The coming years will be momentous for social democracy. The irrationality of neo-liberal attack on the welfare state’s regulation and individualization of human life and the radical left’s vision of withering of the state and an end of individual have been confirmed by the recent developments of historical proportion. One suffered from excessive greed and the other from lack of incentive. Both the ideologies detested the sanity of specific national culture that provided the basis of law-based freedom and political stability. Loaded with excessive materialist passion rather than normative drive, both the ideologies have now produced systemic crisis leaving unintended consequences for the environment, societies and peoples in various parts of the world. As a result, it confined the vision of political leadership only to crisis management. On the contrary, the resilience of social democratic state can be attributed to its ability to link civil and political rights to social, economic and cultural rights, adapt to technological change, changing value patterns, social solidarity, new social stratification and just national, regional and international division of labor with social justice into account. Currently, social democracy holds the possibility to realize the progressive politics of attacking poverty and inequality through the invigoration of a broader struggle for public good and the reformist imagination of the future.
Changing Value Patterns
First, social democracy supports democratic politics for the broader spirit of human freedom and advocates the reduction of unequal prospects for life-choices. It has espoused sixcritical elements—sovereignty of people, social inclusion, principle of affected, subsidiarity, the provisions of both constitutional and human rights (equal weight to positive and negative rights) and the social contract. These components provide different set of people with different forms of leverages to struggle for the realization of their basic needs and rights and accepted these rights as a part of international law. The rights of workers to free collective bargaining help share the capital’s profit through a mechanism of redistributive policy of social welfare state and forge cooperation with other actors. Accordingly, its basic values define security, rule of law, nature, culture, livelihoods, education and health as public goods. Nepal’s policy documents articulate many of these elements.
Second, social democracy is an open-access political order. It provides the citizens power to participate, exert claim and enjoy immunity rights and corresponding responsibilities. The party programs, development policies, constitutional mandate and people’s impulse find greater resonance of social democratic values in Nepali society. Its heritage of tolerance of social diversity and continuous rationalization and reform of societal norms through critical discourse, education and legislation became essential aspects of social modernization. Most of Nepal’s political parties have promised to control power through regulative measures and constitution and adopted broader social policies. The only question is how far and how fast. Social democracy can become robust polity for Nepal if it finds self-correcting mechanism of its deficiencies and adapts its new value patterns to historically defined middle path. This, however, requires change in the bi-nary code of politics. With the growth of multi-classes of labor and capital this code has become outdated. Similarly, there is a need to respond to the popular demand for inner-party democracy to expand the social base of politics; foster solidaristic compromise of interests, identities and ideologies and formulate ecologically and socially embedded economy for sustainable development.
Third, the new vision of social democracy marks a shift from centralized planning and decision-making to bottom-up, decentralized, participatory version. It advocates justice at ecological, social, gender and intergenerational levels to improve the living standards of all and unfold opportunities for self-determination. It opposes fostering a rationality of technical and ideological domination of society through the networks of power and manipulation of cultural industries while welcomes investment in livelihoods, education, health, labor rights, minimum wage, social security, gender justice, social charter and economic benefits as well as collaborative action of the state, market, civil society and international regimes. Nepal’s economic model based on a balance of the public, private and cooperative is precisely couched in to synergize the positive spirit of social democracy. The minimum wage, however, does not keep up with the cost of necessities and poverty continuously denies one condition for the exercise of freedom.
Fourth, social democracy supports specific laws pertaining to labor, women, indigenous people, Dalits, minorities and disabled thereby increasing their access to the institutional resources and overcome elite paternalism and patriarchy as well as negative effects of economic globalization that reduced the role of government, broke social contract, unleashed the theory of selfishness as a driver of prosperity and weakened the obligation of politicians to frame public policies. Many of these social democratic policies are used in Nepal so as to provide opportunity for the social mobility of poor and bridge the development gaps. Self-awareness (enlightenment) of citizens about these is necessary to improve their political stake in the democratic polity.
Fifth, today social democracy has marked a shift from technocratic and economic standardization to a critical reflection on the unrealized aspiration and rights of new groups of society. Social movements and workers’ power, ecologists, peace marchers, progressive coalition and engagement of multi-classes of society across the national borders are aimed to capture social democracy’s historical roots of transformational politics based on national, regional and global social solidarity and its ability to confront the imbalance of power at multi-level governance. Nepal’s voice for justice in the international arena too entails its steps towards better fairness and justice at home. Only then it can beef up the national leadership’s moral courage for transformational vision.
Nepal holds great potential for social democracy. An interest for balancing the extremes into the middle path is essential to complete the unfinished tasks of constitution making, foster inclusive and sustainable development and achieve durable peace. The increased emphasis on public sphere, expansion of labor market, projects for social development and social security, safe migration, support to workers’ cooperatives, active citizenship, political accountability etc indicate that democratic self-governing process will acquire new vitality and legitimacy in the future. Conscious of their needs, rights and duties, Nepalese citizens are demanding consistency from their leaders between the founding ideologies of parties and their derailed destination and make political power proportional to both social representativeness and fairer distribution of public goods.