the swedish class structure has revealed itself as at once idiosyncratic and typical. Income distribution is vastly more even that in other western countries, but social mobility is fully as sluggish, and the lived distances between classes probably as great. On the other hand, violent hostility between classes—class feeling as we know it—is strikingly absent. The smallness of the country and thus the tangibility of the national community have been suggested as partly responsible for this lack of intense class feeling. But there are other reasons for it as well. Prominent among these are the peculiarities of the Swedish work-force.
To begin with, 26 per cent of the population lives off the land—about five times the figure in England. Of the working agricultural population, about 50 per cent are independent farmers, and the size of their farms is small—units of no more than 25 acres cover three-quarters of the arable land. Agriculture is not a depressed sector of the economy, and the farmers by and large enjoy an economic position somewhere between that of industrial workers and of entrepreneurs proper; a position reflected in the political stance of the Farmers’ Party, which forms part of the Opposit
ion to the SAP, but is the most radical of the Opposition parties, and the one readiest to vote with the SAP on particular issues. At the same time, the industrial work-force is in important ways different from our own: a base of timber, water-power and iron-ore is much less oppressive in terms of work-regime than one of coal and steel, and the concentration of the transformative industries on specialised light engineering makes for what is almost certainly a much more skilled work-force than our own. Artisan traditions have not always been just eliminated by technology, they have been to some extent incorporated within it: the high quality of Swedish engineering, for instance, is generally admitted to be in part a carryover from the long traditions of Swedish ironmasters. Furthermore management itself is rather different from its British or American counterpart: it is not so amalgamated or hierarchised—corporations are neither so huge nor so all-powerful, while family enterprises are still common, so that the overall average size of businesses is relatively small. Finally, the physical configuration of the country is something utterly distinct from that of any other capitalist country. Sweden has the priceless good fortune of a ruralised industry. Vast industrial concentrations of the Midlands-Ruhr-Pennsylvania type do not exist, the diffuse structure of
Each of these differences works to lower the intensity of social antagonisms. The existence of a sizeable and prosperous agricultural population prevents a closed-circuit relationship between workers and employers, and thereby probably drains off some of the tension between the two. In more obvious ways, the comparative clemency of the industrial base, the independent skills of the working-class and the limited size of the enterprise all contribute in some measure to alleviate the strains of a class structure. The physical setting frames the net effect. However, it is clearly most of all the fact of SAP rule which draws much of the potential venom out of class in Sweden. The fact that the working-class party has political power on a semi-permanent basis and the bourgeois parties—for they so are still called—are equally normally in opposition, creates a kind of compensation for the social and economic advantages which the middle and upper classes enjoy, even when this power is not being effectively used on behalf of the workingclass (as in the universities). This, on top of the underlying differences in the make-up of the work-force, creates a situation in which at almost every point in the social system there is some factor ameliorating the way in which class is actually experienced.
At this point, it must be said that the account so far given of class in Sweden has made wide methodological concessions to Croslandism. Class has been considered mainly in terms of mobility. This is par excellence the revisionist way of looking at it, as an inequality of opportunity (education and initial income). What the New Left in contrast has always insisted is that class is also an inequality of power. For the Labour Right, everything is basically simple. The happy justice of universal adult suffrage apportions equal power to every citizen alike: on polling day each draws an identical ration as each receives a voting-card. But power is not just a vote, it is a title-deed and a board-position as well: even under a Labour government. Rogow and Shore’s book The Labour Government and British Industry1945–51, The Insiders and The Controllers have documented the enormous power of corporate industry independent of the “orthodox” locus of it in the State (i.e. Parliament).footnote1
Now Sweden is a clear exception to the rule in this. As has been seen, a predominantly workingclass party has held power uninterruptedly for nearly 30 years: this means that orthodox legislative power has achieved a degree of concentration and purity unknown in countries where there is a regular fluctuation of administrations. It thus becomes relatively possible to discuss class in abstraction of power (although only for a time) as there is not the slightest justification for doing in Britain. The obvious criterion then does become mobility, so that any account of class in Sweden will have an unavoidably Croslandite flavour about it. However, this is not to say that the poverties of revisionism receive any special sanction in Sweden. Its categories preclude any consideration of the ultimate nature of class, there or anywhere else. For, when one has registered class as both an inequality of “opportunity” and an inequality of power, the question then needs to be answered: are these the final reasons for fighting it?