Jens-Hugo Nyberg och Arbetarmakt har publicerat en engelskspråkig analys av det svenska riksdagsvalet och dess efterspel på Förbundet för Femte Internationalens hemsida. Tipsa internationella kamrater, och läs hela artikeln nedan.
Sweden: No holding back to preserve the Social Democrat-Green minority coalition
Sweden, once a Social Democratic stronghold, is still sometimes held up as an example for its welfare state and supposed ”middle way between capitalism and socialism”. The last eight years of openly right-wing rule under the Alliance coalition, however, have seen many of the gains won by the reformist workers’ movement dismantled.
Continuing a neoliberal process initiated under the pretence of ”crisis management” by the Social Democrats in the ’90s, and avoiding an open attack on the still very popular welfare system in Sweden, the right-wing government of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt nevertheless slowly and successfully privatised many key companies, deregulated markets, forced cuts in social security and benefits and increasingly curbed union strength since it came into power in 2006.
As Sweden went to the polls on Sunday, September 17, the working class here was clearly looking for an end to neoliberal policies. But the Social Democrats mounted only a weak opposition, and the Left Party did not face up to the task of mobilising the working class for the scale of change that is so urgently needed.
Traditionally, the majority of the organised working class in Sweden votes with the Social Democrats. LO, the Swedish TUC, is intimately linked to the party and its affiliated trade unions dutifully campaigned for a change of government. Most of the left put their hopes in a Social Democratic win to go on to break, at least to some extent, with the right-wing politics of the former government. However, over the last eight years, the Social Democrats have increasingly played catch-up with right-wing policies instead of forming a real opposition: instead of major tax breaks for the rich, slightly lower tax breaks. Instead of costly state subsidies to housekeeping services for well-off families (paid for mainly by working class tax payers and a proven dismally ineffectual job creator) slightly lower state subsidies.
After the election of 2006, Reinfeldt’s conservative Moderate party took office after a major public relations makeover. They no longer presented themselves as the traditional party of the upper classes in the affluent suburbs. The ”New Moderates” rebranded themselves as ”Sweden’s new workers’ party” and Reinfeldt made sure to downplay the party’s traditional resistance to progressive taxation, the full-frontal attacks on union rights, etc. In 2013, they even went so far as dropping ”new” and just claiming they were ”Sweden’s workers’ party”.
Some of this may have been a hard pill to swallow for the traditional conservatives in the Moderates. They howled for more direct attacks on the welfare state, faster privatisations and for Reinfeldt to stop ”cuddling up to the unions”. But the the makeover seemed to work, at least for a while, letting the Alliance hold on to power in the 2010 elections.
For-profit companies invited into the welfare sector
However, the image makeover was always only that. One of the most glaring examples of this was the Alliance’s opening of the public sector to private, for-profit companies. Schools, health service clinics, entire hospitals; nothing was too sacred for Reinfeldt’s four-party alliance to not let big, often multinational, companies get their hands on. In a strategic move that was very revealing of the party’s new façade, the services would still be funded by taxes, but companies were allowed to make as much profit as they could, as long as they guaranteed ”high quality”.
On the surface, perhaps, a clever way of introducing an overt attack on the very core of the welfare state – in all but name. However, when the profit motive comes into play, quality goes out the window and, as the elections came closer, more and more scandals unfolded about schools closing when the offshore holding company that owned them went bankrupt, massive cuts in staffing at primary care centres or homes for the elderly in order to drive higher profits for the owners, and so on.
With grassroots community and union networks against cuts and privatisations in welfare forming all over the country, and even regional branches of the Social Democratic party taking formal positions against private profits in the welfare system, popular opinion was clearly opposed to what became known as the ”profits in welfare” issue. Polls even showed a majority of right-wing voters opposed the unfettered profit orgy in the public sector.
The issue seemed to be a clear vote winner for Löfven. But the party leaders were wringing their hands. After all, the ”middle-class voters in big cities”, that elusive group, seemed to support the ”freedom of choice” in health care, and maybe it would not be such a good idea to take the tax-funded maids from the Stockholm middle-class? In the end, after much internal debate, the party once again decided to dodge the question. Instead of confronting it head-on and promising to kick the profiteers out of the welfare system, promises were made to ”curb profit interests” and to ”demand high standards of any private operators”.
The Left Party, on the other hand, made the issue their main, perhaps only, election promise: their slogan was ”Not for sale” and, challenging the Social Democrats, they promised not to enter any government unless profits in the welfare sector were banned.
