Sweden: Short history of Swedish Stalinism

"The Communist party’s aim is to be loyal to their master. We read Stalin, we study Stalin, we listen to Stalin and we are learning through Stalin. This is what communist’s confidence is in Stalin, all over the world. Stalin is the Soviet Union. Stalin is the party. Stalin is proletarian internationalism. Stalin is peace."

Third and final article in a series from Offensiv, the paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (cwi Sweden). socialistworld.net cwi online.

Short history of Swedish Stalinism

This macabre glorification was published in the Swedish ‘communist’ party journal, Vår Tid (Our Time), on the day the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin, became 70 years old – in 1949.

The Communist party of Sweden (SKP) had by then defended every line, twist and turn from Stalin for over 20 years – i.e.:

  • 1932: that German Social Democracy was a bigger threat than Hitler.
  • 1935: that Communist Parties everywhere should aim for Popular Fronts with bourgeois parties against fascism
  • 1936: that Communist leaders executed after the Moscow trials had been fascist agents for decades. The Soviet Union was described as a paradise.
  • 1939: that the pact with Hitler would guarantee Russia peace.
  • 1941-45: that every effort must be made to support Stalin’s alliance with the USA and Britain in World War II.

When the outcome of the war was liberation from fascism in Europe and an enormous victory for the Soviet Army, this strengthened Stalin’s power even more.

In the middle of the war, in 1943, Stalin unilaterally closed down the Communist International, but the formally independent "communist" parties still carried on with all the Stalinist rubbish and their eyes were constantly directed towards Moscow.

The features of Stalinism remained as long as the SKP existed, continued after the name change to VPK (Left Party – the Communists) and are partly still there today, when the "K" has been dropped from the name.

Stalinism has nationalistic trademarks. The SKP was always praising one country or another, from Russia to China to Cuba. Stalinism would strive for alliances with "progressive" bourgeois parties. The VPK leader, Lars Werner, wanted an alliance with the Swedish Centre party, with its base among farmers. Stalinism postponed the socialist solution and used the theory of stages. The SKP campaigned against nuclear weapons in the 1950s and did not raise socialism, because this stage was about "peace". Stalinism was built on dictatorship within their parties, with no right of opposition. In the Soviet Union, critics were executed, in Sweden expelled.

Today’s leaders of the Left Party in Sweden state that they are not copying any "foreign model", but follow their own "democratic" road. That position, however, is not new. In 1946, the SKP leader Sven Linderot assured parliament that the party stood for a "Swedish road", building on "Swedish democracy". The issue of nationalisation, he said, was not "at the top of the agenda".

Stalin’s death in 1953 meant no break with Stalinism as a system, but new leaders. In 1956, the new leader in the Soviet Union, Nikita Khruschev, criticised Stalin (though not the system). The delegates from the SKP and other parties, however, kept the speech secret for months until Moscow made it public. The SKP as usual had no comment, never mind criticism.

Up to the end of World War II, the SKP could still attract workers. The threat from fascism, the use of scabs from the capitalists, the cooperation between bosses and Social Democrats – all this created a space for the Communist Party. The fact that the criticism against Russia mostly came from right-wingers made it easier for the SKP. Only the leadership knew of the criticisms of Trotsky and the Trotskyist parties. (There was no such party in Sweden). The members were kept ignorant.

In the 1960s, however, the support given the Soviet Union had become a liability. Without any explanation of Stalinism, or their own mistakes, the party leadership stressed "democratic methods" and even hinted that not everything was perfect in Russia. But with the radicalisation of the 1970s and the emergence of new left-wing groups the process of "social democratisation" was slowing down. The Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were still labeled as "socialist".

Only with the collapse of Stalinism in 1989-90, the then VPK leadership raised the need to "deal with" the party’s history. From this, the Left Party was born, a party which still to this day has not been able to present any analysis of Stalinism.

Offensiv’s struggle against Stalinism

Here are just three examples from Offensiv, the paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (cwi Sweden) on the CP and Stalinism.

