Richard. 1981. Identität und Zukunft der SPD. Die Neue Gesellschaft 28: 1085–1089. Mair, Peter, and Richard S. Katz. 1995. Changing Models of Party Organization and Party Democracy. The Emergence of the Cartel Party. Party Politics 1 (1): 5–31. von Plato, Alexander. 1984. ‘Der Verlierer geht nicht leer aus’. Betriebsräte geben zu Protokoll. Berlin and Bonn. Protokoll der Verhandlungen der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands vom 17. bis 21. März 1968 in Nürnberg. Hannover and Bonn, 1968. Ritter, Gerhard A. 1998. Über Deutschland. Die Bundesrepublik in der deutschen Geschichte. München. Schmidt, Helmut. 1996. Weggefährten. Erinnerungen und Reflexionen. Berlin. Schneider, Michael. 1986. Demokratie in Gefahr? Der Konflikt um die Notstandsgesetze: Sozialdemokratie, Gewerkschaften und intellektueller Protest (1958–1968). Bonn. ———. 1989. Kleine Geschichte der Gewerkschaften. Ihre Entwicklung in Deutschland von den Anfängen bis heute. Bonn. Schönhoven, Klaus. 2004. Wendejahre. Die Sozialdemokratie in der Zeit der Großen Koalition 1966–1969. Bonn. Schroeder, Wolfgang. 2004. Gewerkschaften als soziale Bewegung  - soziale Bewegung in den Gewerkschaften in den Siebzigerjahren. In Archiv für Sozialgeschichte 44, 243–265. Soell, Hartmut. 2003. Helmut Schmidt. 1918–1969. Vernunft und Leidenschaft. München. ———. 2008. Helmut Schmidt. 1969 bis heute. Macht und Verantwortung. Stuttgart. Steinmetz, George. 1996. German exceptionalism and the origin of Nazism. The career of a concept. In Stalinism and Nazism. Dictatorships in Comparison, ed. Ian Kershaw and Moshe Lewin, 251–284. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Tenfelde, Klaus. 2001. Europäische Arbeiterbewegungen im 20. Jahrhundert. In Demokratischer Sozialismus in Europa seit dem Zweiten Weltkrieg, ed. Dieter Dowe, 9–39. Weiß, Gerhard. 1978. Die ÖTV.  Politik und gesellschaftliche Konzeptionen der Gewerkschaft ÖTV von 1966 bis 1976. Marburg. Winkler, Heinrich August. 2000. Der lange Weg nach Westen. Vol. II. München: Deutsche Geschichte vom “Dritten Reich” bis zur Wiedervereinigung.


The French Socialist Party, Civil Servants and the State. A Comparative Approach to Social Reforms Between the Popular Front Period (1936–1938) and the Early Years of the Mitterrand Presidency (1981–1983) Laure Machu and Matthieu Tracol

The relationship of French socialists to power has been analysed in a landmark book as a long maintained awkwardness (Bergounioux and Grunberg 2007). Throughout the twentieth century, the party (the Section Française de l’Internationale ouvrière (SFIO) and then the Parti Socialiste (PS)) was torn between reformism in government and a revolutionary ambition that Translated by Cynthia Schoch and Trista Selous. L. Machu (*) Université Paris Nanterre, Nanterre, France M. Tracol Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




was never totally abandoned. Control of the state could leave a bitter taste, sending activists frustrated by past compromises to seek refuge in doctrinal purity and its expiatory virtues. Were these difficult aftermaths caused by a lack of preparation? The accusation has often been levelled at the socialists by their political opponents. Faced with the complexities of the real world, socialist ideological certainties were bound to crumble, leaving them incapable of attaining their economic goals.1 This idea notably flourished in the periods of the Popular Front (1936–1938) and François Mitterrand’s first term as president (1981–1988). The Blum government was obliged to “pause” for financial reasons and could not very long pursue the reform programme it launched in June 1936. A widespread view persistently interprets the Keynesian reflation policies of 1981 as irresponsible profligacy, leading two years later to the inevitable curb of financial restraint—“la rigueur” (Margairaz 2001). Among many other explanations, socialists often cite the hostility of senior civil servants, particularly in the Finance Inspectorate.2 The removal of finance inspectors from the ministries in 1936–1937 reveals the precautions taken in relation to officials who were mainly on the political right (Carré de Malberg 2011). In power, Vincent Auriol was faced with experts within the administration—Jacques Rueff first among them—whose proposals coincided with those of the parliamentary opposition (Margairaz 1991). In 1981 the expectation of hostility had become so internalized by Planning Minister Michel Rocard that, although he was himself a finance inspector, he advised Pierre Mauroy to be extremely wary of the “orthodoxy” of departmental staff, from whom he expected only “taunts and sarcasm”.3 The study of social reforms in these two periods leads us to radically qualify both the deficit of expertise and the conflict between socialists and state experts. While it is undoubtedly true that relations between the Socialist Party and civil service had their share of frustration and often 1  As an example in relation to the 1980s, Yvon Gattaz and Philippe Simonnot, Mitterrand et les patrons, 1981–1986, Paris, Fayard, 1999, 325 p. 2  Amongst executive civil servant, senior civil servants characterize themselves by their significant responsibilities but also the prestige of the public service body they belong to. This category includes, for instance, finance inspectors but also members of the highest administrative court (Conseil d’État) and of the Court of Auditors, and after 1945 the National School of Administration (ENA) graduates. 3  Fondation Jean-Jaurès, Centre d’Archives socialistes (later FJJ-CAS), note from Michel Rocard to Pierre Mauroy, 27 August 1981.



conflict, they were also enriched by the transfer of a great many ideas and practices. This comparative study between the period of the Popular Front and the first years of François Mitterrand’s presidency will focus on both industrial relations and working time reduction reforms, which were key objectives of both governments. We will compare the actors and networks involved with the preparation and implementation of social reforms. In their own ways, the great social reforms of the Popular Front (40-hour working week and collective agreements) and the early Mitterrand years (ordonnance on the 39-hour week and Auroux laws) highlight the growing power of state experts in designing social reforms.

Sources of Socialist Reforms In both the inter-war period and the 1970s, French socialists were preparing to govern. At these times they were receptive to the debates circulating in reformist circles and within the administration in France and other countries, even if their agenda was fundamentally driven by political considerations. Within the SFIO, the desire to professionalize parliamentary work emerged at the turn of the century (Jackson 1985). At the dawn of the 1930s, Etienne Antonelli was almost certainly the most widely recognized expert on social issues. A renowned economist, he was part of the independent socialist group before joining the SFIO in 1924 to work on the development of social insurance. At the turn of the century he had been involved with the reformist circles formulating a programme around three major ideas: the replacement of assistance by insurance, the notion of public service and joint action by civil society and the state (Frobert 1997; Wright 2005). At the same time, the socialists were recruiting civil servants as auxiliaries in parliamentary work. Vincent Auriol was head of the Finance Commission and brought in the skills of Georges Mer, a civil servant in the Finance Department who was committed to reform of the state, while César Chabrun, who headed the labour commission of the Chamber of Deputies, called on Eugène Chaillé, labour inspector and an active socialist (Cointepas 1992; Descamps 2006). Outside the party, the forms and themes of expert input were rapidly updated in response to the crisis (Dard 2002). Partly inspired by the debates initiated in Belgian socialist circles, the planist movement generated a new version of reformism based on the central role of the state as social arbiter and regulator. The foundation of the Révolution Constructive



group, followed by the Union des Techniciens socialistes (UTS) and the work of socialists in the economic research unit set up to develop the Confédération générale du travail’s (CGT) Plan highlight the interest in this new thinking among some of them (Margairaz 1991).4 But a large element within the party remained hostile to planning. On the one hand, some party managers and activists were opposed to reinforcing the role of the state and, on the other, the Plan appeared as something “dreamed up by experts”, which was a problem for an organization that still saw itself as a party of activists, particularly in order to compete on equal terms with the French Communist Party (PCF). Nonetheless, with the support of Léon Blum, who established a kind of think tank around the UTS, planist ideas did infiltrate the SFIO (Margairaz 1991). The SFIO of the 1930s could thus call on internal experts and appeared broadly receptive to the ideas being debated in reformist circles. The people through whom these ideas circulated were academics—economists for the most part—professors and, in the case of UTS, graduates of the École Polytechnique, sometimes engineers in the grands corps de l’État. There was a notable absence of senior civil servants, although these formed part of the recruitment pool for the expert elites of the inter-war period (Pollet 2000). Some of those involved in the discussions were civil servants, regarded as “experts” due to their grasp of technical issues and/or scientific knowledge, but they were not there as state representatives and did not serve as conduits for the accumulated experience and expertise produced by state institutions. These characteristics relate both to the sociology of the SFIO and its networks (Morin 2007) and to the nature and profiles of the experts working to promote economic and social reforms in the early 1930s (Dard 2000).5 In this context, reforms generated varying degrees of interest and came to the party through activist channels, notably through links with the CGT. In 1934 ideas around collective bargaining agreements crystallized within the National Economic Council (Conseil national économique [CNE]), a tripartite body implemented in 1925 (Chatriot 2002).6 In 1928 CGT General Secretary Léon Jouhaux had articulated the need for 4  These were the economists Etienne Antonelli and Lucien Laurat as well as Ludovic Zoretti (professor of science) and Louis Vallon (graduate of the École Polytechnique). 5  The historian Olivier Dard notes that “technocrats are thus mainly men who have spent time in the private sector”. 6  The institution founded in 1925 can be seen as the ancestor of both the Conseil économique et social and the Commissariat général du Plan.



a report to establish the causes of the decline in collective bargaining and ways to counteract it. This was then taken up by CNE secretary who regarded it as a crucial issue for his organization (Chatriot 2002). The report was given to Pierre Laroque, auditor at the Council of State, who had gained experience of social issues during his time in the office of Labour Minister Adolphe Landry. The lively discussions notably revealed divergences of view regarding the pertinence and scope of state intervention in employment relations (Machu 2011). Despite this mobilization around collective bargaining, it seems not to have been an issue for the socialists. The socialist press, in particular Le Populaire, did not relay the conclusions of the Laroque report, or the discussions it generated. The issue was not debated at conferences. It was not the subject of any bills proposed by socialist parliamentarians.7 While they wanted to establish a minimum wage, the socialists did not see this as linked to collective labour agreements, unlike the social democrats, who were calling in the same period for collective bargaining agreements to become more widely used to impose minimum wages.8 The inclusion in the PCF-SFIO platform of a call for the widespread use of collective bargaining agreements subject to oversight by workers owed more to CGT activism than to insistence from the socialists (Machu 2011). The demand was moreover removed from the programme of the Rassemblement Populaire. This apparent lack of interest in collective agreements contrasts with the mobilization around the 40-hour week. In 1932 the SFIO indicated that it had joined the CGT’s campaign.9 In the wake of this, several bills on working hours were proposed by socialist parliamentarians before the Popular Front, calling either for the strict application of the law on the 8-hour working day or for a move to a 40-hour week (Chatriot 2004). Etienne Antonelli, Jean Lebas and Louis Gros—a former labour inspector, head of the SFIO’s social research group and president of the labour commission of the Chamber of Deputies, respectively—were particularly

7  A single bill submitted by Raoul Evrard in 1934 (Journal officiel, Chambre des Députés, documents parlementaires, Proposition de résolution no. 3408, pp. 736–737). 8  At the conference of 1934 Jean Lebas called for a “working week of forty hours with a minimum wage” or a “fixed minimum wage”, without specifying the methods by which minimum salaries would be fixed (SFIO, XXXIe congrès national tenu à Toulouse, 20-23 mai 1934: compte-rendu sténographique, Paris, Librairie Populaire, 1935, pp. 334–335). 9  SFIO, 30th National Congress, 14–17 July 1933, reports, Librairie du Parti, 1933, 199 p.



active.10 Through his department, the Minister of Labour communicated his refusal to consider the issue before it was settled internationally.11 At the same time, socialist leaders recognized as experts were striving to gauge the consequences of the measure in relation to production and unemployment, but there was an insufficient number of detailed studies on which the SFIO could base its thinking (Margairaz 1975; Jackson 1985).12 The socialists focused on economic aspects, leaving legal technicalities aside, although these had been key when the law on the eight-hour working day was passed (Rudischhauser 2017).13 Although the socialists were actively engaged with the issue of reducing working hours, they were certainly not the only ones. The party was first and foremost a sounding box for debates taking place within the International Labour Organisation (ILO) (Chatriot 2004).14 The CGT was the main spearhead; the Socialist Party programme called only for “the reduction of working hours without a reduction in wages”.15 The refusal to put a figure on the reduction stemmed from the desire expressed by Jules Moch to adapt it to the situation in each sector (Margairaz 1975).16 In the summer of 1936 the movement of strikes and factory occupations enabled Jouhaux to call for “40 hours for everyone and at once”.17 Unlike the 1930s reforms, those conducted in the early 1980s heavily relied on economic and social state expertise, which was considerably more developed at the time. Consequently, most economic and social discussions in France referred to research conducted by administrations. The 35-hour week, supported by François Mitterrand in his 1981 presidential campaign, demonstrates it perfectly. The demand emerged in the  On Jean Lebas, see infra.  AN 19760121/380, Note on the bill of MM. Evrard, Louis Gros and a number of their colleagues relating to the 40-hour week (no date or author). 12  It was mainly Jules Moch, Robert Marjolin and Etienne Weill-Raynal. 13  In fact, in its legal aspects the bill submitted by Antonelli is a direct copy of the law on the eight-hour work day. 14  Alain Chatriot, “Débats internationaux, rupture politique et négociations sociales: le bond en avant des 40 heures 1932–1938”, art. cit. 15  AN 19760121/380, Memo from the head of the office of the President of the Council to Charles Picquenard, 15 March 1935. 16  A graduate of the École Polytechnique, Moch joined the SFIO in 1924. In 1928 he was elected to Parliament as the Deputy for Drôme. He was close to Léon Blum and regarded as one of the SFIO’s best experts. 17  As noted by Alain Chatriot, this is recorded by the unionist René Belin, a well-informed but biased source. 10 11



mid-­ 1970s, when the idea of combating unemployment by reducing working hours had largely fallen by the wayside. In the wake of Alfred Sauvy’s analyses (Sauvy 1967), it was unanimously regarded as “an economic policy error” (Asselain 1974). When the reduction of working hours was mentioned, it was in the context of improving working conditions rather than fighting unemployment. Mass unemployment reappearance in the mid-1970s changed all that. The idea was first reconsidered by state economists—civil servants in government departments responsible for the economy (the forecasting department at the Ministry of Finance and the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies [INSEE]), which at that time had a monopoly in economic forecasting. In 1975, in the context of developing the seventh Plan, the General Planning Commissariat (Commissariat Général du Plan [CGP]) highlighted the beneficial effects for employment of a reduction in the working week.18 Over subsequent years, using the Keynesian macroeconomic models at the administration’s disposal, the necessary conditions were identified for such a policy to be effective, including the key element of salaries (not all salaries could be maintained without reduction) (Oudiz et al. 1979). These expert studies preceded and stimulated both demands from the French trade unions and thinking among those on the moderate left who gravitated around Jacques Delors. Delors had joined the PS in 1974, having been head of Social Affairs at the CGP in the 1960s, and then advisor to Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas 1969–1972. He ran a club called “Exchange and Projects” comprising senior civil servants, unionists and business leaders. He also ran the “Labour and Society” research centre at the Université Paris-Dauphine. In these two bodies, and the revolving door movement of personnel between them, the work of state economists was turned into a political project. For Delors’ club, the reduction of working hours was the foundation of a more cohesive society. The issue of salaries was thus sublimated by a drive for solidarity with the unemployed, which simultaneously made it possible to respect the conditions highlighted by the state economists.19 The PS had far more trouble with this government research. On the one hand, it gave them a solid technical argument to justify a new stage of social gains and a return to the mystique of the Popular Front. On the  AN 19920452/18, unsigned memo from the CGP, 26 May 1975.  Échange et Projets, La révolution du temps choisi, Paris, Albin Michel, 1980, pp. 191–192.

18 19



other, it was far harder for them to politically absorb a negative effect on salaries, hence the confusion of some socialist positions. The 35-hour week emerged in the party’s documents in the run-up to the general election of 1978, in a version reflecting the influence of the planning experts. In late 1977, the party’s labour delegation developed a strategy in which negotiations at different levels (national and then sectoral) would provide the flexibility that had been lacking in 1936.20 This approach enabled them to sidestep the problem of salaries by lobbing it back into the social partners’ court. However, the PS manifesto promised that salaries would be maintained.21 In the 1981 campaign, François Mitterrand, who referred to the research of the government planners in vaunting the beneficial effects of the 35-hour week, promised only to maintain the levels of low salaries and again left the rest to negotiation.22 The democratization of the economy and the workplace was another key element of socialist proposals in the 1970s. Throughout the 1970s the PS supported the establishment of “workers’ control” in private enterprises, in the form of a veto right for employees representing bodies. Mitterrand’s “110 propositions” for the 1981 presidential campaign proposed giving the works council a veto on “hiring, firing and the organization of work, the training plan [and] new production techniques”. The health and safety committee was also to have the “power to halt activity at a workshop or site on safety grounds”.23 The aim was to give employees effective mechanisms to counteract the omnipotence of the company head. Here the PS was a long way from the studies being done at the same time in reformist circles and at the Ministry of Labour. The “modernist” project to transform labour relations and institute “corporate reform” emerged in the 1960s. Without challenging the power of the company heads, it proposed that the state should strengthen the hand of employees and unions by according a greater role to labour negotiations, first and foremost within companies (Moss 1989; Chatriot 2012). Given impetus by the publication in 1963 of Pour une réforme de l’entreprise by finance inspector François Bloch-Lainé, the modernist project was pursued in 20  Le Poing et la Rose, “Pour une politique socialiste de l’emploi”, supplement to no. 66, December 1977. 21  Parti socialiste, Le programme commun de gouvernement de la gauche: propositions socialistes pour l’actualisation, Paris, Flammarion, 1978, p. 12; Projet socialiste pour la France des années 80, Paris, Club socialiste du livre, 1980, p. 175. 22  Television program “Cartes sur tables”, 16 March 1981. 23  Propositions 60 and 61.



subsequent years through the policy of Chaban-Delmas and then in the Sudreau report of 1975, which advocated a better understanding of the “union representative” and celebrated “contractual action”.24 Although the Sudreau report went unheeded, its philosophy continued to exert a subterranean influence on government studies, as reflected in the commissions preparing the seventh and eighth Plans, comprising senior civil servants and management and labour representatives. In these bodies, company bargaining was regarded as a solution to the need to avoid deadlocks and labour strife.25 Modernist ideas were conversely poorly received within the PS. The left wing of the party condemned the entire Sudreau report as guilty of denying class struggle, while national secretary Pierre Bérégovoy mocked it as the “work of a do-gooder”. However, Michel Rocard praised its emphasis on contractual relations within companies, while Jacques Delors, who had given evidence to the Sudreau Committee, judged it “interesting and very decent”.26 Here again, the former advisor to Jacques Chaban-Delmas served as an intermediary between reformist circles and the left through his Exchange and Projects club. Corporate reform was abundantly discussed there in the second half of the 1970s, always in relation to labour negotiations.27 Although the preserve of a minority in the PS, Delors’ ideas attracted many left-leaning senior civil servants, who went on to cabinet posts in most ministries in 1981. This explains the mismatch between the socialist proposals of the 1970s and the programmes implemented after 1981.

In Power: Laws Made Without the Party? Beyond the institutional differences between the France of 1936 and that of 1981, the socialist exercise of government power shows major points in common at these two key moments. Each time, an executive driven by a desire for reform dominated the legislature, while the party was 24  La réforme de l’entreprise : rapport du comité présidé par Pierre Sudreau, Paris, Union générale d’éditions, 1975, pp.  41 and 79. Pierre Sudreau was a senior civil servant and a centre-right politician. 25   Commissariat général du Plan, Rapport du Comité emploi et travail, Paris, La Documentation française, 1976, 400 p.; Rapport de la Commission emploi et relations du travail, Paris, La Documentation française, 1980, 245 p. 26  Le Monde, 17 February 1975; Le Nouvel Observateur, 17 February 1975. 27  Echange et projets no. 10, 1976.



marginalized by a government that depended on its support. This marginalization of the party and parliament to the prime minister’s advantage opened the way to experts who were actively involved in drafting laws and moulding their spirit. When the left took power in 1936, it marked an institutional break with the past. An electoral victory that released the government from the need for parliamentary negotiations to form a majority and the general strike and factory occupations both manifested and enabled this change. Blum wanted to implement the ideas on government that he had advocated in his Lettres sur la réforme gouvernementale:28 he wanted to strengthen the power of the executive and, within it, that of the prime minister (called president of the council under the third and fourth republics). The secretary to the prime minister would now be a politician, rather than a senior civil servant (Roussellier 2006). The person in office, Jules Moch, had just been ousted from the body that ran the SFIO, the permanent administrative commission (commission administrative permanente [CAP]). He surrounded himself with graduates from the École Polytechnique from the UTS and activists known for their capacity as experts. The choice of a man distinguished by his loyalty to Blum and his technical expertise highlights the desire to build legitimacy outside the party (Hohl 2006). The centre of decision-making thus shifted from the parliament and party to the executive and to Blum as president of the council. All these elements together explain the marginalization of the Ministry of Labour, although its power was affirmed with the passing of new social laws. The labour minister was Jean Lebas, an important figure in the SFIO, but during negotiation of the Matignon Agreements and the passing of the first labour laws, he was ill and busy with the strikes in Roubaix, where he was mayor.29 Crucially, he fell victim to the interventionism of Blum’s office due to the transformation of the institutions sought by the president of the council. The institutions of the Fifth Republic gave even more room to manoeuvre to the executive established after the victory of François Mitterrand in 1981. In the process leading to the development of the ordonnance reducing legal working hours to 39 and the adoption of the four Auroux laws on new rights for workers, the position of the deputies of the majority was structurally weak and indeed regarded as unimportant by the 28  Les lettres sur la réforme gouvernementale were first published in 1918 and republished in 1936 with the title La réforme gouvernementale. 29  Hôtel Matignon is the residence and office of French Prime ministers.



government.30 In July 1982, Pierre Joxe, president of the socialist group, complained that the majority deputies were the last to be informed of government plans.31 These plans were primarily developed within the triangle formed by the president’s office, the prime minister’s office and Ministry of Labour. The Elysée was at the top, but stood back, regarding purely social issues as secondary to economic dossiers.32 In practice, social policy was determined and managed by Pierre Mauroy and his experts, who took direct charge of the battle against unemployment, beginning with the launch of social negotiations around reducing working hours. On 12 June 1981 he brought the social partners together at Matignon. On 15 September 1981 at the National Assembly he gave a speech on employment that was almost a second declaration of general policy. His office, where the social sector was headed by Bernard Brunhes, an economist and statistician from INSEE who had been head of the department of social affairs at the CGP in the years 1976–1981, played a crucial role in developing reforms, sometimes more than the ministries that were theoretically in charge of the dossiers. So the Ministry of Labour was in a weak position. The minister was Jean Auroux, promising deputy mayor of Roanne, but at the age of 38 almost unknown at the national level and by no means a specialist on matters relevant to his portfolio. He soon encountered harsh criticism from senior civil servants, who castigated him for incompetence and inconsistency.33 His actions show that he adopted the modernist conceptions of the social experts by whom he was surrounded, without really amending them. To a great extent, the political and administrative elite that took over the ministerial departments was very homogeneous. In both the prime 30  Ordonnance no. 82-41 of 16 January 1982; laws no. 82-689 of 4 August 1982; no. 82-915 of 28 October 1982; no. 82-957 of 13 November 1982; no. 82-1097 of 23 December 1982. The Auroux laws were designed to improve French industrial relations, by giving new rights to workers and by promoting collective bargaining, particularly at company level. A workers’ right to express about their working conditions was created, as well as an annual obligation to negotiate at company level. 31  FJJ-CAS fonds Mauroy, CAB 18, memo by Pierre Joxe, 15 July 1982. 32  Interview with Bernard Brunhes, 13 May 2008. Bernard Brunhes was social advisor to Pierre Mauroy 1981–1983. Cf. infra. 33  FJJ-CAS fonds Mauroy, unindexed, memo from Robert Lion to Pierre Mauroy, 20 September 1981.



minister’s office and around Auroux, the advisors had very often worked in the CGP, been closely or more distantly involved with Exchange and Projects and, crucially, were imbued with the same modernist ideas, promoting social negotiation and economic realism. Their political culture was out of step with that of the majority of socialists. It took them far closer to the Confédération française démocratique du travail (CFDT) and the “second left” of Rocard and Delors than to Marxism. Brunhes is a good example of this. In addition to his former responsibilities in the planning department, he was part of Rocard’s think tank. An activist for the CFDT, which he regarded as “far more creative, far more innovative” than the other confederations of unions, he was involved in some of the work conducted in the circles around Delors, notably on the reduction of working hours.34 On arriving at Matignon, he sought to implement the ideas of Exchange and Projects.35 During Blum’s tenure, he chose senior civil servant Charles Picquenard, who was then head of the Labour directorate, to draft bills on the 40-hour week, collective bargaining agreements and paid leave. Having entered the directorate as an intern drafter in 1906, Picquenard cut his teeth during the First World War alongside Albert Thomas before being involved in the genesis of the law on the eight-hour working day. In 1928, with economist William Oualid, he published a book on the development of collective agreements and labour legislation during the First World War. In the war years both Picquenard and Blum had been members of the Council of State and involved in the same reformist circles. Beyond these points in common, Blum’s choice of Picquenard is best explained by the expertise he had accumulated. As Director of Labour since 1920, Picquenard had worked with all the ministers of the inter-war period and could draft the required bills extremely quickly. More generally, the directorate had a very important role in everything concerning labour law, far beyond the drafting of circulars and decrees (Cointepas 1992; Soubiran-Paillet 2007). In this very specialist area, the alliance between minister and administration was first and foremost that of a politician and a technician. In the case of the 40-hour week, of which he probably disapproved in principle (Fraboulet 2007), Picquenard 34  Interview with Bernard Brunhes, 13 May 2008. This work included the conference organized by the “Work and Society” research centre at Université Paris-Dauphine in April 1979. AN 19920452/36. 35  AN 19850743/435, memo from Bernard Brunhes to his collaborator René Cessieux, 15 July 1981.



followed the approach devised for the eight-hour day: the law established the principle of reducing working hours and the methods of doing so were then negotiated by the unions (Rudischhauser 2017). The bill on collective agreements proposed a high degree of state intervention in the negotiations by establishing a procedure for extending agreements that was first used in 1917 with the passing of the law on the five-day week.36 A great achievement of Popular Front legislation, the assertion of the role of the state in social regulation was not solely a product of ideas that were developing at the end of the crisis; through Picquenard it was also a legacy of the experience of the First World War (Machu 2011). The desire to move quickly led Blum to adopt the emergency procedure. The five bills corresponding to the government’s social undertakings did not go before the permanent commissions, but were examined by a special commission that met for one day only (Roussellier 2006). The texts were then presented to Parliament by rapporteurs from the special commission. In both cases the rapporteurs, the Council President and the Minister of Labour encountered criticism from the right. The socialist deputies did not intervene. We see the same concern with efficiency in 1981, which led the government to legislate by decree to reduce working hours. Initially Mauroy did seek to give an important role to negotiation between the social partners. Unions and management had to start by agreeing on the first step towards a 35-hour week, after which the government would go on to pass legislation. Sector-specific negotiations would then adapt the national agreement. These negotiations were to accept the lessons of the CGP studies: “full” compensation was not an option, but Mauroy suggested to the negotiators that employees on the lowest incomes should be spared.37 On 17 July this process led to the signature (except by the CGT trade union and the Confédération générale des petites et moyennes entreprises (CGPME) employers union of small and medium companies) of a memorandum of understanding reducing the working week to 39 hours. However, sector negotiations produced few results. Employers dug in their heels and the different unions had different agendas.38 So it was both to relaunch the process and also to neutralize the potentially maximalist deputies of the majority that, on 18 November 1981, the executive announced its 36  The law of 11 June 1917 on the “English Week” gave Saturday afternoons off to workers in the clothing industry. 37  AN 198950743/435, minutes of the tripartite meeting in Matignon on 12 June 1981. 38  Nouvelles CFDT no. 43/81, 13 November 1981.



intention to legislate by decree on social issues. The first of these, dated 16 January 1982, lowered the legal working week to 39 hours. Although this was seen by the public as a socially progressive measure, it generated strikes and social conflict.39 Salary compensation and “established advantages” were the two sources of discontent. The social situation became so poisonous that on 10 February the President told the Council of Ministers that “no worker ha[d] anything to fear” in relation to their purchasing power.40 This statement was a major political event that shaped the sector negotiations, which were still ongoing at that time, and brought the march towards the 35-hour week to an abrupt halt.41 The commitment made by the government to employers on 16 April 1982 not to proceed to a further reduction in legal working hours, followed by the requirements of economic restraint, ultimately took it off the political agenda (Tracol 2015). In this process, the parliamentarians of the majority were kept at a distance. At first sight things look very different in relation to the new workers’ rights. The four Auroux laws were discussed at length in Parliament throughout 1982. However, here again, the balance of power did not favour the socialist deputies, for the Auroux laws were the concrete implementation of the modernist project rather than of earlier socialist proposals. This was already clear from the Auroux Report, submitted in September 1981, which drew primarily on two sources: on the one hand, studies conducted by government offices and by Exchange and Projects and, on the other, the demands of the CFDT.42 Its main aim was the full-scale development of collective bargaining, which would provide the basis for new, profoundly transformed social relations. The veto rights supported by the PS were criticized on the grounds that they would form “onerous legislation comprised of obstruction”. Translated into bills by the Ministry of Labour, under the close supervision of Brunhes’ team, the Auroux Report aroused reservations and frustrations among the socialists. The party’s internal bodies and elected representatives had scarcely been consulted by government offices, which 39  The number of working days lost in February 1982 rose to 450,000, as opposed to 125,000 in January. Source: Bulletin mensuel des statistiques du travail. 40  AN 19820430/4, transcription of the Council of Ministers of 10 February 1982. 41  Full compensation was set out in “almost all” the sector agreements. AN 5AG4/2484, memo by the Director of Employment Relations, 8 February 1983. 42  Jean Auroux, Les droits des travailleurs  : rapport au président de la République et au Premier ministre, Paris, La Documentation française, 1981, 104 p.



had regarded it as more useful to negotiate with the unions and to consult human resources managers.43 However, when the bills were put before the National Assembly, socialist deputies did try to soften them by reintroducing CGT demands and old PS proposals. Michel Coffineau, on the party’s left wing, drafted amendments that were interpreted by Mauroy’s team as “maximalist deviations”.44 The conflict was resolved when Joxe, president of the socialist group in the Assembly, obliged it to fall in behind the government’s position.45 But disagreement remained around one point: the right to stop dangerous machines, which Joxe did not want to abandon due to its status as a presidential promise. The test of strength ended in compromise in the form of a right for individual employees to withdraw their labour in cases of serious and imminent danger.46 This was the only point on which the Mauroy government agreed to a significant modification of the Auroux bills at the request of the socialist deputies. * * * Comparing the development and implementation of the 1936 and 1981 reforms demonstrates how important state expertise is central to simultaneously understand policy-making process and socialist party inner functioning. This leads us to emphasize the deep connections between the history of the French State and the history of the socialists. In 1936 state employees did not take part in discussions around the 40-hour working week, a major demand of the labour movement that was adopted by the socialists. The reasons for this relate to the profile of the experts who spoke on economic and social issues and also to the sociology of the party. In 1981, on the other hand, the Socialist Party was able to draw on the enhanced expertise developed by the state since the Liberation and on the close relations it had formed with senior civil servants. While these officials had a more minor role in developing reforms in the maturation phase that preceded the party’s election to government, their influence on the drafting of legislation in both periods is undeniable. In  Interview with Bernard Brunhes, 13 May 2008.  AN 19850743/354, memo from René Cessieux to Pierre Mauroy, 5 April 1982. 45  AN 19850743/354, memo from René Cessieux to Pierre Mauroy, 27 April 1982. 46  This was in fact the adoption of a recommendation from the International Labour Organisation (Convention no. 155, June 1981, article 13). 43 44



1936, at Blum’s request, reforms were drafted by Charles Picquenard, who was not a committed socialist. In 1981 the implementation of reforms was steered by Ministry offices to the detriment of Minister of Labour Auroux—and of the socialist parliamentarians. In 1936 Picquenard proposed a uniform, negotiated reduction of working hours. While this did not seem to contradict the programmes outlined within the SFIO and, crucially, the CGT, it marked a strengthening of the state to which an element of socialists were still hostile before the Popular Front. Conversely, in 1981 the Auroux laws reflect a reformist culture that was not socialist in origin. Above all they reflect a conciliatory approach that had been present in the state since the Liberation and which, in the 1970s, had its refuge in the “second left”, an informal and heterogeneous socialist current suspicious of a “strong state” and more interested in social movements and the role of civil society. The majority political culture in the PS, rooted in a Marxism that promoted workers’ power, had little influence on the new legislation. Ultimately, in the 1970s and 1980s, civil servants conquered the PS, rather than the other way round.

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Socialism, the State and Civil Service in Spain: Two Experiences in Perspective (Second Republic and Democratic Transition) Juan Francisco Fuentes

The historical process undergone in Spain between 1923 and 1936, starting with a soft dictatorship headed by General Primo de Rivera and culminating with the Civil War (1936–39), reinforced the role of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) in Spanish politics to an amazing degree. Amazing and misleading, because this unstoppable rise to power, from the modest dimension of Spanish socialism in 1923 to its accession to government in 1936, with two socialist prime ministers during the war (Largo Caballero and Negrín), was not the threshold of a golden age, but rather the opposite: the beginning of 40 years of repression and near disappearance. This long cycle of exile and hiding suffered under Franco’s dictatorship acted as a real catharsis in the socialist ranks, and in general in the Spanish left.

J. F. Fuentes (*) Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Madrid, Spain © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




Internal divisions would be a major factor of the weakening of Spanish socialism during Francoism, which facilitated the emergence of the Communist Party (PCE) as the indisputably most significant organization of anti-Francoist opposition. Meanwhile, the rapid industrial growth of the 1960s crafted a new combative working class, quite frequently dependent upon the state’s huge industrial holding (the National Institute of Industry—INI). Many of these workers would be attracted, nevertheless, to the Communist Party and the new unionism of Comisiones Obreras (CCOO), very close to the PCE, than to the pre-1939 class organizations, such as the socialist and the anarchist Unions (UGT and CNT). The socialist leader in exile, Rodolfo Llopis, naïvely echoed this new social reality when on his first visit to Spain in 1976, some months after Franco’s death, he regretted that in Spain there remained few —if any—‘smock’ workers (Vargas 1999: 295), alluding to the traditional dress of the working class in the early twentieth century. The amazing reconstruction of Spanish socialism during the democratic transition (1975–82) was possible thanks to a quick adaptation to that new social reality and accordingly to the adoption of a social democratic project, alien to the PSOE’s simplistic working-class tradition. This change of paradigm involved a new, almost inverted, conception of the state: from a repressive structure at the service of the class enemy to a crucial instrument of modernization and democratization of the country. The prestige of the recent concept of ‘welfare state’ facilitated such a change of opinion, influenced also by the growing presence of civil servants among the members of the PSOE and the hypercritical assessment of the role played by the left in the 1930s, acting from a schematic class struggle vision that proved fatal for the Republic and the left itself. The importance of this game of mirrors between both periods can be inferred from the opening statement addressed by Felipe González as new prime minister to his first government in December 1982: ‘Let’s not commit the same mistake as the Second Republic. This time freedom has to last’ (García Abad 2012: 36–7). This chapter focuses on the evolution of the relationship between the Spanish socialists and civil servants. It argues that in the 1930s most socialists, among them their leader Largo Caballero, distrusted the latter, except those working in the education, in the name of their hostility towards the ‘bourgeois state’. Conversely, 50 years later, the new PSOE led by Felipe Gonzales relied on public sector and civil servants to achieve its project to modernize and democratize Spain. In both cases, the study mobilizes sociological data about socialist members and voters.



Socialism and the State Under the ‘Bourgeois’ Republic The unmitigated failure of the military dictatorship headed by General Primo de Rivera between 1923 and 1930 gave way to the establishment of the Second Republic on 14 April 1931, two days after a republican-­ socialist coalition achieved a landslide victory in a municipal election, which was interpreted as a plebiscite against the monarchy. As a result, that very evening three socialists took office as ministers of the new Republic: Indalecio Prieto, Finance Minister; Professor Fernando de los Ríos, Justice Minister; and Francisco Largo Caballero, Labour Minister. Interestingly, in his first statement to the civil servants of the Ministry, Caballero announced that he was assuming the position on behalf of the UGT. ‘I hope’, he claimed, ‘that you will all work loyally’. ‘The UGT does not threaten anybody’, he added, but a reshuffle of the ministry was to take place, and one that would implement measures ‘against those [civil servants] who oppose or resist’.1 His mistrust vis-à-vis the ministry staff was due both to his Marxist prejudices against the ‘bourgeois’ state and the hostility that republicans and especially socialists felt towards the power structure inherited from the monarchy. One of the PSOE’s most influential intellectuals, the journalist Luis Araquistáin, very close to Largo Caballero, had theorized this negative perception of the state in his book España en el crisol: Un Estado que se disuelve y un pueblo que renace (‘Spain in the Crucible. A State That Dissolves, a People That Is Born Again’), which conveyed a very critical, and quite common, view of the Spanish state as providing a miserable livelihood for the middle classes, an instrument of corruption by the oligarchy and a factor of historical stagnation. The subtitle of the book, opposing state and people, faithfully mirrors all these prejudices against the monarchical state that would largely be transferred to the republic. Socialism and public service were, if not antithetical categories in Spain at that time, at the very least two different and very separate worlds. In its programme for the elections to the Constituent Parliament held in June 1931, the PSOE included the purging and reduction of the administration supposedly as a means of ‘republicanising’ it. But the republicans, who were allies of the socialists and had the opportunity to enlarge their social and electoral base with many white-collar workers, rejected a drastic policy 1

 ‘Largo Caballero en el Minsterio de Trabajo’, El Socialista, 16 April 1931.



regarding the allegedly monarchical civil servants. Unlike the republican parties, the PSOE as well as the Socialist Union (UGT) held very limited appeal for the members of the so-called, and fairly conservative, suffering middle class. In general, few of them turned to the socialist ranks in search of a progressive historical project or professional protection. True, some prominent socialist leaders were professors at state universities, and therefore civil servants living from the public budget; for instance, Fernando de los Ríos, professor of law and minister of justice; Julián Besteiro, professor of logic and speaker of the first republican parliament; Juan Negrín, professor at the medical school in Madrid, MP and future finance minister and prime minister, or Luis Jiménez de Asúa, professor of law, MP and president of the committee that wrote the draft of the republican constitution. Around 33 per cent of the socialist MPs elected in June 1931 were teachers and professors, mostly in public institutions (Contreras 1981: 110), one of them, Rodolfo Llopis, at the time a young socialist teacher, appointed in 1931 general director of primary education and highly representative of the prominence that educators achieved in the republic. Though technically the aforementioned personalities and other socialist teachers and professors were civil servants, they probably regarded themselves more as intellectuals, professors or pedagogues in a regime that already then was labelled ‘the republic of intellectuals’ or ‘of professors’. The republic was one thing and the state, its bureaucracy and its personnel, another. Thus, the remarkable presence of teachers among socialist MPs and other public charges in no way translated into a significant public service representation in the membership of the PSOE and UGT.  Their social base was overwhelmingly working class, and though the change of regime in 1931 triggered a dramatic rise in the number of members, particularly of the UGT, membership of which exceeded the one million mark, many of them belonged to the poorest peasantry. In 1932, 43 per cent of the socialist unionists worked in agriculture. The building sector (8 per cent), railways (5 per cent), mining (4 per cent), urban transport (3 per cent) and metallurgy (3 per cent) were the other sectors that provided the bulk of UGT membership (Gillespie 1991: 51). The foundation of the Federación de Trabajadores de la Enseñanza (Federation of Education Workers) in June 1931 as a branch of the UGT proves the importance of teachers in socialist unionism, but much more in qualitative than in quantitative terms, playing a key role as a sort of missing link between an unambiguous working-class project and the republican ‘bourgeois’ state.



So with the exception of education—the very meeting point between socialism and republic—the public service remained apparently alien to the socialist world and mentality. The PSOE and the UGT saw it as something rather hostile that was at the very least in need of comprehensive reform. According to the words Largo Caballero addressed to his subordinates, the state was a landing territory to be occupied by republicans and socialists, particularly by the union staff, as happened in the first two years of the Second Republic. This full and public identification of the new minister with the Socialist Union fuelled most of the criticism he received from both the left and the right with regard to his intention to favour the social bases of the UGT and to receive in return their electoral support. This insight was not without foundation, but the ambitious social reforms of the first republican biennial (1931–33) were principally aimed at solving the land problem and implementing an emerging welfare state, setting up a public system of social protection. The underlying idea was to turn the ‘bourgeois’ state around and create instead a working state managed by representatives of the working class itself. It was the ‘Fabian moment’ of the history of Spain, an attempt to develop a progressive social reformism remotely inspired by the principles of the British Fabian Society, very familiar to two influential Spanish socialists: Antonio Fabra Ribas and Luis Araquistáin. But Germany was rapidly replacing Britain as the most inspiring foreign experience for Spanish socialism. The influence of the German Constitution of 1919 could be recognized in Article 1 of the Spanish Constitution approved in December 1931—‘Spain is a democratic republic of workers of all classes’—and its socioeconomic section—in particular, articles 44, 45 and 46. The main champion of Article 1 in Parliament was Araquistáin, at that moment second-in-command in the labour ministry with Caballero and very soon to be Spanish Ambassador in Berlin during the final months of the Weimar Republic and the first months of the Third Reich. Hence the importance once again of the German key in the evolution of the Spanish Republic. When Araquistáin returned to Spain in May 1933 after resigning as Ambassador and three months after Hitler’s accession to power, he transmitted to his comrades an unambiguous ‘lesson of history’ on the ‘collapse’ of German socialism in a lecture delivered at the socialist headquarters in Madrid: the Spanish left could not repeat the terrible mistake committed by the German socialists—passively witness the seizure of



power by Nazism. Spanish socialists and the workers’ left in general had to anticipate a fascist putsch by engaging in preventive action before it was too late.2 Such was the objective of the Revolution of October 1934—a failed uprising of the left-wing working class that brought together socialists, communists and anarchists against the new right-wing government. The election of November 1933 had handed victory to the right and sanctioned the failure of the reformist policy carried out hitherto, in view of the catastrophic results of the political forces—left-wing republicanism and socialism—that had governed in the first two years. After two years as minister of a reformist government, Largo Caballero, acclaimed as the ‘Spanish Lenin’ in that electoral campaign, had come to the disturbing conclusion that it was ‘impossible to do a socialist job in a bourgeois democracy’. Some months after the electoral defeat of the left in November 1933, he was moved to assert that the republic was exactly the same as the monarchy, if not worse, ‘at least in the economic realm’ (Largo Caballero 1979: 157). But if the elections of 1933 revealed the problems of a social democratic agenda in the context of the 1930s, the epic failure of the October Revolution demonstrated the absence of historical conditions required for a violent attempt to seize power. Political radicalization and repression against the left exacerbated Spanish socialism’s mistrust of the ‘bourgeois’ state, however much the latter adopted a republican shape. The state was therefore key, with its governors, civil servants, judges and army, the same one that had crushed the October Revolution. Not by chance, the main theoretical socialist review at the time was called Leviatán (1934–36). It contained in its first issue an unusual and barely concealed defence of a real totalitarian state, incompatible with capitalism—‘a totalitarian state within capitalism is a contradiction in concepts and a falseness in fact’—and a sentence by Engels, taken as the quintessential Marxist definition of the state: ‘[It] is nothing but a machine for the oppression of one class by another, and indeed in a democratic republic no less than in a monarchy’.3 So the Spanish Republic was a class state in the service of the bourgeoisie, either republican or monarchical. End of story. Except for Prieto’s minority liberal sector, the idea of using such a state to reform the country in a progressive way turned out to be ludicrous. To become useful 2   Luis Araquistáin, ‘El derrumbamiento del socialismo alemán’, Archivo Histórico Nacional, Madrid, Diversos. Papeles de Luis Araquistáin, box 46/D 30. 3  Leviatán, no. 1, May 1934.



and reliable, public administration had to be previously and largely reformed ‘in all its spheres’, as the PSOE’s electoral programme would read in January 1936. But events accelerated, and the Bolshevik line of the socialist majority, headed by Caballero and inspired by Araquistáin and other radical intellectuals, had to adapt to a rapidly changing political context. The desire for an amnesty for the victims of the repression of the failed October Revolution paved the way for a new coalition with the republicans led by Manuel Azaña, the epitome of left-wing ‘bourgeois’ republicanism. In spite of the solemn statement issued by Caballero in 1933—never again an alliance with the bourgeois forces—it was impossible for the PSOE to resist the support of the Popular Front, the coalition that would free the prisoners of October—among them thousands of socialists. The Popular Front, constituted in early 1936, was an anti-fascist coalition, rather than a solid project shared by its members: socialists, republicans and communists. Its very strength lay in the fear of fascism and the demand for amnesty, powerful enough to convince Caballero of the inevitability of a coalition with republicans. Still, as the main PSOE leader, ‘the Spanish Lenin’ made it clear that no socialist would form part of the government in the event of an electoral victory. The republicans should govern alone, with, at most, socialist support in parliament. Things happened more or less as expected. The new coalition won the election held in February 1936—the last election in Spain until 1977. It was a clear victory in terms of seats, but a tight result in number of votes. The PSOE fulfilled its commitment and reluctantly supported a weak republican government waiting for what Caballero enigmatically called ‘the decisive moment’ (a reactionary coup d’état?, a social revolution?: probably both at once). When in May 1936 his main rival in the party, Indalecio Prieto, was entrusted with the formation of a government by the new president, Manuel Azaña, he had to refuse the offer due to opposition from the socialist parliamentary group, led by Caballero. This was perhaps the last opportunity to save the ‘bourgeois republic’, as it was scornfully termed by the workers’ left, including the radical and majority wing of the PSOE.  As socialist MP and Caballero’s advisor Luis Araquistáin said in 1959, shortly before dying in exile, the plan was to weaken the liberal republic, instead of reinforcing it with a government presided by a socialist, even assuming the risk of a triumphant military uprising. ‘Don’t you believe we were barbarians?’ he rhetorically asked the person who recorded his testimony (Marichal 1982: 124).



