15 January 2008

The Death of Swedish Democracy

In 1902 Sweden was a feudal society where only the very wealthy were allowed to vote.

This eventually led to revolt and after massive protests and demonstrations by liberal democrats and socialists a compromise was reached with the ruling conservatives; men over the age of 24 would get voting rights, but only to the second chamber of parliament. Women were not allowed to vote but a wealthy male could personally get up to 40 votes and full rights to all chambers.

1918 further protests led to, despite strong objection from the right, a general suffrage. 1919 an eight hour workday reform was introduced and 1921 women were for the first time allowed to vote.

In 1931, the market failure and speculation bubble that led to the 'Great Depression' made the Swedish unemployment rampant and the few jobs available rendered slave wages.
In May 1931, as a response to an outdrawn industrial conflict over pay reductions at a pulp factory workers at other plants went on a sympathy strike. The owner of the company hired around 60 strike-breakers to curb the strike, resulting in a violent conflict. Since the police had not been able to intervene, the county administrative board asked for military troops to be deployed to protect the strike-breakers.

The following day the trade unions called a general strike, and the workers decided to stop all work in the timber and pulp industries in Ådalen. Several thousand participants, communists, syndicalists and radical social democrats, marched to the strike-breakers quarters, where the military troops had been ordered to defend them. Unable to stop the demonstration, the military opened fire and four unarmed protesters, all members of the communist party, and a 20 year old female bystander were killed by bullets fired by the military.

The events spawned a raging national debate and publishers of several left-wing newspapers were convicted for siding with the protesters. The investigation, with representatives from both employers and trade unions, later concluded that the military was highly unfit to uphold public order in similar situations. The following year, legislation was introduced preventing the military from using weapons against civilians.

1932 the social democrats won the elections and promised amnesty for the rebelling workers (although one of the Swedish communist party leaders, sentenced to two and a half year in jail wasn't released until after 3 years despite the social democratic victory and no damages were ever awarded to any of the families of the five dead) and 1936, the social democrats and Per Albin Hansson won with a 45,9 percent majority.

The Swedish Model

In 1938 after a socialdemocratic 50,4 percent victory, an agreement between the workers and employers confederations was signed as a compromise and truce between the more radical socialists and the feudal corporations. It resolved several issues on the market and it came to form a particular form of industrial relations in Sweden marked by willingness to co-operate and a mutual sense of responsibility for developments in the labor market - The 'Swedish Model'.

Sweden's social welfare continued to develop during the 1950s and 1960s, during which time Sweden was the second wealthiest country in the world for a period, with practically zero unemployment. The Welfare State then reached a peak in the 1970s oil crisis, when it up to then included everyone in socialized health care, child care and pension system.

Swedish Employers' Association
The right made a number of unsuccessful attempts over the years to win elections trying to dismantle the Keynesian welfare state and restore corporate power and in the early 70s, Sture Eskilsson, head of information at the Swedish Employers' Association, realized that the domination of the left in literature and the public debate would have to be more efficiently countered in order for that to succeed.

He discovered neoliberalism and Milton Friedman as an alternative to the lefts ideology and the Swedish Employers' Association consequently published hundreds of neoliberal, pro-capitalist books. In 1976 Milton Friedman won the Swedish National Bank Award (sometimes confused with the Nobel Price in economics).

The shock of the oil crises of 1970 created an golden opportunity for the right and a right-wing coalition government was elected for the first time since 1932. But despite the election victory the Keynesian view of economics continued to rule the politics of the elected right wing coalition.

Frustrated over the lack of change the the Swedish Employers' Association mobilized a massive propaganda campaign, publishing numerous pro-corporate economic reports, articles, ads and literature in the media and the schools through an elaborate network of subsidiaries.

Between 1976-1982 the right held power and one of the worst economic crises in Swedish history ensued, largely as an effect of the previous breakdown of the Bretton Woods system, but also a lack of consensus, competence and experience from not having been in power for decades, stagflation and the effects of a new oil crisis in 1979.

So the social democrats made a comeback in 1982 under Olof Palme, who was gunned down in very strange circumstances on the 28 of February 1986, along with a number of other strange deaths. Ingvar Carlsson took over as prime minister.

A 'New' Social Democrat

During the rule of the right wing coalition, bitterness over two election defeats and a generation shift introduced a new kind of social democrat in certain quarters of the party, already introduced to neo-liberal economical ideas and a more pragmatic, self serving, careerist, approach to politics than of the former idealist, egalitarian persuasion.

But despite all the hard work trying to bring back the corporate power of the glorious past, the majority of the population was indifferent or immune to the propaganda effort by Swedish Employers' Association, except a few members of the social democratic party who started a economic study group. At the same time Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher conquered the US and Britain with a very self assured brand of neo-liberal economic fundamentalism and a massive corporate backing and Ingvar Carlsson, who took over after Olof Palme as prime minister, wrote favorably about this development in his memoirs.

The November Revolution
To understand the next development in the social democratic party and the Swedish central bank it´s important to understand that the Hayek/Friedman brand of economics rules out politicians as competent guardians of the economy in their view, since politicians will always seek to win elections and the maximum number of votes and therefor can´t be trusted with important things like the economy.

So in complete secrecy, out of the public and parliament´s eyes, the economists in the central bank started to deregulate the loan market leading to a huge speculation bubble and rampant inflation, the same thing seen in many countries in Latin America and Asia when they were forced into neoliberal market reform by the IMF.

And just as the IMF usually demanded even more neo-liberal reform to battle the effects of the same neo-liberal economic reform, the Swedish Employers' Association, with the same man who gave the "Nobel prize in economics" to Milton Friedman leading the charge, started to blame Keynesianism and the welfare state, for the effects of their neoliberalism and demanded even more neoliberal reform.

