“Sweden does not constitute an example of ‘welfarism’ or the success of social democracy”

Interview with Andreas Sörensen, Chairman of the Communist Party of Sweden (SKP)

January 12, 2020 by Muhammed Shabeer
Swedish communists
The Communist Party of Sweden (SKP), refounded in 1995, publishes the monthly newspaper RiktpunKt.

Politics in Scandinavian countries has been a subject of great interest to political and social analysts due to several factors, including the comparatively better living standards, the policies of social welfare, and relatively lesser political violence. However, Scandinavian politics is undergoing a challenging period, with the countries of the region dealing with austerity, the climate emergency and the rise of hyper-nationalism. Peoples Dispatch (PD) spoke to Andreas Sörensen, Chairman of the Communist Party of Sweden (SKP) regarding the recent trends in Swedish polity,  characteristics of the current government, and the challenges faced by the working class in the country.

Peoples Dispatch (PD): What is your take on the policies of the current Social Democrat – Green government in Sweden? What is the impact of these policies on the workers, women and youth of Sweden? 

Andreas Sörensen (AS): The current government has directed hard blows against the working people of Sweden, with the support of the Left Party. It has in practice abolished the right to strike, deregulated the housing rent, contributed to driving the prices for housing through the roof, and is doing its best to ensure a flexible labor market for Swedish capital by deregulating employment security. 

In practice, it has gone further than the previous right-wing governments of Sweden. This is the result of the sharpening contradictions within the imperialist system, which forces capital to increase its profitability to maintain its competitiveness. One way to do this is to cut expenditure on welfare and to create a more flexible labor market, so as to be able to meet fluctuating market conditions and, above all, the next capitalist crisis. 

In this respect, the government is also tasked with the preparation of Swedish capitalism for the next capitalist crisis, which is around the corner. That is why the government has rushed in implementing the anti-people and anti-worker measures that it has pushed through. 

While directed at the working population in its entirety, the measures of the government affect both women and the youth especially hard. Sectors dominated by women workers, such as the welfare sector, are under severe attack and subject to cutbacks, which leaves thousands of workers unemployed, while at the same time causing an increasingly stressful situation for the remaining workers. The youth, already subjected to insecure working and housing conditions, will see these conditions experienced by the rest of the population. 

PD: What is the role of the communist party in a Scandinavian country like Sweden, which pursues welfare as a state ideology? What is your take on the welfare state policy pursued by the Nordic countries? 

AS: We must completely reject the characterization of our country as pursuing ”welfarism” as a state ideology. The only ideology pursued by the state is that of raising capitalist profitability and in the best possible manner representing the interests of Swedish capitalism. 

The fact that Sweden has seen a relatively extensive welfare system is the result of historical factors, such as the existence of a militant workers’ movement, the existence of real socialism as a deterrent for the capitalists, as well as the correspondence of welfare to the development of productive forces. For example, the construction of housing during the 1960s and 1970s contributed to better housing for the workers, but above all concentrated workers in urban, industrial areas. The same principle can be applied to the unitary school system that was introduced in 1962. Of course, it enabled working-class children to attend school, but at the same time, it allowed Swedish capitalism to use a more educated workforce for its more and more developed productive forces. 

In some aspects, this must be maintained. The organized working class pushed for more welfare than was needed, which resulted in counter-attacks by capitalism. A very good example is the pension system of Sweden, which has been reformed a number of times and today has created a big group of pensioners. Notwithstanding, 12% of all pensioners in Sweden still live below the poverty line. 

This principle constantly guides the construction of welfare around the world, not only in Sweden. The construction of societal infrastructure allows for an expansion of capitalism as well, which one can see today in Latin America. 

Today, the relative welfare of the Swedish working people is under attack. Capital must draw more and more sectors into capital accumulation, which is why privatization of both healthcare and schools is increasing, plummeting the quality of welfare. 

