The elections in Denmark: Right wing policies lead to defeat

The elections in Denmark on November 11, 2001 were a historical defeat for the Social Democracy, which lost 11 seats in parliament and for the first time since 1924 is no longer the biggest party in the country. The Socialist People's Party (SF) and the Unity List (left coalition of the old communist party and different sects) also lost support, while the right wing parties gained a lot. The result of the elections was a big swing to the right, but that is not because the Danish population has suddenly become bourgeois-liberal and nationalist racists. It is most of all due to a big opposition to the bourgeois politics of the Social Democratic leadership in all fields and the lack of an alternative from the left. The right wing parties have put themselves forward as the defenders of the welfare state and they have made a lot of promises - but the Danish working class will soon realize that this is very far from the real world.

The results

The Social Democracy lost 6.8% or 11 seats, the left reformist SF Party lost 1.2% (1 seat), and the Unity List lost 0.3% (also 1 seat).Venstre (which means "Left", but is actually the main bourgeois-liberal party) won 7.3%, which gave them 14 new seats and made them bigger than the Social Democracy. The Conservatives won 0.2%, while the nationalist Danish People's Party gained 4.6% or 9 new seats and is now the third biggest party. The rest of the bourgeois parties had the following results: the Radicals won a few seats, the Christians neither lost nor gained very much, the Centre-Democrats did not get enough votes to be in parliament and the same happened to the ultra right wing and very racist Progress Party.

The parties supporting the old government led by the Social Democracy - i.e. the three workers' parties and the Radicals - got 77 seats, while the right wing got 98. Before the elections the situation was 88-87.

The same general picture with decline for the Social Democracy and the left wing and success for Venstre and the Danish People's Party was also seen in the simultaneous elections for the city and regional councils and also in the youth elections that were organised by one of the TV stations.

Why did the Social Democracy lose?

After the defeat many people have tried to explain why it went so wrong. The leader of SF, Holger K., has said that the defeat was mainly due to the coverage in the media and the fact that SF could not get their ideas across to people. Of course, the press plays a big role but if you want to get your ideas across to people then you have to have something to say and you must be able to show people an alternative - and this has not been the case with SF or the Unity List for that matter.

Leading members of the Social Democracy have stated that they lost simply because people wanted to see some new faces and that it was natural that people got tired of a government after nine years. But this is only true if we add that what we are talking about is a government that has carried through cuts and has been leading a "welfare state" with more and more faults and defects.

The Social Democratic leadership is responsible for the swing to the right

Workers and youth have turned away from the Social Democracy and the "left wing" which in reality has supported the politics of the government and has not put forward any serious alternative. In the last nine years of Social Democratic government there have been more privatisations than ever before which has led to worse conditions for both workers and users of the different institutions. Lack of resources has led to bad conditions for the old, the sick, students, workers in the public sector, etc, and the housing shortage has increased. At the same time they have made big reductions in the tax that the companies have to pay. Other things that people remember are the cuts in the payment for people on early retirement that were made in spite of many promises, and the intervention against the workers in the big strike in 1998.

At the same time the leadership of the party and the unions has often told us how good everything is in Denmark. They have shown nice graphs and figures, and now several of the party and union leaders have drawn the conclusion that you cannot win an election by having good results to show. But the problem with their "good results" is that ordinary workers and youth have not felt them. Many people experience increased stress and pressure and a welfare state in crisis. If that is the good results, we are probably better off without them. Something must be wrong when you have to go out to convince people that they are feeling well.

Leading Social Democrat and now former minister of foreign affairs, Mogens Lykketoft, actually made a good statement on the reasons for the swing to the right - not to the Danish press but at a meeting for foreign journalists. He said: "The Danes are nervous about the foreigners because they thought that we had abolished all the old class differences, but now they are starting to reappear." That is a good point, but what is he going to do about it?!

The election campaign

So the Social Democratic leadership and their right wing politics are to blame for the swing to the right. During the election campaign the Social Democratic campaign was mainly about convincing people that the last nine years had been great and that a bourgeois party in government would be really bad. There was never any explanation of the means by which the Social Democracy would build a real welfare state with good conditions for everybody. The leadership did not put anything concrete forward.

