Swedish elections dramatically bring home need for fight back against neo-liberalism and racism

On 9 September, the Social Democrats in Sweden had their worst election result for more than 100 years. The main right-wing party, the Moderates, did even worse. The racist Sweden Democrats increased their vote to 17.9 percent – their highest vote ever. The instability and “chaos” that the established parties and bourgeois establishment feared is now in full swing.

There was also a certain increase on the left, with the Left Party increasing from 5.7% to 7.9%. Among students, the Left Party got as much as 20 percent in one opinion poll.

The mistrust that exists against the established parties was more prominent than ever before. Never have so many changed their party allegiance – 41 percent. More than one in three voters decided which party they would vote for during the last week before the election.

What government Sweden will end up with is still unclear. The daily, Dagens Nyheter, three days after the election, published an article about ten possible government coalitions!

Sweden 2014-18

Between 2006 and 2014, Sweden had a right-wing government, with four parties in an alliance. In 2014, they were replaced by a government of the Social Democrats and the Greens, with the Left Party as a support party outside government. They have ruled during a period of stronger economic growth than most European countries. That growth, however, has been totally absent from the public welfare sector and has not been reflected in most workers’ wages.

Contrary to the common image of Sweden internationally, inequality has increased faster than in most countries. Sweden has more dollar billionaires per capita than any other country. Cuts in health care and councils have continued. In the last few years, big new cuts have been made in sick pay and assistance for the disabled.

On top of this, in 2015 the government of the country made a 180 degree turn on refugees. From offering permanent permits for everyone from Syria to the “minimum level” applied in the European Union – attempting to close borders, blocking family reunification and only offering 3 year maximum permits.

The official political debate in the parties and media has followed a pattern seen in many other European countries, linking migration to crime, social problems and high costs. Housing areas with many immigrants – mostly low-paid workers – have been scapegoated as problem areas, by the same parties that have made all the cuts in these areas.

Long-term attacks on the welfare state and migrants is behind the rising support for the Sweden Democrats. It is also the case with politicians in most parties – promoting “Swedishness” and heavily increasing resources for the military.

Crisis of the main parties

The Social Democrats had their worst elections since 1908 receiving just 28.3 percent of the vote. In comparison, the party never had below 37 percent in the 70 years from 1924 to 1994. Yet, the result was better than the 23-24 percent predicted in some opinion polls in June. The small increase since then was probably mostly due to a desire to stop the Sweden Democrats – a vote for a “lesser evil”. Last minute election promises, such as an extra week of maternal/paternal pay for parents during school holidays, did not have as big an effect as the Social Democrats’ leadership had hoped.

The elections on 9 September were for all levels of government on the same day – the national parliament, the regions and local councils. In the media, of course, the national elections completely dominated.

These elections showed that the crisis of the Social Democratic party had spread to the last remaining strongholds in the northern parts of the country. In the town of Sollefteå, where Social Democrats have closed down big parts of the hospital, the party collapsed from 47.8% to 13.8%. In that region, as well as Norrbotten in the far north, where it has ruled for 84 years, local Health Care parties became the biggest in the regional elections, without having played any part in the strong protests against cuts.

In Gothenburg, a former stronghold, the Social Democrats only got 20 percent, with a brand new right-wing populist party, the Democrats, gaining 17%.

The decline of the biggest traditional capitalist party, the Moderates, is even bigger. They were almost 11 percentage points lower than in 2010 and got 3.5 less than in 2014. For Stockholm council, the Moderates lost 6 percentage points. Among the other Alliance parties, the Centre Party increased its support on the basis of being the most outspoken against the Sweden Democrats and the Christian Democrats increased for the opposite position – being close to the Sweden Democrats.

The Green Party suffered a great deal for its period in government, betraying promises on both refugee and environment policies. They are now the smallest party of the parliament with 4.4 percent. In 62 councils and 8 regions, this party lost all its seats.

The Left Party

The Left Party gained from the beginning of a left-wing trend as a reaction to increased inequality, right-wing politics and racism. Just under 8 per cent in the parliamentary elections was their best result since 1998. Thirteen percent of voters in the age group 22-30 voted for the party and more than every tenth female voter. In council and regional elections, the Left Party increased even more than in the parliamentary elections. In the Stockholm and Västernorrland regions they became the third largest party.

After the elections, the Left Party leadership has voiced its wish again of becoming part of a red-green government. But the Social Democrats prefer to rule together with one or more of the Alliance parties.

If the Left Party wants to build on its increased electoral support, it is essential that the party really becomes an opposition party, breaking with the current leadership’s aspiration of being “responsible”. Instead it should be building a fighting and broad left-wing opposition that unites rank and file activists and socialists from different organisations and movements.

