The new ‘Red-Green’ minority government in Sweden lasted only two months. On 3 December its budget was defeated in parliament by the right-wing alliance parties, and supported by the racist Sweden Democrats. New elections will take place on 22 March.
Such an ‘extra’ or snap election has not been held in Sweden since 1958 when the Social Democrats got returned to power on the basis of promising a new, better pension system. Today, new elections take place in a completely changed political landscape.
The four-party right-wing alliance that was in power from 2006 lost the elections in September this year. All four of them lost votes and they got less than 40 percent combined. There was, and still is, a strong mood against the alliance’s neo-liberal policies. Their privatisation programme has meant huge profits for venture capitalists running schools, health care and transport, the fastest growth in inequality of all OECD countries and the development of a high level of long-term unemployment.
However, after six years of these neo-liberal attacks, the Social Democrat opposition party only reached 31.2 percent in the September election - its second worst result ever. Their ally - the Green Party - got less than 7 percent - a big disappointment after 15.4 percent in the Euro elections four months earlier. The support party - the Left Party - got 5.7 percent.
The big shock was the racist Sweden Democrats when they reached 12.8 percent - doubling its result of 2010. There was also a strong anti-racist mood in the election campaign with demonstrations against the Sweden Democrats in every city and town, with thousands participating. This compared with racist supporters numbering between 10 and 50 at their election meetings. The strength of opinion forced every other party to promise not to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats. Because of this, the Social Democrats and the Greens managed to form a new government since, with the support of the Left Party, they had more seats in parliament than the previous government.
A new political landscape
This changed last week. The four parties in the right-wing alliance needed the support of the Sweden Democrats to defeat the government’s budget. The Sweden Democrats were thus given a crucial role in Swedish politics, with everyone waiting for their decision on which budget they would support.
Their press conference was a scandalous event. The media obediently took up their statements and sent live reports from what was just a vile propaganda show. It featured the basest racist sentiment. The Sweden Democrats will stake everything on the racism issue in the new election campaign. "We are putting all other issues aside", said their current leader Mattias Karlsson, to make the elections “a referendum on immigration”.
In supporting the right-wing alliance’s budget, the Sweden Democrats broke many of their own populist promises from the September campaign. The Social Democrat’s budget would have meant an additional SEK 200 a month (€22) to pensioners, increased unemployment benefit, some improvements in sick-pay, free medicine for children and some other limited reforms. In negotiations with the Left Party before the budget, an investigation into setting limits on profits in education, health and elderly care was agreed.
Instead, the Sweden Democrats used their media coverage to attack expenditure for refugees. They pretended to be concerned about alienation in the suburbs, described as ‘parallel societies’ where the police dare not go, accusing immigrants of being criminals and so on.
They said nothing about tax cuts, mostly for the rich, of over SEK 100 billion or increased money for the military, including fighter jets worth SEK 90 billion, never mind profits in the big banks of over SEK100 billion.
The Sweden Democrats have never really supported more money for health care and other welfare services. Their aim is instead classic racism: to set different groups in society against each other, to create divisions and thus put obstacles in the way of united struggle from below.
The Sweden Democrats stand for precisely the policies that have led to the rapid increase in inequality in Sweden. In the councils, they vote for cuts in public services. That is the reason for the rise in unemployment and cuts in the poor suburbs, not immigration. In parliament during 2010-2014, the SD provided support to the right alliance’s policies on most issues, including tax cuts for the rich and social cuts, while at the same time criticising unjust taxes on pensioners and the poor quality of elderly care. In this way, they combine support for cuts with their own form of populism.
Unions and Social Democracy
How has this turn in Swedish politics been possible? The main responsibility lies with the trade union leaderships, often closely linked to the Social Democrats. If the Swedish unions had had the courage to offer an ounce of leadership for strong reactions against the right-wing government’s attacks on unemployment benefit and health insurance and to channel the fighting spirit which then simmered in the workplaces in 2006, the situation would now be completely different.
It is because of the long period of a grovelling reversal of its own reforms, its lack of clear opposition to the other right-wing parties and its repeated betrayal of workers and the interests of low-income working class families that the Social Democratic party has lost its historical base in the labour movement.
Both before and after the autumn elections, as well as now, the party leader and prime minister, Stefan Löfven, has conducted a stubborn campaign to break up ‘bloc politics’ by flirting with two of the parties of the previous government - the Liberal Party and the Centre Party. He has defended the making of profits in welfare and says that everything is on the table for discussion. This also seems to have support from the leadership of the trade union federation, LO. The Green Party and the Left Party, who defended the the budget, sat still in the boat and stressed that they would "take responsibility".
But the right-wing alliance parties have given the cold shoulder to Löfven’s initiative on cooperation. The main reason for their ‘no’ is that they want to block every small concession that may encourage the latent broad opposition to their historic dismantling of the postwar public welfare reforms.
It remains to be seen what support the Social Democrats can mobilise in the new election. Their advantage is the fear of right-wing parties and the limited, but clear, differences in their budgets, even though the Social Democratic one is also clearly an austerity budget. Any support for the Social Democrats, however, is diluted by their continual invitations to right-wing parties to collaborate with them.
Cooperation with racists
In several councils, established parties have started cooperation with the Sweden Democrats. This has also been encouraged by editorials in some key bourgeois daily papers. Others have started a debate that other parties also should discuss restrictions on immigration – and there are a lot already. They suggest only giving limited permits to stay in Sweden. They also want to discuss ‘volume’, i.e. that fewer people should be allowed into the country. The Sweden Democrats themselves want to stop 90 percent of all immigrants.
In all these debates, we in Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden) point out that such cooperation or adaptation is not likely to undermine the racist party; rather the opposite. In Denmark, all other parties, except the socialist Red-Green Alliance, have adapted to the programme of the Danish People’s Party (DPP). Today, the DPP is leading in the opinion polls. In Norway, the populist and racist Progress Party is part of the government.
Cooperation between the established parties, however, does not help either. If the Social Democrats and the Alliance cooperate, and continue with cuts, the Sweden Democrats will be seen as an opposition. The established parties cannot stop the racists, since it is their policies and their system that have created them. What is needed is a fighting movement from below, with a clear programme against cuts.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna is preparing a campaign in the elections against racism and all neo-liberal right-wing policies. The party is well-placed in campaigns against profit in welfare, in local struggles against cuts and in several anti-racist networks.
Tens of thousands of people took part in many demonstrations after the Nazi attack in Kärrtorp a year ago and at the Sweden Democrats’ election rallies. There is also a searching for a new radical alternative. The message that right-wing politics from the established parties has given racists a fertile ground in which to grow gets a good hearing.
Even among trade union grassroots members there is a rage against the fact that the unions and the ‘red-greens’ are not fighting an open battle against the right wing alliance parties and the Sweden Democrats.
We need a new movement from below, building on recent protests, combining the fight against racism and against all austerity measures. The first steps can be taken during the campaign before the new election.
Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna stands for the need for united action together with trade unions and networks against racism, cuts and privatisation, and for a new workers’ party with socialist policies.
In this election, the RS will participate in any fight against racism and right-wing policies, but we lack a sufficient nationwide spread to stand in the elections. (A party can only stand in the entire country which is one constituency). We call for a vote on election day for the Left Party, in spite of the criticism we have of the party’s non-existent anti-capitalism, its concessions to the Social Democrats and its weak participation in grassroots struggle.
The situation calls for a new socialist left. This is what the RS is striving to be a part of building.