From downturn to a new prospect for the Swedish socialdemocracy?

The ruling  right wing 4-party-coalition (big capital, small business, liberals, christian) lost its absolute majority position in a very close race. The left wing coalition(social democrats, greens, leftists) also failed in its ambition to win the election. Instead a new small racist and xenofobic party received 5.7 % of the votes on the margin, after a campaign where it had received intense media coverage. Both coalitions immediately rejected the idea of an alliance with the new ”Sweden democrats” party. Som kind of minority parliamentarism will be necessary, but how this is to be practiced is not yet clear.

The international reporting from the election has been focussed on the emergence of the new anti-immigration party as representing an all-European tendency, but so far the xenofobic and racist movements are rather marginal in Sweden. The recent success of the ”Sweden Democrats” was largely an effect of the media attention they received and of the weaknesses of the labour based parties. In daily life the problems facing the immigrants are comparatively marginal and open conflicts have been limited to a few urban districts. But the media continue to focus on subjects like the Niqab, instances of teenager social unrest, etc.

The Swedish post election discussion has been focussed on two other aspects.
One is the success of the conservative party, whose leader is the prime minister and whose minister of finance has kept a tight control of public economic affairs. Under their governance Sweden has strengthened her financial policies and turned into one of the most stable economies in Europe. In domestic politics they try to present themselves as ”the new working peoples party” with slogans like ”more jobs” and ”jobs for everybody”. One of the ways to realise this slogan has been to propose  ’tax cuts for working people’, another one was to deprive people of long term sick allowances and well established welfare rights, thus focussing on the distiction between working and non-working parts of the population.  A third one has been to subsidize small entrepreneurs  and to privatize growing parts of the public services.

The other major theme of the post election discussion has been the significant reduction of votes for the social democratic party. In 1968 the party received more than 50 % and since then there has been a gradual downturn.  This time they received only 30.8 %.  Many commentators see this as a kind of  historical doom. The party used to be based on the core of the industrial working class and therefore also used to be a key player both in economic policy, trade union legislation and labour market regulation. The Swedish model was based on the balanced cooperation between capital, labour and the state under the dominance of the social democrats.  Today all this is history. The role of manual industrial labour has diminished and so has the membership in the industrial unions. The industrial working class is reduced in size and significance and so is its party.

There is also a very clear geographical distribution of electoral support. The left is stronger in the northern part of the country, whereas the right wing parties dominate in the southern regions.. The traditional red domination in the big cities is about to disappear.  In Stockholm there is already a very clear right wing domination, in Gothenburg and Malmö there is a very tiny majority for the left in alliance with the greens.

So basically the election results mirror the change of the economic base which has taken place since the middle of the 20th century.  The political campaigns also adress the borderline social groups: well qualified industrial labourers, professional women in the welfare sectors, and students.

But this is only one of the aspects one needs to consider. In this election the social-democratic party for the first time appeared as one of three coalition parties, which together represent also the expanding social welfare and service sectors and the rising green sectors of the new industrial branches. In my opinion this is the most interesting aspect of the recent election. The old social democratic party managed to build a bridge to parties representing new radical layers of the population, thus combining old industrial solidarism with new and very significant policy areas like environment and ecology, social welfare services with focus on  human values, and womens organisations and values relating to equality between sexes.

In this first phase the alliance building has had a price: many traditional social democrats did not vote at all or defected to one of the right wing parties. But if this new offensive strategy can be maintained  and further developed, then the red-green coalition, in cooperation with other red-green movements and parties in Europe, will have a good chance to regain the lead in the years to come.

Herman Schmid