Letter from Sweden

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stockholm-anti-racism-rally.jpg

Sweden
"United against racism" demo in Stockholm

A report on the shock caused by the electoral breakthrough of the fascist Sweden Democrats.

The results of last month’s election in Sweden have shocked many on the left. The far-right Sweden Democrats (SD) more than doubled its vote to 13 percent. The party now has 49 MPs in the 349-seat parliament.

The mainstream Social Democratic Party, Sweden’s Labour Party, secured 31 percent and 113 MPs, while the Tory Moderaterna party saw its votes haemorrhage, losing nearly a quarter of its MPs.

The Greens garnered 6.9 percent of the vote, little change from the 2010 elections.

The fascist SD was able to capitalise on the anger generated by more than 20 years of neoliberalism. Sweden has the fastest-growing income gap of all the OECD-countries, as well as a public sector being privatised at record-breaking speed.

The welfare sector has become a gold mine for venture capitalists, who can buy up government-funded health care centres and schools to make enormous profits — with the associated scandals.

These, together with Swedish students’ results plummeting in the international league tables, have produced the feeling of a failing system.

The ruling Alliance coalition, a smorgasbord of centre right parties dominated by Moderaterna, was never going to have an easy ride in the elections.

Moderaterna was the biggest loser, seeing its vote drop from 30 percent to 23.3 percent, with the SD picking up much of that loss. But the fascists could only grow because there was no real alternative.

The political opposition has been weak during the Alliance’s reign. Social Democratic leader Stefan Löfvén has been a key player in the drastic neoliberal reforms that have taken place over the past two decades.

Meanwhile the Left Party, which emerged from the Swedish Communist party, ran a single-issue campaign about profiteers in the welfare sector, but without linking the issue to the wider story of how money and power have been drastically reallocated in Swedish society.

The Left Party’s craving to be part of a future Social Democrat government meant it posed itself as “reasonable” and “credible”, and was not able to offer a bigger vision to that peddled by the far right.

Voters responded accordingly, and the Left Party gained only 0.1 percent more votes than in the 2010 poll.

The election campaign showed how all these tendencies interplayed. In July, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt put the supposed cost of immigration against the cost of welfare, giving the fascists an opening into the debate with immaculate timing.

Then Labour leader Löfvén on invited the parties of the Alliance to discuss forming a coalition — all to no avail. This demoralised many Social Democratic Party voters.

Some votes have switched from the Left Party and the Greens to the emerging feminist party Feministiskt Initiativ (Feminist Initiative). That this party has emerged is evidence that there is space for progressive politics. But it remains unfocused.

So what now? The short term prospect is bleak. The likeliest parliamentary outcome is a weak centre coalition. Meanwhile the fascist SD is set to grow and racism become normalised in Swedish politics.

The SD grew out of its stronghold in the south of the country and now pulls in a wider range of support from discontented voters abandoned by traditional politics — including some in working class areas in the north where it had previously little support.

However, an inspiring anti-racist movement has grown over the past year. In most towns where the SD tried to hold election rallies, people protested by chanting “No racists on our streets”. Thousands of anti-racists took to the streets on the day after the election.

The areas where the left lost most support are those where SD grew the most. This shows there are voters who can be won back with class politics.

Here the unions could play a role in building workplace organisation to fight both the cuts and racism. One of the most inspiring events in the past year was when groups of firefighters and health workers refused to allow SD politicians to visit their workplaces.

Socialists and anti-racists need to build this movement against racism. We need to expose the SD as the fascists they are, as well as build a credible alternative to neoliberalism.