‘Let’s Make Spain Work’: A New Socialism for a New Country In 1974, one year before Franco’s death, membership of the illegal PSOE officially numbered around 2000; even less, according to Gregorio Peces-­ Barba, a young university professor and future speaker of the Spanish Parliament. Its presence in most of the regions was so limited that it is no exaggeration to say that the PSOE scarcely existed outside three or four cities or provinces: Madrid, Seville, Biscay and perhaps Asturias, with a predominance of members of the professional middle classes in the two cities and of working class in the two northern regions. In sum, as a result of the defeat in the war and the subsequent repression, membership and territorial establishment of Spanish socialism had receded to late nineteenth-­century levels. So the considerable increase in anti-Francoist opposition from the 1960s onwards had scarcely benefitted the Socialist Party and Union, due to the much greater attraction that the Communist Party (PCE) exerted among the new working class, intellectuals, students and young liberal professionals. Some members of the latter—lawyers, in the main—were also attracted to the emerging Christian Democracy. In Catalonia, where the PSOE and UGT always struggled to flourish, they encountered the unbeatable competition of the very well organized and funded Catalan nationalism. There thus seemed to be no possibility for socialism to recover its prior prominence in a post-Franco scenario. This, according to most eminent political scientists, such as Juan Linz, would evolve towards a democratic system with a political map set up in an Italian fashion: an all-­ powerful Christian Democracy on the right, a majority Communist Party on the left. But the PSOE, under the leadership of the young lawyer Felipe González (Seville, 1942), succeeded firstly in breaking with the old organization in exile, headed by the veteran Rodolfo Llopis, supporter of Largo Caballero in the 1930s, and secondly in building a new organization focused on the melting pot of the industrial working class and an urban middle class arisen from the rapid modernization of the 1960s. The outstanding political talent of Felipe González and Alfonso Guerra, secretary-general and deputy secretary-general of the PSOE, respectively; the financial support of the German SPD—27 million marks between 1975 and 1980 via Ebert Foundation (Juliá 1997: 471)—, the existence of a significant demand for a moderate left and the deep-rooted anti-­communism



of large social sectors very soon favoured an explosive growth of the PSOE and the UGT.  In its first congress in Spain after the Civil War, held in December 1976, the Party announced that it had 9141 members, still a modest number, but at least four times greater than two years earlier. In the following months the Socialist Union rose in unprecedented fashion from 120,000 in March 1977 to half a million in July, just after the first democratic elections of June 1977, in which the PSOE won 118 seats, became the main opposition force, a long way ahead of the Communist Party (20 seats), and achieved the best result in its 100-year history. Significantly, 31.4 per cent of the new socialist MPs were civil servants, most of them teachers or professors. The next most representative profession was lawyer (23 per cent). At the end of 1977, PSOE membership reached 200,000 (Gillespie 1991: 350), so in three years the membership of the party had increased tenfold. Clearly, new democracy sat very well with Spanish socialism. Unlike in 1931, the main preoccupation of the socialist leaders vis-à-vis the state, in addition to its ideological links with the past, was its amazing weakness. This was the lesson drawn by Alfonso Guerra from a conversation held in 1976 with two officials of the intelligence services that the monarchy inherited from Francoism. The information they managed on the forces of the opposition was, according to Guerra, so unworthy that such a lack of professionalism could only be explained by the extreme inefficiency of the public service. Literally, there was no state, but an archaic and unwieldy power structure, and regarding this issue everything remained to be done (Guerra 2004: 171–3). This diagnosis mirrored a general assumption in relation to the tremendous deficiencies of the state, conceived in the recent past as an alter ego of Francoism, and to the urgent need to implement a real welfare state. Guerra’s appraisal probably exaggerated the gap between the visibility of the state, particularly of its repressive forces, and its poor performance in terms of public service. The overall modernization of the country in the 1960s also represented an at least partial professionalization of public administration as a result of the new criteria introduced by the technocratic sector of Francoism, linked to Opus Dei and increasingly influential in the last years of Franco’s dictatorship. Still, Guerra’s anecdote regarding the amateurism of the intelligence services echoed a certain cliché vis-à-vis the backwardness of the Francoist state compatible with its authoritarian nature. This perception leads one to reconsider the assumption of Francoism as an overwhelming power



structure. The true equation, according to Guerra’s testimony, would be: the more authoritarian the state, the less efficient it was. The strong reinforcement of the welfare state during the democratic transition, in terms of improvement of health, education, unemployment benefits and pensions, as well as the substantial increase in the public budget under the centrist (Unión de Centro Democrático: UCD) government in the late 1970s, prove that this was a very widespread concern at the time. But socialism more than any other political force succeeded in representing the desire for a genuine modernization of public services, to the benefit of both the users, who would receive a more efficient service, and the civil servants, who would enjoy greater social consideration and opportunities for career advancement. This key aspect of the socialist agenda was undoubtedly related to the increasing importance of the administrative middle class in the socio-­professional foundations and cadres of Spanish socialism. Thus, at the PSOE congress held in September 1979, civil servants constituted by far the largest group (23 per cent of the delegates), followed by self-employed professionals (8 per cent), salaried professionals (7 per cent) and qualified workers (7 per cent). Other categories (students, agricultural workers, pensioners, housewives, etc.) barely totalled one per cent each (El País, 30 September 1979). Amazingly, when the organizers publicly read the results of this sociological analysis, the attendees booed the figure of civil servants, a reaction difficult to interpret except as the expression of a sort of socialist atavism: the rejection of the (bourgeois/Francoist) state and the ‘privileges’ associated with it. According to this sample at least, the Socialist Party had become an organization of civil servants and by extension of the middle class, more than a working-class party. In 1980, the industrial and ‘white-collar’ workers represented 36 per cent of the members. If we added the farm workers, the figure would reach 54 per cent, though the available statistics seem to reveal all kinds of people active in agriculture, probably including small owners representative of a rural middle class. On the other hand, a not insignificant part of socialist industrial workers were employed in public enterprises and were therefore, if not civil servants, at least state employees. These statistics do not include specific information for civil servants as such, but allow us to infer a remarkable proportion of people dependent upon a public salary or allowance. Pensioners, with a striking 21 per cent, and the unemployed, with 8 per cent, many of them receiving unemployment benefits, represented almost a third of the PSOE’s members in 1980 (Tezanos 1981: 129). An overall impression of the socio-professional



structure of Spanish socialism, according to this data, would lead to these elemental findings. The PSOE was a social microcosm quite similar to Spain at that time. However, the proportion of members dependent upon the welfare state was probably higher than the national rate. This second keynote of Spanish socialism fuelled an increasingly common assumption, which became a very anti-socialist myth in the 1980s and 1990s, regarding a sort of osmosis between socialism and state, the latter providing a livelihood for millions of PSOE members and voters. This horizon was still a long way away in the late 1970s, when the party attempted to grow in votes so as to overcome the centrist UCD, and in leading cadres. The agreement signed in 1978 with the Partido Socialista Popular (PSP), headed by professor Tierno Galván, to formalize integration within the PSOE reinforced the mesocratic profile of the old Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. Although the PSP did not add many voters to the PSOE electorate (Tierno’s party won only six seats in 1977), it would provide a number of highly qualified civil servants—university professors and diplomats, for instance—for a party in real need of leaders and cadres with a view to a future accession to power. Perhaps no other party in Spanish history but the ephemeral PSP has so clearly represented the political mobilization of the left-wing senior ranks of the civil service. So the merger of the PSP with the PSOE in 1978 strengthened the PSOE’s middle-class profile, with civil servants becoming increasingly influential. This probably contributed to the sudden and, for many socialists, perplexing shift towards the centre led by Felipe González in 1979, when he asked for the reference to Marxism in the party programme to be removed or at least downgraded. This request nearly provoked a schism in Spanish socialism, but he got away with it: to convey to non-socialist Spain—that is, to the party’s potential voters—an image of respectability and change, of progress and order, directed at a large social amalgam of middle and working classes. All these sectors, however different they were, might feel attracted to a reformist programme that put the state at the very centre of the political agenda. For those paid out of the public budget— civil servants, unemployed, workers in the large public industrial holdings, pensioners, even the armed forces—making the state viable and stronger was of vital importance to their corporative interests and their survival as a socio-professional group. And for those professional groups in the private sector, it was also imperative to complete the transition from the oppressive and inefficient power structure inherited from Francoism to a modern state suitably prepared for Spain’s entry into the European community.



This doubly interwoven project—the modernization of the state and the Europeanization of the country—clearly echoed two visionary arguments defended by José Ortega y Gasset a lifetime earlier: that the PSOE should be the party that ‘Europeanized’ Spain (1909) and that, on the eve of Second Republic, Spain lacked a real state—‘Spaniards: your state does not exist: rebuild it!’ (1930).4 This old spirit vis-à-vis the need to place Spain ‘abreast of the times’ (Ortega y Gasset) was intuitively revived by Felipe González in 1982, in the midst of the irreversible crisis of the UCD government, and became the core of the socialist campaign during that decisive election, one year after Antonio Tejero’s failed coup d’État and just before the highly predictable electoral collapse of the UCD. The official slogan of the PSOE was ‘For change!’, but the underlying message and the colloquial explanation employed by Felipe González to give sense to the whole socialist project was ‘Let’s make Spain work’ (Que España funcione), a phrase that, as González asserted much later, ‘people understood pretty well’ and which involved ‘a pact for res publica’ (Iglesias 2005: II, 535–6). He was certainly correct. Otherwise, it would be impossible to explain the PSOE’s remarkable election victory in October 1982. Those 10 million votes (48 per cent) and 202 seats in a parliament of 350 represented by far the best electoral result obtained by any political force in the history of democracy in Spain. In political and symbolic terms, the general election of 1982 brought an end to the democratic transition, which succeeded in democratically returning to power those who had violently lost it 40 years earlier. But such an unprecedented victory obliged the PSOE to turn ‘change’, whatever that meant, into a real policy capable of satisfying the massive support of a very heterogeneous electorate. Hitherto, the socialist leaders and strategists had managed a calculated ambiguity towards public service and its imperative reform: no more privileges and waste; efficiency above all else (Gillespie 1991: 426). In late 1982 began a long period of socialist hegemony that lasted until 1996. The time of ambiguity was over. A complex and contradictory combination of factors, strongly influenced by the international conjuncture, conditioned the policy of the González government vis-à-vis the reform and modernization of the state. The beginning of the so-called conservative revolution with the accession to power of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan in the UK and USA, respectively, produced an extremely 4

 José Ortega y Gasset, ‘El error Berenguer’, El Sol, 15 November 1930.



unfavourable environment for the social democratic agenda of the PSOE. In addition to that, the failure of the programme of nationalizations implemented by the French socialist-communist government from 1981 onwards seemed to advise against adopting a similar model in Spain. As a result, the economic politics of the González government followed a rather neo-liberal line. Instead of nationalizing private companies, it launched an ambitious and socially risky plan of privatizations and shutdown of public plants and companies. So many of those qualified workers of the public industry who had voted socialist in 1982 became the first victims of the new economic politics. Civil servants constituted another social group that could feel let down by a government whose first measures regarding the reform of public administration were aimed at removing some minor ‘privileges’ of the sector in terms of working incompatibilities, strict fulfilment of the timetable and retirement age of judges and university professors, reduced from 70 to 65 years much to the chagrin of those affected. The unemployed were the third group of potentially disappointed socialist voters due to the impossibility in the short term of creating the 800,000 jobs promised in the PSOE electoral programme. Significant perhaps was the evolution of the socialist vote in Sagunto (Valencia), the city that represented the epicentre of the struggle against the socialist industrial restructuring aimed at significantly reducing the loss-making sectors of public industry: electoral support for the PSOE in Sagunto fell from 62.9 per cent in 1982 to 39.4 per cent in 1986. Still, it seems paradoxical that the Socialist Party had to put an end to the huge industrial holding implemented under Francoism. Other successful aspects of the socialist era, such as the entry into the European Community and the strong economic recovery from 1985 onwards, partly compensated for the frustration of many PSOE voters, those who in 1982 voted not for left-wing policies but for a project of ‘regeneration’, ‘modernization’ and ‘change’. Some of those votes probably never returned. A growing sector of the urban middle class and the civil servants began to be drawn to the conservative offer—fewer taxes, more law and order—of Alianza Popular (Partido Popular as of 1989). However, the PSOE succeeded in maintaining the support of large popular sectors thanks to Felipe González’s personal prestige and the idea of stability conveyed by his government. If the unrest among civil servants, as part of the (again) ‘suffering middle class’, nurtured the right’s aspirations for a return to power, unemployed and pensioners constituted, along with housewives, the bulk of the remaining socialist electorate (almost 60



per cent of the socialist votes in 1996) (Urquizu-Sancho 2009: 9). The welfare state—not exactly public service—had become the main source of votes for a decaying socialism that lost power in 1996 after almost 14 years in government. Hence the aforementioned assumption with regard to the importance for socialism of a subsidized electorate, especially in southern Spain (Andalucia, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura), the main geographical origin of the ‘captive vote’—as termed by the right—retained by the PSOE in its long and slow electoral decline during the 1990s. Catalonia, by contrast, represented the opposite pole in terms of the socio-­ professional structure of the socialist electorate: more middle class—usually alternating between socialism and Catalan nationalism—than in the rest of Spain, but also more working class, in the once mythical ‘red belt’ of Barcelona. There was also less ‘captive vote’, which perhaps explains the singular volatility of the PSOE vote in Catalonia. As a matter of fact, if such a ‘captive vote’ existed in this region, it was subsidized by nationalism, rather than by socialism when it governed in Spain. * * * If not in electoral terms, in the socio-professional origin of its cadres and leaders, the new PSOE of the democratic transition became a party of civil servants. Twenty-three per cent of the delegates at the extraordinary Congress of 1979 (that of the renunciation of Marxism) and a slightly higher percentage at the Congress of 1981 belonged to the civil service, which made this group by far the largest in numerical terms; 31.4 per cent of the socialist MPs elected in 1977 and no less than 52 per cent of those elected in 1982 were civil servants, mostly teachers and professors (65.5 per cent of the socialist MPs). This last fact recalls the importance of teachers among PSOE MPs of the republic, but there is probably a significant subjective difference: the awareness of and somehow the pride in belonging to the public service were much greater in Felipe González’s generation than before. Eleven of the 18 members of González’s government appointed in 1982 were civil servants. The spectacular transformation undergone by Spanish socialism from the transition onwards was partly the result of a profound social change that occurred in the 1960s–70s and was confirmed by Rodolfo Llopis, the veteran exiled socialist leader, when in 1976 he regretted that in Spain there were no longer any ‘smock’ workers. As far as we know, in the social composition of the socialist electorate ‘non-actives’, that is, housewives,



students, unemployed, retirees, and so on, were predominant: 61.8 per cent of socialist voters in 1982, ten points higher than the national rate (51.4 per cent). So though its membership and electorate revealed ‘a high level of heterogeneity’ from a socio-professional perspective (Tezanos 1983: 101), consistent with a quintessential catch-all party like the PSOE, the non-actives prevailed among its voters, whereas the civil servants were increasingly predominant as one climbed its corporate ladder: delegates at the party congresses (23 per cent in 1979), MPs (52 per cent in 1982) and ministers (61 per cent in the first González government). All things considered, the welfare state turned out to be the meeting point between two opposite but convergent social sectors of Spanish socialism: some administrative elites with a professional career linked to the public service and a mass of quite disciplined voters who benefitted from public allowances. As ever, the question was who paid the piper, in other words, who funded that welfare state increasingly criticized by taxpayers and the richest regions. The shift of taxpayers towards the right (the Popular Party) in the 1990s was an easily predictable phenomenon, similar to what happened in other Western democracies. But the problems of sustainability of the welfare state also sparked the unwillingness of the wealthiest regions, mainly Catalonia, to pay their financial bills. Perhaps the greatest paradox of these two interwoven questions is that a sector of Spanish left has assumed the arguments wielded by Catalan nationalism concerning the tax relationship with the state, which might be perfectly defined as a sort of territorial Thatcherism: ‘Give me my money back!’ A comparative glance at the two experiences of socialism in power in the twentieth century offers some useful findings. The Second Republic was a counter-model for Spanish socialism from the transition onwards, a repertoire of mistakes to avoid, somewhat like the Weimar Republic after Hitler’s rise to power in 1933 supposedly proved the failure of the reformist road to socialism. Hitherto the Weimar Constitution had been, along with the experience of Labour Government in Britain, the main source of inspiration for a socialism from above mainly practised by Largo Caballero as Minister of Labour in 1931–33. It was ‘the Fabian moment’ of Spanish socialism, followed by the abrupt Bolshevik turn of the summer of 1933 that converted Caballero into the Spanish Lenin. If Germany, Britain and the Soviet Union constituted the unsuccessful foreign models for the PSOE in the 1920s and 1930s, the Spanish transition and the socialist governments of the 1980s and 1990s became a possible model for old communist regimes living their own transition after the fall of the Berlin



Wall. Hence the rather frustrating experience of the minister of economy, Carlos Solchaga, as adviser of Fidel Castro’s government in its failed economic transition in the early 1990s (Solchaga 2017: 666–9), or the holding of a seminar in Moscow in July 1991 on the democratic Spain with the participation of Felipe González and Alfonso Guerra—a seminar that, incidently, was a complete organizational disaster due to the lack of political interest of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and its exorbitant economic requests.5 The moral one can draw from Spanish politics as transmitter or receptor of historical models is that they are very difficult to transfer from one reality to another, except when they generate a negative consensus as faulty models that must be avoided. The idea that the Spanish left should not repeat the mistakes of the Second Republic belongs to the historical legacy of Felipe González’s generation, born in the 1940s. But the benefits of that assumption lost effectiveness over time and new problems emerged that the following generations of socialist leaders had to face with fresh ideas. However, in spite of the remarkable changes experienced in the last years, the PSOE is still a Janus Bifrons, as a Spanish analyst has recently said with regard to its social base—‘the reference party of the Labourist Spain and the home of a state petite bourgeoisie’.6 This social bipolarity probably explains its historical strength and its electoral versatility coinciding with the appearance of new political competitors (mainly Ciudadanos on the right and Podemos on the left) in the early twenty-first century.

References Contreras, Manuel. 1981. El PSOE en la II República. Organización e ideología. Madrid: Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas. García Abad, José. 2012. El hundimiento socialista. Del esplendor del 82 al cataclismo del 20-N. Barcelona: Planeta. Gillespie, Richard. 1991. Historia del Partido Socialista Obrero Español. Madrid: Alianza. Guerra, Alfonso. 2004. Cuando el tiempo nos alcanza. Memorias (1940–1982). Madrid: Espasa-Calpe. Iglesias, María Antonia. 2005. La memoria recuperada. Lo que nunca han contado Felipe González y los dirigentes socialistas. Vol. 2 vols. Madrid: Punto de Encuentro. 5 6

 ‘Desastrosa organización soviética de la Universidad de Verano’, ABC, 10 July 1991.  Enric Juliana, ‘La izquierda en depresión’, La Vanguardia, 26 July 2019.



Juliá, Santos. 1997. Los socialistas en la política española, 1879–1982. Madrid: Taurus. Largo Caballero, Francisco. 1979. Discursos a los trabajadores. Barcelona: Fontamara. Marichal, Juan. 1982. La vocación de Manuel Azaña. Madrid: Alianza. Solchaga, Carlos. 2017. Las cosas como son. Diarios de un político socialista (1980–1994). Madrid: Galaxia Gutenberg. Tezanos, José Félix. 1981. Estructura y dinámica de la afiliación socialista en España. Revista de Estudios Políticos 23 (September–October): 117–152. ———. 1983. Sociología del socialismo español. Madrid: Tecnos. Urquizu-Sancho, Ignacio. 2009. Treinta años de comunicación y política en España. Estudio/Working Paper 2009/1, Revista On Line del Grupo de Trabajo ‘Walter Lippmann’. Departamento de Sociología VI, Universidad Complutense de Madrid. Vargas, Bruno. 1999. Rodolfo Llopis (1895–1983). Madrid: Planeta.


The Swedish Social Democracy: Civil Servants, Social Engineers and Welfare Bureaucrats Kjell Östberg

In 1932, a Swedish social democratic government came to power. The Social Democratic Party would stay in government for the next 44 years. It was to develop what was, for its time, an advanced reform program: a Keynesianinfluenced economic policy, a new unemployment policy, family allowances and a public housing program, to mention just a few of the items on its program (Sejersted 2011). But how were these new policies to be implemented? Sweden’s traditional state bureaucracy was broadly Weberian in its outlines, its staff relatively well-paid and free of corruption. Long after the end of World War II, all levels of the Swedish state bureaucracy continued to be dominated by civil servants with conservative values. It was often jokingly said of some government offices that their only Social Democrats were the minister and the janitor—and not without reason. At a time when there was significant social bias in law school recruitment (Anton 1980), most senior civil

K. Östberg (*) Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




servants held a law degree. Until the 1960s, few ministerial posts—aside from those of the ministers themselves—were reserved for political appointees. Sweden’s public administration differed in some respects from that of many other countries. The ministries were rather small. Responsibility for the actual implementation of public policy fell to and still falls to semi-­ autonomous national boards. The ministries are not supposed to intervene in the work of these boards. These factors, of course, made it still more complicated for the social democratic government to implement its policy; there was always a risk that it would be delayed or sabotaged (Rothstein 1985, 1996). From a comparative, international perspective, the social democratic movement was effectively organized and produced strong leadership on all levels. The Social Democratic Party was deeply embedded in local social networks. In many areas, social democratic hegemony was total. In Gramscian terms, the movement’s leaders, who were primarily of proletarian origin, were organic or movement intellectuals. This means that they were products of social movements rather than of traditional educational institutions and elite power groups (Gramsci 1971; Eyerman and Jamison 1991). The task of these intellectuals had initially been to establish and organize the social democratic movement. As the party came to exert decisive influence over Swedish politics, its intellectuals increasingly came to focus on developing the welfare state. Starting at the local level, they provided the foundations for a rapidly growing social democratic welfare state bureaucracy. At the same time, the party increasingly felt called upon to recruit a more specialized—and, in one sense, more traditional—type of intellectual: that traditionally produced by the institutions of the educated elite. The following analysis focuses on these processes.

Social Engineers and the Expansion of the Welfare State A first step toward solving this problem confronting the new social democratic government was to forge links with the young academics who had become radicalized by the political polarization of the 1930s. Its efforts paid off, leading to the emergence of the first generation of social engineers. This cohort developed and implemented reform projects on behalf of the new government. A circle formed in Stockholm around the Myrdal couple, Alva and Gunnar. Its members managed to effectively combine the roles of scientist, agitator, political actor, expert investigator and state bureaucrat and included economists, architects, physicians, sociologists



and psychologists as well as writers and other creative intellectuals. The members of the Myrdal circle took part in some of the central social and political discussions of their day: the housing question, new economic policies, unemployment, population issues, education, childcare, health care and so on. They drafted government reports, academic papers and pamphlets and published cultural magazines. Some also entered the administration and became practical reformers. Alf Johansson, perhaps the most talented economist of the Stockholm School, left academia to become the head of the Housing Board. It is interesting to note that several of the circle’s participants were women, some of whom later became members of government (Alva Myrdal, Karin Koch, Ulla Alm-Lindström) (Eyerman and Jamison 1991; Gunnar Myrdal 1982). For the same reasons, the Social Democratic Party was also interested in maintaining good contacts with the inter-war, radical, sometimes Marxist-influenced student movements. Out of this milieu, the party recruited a number of radical young academics who were to play prominent roles in the party and the Swedish state. Tage Erlander, later party leader and long-time prime minister, was linked to this milieu. As a result, in the late 1930s Social Democrats oversaw a number of central national boards of particular interest to the government: Social Democrats: the Boards of Health and Welfare, the Board of Housing, the National School Board and what was to become the Labor Market Board. World War II put social democratic social reforms on hold. Once it had come to an end, calls for social reform once again took off. The development of a Fordist welfare state was an international phenomenon but the ambitions of Swedish Social Democrats were greater than those of their counterparts in other countries. Economic conditions were also better in Sweden, where the war had left industry intact. Yet the number of social democratic sympathizers possessing the formal qualifications required for higher administrative posts in government remained quite limited. In 1950, fewer than 10 percent of young people—almost exclusively drawn from the country’s bourgeoisie—attended college. The diaries of Prime Minister Tage Erlander are full of complaints regarding the difficulty of finding reliable candidates for his administration’s principal posts. The radical 1930s had given way to the less ideological 1950s and the anti-­ Communism of the Cold War had increased his party’s weariness of left-­ leaning intellectuals. “We’ll buy them when we need them”, said his Minister of Finance (Östberg 2008). Erlander’s complaints did not just concern the purely administrative side of government. He was also aware



of how the development of social democratic politics might be hampered by the scarcity of intellectuals with ties to government circles. He received some support from a neighboring intellectual scene centering on the well-­ known LO-economists Gösta Rehn and Rudolf Meidner. The latter formulated an advanced program for economic and labor market policies: the Rehn-Meidner model (Sejersted 2011). In the meantime, the Minister of Social Affairs, Gustaf Möller—perhaps the central architect of the welfare state—was advocating an innovative alternative solution to the problem. Deliberately establishing a new type of administration in certain key areas would serve to counter the risk that the traditional bureaucracy would sabotage the social democratic government’s social-political offensive. In these areas, bureaucrats were largely recruited from the labor movement or other popular organizations. This was in particular the case of the National Labor Market Board, which played a key role in implementing the government’s crucial labor market policy. In contrast to the Weberian model of bureaucracy, no specific consideration was to be given to formal merit, though “the existence of theoretical education should, of course, not be looked upon as a disqualification”, Möller told his critics.1 However, this unconventional way of running government activities via the recruitment of “street-level bureaucrats” was limited to a few spheres in which activity was significantly decentralized (Rothstein 1985, 1996).

A Local Welfare Bureaucracy The construction of the Swedish welfare state was to a large extent the affair of local government. Traditionally, towns and municipalities were responsible for poverty relief, elementary education and care of the elderly. The rapid development of the post-war years reinforced this structure. The vast expansion of the educational system, a large-scale housing program and the explosion in public childcare all fell under the purview of local administrations (Gustafsson 1988). Early on, the Social Democrats won a majority of seats in a large number of local government assemblies. By the end of the 1930s, three-fourths of Sweden’s towns were governed by a left-wing majority. Therefore, the issue of how the party was to create a competent and powerful leadership at the local administrative level was a political question of the first order. This problem was aggravated by the 1

 Gustav Möller, Parliamentary discussion, Second Chamber 1943: 31, 35.



fact that a significant portion of local government administrative functions were assigned to volunteers, who served on elected but unremunerated commissions. This held, for instance, for most poor relief, including its coercive apparatus. In rural districts before World War II, it was rare for local officials to be remunerated and most local governments lacked a modern administrative structure (Östberg 1996). Until the 1950s, the country counted more than 2000 cities and municipalities. Even after the administrative reorganization of 1952, there were still more than 1000 of them. Only larger towns had a bureaucracy worthy of the name. By tradition, and because of the limited resources available to each of the many small units, most of the municipalities’ administrative tasks were carried out by elected representatives. The vast majority of the Social Democrats elected to local office were (industrial) workers. As the scope of their local political functions grew, it became obvious that social divisions between manual and intellectual labor would make it impossible to combine this work with the municipalities’ governing duties. It was therefore necessary to provide material support for local political work. This, in turn, led to the creation of a local labor elite. In practice, it became common to elect leading Social Democrats to the administrative posts of municipal manager or clerk. There were also other jobs that did not require formal political connections but were instead appointed by municipal bodies, to which Social Democrats sought to get their candidates elected. Such was the case, among others, for teachers, social administrators, local policemen and even clergymen. There could, of course, be many reasons why Social Democrats sought to politicize these appointments. It might be in the interest of the labor movement, for example, to ensure that teachers or policemen were sympathetic to the workers’ cause. The politicization of these posts could also be seen as an expression of clientelism, a way of favoring one’s sympathizers—a trend long familiar to Italian and North American politics. Whatever the case, this process supplied a material basis for greater Social Democratic influence over local politics. A second social democratic recruitment pool for top municipal positions consisted of those who already worked full-time within the labor movement as journalists, cooperative store managers and so on. The evolution of what we may refer to as a local welfare bureaucracy was linked to the expansion of the welfare state and facilitated by the policies pursued by Möller. The latter were predicated on the recruitment of thousands of officials in the local labor exchanges and social insurance bureaus. The



result was the creation of a population of full-time officials who constituted a thickly woven and cohesive social group that may be defined as a local social democratic welfare state bureaucracy (Mandel 1992). This group played a central role in building the welfare state at the local level, especially during the 1960s and early 1970s, which are often considered the golden years of Swedish social democracy. The party could then look back on 30 uninterrupted years in power and the connection between the party’s social democratic politics, the country’s increased prosperity and the expansion of the welfare state seemed self-evident to ever-larger numbers of Swedes. The party’s support among the voters grew after pension reform was finalized in the late 1950s and, in 1962, the party received more than half of all votes cast. In just over a decade, the public sector’s share of GNP doubled and Sweden became the most advanced country in the world in point of general welfare. As a result, almost all welfare institutions—social security, healthcare, education, child and elderly care—were publicly financed, owned and run, as was a large share of the housing sector (Esping-Andersen 1990; Sejersted 2011). The welfare bureaucracy entered a new phase. The great expansion of the educational and social sectors, social planning, and so on created a constantly growing need to recruit additional administrators. This expansion in itself created new recruitment possibilities. The increasingly inclusive recruitment in higher education resulted in a substantial increase of young radical intellectuals ready to contribute to building a new society. A growing number of students came from social democratic homes. One cannot ignore the likelihood that students were motivated by the hope that association with social democracy would benefit their future careers or, to put it less crassly, that such a link would provide young intellectuals with a better chance of translating their social-reformist ambitions into political action. Government offices were also increasingly subjected to a more direct kind of politicization. For the first time, openly political assignments were made. This was first discernable within the Prime Minister’s Office, where the term “Tage’s [Erlander] boys” soon became a common term for describing a certain group of young men who had been mainly recruited from the social democratic student clubs. After the shift in party leadership, this phenomenon acquired a new nickname: “Palme’s boys”. During the 1970s, the number of political positions quickly increased within the ministries. One could say that the character of the state bureaucracy changed over two or three decades. One factor facilitating this process was, of course,



the length of time the Social Democrats governed the country. Another was the social expansion of higher educational recruitment. For long, only a small percentage of government employees possessed working-class origins. By 1970, one-third of all civil servants under 40—that is, those belonging to a recently recruited cohort—had such a background. Still another factor was the shift in values brought about by the newly recruited civil servants. Social science, sociology and social work replaced the law as the preferred background for civil servants. During the inter-war period, a clear majority of civil servants had been lawyers. By the 1970s, their share had fallen below 25 percent (Anton 1980). Having experience in political work became a considerable advantage. Social Democratic Party membership was considered an important qualification for higher office in the state bureaucracy. No longer was it just the director generals of the Welfare, Health and Labor Market Boards who were Social Democrats. So, too, were the directors of the most important national boards: the railway system, telecommunications grid, postal service and universities were now run by party members. In 1975, when Sweden acquired a social democratic commander-in-chief, the last conservative bastion had fallen. There were, of course, still a large number of high-­ranking civil servants who did not belong to the party and, in such areas as the police and military, Social Democrats were clearly in a minority. Still there were no major conflicts. According to political scientist Thomas J.  Anton, civil servants evinced substantial support for the general development of the political system, leading him to describe them as “soft activists” ready to implement whatever policies were adopted (Anton 1980). Many of the new welfare state bureaucrats could still be defined as movement intellectuals. Their careers had often begun within the Social Democratic Party and remained connected with it. The expansion of higher education recruitment meant that this generation, more than earlier ones, was rooted in the working and the lower-middle classes. This may also have reflected the egalitarian traits of the people’s movements, a tradition that long characterized the Social Democratic Party apparatus. The generation of intellectuals that had been recruited to the social democratic movement came to assume a central role in Swedish politics and administration. The impact of this generation was felt for several decades afterwards. Its strength is confirmed by a widely recounted anecdote. In 1976, the Social Democrats lost power for the first time since 1932. When the new liberal Minister of Education met with his staff at the ministry for the first time, he looked out on a “forest of red pins”. Demonstratively



worn, the red pin was a symbol of adherence to the social democratic movement.2

The Rise of the Femocrats The gradual strengthening of the Social Democrats’ grip on the state bureaucracy also opened up the possibility of reforming parts of it. Further, it provided space for improvisation. The institutionalization of gender politics is a good example (Florin 1999). A striking number of reforms adopted in the early 1970s bore the stamp of gender equality. This was to a great extent a result of the institutionalization of gender politics. The Social Democrats’ extensive reform program aimed at increasing equality between men and women. It was stimulated by two contemporary developments. One was the rise of the second wave of feminism, which had been launched by social democratic and liberal women in the mid-1960s. The second was the manpower shortage in Swedish industry and the efforts to attract women to positions within this sector. As mentioned above, the Labor Market Board was more informal in its organization than other parts of the bureaucracy. It initiated the “detail for the activation of certain labor resources”—that is, women—and recruited a number of women with backgrounds in progressive feminist circles to run its activities. These women soon expanded the scope of their work from merely urging women to take industrial jobs to raising the issue of essential, extensive social reforms aimed at enabling women to combine work and family. Simultaneously, a number of government commissions were formed to promote that same goal. When the time had come to implement these proposals, a new step was taken to integrate gender equality into the state structures. There were some concerns among women that the reforms would be delayed or blocked by reluctant men. They formed an alliance with Prime Minister Olof Palme, who had come out as a strong supporter of gender equality in 1972, and encouraged him to form a new “Council on Equality between Men and Women” directly linked with his own chancellery and under the chairmanship of his undersecretary.3 The council had the power to set its stamp on political proposals and bills in many different fields. It cooperated with other parts of the government, government boards, Parliament 2 3

 The incident described by participants in Konnander 2006: 8.  The role of Palme is discussed in Florin 1999: 64–68.



and all of corporatist Sweden, including trade unions and employers’ associations, popular movements and of course feminist organizations. Over the course of the following decade, an impressive number of reforms were implemented in the area of gender equality. It is of course difficult to measure the concrete impact of the council’s work but it would be no exaggeration to say that the women who oversaw its daily work constituted the first generation of Swedish femocrats. As such, they also set an example for the future of gender politics in the country.

An Increasingly Contested Corporative Model My main thesis is that Swedish social democracy had clear and extensive reform ambitions and purposefully set about laying the foundations to realize its program. But it was a reformist party. Even though Social Democrats sought to change the power relations between the working class and the bourgeoisie, they wished to abolish neither the free market nor capitalism. Nor did they promote state socialism. In Sweden, conservative governments have pushed through a greater number of nationalizations than have Social Democrats. While taking pains to gain control of the state administration, the post-war Social Democrats were instrumental in developing strong corporative structures for the purpose of institutionalizing class cooperation and “regulating” class struggle. The government’s relationship to the labor market played a crucial role here. In the 1938 agreement reached in Saltsjöbaden, a small town near Stockholm, LO and the employers’ associations committed themselves to avoid conflicts in the labor market. The agreement was institutionalized by way of strongly centralized negotiation order. The system was a great success; until the early 1970s, Sweden ranked among the nations with the lowest number of strikes. The “Saltsjöbad spirit” was paralleled by “Harpsund democracy”. The latter was symbolized by the regular meetings arranged by the Social Democratic government at the prime minister’s summer residence in Harpsund, where representatives of government, labor market actors and large interest organizations (industrial and banking lobbies as well as cooperative and farmers associations) met for discussions. These discussions often supplied the guiding principles of the government’s long-term policies (Rothstein 1987; Sejersted 2011). These interest organizations were usually represented in the policy-creating state commissions—such as important institutions in Sweden—as well as in the leadership of many government offices. Other power centers in society



were thus offered an opportunity to have a say in the formulation of government policy. In this context, the corporative model obviously made it possible for the Social Democrats to develop and anchor their policy while bypassing parliamentary and administrative structures. This supplied trade unions with an important point of entry for influencing politics. Lack of formal education still made it difficult for LO members to pursue a bureaucratic career in many government offices (Hellberg 1997). Ultimately, the Social Democratic Party paid a price for its successful conquest of the state bureaucracy. In the campaign leading up to the 1976 elections, one of the opposition’s strongest arguments was that a change of power was necessary in order to counteract ever-growing bureaucratization. Forty-four years in power was enough (Ehn et al. 2003). The prevailing social democratic municipal policy, long revered as a symbol of the party’s successful welfare policies, was now presented as the high-handed work of local bureaucratic bigwigs who had lost contact with the electorate. During a brief moment of self-criticism after the election, which the Social Democrats lost, Olof Palme remarked: I can say, with some self-reproach, that in being in power, we have come to appear as the representatives of an establishment. We realized that this criticism from the right was motivated by an attempt to reduce society’s ability to counteract the ravages of so-called market forces and the concentration of power in privately owned businesses. To counteract these things, one needs a strong, effective society…. And that struggle was so hard fought that we forgot our own obligation to try to decentralize the decision-making processes4

When Palme returned to power in 1982, one of his first measures was to appoint a minister whose task was to seek to “humanize and democratize the public sector”. Yet the minister’s efforts were only partly successful. He soon left the government and was not replaced (Östberg 2009). At the same time, the growing radicalism of the 1960s and 1970s largely severed the link between social democracy and Sweden’s young intellectuals. This radicalization in many ways conformed to the international pattern and the issues that engaged Swedish radicals were essentially the same as those engaging young people in other parts of the world: the threat of nuclear war, colonial liberation and the race issue (Östberg 2009). Social 4

 Interview in Daily Sydsvenska Dagbladet, May 16, 1976.



Democratic students played an important role in the first phase of this radicalization. With the advent of the New Left and new social movements, however, relations between radicals and the Social Democratic Party changed. The party became one of the main targets of the New Left, which singled out divisions in the “People’s Home”, challenged the Swedish model’s corporatist compromise and demanded an end to cross-­ class cooperation. The New Left demanded that the democratic process be revitalized and democracy broadened, with some members of the New Left going so far as to criticize the bureaucratization of the state and the labor movement. In contrast to the 1930s, the party responded, like its counterparts abroad, by cutting its organizational links with the Marxist left. Contrary to developments in Germany and France, for instance, these severed ties have never been substantially mended. The Swedish “68er”, who represented a new type of intellectual activist, largely sought other arenas—academia, the mass media, education and institutional care—for realizing the goal of social change. When the Social Democrats returned to power in the early 1980s, the void thus created was filled by a new type of intellectual: the young economist influenced by the era’s neoliberal ideas.

A New Type of Social Democratic Intellectual The economic crisis of the late 1970s hit the Swedish economy hard. This, together with a shift in economic values, diminished the relevance of classical Keynesian solutions. When the party failed to return to government in the 1979 parliamentary elections, many began to call for a change in party orientation. Recalling the role played by economists associated with the Myrdals in the 1930s and trade union economists in the 1950s, the party’s chief economist, Carl Johan Åberg, claimed that it was necessary to once again confer a leading role on economists in addressing the party’s problems.5 The result was the formation of a Club of Economists consisting of social democratic economists. It quickly attracted more than 100 members of various backgrounds. They included trade union economists, including Rehn and Meidner, state bureaucrats and academics with ties to the party. The most important role, however, was played by a group of young people recruited from the Stockholm School of Economics who 5  Carl Johan Åberg “On formation of an economic-political commission” Internal PM, Social Democratic party, November 13, 1976.



were up to date with contemporary economic thinking. They were soon to play an important role in efforts to reorient the party. Some of them were involved in what was termed a Commission on the Future, a body established by the party in anticipation of the 1982 elections. The result was a total reversal of party trends. Although higher industrial profitability had not been a pillar of social democratic economic policy for many years, it was now decided that private enterprise, rather than government intervention, would supply the engine to drive the recovery of the Swedish economy. “Increasing industrial production must be allowed to boost industrial profitability; at the same time, the nation must save more by restraining consumption”, was the party’s message. Priority was given to combating inflation. Public sector growth was to be curbed drastically. A halt was called to all state sector reforms, and municipal growth was confined to two percent, which was much lower than the rate of inflation (Andersson 2006). After the party won the 1982 election, these young economists gathered around Olof Palme’s finance minister, Kjell-Olof Feldt, in what was referred to as the “chancellery right”. There, in the Ministry of Finance, they formed a think tank of “renewers” seeking to move the government in a more market-oriented direction. The Club of Economists assumed a crucial role in this process, developing an extensive program of seminars and study circles in the aim of encouraging wide sections of the party to espouse the new economic thinking. As the driving force of the club, the economist Klas Eklund put it, the goal was to form a “pool of brain power”.6 The work has been successful. To a large degree, the club’s economic program was implemented during the subsequent decade. The club did not, of course, create these new policies itself. They were heavily influenced by international trends. The road to economic growth was no longer that staked out by Keynes. The public sector had to be curbed, made more effective and, perhaps, privatized. Taxes had to be lowered. The economy had to be deregulated. This was what happened. In several respects, this development was more rapid in Sweden than in many other countries. The turn was not uncontroversial—quite the opposite, in fact. The trade unions proclaimed a “war of roses” and the trade union economists demanded a return to more traditional Keynesian policies. Olof Palme supported his finance minister, however, while hoping to be able to soon return to the party’s classical positions. It was necessary to crawl 6

 In an interview made by the author in Bergström 1987: 94.



through a tunnel for a while, according to Palme. At the other end was the light. This emergence into the light was, however, delayed. The future careers of this group of economists are of utmost importance. A dozen of them became members of government, five of them finance or budget ministers, one Vice Prime Minister. Six became undersecretaries. Moreover, these economists were soon to assume leading positions in agencies responsible for Sweden’s economic policies. Six became directors or deputy directors of the National Bank. Other became heads of the National Debt Office, the National Audit Office, the Bank Inspection and the National Institute of Economic Research. They were to head additional governmental boards responsible for the implementation of the new brand of economic policies. Soon, the National Labor Market Board, the Board of Statistics, the Board of Social Insurance, the Swedish Agency for Public Management, the Boards of Air and Land Transport, the Swedish Competition Authority, the National Police and several other national agencies all had top chiefs recruited from this group of economists educated in the Ministry of Finance. They differed from the earlier generation of welfare bureaucrats in several important respects. Their main interest was economics, not social policy. Even if they initially belonged to the social democratic Club of Economists, their affiliation with the party was relatively weak. Few of them had begun their careers by making coffee in a branch of the social democratic youth organization. Contrary to earlier social democratic civil servants, many of them went on to careers in private banks and businesses. This signified a new departure in the relations between social democracy and its civil servants. Before the 1980s, it was very rare for Social Democrats to accept positions in big business. Now, a number of them became chief economists in leading Swedish banks or advisers to Wallenberg, Volvo, Stenbeck and other large private enterprises (Östberg 2012). More broadly, this trend marked the end of the long and successful alliance between social democracy and intellectuals—an alliance that had been key to the creation of the welfare state bureaucracy described above. As I argued at the outset of this chapter, the Social Democrats’ ability to assume control over the state administration depended on their profitable relationship with radical intellectuals. The social engineers of the 1930s made it possible to find people sympathetic to the social democratic cause who were capable of filling essential positions essential to the introduction of social and labor market reforms. An ever-expanding array of well-educated men and women—all clearly sympathetic to the social democratic project



of building a welfare state—was available to assist in the rapid expansion of the 1960s-era welfare state. The party’s long, uninterrupted period of government made it easier for the Social Democrats to put their stamp on the state bureaucracy. For many years, the party’s strength lay in its ability to produce its own intellectuals, often with roots in the working class. This was especially so at the local level, where large portions of the welfare project were implemented. The emergence of a local para-state welfare bureaucracy with close ties to the trade unions and other segments of the worker’s movement played a crucial role in ensuring the success of the social democratic project. Yet the party lost the generation of ’68. The resultant void was temporarily filled by a new generation of economists. However, their contribution to the party’s ideological development was limited to the introduction of neoliberal thinking and their organizational relations with the party proved more ephemeral. * * * Today, the politicization of the state administration has taken on a new aspect. This is partly due to the decline of the welfare state as well as to the deterioration of the Social Democratic Party, two phenomena that are closely related to one another. “Providing legal protections against the inequalities created by unfettered market competition”, the welfare state has been described as the most popular idea to originate on the left during the twentieth century (Schmidt 2016). To a great extent, this idea has been identified with social democracy. As the Social Democrats’ reformist ambitions have dwindled, so has the need for a special welfare bureaucracy. Government power now shifts at regular intervals between the Social Democrats and Sweden’s center-right. As recently as 1990, one-half of top civil servants identified themselves as Social Democrats; only 20 percent were called themselves conservative. Today, there is no social democratic hegemony in government offices (Ehn et al. 2003). However the right-­ wing populist Sweden Democrats are still kept out of government buildings. To guarantee that the ruling parties continue to influence the state bureaucracy, the number of purely political positions has been increased. These are linked to the parties currently in power and today amount to several hundred positions. There has also been a change in the type of competence sought. The tendency toward broadening the social background of high-ranking civil servants seems to have lost steam. Many



positions are filled by people with a background in public relations consulting and political communication. At the same time, many politicians are turning to such posts when their services are no longer required in government office, a phenomenon that also holds for former Social Democratic Finance and Prime Ministers (Ivarsson Westerberg 2010; Svallfors 2016).

References Andersson, Jenny. 2006. Between Growth and Security: Swedish Social Democracy from a Strong Society to a Third Way. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Anton, Thomas J. 1980. Administered Politics: Elite Political Culture in Sweden. Boston, MA: Martinus Nijhoff publ. Bergström, Hans. 1987. Rivstart? Om övergången från opposition till regering. Stockholm: Tiden förlag. Ehn, Peter, et al. 2003. Swedish Bureaucracy in an Era of Change. Governance: An International Journal of Policy and Administration 16 (3): 2003. Oxford: Blackwell. Esping-Andersen, Gøsta. 1990. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Cambridge: Polity. Eyerman, Ron, and Andrew Jamison. 1991. Social Movements: A Cognitive Approach. Cambridge: Polity Press in association with Basil Blackwell. Florin, Christina, and Bengt Nilsson. (1999). “Something in the Nature of a Bloodless Revolution-”: How New Gender Relations Became Gender Equality Policy in Sweden in the Nineteen-Sixties and Seventies. State Policy and Gender System in the Two German States and Sweden 1945–1989. Gidlund, Gullan. 1992. From Popular Movement to Political Party: Development of the Social Democratic Labor Party Organization. In Klaus Misgeld, Karl Molin, and Klas Åmark (red.). Creating Social Democracy: A Century of the Social Democratic Labor Party in Sweden. English transl. and rev. ed. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press. Gustafsson, Bo. 1988. Den tysta revolutionen: det lokala välfärdssamhällets framväxt: exemplet Örebro 1945–1982. Hedemora: Gidlund. Hellberg, Inga. 1997. Det fackliga förtroendet: en studie av ombudsmän och experter 1950–1991. Stockholm: Atlas. Ivarsson Westerberg, Anders. 2010. Makthavare: i ministerns skugga. 1. uppl. Umeå: Boréa. Konnander, Benkt. 2006. Ett departement med borgerlig ledning: rapport om universitetspolitiken i utbildningsdepartementet 1976–82. Järfälla: Benkt Konnander. Mandel, Ernest. 1992. Power and Money: A Marxist Theory of Bureaucracy. London: Verso.



Myrdal, Gunnar. 1982. Hur styrs landet? Stockholm: Rabén & Sjögren. Östberg, Kjell. 1996. Kommunerna och den svenska modellen: socialdemokratin och kommunalpolitiken fram till andra världskriget. modellen [Local Politics and the Swedish Model] Eslöv: B. Östlings bokförl. Symposion. ———. 2008. I takt med tiden. Olof Palme 1927–1969. Stockholm: Leopard. ———. 2009. När vinden vände: Olof Palme 1969–1986. Stockholm: Leopard (English manuscript: A man for his time. Olof Palme 1926–1986). ———. 2012. Swedish Social Democracy After the Cold War: Whatever Happened to the Movement? In Social Democracy After the Cold War, ed. Ingo Schmidt and Bryan Evans. (red.). Edmonton, AB: AU Press. Pierre, Jon, and Peter Ehn. 1999. The Welfare State Managers: Senior Civil Servants in Sweden. In Bureaucratic élites in western European states: [a comparative analysis of top officials], ed. Edward C.  Page and Vincent Wright. (red.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rothstein, Bo. 1985. Managing the Welfare State. Scandinavian Political Studies 3. ———. 1987. Corporatism and Reformism: The Social Democratic Institutionalisation of Class Conflict. Acta Sociologica 30. ———. 1996. The Social Democratic State: The Swedish Model and the Bureaucratic Problem of Social Reforms. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. Schmidt, Ingo (red.). 2016. The Three Worlds of Social Democracy: A Global View. London: Pluto Press. Sejersted, Francis. 2011. The Age of Social Democracy: Norway and Sweden in the Twentieth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Svallfors, Stefan. 2016. Knowing the Game. Motivations and Skills Among Partisan Policy Professionals. Journal of Professions and Organization 4 (1): 55–69.


