It would hardly be an exaggeration to say that the perspective that has dominated the Swedish media reports about the terror attacks on the 11th of September and the ensuing war in Afghanistan has been that of the US ruling class. However, we would be justified in asking the question: how many people really agreed with the Swedish social democratic Prime Minister Goran Persson, when on the 12th of September he said that "today we are all Americans"?
Letters to the papers show that the shock of the attack and sympathy for the victims and their friends and relatives has not blinded many people. Already on 13th September Dagens Nyheter, Sweden's main daily paper, published letters that reflect views that have now become common.
"I really hope that the USA will not seek revenge. I think enough innocent people have already died," wrote a Swedish student living in the USA. Several letters ask the question whether American lives are worth more than others. "Why are there only small notices in the papers and why does nobody care when hundreds of thousands of people die in Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq and many Asian and Latin American countries?" Many point to oppression, poverty and the lack of political alternatives as the breeding ground of fanaticism and even terrorism. "Why is the USA, with all its skeletons in its closet, seen as the ultimate defender of human rights?" another person writes.
It has been no surprise that the bourgeois parties have given complete support to the USA. However, the fact that Goran Persson right from the start has chosen the same line, has given rise to strong feelings, especially in the labour movement. Even at the top of the movement an open split has developed.
Ingvar Carlsson, the social democratic ex-Prime Minister, together with Carl Tham, previously Minister for Education and now head of the Olof Palme International Centre, wrote an article in Dagens Nyheter on 22nd September. There they presented an analysis and a political position that clearly differs from those of the Government. Apart from condemning the attack, they sharply criticize the present world order that is both politically and economically ruled by the USA.
Ingrid Segelstrom, MP and chair of the Social Democratic Women's Federation, has been very thard in her criticism of the USA. "At this moment it is Bush and NATO that rule the world and that makes me terribly frightened".
The media has been taken by surprise by the groundswell of opposition to the US military adventure, to the extent that they have completely failed to understand the opinion polls that they themselves have commissioned. On 27th October Dagens Nyheter screamed out from its front page "Swedes support the US attack". However, inside, the figures reveal that while 7 out of 10 thought that is was right for Goran Persson "to support the USA" in general, 6 out of 10 were against any US attack if any innocent civilians were put at risk. Only 3 out of 10 favoured such attacks. In addition 56% had little or no confidence in Bush and only 32% had confidence in him. The following day Dagens Nyheter published a small note apologising for its mistake.
Now the opposition to the US attacks has begun to be expressed in demonstrations. On Saturday 13th October, despite only 4-5 days notice, 4000 people demonstrated in Stockholm, 2500 in Gothenburg and 1000 in Malmo. The opposition to the war has developed at an incomparably faster rate than either during the war against Yugoslavia or even the war in Vietnam.
Undoubtedly, the question will be discussed at the congress of the Social Democratic Party on 5th to 11th November. Many of the leading social democratic critics will be delegates to the congress. The party programme will be discussed and it is clear that the government's line is a clear break with the Swedish labour movement's strong traditions of anti-militarism and international solidarity. Goran Persson will be forced to realize just how strong that tradition is.
Report from the anti-war demonstration in Stockholm
It is Saturday 13th October. The sun is shining and it is a real indian summer's day. Sodermalmstorg is slowly filled to the rim as I stand and watch people arriving to join this demonstration against the US attack on Afghanistan. Red flags are put up and leaflets are distributed. The clock strikes two and about four thousand people have gathered. It is like May Day! Slogans are chanted as loudly and proudly as at any time I can remember since the seventies; 'International solidarity - workers' unity', 'Bush murderer', 'Persson waves his tai'l, 'stop US imperialism' and many, many more.
The speeches are many and forceful. The fact that the Swedish government supports the war is heavily criticized. One of the speakers asks, if Swedish terrorists had flown into the World Trade Centre what would have happened? Would Persson have said that in that case it would have been fine to bomb Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmo, as long as they also caught the guilty ones?
The speeches are also about the importance of the working class in the struggle against terrorism and for peace. Peace never comes from above, nor do justice and solidarity. It is ordinary people who create peace, justice and solidarity.
The demonstration moves from Sodermalmstorg to Mynttorget. When we stand at Mynttorget I wonder whether this really is 2001 and not some time during the seventies. People are singing 'Give peace a chance' and they are even dancing. History seems to repeat itselfÉ The difference is that today's songs are not sung with an unlimited faith in the future, but maybe, maybe we will begin to do that again? We must believe that "the red flag shall lead to victory, long live socialism, long live freedom"