Social democracy has been the focal point of working class politics throughout much of Western Europe. The identification of working class voters with such parties was presumed to be automatic. But social democracy's capacity to deliver concessions to its supporters has been strictly limited. It has become, instead, the linchpin of corporatist economic arrangements designed merely to defuse conflict between social partners.
Now, in the 1980s, corporatism and social democracy are in crisis. They have either been displaced by authoritarian market populism or are responsible for the lame administration of austerity in government. Only by understanding the impasse of social democracy can the strength of conservative alternatives to it be grasped.
Panitch examines the British Labour Party in the 1960s and 70s as a classic example of social democracy in power. He also considers the genesis and development of corporatism in such liberal democracies as Sweden and West Germany. Throughout, the author develops a non-corporatist socialist alternative, sensitive to the necessary institutional forms of a democratic socialist state.
Working Class Politics in Crisis contains Panitch's major essay 'The Impasse of Social Democratic Politics', the most substantial critique of Eric Hobsbawm's political writings yet to have appeared.