Despite the hopes of the left and the working class, it is evident that Social Democratic leader, and former trade union boss, Stefan Löfven is even less left-wing than his predecessors, and while making a big show of their supposed ”decisive differences” with the government, the election programme was limited to small commitments to curb or tear up some of the more obvious misdeeds of the Reinfeldt government.
For a long time before the election, a clear Social Democrat victory seemed likely. More generally, the so called ”red-green bloc” of the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Greens, was far ahead in the polls for quite some time, although some people remembered that this was also true prior to the last election, four years ago, which they lost. At that time, there was a formal ”red-green” alliance. Under pressure from the trades unions, the alliance even included the Left Party, against the wishes of the then leader, Mona Sahlin, who only wanted to include the Greens. This year, although there was no formal alliance, both the Social Democrats and the Greens made it clear that they aimed to govern together.
The aim of the Left Party, under Jonas Sjöstedt, was also to join such a coalition, justified by the belief that it would be able to push the other parties to the left. It was, however, very uncertain that they would be invited, even if needed to establish a ”red-green” majority, not least because of their stated opposition to profits in the welfare sector.
The leaders of the Greens, Gustav Fridolin and Åsa Romson, hinted that, in those circumstances, they would rather include the so-called ”middle parties”, that is, the Liberal People’s Party and the Centre Party. Decades ago, the Centre Party were to the left of the Moderates but in recent years they have been junior partners in the Moderate-led government, enthusiastically embracing neo-liberalism. The Liberal People’s Party, in particular, has for a long time been the biggest supporter of imperialist wars, demanding Sweden joins NATO.
A big question, for many people the most important, was how the racist Sweden Democrats (SD) would do, and what would be their political role in the coming years. With their roots in the Nazi and white supremacist movement of the 80’s, they have since ditched their fascist street tactics and their most open racism. Under party leader Jimmie Åkesson, they try to pose as respectable democrats, even claiming to be against racism. That, of course, has not stopped them blaming most problems on ”mass immigration”, both because of its alleged costs, and the foreign cultures it brings. Their figures for the costs of immigration are pure fantasy, as they grotesquely exaggerate costs, and neglect to count incomes, for example, from refugees and immigrants paying taxes etc.
As a part of the Europe-wide racist and Islamophobic backlash, they made it into parliament for the first time in 2010, gaining 5.7 percent of the votes. They have since supported the Reinfeldt government in nine out of ten parliamentary votes. In fact, since the bourgeois Alliance had no majority on their own in the last period, they could only govern with the support of the Sweden Democrats, although that support was not reliable in all areas, and not officially acknowledged. The Sweden Democrats are clearly the more reactionary and racist of the bourgeois parties and with a high percentage of real fascists.
The SD election tour was met with protest rallies in almost every city they came to, with lines upon lines of police protecting them in the bigger cities. The young people, immigrants, women’s rights activists and leftists who organised and turned up to these protests instinctively understood what a continued rise of the Sweden Democrats would mean: yet more normalisation of racism and reactionary right-wing politics.
However, liberal pundits aimed most of their criticism at the protesters: to not let Åkesson spread his vile propaganda without protest amounted to ”undemocratic behaviour”, they said. Even the Left Party gave in to the bourgeois-democratic pressure here; Sjöstedt even made appearances in the media criticising his fellow party members and youth league comrades for ”disrupting the democratic rights” of the racists to stand unopposed.
Another key question was how Feminist Initiative (FI) would do. This new party was founded in 2005, under former Left Party leader, Gudrun Schyman. In May, it secured a place in the EU parliament for Roma activist Soraya Post, and hoped to make it past the election threshold and into the Swedish parliament for the first time; the ”feminist breakthrough”, as they called it.
Clearly, their growth reflects the failure of the workers’ movement and the left to fight sexism, including in their own organisations, vigorously enough. Although the leadership has always insisted their party is neither left nor right, but fighting for equality and human rights, a substantial majority of their members and supporters have always been to the left. Some of their demands are also clearly to the left of other parties; a six-hour working day, open borders, welfare without profits and at least a partial return to progressive taxation, although their platform is quite vague on the final point. They also positioned themselves in clear opposition and direct challenge to the Sweden Democrats: one of their more popular slogans was ”out with the racists, in with the feminists”.
On the other hand, although their members, even their candidates, consider themselves quite far to the left, and claim Feminist Initiative is really anti-capitalist, there is little or no anti-capitalism in their party programme, and not much class struggle either. Virtually all of their demands are meant to be implemented by decisions in parliament and through education.
