Norway: The conservative government is gone - Now we need socialist policies

In the recent elections in Norway the Norwegian working class did not vote for this or that party, or this or that electoral alliance. It voted against unemployment, against cutbacks and against privatisation of public welfare. The amazing thing is that although Norway is a debt-free country we have the same policies of cuts in welfare and attacks on working conditions as everywhere else in the world.

On September 12th, the elections in Norway revealed a process of polarisation of Norwegian society, both to the left and the right. However, the main shift was to the left. The people expressed in no unclear terms their opinion on the four years of rightwing rule under Kjell Magne Bondevik.

The largest government parties, the Conservatives (H) and the Christian People's Party (KrF), have seen their vote drastically reduced, losing 7.1 and 5.6 per cent of their votes respectively. Several Conservative mayors have now demanded the head of Erna Solberg (the Conservative leader). The ruling class was not taken by surprise. They were relatively certain of losing this election after such a brutal “slash-and-burn” government.

Now the traditional bourgeois parties have been sidelined with no chance of forming a government in the future unless they involve the now much bigger Progress Party (FrP). In other words, the first line of defence of the bourgeoisie has been pushed to one side and now what is left is the second line, that is, the populist far right FrP. The main reason for the enormous FrP vote was also that the so-called red-green alternative did not define itself clearly enough as an alternative to the policy of brutal privatisations and cuts.

The Labour Party (AP) is now in the process of forming a government together with the Centre Party (Sp) and the Socialist Left Party (SV), whose vote was considerably reduced. The AP has a very powerful position compared to the SV. This is not by chance. We have to look the truth in the eyes: the SV vote plummeted because the party has repeatedly made compromises to get into the government. The very reason the SV was formed was the widespread opposition to NATO. Now this principle has been thrown overboard and the SV has become a party of government in a NATO country!

During the election campaign, SV leader Kristin Halvorsen personally guaranteed that certain parts of the SV programme would be carried out if the party were elected. She also said that she would leave politics if not enough nursery places are created by the end of the new legislature. This is an expression of the enormous pressure from the rank and file of the party. But her statements set the alarm bells ringing among those sections of the bourgeoisie that traditionally were close to the AP. This pressure in turn forced the Labour leader Jens Stoltenberg to personally guarantee that these parts of the SV programme will not be carried out! This is unprecedented.

When a party of the Left approaches government, the pressure from the bourgeoisie is increased a thousandfold. It is necessary to understand this to see how the new government will behave. SV leader, Kristin Halvorsen was not at all ready for this situation. Instead of standing for her demands, she has been kicked around like a football between the reactionary bourgeoisie on one side and the working class on the other. The pressure of the working class has been first and foremost reflected through the party's own rank and file. And with every kick, another part of this support has vanished.

Although now it has been severely weakened, the coalition that brought the Bondevik government to office did largely manage to do what it came into government to do, to cut as much as possible of the Norwegian welfare state.

This is why the AP was so successful. Together with its prospective government partners, the SV and the SP, it has been elected by the workers of Norway to undo all these cuts. That is why a new left government, if it does not want to be a complete failure, must use its period in office first of all abolish all the cuts carried out by Bondevik. But that would also not be sufficient. It would also have to move on to the offensive and carry through wide-ranging reforms that would guarantee better living and working conditions for the masses.

Norway is in fact one of the world's few debt-free countries. We have a national surplus of more than 250 crowns per head. The press repeats over and over again that Norway is the world's best country to live in! And yet this clashes with the reality of what is actually happening, for at the same time, every government that has come to power over a long period has carried out a brutal policy of privatisations and cuts. The workers are demanding that this must now be stopped!

The leader of the Norwegian trade union federation (LO), Gerd-Liv Valla, has already demanded that the latest employment law must be abolished. But the government cannot simply limit itself to this. Power generation must be renationalised. The railways must become as they were before, with the difference that they should get enough public funding to function properly. A lot of things need to be done to meet the demands of the workers.

Today the pressures from all layers of society are greater than during the whole of the post-war period. The capitalists and workers in effect are like to people in a standoff, holding a knife to each other’s throats. This is reflected in the behaviour of the leadership of the labour movement, which is desperately trying to straddle the line that divides the interests of the two classes, but inevitably they have to come down on one side.

Why was the last Stoltenberg government such a disappointment?

It was not by chance that the last Stoltenberg government (before Bondevik came to power) was a left government without left policies. From the beginning it faced enormous pressure from capital. 2005 is not 1945. Today capitalism cannot afford to keep any of the workers' welfare gains, and thus Stoltenberg in a single year privatised more than Bondevik did during the following four years! This was inevitable since Stoltenberg had no alternative to capitalism, (which in addition also guarantees him a comfortable life personally). The economic laws of the capitalist system overrule anyone who enters government to "rule" over it.

The right-wing politicians do not carry out their policies out of ideological blindness. Obviously, their personal background and training make it impossible for them to carry out a different policy. But behind ideology we must look at the material reasons for what they do. It is not accidental that the parties who receive money from big capital are also in favour of privatisations and cuts, any more than it is not accidental that the parties who are financed by the labour movement are supposed to be (at least in theory) in favour of reforms and reversing the cutbacks. And it is also not accidental that reformist parties once in government are pushed further and further to the right.

