Far-right breakthrough in Sweden

Jeff Skinner reports from Sweden on a frightening parliamentary election that has given the far right seats in parliament for the first time.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt meets with George W. Bush in May 2007 (Eric Draper)Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt meets with George W. Bush in May 2007 (Eric Draper)

IN AN election result that sent shock waves across the country, the Sweden Democrats (SD), a far-right party with documented ties to racist and fascist organizations, burst into the Riksdag for the first time in the country's history, winning nearly 6 percent of the vote and 20 seats in parliament.

The SD's gains weren't limited to the national level--it also gained seats in almost every municipality where it stood candidates. To add insult to injury, the leader of the Swedes' Party (formerly the National Socialist Front) took a seat on the municipal council of Grästorp--marking the first time in 70 years that an open Nazi has been elected to public office in Sweden.

The Alliance, a bloc of conservative parties that has held power in Sweden for the last four years, won the most seats in the Riksdag, but fell just short of an outright majority.

On election night, incumbent Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, leader of the Moderate Party, declared that the Alliance would not work with the SD to form a government majority. Instead, Reinfeldt made overtures to center-left parties in the Red-Green bloc. He was immediately rebuffed by the Green Party, but so far, the other members of the bloc, the Social Democratic Party and the Left Party, have not responded.

But even if the Alliance doesn't accept the SD into the majority coalition, there is nothing preventing it from adapting the SD's politics in the attempt to attract more voters--a maneuver that is becoming commonplace with conventional conservative parties in Europe.

As for the center-left opposition, which ran together in the Red-Green bloc, the Social Democratic Party managed to win the largest number of votes, but its 30.7 percent was the worst result since 1920 for the party that has dominated Swedish politics for decades.

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THE SD has been able to gain a hearing because of the steady dismantling of the Swedish social welfare state over the past decade. The Alliance has pushed through a neoliberal agenda, in spite of the international crisis. It has lowered taxes and slashed unemployment benefits, diverted more tax money to private health care companies and private schools, privatized publicly owned apartment buildings and residences, and even instituted U.S.-style workfare programs, where people with disabilities are forced to seek jobs in order to retain their benefits.

The traditional left parties--the Social Democrats and the Left Party--disappointed voters by refusing to put forth any kind of resistance to these cutbacks. But this is hardly surprising since the Social Democrats originated many of these same programs in the 1990s.

The SD played on the fears of ordinary working Swedes upset at losing social benefits and worried about the effects of a global crisis that shows no signs of improving. The party was helped by the attention it got from mainstream papers, which refused to call the SD out for the racists and fascists they are, but instead treated them as simply another voice in the debate.

The Green Party gained votes and seats in the Riksdag--a positive sign that a left-of-center party new to the national political scene could make gains. However, the Greens have proven willing to work with the Alliance at the municipal level.

Revolutionary socialists in the Socialist Justice Party (an affiliate of the CWI) successfully retained their seats in two municipal councils.

More important than the election result, however, was the reaction to the SD that erupted from below. The right-wingers were met with loud and confident anti-racist protests wherever they tried to organize election meetings. In many cases, the meetings were canceled before they even started.

And on September 20, the day after the elections, more than 10,000 people gathered in downtown Stockholm to show their anger at the SD's gains--a demonstration that spontaneously turned into a march on the Riksdag building. Further demonstrations have been planned up to and including when the Riksdag opens on October 4.

The threat of the right is a real danger that will have to be challenged with more actions like these. But the left has something to build on. There have been small but significant victories in working-class struggles around the country over the last few years, and socialists need to bring the lessons from those victories to the coalescing movement to oppose the Sweden Democrats.