Less than two months after assuming office, the Swedish government consisting of Social Democrats and the Greens has announced that they will call new elections. This marks a turning point in Swedish politics. The political instability in the rest of the world – a result of the crisis of capitalism – is now raising its head also in Sweden. This is the beginning of a deep crisis for bourgeois democracy and the capitalist system.
The capitalist crisis and splits at the top
On December 3 the state budget for 2015 was put for vote in parliament. The Sweden Democrats (SD), the right-wing racist and populist nationalist party, did not vote for their own proposal, but instead voted for the budget put forward by the traditional right-wing parties. The SD stated that they would not support any government or budget that “continued the current immigration policies”, which they feel is too lenient. They base themselves on racist propaganda – fuelled by distortions and lies – in order to divide workers and distract people from class struggle.
Prime minister Stefan Löfven, who had only assumed office less than two months earlier, under these circumstances, took the decision to call for new elections. The right-wing is accusing the Social Democrats for not wanting to “take responsibility” and cooperate. In other words, the Social Democratic Prime Minister Löfven had not been prepared to push a budget that is far enough to the right for them to support it. The Social Democrats, joined by the Greens and the Left Party, have in turn accused the right-wing of not wanting to “take responsibility” by refusing to cooperate, and that they thereby have given the SD this opportunity to stop the budget and thereby provoke a new election.
This split at the top reflects the fact that the capitalist class and their representatives can't find a solution to the crisis. Or, to be more precise, the only solution at hand would completely upset the social equilibrium, forcing the working class into action. This leads to sharp conflicts over the way forward. Just like the ruling class in other countries, the Swedish bourgeoisie, due to the increasingly limited world market, have a need of putting harder pressure on the working class. It needs a government that represents its narrow interests, without granting even the smallest concession to the working class.
The Social Democrats and the Greens could not form such a government. It is true that their budget did not contain many reforms and largely maintained the counter-reforms introduced by the previous right-wing government. But it was still not enough in the eyes of the bourgeoisie. The economy is still growing – if only barely – but the threat of deflation and the subsequent lowering of the interest rates to zero per cent, shows that their economic outlook is extremely pessimistic.
Löfven is obviously not personally reluctant to pass right-wing policies, but he feels something of the pressure and expectations from the rank-and file and voters of the party – that is, from the working class. This is the only explanation for the meagre reforms he did try to push. The bourgeoisie is dissatisfied and has responded with a sharp pressure from the right to put an end to every policy that has even the pretence of being slightly left-wing.
If the Social Democrats and the Greens had been able to form a stable majority government, with no concessions to the Left Party, the bourgeoisie would have had to accept it. But the Löfven government was weak and the minor concessions to the workers, even if they were very minor, made it impossible for the right-wing parties to support the budget, something that Löfven had hoped for.
A crisis of bourgeois democracy
It looks like the new election will be held on March 22. But despite what the political parties and the ruling class are hoping for, a new election will not change anything fundamental. It is not even clear that a stable majority can be formed after this coming election. Therefore technical measures are now being discussed to guarantee that a government will be able to rule without the support of the majority in parliament. Such anti-democratic measures have been implemented elsewhere in Europe and it is a scandal that the Left Party has not sharply condemned this is a scandal. At the same time that the Left Party are moaning about the "crisis of democracy", they are de facto giving passive support to restricting it.
Democracy under capitalism, to be sure, is primarily a method of deceiving the mass of the population. In reality, the policies are dictated by the needs of the banks and monopolies. Nevertheless we have an obligation to defend the democratic rights that workers have conquered over generations. But the leaders of the workers' parties are now doing the opposite. They complain about the crisis of democracy at the same time as they are supporting the attack on even the limited bourgeois democracy. What they mean when they say that they are worried about “democracy” is that they are worried about the stability of the capitalist system.
Most Swedish workers have certainly had and still have illusions in capitalism and its so-called “democracy”. But there is a growing anger and resentment against politicians who are completely disconnected from the lives of ordinary people and only care about their own well-paid jobs. That the masses are losing the confidence in the establishment, i.e. the bourgeois democracy and its representatives, is a necessary step in the struggle for socialism. For a revolution to be possible the working class have to be stripped of their illusions in the capitalist system, including parliamentarism.
