The Swedish Social Democratic Party, (Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti, 'Social Democratic Workers' Party of Sweden'), contests elections as 'Workers' Party - Social Democrats' (Arbetarepartiet-Socialdemokraterna), commonly referred to just as 'the Social Democrats' (Socialdemokraterna); is the oldest and largest political party in Sweden. The party was founded in 1889. (In 1917, a schism occurred when the communists and other revolutionaries left to form what is now the Left Party). The symbol of the party is traditionally a red rose, which is believed to have been Fredrik Ström's idea.
The Social Democratic Party's position is in theory a revision of Orthodox Marxism. Its party program calls their ideology democratic socialism, or social democracy. They support a general welfare policy based on taxes. In recent times they have become strong supporters of feminism, equality of all kinds, and in strong opposition to all forms of discrimination and racism.
Organisations within the Swedish social democratic movement:
Liberalism has also strongly infused social democratic ideology. Liberalism has oriented social democratic goals to security, as where Tage Erlander, prime minister from 1946-1969, described security as “too big a problem for the individual to solve with only his own power”. Up to the 1980s, when neoliberalism and neoconservatism began to provide an alternative, aggressively pro-capitalist model for ensuring social quiescence, the SAP was able to secure capital's cooperation by convincing capital that it shared the goals of increasing economic growth and reducing social friction. For many social democrats, Marxism is loosely held to be valuable for its emphasis on changing the world for a more just, better future. In 1889, Hjalmar Branting, leader of the SAP from its founding to his death in 1925, asserted, "I believe...that one benefits the workers...so much more by forcing through reforms which alleviate and strengthen their position, than by saying that only a revolution can help them. Some observers have argued that this liberal aspect has hardened into increasingly neoliberal ideology and policies, gradually maximizing the latitude of powerful market actors. Certainly, neoclassical economists have been firmly nudging the Social Democratic Party into capitulating to most of capital's traditional preferences and prerogatives, which they term "modern industrial relations". Both socialist and liberal aspects of the party were influenced by the dual sympathies of early leader Hjalmar Branting, and manifest in the party’s first actions: reducing the work day to eight hours and establishing the franchise for working class people.
While some commentators have seen the party lose focus with the rise of SAP neoliberal study groups, the Swedish Social Democratic Party has for many years appealed to Swedes as innovative, capable, and worthy of running the state. The Social Democrats became one of the most successful political parties in the world, with some structural advantages in addition to their auspicious birth within vibrant folkrorelser. At the close of the nineteenth century, liberals and socialists had to band together to augment establishment democracy, which was at that point embarrassingly behind in Sweden; they could point to formal democratic advances elsewhere to motivate political action. In addition to being small, Sweden was a semi-peripheral country at the beginning of the twentieth century, considered unimportant to competing global political factions; so it was permitted more independence, while soon the existence of communist and capitalist superpowers allowed social democracy to flourish in the geo-political interstices. The SAP has the resource of sharing ideas and experiences, and working with its sister parties throughout the Nordic countries. Sweden could also borrow and innovate upon ideas from English-language economists, which was an advantage for the Social Democrats in the Great Depression; but more advantageous for the bourgeois parties in the 1980s and afterward. While the SAP has not been innocent of repressing communists, the party has overall benefitted, in government coalition and in avoiding severe stagnation and drift, by engaging in relatively constructive relationships with the more radical Left Party and the Greens. The SAP had internal resources as well, in creative politicians with brilliant tactical minds, and similarly creative labor economists at their disposal.