The Divorce between Public-Sector Employees and West European Socialist Parties Luc Rouban

Assessing how the relationship between public-sector employees and socialist parties has evolved may involve measuring diverse phenomena, ranging from electoral choice to party proximity and including socialist governments’ responses to sectional demands. From an electoral perspective alone, there are considerable difficulties to overcome, given that international surveys do not allow us to go any further back than the 2000s and that national surveys are highly diverse in character, often not permitting any clear distinction to be made between public servants directly employed by the government (the civil service, in France) and those employed by other state agencies or companies, nor between the latter and private-­ sector employees. Moreover, studying public-sector employees calls for all kinds of distinctions to be made between hierarchical categories and

L. Rouban (*) Sciences Po Paris, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




occupational fields, as the overall statistical positioning of public-sector employees says nothing, for example, about the respective positions of teachers or police officers, who—in the vast majority at least—tend to be poles apart from a political perspective. We are therefore reduced to measuring overall trends. Finally, and above all, the definition of public-sector employees varies substantially from one European country to another. While public-­sector employees enjoy a special legal status in countries like Spain and France, protecting them from economic redundancy and clearly distinguishing them from private-sector employees, in most other European countries they are generally employed on the basis of contracts except in professions coming directly under state authority (justice, police, armed forces). Furthermore, public-sector employees in local government are generally much more exposed to economic risks and politicisation than those working at national level. These legal differences limit the validity of any meaningful international comparisons. For these reasons the present chapter offers an insight into relations between public-sector employees and socialist or social democratic parties in selected European countries before concentrating on the specific case of France. The relationship between socialism and France’s civil servants is a central issue in the country’s political history: the construction of the Republican state, under the Third Republic, was accomplished via the creation of a public service whose positivist, secular and interventionist roots played a key role in shaping the left-wing leanings of civil servants (Bergounioux and Grunberg 2005) and their professional associations before the Second World War (Siwek-Pouydesseau 1989). This issue therefore has a dual aspect. A public policy aspect, first of all, because the rejection of the Parti Socialiste (PS—the French Socialist Party) by France’s civil servants can be interpreted as a criticism of socialist governments and their choices with respect to the public service. It also has a purely political aspect, because if civil servants are deserting the PS, of which they historically formed not just the core electorate (Boy and Mayer 1997; Rouban 2003, 2007) but also a significant proportion of its elected representatives and activists, this raises questions about the political space that still exists for a social democratic project in France.1 This distancing of one from another repre1  Although the presence of public-sector employees in the political ranks of the socialist party at national level was especially pronounced from the Fourth Republic onwards. As Alain Bergounioux and Gérard Grunberg show, civil servants represented just 14% of SFIO (French Section of the Workers’ International) elected officials in 1914 (Bergounioux and



sents the first step in the socio-political unravelling of the state, opening the way not only for ambitious market-oriented projects driven by the parliamentary right, but also for nationalist plans to restructure the civil service driven by the Front National. Admittedly, not all civil servants hold left-wing views, but the country’s public service is nonetheless founded on values very different from those of religion (though the proportion of Catholics, e.g., is the same among civil servants and private-­sector employees), of economic liberalism (civil servant status signifying a political exchange of legitimacy and not an economic exchange) and of tradition (hence the idea of progress and equal treatment for all users) (Rouban 2017a). A split between the public service and socialism may therefore indicate that the latter has not defended these values effectively or that the former has changed its values and that 2019 civil servants are closer to their private-sector counterparts than was the case in the 1930s. Historically, socialist ideas have gained ground, in the French civil service and in other European civil services as well, in specific sectors such as education, welfare organisations and scientific agencies, namely in the periphery of public administration, where one could find a high percentage of well-educated middle-class civil servants without heritage coming from modest social categories. Whatever their economic weight or their social legitimacy, such institutions have always socially differed from the core public administration dedicated to law and order. The police, military, judiciary and senior civil servants have long proven to be much more closed, if not unfriendly or clearly hostile to socialist ideas, for various reasons having their roots in religious beliefs, political traditions and familial or institutional histories. For instance, the first socialist union of magistrates in France (“Syndicat de la magistrature”) was founded in 1968. It remains highly criticised in the 2010s and has attracted only 25% of the magistrates’ vote in the 2013 professional elections. The pace and the sphere of socialist influence are therefore not the same in all public administrations, penetrating later and marginally in the higher sphere of public administration, sometimes after a drastic political change, as was the case with the well-known figure of Léon Blum, member of the State Council, Grunberg 2005: 42). On the other hand, it is a documented fact that civil servants, and teachers in particular, were over-represented among SFIO activists from 1905. On the basis of survey results, Jacques and Mona Ozouf estimate, for example, that schoolteachers alone accounted for around one-quarter of members in the SFIO’s youth wing (Ozouf and Ozouf 1992: 110).



one of the most prestigious “grand corps” of the French civil service, who became prime minister during the Popular Front in 1936. The overlap between socialist parties and the civil service is therefore a vast subject—one that should be considered in a longer historical and social perspective, going back to 1936 at the very least for the French case alone. As this is beyond the scope of the present study, I will address the question within the fairly limited framework of recent history—which nonetheless provides a legitimate timeframe: the context of a state reform that has taken a clearly market-oriented flavour since Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency onwards, even though its foundations were laid as early as 2002 and its principles established back in 1986, when Jacques Chirac was prime minister. This will illustrate a more global change affecting most European public administrations and socialist or social democratic parties.

A New Political Polarisation in Europe Comparative studies focused on the electoral choices and party proximity of public-sector employees are very rare. The subject has been entirely overlooked by specialists in electoral analysis, while specialists in public administration have never regarded the question as important. The values and political choices of public-sector employees have never been taken into account, except by a handful of historians. We can nonetheless attempt to evaluate the recent evolution of public-sector employees and socialist or social democratic parties by drawing on data from the European Social Survey, comparing the results from its Round 2, which records the situation in 2004, with Round 7, undertaken in 2014.2 This decade saw the cumulative impact of two phenomena: the financial crisis of 2008 and an emerging awareness of globalisation—with respect to environmental issues on the one hand and terrorism and migration crises on the other. These two factors had a major impact on political demand as the standard policy mix involving a debate around industrial growth came into competition with green politics and with the rise of populism and nationalist ideologies. Alongside these two factors exacerbating political tensions should of course be added a factor directly linked to the evolution of the public sector itself, which was subjected to new public management reforms involving cuts in staff, salaries and pensions (especially in Ireland and in Mediterranean countries such as Spain, Greece and Portugal) and to 2

 European Social Survey (2004 and 2014).



radical changes in careers patterns with the introduction—in varying degrees—of management principles imported from the private sector (Pollitt and Bouckaert 2011; OECD 2015). Yet new public management had a wider impact beyond just cutting the costs of public services or privatising them. It is grounded in a political theory that involves giving power back to the political class over the bureaucracy, in particular by downgrading senior civil servants, taking away their elite social status and making them merely the technicians of public policy—technicians whose work must be regularly assessed and whose jobs therefore become insecure. New public management generated reforms that undermined the administrative apparatus of European states, established in the early twentieth century through the creation of major public services which were sheltered from the economic markets and through the separation—competition, even—between political elites and administrative elites. This development was most clearly evident in those southern European countries strongly influenced by the doctrine of public service French style (public law, special legal status for civil servants, values of solidarity and secularism), which itself was very closely linked with socialist ideas.3 Whatever their intensity, varying from one country to another, reforms inspired to a greater or lesser extent by the new public management doctrine were pursued by governments of all political colours. A key factor behind the increasing lack of political differentiation is that public-sector employees in many European countries are largely subject to private law and cannot rely on the support of socialist parties to defend a particular position or status. Relations between public-sector employees and socialist or social democratic parties deteriorated across all European countries in the decade 2000–2010. Table 13.1 shows that the party proximity of public-sector employees changed rapidly in ten years. In the 2010s, public-sector employees feel much less close to socialist or social democratic parties— but that does not mean that they became closer to the conservatives. In fact there has been a radicalisation to the left, benefiting the Greens in 3  The “bible” of new public management advocates strengthening political power by privatising public administrations (Osborne and Gaebler 1993). Entire libraries have been devoted to the practices of new public management—and yet its purely political consequences remain underexplored, even though it changes the relationship between politicians and public-sector employees (Ongaro 2009; Rouban 2012).



Table 13.1 Party proximity of public-­ sector employees in Europe, 2004 and 2014 (%)

France PS UMP Ecologistes Front National Germany SPD CDU-CSU Die Grünen Die Linke Portugal Socialist Party Social Democratic Party Spain PSOE Parti Popular Izquierda Unita Sweden Social democrats Conservatives Left Greens United Kingdom Labour Conservative Liberal democrats UKIP



53 16 11 0.6

41 17 6 19

32 32 24 –

26 34 22 12

46 42

34 51

48 29 13

13 26 10

34 21 15 8

27 17 15 16

46 29 20 –

33 29 4 17

Source: European Social Survey (2004 and 2014). Public-sector employees here are those working in public administrations and education, excluding the health sector.

particular, and to the right, benefiting populist parties (Front National in France, UKIP in the UK). Such political polarisation is confirmed by the trend in political self-­ placement. In 2014, far fewer public-sector employees placed themselves to the centre of the left-right scale than in 2004 (Table 13.2). Yet they clearly still feel greater proximity to parties of the left than to parties of the right. Abandoning socialist or social democratic parties therefore leads public-­sector employees not to vote for parties of the right—but generally to vote for the radical left or emerging parties such as the Greens, who



Table 13.2  Public-sector employees’ self-placement on the left-right scale (%) France





2004 2014 2004 2014 2004 2014 2004 2014 2004 2014 Left Centre Right

40 41 19

43 26 31

26 62 12

43 36 21

22 55 23

32 34 33

37 48 15

43 26 32

24 51 25

47 21 32

United Kingdom 2004


17 69 15

34 43 23

Source: European Social Survey (2004 and 2014).

largely inherited from the leftist culture, or, sometimes in sizeable proportions within the ranks of the less qualified agents, to move towards nationalist or far-right parties. The comparison between 2004 and 2014 clearly shows that the proportion of public-sector employees placing themselves to the left has increased significantly, at least among those who still place themselves on this scale. For in fact, a growing proportion of public servants, as well as private-sector workers, consider that they are decidedly “nowhere” on the scale and reject the entire political apparatus. Europe’s public-­sector employees have not, therefore, become voters for the conservative or liberal right wing, but they are also more and more attracted by a kind of political anomie. The more frequent electoral choice of protest parties, far-left for the more highly qualified and far-right for the less qualified, is characteristic not just of public-sector employees but of all the electorates. Nonetheless, it prompts the question as to why public-sector employees, attached to socialist parties in their defence of the welfare state and values based around social solidarity, have more or less deserted these parties. Even if the reasons for this are rooted in very different national contexts, in which the legal, social and historic situations of public-sector employees vary significantly, two phenomena have played a key role here. The first is the fact that many social democratic or socialist parties have taken steps to reduce the cost of the public sector and partly privatise public services—a policy pursued in three different ways. The first of these is exemplified by the United Kingdom, where Tony Blair’s government amended Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal reforms but did not altogether rescind them, leaving local authorities with a large degree of management freedom but within a context of stringent financial constraint, resulting



in the privatisation of the public service and the downgrading of public servants’ social status (Gill-McLure 2014). The second case is that of Germany, where the “modern state—modern administration” programme was launched under the red-green coalition (SPD and Green Party) in 1999, with the aim of de-bureaucratising German society in favour of a new kind of governance that was supposed to give civil society a greater role (OECD 2004). This programme also aimed to give a large degree of management freedom to local governments to bring public services closer to their users—resulting in multiple privatisations and/or a proliferation of part-time or even “mini-jobs”. The proportion of part-time positions doubled between 1989 and 2009, from 16% to 32% of the total public service workforce. Mini-jobs, which are limited to a maximum weekly working time of 15 hours without social benefits and designated as “marginal employment” in official German statistical records, represent 4.6% of the total public-sector workforce, that is, 200,000 jobs concentrated in federal states and local authorities (Keller and Seifert 2015). The third case is that of southern European countries contending with the 2008 economic crisis. The socialist government of José Socrates in Portugal (2009–2011) cut jobs, pay and pensions, giving rise to numerous strikes and demonstrations. In France, François Hollande’s presidency did not really change course away from the liberal reform of the civil service launched in 2007 by Nicolas Sarkozy to reduce the public deficit (Rouban 2013). Socialist and social democratic governments therefore pursued policies that involved dismantling public services, no doubt for ideological reasons which were not those of neoliberalism, but these policies ultimately produced the same outcome in terms of public-sector employees’ professional and social situation. The second phenomenon, less visible but equally important, is the fact that public-sector employees vote not just as public-sector employees but also as citizens worried about insecurity, unemployment and their children’s future. Religious affiliations and wealth also shape interests shared with employees in the private sector.4 Purely political factors of radicalisation and abstention have moreover affected public-sector employees as they have the whole of the electorate, as the case of France clearly illustrates. 4  Research undertaken in this field shows the importance of national idiosyncrasies and religious factors in guiding public-sector employees’ voting behaviour and value systems: Rouban (2005).



French Civil Servants and the PS: A Recent Divorce The electoral divorce between public-sector employees and the socialist left is part of a recent sequence of developments which we can situate between 2012 and 2017—at least with reference to the series of electoral surveys undertaken by CEVIPOF.  Here we observe that the results obtained by the PS candidate in the first round of the presidential election do not vary greatly between 2007 and 2012—but then collapse in the 2017 election, as illustrated by Fig. 13.1. For purposes of long-term comparison, we are focusing here on public-sector employees employed in the three branches of the French civil service (N = 3181), excluding employees employed by public companies.5 The rejection of the PS seems extremely sudden—yet two accompanying factors should also be noted: a fairly high-average vote share for the protoGaullist UMP/LR from 2007 onward, and, above all, a radicalisation at the two extremes of the political spectrum. From 2007 onward, this radicalisation worked in favour of both Jean-Luc Mélenchon (Front de

40 35

35 30

27 25 20

25 20 15 10 5 0



11 8

6 4 2002

2007 PCF/FDG


2012 Centristes

2017 UMP/LR


Fig. 13.1  French civil servants’ electoral choice in the first round of the presidential election, by votes cast (%). (Source: CEVIPOF electoral surveys) 5  The three branches of the French civil service are the FPE (Fonction Publique de l’État— state civil service), the FPT (Fonction Publique Territoriale—territorial civil service) and the FPH (Fonction Publique Hospitalière—hospital civil service), each with its own specific legal status.



Table 13.3  The electoral choice of French civil servants (CS) and private-sector employees (PSE) in the first round of the presidential election, by votes cast (%) 2002

Far-left PCF/FDG Green parties PS Centrists Other right UMP/LR FN












12 3 6 28 8 6 24 11

16 4 8 35 6 5 16 11

7 2 1 25 20 3 32 10

9 2 2 29 20 3 25 12

1 8 3 29 10 2 29 17

2 10 4 37 11 2 22 14

1.8 19 – 6 23 8.3 21.2 21.7

1.7 20.3 – 8 27.3 6.6 17.4 18.8

Source: CEVIPOF electoral surveys.

Gauche [FDG] [Left Front] in 2012 then France Insoumise [France Unbowed] in 2017) and the Front National. A comparison between these votes and those of private-sector employees shows a similar trend across both sectors, as Table 13.3 demonstrates. This trend with respect to electoral choice aligns with another trend, also very recent, in party proximity. In response to the question “Which party do you feel closest to, or least distant from?” we see that answers in favour of the PS become more frequent from the 1980s onward, to the detriment of the PCF and the far-left parties. They stabilise from the 1990s to the 2000s, and then suddenly collapse in the same scenario observed in the 2017 electoral survey (Fig.  13.2). This sequence can be seen both among civil-­service employees in general and, specifically, among schoolteachers, who constitute the core electorate of the PS—and indeed among employees in the private sector.6 Although the mean values may be different, the trends are the same, which tends to substantiate the hypothesis that civil servants’ disaffection with the PS is part of a general trend 6  Even so, the PS remains a party of public-sector employees, judging by the composition of its membership. In 2011, employees in the wider public sector represented 56% of PS members, while employees in the three branches of the civil service accounted for 38%. The FPE, the state civil service, predominates here: 24% of members belong to the FPE, 10% to the territorial civil service (FPT) and 2% to the hospital civil service (FPH). Secondary teachers alone then accounted for more than 8% of PS members, primary schoolteachers for 5% and FPE managers excluding education 6.5% (Dargent and Rey 2014). My thanks to Henri Rey for allowing me to make use of the survey results in the present study.



60 50 40 30 20 10 0 1978

1988 Civil service


2002 Teachers




Private sector wage-earners

Fig. 13.2  Party proximity to the French PS (%). (Source: CEVIPOF electoral surveys)

affecting all employees, indeed perhaps the entire electorate. Another basic trend is a critical rejection of all political parties, affecting both civil servants and private-sector employees: in 2017, the proportion of respondents who said they did not feel close to any political party was 42% on average for public-sector employees—and 43% for teachers alone, even though this group is traditionally much more politicised—as compared with 47% for employees in the private sector. The survey data show that while respondent’s reasons for distrusting the PS may be rooted in crises specific to particular civil-­service professions—among teachers and hospital staff in particular—they also evidence a political situation common to the workforce as a whole.

Civil Servants Still to the Left of the Political Spectrum Yet does this rejection at the polls signify a political culture change in the French civil service, bringing its employees more into line with those of the private sector and shifting the entire French electorate further to the right? The rest of this chapter will take a closer look at the situation in 2017, drawing on the vast samples provided by the CEVIPOF French electoral survey and extracting the active population’s responses so as to correlate them with comparable economic and societal issues.



Four indexes were used to measure civil servants’ values. With respect to socio-economic attitudes, an economic liberalism index was constructed, comprising answers to three questions: Should we place more trust in businesses and give them more freedom? / Should we give companies more freedom to lay people off? / Should the number of civil servants be reduced? With respect to political values, findings are based on three indexes. The first of these is a cultural liberalism index derived from answers to three questions—on whether or not the death penalty should be reinstated, whether or not the number of immigrants is viewed as excessive and whether or not immigration is a source of cultural enrichment. The second is a state authority index based on answers to three questions: Should budget funding for the police and the forces of law and order be increased? / Should criminals be given tougher sentences? / Should the country be led by “a strong man who doesn’t need to be concerned with parliament or elections”? The final political values index focuses on identity, based on answers to the following questions: Should fewer foreigners be permitted to live in France? / Should the number of refugees be reduced? / Should more illegal immigrants be deported? Each index produces a score ranging from 0 to 3 according to the number of positive answers given.7 On this basis it is possible to measure variations from the mean for each category of employees. Several lessons can be drawn from Table  13.4, which also shows the distribution of values for people in the active population who voted for the PS/radical left/miscellaneous left lists in the regional elections of 2015.8 The first one is that axiological distance between private-sector and civil-­ service employees remains broadly similar to what has long been the case, civil servants being consistently less liberal in economic matters and more liberal in cultural matters.9 Secondly, this differentiation is especially evident among management personnel if we compare category A managers in the FPE (state civil service), excluding teachers, with private-sector managers—reducing the margin for manoeuvre for neoliberal-type reforms  We have combined “strongly agree” and “somewhat agree” answers. Each individual index constitutes an attitude scale. The Cronbach’s alpha coefficient is 0.557 for the economic liberalism index, 0.549 for the cultural liberalism index, 0.383 for the state authority index (relatively low due to the differentials in responses to the “strong man” question) and 0.855 for the identity index. 8  All voters in the active population who voted for these lists, regardless profession. 9  For a study examining the 1980–2000 period, see Rouban (1999). 7



Table 13.4  Values of private-sector employees and civil servants by category (index average)

Values of PS electorate in 2015 regional elections Respondent average Private-sector employees, of whom:  •  managers  •  other employees FPE (state civil service), of whom:  • category A managers excl. Teachers  •  education  •  police and military  •  category C FPT (territorial civil service) FPH (hospital civil service)

Economic liberalism index

Cultural liberalism index

State authority index

Identity index






1.08 1.19

1.05 1

2 2.02

1.66 1.71

14,158 9371

1.34 1.04 0.87

1.28 0.84 1.25

1.98 2.06 1.93

1.52 1.81 1.51

1850 3153 2041






0.85 1.12 0.84 0.81 0.85

1.60 0.48 0.87 1.13 1.12

1.77 2.20 2.04 1.97 2.02

1.21 2.26 1.79 1.61 1.60

1026 241 571 1006 567


Source: 2017 CEVIPOF French Electoral Survey, waves 1, 2 and 3. Education includes primary- and secondary-level teachers, managers of educational institutions and teachers in higher education.

in the civil service. This trend is still more pronounced among teachers.10 Thirdly, state civil-service employees on average (though averages remain very deceptive), and teachers in particular, are still closest to the distribution of values we see within the PS electorate in the 2015 regional elections. The distance is greater in the FPT (territorial civil service) and FPH (hospital civil service), reflecting their sociological profiles: category C civil servants account for three-quarters of the former group, while the latter has a high proportion of technical roles and its employees regularly vote for the right in larger numbers. Fourthly, across the civil service as a whole, variations determined by level of responsibility are less significant for economic liberalism than they are for cultural liberalism, which has especially low levels in category C and among the police and military. The same applies to the identity index, which relates to the same axiological 10  The French civil service is divided into three professional categories: category A for managers, category B for intermediate and technical professionals and category C for office workers.



sphere. Fifthly, across employment categories A to C the state authority index is uniformly high, with no clear distinction to be made between the different groups of civil servants. Finally, comparing the civil service and the private sector at equivalent levels of responsibility shows that the difference between these two spheres plays out in attitudes to economic liberalism and not in attitudes towards cultural liberalism or identity claims. In terms of values, therefore, civil servants cannot be straightforwardly equated with private-sector employees—and this, again, could represent a serious obstacle to plans for reform driven by the Macron presidency and a National Assembly controlled by a majority of deputies from the management tiers of private companies and the business world.11 Furthermore, the difference between civil servants and the socialist electorate as a whole is evident in the cultural liberalism index and the identity index. Civil servants, like all other employees, place considerable emphasis on state authority—increasingly so in the lower tiers of hierarchy where we see civil servants in direct contact with service users (police, medical staff in hospitals, local administration). This split is reflected in a massive investment in the FN vote by civil servants in these categories. A last point to consider is where civil servants place themselves on the left-right scale.12 Comparing this indicator between the presidency of François Hollande in 2012 and the presidency of Emmanuel Macron in 2017, it is clear that employees in the three branches of the French civil service still place themselves further to the left than private-sector employees. But it is also just as clear that the average level of identification with the left has significantly weakened between these two dates—a finding that holds true across all levels of responsibility and in all occupational spheres (Fig. 13.3). Civil servants’ identification with the right gains 9 points in the FPE, the state civil service (but nearly double than that among teachers, increasing from 12% to 21% between these two dates), and 13 points in the FPT, the territorial civil service, whereas this increase is just 5 points on average among all private-sector employees and 2 points specifically among private-­sector managers. We are therefore certainly seeing a shift to the right among the electorate that is affecting civil servants to a greater 11   As suggested by initial research into the profile of deputies elected in 2017 (Rouban 2017b). 12  Scale from 0 (far to the left) to 10 (far to the right), following the convention that left comprises the area from 0 to 3, the centre—or “neither right nor left”—4 to 6 and the right from 7 to 10.




50 46 40




39 31




38 28 15


29 18



38 26 19


32 21

30 20

35 26

33 34 21

35 30




le ft rig h FP t H le ft FP H rig h A ca t t. l e A ca ft t. r Te i ac ght Te her ac s l he eft rs rig h B ca t t. le B ca ft t. rig h C ca t t. pr le iva C ft c t pr e se at. r iva i c te .em ght se p. c.e le ft m p. rig ht T









ft rig ht




Fig. 13.3  Left-right self-placement of voters in the active population, 2012 and 2017 (%). (Source: CEVIPOF election panel 2012 and French election survey 2017)

extent than their private-sector counterparts—a shift driven by a demand for state authority and a move away from cultural liberalism rather than a desire to liberalise the economy.13

Who Are the Civil Servants Who Have Drifted Away from the PS? These initial observations beg the question of who they actually are, these civil servants who have abandoned the PS.  To determine their profile, those in the 2017 survey who said they voted for François Hollande in the first round of the 2012 presidential election were identified and their trajectory followed from that point. For clarity and concision, only civil servants in the FPE, the state civil service, are discussed below. Of voters currently employed in the FPE (N  =  1006) who chose François Hollande in 2012, only 19% voted for Benoît Hamon, the PS candidate, in 2017. By contrast 46% of them preferred Emmanuel Macron and 27.5% chose the France Insoumise (France Unbowed) candidate,  Again, only the active population is considered here.




Jean-Luc Mélenchon. The distribution is identical when retired FPE employees are included together with those currently active, which shows that this trend does not point to a generational divide. The only difference is that retired civil servants are wealthier on average, with more valuable assets, which explains their slightly greater leaning towards Emmanuel Macron (50%) and their lower inclination towards Benoît Hamon (18%) or Jean-Luc Mélenchon (22%). Looking at members working in the education sector (N  =  558), historically the core of the socialist electorate, 41% voted for François Hollande in 2012—and 50% of these chose Emmanuel Macron in 2017, only 23% voting for Benoît Hamon while 27% of them preferred Jean-Luc Mélenchon. This example shows that one of the most faithful socialist electorates has split into two, one group preferring La France Insoumise, thinking that the socialist candidate was not far enough to the left, others voting for Emmanuel Macron—believing that he alone was capable of beating the Front National candidate in the second round, or else that he offered a way of avoiding the market-oriented reform programme of LR candidate François Fillon. Emmanuel Macron was seen as the political heir to François Hollande— but an heir who would offload the Parti Socialiste and act in a much more authoritarian way to implement reforms that appealed to many civil servants: strengthening primary schools in underprivileged neighbourhoods, changing the professional organisation of the civil service by eventually eliminating the “Grands Corps”—high-level civil-service divisions, traditionally the preserve of the administrative elite, removing the “glass ceiling” women still encounter in their professional life, cutting workforces to achieve budgetary savings—but in a far more moderate way than François Fillon (120,000 jobs cut over five years instead of 300,000), and reforming administrations without privatising them. These civil servants therefore follow three electoral pathways: there are the “faithful”, who voted for the socialist candidate in 2017 as they did in 2012; there are the “protestors”, who moved to the more radical left (represented by Jean-Luc Mélenchon—but also Nathalie Artaud and Philippe Poutou for the far-left); and there are the “defectors”, who turned to Emmanuel Macron, regarded by the majority of this electorate as a centrist candidate. In order to have a large enough sample size, and as the distribution of electoral choices is the same in all cases, the following analysis uses the active population and retired voters from all three



civil-­service branches, giving a total of 263 protestors, 168 faithful and 489 defectors. We note first of all that the defectors are mainly category A managers. About 57% of them moved from François Hollande to Emmanuel Macron as compared with 47% of category C employees and 43% of category B employees. Emmanuel Macron was very attractive to the more highly qualified voters in both the public and private sectors. The highest proportions of faithful voters are found primarily among the management of the FPT (24%) and among category B civil servants in the FPE (21%). The highest proportion of protestors is found in category C: 31% on average but as much as 38% in the FPT—the most modest of the three civil servant categories. Obviously, the fragmentation of the civil-service socialist electorate followed fault lines defined by educational and qualification levels, putting management staff and office staff at opposite poles. Voters’ family background, by contrast, did not greatly influence their electoral trajectories. It was simply noted that the largest relative proportion (58%) of defectors voting for Emmanuel Macron is found among the children of high-level managers in the private sector. The main differences between these three groups reflect different age categories and wealth levels. The defectors are the oldest (63% over the age of 50) and also the wealthiest: one-third of them rank in the top quartile of a wealth index that includes both investments and property assets. The protestors are the youngest (20% aged between 25 and 35) and the least wealthy. The faithful are older (60% aged between 35 and 65) with a higher level of wealth but significantly lower than that of the defectors. The explanation for these voters’ political choices is ultimately found in social mobility and how this is subjectively perceived. A personal satisfaction index was constructed on the basis of three questions exploring the respondent’s representation of his or her situation and personal future.14 The index was dichotomised, showing that 77% of the defectors who chose Emmanuel Macron fall in the “satisfied” category, while this proportion is just 69% among the faithful and 59% among the protestors. Looking at the 33 civil servants who switched from voting for François Hollande to voting for Marine Le Pen, the proportion of the “satisfied” is only 40%. 14  “How satisfied are you with the life you lead now?”/ “Comparing yourself with people in general living in France, where would you place yourself on a scale of 0 to 10?” / “When you think about your life in the years ahead, how satisfied are you with your prospects?” Answers were rated on a scale of 0 to 10. Scores from 7 to 10 are considered to indicate satisfaction.



Subjective representation can then be confronted with the “objective” reality of social mobility, measured by comparing the respondent’s household situation with that of their parents.15 Here we see that 59% of the faithful voters have a better objective social situation than their parents and that 45% consider this to be the case. By contrast, although 62% of the defectors have a better objective situation, 53% of them believe this to be so, which indicates that the choice of Emmanuel Macron is often made by voters who feel optimistic and satisfied with their social progress. Finally, 55% of the protestors are experiencing a better situation than their parents but just 36% of them believe this to be the case. Subjective perception of social mobility exerts a much greater influence on political reactions than actual social mobility. The fear of declining social status is very widespread and is consistent with the data showing that most civil servants included in these studies have experienced real upward social mobility by entering the civil service.

A Political Rather than Professional Divorce The initial hypothesis of this research was that France’s civil servants, deeply rooted in the values of the socialist left, had reacted adversely to publicsector policies pursuing—sometimes stealthily—a neoliberal reform of the state. There certainly was considerable disappointment after 2012 when the French government’s first decisions made it clear that the index point used to calculate civil servant pay would not be revised significantly for some time and that increased staffing levels would affect only the education sector—with a considerable lag between the announcement of these measures and their actual implementation. Likewise, the reform of the “collège” (middle-years school system, for 11–15  year-olds), growing labour tensions in the hospital sector and an internal crisis within the police force represented so many cumulative factors for discontent with socialist governments. Deteriorating working conditions and a growing demand for recognition have been observable in the French civil service for years. Nonetheless, the pace and direction of civil servants’ political evolution are comparable with similar changes noted in the private sector. Civil servants have retained their socio-cultural specificity, more or less pronounced 15  For details of the calculations, based on a weighted scoring system for professional situations that takes both unemployment and methodological issues into consideration, see Rouban (2016).



according to their occupational sector and level of responsibility, but the withdrawal of electoral support for or party proximity with the PS is driven by a strong demand for state authority and a significant weakening of cultural liberalism. If professional factors had played a key role, the great majority of civil servants, with the exception of the police and the armed forces, would have shown a clear preference for the radical left or, while rejecting the measures introduced under François Hollande’s presidency, would nonetheless still have voted for the PS candidate. And yet the opposite proved to be the case, with their political positioning moving further to the right, even towards the FN.  Nor is this attraction to the right explained by a surge of interest in neoliberal or managerial theories, as civil servants are consistently less liberal in economic matters than other employees. It is in this respect that the final choice of Emmanuel Macron by a relative majority of civil servants is rather paradoxical: Macron has developed a political project strongly influenced by managerial concepts and Tony Blair’s governments, giving way to a new policy mix, Macronism, a blend of cultural and economic liberalism. But professional factors are being channelled by a fundamental political trend playing out in the sphere of social values and involving, in particular, a rejection of immigration and Islam.16 In the presidential election, voters therefore found themselves having to choose between populist and sovereignist candidates (Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen) and a centrist candidate (Emmanuel Macron) seeking to restore the authority of the state but largely chosen by default, as the electoral surveys indicate. Overall, the divorce between civil servants and the PS is part of a longer term political trend in which social democrats are losing their social base because they have not able to clarify their values and their practices. Have socialist ideas permanently been replaced by Macronism within the ranks of French civil servants? The 2019 European elections offer an initial response. Among those civil servants who voted for Emmanuel Macron in the first round of the 2017 presidential election, 50% decided to vote for La République en Marche (the 16  A detailed presentation of all the data demonstrating this lies outside the scope of the present study, beyond observing that 34% of state civil-service employees who voted for François Hollande in the first round of the 2012 presidential election considered Islam to pose a danger for the West (as did 43% of category A civil servants across the three service branches, voting for all candidates, along with 52% in category B and 57% in category C). Similarly, 30% of state civil servants who voted for François Hollande in 2012 thought that there are too many immigrants in France (40% across all category A civil servants, 56% in category B and 62% in category C).



presidential party) in 2019, 15% for the Greens, 14% for the Socialist Party, 3% for Les Républicains and 2% for La France insoumise (percentages of votes cast). The relatively low level of partisan fidelity for Macronism shows both that its electoral base is still weak among the civil servants and that left parties, including the Socialist Party, is still able to attract civil servants. This interpretation is confirmed by a 50% abstention rate, which means that the political offer does not match the expectations of a majority of voters, including the civil servants. Party proximity itself is highly fragmented in 2019, as 16% of the civil servants feel close to La République en marche, 16% to Les Républicains, 15% to Le Rassemblement national, 14% to the Socialist Party, 10% to La France insoumise and 8% to the Greens (CEVIPOF 2019). As a whole, the political situation is still highly unstable. The situation could be reversed if the Socialist Party, or a new social democratic party, is able to offer civil servants what they want: more state intervention, more Republican equality and more respect for public organisations. In 2019, this new policy mix has yet to be achieved, at least in France. French civil servants’ rejection of the PS is explained by the fact that socialist governments gave the impression of supporting a market-oriented reform of the state while simultaneously losing all real authority over key societal issues such as secularism (i.e. the French tradition of laïcité). Their changing political allegiance is therefore not disconnected from the very professional practices in which their electoral alignment originally took root. In the 2017 election cycle it was, effectively, a lack of realism on the part of the socialist leadership that civil servants were calling into question. The traditional socialist policy mix presupposed a position of authority for civil servants in general and educators in particular, combined with a proactive policy of social mobility. This formula was diluted under the influence of the socialist elites’ cultural liberalism—these elites showing themselves to be increasingly disconnected from realities on the ground, as confirmed by the social and political fracture between category A and category C civil servants. As for the proactive social programme, it seems to have been dissipated in an economic policy favouring market forces over state intervention, leaving civil servants with the feeling of being, effectively, society’s firefighters. (Translated by Cynthia Schoch and Susan Mackervoy)



References Bergounioux, Alain, and Gérard Grunberg. 2005. L’ambition et le remords, Les socialistes français et le pouvoir (1905–2005). Paris: Fayard. Boy, Daniel, and Nonna Mayer. 1997. Que reste-t-il des variables lourdes? In L’électeur a ses raisons, ed. Daniel Boy and Nonna Mayer, 101–138. Paris: Presses de Sciences Po. CEVIPOF. 2019. Centre de recherches politiques de Sciences Po, Electoral Panel, 2015–2019, wave 22. Dargent, Claude, and Henri Rey. 2014. Sociologie des adhérents socialistes, Cahier du Cevipof, 59, Paris, CEVIPOF. ESS Round 2: European Social Survey Round 2 Data (2004), datafile edition 3.5, and ESS Round 7: European Social Survey Round 7 Data (2014), datafile edition 2.1, NSD – Norwegian Centre for Research Data, Norway. Gill-McLure, Whyeda. 2014. The Politics of Managerial Reform in UK Local Government: A Study of Control, Conflict and Resistance 1880s to Present. Labor History 55: 365–388. Keller, Berndt, and Hartmut Seifert. 2015. Atypical Forms of Employment in the Public Sector – Are There Any?, SOEP Papers, DIW, Berlin, 774. OECD. 2004. Germany: Consolidating Economic and Social Renewal, OECD Reviews of Regulatory Reforms, OECD, Paris. ———. 2015. Government at a Glance 2015, OECD, Paris. Ongaro, Edoardo. 2009. Public Management Reform and Modernization: Trajectories of Administrative Change in Italy, France, Greece, Portugal and Spain. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. Osborne, David, and Ted Gaebler. 1993. Reinventing Government. New York: Penguin. Ozouf, Jacques, and Mona Ozouf. 1992. La République des instituteurs. Paris: Gallimard – Le Seuil, Coll. Hautes Etudes. Pollitt, Christopher, and Geert Bouckaert. 2011. Public Management Reform: A Comparative Analysis. New Public Management, Governance, and the Neo-­ Weberian State. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Rouban, Luc. 1999. Les attitudes politiques des fonctionnaires, vingt ans d’évolution, Cahier du CEVIPOF, 24, Paris, CEVIPOF. ———. 2003. Le vote des fonctionnaires aux élections de 2002. La Revue administrative 332: 196–203. ———. 2005. Public/privé: la culture sociopolitique des salariés en Europe, Cahier du CEVIPOF, 40.



———. 2007. Le vote des fonctionnaires aux élections de 2007. La Revue administrative 360: 581–589. ———. 2012. Politicization of the Civil Service. In Handbook of Public Administration, ed. B. Guy Peters and Jon Pierre, 310–320. London: Sage. ———. 2013. Back to the Nineteenth Century: The Managerial Reform of the French Civil Service. Labor History 54: 161–175. ———. 2016. L’effet électoral du déclassement social, French electoral survey, wave 5, 24, CEVIPOF. NOTE%2324_vague5.pdf?t=1468919916. ———. 2017a. Quel avenir pour la fonction publique? Paris: La Documentation française. ———. 2017b. L’Assemblée élue en 2017 et la crise de la représentation, Note du CEVIPOF, ENEF, 43. LA_NOTE_%2343_vague16.pdf?t=1499413909. Siwek-Pouydesseau, Jeanne. 1989. Le syndicalisme des fonctionnaires jusqu’à la guerre froide 1848–1948. Lille: Presses Universitaires de Lille.


Socialists and Changes in Capitalism and States


Socialists and Changes in Capitalism and States: Introduction to Part III Marc Lazar

Over the course of their long history, socialists have always shown proof of great ability to debate over and adapt their doctrine, programmes, and practices to the changes in capitalism, politics, and society. This is what has distinguished them from communists and it also goes to explain their longevity. This aptitude nevertheless generates lively debates on each occasion because it puts their identity, objectives, and strategies at stake. It was particularly true in the late nineteenth century with the controversy within the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) between Karl Kautsky and Eduard Bernstein. This controversy reverberated in other parties over the period that followed: in the inter-war period, particularly around Henri de Man’s planist proposals; in the 1950s, with Anthony Crosland’s “revisionist” ideas in the Labour Party, André Philip’s in France, and the artisans of the “revisionist” turn at Bad Godesberg in Germany; and more recently with Tony Blair’s Third Way. The influence this last major contention had on all socialist and social democratic parties, and the bitter controversies it

M. Lazar (*) Sciences Po Paris, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




produced, still persists after all these years of questioning that afflicted— and still afflict—the European left, as it faces the erosion of the economic and social model it had constructed over almost thirty years after 1945. Ideological controversies have been and are mostly always an invariant of European socialist culture. Rather than examining the way the European socialists analyse the mutations of capitalism and conceive their actions, especially regarding the role of the state in some crucial moments—the 1970s and the 1990s for instance—as much of the political science literature does, in this section we assess the continuities and changes among socialists regarding these topics. We argue that while each socialist party has always had national specificities, the socialists have been increasingly affected by convergent dynamics. Social democracy then experienced a golden age after World War II (Sassoon 1996). Unlike the communists, the socialists did not want to create an earthly utopia which, at least under Stalinism, implied changing man himself to produce “a new man”, “a man of iron”, “a man of marble”. They intended to change the economic and social conditions under which people lived, particularly those of the workers, who were the most destitute. Then, as we saw in the previous section, they set about taking action in favour of some of the middle classes, particularly those in the public sector. They did not therefore claim to be creating a perfect world. In fact, at different moments depending on the party, socialists abandoned the idea of overturning capitalism and instead embraced a social market economy. In socialist circles, the conversion to this form of mixed economy—in which the state provides direction as to the production of goods and services without standing in for private enterprise, regulates the capitalist cycle through a Keynesian-inspired budgetary policy, and corrects imbalances generated by the market through an assortment of redistributive policies—could be seen between the wars in Sweden. It occurred after 1945 in Germany, Austria, and the United Kingdom, not without a few ambiguities in the case of the latter since the Labour Party remained loyal to the famous clause IV of its 1918 constitution, which announced the “public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange”. Although more belatedly, the Italian, French, Spanish, and Greek socialist parties followed close on the heels of their social democratic comrades. In the years 1960–1970, some of these parties also sought to innovate in undertaking to regulate the market economy, calling for increased planning and, particularly in France, self-management, as Mathieu Fulla explains.



Whether or not they were in power, socialist and social democratic leaders went to great lengths to introduce a welfare state. Depending on the countries, this took on unusual and sometimes contrasting forms, but was based on a trend towards strong economic growth despite short periods when it ran out of steam and slowed down. However welfare is not solely the result of their own action. That, we find, is important to highlight. All of the chapters emphasize the interactions—sometimes harmonious and at others a great source of tension—between socialist parties and a large variety of actors: trade unions, senior civil servants, and sometimes experts and intellectuals. The welfare state ensured that the fruits of growth were redistributed, worked towards reducing inequality, and expanded social services. The socialists did not contribute only to the development of economic and social policies. In all countries studied here, the authors emphasize the actions and policies of socialist governments in favour of education, culture, and more generally for the modernization of society (laws in favour of women, homosexual, divorce, abortion, and so on). The authors take stock of socialist policies in each chapter of this section. Deploying in the context of the nation-state, these generated a kind of national pride, reinforced the feeling of belonging to the nation, and solidified the state’s legitimacy. Sebastian Voigt for Germany, Jenny Andersson and Kjell Östberg for Sweden, and Maria Mesner for Austria describe these achievements in three countries where the social democratic parties were powerful and, in the case of the last two, almost continuously in power. They also explain why it has not always been easy for socialists to achieve the articulation between national social policies and European integration. The welfare state also had its limits; its economic cost was extremely high due to the scale of public spending. Furthermore, the support of socialist leaders for maintaining a capitalist system of production did not have a consensus within the parties. Internal socialist divergences are a major point stresses in these contributions. There were minorities who remained loyal to the original anti-capitalist conception of socialism. This was the case of the Jusos in Germany who, at the turn of the 1970s, latched on to new post-materialist themes. The French Socialist Party (PS), reformed by François Mitterrand in 1971, on the other hand claimed to be different from the rest of European social democracy, which it found too reformist, and revived its plea for a “break with capitalism”. The action of these minorities nevertheless remained secondary in the questioning of the mixed economy in socialist circles. Debate was



prompted mainly by the great oil crisis, and then grew with the fundamental transformation of capitalism as of the 1970s, and subsequently reaching greater proportions with financialization (Castles 2004). Globalization, progress with European integration, new issues such as feminism or the environment, as well as the advance of neo-liberal ideas and policies embodied by Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom and Ronald Reagan in the United States accelerated these changes which first and foremost directly affected the welfare state. As shown by the different authors of the chapters in this section, socialists and social democrats were divided between those who wished to pursue the policies of the golden age, considering that, basically, the current changes were no more than a new episode in the cyclical crises of capitalism, and those who, believing that a new age was emerging, decided to overhaul their analysis almost entirely. Three notable exceptions emerged, however. First of all, France, since the PS, which had come to power in 1981, proclaimed its ambition “to change life and to change France”1 through Keynesian stimulus mechanisms—against the tide of its Western partners—and to reinforce the state’s economic role through the nationalization of industries and banks. Then the Greek Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), which won power in 1981 by adopting a populist style, according to the terms of Gerassimos Moschonas. And finally, the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), which, upon emerging from Franco’s dictatorship, proposed a fairly radical change of direction before its leader, Felipe Gonzales, abandoned it. However, over and above these often rhetorical differences of program or political position (due in Southern Europe to competition between communist parties at the time) that emerge in reading the different chapters is the completely new convergence of public policies realized by the socialist parties. More than in the past, the socialists constitute a kind of forum in which concepts, ideas, and practical experiences of power constantly circulate, with many examples of transfers from one party to another: Ania Skrzypek, for instance, underlines the role played in recent decades by the European Socialist Party. The convergence was clearly manifested during the 1990s (Jingjing 2009; Pierson 2000). Each party, in its own way and in its own time, through radical or incremental change, 1  According to the words of Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy, in his general policy declaration of July 8, 1981, [consulted August 31, 2018].



tackled the job of privatizing, balancing public accounts, and controlling social spending, while at the same time redirecting this spending mostly towards education and research. For the socialist elites, the aim was also to reduce labour costs by improving workers’ productivity as well as the efficiency of capital; to lower taxes, particularly for business, to facilitate investment; and to change the organization of the labour market. Reform of the state was also central on this agenda. The socialists encouraged the spread of evaluation procedures, rationalization of the way public services and companies functioned—introducing new management techniques—and agreed to delegate some of the state’s non-sovereign functions to other organizations (regions, agencies, or the private sector). These changes were extremely similar in Sweden, Austria, and the United Kingdom with the governments of Tony Blair (1997–2007) and, albeit with a few modifications, Gordon Brown (2008–2010); in Germany, too, the second Schröder government ushered in the Agenda 2010 reforms, with which the name of Peter Hartz is associated. Elsewhere, there were assorted variations on the theme. Noting the failure of the 1981–1982 plan for change, the French socialists proceeded to reorient their economic and social policy without really fully embracing or explaining the change of direction. Later, as Mathieu Fulla explains, the policy proposals of President Hollande (2012–2017) and his prime minister, Manuel Valls, were comparable to those previously followed by other socialist parties and by those of them that remained in office. In Italy, when Bettino Craxi was prime minister from 1983 to 1987 in a coalition government dominated by the Christian Democrats, the socialist party also changed its attitude towards the state. Marc Lazar and Massimo Asta show that it became more social-liberal, thus clearly distinguishing itself from the powerful communist party then in opposition. At the same time, however, it proposed institutional reform that aimed to strengthen the executive branch, increase public spending, and control entire sectors of the state and public enterprises. This policy, principally motivated by the preponderance of civil servants in the Italian Socialist Party (PSI), failed. Clientelist practices and corruption, facilitated by this accelerated integration with the state and para-state sector, led the party to its downfall in the early 1990s. The PASOK, which according to Gerassimos Moschonas is difficult to call social democratic, is a still more atypical case. Andreas Papandreou (who was prime minister from 1981 to 1989) developed the welfare state as a state bureaucracy and pledged huge social expenditure, causing the debt to skyrocket and creating a huge public deficit. On the other hand, he



carefully avoided carrying out fiscal reform—which was very necessary— and practiced clientelism and corruption. His successor, Konstantinos Simitis, who was prime minister in his turn from 1996 to 2004, tried to rationalize the state, liberalize the labour market, and reduce the size of the public sector through substantial privatization, without, however, curbing the increase in public spending or solving the thorny issue of taxation. Moreover, when the socialists were in power in the late 1990s, either alone or in coalition, in France, the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria, Spain, Greece, Sweden, Belgium, and, under very special conditions, in Italy,2 they missed an historic occasion to coordinate their action at a European level. This failure is explained not only by their internal disagreements, but also by opposition from their conservative and liberal adversaries. It highlights the historical difficulty that socialists have in harmonizing their views on European integration. At the turn of the twenty-­ first century, a clear split emerged between, on the one hand, those who believed that in spite of everything it was the only level on which fiscal and social economic policies could be set in motion and, on the other, those tempted by a return to the level of the nation-state—a trend currently well illustrated by Jeremy Corbin and his supporters in the United Kingdom. These questionings about Europe have intensified the divergences that have appeared in all the socialist parties with regard to the new “neo-­ liberal” public policies implemented, which mark a break with the post-­ war decades of (relative) Keynesian consensus. However that may be, what concerns us here is that the socialists have come around to considerably resizing the role of the state, which itself is undergoing major transformation. That state, perceived as a Leviathan in the late nineteenth century, then as a formidable lever for action in the inter-war and especially the post-war period, now appears to the majority of its leaders and experts as a structure that needs to be reformed and rationalized. They therefore perceive it as an organizer, a moderator, a strategist, and even, in certain cases, a merchant-state. The “cultural revolution” of the market, according to the expression used by Jenny Andersson and Kjell Östberg, has driven social democracy to restructure (Escalona 2018). Tony Blair, with his notion of the Third Way, tried to give coherence to this, as Emmanuelle Avril points out. This theory has influenced 2  The country was then led by a centre-left government that included no socialists since their party had disappeared, swamped by the anti-corruption wave of the early 1990s.



all socialist and social democratic parties, which have mostly assimilated and adapted it to their national context, despite the reluctance of substantial minorities, with the French PS conspicuous for its immense ambiguity in this regard (Rioufreyt 2016). This project is a slap in the face for those sections of society dependent on the state, who had become one of the socialist parties’ most favoured electoral bases. The austerity policies, made worse by the financial, economic, and social crisis of 2008, accelerated a split with a large segment of the working class, which sees itself as no longer protected by the state (Rennwald 2015). This is also true of state employees, who feel penalized by wage freezes, harassed by ever-increasing evaluation schemes, and threatened by the processes of modernization. Moreover, the rise in unemployment, deepening inequality, widespread job insecurity, and the growth of poverty affect most European countries to various degrees. This difficult socio-economic context fuels the fires of opposition by groups from civil society. They protest against globalization and the social decline resulting from it, and worry about the expansion of populisms of all persuasions, especially on the radical right, as Ania Skrzypek mentions, noting also the inability of socialist parties to take up these challenges. In the social realm, the threat of populism does indeed appear increasingly serious. Many radical left and radical right parties pass themselves off as ardent defenders of a welfare state reserved, in the minds of the latter, for nationals only. Such is indeed what has been observed. States are undergoing an extensive process of reconfiguration and socialists are confronting one of the most serious crises in their history. These two phenomena, noted by all the authors, are most certainly intertwined, interdependent, and inextricably linked. States lost a part of some of their legitimacy and authority during the 80’s and 90’s, but are not for all that disappearing. They are redefining the conditions of their  intervention and, more generally, their role and functions. The question posed for socialist and social democratic parties is whether they, too, are able to redefine their role, their functions, the ways in which they organize, and their modes of operation, and thereby restore their close links with society. Or else face the risk of disappearing. Translated by Cynthia Schoch and Rosemary Rodwell



References Castles, Francis. 2004. The Future of the Welfare State: Crisis Myths and Crisis Realities. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Escalona, Fabien. 2018. La reconversion partisane de la social-démocratie: du régime social-démocrate keynésien au régime social-démocrate de marché. Paris: Dalloz. Jingjing, Huo. 2009. Third Way Reforms: Social Democracy After the Golden Age. New York: Cambridge University Press. Pierson, Paul. 2000. The New Politics of the Welfare State. New York: Cambridge University Press. Rennwald, Line. 2015. Partis socialistes et classe ouvrière. Ruptures et continuités du lien électoral en Suisse, en Autriche, en Allemagne, en Grande-Bretagne et en France (1970–2008). Neufchâtel: EditionsAlphil-Presses Universitaires Suisses. Rioufreyt, Thibaut. 2016. Les socialistes français face à la Troisième voie britannique. Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble. Sassoon, Donald. 1996. One Hundrede Year of Socialism. The West European Left in the Twentieth Century. London: Fontana Press.


