This post is in many ways a sequel to my last post, “Why Socialism Needs Christianity”, in which I discussed how Christianity helped make the welfare state function in Sweden.

I mentioned in my last post that the Social Democrats have dominated Swedish politics – they held power from 1932 to 1976! That is, to my knowledge, a world record in a democracy.

This article, however, won’t focus on the 44-year reign itself. Rather, what I would like to discuss are the events that led up to the end of the Social Democrat time in government: The election of 1976.

First, let me provide you with a bit of background information:

Sweden has experienced three decades of (nearly uninterrupted) high growth. We and our welfare state has become the envy of the world. Our national self-esteem is naturally quite high – how could it not be? Everybody wants to be like us! That must mean we’re doing something right.

The social democrats have been in government since 1932. Like the Democrats, they came to power during the great depression – which was blamed unfairly on the conservative government at the time – but unlike the Democrats in the US, the Swedish Social Democrats managed to hang on to power for more than just a paltry 20 years. I should explain that Sweden is a parliamentary democracy without a constitutional court, which effectively means that the government can do whatever they want.

You may think that this would have turned Sweden into a  communist nightmare – 44 years of uninterrupted, un-restricted leftist government does sound like something out of a horror movie after all!

However, while Sweden took a decisive turn to the left, we never went communist. The Social Democrats was probably the only left-winged party in Europe that clearly, unapologetically and in no uncertain terms distanced itself from the Soviet Union.

During World War II, in the interest of national unity, the Social Democrats invited all the other parties represented in the Swedish parliament to join them in a coalition government for the duration of the war. Of course, the social democrats were still the biggest party in the parliament and so the other parties didn’t really have much influence, but it was a nice gesture. However, here’s the thing: The Social Democrats did not invite the Communist Party, even though they were represented in the parliament. They were willing to co-operate with the conservative party, but not the communists. In fact, during WWII, many communists in Sweden were imprisoned because they were seen as posing a threat to national security.

Also during WWII, in breaking with Sweden’s neutrality policy, we allowed 8000 soldiers (volunteers) to go to Finland and fight against the Soviet Union (Additionally, we also donated 131 000 rifles, 42 000 000 rounds of ammo, 8 airplanes,100 Anti-aircraft cannons,  132 anti-tank cannons with 256 000 grenades and 132 field guns to Finland).

Basically, while the Social Democrats were no fans of the US and American capitalism, they also made sure everyone knew that they hated communism at least as much.

The Social Democrats also for the most part believed in Christian values. To summarize, they were economically left-winged, socially moderate, foreign policy isolationists.

Then, starting in the mid-late 1960’s, things began to change. Here is a (incomplete) list of things the Social Democrats did in the 10 years that preceded the 1976 elections:

– They removed Christianity from the school curriculum. 2 million Swedes (out of 8 million in total) signed a petition to oppose this, but the Social Democrats refused to budge. Evangelical Christians at this point abandoned the Social Democrats and formed their own party, Christian Democratic Unity (now Christian Democrats). This party is today represented in the Swedish parliament.

– They legalized abortion up until 18 weeks (available until week 22 under certain circumstances).

– They destroyed our relationship with the United States. The Swedish Prime Minister at the time (Olof Palme, 1972) compared the bombing of Hanoi to famous war crimes such as Treblinka and Katyn. The US foreign department was outraged and broke off diplomatic relations with Sweden. Olof Palme was later assassinated, and to this day some Swedish leftists are convinced that the CIA did it.

– They legalized child pornography – yes, you read that right! Child pornography was legalized in 1971 (effective from ’72) and was traded openly.

– They began a process that, had it not been interrupted by the right-winged victory in ’76, would have led to the complete nationalization of the entire private sector. The plan was to establish “Employee funds”: Every year, every company with more than 50 employees would have to use a share of their profit to buy back shares in their company, shares that would be transferred to the labor union. After only a few years, the union would own a majority of the shares and be able to control the company. It should be managed that in Sweden, all labor unions are members of an umbrella organization known as Landsorganisationen, LO. Had this plan succeeded, LO would have owned almost every company in the country! In essence, this plan would have turned Sweden into a communist country.

There are many more examples of course, but you get the idea: The Social Democrat party had gone nuts! In particular the last point was very uncharacteristic of them – they had always distanced themselves from communism, and here they were, plotting to turn Sweden into a communist state!

