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Issue 46, April 2000

Sweden's neo-Nazi menace

    Establishment 'anti-fascism'
    Fighting the fascists
    Capitalists and classical fascism
    Neo-Nazis in the 1990s

With a spate of murders and bombings last year, Swedish neo-Nazis established themselves as perhaps the most active terrorists in any EU country. Last summer, two policemen were shot dead, while car bombs almost killed a journalist and blinded a police officer. Then, in October, a trade union activist was murdered. PER-ÅKE WESTERLUND assesses Sweden's neo-Nazi threat and the measures taken to combat it.

BJÖRN SÖDERBERG WAS shot dead by neo-Nazis outside his flat on 12 October last year. Two months earlier, Söderberg, an activist in the small syndicalist trade union, SAC, had gone to the press to expose a leading neo-Nazi who was working at the same warehouse as himself. The fascist had been elected to the branch committee of Handels (the shop workers' union). About to be expelled, the neo-Nazi leader quit both job and union.

The response to this vicious murder was the largest anti-Nazi demonstrations in Sweden since the 1930s, held on Saturday 23 October. Mass rallies of 40,000 people in 20 towns expressed the mood against Nazism and the willingness to take action. Reacting to the mood of outrage, the establishment parties stepped up their denunciations of Nazi terrorism. But there exists a huge gap between the so-called 'anti-fascism' of the state, on one hand, and the movement of workers and youth against racism and fascism, on the other.

In debates on this upsurge in violence, politicians and self-proclaimed 'experts' have portrayed the neo-Nazis as youth 'upset' over immigration. Popular historian, Herman Lindqvist, blaming the 'flood of refugees' for the outrages, said that there is no comparison between today's fascists and those of the 1930s. This 'public opinion against refugees' has actually been led and engineered from the top. It is the state which has organised the hardest attacks on immigrants. As in the rest of Europe, the governments of the 1990s - both Social Democratic and Conservative coalitions - have attacked the right of asylum and the living standards of immigrants as part of the slaughter of the welfare state. Sweden's first big austerity budget in 1992 also hit sick-pay and pensions, and cut grants for refugees to £4.50 a day. School lessons in first-country languages have been effectively abolished. The unemployment rate for people from Africa living in Sweden is between 80-90%. The programme of the racist New Democracy party, which had MPs from 1991-94, has been implemented. Sweden today has fewer refugee applications than Austria! Since the mid-1990s, the Social Democratic leader of Gothenburg council has demanded a halt to the arrival of new refugees. Not a single coin 'saved' on immigration has found its way to the health service or education, and drastic measures to prevent refugees entering Sweden have not stopped the violence from racists and fascists.


But the establishment's picture of the neo-Nazis as working-class youth upset over immigration and often provoked by 'violent immigrant youth' was shattered last year. The most spectacular attacks were against journalists, trade union activists and homosexuals, most of them Swedes. Most of the perpetrators are middle-class youth - the murderer of Söderberg is the son of a businessman. Both the fascists and the establishment politicians have misjudged the mood among workers and youth on the question of immigration. In the reform period of the 1960s and 1970s, when much of the state provision and welfare reforms were put in place, there was high immigration yet racism receded. In the 1990s, refugees fighting for their rights and engaged in occupations, demonstrations and hunger strikes, received the overwhelming support of young people, workers and neighbours.

The real issues are unemployment and the destruction of the welfare state. These, and the redistribution of wealth to big business, represent the increased costs paid by working-class families. Immigration, along with the politicians' new favourite subject of the 'integration' (in other words, assimilation) of immigrants, is being raised against the background of economic crisis. The constant portrayal of immigrants as a 'problem', creates new opportunities for fascist groups and racist parties. There can be no return to wide-ranging reform, including the restoration of the right of asylum, without a struggle against the capitalist market itself. Combined with campaigns and action, socialists therefore also have the task of showing the link between capitalism, racism and fascism.


top     Establishment 'anti-fascism'

EVERY TIME THE movement against fascism and racism has grown among workers and youth, there has been talk of tougher action from the state. In 1995, the police were supposed to receive 'education' on what the swastika and other fascist insignia look like. Courts were told to give out harsher sentences for racist crimes. The impression was given that anti-fascism was a task for the state. Last autumn, the Social Democratic Justice Minister, Laila Freivalds, claimed that the police, well-known for their spying on socialist organisations, nowadays are 'only' watching neo-Nazis.

Even voices on the left have put their hopes in the state. The appeal, mainly from syndicalists, which was circulated in the Swedish media after the bomb attack on journalist Peter Karlsson, called on the secret police to make the neo-Nazis their priority. The demand was raised that the Justice Minister should develop an anti-fascist programme of action. After the murder of Söderberg, the neo-Stalinist party KPML(r) demanded that the government should ban neo-Nazi organisations. But what is the record of the state?

The head of the secret police stated after the bombings in June that the neo-Nazis were 'no threat to the country's security'. He pointed to 'militant vegans' as a bigger problem. Subsequently it was revealed that the police knew that there was a plan to murder Söderberg but did not warn him. After the murder, they immediately arrested three neo-Nazis who had been spotted by police officers outside Söderberg's house earlier the same night.


