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The death of the Swedish model

posted 5 Mar 2011, 05:36 by Admin uk

 by Erik Andersson

  member of the Swedish Marxist tendency ”Socialisten”

 To understand Sweden of today one has to start by looking backwards in history. Many people view our country as somewhat of a socialist paradise, and at the same time hardly as a place of big class struggles. What is true is that during the post-war boom, the workers movement in Sweden managed to achieve major welfare reforms based on its massive level of organization.

Before the swedish capitalist class recognized trade union rights in 1938, Sweden was the country in the world with the highest level of strikes. In the fight-back during the crisis of the 30s, the swedish workers movement was polarized between the forces of class struggle and those of class collaboration. While the forces of class struggle resisted the unjust cuts of 10-20% in salaries, the class collaborationists supported repressive actions against struggling workers.

At this stage, the swedish working class was already highly unionized, and a majority of workers participated in some form of self education. But also then, with the high level of organization came a swelling bureaucracy, manouvering between the capitalist class and the working class. Since then, the bureaucracy in the workers movement has played a central role as an intermediary and conciliator between the classes in swedish society. The reforms that has been gained historically was based on the fear of a well-organized, conscious working class.

During the 70s, the world experienced a major economical downturn. This also effected Sweden, with lowering rates of profit and investment. In response to this, a widespread ferment erupted in the swedish workers movement and society in general. At its congress in 1976, the swedish TUC adopted a scheme of so called ”wage-earners funds”, that would put many big companies under majority trade union ownership, but very gradually over decades. To most ordinary workers, this seemed like a non-dramatic way of achieving the socialist goals of the movement – while the capitalist class and its media were infuriated.

This was a concrete historical experiment with trying to achieve socialism at snails pace without mobilizations. As could have been expected, the capitalist class and the right wing were not as ”gradual” in their actions. The employers association broke with the ”social peace”, poured many millions into anti-socialist propaganda. At the same time, another force came into play behind the scenes – the bureaucracy of the workers movement, which was very unhappy with this radicalization. By watering down the original proposal, the enthusiasm of the workers diminished, while the reaction went on the offensive.

In this country of so-called social stability and cooperation, the machinery of the capitalist class managed to gather 50.000 demonstrators outside of parliament using the ”red scare” tactics. The demonstrators were mainly employers, business-men and well-off proffessionals. In the end, the proposal was defeated, and a hesitating workers movement was pushed back by a furious campaign of the capitalist class, with the collaboration of the bureaucracy in the workers movement.

Four years after the decision of the TUC congress, in 1980, Sweden was to see a big explosion of class struggle. The employers association proposed a zero increase in salaries, which showed that class collaboration was now a thing of the past. This provocation led to a strike in the public sector, which was replied with a lock-out which included almost a million and put swedish society to a halt. In the end, the unions won an wage increase of 7%, but which was undermined by 13% rate of inflation.

The workers movement beat back the attack, but the struggle wasn´t carried through on the political plane to oust the right-wing government and fight for socialism. Instead, the social democratic party has been moving to the right more or less constantly to this day. During the 90s, we experienced a big crisis with high levels of unemployment. This left a mess which the social democratic party decided to ”responsibly” solve with massive cutbacks, deregulation and some privatizations. A broad opposition developed, with its strongest base among female workers in the public sector and expressed partly in a surge of support for the Left Party (at 17% in one poll). Over time, the left was too unorganized and did not manage to win control over the movement. Instead, the workers parties went further to the right, and the social democratic government became synonymous with status quo.

After a catastrophical election in 2002, the main right-wing party made an ”extreme makeover” and used the disillusionment to launch themselves as ”the new workers party”, claiming to support the welfare state. The social democratic government on the other hand went to the polls with the mantra ”Sweden is in a good state” and the hollow phrase ”Everybody together, it´s as simple as that”. In 2006 a coalition of right-wing parties came to power, and also managed to win the election in the autumn of 2010. This was the first time in swedish history that a right-wing government has won two elections in a row.

One of the first things the government did was to double the fees to the unemployment insurance, while drastically weakening the coverage. Today, only a minority of the unemployed recieve the unemployment benefits. This was an issue that caused rage amongst swedish workers, and could have led to massive mobilizations, thus turning the tide. Instead, the leadership organized a demonstration at noon on a work day, without calling any strike action.

The fact is that swedes have never settled for the situation that arose out of the 90s, with mass unemployment, rising crime rates, increasing job insecurity and so on. There is still huge support for major social reforms and a welfare state which guarantees a decent living for those that fall behind in this capitalist society. When the workers parties offered no way out of this impasse, the right wing managed to pit well-off workers and middle class people against the lowest strata in society.

One of our main problems is that the leadership of the workers movement have not recognized that the social peace is completely one sided. Instead they try to adapt to the right-wing and in frustration complain that the capitalists do not want to collaborate.

In Sweden like in the rest of Europe, the workers movement needs to fight in order to defend itself. Right now we are experiencing a dramatic crisis for the social democracy, which ruled the country from 1932-1976. In one poll the party that once had the support of 55% of the population is now down at 24% support, while the Left Party is far too weak politically and organizationally to fill the vacuum. However, it has the capacity to grow a lot in numbers and support if it sinks roots within the trade unions, local campaigns and stands out with a bold, anti-capitalist message.

The mood of crisis within the social democracy is such that the room for critical debate has been increased a lot, but the left do not put forward a clear, organized alternative to the right wing. It is probable that the social democracy will now turn further to the right. If that happens there will be further ferment within the social democratic left and it is not ruled out that there will even be splits.

If any of the workers parties would give a bold lead, the right-wing and the bosses could be pushed back, but that would require pressure from below. At the same time, there are no signs that workers are turning to the smaller parties. Turning the unions into tools of the struggle of the working class is key in this situation. When struggle breaks out, socialists within the workers movement can act as a bridge between the ”economical” and ”political” struggle. Our motto is: ”Bring the struggle to the movement and the movement to the struggle”. This is the way in which the swedish workers movement will be reinvigorated in the years to come: re-connecting to the best traditions of the past and pushing forward a vision for a socialist future.