That the Social Democrats, the trade unions and the Left Party are now decrying the loss of confidence in the politicians shows their lack of understanding for the situation of the masses. What might ask who is responsible for this lack of confidence? The working class is increasingly worse off, while there are scandals about high state officials and departments that are holding expensive parties for taxpayers' money. Ordinary people are disgusted with the political intrigues and games of the parliamentary parties. There’s a growing feeling that they’re all the same, right or left.
Increasing disgust of politicians is not turned into a growing support for the left wing and the labour movement because they are not posing a clear alternative. They're seen as a part of the rotten political establishment. And the more they complain about the right-wing acting “irresponsibly”, and the more they express their regret over the crisis of bourgeois democracy, whilst shifting more and more to the right, the more they'll be seen as part of it and continue to lose support.
During the entire election campaign and after, the Social Democrats has been seeking an alliance with one or other of the right-wing parties. The Left Party has only occasionally tried to stay independent of the Social Democrats and the Greens, but more often than not this has been the result of the fact that the latter have closed the door to them. Very early on Löfven flat out rejected their pleas to form part of the government. However, when it was clear that the government had no other alternative but to lean on the Left Party, the Left Party leadership still backed the government without winning any significant concessions.
If the Left Party had stuck to giving critical support to the occasional progressive reform, while at the same time maintaining their clear opposition to the government and its policies as a whole, it could have stood out as an alternative. Instead they have given a provided a left cover for the budget proposals, attempting to present the budget as a break with the previous right-wing government’s policies.
Despite the Left Party leader Jonas Sjöstedt’s claims that the party would not be simply a supporting party to the government, the party more and more presented itself as precisely an active and supporting partner of the government. It attempted to prove its willingness to continue the right-wing policies of the previous years. That is precisely why anti-establishment feeling is now being expressed through an increased support for the Sweden Democrats, who now looks like the only party in parliament that is not part of the establishment.
Is the Sweden Democrats "neo-fascist"?
The Social Democrats previously had the position that on the one hand one has to keep the distance to the Sweden Democrats as a party. A the same time they argued that SD voters voters are not responsible for the policies of the party and that the people who vote for them are not necessarily racist but disgruntled and worried about their future. That is correct, as far as it goes. The problem with that position was only that they did not offer any alternative, and at the same time tried to collaborate with the right-wing parties to “isolate” the Sweden Democrats – in other words continue with precisely the policy of class collaboration that allowed the SD to grow.
Now they seem to have abandoned this in favour of attacking the SD more sharply. Just a few days after announcing that the new election, Löfven suddenly began labelling the SD as a “neo-fascist” party. A heated debate has opened up in the media between the right wing, who are protecting the Sweden Democrats, and left-wingers who have applauded the Social Democrats, citing various academics as “proof” that the Sweden Democrats are indeed fascist.
The Sweden Democrats do have a background in Nazi organizations and that has without a doubt left a legacy. Some of their ideas are remnants of their Nazi past and individual members continue to perceive themselves as Nazis or fascists. But parties can change. The Sweden Democrats have made a big effort to expel and distance themselves from their Nazi past, and become a conservative, racist right-wing party that is acceptable to the bourgeoisie.
Fascism in general cannot be defined by ideological criteria, since the ideology of fascism is dependent on circumstance. But fascist parties have a different role to normal bourgeois parties, which is to use violence to threaten, frighten, and, at certain historical moments, crush the labour movement and the drown working class struggle in blood. They are used by the ruling class as an auxiliary to the regular police and military against the working class.
However, every time someone in the left attempts to justify labelling the Sweden Democrats fascist by their use of violence, they either have to refer to individual members (many of them expelled precisely for this reason), to threats or to the connection between the party and fascist sects like the Party of the Swedes (SvP) or the Swedish Resistance Movement (SMR). This is insufficient. The key question is that the Sweden Democrats are not involved in a systematic attempt to scare and intimidate left-wing activists with physical force, like SMR or SvP.
The author Henrik Arnstad recently argued that “the Sweden Democrats has outsourced the violence to sub-contractors”. But if the SD indeed leaves physical force to other groups, that is precisely because the SD itself is no longer a fascist organization. That is not their function. Their function is to attempt to divide the working class on racial lines. Both racism and fascism are a result of and a natural part of capitalism, and they are weapons in the arsenal of the ruling class, but they're not the same thing.
