The wind has turned in Sweden

In this article Martin Oscarsson, from the Editorial Board of the Swedish Marxist journal Socialisten, illustrates how the deepening worldwide crisis of capitalism is affecting Swedish society. A radical mood is developing among the youth in the Social Democratic Party (SSU) and the unions are being placed in a position where they will have to come out into open opposition to the party. The old "Swedish model" once fondly referred to by all the right-wing leaders of the labour movement internationally has definitely broken down. Sweden faces an intensification of the class struggle.

The year 2001 will be remembered as the year when there was a turn in the situation in Sweden. This not only due to the terrorist attack in the USA. It was the year when the international youth protest movement got a foothold in Sweden, a year when the economic boom came to an end, and the year when the mightiest power ever known was shaken by the largest and bloodiest terrorist act in history.

The weakest countries in the "third world" were the first to be hit by the economic crisis which lead to a popular revolt in Argentina. The crisis has now reached the centre of the world economy, the USA and Europe, while Japan, the economic giant in Asia, has been in a state of crisis for a long time.

69,000 workers in Sweden got a redundancy notice last year, more than double the level in the year 2000. Cuts were made mainly in manufacturing industries and in the IT sector.

Increased instability

As a result of the terrorist attacks, the USA overturned its previous policy in Afghanistan and decided to turn on its former allies, the Taliban. This changed the balance of forces. Afghanistan, which had already been ruined and destroyed in the previous wars, now faced even more ruin. The Taliban regime of terror was overthrown and replaced by the arms smuggling narco-lords of the "Northern Alliance"

At the same time the actions of the USA have lead to increased instability in Asia as a whole. Israel has finally revealed is real intentions and buried the peace process, which has increased the risk of a new Arab-Israeli war. The nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, are on the verge of a new war.

It is precisely in periods like this, when there is a turn in the situation, that political consciousness can change very quickly. Traditional conceptions are shaken. Many that didn't care about politics before wake up and get interested in politics. Those who did believe in the present policies of the government begin to question them. And the hope for change grows amongst those who were already disappointed.

In the document: The calm before the storm, which was published in the Autumn of 2000 we wrote: "The experience of the thirties shows that a deep crisis changes the consciousness more than anything else, as it shakes the working class and the rest of the population fundamentally. A new wave of massive closures and cuts is coming just a short time after the upward turn in the economy had begun. New sacrifices are demanded of the workers just as they had finally begun to believe in a brightier future. The fall and possible crash in the stock market will have a big psycological effect. Many will lose the savings in the stock market, the symbol of capitalism, and this will undermine support for the system."

Isn´t this exactly what has begun to happen now? Added to this is the dramatic international situation. The peace and stability that was promised after the end of the cold war has now vanished. The bloody conflicts in Yugoslavia, the Middle East, Chechnya, India/Pakistan, Africa, Colombia are not one step closer to a solution. Instead the conflicts have become a permanent feature and have worsened. And at the same time as the bombs have been dropping over Baghdad, Belgrade and Kabul the real face of US and European imperialism has been revealed.

The movement of the youth.

Already, for a few yars now, a layer of students and youth has been moving to the left and critisizing the capitalist system. This was clearly reflected in the demonstrations during the EU summit in Gothenburg last June when three demonstrations of 10,000, 15,000 and 20,000 took place. This mood has now also affected a larger layer of youth. In every school and university, as well as in the workplaces where many youth are employed, there is a greater political interest and a move to the left.

In the social democratic youth organisation [in Sweden] there is a radicalisation taking place which has strengtened the left wing. When the right wing leadership succeded in abolishing the socialist clauses in the programme at the youth congress last year, the left wing which represented almost 40% of the delegates united behind an alternative programme. When a new right wing chairman was elected they walked out in protest. Hence the organisation is now deeply divided.

Also the opinions polls give a picture of the changes taking place among the youth. In the past, when it was mainly the student youth that was moving to the left, it was the Left Party (former Communist Party) that was gaining the most from this process. But now, when political intrerest is growing amongst working class youth, the Social Democrats are getting stronger support and their support in the polls stands at 40% of the electorate (up 10% since 1997), while the Left Party is getting 10-11% compared to its previous 14%-15%.