French Socialists, Capitalism and the State: A Unique Approach within West European Social Democracy? Mathieu Fulla

In a speech that has gone down in history, given at the Nantes Congress of the French Socialist Party  (PS) in 1977, Michel Rocard asserted the coexistence of two political cultures within the French left. The first, said Rocard, is characterised by Jacobinism, centralism, statism, nationalism and protectionism.1 Proposing himself as the leader of the second culture—decentralist, regionalist, hostile to the arbitrary dominance exercised by employers and the state—he nonetheless, in the same speech, defined the Common Programme of government concluded by the PS with the French Communist Party (PCF) five years earlier as an “honest and good compromise between these two cultures”. The latter statement, often forgotten by commentators, was not merely a tactical manoeuvre. 1  Michel Rocard, Speech at the PS Congress, Nantes, 18 June 1977, [accessed 28 May 2018].

M. Fulla (*) Sciences Po Paris, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




Certainly, the Rocardian faction was part of the PS leadership at the time; alongside the Mitterrandists, it was pitted against Jean-Pierre Chevènement’s Centre d’Études, de Recherches et d’Éducation Socialiste (CERES—Centre for Socialist Studies, Research and Education) which like the PCF favoured further expanding the scope of nationalisations even though the Common Programme already called for the renationalisation of nine strategic industry groups as well as banks and insurance companies (Bergounioux and Tartakowsky 2012; Batardy 2016). Yet Rocard’s endorsement of the Programme in its existing form reminds us, too, that the main players of what became known as the “second left” after the Nantes Congress were not at this time hostile to extending the scope of state ownership in industry and banking. Whether they are labelled—sometimes wrongly—as belonging to one or the other of these two cultures, which were initially far closer than their respective proponents like to suggest, even today, French socialists have always, from the late nineteenth century through to the 1980s, placed particular emphasis on the role of the state, not only within the capitalist system but also with a view to a (hypothetical) transition towards socialism. Does this statist orientation translate into a discourse and above all into economic practices that are unique in relation to their West European counterparts? Several arguments support this proposition. The significant weight of lower- and middle-grade civil servants, and to a lesser extent of public-­ sector workers, in the socialist electorate (Morin 2007) justifies the defence of public-sector interests in the programmes and public policies implemented. Even in 1984, two eminent PS officials could still write in Le Monde, “The socialists’ intimate familiarity with the apparatus of the state at all levels is a precious resource in a country where the role of the public authorities remains predominant; being a party of civil servants does not bring only disadvantages”.2 The long shadow cast by Marxism, a distinctively French passion (Burlaud and Ducange 2018), coupled with a revolutionary doctrine maintained through to 1990, also fostered an advocacy of state industry abandoned—long since abandoned, in some cases—by other social democratic parties. The period 1972–82, which saw a strong “statist revival” (Lazar 2010), does indeed present a powerful argument in favour of French exceptionalism. From the signature of the Common Programme through to the Mauroy government’s nationalisations in 2  Jean-Pierre Cot and Dominique Taddeï, “Vous avez dit socialisme?” Le Monde, 14 September 1984.



industry and banking, the socialists played a key role in expanding the public industrial and banking sectors in France at a time when it was shrinking everywhere else in the Western world. Less frequently mentioned in the literature but just as interesting is the fact that the main PS leaders embodied this traditional state ethos. With the exception of François Mitterrand, a lawyer by training, the most iconic among them were products of republican institutions, from member of the Council of State Léon Blum, to ENA graduates Lionel Jospin, François Hollande, Martine Aubry and Ségolène Royal, and including public schoolteachers Guy Mollet and Pierre Mauroy. This chapter proposes a rather different reading of French socialism’s relationship to the state. It shows that when we view French socialism through the culture and economic practices of its main leaders and experts, in opposition and in power, the thesis of exceptionalism does not hold true. On the contrary, there are profound similarities in the way different West European socialists conceive and utilise the democratic state within the capitalist system from 1918 through to the present day. If French socialists accord the centralised state a more important place in their doctrine and their rhetoric—though not in their governmental practice—this is best explained through the heritage of a national statist culture transcending party affiliations, the enduring presence of a powerful PCF and a complex and ambiguous relationship with unionism rather than as a unique and independently invented approach. After all, socialism, just like communism, is the product of an international political culture—but also a national one. From its national culture, French socialism draws on Colbertism, Jacobinism and the Napoleonic centralised administrative tradition shared with other European states such as Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal (Ongaro 2010). Many characteristics of this statist culture are also shared by its political adversaries on both left and right. The reforms of the state apparatus implemented after Liberation offer just one of many potential examples here. Far from being purely a product of socialism, these reforms were the result of a cross-party consensus, extending from Gaullism to communism, whose main players were “not-so-Left” technocratic elites—some of whom had held positions of responsibility under the Vichy government (Nord 2016). The impact of these legacies can be seen in the use of state economic instruments by the various parties of government, on both left and right. Like Japan, France is the archetype of a state-driven industrial development model (Cohen 1989; Rosanvallon 1990; Levy 2015), a system that was never radically



questioned even during the “shock of the global” (Ferguson et al. 2010) and the neoliberal turn of the 1970s–1980s (Warlouzet 2017; Descamps and Quennouëlle-Corre 2018). In power, the socialist elites conformed to the standard institutional model, whether or not they had helped to shape it. Overall, their economic policy appears scarcely any more statist than that of their political adversaries—at times even proving to be more liberal, as when Guy Mollet in 1957 and Pierre Bérégovoy in 1984 imposed, respectively, despite a recalcitrant senior civil service, free movement of goods within the newly formed European Economic Community (Bossuat 2005), and the creation of a unified capital market (Quennouëlle-Corre 2018). The influence of the Force Ouvrière union (FO—General Confederation of Labour–Workers’ Force) in shaping the socioeconomic programme and public policies of the Section Française de l’Internationale Ouvrière (SFIO—French Section of the Workers’ International) under the Fourth Republic, like the influence—varying from one field to another— of the Confédération Française Démocratique du Travail (CFDT—French Democratic Confederation of Labour) on the PS from the 1970s onwards, also played a part in reining in the statist inclinations of the socialist leaders and their experts, many of whom were state employees. Even so, their influence on the socialists’ approach to the state remained considerably smaller than that exercised by the PCF. The party configuration within which West European socialists operate—characterised above all by the presence or absence of a strong communist party—plays a key role in defining the various ways they speak about the state. In France, the PCF’s electoral and activist strength, through to the early 1980s, forced socialists to compete with their defence of public-sector workers and thus to develop an ideology and electoral arguments on this basis. Moreover, the PS, with its multiple strands, is historically much more divided on any issues it deals with than the British Labour Party (BLP) or the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Yet, beyond these cultural legacies and the different configurations of national political arenas within Western Europe, the relationship of French socialist elites to fiscal policy, nationalisations, planning and industrial democracy barely differs from that of their German and British counterparts. This trend is only verifiable, though, on condition that the parties are in equivalent political situations—in government or in opposition. As with the BLP and to a lesser extent the SPD, the French socialists are never as resolutely statist as when the party is in opposition. Governmental responsibility, by contrast, yields incremental—and non-radical—changes



to state instruments. Encouraged by their experts and by the senior civil service, they generally opt for prudence.

Strengthening the State to Establish Socialism: The Ambiguities of the Inter-War Period The First World War brought a major shift in how the state was perceived by European social democrats, who showed a much more positive attitude towards it than previously (Moschonas 2017). French socialists, too, were swept up in this trend (Baruch 2005; Roussellier 2010). While the SFIO’s programmes continued to denounce the state’s subjugation to moneyed interests, as in the days of Jules Guesde and Jean Jaurès, remaining true to their Marxist leanings, the practices of its elites revealed an ambition to occupy and democratise the state rather than to dismantle it. In 1919, in a programme drawn up by Léon Blum, the party defended the idea of extending the state’s economic prerogatives. In order to end the collusion between capitalism and the state it proposed nationalising public services (insurance, sugar, petroleum, alcohol), de facto monopolies (mines, railways, fertilisers) and, on a smaller scale, some banks. This advocacy of state-owned industry converges with the views expressed one year earlier by the British Labour Party in an electoral manifesto largely inspired by the Fabian Society, its most influential centre of expertise.3 Throughout the 1920s, in its manifestos, pamphlets and speeches, the BLP defended a gradual expansion of the public sector, at the national and local level, via nationalisations and municipalisations. In their view, this long march towards socialism could only happen within a framework of liberal democracy, the defence of whose principles had been one of the mainstays of its political culture from the outset. Like the French socialists, they aspired above all to democratise the state—for example by nationalising the Bank of England, or by taxing income from capital and land rent (Thompson 2006 [1996]), but not by radically transforming the state’s economic instruments or by creating any such instruments from scratch. This approach to the state promoted by French and British socialist elites in the aftermath of the First World War was dominant in Germany, too. Here, it owed its most comprehensive formulation to Rudolf 3  British Labour Party, 1918 Labour Party General Election Manifesto, http://www. [accessed 30 May 2018].



Hilferding, the SPD’s main political leader and economic expert under the Weimar Republic. Without completely breaking with the Marxist approach, of which he was one of this period’s most important theorists, Hilferding abandoned his hopes of (peaceful) revolutionary change in Germany and, from 1921 onwards, developed a defence of the parliamentary republic as the primary objective of the labour movement. This policy turnaround had major consequences for the approach to the state promoted by the SPD.  Under Hilferding’s influence, the Leviathan state was no longer envisaged as a class instrument in the hands of the bourgeoisie, but as an institution that could be placed at the service of any social group capable of gaining control over it via electoral victory. The Heidelberg Programme, published in 1925, took up the theory of “organised capitalism” outlined and reworked by Hilferding during the first half of the 1920s (Smaldone 2009). To end the dominance of the cartels and trusts Hilferding accused of profiting from the war to consolidate their power, the SPD proposed to use the instruments of the republic to restore the primary means of production to the nation and to initiate major social reforms. This new view of the state was therefore shared by the three main cradles of European social democracy, despite their very different relationships to Marxism—characterised by ambiguity in Germany, vilification in Great Britain and glorification in France. The convergence of the French and Germans on the path towards a gradualist transformation of the state in the context of a democratic and liberal parliamentary system, comparable in its broad outlines to the vision pursued by the Fabian Society from its inception in 1884,4 is essentially explained by the repudiation of revolutionary violence as a legitimate means of gaining power. In economic terms, this refusal to follow in the path of Russian Bolshevism translated into a comprehensive rejection of statism; the primacy of the market as the principal mode of allocating resources was debated but not condemned. As was the case with Léon Blum, the economic culture of Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden and Hermann Müller drew much more heavily on liberal orthodoxy than on the classic socialist advocacy of a break with capitalism. This attachment to economic liberalism, which is explained as much if not more by their trouble designing a socialist economic alternative as by 4  For example see Sidney Webb, “English Progress towards Social Democracy”, Fabian Tract no. 15, London, The Fabian Society, November 1893, http://webbs.library.lse. [accessed 28 May 2018].



their unconditional defence of parliamentary and political liberalism, did not stop these leaders from endorsing the expansion of the industrial state and attempting to rationalise its workings—especially when they were in opposition. In France and Britain, this conviction derived its force from a fascination with the efficiency of the war economy. In 1928, BLP and SFIO programmes were united in arguing that the entire national community should reap the benefits of scientific progress and the rationalisation of production methods.5 Political and sociological factors converged at this point to focus French socialists’ attention on the state. Foremost among these factors was the birth of the communist movement, which broke away from the SFIO at the Tours Congress in December 1920. As the communists had appropriated the classic Marxist discourse of dismantling the bourgeois state, the SFIO countered with proposals for using the state to deliver immediate social reforms, benefiting workers (Roussellier 2006; Bergounioux 2014). The difficulties European governments had encountered in their attempts to rebuild the continent via liberal capitalism also underlie this drive to strengthen the state’s powers. Throughout the 1920s, the SFIO parliamentary group, spurred on by Léon Blum and Vincent Auriol, called for fiscal reform—with the introduction of a tax on capital to rebalance public finances crippled by the costs of war. This preoccupation chimed with that of their British colleagues who, though more prudent, also made fiscal reform one of the main thrusts of their economic analysis (Thompson 2006 [1996]). The call to democratise the state and expand public-sector industry and banking is inextricably linked with demands for “workers’ control” in industry. Maintaining the customary distinction between a maximum and minimum programme, the SFIO developed an unusually detailed vision of the socialist state in the document it produced for the 1928 legislative elections: Socialism will seek to solve the problem of renovating the state by splitting up the traditional centralised state into a number of small specialist states— founded, necessarily, on their respective professional organisations—operating under the regulatory authority of a central parliament, which would itself be the seat of actual political power. This would transform the essence of the state: it would lose its authoritarian centralising power, while the 5  BLP, Labour and the Nation, London, The Labour Party, 1928, p. 21 (60 p.). SFIO, “Le programme du Parti socialiste pour les élections législatives de 1928”, Paris, Librairie populaire, 1928, pp. 27–28 (64 p.).



major services would simultaneously be uncoupled from it, to the benefit of the labour organisations that would manage them.6

Almost instantly, though, the party acknowledged the difficulty of realising such an ambition in the short term and, more modestly, endorsed proposals advanced by the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT— General Confederation of Labour), which was demanding a broader remit for the Conseil national économique (CNE—National Economic Council). This alignment with CGT positions occurred all the more easily because Léon Blum had advised this union during the drafting of the decree that established the CNE between 1924 and 1925 (Chatriot 2002). More broadly, the socialist aim of placing labour movement representatives at the heart of the state—through institutional reforms, nationalisations and (rather vaguely) by granting powers of control over the management of public and private companies—is also found within both the BLP and the SPD. Although less influential than the Fabian Society, advocates of R.  H. Tawney’s and G.  D. H.  Cole’s guild socialism foregrounded the subject of industrial democracy in documents published by the party during the 1920s (Thompson 2006 [1996]). In Germany, in all his writings after 1923 Rudolf Hilferding emphasised the need to link the parliamentary republic inextricably with “economic democracy”; the labour movement should strive not just to secure the strongest possible representation in parliament but also to gain control over corporate management. At the Hamburg Congress of 1928, German unions officially adopted the concept of “economic democracy” in their programme (Smaldone 2009). The shock of the Great Depression introduced new themes into the socialist discussion of the state. In the SFIO and within the CGT, the main trade union of the time, discussions crystallised around the benefits of a planned economy, reflecting the aspirations of a new generation of European socialists who were seeking to reinvent a form of democratic socialism, breaking with the Kautskyist Marxist orthodoxy dominant in the Socialist International (Milani 2017). Many young French socialists— including Marcel Déat—were lured by the ideas of the Belgian socialist theoretician Henri de Man. These economic specialists and planning enthusiasts became part of the socialist mainstream, gradually replacing the utopian theorists of pre-war social democracy: a dynamic that was a 6

 SFIO, “Le programme du Parti socialiste…”, op. cit., p. 12.



West European phenomenon and not the sole province of French socialism (Berger 1994; Milani 2017). The failure of the deflationary policies of the early 1930s would force socialist leaders to mobilise their sources of heterodox expertise more intensively: coming up with a new theory of the state became a political necessity. In France, teachers, unionists, engineers and—more infrequently—senior civil servants who were close to the SFIO without necessarily being members saw Henri de Man’s planism as a way of reconciling their political ideal with modern rationalisation methods. Their theories met with a mixed reception. The party leaders understood the importance of a more active fiscal policy, one that could shake off the dogma of balancing the public finances from year to year—modelled on the policy pursued by Sweden’s SAP from 1932 onwards (Sejersted 2011). Yet neither the ambitious social dialogue reform launched by the Hansson government, enshrined in the Saltsjöbaden Agreement of 1938, nor the “productivist compromise” concluded between private companies and the Swedish regulatory state, captured their interest. The SFIO programme for the 1932 elections, better known as the “Cahiers de Huyghens”, focused above all on the importance of macroeconomic policy at a time of crisis. The socialists countered the budgetary austerity advocated by the right and the majority of the Parti Radical (Radical Party) with a “crypto-Keynesian” approach (Rosanvallon 1987) to stimulate demand—chiefly inspired by Roosevelt’s New Deal.7 Heterodox economic policies pursued by the International’s sister parties in Sweden, Denmark and New Zealand reinforced their belief that this reflationary approach, to use the terminology current at the time, was the right one (Candar 2007). However, the strengthening of the industrial state’s powers in line with planist theories also generated fierce debate. There was a patent discrepancy between the experts’ interest in rationalisation and planning and the party’s much more reserved public pronouncements. Yet the expulsion of the “neo-socialists”8 in November 1933 and the marginalisation of planist theories within the SFIO do not entirely mask the party’s attraction to radical structural reform. Even while criticising it in public, Léon Blum acknowledged the “revolutionary power” of the Belgian plan (Biard 7  Léon Blum, “L’expérience Roosevelt. La position socialiste”, Le Populaire, 8 October 1933. Robert Marjolin, “Les expériences Roosevelt”, Les Cahiers du socialisme, 5, 1934. 8  For a detailed presentation of this schism, see Alain Bergounioux’s chapter in this volume.



1985). He did not see nationalisations as offering a way out of the capitalist framework, but he did concede their financial, social and economic usefulness. What prompted him to suppress his interest in strengthening the state, in the face of the capitalist crisis, was the political context of the first half of the 1930s, above all the advance of fascism. Apart from the international context, Blum’s reticence was also justified by the Rassemblement Populaire (Popular Front) strategy, launched after 1934. Communists and radicals, from their separate positions, were hostile to any further nationalisations in banking and industry (Margairaz 1991). In order to secure its allies’ support in the fight against fascism, the SFIO leadership allowed nationalisations to be omitted from the Rassemblement Populaire programme of January 1936. It is merely an apparent paradox, then, that the SFIO’s economic line in the 1930s was less statist than that of the BLP or Germany’s exiled Social Democrats. In Britain, the Labour base was quick to condemn the orthodoxy of the “Gladstonian” economic policy (Wrigley 2013) pursued by Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden as the country was becoming mired in depression. Returning to opposition, the party advocated a much more proactive role for the state at a time of crisis. A new generation of economic experts around Hugh Dalton and Evan Durbin made planning the lingua franca of the party’s economic debates. State control of credit became a central theme of the moment (Durbin 1985; Brooke 1992). This advocacy of state planning and state as banker is also found in the writings of many SPD experts in exile. The authors of the Prague Manifesto of January 1934, mainly written by Hilferding, argued for a “total revolution” based on authentic socialisation of the means of production and exchange and “a rigorous system of economic planning” (Barclay 1998). Conversely, under the test of power, the Blum government of 1936–37 pursued a more liberal policy than that laid down in the Cahiers de Huyghens (Margairaz 1991). So as not to undermine the alliance with the PCF and the radicals, the prime minister did not introduce exchange controls, settled for a minimum number of nationalisations and did not question the pre-eminence within the state of the powerful Mouvement Général des Fonds, forerunner of the Treasury Department. In private, Léon Blum and several socialist ministers would have liked the economic stimulus plan initiated by the so-called accords Matignon (Matignon Agreements) of June 1936 to be accompanied by structural reforms. The social legislation accompanying the agreements (40-hour working week, paid vacations) and the creation of the Office National Interprofessionnel



du Blé, which was to regulate prices and foreign trade in wheat—a major policy shift in the agricultural sphere—did nonetheless instil a dose of the dirigisme shunned by Léon Blum’s prime ministerial predecessors (Chatriot 2016). However, the international context and the terms of the alliance between the parties of the left explain why the strengthening of the state’s economic powers remained embryonic and limited to very specific sectors. The “liquidation” of the Popular Front by Édouard Daladier in 1938, followed two years later by the collapse of the Third Republic, shattered the socialists’ reticence regarding state planning, industry ownership and banking.

From Dirigisme to “Democratic Planning”: The French Avatar of State Planning’s Comeback in West European Social Democracy Socialist members of the Resistance both within France and in the Free France forces shared a common faith in the virtues of the state-controlled economy as the only means of reconstructing a country betrayed by its elites. The plans they secretly prepared agreed on the need for a state that produced, planned, regulated and provided social welfare to rebuild the country when the war was over. Nationalising industries viewed as strategic and expanding the 1936 labour legislation was the mainstay of these projects (Shennan 1989). As part of the provisional Consultative Assembly in Algiers, in June 1944 Jules Moch produced a “Note on the Ministry of the Economy” outlining “wide-ranging socialisations” within the framework of a mixed economy in which a nationalised sector, a controlled private sector and an unregulated sector would exist side by side. A remodelled Ministry of the Economy, overseeing the traditional services of the Ministry of Finance, would coordinate the entire endeavour (Margairaz 1991). Socialist resistance fighters within France shared this dirigiste creed. Their political programme for after the war, published in Le Populaire in 1943, was based on a “Keynesian-dirigiste” approach to economic problems. This Keynesian bias, uncommon among French elites at the time (Dard 1998), is explained by the identity of the programme’s main author, Georges Boris, who was close to Pierre Mendès France and one of the few people familiar with Keynes’s work in France (Crémieux-Brilhac 2010). In stark contrast to 1936, dirigisme was fully embraced here. Planning was presented as an imperative in both industry and agriculture, as were



nationalisations, viewed as the most effective way of controlling credit and eliminating trusts. This recognition of the state’s key role in economic, industrial and monetary policy was a matter of general consensus in the Resistance. The sole remaining impediment to the socialists’ ideological victory—and it was a considerable one—was the PCF. Jacques Duclos, one of the party’s main leaders during the war, secured the replacement of “socialisation”—a concept he regarded as provocative—with “return to the nation”, the formulation used in the programme of the Conseil National de la Résistance (CNR—National Council of the Resistance). As at the time of the Front Populaire, state control of key economic sectors was not a priority for the communists. For political reasons, its leaders were unwilling to alarm public opinion by defending projects of a “collectivist” nature—and they feared, too, quite rightly, that they would find themselves in a minority on the management boards of newly nationalised companies. While the PCF’s influence moderated the dirigiste tone of the CNR’s programme at the time, this programme nonetheless represented a deferred victory for the socialist and CGT planists of the 1930s. After Liberation, the SFIO, along with the CGT, proved to be the most ardent defender of the programme’s economic components. A strong dirigiste consensus reigned at the heart of the SFIO at this time, all the more robust for having a role model—Labour Britain—support within the government and the party, and the temporary backing of the entire left. The socialist leaders felt tremendous admiration for British civilisation—a civilisation with which they, like Léon Blum, were genuinely familiar (Fulla 2016). Party officials and activists were impressed, too, by the British people’s heroic resistance to Nazism and the speed with which Attlee’s government nationalised key industries and introduced the welfare state.9 While Labour Britain provided the socialists with their main role model, this was not their sole point of reference in economic matters. Several articles in Le Populaire evidenced clear interest in the dirigiste experiment undertaken by the Belgian government under the socialist Achille Van Acker, particularly in monetary and financial spheres.10 The renovated party’s study commissions, filled with former planists (Jules Moch, André 9  Economic Survey for 1947, presented by the prime minister to Parliament by Command of His Majesty, February 1947, 36 p., Archives départementales de l’Aveyron, Fonds Ramadier, 52J 155. 10  Jules Moch, “La politique financière du parti”, Le Populaire, 27–30 March 1945.



Philip) also functioned as powerful advocates of the dirigiste cause. Finally, the SFIO felt its public defence of dirigisme to be all the more legitimate because the communists and the labour movement were defending it, too. Faithful to the spirit of the CNR, fully committed to the “battle of production”, both the PCF and the CGT accorded the state the primary role in producing and distributing the national wealth. Yet after the end of 1945, dirigisme lost momentum within the left. The unity between the socialist and communist partners on its purpose and mechanisms proved merely a façade. The exercise of governmental responsibilities under Tripartisme, the three-party alliance (January 1946– May 1947), revealed the PCF’s hostility to any excessive strengthening of state powers, for the same reasons cited under the Occupation. Exercising power also eroded the SFIO’s confidence in the virtues of dirigisme. In government, most of its leaders promoted the progressive liberalisation of the national economy desired by the majority of French people. The most audacious Liberation projects—inheritance reform, abolishing the Inspection Générale des Finances (Inspectorate General of Finances)— were ruled out. Tensions ran high within the government between staunch supporters of dirigisme (André Philip, Tanguy-Prigent) and those in favour of some liberalisation of trade and prices, such as Paul Ramadier and Léon Blum. The PCF’s entry into the Cold War in the autumn of 1947 and the Troisième Force (Third Force) strategy driven by the party’s new leadership under Guy Mollet accelerated the shift away from the command economy. By rallying the Western camp in 1948 and reaffirming its faith in republican institutions, the party—like most of its sister parties in the International—recognised the superiority of democratic institutions and clearly designated Stalinist communism as its main enemy. Making defence of the Republic a priority had important consequences: it prevented any excessive criticism of the market economy. Rather than questioning the new expansionist orthodoxy—given its iconic expression in the Monnet Plan—the SFIO decided to support this production model and focused on distributing the fruits of growth and developing the social state. This course change was assisted by the changing socioeconomic profile of the party’s internal economic experts. The planists of the 1930s were marginalised in favour of parliamentarians specialising in tax law and FO unionists distrustful of excessive state intervention in labour relations, especially wage negotiations (Fulla 2016).



The French socialists’ new distrust of state industry and planning fitted within a West European trend. The businesses nationalised by the Attlee government had substantial management autonomy and the Labour Party did not set up any organisation comparable to the French Commissariat Général du Plan (CGP—Planning Commission) (Tomlinson 1997). This scepticism regarding the existence of any proven link between economic efficiency, social justice and a strong state is even more strikingly apparent in West German social democracy. Although its political situation was not comparable with that of the SFIO or the BLP, the way the SPD thought about the state’s economic role was not far off that of its partner organisations. Following a brief phase of planning in the immediate post-war period under the leadership of Kurt Schumacher, the reformist right wing, supported by some union leaders  of the German Trade Union Confederation (DGB), launched a doctrinal revision initiative in the early 1950s condemning any consolidation of state industry, regarded as comparable with the hyper-centralisation of the Nazi war economy (Angster 2003). The SFIO elites shared this scepticism. Advocating collectivisation of the means of production remained a standard trope of their party congresses—yet no internal study commission ever worked on nationalisations. After 1951, its programmes no longer pushed for further nationalisations: they were content to call for better management of existing public companies. In other words, although the revolutionary and Marxist doctrine was not called into question, given the presence of a dominant PCF to the left, this did not constitute the guiding compass of the socialists’ policy development. On the contrary, it masked the cultural affinities of the SFIO’s leaders and experts with their counterparts in the Socialist International (SI) with respect to their theory and practice of the “capitalist state” (Jessop 2002). The British and Scandinavian schemes were greatly admired, particularly for their “social security system unique in the world”.11 The economic policy pursued in power in 1956 confirmed the formulaic character of the SFIO’s Marxism and its elites’ inclination towards a Keynesian approach to the state’s economic role, close to the ideas of Pierre Mendès France, the leader of the Parti Radical (centre-left Radical Party), and fully in line with social democracy’s major “revisionist” phase 11  Parti socialiste SFIO, “Une expérience socialiste: la Suède”, lecture talking points, fact sheet no. 1, undated (probably 1950), p. 1 (4 p.), OURS, Fonds PS SFIO, Arguments et Ripostes.



of the 1950s (Sassoon 2014 [1996]). Prime Minister Guy Mollet knew time was not on his side, given the Algerian context and the regime’s ministerial instability, and so focused on developing the social state (pension provision, paid vacations). His economic policy did not depart from that of his predecessors. Developed and implemented by experts close to Mendès France, it opted for growth and modernisation. This “Mendèsism without Mendès France” (Berstein 1985)—that is without the charismatic architect of the Geneva Accords—ruled out any further nationalisations in industry or banking. And when the government did depart from Mendèsian precepts, it did so in the direction of greater liberalisation. Against the advice of the civil service, supported by his ministerial colleagues, Guy Mollet accepted the dismantling of protectionist barriers behind which French industries had sheltered. As he saw it, the construction of Europe took precedence over absolute state sovereignty in customs matters (Bossuat 2005; Warlouzet 2011). The Mollet government’s accession to power coincided with the peak of social democracy’s “revisionist” phase. In the same year Tony Crosland published The Future of Socialism, which quickly became the “bible of Labour ‘revisionism’” (Berger 2006). For Crosland and Labour leaders from the party’s moderate right wing, expanding state-owned production was no longer to be viewed as an end in itself but as one means among others of facilitating the transition to democratic socialism (Beech and Hickson 2007). In West Germany, the SPD’s endorsement of “consensus capitalism”, formalised by the Bad Godesberg congress in 1959, owed a great deal to a handful of experts and political leaders exiled to London or the United States during the war. Their intensive contacts with “reformist” American unionists of the AFL and CIO convinced them of the benefits of a capitalism regulated but not controlled by the state (Angster 2003). The SFIO’s ideological and political sclerosis did not encourage doctrinal dialogue with its partners. Guy Mollet’s Algeria policy and his decision to have France intervene in the Suez crisis compounded his government’s marginalisation within the SI (Imlay 2017). Yet this isolation did not impede the convergence of socialist approaches to the state in economics, which in 1960s France owed considerably more to the SFIO’s political, union and club fringe activities than to the SFIO itself. At the start of the 1960s, West European socialists showed renewed interest in state planning—in their rhetoric, however, more than in practice when they were in office. Influenced by the plan presented in 1955 by Ezio Vanoni, the Christian Democrat Minister of the Budget, seven years later the Italian



Socialist Party (PSI) presented an economic programme that enshrined planning as the sole means of ensuring balanced growth (Favretto 2003). This became a mainstay of the organisation’s economic ideology—just as nationalisations had been before. The British Labour Party was swept up in this trend, too. Seeking to remedy an ailing national economy, Labour’s leadership team and experts, spearheaded by new party leader Harold Wilson, a self-confessed admirer of Soviet and French planning, revived the idea of more robust planning in order to compete with continental industries (Tomlinson 2004). The line of thinking proposed by the socialist and proto-socialist margins of the French non-communist left in this period appears broadly similar to the discussions within the BLP before it returned to power in 1964. Unionists of the Confédération Française des Travailleurs Chrétiens (CFTC—French Confederation of Christian Workers), inspired in particular by ideas from the BLP’s left wing (Richard Crossman, Barbara Castle), advocated a socialisation of investment via the comprehensive nationalisation of credit (Hamon and Rotman 1982). Soon joined by the militants of the small Parti Socialiste Unifié (PSU—Unified Socialist Party), formed following the schism in the SFIO in 1958, they defended a neo-planist and Keynesian approach to the state subsumed under the concept of “democratic planning”. It was an instant success. “Democratic planning” sat at the heart of all programmes of the non-communist left prior to 1968, eclipsing discussions of state-owned industry. The latter did, however, experience a resurgence of interest from 1965 onwards, thanks to the alignment of the Fédération de la Gauche Démocrate et Socialiste (FGDS—Federation of the Democratic and Socialist Left), led by François Mitterrand, with the PCF. In order to unify the left—an alliance regarded as necessary to overcome Gaullism—the Fédération’s leaders were prepared to make concessions on economic and social matters. Nationalisations returned—tentatively—to their political programmes. The mass protests of May–June 1968 accelerated their return to favour.

The “Statist Revival” of French Socialism in the 1970s: Evidence of Exceptionalism? In the 1970s, a decade crucial to understanding modernity and marked in economic terms by the crisis of the post-war “Keynesian compromise” (Chassaigne 2008; Ferguson  and alii 2010; Wirsching 2011), the PS



renewed by François Mitterrand at the Épinay Congress of 1971 proposed solutions to the flagging Fordist production model. These were based mainly, but not exclusively, on extending the state’s economic powers. In June 1972, the PS concluded a Common Programme of Government with the PCF, calling for the nationalisation of nine industry groups regarded as strategic, as well as the banking system, which was already almost entirely state-owned, with more stringent planning and the establishment of genuine industrial democracy, referred to as “autogestion” (workers’ self-management) at the time (Georgi 2018). Contrary to popular misconception, the advocates of the Common Programme, who were to be found mainly in CERES and among the Mitterrandists, were not in a majority among the economic experts of the PS. Many of them, close to François Mitterrand and Pierre Mauroy or, after 1974, to Michel Rocard and Jacques Delors, expressed scepticism with regard to the economic and social components of a programme based on hypothetical annual growth of 8%, an unrealistic assumption given the “shock of the global” destabilising Western economies at the time. If the experts were wary of publicly criticising this document—though Rocardians did give vent to their dissent following defeat in the 1978 legislative elections—it was because they regarded the strategy of a unified left as the only one capable of bringing the left to power, having been out of government since 1958. Nonetheless, this mass influx of “economists”, many of them senior civil servants, is symbolic of how the PS rapidly penetrated the machinery of state. Every current within the party had its experts in the major departments of the Ministry of Finance or the CGP. This process of “cartelisation” by the party, which ran alongside its professionalisation, continued during the following decades, thanks to an extended period in power at national and local level (Barboni 2008). As the 1970s started, though, it was not just the PS that saw state power return to favour in its economic discourse and economic programmes—this was a phenomenon common to all West European left-wing parties (Eley 2002), or at any rate to various strands within those parties. Strengthening the state’s planning role and industrial capability, while also giving workers greater powers within their place of employment, was central to the Alternative Economic Strategy (AES) forged by the BLP’s left wing in the early 1970s (Wickham-Jones 1996; Bell 2004), to the anti-capitalist critique of Germany’s Young Socialists (Jusos), going against the SPD leadership (Sassoon 2014 [1996]), to the welfare state policy of



Sweden’s Palme government,12 and to Eurocommunism (Di Donato 2015), to mention just the most striking examples from that period. The apparent exceptionalism suggested by PS stances is largely explained by political factors and the national cultural heritage mentioned above—of which Monnet’s planning then Gaullism were especially potent incarnations post-1945—rather than any radical cultural “otherness” of its elites and experts on the question of the state. With the exception of Jean-Pierre Chevènement’s CERES and some Mitterrandists attracted by the Marxist revivals of the late 1960s, their approach was similar to that expressed by the Belgian socialist party in its 1974 programme: alongside the traditional calls to expand the public sector and to strengthen planning mechanisms and workers’ control, they declared themselves simultaneously “against the privatisation of the public sector” and “against its bureaucratisation”.13 Although the PS was not a central player in international socialism, its decision to join forces with the PCF did not exclude it from the SI’s discussions of the major economic problems of the day. Throughout the decade, therefore, it was involved in the SI’s in-depth discussions on the problem of regulating multinational corporations—an issue central to international, European and national economic debates of the years 1970–80 (Warlouzet 2017). In September 1978, the SI Council adopted a report drawn up by a committee whose secretary was Labour’s Geoff Bish, one of the architects of the AES.  Inspector-General of Finances Pierre-Yves Cossé, a Rocardian, represented the PS on this study commission, sitting alongside experts from Belgium, West Germany, Sweden, Finland, Italy, Japan and Spain. Drawing on discussions involving representatives of ICFTU, the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, the document proposed regulating these giant corporations at international level—drawing inspiration from codes of conduct developed by the UN and the OECD—and at national level. Possibilities for coordination at intermediary levels were passed over in silence, evidencing the central role these experts expected the state to play in solving a problem that threatened the very foundations of redistribution policies enacted by social democratic governments. In the SI report, nation states were tasked with setting up a special agency for monitoring multinationals. The agency would have the legal prerogatives and financial resources to secure  See the chapter by Jenny Andersson and Kjell Östberg in this volume.  “Belgians adopt a new programme”, Socialist Affairs, no. 2, March–April–May 1974, pp. 28–30, p. 29. 12 13



information relating to investment flows entering and leaving the country from company managers. These national agencies would be coordinated by the UN and by information-sharing between states. The SI experts also recommended that public companies should be created to compete with these giant corporations in international markets, while the multinationals themselves should be compelled to make strategic decisions in line with targets specified under the relevant national plans (to be developed, or reinforced, as necessary).14 This socialist advocacy for strengthening state industry was not translated into governmental practice. In the second half of the 1970s, when the oil crisis was beginning to make itself felt, the governments of Helmut Schmidt in West Germany, and of Harold Wilson and James Callaghan in Great Britain, far from extending the scope of the state, sought instead to restrict growth in public expenditure or indeed to make cut-backs. This “social liberalism”15 was criticised by the whole of the PS, including the Rocardians—underscoring, once again, the party’s strategic need to maintain its advocacy for a strong state, a position that was easier to sustain when they were in opposition and thus able to propose bold economic alternatives. Coming to power in 1981 brought an end to the radical approaches to the state promoted by some strands within the PS during the previous decade, from the drastic nationalisations proposed by CERES to Rocardian self-management.16 Far from ushering in any significant departure from the norm in the use of state economic instruments, governmental responsibility accentuated the convergence of “capitalist state” practices by the elites of the West European social democratic parties.

From François Mitterrand to François Hollande: Learning the Rules of the “Capitalist State” Instead of Changing It At first sight, the measures initiated by the Mauroy government seemed to signal a major revival of the state as regulator, industrialist and banker, commensurate with the broad outlines of the 1972 Common Programme. A Keynesian-inspired policy for boosting consumer spending, launched in  “Report on Multinationals”, Socialist Affairs, no. 6, November–December 1978.  Pierre Rosanvallon, “Le socialisme français et la peur de la social-démocratie”, Faire, no. 41, 1979. 16  “Nationaliser. Pourquoi? Comment?” Repères (the CERES magazine), no. 43, May 1977. Michel Rocard, “La social-démocratie et nous”, Faire, no.41, 1979, pp. 11–25. 14




the summer of 1981, coupled with nationalisations in banking and industry—passed despite fierce opposition in parliament in February 1982— was presented publicly as the right strategy for bringing down unemployment and emerging from the crisis. Yet behind the closed doors of cabinet meetings, decision-makers and experts expressed limited confidence that the tools available to the state could actually restore full employment (Fulla 2018). Stimulation of demand, which grew by about 1% of GDP, proved much more modest than the demand stimulation achieved by Jacques Chirac in 1975; the socialist elites were mindful, too, of the constraints an open economy placed on the balance of payments. Nationalisations, likewise, were above all conceived as a means of modernising an undercapitalised production base—not as a first step on the path of breaking with capitalism (Margairaz 2001). The Marxist-inflected declarations of the 1970s programmes masked an economic culture change affecting a substantial proportion of the PS elites during that decade. For them, unemployment could only be overcome by a policy of modernising the industrial fabric and fighting inflation, which would have to take precedence over social reforms. Yet implementing such a policy was impossible in the summer of 1981. In order to retain electoral support, after 23 years in opposition, the party had to take a gradual approach to reconciling its public rhetoric with the culture prevalent among the officials guiding economic policy. Rather than being a sudden volte-face, the austerity plan of 1983, wrongly presented in many studies as a brutal turn to austerity, was above all a political turn, confirming the party elite’s shift away from state interventionism. The aim was to prepare public opinion for a prominent new theme: that of industrial modernisation within the framework of a European, internationally open market economy. As with the Wilson and Callaghan governments, which had side-lined the AES once they came into office, for the PS being in power did not translate, except in the very short term (May 1981–February 1982), into a strengthening of the state’s economic powers or a radical transformation of the way it worked. Yet at the same time the PS did not roll back the state’s powers in favour of the market, on the Thatcherite or Reaganite model. When Pierre Mauroy stepped down as prime minister, the state’s industrial and bank holdings still played a very important part in the economy, especially with respect to investments and contribution to GDP, while the social state expanded at a pace with deindustrialisation and rising unemployment. And when the right returned to power, it did not—except in its



rhetoric—abandon the principles of a mixed economy, even though it did embark on a substantial privatisation programme (Cohen 1992). However, Mitterrand’s first term engaged French socialism in a process of convergence—in its practices and to a lesser extent in its rhetoric—with the dominant economic orthodoxy in Western Europe and the United States: a strong currency, recognition of the benefits of competition as justification for disinflation, acceptance of globalisation. The main reference point for emulation and comparison was not Margaret Thatcher’s Britain, regarded as a negative role model, but West Germany, France’s main trading partner and the monetary mainstay of the EEC.  Promoting the European project, moreover, was a major goal for Mitterrand—to the detriment of any radical transformation of the state. François Mitterrand’s second term opened an era of relative inertia on the part of the socialist elites with respect to the state’s role in the economy. The days of advocating greater state involvement in industry, or a major revival of planning, were consigned to the past. Between 1988 and 1991, Prime Minister Michel Rocard and his finance minister, Pierre Bérégovoy, agreed on the need for the monetarist “strong franc policy” implemented by the latter. In private, the former admitted that the latter was his “best ‘shock absorber’ given the outbreaks of social agitation that regularly afflict the socialist deputies” (Andréani 1993). This rigorous orthodoxy, which led the very liberal Financial Times to praise François Mitterrand for his monetarist policies instead of Margaret Thatcher,17 ran into internal criticism within the PS. To cite one example among many, the young ENA graduates François Hollande and Pierre Moscovici denounced the “fetishism” of external credibility and the “obsessive” idolisation of currency (Hollande and Moscovici 1991). The government’s economic “social-liberalism” also contrasted starkly with the more statist orientation of the BLP’s programmes under Neil Kinnock, which called for the creation of a British investment bank and for the Ministry of Trade and Industry to be remodelled along the lines of Japan’s MITI (Wickham-Jones 1995). Given the choice between maintaining a balanced budget or a social policy funded by fiscal stimulus, Michel Rocard suppressed his Keynesian convictions and opted for the former. His premiership continued the shift, which had begun under Pierre Mauroy and gathered momentum under Laurent Fabius and Jacques Chirac, towards an economic strategy in  “Mitterrand, the Monetarist”, Financial Times editorial, 20 April 1990.




which supply-side competitiveness constitutes a prerequisite for any policy that supports demand. His successors followed in the same course, more or less. The state was still regarded by the socialist elites as an indispensable tool for correcting the inequalities produced by capitalism, but it no longer had to shoulder the task of producing goods and services for the market—a sphere reserved for the market itself. While a superficial reading of the PS programme for the 1997 legislative elections might suggest an aspiration to defend state-owned production, notably in its prominent theme of halting privatisations initiated by the right, successive ministers of finance under Lionel Jospin—Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Christian Sautter and Laurent Fabius—sold shares in or privatised public companies to the tune of more than FFr 175 billion, a historic record (Hayward and Wright 2003; Cos 2018). These divergences between rhetoric and practice, between positions taken in opposition and in government, are not the exclusive province of the French left. On the contrary, they highlight a process of convergence taking place in West European economic policies, from the competitive disinflation of the 1980s to the return of forms of state intervention less obvious than nationalisation following the 2007–08 financial crisis (King and Le Galès 2017). In this respect the PS’s relationship to Tony Blair’s New Labour is revealing. Although French socialists rejected any doctrinal conversion to the “Third Way”, several of its components were discreetly incorporated into their rhetoric and their practices. The Blairist concept of an investor state, that is a “Schumpeterian” state focused on innovation and enterprise, was juxtaposed with the more traditional “Colbertist” state, driving both industrial policy and welfare provision (Rioufreyt 2012). This complex, ambiguous approach to the state predominates, from this point forward, among the PS elites. At the heart of the financial turmoil of 2008, the party’s First Secretary François Hollande confessed his antipathy towards the “firefighter state” and called for a “state that prevents, regulates, anticipates” with the ability to “invest, prepare for the future, plan major infrastructures, opt for sustainable development”. Like Lionel Jospin, who nine years earlier called on Michelin’s employees not to expect everything from the state, the First Secretary warned his political family against any “mythification of the state” which on the contrary needed to be in a process of “continual adaptation” (Hollande 2008). When he became President of the Republic, François Hollande took only six months before publicly embracing this ongoing transition of socialist economic policy from demand to supply. In a press conference in November 2012, he justified the decision to introduce a “competitiveness



pact”, focused on EUR 20 billion of corporate tax relief  from 2014.18 Finally, this policy brought on a EUR 31 billion decrease in corporate taxation through to 2017.  In a major work drawing on exclusive interviews with the president and published before the head of state’s mandate had expired, Le Monde journalists Gérard Davet and Fabrice Lhomme concluded that the decision to opt for a supply-side policy fitted with its proponent’s economic culture, that of a “Colbertist converted to globalisation”. Like Gerhard Schröder and Tony Blair before him, François Hollande saw himself as driving a “third way” for socialism, between social democracy and liberalism (Davet and Lhomme 2016). In the same spirit, several German media outlets, analysing the principles of the competitiveness pact, interpreted it as symbolic of the French president’s “Schröderisation”.19 * * * The supply-side socialism favoured by François Hollande during his term of office, with the blessing of most ministers in the Valls government, foremost among them his economic and finance minister Emmanuel Macron, reflects an approach to the state’s economic role very similar to that of other West European parties in government, of both right and left. It highlights, furthermore, the absence of any overarching socialist vision for the “capitalist state”—or at any rate the PS’s difficulty in developing a truly original approach in this sphere. This attitude of resignation is by no means synonymous with a disengagement from the question of the state since the “Mitterrand years”. In the spirit of Michel Rocard’s proposals in the early 1990s, when he identified state productivity improvements as the primary driver of French growth,20 the socialists have shown genuine creativity in the areas of 18  François Hollande, press conference,  13 November 2012, politique/article/2012/11/15/la-politique-de-l-offre-de-hollande-une-vraie-rupturedans-l-histoire-de-la-gauche_1790391_823448.html [accessed 18 March 2020]. 19  “Schröder à la française”, Stuttgarter Zeitung, 15 January 2014. “Der Dritte Weg des François Hollande”, Deutsche Welle, 15 January 2014. “Frankreich: Die zweite Überraschung des Monsieur Hollande”, Welt Online, 15 January 2014. 20  Michel Rocard, “Instruction générale au gouvernement pour la lutte contre le chômage”, handwritten note, 10 July 1988, p.  3 (6 p.), Archives Nationales, Fonds Michel Rocard Premier Ministre (1988–1991), Papiers de Jacques Mistral (economic adviser to the prime minister), 19940192/1.



administrative reform and welfare provision. From refinements to the “Matignon model” introduced under Léon Blum in 1936 (Roussellier 2015) to the LOLF (Organic Budget Law) developed under the Jospin government (Bezes 2010) and the major decentralisation laws of 1981 (Bezes 2009), these initiatives left a deep mark on twentieth-century French administrative history. The same applies in the social sphere. Paid holidays, reduced working hours, and reforms designed to combat the “new poverty” of the 1980s and 1990s (Rocard’s Revenu Minimum d’Insertion [minimum income allowance], Jospin’s Couverture Maladie Universelle [universal health coverage], to cite only the most famous examples) testify to the socialists’ influence on the development and modernisation of the welfare state—of which they were not, it should be emphasised, the sole originators. It would be wrong, therefore, to deny that the socialists were unique in their approach to the state. Yet, if a specifically socialist approach does exist in this area, it is manifested to a far greater extent in institutional and social matters than in the economic sphere. (Translated by Cynthia Schoch and Susan Mackervoy)

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From Marxism to “Agenda 2010”: German Social Democratic Notions of the State from Its Founding until Today Sebastian Voigt

In the 1875 Gotha Program, one of social democratic movement’s founding documents, the German socialists asserted that “[T]he Socialist Workers’ Party of Germany strives, through all legal means, for a free state and socialist society, […] the elimination of all social and political inequality.”1 Almost one century later, they claimed in their 1959 Godesberg Program that “[T]he Social Democratic Party has developed

 Sozialistische Dokumente. Schriftenreihe Demokratie und Sozialismus Heft 7, Das Gothaer Programm: Beschlossen auf dem Vereinigungs-Kongreß der Sozialdemokraten Deutschlands in Gotha vom 22. bis 27. Mai 1875 (Offenbach am Main: Bollwerk-Verlag Karl Drott, 1947), 12–13. I want to thank David Dichelle for proofreading and partially translating the article. 1

S. Voigt (*) Institut für Zeitgeschichte, München, Germany e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




from the party of the working class that it was to a party of the people.”2 In 2003, the Social Democratic Party (SPD) Chancellor Gerhard Schröder called for a cut in “public welfare benefits, promote self-responsibility, and demand greater personal efforts from each individual.”3 These three quotes illustrate the fundamental transformation of the relationship between German social democracy and the state over 125 years of history. As a socialist party, the SPD originally took a skeptical or even adversary position toward the bourgeois state and its institutions. Its goal was socialism, and it intended to fundamentally reshape capitalist society and the state structures along with it. There were intense disputes within the party from the very beginning on how this was to be achieved in real terms. Despite its radical theoretical stance, the SPD as a party would soon act within the existing societal framework. Its participation in elections implied its recognition of parliamentarianism as a political basis, whether the party liked it or not. This recognition did not, however, at first indicate an affirmative relationship with the state or prevailing conditions there. The SPD was itself indeed subject to persecution and political repression by the state. The Anti-Socialist Law (Gesetz gegen die gemeingefährlichen Bestrebungen der Sozialdemokratie or “Law against the dangerous aspirations of social democracy”) prohibited the SPD from holding assemblies. Although the party was permitted to continue to take part in elections, it was in actuality forced to go underground and pursue actions that were deemed illegal. The parallel introduction of the first social welfare laws under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck served as the carrot to the stick of repression. German social democracy therefore fundamentally rejected the existing state, despite its rapprochement in real political terms. It viewed the German Empire as the state of the ruling class that had to be overcome. While the SPD already enjoyed increasing influence through its parliamentary participation in the late nineteenth century, the party’s relationship with the state would not change on a long-term basis until the founding of the first German democracy in 1918. The November Revolution that year marked a turning point in the social democratic understanding of the state. Social democracy came to view the Weimar 2  Godesberger Programm: Grundsatzprogramm der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands. Beschlossen vom Außerordentlichen Parteitag der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands in Bad Godesberg vom 13. bis 15. November 1959, 19. 3  Mut zum Frieden—Mut zur Veränderung. Regierungserklärung von Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder (SPD) am 14. März 2003, last modified March 14, 2013, http://www.