This was not accidental. The state and the police have always regarded the independent organisation of left-wing youth and others as a bigger threat than the fascists. Big resources have been deployed against those who want to stop new motorways or hide refugees. Three weeks before Söderberg's murder, the police intervened brutally against Reclaim the City's peaceful street party in Stockholm, where 300 young people were arrested.

The fear of the big potential growth for the anti-fascists was summarised by a Conservative Justice Minister in 1993: 'One day they demonstrate against racism, the other against school cuts'. In 1993 the police carried out mass arrests of anti-fascists who planned to blockade a neo-Nazi march on 30 November in Lund in the south of Sweden. One thousand two hundred police detained 500 anti-fascists, among them 12-year-olds. The same year the police tried to ban the anti-fascist counter-demonstration in Stockholm. The state was prepared to give the fascists a monopoly on the streets on 30 November and on other fascist anniversary days. They were given police protection to march, to ensure their 'democratic rights'. Only the energetic work of anti-fascists, with Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS - Socialist Justice Party) in a leading role, put a stop to this development. We knew that allowing the neo-Nazi marches to go ahead would only increase their appetite and violence. By the end of the 1990s, 30 November became known as an anti-racist and anti-fascist day. The fascists had stopped trying to demonstrate.


The state and the politicians' 'discovery' that the fascists are a danger has come very late in the day. In Stockholm in the early 1990s they even opened a council-financed youth club for skinheads. This club worked as a fascist recruitment school and offered free equipment for White Power music bands. It was finally closed after several cases of assault.

More resources to the state and police, or new laws, do not mean that they will be used against neo-Nazis. Laws prohibiting far-right organisations in Germany and other countries have not stopped new groups being formed. Extraordinary laws have instead been used against environmental activists. As a rule, a few weeks after the proclaimed 'tougher methods' from the state and the police it's business as usual again. This year started with the police denying that racism was behind the neo-Nazi murder of 19-year-old Salih Uzel on New Year's Eve.

top     Fighting the fascists

SEVENTY-EIGHT PERCENT of LO (Swedish trade union federation) members want to ban fascist organisations. Those who argue against this in the media are mainly leading politicians from a 'liberal democratic' position. We have been careful not to side with the establishment. We have shown that the demand for a ban in reality means that the neo-Nazis should have no rights, that the state should stop protecting them. This can only be achieved, however, by mass campaigns and action from below, independent of the state and establishment politicians.


There are many important examples of the type of campaigns required, where RS and Elevkampanjen (the Swedish group of Youth against Racism in Europe) have played a key role. One of the most successful actions was when 10,000 anti-racists blocked the neo-Nazi march to the Charles XII monument in Stockholm on 30 November 1991. It was a powerful answer to the murder of Jimmy Ranjbar, an Iranian shot by John Ausonius, a neo-Nazi, a month earlier. At the same time, this event became one of the most slandered anti-racist actions. The Minister of Immigration, both the Liberal and Social Democratic Youth organisations, and all the media, condemned our demonstration. They argued that it should have 'taken place some other day' to avoid confrontation. They said it would have been bigger had this been done. But a march of MPs to a church was all they later managed to organise.

For the neo-Nazis the day was a fiasco. Leaders of Vam (White Arian Resistance) and the 'Sweden Democrats' found their march blockaded. This was at a time when the fascists saw themselves as riding a tide of growing Swedish opinion against refugees. Crises and splits followed in their camp. In Sundsvall from 1993 onwards RS organised several big demonstrations and actions against every mobilisation by the neo-Nazis. Their efforts to open an office and establish a basis in the north of Sweden collapsed. The campaigns also involved finding out where the White Power concerts were planned and convincing the owners to cancel the event. Evening patrols were set up in the city whenever violence increased and anti-racist meetings were held in the schools.


It is important to act immediately. In Umeå, RS demanded the sacking of a university lecturer who invited a neo-Nazi to address a seminar in 1997. At Åsö school in Stockholm, Elevkampanjen campaigned against neo-Nazi school students who were, in practice, allowed to run amok by the school management. Several demonstrations rallied the students and exposed the weak support for the neo-Nazis.

In Södertälje, RS launched a campaign against a White Power concert planned for January 1998 to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Hitler coming to power. Seven hundred people took part in an anti-fascist demonstration despite the fact that local politicians had warned that it would be 'dangerous' to participate. The neo-Nazi event was stopped when the campaign put pressure on bus companies and hall owners to cancel the contracts. We organised a boycott in 1999 of a play at the National Theatre about Nazi prisoners. The correctness of that campaign was confirmed when these self-same 'actors' were arrested for the murder of two policemen in May.

After the murder of Söderberg, we stressed that the trade unions should take action. The publicity and mass pressure have forced several unions to expel neo-Nazis, and have forced some individuals to publicly renounce their membership of fascist organisations. But the union leaderships have not given any guidance for members or branches. The TCO leader, Sture Nordh, appealed for 'conversations' in workplaces. What is needed, however, is collective action, organised rallies and meetings. RS and Elevkampanjen have raised the demand for a one-hour political strike, including mass rallies, against fascist violence. In several schools Elevkampanjen has organised rallies and days of action. At work, action against neo-Nazis could also play a role in stirring up dormant unions and replacing leaders who have accepted the policies of the 1990s.


