Sweden’s Social Democratic Party, which has ruled the country for 65 of the last 74 years, is in crisis after their electoral trouncing on Sunday, 17 September. Fredrik Reinfeldt’s "new" Moderates, at the head of the right-wing, four party ‘Alliance for Sweden’, will form the country’s first majority government in a quarter of a century.
Göran Persson’s Social Democrats were rejected because of the brutal neo-liberal policies they implemented, above all in the mid-1990s. This was a period in Swedish politics that has been studied and copied internationally by social democratic parties in other European countries, not least in Germany. The results are therefore a warning to Blair-ite social democrats the world over. The elections were equally a defeat for the Left Party (formerly the Communist Party) and the Greens who have been locked into a supporting role for Persson’s minority Social Democratic government for the last eight years.
Heavy losses in its strongholds
Disillusionment with the Social Democrats, and with Persson in particular, was such that eleven percent of members of the blue collar trade union (the LO) voted for the Moderates. This was more than the number voting for the Left Party (10 percent). Support for the Social Democrats and the Left Party among immigrants - who make up twelve percent of the total population - slumped from 73 percent in 2002 to 48 percent this time around. One in four immigrants voted for the Moderates this time, something that was unthinkable in previous elections. Persson’s presidential style campaign - he completely dominated all media coverage of the election - is now drawing heavy criticism as a crucial ingredient in his party’s defeat. But the real reasons go much deeper.
With their share of the total vote falling to 34.9 percent, this was the Social Democrats’ worst result since 1921. Rather than a freak occurrence, the defeat is symptomatic of a permanent crisis for the once so successful and globally envied "natural party of government". And although this is partly hidden by the Alliance’s victory, this political crisis extends to the entire political establishment. Of the major parties, only Reinfeldt’s Moderates advanced, scoring their best result since 1928 (26 percent). They are now bigger than the other three Alliance members combined.
Persson retires to his newly acquired country estate with the worst electoral record of any Social Democratic leader in history. He led the party to electoral losses in five of the six elections he contested. He is the only Social Democratic leader who never won 40 percent of the popular vote.
Most pro-capitalist commentators have been disorientated by Persson’s defeat not least because it took place in the midst of an economic boom with GDP growth of 4.5 percent forecast this year. He was one of their own. The new government, however, is set to continue, and deepen, the pro-big business policies of Persson’s Social Democrats.
An analyst in Dagens Nyheter (20 September) argued that, "Just as Margaret Thatcher could see how Tony Blair adapted himself to her, so Persson knows that Fredrik Reinfeldt will be forced to stick to his opponent’s policies."
This is a reference to the neo-liberal capitalist programme of the social democracy - privatisations, budget cuts and attacks on the right of asylum - which has characterised Swedish politics for the past decade and a half. Alongside Finland, Social Democratic Sweden has been held up as a ’model’ by the European Union for going the furthest of its 25 member states in privatising and deregulating state utilities and welcoming foreign control in, for example, telecoms, banking, energy, postal services, railways, public transport and the health sector. Following their own electoral debacle in 2002, Reinfeldt and the ‘Young Turks’ in the Moderate leadership re-packaged the party as the "new Moderates" and even claimed to be "the new workers’ party"! They repositioned the party as the most left-leaning of the four traditional bourgeois parties, toning down the strident neo-liberal programme of big cuts in taxes and public spending that Reinfeldt’s predecessor had stood for - and been punished for.
Racist party makes big gains
The four-fold rise in support for the racist Sweden Democrats (SD) - a party with its roots in the openly Nazi ’Keep Sweden Swedish’ movement of the 1980s - is a further ominous sign of the country’s deepening political crisis. Although the SD failed to get into the Riksdag (parliament) for which the barrier is 4 percent of the vote, they increased from 1.4 per cent (in 2002) to 3 percent and won more than 160,000 votes. They are now the fourth largest party in the south of Sweden (Skåne). In Malmö, Sweden’s third largest city, they are the fourth largest party in the city council. In the industrial city of Helsingborg, they are the third largest. For the first time they also captured a council seat in Sweden’s second city, Gothenburg.
The SD have also been elected into at least three Landsting (regional parliaments) and can now look forward to 45 million kronor (4.9 million) in state aid. Swedish workers will now be subjected to a deluge of state-financed racist propaganda in the form of newspaper advertisements, billboards and leaflets. A media debate is raging about the racist party’s gains and the likelihood that they will be elected to parliament in the 2010 elections. This is attributed to the "failed integration policies" of the Persson government, which is another way of saying it is the fault of immigrants themselves.
In fact, SD probably gained more from campaigning on law and order (with a racist spin) and the decline of health services, schools and other public services, than on the issue of immigration. This issue was only ranked 9th in importance in a survey of electoral attitudes, which put employment first, followed by the health service.
The overriding factor that gave the racist SD its best ever result was the widespread sense of betrayal against the Social Democrats, and even the other established parties, and also the feeling of despair in relation to the destruction of the old ’Swedish model’ of strong welfare and full employment.