Republic as its own, with a party member becoming head of state for the first time. The party did, nevertheless, continue to uphold socialism as its final goal. A discrepancy between this theoretical ideal and the politics of pragmatism would clearly emerge in this context. It was not until the 1959 Godesberg Program that this process of change and adaptation over the long intervening period of time was explicitly addressed. For the first time, the SPD recognized the bourgeois state and the private ownership of the means of production as a socio-­ economic foundation. The SPD has endeavored to act as a Volkspartei ever since, one meant to appeal to a broad cross-section of society, and work toward leading the government. They succeeded in doing so during two periods of time, first from 1969 to 1982 under the SPD chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt and then again from 1998 to 2005 under the chancellorship of Gerhard Schröder. Those governments acted, however, under completely different socio-economic circumstances, which had a particular effect on the relationship between the SPD and the social state. In order to reconstruct the complex relationship between social democracy and the state, this chapter focuses, in addition to the two SPD-led governments, on the changes in the party program. As a central element of the organization, programs lend expression to the internal balance of power within the party and combine the positions of the day in the form of compromise. Programs are thus more than mere written declarations. They serve as indicators for a party’s past development and its future direction. The SPD program’s importance and pragmatic nature were reflected in the party taking on governmental responsibility in the Federal Republic for the first time in the 1970s. The 1970s have often been termed “the social-democratic decade” (Faulenbach 2011), with a social democrat, Willy Brandt, elected chancellor in the Federal Republic for the first time. His government pursued ambitious reform policies in order to democratize West German society, while expanding the social state. This zeal for reform ended with the aftermath of the 1973 oil price crisis and Brandt’s resignation the following year. His successor, Helmut Schmidt, generally set reform plans aside and took a more pragmatic course instead. In the party’s second period of governmental responsibility, Schröder headed a coalition with the Greens from 1998 to 2005. In light of the difficult economic situation and a relatively high unemployment rate, the government decided to pursue another course with a policy of deregulation and privatization in line with the international zeitgeist. Guided by the concept of an “activating state,” the government pushed through its



Agenda 2010 reforms, drastically cutting back on public welfare, a move that sparked a great deal of controversy within the party. The social democratic government was, however, chiefly criticized by civil society organizations and trade unions. The party consequently lost part of its previous voter base together with a large portion of its credibility, a development that continues to have an impact on the party to this day. The chapter closes with a discussion of the SPD’s current situation. By taking into account the historical perspective, I seek to provide a deeper understanding of today’s social democracy in Germany. The relationship between the SPD and the state is a history of gradual conforming and deradicalization. This development can be condensed into the somewhat simplified phrase: From Marxism to Agenda 2010.

Rising from the Ashes Although the SPD had been the leading force behind the strongest labor movement in the world until 1933, the Nazi regime was able to crush the party in only a short period of time. Many functionaries went into exile, while others were thrown into concentration camps, tortured, or murdered. The party was banned until 1945 with its leadership in exile, first in Prague and later in London. After its re-formation in 1945, Kurt Schumacher rose to become party leader, as someone who had embodied unconditional resistance against the Nazi regime. His past and his personal charisma allowed him to remain the party’s chairman unchallenged. Schumacher explicitly opposed any cooperation with the communists, while other social democrats considered a united front with the Communist Party to be a necessary consequence of Nazism. This position was, however, successfully marginalized by Schumacher. His strict anti-communism derived from his experience during the Weimar Republic. He also advocated for the reunification of Germany within the borders of 1937 and called for Germany to pursue a Third Way as an independent nation between the capitalist West and the communist East. He accordingly criticized conservatives harshly for making too many compromises with the Western allies and for abandoning the right of the German people to self-determination. The SPD generally had high hopes for building a new society from the ashes of the Nazi regime, with the state playing a central role in the process. It endeavored to pursue policies to confidently represent the interests of the nation in the international arena while working toward a



non-capitalist economy that would promote the public welfare. Because of the repression it had suffered, the SPD was able to claim moral leadership (Parness 1991), while also managing to quickly rebuild its organizational structure. Its membership rose to over 700,000  in the years following liberation. While the party was initially convinced that it could count on the support of a majority of the German people in federal elections, that did not in fact turn out to be the case. Most Germans had not actively resisted the Nazi regime and just passively endured its rule, while many of them had in fact been active participants. The SPD’s ideological assumptions blinded the party to the existence of these widespread attitudes. The difficulties for the party became evident in the 1949 national election, in which it received only 30 percent of the vote. Konrad Adenauer would form the first postwar government as the leader of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), with the SPD having to resign itself to forming the opposition (Günther 1979). Even though it accepted the constitution (Grundgesetz or Basic Law) of the Federal Republic of Germany, it still demanded the nationalization of key industrial sectors. Democratic socialism and a unified Germany remained the party’s long-­ term objectives. In general, the SPD consisted of three groups at this time: old followers and functionaries, who had begun their careers in the Weimar Republic or even in Imperial Germany; younger returning emigrants such as Willy Brandt; and members with a bourgeois background such as Fritz Bauer, Carlo Schmidt, and Karl Schiller. This latter group would become increasingly influential. They did not, for the most part, grow up in the traditional labor movement and proletarian milieu, but had joined the party for ideological reasons during the postwar period. Most had received an academic education and many had studied law. The younger members criticized the old functionaries for not having opposed Nazism vigorously enough, and the second and third aforementioned groups increasingly moved into influential positions in the course of the 1950s. During this decade the SPD ceased to be a party of the proletarian milieu, a milieu that had in fact already begun to dissolve due to changing socio-economic circumstances. The party therefore parted from its class-political orientation and worked toward expanding its voter base. This would in turn also lead to changes in its view of the state. The party diversified during Schumacher’s tenure as chairman until his death in 1952 (Lösche and Walter 1992), successfully broadening its electorate. While its party’s core still centered on the working class, it increasingly opened up toward the



middle class and the youth. It also left a common ideological basis behind to embrace political pluralism. Democratic socialism could now be anchored equally in religious morality, humanism, or Marxism. While Marxism was still referred to in discussions from time to time, its relevance had clearly faded and, most importantly, it no longer played a role in specific policies. The SPD now regarded parliamentary democracy as an end in itself rather than as a mere means to socialism. It therefore no longer viewed the state mainly through the lens of Marxism as a class state ruled by the bourgeoisie, but as a neutral instance that could be of use in various ways. It aspired to achieve democratic socialism as a Third Way, an alternative between unregulated capitalism and authoritarian communism (Fenner 1977; Lehnert (ed.) 2016). The Third Way concept had already gained popularity in the interwar period. Splinter groups such as the Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei (Socialist Workers’ Party—SAP) and Neu Beginnen (“To begin anew”) offered a different perspective between the two main political wings of the labor movement, the social democrats and the communists. Several of its members would go on to play a leading role in the SPD’s transformation after 1945. The most prominent of these were Willy Brandt, who was a former SAP member, Fritz Erler, and Richard Löwenthal, who had joined Neu Beginnen. All three fundamentally shaped the SPD’s course in the postwar era (Angster 2003). Many exiled German social democrats in Great Britain were also influenced by the reformist English labor movement. These experiences changed their political views and their perspective on the future of German social democracy. The concept of a Third Way was therefore not invented in the 1990s for the first time, when it was popularized by Anthony Giddens and in the Blair-Schröder Paper (Giddens 1998). It also had a completely different meaning both in the interwar period as well as in Kurt Schumacher’s postwar vision. He regarded the Third Way as an alternative to the looming Cold War between Soviet communism and American capitalism. Even the Socialist International adopted the general premises of the Third Way’s concept in its founding declaration in 1951. It, too, defined democratic socialism as an alternative both to capitalism and to communism. Despite the SPD’s strong influence on other social democratic parties in Western Europe and other parts of the world, the situation in Germany remained difficult for the party. The SPD was far from being able to translate its political vision into reality.



Election Defeats and the Godesberg Program The SPD again fared poorly in the 1953 election. The party received only around 30 percent of the vote, while the conservative CDU was able to consolidate its dominance. Even support from the DGB (German Trade Union Confederation) did not influence the outcome substantially. Despite its official non-partisanship, the DGB had called for the election of a better parliament as a thinly veiled appeal to support the SPD. The DGB enjoyed a close relationship with the Social Democratic Party from its founding in 1949, until it was fundamentally undermined during the Schröder era of the early 2000s as a result of the Agenda 2010 reforms. After the unexpected election defeats of the early postwar years, the need to renew social democracy grew pressing. In 1952, the SPD had already adopted a program that defined socialism as a long-term goal of humanity, yet not as a final condition but rather as an ongoing task. As the SPD no longer viewed itself as a worker’s party per se, the voices demanding the complete renunciation of Marxism grew louder. These demands often came from returned exiles and former communists such as Herbert Wehner, one of the leaders of the SPD’s parliamentary group, whose influence had grown after Schumacher’s death. The 1957 federal election returned the CDU to power with an absolute majority, an outcome that provided the decisive impetus for the SPD to fundamentally revise its positions. In 1959, a SPD convention adopted the Godesberg Program (Miller 1974). This no longer mentioned Marxism as its intellectual foundation at all, but stressed humanism, classical philosophy, and Christian ethics instead. The SPD also redefined its relation with the churches as one of “free partnership”. The harsh criticism of these changes from the party’s left wing generally went unheeded. The Godesberg Program no longer officially characterized the state either as a “class state” or as a means of establishing a socialist society, but instead as a necessary requirement for the protection of civil liberties: “The state needs to establish the preconditions for all individuals to develop themselves in a sense of free personal responsibility and social commitment. Fundamental rights must not only secure the freedom of individuals with respect to the state, they themselves must be viewed as rights that help form the basis and society of the state.”4 The SPD henceforth took more of a liberal-democratic than a socialist perspective with regard to the state, 4  Godesberger Programm: Grundsatzprogramm der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands. Beschlossen vom Außerordentlichen Parteitag der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands in Bad Godesberg vom 13. bis 15. November 1959, 5.



focusing on the well-being of the individual in particular. Godesberg constituted a major watershed in the party’s long history and its conception of the state (Faulenbach 2012). It marked the end of a conflict-ridden process of transformation that began in the late nineteenth century. The SPD’s reformist wing had clearly prevailed and the party gave up on Marxism once and for all. It accepted the specific West German yet nevertheless capitalistic model of the social market economy. It would subsequently support the free market and “healthy competition” as the basis of the economy: “As much competition as possible, as much planning as necessary.”5 The Godesberg Program completed, in other words, the party’s Westernization process. This programmatic opening paved the way for the party to reach new groups of voters. In the late 1950s, the SPD was in fact able to win over new demographic groups, and Protestants with strong ethical values in particular. While doing so, however, it tightened the screws on the party’s left wing. Its student body, the Socialist German Student Union (SDS), was expelled for not accepting the revised program, as were a number of prominent Marxists such as the intellectual Wolfgang Abendroth (Scholle et al. 2014). By contrast, the labor unions followed the path of the SPD toward accepting the political and economic model of the Federal Republic, if only a little later. With its new program presented at its 1963 congress in Düsseldorf, the DGB mainly gave up on any post-capitalist vision. While the demand for socializing key industries was not forgone entirely, it was indeed softened perceivably. The social market economy grew into a framework that would go unchallenged. The labor unions’ relationship with the SPD remained a very close one and they hoped for a social democratic government in the near future that would pursue their socio-­ economic demands.

New Economic Concepts The party’s diversification proved a success. Its vote share continued to increase steadily throughout the 1960s, reaching nearly 40 percent in the 1965 federal election. After the collapse of Ludwig Erhard’s conservative government the following year, the CDU and SPD joined together to 5

 Ibid., 9.



form a grand coalition. The conservative chancellor Georg Kiesinger appointed Willy Brandt, who  was forced into exile by the Nazi regime before becoming mayor of Berlin in the 1950s, to be vice chancellor and foreign minister (Lorenz 1993). The economist Karl Schiller, who joined the SPD only after 1945, was placed in charge of the Ministry of Economic Affairs. He would go on to influence economic policy substantially in the years to come (Engelhard 2010; Lütjen 2007). Schiller replaced Erhard’s vision of a “formed society” with his concept of “concerted action” involving policy consultations (Rehling 2011). He was an adherent of liberal socialism and advocated for the middle ground between a state-controlled economy and the free market. He had also helped shape the economic position of the Godesberg Program. Schiller spoke of his concept as “global planning.” He symbolized his party’s willingness to govern and pursue pragmatic politics and embodied the SPD’s unbroken affirmative relationship with the state. The new economic position would soon have to prove its viability. In 1966, postwar Germany suffered its first economic setback. Signs of trouble also appeared in connection with the labor market. A year later, the economy contracted for the first time in nearly 20 years with unemployment rising to 2.1 percent (Abelshauser 2004). The government passed a stability law, adopting Keynesian measures with regard to prices, high employment, trade equilibrium, and adequate and steady growth (Schanetzky 2004). Notions of planning were integrated into the economic discourse in the late 1960s —  all the more so as they proved successful in tackling economic difficulties (Metzler 2005). The economy grew again by 5.5 percent in 1969 and full employment was attained a year later. In addition, Schiller launched his “concerted action” in the form of a body consisting of members of government, the federal bank, labor unions, employer organizations, the federal cartel authority, and economic experts. The SPD now perceived the state as the primary means of bringing about social progress and a neutral instrument able to mediate between different interests. In contrast to conservative models, it did not regard the plurality of associations as a hindrance, but as an integral part of a modern democratic society. The SPD’s “concerted action” and the stability law provided a new direction to their economic policy. However, the situation in West Germany had only just begun to change.



The Social Democratic Decade The SPD received even more votes in the federal election of 1969, now nearly on par with the CDU. It formed a coalition with the liberal Free Democratic Party (FDP), which had itself moved to the left, and Willy Brandt was elected the first social democratic chancellor of the postwar era (Narr et al. 1976). The election results expressed a widespread desire for social change and many progressive intellectuals, artists, and scientists had supported the SPD’s campaign. Young people in particular had become involved with many joining the party. The victory was a result of the party’s opening up and broadening its electorate. The excitement over reforms found its paradigmatic expression in Brandt’s government declaration in October 1969 entitled “Taking a chance on more democracy.”6 He argued that the democratic state had finally demonstrated its ability to change, two decades after its founding. German democracy had not come to an end but had only just begun. Brandt envisioned a new relationship between the state, the government, and its citizens: “This government does not tell people what they want to hear. […] It demands a great deal, not only from others, but also from itself. […] We are not looking for admirers; we need people who think critically.” While this concept continued to view the state as an element central to reforming society, the government would require confident citizens as well who would stand up for their interests and, if need be, as part of a critical opposition. Brandt thus called for a strong civil society. The Social Democratic-Liberal government did not, moreover, introduce reforms only in this respect but also in social policy in particular, expanding public welfare spending to hitherto unknown levels (Faulenbach 2004). These policies would pay off for the SPD, whose membership rose to over a million in the 1970s. The labor unions also enthusiastically supported its policies and were as close to the government as never before. By the mid-1970s, however, enthusiasm for reform had died down. Willy Brandt resigned as the result of an espionage affair and his successor, Helmut Schmidt, proceeded in a much more pragmatic manner as the economic situation worsened (Seefried 2017). The implications of the first oil  price crisis in 1973, a decline in economic strength, and a rise in 6  Regierungserklärung von Bundeskanzler Willy Brandt vor dem Deutschen Bundestag in Bonn am 28.10.1969, in: Helga Grebing, Gregor Schöllgen and Heinrich Winkler (eds.), Mehr Demokratie wagen. Innen- und Gesellschaftspolitik 1966–1974. Berliner Ausgabe, Bd. 7 (Bonn: Dietz, J H, 2001), S. 218–224.



unemployment all restricted the scope for reforms (Hohensee 1996). The GDP shrank by nearly 1 percent in 1975 while unemployment rose to over a million. Schmidt still received strong support from the unions, helping to stabilize the government in the face of the difficult economic situation. The unions had no interest in seeing the Social Democratic Party fail, not least because Schmidt had appointed several former labor unionists from the party’s social partnership-oriented wing as ministers in his government. The socio-economic changes, however, did limit the ability of the SPD-led government to act. It was forced to react to a deterioration in the conjuncture and in industrial relations. As a result, the state changed its mode of functioning as well from an engine of reform to a crisis manager. During the following years the economy recovered, however without the unemployment rate falling significantly. Another oil crisis hit West Germany in the late 1970s, resulting from geopolitical turbulence. In 1981, the GDP decreased again and unemployment rose to over 5 percent. Differences within the Social Democratic-Liberal coalition grew to be insurmountable, leading to its collapse in 1982. A conservative government under the leadership of Helmut Kohl would subsequently drive the SPD into the opposition for many years to come. As a period of conservative dominance, the 1980s was not only a challenging time for the SPD but for labor unions as well. With a major corruption scandal hitting Neue Heimat, a union-owned public housing association, the whole co-­operative system in West Germany collapsed. The credibility of the labor union movement was enduringly damaged, weakening its political standing. Its relationship with the SPD would nevertheless remain strong in their united opposition to the conservative government. The party had to address new societal issues in those years as well (Glotz 1982). The peace and the women’s movements, a growing ecological awareness, and the nuclear question all influenced party debates and its self-perception. Most activists of the emerging new social movements of the late 1970s had, for example, a different sociological background from that of labor union members. They represented a post-materialistic ideology and felt estranged from the organizations of the traditional labor movement. Ecological awareness and pacifism were their central issues instead. Only a few social democrats such as Gernot Erler called for cooperation with the new social movements, while the majority of the party sought to stick to their traditional political issues. It thus regarded the mostly young activists as mere troublemakers and not as partners in a common political struggle. Nor did most activists in the new social movements



consider the SPD to be their political home but joined the newly founded Green Party instead (Markovits and Gorski 1993). In addition to the new social movements, the party also had to come to terms with its youth wing, the Young Socialists, known as the Jusos. Many Jusos were politicized in the course of the student movement of 1968 and the development of radical leftist groups in the early 1970s. In tune with the zeitgeist, they adopted more Marxist views and moved to the left. Quite a few Young Socialist groups supported cooperation with the re-founded German Communist Party and radical communist groups known as K-Gruppen, while harshly criticizing the SPD. This attitude provoked the expulsion of the Juso chairperson, Klaus Uwe Benneter, from the party in 1977. He was succeeded by Gerhard Schröder, the future chancellor. In 1984, another controversy set in within the SPD, as the Godesberg Program was increasingly perceived as outdated. While the party lost the federal elections of 1983 and 1987, it won the absolute majority in the important state of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1985. The same year it also formed its first coalition with the Green Party in Hesse. A commission under the chairmanship of Oskar Lafontaine, state premier of Saarland, drafted a new program in order to deal with the numerous changes, which would be adopted at the 1989 Berlin convention. The program focused on the ecological renewal of industrial society and, in contrast with Godesberg, returned to mention Marxism among the historical roots of social democracy, but without any further implications. The notion of the state advanced in the program combined the party’s stance of the late 1960s with current developments: “We want a modern democratic state, able to implement societal aims supported by its citizens, and constantly changing and asserting itself in the face of new challenges” (Berlin Program, cited in: Hesse and Ellwein 2004). The speed of the events that unfolded in the course of 1989 soon rendered large parts of the new program obsolete. After the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the SPD’s expectations of recapturing its former strongholds in Eastern Germany went unfulfilled. Instead, the SPD fared poorly in the first federal election of the unified nation in 1990. Lafontaine’s reluctance with regard to reunification and his demands for tax increases turned out to be rather unpopular. The emergence of the Party of Democratic Socialism (PDS) as successor to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), which had been the ruling party in the GDR, further complicated the situation.



As the SPD had decided not to admit former SED members into its own ranks, it left plenty of room for another left-of-center party in Germany to develop. The SPD’s reorientation after 1990 was riddled by intra-party conflict. Contrary to the party tradition of more stable leadership, it underwent a rapid succession of several chairmen in a short period of time, culminating in Lafontaine toppling the incumbent Rudolf Scharping at the 1995 party convention (Borchert and alii (eds.) 1996). Lafontaine and Schröder, then state premier of Lower Saxony, became the unchallenged party leaders in the mid-1990s. A convention in Leipzig in 1998 again modified the program in the run-up to the federal election later the same year (Dettke (ed.) 1998; Meyer 1998).

A Second Social Democratic Decade? Despite the post-reunification boom, large parts of the former GDR were deindustrialized in the 1990s and most East German companies proved uncompetitive in the capitalist economy. The unemployment rate climbed to 20 percent in the East and 10 percent in the country as a whole. Whereas the CDU emphasized continuity and relied on Chancellor Helmut Kohl during the 1998 election campaign, the SPD focused on economic policy. It promised social justice and reached out to a broad demographic spectrum, successfully targeting swing voters. As a result, the SPD became the largest party with more than 40 percent of the vote. Gerhard Schröder was elected chancellor of the first Social Democratic-­ Green coalition at the federal level, with the SPD forming a government and gaining the chancellorship for the first time in decades. Having been practically declared dead in the 1980s, social democracy made an exceptional comeback, and not only in Germany. In the late 1990s, social democrats and center-left parties formed the government in most European states, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and Italy. At the same time, social democracy moved further toward the political center and away from its traditional viewpoints. Neue Mitte (“New Center”) became the buzzword of the time. The paper “The Third Way” (also known as the Schröder-Blair Paper) outlined this position in 1999. While it was written by Bodo Hombach and Peter Mandelson, two influential “spin doctors” of the era, the sociologist Anthony Giddens had already developed the concept in the mid-1990s. It proclaimed that social democracy would have to undergo a process of reorientation for the coming century. The authors postulated a Third Way between neoliberal



capitalism and traditional social democracy, defining the state as an “activating state” and deliberately restricting its scope of intervention: “The state should not row, but steer; not so much supervise as challenge.”7 Instead of dismantling the welfare state, it should be modernized, the paper argued, while increasing social spending would not be sufficient to fight unemployment: “The state must become an active agent for employment, not merely a passive provider for the casualties of economic failure.”8 The social democratic parties took on genuine neoliberal concepts in the process, with Schröder supporting a completely different view of the state than did the first social democratic chancellor of the Federal Republic, Willy Brandt, over three decades earlier. Despite criticism from within his own ranks, Schröder considered this Third Way approach to be the only solution to Germany’s problems. In doing so, he managed to marginalize critics on the left by discrediting other notions of the welfare state. The SPD chairman Oskar Lafontaine, who had joined Schröder to form a leadership duo, was initially appointed Minister of Finance in 1998. He was a proponent of Keynesian policies and an interventionist state. Irreconcilable differences and internal intrigues would, however, bring about his unexpected departure from all posts only a year later. Following the economic policy of the Third Way ideology while opposing its emphasis on social justice during the election campaign, the SPD decreased taxes for corporations and people with high incomes. Following a heated reelection campaign overshadowed by the Iraq War and Schröder’s insistence on a particular “German way,” the government was reelected in 2002. The economic situation would, however, continue to worsen and growth would come to a standstill. The GDP fell by 0.2 percent in 2002, while unemployment rose nationwide to over 10 percent. In response, the government introduced its Agenda 2010 reforms to radically transform the German welfare state. One of the driving forces behind this was Frank-­ Walter Steinmeier, then head of the federal chancellery, and today’s president of Germany.

7   Das Schröder-Blair-Papier vom 8. Juni 1999: “Der Weg nach vorne für Europas Sozialdemokraten. Ein Vorschlag von Gerhard Schröder und Tony Blair vom 8. Juni 1999” 3. 8  Ibid., p. 7.



Modernization or Destruction of the Welfare State? Comparable to the “concerted action” of the 1960s, the government convened a “Committee for Modern Services in the Labor Market” consisting of politicians, scientists, members of employers’ associations, and the unions. Peter Hartz, a member of the executive board at Volkswagen, chaired the commission. Based on the commission’s report, Schröder announced the Agenda 2010 reforms in March 2003 (Hegelich et  al. 2011). The concept translated central elements of the Third Way ideology into concrete politics. Agenda 2010 was also part of the European Union’s Lisbon strategy, which aimed to transform the continent into “the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion.”9 The party conventions of the SPD and the Greens approved the reforms, which included numerous measures based on corporate-­friendly supply-oriented economics. Impacted sectors ranged from health insurance to pension policies. The most drastic steps involved the labor market: weakening job protection, cutting labor costs, and reforming unemployment and welfare benefits. The state’s twofold task was now viewed as “encouragement and expectation” (“Fördern und Fordern”). Most labor unions criticized the reforms while large demonstrations were held all over Germany. Although these protests did not in fact prevent the implementation of Agenda 2010, they served to exacerbate internal rifts within the SPD.  Lafontaine finally quit the party in 2005 and joined the new party “Labor and Social Justice—The Electoral Alternative” (Wahlalternative Soziale Gerechtigkeit (WASG)), which had been founded by disgruntled labor unionists (Walter 2009). The effects of the Hartz reforms continue to be the subject of heated debate. Unemployment has since decreased and economic growth has picked up, turning Germany from the “sick man of Europe” into a role model and economic powerhouse. Whether the Agenda 2010 reforms indeed precipitated this development has nevertheless been disputed among economists. Undeniably, the gap between rich and poor has drastically widened since the reforms were introduced in 2003, with the number of precarious jobs increasing 9  Lisbon European Council, 23 and 24 March 2000. Presidency Conclusions, http://www.



enormously. Agenda 2010 also had fundamental consequences for the SPD, shattering its close relationship with labor unions permanently, which in turn resulted in the emergence of the WASG party. The WASG eventually merged with the PDS to form the Left Party (Die Linke) in 2007, establishing a nationwide party to the left of social democracy (Brie (ed.) 2005). The SPD would lose members at an unprecedented rate and polled badly in regional and state elections. When the SPD lost the election in its heartland in North Rhine-Westphalia, Schröder scheduled federal elections for late 2005. The decision backfired and the SPD lost by a narrow margin, with the conservative Angela Merkel of the CDU becoming the new chancellor and the social democrats joining her in a grand coalition under her leadership. Merkel’s first governmental declaration underscored the ambivalence of Agenda 2010 for the SPD: Even as Merkel explicitly thanked her predecessor for initiating courageous reforms to adapting the welfare state to modern times, the SPD found itself in the midst of a deep crisis.10

Ongoing Crisis The SPD had to deal with the self-inflicted wounds it suffered for implementing its Agenda 2010 (Walter 2010) and continues to be embroiled in a turbulent process of development to this day. The party’s electoral losses would be followed by rapid changes in its leadership until Sigmar Gabriel was elected head of the party in 2009. In 2007, a convention in Hamburg had adopted a new program as a fragile compromise.11 While the left-wing critics of the Third Way influenced the program to a certain extent, the defenders of the reforms clearly set its general course. The program mentions socialism as a long-term perspective and even Marxism as one of the SPD’s historical roots. According to its Third Way ideology, however, the welfare state is viewed less as a sort of “nanny state” and more as an “activating state.” The revised program has not done much to solve the SPD’s crisis, as the reforms implemented by the Schröder government continue to provoke emotional reactions on the part of party members and functionaries, oscillating between criticism and regret on the one hand and 10  Deutscher Bundestag, Plenarprotokoll 16/4: Stenografischer Bericht 4. Sitzung Berlin, Mittwoch, den 30. November 2005. 78–79. 11  SPD, Hamburger Programm: Grundsatzprogramm der Sozialdemokratischen Partei Deutschlands; beschlossen auf dem Hamburger Bundesparteitag der SPD am 28. Oktober 2007.



apology and defensiveness on the other. As a consequence, the party has lost its distinct profile, and the SPD lost over 10 percent in the 2009 federal election, dropping to a disastrous 23 percent, before recovering only slightly four years later in 2013. The party had yet, however, to reach bottom. Martin Schulz, the frontrunner for the 2017 federal election and former president of the European Parliament, placed the party’s emphasis on social justice. After being responsible for the largest cutbacks in the German welfare state and overseeing the expansion of a huge minimum wage sector, most voters, though, had lost trust in the SPD’s social profile. Consequently, the party achieved its worst postwar score at a mere 20 percent. The subsequent state (Landtag) and European Parliament elections have only confirmed the party’s downward course. The SPD has lost considerable ground in all recent elections so that its standing as a major party with strong popular support (Volkspartei) has come into question. This situation has only promoted further discord within the party, leading Andrea Nahles, the party’s first female party chair, to resign from her position in June 2019. The future of German social democracy remains an open question. One cannot rule out that Germany’s oldest party could soon meet the disastrous fate met by social democratic parties in several other European countries. The SPD has suffered a lasting loss of credibility as a force of the left as other parties have more convincingly taken its place in the political spectrum. The political center has, furthermore, now been covered for the most part by the conservative CDU. The Greens have, by contrast, been able to gain the confidence of a young and ecologically aware milieu. Having seemingly lost its political significance on a permanent basis, the SPD may well be nearing the end of its long historical development. * * * This chapter has outlined the evolution of the SPD’s notion of the state from its origins until today. During its founding period, different concepts were embodied by the two strands of the social democratic movement. While Marxists viewed the state as a class state, followers of Ferdinand Lassalle perceived the state as the essential element with which to build a socialist society. The two lines of thought coexisted for some time. However, the Lassallean concept has most deeply influenced SPD’s policies in practical terms. Capitalism has, moreover, proven to be more



stable and better able to renew itself than orthodox Marxism had assumed. Not only did the revolution never happen, but the rise of fascism in the interwar period demonstrated that there were far worse alternatives to capitalist democracy. These experiences and the brutal defeat of the labor movement in the face of Nazism made it clear that it was an illusion to expect any sort of socialist revolution. The SPD’s election results immediately after 1945 demonstrated that it would never govern if it did not broaden its appeal. Undergoing a process of pluralization, the party gradually evolved into a modern party of the masses. The reformist position would eventually gain dominance in the 1959 Godesberg Program, entailing a fundamental change in the party’s relationship with the state. It accepted the parliamentary democracy and the social market economy of the Federal Republic of Germany as a framework for action. After 1969, the SPD received the opportunity to shape society in accordance with its own political vision. It regarded the state as the most important instrument for achieving these reforms—a neutral instrument beyond any contradiction between capital and labor. Since the late 1960s, the democratic participation of the citizens and of civil society groups steadily gained importance in the SPD’s concept of the state. In the late 1990s, the SPD-led government embraced the new Third Way ideology, rejecting conventional political distinctions and defining itself as neither left nor right (Giddens 1994). It also transformed the concept of the welfare state into that of an “activating state” that not only demanded the critical participation of its citizens but emphasized their individual responsibility. The Third Way ideology constituted a new orientation for social democracy all throughout Europe in the early twenty-first century (Giddens 1998). While the reforms of the 1970s had democratized German society, the reforms of the early 2000s have lastingly undermined the welfare state. Even as the long-term effects of the Agenda 2010 reforms are still a matter of dispute, the SPD is clearly responsible for their drastic social consequences and deep changes in the labor market. Many traditional voters and former allies have now turned away from the SPD, at least for the time being. Since the end of Gerhard Schröder’s chancellorship in 2005, social democracy has found itself embroiled in deep crisis. The party no longer represents a particular political vision or stands for a clear alternative, with no clear solution in sight.



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“K. u. k. Social Democracy” Reloaded: Austria’s SPÖ and the State After 1945 Maria Mesner

It remains unclear who first referred to Austrian social democracy as “k. u. k.”, an abbreviation for “Kaiserlich und königlich” (imperial and royal, a notion that designated the official institutions of the dual Habsburg Monarchy). However, this nickname—invented to mock the loyal  and supportive attitude Austrian social democracy adopted toward the Habsburg Empire—stuck, at least well into the 1970s.1 This does not come as a surprise: Austrian social democracy has had a long and generally positive relationship to the state. This is true both theoretically and in terms of the public policies it formulated, whether at the local level in the interwar years or at the local and national levels following World War II. The Austrian socialist mainstream is usually characterized by reference 1  I am grateful to Matthias Trinkaus for his support in researching this chapter and to the Anniversary Fund of the Oesterreichische Nationalbank (Project No. 16468) for its financial support.

M. Mesner (*) Universität Wien, Vienna, Austria e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




to two politicians who were also very prolific theoreticians: Karl Renner, who staked out a “right wing” position in the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria (SDAP), and his counterpart on the party’s left, Otto Bauer. Well into the post-World War II era, Renner and Bauer’s thinking continued to supply a major point of reference. Albeit in very different ways, both thinkers considered the modern state built by the Habsburg monarchy to be a crucial lever for social change on condition that the socialist movement be strongly committed to transforming its structures and setting its social goals. To Karl Renner, first Federal Chancellor in Austria’s First as well as Second Republic, the state was a crucial entity. In his thinking, the state framed and consolidated society, mediated diverging interest-driven policies and transformed them into a matter of common interest. In contrast to Renner, Otto Bauer, who employed a Marxist framework and terminology, did not believe in the state as merely a neutral territorial authority. In his view, the state was classist: the modern state emerged on the basis of capitalism because it was only in a capitalist economy that the production of commodities generated the taxes needed for the state to exist. Both Bauer and Renner, however, saw the state as playing a crucial role on the path to socialism. According to the former, once the proletariat had taken over the state, class struggle and capitalist rule would be abolished. Following World War I and the birth of the First Republic, the Austrian socialist movement took advantage of a much more favorable institutional configuration to influence the state-building process. Some important local experiences—first and foremost, in Vienna  during the 1920s and early 1930s—reinforced partisan expertise on this issue. In the wake of World War II, the Austrian Socialist Party (SPÖ), having entered into a lasting coalition with the Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), played a prominent role in building the welfare state, laying the foundations for what Donald Sassoon has referred to as “the most important model of so-called consociational democracy in Western Europe” (Sassoon 1996). This chapter shall consider the Austrian socialists’ commitment to the state, which culminated in the Kreisky era. On the basis of a detailed examination of Otto Bauer and Karl Renner’s political theories, it traces this stance back to the late nineteenth century. It then turns to consider social democratic policies as they developed from the interwar period onward. The chapter concludes with an examination of the economic policies of the Kreisky era (1970–83), which serve as a case study for assessing the scope of social democratic reform of the state and its limitations.



A Robust Pro-statist Doctrinal Tradition As we have already seen, Karl Renner’s thoughts on the state exerted a huge influence on the Austrian socialist movement. Renner was willing to broaden the state’s base, opting for the introduction of what he thought of as universal suffrage (though it was in fact restricted to men) in place of the Habsburg Monarchy’s class franchise. His endorsement of male universal suffrage—in the context of a constitutional monarchy, it must be stressed, not a republic—was not free of nationalist considerations given the Monarchy’s endemic ethnic conflict: “The Germans can rule only if they are ahead,” wrote Renner in 1901, “today they can only be ahead under the banner of democracy” (Renner 1901: 31; cited in: Butterwegge 1991: 118). In contrast to ethnic conflict, class struggle on his view did not endanger the state. While class struggle was the meaning of the state and indeed its purpose, as it was the state’s vocation to act as arbiter, ethnic struggle dissolved the state. Renner was puzzled by what he perceived as the bourgeoisie’s failure to recognize that universal male suffrage was in its own interest. He thus saw the proletariat as the only reliable pillar of the state (Renner 1901 cited in: Butterwegge 1991). The state also played an important role in Renner’s vision of the path to socialism. He anticipated three stages, of which the nation-state was the first and most primitive. The nation-state was to be succeeded by a state of nationalities, a concept that evokes an idealized Habsburg Monarchy in which people of different ethnic backgrounds enjoying proper democratic representation within a single state live peacefully together in a situation Renner termed “cultural autonomy”(Hanf 1991). Renner’s third and final stage was an “International”, a “free association of nations” that would cover “the surface of the earth with a precious tessellation of a colorful and endless variety of human bodies and minds” (Renner 1964: 88; cited in: Sandner 2002: 6). Elsewhere, Renner put the point more succinctly: “The state will be the leverage to socialism” (Leser 1985: 28). Although he adopted a radically different perspective, the Austro-­ Marxist Otto Bauer developed important theories regarding the democratic republic in which the state played an absolutely crucial role. According to Bauer, the emergence of one single will shared by all citizens was possible. The future socialist community would not be based on taxes but rather on planned production and the sharing of its output. “Therefore, the socialist community is not only the opposite of the modern state but of every state known in the past” (Bauer 1907: §30). It should be noted



that, for both Bauer and Renner, the path to socialism would take an exclusively parliamentary route: the proletariat was to seize control of the state by gaining an absolute majority of the vote. In his own time, that of the early years of the First Austrian republic, Bauer perceived a balance of power between the classes that created a “People’s republic”. When the coalition between the Christian-Social and Socialist parties ended and a national-conservative coalition took power in 1920, the state turned into a “bourgeois republic” and ultimately a fascist dictatorship. Although Bauer was much more skeptical regarding the transformative potential of the state, he never moved beyond parliamentary democracy to develop a theory or political strategy for hastening the advent of socialism. In developing a positive theoretical approach to the modern state, however, both Bauer and Renner greatly influenced the manner in which the Austrian socialist movement conceived and made use of the state from 1919 onward.

From the 1920s to the Post-War Era: The State at the Heart of Party Programs An examination of party programs gives us a second perspective on the social democratic notion of the state. In its programmatic documents of 1889 and 1926, the Social Democratic Workers’ Party (SDAP) stated its commitment to observe electoral procedures in its efforts to win state power. The same held for the decades following World War II. Well into the 1970s, it was claimed that socialism (a term whose meaning may have changed since the early twentieth century) would be brought about once the Socialist Party received an absolute majority in elections. In general, it can be said that, over the course of the twentieth century, the prospect of radical social transformation gradually faded from the party’s program in favor of a view of the state as the engine of Social Democratic plans for social change. The crucial role conferred upon the state in Austrian socialist thinking is reflected it its policy strategies, all of which put the state in the metaphorical driver’s seat. The Austrian Socialist Party was rightly proud of the role it played in founding the republic. Socialists had participated in governing coalitions even before the SPÖ came to power in 1970, starting with a short period from 1918 to 1920. Alongside issues of foreign policy—first and foremost, the international contours of the post-­ World War I settlement—the ruling Socialists focused on developing the



welfare state, labor law and introducing participatory bodies to guarantee employee political representation in companies. These policies all relied on the state and its laws to bring about the intended transformation. Between 1945 and 1966, the Socialists were once again part of government. In what might be described from a comparative, European perspective as an “exceptionally long ‘historic compromise’” (Sassoon 1996: 119), the rebaptized Austrian Socialist Party (SPÖ) was the junior partner in a government coalition alongside the catholic-conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP), the successor party of the First Republic’s Christian-­ Socials. This cooperation was the result of external pressure: in 1945, the post-war Allies opted for an all-party government. But the Austrian Socialists had reasons to continue their cooperation with the ÖVP far beyond the end of the occupation era, during which Austria was ruled by Allied authorities. From the failure of the First Republic, the Socialists had drawn the conclusion that they should avoid major political conflict with their conservative counterpart. The First Republic had been torn apart along the divide separating the social democrats and right-wing parties— in short, it failed because its political elites had been unable to bridge this divide and cooperate with one another. In a context marked by the absence of a viable Communist Party—the Party had played a role in resisting the Nazis and in the first months immediately following the war but largely faded from the scene afterward—the Austrian socialists were also determined to avoid once again becoming isolated by the political right. This resulted in a “pathological aversion to conflict”, as one observer has put it (Weidenholzer 2000: 86). The party leadership encouraged officials to steer clear of issues that had been hotly debated under the First Republic, including lifting the ban on abortion and an equal-rights marriage law. The following quote by Gabriele Proft, a leading member of parliament, illustrates these limits on political speech. As she lamented at a party convention, “We must not mention the marriage law, the school law, not the reform of the penal code; we must not touch upon all those issues which are part of the Kulturkampf.”2 At the cost of shelving major Socialist political tenets, the Second Austrian Republic was put on a stable footing and the SPÖ remained a junior partner in the national government. The attempt to tame party antagonism coincided with a new labor relations arrangement. While trade unions had been split along political 2  Parteivorstand der Sozialistischen Partei Österreichs (ed.) (1949): Protokoll des vierten [sic!] Parteitages der SPÖ. In Wien, vom 2. bis 3. November 1949, Wien, p. 46.



divides under the First Republic, in 1945 a unified trade union, the Austrian Trade Union Federation (ÖGB), was founded that incorporated a broad range of partisan factions and economic sectors, with the Socialist faction holding the dominant position. Together with the Austrian Chamber of Labor and their entrepreneurial and agricultural counterparts—the Federal Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Austrian Industries and the Chamber of Agriculture—the Austrian Trade Union Federation built Austria’s specific consociational model. A “Parity Commission” including representatives from the trade union, employers and the government set wages and prices and helped oversee a highly controlled economy. As a kind of alternate government (Gerlich 1985: 128), however, the social partners negotiated and pre-decided not only wages and prices but also social legislation and economic policy, with the parliament merely giving legislative form to what had been agreed upon in advance. This arrangement succeeded in keeping labor conflicts at bay: for decades after World War II, Austria had the fewest strikes of any Western European country. In terms of the relationship between social democracy and the state, this consociationalism or neo-corporatism is as close as social democracy got to non-state strategies for bringing about social change. It must nevertheless be kept in mind that consociational strategies also rely on law—and thus the state—to implement and enforce their preferences. For more than two decades, the political division of labor within the ruling coalition once again put the Socialists in charge of labor law and social issues and allowed them to oversee the nationalization of enterprises. By the early 1950s, the latter produced 22 percent of Austria’s industrial output (Sassoon 1996: 161). Drawing upon a broad political consensus that included the Österreichische Volkspartei, the nationalization of key industries (metal, electricity, the refinery industry, banks) in 1946–47 was thoroughly enmeshed in the politics of the early Cold War years. It was driven by the desire to save former “German assets” from the grasp of the Soviet Union as it sought compensation for the devastating destruction caused by the German armies. Among the Allies, it was thus the USSR that objected to the Austrian program of nationalization while the US supported it. The Socialists, however, also pursued transformative goals and saw the nationalized enterprises, which were mainly clustered in the basic industry sector, as offering leverage with which to influence the course of the national economy. To sum up, in the interwar years the Austrian socialist party represented the principal stronghold of republicanism. Under the Second Republic, its



efforts to bring about social change were centered on a strategy of participating in federal, regional and county governments. The Austrian socialists considered the state to be an essential lever for exercising power and introducing social change. Their paramount goal was thus to win an absolute electoral majority.

