|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Left Party loses in Swedish poll
SWEDEN’S GENERAL election on 15 September saw the return of Göran Persson’s government, with the ruling social democrats (SAP) increasing their vote to 40% from their 36% share in 1998.
Nationally, the Left Party and the conservative Moderates were the biggest losers. The Left Party (ex-Communists) had doubled their vote in the 1998 election, largely at the expense of the SAP, but this time their ‘fatal attraction’ to the ruling social democrats and support for spending cuts was roundly punished at the polls. The Left Party hoped to win 20% of the vote, but fell instead from 12% to 8.3% as many former voters swung behind the government. One Left Party leader attributed the swing to the SAP to their ‘left policies’ – an incredible statement. Rather, fear of a victory for the bloc of four ‘bourgeois’ (borgerlig) parties (Moderates, Liberals, Centre and Christian Democrats) on a programme of massive tax and spending cuts, galvanised support behind prime minister Göran Persson’s government.
When two parties pursue identical policies – as in the case of the SAP and Left Party – the larger one usually wins. The Left Party’s rightward shift and obsession with coalition politics cost them dearly. Prior to the election the party ran over 100 local councils, mostly together with the SAP and Greens, but sometimes in coalition with the ‘bourgeois bloc’. In every case they pursued balanced budgets, cuts and privatisations, arguing ‘we can’t afford ideology’, in the words of one Left Party council leader.
Nationally, the social democrats were the main beneficiaries of the Left Party’s slide. But in many areas it was more radical alternatives – in Umeå and Luleå, for example, where Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (RS), the Swedish section of CWI made gains (see box) – or parties which were seen as more radical, such as local health service parties (sjukvårdspartier), which won support at the Left Party’s expense. Almost one in four voters in Norrbotten (the northern region where Luleå is the capital) voted for the local health service party. In regions where Left Party politicians have voted to close hospitals they lost heavily to such parties, despite the fact that these parties too have proposed cuts and privatisations. While the Norrbotten Party (Norrbottensparti), launched by the former miners’ leader and council leader in Kiruna, Lars Törnman, failed to get into parliament, the party got 13,880 votes in Norrbotten. Significantly, while Törnman’s ‘left’ reputation in the region delivered this respectable result, his party lost power to the SAP in the town of Kiruna, where his administration has also presided over cuts.
Within the bourgeois alliance, the Moderates – most closely associated with tax cuts – suffered their worst result since 1973 (15.1%) while the liberal Folkparti tripled its vote (to 13.3%) by openly flirting with racism. Rather than focusing on the health service or education, where the total workforce has shrunk by a quarter after ten years of cuts and cash limits, the mass media seized upon the Liberals’ proposals for language tests for citizenship and lower benefits to immigrants, turning this into the main election issue. A ‘Danish’ election campaign, with established parties echoing some of the far right’s propaganda, helped legitimise the small racist fringe. The racist Sweden Democrats (SD) went from eight council seats in five towns, to 49 seats in over 20 mostly smaller towns in southern Sweden. This is a warning that reactionary forces can also begin to fill the political vacuum. While falling far short of the 4% needed to enter parliament, the SD vote nearly quadrupled to over 1% (76,300 votes) giving them the same rights as parliamentary parties at the next election (2006) to free distribution of election papers.
The threat from racist parties was a central element in the RS election campaign. The hypocrisy of the Liberals, one of the governing parties in the Stockholm region, was highlighted in a protest organised by RS outside the city hall which, as Svenska Dagbladet reported, "accused [the Liberals] of seriously undermining the quality of Swedish For Immigrants, SFI, while at the same time demanding Swedish tests for citizenship". RS also organised a demo of 400 school students in Haninge, south of Stockholm, against the fascist National Democrats who sit in the council. An attack by a small gang of fascists on the demo was repulsed, but as Metro later reported, "Mattias Bernhardsson, candidate for Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna in Haninge, received a death threat from a representative of the anti-immigrant National Democrats". This threat was a direct result of the campaign in Haninge.
The RS election campaign got considerable media exposure, for example an article in Dagens Nyheter, the country’s second biggest daily (‘Rättvisepartiet fights against war’). In its core areas, the party won over a significant layer of public sector workers, particularly women, as well as youth and immigrants. Campaigns in defence of the public sector, for example in Umeå, connected the party in the consciousness of many workers with the struggle against cuts. Typically, the social democrats resorted to crude anti-communism against RS. The pro-SAP daily Västerbottens Folkblad carried an article by Umeå’s council leader with a picture of Leon Trotsky and the headline ‘Offensive with revolution and lies’. The paper agreed to take in a reply – after the elections! Despite these largely ineffective attacks, RS achieved the best results of any force to the left of the parliamentary parties. The ex-Maoist KPML(r) lost one council seat each in the towns of Gislaved and Karlshamn, leaving them with a total of 11 seats in much smaller councils than Umeå and Luleå. The USEC-affiliate Socialistiska Partiet (SP) held onto their only council seat in Sweden in Köping.
In Luleå, the campaign against a school closure in the working class district of Svartöstaden saw RS emerge as the overall winner in that district. The local paper, Norrbottens Kuriren, described the result as a ‘knockout’ against the previously dominant Left Party (which had voted to close the school). An article about this - ‘RS went home here’ - made a comparison between the two parties, in which the local Left Party leader defended making cuts: "We wanted to see what was in the boat before rocking it". Jonas Brännberg, one of the new RS councillors, replied "My God, they’ve been around since 1917, they can’t claim they don’t know what they’re doing!"
Many international commentators have falsely interpreted Persson’s victory as a revival of the old, reformist, social democracy. On the contrary, the SAP’s program was deliberately vague, containing few promises, while the prime minister told journalists he was prepared to make cuts ‘in every area’ if necessary to avert a return to budget deficits. Speculation is rife in the press about a ‘hidden plan’ for budget cuts, while business journal Finans Vision exclaimed that "Persson’s victory prepares the way for the euro", with a referendum on the single currency due in 2003. The pro-Liberal Dagens Nyheter commented that "the market has never believed that a bourgeois government could take the country into the EMU as easily as the red block".
The gains for RS in the north of Sweden, plus the new recruits made during the campaign, put the CWI section in a far stronger position to intervene in such struggles.
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