Sweden: Potential Ways Forward in Light of the Growth of the Racist Sweden Democrats

Jens Johansson

Summary: The Right-wing block, in cooperation with the racist Sweden Democrats, wins a majority in the Swedish general election. Now, the Left and progressive forces have an opportunity to rethink how to organize for future – Editors

The general election in Sweden took place on Sunday, September 11. Up until then, the Social Democrats had ruled for eight years in different constellations in a minority government. Now, they lost it. The result of the election turned out so even that it took until Wednesday the following week until the final result could be announced. It turned out that the Left-wing block gathered only 173 seats, while the Right-wing block got 176 of the 349 seats in the Swedish parliament. Last election, four years ago, the Left-wing block consisting of the Social Democrats, the Left party, and the Green party, wasn’t able to gather a majority either. However, the difference then was that the traditional Right-wing block, consisting of the Moderates, the Liberals, the Centrists, and the Christian Democrats, refused to cooperate with the xenophobic Sweden democrats. Back then, the leader of the Moderates, the biggest party in the Right-wing block, Ulf Kristersson, famously met with holocaust survivor Hédi Fried and publicly promised to never cooperate with the Sweden Democrats, who have their roots in a Neo-Nazi movement. But now that promise is forgotten and this time the Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Liberals have said that they want to form a government resting on the support of the Sweden Democrats.

In this constellation, the Sweden Democrats are the biggest party. They received around 20.5 % of the votes. Thus, everyone understands that even if they will be kept out of the actual government, they will be the ones who will have the biggest influence on the politics of this future government. Ulf Kristersson, whom it seems will be the new prime minister, will thus only be the mediation of politics of the Sweden Democrats. The Sweden Democrats is a party that was formed in the late 1980s by men who had been involved in different Neo-Nazi groups. Many of them had been convicted of different crimes. In the 1990s they started to build up an organization and it was in this period that their current leader Jimmie Åkesson, joined. At this time, the Sweden Democrats were known for gathering young skinheads who got drunk together, terrorized immigrants, and marched in uniforms associated with Nazism. In the beginning, they grew especially in smaller towns in the South of Sweden, but in this election, it was obvious that they had had a breakthrough even in the countryside in the North of Sweden, which traditionally has been completely dominated by support for the Social Democrats.

Thus, the general election of 2010 was the first time that the Sweden Democrats were voted into the parliament. Then they got around 5 % of the votes. Since then, they have been growing in every election. They have taken voters from primarily the Social Democrats, but also from the conservatives. The platform they have been running with in this election has been to be hard on criminals, to stop migration to Sweden, and to lower gas prices.

Over the years there have been so many scandals around the Sweden Democrats, and no other party has had to expel so many members and representatives because of racist, sexist, or essentially undemocratic utterances. In several municipalities where they have been voted in, they haven’t even been able to find representatives who could take the job, but still, they manage to grow. Because no other parties in the parliament have ever wanted to cooperate with them, Åkesson has been able to form an identity as a kind of martyr, as one who can blame all the other seven parties in the parliament for everything bad in Swedish society without ever having to take any responsibility himself. Now though, the situation is different as he will indirectly be in charge of the survival of the government. And in similar cases in other Northern European and Scandinavian countries, when xenophobic parties have finally reached a position where they can influence and be in charge of the politics enacted, then it has turned out that the support for them drops.

In Denmark, for example, Dansk folkeparti, a sister party to the Sweden Democrats, grew for several years but when they finally got to a position where they could be held accountable for the situation in the country, the support for them collapsed. Now, Dansk folkeparti almost doesn’t exist anymore. However, that is not to say that the xenophobic tendencies in Danish society, and the other parties, are gone. But it is a fact that the party that once took the xenophobic rhetoric up to the surface, has collapsed. Whether that will be the case with the Sweden Democrats or not, is now up to the future to show. Earlier this week, the parliament accepted the Sweden Democrats’ representative Julia Kronlid as its vice chairman. Kronlid is a person who is against abortion rights and thinks the world is 6,000 years old. She doesn’t accept that the human race has its origin among the apes, and thinks that schools should also teach theories that are critical of evolution. When asked if schools must present alternative ideas, no matter how unreasonable they are, for example, if it is necessary when teaching about the holocaust to also present that there are theories that deny the holocaust, Kronlid said:

There is a difference when saying something about a recent event, when there are people who live today who actually experienced it. But no one who lives today was there six thousand years ago.[1]

That no person who lives today was there six thousand years ago, to see if the world was created then or not, is evidence enough to doubt the theory of evolution for the right now vice chairman of the Swedish parliament. It will be interesting to see how she and the other Sweden Democrats handle the daily work as a politician in parliament, who now can be held accountable in a way they could not before.