Power Politics, Socialist Experiments and Political Transformation In the interwar years, “Red Vienna” supplied the model for socialist transformation in Austria. After the SDAP had gained a clear majority in the 1920 elections, the party implemented a project for social and political reform in tandem with a massive tax reform. Red Vienna policies reorganized the city’s bureaucratic apparatus and introduced a public health program, a workers’ cultural initiative, school reform and a comprehensive public-housing program that continues to shape the city and its housing market to this day. This experiment in social change came to an end in 1934 when, with the country moving toward fascism, Vienna lost its status as an autonomous Austrian province. In marked contrast to “Red Vienna”, there was nothing experimental about the reforms undertaken in 1970s Austria (abortion, family law). In both cases, laws were abolished that dated back at least to the early nineteenth century. Other European countries had laws similar to those introduced by Austria in the early 1970s and in some cases these had already been on the books for several years. The SPÖ’s reform of the university system had also been long overdue. In contrast to the status quo of the late 1960s, the welfare-state reform of these years considerably expanded it but without fundamentally transforming its operation or structure. Yet it is worth noting that the so-called Kreisky era (1970–83) began as a state-centered effort to win power. The SPÖ failed to win an absolute majority in the 1970 elections. If it had followed post-World War II rules, it would have found itself in yet another coalition government with the conservative ÖVP. Instead, the SPÖ elite decided to negotiate with the smaller German nationalist Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) in the hopes that it would temporarily agree to support government proposals in parliament. This supplied the basis for what would become a twelve-year period of socialist political hegemony. An experiment in the techniques of power



politics thus paved the way for the Austrian Republic’s first Socialist government. As economic issues are at the core of Marxist social theory, I will focus on economic policy in order to explore Socialist concepts of change in the 1970s. Although some socialist leaders and theorists applied a very different framework, as we have seen, Austrian social democrats commonly employed Marxist rhetoric from the late nineteenth century onward, leading some analysts to describe them as “Austro-Marxist” (for one such example, see Kulemann 1979). Indeed, issues of economic policy were at the heart of the SPÖ’s program. First formulated in 1958, the program in effect in 1970 criticized the power of private and state capitalism and stated the party’s desire to replace them with an economy based on social enterprise. Anti-cyclical public investments and financial policies were singled out as a means for securing full employment “as long as cyclical fluctuations are not abolished by socialist economic planning” (Parteiprogramm 1958: 16). Such policies implicitly embraced the view that capitalism and all its ills could be overcome by an alternate—and, notably, unnamed— economic system. To guarantee even economic development and full employment throughout Austria, the program called for economic development to be systematically encouraged in economically underdeveloped areas (Parteiprogramm 1958: 16). In 1967, electoral defeat put an end to over two decades of SPÖ participation in government. In response, the party received a new chairman and embarked on comprehensive programmatic discussions. The latter sought to develop a detailed program of government and demonstrate the legitimacy of the party’s claim to being the only force capable of implementing innovative social policy. Some 1400 experts are said to have participated in the process, thereby underscoring the Socialists’ ambition to introduce “modernity” to a country depicted as mired in traditional ties and illiberal attitudes. Expert knowledge and the latest social scientific research would allow the Socialists to create a “modern Austria”. In addition to supplying a demonstration of energetic policy development, the discussion process resulted in six sectoral program documents, one of which was the “Economic Program of the SPÖ”, which bore the title “Achievement, Advancement, Security” (Reform 1968). This 174-page-­ booklet is replete with charts, diagrams and tables demonstrating what “modern politics” meant to the SPÖ. It did away with all kinds of anti-­ capitalist rhetoric. The first sentence of Chapter One states that it is necessary to effectuate sufficient economic growth, secure full employment,



expand working people’s share of the national product and guarantee price stability (Reform 1968: 15). Gone were all calls to overcome capitalism or transform it into a different economic system. The program specified that structural unemployment was to be prevented or, where it existed, reduced. However, unemployment was not depicted as inevitably resulting from the inner workings of capitalism but rather as caused by the unfavorable competitive position of some economic sectors. In these cases, state agencies were to expand employment or protect threatened employment in order to facilitate structural adjustment (Reform 1968: 75). Once again, state intervention was at the heart of socialist economic policy, with the state being tasked with the redistribution of funds to aid the more disadvantaged segments of the population.

The SPÖ in Power (1970–83) Being equipped with comprehensive policy papers and an attractive, if highly controversial, candidate, Bruno Kreisky, the Socialists won a relative majority in the federal elections of 1970 and an absolute majority in those of October 1971. After the SPÖ took office, it wanted to become— and indeed became—the party of “modernization” in many respects: it modernized law (passing laws to regulate marriage, divorce, abortion and homosexuality), education (at the secondary and higher levels), industrial production and, more generally, the world of work. In doing so, it once again appealed to statist tools, particularly in what concerned the reform of civil law and social legislation. The reform of marriage and family law brought an equal-rights model to bear on marital relations. The liberalization of abortion law strengthened the agency of pregnant women. Both legislative initiatives involved revisiting plans for reform dating from the early twentieth century and taking advantage of the favorable circumstances offered by one-party government to give them a basis in law. In its quest for legal and social equality (albeit within the limitations inherent to 1970s-era discourse), the SPÖ established women’s policy as an area of government activity. In a context marked by the continuous economic growth of the 1970s, social equality also became the watchword of socialist economic policy. The Austrian rate of economic growth was consistently higher than the Western European average while inflation was lower. In these favorable circumstances, the main goal of socialist economic policy consisted of harmonization with Western European standards, including the introduction



of VAT (Nowotny 1986: 38), and improving Austria’s international competitiveness via “modernization” (structural adjustments, trade law reform). To improve the labor market situation and compensate for persistent workforce shortfalls, the government encouraged labor migration from the countries of Southern Europe. When the first international oil crisis hit Austria in 1974, however, the national economic climate fundamentally changed. The Austrian government decided to avert economic decline and rising unemployment by increasing public spending. In support of this strategy, the government implemented a measure, which it had already adopted, to reduce weekly working hours. The main goal of the governing socialists was to maintain full employment as in the decades following World War II. Unemployment was kept low through a policy of “slow adjustment” in the public sector: redundant workforce was not laid off but rather kept in employment in order to supply a kind of “buffer” for renewed labor demand after the crisis—a demand which, as we know from hindsight, never became materialized. To keep inflation in check, this package of measures was accompanied by a hard currency policy and a pause in trade union demands for greater pay. As before, then, the socialists turned to state policy to realize their political goals. Known as “Austrokeynesianism”, this bundle of policies was described by the Austrian economist Gunther Tichy as an attempt to stabilize decision-­ making conditions for workers, employers and trade unions alike (Tichy 1996: 214). Given its close attention to the uncertainties of capitalist cycles, “Austrokeynesianism” may be described as an attempt to tackle the problem posed by capitalist economic development and reduce its uncertainties by stabilizing living conditions, at least in what concerns their economic aspect. Yet it would be wrong to see it as a genuinely novel policy; the ÖVP had also resorted to anti-cyclical public expenditure (Rathkolb 2015: 135). The Socialist government succeeded in maintaining “full employment”. In Austria, this meant an unemployment rate of less than 3 percent, in keeping with the trade union’s consensual definition. Between 1975 and 1981, the mean unemployment rate in Austria was 1.95 percent. In the Federal Republic of Germany, by contrast, it rose to 3.57 percent over the same period (Nowotny 1986: 42). When comparing economic data at a (Western) European level, the picture is similar. The Austrian rate of unemployment averaged only one third of that for OECD European countries between 1974 and 1989. Inflation, meanwhile, also remained well below that of other OECD countries while GDP growth exceeded it.



It is for this reason that the British historian of European social democracy Donald Sassoon calls Austria (together with Sweden and Norway) an “overall success story” (see Sassoon 1996: 450, 451). Indeed, the goal of avoiding unemployment continued to shape socialist economic policy even after the crisis of 1973–74. The Austrian Socialists considered unemployment to be a result of the cyclical crises inherent to capitalism. By employing anti-cyclical state intervention of the type advocated by John Maynard Keynes, however, they challenged the inevitability of this dynamic. What’s more, Austrian politicians frequently spoke in a way that suggested that collective historical memory lay at the basis of this political orientation. Many leading members of the Socialist Party had lived through the Great Depression and were intimately familiar with the massive unemployment it generated, regarding it as responsible for to the rise of fascist movements and the destruction of the democratic republic. In this connection, it is significant that it was the Trade Union Federation that defined the appropriate parameters of “full employment”, as we have seen. Its growing influence over government policy may be detected in the decision to extensively devote the state’s budget to averting or at least reducing unemployment. It is no coincidence that its president, Anton Benya, was also president of the Austrian legislative assembly, or National Council, and was as such the Republic’s second highest-­ ranking official after the Federal President. The government and Trade Union Federation were in close contact, with Benya and Kreisky meeting weekly in advance of the Council of Ministers so as to align trade union and government policies.3 Several of Kreisky’s ministers were also senior trade union officials (Klenner and Pellar 1999: 465). They included Rudolf Häuser, Kreisky’s deputy as chancellor and social minister from 1970 to 1976, who also chaired one of the Trade Union Federation’s most important subdivisions and served as its vice president, as did his successor, Alfred Dallinger. Yet the close relations between SPÖ governments and the trade union were not merely personal; they can also be seen in political decision-making. While the SPÖ initially supported a more radical labor relations law (Arbeitsverfassungsgesetz), the law it ultimately implemented was more moderate, in keeping with Trade Union Federation demands.4 In general, all existing evidence suggests that the trade union’s influence over state policy reached its apogee in the 1970s.  Interview with Ulrich Brunner by Maria Steiner, Kreisky Archives.  Interview with Ferdinand Lacina by the author, 20 March 2018; Pelinka 1981: pp. 84–85.

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While Socialist policies were successful during the first oil crisis, the economic situation changed starting in the mid-1970s, with clear indications that a new economic crisis would soon be forthcoming. Once again, state funds were used to counterbalance the effects of crisis. As a result, Austria’s economy continued to out-perform other Western European countries in terms of unemployment, growth and inflation. In recognition of the success of these policies, the Socialists received a larger share of the vote in the elections of 1979. Yet with the onset of international recession in the early 1980s, the state’s budget seemed increasingly strained, with per  annum indebtedness rising to 2.8 percent in 1980 (Kriechbaumer 2004: 236). In these circumstances, most OECD countries resorted to austerity politics in the name of economic stability and a desire to reduce inflation. The Socialist government in Austria, for its part, was divided over the question of which road to follow. A group around the Federal Chancellor and supported by the ÖGB favored renewed deficit spending. As Chancellor Kreisky remarked to much acclaim and very much in keeping with how the matter was then framed by the SPÖ: “And if I am asked: ‘What about the [national] debt?’ then I will answer as always, that I won’t so much lose sleep over a few billion in debt than I would over a few hundred thousand unemployed people.”5 Another group around the Minister of Finance preferred giving more attention to public expenditure. The conflict lingered within the SPÖ for years to come. At the time, however, it was those grouped around the ruling Chancellor who prevailed. Preventing or reducing unemployment remained a Socialist policy priority. But the effects of international crisis could not be fully avoided: between 1981 and 1984, unemployment rose to a rate of 4.6 percent. This was still lower than the average rate for Western OECD countries and only half the West German unemployment rate. However, the goal of “full employment” had to be abandoned in the interest of putting a cap on public debt. With the 1983 national elections approaching, the group around Kreisky also decided that public debt had to be reduced and the Socialist Party campaigned on raising taxes. In the event, however, the electorate was unwilling to trade job security for higher taxes. Although the SPÖ won a majority of the vote, between 1983 and 1986 it was obliged to participate in a coalition government with the FPÖ. Between

5  “Kreisky: Bei Absoluter 4 Jahre Bundeskanzler. Österreich kann volle Amtszeit mit ihm rechnen.” In: Arbeiter-Zeitung, March 19, 1979, p. 1.



1986 and the end of the century, this was followed by another “grand” coalition with the ÖVP. The loss of the absolute majority was a reflection, not only of the fact that a large number of voters were unwilling to support ever-rising public expenditure, but also that the Socialists faced a new political competitor in the form of two green parties. Though neither of these parties succeeded in having a candidate elected to parliament, taken together they received 3.4 percent of the vote, or precisely the percentage of votes lost by the SPÖ. Post-Fordist movements had first emerged in 1978, if not earlier. At that time, the SPÖ and the entire consociationalist system had lost a major conflict over nuclear power, a demonstration of the new movements’ incompatibility with classic Fordist growth and consumption policies. Though it was a conservative government that gave the green light to constructing the first nuclear power plant in 1969, nuclear power was supported by all major political parties and the social partners. Construction of the plant finally got underway in 1974. With the emergence of the ecological movement in the 1970s, however, the issue had become a matter of controversy, a controversy that was only exacerbated when the ÖVP changed its stance and campaigned against nuclear power. With the Swedish precedent in mind—just such a conflict over nuclear power had cost Sweden’s Social Democratic Party an election—Kreisky resorted to a referendum. This took place in November 1978 and resulted in a defeat for the SPÖ. More importantly, however, the outcome demonstrated the dwindling influence of consociationalism. Widely held views regarding “big” technology and the ideology of progress as economic growth began to change as post-Fordism gradually established itself in Austria. For a time, the SPÖ managed to appease and integrate this criticism by implementing a law strictly banning the use of nuclear power in Austria. Yet while the SPÖ won its largest-ever share of the vote in the national elections of 1979, it lost its absolute majority four years later. In addition to trying to address scandals that had also cost it voter support, during its years in coalition with the FPÖ, the SPÖ struggled to pursue an economic policy that balanced the demands of an active approach toward the labor market with fiscal policy and an insistence on hard currency. These policies had the support of the Trade Union Federation, whose leaders continued to be in close contact with government officials. Ferdinand Lacina,



Minister of Finance from 1986 to 1995, recalls regularly meeting with the ÖGB’s president.6 In the ongoing crisis, rescuing failing companies, both private and state-owned, was a priority. The financial incentives offered to industrialists were among the highest among OECD countries (Sassoon 1996: 476). The pragmatic and non-ideological goal was to save jobs by investing public money in nationalized and privately owned industries and nationalizing some companies in order to restructure, recapitalize and, finally, reprivatize them. This can be seen in the framework of regional structural improvement: often, the companies in question were the sole employers in a region. It thus comes as no surprise that these policies were supported by regionally and locally based coalitions of employers’ representatives as well as workers and local authorities.7 These policies, however, were overshadowed by the impending failure of the flagship of nationalized industry, the state-owned VOEST-Alpine. The national press reported on the major losses sustained by Austria’s state-owned steel company in the United States as a result of faulty management in a context of international steel crisis. In the years that followed, this came to appear as merely the tip of the iceberg, with the media rife with reports of loss-­ making nationalized companies during the 1980s. Nevertheless, within a (Western-) European framework, the SPÖ’s economic policies were successful, albeit with caveats: in Austria, unemployment increased but remained relatively low by European standards, while the public debt almost doubled between 1980 (2.9 percent of GDP) and 1987 (5.1 percent) (Statistische Übersichten 1994: 5). In the course of the 1980s, the policy of deficit spending came under growing political pressure and had to be adapted. Statist policy was no longer able to effectively manage economic development trajectories. Although the Socialists managed to remain the strongest political force in the country, their share of the vote gradually but steadily shrank. As we have seen, the pre-war Social Democrats and post-war Socialists had understood socialism and social transformation as a matter of acquiring absolute political majorities. Once such a majority had been won, the state could be used as leverage to enact reform. Indeed, the SPÖ’s policy of the 1980s and 1990s continued to win more support than did its political competitors, resulting in an unbroken chain of Socialist heads of  Interview with Ferdinand Lacina by the author, 20 March 2018.  Interview with Ferdinand Lacina.

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government from 1970 to 2000. This advantage, however, steadily diminished. While the SPÖ won 51.03 percent of the vote in 1979, its share was reduced to 42.78 percent in 1990 and 33.15 percent in 1999. That year brought an end to the unbroken reign of SPÖ chancellors, ushering in a series of governments formed by the conservative Austrian Popular Party and the far-right FPÖ from 2000 to 2006 and once again in 2017. Yet losing power and access to the controls of state, its principal point of leverage for effecting transformation, did not lead to a programmatic change of attitude toward the state or the means and strategies for bringing about social and political change.

Political Hegemony Lost As it turned out, the policies of 1973–74 did not result in a sustainable reform allowing for political control to be exercised over economic developments. Political elites and economists alike were mistaken about the nature of the crisis and the likely course of long-term economic development, with the decade’s economic forecasts repeatedly coming up short. This was already true for the outbreak of the first crisis: the government’s economic advisers had predicted a national economic growth rate of 4.5 percent in 1974. In the event, the national economy actually shrunk by 0.5 percent (Dirninger 2007: 381). As recent research conducted at the University of Graz has shown, an enormous gap persisted between forecasting and actual economic development over the years to come.8 This cannot solely be attributed to national stubbornness or incompetence. It was only slowly that American and Western European economists and politicians alike realized that the first oil crisis had brought the post-war years of labor shortage and sustained high growth to an end (for a similar OECD trajectory, see Schmelzer 2016: 239). Contrary to what the ruling Socialists and independent experts had expected, there was no “return to normal” following the crises. Instead, society slowly transitioned to a new era of political, economic and cultural development characterized by a very different relationship between politics and the economy, an era Paul Nolte has recently termed “neoliberal” (Nolte 2019: 12). One

8  Jörn Kleinert, The Strong Increase of Austrian Government Dept. in the Kreisky Era: Austro-Keynesianism or Just Stubborn Forecast Errors, Presentation at the “Österreichische Zeitgeschichtetag”, June 10, 2016 (notes by the author).



consequence of this transformation was that, in the years to come, the SPÖ lost political hegemony. * * * Several, quite different reasons account for this failure. First, from the point of view of financial policy, international capital flows had been liberalized, ruling out any possibility of continuing the SPÖ’s low interest rate policy. This points to a second, more general phenomenon, which is the fact that the capacities of a single nation-state to act on the economy had reached their limits. This was particularly true for small states like Austria. On the one hand, this hardly came as a surprise to Socialist leaders, who had supported Austrian membership in transnational associations since the late 1950s. In 1972, Austria became an associated member of the EC under Chancellor Kreisky’s leadership. In the final fifteen years of the twentieth century, Austrian policies sought convergence with the European Union in point of taxation, public spending and debt as well as a vast range of regulations and laws. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the Soviet Union gave up its resistance to Austrian accession as a full member, which finally took place in 1996 and was supported by roughly two thirds of the population as well as both major political parties, the SPÖ and the ÖVP. Yet socialist concepts of political change, dependent as always on the framework of the nation-state, were unable to adjust to the changing role of the nation-state in this new era. Third, the consequences of high public spending to maintain stable employment led to growing public debt and a higher burden of annual debt service as part of the national budget. These growing costs, in turn, limited the possibilities for public agency. Starting in the early 1980s, a growing number of socialist politicians favored more balanced public budgets. Fourth, the issue of public debt became politicized to the degree that the parliamentary opposition changed its stance regarding subsidies for nationalized industries. In November 1982, the ÖVP ended its support for further public investment (Venus 2008: 88), called for a balanced budget and blamed the Socialists for wasting public funds. Speaking of this shift, one historian refers to a “crushing of a crucial paradigm of the Second Republic” (Kriechbaumer 2008: 35). Mass media was dominated by debates about public debt, currency stability and whether the welfare



state was still affordable. In contrast to the 1970s, when debates on the welfare state had focused on how to go about expanding it, the crucial issue of the 1980s was how to narrowly target welfare. At the same time, policies seeking to promote social justice were increasingly challenged and questioned. Spurred on by public debate, falling support among voters and the government’s desire to satisfy demands for convergence with standards set by the European Community, the ruling Socialist Party—since 1991, rebranded the Social Democratic Party—incrementally adopted an economic policy combining state budget austerity with specific policies for supporting rates of high unemployment (Tàlos 1987: 121). Fifth, at the national level, this shift in policies coincided with significant changes in public opinion and attitudes. Regular end-of-the-year polls showed that Austrians had grown more pessimistic about their future in the early 1980s, a sentiment that first peaked in 1982. In that year, only 25 percent of the population declared itself optimistic for the year to come, in contrast to 1980, when 37 percent had expressed a confident attitude.9 At the same time, people voiced greater skepticism regarding nationalized industry, in particular. While three quarters of respondents supported major subsidies for state-owned companies in 1981, only 40 percent did so in 1986. In 1979, only 17 percent of Austrians had called for the privatization of public property. By 1986, 63 percent were in favor of such a measure. These shifts in opinion were part and parcel of a general transformation in Western Europe and the United States from a Keynesian, welfare-state model to a more individualistic one informed by neo-classical, neo-liberal economies (Butschek 2004: 198; Nolte 2019: 12). State institutions and institutions closely linked to the state, such as those involved in Austria’s consociational system, lost power and influence. The role of the state in society dwindled. As we have seen above, Austrian socialists had since the early twentieth century mainly relied on the state to leverage social reform. As a result of domestic and international developments, this leverage became less pronounced. To date, however, it would appear that Austrian social democracy has yet to find a replacement or complement for the state and this despite repeated electoral failures. The result has been to drive it from power in the twenty-first century.

9   Der Blick auf das kommende Jahr im Trend / 1972–2014. In: IMAS Report. Marktforschung | Research | Demoskopie. Aktuelle Umfragen Nr. 21/2014 [p. 4].



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Nowotny, Ewald. 1986. Die Wirtschaftspolitik seit 1970. In Der österreichische Weg 1970–1985, ed. Erich Fröschl and Helge Zoitl, 37–59. Wien: Europa-Verlag. Pelinka, Anton. 1981. Modellfall Österreich? Möglichkeiten und Grenzen der Sozialpartnerschaft, 84–85. Wien: Wilhelm Braumüller Universitäts-Verlagsbuchhandlung. Rathkolb, Oliver. 2015. Die paradoxe Republik. Österreich 1945 bis 2015. Erweiterte und aktualisierte Neuauflage. Wien: Paul Zsolnay Verlag. Reform der österreichischen Wirtschaft. 1968. Wirtschaftsprogramm der SPÖ, beschlossen am Parteitag 1968, 2. bis 4. Oktober 1968, Wien. Renner, Karl [Rudolf Springer]. 1901. Staat und Parlament. Kritische Studie über die österreichische Frage und das System der Interessenvertretung. Wien: Genossenschafts-Buchdruckerei. Renner, Karl. 1964. Die Nation. Mythos und Wirklichkeit. Manuskript aus dem Nachlaß. Wien: Europa-Verlag. Sandner, Günther. 2002. Austromarxismus und Multikulturalismus. Karl Renner und Otto Bauer zur nationalen Frage im Habsburgerstaat. In: Kakanien Revisited. Website. GSandner1.pdf. Accessed 22 Feb 2018. Sassoon, Donald. 1996. One Hundred Years of Socialism. The West European Left in the Twentieth Century. London / New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers. Schmelzer, Matthias. 2016. The Hegemony of Growth. The OECD and the Making of the Economic Growth Paradigm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Statistische Übersichten. 1994 [1995]. Ed. by WIFO (Österreichisches Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung / Austrian Institute for Economic Research), vol. 7/67. Tàlos, Emmerich. 1987. Arbeitslosigkeit und beschäftigungspolitische Steuerung: Problemwahrnehmung / Problemartikulation, Strategien und Maßnahmen in Österreich seit Mitte der siebziger Jahre. In Arbeitslosigkeit. Österreichs Vollbeschäftigungspolitik am Ende? ed. Emmerich Tálos and Margit Wiederschwinger, 91–167. Wien: Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik. Tichy, Gunther. 1996. Austrokeynesianismus. Ein Konzept erfolgreicher Wirtschaftspolitik? In Österreich 1945–1995, ed. Reinhard Sieder et  al., 213–222. Wien: Verlag für Gesellschaftskritik. Venus, Theodor. 2008. Strukturkrise und das Ende der Vollbeschäftigung in Österreich  — Wirtschafts- und Arbeitsmarktpolitik in den frühen achtziger Jahren, in: Österreichische Wirtschaftspolitik 1970–2000. Unveröffentlichter Projektbericht an den Jubiläumsfonds der Oesterreichischen Nationalbank, Jubiläumsfondsprojekt Nr. 11679, Wien: Kreisky Archives. Weidenholzer, Josef. 2000. Aus einer Rippe geformt? Sozialdemokratie und Gewerkschaftsbewegung in Österreich  — Versuch einer Entwirrung. In Gewerkschaften, Kammern, Sozialpartnerschaft und Parteien nach der Wende mit Erfahrungen aus Schweden, Großbritannien, Frankreich und Deutschland, ed. Heinz Füreder et  al., 77–88. Wien: Verlag des Österreichischen Gewerkschaftsbundes.


The Swedish Social Democrats, Reform Socialism and the state after the Golden Era Jenny Andersson and Kjell Östberg

In recent elections, the Swedish social democratic Party, the SAP, has experienced massive electoral decline, comparable to other social democratic parties in France, Austria, and Germany. The result in 2018 was the poorest since the democratic breakthrough 100 years ago. To be able to remain in power, the Party agreed to sign a wide declaration initiated by the two liberal parties, and effectively creating a grand coalition in Swedish politics. This meant major concessions for social democracy, and cemented the clear liberalization of welfare policy that had begun in the early 1990s. While the declaration caused severe internal turmoil, it also made it clear that the same fraction between a modernist and market liberal party leadership, heir of the Third way-years, and a much more fragmented labor

J. Andersson (*) Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden e-mail: [email protected] K. Östberg Södertörn University, Stockholm, Sweden e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




movement exists in Sweden as in Germany, the UK, Spain, or the US. One of the decisive points of this fracture is the view on the welfare state, or, its transformation into a new market state which poses new challenges for social democrat reformism. In this chapter we propose that the preparedness of the Social Democratic Party to liberal reforms can be viewed in the light of the party’s changing relationship to the welfare state over the last four decades, and that a new ideological positioning on the welfare state as an arena for marketization has come hand in hand with a major reconfiguration of the wider social democratic landscape and the relationship between the Party and a larger set of actors in the professions, civil servants, trade unions, knowledge, and expertise. This has changed both the content and capacity for reform politics, to such an extent that the new vision of the “market state” seems to become an entrenched reality. We seek to understand this acceptance of the market state as, first of all, a different ideal of reformist politics and the purpose of progressive reform, and second, as the outcome of a historical process of renegotiating the Party’s relationship to the welfare state since the late 1960s.

Elements of Functional Socialism: The Classic Vision of the Welfare State While the question of the bourgeois imperial state was a major theoretical and strategic issue to the formation of socialist and social democrat parties, the Nordic variant of socialism—social democracy—stands out because of the consensual and pragmatic, even organic, approach to state structures that marked these parties’ particular “road to revolution” (Tilton 1990). The Nordics had little imperial and colonial history, their working class was a national one, and they could also fall back on political cultures in which also conservative and liberal parties recognized the idea of public and social good, and accepted the idea of social reform as an effort of national efficiency and welfare. Swedish academic thought at the turn of the nineteenth century was profoundly influenced by the German historical school, in which social reform was recognized as a necessity for a full-­ grown industrial economy, and the welfare state praised albeit as part of a conservative ideal of social order. To Swedish socialists, there was much in this intellectual heritage that could be drawn upon, and one of the most interesting genealogical links in the history of Swedish socialist thinking is



the one from the deeply conservative economist Gustaf Cassel, who had studied in Germany, and Gunnar Myrdal, who drew on the ideas of the former in order to draw the plans for the so-called general social policies of the 1930s. Myrdal, as testified also in his population economics, was as interested in national efficiency as he was in equality, and from at least the interwar period on Swedish social democrats understood this ideal of national efficiency as necessitating a regulatory mechanism in the state (Esping-Andersen 1990; Andersson 2006). The turn to statism as such was not without cost—it took place through a struggle with the emerging communist party over decentralization and self-determination, and also within the SAP was a strong legacy of non-statist engagements such as cooperation, mutuality, and self-help or self-education. With some exceptions, the state was not perceived as an instrument of nationalization, rather, it was perceived as an arena for the mediation of class interest through forms of representation and negotiation. A key element in the political theory of early social democracy was the recognition of a plurality of class interests, and the core rejection of capitalism in Swedish political thought was never this but the reflection of class interests in the structures of society. The state, it was understood, could become the vehicle of class interest, but that was the diagnosis of the bourgeois state and juxtaposed, in the thinking of Nils Karleby, Ernst Wigforss, and others, to a process of democratization in which the state had a key function. Ownership became a secondary issue. The core of Swedish reformism was thus not the socialization of the means of production through collective ownership; rather, the core principle of the Swedish welfare state was the socialization of consumption through the building of a welfare state with significant capacities to channel public and private consumption (Adler-Karlsson 1969). This was as much a political as an economic ideal— it emphasized the democratization of economic life, and the gradual rebalancing of political forces. What has from a range of international observers been noted as the “pragmatism” of Swedish social democracy (Hello 1974; Tilton 1990) was thus not without ideological or theoretical elements but reflected arguably a specific political theory of social democracy (Berman 2006). The idea of the economy as a sphere of democratization, and of the welfare state as a mediating agent in that democratization, was central to this strategy. At the same time, Swedish social democrats demonstrated a sometimes managerial approach to the economy, and much of the expertise and networks of organic intellectuals of the twentieth-century labor



movement revolved around the management of the mixed economy with its professions, social groups, and class structure. Paradoxically, it can be argued that it was through this pragmatic and productivist perspective that both monetarist economic policies and forms of marketization could be considered by Party leadership as elements in continuity with the reformist tradition from the 1980s on (Andersson 2010, 2014). But at the same time, those policies reflected a now fundamentally transformed constellation of social forces in Swedish politics. This transformation, in turn, was to a large extent the product of the ways in which the mature welfare state had transformed the conditions of social life and also the relationship between the Party and its elites, the surrounding movement of trade unions and organizations, and expertise and intellectuals.

Coming to Terms with the Mature Welfare State The origins of Swedish Third way policies can be traced back to the many constitutive debates on the nature of socialism in a mature welfare capitalist society; in other words in an industrial society where the state could redirect expenditure toward welfare purposes and play a central role in the organization of capitalism in ways that appeared to promote working-class values but also possibly challenge the balance of class interests and market versus state power that lay at the heart of the political theory of social democracy. This began with the shift in generation from Gunnar Sträng and Tage Erlander to Olof Palme (and later, Kjell Olof Feldt and Ingvar Carlsson) in the 1970s and 1980s. During their time in power, social democratic parties were also confronted with a new set of issues, which included women’s rights, childcare, and parental insurance; relationships with the decolonized Third world; and problems of the advanced industrial economy in which public expenditure exceeded fifty percent (almost sixty) and in which the welfare state had replaced industry as the main site of the production and consumption, and was also increasingly seen as a the central arena of power. In the mature Swedish welfare state, the SAP enjoyed almost unquestioned authority: for the first time since the Second World War, the Social Democrats had their own parliamentary majority and the right-wing parties were split. These had largely accepted the main themes of social democratic welfare policy (Misgeld et al. 1992; Östberg 2009; Christiansen 2006). At the same time, the 1970s and 1980s were decades of rising contestation both outside and within social democratic parties. LO (the trade union federation), the youth league, and the Social Democratic Women’s



League pressed hard for increased economic redistribution between social groups through the state with the aim to compensate for inequalities created by the market. The reforms implemented during Olof Palme’s first years as prime minister in the areas of housing, family, education, and disability policies, but also unemployment insurance and working hours have few counterparts abroad (Strömberg 1992; Florin and Nilsson 1999; Östberg and Andersson 2013). A striking number of reforms were related to family policy, and many had the stamp of a radicalized notion of equality, and they were also for the first time steeped in anticapitalist rhetoric and aimed at an objective that certainly had been on the agenda since the interwar period but never really implemented, namely economic democracy. The reforms of the 1970s caused an unprecedented expansion of welfare state expenditure and bureaucracy, which now firmly also identified the Party with the welfare state and with state intervention. This was more than a discursive identification—the Party also became directly linked to strong professional groups of teachers, social workers, municipal workers, whose disaffection in the coming years was an important element in the fracture of working-class and middle-class votes, but whose support was a key element behind the strategy of welfare state expansion and also served to cement the historic compromise between working-class and middle-­ class electorates in welfare capitalism. For the first time, there was also a conception within the Party, and particularly the LO, that the objective of the advanced welfare state was to fundamentally transform capitalism. The reforms of the 1970s were all openly statist. All central components of the welfare system were financed, owned, and run by the state. A uniform state pension system had been established for all wage earners. The pension funds, which were growing quickly, were controlled by the state. The million units of housing that were built were financed, for the most part, with the help of state-guaranteed loans; a large number of these came, in turn, from state pension funds. And a strong, increasingly social democratic-­oriented bureaucracy was developed (Östberg in this volume) that could implement the reforms. By the mid-1970s, many claimed that Sweden had progressed further than any other country as regards prosperity, equality, and equal opportunities (Duverger 1973). We have above pointed to some of the preconditions: a strong economy, a potent and experienced social democracy, and a massive support for its central idea to provide legal protection against the inequalities produced by unfettered market competition (Schmidt 2016). It is also necessary to stress the



interaction between old and new social movements for the development of the Swedish welfare state. In the 1970s, the trade unions, the women’s movement, and the environment movement were stronger and broader than perhaps ever. The magnitude of 1970s reforms could not be explained without referring to the mobilization of these movements, and the way that they contributed to opening up the reformist project to a broader set of issues (Östberg 2008, 2012). Clearly, the depth of the wave of reforms that washed over the country in the early 1970s made Sweden in many respects unique. Palme’s ambitions to test the limits of reformism came across most explicitly perhaps in a series of correspondence with his German and Austrian colleagues Willy Brandt and Bruno Kreisky in the early 1970s. The letters were published in a book edited by, amongst others, Günther Grass (Brandt et al. 1975). “Income gaps are in danger of widening. A substantial transfer of population is underway along with the concentration of capital and people. Workers are finding themselves being made redundant from a tough production process and out of work. Our environment is threatened by rapid contamination.” The market economy could not solve these problems: The decisions cannot be left to private economic interests, and we cannot let the profit motive and competition determine how the environment is to be shaped, the land used, employment safeguarded or technological development controlled…. The question must not be whether we are to have a greater planned economy and more democracy in economics, but how this planned economy is to be structured and how democratic influence is to be organised.1

Rhetoric and proud goals notwithstanding, in all his practical dealings Olof Palme was a strong believer in the market economy and free enterprise. Palme adhered to the theories of functional socialism, a theory that was conceived in the young typographer Nils Karleby’s work Socialism inför verkligheten (Socialism in the face of reality) from 1926. For Karleby, the question of ownership was of secondary importance and the market economy no obstacle to working-class efforts to gain greater influence. Instead, the labor movement was to focus on shaping and regulating the functions of the market and ownership. In the long run “social policies are in fact an overstepping transformation … an actual shift in the position of 1

 Brandt et al. 1975: 25.



workers,” Karleby wrote.2 Olof Palme was an explicit proponent of the latter line. The deepening of democracy, a growing public sector, greater state planning resources, and laws to reduce the influence of the owning classes were important components of the raft of measures that he advocated (Östberg 2009). As in the UK, the turn to statism and anticapitalism, expressed amongst other things in the famous wage earner funds debate, pushed to the “limits” a new social democrat strategy of directly using state intervention to balance market forces. With the wage earner funds, the turn to active de-­ commodification in the welfare sector (Esping-Andersen 1990) broke up a previous conception of national efficiency, and made social democracy a target of a new critique that from both left and right was antistatist. It was the so-called third generation, Palme, his finance minister, Kjell Olof Feldt, and his deputy leader Ingvar Carlsson, who had to meet this critique and who were also central in a dawning reflection on the limits of state action and the turn to the Third way. And again, as other comparisons show, it was the rift between party leadership and a more radical trade union movement over the clash between the legacies of the 1970s and new pro market stances that also set the scenes for the development of the 1980s and 1990s. The LO had traditionally shown little enthusiasm for more pronounced socialist development, such as the nationalization of private companies. During the 1970s, LO underwent a dramatic development, inspired by the growing radicalization of society, and LO began to question the results gained relying entirely on agreements reached with employers. For these reasons, LO developed, in the early 1970s, an entirely new strategy demanding extensive labor-market legislation. The so-called economic democracy legislative package included laws on job security, legislation that deprived the employers of the right to freely decide who should be laid off in case of redundancies, a new work environment law that increased trade unions’ ability to remedy dangerous work conditions, and workers’ participation in company decision-making. Olof Palme presented this legislation as “the most important dissemination of power and influence that has taken place in our country since the introduction of universal suffrage.”3 This turned out to be greatly exaggerated; radical workers soon

2 3

 Karleby 1976 [1926]: 85.  Parliamentary debate June 2, 1976: 145.



began to term compliance with the law “the horn that employers have to honk before running over the workers”. The wage earner funds proposal was intended to complement workplace democracy with a correction of excessive corporate profits in the large Swedish multinationals, which during the 1970s were in a quick process of global integration and foreign investment. LO decided to appoint a committee led by LO Chief Economist Rudolf Meidner (Pontusson 1991; Ekdahl 2005). Few Swedish books have influenced the social debate more than the modest 120-page document that the committee subsequently published in the autumn of 1975. The basic thrust of the text was that employees be given a share of the profits of the large and medium-sized companies. Every year, a proportion of a company’s profits—in the form of shares—was to be transferred to funds controlled by the unions. It was apparent from a table in the document that Meidner expected the system to give employees control of a majority of the shares in most companies after between twenty and seventy-five years. In delivering this proposal, Meidner had three objectives in mind: to give employees a stake in company profits; to attack the growing concentration of power and ownership by creating a new ownership group; and to find a workable form of employee influence through ownership. It can well be argued that the Meidner funds proposals represented one of the few sophisticated ways of thinking about global capital versus national worker influence of the 1970s—and that the Party’s reluctance to embrace the proposal also postponed an important debate on the role of ownership in global capitalism. The proposal would prove explosive. In two important respects it was in clear contravention of social democracy’s fundamental views on the reformist strategy. It acknowledged ownership as a central factor, and channeled the exercise of influence through union-led bodies rather than the state. For the party—and Palme—the question was complicated. Olof Palme’s skepticism was multi-rooted. For one, there was the problem of public opinion and the escalating antagonism of the business sector. Above all, however, he had important ideological objections. He had invested a great deal of effort on developing and updating the party’s traditional reformist line to the demands of the 1970s. The far-reaching reform of labor law, with the Employment Act the jewel in the crown, was just about to bring the third stage of democratization to fruition in the economic sphere, he hoped. The issue of wage earners’ funds became, without doubt, one of the thorniest political problems that Palme had to deal with,



perhaps even the thorniest. It took him six years of tactical maneuvering before he managed to present a diluted version with no resemblances with the original proposal. According to the political scientist Jonas Pontusson, the wage earner funds represented the “limit” of Swedish social democracy (1991). The wage earner funds debate signaled the end to the economic democracy offensive that the party had engaged on in the 1970s, which represented in many ways the attempt to realize Wigforss’ notion of economic democracy. This idea of economic democracy, coupled with the idea of the welfare state as “the road to revolution” was the essence of the Party’s historic notion of a social democratic society. Beyond it was, as Wigforss himself had argued, the mature welfare state in the advanced industrial society, posing a new set of problems for egalitarian politics. Wigforss, who died in 1974, thought that these were strategic problems to do with rearticulating “provisory utopias” for an era of affluence, relative equality, and social progress. His last book was a plea for the notion of equality as not less, but more important (Wigforss 1952). Meanwhile, the reform era that marked the 1970s and that culminated in many ways with the wage earner funds proposal introduced a new set of tensions in Swedish politics. The wage earner funds came at a time when the Swedish right, in an alliance between a politically increasingly articulate employers federation, and a conservative party inspired by Reagan and Thatcher, was plotting to leave the “Model”. The mobilization of the Swedish right in the early 1980s had important transnational links; it was underpinned by a new environment of think-tanks, funded by new capital fortunes in the industrial class, and fueled intellectually by strategic translations of Hayek, Friedman, and Rand. The wage earner funds proposal, which was in many ways deeply rooted in early socialist debates, not least Hilferding’s analysis of financial capitalism, appeared both to Swedish industry and to Party leadership as a straying from the paved road of simply managing capitalism. Retrospectively, economic historians have shown that the proposal came at a time when profits in Sweden were not rising, but in a squeeze due to the long period of wage increases on the labor market (Schön and Schubert 2010). Tensions in the model that had been there through the 1960s and 1970s erupted with the employers taking to the streets of Stockholm in protest against the funds in 1981. Within the trade union movement too, the solidarity of the Rehn Meidner model was cracking up, as solidary wage bargaining and the so-called EFO model of wage setting in the public sector led to conflict between high-skill and



low-skill workers, industrial and public sector employees, resulting in a fracture of the working class that was in itself probably essential for the acceptation of the Party’s third way reforms from the 1980s on. In addition, in welfare policy, the reforms of the 1970s had targeted a new group than before: the clientele outside of the labor market. The social policy model developed from the 1930s on was certainly based on a functional socialist notion of consumption which married with Keynesian ideas, but also on a pervasive work ethic. The child care reforms could be motivated by the economic theorists of SAP as investments into the productive economy and therefore integrated into the productivist logic that had motivated social policy since the 1930s, but efforts at the disabled, the drug users, immigrants, and children had a new flare of redistribution from productive to improductive groups. Social policy gradually became associated with such redistribution, which was a novelty in the Swedish social democrat world of ideas. It meant a breach with historic notions, in particular those of the socialist economist Gunnar Myrdal, on the welfare state as a productive investment. By the early 1980s the Swedish right had a new economic argument: Sweden had the most expensive welfare state in the world. The welfare state was long the main tool for the reform ambitions of the Swedish social democracy. Its size, and the fact that all central components of the welfare system were financed, owned, and run by the state gave it an impressing potential. However, the party did not advocate state socialism or nationalizations. Instead, besides the reinforcement of the welfare system, focus was on shaping and regulating the functions of the market. Policies of the 1970s broke with this and therefore triggered a reaction within the party in which marketization of the welfare state now gradually came to be seen as the solution to a new political conflict with industry, and also in fact as a way of buying peace with trade unions by offering a new avenue for wage demands.

From the Welfare State to the Market State As a range of recent writings showed (see Mudge 2018) Swedish social democracy was a forerunner in the transformation of social democracy toward neoliberal ideas and in particular, in experimenting with market notions within the welfare state. Johanna Bockman has shown how socialist calculation debates from the 1920s and 1930s contained embryos of thinking the market in post-communist regimes (Bockmann 2011). In



Swedish debates, problems of public sector growth and “crowding” led to an important mobilization of new economic knowledge both outside and within the social democratic party. The Swedish public sector had never fitted international measurement, in which public sector productivity was put to zero from the standardization of the GDP measure in the late 1940s (see Andersson 2006). The Swedish planning system accepted this, but the five-year plans regarded it as a statistical shortcoming and not as an empirical problem—until the early 1980s when the lack of public sector productivity was at the core of problem areas raised. In economic theory, the 1970s was marked by the American economist William Baumol’s observation that the productivity of service production was doomed to zero. Translated to the public sectors of the Western world, it meant that a growing public sector “crowded out” private activities, resulting in a division between consumption and production. Such language was used for the first time in the liberal electoral campaigns of 1976 and 1979 which spoke of the public sector as consuming investment resources of business, literally “eating away” at other, productive, sectors in the economy. In 1976, the Bank of Sweden awarded Milton Friedman the Nobel Prize in economics (see Offer and Söderberg 2016). The turnaround in view on public sector activity was of course directly linked to the changes in economic paradigm: by the late 1970s, with the short lived exception of France, social democratic parties left Keynesian doctrine, to find themselves in a difficult choice between monetarist rigor and economic wilderness (Notermans 2000, 2007). SAP inofficially left Keynesianism in 1979, officially so in its Crisis program in 1981, which saw for the first time priority given to the idea of stability over employment and addressed cuts in the welfare state (SAP 1981; Lindvall 2004). The program was based on three years of debates of the “new economic ideas” with a new group of experts entitled the Social democrat economists. It created an enduring gulf between the party leadership and the trade union, and signaled a reorientation from the industrial workers of the LO collective to the white collar and public sector employees of the TCO. As the welfare state became, from the late 1970s on, the major problem of reform, ideological positions of the early twentieth century came into crisis, and in many ways the turn to a market state (a state actively embracing competition including in areas of education and science, and a new set of public private hybrids in the welfare state) was an outcome of this crisis. The reforms of the 1970s introduced a splinter in the Party’s conception of the state, which had until then been understood as the main regulator



of capitalism, essentially through its provisions of public goods such as welfare. By absorbing elements from the Swedish version of 1968 and in particular the critique of the statism in the Party line, a critique that came from professional elements around the party such as social workers as well as from a new and radicalized sociology, the SAP, from the mid-1970s on, began seeing the welfare state as a problem in its own right. As elements of revisionist Marxist theory were reintroduced in Sweden by the New Left, the historically grounded idea that state and society were inseparable (the idea that lay behind the conception of the welfare state as the people’s home, with the metaphor that became the core slogan since the 1928 election) also came under criticism. In the early years of the 1980s, a debate began that led to the introduction of essentially liberal concepts such as civil society (civil samhälle). Intriguingly, the idea of a civil society, separate from the state and constituted by autonomous individuals, had been introduced in the late 1960s by Swedish new Left thinkers such as Göran Therborn, and influenced by East European authors such as Georg Lukacs. This civil society was now advocated, from the New Right, as a kind of bulwark between the state and citizens and as a possible protection against overly interventionist state action (Arvidsson 1990). In the 1980s, it was projected to consist of private but non-market relations, including voluntary organizations, patient groups, cooperatives, and municipal government, all understood meanwhile as embodying a different form of democracy from the welfare state. Concepts of welfare (välfärd), security (trygghet), equality (jämlikhet), and democracy (demokrati) were all very close in Swedish political language from the 1930s on and in social democratic ideology virtually identical notions. The notion of the individual began to replace the idea of the citizen (medborgaren) that had also been part of an organic notion of the social contract. As marked for instance in the new social legislation (socialtjänstlagen) in 1982, such individuals had interests and preferences for care and service that were not necessarily those of an ideal of social efficiency (Andersson 2006), and that were inherently in conflict with the idea of an interventionist welfare state. In the later 1980s and 1990s, such individuals, for instance patients, were described as service users or even clients, implying a new relationship between the welfare state and citizens. An organic notion of the state, inherited from a longer legacy of conservatism and which had been at the very core of the SAP ideology, thus began to fracture. Nowhere was this fracture more clear than when a group of high level academics in Sweden published, in the early 1990s, a



series of investigations of the nature of power in Sweden, inspired both by Foucault and by the liberal contract philosophers John Rawls and Jon Elster (Petersson 1991). The effects of this expert investigation into the nature of power in Swedish society was to challenge the idea of the people’s home—which in particular in historiography would now be interpreted by a new generation as a disciplinary vehicle of social engineering. While the SAP did not in particular respond to this challenge, the ideas of the academic committee were taken up in the election campaigns of the Swedish Right in 1990 and used as part of arguments for systemskifte, a “shift of power” from state toward market rule. By the early 1990s, therefore, Swedish social democracy found itself out of tune with prevailing public debate on the welfare state, and as the defenders of an edifice which was, for instance in the context of the application to the European community in 1994, portrayed as a vestige of the Cold War era and incompatible with a new globalized world. Between 1991 and 1994, the liberal conservative, not to say aggressively neoliberal, Carl Bildt government introduced a series of reforms that were intended to transform radically the Swedish welfare state. The idea of European membership, as a structuring parameter and external pressure forcing liberalization, was at the core of this strategy, which was rapidly labeled systemskifte—change of system. Many of the reforms to the welfare state introduced by Bildt, for instance the introduction of voucher schools, became targets of social democrat ire and the Party promised to reverse them once in government. Retrospectively, it can be argued that the privatizations introduced in the early 1990s became, rather, a new baseline for political alliances around the welfare state as center, and not left, project. The inherent element to these reforms was the market. Meanwhile, the notion of the market had several dimensions and it is important to pay attention to each of them as well as to the difference between them. First, an efficiency-based idea of the market as a correction on forms of welfare state failure and particularly public sector growth. Second, a social justice-­ based idea that a degree of market solutions could offer up a higher degree of choice and mobility for individuals, and that it could therefore be a legitimate democratic improvement of the welfare state in particular for groups that had historically been either excluded or maltreated in the welfare state—women, immigrants. Third, the idea that the market could stand for a series of necessary cultural changes in Swedish mentality, offering therefore an impetus for modernization and a form of learning of new and consumer-based values and preferences in the Swedish population.