They did, however, say they wanted a change of government, and were expected to support a Social Democratic government if they made it into parliament. They made it no secret that their goal was to be included in any Social Democratic-led coalition. It was clear therefore that the results for Feminist Initiative could prove to be decisive in determining the government for the coming years. Resulting from this, the debates between the FI and the Left Party revolved around election tactics rather than politics: was it better to vote FI to push them over the four per cent threshold, or better to concentrate the votes on the Left Party?
One clear effect of the rapid rise of FI was that the established parties felt forced to pay lip service to feminism. For the Social Democrats, Stefan Löfven suddenly became very interested in talking about the situation of working women, and the Liberal People’s Party launched an ad campaign about their supposed ”feminism without socialism”.
Vote for the Social Democrats or the Left Party, but struggle for workers’ politics!
While the Social Democrats continue to back down on their classic reformist programme, and their once so secure roots in the trade union movement are eroding, they are still seen as the main party of the working class here. Alongside them is the Left Party, which has the support of some more left-wing trade unionists and traditionally wins votes from disaffected Social Democrats wanting to push their party to the left. The leaderships of the two reformist parties are firmly in the bourgeois camp, but their grassroots, their electoral support and their trade union base is proletarian. They are, in short, bourgeois workers’ parties.
In the election rallies, at the antiracist protests, in the magazine and on the website of Arbetarmakt, Swedish section of the League for the Fifth International, this is what we explained: the Social Democrats will continue to adapt their politics to what the ”market” can accept, they will continue to manage capitalism on capitalism’s terms, and the Left Party will be as bound to the Social Democrats as always. Despite this, many workers will vote for the opposition, we said, because they do not see any other alternative. But an alternative is direly needed: a working class party that can spearhead a working class struggle for our rights. Such a party would not base itself on what is currently acceptable to capitalism, but on the struggle in workplaces, schools and on the struggles, starting from the actual needs of the working class.
The workers who voted for the Social Democrats or the Left Party could be mobilised to fight cuts, and should demand that their leaders carry out a programme for the working class. But they are not currently prepared to break with their parties. The most important question in the run-up to the Swedish elections was, therefore: how do we push this layer of militant and conscious, but not yet revolutionary, workers to break with their right-wing leaders in order to create a true alternative, an anti-capitalist party of struggle?
Our answer was to call for a vote for either of the two bourgeois parties, the Social Democrats and the Left Party, while at the same time criticising them. Thus, while giving no political support to these parties, we recognised that they are rooted in the working class and still enjoy a wide, albeit passive, working class support. In Arbetarmakt’s election material, at rallies and protests, our response to workers who wanted to defend their rights but who were not ready to break with their parties to build a revolutionary alternative was: vote for the Social Democrats or the Left Party, but make them carry out a programme in your interests. At the same time, we warned that these parties will not organise any real working class fightback.
Some hoped that putting the Social Democrats back in power would mean a decisive political shift. We did not think so, but we told those workers to try it out in practice. Let us elect a government of the two parties who traditionally organised the Swedish working class. Let us watch them closely, and in an organised fashion demand political action in the interests of the working class. If they once again betray the trust of the working class votes, it should tell you that our criticism against them is correct. From there, we hope to move towards an understanding that we have to do something about a situation where the labour movement is under the control of class traitors.
Social Democratic ”victory” and Sweden Democrat advance
The result of the election has been hailed as a victory for the Social Democrats but, if it was, it was the slimmest of conquests. The Alliance government certainly lost, and Reinfeldt resigned right after the election, as did his perennial sidekick and co-architect of the ”New Moderates”, Minister for Finance, Anders Borg. However, the so called red parties, the Left Party and the Social Democrats, gained no more than a few tenths of a percent combined. The only parties to make real gains were Feminist Initiative, who went up to 3.1 percent, not quite the 4 percent required for the parliament but a big gain and, more significantly, the Sweden Democrats, who more than doubled their share of the vote, from 5.7 to 12.7 percent, becoming the third largest party.
It turned out that for all the established parties’ posturing against racism in the election campaign, the Sweden Democrats were still seen by a significant minority of the population as a protest vote and a viable alternative. While the SD top brass still consist of committed racists, and not a few of them have direct ties to the party’s formidable, ”unofficial” openly racist web outlets, it is more than obvious that the generic, liberal campaigns against the ”ills of racism” did nothing to combat the party’s support base.