What happened? How could they possibly go so wrong, so fast? Some may think that the Social Democrats had always been “closeted” communists, waiting for an opportunity to show their true colors. However, there is a much simpler explanation:

What happened in the late 1960’s is that the Social Democrats got their very own Tea Party movement. This movement was called “68-vänstern”, approximately translated to “the left 0f 68” in English. A radical grassroots movement, dominated (at least initially) by students and academicians, which promoted extreme egalitarian policies (such as the employee funds) as well as “free love” and radical social liberalism (which among other things led to the legalization of child pornography).

As you’ve probably noticed, their goals were not similar to the goals of the Tea Party movement in the US – but their methods were.

They never had support from a majority of the Swedish population, but they were louder and more obnoxious than all their opponents combined, and therefore, their ideas were given more space than they deserved. They had catchy slogans and one-liners, but really no well-thought out arguments. They made the establishment in the Social Democrats nervous – the truth is, the establishment in the party never really liked the Employee funds, but they were forced to agree to them because they feared that these extreme leftists may otherwise stay home or vote communist. Basically, the Social Democrats’ left turn was caused not by a change in national sentiment or a change in the attitude of the leadership, but by an extreme grassroots movement which held that purity was more important than winning elections.

In the months before the 1976 election, polls showed that more than 60 % of Swedish voters thought that the Social Democrats were too far to the left. The Social Democrats refused to take this seriously; after all, they had won every election in the last 44 years – how could they lose this one?

And as for the grassroots movement within the party, they were quite clear that they would rather lose than compromise on their purity. Sounds kind of like another movement you may have heard of, doesn’t it?

On the other side of the aisle, the right-winged parties saw an opportunity arise: They had been out of power for almost half a century, but now, with the extreme left-turn of the Social Democrat Party, they realized that the election of 1976 meant they finally had a realistic chance of ending their losing streak.

And they were NOT going to let this opportunity slip out of their hands. If you’re a conservative in Sweden, you only get so many chances to win an election in your life (on average about 1 every 20 years or so). So while the Social Democrats were busy fighting amongst themselves, the right-winged parties – there were three of them – united. They would still be three separate parties (they still are to this day), but they began to co-operate and find common ground. This made a lot of sense: One of the reasons why the political right in Sweden had such a hard time winning elections was because they were divided, while the left was united. Voters knew what they would get when they voted Social Democrat – they were a safe, proven option. The right-winged parties, because they never agreed on anything before the election and typically campaigned just as much against each other as they campaigned against the Social Democrats, seemed like a much riskier bet.

In the election campaign of 1976, the right-winged parties largely refrained from attacking one another, instead presenting a united front against socialism. They agreed before the election that if they won, the leader of the Farmer’s league (one of the three parties) would become Prime Minister. In previous elections, the three right-winged parties had never been able to agree on which one of the three party leaders would become Prime Minister if they won the election. The man they chose as their PM candidate was named Thorbjörn Fälldin (try and pronounce that!). Fälldin came from a simple, working class background: He grew up on a farm in northern Sweden (the same area where I grew up), and he himself was a farmer before entering politics in his 30’s. His background combined with his humble personality made it impossible for Social Democrats to convince voters that he was an evil aristocrat who would turn Sweden into a capitalist’s paradise (I wish…).

Suddenly, the roles were reversed: The right-winged parties were talking about issues that mattered to average people, while the Social Democrats were busy addressing issues no-one but the hardcore left cared about. While the Social Democrats were trying to convince Swedish voters about the benefits of nationalizing the private sector, Thorbjörn Fälldin and his Centre Party campaigned against nuclear energy (something a majority of Swedes had opposed since the Three Mile Island accident). The right-winged parties had, after over 40 years in opposition, realized that the key to winning elections is to talk about the subjects that people want to talk about – sure, as a right-winged politician you may like to talk about tax cuts and deregulation, but if the voters would rather that the conversation be centered around nuclear energy and childcare, then that’s what you should talk about.

Another contributing factor was the weakening economy. When this election rolled around, it was becoming increasingly clear that the post-war boom was finally over. While the right-winged parties acknowledged the challenges that laid ahead, the Social Democrats really only had one solution, which was to hand over ownership of the private companies (the ones who hadn’t already gone bust!) to the labor union. A labor union which polls showed most Swedes agreed already had too much power.

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A Social Democrat demonstration in 2010

Conclusion

The right-winged coalition government remained in power until 1982. The Social Democrats were back in power, but the leftist grassroots movement – the “left of 68” – was no longer a major force in the party and hasn’t been since. The party today is more moderate than it was in the 1970’s – they no longer support employee funds (and the fact that they once legalized child pornography is not something they like to be reminded about). You could say that they learned their lesson, but in many ways they didn’t: To this day, the Social Democrats reject Christianity and Christian values – they are in complete denial about the importance that Christian ethics played in making their policies work during the four decades they spent in power. While the Fälldin government was able to stop the employee funds and ban child pornography, the secularization process started by the Social Democrats went on largely uninterrupted. While the left of 68 never regained power over the Social Democratic Party, to this day they retain massive influence in the media. Today more than 85 % of Swedes identify as atheist, and less than 5 % attend church regularly.

