Scandinavian Fairy Tales. The Worker’s Paradise

In any country where a Labour Party is out of power it is natural that its propaganda should include glowing accounts of the success a Labour Government is supposed to be having somewhere else. Between the wars when the Tories governed here, Labour Party and I.L.P. supporters were inspired by pamphlets describing the alleged glories of Labour rule in Australia, Austria. Germany. France or Spain and whenever the British Labour Party has been in office similar propaganda went on in overseas countries where the local equivalent of the Labour Party was the opposition. Since the 1951 election, when Attlee was defeated, the centre of interest for Labour Party supporters has shifted to Denmark and Sweden. We have been told what a magnificent “Welfare State” they have, how the extremes of riches and poverty have been abolished, and how well they manage relationships between employers and workers. For a long time Denmark and Sweden were running pretty close for favour in British Labour circles, but with Denmark undoubtedly a short way ahead

Something Rotten in the State of Denmark
Then suddenly the lead passed to Sweden and not at all because of the visit to that country of the British Royal Family. The reason was that happy, Labour-governed, Welfare State Denmark suddenly erupted and threw its admirers into consternation. Here is a brief account from the Scandinavian correspondent of the Economist (28 April, 1956):—

“The series of strikes, which for four weeks threatened to paralyse the country’s economy, were only checked when the Folketing [Parliament], after a stormy all-night session, passed an act giving the official mediator’s proposals the force of law. These proposals, which satisfied only a small part of the workers’ original demands, had been accepted by 74 per cent. of the Employers’ Federation but rejected, albeit by a narrow majority, by the Federation of Trade Unions. Had these positions been reversed the Social Democrat government would have felt itself on firmer ground. Its reluctant intervention was greeted by a 24-hour general strike, and a countrywide wave of protest demonstrations. In Copenhagen a crowd of 100,000 strong demonstrated before the Parliament, brought traffic to a standstill, and called for the Prime Minister’s resignation. Demonstrations in Odense stopped buses and overturned cars. At Aalborg, a policeman died after being struck by a missile. Rioting dockers at Esberg attempted to throw the cargo of a British merchant ship into the harbour. In the large centres throughout Denmark the police made numerous arrests.”

There is much more in the Economist’s account about the troubles in the Danish paradise and although for the moment the workers have been forced by the drastic action of the Labour Government to return to work with a 3 per cent. wage increase instead of the 20 per cent. they claimed, the Economist says:—

“there is a deep malaise beneath the surface which may well lead to fresh outbreaks,” and among the workers “there is a widespread feeling that the Social Democrat government has betrayed its own supporters.”

This is dismaying to the British Labour Party because the Danish Social Democrats have a policy identical with their own. But the real betrayal in Denmark, as among Labour supporters everywhere, is that they betrayed themselves in ever supposing that the Labour policy of trying to make capitalism work beneficially can be a success.

In Sweden, too
Now Sweden has the limelight and Mr. Paul Andersen, formerly Paris correspondent of the Observer, in a broadcast reproduced in the Listener (31 May, 1956), describes that country as “the Egalitarian Paradise,” “the world’s most perfect Welfare State.” Of course his picture of Sweden as a land of equality is far from true and indeed his own account gives a little evidence of its inaccuracy. For example he tells both of “a modest-priced if most luxuriously decorated, communal canteen, but also a Vaellihgby branch of one of Stockholm’s most expensive restaurants.” And while the rich can eat “for about £3 a head, lobster thermidor, washed down with Chamberlin ’47. In the self-service canteen you will also sit in near luxury comfort behind glass walls and find three hot dishes at about 2s. each . . .” In short, Sweden, like every other country whatever the party label of its government caters for the rich and for the poor. Indeed Mr. Andersen does not really mean equality of wealth distribution but “greatest possible equality of its distribution.” We know how great a difference that can mean for we have so often heard Britain described in similar .terms.

There were things about Sweden that Mr. Andersen did not say. He did not mention unemployment of 4.3% at the end of 1955, about four times the percentage in this country, or the 158,000 who received Public Poor Relief during 1953 (latest figures available). And his broadcast ended on a curious note. He says he asked “an old and famous Swedish Socialist ” if everybody is happy “in this gilded germ-free egalitarian paradise.” The gentleman in question (who, from other quoted remarks, is no more a Socialist than any other of the muddled-headed believers in Labour-governed capitalism) “told me firmly, ‘No,’ and added, ‘of course I shouldn’t tell you, but it’s the truth. Life seems to have become empty and void of purpose.”

He went on to explain that because life in Sweden now lacks tension “people replace the normal fears and tensions of the normal battle of life by artificial fears and by personal tensions—by neurosis.”
The broadcaster capped this with the following:—

“ . . . the most surprising fact, perhaps, of the most advanced Welfare State in being, is that last year’s figures of suicides exceeded the annual toll of fatal road casualties.”

Mr. Andersen and his Swedish friend who believe that people commit suicide because they have no tensions and fears to make them unhappy can hardly be congratulated on their insight. It might help them to correct their judgment if they looked across the frontier into Denmark and recalled that the same kind of nonsense about industrial and social harmony was related of that country—until the sudden explosion of industrial strife proved how wrong it was. And it is a curious oversight that no mention was made in the broadcast of the fierce and costly struggle to build up the Swedish paradise into a militarily powerful state competent to be an effective factor in another war. Only a very superficial observer of the modern world of war-ready Powers could suppose it possible that the people of Sweden (or of any other country) are really free from the universal dread of possible atomic annihilation.


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