1960s >> 1969 >> no-781-september-1969

Capitalist reformism

Functional Socialism: A Swedish Theory for Democratic Socialization, by Gunnar Adler-Karlsson. Bokforlaget Prisma, Sweden.

This is an unusual pamphlet. For it is actually a defence of the reformist policy of the Swedish Social Democratic party in the name of Socialism. This party of course is no more a socialist organisation than the British Labour Party and has managed the affairs of Swedish capitalism for the past 35 years.

What Adler-Karlsson calls ‘functional socialism’ is basically what was put forward here by Labour Party anti-nationalisation thinkers in the 1950s. Ownership, the argument goes, is made up of a set of functions which the capitalists exercise. If we control these functions in the interests of society then there is no need to formally take all industry into state ownership. “We have”, claims Adler-Karlsson on behalf of Swedish Social-Democracy, “limited the rights of the owners of the means of production to use their goods in an unsocial way” and he instances measures like profits taxes, state control of banking, anti-inflation moves, etc., etc. All we can say is that if this is socialist then the Tories must believe in so-called functional socialism too.

The whole argument is absurd. When the modern state intervenes in economic affairs and limits the activities of individual capitalists it does so in the interests of the capitalist class as a whole. This has nothing to do with Socialism. Besides, it is based on the false premise that nationalisation is Socialism. Once you realise that it is only state capitalism then you can leave it to the reformists to argue among themselves as to the desirable degree of state ownership and control in a particular capitalist country.

We will leave Adler-Karlsson arguing with the supporters of Russian state capitalism. Unfortunately, he wrongly believes them to be genuine Marxists with the result that his own references to Marx are mostly inaccurate.

The pamphlet ends with a call to “strip and divest our present capitalists of one after another of their ownership functions”. We are sure that, after 35 years of Social Democrats rule, Swedish capitalists like the Wallenberg family are trembling at the prospect!

Adam Buick