What lesson can we learn from this then? The Social Democrats were the most powerful party in the democratic world. They had won every election 44 years in a row – half the Swedish population hadn’t even been born when Sweden last had had a non-social democrat government. Yet, they were destroyed from the inside by a radical purist movement which was out of touch with the mainstream. If not even the most powerful party in the world could withstand a movement similar in attitude to the Tea Party movement, what chance does the Republican Party have?

If the GOP is to ever win an election again, it must learn from history. No party that allows a fringe movement of extremists to write its platform can ever win an election. Not even one that has governed for 44 years straight, and certainly not one that hasn’t been in government for 8 years (in 2016) and that doesn’t even have a fraction of the political capital that the Swedish Social Democrats had in 1976.

I’ll stop here. Thank you for reading – I’ll write more about the history of Sweden and the Swedish welfare state if anyone is interested. Also if you’re on twitter you can follow me at @nationstatist.

Photo credit: Claes Krantz via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

9 comments
  1. That was very interesting. However, I am a little confused about your conclusion, saying that no fringe party should write the party platform. Are you saying that the Tea Party represents an extremist movement?

    1. My problem with the Tea Party has always been their rhetoric and methods, more than their goals. I’m a strong believer in limited government and in deficit reduction, but I’m an equally strong believer in not using hateful rhetoric and being uncompromising. The American political system is built on the idea of having two parties that have to compromise with one another, and when one party refuses to compromise, the system breaks down.

      And yes, the Tea Party is extreme relative to the American mainstream. Yes, most americans will agree with the over-arching goals such as “Obamacare is bad” and “The deficit situation is serious” – but not with “Let’s repeal obamacare without having any real replacement” or “Let’s balance the budget overnight by cutting every welfare program – except the ones I benefit from” which is a pretty good description of the Tea Party approach.

      Most Swedes believed in egalitarianism, but the “Left of 68” went too far and scared them into voting for a right-winged government for the first time in over 40 years. I fear that the Tea Party will have the same effect in the mid-terms and in 2016 – people agree with their overarching goals, but their hateful rhetoric and extremism will scare them away and make them vote for the Dems.

      1. I liked your first installment, but what happened here? We have had socialists in this country doing the same thing as in Sweden since the end of WWII, except they have been stealth. They were active before then as well, but their plans were foiled. The American public needed to be worked on by them for a while. Now, the media, Hollywood, and the people running the schools are starting to get their way more and more. They are Leftists. The Tea Party is a reaction to that. The Tea Party wants less government and the only thing they have done to cause angst, is to find their voice, just like the Left! They want to keep our rights as stated in our Constitution, not the fake rights put forth by the Left….. If the majority of people polled in America now want wage equality it is because they have been told for years and years to want it and they are worn down. Someone needs to stand up for our way of life, which is based on Christian liberty. Although not all Tea Party people are Christians, they are fighting for our God given rights…. And, we have had a better health care system in this country than anywhere else in the world. It was called a two tiered system. Some of the people got assistance from the government and some paid for their own. For the time being, it kind of looks like we still have that, but it isn’t going to last….The Left also changed the laws to where anyone could go into a hospital and get treated, gaming the system, causing it to not work and prices to skyrocket. Cheating. They’ve changed it in other ways as well. No more Hippocratic oath. Marxism (socialism) and Christianity don’t mix. The Marxists read the Bible and still do, and purposefully, just like the Evil One would want, started doing the exact opposite. We have things in this world which you attribute to socialism, which can be attributed only to the increase in the standard of living brought into the world by capitalism. Ethical, lawful free markets. No money, no stuff. The Bible pushes work and individual responsibility , not begging and forced giving.

  2. Interesting analysis but I think you misunderstand the Tea Party and the US political scene. The Tea Party and its values ARE the American mainstream, but the radical nut-jobs who run most of the media try to make the TP seem extreme instead of revealing the fact that it is the MEDIA that is disconnected from the average Joe.

    Poll after poll shows: Americans want to slash government spending, taxes, and deficits. Americans want a smaller government. Americans want politicians to respect their unalienable rights and the Constitution. Americans want to repeal ObamaCare. Americans don’t want to fight more unconstitutional wars. Americans DON’T trust the media one bit. Those are the facts.

