The politics of the centre has come to an end. In last month’s election in Sweden both of the two main parties, the conservative Moderates and the Social Democrats, lost votes, leading to a situation where neither block can proclaim themselves as the winner.
Both blocks are wedded to the neoliberal economic consensus which has meant privatisation, deregulation, no budget deficit and a more insecure labour market. Sweden has the fastest growing income gap of all the OECD countries and is now a haven for the rich. Many voters clearly don’t want more of the same.
The problem is the alternative. At the moment the racist Sweden Democrats (SD) are managing to control the debate, as illustrated in the voters’ list of the key issues. The economy and employment have been in the top five in the three previous elections. This year the economy dropped down from third to seventh place, and refugees and immigration appeared for the first time in the top ten.
In the absence of real alternatives the SD narrative about immigration being the root to all problems can gain a hearing. So the biggest winner in the election was the racist Sweden Democrats (up by 4.7 percentage points to 17.5 percent), though it had expected a better result.
SD is still a pariah among the other political parties, but not for long. Journalists constantly discuss how SD will get the influence it craves, without realising it already has a tight grip of the political agenda. In just two years Sweden went from having the most open borders to the most closed ones.
Under no circumstances should the left underestimate the fascist nature of SD, yet we must keep a level head. There have been attempts to downplay the racism and see SD as a party of discontent — that we have to listen to the voters’ “concerns” about migration. But SD is only interested in creating a more racist society and over time to build a fascist movement.
With the growth of SD comes also the rise of more open Nazi organisations (Alternative for Sweden, National Democrats) who strive to push the political agenda even further to the right.
There is little evidence that SD’s vote went up as a result of immigration itself, but rather a feeling that things are not going in the right direction and blaming it on immigrants, refugees, Muslims, Roma, and so on. There are also economic factors at play. Over 100,000 industrial jobs disappeared in the last economic crisis, something rarely talked about.
SD has the most votes among those on sick leave and small business-owners, but also a quarter of LO members (trade unionists). SD gained votes from the Moderates in rich areas and from the Social Democrats in more working class areas. Some 58 percent of those who voted for the party consider themselves right wing, 8 percent left wing and the rest neither. SD had more pro-welfare politics in the 2014 election. After a meeting with big business it changed tack without losing any support. This shows it is basically a party with one draw — racism.
At the moment SD’s plan is to get power locally through campaigning and producing materials and its own paper, and show itself to be “fit to rule”. It is very confident at present, feeling no need to hide behind a veneer of respectability.
What about the left? The Left party gained votes, up from 5.7 percent in 2014 to 8 percent, and are, perhaps more significantly, increasing their membership rapidly. It now has 25,000 members, 5,000 having joined since June.
The Green Party and the Feminist Initiative together lost votes and the Left party did not gain enough to take up that slack, so the red block lost votes overall. The problem for the Left party is that it has also been wedded to the neoliberal economic model and not really seen as a radical alternative.
Instead of trying to be “responsible” and “realistic”, the Left party would do well to campaign on the feeling that things are not going in the right direction but that the working class should blame the bosses not migrants.
What we need is a grassroots movement that can be unequivocally anti-fascist and anti-racist with no concessions to the racist arguments of the right.
But we also need to build struggles on housing, pensions and against privatisation and bring the debate back to class politics, putting economic alternatives at the centre of political discussions.