Social Democrats Prioritize the Middle Class

Meanwhile, if the conservatives could be blamed for agreeing to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats, the response by the Left-wing hasn’t been unproblematic either. For the last 90 years, the Social Democrats have been in the government for all but fifteen years, but it’s decades ago since they could, with any kind of dignity, say that they represented the interests of the working class. Time after time, they reveal themselves as a party ruled by leadership that doesn’t care what the grassroots members say. Just a year ago this development reached a climax. The Centrist party put forward a motion that would break up the rent control system on housing. The rent control regulates the rent for all rental housing units in Sweden, where approximately a third of the population lives. This system has been a key institution in the Swedish welfare program and was something that the working class movement of the past century built up as a response to a predatory housing market that left a lot of people unhoused. Now, the leadership of the Social Democrats was so focused on breaking up a former alliance between the Centrist and the Conservative parties that they decided to join the Centrists and vote to break up the rent control system. Even the conservative Moderates, the Christian Democrats, and the Sweden Democrats thought it was too much to challenge the rent control system. Thus, together with the Left-wing party, they stopped the motion from passing. Thus, at that moment the Social Democrats positioned themselves even further to the right than the conservative block, with Sweden Democrats included. And in May the Social Democrats decided to join NATO, as a response to Russia’s war in Ukraine. This was even after their members had voted not to join NATO, and after the organization S-kvinnor (Women in the Social Democrats) had publicly announced that they are against NATO membership.

In the run-up to this election, the strategy of the leadership was to try to frame the election almost as an American presidential election, though in this case between the Social Democrat’s leader Magdalena Andersson against the Moderates leader Ulf Kristersson, who acts as the mediator for relation with Jimmie Åkesson. Thus, they thought that if the election could be framed as one resembling Clinton vs Trump, they would win. However, it is a mystery that the Social Democrats party strategists thought that what didn’t work in the US would for some reason work here, and it is a real tragedy that they so easily could ignore their base of supporters.

The Social Democrats indeed gained support among women in urban centers, but in all other voter categories, they lost voters. Their biggest loss was in certain immigrant communities. In some of these suburbs, the Social Democrats used to have its biggest support anywhere in Sweden. In some parts of the suburbs of Stockholm and Malmö, it was not unusual to find that 80, and sometimes even up to 90 %, of the population voting for the Social Democrats. These communities contain lots of people from Chile, Afghanistan, Iran, and different countries in Africa. Lots of these people chose to settle in Sweden because of the reputation of Olof Palme as a leader of a democratic socialistic party who stood for international solidarity and humanistic values. But when the current leaders chose to present themselves as an alternative that is tough on crime and immigration and can work together with the Centrist party, then they completely alienated the voters in these suburbs. In several voting districts, their support dropped to half of what they had in the previous election.

The Left party adopted a strategy in which they aimed to appeal to working-class white men in the countryside. The way they were going to do so was to tone down some of their more radical policies on environmental issues and by showing themselves as a party that wants to invest in industrial development. This shift made their former spokesperson on climate resign.


A Radical Alternative

In general, this election has been so focused on pleasing what white men, who used to work in industries that now have moved abroad, want. And the politicians, both Social Democrats, Conservatives, and Sweden Democrats, think that these white men can only be pleased if they are promised fewer immigrants and cheaper gas. In this race, they competed on who can offer the most to this imagined group of disappointed white men. In that process, they completely alienated other groups. Women, immigrants, and youth have thus had to face that they are not prioritized. And this happened just after the BlackLivesMatter-movement took place, which gained significant support in Sweden, and also after the FridaysForFuture-movement which gained a lot of support after inspiration from Greta Thunberg’s school strikes.

In this election, there was therefore a window of opportunity that was missed. The Left-wing party and the Social Democrats could have listened to these voices of activists and put forth a truly progressive reform program, which could have acted as an inspiration for others to follow. In the Marxist-Humanist tradition, there is this idea that minorities’ struggle for recognition, equal rights, etc. is of absolute importance and that it has validity and indispensability of its own. In the 1940s Raya Dunayevskaya, CLR James, and the others in the Johnson-Forest tendency spoke several times to the white labor movement and argued that they have to not only accept and recognize but actively support and engage in the anti-racist movement. Their ideas were that once the Black masses are struggling for recognition their movement will inspire the white working class to organize against their oppressors, the owners of the means of production. They therefore held that the anti-racist movement had a crucial role in the overall struggle for a new society beyond capitalism.

But in the aftermath of this election, more and more voices on the Left are openly critical of how the Social Democrats and the Left party have prioritized the urban middle class and tried to please reactionary masculinity, instead of actually trying to inspire all groups toward the development of our society and human relations.

Because it is as one white unemployed man in the countryside said:

They [the politicians] talk about us as if we were so one-dimensional. Like if all of us cared only about old cars, hunting, and fishing, and not that we too can see that it is not sustainable to drive on gas, for example. I mean, for sure we understand that it is not the immigrant’s fault that we no longer have our old jobs here. But when this is the image of a man in the countryside, I think the young guys here sort of adopt it. If everyone keeps saying that “you are like this”, then that finally becomes a truth. What we need are alternatives.[2]



[1] Kreationism i Sverigedemokraternas styrelse – Fri Tanke (translated from Swedish by the author)

[2] Quoted from a man who wants to be anonymous. Translated by the author.


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