The SD heartland is still the south of Sweden but, in this election, they made a breakthrough also in the northern part of the country, and are now represented in municipal and regional governments all over the country. While much of their support is surely the product of pure and simple racism, that does not explain everything. Many of the smaller cities where they gained many votes (in some places becoming the largest bourgeois party) have faced what is euphemistically called the ”downsides of globalisation”: cuts, closures, unemployment.
There are in fact very real problems that need to be addressed: not those of the religious or clothing choices of a tiny minority of Muslims, but the pressures of crisis-ridden, globalised capitalism bearing down on all workers in Sweden, whatever their nationalities. Truck drivers are replaced with ”cheaper labour” from Eastern Europe, that is, more exploited workers. Small towns face industry closures as production is moved to Asia or Africa. Whether they turn to the old right-wing parties or their own, traditional workers’ movement, these workers are essentially given the same answer: ”It’s globalisation. That’s the way it works now”. The Sweden Democrats, then, are the only ones to point the finger somewhere else, to offer an explanation and a suggested solution, albeit a deeply reactionary one: close the borders, kick out the immigrants. Turn the fury against Muslims, or street beggars. Then your jobs will be safe.
In that situation, heartfelt, liberal campaigns about all humans being born equal, no matter how well-intended, are not enough to halt the advance of the racist demagogues. What is desperately needed is a united, working class fightback, putting the blame where it belongs, and organising all workers, regardless of their ethnicity, in a common struggle for jobs and social security for all, and equal rights for anyone who works in Sweden. The funds for this exist, in the coffers of the capitalist corporations. There are plenty of jobs that need to be done to rebuild all of the damage the bourgeois Alliance did to the country’s infrastructure and social welfare systems. The disastrous failure of the bureaucrats of the trade union movement and the bourgeois workers’ parties to organise such a struggle is the true explanation for the Sweden Democrats’ advance.
In the wake of the Sweden Democrat advance, smaller and openly militant fascist parties also gathered their forces in the election. The Party of the Swedes, formerly the National Socialist Front, a party whose members are involved in the neo-Nazi ”volunteer” forces fighting for the Ukrainian regime, ran candidates in 34 municipal elections, but failed to win a seat on their own ticket, and even lost the one seat that they did have – the first seat in Sweden held by an open Nazi since the ’40s. While their election campaign was widely seen as a fiasco, they did however manage to get one candidate into a municipal parliament as a write-in on a Sweden Democrat ballot. In the parliamentary elections, they collected 4,189 votes, or 0.07%.
The small and extremely violent Nazi sect Swedish Resistance Movement spent election day decrying how ”Zionist forces” really control society, and attacked voters at several polling stations in Stockholm. However, they too managed to win a seat through a write-in on a Sweden Democrat ticket. Small and irrelevant as they may seem, the Nazi groups pose a very real threat to immigrants, leftists and trade unionists on the streets, and they must be allowed no platform.
The parties of the Alliance are now down to 39.4 percent but, together with the Sweden Democrats, could muster just over 50 percent, meaning they could return to government, if they made a deal. They are reluctant to do this, however, even though, in practice, they governed with the support of the Sweden Democrats for the last four years. At this point, with considerable popular animosity against the Sweden Democrats and pre-election pledges from all parties to isolate them, for any party to openly collaborate with them on a national level would provoke massive criticism and probably amount to political suicide.
Still hesitant to be obviously dependent on the Sweden Democrats, for the time being, the Moderates will not strike a deal. How they will act in the coming years is an open question, but it is clear that the idea of a deal is gaining acceptance. Such an alliance is emerging in several municipal councils, which is probably an indication of where they are headed on the national level.
Indeed, this is the openly stated tactic of SD: to soften up the other parties at a local level at first, show them that they, too, can be ”responsible”, and then move that onto a larger stage. In the words of SD leader Jimmie Åkesson, they are seeking the same kind of normalisation here that let comparably small racist parties in Norway and Denmark ultimately set the agenda of all other parties, including, shamefully, the Social Democrats and even to some extent the Socialist Left. As the entire political spectrum moved to the right, the other parties felt forced to play catch-up with the racist parties. In Norway, the Social Democrats are now preparing to re-enact a ban against street begging, and as beggars are similarly chased down by cops in Denmark, a Social Democrat MP there famously said that Denmark is no ”free hotel”, and that immigrants better go to Sweden instead.
After the election, Social Democratic leader Stefan Löfven immediately looked to the right. He declared that he would not include the Left Party in his government. His first preference was to look for a deal with the ”middle parties”. Such an arrangement would have given him all the excuses he needed not to steer politics even a bit to the left. His prospective partners, however, were reluctant to split their alliance with the Moderates. Löfven, therefore, had to at least go through the motions of negotiations with the Left Party, whose leader, Jonas Sjöstedt, as expected, had made clear he would be willing to lower his demands.