The following paragraphs examine each of these notions in relationship to social democracy. The first idea of the market as an impetus on reform politics and as a set of pragmatic, non-ideological solutions to dilemmas of reform socialism in a new era of hard times had a large echo in the executive structures of the SAP from the mid-1970s on. As Sweden was hit by stagflation and entered a period of prevailing unemployment, rising energy costs, and escalating wage demands, Swedish economists, including social democrat ones, began doubting the Keynesian paradigm and looked elsewhere. In 1981, As the Keynesian consensus finally broke down over the so-called Crisis program, Olof Palme appointed an extraordinary thing of the time in Swedish politics, an expert group of economists, the ESO. The party had always had excellent connections to the economists; indeed, functional socialism partly sprung from the theories of the Stockholm school and the arguments of labor and social economists such as Myrdal and others. But an expert group was a new invention that bypassed the old party networks. Tied to the party, they replaced the Party’s old networks of trade union economists, and moreover, they were not charged with debating specific reform but with introducing monetarist thinking to social democracy and evaluating to what extent monetarist ideas could be integrated into social democrat ideology. The ekonomgruppen rapidly became a bastion of so-­ called new economic thinking within the party and many of its economists later became associated with the Ministry of Finance following the return of social democracy to power in 1982—beginning with the super devaluation which would once and for all create economic stability and reestablish the trust of the financial markets (Lindvall 2004). Ten years later, during the Bildt government, these ideas would come into full bloom in the Assar Lindbeck commission report, which argued that the Swedish economy suffered from a number of problems of “sclerosis” that made it unfit for global markets: trade unions in an organic “corporatist” relationship with the ruling power, Tax pressure, welfare policies that created marginal effects and a public sector that stifled business. Lindbeck himself, arguably the central proponent of monetarist thinking in Sweden, was a former member of the McCracken group in the OECD which introduced the idea of “structural problems” in European economies and signaled the change from Keynesianism to monetarism in international economic governance (also Gösta Rehn was part of the OECD secretariat). Lindbeck was also an active social democrat, and stands as an example therefore of the links between Swedish social democracy and transnational neoliberalism.



The second element of market thinking was the idea that the market was a neutral mechanism of allocation, and that as such it could add to reformist performance. Arguably, market ideas here fell on fertile soil because of the party’s previous fragility to the critique from the new Left. The party susceptibility to the “new economic ideas” in the late 1970s and early 1980s had to do with the way that leading parts of the party executive, Palme, Feldt, Carlsson, were convinced that the public sector had become too large, was stifling both individual and economic initiative, and was also a source of popular rejection of the party because of its identification with the welfare state (Lundberg and Petersen 1998). While the party’s first interest in monetarist economics was thus because these might have a progressive element in their focus on the reform of the public sector, the second interest was in forms of marketization and privatization as a way of providing choice and mobility for citizen/consumers, and as ways of catering for a kind of individualism and desire for change which had somehow to be given a response. Interestingly, it was Olof Palme who had in the 1950s come up with the idea of the revolution of rising expectations, and introduced John Kenneth Galbraith’s economic analysis of affluent society into party thinking (Galbraith 1958). Now, Palme was faced again with expectations that did not seem to fit with the current social democrat project. Palme understood the new right critique as obnoxious and immoral, conceptions immortalized in his dismissal of private childcare reforms as “Kentucky fried chicken”. In 1983 the Swedish right had symbolically challenged the public monopoly on welfare services by allowing a Swedish multinational, Electrolux, to create a childcare center in its facilities in conservative-led municipality. This kind of privatization went too far for the social democrat palate in the 1980s, and when Kjell Olof Feldt a few years later published the book Den tredje vägen (The Third way), which introduced ideas of privatizing schools and hospitals, it triggered a major party controversy. In the wake of the “War of the Roses”, the conflict between party and trade unions triggered by the so-called Crisis program in 1981 (announcing the de facto end of Keynesian doctrine in the party), this controversy paved the way for the conflict between “traditionalists” and “modernizers” that still runs through the SAP. At the same time, the concept of “freedom of choice”, meaning the possibility of individual choice between a multiplicity of providers, made headway within the party and channeled historic notions of welfare as a fundamental public good. Within the party, this idea of freedom of choice found an echo in several



different fractions—first, a new strand advocating the introduction of market mechanisms into the public sector, organized around Feldt and the Ministry of Finance after 1982; second, Palme’s own experiences of failing to meet the New Left critique and its critique of the state bureaucracy; and third, the resurgence of an old strand of ethical or guild socialism that had been pushed out by the party’s turn to statism in the 1920s, but survived in auxiliary social democrat movements such as the self-education movement and the Christian social democrats. For the latter, forms of marketization meant allowing cooperatives and decentralization that would strengthen individual fulfillment and initiative. Freedom of choice was but one of several fundamental reinterpretations of the core concepts of social democrat ideology in order to make it compatible with a new vision of the welfare state as one drawing on market elements. In the early 1980s, both Palme and his minister of the Future, Ingvar Carlsson, held speeches organized around the notion of “positive freedom”. Social democracy had had its own historic notion of freedom, directly associated with equality and economic democracy, and emphasizing, through the writings of Wigforss and others, that freedom could not exist without a leveling out of class differences and without attempts to control the sphere of production, through the state. The 1980s notion of freedom was a markedly different one, as it argued, with the philosopher Isaiah Berlin that socialists had gone too far in proposing negative notions of freedom, freedom from exploitation, but not freedom to initiative. The second step of this logic was that freedom was curtailed by the bureaucracy of the welfare state. As the Swedish right at this point in time used language originating in East European dissidents’ concept of civil society, in which the welfare bureaucracy was shamelessly linked to the communist party state, some of the equation between party and state stuck. In his 1980s speeches, Palme distanced party and state, and separated, also, between the past achievements of the welfare state and a new project of “renewal” (förnyelse). Renewal meant opening up the public sector to individual choice and new performance indicators. In the first years of the 1980s, exactly how choice and performance would come about was as such still unclear, ranging from more space for municipal decision-making to client organizations and parental cooperation and leaving a relatively small space for the market in terms of for-profit actors. If the market certainly lurked behind these propositions in the 1980s—a time of massive marketization of Swedish society with credit deregulation, the introduction of credit cards, new forms of consumerism around brands



in fashion and technology, speculation on art and property markets, and the creation of the first housing bubble—the Third idea of the market, as a full scale structural change and as a virtual cultural revolution, was not yet present. Retrospectively, it should probably be argued that the expectations that were held on changes to the welfare state in the 1980s were much different from the real world of those changes in two or three decades later. In other words the Third way, as an original set of expectations on a relative liberalization of the welfare state that might rejuvenate the social democrat project and reconnect the party with a new breed of consumer-individuals, should be distinguished from the today necessary analysis of what Third way reform eventually brought about. * * * Despite their pragmatism, it needs to be argued that Swedish social democracy was not an unprincipled kind of reformism; rather, through functional socialism, the emphasis on economic democracy, and the theory of the welfare state, Swedish SAP did have a profound social transformation in view. The interpretation of the state as a welfare state, the legitimacy of which is defined by the redistribution of the national good to the general welfare of the population while recognizing the role of profit seeking within the market, was key to their ideological strategy. It is important here also that state power, to Swedish social democracy, did not mean (or at least rarely so) state action as the projection of working-class interest; rather, the welfare state embodied an ideal of a plurality of class interests and their legitimate social representation. This stands out in the histories of European socialisms relationship with the state. However, the relative confidence that Swedish social democrats also placed in state action—having not suffered the same persecution and violence that other social democrat parties had in the late nineteenth century (agitators were imprisoned for slander, but their meetings and demonstrations were allowed)—and the inherent market friendly stance that lay the ground for functional socialism perhaps also laid the ground for a managerialist idea by which state or market was seen as complementary regulatory functions in a social democratic kind of capitalism. The means and ends debate that had characterized early social democratic parties came back with a vengeance in the 1990s, as “modernized” social democrats argued that a new influence of market means did not add up to ideological change, but just to a pragmatic tinkering with the instruments of reform.



Nowhere was this development more pronounced than in Sweden, where social democrats such as Kjell Olof Feldt, Ingvar Carlsson, Göran Persson or Mona Sahlin in the 1980s and 1990s proposed that marketization was a way of providing choice, hence emancipation, and efficiency, and hence legitimacy of state action. It seems unlikely that Palme or for that matter even Kjell Olof Feldt would have, as a matter of design, drawn up and understood as ideologically desirable any of the reforms that have in the 1990s and 2000s contributed to turning Sweden into one of the countries of the OECD that have seen the most dramatic growth in inequality numbers (OECD 2012; Piketty 2014; Roine and Waldenström 2014). However, by accepting that market mechanisms could play a role in welfare state performance, and by simultaneously liberalizing credit markets, they opened up for a kind of trojan horse within the privatization reforms of the welfare state. The process of marketization and privatization in Sweden in the last decades has been complex, not concentrated to one particular reform or even reform area, and also not associable with one actor particularly, but rather, with a new constellation in Swedish politics around a center space largely shared by social democracy and the conservative party around a de facto consensus around the welfare state. This can be presented as a de facto alliance between Left and Right from the early 1990s on, a compromise around a new welfare state or “model” which allowed for a significant space for market as well as for employers, property owners, speculators, investors, and consumers, which transformed not only the level of political language and ideology but also the set of preferences around the welfare state. The Swedish sociologist Walter Korpi once argued that the political theory of the welfare state could be described in terms of power resource theory—through state-led reform, the labor movement-built alliances across classes, and strengthened support for pro-working-class redistribution in the larger population. The turn from redistribution in tax, benefit, and insurance systems has arguably shifted power resources from the working class to the middle class or even upper middle class in Swedish society. To social democrats in the 1990s and 2000s, marketization became an incremental process, which rapidly evolved from a pragmatic idea of the market as a neutral mechanism, to ideas of the market as a template for forms of social action, and a virtual vision of what might be called the market state. The political idea of the market state reflects the preferences not of working-class voters, but of those who have an interest as consumers or capital owners.



Adam Przeworsky once argued that the turn to the middleclass was a “paper stone” for social democratic parties and could only have one result which was the erosion of working-class values (1984). If it turns out that the marketized welfare state serves other interests than those of tax payers and dependents, then a significant fissure exists for a party that is still inseparable from welfare statism. As demonstrated by the last two sets of elections in Sweden, the SAP can no longer count on a strong alliance of working-class and middle-class voters and it has increasingly alienated those public service workers and civil servants who were both the upkeepers of the welfare state, and a significant part of social democracy’s control on the state. For public sector workers, who in fact at least partly embraced privatization because they equated the welfare state with an employer’s interest, austerity measures and privatization measures have not turned out well. One fifth of public sector workers were dismissed to early retirement or unemployment after the 1990s recession, and state subventions to municipalities were further cut, thus deepening the divide between social democracy, public sector workers, and trade unions. Wages in the public sector are today far behind that of private industry. For trade unions of key industries, marketization and globalization have had entirely different effects even in spite of financial crisis, as Swedish multinational companies have remained competitive in the global space. Perhaps more importantly, the marketization of the welfare state appears to have re-created a class of capital owners, sometimes with links to global financial capital, for whom the state is a provider of contracts and subventions. Social democracy has since the 1970s lost its capacity to think about the power structures embedded in this, and has also stood idly by as inequality effects of capital investment and ownership have risen. This absence of thinking about the role of the state not merely as an instrument but also as a conservative or transformative force in social relations is costly.

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Offer, A., and G. Söderberg. 2016. The Nobel Factor: The Prize in Economics, Social Democracy, and the Market Turn. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Östberg, Kjell. 2009. När vinden vände: Olof Palme 1969–1986. Stockholm: Leopard (English manuscript: A man for his time. Olof Palme 1926–1986). ———. 2012. Swedish Social Democracy After the Cold War: Whatever Happened to the Movement? In Ingo Schmidt and Bryan Evans (red.). Social Democracy After the Cold War. Edmonton, AB: AU Press. Östberg, Kjell, and Jenny Andersson. 2013. Sveriges historia. 1965–. Stockholm: Norstedt. Persson, G., and P. J. Kask. 1997. Den som är satt i skuld är icke fri: min berättelse om hur Sverige återfick sunda statsfinanser. Atlas. Petersson, O. 1991. Makt: en sammanfattning av maktutredningen. Stockholm: Allmänna förl. Piketty, Thomas. 2014. Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Pontusson, Jonas. 1991. The Limit of Social Democracy. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Roine, Jesper, and Daniel Waldenström. 2014. Long Run Trends in the Distribution of Income and Wealth. Uppsala Center for fiscal studies, Uppsala University 2014: 5. SAP. 1981. Framtid för Sverige. Handlingslinjer för att föra Sverige ur krisen. Stockholm: Tidens förlag. Schmidt, Ingo (red.). 2016. The Three Worlds of Social Democracy: A Global View. London: Pluto Press. Schön, L., and K.  Schubert. 2010. Sweden’s Road to Modernity: An Economic History. Stockholm: SNS förlag. Sejersted, Francis. 2011. The Age of Social Democracy: Norway and Sweden in the Twentieth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Strömberg, Thord. 1992. The Politicization of the Housing Market: Social Democrats and the Housing Question. In Misgeld et  al, Creating Social Democracy. A Century of the Social Democratic Labour Party in Sweden, 237–269. Tilton, T.A. 1990. The Political Theory of Swedish Social Democracy: Through the Welfare State to Socialism. New York: Oxford University Press. Wigforss, E. 1952. Socialism i vår tid. Stockholm: Tidens förlag.


What’s Left of Blairism? The Labour Party’s Changing Conception of the State since the 1980s Emmanuelle Avril

This chapter hinges on the idea of the Labour Party having experienced a “neoliberal turn” in the 1990s, with the aim of questioning widely shared assumptions and interpretations about New Labour and Blairism. Since New Labour was a product of its time as well as of its specific long-term national political and economic culture, the Labour Party’s conversion to the market economy must be set in the wider context of the global neoliberal turn which followed from the 1970s crisis, marked by voter dealignment and the decline of membership of parties and trade unions. Getting a clearer understanding of such changes also requires us to confront the many ambiguities behind the expression “neoliberal turn”, which translated into the adoption of a neoliberal economic agenda and a weakening of the link between the party and the unions. Indeed this notion tends to obliterate marked differences between the New Labour government’s approach and that of its conservative predecessors as well as the fact that

E. Avril (*) Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, Paris, France © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




Labour’s “modernisation” spans a much longer period than the years 1997–2010 which it primarily refers to. It is therefore crucial to look at this “neoliberal turn” in a wider perspective to counter some prevailing misconceptions about Blairism and its legacy. It must be stressed that internal debate on the role which should be assumed by the state is, as for any political party in liberal democracies, constitutive of the Labour Party. We need to bear in mind the specific traits of a party which always stuck to its “Labour” appellation, a reminder that it was created at the turn of the twentieth century as the political arm of the trade-union movement. Indeed, the grafting of a socialist dimension onto a labourist organisation, in 1918, almost two decades after its birth, largely accounts for a pragmatic outlook not seen in continental socialist parties. The statement that the Labour Party never was a monolithic party applies to most political parties, but even more so to a party which has been described as a “broad church” due to its origin as a federation of trade unions, socialist societies and political groupings. The party has experienced, throughout its existence, periodic phases of polarisation between its right and left “wings”, so that the current state of heightened internal tensions is not so unusual. The acute character of Labour’s convulsions following  Corbyn’s election as party leader in September 2015—made worse by deep disagreements over the handling of Brexit—also reflects a general climate where European parties of the mainstream left seem unable to put forward a convincing way to reform capitalism in the face of the growing competition from insurgent radical left parties and movements. In this respect, Blairism has long been regarded as a model to emulate. The Third Way—also explicitly espoused by Schroeder in Germany—stood as a miracle cure supposedly able to reconcile the antagonism between market forces and social justice. At a time when the search for a new model of welfare capitalism seems to have reached an impasse, New Labour’s relative success in putting forward its specific “Anglo-Social” model may still stand, in the light of Blair’s unprecedented longevity in power, as an example of how to square the circle. With the benefit of hindsight, we are now in a position to better assess the Blair model, to reflect on whether it still has any purchase and to analyse the double edged legacy of Blairism for subsequent Labour leaders. This chapter provides an overview of the trajectory of the Labour Party over a period spanning almost four decades, which inevitably induces a number of distortions. A study on such a wide scale cannot convey the extent to which the evolution of Labour’s conception of the state was not



a linear process but one marked by fluctuations and contradictions. Nevertheless, the wide range of sources the chapter draws from cumulatively provides a rigorous basis for this study. A first key category of sources is made up of published Labour Party documents, such as conference reports, manifestos and other policy statements, and unpublished internal party documentation, such as minutes and papers. First-hand information is also drawn from diaries, direct observation of party events and informal conversations with members at various levels of the party. A second category of sources is the wide range of secondary material. In providing interpretations of Labour’s ideological journey, the chapter relies heavily on in-depth studies carried out by some of the leading names in the field, such as Fielding, Shaw and Minkin, bearing in mind that when it comes to studies of the Labour Party, many of which were produced by insiders, completely neutral accounts do not exist and that there is therefore a need to strike a balance between different sources if one strives for a nuanced view. To add perspective to present day debates in the Labour Party and track the decline and resurgence of Labour’s social democratic outlook, this chapter will quickly retrace the origin and early stages of Labour’s “neoliberal turn”, which did not appear out of the blue with Blair’s ascendency in the party but was the endpoint of a long process of ideological realignment following the electorate’s firm rejection of the party’s 1983 “socialist” agenda. It will then show the different aspects of this “turn” during the Blair years and attempt to define its nature, stressing the ambivalence of the New Labour project and the importance of statecraft in fostering an impression of a radical overhaul of the state. The third section will focus on post-Blairism and attempts by Miliband and then Corbyn to distance the party from this heritage—or even to discard it altogether—in the context of the austerity policy implemented by UK governments since 2010.

Labour’s Gradual Conversion to the Market Economy (1983–1994) The year 1979 marked the beginning of Labour’s long spell in the wilderness, opening nearly two decades of opposition, punctuated by four successive election defeats. In electoral terms, the party reached its nadir in the 1983 general election when, with 27.6% of the national vote, it came dangerously close to being relegated in third position, behind the newly formed centrist SDP-Liberal Alliance which attracted 25.4% of the votes.



Even though there is still a raging debate between two antagonistic interpretations of Labour’s apparent un-electability at the time, between one which states that the party’s radical agenda was at odds with voters’ expectations and one which contends on the contrary that it was not radical enough, the first line of analysis then won the argument. When left-wing party leader Michael Foot stepped down and was replaced with Neil Kinnock, this put a halt to the party’s left turn, and what followed was an attempt to get the party’s positions to better coincide with those of the voters. The context in which this realisation took place is key. The 1980s were marked by a conservative “counter offensive” to reoccupy the lost ground conceded since the end of WWII (Shaw 1996: 140). Margaret Thatcher’s explicit aim was to erase socialism from the planet, starting with the UK, and, famously, to “roll back the frontiers of the state” from the economy. The attack on the various elements of the post-war consensus came with the tightening of the legal framework applied to the trade unions. This shifting ideological ground helps to account for the Labour Party’s transformation. When the soft left—which Neil Kinnock came from—joined with the right of the party in the project to rebuild a party no longer exclusively associated with the working class and the poor, the party’s centre of gravity moved to the right. Slowly at first, so as not to cause an open rift, the conversion really began from 1985 when the failure of the miners’ strike was interpreted as a sign that old style actions were no longer efficient and that the only hope of protecting the most vulnerable categories of voters rested with a Labour victory. Even though the idea of a trade-off between party and principles has resurfaced periodically in the course of the party’s history (Hattersley and Hickson 2013), with the grassroots seeing the maintenance of principles as more important than gaining electoral support, from this point on, the unreserved focus on winning elections ceased to be regarded as a “sellout”; it came to be seen as the duty of a responsible party. Sticking to dated collectivist ideals was now regarded as the real betrayal. The lengthy period in opposition also helped persuade party activists to accept that some dilution of their principles was an acceptable compromise. The modernisation process picked up speed from 1988 with the launch of the Policy Review whose explicit aim was the adaptation of the party to the new economic, social and political environment, which was to be achieved through “a considerable lightening of the Party’s traditional ideological freight” (Shaw 1994: 84).



The ideological baggage thus discarded included the renationalisation of privatised social housing and utilities in the light of the enthusiasm displayed by British citizens for home ownership and shareholding. In 1984, it was still party policy to renationalise all businesses which had been privatised by the Thatcher government; by 1987, the party had evolved towards a policy of total compensation, whereby the shares of recently privatised British Telecom (1984) and British Gas (1986) would be turned into special state bonds, with the idea of returning them to public ownership. But the sustained pace of privatisations quickly made renationalisation unrealistic (two thirds of national industrial and service businesses were to be privatised by 1990). The Policy Review is best understood as a reaction to Labour’s perceived ideological failings, “to both the decline of Keynesian social democracy and the failure of the left-wing State socialism” (Jones 1996: 120). After the 1987 defeat, all the sacred cows were killed off one after the other. This effort to adapt the party’s doctrine to the new environment led commentators to describe it as a new “revisionism”, an echo to the intellectual overhaul which had preceded the party’s return to power in 1964 (Fielding 1995; for a timeline of Labour revisionism see Jones 1996). In the revisionist view, which found its most comprehensive expression in Crosland’s landmark work The Future of Socialism in 1956, socialism was about improving welfare and promoting more equality rather than public ownership which was regarded as only a means to pursue Labour’s core values. The first report, entitled Social Justice and Economic Efficiency, constituted a first attempt to use the market economy as an instrument to combat inequalities.1 But it is in the second report, Meet the Challenge, Make the Change, adopted by the party conference in 1989, that the shift became more explicit and detailed, in particular through the use of the notion of “social ownership”, a more flexible form of collective ownership.2 The following two reports, published in 1990 and 1991 respectively, did not make any reference to any form of public ownership and marked the end point of the process. From this point the role of the state was to be restricted to providing a framework favourable to the growth of the private sector, compensated by limited social policy measures designed 1  Labour Party (1988), Social Justice and Economic Efficiency. First Report of Labour’s Policy Review for the 1990s. 2  Labour Party (1989), Meet the Challenge, Make the Change. A New Agenda for Britain: Final Report of Labour’s Policy Review for the 1990s.



to tackle poverty (such as the introduction of a minimum wage). Therefore, even if the party had not yet taken a fully neoliberal “turn”, it had been converted to the belief in the superiority of the market as a source of wealth creation (Shaw 1996). This was not a smooth process. The abandonment of the plan to renationalise public services in particular caused major rifts in the party, between advocates of a pure form of socialism, for whom the whole purpose of the party was to offer an alternative to capitalism, and social democrats for whom the role of a Labour government was to protect vulnerable sections of the population against the adverse effects of the capitalist order. In this latter view, socialism was not a philosopher’s stone but a compass, the goal being to erode sources of inequalities inch by inch rather than to bring about a complete regime change. The concern was how to best serve the people’s needs, not to stand firm on points of principles about forms of ownership. Now that the primary duty of the state was the protection of individual liberty, equality as a goal was relegated.3 In the words of Neil Kinnock, social democracy was to be defined in terms “not of eradicating inequality, but relieving its most gross manifestations”4 and, according to the 1989 document Meet the Challenge, Make the Change, the state was “an instrument, no more no less: a means, not an end”.5 The idea that the enterprise rather than the state was the engine of economic activity constituted a major philosophical turn from the principles of the mixed economy which had prevailed from 1945 until 1979. The ideological modernisation of the party, which can be seen as “a delayed response to the dilemma that confronted Wilson and Callaghan” (Ludlam 2001: 27), consisted in an adaptation of the party doctrine to the neoliberal era. The modernisation process was triggered by the launch of the Policy Review, continued by Kinnock’s successor John Smith from 1992 to 1994, ultimately leading to the creation of New Labour when Tony Blair and his allies took control of the party. The Labour Party’s transformation into a social democratic party on the European model, as illustrated by the adoption of the rose as an emblem in 1985, is probably one of Margaret Thatcher’s longest lasting legacies. 3  Roy Hattersley (1987), Choose Freedom. The Future for Democratic Socialism, London: Penguin. 4  Neil Kinnock (1985), The Future of Socialism (Fabian Tract 509), London: Fabian Society, p. 3. 5  Labour Party (1989), op. cit., p. 6.



Blairism and the Neoliberal “Turn” (1994–2008) As shown above, the notion of a neoliberal “turn” is misleading, since the conversion was gradual and did not begin with the Labour Party’s victory in 1997 or even with Tony Blair’s election as party leader in 1994. The impression of a “turn” has more to do with the presentational tactics adopted by New Labour and the fact that the changes were touted as constituting a clear break from Labour’s past as symbolised by the name change and the rewriting of the party constitution to abandon the formal commitment to “public ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange” encapsulated in the famous Clause IV, which had been drafted in 1917 by Sidney Webb, a leading member of the Fabian Society, and adopted by the party in 1918, marking for the first time the party’s explicit commitment to socialist principles.6 Blair explained later that in thus rephrasing its core objectives the party had “retained the ‘social’ part of socialism, but effectively discarded the ideological one. We distinguished between state and social action.”7 Although it was kept in the reworded Clause IV, the term “socialism” was now seen as an embarrassment. Many interpretations of the nature of New Labour have been put forward. Was Blairism basically “capitalism with a human face” (for an analysis of this position, see for example chapter 4 in Leggett 2005)? Or did it provide a new “Anglo-Social” model (Diamond and Liddle 2009; Dixon and Pearce 2005) in the tradition of the turn of the twentieth-century social liberals who had inspired the social measures of the Asquith liberal government? Most will agree that the idea of Blairism as a mere accommodation of New Right tenets constitutes an over simplification (Patmore and Coates 2005: 121). Indeed, although Labour’s acceptance of the Thatcher settlement in terms of economic and social policy (particularly when it came to trade union policy and privatisation) was made explicit and would seem to confirm the continuity thesis (Hay 1997), it is more accurate to say that New Labour developed its own brand of neoliberalism (Jessop 2007), twinned with a social liberal approach which prioritised the provision of social services such as health or education as well as the rights 6  The original wording of the clause made reference to “the common ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange”, while the revised version called for “a dynamic economy, serving the public interest, in which the enterprise of the market and the rigour of competition are joined with the forces of partnership and co-operation”. 7  Blair, Tony (2015, 9 December), “In defence of Blairism”, The Spectator.



of individuals, in particular those of minorities groups (Buckler and Dolowitz 2006). When New Labour first developed into a “project”, it focused on a “what counts is what works” pragmatic outlook which was very light in ideological substance, a weakness which Blair sought to correct by adopting the Third Way theory, which for a while seemed a convenient way to provide New Labour with the philosophical underpinning that it was lacking. The Third Way theorised by Anthony Giddens was pitched as a means to transcend the old antagonism between left and right, seeking to tame the market by combining often conflicting elements such as investment in key public services and a neoliberal economic model. This took the form of a move from welfare to “workfare” on the Swedish Democratic Party model whereby individuals had to strive to make themselves employable while the state acted at the level of the job market, an emphasis on reciprocity between citizens and the state and therefore on an ethos of individual responsibility. The New Labour state was not defined as an interventionist state but as an “enabling” state, encouraging individuals, through a range of welfare measures, to act independently. The Third Way exported very well and at some point looked like a global political project for the left, although it must be stressed that in Britain it was mocked and discarded very quickly—as Griffiths & Hickson point out (2015: 67), Giddens himself stopped using the term which he felt had been badly misunderstood. Blair never explicitly set out to redefine social democracy, a term he did not really use, since his view was that New Labour was about being new and different, transcending left and right and reconciling social justice with market forces. During the New Labour years, the union-party relationship suffered long-lasting damage mainly because of the party leadership’s belligerent approach to both the affiliated unions and the Trade Union Congress as a whole. Public distancing from the unions had been the strategy developed by the Labour leadership since the miners’ strike of 1984–1985. New Labour leaders were of the view that the voters expected Blair to take on the unions so as to kill off any suspicion that party policy might be dictated by sectorial interests. But what is remarkable is that despite the strain placed on the relationship and the widespread expectation that this would result in organisational separation, the Trade-Union Link survived and the unions continued to provide crucial financial backing. In fact, as illustrated by the formalisation of the Link through the creation in 1994 of the Trade Union and Labour Party Liaison Organisation (TULO), which



coordinates the work of the twelve unions currently affiliated to the party, there was further integration in recognition of the unions’ constructive role (Minkin 2014: 695).8 Indeed, behind the fierce anti-union rhetoric he used for the benefit of the media and the business sector, Blair, like his predecessors, relied on behind-the-scene meetings with union leaders to ensure he had support from the big unions at annual conference (Ibid., 669–70) and thus “protect the leadership from the members” (Fielding 2003: 143). The 2008 financial crisis exposed the shortcomings of the Blair model. The dominance of the financial sector led to a bubble whose explosion revealed the fragility of the foundations which New Labour’s economic model had rested on (Diamond 2010: 93). Therefore if New Labour may be commended for “its audacity in rethinking Labour’s traditional positions”, it fell short of addressing the structural problems of the British economy (Harker and Oppenheim 2010: 8). Looking at how British public opinion moved to the right during Blair’s time in office, Kavanagh’s verdict is that New Labour failed the test of what a social democratic government should be about, that is to shift the terms of the debate towards its own argument. What emerges from a decade of Blair, he writes, is “a pale version of social democracy” (Kavanagh 2015: 23). Blairism, this “hydra headed” project (see for example Smith 2004: 224) which is so difficult to define with any satisfactory degree of accuracy, has left a deeply ambiguous legacy, lambasted by some as mere Thatcherite accommodation, as evidenced with the trust placed in the values and tools of the private sector (Hay 1997, 1999; Heffernan 2001), and extolled by others as a credible attempt to rescue social democracy (Giddens 2000), as shown through the emphasis placed on collective values (“for the many and not the few”), and the massive investments in public services such as education and health (Finlayson 2015). A balanced assessment would probably stress that Blairism was always more of a form of communitarianism, focused on social cohesion, than of classic social democracy (Gray 1996; Driver and Martell 1997; Griffiths & Hickson 2015). Fundamental to the New Labour outlook is an acceptance of the fact that governments are powerless to shape global trends. Therefore the legacy of Blairism is a renunciation of any possibility for the state to overcome these constraints. Indeed, the radical nature of New Labour lies not in the innovative 8  Details of the role of TULO and of the unions affiliated to the Labour party are provided on the TULO website:



character of its economic approach—since it mainly went along with the orthodoxy of the times—but in the transformation of the party itself and its commitment to reforming the British state apparatus. But New Labour’s refusal to restore an active state in the face of new challenges, such as the environment or the financial crisis, leads us to say that in the economic and social spheres, the kind of model of the state that Blair promoted was that of a passive state (although, as with Thatcher, the same state was very proactive in other areas such as foreign policy or constitutional reform). This conception of a passive state provided a smooth transition to Cameron’s Big Society, perhaps a sign that Third Way principles, although no longer mentioned, had become the new hegemony (Leggett 2007).

After Blairism: The Return of the State (2008–)? The financial crisis has thrown the new consensus into turmoil and opened the door for a redefinition of what the state is for in this context and for designing “a new model of welfare capitalism” (Diamond 2010: 5). The first intimation of this was seen in Gordon Brown’s return to an interventionist approach in the banking crisis, with the government taking majority shareholdings in the troubled Northern Rock and Royal Bank of Scotland. But this turn, paralleled in the US and in France, did not so much mark a rediscovery of the virtues of state intervention, as a desperate attempt to keep the neoliberal economic order from imploding. Brown’s predicament and Labour’s subsequent thrashing at the polls showed that when the coffers are empty and even the tinkering is no longer efficient, the government is left completely rudderless and purposeless. Indeed, when Labour left office in 2010, it did so without a clear view of what the future role of the state should be. After  the 2010 election defeat, both Ed Miliband (2010–2015) and Jeremy Corbyn (2015–2020) explicitly wanted to turn the New Labour page. As Ed Miliband’s main problem was one of legacy, he strove to position himself as someone who would be able to move away from New Labour, but without this being interpreted as signalling a return to “old” Labour. Since he owed his victory over his more centrist brother to the backing of the trade unions (they then held a third of the votes on the electoral college to elect the party leader), a situation which earned him the “Red Ed” moniker in the tabloid press, he was attacked for supposedly wanting to take the party back to the 1970s, a decade marked by high levels of social unrest, culminating in the Winter of Discontent.



Miliband therefore sought to come up with a credible counter project to Cameron’s Big Society, which he hoped to have found in the Blue Labour project, launched in 2009 by academic and Labour peer Maurice Glasman (Geary and Pabst 2015). In order to recapture the working-class votes lost during the New Labour years, Blue Labour put forward a “conservative radicalism” aiming for a deep transformation of capitalism and based on the rejection of neoliberalism and globalisation whose negative effects were most felt by the poorest citizens. This approach, more in tune with the party members who remain deeply attached to the welfare state, rested on a positive role for the state and a distrust in the market. But the state was to be more of a regulatory state (as illustrated by Miliband’s proposal, during the 2015 election campaign, of an energy price freeze) than a redistributive state, since one priority was to keep public spending under control. Blue Labour also came with a tough stance on immigration, which should be curbed through the introduction of controls. This sat uneasily with many in the party so that explicit reference to Blue Labour was eventually abandoned and replaced in 2012 by a call for the much vaguer and consensual Disraelian concept of “One Nation”.9 In any case, what Miliband and his team never advocated was a return to a post-­ war welfare state. In their approach, welfare provision should not be the preserve of a centralised bureaucratic state, but should originate from a range of actors, including the charitable sector. When he threw his hat into the ring, Miliband promised no less than to overhaul—or, as Jon Cruddas, then head of Labour’s policy review put it, “re-imagine”—social democracy (Lawton et al. 2014). But in the end he was unable to seize the social democratic moment provided by the global financial crisis to generate a paradigm change. In fact, a quick shift in the narrative took place whereby what had at first been described as a crisis of capitalism was now presented as resulting from unrestrained government spending in the Blair and Brown years, thus justifying the coalition government’s austerity measures. Austerity was thus erected as a dogma which Miliband could not challenge. Miliband was also hampered by his desire to unite the party and to accommodate different traditions within it. The main schism in the party opposed those who did not question the Blairian economic model and who believed that cash offers to the voters would be enough to bring the party back to victory, and those who argued for a more social democratic 9

 Ed Miliband (2012, 2 October), Speech at the Annual Labour Party Conference.



agenda. Miliband’s own indecisiveness coupled with the consistent sapping of his authority as leader by the New Labour wing, largely through the media, meant that his energy was almost entirely captured by the efforts deployed to avoid open civil war in the party, which gave him little time to develop a strong political agenda and left him open to accusations of lacking a clear narrative (Goes 2016). Therefore, however much he sought to challenge established thinking, he had no viable alternative to offer. The election of “old left” radical Jeremy Corbyn as party leader in September 2015, against the wishes of a large majority of the Labour Parliamentary Party (for a less simplistic overview of the breakdown of ideological strands in the Labour Party see Beech et al. 2018), and his re-­ election a year later with an increased majority (only 6% of Labour MPs supported him as opposed to 60% of members), was made possible by the new leadership election rules (in effect a system of semi-open primaries) which allowed him to tap into support outside the party. Corbyn’s two victories at the head of the party, which were at first largely described as a suicidal move by the party’s grassroots and as marking the failure of social democracy, can be also interpreted as a manifestation of the continued legacy problem since Blair. Indeed, while Labour’s defeat in the 2015 election has been said to have resulted from Miliband’s failure to distance himself from Blairism clearly enough, Corbyn’s main appeal lay indeed in his assertion that there is an alternative to the neoliberal consensus which has prevailed for the past thirty years. One of his flagship proposals was his call for the renationalisation of the railways, now that privatisation had shown its limitations in the provision of efficient public services. Therefore, whether he was best defined as a left-wing social democrat or as a radical socialist, Corbyn succeeded for a time in articulating a clear anti-war, anti-­ austerity and anti-inequality message which resonated with members and the wider public (Gamble 2015). Corbyn’s leadership also marked a shift in the way the party’s relationship with the unions was presented unashamedly as a constructive one. The 2017 Labour Party manifesto, unlike previous ones, contained fourteen positive references to the role of trade unions and to their relationship with the party (as opposed to only one in the 2015 manifesto). Corbyn’s marked realignment over Brexit, whereby he progressively played down his Euroscepticism, may be taken as a sign of renewed trade union influence on the party leader. Now that the public no longer regards the unions mainly as agents of industrial strife, Labour’s closeness to them is likely to be less electorally damaging and may even turn to the party’s advantage in a context where the dominant narrative has made business,



rather than the unions, the villain. The support from the unions, despite their declining membership, may also be essential to Labour’s effort to recapture its disaffected heartlands. Whatever ideological box we may wish place him in, Corbyn had a point when he argued that the recipes of New Labour are no longer suited to post-2008 Britain and, despite the tensions, many within the party share his diagnosis that the current crisis is also a crisis of capitalism. The fact is that there was more consensus than appeared to be within Labour under Corbyn, with disagreements sharpest on foreign policy—in particular over NATO and the renewal of nuclear deterrent Trident—or immigration and free movement, while there seemed to be a large degree of consensus on domestic policy, especially when it came to NHS reform or opposition to the proposed reintroduction of grammar schools. Even though “Corbynistas” are often described as interested in protest rather than power and despite Labour’s crushing 2019 election defeat, Corbyn himself consistently asserted the need for Labour to win elections, whilst Momentum, the movement created outside the party in support of his agenda, actively worked to channel the enthusiasm generated by Corbyn’s radical stance—especially among the young—into electoral politics. Miliband’s predicament has shown how deeply entrenched the neoliberal consensus still is, thus creating a deadly twist for Labour and for centre left parties all over Europe who have been unable to come up with a social democratic response to the crisis. This has made room for alternative approaches to emerge in Greece and Spain. Corbyn’s ascendency within Labour can be seen as another case of such left insurgency, but with the unusual feature that this took place within a mainstream party. Indeed, even if the prominence of the Brexit debate very negatively affected assessments of Corbyn’s leadership and of Labour more generally, and despite the continued tensions between the parliamentary party and the more recent members, the massive expansion of the party’s grassroots as well as the unexpectedly strong results of the party in the 2017 election—which was fought on domestic policy and not Brexit—would seem to refute the theory of the irresistible decline of established mainstream parties (e.g. Mair 2013). Because of their internal divisions on the issue and the presence of contenders on either side of the debate (the Brexit Party and the Liberal Democrats), elections fought on the issue of Europe and Brexit may have temporarily weakened their overall standing (as was seen in the 2019 European election) but not to the point where they would be unlikely to bounce back given the right circumstances.



Public Ownership and Social Democracy This chapter has sought to question a number of assumptions about the evolution of the Labour Party “thought” in the past thirty years (in his seminal work, Foote 1985, highlighted the diversity and limitations of Labour Party’s thought). Tracking the evolution of Labour’s conception of the state from the 1980s to the present has allowed to look beyond simplistic interpretations of a Blairist neoliberal turn and of Corbynism as nothing but a throwback to the 1970s, a largely historically inaccurate view which has led to the decade being erected as the Labour’s “dark age”. In each case, the emergence of seemingly new thinking (both Blair and Corbyn promised a “new politics” to fit the age) was much less radical than generally assumed and largely dictated by the specific context in which it was located. It is therefore very difficult to identify the exact points at which Labour became or ceased to be a social democratic party, and to say with any degree of certainty that it ever was such thing, or to pass a final judgement on the exact nature of Corbynism. The fact that Blair’s legacy is invoked as well as attacked by both social democrats and neoliberals confirms the notion that social democracy is a very slippery concept (Griffith and Hickson 2015). Corbyn’s Labour reasserted an active role for the state, starting with the provision of social services, through the extension of “democratic” public ownership (as opposed to the old top-down model of the past).10 The party’s 2017 and 2019 manifestos thus proposed to bring key utilities back into public ownership, including water, energy, rail and Royal Mail. The state was also to take an active role in the creation of economic prosperity, as the party promised to “make work more fulfilling by using public investment to upgrade our economy and create high-quality jobs”.11 This marked a sharp turn since even Miliband’s 2015 manifesto—the first post-­ New Labour programme—made no mention at all of extending public ownership. Therefore one effect of Corbyn’s ascendency was to push state ownership back to the forefront of public policy debate in the UK, an evolution which was accelerated and amplified by the 2016 Brexit referendum vote. Indeed the Brexiteers and Corbyn’s Labour shared a populist rhetoric of strengthening the national echelon in relation to the global  Labour Party (2019), Labour Party Consultation Paper: Democratic Public Ownership.  Labour Party (2017), For the Many and Not the Few. The Labour Party Manifesto 2017, p. 46. 10 11



forces of the EU and international business, with a view to protecting the most vulnerable sections of British society. Corbyn’s perceived ambivalence towards Brexit was largely due to the notion that exit from the EU would give a future Labour government a freer hand by lifting the restrictions—real or imagined—imposed upon national governments by single market membership, regarding government spending and the renationalisation of services. The reassertion of the state as the main fulcrum of power in Labour’s discourse and programme thus results from a convergence of factors arising out of the 2008 crisis. It was paralleled with a marked pro-­nationalisation shift in public opinion as the impact of austerity policies were starting to be felt. Indeed, a survey conducted in the autumn of 2017 indicated that 83% of the public was supportive of nationalising water, 77% electricity and gas and 76% the railways.12 Because proposals to extend public ownership were so popular with the voters, there was little argument over domestic policy in the party. In this respect, the level of animosity displayed by the pro- and anti-Corbyn tended to overstate the actual ideological gap between the two factions. What this more recent evolution in Labour’s conception of the state also shows is that, despite its “revisionist” and “modernising” phases, the debate over public ownership has never really gone away. Notwithstanding its eradication from the party constitution in 1995, commitment to public ownership has remained a touchstone of democratic socialism for the left as well as for large sections of the party’s grassroots. The revisionist attempt to relegate public ownership to a more secondary role in Labour ideology and policy had culminated in the confrontation over Clause IV in 1959–1960, when party leader Gaitskell first tried to have it abolished. The party’s strong pushback against this early attempt at “modernisation” shows that the issue of public ownership was unresolved, as attested by its resurfacing in the late 1970s (Shaw 1996). “Modernisation” under Kinnock and New Labour only managed to push the issue further into the background in the name of a realist approach, but changed circumstances allowed it to emerge once again as championed by Corbyn. The ebb and flow of Labour’s position on the role of the state also serves as a reminder of the perennial tension within the party between a Fabian collectivist conception of the state, which sees the central bureaucratic state as the 12  Legatum Institute (October 2017), “Public opinion in the post-Brexit era: Economic attitudes in modern Britain.”



instrument of social change, and the ethical socialism of those for whom the state constitutes a danger to individual freedom (Foote 1985), a distrust also originally shared by the trade unions (Minkin 1991: 7). * * * Finally, in the same way that the 1970s crisis facilitated the neoliberal turn that followed, the political consequences of the 2008 global financial crisis are felt in ways which point to an end of the cycle, with the social democratic narrative of the evolutionary transition from capitalism to socialism reasserting itself once more. The 2017 snap election—in which Corbyn’s Labour fared much better than had been anticipated partly because this election was not fought on whether or not to exit the EU, but rather on what kind of Brexit to choose—showed the social question to be firmly back on the agenda of both main UK parties. This is also because the Brexit issue has turned the disaffected working-class voters into a key battleground, as attested by the 2019 general election campaign. Thus Conservative leader Theresa May positioned her party as focused on the defence of those most hit by austerity and Boris Johnson, who succeeded her as leader in July 2019, promised vast investments in public services such as the NHS. This allowed Corbyn to claim to have shifted the UK’s political battleground firmly to the left and to have turned the tide for social democracy. As these trends seem to run counter to the experience of social democratic parties elsewhere in Europe, they may be taken either as another illustration of British exceptionalism or as marking the emergence of a renewed, paradoxically anti-establishment, model of social democracy.

References Beech, Matt, Kevin Hickson, and Raymond Plant, eds. 2018. The Struggle for Labour’s Soul. Understanding Labour’s Political Thought Since 1945. 2nd ed. London: Routledge. Buckler, Steve, and David P. Dolowitz. 2006. Can Fair Be Efficient? New Labour, Social Liberalism and British economic policy. New Political Economy 9 (1): 23–38. Diamond, Patrick. 2010. The British Labour Party: New Labour Out of Power. International Politics and Society, 4, Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 86–99. Diamond, Patrick, and Roger Liddle, eds. 2009. Beyond New Labour. The Future of Social Democracy in Britain. London: Politico’s Publishing.



Dixon, Mike, and Nick Pearce. 2005. Social Justice in a Changing World. The Emerging Anglo-Social Model. In Social Justice: Building a Fairer Britain, ed. Nick Pearce and Will Paxton. London: Politico’s Publishing. Driver, Stephen, and Luke Martell. 1997. New Labour’s Communautarianisms. Critical Social Policy 17 (52): 27–46. Fielding, Steven. 1995. Labour: Decline and Renewal. Manchester: Baseline Books. ———. 2003. The Labour Party. Continuity and Change in the Making of New Labour. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Finlayson, Alan. 2015. In British Party Politics and Ideology after New Labour, eds. Simon Griffith and Kevin Hickson. 1st ed 2009 11–17. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Foote, Geoffrey. 1985. The Labour Party’s Thought. A History. London: Croom Helm. Gamble, Andrew. 2015. After New Labour: The Corbyn Surge and the Future of Social Democracy in Britain, Policy Network, 24 September. Geary, Ian, and Adrian Pabst, eds. 2015. Blue Labour. Forging a New Politics. London: I. B. Tauris. Giddens, Anthony. 2000. The Third Way and Its Critics. Cambridge: Polity. Goes, Eunice. 2016. The Labour Party Under Ed Miliband. Trying But Failing to Renew Social Democracy. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Gray, John. 1996. After Social Democracy. Politics, Capitalism and the Common Life. London: Demos. Griffith, Simon, and Kevin Hickson, eds. 2015. British Party Politics and Ideology After New Labour. 1st ed, 2009. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Harker, Lisa, and Carey Oppenheim. 2010. Will New Labour Leave a Lasting Legacy? Institute of Public Policy Research. Hattersley, Roy, and Kevin Hickson, eds. 2013. The Socialist Way: Social Democracy in Contemporary Britain. London: I. B. Tauris. Hay, Colin. 1997. Anticipating Accommodations, Accommodating Anticipations: The Appeasement of Capital in the ‘Modernization’ of the British Labour Party, 1987–1992. Politics & Society 25: 234–256. ———. 1999. The Political Economy of New Labour. Labouring Under False Pretences? Manchester: Manchester University Press. Heffernan, Richard. 2001. New Labour and Thatcherism. Political Change in Britain. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Jessop, Bob. 2007. New Labour or the Normalization of Neo-liberalism. British Politics 2 (3): 282–288. Jones, Tudor. 1996. Remaking the Labour Party: From Gaitskell to Blair. London: Routledge. Kavanagh, Dennis. 2015. British Party Politics and Ideology After New Labour. In British Party Politics and Ideology after New Labour, eds. Simon Griffith and Kevin Hickson, 1st ed 2009 18–23. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.



Lawton, Kayte, Graeme Cooke, and Nick Pearce. 2014. The Condition of Britain: Strategies for Social Renewal, Institute of Public Policy Research. Leggett, Will. 2005. After New Labour: Social Theory and Centre-Left Politics. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ———. 2007. British Social Democracy Beyond New Labour: Entrenching a Progressive Consensus. British Journal of Politics and International Relations 9 (3): 346–364. Ludlam, Steve. 2001. The Making of New Labour. In New Labour in Governement, eds. Steve Ludlam and Martin Smith, 1–31. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. Mair, Peter. 2013. Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy. London: Verso. Minkin, Lewis. 1991. The Contentious Alliance. Trade Unions and the Labour Party. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. ———. 2014. The Blair Supremacy. A Study in the Politics of Labour’s Party Management. Manchester: Manchester University Press. Patmore, Greg, and David Coates. 2005. Labour Parties and the State in Australia and the UK. Labour History 88: 121–141. Shaw, Eric. 1994. The Labour Party Since 1979. Crisis and Transformation. London: Routledge. ———. 1996. The Labour Party Since 1945. Oxford: Blackwell. Smith, Martin. 2004. Conclusion: Defining New Labour. In Governing as New Labour, ed. Steve Ludlam and Martin Smith, 211–225. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.


