Do top economists want democratic socialism?

The Swedish model and the programmatic work on the left

Discussion paper of the Council of Elders

In our "Offer to Proceed with the Program Debate" of March of that year, we pointed out the need to analyze capitalist reality as thoroughly as possible. This includes better recognizing the particulars and particulars of capitalisms - also in order to keep an eye on the general issues with which the left is everywhere. In addition, from the variety of studies that do not refer to the Federal Republic of Germany, we can see more clearly what (despite all contradictions) the coordinated strategies of the leading capital and finance groups to assert their interests consist. The following is about two content-related complexes in left-wing debates in which the Swedish model, also expressis verbis, plays a role.

I. Swedish experiences and the "system question" or: How could the dominance of private capitalist property be pushed back?

II. The Swedish / Scandinavian welfare state as a counter-model to neoliberal modernization or as an orientation for a democratic and social design of current capitalism?

The term "Swedish model" has been in use in science and politics since 1936 in Europe and beyond, the less it is defined. In the following we mean the most successful modern welfare state, as it developed from the mid-1930s under 40-year-old social democratic government with very strong trade unions until the mid-70s and was particularly effective in international social democracy as an example of "democratic socialism". (In his government declaration in 1969, Willy Brandt announced that he wanted to create a social democratic model state based on the Swedish model.)

The most important constitutive components of the model were an active labor market policy with full employment (maximum 2% unemployment), a universal public social policy at a high level based on a large public sector, a centralized, institutionalized class cooperation also at all state structural levels (corporatism) and intellectual as well as social-psychological and cultural hegemony of values ​​of the labor movement such as social equality, justice and solidarity, plus a dominant understanding of democracy that includes its social content.

The declared aim of key actors in the model was to use political democracy (understood primarily as the right to vote) to achieve a social democracy and, subsequently, an economic democracy. (The term "Volksheim" was coined as a specifically Swedish term for the welfare state / Welfare State / välfärdsstat. The term "welfare state" is less common in German, although it is often differentiated, it is largely synonymous with the term "welfare state" of the capitalist prosperity phase after World War 2. However, it is not identical with the left-wing socialist understanding of the "welfare state" in the context of the "social and democratic constitutional state" from the German constitution, as represented by Wolfgang Abendroth, for example.)

To I.

1. If we agree with Rosa Luxemburg that there can be no socialism without democracy and no democracy without socialism, and that ultimately socialism is a way of working and living that unites humanity and the protection of nature and is based on a corresponding mode of production, then Sweden was at no time a socialist society. But there was (for about two decades) the continuation and strengthening of a monopoly capitalist economy in various areas of life Traits of a socialist society: social security at all ages and for all vicissitudes of life; largely equal opportunities for children and young people of the working classes and in all regions of the country to develop their talents and personalities; a high and roughly equal standard for preventive healthcare and medical treatment; hardly any poverty; Achievements in social equality between the sexes; a social practice of discussion and co-determination in everyday, especially communal, aspects of life and the natural inclusion of and help for people who particularly need collective protection in order to have equal living conditions. Political parties of the labor movement often had the character of popular movements and were very closely connected to them. (Workers' education associations, adult education, tenants, sports, abstinence associations, peace and solidarity movements). "Equality" and "justice" lived as programmatic and at the same time pragmatic goals and principles of coexistence that were repeatedly sought, demanded, discussed and accounted for. (There was not much to be felt about the bourgeoisie as a class outside of the work process and business life and the political top echelons)

In addition to the well-known causes of the international balance of power, the system conflict, the effects of the capitalist mode of production including the class conflict, and the requirements for the development of the productive forces, a number of national peculiarities were the cause or condition for this development. Above all, it was an extraordinary ability of the labor movement to mobilize. More than 80% of the wage workers were unionized like nowhere else and the Social Democratic Workers' Party was the strongest social democratic party organization in the world in relation to the population next to the Austrian. There is evidence that decisive initiatives and pressure for social reforms came from the base of the trade unions with which the social democratic ruling party was dependent, including through collective memberships of trade union groups.

Productive and financial capital was concentrated, centralized, and also highly organized. It had no great power or military ambitions, understood and used a policy of "freedom of association in peace with the aim of neutrality in war" for economic development and economic expansion. Overall, this had a positive effect on democratic customs in the interior of the country.

In the mid-1960s, the then Social Democratic Prime Minister of Sweden's Tage Erlander stated that the "exemplary welfare state" would not have been possible if the country had been a member of European alliances.

