The Far Right are making electoral gains in Sweden. Madeleine Johansson looks at the background to this worrying development.
The mainstream media have put a massive focus on the increase of votes for the far right Sweden Democrats but there is much more to report about politics in Sweden. Just as in other countries across the world the economic crisis of 2008 and the deep neoliberalism of the mainstream parties of the so called centre have caused a collapse of those parties.
The Sweden Democrats, whose leadership come from neo-Nazi backgrounds, is a deeply racist, anti-feminist and right-wing party which increased their vote from 12.9% in 2014 to 17.6% as it stands with all votes counted except for the postal votes from abroad. This is a deeply worrying development for anyone concerned about racism, democracy, women’s rights and solidarity.
While the mainstream media in Ireland link the rise of the far right to what they call the ‘crisis of immigration’ and the number of refugees that have settled in Sweden, we must look further to find the real cause of their rise.
Sweden is often lauded for the low levels of income inequality and the welfare state. But in reality inequality has been increasing rapidly over the last two decades and the welfare state has been destroyed by cutbacks and privatisation. Since the banking crisis of the early 1990’s the drive to privatisation and neoliberal cutbacks have been the mainstay of successive governments of both the centre-right and the centre-left.
The Social Democrats who held power for most of the 20th Century have accepted neo-liberalism with an open heart and have been rewarded by the electorate with their lowest vote since the early 20th Century. They also lost their majority in the county election in Norrbotten which they had controlled for 83 years. The rise of the far-right is intimately linked to the crisis of social democracy. The Social Democrats’ past 4 years of minority government with the Green party have been plagued by compromising on the question of immigration while being unable to make any major real changes to improve the lives of working class people. The major proposal of banning profit-making by private companies involved in providing welfare services was blocked by the Sweden Democrats.
The Left Party which had been at the forefront of the proposal and has consistently put forward an anti-racist, pro-worker agenda made gains of 2.2% with a vote of 7.9%. This increase is to be welcomed and shows that there is a deep polarisation in Swedish society with people moving both to the left and the far-right. However, the Left Party’s Stalinist history and its historical support of the Social Democrats both in government and outside creates problems for those looking for a different kind of radical left alternative.
The most important questions for the electorate as published by a major newspaper were Healthcare and Education. However the failure of the centre left to make improvements in these sectors can be seen as contributing to their losses and particularly to the decimation of the Green Party, which at 4.3% came dangerously close to the 4% limit for parliamentary seats.
There used to be a narrative of the Sweden Democrat voters being ignorant of the racism of the party and simply expressing an anger with the mainstream. Now it’s time to accept the fact those who voted for SD are racist in one way or another. The failure of the centre left to roll back on the privatisation agenda and their adherence to neoliberalism has led many to abandon the left, including the demands of the Left Party for increased taxes on the wealthy which seem impractical or impossible to many. In addition, the narrative of the mainstream media has propagated the notion of migrants and refugees as a strain on Swedish society and particularly on the welfare state. These factors have led some to believe in the racist notion that if only the immigrants were gone there would be services for the “Swedish people”. Of course, this is absolute nonsense. Voting for the Sweden Democrats will only result in less public services, more tax cuts for the rich and further privatisation.
At this stage it is unclear who will form a government and with whom. Both left and right blocks have ruled out working with SD but it remains to be seen. While we wait for the last few votes to be counted, the Swedish left will have a huge task ahead to fight racism and fascism while building an alternative to neoliberalism and capitalism.