For a revolutionary anti-racism
It is not for tactical reasons we don’t want to label the Sweden Democrats as "fascist". It is because we need a correct understanding of the period we are going through, and the real class balance of forces in society. If we were to accept the SD as fascist, it would mean that we have mass support for fascism in Sweden. But this is quite obviously not the case. The real fascist organizations are but mere sects and it is only by watering down their programme and abandoning physical force that the Sweden Democrats managed to win support. Without understanding this, one will get a very skewed perception of reality.
If the Left Party and parts of the left only made the mistake of calling the Sweden Democrats fascist, it would not be a decisive mistake. But their current behaviour, where they rally behind the Social Democratic right-wing policiesand at the same time plead for “anti-racism” from the right-wing, mean that they do not pose a clear alternative for those voters that have had enough of the political establishment.
The problem is the crisis of capitalism and the lack of any alternative from the workers’ parties, who are increasingly looking to the right-wing for parliamentary partners. Therefore it is the leaders of the workers' parties who are responsible for the situation we are in.
The Left Party is currently could play a role in preventing a section of the working class from voting for the Sweden Democrats. They obviously have to maintain their anti-racism, but they also have to widen it from not just sharply condemning the SD in words. They have to have a more active participation in the protest movements against racism, rallies against SD, protests against racist witch-hunt of immigrants (the "REVA" project), and so on. It is insufficient to leave it to individual members of the Left Party and the Young Left to participate on their own initiative.
At the same time, the focus has to be shifted away from the false discussion about “immigrants” and “Swedes” towards a discussion about class. No matter what background, working people have common interests precisely because we are part of the working class. The SD is a right-wing party just like the rest of them, and the Left Party has to expose their anti-working class and anti-union policies. That can only be achieved by breaking off cooperation with the Social Democrats and the Greens and by adopting an independent and revolutionary socialist policy.
According to current polls it looks like the right-wing will be able to be in a position to form a government, but then only if they are willing to lean on the support of the SD. During the last period they governed in minority and were mostly able to lean on them passively. But if they come to power now, that would mean they would have to do that more openly. Around the country, the conservative party Moderaterna has already made some deals with SD in local authorities and in the regions. There are now demands being put on the leadership of the party to take steps in the same direction and start "discussing immigration", that is that they should move closer to the more extreme racism of the SD.
If the SD is openly supporting a right-wing government they will no longer be able to present themselves as "against the establishment", or as a centre party that wants to protect the welfare state. They'll expose themselves as a bourgeois party. The fact that the SD voted in favour of the budget proposal put forward by the right wing – even if only to bring down the government – is a step in this direction. To expose themselves as a right-wing party will be punished just as it have for the Norwegian Fremskrittspartiet, who is now part of a right-wing government that is carrying out cuts and attacks against the working class. They got 16 per cent in the elections last year but have now been reduced to 10 per cent in polls.
Social Democrats and Left Party members con complain all they want about the lack of a consistent anti-racism from the right-wing. It does not make any difference. To be a right-wing party excludes anti-racism precisely because they defend capitalism – the system that is the root cause of racism. The right-wing has carried out clearly racist policies during the last eight years, for example through REVA, where the police was set on a wild chase after illegal immigrants which included indiscriminate harassment of people of colour as well as racial profiling. They now have to move even closer to the SD to be able to govern – even if they have to put on a charade that this is done unwillingly – and it does not matter what the labour movement might think about it.
That the government called for a new election was the only correct way. To continue to govern and administer the right-wing budget or form a new government had just meant more right-wing policies – carried out by the Social Democrats. But an election in defence of the current policies, in defence of the budget proposal that failed to pass, with the same policies, will only lead to a repetition of the same situation. Or they lose power to the right-wing and voters to the SD. Some in the Left Party now say that we are “in a very ideological election”, with clear differences between right and left. The Left Party paper Flamman writes:
"Now we instead will have a very ideological election. On the one side there is a reasonably progressive budget by the Social Democrats and the Greens, with the support from the Left Party. Tax reductions for the elderly, more jobs in the welfare sector, an unemployment benefit raise, a stop for the limit of how long one can get sick-pay, and grants to single parents have already been negotiated and presented. On the other side are five right-wing parties who offer more of the policies we've already seen for eight years."
Some in the Left Party are talking about the need to be a "clear left-wing alternative". But to have an election campaign in defence of the so called reasonably progressive budget excludes just that. As we've written before, this budget was no left-wing budget, but only a right-wing budget with a few concessions to the left. If the election campaign of the Left Party is fought on the basis of defending that budget, it will only mean a defence of the Social Democrats and the Greens and tying oneself to their right-wing policies.