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden), of course, sympathises with the new and young followers of the Left Party, who, together with many older workers, hope that the Left Party can now become a system-critical and much more open party. The question is, how can a broader Swedish left-wing movement like that of Bernie Sanders in the United States, Corbyn’s Labour in Britain or Melenchon in France be possible?

The opportunity to build a mass movement for the necessary change of society would of course be accelerated if the Left Party opened its doors to the anti-capitalist and anti-racist red and green left who are looking for a political opening. A condition for RS to be able to participate in such an alliance with the Left Party would be that the party leadership would allow currents within it that link the day-to-day struggle to socialist demands for public ownership.

The Sweden Democrats

The racist Sweden Democrats continued to increase, from 5.7 percent in 2010 to 12.9 in the previous election and now 17.9 percent. According to a poll made by a public service on election day, SD was the largest party among men and second largest among LO (TUC) members. In the parliamentary elections, SD became the largest party in two regions in the south. In 12 counties, from Norrbotten to Blekinge, the party was the second largest in the parliamentary elections.

Perhaps there are some people who now comfort themselves with the fact that the Sweden Democrats did not become the biggest or second largest party, as it appeared it could do in the polls this summer. But it is a small comfort. As previously, their racism will not disappear or be toned down. The party leader Jimmie Åkesson’s statement in the party leadership debate on television, that those who are unemployed and come from another country “are not Swedes” and “do not fit in Sweden” were a deliberate attempt to step up racism in the last days before the elections.

Openly racist and sexist comments from SD representatives and voters have been more common in this election campaign than ever before, and even more frequent after the campaign. Like similar parties around Europe, SD presents itself as anti-party, in opposition to the other parties. These are blamed for “mass immigration”, which in turn is said to be the cause of the health care crisis, housing shortage and unemployment.

On TV and in the media, the SD party and Åkesson try to put on a bit of a façade. They also regularly deny that the SDs acclaim nazism. But in the social media they put out material with inferences attacking immigration and refugees, especially Muslims. The

SD has been able to influence both the other right-wing parties and the Social Democrats, who have thought that the recipe for stopping the SD is to take on part of the party’s politics and rhetoric. This election has re-confirmed that it does not work.

Normalisation of Sweden Democrats

There are more and more commentators on the right-wing who believe that the Moderates and Christian Democrats will soon start collaborating with the Sweden Democrats. It is a line strongly advocated by the daily pink business paper, Dagens Industri. Among a layer of Moderates and capitalists, there is confidence in the Sweden Democrats, especially since the party is now a strong supporter of private profit made from welfare.

In Finland, Norway and Denmark, traditional right-wing parties are in alliances with racist parties. In Norway and Finland respectively, the Progress Party and the True Finns are in the government. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party is a support party to the government.

Fight against racism

The Sweden Democrats are a right-wing party with similar policies to the Moderates. Studies also showed that Moderate voters increasingly like the SD. Its neo-liberal policies must be a starting point for the movement against racism that is needed.

There is a strong willingness, especially among young people, to fight against the Sweden Democrats – its racism, sexism and homophobia. New waves of struggle against racism and sexism are coming.

The best answer to racism is common struggle – in particular class struggle, where workers fight together against deterioration in social conditions, for higher wages and better conditions. Also, given the emergency housing situation – the lack of apartments, high rents and fraudulent ‘renovations’ – tenants need to come together in battle. The lack of struggle is the strongest factor behind the drop in a fighting consciousness and workers’ organisation in Sweden over the last period.

The trade union movement and the tenants’ movement need to move into battle, not just commenting. Mobilisations – large rallies and protests – have the greatest effect. They show the real power on the ground and increase the combativity of everyone who wants to fight racism.

What matters is real action against racists and Nazis. When the violent Nazi movement – NMR – was going to march in Gothenburg last year, the Sweden Democrats did not know what to do. They definitely did not want to stop the NMR. The fact that the march was stopped by 20,000 people on the streets was a big success in the fight against the SDs too.

What government?

A few days before the election, the Social Democratic party leader announced his willingness to “put party tactics to one side” after the elections, “taking responsibility for Sweden”. This was a flirt in particular with the Center Party and the Liberals, attempting to break the right-wing Alliance. After the elections, Social Democrats have continued to stress that more is uniting than not among the traditional parties. This line is also supported by the LO (TUC) leadership.

The fact that such a cross-border government would also launch new attacks on labour laws, which is high on the anti-union agenda of the proposed partners of the Liberals and Center, does not seem to concern the chairman of the LO.

On the election night, the Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt also stated that is open for cooperation with centre parties as a means of weakening the Sweden Democrats.