The struggle to smash the breeding grounds of racism and fascism is a socialist struggle. A united fight-back by working-class people which cuts across ethnic and national divides is the only weapon against nationalism, racism and fascism. The working class, with the support of combative youth and other oppressed layers, must fight against cuts and for jobs, better working conditions and pay. The working class needs to campaign against the divisions of racism and fascism, and for a socialist society where people's needs are paramount.

top     Capitalists and classical fascism

THE FIRST FASCIST dictatorship was established in Italy at the beginning of the 1920s. The armed fascist militias were used by the bourgeoisie to smash the general strikes and factory occupations of the workers. The employers' federation financed Benito Mussolini and the fascists out of fear of revolution. The military and police tops sided with the fascists.

Germany, following a series of revolutionary crises in the immediate post-war years, was hit harder than any other industrialised country by the economic depression after the Wall Street crash of 1929. The leading capitalists and strategists of the ruling class saw Adolf Hitler as a saviour: he was going to give the German bourgeoisie revenge against the working class, the Soviet Union and for the defeat in the first world war. The steel baron, Krupp, was among the capitalists who joined the Nazi party. Big business enthusiastically supported Hitler when he came to power promising that the next election would be the last.


The task of fascism in the 1920s and 1930s was to rally the destitute petit-bourgeoisie into a mass movement. Politically it was a movement to establish a state capable of smashing all independent workers' organisations. The first targets for Hitler and Mussolini were the socialists, communists and trade union activists. Within months the German unions were smashed. The capitalists got their reward: wages were cut by 25-40% in Germany and by 50% in Italy. State companies were privatised and the armaments industry got huge state orders.

The German and Italian fascists had many international admirers. Leading US car magnate, Henry Ford, was openly a fascist sympathiser. Mussolini was praised in the Wall Street Journal and other influential US papers. Winston Churchill also participated in this chorus, until the interests of British imperialism were threatened. The Swedish royal family was among Hitler's supporters, as was Sweden's chief-of-staff and the secret police.

The fascists were not small isolated groups. The bourgeoisie in a majority of European countries established regimes which started out as, or developed into, fascist or semi-fascist dictatorships: Hungary 1919, Italy 1922, Poland and Lithuania 1926, Portugal 1927, Yugoslavia and Albania 1929, Germany 1933, Austria, Estonia, Latvia and Bulgaria 1934, Greece 1936, Romania 1938, Spain 1936-39 and Czechoslovakia 1936-38. In these countries trade unions and socialist parties were banned, activists imprisoned and murdered. From Hitler coming to power in 1933 to the beginning of the second world war, most of these regimes took their lead from Berlin.


top     Neo-Nazis in the 1990s

THE NEO-NAZIS of today started by harassing refugees and immigrants. During the 1990s they have gradually taken classical Nazi positions. Attacks on homosexuals have increased. This summer, a group of neo-Nazis assaulted visitors to the Gay Pride week in Stockholm. With the murder of Björn Söderberg and the bomb two weeks later at the syndicalists' office in Gävle, the Swedish fascists have taken the first steps to organise attacks on trade unions and union activists.

The neo-Nazis are more than 'mere' racists: 'Us coming to power means the end of all democratic nonsense - then we will ban all parties and all immigrants will be thrown out of the country', the propaganda boss of Nationalsocialistisk Front (NSF) explained in an interview. This openly pro-Hitler group, with a couple of hundred members, stands for state 'race control', and higher wages for 'genetically healthy families'.

Today's neo-Nazis are far from being the mass movement they were in the 1920s and 1930s. They are not on their way to take power. The capitalists remember how badly they were burnt the last time they played with fascist fire. They were not able to control the regimes they created. But although the neo-Nazis today are small groups, they can still play a deadly role. They can organise violent terror actions as in Sweden last year. In some towns in eastern Germany there are 'national liberated zones' controlled by young neo-Nazis, where immigrants and socialists are assaulted.


The neo-Nazis can channel the discontent which exists in society today. The be-suited neo-Nazis of the Sweden Democrats have tried to mobilise public opinion against refugee camps, as if these were responsible for unemployment and the health service crisis. Neo-Nazis can provide a nucleus or an armed wing for bigger racist parties. There are close links, for example, between neo-Nazi terrorists and the Sweden Democrats, which denies that it is a fascist party. The latter has eight councillors nationally and is sponsored by its role model, the Front National (FN) in France. In Le Pen's party, fascist skinheads form a 'security force'.

The ex-workers' parties have no means of stopping the new racist parties. Further adaptation to the right, including sharper anti-immigration policies or alliances with conservative parties, have failed to halt the growth of far-right parties. At times of deep economic and social crises, small fascist groups can assist the military and the state. Fascist organisations acted as storm troopers against workers' organisations in the military coups in Chile (1973) and Turkey (1980).

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