Why does democratic socialism work in Scandinavia


As far as Scandinavian social democracy and trade unionism is concerned, the second half of the 20th century is the Long second half that started in the 30's. The global economic crisis in the early 30s was much more of a break in important respects than the Second World War, especially in neutral Sweden, of course.

The global economic crisis had a common denominator. The state was mobilized everywhere to take on social responsibility: in the name of National Socialism, corporate fascism, the front popular, of New Deals etc. The Scandinavian answer was red-green coalitions between social democrats and reform-oriented peasant parties that could operate with parliamentary power. In this context, the Scandinavian social democratic parties redefined themselves, from class to people's parties. The 30s were, if you will, an hour in Bad Godesberg in Scandinavia.

As a parliamentary power factor, the 1930s marked a breakthrough for Scandinavian social democracy. From a Scandinavian point of view, they were not only a global economic crisis, but also a threatening foreign policy development in the south and east. The Scandinavian Social Democrats, especially Sweden, had invested very high hopes and expectations in the League of Nations in the 1920s. They were true internationalists. The train from Scandinavia to Geneva meant a bridge to Europe. The Scandinavian Social Democrats wanted to influence and shape the development of Europe within the framework of the League of Nations.

The political development in Germany and the Soviet Union in the 1930s and the gradual dissolution of the League of Nations quickly led to an end to this European orientation and internationalization. The social democrats of Scandinavia withdrew from the European ("continental") development. They very consciously began to construct a demarcation from Europe in order to consolidate their parliamentary position of power.

Instead of “we Scandinavians” as part of Europe, Europe became “it, the other”. In this new mental projection, a progressive, i.e. social-democratic and Protestant Scandinavia emerged, in contrast to a Europe that was thought of as conservative, capitalist and Catholic. An image in black and white was circulated. This image had a persuasive and assertive power that is difficult to overestimate. It was still effective 70 years later. The outcome of the Danish EMU referendum in September 2000 and the fact that Sweden still remains outside the EMU - regardless of its treaty obligations - and that the Norwegian people have refused to join the EU on two occasions can be seen in this context of the historical identity structure . The image of Europe that emerged in the 1930s was only confirmed and reinforced during World War II.

After the war, the picture became something of a founding myth. It all started in the 1930s. In the 1930s, the Social Democrats saved Scandinavia from the Great Depression and founded the modern welfare state. The Scandinavian model was an alternative social model to Europe. The European doubt remained. The military-political orientation towards the west of Denmark and Norway within the framework of NATO was a bond with the USA. It was intended more as an alternative to Europe than part of it. In Sweden, with its policy of neutrality, this distance from Europe was at least as clear. The self-image of a progressive policy was associated with the term welfare state.

bound, welfare state rather than welfare state. Foreign interest in this political system grew in the 1950s and 1960s. The self-image of being a model for others increased the demarcation from Europe spatially and temporally from the 1930s.

These bonanza years of Scandinavian social democracy (less so in Denmark, where government power had to be exercised in different coalitions and was often interrupted) brought prosperity, but not lasting satisfaction. At the end of the 1960s, there was increasing criticism from the left that not everything was done that could be done to create equality and justice. "1968" meant the symbolic year of this criticism and utopia of equality in Scandinavia - as we know, not only there, but also elsewhere. But in each environment the drivers, expressions, and goals of this criticism were different. In Scandinavia, social democracy in particular, due to its position of political power, was the target of this criticism: it had not done enough to establish an egalitarian society. The women's movement emerged, not without long-term tensions within the labor movement, especially within the trade unions.

When the Social Democrats and the trade unions were pushed to the left, neoliberal criticism from the right was waiting around the corner at the end of the 1970s. This was a general development related to many factors, such as: B. with the deep transformation of the industrial society, the technological change and the new organizational patterns in the world economy. While this development challenged many of the values ​​and truths of social democracy from the ground up, Scandinavian social democracy responded quite successfully to these challenges.

The great identity crisis came when the European question no longer had a mobilizing effect. The problems in this regard had already started in the 1970s. The referendum in

In 1972, when it joined the EC, the Norwegian Workers' Party was deeply and permanently divided. The Swedish SAP only remained intact by withdrawing its membership application and thus created a 20-year respite. During the Cold War, the party was still able to maneuver skilfully on the subject of neutrality and welfare. But in 1990 it no longer worked there either. During a short period at the beginning of the 1990s, the Swedish Social Democrats tried to redefine the old image of Europe from the 1930s quickly and decisively from the ground up. Instead of a threat, the image of Europe was conveyed as a possibility. The task of SAP, which was intended to be mobilizing, was not exactly shyly undertaken. It was about Europe in a way mission civilisatrice to "Swedishize", i.e. to "social democratize". The Swedish welfare model of the 50s and 60s should be translated to Europe.

The original unity of the elites across the political spectrum (with the exception of the Communists and the Greens) to apply for membership in the context of a deep and dramatic currency crisis, however, quickly shattered when the Conservatives and the Liberals developed a counter-rhetoric about Europeanize Sweden, d. H. to "de-social democratize".

This disagreement among the political elites created a split between the masses and the establishment. The clear impact on the social democratic leadership is a reluctance to Europe. I have cited this development with Sweden as an example. But it is very similar in Denmark and Norway. The result is a split in the social democratic labor movement that has hit parties and unions, and the emergence of populist movements and parties that challenge the social democrats. In Denmark and Norway, populism is on the right, in Sweden it is more on the left.

The end is clear. The dramatic global political development ten years ago clearly led to a deep orientation crisis for Scandinavian social democracy. This orientation crisis is more likely to be traced back to the end of the Cold War than to the challenge of traditional nation-state social democratic politics through economic globalization and the transition to speculative financial capitalism. The radicalization of politics in the 1970s as a response to “1968” and then in the 1980s and 1990s the development of a third-way perspective as an answer to the language of globalization are no small pendulum movement. But it cost less a loss of legitimacy than the elimination of the legitimizing worldview of the Cold War, which included a very specific historical perspective on Europe.

It is difficult to think of a long-term legitimizing social democratic policy if it does not succeed in portraying a new image of Europe in a mobilizing way. The short-term political behavior of the Scandinavian Social Democrats may be passivity towards Europe, but in the long term it certainly does not offer a solution. Social democratic welfare policy is historically established and consolidated by the nation state. This welfare policy has also strengthened the nation-state framework retrospectively. Of course, this does not only apply to Scandinavia. In this fact lie the difficulties and challenges not only for Scandinavian but also for European social democracy in general: to get out of this historical legacy with a European project - a European project from which the Scandinavian social democrats could also draw orientation and legitimacy. Whether the third-way rhetoric, which has been so common for some years, leads in this direction is an open question. So far it seems to want to maintain the traditional nation-state framework of politics.

© Friedrich Ebert Foundation | technical support | net edition fes-library | April 2001