Members of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS), the Swedish section of the Committee for a Workers’ International, are celebrating spectacular gains in the general election held on 15 September 2002. In the two most populous cities in northern Sweden, RS now has five city councillors (up from two in 1998).
In Umeå city council, where RS was first elected in 1991, our vote has risen by 38 per cent since the last election, delivering a third council seat. In Luleå, RS more than doubled its result from 1998, cruising into the council with two seats. In both cases, our gains were at the expense of the Left Party (ex-Communists) who were hammered for supporting spending cuts and privatisations and because of their ’fatal attraction’ to the ruling Social Democrats (SAP). In Luleå, the Left Party lost four seats, two to RS, and two to a local ’health service’ party. Our gains show the potential for a fighting alternative on a national level:
Left Party big losers
Nationally, the Left Party and the conservative Moderates were the biggest losers. The Left Party hoped to win 20 per cent of the vote across the country but instead fell from 12 to 8.3 per cent, as many former voters swung behind the government.
One Left Party leader attributed the swing to the SAP (from 36.4 to 40 per cent) to their ’left policies’, a statement that stands reality on its head. A big factor in the results was the fear of a victory for the bloc of four capitalist parties (Moderates, Liberals, Centre and Christian Democrats) and their programme of massive tax and spending cuts, which in the last days galvanised support behind the government of Prime Minister Göran Persson. But another key reason for the loss in support for the Left Party was the leadership’s rightward shift, their obsession with coalition politics, and their track record in more than 100 local and regional councils, which they control together with others. This led many former Left Party supporters to vote for the ’original’ SAP instead of a smaller copy. Within the bloc of four parties alliance, the Moderates, who are most associated with tax cuts, suffered their worst result since 1973 (15.1%), while the liberal, Folkparti (FP), tripled its vote (13.3%) by openly flirting with racism. This led the RS weekly newspaper, ’Offensiv’, to dub the whole process a ’Danish’ election campaign (a reference to the Danish establishment adopting some of the policies of the far right).
Rather than discussing the state of the health service or the school system after more than one decade of cuts, the main capitalist parties tried to outdo each other in putting demands on immigrants to "fit in".
Many international commentators have completely misread the situation, interpreting Persson’s victory as in some way reflecting a revival of the old, reformist, Swedish Social Democracy. On the contrary, the SAP made few promises in the election and the prime minister told journalists he was prepared to make cuts "in every area" if necessary to avert a return to budget deficits.
Speculation is rife in the press about a "hidden plan" for budget cuts, while the business journal, ’Finans Vision’, exclaimed, "Persson’s victory prepares the way for the euro". This refers to a possible referendum on entry into the currency zone in the first half of 2003, which would see a massive ’yes’ campaign by the social democrats.
Fighting racism and social cuts
The electoral gains for RS in the north of Sweden, plus the 41 new people who joined the party during the election campaign, place us in a far stronger position to intervene in looming struggles.
Elections in Sweden are always for all three levels of government (national, regional and local) and on the same day. In addition to standing for the Umeå and Luleå councils, RS fielded a list for national parliament, four regional parliaments, and an additional five city councils, with no prospect of victory at this stage. Some of the election results, for example Stockholm, are not yet available.
The RS election campaign concentrated on anti-racism and fighting the far right in the Stockholm constituencies. RS organised a demo of 400 school students in Haninge, south of Stockholm, against the fascist National Democrats, who sit in the council. An attack by a small gang of fascists on the demo was repulsed. As the daily free sheet, ’Metro’, (circulation 700,000) later reported, "Mattias Bernhardsson, candidate for Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna in Haninge, received a death threat from a representative of the anti-immigrant National Democrats." The threat was a direct result of this very successful youth campaign in Haninge.
Where we succeeded in getting elected, the party also succeeded in winning over a significant number of public sector workers, particularly women, who were at the brunt of the social counter-revolution in the 1990s.
Last year, in Umeå, RS organised symbolic ’point strikes’ (of five minutes duration) across 30 workplaces in the ’Aged and Handicapped Care’ sector. This action bypassed the social democratic-controlled unions, which refused to oppose cuts in this sector.
This and other campaigns have connected our party in the consciousness of many workers with the struggle against cuts. Often during the election campaign, RS party workers were told by workers they would vote for us because, "[they] work in the health service".
In Luleå, our campaign to stop a school closure in the working class district of Svartöstaden saw us emerge as the biggest party in the polling district, with the SAP second. The Left Party, whose councillors voted to close the school, was beaten into third place, from first place in 1998. In both cities, the Social Democrats resorted to crude anti-communist scare campaigns to head off our challenge. The pro-SAP daily, ’Västerbottens Folkblad’, carried an article by Umeå’s council leader, alongside a picture of Leon Trotsky, under the headline, "Offensive with revolution and lies". The paper agreed to take our reply, but not until after the election!