So let me be clear: Sweden does not constitute an example of ”welfarism” or the success of social democracy – the policy of the Swedish state and government is at all times directed towards the biggest possible capital accumulation. 

This means that the role of a communist party here is the same as everywhere: expose the capitalist system and to do its utmost to direct the working people in a struggle against it, for socialism. 

PD: What is your take on the recent spike in racist hate crimes in the country, and the surging popularity of the anti-immigrant, ultra-right Swedish Democrats (SD)? 

AS: The growth of right-wing populism, anti-immigrant sentiment and racism run parallel to the development and needs of capitalism, and at the same time, it is a difficult issue to analyze. 

Many people do themselves and the working class a disfavor by simplifying the question of the rise of the far-right. By mimicking the policies of the far-right, some self-proclaimed socialists think they will be able to attract the voters that have gone to the far-right. This is a completely false direction to take and completely ignores the role of a communist party, as well as the reality which we face. 

The role of the communist party is that of attracting the most advanced and best elements of the working class. It is to strive for the leadership of the workers’  movement, in the realization that the communist consciousness cannot emerge spontaneously. 

When looking at the situation within the labor movement, one can see that around half of the organized workers within the Swedish trade unions still support the Social Democrats or the Left Party. The rest of the organized labor force is spread out between the right-wing parties, with the Swedish Democrats obtaining the most support among them. We can easily draw the conclusion that those workers who have stayed with social democracy have an ounce more class consciousness than those who have gone to the right – these are the ones we need to focus on, to free them from the grip and illusions of social democracy. 

Only by freeing them can we effectively combat fascism, racism and the rise of the far-right. Without this focus, they become tied down and passive, trusting and hoping in the reformation of capitalism. 

PD: What is the probability of forming a united front of the leftist parties in Sweden, including the SKP and the Left Party, to resist neoliberalism and the rise of the ultra-right? 

AS: First of all, it is important to highlight the fact that we do not seek to form a united front with the Left Party, nor any other leftist party in Sweden. We do not see this as a possible way to strengthen the communists and the working class. The policy of having united and popular fronts is a contributing factor to the decline of the revolutionary movement. 

From the beginning, the united and popular fronts shifted the focus of the communist parties, setting them on a path that would lead them to accept the peaceful transition to socialism. The basic contradiction of labor-capital, found in the economic base of capitalism, was downplayed, and instead, the contradiction of bourgeois democracy – fascism came to the fore. This contradiction is not revolutionary, as both bourgeois democracy and fascism can easily fit within the capitalist system and be solved within it, while the contradiction between labor and capital cannot. 

In combination with the optimism that characterized the communist movement after the victory of the Soviet Union, this paved the way for the social democratization of the communist parties, who came to see solutions within the capitalist system as their main objectives. We maintain that compromises around these issues are not possible, but, for the establishment of a united front, would be necessary. 

It is also in this vein that one has to see the question of neoliberalism. In essence, neoliberalism is a doctrine for the organization of capitalism, corresponding to its contemporary needs. Its opposite is not socialism, but another form of capitalism, more tightly regulated. When one forms an opposition to neoliberalism, one runs a high risk of being trapped within the capitalist system, just as the earlier communist parties were trapped between bourgeois democracy and fascism. We do not support a more regulated capitalism in opposition to an unregulated one, just as we do not support left-wing policies within capitalism in opposition to right-wing policies within capitalism. 

Our main objective is the overthrow of capitalism, and there can be no compromise here. We do not fight the various expressions of capitalism, such as neoliberalism, but direct our attention to the system in itself, the opposite of which is socialism. 

To this, it is important to add that the Left Party supports the government and the attacks against the working population of Sweden. They play the role of the left-wing of capital, something for which they must be exposed and attacked. 

This does not mean that we do not support the unity of the working class. This unity is necessary and we do our best to achieve it, but we are also clear that the unity of the leftist parties is something completely different and, in our view, counterproductive. 