The Italian Socialist Party from the mid-1970s to the early 1990s: Socialists and a Weak State Marc Lazar

During the era of Bettino Craxi, who was its secretary from 1976 to 1993, the Italian Socialist Party (PSI)—a minority party compared with Italy’s powerful main parties, Christian Democracy (DC) and the Italian Communist Party (PCI)—underwent significant changes. Craxi attempted to loosen the stranglehold of its two competitors, modified the party’s “software”, changed its organisation and from 1980 onwards held power in coalition with the DC and other parties, even leading these coalitions between 1983 and 1987 when Craxi was prime minister. These transformations coincided with a time of change in the international environment—seeing the rise of neoliberalism, in particular. For Italy’s socialists This chapter has been written in collaboration with Massimo Asta, Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow, University of Cambridge. M. Lazar (*) Sciences Po Paris, Paris, France e-mail: [email protected] © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




the question of the state has always been a fairly central one. The Italian state, which is regarded as weak compared with other European countries, had developed under fascism and then under the Republic by expanding its sphere of competence (in the economy, in the social sphere and in healthcare) and by relying on a proliferation of administrative red tape. In consequence, Italy has a massive public sector, similar to that of the United Kingdom or France until the 1970s (Macchiati 1996). This state, moreover, was progressively colonised by the parties of government, starting with the DC. So what were the socialists to do with this state? Paradoxically, for one, they had to distinguish themselves from the Communists; after heated internal debate, they claimed to reduce the weight of the state and to modernise it and, secondly, they reinforced the state through clientelist policies and their own presence in sectors of government. Here we first examine the intellectual debates on this subject and their impact on PSI leaders. We then consider the PSI’s relationship to the state and the sociological profile of the party and its electorate. Finally, we analyse some aspects of the public policies adopted by the socialists while they were in power and the major institutional reform they sought to promote.

Socialist Intellectuals and the Debate About the State It was philosopher Norberto Bobbio who launched a debate in the party’s theoretical and cultural journal, Mondoperaio, denouncing “the lack of a theory of the socialist state or socialist democracy as an alternative to the theory of the bourgeois state or bourgeois democracy” (Bobbio 1976). Here he is questioning not just the culture of the PSI, but above all that of the PCI—which was at the time supporting the Christian Democrat-led government in parliament, in the name of “national solidarity”. The socialists’ decision to embark on his examination of the state arose from their experience of participating in centre-left governments with the DC from 1963 to 1974—the results of which had disappointed them. This was the first time the PSI had returned to government since the period of national unity following the Second World War. Yet there were serious disagreements with the DC, stalemates within the coalition government and gridlocks in the adoption and implementation of public



policies due to inefficient ministerial administration.1 The lingering threat of a coup d’état further impeded government action. The period around the events of 1968 also had an impact on the new socialist approach to the state. The PSI drew on anti-authoritarian and liberal-libertarian vocabulary2 in criticising “statolatry”3 (including that of social democrats) and the appropriation of the state by political parties (Bobbio 1976). The sociological profiles and biographies of the Mondoperaio intellectuals reflect these two strands of socialist thinking. On one side was a group comprising economists, architects, academics and technocrats (Giorgio Ruffolo, Giuliano Amato, Francesco Forte, Luciano Cafagna, Gino Giugni, Paolo Sylos Labini, Federico Coen, Franco Bassanini, Federico Mancini etc.), nearly all aged around 40; under the ministership of Antonio Giolitti, they constituted the core of expertise on economic planning during the centre-left governments (Colarizi and Gervasoni 2005). On the other were younger individuals, very active on the journal’s editorial team, coming—with a variety of backgrounds—from the protest movement of 1968 (Giampiero Mughini, Paolo Flores d’Arcais, Ernesto Galli della Loggia). Many of these would be sidelined by Bettino Craxi in the 1980s or would leave of their own accord. The critique of the state and the measures proposed to reform it took aim, first and foremost, at Enrico Berlinguer’s “Historic Compromise”. Indeed, this agreement between the PCI and the DC relegated the PSI to the political margins—a position from which it was seeking to free itself by any means available. Sometimes this meant looking towards France where the Parti Socialiste (PS) had allied itself with the PCF, the French communist party—but merely in order to outflank it.4 The dispute 1  Francesco Forte, “Il problema è la burocrazia ministeriale. Dieci anni di programmazione”, Mondoperaio, March–April 1973. Article quoted by Simona Colarizi, Marco Gervasoni, La cruna dell’ago. Craxi. Il Partito socialista e la crisi della Repubblica, Bari-Rome, Laterza, 2005, p. 50. 2  Bettino Craxi Foundation (Fondazione Craxi), Bettino Craxi collection, Section I: Party activity, Series 1: Milan archives, UA 2: Provincial Federation in Milan, documents of the autonomist current, 1971. 3  Luigi Covatta, “Al di là del garantismo”, Mondoperaio, March 1977, pp. 70–73. 4  See articles published in Mondoperaio by Marco d’Eramo and Federico Coen, “La lezione francese”, Mondoperaio, July–August 1977, pp. 4–5. Cf. also Fabrizio Cicchitto, “Egemonia, blocco storico e strategia alternativa”, Mondoperaio, March 1977, pp. 61–69 and the report on the opening of Centre Pompidou in Beaubourg in Mondoperaio, September 1977, pp.  47–62. The journal frequently conducted interviews with French socialist leaders: Mitterrand, Rocard, Martinet, etc.



between the PSI and the PCI was to prove especially abrasive, partly undermining the united anti-fascist front that had emerged out of the Resistance. The future of Marxism was fiercely debated by the socialist intellectuals. Some, like the former communist Lucio Colletti, declared Marxism to be in crisis.5 Others advocated a revised Marxism (Mughini (ed.) 1975). All attacked the PCI directly and openly, on every topic.6 Even Gramscian thought came under fire.7 For most of the Mondoperaio intellectuals Gramsci’s concept of state hegemony represented a refinement, even a kind of improvement, of Leninism. Nonetheless, this debate about the state shows that traditional Marxism retained its relevance among socialist intellectuals through to the early 1980s—a situation that would change radically thereafter, especially with the arrival of Luciano Pellicani as the publication’s director. The left wing of the party continued to exert political and cultural influence. Marxist positions, favouring both self-­management and an economically strong state, were well represented.8 Norberto Bobbio did not really offer a solution to the problem he posed with his assertion that “there is no democracy where there is socialism, and no socialism where there is democracy”. Giuliano Amato, by contrast, offered a remedy: a change of political regime from parliamentary to presidential.9 As for the intellectuals and experts, they would tackle the problem of inefficient public administration. What impact did this debate about the state have on the socialist leadership? The PSI was united in its polemic against the communists with respect to the state and on Amato’s proposed institutional reform. Even the autonomist current approved. Pietro Nenni, for example, sent a letter praising Bobbio on publication of his article on Marxism and the state.10 As for Craxi, he would declare that  Lucio Colletti, “Crisi del marxismo”, Mondoperaio, November 1977, pp. 59–61.  Cf. Giuliano Amato’s contribution in “Egemonia e democrazia, tavola rotonda, Amato, Furio Diaza, Valentino Gerratana, Massimo Salvadori, Paolo Spriano”, Mondoperaio, May, 1977, pp. 59–70. 7   See Ernesto Galli Della loggia, “Le ceneri di Gramsci”, Mondoperaio, January 1977, 49–57. 8  Cf. contributions by Claudio Signorile, Giorgio Ruffolo and communist intellectuals— Giuseppe Vacca in particular—in Mondoperaio, issues of January, February, March and May 1977. 9  Giuliano Amato, “Democrazia conflittuale e forma di governo”, Mondoperaio, April 1979, pp. 65–72. 10  Pietro Nenni Foundation, Pietro Nenni collection, Series 1: correspondence, sub-series III: Letters 1944–79, letter from Norberto Bobbio to Pietro Nenni, 20 February 1976. 5 6



the Turin philosopher had gotten to the heart of the matter regarding the inherent contradictions of Marxism’s relation to the state.11 The main conclusion Craxi drew from all of this intellectual effervescence was the need for institutional reform—and he would use the critique of the Marxist theory of the state in his battle with the PCI, which he accused of having failed to move on from Stalinism.

The PSI’s Relationship to the State and the Party’s Sociology In the opposition after 1975, at a time when the PCI was promoting national solidarity with the DC and stubbornly defending republican institutions in the face of the threat of terrorism, the PSI intoned a rhetoric of alienness from the state that more or less completely contradicted both the socialists’ own integration within the state apparatus and the sociological composition of the party’s leadership team. After all, the centre-left governments of the 1960s had ushered in a labyrinthine entanglement of state and party, and of party experts, political leaders and public administration. The economic planning sector provides a clear example of this. Introducing economic planning was one of the reforms demanded by the socialists in the 1960s. It was especially important to the left of the party, in the orbit of Antonio Giolitti and Riccardo Lombardi. In reality, economic planning had only a very minor impact on the state’s ability to manage the main economic aggregates and run the economy. This policy was set on a collision course with the coalition government’s internal divisions, encountering opposition from various quarters including the governor of the Bank of Italy, Guido Carli, and indifference or even hostility from the ministerial bureaucracy. Planning implied moving towards a target-driven public administration. And yet the socialist leaders proved incapable of passing a reform of this same administration, evidencing in this respect what Guido Melis called a kind of “cultural blind spot” (Melis 1995). In his diaries, in March 1968, after five years in government, Pietro Nenni wrote: “The truth is that to govern you need to know the men in the civil and military administration and personally I don’t know any of them”.12 Grafting the new administrative structure devoted to economic planning 11  Bettino Craxi Foundation, Bettino Craxi collection, Section I: Party activity, Series 3: Speeches, Craxi’s speech at the opening of the new Club Mondolfo, Milan, 23 May 1977. 12  Pietro Nenni, I conti con la storia. Diari: 1967–1971, Milan, SugarCo, 1982.



onto the budget ministry administration therefore involved a large degree of improvisation. Nonetheless, some 40 or so economists, statisticians, lawyers and architects, all socialists, joined the economic planning office, an organisation that was completely subservient to the PSI and led by Giorgio Ruffolo until 1975.13 Another example of the intermeshing of the PSI and the state is RAI, the state-owned enterprise that managed the radio and television sector under a monopoly regime until midway through the 1970s. The PSI criticised its management, opposed other parties’ practice of acting like the padrini (godfathers) of the RAI, attacked the 197514 reform they saw as being all about reviving the “zebra-striped” method (zebratura in Italian), its dominant imprint comprising the contrasting shades of the old Christian Democrat gattopardi (sham reformers) and the communist “educationalist left”.15 In the mid-1980s, the Craxi government played a key role in opening the audiovisual market to the private sector, with three decrees (1984–85) that effectively played into the hands of Silvio Berlusconi. The personal friendship between Craxi and Berlusconi and the latter’s role as funder of the PSI partly explain this approach. More generally, the socialists were influenced by the move towards liberalisation emanating from civil society— with the proliferation of free radio stations, for example, many of them with far-left leanings. Even so, they would very soon behave in just the same way as the DC by bringing RAI 2 under their own control. The evolution of the party’s sociological profile contributed to the “statisation” of the PSI, which had moved from factionalism to unanimity (Morel 1996) with power concentrated in the hands of Craxi, the embodiment of a plebiscitary, charismatic party leadership model (Massari 1987). Substantial modifications were made to the Direzione and the socialist parliamentary group (Merkel 1987; Bettin 1983; Cazzola 1982; Spini and Mattana 1981a, b)).

13  See Giorgio Ruffolo’s account in Giuliano Amato (ed.), Antonio Giolitti: una riflessione storica, Rome, Viella, 2012; and Giuliano Amato’s introduction to G. Amato (ed.), Il governo dell’industria in Italia. Testi e documenti, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1974. 14  The audiovisual reform of 1975 confirmed the state monopoly, created a new channel, RAI 3 and transferred control of the sector from the government to parliament. 15  See speeches by Claudio Martelli and Giuliano Amato at the conference organised by the PSI executive board and the Turati Club in Milan on 14–16 November 1978, reproduced in Claudio Martelli (ed.), Informazione e potere, Milan, Feltrinelli, 1979.



Under Craxi, the executive board suffered a significant loss of power while simultaneously expanding—growing from 21 members in 1972 to 54 in 1984 and 61 in 1989.16 From 1981 onwards it no longer elected the secretary, who was now appointed by the party congress. This process shifted power towards the executive body and the secretary. The executive board was the PSI’s primary representative structure, ranking above the Central Committee (which was reformed in 1981, taking the name of National Assembly). It functioned as the key hub for accessing parliament—and the level of “parliamentarisation” of the executive board increased enormously during the Craxi years: the proportion of parliamentarians in its ranks grew from 48.57% in 1976 to 90.74% in 1987 and 60.56% in 1989.17 The sociology of the direction changed, too. From 1976 to 1989, the proportion of lawyers went from 17.15% to 2.8%, journalists from 20% to 9.26%, party officials from 25.71% to 33.33%, employees from 2.85% to 23.94% and workers from 5.71% to 1.4%.18 In the Chamber of Deputies, between 1976 and 1987, the proportion of workers went from 5.26% to 1%, white-collar workers from 3.5% to 12.7%. Public sector employees were absent until 1979, and in 1983 they accounted for 7.2% of socialist members of parliament, a proportion that reached 9.5% in 1987. Lawyers, who formed the dominant socio-­professional category in 1976, at 30%, fell to 17% in 1987.19 In 1989, the PSI had 91 deputies, of whom 20 were white-collar and public sector employees. This socio-professional transformation during the Craxi period can be seen as reflecting the tertiarisation of society, the “general expansion of the public sector in Italy” (Merkel 1987), or indeed the PSI’s “low level of institutionalisation” which made it more “permeable to pressure from a  “La nuova Direzione. Ecco i componenti”, L’Avanti! 14 October 1989.  Calculations include members of the European Parliament. 1976 percentages from when the executive board was appointed; 1987 percentages from the election of parliament, cf. O. Massari, “Le trasformazioni nella leadership del PSI”, op. cit., p.415. 18  For the period 1976–1984 we refer to figures calculated by Oreste Massari. The Massari figures we use here do not specify whether the white-collar workers are public sector or private sector—although the implication is that they are in the public sector. The calculations for the executive board in 1989 are our own. 19  Our calculation: 1976 (57 deputies) white-collar employees 2, public sector employees 0, manual workers 3, lawyers 16; 1979 (62 deputies, 30 of them new) white-collar employees 5, public sector employees 0, lawyers 16, worker 1; 1983 (73 deputies, 33 of them new), white-collar employees 8, public sector employees 6, manual worker 1, lawyers 16; 1987 (94 deputies, 30 of them new) white-collar employees 12, public sector employees 9, manual worker 1, lawyers 16. 16 17



diffuse internal political contingent—the public sector—seeking confirmation for its own role” (Massari 1987). Yet the sociological composition of the leadership group did not directly reflect the major changes impacting Italian society at the time. While workers virtually disappeared from the executive board and the parliamentary group under Craxi, they represented 28.8% of the socialist vote in 1979 and still accounted for 24.4% in 1983 (Merkel 1987). The PSI’s base was traditionally municipal in nature and centred around a network of notables primarily in southern Italy. The 1970s–1980s saw the beginnings of a “northernisation” in the executive board while the socialist electorate became moderately but substantially more southern in character (Massari 1987; Degl’Innocenti 1993). In real terms the decentralisation of the state involved measures such as the creation of the ordinary regions in 1970, and the creation of local health authorities (USLs—Unità Sanitaria Locale), the administrative organisations that managed healthcare provision at municipal and inter-­ municipal level from 1978 onwards and which the political parties also quickly “occupied”. The PSI was the party with the greatest need to adapt to the various regions and regional political classes, to establish them as electoral resources and then to promote its members nationally (Cazzola and Motta 1984). One third of socialist regional councillors were elected to parliament having served in this capacity (Tassara 1988). Lacking the clout of the communist party apparatus and the massive electoral pool of the Christian Democrats, the PSI needed to have public resources at its disposal. Within the PSI there emerged a new type of leader, linked to the state sector and following a very specific career path: initial militant and administrative experience at local level, then entry into regional public office, for the state or the parapublic sector, then a nomination to the executive board and finally election to parliament. For their part, economists, high-level public officers, technocrats and academics leading public companies or ministerial departments (Francesco Forte, Franco Reviglio, Giorgio Ruffolo, Giuliano Amato, Enrico Manca) skipped the initial administrative phase at local level but generally not the phase of engaged intellectual militancy within the party. The relationship between the PSI and the state was, therefore, one of osmosis: the party occupied the state, and then the state occupied the party. This tendency towards state-party entanglement in the Craxi period is clear—yet relative in absolute terms and in a comparative perspective. The level of public sector presence within the PSI was similar to that of Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) in Greece, but half that of France’s Socialist Party (PS) and Spain’s Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE), and one third that of Germany’s German Social Democracratic Party (SPD) (Merkel 1987).



Craxi’s PSI and Public Policies: The “Great Reform” and State-Controlled Companies The end of the government of national solidarity and the PCI’s change of line when it returned to the opposition in 1979 changed the situation once again, directly impacting both how the PSI talked about the state and its political strategy. The socialists saw the prospect of government opening up before them—which prompted a new phase of aggiornamento (modernisation). The Rimini conference of 1982 (31 March–4 April) was a strategic watershed in this respect—a kind of Italian Bad Godesberg Program, completing the radical break with the Turin congress (March–April 1978).20 The PSI, over which Craxi now exerted unchallenged control following the congress of Palermo (22–26 April 1981), abandoned the language of Marxism (Merkel 1987). From now on it was defending a social, democratic and liberal position which granted some importance to the market. It abandoned centralised planning (now confined exclusively to resolving the problem of the Italian south, the Mezzogiorno), references to self-­ management, a universalist concept of the welfare state and even economic and social egalitarianism. Post-Rimini, the PSI developed a critique of the welfare state, accusing it of encouraging a culture of dependence, proposed the introduction of selectivity mechanisms for social security benefits and envisaged the introduction of private provision in some sectors (healthcare, education, pensions). It advocated flexible working conditions to reduce unemployment and co-management of companies to regulate relations between workers and employers.21 At the Rimini conference, Claudio Martelli, one of the main leader of the party, emphasised the need to reestablish the party’s culture based on “the combination of needs and merits” in order to meet the aspirations of a society of individuals.22  Ernesto Galli della Loggia, “Il socialismo improbabile”, Mondoperaio, November 1980, pp.  7–12; Giuseppe Tamburrano, “Una strategia ancora da precisare”, Mondoperaio, November 1980, p.13. For a critique of economic planning see also Bettino Craxi Foundation, Bettino Craxi collection, Section I: Party activity, Series 2: Internal life of the PSI, Sub-series 4: Development of political strategy, Sub-series 2: Contribution of leaders and advisers, UA 13, CESEC, “Un programma per Craxi: linee di politica economica”, July 1979. 21  Governare il cambiamento. Conferenza programmatica del PSI, Rimini 13 marzo-14 aprile, Pomezia, Rotostilgraf, 1982. 22   On this subject see also Francesco Forte, “La giustizia sociale secondo Rawls”, Mondoperaio, September 1982, pp. 111–117; Franco Reviglio, “Meritocrazia e stato sociale”, Mondoperaio, June 1982, pp. 125–129. 20



The socialists therefore moved from viewing the state as one of the necessary levers for changing society to claiming that the state itself urgently needed wide-ranging reform—with the emphasis first and foremost on institutional reform. They claimed that this was a shift from radical reformism to pragmatic reformism,23 from revolutionary mythology to the pursuit of governability.24 Even though common features existed between the PSI and many elements of the European left, distinctive characteristics remained in place. The innovations adopted by Italian socialists defined a supply-side socialism, retaining a key role for direct intervention by the state in the economy. The PSI’s period in government offers us a deeper insight into the connections that emerged between the PSI’s new political culture, how the PSI related to the state and the government policies the PSI sought to pursue. We will limit ourselves to three examples here. First, what the Italian socialists called the “great reform”, encompassing a package of reforms relating to local authorities, the parapublic sector and economic democracy in business corporations. The main innovation, which generated fierce controversy because it proposed a modification of the Constitution—a taboo subject for the left—was institutional reform, moving towards a presidential system. Giuliano Amato’s initial pronouncements on the subject envisaged the direct election of the head of government.25 The PSI subsequently expressed its preference for a semi-­presidential system. The aim of the institutional reform was to push back the PCI, break with consociational democracy and ultimately create the conditions for establishing a democracy with alternating political power (Paggi 2003). This march towards presidentialism by the socialists, abandoned in 1992, was by no means linear in nature: on the contrary, they hesitated and wavered back and forth. They for instance supported the more realistic project of micro-interventions at administrative and constitutional level, aiming to 23  Giorgio Ruffolo, “Riformismo pragmatico e riformismo radicale”, Mondoperaio, April 1982, p. 93 ff.; Giuliano Amato, Luciano Cafagna, Duello a sinistra, socialisti e comunisti nei lunghi anni ‘70, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1982, p. 129. 24  Federico Coen, “Programma PSI. Riformismo senza complessi”, Mondoperaio, March 1982, pp. 2–4; Luigi Covatta, “Programma PSI: un ponte oltre l’emergenza”, Mondoperaio, March 1982, pp. 5–7. 25  Giuliano Amato, “Riforma dello Stato e alternativa della sinistra”, Mondoperaio, July– August, 1977, reproduced in Gennaro Acquaviva, Luigi Covatta (eds), La “Grande Riforma”, Venice, Marsilio, 2010, pp. 161–189; Giuliano Amato, “Democrazia conflittuale e forma di governo”, Mondoperaio, April 1977, pp. 65–72.



strengthen the executive and the office of the prime minister. This second solution, put forward by Amato at Craxi’s request in 1981, was debated by Enzo Cheli and Federico Mancini at the programmatic Rimini conference of 1982. Yet in the Bozzi parliamentary commission for constitutional reform, which was established in 1983 and completed its work in 1985, Salvo Andò, speaking for the socialists, proposed the direct election of the head of state. In the end, though, given powerful opposition from other parties to the slightest move towards presidentialism or semi-presidentialism (with the notable exception of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, MSI), the mountain gave birth to a mouse: the changes were largely limited to passing law 400 of 1988 reforming the prime minister’s office (presidency of the council). In economic matters, the contradictory position of the PSI is abundantly clear. Critical of the state when in the opposition, once in power the PSI revealed itself to be much more attached to the role of the state than other parties. For the PSI, the complex problems of a post-industrial society with a growth deficit could only be overcome by an effective state capable of reining in wasteful public expenditure, not subject to vested interests, private or public, or to the interests of parties or movements within parties, and also able to recover necessary resources by fighting tax evasion. A strategic state, too, that would use the public sector as its primary lever to steer the economy, target investments and maintain employment levels.26 The truth is that the socialists adapted to the practice that had been characteristic of Italian capitalism since the “Beneduce system” was created in the 1930s: a complex web of co-management and co-­leadership ties between the state and the major industrial and financial groups.27 The end of growth and spiralling public debt—which was growing at a faster rate than in other countries—made it necessary to rethink, to some 26  Mario Baccianini’s interview with Francesco Forte, “Dal welfare state non si torna indietro”, Mondoperaio, March 1982, pp. 8–12; Giorgio Bocca’s interview with Franco Reviglio, “Uno stato tutto da rifare”, Mondoperaio, February 1982, pp. 19–21. On the central importance of the state’s industrial policy, see Craxi’s statement to the Chamber of Deputies on the government’s annual activity report for 1984, reproduced in B. Craxi, Il progresso italiano, Milan, Sugarr&Co, 1989, pp. 78–100. 27  Alberto Beneduce (1877–1944), academician, economist, senior public administrator and politician, exerted significant influence on the organisation of Italian capitalism, especially following the 1929 crisis. See Jean-Yves Dormagen, Logiques du fascisme. L’Etat totalitaire en Italie, Paris, Fayard, 2008.



extent, the scope of the public sector. The government of national solidarity had already embarked on progressive deficit reduction in the “wider public system”. The pentapartito coalition governments worked in the same direction—with a cautious approach from the PSI.  In 1981, Montedison, Italy’s main chemicals group, returned to the private sector. In 1984, the same happened with FAG, Sangiorgio and Ducati. The privatisation of SME, a group operating in the agri-food sector, was planned in 1985, but failed due to clear opposition from Craxi. In 1986, Alfa Romeo was sold to Fiat. In 1984, Bettino Craxi opposed the relinquishment of state control in Mediobanca, Italy’s only major investment bank,28 yet two years later his government would yield to the wishes of Mediobanca’s private shareholders to be free from public control. As a telling indicator of the changes under way, the number of jobs represented by IRI group (Istituto per la Ricostruzione Industriale—Institute for Industrial Reconstruction, a vast state holding company) decreased from 556,552  in 1980 to 421,699  in 1987 (Ciocca 2015). There has hence been a genuine shrinkage of the state. These privatisations did not aim to comprehensively dismantle the public sector, though; nor did they represent the triumph of market forces. They were driven by economic constraints determining the choices of policy maker and public management and by the effects of an opaque, sometimes illegal relationship between political parties and business leaders. The PSI, for its part, followed a consistent line: it aimed to make savings by focusing state activity on sectors regarded as strategic: energy, infrastructure and high-technology industries. In reality, though, its aim was to preserve the connections it had forged with the state. State shareholdings provide an excellent illustration of this. First, as for other parties, starting with the first centre-left governments, state-owned companies had been a source of regular, illegal funding for the PSI.29 A fully fledged system of corruption had been established, which expanded during the 1970s and 1980s. In controlling the public sector, government parties acquired a pivotal position within the economy, linking the public and private sectors. They also contributed to the phenomenal deterioration in public finances. 28  Elena Polidori, “Una Mediobanca privata? La parola alle tre Bin”, Repubblica, 22 December 1984. 29  Giovanni Valentini, “Giolitti: ‘Vi racconto che cos’è il craxismo’”, Repubblica, 20 December 1992.



The public sector represented a powerful instrument—a means of establishing an electoral base through the power to influence recruitment in state-owned companies and to secure senior official roles. From 1979 onwards, for example, the huge state-owned oil and gas company ENI was led, almost without interruption, by PSI people: Giorgio Mazzanti, Alberto Grandi, Leonardo Di Donna, Franco Reviglio, Gabriele Cagliari. Socialists sat on very many boards of directors of public companies. In consequence the PSI was no fervent advocate of privatisations. Later, following the Tangentopoli (Bribe city) scandal and the Mani pulite (Clean Hands) judicial investigation, socialist former public sector managers declared themselves proud of having worked for the state and denounced what they called a kind of “pogrom of state boyars” during the massive privatisations of the early 1990s.30 In fact the socialists were by no means exceptional in Italy at this time. All the mass parties shared a principle that constituted their common culture: the primacy of politics. Their relationship to the economy was shaped by their view that the real, “legitimate” power resided with the political parties.31 The socialists just as much as the others, even if their language, with respect to the welfare state, sometimes took a neoliberal turn. Third and last, the socialists sought to increase their influence in the public sector. They did not support the radical public sector reform proposed by one of their own number, the lawyer Massimo Severo Giannini—who was in charge of the relevant ministry—in 1979–80.32 Craxi preferred the status quo.33 The majority of the four million public sector workers belonged to the Catholic union (the CISL, Italian Confederation of Workers Union), except in the railway, local authority and healthcare sectors where the CGIL (General Confederation of Italian Workers) closed to the Communist Party remained predominant. 30  Bettino Craxi Foundation, Bettino Craxi collection, Section I: Party activity, Series 13: Correspondence, 1992, letter from Umberto Dragone to Craxi, 15 October 1992. 31  The 1983 discussion within the PSI about public management appointments is significant in this respect. See: Bettino Craxi Foundation, Bettino Craxi collection, Section I: Party activity, Series 2: Internal life of the PSI, Sub-series 2: Meetings of governing bodies, Subseries 3: National executive board, meeting of 28 January 1983. 32  Massimo Severo Giannini, Rapporto sui principali problemi della amministrazione dello Stato trasmesso alle Camere dal Ministro per la funzione pubblica il 16 novembre 1979, Rome, Tipografia del Senato, 1979. On this subject see Guido Melis, Storia dell’amministrazione italiana 1861–1993, Bologna, Il Mulino, 1996. 33  cf. Bettino Craxi Foundation, Bettino Craxi collection, Section I: Party activity, Series 13: Correspondence, letter from M. S. Giannini to Craxi, 23 October 1980.



Nonetheless, from the late 1960s onwards the UIL (Italian Union of Workers)—a socialist-dominated union—had consolidated its position in the public sector, whose employees accounted for nearly 30% of its members in 1983 (Bordogna 1994; Iuso et al. 2006). This union, along with the CISL and the socialist element of the CGIL, would support the sliding scale reform announced by Bettino Craxi in his 1984 decree and upheld a year later in a referendum lost by the PCI and the CGIL’s communist majority—an event that marked a turning point in the PSI’s industrial relations policy and signalled the end of the trade union unity dating back to 1972. Overall, therefore, the PSI implemented a fairly conciliatory policy with respect to public sector workers’ demands.34 * * * In 1987, Bettino Craxi had to step down as prime minister, having been the first socialist to hold this post under the Republic. The six years that followed, through to the socialist party’s collapse in the early 1990s amid the fall-out of the Mani pulite (Clean Hands) investigations, did not bring any major changes to the PSI’s approach to the state or its practices within it. So how should we assess, overall, the PSI’s relationship to the state? From the early 1980s onwards the party presented itself above all as a moderniser of the state, aiming to reduce the state’s influence but preserve its role in the economic sphere. It failed to carry through institutional reform and its economic strategy was quickly scuppered by changing economic circumstances, resulting in a new economic course whose defining features included privatisations, which the PSI—very prudently—accepted.35 The key factor emerging from all this is the PSI’s close relationship with the apparatus of state, its infiltration within particular state sectors to the benefit—in all senses of the word—of the party and its leaders. This enabled it to access material resources and prestige—by means that included corruption—and to develop a clientelistic relationship with the state. The PSI did not really reap any benefits from this in electoral terms 34  Cf. Bettino Craxi Foundation, Bettino Craxi collection, Section I: Party activity, Series 2: Internal life of the PSI, Sub-series 2: Meetings of governing bodies, Sub-series 3: National executive board, 106, meeting of 30 October 1987, introductory report by Craxi. On the sliding scale agreement as part of a pledge to recruit 100,000 public sector workers, cf. Felice Saulino, “Craxi promette ai sindacati centomila posti nel pubblico impiego”, La Repubblica, 21 April 1984. 35  This chapter does not intend to assess the Craxi governments’ economic performance.



(it did not succeed in reversing the balance of power with the PCI) and in fact this only served to damage its image with wide sections of public opinion.36 In a way, the weak Italian state absorbed the PSI and radically transformed it. The latter, in return, sought to use the state as a resource in political competition and attempted, during Craxi’s tenure as prime minister, to use it to carry through its economic strategy. It failed on both counts. On the other hand, though, the PSI thoroughly undermined the cultural hegemony of the PCI and its Gramscian concept of the state and helped to start a discussion about the role of the state in general—launching a debate on constitutional reform that continues to this day. This is perhaps its legacy—a legacy which, alongside other political and cultural input from the PCI and the left-leaning currents of the Christian Democrats, has since resurfaced in the crucible of the Italian centre-left, firstly in The Olive Tree and currently, since 2007, in the Democratic Party.

References Amato, Giuliano, ed. 1974. Il governo dell’industria in Italia. Testi e documenti. Bologna: Il Mulino. ———, ed. 2012. Antonio Giolitti: una riflessione storica. Rome: Viella. Amato, Giuliano, and Luciano Cafagna. 1982. Duello a sinistra, socialisti e comunisti nei lunghi anni ‘70. Bologna: Il Mulino. Bettin, Gianfranco. 1983. PSI: la leadership degli anni Ottanta. Città e regione IX (3): 80–106. Bobbio, Norberto. 1976. Esiste una dottrina marxistica dello Stato? In N. Bobbio, Quale socialismo? Discussione di un’alternativa, Turin, Einaudi. [English translation: Which socialism? Marxism, socialism and democracy, translated by Roger Griffin, Cambridge, Polity, 1987]. Bordogna, Lorenzo. 1994. Pluralismo senza mercato. Rappresentanza e conflitto nel settore pubblico, 20–28. Milan: Angeli. Cazzola, Franco. 1982. Le difficili identità dei partiti di massa. Laboratorio politico II (5–6): 5–58. Cazzola, Franco, and Riccardo Motta. 1984. Dalle assemblee regionali al parlamento. Le regioni 4: 621–632. Ciocca, Pierluigi. 2015. Storia dell’IRI. Vol. 6. L’IRI nella economia italiana. Bari-­ Rome: Laterza. Colarizi, Simona, and Marco Gervasoni. 2005. La cruna dell’ago. Craxi. Il Partito socialista e la crisi della Repubblica. Bari-Rome: Laterza. 36  PSI results in general elections: 1972: 9.6%; 1976: 9.6%; 1983: 11.4%; 1987: 14.2%; 1993: 13.6%. The PSI never succeeded in overtaking the PCI.



Craxi, Bettino. 1989. Il progresso italiano. Milan: Sugarr&Co. Degl’Innocenti, Maurizio. 1993. Storia del PSI, III, Dal dopoguerra a oggi. Bari-­ Rome: Laterza. Dormagen, Jean-Yves. 2008. Logiques du fascisme. L’Etat totalitaire en Italie. Paris: Fayard. Iuso, Pasquale, Lorenzo Mazzoli, and Carlo Podda, eds. 2006. La sindacalizzazione del pubblico impiego. Dalle origini delle rappresentanze alla funzione pubblica Cgil. Rome: Ediesse. Macchiati, Alfredo. 1996. Privatizzazioni. Tra economia e politica. Rome: Donzelli. Martelli, Claudio, ed. 1979. Informazione e potere. Milan: Feltrinelli. Massari, Oreste. 1987. Le trasformazioni nella leadership del PSI. La Direzione e i suoi membri (1976–1984). Rivista Italiana di Scienza Politica 17 (3): 399–432. Melis, Guido. 1995. L’amministrazione. In Storia dello Stato italiano, ed. Romanelli Raffaele. Bari-Rome, Laterza: Dall’unità a oggi. ———. 1996. Storia dell’amministrazione italiana 1861–1993. Il Mulino: Bologna. Merkel, Wolfgang. 1987. Prima e dopo Craxi. Le trasformazioni del PSI. Padua: Liviana. Morel, Laurence. 1996. Du marxisme au craxisme. Le socialisme italien à la recherche d’une identité. In La gauche en Europe depuis 1945. Invariants et mutations du socialisme européen, ed. Lazar Marc, 263–291. Paris: PUF. Mughini, Giampiero, ed. 1975. Il revisionismo socialista: antologia di testi, 1955–1962. Rome: Quaderni di Mondoperaio. Nenni, Pietro. 1982. I conti con la storia. Diari: 1967–1971. Milan: SugarCo. Paggi, Leonardo. 2003. La strategia liberale della seconda Repubblica, Dalla crisi del PCI alla formazione di una destra di governo. In L’Italia repubblicana nella crisi degli anni Settanta. Partiti e organizzazioni di massa, ed. Paggi Leonardo and Malgeri Francesco, vol. III. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino. Spini, Valdo, and Sergio Mattana. 1981a. Il gruppo dirigente del PSI. Città regione 6: 97–108. ———. 1981b. I quadri del PSI. Quaderni del Circolo Rosselli, Florence, Nuova Guaraldi 1: 64–67. Tassara, Carlo. 1988. La classe politica regionale. In Autonomia politica regionale e sistema dei partiti. Classe politica e modelli di organizzazione, ed. Marcello Fedele. Milan: Giuffrè.


Superficial Social Democracy: PASOK, the State and the Shipwreck of the Greek Economy Gerassimos Moschonas

If 1974 was the year that democracy returned to Greece, 1981 was the year of the Greek socialists. With a landslide electoral victory of 48.07% of the vote (compared to 25.33% in 1977 and 13.58% in 1974) PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) took up the reins of government amid collective fervour and celebration. Rarely in the political history of a nation, of any nation, and then only at great historical turning points, has a party enjoyed the privilege of being able to express and advance such great (however ill-defined) collective expectations. PASOK did not emerge as a saviour in the aftermath of some disaster. Quite the opposite. The transition from dictatorship to democracy had been smooth—a “velvet transition”, indeed a “political tour de force” (Voulgaris 2013: 80). Extra-parliamentary power centres had been neutralized; the monarchy had suffered a massive defeat in the 1974 referendum (69.15% in favour of a republic); the European Economic Community accession treaty had been signed (28 May 1979); incomes policy was,

G. Moschonas (*) Panteion University, Athens, Greece © The Author(s) 2020 M. Fulla, M. Lazar (eds.), European Socialists and the State in the Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries, Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements,




throughout the term of the conservative New Democracy party (1974–1981), generous; the rate of economic growth (with the exception of 1980 and 1981) was satisfactory and inequality had declined (Katsimi et al. 2014); and, last but not least, public finances were in relatively good shape despite two oil crises, increased military spending (owing to the Cyprus problem), and an expansionist fiscal policy (Voulgaris 2013: 80–87 and 93–103). The transition from dictatorship to democracy (between 1974 and 1980) was a masterly performance not only in its political but also—to a great extent—in its fiscal dimension.1 So what did this new party express? Naturally, the high hopes came hand in hand with the return to centre stage of the vanquished of the civil war (1946–1949). PASOK embodied something profound, something that emerged from the deeper layers of Greek history. This “something” was linked to a demand for full equality before the law, democratization, political participation, social justice and cultural modernization, all of which had remained unfulfilled throughout the post–civil war era, which had been dominated, with short intermissions, by right-wing parties. PASOK was called upon to manage, in economically unfavourable conditions, particularly high democratic and social expectations that it itself had consciously and perhaps cynically cultivated. This chapter focuses on PASOK’s first two governmental periods (1981–1989 and 1993–2004). It first examines the party’s fiscal policies, placing particular emphasis on tax policy, then its policy regarding the state and the institution-building reforms it carried out, and finally the relationship between these policies and the formation of PASOK’s identity. It is shown that the failure to establish an efficient state and the subsequent fiscal collapse are both linked to important distinguishing features of PASOK’s ideology and policies. The main thesis of the chapter is that PASOK was a superficial, fundamentally incoherent social democratic party. The lack of cohesion was prevalent during both PASOK’s populist (1981–1989) and modernizing (1996–2004) periods, albeit to a lesser degree for the latter. PASOK was not social democratic. It was not non-­ social democratic. It was both, and neither. In retrospect, it is possible to surmise that the lack of coherence, this essential inconsistency, was built into PASOK from its foundation. The party that represented social

1  In the period 1974–1980, for the first time, small but systematic primary deficits appear, mainly due to the consumption side of the budget (Iordanoglou 2008: 144).



democracy in Greece had a fundamental birth defect: it did not have a social democratic history and culture. The academic debates on PASOK have been rich. They have met high standards and they have renewed Greek political science. Our interpretation of PASOK is inspired by this academic tradition and compiles evidence from several previous approaches, but at the same time it also differs significantly from some of them. Although the temptation is great, the limited space of this chapter does not allow us to comprehensively integrate our approach to the wider theoretical discussion of the PASOK phenomenon. My most important difference from some of the inherited literature could be summarized as follows: if the inner identity of a party lies in the “coherent system” it embraces, then PASOK’s identity lies in the exact opposite: the weakness of the core that ensures cohesiveness. In the history of post-WWII European social democracy, it would be difficult to find a party whose own political choices and practices have undermined each other to such a high degree. PASOK has been a highly composite and contradictory phenomenon—and this applies not only to the populist PASOK of the 1980s.2 The contribution of this work consists in highlighting this inherent inconsistency. The major economic catastrophe of 2010 struck a heavy blow to this formidable but profoundly incoherent political entrepreneur. The first section includes a brief analysis of the fiscal realities which led to the great economic crisis of 2010. PASOK governments established a comprehensive social state for the first time in the history of Greece. However, at the same time, by consciously promoting a weak taxation regime, PASOK drastically neglected the importance of connecting the new welfare institutions—the flagship product of the PASOK brand—with their funding. The gap between PASOK’s objectives, real or rhetorical, and their implementation was economically crucial; the shortfall in tax revenues was the principal cause of the subsequent fiscal disaster, in conjunction with the low level of competitiveness of the Greek economy. It was also ideologically self-defeating: it ran counter to PASOK’s most central goals: the construction of a sustainable social state, redistribution, social solidarity, and the strengthening of healthy entrepreneurship.

2  For an early analysis of the populist PASOK’s “blatant lack of consistency and efficiency” (p. 669) see Lyrintzis 1987.



The second section traces the policy shifts of the PASOK governments in regard to the state, with particular emphasis on the administrative reforms it implemented. The picture of the reform dynamics is complex and differs between one period (1981–1989) and another (1993–2004). A general assessment of PASOK’s time in government indicates that there was conspicuous inconsistency in PASOK’s policies towards the “administrative institutions of democracy”, as was also the case with fiscal policy. Through its contradictory policies PASOK impeded the state from functioning as the “executive strategist” for social justice and modernization— even though it promised both.3 The third section provides a general interpretation of PASOK encapsulated in the term “superficial social democracy”. If the point of departure for such an interpretation is the gap between programmatic goals and implementation as exemplified in the policies in question (tax policy, administrative reforms), other sectors of PASOK’s governmental action are also taken into account (protection of the unemployed, competitiveness of the Greek economy, relation of the party to the trade unions, European policy, etc.). PASOK and social democratic parties share a number of common features, policies and networks. These “family resemblances” and bonds are a defining element of the Greek socialist identity. However, it is argued, the cohesion of PASOK’s policies, in comparison to the policies of the Western social democratic parties, was demonstrably weak during both PASOK’s populist and modernizing periods (albeit less so for the latter). Moreover, some of the most important policies of PASOK either did not have a social democratic character (lax tax policy, wage inequalities, great indifference to outsiders, perpetuation of the extreme fragmentation in the structure of the social security system) or could only marginally be regarded as social democratic (e.g. collusion with sections of big capital). The strong inclination towards incoherence made PASOK’s policy model unsustainable in the long term. This same incoherence placed PASOK in a grey zone, both inside and outside the social democratic ideological and policy field, however broadly defined.

3  The state as “executive strategist for modernization” refers to the role played by the state in Sweden and Norway during the modernization process (see Sejersted 2011: 18).



PASOK and the State (1): Tax Evasion and Fiscal Disaster The key fact of PASOK’s first two terms in office (1981–1985 and 1985–1989) was the change in fiscal paradigm.4 A dramatic ballooning of public deficits constituted “the central characteristic of 1980s’ policy” (Iordanoglou 2008: 25). A generous wages policy (especially in 1981–1983), the increase in the number of civil servants (see below), indirect nationalization of firms in difficulty, the upgrading of pensions (and rise in the number of beneficiaries, particularly among farmers), high expenditure in the defence sector and, last but not least, PASOK’s manifest failure to curb major tax fraud—all dramatically deepened the public deficit and national debt. Social spending climbed during these years, rising from 11.5% of GDP in 1980 to 17.9% in 1985 (the end of PASOK’s first term) and stabilizing at 17.5% in 1989 (end of the second term), pensions being the main driver of this increase.5 Overall, a decades-long tradition of balanced—and in any case tidy—budgets was abandoned. During PASOK’s second period in office (1993–2004), especially from 1996 onwards, “modernisation”, the central aspect of which was convergence with Europe (and membership of the eurozone), became the nodal point of socialist discourse. High growth rates (clearly higher than those in the euro area), a considerable decrease in inflation and contraction of budget deficits, liberalization of markets, but also a significant loss of competitiveness “leading the trade deficit to record levels” (Pagoulatos and Triantopoulos 2015) are the economic hallmark of that period. It is worth noting that PASOK pursued its policy of increasing social expenditure (23.6% of GDP in 2000, the end of Simitis’ first term in office). Thus Greece, which had traditionally belonged to the group of countries with relatively low levels of social spending (less than 20% of GDP), largely caught up and improved its position. The goal of entering the eurozone fuelled significant increases in tax receipts (+14.9% in 1997, +16.3% in 1998, +12% in 1999), which, particularly in 1998 and 1999, amounted to almost twice the increase in the 4  The chapter is partly based on previous analyses and arguments, very largely reworked and elaborated (see Moschonas 2013: 33–35 and Moschonas 2015: 415–422). In particular, the section entitled “PASOK and the State (1): tax evasion and fiscal disaster” has its origin, with minor modifications, in Moschonas 2015: 418–420. 5  Social Expenditure Database (SOCX 2004), 1980–2001 / OECD (2004), www.oecd. org/els/social/expenditure.



nominal GDP. However, immediately after the decision to include Greece in the eurozone (on the basis of 1999 figures), the rate of increase of tax receipts fell impressively.6 If in 2000 the state of public finances was satisfactory, from 2003 onwards Greece returned to primary deficits (Vayanos et al. 2017: 16). Moreover, with debt fluctuating at around 100% of GDP, notwithstanding the high growth rates, the country appeared to be strategically trapped within the high risk zone in which the fiscal management of the 1980s had landed it. Contrary to Keynesian logic, the large window of opportunity created by high growth and low interest rates was not sufficiently exploited to foster bolder fiscal adjustment. The above succinct account puts us in a position to summarize the Greek debt problem. Historically, the Greek public sector has been limited in size. In 1960 total public expenditures amounted to 20.6% of GDP, as against 30.4% for the countries of what was to become the eurozone, and 29% in 1980 (as against 45%). In contrast to the majority of European countries where there was some variety of social democratic compromise, this did not happen in Greece because of the civil war. PASOK’s extraordinary electoral dynamic in the 1980s was a direct corollary of this historical vacuum. The increase in state expenditures after 1980 was not only rapid but even more so than the corresponding increase in Portugal and, above all, in Spain (where state expenditures increased from 31.5% in 1980 to 41.5% in 2008, against Greece’s rise in the same period from 29% to 50.6%, Eurostat, 2011). Indeed, between 1980 and 2004, the Greek public sector expanded so remarkably that it came close to equalling the eurozone average. But it was still lower (in 2004: 45.5% of GDP as against 47.5%; see Table 21.1). Over the longer term, apart from 2007–2009, public expenditure was lower than in the eurozone, but the rate of increase was higher than that Table 21.1  Greece and eurozone: General government expenditure (in % of GDP)

Greece Eurozone










20.6 30.4

29.0 45.0

45.5 47.5

44.6 47.3

45.2 46.7

47.6 46

50.6 47.1

53.8 51.1

50.2 50.9

Source: For the years 1960 and 1980: Hardouvelis 2008: 103. For the years 2004–2010: Eurostat, 2011 6

 Government Budget Report, 2011.



of Greece’s European partners (albeit not systematically so). Naturally, it was much lower than in countries such as Finland (56.1%) and Sweden (55.8%) (data is for 2008, Eurostat, 2009). It is revealing, however, that in the years preceding the debt crisis the figures are higher than for Germany (44% in 2008 as against 50.6% for Greece, Eurostat, 2011). On the other hand, there was a chronic, systematic and particularly extensive deficit in tax receipts compared to the eurozone average (Table 21.2), although it was admittedly diminishing (−8 units of GDP in 1998, −7.4 in 2004, −5.8 in 2008). The reduction was, however, not due to any real breakthrough in the efficiency of tax collection in Greece but rather to a fall in tax revenue resulting from neoliberal policies pursued throughout the eurozone. In addition, there was a major divergence between Greece and the EU in the distribution of tax receipts—the proportion of tax revenue derived from direct taxation representing just 56.7% of the direct taxation average of the EU-17 (Giannitsis 2013: 78). The logic of numbers does not allow for any hesitation in the diagnosis. The Greek debt is the product of 30 years of budget deficits driven by a proportionately low level of tax receipts. This shortfall is what distinguishes Greece from Europe. This is the fatal deficit. Despite neoliberal interpretations, the size of the state (which nevertheless ceased being small a long time ago) does not explain Greece’s fiscal catastrophe. What does explain it is the inefficiency of the state, a key aspect of which is the inadequacy of tax administration. Were Greek political elites just racing to keep two steps ahead of the disaster (their own and the country’s), immersed in ignorance, or fighting among themselves for political supremacy? Are there extenuating circumstances? The peculiarities of the Greek economy have posed significant obstacles to any project aimed at increasing tax revenues. Historically, big Greek capital, concentrated in international shipping and banking, has always had a “diasporic-mercantile character” (Kouvelakis 2011: 19; Doxiadis 2013: 71–72). Particularly if we take into account the size of the Table 21.2  Greece and eurozone: Tax receipts (in % of GDP)

Greece Eur