  • 1977: The break away of APK from VPK
    The split off from the CP in 1977 is today reported as proof that the "Moscow believers" left the party. This is what Offensiv wrote in 1977: "In reality, the split is unnecessary. Any clear differences between the groups do not exist." "When the VPK in Lund participated in a demonstration with for example the slogan ’Socialist Democray in the Eastern states’, that was condemned by both the splitters and the party leadership." "There is no communist party in Western Europe that can explain Stalinism’s terror – the purges, mass deportations of millions and executions, where almost the entire Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party were killed, apart from Stalin himself."
    "The analysis of Eastern Europe does not exist in these parties. The bureaucracies in the East are called ’socialist states were socialism is being built’. Why are they not asking what kind of socialism is being built where a bureaucratic clique is ruling the party and the state in the name of the working class? Not even the rights that exist in the bourgeois democracies are allowed in Eastern Europe. Rights to organise, strike, have meetings, demonstrations, voting etc. How can this be possible if socialism is a society on a higher level with more developed democratic rights and freedom than in a capitalist society?"
  • 1980-81: Revolt in Poland
    In August 1980 the Polish working class revolted against Stalinism. New workers’ organisations were challenging the ruling "communist" party. In December 1981, the new leader of the Communist Party, general Jaruzelski, organised a military coup which smashed the uprising of the workers.
    The analyses published in Offensiv, January 1982, contained a separate article, "VPK and Poland: Crisis of Stalinism". It analysed the articles over the last one and a half years in the VPK paper, Ny Dag (New Day): "First, the strikes which started in the summer of 1980 were not mentioned until after six weeks. And then with an official statement from the propaganda boss of the Politburo!"
    The Offensiv article quotes the VPK congress, which paid tribute to the "renewal" of the Polish Communist Party and commented: "Yes, the VPK leadership demanded ’reforms’ and ’renewal’ but not more than what the Polish party leadership did. And the latter was forced to do it by the pressure from the workers’ struggle."
    Just over two months before Jaruzelski’s coup, the international secretary of VPK asserted: "Fortunately, nothing points towards Jaruzelski seeing any military solutions to the Polish crisis". In contrast, Offensiv during the events underlined that the Polish workers could not share power with the Stalinist dictatorship. The workers had to overthrow the regime and take power themselves on order to implement their demands for democratic rights and improved conditions.
  • 1989: Communist Youth expel Trotskyists and praise China.
    In June 1989, five Offensiv supporters were expelled from the Youth League of the VPK.
    "We demand that the Communist Youth and VPK must break with all remnants of Stalinism", one of the expelled commented in Offensiv. One of the honoured guests at the KU congress that Spring was a representative of the Chinese Communist Party. He received standing ovations only weeks before the massacre of students and workers in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, ordered by the Chinese Communist Party. At the congress, reporters from Offensiv were banned, as opposed to bourgeois media like Dagens Nyheter.

A couple of weeks ago, China’s vice premier Wu Yi visited Sweden. Organisers for her trip were the Swedish government and several big companies. Did anyone hear a single right wing politician criticise this "communist"?

China is still run by the "communist" party. The ruthless dictatorship attacks every kind of workers’ protests. Real trade unions are illegal and their leaders are imprisoned.

So, why didn’t the Social Democratic Party secretary, Marita Ulvskog, protest against Wu Yi’s visit? Why has the Christian Democratic Party leader not demanded ’purges’ and public apologies? That’s what they both did in the campaign against the "communism" of the Left party.

Economic interests never lie. China is the biggest market of Ericsson, the largest company on the Swedish stock exchange. Volvo is investing billions in China. Steel and mining companies make record profits out of the demand from China. In this situation, the "principles" of the establishment politicians do not carry much weight. When Prime minister, Göran Persson, visited China a couple of years ago, he praised the "stability" of the country. Sweden is now prepared to support a French proposal to lift the EU embargo against China.

The visit of Wu Yi was kept quiet, on the verge of being a total secret. The only protesters were youth from Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (cwi Sweden) and Elevkampanjen, mobilized through information publicized on the web-site: chinaworker.org (new window).

In the debate over the history of the Left party, there are no limits to the hypocrisy of the right-wingers. The chair of the Liberal youth organisation has been in the forefront in the campaign. The same person, Fredrik Malm, was a leading defender of the US’ war in Iraq. The result of that war, so far, is 15,000-40,000 dead Iraqis, a country falling apart with widespread social and economic despair, alongside an increased threat of terrorism globally. Fredrik Malm has some of the blood on his hands, because of his support for the war action planned by Bush, the neo-conservatives and the oil companies. When will he apologise?

History is full of similar or worse examples of the crimes of capitalism, from colonialism to the Vietnam War. It is, however, not a question of "interesting debates", in order to find a common truth. It is about completely opposite class interests. The short-term interests of the big share-holders in Volvo are not the same as the interests of workers in China. These contradictions cannot be resolved in debates.

The struggle of the working class, for democratic rights and an end of the exploitation of capitalism, is the socialist struggle. Capitalism and Stalinism must be fought by real socialist workers’ parties, for a democratic and socialist society on a world basis.

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November 2004