The Transition to ‘New’ Social Democracy: The Role of Capitalism, Representation and (Hampered) Contestation

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This article argues that existing accounts of the transformation from 'traditional' to 'new' social democracy has thus far only identified the contextual changes that have prompted this move. In doing so, they have failed to account for the motives of social democratic party actors in undertaking the transition to 'new' social democracy in response to those changes. The article draws upon a critical realist method, and Marxist and anti-representational theories, to conceptualise 'traditional' social democratic party relations as suffering from tensions between constituents' demands for decommodification, the attempt by party elites to contain (and thereby 'represent') those demands and the (in)compatibility of this process of containment with the need to recommodify social relations in the light of periodic crises in contemporary capitalism. It argues that these tensions explain the attempt by party elites to promote the move towards 'new' social democracy, the (eventual) acquiescence of party constituents to those attempts and the subsequent exit from social democratic constituencies which has resulted. The argument is made with reference to the British Labour Party and Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)593-612
Number of pages20
JournalBritish Journal of Politics and International Relations
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2009


  • centre-left parties
  • SPD
  • Labour Party
  • social democracy


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