The Left Party instead has to distance themselves from the government and their budget, and raise a consistently socialist programme. They have to reach out to all the radicalized youth and workers, by talking about their lives and explain that only a struggle for socialism can save us from the constant attack against our living conditions.
The Left Party has to talk about more than just profits in the welfare sector, which was the main slogan in the previous election. They have to talk about the profit motive in all companies and in capitalism as a whole, about the corruption and bureaucracy within the state. The have to talk about the real situation for the working class: about the casualization of jobs and the companies profiting from it, about the stress that tears on our backs and about the deadly work place accidents. They have to talk about class society and its oppressions. They have to show themselves to be part of the struggle against all these horrors. They have to become a really socialist party.
[Note: Since this article was written, the scope of the election campaign was indeed widened, but unfortunately again limited only to this or that reform within the confines of capitalism, without bringing up the need for socialism or even a fundamental change in society.]
Crisis and revolution
The events during the last year – the fascist attacks and the mass demonstrations that followed, the struggle against the SD and racism, the strike among the railway workers of Veolia – all this means the opening up of a new phase in Sweden. This process is still in its infancy, but without a doubt big events are being prepared. The more the situation develops, the more the polarisation is increasing, both to the right and to the left.
We are at a turning point. Swedish capitalism is beginning to show the symptoms of the same sickness seen in other parts of Europe. The country that was once the hallmark of Social Democracy internationally is now shown to not be able to have a Social Democratic government for more than a few months. Does that mean we are witnessing a turn to the right? Not in the slightest. The right-wing is still weak. Exit polls in the latest elections shows that 43 percent considered themselves to be left, against 36 percent who considered themselves to be to the right. The last time we saw this high figures for the left was in 2002, during a period of radicalization, and in 1994, after the disappointment with the attacks of the right-wing during the crisis in the 1990s.
This, however, does not show the real balance of forces. Many who have been recently radicalized would not necessarily call themselves "left-wing". For those who only look to the surface of things and to the situation in parliament, it might look like the radicalization – apparent for a while – has died off and been replaced by a new shift to the right. But that is only because there is no party in parliament that can channel the radicalization. That is why the growing social polarization is only visible to the right of the political spectrum at this moment in time.
If a right-wing government gets into power with the support of the Sweden Democrats, it would be the most hated government Sweden has had in decades. It will provoke a new wave of class struggle. But as we have seen in other countries, it will lead nowhere unless it has leadership. Where, in Sweden, can we find this leadership? It should be the task of the Left Party. Instead of chasing after petty concessions through means of behind the scenes intrigues and deals in parliament, the party has to become the voice of the workers and youth in parliament, on the streets, in schools and in workplaces.
But the party has immense political problems that stand in the way of making that shift. The leadership of the Left Party has massive illusions in the possibility of bringing back to the period of the welfare state – a capitalism with a human face. The party has to break with this utopian idea of a “better” kind of capitalism and face the reality for what it is. This system has nothing left to offer.
More than anything the crisis in Sweden shows that Sweden is no international exception. If anything, in recent years, it's been worse in Sweden than in many other countries. The school system, to quote just one example, is one of the most privatized and deregulated in western Europe. The crisis of capitalism will hit Sweden hard, just like all other countries, since around 50 per cent of annual GDP is derived from exports. Sweden was reported last year to be the country in the OECD where income inequality has risen the fastest, which highlights the brutal shift away from the previous policies of the welfare state and “the Swedish model”. There is no middle way between capitalism and socialism, and the present situation in Sweden gives ample proof of precisely that.
A real welfare can only be built on the basis of abolishing capitalism. We are now experiencing the most serious crisis of the capitalist system on a global scale ever. Revolutions and mass protests have erupted in one country after another. The leaders of the Social Democrats at the same time cling to capitalism more than ever. The Left Party must not do the same. What we are witnessing is a developing crisis of Swedish capitalism and it is possible to feel the first tremors of the coming revolution.
During this process the Swedish Marxists of the IMT in Sweden is intervening and patiently building our forces. The ideas of revolutionary Marxism – so desperately needed – once linked up with the most advanced layer of the workers and youth, will play a decisive role in the many decisive struggles that are still in front of us.