PD:  What is your take on the imminent threat of global warming which has already made its impact in the Arctic region? What are your policy recommendations regarding this issue, to tackle the climate crisis? 

AS: The climate is one of the most important questions facing the world and it is far too important to be left to capitalism to solve. To tackle the issue from a communist point of view, we have assigned competent comrades to study the issue, both the problems facing us today and the solutions, which we must have and which we must link to socialism. This process is ongoing and will result in discussions within the party, leading to public meetings, participation in climate struggles and other forms of activities. 

The question of the climate engages a lot of young people all over the world, many of whom have never been in a political movement before. We view this politicization of the youth as positive, but we reject all attempts to make this movement conform to green capitalism or any other non-revolutionary policy. 

For this reason, I think it is important to reject the term ‘strike’ used by those who are active in the climate struggle because it ultimately serves to cloud the term. We maintain that the strike is one of the most important weapons that the working class has, and that it consists of denying the capitalist the possibility of exploiting the workforce of the workers. This is contrary to what we saw during the climate strikes, where companies supported the strike and gave their employees permission to participate. Employees were encouraged to participate in the strike by their unions but required to ask their bosses for permission first. Likewise, pupils were allowed to skip classes to participate. 

This meant that strikes were reduced to something you asked permission for, instead of being the weapon that it is supposed to be. This runs parallel to the attacks on the right to strike that have been carried out in Sweden. The strike is not supposed to be perceived as an alternative by the working class, and we must reject all attempts to make it into something that it is not. 

Of course, it is possible for the workers to strike for the climate, and we would welcome any such initiative from the labor unions. In this vein, I think we must see the attempt to get the labor movement involved in the struggle as positive, while we remember that it is not possible for the labor movement to actually participate, as long as it is held back by social democracy. 

PD: What is SKP’s take on the policies of the European Union and NATO expansionism? 

AS: The European Union is an alliance for the benefit of primarily the West European monopolies, through which, above all ,German monopolies have a springboard out in the world. Of course, the union also benefits the smaller imperialist nations in Europe, such as Sweden. This is the essence of the European Union, and this means that they, in turn, will carry out policies contrary to the interests of the working people of Europe. 

This is also why the European Union is stepping up its attempts to attack communism by connecting it and equating it with fascism. In times of increasing insecurity generated by the capitalist system, people look for alternatives, which in the end is dangerous for the capitalists and monopolies. 

PD:  Please mention some of the recent major initiatives and campaigns by SKP and its mass organizations (SKU) towards the advancement of the working class rights in the country? 

AS: One of the most important issues that we face today is the limitation of the right to strike by the social-democratic government. They have made it illegal to strike without the intent to form a collective bargaining agreement, and through a number of bureaucratic obstacles, have made it more difficult to initiate a strike. They are not satisfied with this but are now talking about introducing a clause of proportionality, forcing the labor unions to take measures that are in proportion to the problem faced in the workplace. 

In our campaign against the attacks on the right to strike, we were the only ones to situate the attack in a larger context and to explain that it is the result of the sharpening of contradictions within the capitalist system. When the competition hardens, the capitalists need to have rules and regulations in place to be able to effectively meet the resistance against the austerity measures they are carrying out. 

This fall, we also conducted a campaign directed towards the students and working youth in Sweden, with statistics and facts concerning the living and working conditions of these groups. In general, these groups work more insecure jobs, often within the framework of the so-called gig-economy, while unemployment is higher, forcing the youth to compete against each other for positions. The housing situation for young people is catastrophic. In Sweden, there is a shortage of several hundreds of thousands of apartments, which disproportionately affects young people, as they have no possibility of renting or buying an apartment. This forces a lot of youth to live at home, preventing them from starting their lives, while at the same time promoting second or even third-hand contracts for apartments, further underlining the insecure status of the youth. 

Apart from these two campaigns, we have conducted two election campaigns, one for the national parliament in 2018, and one for the EU parliament in 2019, in which we managed to increase both our actual votes and the share of votes.