Swedish elections: the defeat of the right reflects a shift to the left in spite of the policies of the Social Democratic leaders

This is a report of the recent elections in Sweden.

The Moderates (the neo-liberal party) have suffered a severe setback in Sweden, their support has fallen by 7.5% to a 15% share of the vote. This is mainly due to their neoliberal policies and their obvious position as representatives of the ruling class. Their right-wing policies find no support among broad layers of the population. Ordinary people realise that the number one priority of the Moderates of making tax cuts roughly equivalent to 15% of all government income would mean a drastically weakened welfare system. The Moderates also attack the working class with their calls for weaker labour legislation and their demand for one more unpaid sick-day before you qualify for sick-pay. They have simply gone too far. The welfare system has enormous support now, even among layers of the Moderates' own members and voters.

When the Moderates, with their market-orientated image, no longer appeared to be a viable alternative, the People's Party (supposedly social-liberals) immediately took their place and was backed by the media. The People's Party has presented itself as a party that wants publicly financed schools, healthcare and care for the elderly. One of their slogans is "YES, proper care has to cost money". Their eagerness to privatise has been toned down and they've said they want to raise unemployment-benefits, sick-pay and parental-benefits. These were the main reasons for the People's Party's vote increasing from 5 to 13%.

There is an abyss between the policies of the People's Party (which is the traditional party of big business) and the labour movement policies regarding the functioning of the welfare system. However, the Social-democratic leadership failed completely to expose the People's Party, actually giving them credibility instead. The labour movement wants the welfare system to be a profit-free-zone and a means for giving everyone the best possible conditions to develop themselves and have a good life. The People's Party, on the other hand, sees healthcare, education, etc, as a way of giving the employers healthy, educated and above all obedient labour. This is why they make many "demands" of those that receive the benefits from the welfare system. This is supposedly to teach people to unquestioningly follow orders. The People's Party want more disciplinary rules in the schools, school students' parents should be fined if students misbehave, those on social security should be forced to take any sort of work at any price...

...and naturally they demand things from immigrants too. Immigrants would have to have a job before coming here; they would be repatriated out if they lost their jobs; they would have to pass a language test before they would be allowed to settle permanently in Sweden. These demands are good old-fashioned anti-working class policies. These are demands that put worker against worker and their main purpose is to force down wages! The demands of the People's Party differ from those of openly racist parties. The racist parties don't want any immigrants at all and most of all would like to "send home" those who are already here. But neither the media, nor the Social Democratic Party leadership explained that these demands of the People's Party on immigration were anti-working class. Instead they were merely described as demands hostile towards immigrants in particular, i.e. racist. Therefore it is probable that some reactionary, racist layers voted for the People's Party. But, in general the question of immigration did not play a major role in the elections (except in the media). In the big VALU opinion poll, the immigration issue came twelfth out of a list of fifteen issues which were regarded as decisive when choosing which party to vote for.

In the Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet on November 16, 2000, Goran Persson (Swedish prime minister and chairman of the Social Democratic Labour Party) said: "I'm looking forward to the election campaign in 2002. Then we will fight for the Social-democratic welfare state against the privatisation hysteria of the Moderates!" This was also the tone during the first period of the election campaign last winter and spring.

The campaign got off to a good start with close co-operation between the Social Democratic Party and the Swedish TUC in a campaign called "Proud, but not satisfied". The party leadership was promising reforms, there was to be an end to the cuts in public spending and the end of the hard times. During this period, the Social Democrats rose to about 45% in the polls! The promises of new reforms were given because of the opposition that had grown within the labour movement, mainly among trade unionists, against privatisation and right wing-policies.

[Note: The Social Democratic Party and the blue-collar workers' union federation, the LO, have maintained very strong links over the years. The LO is the main contributor of both money and activists to the election campaign. The Social Democratic leadership has been unable to break the ties to the unions, even though they want to. A huge percentage of the workforce is organised in unions. This gives the LO enormous strength, not only in the party, but in society as a whole. The LO launched a campaign early this year to recruit 100,000 new members to the party from the ranks of the blue-collar unions. It looks as if this target will be reached by the end of the year. The Swedish Social Democratic Party is not, contrary to many other Socialist Parties in Europe, an empty shell.]

However, after the normal summer period of low activity things came to a halt. Goran Persson started what looked more like a presidential campaign. Everything was suddenly about Goran, not the party and its policies. "Trust me" was his main slogan. On the rare occasions when he did speak of reforms, he always did so with the proviso "if the economy permits it..." Persson was probably afraid of creating too great an expectation and was also afraid of winning too big a majority because of the weakened economy. In addition, Persson started to talk about co-operation with the "centre" parties. In a survey published in the LO-paper (a union weekly) there was little or no support for such a strategy. The LO members were asked what kind of government they would like to see.

