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Radicalization and Retreat in Swedish Social Democracy
The policies of Sweden’s Social Democratic Government are often invoked to demonstrate that there exists a viable alternative to Thatcherite neo-liberalism, while for many currents within Europe’s dwindling group of ruling Socialist parties Sweden has come to represent the light beckoning at the end of a long tunnel of austerity and restructuring. [*] This article will adopt a historical rather than a directly comparative approach: focusing on the debate over ‘wage-earner funds’, it will trace the development of Swedish Social Democracy, and Swedish politics more generally, over the last twenty years. Such a perspective, however, will provide elements for comparative reflection in other countries of Western Europe. Against the background of what has actually happened in this period, it cannot but seem odd, and frankly disheartening, that the current government in Stockholm should be construed as the flagship of the European Left. It is easy to see that one element in this fascination is the political dominance of the Social Democratic Party (sap).  In seventeen parliamentary elections since 1928, it has averaged 46 per cent of the popular vote, never falling below 40 per cent and outdistancing the second largest party by an average of 25 percentage points. From 1932 to 1976, Sweden had but three prime ministers, and they were all Social Democrats. This represents the longest continuous government tenure of any working-class party, indeed any party tout court, operating in a liberal–democratic context. Following six years of coalition government by the so-called ‘bourgeois parties’—Centre, Liberal and Conservative—the Social Democrats took office again in 1982, and restored their claim to be the ‘natural party of government’ by winning the elections in 1985.
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