Swedish labour movement rallies in response to fascist attack

All over Sweden protests are being held against an attack by fascists in the southern city of Malmö on Saturday. This comes amidst a resurgence of fascist attacks on the labour movement in Sweden.

The establishment is using the fascists

The attack took place after a reclaim-the-night-march on International Women's Day in the left-wing area of Möllevången in central Malmö. After the end of the march, as people were heading to a party, a group of fascists attacked a group of left-wing activists. The fascists were armed with knives and four people were taken to hospital, one of which, Showan Shattak, is still in a coma and it’s unclear whether he will survive. It seems that the latter might have been deliberately targeted by the Nazis as he has been a public figure in a campaign of football supporters against homophobia.

The attack follows a spate of attacks on left-wing activists by fascist groups. In October, Kvarnby Folkhögskola, a further education institution in Malmö associated with the Left Party, was firebombed. In December a demonstration in Kärrtorp (south of Stockholm) was attacked by a group of 30 neo-Nazi thugs. In January, a young Social Democrat was attacked in Malmö.

showan-demoThe whole of the Swedish establishment has declared that right-wing extremism is as bad as left-wing “extremism”, implying that when neo-Nazi thugs attack anti-cuts demonstrations, it is merely a conflict between two equally guilty parties. It is clear that although the present right-wing government is obviously not fascist by any stretch of imagination, it is happy to let neo-Nazis attack and intimidate left-wing activists, in particular anti-fascists.

Earlier this year, a Swedish comedian, Soran Ismail, was prevented from speaking in his regular show on Swedish public radio during the election campaign. The reason was his vocal opposition to racism and the Sweden Democrats (racist party in Parliament).

Ukraine – a boost for fascist morale

Throughout the conflict in Ukraine, the Swedish foreign minister Carl Bild has persistently attempted to deny that there were any fascists or anti-Semites present in the Maidan movement, even to the point of claiming that the Svoboda party is made up of “democrats”. The Swedish press gave Swedish neo-Nazis that travelled to Ukraine plenty of space to express their support for the movement and their calls for the ethnic cleansing of Ukraine.

It is clear that the Swedish Nazis have had a huge morale boost from the events in Ukraine. In fact one of the people involved in the attack had recently returned from a tour in Ukraine. As far as the secret police are concerned, the activities of the Swedish neo-Nazis in Ukraine are nothing that they need worry about.

Indeed, the response from the government has been passive. Since the events on Saturday, the Prime Minister has been forced to declare that the neo-Nazis “sully” Sweden's reputation. That is undoubtedly true, but it falls short of even condemning the attack.

The police have shown little interest in pursuing the neo-Nazi who, according to witnesses, was the one holding the knife. He has reportedly been called in for questioning but has not been arrested. Indeed, the police and the courts seem more interested in implicating the stabbed left-wingers in the attack. The Party of the Swedes (Svenskarnas Parti), whose members carried out the attack, has issued a statement saying that their members were only acting in “self-defence” after they were attacked by a group of left-wingers. This version of events has now also been published in the right-wing tabloid Expressen, which cites the police as the source of the information.

No one among either the police or the editors of Expressen has asked any questions about what a group of neo-Nazis was doing in a known left-wing area, on International Women's Day, in the middle of the night, after a demonstration, carrying knives. Nor do they ask why the injured are all left-wingers and the arrested are all right-wingers. Their depiction of events is clearly false.

The police, incidentally, have been shown throughout the 1990s and early 2000s to harbour a large number of Nazis within their ranks. The notorious Normalm department of the Stockholm police harboured a cell of fascists within it. Lately the police have also come under scrutiny for harassment of black and ethnic minorities in Sweden under the guise of immigration control. This is really just the tip of the ice berg.

It is abundantly clear that in all these attacks, the establishment have been shielding the fascists. They are not interested in taking any serious measures to put an end to the violence. Thereby, they are also encouraging it to continue.

It is not difficult to see why. At the moment things are looking very bad in the polls for the government. They only have some 39% of the votes and the Social Democrats, the Left Party and the Green Party have a combined 53%. The racist Sweden Democrats with a background in the neo-Nazi movement has around 9% of the votes. Therefore, the only possibly right-wing coalition would either be with the Greens, which is unlikely, or with the Sweden Democrats. The idea of including the latter in the government was even aired the day after the attacks in Malmö in the editorial of Svenska Dagbladet the leading conservative daily.

However, it is not just party-political considerations that play a role. Although there haven't been any significant mobilisations against the government for some time, there is a brewing anger among workers and youth in Sweden. Although the main force of reaction is the state – the police and the army – the establishment are preparing to use the Nazis as their mad dogs against the left and therefore need to give them some space. Just as Carl Bildt considers the “democrats” in Svoboda as useful against the Russians in Ukraine, he undoubtedly finds the Swedish neo-Nazis useful tools against the Swedish labour movement. The fact that they are attacking demonstrations and meetings at this point in time is not an accident. They are testing the water.

How (not) to fight fascism

031014-Malmo-Sweden 1It is therefore criminal to behave in the way that the leaders of the labour movement have done so far. The whole thrust of the Social Democrats’ response is to call for a cross-party consensus against right-wing extremism. The party leader, Löfven, correctly linked the attack to the one in Kärrtorp but he is at best naïve if he thinks that the conservative government or the secret police are going to take any measures against the Nazis. Indeed, Reinfeldt quickly saw the opportunity and expressed his support for a condemnation of “political violence”. That is, Reinfeldt will happily get a cross-party consensus on a condemnation of both victims and perpetrators.