Among the prime ideological assets of the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the first two-thirds of the twentieth century was its redefinition of “socialization” from “common ownership of the means of production” to increasing “democratic influence over the economy.” Starting out in a socialist-liberal coalition fighting for the vote, the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) defined socialism as the development of democracy—political, and economic. On that basis they could form coalitions, innovate, and govern where other European social democratic parties became crippled and crumbled under Right-wing regimes. The Swedish Social Democrats could count the middle class among their solidaristic working class constituency by recognizing the middle class as “economically dependent”, “working people”, or among the “progressive citizens”, rather than as sub-capitalists. “The party does not aim to support and help [one] working class at the expense of the others,” the Social Democratic congress of 1932 established. In fact, with social democratic policies that refrained from supporting inefficient and low-profit businesses in favor of cultivating higher-quality working conditions, as well as a strong commitment to public education, the middle class in Sweden became so large that the capitalist class has remained concentrated. Not only did the SAP fuse the growing middle class into their constituency, they also ingeniously forged periodic coalitions with small-scale farmers (members of the “exploited classes”) to great strategic effect. The SAP version of socialist ideology allowed them to maintain a prescient view of the working class: “[The SAP] does not question…whether those who have become capitalism’s victims…are industrial workers, farmers, agricultural laborers, forestry workers, store clerks, civil servants or intellectuals,” asserted the party’s 1932 election manifesto.
While the SAP has worked more or less constructively with more radical Left parties in Sweden, the Social Democrats have borrowed from socialists some of their discourse, and decreasingly, the socialist understanding of the structurally-compromised position of labor under capitalism. Even more creatively, the Social Democrats commandeered selected, transcendental images from such nationalists as Rudolf Kjellen (1912), very effectively undercutting fascism’s appeal in Sweden. In this way, Per Albin Hansson declared that “there is no more patriotic party than the [SAP since] the most patriotic act is to create a land in which all feel at home,” famously igniting Swedes’ innermost longing for transcendence with the idea of the Folkhem (1928), or People’s Home. The Social Democratic Party promoted Folkhemmet as a socialist home at a point in which the party turned its back on working class struggle and the policy tool of nationalization. “The expansion of the party to a people’s party does not mean and must not mean a watering down of socialist demands,” Hansson soothed.
"The basis of the home is community and togetherness. The good home does not recognize any privileged or neglected members, nor any favorite or stepchildren. In the good home there is equality, consideration, co-operation, and helpfulness. Applied to the great people’s and citizens’ home this would mean the breaking down of all the social and economic barriers that now separate citizens into the privileged and the neglected, into the rulers and the dependents, into the rich and the poor, the propertied and the impoverished, the plunderers and the plundered. Swedish society is not yet the people’s home. There is a formal equality, equality of political rights, but from a social perspective, the class society remains, and from an economic perspective the dictatorship of the few prevails" (Hansson 1928).
The Social Democratic Party is generally recognized as the main architect of the progressive taxation, free trade, low-unemployment, Active Labor Market Policies (ALMP)-based Swedish welfare state that was developed in the years after World War II. Sweden emerged sound from the Great Depression with a brief, successful “Keynesianism-before Keynes” economic program advocated by Ernst Wigforss, a prominent Social Democrat who educated himself in economics by studying the work of the British radical Liberal economists. The social democratic labor market policies (ALMPs) were developed in the 1940s and 1950s by LO (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, the blue-collar union federation) economists Gosta Rehn and Rudolf Meidner. The Rehn-Meidner model featured the centralized system of wage bargaining that aimed to both set wages at a “just” level and promote business efficiency and productivity. With the pre-1983 cooperation of capital and labor federations that bargained independently of the state, the state determined that wages would be higher than the market would set in firms that were inefficient or uncompetitive and lower than the market would set in firms that were highly productive and competitive. Workers were compensated with state-sponsored retraining and relocating; as well, the state reformed wages to the goal of “equal pay for equal work”, eliminated unemployment (“the reserve army of labor”) “as a disciplinary stick”, and kept incomes consistently rising, while taxing progressively and pooling social wealth to deliver services through local governments. Social Democratic policy has traditionally emphasized a state spending structure whereby public services are supplied via local government, as opposed to emphasizing social insurance program transfers.
