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Political ideology that advocates a peaceful, evolutionary transition of society from capitalism to socialism, using established political processes. It rejects Marxism's advocacy of social revolution. Social democracy began as a political movement in Germany in the 1870s. Eduard Bernstein argued (1899) that capitalism was overcoming many of the weaknesses Karl Marx had seen in it (including unemployment and overproduction) and that universal suffrage would lead peacefully to a socialist government. After 1945, social-democratic governments came to power in West Germany (seeSocial Democratic Party), Sweden, and Britain (under the Labour Party). Social-democratic thought gradually came to regard state regulation (without state ownership) as sufficient to ensure economic growth and a fair distribution of income.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on social democracy, visit Britannica.com.