Sweden: for a new general election – reject the right wing!

Note: this morning the Left Party announced they are going to abstain on the vote on the government, thereby allowing the Social Democrats to form a government with the Greens. What the Left Party leader hinted at on Monday now has become policy. We remain opposed to the formation of the government on this right-wing programme, and maintain our position that the labour movement should demand new elections and the establishment of a left government on a socialist programme.

Read the original in Swedish, first published at Revolution on 14/01/19

The agreement that Social Democratic Prime Minister of Sweden, Stefan Löfven, signed yesterday with the Green Party, the Centre Party and the Liberals equates to total capitulation. In order to take the fight to the right wing, the Left Party has to vote down Löfven as Prime Minister and prepare for a general election.

The deal is like a dream come true for the right wing. It would mean a change for Sweden of a similar magnitude to the one following the crisis of 1990s, and several times worse than the one under the right-wing Reinfeldt government. The infamously reactionary Centre Party figure, Fredrik Federley, made the following triumphant declaration to Swedish Radio:

“[The deal is] perhaps the greatest liberal breakthrough for many years in the history of Swedish politics. Many of these reforms, dealing with changes in labour market and rental housing regulations etc., are ones the Centre Party failed to manage to push through during the years of the [centre-right] Alliance government, even while we had a parliamentary majority.”

The 73-point agreement indeed sounds like a right-wing wish list from before the 2014 elections: reduced employers fees, a tax reform including the abolition of the special high-income tax (AKA the ‘Robin Hood Tax’), “establishing jobs” with lower wages for new immigrants and workers on long-term sickness leave, market-controlled rents for newly built apartments, further tax exemptions for hired household help, increased eroding of the right to asylum, and a weakening of employment protection laws. Moreover, language tests will be introduced for citizenship applicants, grade-based assessment will be introduced for fourth-year students onwards at schools’ discretion, and an additional 10,000 police officers will be hired.

The only concession the Social Democrats seem to have obtained from the right is a partial execution of the “family week”: the promise of an extra vacation that the party presented towards the end of its election campaign. Not a single one of their programmatic demands concerning the labour market has been included. Amongst these were an end to generalised limited-time employment contracts, opposition to non-voluntary split schedules and the cutting down of work hours to circumvent employment laws – striving for full-time employment as the norm in the publicly funded welfare sector, through collective bargaining and direct intervention in local and regional councils.

Where is the left of the Social Democrats?

Before Christmas, the LO (Swedish Trade Union Confederation) took a sharp line against proposed measures to weaken employment rights, with Chairman Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson commenting: “It needs to be said again: if employment legislation is attacked, that will make us very angry.” After precisely this was proposed on Friday, Thorwaldsson’s tone was more cautious but he did state that strike action might be taken to compensate union members for worsened conditions:

“Yes, it is [possible that the LO will use strike action?] The LO will always put the security and the wage development of its members first. We are not going sit still and say that it is ok that only the rich and those with good incomes will be better off.”

This is an entirely correct attitude, and one we wholeheartedly support. If the agreement finally passes, it will be necessary to go from words into action, something Thorwaldsson and the LO leadership has hardly excelled at previously. There is, unfortunately, a big risk that there will be a lot of talk with little to back it up in practice.

Karl Petter Thorwaldsson Image Photo by Jonatan Svensson Glad License Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 GenericLO Chairman Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson said strike action over the deal is "possible" / Image: Jonatan Svensson Glad License Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0 Generic

Also, the construction workers’ union Byggnads and the municipal workers’ union Kommunal have criticised the agreement. Kommunal Chairman Tobias Baudin called it a “provocation against the Swedish model”, adding that “when it comes to the distribution of wealth it is nothing short of a catastrophe”. He refused, however, to call for the Social Democrats to back away from the deal, and argued against a new general election.

Byggnads called the deal “a slap in the face for Swedish wage earners and the workers’ movement.”

He continued:

“If this deal becomes reality, it means that we will get politics leading to weakened workers’ rights and a society with increasing gaps. It is small consolation to Swedish construction workers that it would have been even worse under a moderate [centre-right, liberal-conservative party] government. Byggnads will not be sitting still in the boat while politicians meddle with labour market and threaten workers’ rights. We will defend the rights of our members with all our strength.”

But from the Social Democratic Party ranks, the silence has been deafening. A few articles aside, no criticism has been raised. Should the Social Democrats be able to form a government, administering this package of right-wing policies, they will be digging their own graves. They are going to share the fate of other workers’ parties, whose popular support has collapsed after making brutal attacks on the working class. If the left-wing forces that still exist within the Social Democrats intend to save it as a workers’ party, they need to act and raise their voices immediately.

The Left Party must bring down Löfven

For Stefan Löfven to get elected as prime minister, the Left Party has to allow him through. But there is a large opposition within the party. A petition demanding that the leadership votes “no to Stefan Löfven on 16 January” has been circulating. Both the former MP Rossana Dinamarca and the former party leader Lars Ohly have publicly stated their view that the party should vote no. The Left Party district in Malmö has written along the same lines:

“The agreement reached between the Social Democrats, the Centre Party, the Liberals and the Greens is a project of pure right-wing politics. Letting through a government this explicitly opposed to the working class, we who live in rented apartments, we who are unemployed or face discrimination or racism, for the benefit of those that already have plenty, such as the companies and the high-earners – is not something we can to do.”   

Jonas Sjöstedt (leader of the Left Party) did start yesterday’s press conference off with a few correct statements:

“The deal that has been reached between these four parties is nothing the Left Party is a part of. We have not negotiated for it, and we want no part in it. We will take no responsibility for it, and we will fight with all the power we have, inside and outside the parliament, any proposals put forward along its lines.”