So-called soft factors of history, culture and social psychology, which cannot be "copied", were also relevant for the example function. Knowing about it protects against illusions and the misleading strategies derived from them to recreate a model can. (Which calls into question the concept of a model) It has been proven (but disputed) that the small size of the country (around 8 million inhabitants) with a "control center", which regulatory researchers do not identify for large countries, played a role.

Social democratic reform policy for the improvement of the everyday material and social living situation of two generations of the vast majority of the population should not be devalued if reformism is not to be left with the fight for the hearts and minds of dependent employees. There were always two class lines at work within the model policy. The dialectic of class compromises, workers' struggles and actions of militant parliamentarianism in Sweden contains valuable experiences that have to be worked through for the present, including the necessary anti-capitalist, commitment within the framework of this social order. A condition for the success period in Sweden was the combination of reform work for the improvement of the daily living situation of the dependent employees with a vision of social equality.

2. Even in its most successful 1960s, the Swedish welfare state was far removed from socialism or a "socialist society with a private capitalist economy", because in the working life of the majority of wage earners, especially in the production of material goods, workers are grossly subject to the determination of the capital owners, alienation of the value creators of their means of production and products, degradation and lack of civil rights persisted. Workers were one perfected exploitation at the mercy of their labor.

However, primarily through its redistribution of part of the surplus product created, the state has prevented the exploitation relationship in the work process from also dominating all other areas of life of the dependent employees. In this respect, the ruling economy and the rest of society have fallen apart extremely. The interests and needs of the population in their "life outside of gainful employment" played an extraordinarily large role in the successful model for all actors.

For the current programmatic discussion it is also relevant to what extent in the Swedish model the Disposal of monopoly capitalist property subject to social standards became and - closely related but not identical - whether interests of owners in power-giving productive capital and property are those of the working classes subordinate were. (Compare among other things "Programmatic Eckpunkt" der Linke, I and III)

In fact, the state has part of the Moreproduct, not the private ownership of productive and monetary assets, especially through high progressive direct taxes on labor income and through local taxes, redistributed with social objectives. Someone in paid employment usually paid a good half of their wages in taxes, of which most of the public social benefits were paid. The tax rate of the state, measured on the BNP, was always over 50%. For products and services staggered, a value added tax of between 18 and 25% was levied. The share of legal persons, especially of stock corporations, in the tax revenue of the state has traditionally been low and, like the revenue from property, inheritance and gift taxes, has steadily declined in the 1950s and 1960s. A considerable part of the high tax revenues of the state went to the most expansive export companies as state guarantees, subsidies, research funding, etc. Per capita, many times more was spent on military armaments than in other non-alliance states. In these periods too, wage increases for workers lagged behind productivity and far below the profits of companies. In the period after World War II and into the 1970s, the share of wages in total national income fell significantly. The share of the surplus product that was not subject to the disposal of the state had grown correspondingly, which demonstrably led to an increased concentration of private capital and assets and to the greater dependence of the welfare state on this accumulation of power. And it gradually became apparent that a high proportion of social spending in the GNP is not identical to a "disposition based on social criteria", but that it decreased in favor of prophylactic and "after-care" exploitation requirements and exploitation practices of capital.

3. The core of the specific regulatory policy was something else:

The welfare state policy was not against but under the specific conditions in the interests of productive and finance capital developed. The interests of the dependent employees in education, training and further education, in health care, in a family and equality policy and childcare, etc., which supported gainful employment, were used and included in the interest in the exploitation of capital. Social democratic governments, administrative apparatuses, trade union leaderships, major corporations and the employers' association have geared their entire regulation to finding potential, temporary and partial congruence of interests of capital owners and wage earners for structural rationalization, effectiveness and economic growth productive close. Contrasts of interests were not only relocated, softened, balanced or limited, but the same interests of the antipodes, which were based on opposing causes and motivations, were identified, developed, coordinated and transformed into a "productive force" for a larger surplus product. For their part, wage earners had an interest in the above-average increase in the surplus product, as long as they were able to better satisfy needs outside of the work process through wage developments and state redistribution. The basic interest of capital could be presented as generally valid and an attempt could be made to generalize practically and politically. But the Swedish model never contradicted the basic interests, especially of the powerful exporting big and financial capital, and the basic interest of dependent employees in a self-determined life without exploitation of their labor and outside control was never met.

In this respect, Swedish experiences from the most successful period of the labor movement and the most favorable external and internal conditions of the balance of power, cannot reinforce assumptions that interests in the exploitation of capital are those of the dependent employees if the prevailing ownership structure of the productive capital and property that gives power continues to exist, subordinatecould be and in this way to transform capitalism into a socialist society.