The establishment’s response to the racists’ electoral gains is to echo the racist policies of the SD - a process we have seen before, not least in Denmark. The Social Democratic party bosses in Gothenburg and Malmö stated within days of the elections that their cities "cannot take anymore immigrants".
In reality, however, as the electoral campaign by Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) showed, the Sweden Democrats, while profiting from the betrayals of the established parties, do not stand for a fundamentally different economic policy. Their programme is one of racist neo-liberalism. This is highlighted by the fact that in the third largest regional parliament, Skåne, the SD acted as a support party (without ministerial posts) for the Alliance parties from 2002 to 2004 and supported their neo-liberal policies for the region’s healthcare, public transport and so on.
What’s needed now is a major anti-racist campaign particularly in the schools, workplaces and among young people. To be successful, such a campaign must take up the struggle for jobs, against discrimination and for an end to cuts in public services and privatisations.
How to fight racism - the CWI example
This is what the CWI section, RS, did in its campaigns in the three cities it concentrated on: Umeå, Luleå and Haninge (Stockholm). Haninge is a particularly important example. This was once the ’jewel in the crown’ of the racist SD in the whole country. They achieved their first major breakthrough there in 1998, winning two council seats - of eight that they won in the whole country at that time. This was achieved with the help of finance from Le Pen’s ‘Front National’ in France.
But while the SD quadrupled its council seats in the latest election it made no gains at all in Haninge. On the contrary, while it kept its two seats in the city council, the racist vote rose by just 10 (1,679 now as opposed to 1,669 in 1998). This is a decline in percentage terms despite the eight-year presence of racists in the city council.
RS was the only party to openly confront the racist parties in our campaign and our election material. We organised demonstrations under the heading of "Stop the Racist Parties" in all three of the cities we concentrated on.
In Haninge, where our vote rose fivefold - from 232 in 2002 to 1,248 this time - we produced four different leaflets warning against the racists, explaining their actual record on issues like the cuts, and explaining the need for common struggle against social injustice. This undoubtedly had an effect in cutting across support for the SD in an area long considered their ’home ground’. In one of the two Haninge constituencies, Haninge South, RS received more votes than the SD! ,
Similarly, in the northern town of Piteå, although RS did not get elected to the council, it received 284 votes. We were standing for the first time, yet got more than twice as much as the SD’s 133 votes and the SD had hoped to perform well in Piteå! This is the result of long campaigning against the racist threat, including a one-day school strike against racism in February 2006.
CWI electoral gains
RS in Haninge could point to the success of its ’non-payment’ campaign against school meals charges, including two school strikes and demonstrations, which forced the Social Democratic and Liberal-run city council to retreat on this issue in 2005. This victory for mass action was a concrete example of workers and young people from a Swedish and immigrant background successfully struggling together to defeat a neo-liberal attack. This example, alongside our policies for a higher minimum wage, more jobs in education and childcare, against privatisation, and for cuts in politicians’ salaries and privileges, undoubtedly even swayed some former SD voters behind RS. We showed that an anti-racist, fighting socialist party was a more serious and effective vehicle for fighting than a right-wing racist protest party.
"Socialists an alternative to the Social Democrats" ran a headline in the free-sheet Metro (750,000 readership) after our victory in Haninge. While this newspaper added that the result was a "political nightmare" for the Social Democrats and Moderates in Haninge, who may now be forced to build a ’grand coalition’, further eroding both parties’ support in the area.
The results for RS-CWI council lists in our three focus cities demonstrate the huge possibilities that can open up when workers are given a fighting socialist alternative. The increase from five to eight city council seats (three in Umeå, an increase from two to three in Luleå and two new seats in Haninge) represents a down payment on the coming struggle to build a new, workers’ party at national level.
In Luleå, the RS vote rose 25 percent from the 2002 elections to 1,862 this time.
"Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna made strong gains," reported the regional newspaper, Norbottens Kuriren, adding that,"Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna has broken the losing trend for all parties except the Social Democrats [who also advanced in northern Sweden - LC] capturing an additional mandate and now has three."
In Umeå, RS successfully defended its three seats, selling 2,800 copies of the local election manifesto and recruiting 14 new members. In total, the CWI section recruited 28 new members during its election campaign. There are also hundreds of supporters to follow up in coming weeks with discussions about party membership. These new forces will be needed in the struggle against the coming attacks of Reinfeldt’s government. The 2006 election campaign has therefore provided Marxism with the best possible basis for what will certainly be a more turbulent period ahead.
Election results for Swedish Riksdag/Parliament (2002 result in brackets):
Moderates 26.2% (15.2%)
Centre 7.9% (6.1%)
Liberals 7.5% (13.3%)
Christian Democrats 6.6% (9.1%)
Social Democrats 34.9% (39.8%)
Left Party 5.8% (8.3%)
Greens 5.2% (4.6%)