These youth either grew up during the early 1990s when there was a deep crisis and possibly their parents lost their jobs, or during the boom of the second half of the decade when there was a growing hope for a longer period of steady improvements. At the same time the levels of stress were increasing enormously both at work and in the schools. This expectations is now beginning to fade away as the spectre of uneployment is becoming visible again.

The strength of the working class

This points to an increased and deepening radicalisation amongst the youth. New protests will take place, both in Sweden and internationally, against global injustice, the WTO, IMF and, not the least, against the acts of war of the imperialists.

All this will eventually push greater numbers of workers into action. The working class is the strongest force on earth, and when it moves it can change the direction of the world and show a way out of war, poverty and unemployment.

The huge majority of the population in North America, Europe and Japan are workers, who will have no other choice than to fight when their living conditions are threatened.

Also in many "third world" contries the workers in the cities and on the land are the majority, for instance in Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, South Korea, Indonesia and many others. In Sweden most of the adult population are union members (3.5 million). Never ever, in any country, has the working class been so well organized.

The road of struggle

Internationally the working class has already entered the road of struggle. It was not the actions of the middle class that toppled the goverment in Argentina, but the actions and general strikes of the working class. Working class struggle has also begun in Europe and the USA. Big strikes and demonstrations have taken place, in particular in France and Greece. In Sweden there have been massive demonstrations of 5,000-10,000 (half of the population) in small places like Gislaved, Degerfors and Katrineholm, when various multinatinals announced big factory closures.

Different groups have also protested against cuts in council services, and there is also a great discontent against the policy of deregulation and privatisation of electricity, Telecoms, post, railways and roads. In the right-wing council of Stockholm, where large parts of the services and transport have been sold off, there have been many protests. The most recent, on November 21, 2001, gathered 1,500 workers and was organised by left branches and districts within the SSU (Social Democratic youth) with the support of a whole range of local and regional unions. This discontent was also reflected at the congress of the Council and Health Service Workers' Union (which is the largest with more than 600,000 memebers) last summer, where the delegates revolted and defeated the pro-privatisation policy of the leadership.

This Autumn the Social Democratic government is facing a general election. This includes elections not only for the "Riksdag" (the parliament), but also for local councils and county councils. This means that the struggle against the four bourgeois parties (Conservatives, Liberals, Cristian Democrats and the Farmers' party) will be at the top of the agenda within the labour movement and the [Social Democratic] party. Therefore internal divisions within the party will go down temporarily.

The Social Democratic government has to rely on the the Left Party and the Greens to get a majority. For the moment it seems likely that this constellation will continue. It is even possible that the Social Democratic party and the Left Party will gain an overall majority.

The reason for this is that the crisis has not effected the masses yet. The boom of 1997-2000, which meant a fall in official unemploment from 8% to 4%, increaseed wages and some additional resources for the public sector, is still fresh in most people's minds.

At the congress of the Social Democratic party this Autumn, Göran Persson, the party leader and Bo Ringholm, the Finance Minister gave assurances that Sweden's economy was strong and promised a number of reforms, including higher social benefits, an improved health service, and full employment. These, and other improvements, are what sceptical and impatient party activists will be expecting. But what will they get them?

As the economic downturn deepens and unemployment grows, the Social Democratic government will stand empty-handed. Lacking any socialist solutions to the crisis, the government will adopt a capitalist policy of cuts in public services and social welfare and a weakening of workers' rights. But a Social Democratic government that once again puts the burden of the crisis on the shoulders of the workers will not be met with the same patience as before. There will be a storm of protests within the party, which still has 180,000 members and strong links to the unions. This will open up divisions even at the highest levels: in the party central committee, the parlimentary group and within the government itself.

Confrontation between the classes

The unions will also enter the strugggle and organise mass protests and even strikes. Sooner or later we will be facing a general confrontation between the classes, in the same way as in 1980, when almost a million workers were either on strike or locked out, and the bourgeois as well as the government were watching powerless to do anything. Then the question of who is in control of production and distribution will be raised. Those who believe socialism to be outdated will then be very surprised. Again, and once again, the workers will try to change the party. A mass left current will develop. In this process the socialist and Marxist ideas represented by the journal Socialisten, voice of the Marxist tendency in the movement, will get a wide echo.