In spite of all that has happened in Europe since the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the demise of Russian-style state capitalism, there is still a tendency for leftwing parties to refer to themselves as “socialist” and to claim the mantle of representatives of the working class.
The Swedish Social Democrats are no exception. In fact, their leader, Ingvar Carlsson, having just taken power from the conservatives in September with 45 percent of the votes cast – the biggest swing to the left in sixty years – declared his party to be “classically socialist”.
The foundation of this assertion appears to be the fact that the Social Democrats have for years pursued Keynesian policies and that they have a welfare system the envy of Europe.
Sweden has indeed an enviable welfare system compared with those of other European countries, with unemployment benefits, for instance, still standing even after a recent reduction at 80 percent of average take-home pay, but at the same time Sweden has 14 percent of its workforce unemployed.
The unemployment statistics were what Carlsson largely capitalised on in the run-up to the recent election, promising that future Keynesian policies would ensure that no one under the age of 25 would be out of work for more than 100 days. At the same time the Social Democrats were intent on cutting child care grants, reducing pensions and raising taxes. In short, everyone was being told they must shoulder the burden of Sweden’s current economic crisis – a crisis evident in most European countries at the moment
Sweden’s welfare system, as Peter Cohen recently pointed out in an article “The Model That Never Was” in the July-August issue of Monthly Review, “can be traced to the same factors that generated the Beveridge report . . . a higher standard of welfare for workers means less ‘absenteeism’, a lower employee turnover and higher productivity, which means greater profits”.
That the granting of benefits to the working class of Sweden had an ulterior motive – the maximisation of profits – was only to be expected from the Social Democrats. themselves never representatives of the working class. In fact, as Peter Cohen also pointed out, the history of the Swedish Social Democratic Party since the first world war shows that it “not only accepts capitalism, but defends it against any attempt at change”.
On Hitler’s 50th birthday it was the Social Democrats who sent their blessings along with troops to take part in the celebrations. And it was the Social Democrats to whom Hitler turned to provide the Nazi war machine with iron, raw materials and weapon technology, while the voice of Swedish protest, the “communists”, were interned.
Since 1945 Social Democrat governments have seen to it that Sweden participated wholeheartedly in an assortment of imperialist ventures, including GATT, IMF, OECD and the World Bank. They permitted Sweden to be used as a US communications centre for projected nuclear strikes, backed Pinochet in the wake of his coup in Chile, refused to impose sanctions on racist South Africa at the request of Swedish workers’ organisations and openly connived with the CIA, Mossad and the West German Bundesdienst.
Neither can LO, the Swedish equivalent of the TUC, be considered an ally of the working class. In 1983 it urged wage restraint on behalf of the Social Democrat government who feared Sweden losing overseas markets to foreign capitalists. The same year the West German steelworkers came out on strike, a move meant to hit the car companies at a crucial time. To avoid any havoc this would have caused, the Social Democrats and the LO ignored requests for sympathy action with the West German working class and were only too happy to send supplies of steel to the German capitalists.
In the past five years 100,000 jobs have been cut in the welfare sector and it is unlikely that these workers will be reinstated by Carlsson. Moves are already underway to dismantle the public education system and to introduce more private schools. Nor do Sweden’s unemployment statistics look like improving, with recent reports showing that the country’s biggest companies see no recruitment drive in coming years, although all expect the near future to bring huge profits.
In reality the Social Democrats in Sweden, like every other party in power in Europe, have to defend the interests of Big Business and can remain in power only by kow-towing to the rules of capitalism. That they call themselves “socialists” is an insult to the millions of workers who put their misguided trust in them. That they are so guilty of class-collaboration is the reason why they are so “classically unsocialist”.