The major debates in the election campaign were welfare, taxes and immigrants. The bourgeois parties presented themselves as critical towards the bad situation in the hospitals, among old people, etc. and at the same time they demanded a reduction of taxes. The ultra-liberal ideas of the Venstre were hidden behind a "welfare" mask. What could the Social Democracy say to that? They are the ones who have made the cuts, introduced the unjust "green taxes", and kept on taxing ordinary workers heavily while offering less and less in return. So the only answer the Social Democracy and the unions could give was a campaign intended to scare people away from Venstre. But nobody could take this seriously. Why should anybody believe them when they warn against voting for Venstre saying that Venstre wants to halve the benefits for unemployed aged 25-30, when the Social Democracy did just the same for people under 25?!

In the debate about immigrants the party also got caught by its own politics. They have tightened up the rules and made the situation for foreigners worse, and there has been a steady flow of more or less racist speeches from leading Social Democrats about "criminal foreigners who cheat and steal from the Danish welfare system" and so on. The leadership has been a part of creating a mood against immigrants in order to conceal the real causes for the crisis of the welfare system. But the Social Democracy will not win back the discontented voters by imitating the Danish People's Party - that will only lead to more support for the real thing in Venstre and the Danish People's Party.

The "left wing" has failed

Both the Unity List and SF have lost support in the elections. None of them put a socialist alternative forward against the right wing. They have been supporting the old government while criticizing different bad things, but they never told anybody what the solution is. During the campaigning the Unity List talked a lot about multinational companies that do not pay any taxes in Denmark. That is a good thing to reveal, but what for? We will not save the welfare state just by taxing a few companies. There are more basic things that are wrong. The "left wing" would need to explain the connection between the problems people are facing and the capitalist system itself, and explain the need to build up a strong workers' movement that can change society.

The new government will be in trouble

The discontent with the old Social Democratic government and its policy of cuts has led to the present change of government. It looks like the new government will consist of Venstre and the Conservatives basing themselves on the support of the Danish People's Party. The Danish People's Party has demanded that the government should not include the Christians (because they do not want to make too hard attacks on immigrants, etc).

But the new government could quickly become unpopular. It came into power because people were discontented with the bourgeois politics of the Social Democracy, but now we are going to get even more bourgeois politics with attacks on immigrants, "free choice" in the public sector (which is a nice word for privatisations and payment for social services), cuts in the aid for developing countries etc. If they want to cut the taxes it will probably mostly benefit the rich, and ordinary workers will have to pay for it through cuts in public spending. The Danish People's Party says it will not allow cuts on welfare but it is a bourgeois party just like the others - in their programme they say that "public spending must be reduced considerably" and "therefore many jobs must be privatised".

The change of government is taking place in a situation of economic decline in Denmark and the rest of the world. 40% of the 300 biggest companies have fired or will fire workers as a consequence of the economic slowdown, and in more than a quarter of these cases more than 10% of the workers in a company have been fired. The biggest Danish company A. P. Møller (with 60,000 workers in shipping, oil, airlines and supermarkets) has introduced a freeze on all wage increases and the hiring of new people.

A workers' movement on a socialist programme!

In this situation the present swing to the right can quickly become a swing to the left. When people realise that the welfare state will not be saved just because we prevent immigrants from marrying whoever they want or make other kinds of racist rules, then workers and youth will start wondering what is the real cause of their problems. More people will understand that a real welfare state is not possible with capitalism in crisis and that capitalism in our period can only mean still worse conditions whether the right wing Social Democrats or the bourgeois are in power.

Some young careerists in the Social Democracy are using the defeat to demand more changes in the party's ideas and tactics in a bourgeois direction - one of these "renovators" has said that "we need to create a new centre-left vision, that can win people for our project." But there is no need for further destruction of the Social Democracy - quite the contrary. The elections have stressed the need for a return to a real socialist programme and a workers' policy. SF and the Unity List have a strategy of "pulling the Social Democracy to the left" but this strategy has proved useless. It has only made SF and the Unity List more right wing. When the Social Democracy is dominated by the right wing the workers do not run to the small left parties - if that was the case we would have a left government consisting of SF and the Unity List right now.

Only one conclusion can be drawn from the elections: the workers and youth must go into their traditional organisations and fight to win them back to a socialist programme which can challenge and beat the right wing nationalist government and lay the foundation to build a real welfare society - a socialist one.

Kasper Siegismund, Copenhagen.