Sweden: The truth about the secret police and its surveillance of the CWI

The so called ’Truth Commisson’ in Sweden investigating the state’s secret political registers has exposed the widespread use of secret police spying on communists, socialists and workers in struggle.

  • Details on more than 100,000 individuals were kept in secret state registers in the 1970s.
  • Telephone tapping could go on for ten years against alleged enemies of the state.
  • Hundreds were to be arrested in the event of ’political unrest’.

This is still going on. The Commission for example refers to secret police reports from two meetings organised by the CWI in the northern town of Umeå in 2001.

There is a history of spectacular revelations of secret police surveillance in Sweden, particularly from the early 1970s. In 1973, it was revealed that the Social Democratic Party and the secret police, SÄPO, had used a "hospital spy" to compile a register on health service workers in Gothenburg. Two years later, a secret miltary intelligence organisation, IB, run by Social Democratic bureaucrats, broke the news.

Clean now?

The Commission was set up by the government in an attempt to clear the state of ’old sins’, modelled on a Norwegian state investigation a couple of years ago. But this commission still has not had access to all material, and chose to limit the scope of its report referring to "the need for protection of information about of the activities of the security forces". This means that much still remains to become public, even if the commission gives a convincing picture of the political registration business conducted by SÄPO, IB and the military intelligence service.

The politicians’ aim was that the Commission would give the final word, and to portray registration as something which now is history. But the Commission itself proves that spying still goes on, whatever the promises from the politicians.

Registration of people on the grounds of their political positions, membership in parties etc, has since 1974 been technically illegal. A new law on computerised registration from 1998 is highly restrictive of what can be registered.

The Communist Party

Most of this activity concerns the Communist party in the 50s and 60s. Their links to the stalinist Soviet Union led the state to view them as potential or actual spies and traitors. This was exploited by the ruling Social Democratic Party which was challenged by the communists in the trade unions. The employers also pushed for registration of worker activists, many of them communists.

In the end of the 1960s and 1970s, the focus shifted to the new revolutionary, mostly student left. The biggest of these organisations, with a couple of thousand members each, were both Maoist. The first ’Trotskyists’ also came under surveillance at this time. Not until 1998 were the ex-maoists and this particular Trotskyist organisation, now crumbling, officially taken off the SÄPO shortlist of organisations for "special attention".

The CWI organisation Offensiv (from 1997 Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna) increasingly came to the attention of SÄPO during the 90s, particularly in connection with demonstrations and campaign alliances (see separate box).

The Commission especially criticises telephone tapping. It is rarely decided formally and can go on for very long periods. The maoist KPML(r) had their phones tapped, including their chairmans’ home phone, for over seven years.

The Commission confirms that ’suspicions’ against individuals were used as an excuse to watch entire organisations. "In this way, thousands of people were affected by telephone tapping..", writes the Commission.

No crimes

No criminal activity was ever exposed by this telephone tapping. "It is striking that the courts in many cases have accepted telephone tapping extending for a very long time without anything being revealed which could be used in a trial nor even leading to greater suspicion". Up to 1975 it was legal to bug meetings, for example of the Communist Party leaderships’ meetings. Despite denials, there is a strong likelihood that buggings have continued.

The state spoke with two tongues, especially the politicians. Officially, individuals could only be registered when suspected for crimes or being a danger to the security of the state – but in secret instructions "the government named which organisations" SÄPO should pay special attention to. The Commission criticises both the national police authority and the government, whose instructions were too "unclear and general", which gave SÄPO a free hand to do what they wanted. Membership of an organisation or attending its meetings was enough to be registered.

The Commission states that there were "special registers for people engaged in extremist movements (…) In many files information was noted which clearly violated the ban on political registration." The new law from 1997 says that people can’t be registered solely because of their political views, leaving a big loophole for SÄPO to use.

"Severals thousand" have because of the registration "lost jobs or asignments", concludes the Commission. In some of the most well known cases those affected have won compensation from the state after appealing to the European Court.

The military intelligence unit have their own registers. The ones covering 1955-1970, supposedly destroyed in 1970, have recently been "rediscovered". The military’s computer registers from the 1990s are now claimed to have been destroyed – but who believes that?.

Who directed IB?

The third spy organisation, IB, reported to both the military staff and to the Social Democratic government. According to the Commission, the role of IB is still unclear: "After reorganising domestic activities in 1970 is it unclear on whose behalf they worked". All the leading officers and agents of IB had positions in the Social Democratic Party.

IB, which was exposed in a left-wing paper in 1973, sent spies into left wing organisations. Among them was the agent Gunnar Ekberg, who claimed to be a pro-Palestinian activist and even, phoned in bomb threats against Israeli aeroplanes. IB was reorganised again after thse revelations, first to become SSI and later KSI. Both have, according to the Commission, reported "on conditions of domestic nature" despite formally delaing with overseas business.

The Commission indirectly shows why no one can believe that political registration has stopped. They refer to the fact that inside SÄPO "a procedure developed which meant that in particularly sensitive, doubtful or controversial cases, decisions were taken without any documentation."

The distorted view of the state

Säpo and the other spy organisations have a very distorted view of the world. The Commission is also influenced by this view, and claims for example that left-wing groups were behind the many strikes in Sweden in 1969-72. The truth is that no political group can cause major strikes without the necessary objective and subjective preconditions.