Swedish society as it is often depicted abroad has been a result of these social democratic policies. The early Swedish “red-green” coalition encouraged Nordic-networked socialists in the state of Minnesota, in the U.S., to dedicate efforts to building a similarly potent labor-farmer alliance that put the socialists in the governorship, ran model innovative statewide anti-racism programs in the early years of the twentieth century, and enabled federal forest managers in Minnesota to practice a precocious ecological-socialism, before Democratic Party reformers were transferred from the U.S. East Coast to appropriate the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party infrastructure to the liberal Democratic Party in 1944. On the other hand, policies comprising the Nordic model have often been depicted, in American conservative circles and the American press, as wreaking havoc upon Swedish society. At a July 27, 1960 Republican National Committee breakfast in Chicago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower disingenuously claimed that "a friendly European country (commentators read this as Sweden)... has a tremendous record for socialistic operation, following a socialistic philosophy, and the record shows that their rate of suicide has gone up almost unbelievably and I think they were almost the lowest nation in the world for that. Now they have more than twice our rate. Drunkenness has gone up. Lack of ambition is discernible on all sides. Unflattering depictions of Swedish society, emanating from conservative American competitive distaste for social democratic policies, have not withered over time. Arguing that the Swedish approach to Muslims is too lenient, a February 5, 2006 New York Times article claims, "(C)learly, various experiments close to the heart of Swedish democracy and Swedish socialism have gone wrong.
Under the Social Democrats' administration, Sweden retained neutrality, as a foreign policy guideline, during the wars of the twentieth century, including the Cold War. Neutrality preserved the Swedish economy and boosted Sweden's economic competitiveness in the first half of the twentieth century, as other European countries' economies were devastated by war. Under Olof Palme's Social Democratic leadership Sweden further aggravated the hostility of United States political conservatives when Palme openly denounced US aggression in Vietnam. U.S. President Richard Nixon suspended diplomatic ties with the social democratic country. In 2003, top-ranking Social Democratic Party politician Anna Lindh--who criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as well as both Israeli and Palestinian atrocities, and who was the lead figure promoting the European Union in Sweden--was assassinated in public in Stockholm. As Lindh was to succeed Goran Persson in the party leadership, her death was deeply disruptive to the party as well as to the campaign to promote the adoption of the EMU (euro) in Sweden. The neutrality policy has changed with the contemporary ascendance of the bourgeois coalition, and Sweden has committed troops to support the US and UK's interventions in Afghanistan. Under Social Democratic governance relatively strong overseas humanitarian programs and a comparatively well-developed refugee program have been implemented, and frequently reformed.
Because the Rehn-Meidner model allowed capitalists owning very productive and efficient firms to retain excess profits at the expense of the firms’ workers, workers in these firms began to agitate for a share of the profits in the 1970s, just as women working in the state sector began to assert pressure for better wages. Meidner established a study committee that came up with a 1976 proposal that entailed transferring the excess profits into investment funds controlled by the workers in the efficient firms, with the intention being that firms would create further employment and pay more workers higher wages, rather than increasing the incomes of company hierarchies. Capital immediately distinguished this proposal as socialism, and launched an unprecedented opposition--including calling off the class compromise established in the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement. The 1980s were a very turbulent time in Sweden that initiated the occasional decline of Social Democratic Party rule. In the 1980s, pillars of Swedish industry were massively restructured. Shipbuilding was discontinued, wood pulp was integrated into modernized paper production, the steel industry was concentrated and specialized, and mechanical engineering was digitalized. In 1986, one of the Social Democratic Party's strongest champions of egalitarianism and democracy, Olof Palme was assassinated. Swedish capital was increasingly moving Swedish investment into other European countries as the European Union coalesced, and a hegemonic consensus was forming among the elite financial community: progressive taxation and pro-egalitarian redistribution became economic heresy. A leading proponent of capital's cause at the time, Social Democrat Finance Minister Kjell-Olaf Feldt reminisced in an interview, "The negative inheritance I received from my predecessor Gunnar Sträng (Minister of Finance 1955 - 1976) was a strongly progressive tax system with high marginal taxes. This was supposed to bring about a just and equal society. But I eventually came to the opinion that it simply didn't work out that way he concluded. Progressive taxes created instead a society of wranglers, cheaters, peculiar manipulations, false ambitions and new injustices. It took me at least a decade to get a part of the party to see this. With the capitalist confederation's defection from the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement and Swedish capital investing in other European countries rather than Sweden, as well as the global rise of neoliberal political-economic hegemony, the Social Democratic Party backed away from the progressive Meidner reform.