Similarly, the chairman of the parliamentary court and police oversight committee, Morgan Johansson, who is considered to be on the left of the Social Democrats, has called for the secret police to be held to account. The secret police is clearly leaving the neo-Nazis to get on with it and it is undoubtedly correct on his part to criticise them. But rather than using this as an opportunity to expose the secret police for what it truly is, he demands that they should take measures against the Nazis because there might be among them another “Breivik” (the Norwegian perpetrator of the Utöya massacre). Other than that one might question whether that is the only reason for being concerned about the Nazis, it suggests that the secret police are willing to defend the labour movement against these attacks. It is not!

The Left Party leaders have at least expressed their solidarity with the people that were attacked, which is more than can be said of the Social Democrat leaders. Yet, in a similar fashion, they appeal to the police to defend the labour movement from such attacks. It demands that the police “makes it a priority” to stop such “attacks on democracy”. Yet, it is clear that the police are not the least bit interested in this. There are numerous examples of how the police have fascist or neo-Nazi sympathisers within their ranks and have on numerous occasions protected the fascist thugs when they have been attacking left-wing demonstrations.

They have also chosen an inopportune moment to launch an attack on the left wing of the Young Left because it sympathises with the more militant anti-fascists. Under pressure from the mass media and the Social Democrats, the party leadership has pronounced that they are “against political violence” and have expelled a prominent member who had been hounded by the press. The real meaning of declaring opposition to “political violence” is that they are against any kind of use of force not sanctioned by the state. That means that left-wing activists will be subject to the whims of the bourgeois state apparatus, which is quite clearly not expressing much enthusiasm for the anti-fascist struggle.

The trade union leaders have been completely quiet on the question, as if the interests of their members are not at stake here, as if the fascists are not virulently opposed to all labour organisations. It may be that most of the force of the fascist attacks is directed against the syndicalist union SAC at the moment (whose members were among the victims of Saturday's attack), but that is only because they are seen as being a weaker target.

On the other hand, local branches of both the Left Party and the Social Democrats, as well as football supporters’ clubs, have been mobilising. Pretty much any time the fascists have attempted a significant attack in the last year, they have been met with massive resistance. In Kärrtorp, 30 Nazis were chased away by a few hundred protesters who were joined the next week by another 16,000. Indeed the response to the attack in Malmö has been impressive. Already on Sunday, thousands were on the streets in Malmö, Stockholm, Jönköping, Uppsala, Göteborg, Umeå, Gävle, Karlstad and Lund. An internet campaign called #kämpashowan has collected pictures from all over the world of left-wing activists and football supporters showing their support for Showan. Another round of demonstrations is coming this Sunday and they will undoubtedly be bigger. The stronger these mobilisations are, the more pressure will be put on the government and the vacillating leaders of the labour movement. However, all this is still not enough.

It is not true that Sweden is facing an imminent attempt at a seizure of power by neo-Nazis. Nor will the inclusion of the Sweden Democrats in a government make any fundamental difference to the labour movement. The organisations of the working class are strong and intact; the working class has not faced any major defeat and the members of the unions are confident and are not under any serious threat at this stage. All the talk of a seizure of power by fascists in the near future doers not correspond to the real situation and is merely a reflection of the confusion that exists on the left. The real balance of class forces in society – immensely in favour of the working class objectively – has been demonstrated time and time again. As we have seen in many countries, even when these neo-Nazi parties pick up some votes, their ability to mobilise on the streets remains very weak.

Having said, this does not mean that these neo-Nazi groups are not a threat to labour movement activists and that is why it is completely impermissible to let these attacks go unanswered. The mobilisations are a first step but they need to be followed up by concrete measures to protect demonstrations. If the neo-Nazis show their face anywhere near demonstrations they need to be decisively dealt with. Stewards of demonstrations need to be trained and ready to intervene. Self-defence committees need to be set up for all demonstrations and important meetings. These need to be linked to the trade unions and the political parties.

If the leaders of the labour movement were to raise their little finger and call mobilisations against the far-right, these elements would very quickly crawl back into the holes they came from. It is only the absence of such a lead from the top that is giving these groups a lease of life. The labour movement has the power to stop these groups in their tracks. What is lacking is initiative on the part of the leaders of the mass workers’ organisations, who limit themselves to mainly appealing to the state for protection, the same state, as we have seen, that has elements within it that collaborate with, or at the very least tolerate, the neo-Nazi gangs.

Combined with measures of self-defence, it is necessary to provide a political alternative to win over, not the fascists, but the vacillating elements. The right wing is in a deep crisis in Sweden, and this is the real explanation for the rise of the Sweden Democrats. The major right-wing parties can no longer hold on to their social base, which is coming under pressure from the crisis and the cuts. If the left were to present a clear socialist alternative to the policies of the government and to that of the racists, it could gain massively in the present situation. It is the vacillations of the leadership and the weakness of the political programme of the labour movement that are providing room for the far-right. It gives rise to the impression that “they are all the same”, which is what these parties thrive on. The political programme of struggle for a socialist society cannot be separated from the struggle against fascism.

The neo-Nazi attacks of the last year must be seen as a wakeup call to the Swedish labour movement. No one can pretend any longer that Sweden is different from the rest of Europe. The crisis is having a political impact in Sweden the same as in all countries. It serves to polarise society on a class basis, preparing in the long run a polarisation between revolution and reaction. It is necessary to prepare for this new period.

  • No trust in the state apparatus! We defend our own meetings and demonstrations!
  • Mobilise for the demonstrations this weekend!
  • For a socialist programme to defeat reaction once and for all!