The Twenty-Second Congress of the Swedish Communist Party—since 1967 called Left Party (Communist) or VPK—on September 19th–21st put an end to a period in the history of the party, hitherto unique in the annals of the international movement. A balance-sheet of this period and of the congress which terminated it is now necessary. How should this period be characterized? How was it possible? Why did it end? What are the prospects after the congress?

The October Revolution led to the creation of a wholly new type of politics incarnated in a new type of political organization, the Communist parties of the Third International. A striking aspect of these parties has been the formal continuity and tenacity of their organizational structure, official ideology and international connection. Given the gravamen of the charges of reformism and revisionism levelled against many of them—in other words, a fundamental political discontinuity—the organizational persistence even of the small and largely unsuccessful parties created by the Third International remains a remarkable phenomenon, in clear contrast to the multiple vicissitudes of other leftist formations. Communist Parties have had their influence drastically reduced, have been frequently repressed, have been obliged formally to dissolve—mainly in the so-called progressive Arab countries—but they have kept their distinctive identity. The project of 1944–45 in the Americas to change them into educational organizations —Browderism—failed, as did the enterprize of creating viable non-Comintern parties between the two World Wars.

After the Twentieth Party Congress in January 1964, Sweden witnessed another attempt to change a classical cp into something else. This something else was to be a ‘modernist’ left socialist party, the most typical international example of which is probably the French psu. The project included: complete independence from the ussr and the international Communist movement, internal democracy, loose organization, ‘Marxist’ but explicitly non-Leninist left reformism. The process got under way with the election of C. H. Hermansson as party leader in 1964, and reached its peak at the Twenty-First Congress in 1967 when the name of the party was changed (a compromise between those who wanted to keep the old Communist Party of Sweden and those who wanted to call it Socialist Left Party), Leninism was officially discarded in the new party programme, new completely social-democratic or liberal organizational statutes were adopted, a radical change in the Central Committee occurred, and finally a somewhat tougher line against the Swedish Social-Democratic Party in day-to-day politics was advanced.

A full explanation of this ‘modernist’ period cannot yet be given, but some factors can be distinguished. First of all, it must be seen as an extreme variant of a common Western European pattern. In the middle ’sixties, with the death or ousting of the old leadership dating from 1929 or so, similar processes of ‘modernization’ also developed in the big Western European cp’s, the Italian, the French and the Finnish. For a number of reasons these changes went much further in Sweden. Historically the Swedish Party was less dependent on the Comintern because it had been less formed by the international experiences of European Communism: Sweden did not participate in the First World War, there was no Popular Front in the ’thirties, no Resistance in the ’forties, and the Cold War was much weaker in neutral Sweden during the ’fifties. Moreover, the class struggle in Sweden, with its relatively liberal bourgeoisie dominated by advanced monopoly capital and a strong reformist tradition going back to the position of the peasantry in the pre-capitalist society, has traditionally assumed moderate forms. To these factors should be added at least three specifically organizational features. Because of the highly institutionalized labour market—extreme powers of the central union leadership and legal prohibition of wild-cat strikes—the Swedish cp could not entrench itself in industrial work, like the British or the Danish party, and so became extremely oriented to its parliamentary prospects. Secondly, there was no strong middle generation in the party to take over when the ‘men of 1929’ had to leave. Thirdly, a key role was played by Hermansson personally. Basically committed to ‘modernism’, though he avoided being identified as leader of this grouping within the party, he proved to be a very able parliamentary politician, who led the cp to electoral successes in 1964 and 1966 (when it got 6.5 per cent of the vote), thereby laying the only real basis for the new policies.

In the beginning ‘modernism’ played an objectively progressive role. It arose in a conjuncture of relative social calm, before the effects of the Vietnamese War had materialized in the political life of the imperialist countries, before a revolutionary student movement had appeared, and before the new structural contradictions of advanced capitalism had spurred the working class into militant discontent and action. In some respects the modernizers lifted the Party out of the torpor and isolation of the old Khrushchevite bureaucracy. Debureaucratization and the end to tailism in domestic politics were in themselves progressive. Independence from Moscow and the international Communist movement meant the possibility of a critique of the stagnant régimes in Eastern Europe, freedom from rigid defence of ‘peaceful coexistence’, sympathy with Cuba and openness towards new currents in Western Marxism. Liberal organizational conceptions meant among other things, an end to ouvrierist self-isolation and a bid to establish contact with progressive layers of the salariat.

Modernism might have continued and consolidated itself, or it might have become the first phase—a ‘democratic’ phase—in a change towards a revitalized revolutionary party. Neither happened. The immediate event which sealed its fate was the party’s staggering defeat in the 1968 parliamentary elections, where it polled 3·0 per cent, the lowest figure since 1940. The more basic reason was the sharpening of the class struggle in Sweden. In essence the modernists, and with them the party as a whole, were thoroughly reformist. They naturally became more or less completely isolated from the young nlf generation and the student movement. Both analytically and empirically a political expression of the progressive salaried strata—a ‘modern’ petty-bourgeoisie mainly based in Stockholm—the modernists were neither very interested in nor capable of the industrial work necessary to organize the new discontent of the working class. The party, and especially Hermansson personally, won some proletarian sympathy, but neither members nor faithful supporters. The Swedish Social-Democratic Party (sap) was thus able to use the reformist margin of manoeuvre created by the effective subjugation of archaic bourgeois strata under the advanced sectors of monopoly capital, deploying its skilful leadership and traditionally strong organization to mobilize both the working class and the salaried petty-bourgeoisie massively in the 1968 elections in order to ‘stop’ the bourgeois parties, who were threatening to return to power after three decades in opposition. This was much the most important cause of the disaster which struck the cp, although it was of course aggravated by the invasion of Czechoslovakia, which occurred during the election campaign.

‘Modernism’ had never truly penetrated the provincial apparatus or the proletarian cadres of the party. Once the party was reduced to itself— with the defection of its sympathizers—their relative weight immediately increased. Three major groups thus had accounts to settle at the Twenty-Second Congress in September. The Khruschevite Right, based on the provincial apparatus and the party weekly Ny Dag, had been neglected by the leadership during the modernist period. They wanted more emphasis on party organization, more power for themselves, more economist industrial work, and ‘normalized’ (if critical) relations with the ussr and its allies. Internationally they are comparable, though on a much inferior level, to the Right of the Italian cp. Their ideal is a non-Stalinist reformist Communist Party. A second group was formed by the hard core of the modernists on the independent but formerly party-supported weekly Tidsignal, based on the Greater Stockholm district and with some support from two provincial regions. They wanted to block any recidivism to reformist Khruschevism, a reiterated and vehement condemnation of the invasion of Czechoslovakia, and a new and more efficient party secretariat. Thirdly, there was a bitterly oppositional ‘traditionalist’ tendency from the party district of the extreme underdeveloped North, grouped on the regional daily Norrskensflammen—antipodal to the modernists, yet like the latter comprising both ‘right’ and ‘left’ elements. They demanded complete normalization of relations with the Soviet Union, support of the Husak régime, official reinstatement of centralism and a break with the modernists. Finally, there was also a sprinkling of genuine revolutionaries, some from the youth organization and a few individual middle echelon proletarian cadres. The moderate party centre, united by Hermansson personally if mostly to the right of him, was left above the mêlée.