4. In Swedish welfare state policy, one and the same measure, for example solidarity wage policy and pension and tax policy, met both the desire for more social equality in society and the goal of high economic growth. But even these policies (measured around the mid-70s / 80s) ultimately resulted in the Business promotion for the purpose of a "distributional socialism" had contributed to further capital accumulation, concentration and centralization among the most powerful and finally to the redistribution of created national wealth from the bottom to the top and to an increasing number of stepchildren of the welfare state. In this way, the state has made itself more dependent on the economically powerful and, for its part, has not been able to prevent or eliminate the growing dependence of the economy on internationalization tendencies and crisis cycles.

Successes of perfected welfare state regulation, even beyond the theoretically conceivable limits of the compatibility of fundamental opposites and expanding them, have come to an end this Class compromise led by both sides.

The conscious development of the productive forces, the promotion of education, science, innovation and economic growth had initially proven to be the right basis for social security and welfare, including for dependent employees. Given the existing property and power relations, however, the corresponding policy increasingly produced contradicting effects that were also undesired by social democratic and trade union actors. (Some felt like the sorcerer's apprentice.)

As current discussions on the left show, this represents a challenge to its politics that has not yet been mastered. So much seems to be certain from the "secret of the Swedish model": the more perfect the mental orientation and practical policy of social democracy and trade union leaderships for high economic growth with continued ownership of productive and financial capital / financial assets, the more the results of growth, which are counterproductive for a democratic, social regulation, multiply. (Ecological consequences are disregarded here.) The economic basis had not turned out to be a subsystem to be regulated like any other in the overall structure of society, but was ultimately assigned or subordinated to politics, law, contradiction and resistance or ( as in intellectual-social-psychological areas) let change potentials run empty, blocked. The productive potentials of the capitalist mode of production could not be separated from its anti-social, anti-democratic, inhumane ones.

As a result, it became clearer from the end of the 1960s: society could no longer function and be represented as a fundamentally cooperative model (and with little contradiction). Its antagonistic features had not disappeared or become unimportant for the working classes, but came back to the fore again.

5. Because the model had reached its limits and the unions could no longer be involved from below in the previous way, a series of reforms for more workers' rights in the production process could be implemented in the 1970s. Above all, however, there was a call for in the unions Economic democracy as a prerequisite for the welfare state louder and in the concrete concept of Wage earners fund implemented.In this context, economic democracy was defined as "co-determination and the influence of workers through co-ownership".

According to the union concept of the early 1970s, about 20% of the profits of companies with at least 100 employees should be transferred to union-owned funds as compulsory stock issues of the company concerned and retained as active capital. Of the Swedish firms at the time, around 1% had more than 100 employees, but they made up 80% of the profits of Swedish industry and these large firms had 60% of all employees in the Swedish economy.

The excess of capitalgrowth In the economy, according to the fund proposal, it should not only go to the owners of capital, but to everyone who is involved in production. So it was not about interfering with the existing capital stock of the owners, but about a different ratio of the expected profits. According to calculations by the trade union economist Rudolf Meidner, with a company profit of 20%, the funds would have had a majority share in the largest companies after 20 years, and with a profit of 10% in about 35 years.

The funds should not be tied to the respective companies but should be collectively owned by the trade unions so that employees in smaller companies could also be included. Individual shares, certificates or the like were not provided because it was assumed that this would not achieve the desired greater power of the wage earners. The accumulated funds should be used to a lesser extent for the subscription of new shares and otherwise also for training, research and development and for the training of the fund representatives. The legislation should be designed in such a way that it could have counteracted the relocation of production abroad and myopic resignations even in the case of multinational or foreign-owned companies. Capital investment in the company should in the Lands to be increased. The profits should be collected in a central compensation fund and not just in industry or regional funds in order to best meet the basic objectives. Fund management representatives should also be elected by local trade union organizations to take account of key and local interests.

The answers to various questions were left open. The proposal concerned the everyday living conditions of workers as producers and about the investment and rationalization policy in the economy in general. The increasing concentration of capital in the most powerful export groups should expressly be stopped. In view of the crisis in the economy, capital should also be made available in the Keynesian sense for more investment - without thereby strengthening the power of a few. R. Meidner had justified his suggestions in the trade union newspaper in 1975 as follows: "We want to deprive the owners of capital of their power, which they exercise by virtue of their property. All experience shows that it is not enough to have influence and control. Property plays a decisive role .. . Functional socialism alone ... is not enough to achieve a radical change in society. " (LO-Tidningen, No. 19/1975)

The "employee funds" will have been the background for the following assessment by the American scientist David Harvey: "Probably in no other country in the western world was the power of capital more threatened by the power of democracy than in Sweden in the 1970s. (Brief history of neoliberalism , Zurich 2007, p.140)

