Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Social Democratization and Development Strategy: An Alternative to Neoliberalization in Latin America?

Academic journal article Journal of Third World Studies

Social Democratization and Development Strategy: An Alternative to Neoliberalization in Latin America?

Article excerpt


This essay will review the relevancy of the social democratic model as a possible source of inspiration for political change and a reorientation of development strategy in Latin America. The social democratic option includes an emphasis on economic growth with equity and favors social policies supporting the great majorities. As such, it would represent an alternative to present neoliberal and neopopulist strategies.

Social democracy has gained respectability in the deliberation about alternatives to the dominant neoliberal development paradigm in Latin America. In this debate social democracy could serve as a source of inspiration for progressive forces striving for economic growth with equity, democracy and the provision of basic needs. The recent redrawing of the political map in Latin America has produced a large number of center-left or left leaning governments that find in social democracy an option that merits consideration. (1) This is a remarkable phenomenon. Just a few decades ago, social democracy was often despised by the Latin American left as a betrayal of the ideals of original socialism. It is apparent now that this opinion has changed. From a second-best option to socialism, the social democratic strategy--more reformist than revolutionary, more pragmatic and less ideological, more compromising and less antagonistic towards capitalism--became for many a course that the socialist movement maybe should have considered pursuing from the beginning. (2)

Social democracy claims to be more than just a mode of political intervention. It aims to cover the entire realm of societal development. The question, then, of to what extent social democracy would be able to inspire a development paradigm as an alternative to neoliberalism, is relevant. In this debate, social democracy has operated with a theoretical frame of reference in which elements of modernization theory--in particular those pertaining to the organization of the economy and the evolution of institutional arrangements that do not necessarily have a class reference--are combined with insights from a dependency analysis that recognizes external dependencies as well as internal, structurally generated antagonisms of interests between social groups or categories. At the same time, social democracy stands for political interventions that will combine an emphasis on economic growth with structural reform directed towards a reduction of the socioeconomic inequities that threaten to tear most Latin American societies apart. The project of radical democracy connects with this debate, viewing any open democratic system that fails to generalize socioeconomic welfare to wide sectors of the population as not sustainable.

In Western Europe, the social democratic movement--without negating contradictions among classes, social categories or interest groups--pursued welfare for all, building a "model" in which political pluralism, constitutional liberties, democratic participation and welfare policies were combined with economic efficiency. In Latin America, such a strategy to organize economy and society has remained a challenge: attractive because of its content; hard to realize because the basic conditions that made the "model" possible in Western Europe are not present in Latin America. This inspired Fernando Henrique Cardoso, in an interesting essay written one and a half decades ago, to view the future of social democracy in Latin America as heavily dependent on serendipity effects: unforeseen results of an unplanned historical development. (3)

How did this regard for social democracy as a source of inspiration for development strategies arise? Initially, European social democracy tried to create a sphere of influence in Latin America, in particular during the authoritarian regimes of the 1970s. This influence, however, weakened in subsequent decades when the United States activities in the region increased while West European social democracy found itself increasingly preoccupied with problems on its home territory. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.