The economic crisis in the 1990s has been widely cited in the Anglo-American press as a social democratic failure, but it is important to note not only did profit rates begin to fall world-wide after the 1960s, also this period saw neoliberal ascendance in Social Democratic ideology and policies as well as the rise of bourgeois coalition rule in place of the Social Democrats. 1980s Social Democratic neoliberal measures--such as depressing and deregulating the currency to prop up Swedish exports during the economic restructuring transition, dropping corporate taxation and taxation on high income-earners, and switching from anti-unemployment policies to anti-inflationary policies--were exacerbated by international recession, unchecked currency speculation, and a centre-right government led by Carl Bildt (1991-1994), creating the fiscal crisis of the early 1990s.
When the Social Democrats returned to power in 1994, they responded to the fiscal crisis by stabilizing the currency--and by reducing the welfare state and privatizing public services and goods, as governments did in many countries influenced by Milton Friedman, the Chicago Schools of political and economic thought, and the neoliberal movement. Social Democratic Party leaders--including Goran Persson, Mona Sahlin, and Anna Lindh--promoted European Union (E.U.) membership, and the Swedish referendum passed by 52-48% in favor of joining the E.U. on August 14, 1994. Bourgeois leader Lars Leijonborg at his 2007 retirement could recall the 1990s as a golden age of liberalism in which the Social Democrats were under the expanding influence of the Liberal Party and its partners in the bourgeois political coalition. Leijonborg recounted neoliberal victories such as the growth of private schooling and the proliferation of private, for-profit radio and television.
However, many of the aspects of the social democratic welfare state continued to function at a high level, due in no small part to the high rate of unionization in Sweden, the independence of unions in wage-setting, and the exemplary competency of the feminized public sector workforce, as well as widespread public support. The Social Democrats initiated studies on the effects of the neoliberal changes, and the dismally-regressive picture that emerged from those findings allowed the party to reduce many tax expenditures, slightly increase taxes on high income-earners, and significantly reduce taxes on food. The Social Democratic Finance Minister increased spending on child support and continued to pay down the public debt. By 1998 the Swedish macro-economy recovered from the 1980s industrial restructuring and the currency policy excesses. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Sweden has a well-regarded, generally robust economy, and the average quality of life, after government transfers, is very high, inequality is low (the Gini coefficient is .28), and social mobility is high (compared to the affluent Anglo-American and Catholic countries).
The Social Democratic Party pursues environmentalist and feminist policies which promote healthful and humane conditions. Feminist policies formed and implemented by the Social Democratic Party and the Left Party and the Greens (which made an arrangement with the Social democrats to support the government, while not forming a coalition), include paid maternity and paternity leave, high employment for women in the public sector, combining flexible work with living wages and benefits, providing public support (still to an insufficient degree) for women in their traditional responsibilities for care giving, and policies to stimulate women's political participation and leadership. Reviewing policies and institutional practices for their impact on women had become common in social democratic governance.
The legacy of Social Democratic Party governance in Sweden is widely regarded as increasing the quality of life, naturally among those who benefit directly from an affluent, low-inequality society, but even among the wealthy. One Volvo executive admitted that a strong social welfare state, like the Swedish, helps finance a quality of life that low individual taxes cannot. When faced with the question, "Why don't you leave (Sweden)? Certainly, you would pay a lot lower taxes and probably also have a higher salary in the U.S.", he responded, "Yes, of course, I would have a lot more money in my pocket. But I would also almost never get home before 7 o'clock and I certainly would not have the vacations everyone has a right to here... and you know what else, I would have to spend a lot more money on insurance, college for my kids, and travel back home to my family. In the end, I'm not really sure I would be any better off.
|Per Albin Hansson||1925-1946|
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