This revolutionary proposal had indeed hit like a bomb. A large liberal daily wrote of "Revolution in Sweden" and the resource-rich "Employers' Association" (SAF), which functions as a bourgeois non-party and social strategist, launched a general attack on "Fund Socialism" and the Swedish model in its entirety. He later boasted that he had brought down the project. He also adorned himself with foreign feathers, because the Social Democratic party leadership, which in 1976 after 40 years had to hand over government power to a bourgeois coalition, had watered down and softened the fund proposal until it was to become law in the Reichstag in 1983, so that it changed from its original Content and its aim remained nothing. It was finally finally disposed of in the early 1990s under a bourgeois government coalition.

If the party DIE LINKE, following up on the Godesberg program of 1959, as Lafontaine demands, set the strategic task of "leaving the increase in business assets to half of the workforce", these experiences would be again in Sweden in recent years recorded debates about social funds and other ways in which the owners of capital over the capitalgrowth to intervene, to take into account. Oskar Lafontaine continued: "We want a reallocation of the company's assets so that we can finally dare more democracy." He describes such a goal as "system-changing, indeed system-overcoming ..." (Presentation at the 1st party congress, in: Disput, June 2008, p. 20; all quotations there)

Because in Sweden the possibilities of a class compromise in favor of dependent employees have been exhausted and expanded in a more complex and productive way than probably in any other western welfare state, the model is more likely than others systemic Pushed boundaries and wanted to cross them. The question of ownership became a logical consequence practical-political put on the agenda.

There are many reasons why a successful start has not been successful, which need to be evaluated and discussed. The failure does not indicate an unsuitable attempt, but it does make it clear once again how difficult it is to intervene in property rights of owners without attacking their property themselves. The positions of power that have (initially) undone the fund idea have grown out of ownership.

experience also prove for the social democratic model that ownership of the means of production and wealth that give power is the core problem for the change of Balance of power to improve the social and legal position of wage earners in the work process and in everyday life. Ways to gradual socialization by abolishing large private property and interfering with property rights must be found in resistance practice. A priority (cf. "Cornerstones" V) or sole programmatic orientation on interventions in the Power of disposal on private productive and financial wealth would contradict the basic experience with the Swedish model in the work for a "democratic socialism" and for economic democracy. Possibly formulations from the program of the PDS from 1993, the ways leave open for socialization (brochure, program and statute, 1998, p.8) helpful. (See also in the annex to this paper a short version of the content of the document of the Swedish Left Party (Vänsterpartiet-V) "The Left, Property and Power" from 2002.)

When it comes to socialism in the 21st century, it is above all experiences with and debates, ideas and concepts to push back large-scale capitalist property that the Swedish side should bring in.

To II.

The Swedish model shows another experience: reforms that do not also correspond to the interests of economically powerful people under changing conditions will not last if they are not secured by revolutionary, i.e. qualitative changes / reforms / breaks.

1. Since the second half of the 1970s, a massive intellectual-psychological and practical-political neoliberal offensive, especially by the employers' association (SAF), which had the most resourced and powerful propaganda apparatus in the country, began in Sweden, which is demonstrably closely related to global developments, and the conservative party with youth and student association. A "coup at slow speed" was initiated, especially the Attitudes and views of the Swedish population as a prerequisite for a paradigm shift away from the previous model. At the beginning of the 90s, the worst economic crisis since the 30s was used by a conservatively led bourgeois coalition for sustainable steps towards the "system turnaround". Since then, under both social democratic and bourgeois governments, with the involvement of weakened trade unions, the original Swedish model has been eroded and gradually absorbed. This development was promoted, accelerated and strengthened by the country joining the EU in 1995.

Basics of neoliberal politics and social development - to measure and evaluate in relation to the initial situation - are now also proven and undisputed for Sweden: privatizations in all areas of public services, the sale of state property, "flexibility" and increasingly precarious working conditions, pressure towards a low-wage sector, growing financial / Social and psychological compulsion for the unemployed and the sick to work under worsened conditions, measurable weakening of the trade unions and attacks on the right to strike, widening rifts in social and financial living conditions, a surge in the number of billionaires and growing poverty, especially for single workers and women a larger group of pensioners, privatizations and social division on the housing market, increasing social hardship, coldness and lack of solidarity. Anti-democratic tendencies and violations of the rule of law are also evidenced by the active participation of the country in the "fight against terrorism" of the USA and the EU. However, all of this does not mean that points of contact, mentalities and potentials from history, culture and collective experience for resistance to market radicalization and de-solidarization in society cannot still be available and made productive.

