Dilemmas of Social Democracy in the 1980s

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Comparative Political Studies


Politics and Government


Southern European social democratic parties came to power in the early 1980s while northern social democrats were suffering from a severe political and ideological crisis. However, soon after taking power it was apparent that the southern parties had not escaped the crisis and that the political and ideological dilemmas were even greater than in the north. This article examines the record of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) while in government (1982-1987) and attempts to explain its surprising political success during a period in which the Socialists abandoned much of the social democratic content of their 1982 electoral program. It argues that the historical legacy of the PSOE, peculiarities of the post-1982 party system, the internal politics of the Socialist party, and the charisma of party leader Felipe González, reduced the political costs associated with dramatic political economic and foreign policy reversals. However, after abandoning its social democratic platform, the PSOE now faces a political and ideological crisis similar to that plaguing its West European counterparts.