The miners’ strike 1969-70, which started the strike wave, was caused by the tough regime in the mines, which contrasted sharply with the economic boom and promised reforms. When workers in France organised their general strike in 1968 they inspired workers globally. Political organisations can support and give political leadership, but they can’t, even if they are revolutionary, create mass movements on their own. Both the mining employers and SÄPO believed that the strike in 1969 was some kind of mass psychosis as a result of agitation. Similar arguments were used by sections of the establishment after the riots at the EU summit in Gothenburg in 2001.

Not even the most all-pervasive and repressive state apparatus can hold back the class struggle, which has been proven again and again through history. The Russian Tsar even had agents on the Central Committee of the Bolsheviks, but that could not stop the revolution in 1917.

State spying and registration must of course anyway be fought against. It is a threat and a violation of the rights of everyone concerned. It shows that the state and the ruling class don’t thrust their own arguments, and are prepared to use force.

As late as May 2001 the then Minister of Justice in the Social Democratic government, Laila Freivalds, was informed by the Commission that there is "the risk that SÄPO still register people solely because of their political position". The secret police surveillance has to be fought against, as a decisive part of the struggle for a socialist society.

State spies on CWI Sweden

The Swedish section of the CWI, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, came into focus immidiately when the Commissions’ report was made public 17 December 2002. The same day, the RS’ chairman Per-Åke Westerlund, was interviewed on national radio news.

The Commission report gives only glimses of the surveillance against our organisation. For example, everyone participating in our summer camp in 1993 was photographed by the secret police, SÄPO, for identification. That meant around 100 people, including CWI comrades from Russia, Germany, Poland and Norway. Before the camp, SÄPO spied on our center to find out where the camp would take place.

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna, or Offensiv as we were known up to 1997, was under surveillance from the start as a Marxist opposition inside social democracy in the 70s. The head of SÄPO in Umeå claimed that Offensiv was founded by people from a sectarian Trotskyist organisation, and later that the Russian KGB was in charge – reports which even the SÄPO officers in Stockholm understood to be fantasy.

The more intense coverage of our organisation started in 1989. That is no coincidence – it was the year when young Offensiv members led school student strikes which forced the government to retreat on school cuts. In following years, large anti-racist demonstrations, where we played a key role, also prompted SÄPO reports on us (of which the Commission only gives us the headlines). The same was done when we organised "Network for Justice" involving more than one hundred local unions, unemployed organisations, school student groups etc, for a demonstration outside the Social Democratic Party congress in 1996.

Politicial basis

In the Commissions’ summary they portray Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna and Elevkampanjen as follows: "These organisations were estimated in 1998 to have a strong leadership who were not alien to the use of extra-parliamentary methods."

This confirms the political basis for the registration. We were not watched because of any criminal acts or even for our socialist programme in itself, but rather when the established politicians felt threatened by movements we were able to organise. The link between our socialist ideas and workers and youth moving into struggle has somethimes been seen as a bigger challenge than even we ourselves understood.

The material of the Commission shows that SÄPO closely followed Rättviselistan (the Justice List) – a joint initiative including us, Socialistiska Partiet (a small left party) and some trade union Social Democrats in the EU election 1995.

The Commission gives us only the headlines of other possible master piece reports written by the SÄPO agents: "Suveillance of Offensivs’ meeting in Saltskog Södertälje" 1990 was probably caused by the fact that we were selling hundreds of papers to striking Scania workers at that time.


That such reports have not stopped is shown by headlines from recent years: "Demonstration outside Haninge council meeting 23 November 1998" refers to a demonstration against two fascist councillors. There are also reports on our campaigns to stop a porno-club in a suburb of Umeå, to stop a school closure in Gothenburg, to force the closure of a nazi-shop also in Gothenburg, and protests outside the Austrian consulate in Luleå following Haider’s election victory in 2000. Finally, two reports are from our public meetings in Umeå on the events in Gothenburg 2001.

In other words: a big part of what we have been watched for is what we are most proud of. It is high profile public activities, where we have connected day-to-day issues to our socialist programme. Säpo has never been able to find anything which could be used against us in a criminal charge. On the contrary, the Commission quotes SÄPO concluding that Offensiv was against the use of violence in the anti-fascist march in 1992.

The fact that we have nothing to hide does not mean that secret police spies and agents are OK. The state registers have not been established for nothing. The police brutality and the custodial sentences meted out in and after Gothenburg 2001 shows the face of the state when they really feel challenged. The best reply we can give is to build our party and international, and develop the struggles of the working class and young people.

Marxist view of the state

The Commission confirms Marxists’ view of the state. Todays state apparatus has as its first task to protect the ruling class. Also the ruling politicians are in the final analysis represent the economic power of big business and the capitalist class. In calmer periods, the state appears to be a mediator between the interests of the struggling classes, but in periods of struggle repression is increased.

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna stands for:

  • Open the archives – all documents should be public.
  • Abolish the secret police.
  • All budgets and decisions of the police authorities should be public.
  • Democratic local control of the police.
  • Trade unions and all workers’ organisations must be independent of the state.
  • For a democratic and socialist society – abolish the capitalist system and its repressive state apparatus.

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January 2003