But in 1987, after an economical evaluation by the Brookings Institution ordered by SNS (Swedish Employers' Association Think Tank), Brookings , who were at that time favorable to the Swedish Model, told SNS that they couldn't see any indications that Sweden was in any need of any more reform and had handled the economy just as well as any other country could and suggested that Sweden kept their model.

This, however, was not what they wanted to hear and didn't discourage the Friedmanite reformists who played down this report and the propaganda campaign continued, now with a consensus between the social democrats and the right on economics, leaving voters with just as little choice as in American elections - corrupt politicians and a corporatocracy disguised as a democracy.

In October 26th 1990, the first officially neoliberal declaration was made by the Social Democratic party and Keynesianism in Sweden was dead.

The right came back between 1991-1994 after a record low election result and internal conflicts in the left. Time for even more neoliberal reforms, cuts and mass unemployment of course blamed on the now abandoned Keynesianism.

Next the national pension funds went under the hatchet and in June 1994 a reform package was introduced backed by both the right and the social democrats with only the communist party objecting, in effect making all swedes gamblers in stock market speculation and four years later, the implementation of the actual legislation started.

Between 200-400 billion was spent on promoting EU membership by the Swedish Employers' Association.

The period was again a disaster for the right and people believing they had any real choice voted back the by now quasi neoliberal social democrats.

Göran Persson
After Mona Sahlin was disqualified as candidate for the post as prime minister after minor corruption charges, Göran Persson took over 1996 and remained in power until 2006. During that period, Anna Lindh, the prime ministers next obvious successor was assassinated. Another murder of a high profile social democrat under strange circumstances.

The Swedish government was involved in aiding secret CIA torture flights and was charged by the UN and numerous human rights groups with violating the torture ban.

After pressure from the White house and corporate special interest groups, the police raided and confiscated computers in violation of Swedish law.

On a visit to China, Göran Persson praised the Chinese government for their 'order'.

Even more striking was that the legislation that prohibited the use of military force against the civilian population, kept for 75 years, was in May 10, 2006, abolished when a new law was appointed to again allow the use of military against civilian protesters.

People began to get fed up with the corrupt, secretive and increasingly totalitarian regime and the propaganda campaign by the Swedish Employers' Association that started back in the 70´s started to yield success.

A Pan-European network (and corporate lobby group) of neoliberal think tanks, based in the UK, began molding the European public opinion, "The Stockholm Network", was started in 1997 where the Swedish Employers' Association think tank "Timbro" was one of the six founding members and a young generation totally molded in the free market school of economics which have had monopoly over economic education the last decades took to the ballots.

The liberals who previously promoted 'liberal democracy' together with the social democrats in the beginning of the 20th century began instead promoting neoliberal free market fundamentalism. ("Free" is a very useful word)

And after the only leftist newspaper went bankrupt, the largest newspapers are now dominated by neoliberal pundits, Swedish Employers' Association propaganda and pro-corporate economic reports.

Pumping in 12 billion Swedish crowns to 'shape public opinion' the Swedish Employers' Association together with a number of secrets funds and foundations launched a new successful attack.

So after winning the 2006 election, the new neoliberal/neocon "Alliance for Sweden" is speeding up the dismantlement of the Swedish welfare state, attacking the unions resulting in a huge drop in union membership and selling out national companies at an ever increasing rate. The gap between rich and poor has dramatically increased, leaving one child in ten below the poverty line at the same time the number of ultra wealthy has increased.

A 'patriot act' is on it´s way demanding surveillance of all communications between Swedish citizens completely undermining civil rights.

The head of the Swedish Employers' Association is promoting Chinese in schools to make Sweden 'more competitive' and launch frequent PR campaigns promoting increased consumption.

Our foreign minister, Carl Bildt, a Trilateral Commission member and the first foreign RAND trustee, was involved in the AEI and Project for a New American Century linked "Committee for the Liberation of Iraq" as well as in unsavory oil deals in Sudan unanimously condemned by human rights organizations.

Market Feudalism
"When we call a capitalist society a consumers’ democracy we mean that the power to dispose of the means of production, which belongs to the entrepreneurs and capitalists, can only be acquired by means of the consumers’ ballot, held daily in the marketplace."

Ludwig von Mises

The amount of "democracy" available to you in a "consumer democracy" totally depends on how much capital you have at your disposal and how much you consume, in effect making this type of "democracy" something for the wealthy. The means of production is relocated or sold to foreign oligarchs, far beyond any real democratic control. All this transforms democratic elections into some sort of beauty contest where politicians in the end are left with very little power to influence.

So with a combination of "not really social-democratic"/neocon big state and globalized, neoliberal free market, the circle is now complete and we are back to 1902;

In 2009 Sweden is a feudal society where only the wealthy have influence over society and can afford health care and social security. And if you rebel, you can be shot by the police, as the fatal shooting at the 2001 G8 summit in Genoa or the shooting of protesters at the EU summit in Gothenburg proved, but this time with legal aid of the military, just as in 1931.

And as in Chile, China, Russia or Georgia, or a number of other countries that went through the same, neoliberal reform needs to be backed by military power and until the day the financial elite have their own private army and the legal framework to use it, they will need the "monopoly of violence" and the legitimacy and protection of the state, despite all rhetoric about 'small government'.

Luckily for the financial elite and their consumption propagandists, people are more worried about their weight, clothes and status and spend more time trying to accumulate enough money to enjoy the lifestyle of the rich and famous, to be bothered to protest.

Until the next Great Depression.

(Update June 2008;
"Lex Orwell" a Patriot Act law that permits surveillance of all digital communications in sweden is introduced.)