52% answered a Social Democratic government with parliamentary support from the Left Party ("ex-communist", now left reformist party). 19% wanted a government with Social Democrats and the Left Party in coalition. 17% wanted a Social Democratic government with parliamentary support from the Left Party and the Green Party (environmentalists). 12% wanted "another alternative", among which co-operation with "centre" parties was classed as "another alternative".

Goran's new-style election campaign had an immediate impact. Many people could no longer see the difference between the Social Democrats and the bourgeois bloc. The Social Democratic Party vote declined rapidly in the polls and began to approach 35% as LO members in increasing numbers said they would refuse to vote. Suddenly it seemed that the party was on its way to losing the elections.

That explains why in the last week of the election campaign, the party leadership was forced, at least in words, to move to the left. The party leadership denounced co-operation with the political "centre" and the differences between left and right became clearer. Fundamental ideological questions such as publicly controlled healthcare instead of privatisation were taken up. Workers' rights were briefly mentioned and so on. The strong link between the Social Democratic party and the LO was stressed. The polarisation that then appeared between the Social Democratic party and the bourgeois to a large degree explains the election result, which was almost as high as normal historical levels, 40%! This is 4% higher than in the last election.

The polarisation showed that there were alternatives in Swedish politics, it wasn't about bourgeois or "quasi" bourgeois parties. It was about a policy for the rich or a policy for ordinary working people. Polarisation was essential for the victory of the Social Democratic Labour Party.

However, Goran Persson did not seem pleased on television on the election night, when at one moment it seemed that the party would get a majority in parliament with just the support of the Left Party. Instead, he started talking once more about the need for broad co-operation. He said it was not good for a parliament to rely on one steady majority and so on. Could this be because Goran was afraid of an economic downturn and wanted to keep the possibility of co-operating with the "centre" parties?

A leftward current is sweeping across Sweden. The election was, more than anything, a declaration of mistrust against the brainless policies of the right wing parties. Neither the Centre Party (old farmers' movement) nor the People's Party talk about themselves as centre parties anymore. They now call themselves the "bourgeois left"! Of course this is just for tactical reasons, but it does give a hint of which way the wind is blowing.

The Left Party lost a third of their votes (they went from 12 to 8%) not because they were too far to the left, but because they were putting forward the same policies as the Social Democrats. Why vote for the photocopy when the original is still around? A lot of those LO members and youths who during the last election voted for the Left Party in protest against the Social-democratic government's right-wing policies returned to the Social Democratic Party. Furthermore, some former Left Party voters chose to vote for small regionally based radical populist parties. For instance, the votes for the Norrbotten Party (in the far north), while not enough to get them into parliament, would have been sufficient to give the Left Party one more seat. This in turn would have made it possible for a Social Democratic government to gain majority support in parliament without the Green Party. Of course that would have been a very much better scenario when dealing with the labour legislation. What does Lars Tornman (chairman of the Norrbotten Party), the old miners' leader have to say about that?

There are big expectations of the Social-democratic government. If the party leadership does not put forward a genuine workers' policy, this will have severe consequences. Contempt for politicians will grow and Populist parties of all sorts will grow. The extreme right wing racist parties increased their support in many towns this time, however nowhere near enough to get into parliament. Another election after a further period of right wing policies on the part of the Social Democratic government could mean that such a party could make it into parliament next time! The existence of these extreme right wing parties and populist parties, demonstrates that there is a layer of frustrated people with problems that have not been addressed by the labour movement.

A radical left wing policy would on the other hand also motivate those who didn't vote. A low turnout (the lowest since 1958, of 78.9%) always affects the workers' parties the most. Don't imagine that the bourgeois voters stay at home come election day! In Lidingo (a wealthy suburb) voting increased by 1% to 84%. In Botkyrka (a poor suburb) voting dropped by 1.8% to 73%.

Immigrants and youth in poorer areas tend to vote for the workers' parties. Swedish Television's survey outside the polling stations shows that 30% of those who voted for the first time voted for the Social Democrats (18% of them voted for the Left Party and 10% voted for the Green Party). 50% of the immigrants voted for the Social Democrats. These groups are also the first ones to abstain from voting, which is a loss for the labour movement.

It is self-evident that the Social Democratic Party leadership should put forward a workers' policy considering the votes of the working class in the recent election. 59.4% of the LO members (blue-collar workers) and 39% of the TCO-members (white-collar workers) voted for the Social Democratic Party. There is no question that the working class still supports the party. But the party leadership is pretty distant from the world of a bus driver, an orderly or a factory worker. We can be sure that the party leadership, if left to itself, will not put forward socialist policies. The leadership will present new cuts in public spending, as the economic downturn deepens. Goran Persson has said many times that he will never again accept a deficit in public finances. We must prepare for this and fight for socialist policies in the workplaces, in the schools, on the streets and within the labour-movement itself.

Now the real struggle begins.