The general societal setting of contemporary Swedish politics has been analysed elsewherefootnote1 by the present writer in terms of the combination of—to use Gramscian categories—working-class political dominance with a continuing latent hegemony of the bourgeoisie. This situation has positive implications for left-wing action and thinking. Working-class political dominance offers left-wing projects a higher degree of realistic possibility than is common in a bourgeois-dominated country. And the latent nature of bourgeois hegemony in Sweden—where it is not derived from a mystical legitimation of a bourgeois right to rule but is based almost exclusively on the economic role of the bourgeoisie—confers a certain intellectual openness upon the social system.
None the less, there are also several negative features in this situation. Over 30 years of government have very firmly cemented a non-socialist power structure within the sap (the Social Democratic party). The sap is strong—its membership is around 850,000, two-thirds collectively affiliated, with an annual growth of 1–2 per cent—and an economically resourceful party. It functions through well-integrated hierarchical layers of professional politicians, administrators, mp’s, municipal councillors, a host of full-time officials in and around the party (in the penumbra of unions and housing co-operatives, for example). The sap is monolithic to a degree almost unprecedented in Social Democratic history.
Government power has not only meant patronage in the simple sense. It has brought immense possibilities for the division of left-wing forces, by individual integration and the distribution of isolated little enclaves of power in which consciousness and practice become totally fragmented.
The Swedish Social Democrats have never experienced a crisis, a moment of truth, which necessitated fundamental rethinking. Absence of deep-going structural and ideological shocks is characteristic of Swedish society, in marked contrast to the general history of the European Left. The collapse of the Second International in 1914 was one such crisis. While the sap as a whole, operating in a neutral country and playing the role of loyal opposition to the reactionary war government, was not directly affected, this crisis did have a considerable meaning for the anti-militarist left of the party.
The Russian Revolution is certainly the event which has had most impact, good and bad, on the Left in Europe. The new wind was felt in Sweden too, but by this period classical pre-Leninist Social Democracy was already preponderant. Sweden was spared the full impact of the Depression, and an expansionist Social-Democratic economic policy—facilitated by the crash of the Swedish financier Krueger in the spring of 1932—was able to overcome the disaster relatively early.
After the Depression, the major international watershed of the thirties was the fight against Fascism. True, a certain solidarity with Spain was demonstrated; but for Sweden the decade of ‘The Coming Struggle for Power’ and of the Popular Front was the decade of the ‘Cow Deal’ (the co-operation between the Farmers’ Party and the Social Democrats), a start to the construction of a welfare capitalist ‘People’s Home’ and the demise of the Socialist Party. In the thirties, during the Nazi liquidation of the spd and MacDonald’s betrayal, the foundations were laid for the emergence of the sap to a certain prominence in international Social Democracy.
Following the Second World War, Sweden experienced a general drift to the left, just as there was a swing to the right when the Cold War set in. But as a country which fortunately escaped the holocaust in Europe, Sweden never experienced the formation of left-wing militants that the resistance movements brought to the occupied countries. The crises of nato, the Bomb and Imperialism were for the Swedes only distant dramas to be viewed from outside, since Sweden was not directly integrated into the imperialist system. And because of the intellectual mediocrity of the skp (the Swedish cp), and the absorption of domestic political energies from 1957 onwards around the struggle for a comprehensive pensions scheme, the traumas of 1956 were little felt in Sweden.