The meaning of Social Democracy in the modern world


In the South African setting, the governing party is committed to social and national democracy. At the same time, it prides itself on being a broad church, capable of accommodating a wide spectrum of individuals from various ideological persuasions. This may be good from a support perspective, but does it promote policy cohesion?


This background was one of the factors that informed the decision of the Inclusive Society Institute to host a dialogue on “The Meaning of Social Democracy in the Modern World.” The dialogue took place on 23 November 2021.


The following points were raised, among others:


  1. Social democracy is not static; it changes over time. The underlying values are unchanged: freedom, equality, solidarity. What has changed is the interpretation of the values.

  2. Social democrats are working from a similar point in terms of what we are up against: inequality. We are up against the neoliberal zeitgeist which is responsible for this increased inequality. We are up against a crisis of democracy.

  3. Social democrats are making policies with and for the broad majority. We have to build broad alliances. In fragmented societies, social democrats are the best-placed to build alliances.

  4. Social democracy is about showing that there is an alternative. We need to come out of the closet. We are not just about the welfare state but also about investment in people.

  5. Social democracy is an international agenda. This influences how we address issues and what alliances we build.


It is envisaged that the event will form part of a two-part dialogue:


Part 1: What does social democracy mean in the modern world?


Part 2: What preconditions are required in a country for it to advance towards a welfare state?


The aim would be not only to contribute to the global discussion in this regard, but, more specifically, to also provide guidance in the South African context.