Whatever Sjöstedt’s willingness to accommodate to the Social Democrats, Löfven was never likely to alter his initial hostility. When no agreement was reached, he settled on the only remaining option, a minority coalition government with the Greens. As the token negotiations with the Left Party broke down, the Left Party claimed they were now ”going into opposition”, but nevertheless abstained rather than voted against Löfven when he was elected Prime Minister last week.
On October 6, a deal was struck between the Social Democrats, Left Party and Greens on the contested issue of for-profit companies in the public sector. The many, vague formulations in that agreement already open the way for the Left Party to make exceptions to their recently so principled opposition to the public sector being ”for sale”. No doubt they will be prepared to passively support the Social Democrat-Green government, but, even so, the government will not have a majority. Given the election result, the only way Löfven could secure that would be with support from the right. Those who hoped, then, that the attacks of the previous government could be rolled back are bound to be disappointed. Would the parties that recently, for example, enforced the deregulation of the state pharmacies let them once again be taken out of the multi-national companies hands?
Fight for class struggle politics
Naturally, Social Democratic workers should not accept any kind of coalition with the bourgeois parties, including the Greens, which for example make even less of an effort than Löfven to oppose for-profit companies in public services, and traditionally vote with the right on workers’ rights related issues. Social Democratic workers have no need for a Social Democracy that follows the lead of the right-wing liberals, which would be the only way to make any policy agreements with them. The workers who voted for the Social Democrats should not accept anything but policies that really benefit the working class.
The parliamentary arithmetic clearly favours the right. To survive at all, any government committed to reversing neo-liberal policies and governing in the interests of the working class, even if those were understood only as the reforms that many Social Democratic voters wanted, would have to be based on class struggle mobilisation, that is, mass demonstrations, strikes and occupations, up to a general strike. Without that, such policies would have no chance of gaining a majority in the parliament. Whatever their differences, the Alliance parties and the Sweden Democrats would unite to stop them.
Whether such a parliamentary confrontation led to a change of government, with the Alliance in open coalition with the Sweden Democrats, or a new election, the fact of working class mobilisation would change the balance of forces in society. Either a clearly right wing coalition, tainted by fascism, would face a mobilised working class, or the Social Democrats, and the Left Party, would have to campaign for election in the knowledge that any further turn to the right would alienate their working class supporters.
Given the balance of parliamentary forces, however, the much more likely scenario is that the minority ”red-green” coalition will continue with the kind of neo-liberal policies demanded by Swedish and international capital. They will justify this with the argument that anything else would unite the parliamentary majority of Moderates, Liberal People’s Party, the Centre and the Sweden Democrats against them and force them out of office.
The greatest danger is that the leaders of the trades unions and, perhaps less openly, the Left Party, will effectively accept this and obstruct any attempts by the working class to defend itself against further cuts and privatisations. That is why, as well as demanding that the government itself change course, revolutionaries will argue for no holding back on struggles to protect the minority government.
The very fact that the Social Democrats can no longer win an election in Sweden, where they governed for the greater part of the last century, shows how their commitment to capitalism has weakened their previously strong roots within the working class. In the context of a still weak global economy, that erosion of support will continue but, if it is to result in a revitalisation of the workers’ movement, rather than demoralisation, sullen discontent has to be transformed into active and mobilised opposition.
Likewise, the issue of a racist party in riksdagen, the Swedish parliament, is likely to continue to mobilise all those workers and youth who are directly threatened by racist policies aimed against them. We must fight for the complete isolation of the Sweden Democrats, turn back the creeping normalisation of their reactionary politics and condemn all attempts to bring them in from the cold. They must be exposed for the pro-establishment, pro-capitalist extreme right party they are. The workers’ movement cannot afford to neglect the breeding ground that unemployment, aggressive cuts and closures provide for the Sweden Democrats, and our class cannot afford to let itself be divided by racist lies.
The most immediate targets of a pro-capitalist government are likely, once again, to be the low-paid, the youth, women, immigrants and refugees but they must not be left to fight alone. Every worsening of their conditions is a long term threat to what might be considered the core sectors of the working class. Therefore, the fight against austerity politics has also to be taken into the trades unions and the rank and file memberships of the Social Democratic and Left parties; No holding back to preserve a pro-capitalist minority government!