At present, however, Sweden does not represent a counter-model to neoliberalism, but rather a "smarter" neoliberal variant of capitalism from the point of view of large productive capital and financial wealth, which has not yet completely "dismantled" the social democratic welfare state and some experiences from the earlier compromise model that are favorable to capital utilization records. The currently ruling conservative opponents and executors of the original social democratic example now announce the "re-establishment of the Swedish model" with "full employment", "rewarding the workers", "activating" the unemployed, the sick, "outsiders" and the even greater inclusion of women and immigrants into gainful employment. Everything is about "social cohesion" as the basis of competitiveness and prosperity. It seems that this orientation is becoming a strategic orientation in the FRG and the EU - under the active influence of the Swedish conservative perfectionists. (CDU, FDP and SPD ministers / politicians refer to "the Swedish model" across the board or selectively. Incidentally, according to "Spiegel", it is also celebrated by far-right in Europe as the "new model".)

2. At the same time, in the international statistical and statistical comparison of economic growth, employment, competitiveness, tax rate, public expenditure, etc., but also with regard to income and wealth differences, public health and education, the country ranks in the first performance group with other Scandinavian countries (data until 2005) of the EU or the OECD.

The Problem for current political and programmatic work of the left is that primarily on the basis of these Swedish performance data in the international ranking, in discourses on alternatives to neoliberalism, (in general and especially to government policy of the FRG), reference is made to "the Swedish model" as a model for continued successful welfare states and future development models.

Thus the task arises that we consistently analyze current capitalism from the "perspective from below" and, despite the importance of economic growth etc., place the social consequences of its development at the center of analysis and politics. Above all, it must be examined how Growth is achieved, whom it uses to what extent and with what perspective. In the case of the Swedish model, tendencies and development trends would also have to be shown, including facts that certain forms of privatization of services of general interest with proven negative consequences for employees and "customers" are definitely agreed with decreasing in relation to GNP but still in international comparison relatively high public spending. Overall, it seems important that assessments, strategies and terminology from the "zeitgeist" are not adopted.

Evidence that the main features of Swedish society are currently developing no alternative to neoliberalism and no orientation for a democratic and social regulation of capitalism is important in order not to use illusions as the basis of strategies and practical politics. In our programmatic considerations, it can be assumed that the European social democratic welfare state project of the post-war period, including its prototype, has largely failed and that its re-establishment, renewal or change cannot be a realistic orientation for a socialist party. (As early as 1998, when the social democratic party in Sweden promised to build a "people's home" again with a written contract about the support of its minority government by the Greens and the Left Party (V), the well-known Swedish scientist and publicist Jan Myrdal assessed: "This The demand today is downright revolutionary in the sense that it cannot be realized without a reorganization of the economic fundamentals. "ND of 23.10.1998)

For the fairly sustainable neoliberal changes in Sweden, the firm anchoring of the most powerful capital and wealth owners in the current financial market-driven capitalism, their role as one (according to "Managermagazin") of the "control centers of the European economy" and their resulting manifest interests and socio-political objectives are decisive . The country’s membership of the EU and the desire of Sweden’s economic and political elites to belong to its core are of great importance. This is all the more so as the neoliberal and outwardly increasingly expansive and military-oriented policy of the EU will not experience any change even through the Lisbon Treaty as a replacement for the EU constitutional treaty without a fundamental change in the balance of power. Not least for this reason, the Left Party (V), as the only party represented in the Reichstag, continues to reject the country's membership in the EU, according to its current program, and is campaigning for its exit. It also assumes the need to defend the country's sovereignty, democratic requirements and the assumption that it would be an illusion to believe that the EU could be democratized / reformed from within and that capital interests could be pushed back. (In 2004, with the June list, a new bourgeois group of exclusively EU critics formed and immediately received 14.5% of the votes in the election for the European Parliament.)

In conclusion, so as not to be misunderstood:

Of course, leftists in Europe must do their utmost to preserve the remaining achievements of the welfare state and, taking into account the above, reference can be made to the Swedish model, but a successful fight against the further erosion of welfare state structures and policies and Against the ruthless marketing of people and their relationships, despite all the necessary pluralism, being anti-capitalist will have to intervene in the prevailing relationships of great property and power, around To be able to change the balance of power in a democratic and social direction. And it's not just about the unleashed financial market.

Of course, the previous assessments also do not mean that specialist politicians on the left should not see and examine what is happening in Sweden in individual areas for the development of science, technology and technological innovation, for gender equality, in family policy and childcare, etc. is done.

Abstract of the document "The Left, Property and Power" (download as PDF file, 67 kB)

Back to overview