He criticised the right wing of the Social Democrats, and stated that if Stefan Löfven forms a government on the foundation this deal, it will be the most right-wing Social Democratic government Sweden has ever seen. Sjöstedt promised that “the Left Party obviously will vote against such proposals, regardless of who puts them forward.”

But then again, he stated that the Left Party would prefer Stefan Löfven to be prime minister – even under the present conditions – and that, “the way the parliamentary situation looks, we realise and accept that he is going to initiate budget talks with parties other than us.”

He hinted at a possible compromise “within reach” but that there were certain “obstacles in its way”.  Firstly, he demanded the Social Democrats assure the Left Party that they are prepared to cooperate with them on specific policies and issues. Löfven has already on Monday morning indicated this as a possibility. Secondly, he declared that “the agreements and the equality reforms” that the Left Party has pushed through during the previous parliamentary period have to be retained (unfortunately, he failed to specify whether this includes the question of banning private profits in the welfare sector).

Stefan Lofven Image Flickr swedennewyorkThe argument has been put forward that the Left Party must let through the Löfven government as the lesser evil. But this could open the way for the greater evil / Image: Flickr, swedennewyork

According to Sjöstedt, all of this can be solved in “discussions with Stefan Löfven”, without the need for a new general election. By putting the emphasis on the paragraph in the agreement about shutting out the Left Party Sjöstedt has opened the door for accepting Löfven as Prime Minister. He has not demanded the agreement be scrapped.

The message delivered by Sjöstedt during the press conference was, in other words, anything but comforting. The petition that has been circulating is a good initiative. More, and even more explicit, initiatives protesting the deal are needed from to stop the leadership from making a deal with Löfven.

Letting through a Social Democrat-led government cooperating with the Centre Party and the Liberals would mean that the Left Party approving a government committed to implementing right-wing policies. Everything Sjöstedt has criticised in the deal would become a reality. Just as he has declared his stance against the agreement, he should also reject any form of cooperation with the current Social Democratic leadership and the right-wing parties.

The argument that has been put forward within the workers’ movement for the Left Party to let through a Löfven government is that one has to choose the lesser evil. The idea is that Ulf Kristersson, the Moderate Party leader, must be stopped from forming a government with the support of the right-wing, populist Sweden Democrats at any cost. But the path of the lesser evil often opens the way for the greater evil. For a start, it is hard to find any major differences between the politics of Kristersson and what is now proposed by the Social Democrats. Furthermore, this will simply see the Social Democratic Party drift closer to the abyss – without a clear left-wing opposition present in the parliament. This can only serve to strengthen the Sweden Democrats, and even increase the risk that they will be part of the government after the next elections. This short-sighted approach can only bring us the worst of both worlds..

There is only one way forward for the Left Party, if it is to seriously challenge the right-wing agenda and fight for the working class. Firstly, all governments striving to implement right-wing policies must be actively voted down, with the goal of triggering a new general election and mobilising to win as many votes as possible. Secondly, a socialist alternative must be put forward. This means fighting back against attempts to limit workers’ rights, such as the right to strike, and against proposals to lower taxes for the rich. If a new general election is achieved, that will indeed be the least evil option.

Bold, socialist policies are the only way for the Left Party to become a credible opposition: the party that workers and youth expect to actually “take the fight to the right-wing both inside and outside of parliament”. Corbyn in Britain and Mélenchon in France demonstrate that the only way for workers’ parties to gain support is to distance themselves from all rotten compromises, and to give their full support to the class struggle in their respective countries.

If the Social Democrats continue their rightward trajectory, the Left Party may well become the largest working-class party in Sweden. But that requires an end to all attempts to cooperate with the Social Democrats, and for clear socialist politics to defend the interests of the working class.

Against all right-wing politics – fight for socialism!

The goal of the Left Party should not be getting through small, specific reforms in negotiations with the Social Democrats, with the price of allowing for much larger attacks on the working class. It should be taking the fight to the entire capitalist system, which is causing racism, inequality and worsening conditions for workers.

The crisis of capitalism will lead the system into a new slump. These fears are manifested again and again on the pages of the financial press and amongst the more serious strategists of the ruling class. As Torsten Sløk from Deutsche Bank explained in Dagens Industri during a visit to Stockholm last week, he is “quite worried about a new recession hitting Europe, at least before 2020.”

Jonas Sjöstedt Image Frankie FouganthinThe goal of the Left Party should not be getting through small reforms in negotiations with the Social Democrats, but taking the fight to the entire capitalist system / Image: Frankie Fouganthin

This new crisis will be worse than the one of 2008, and Sweden will be hit much harder this time around. The ruling class will launch much bigger attacks on the workers, as they attempt to put the burden of the crisis on their shoulders. Both the Social Democrats and the right-wing parties are now in agreement over this political orientation.

We will therefore, sooner or later, witness mass protests of the kind we have seen in France occurring here. Which side will the workers’ movement and the Left Party stand on then? Do they wish to be the “responsible” politicians and union leaders standing on the sidelines and giving their support these policies, or even opposing the movement (as French CGT recently did to the gilets jaunes) – or do they wish to take part in the movement and lead it? This decision has to be made now. One cannot join in with attacks on the working class and avoid taking responsibility when the workers react against them.

Only socialist politics, exposing capitalism and its defenders can save the workers’ movement. Rotten compromises, half-measures and class cooperation must end. The bourgeois class is preparing for battle against the working class. The workers’ movement must prepare itself to lead the struggle against it, and for socialism in our lifetime.