To understand the real reasons behind privatisations and cuts we have to look at the role of the investor in capitalist society. The aim of the investor is to become filthy rich and try to get even richer. He or she does so by investing money where it can return a profit. Their problem nowadays ‑ and this has been the case now for several decades ‑ is that they can’t easily find a good field of investment. They want to make as much profit as possible with the least investment possible. This is why they seek to invest in the public sector – where they can make great gains with the minimum investment. They buy cheaply from the state what has been built up with huge public funding. And if these people can afford limousines, yachts and private jets, they can also afford to buy politicians and journalists and professors to defend their interests in parliament and in writing. Thus, any reforms that would improve the conditions of the working class ‑ the majority of society ‑ immediately come into conflict with the interests of this clique of finance capitalists that hides behind a hundred screens, but in the last analysis are the real rulers of society. All of contemporary politics can be summed up in a simple sentence: The more for the boss, the less for the worker, and vice versa.

The Norwegian working class did not vote for this or that party, or this or that electoral alliance. It voted against unemployment, against cutbacks and against privatisation of public welfare. Unless the government carries through these demands, the working class will start to lose interest and the government will eventually fall flat on its face. On this basis the FrP could be further strengthened by 2009. Therefore, the only guarantee that the present support for the left parties is not wasted and that the Norwegian working class is not disappointed, is for the new government to carry out a clear left-wing policy based on a counter-offensive that takes back everything that the bourgeoisie has taken from the working class over the last few years.

The Norwegian working class must learn from the Venezuelan

Venezuela may be a long way away from Norway, geographically, in its traditions and in the amount of resources at its disposal. Nonetheless, the Venezuelan experience can offer important lessons. It is the only country in the world that has actually carried out welfare reforms in the last period. It is the only country where nationalisations have been carried out instead of privatisations ‑ and where the nationalised companies have even been put under workers' control. And yet Venezuela has a sizeable foreign debt, but Norway is debt-free.

There is an apparent contradiction here, and yet there is none. For Venezuela is also the country with the highest level of class struggle. The comparison between Norway and Venezuela shows that it is not just a question of the availability of resources. For if this were the case then Norway should be moving ahead with a series of progressive reforms in favour of the working class. Instead it is going the other way. Even the smallest of reforms has to be fought for. The capitalists give nothing unless they are forced to, and in Venezuela it is the pressure of the mass movement that is forcing through the reforms. If it were for the capitalists of Venezuela, not only would there be no reforms, there would be a bloody dictatorship in power.

Every attempt at reform in Venezuela has been violently opposed with all the resources of the ruling class. They used their control of the general staff to carry out a military coup against Chavez' reform-friendly government in April 2002. They used their control over the economy to sabotage production in the lockout of winter 2002-03.

These attacks were countered and defeated by the organised force of the working class. It was the working class that defeated the military coup and reinstated President Chavez. It was the working class that restarted production in the factories that had been closed down and kept the economy from collapsing.

The Bolivarian movement proves that the only way to achieve progressive reforms in our time is through a generalised struggle against the very foundations of capitalism, supported by mobilisation of the working class and poor.

In the last analysis it is impossible to guarantee the workers' living standards under capitalism. The ruling class is like a shark that constantly circles round the working class with murderous intent. It can never be satisfied with taking mere morsels out of the workers' wealth since its hunger for profit is limitless. In the end there is only one way to guarantee that the welfare gains do not disappear, and that is to abolish the market forces by replacing capitalism itself with a democratic planned economy ‑ a socialist democracy. The labour movement has not only the interest but the ability to do this.

Not an oil platform functions, not a lift moves and not a bus engine starts without the kind permission of the working class. If the AP and SV were to mobilise the working class and pose the task of nationalisation of the commanding heights of the Norwegian economy under workers' control, we would be able to get rid of this system which is trying to take from us everything that makes life liveable. Without breaking with capitalism the welfare reforms cannot be defended. That is the lesson we must learn. Breaking with capitalism has nothing to do with creating Stalinist regimes like those in the former Eastern Europe or China. These states called themselves socialist but in reality they were nothing of the kind. They were planned economies with the dictatorship of a bureaucracy, whereas socialism is a planned economy with workers’ democracy. If such a system were introduced on a world scale, it would be possible to abolish war, hunger, poverty, unemployment, pollution, and to create harmony between the peoples. That is genuine socialism ‑ not the seeking of parliamentary and government posts for one’s personal gain and to run an exploiting, inhuman system.

In order for socialism to be achievable, the whole working class must be united for it. First and foremost this means the members of the SV, SU, AP and AUF, as well as the rank and file of the LO ‑ the working class vanguard.

Unfortunately the leadership of all these organizations has in reality accepted capitalism. Without the support of the leadership of the labour movement, the banks and monopolies could not maintain their rule for a single week. The objective power of the working class is immense. The whole labour movement must be united around a socialist programme with the aim of abolishing capitalism.

As the workers are radicalised with the intensification of the crisis of capitalism, they will draw more and more radical conclusions. Then the AUF and the AP will be pushed towards socialist policies, as they are parties that are rooted in the working class, but the SP is not. Therefore it is incapable of moving in this way. Its electoral base is among the farmers and a part of the petty bourgeoisie. It is in reality a party created to serve the interests of capital. It would be a dangerous illusion to think that this party could carry out a socialist policy. On the contrary, the party will be used as the main excuse by Stoltenberg for not carrying out a left wing policy. He will say, “you see we cannot carry out the radical policies you are demanding otherwise we would lose the support of the SP and the government would fall.” It will inevitably become an albatross around the neck of the working class, as all other similar parties have done in the past.

Therefore, the SV and AP should not enter a coalition with the SP. The two left parties, the SV and AP, should not fall into the trap of entering a coalition with such a party. If they do so, sooner or later they will pay the price for this. They should form a united front armed with a socialist programme. If they do this then the workers of Norway will finally get what they are seeking, a government that defends their real interests.