In one of many options, it is possible that the Moderates and the other Alliance parties’ initial attempts to form a new government, supported by a cooperation in the parliament with Social Democracy, may provide room for some left opposition in both Social democracy and the Green.. However, such a government would increase military spending, continue police upgrading and attacks on refugees, all motivated as attempts to limit the Sweden Democrat’s direct influence.

There are, however, many other possible governments. Neither of the two “blocs”, the “red-green” and the Alliance, have majority. Previously, the bigger bloc is supposed to form government since all of them promised not give any influence to the Sweden Democrats. It remains to be been which of the traditional parties that first change bloc or join with the Sweden Democrats.

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna

In Luleå, the regional capital in the north of Sweden, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS, Socialist Justice Party, CWI), managed to keep both its council seats. With a great risk of political chaos as well as worse right-wing policies, it becomes even more important for RS to continue the fight against cuts, racism and sexism in Luleå and in the rest of Sweden.

In the preliminary counting, RS in Luleå received 1,599 votes, 3.1 percent! The party managed to sell 1,757 election manifestos over six weeks. During the election campaign, we participated in protests against the Sweden Democrat leader, Jimmie Åkesson, against the racist Alternative for Sweden and against the Nazi sect, The Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) in Boden.

During the campaign, RS in Luleå also exposed Social Democratic plans for cuts in the council’s spending and organised a protest in elderly care together with elderly care workers, demanding no cuts and more staff. One member of the pensioners’ organisation PRO said that RS was the best party to be in contact with because our representatives have taken their questions seriously and have shown themselves to be genuinely interested in discussing.

In Haninge (South Stockholm), Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna also made a great election campaign. But unfortunately, we did not get enough votes to keep our two seats in the city council. In the preliminary vote counting, RS got 1,426 votes – more than 2014 (when the result was 1,345 votes). In our strongest areas, the party had over 10 percent.

The reason we lost the mandates, however, is the new 3% barrier that the big parties have decided on. We are close to keeping the councillors, but because of the strong population increase in Haninge (4,600 more voters this year), we reached just 2.8 percent. 70 more votes would have been enough.

“Many voters are upset by the undemocratic 3% barrier. We demand that the municipality abolishes the barrier and makes the municipality a single constituency, as in several other municipalities, such as Luleå and Gothenburg”, says Mattias Bernhardsson, councillor for RS from 2006 to 2018. “We have had the whole establishment against us. We were blocked from Haninge council’s two major electoral debates at the Fredrika Bremer High School while all other city council parties were allowed to participate, including the Sweden Democrats.”

The campaign reached many thousands of people. We sold our election manifesto to 2,431 people. We put up over 700 posters. Most of the days we were the only party that voters could meet in Haninge’s town centre.

“We will be equally, even more, active in the streets, squares and workplaces. That’s where change is born and struggles are won. The difference is that in the City Council there will be no consistent opposition to all cuts in welfare, against the deterioration of conditions for employees and against the destruction of Haninge’s environment”, says Mattias.

In Gothenburg, RS ran its third intensive campaign. The party votes have not yet been counted, but the results in sold manifestos (1,858) and recruited members of the party are the best ever in a Gothenburg election.

Socialism and struggle

During the six weeks of intense campaigning, it became apparent that the RS was in the streets and squares of electoral activities almost alone; other parties reduced their work on the streets and focused on television debates and advertising. Messages with little or no content were to been seen from almost all parties.

The RS election campaign has been about distributing flyers and selling election manifestos on the streets, posting posters and canvassing door-to-door. It was not an easy election campaign. The issues that dominated the national debates were how the next government is to be formed.

At the beginning of the year, politics in Sweden was dominated by the so-called hard questions related to police, the military and beefing up the state. Our three council election manifestos contained basically two things: RS’ record and our fighting socialist programme, including internationalism.

The main issues we met in the campaign – the housing crisis, income gaps and racism/anti-racism – were hardly mentioned in the media or party leader debates. These will now continue to be part of RS’ campaigns and initiatives for broader struggles. “Organise and struggle” and “Let the super-rich, banks and big companies pay!” were popular slogans of the party in the campaign.

The editorial of this week’s edition of the RS’ paper, Offensiv, concludes:

“In a world where the financial elite has been allowed to take an increasingly stronger command, the consequences are an unrestrained ecological crisis and seering class divisions that now seriously need to be challenged from underneath by movements where workers and welfare activists come together with rural residents, tenants and unions, schoolchildren and students, cultural workers and environmentalists for a completely different development in balance with nature.

If possible, we will work together with the Left Party and oppositionists in Social Democracy and the Greens, and if not, without them. This situation must lead activists based in a variety of social movements to form a new, red and green socialist alliance in the upcoming elections.”


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September 2018