    As we saw in 2010, the Tea Party has proven its ability to win elections. The next elections later this year, unless they are rigged (not out of the question) will be a CRUSHING defeat for the RINOs and Democrat extremists.

    1. Polls show that the Tea Party is concerned with some issues that Americans are also concerned with (the deficit) and not concerned with some other issues that americans are concerned with (income inequality). But what all polls show, is that the Tea Party doesn’t have solutions that Americans support and that their extreme rhetoric is turning people off.

      Like I said, the grassroots movement within the Social Democrats cared about many of the same issues that the majority of Swedes cared about – but they were too extreme, their solutions were simplistic, and their rhetoric was hateful.

      Look, I have friends who are socialists. Like, real socialists – I don’t just mean left-of-centre, but actually socialist. One of my best teachers in high school was a dedicated socialist. When Tea Partiers claim that “socialists want to destroy the world” and “socialists hate freedom”, they are insulting my friends and me by extension. Socialists may be wrong, but that doesn’t make them evil. Socialism may end up destroying the world and ending freedom, but that’s not because socialists WANT those things -. those are just unfortunate side-effects.

      What we saw in 2010 is that if a President becomes unpopular enough, anyone can win. Mid-term backlash isn’t exactly unheard of and is not something we should be reading too much into. While the Tea Party deserves credit for reigniting the GOP in the spring of 2009, it has at this point become a burden, what with the shutdown last fall and everything.

      1. I disagree with you on multiple counts. It seems to me like you’re buying too much into the fake narrative created by the lying media, which by the way, less than 1/4 of Americans find credible. In this article, you describe a movement of far-left extremists whose views are probably WAY at odds with the mainstream, even in Sweden. In America, the Tea Party movement IS the mainstream. What polls show the Tea Party doesn’t “have solutions that Americans support”? Not sure what you mean about “their extreme rhetoric.” I have not heard much extreme rhetoric at all, except from the maniacs and criminals running the government.

  3. For me personally, my take-away from your article is that ANY extreme form of a political ideology and abuse of ANY economic systems can be potentially dangerous. Castro, Stalin, and others are no better than Franco, Hitler and the like. As you noted, people in Sweden flourished under Social Democracy until extreme elements took over. Those in power who abuse power (whether it be extreme/predatory capitalism or extreme/predatory communism are just criminals and make ANY economic system criminal and despicable. Abuse of the powerful rich has rendered American capitalism, to be shameful, thus destroying the beautiful image of the great capitalist society that Roosevelt proudly presented the world. When only a few hundred elite are thriving out of over 300,000,000 (1% of the 1%) in a society then it is not functioning as intended. And contrary to what the Tea Party thinks, the U.S. right now is an Oligarchy (Far right) NOT Communist. The people who founded and are the major funders of the Tea Party represent many of that tiny handful of elites and have tricked their followers into doing their bidding for them. The reason they don’t want to contribute to Education, Health Care, Social Security, etc. is because THEY don’t need those programs. But the middle class do. However, having said that, the fact that America right now is no longer a representative democracy right now but an Oligarchy that only represents a few hundred elitists doesn’t mean that the Capitalist ideology itself is the problem any more than it means Social Democratic ideology in Sweden was the problem. And it also doesn’t mean that we have to go as far left as full blown Socialism or Communism to swing the pendulum back to the center either (the center being where the majority of a country’s citizens are prospering, NOT just a few hundred).

  4. For me personally, my take-away from your article is that ANY extreme form of a political ideology and abuse of ANY economic systems can be potentially dangerous. Castro, Stalin, and others are no better than Franco, Hitler and the like. As you noted, people in Sweden flourished under Social Democracy until extreme elements took over. Those in power who abuse power (whether it be extreme/predatory capitalism or extreme/predatory communism are just criminals and make ANY economic system criminal and despicable. Abuse of the powerful rich has rendered American capitalism, to be shameful, thus destroying the beautiful image of the great capitalist society that Roosevelt proudly presented the world. When only a few hundred elite are thriving out of over 300,000,000 (1% of the 1%) in a society then it is not functioning as intended. And contrary to what the Tea Party thinks, the U.S. right now is an Oligarchy (Far right) NOT Communist. The people who founded and are the major funders of the Tea Party represent many of that tiny handful of elites and have tricked their followers into doing their bidding for them. The reason they don’t want to contribute to Public Education, Health Care, Social Security, etc. is because THEY don’t need those programs. But the middle class do. However, having said that, the fact that America right now is no longer a representative democracy but an Oligarchy that only represents a few hundred elitists doesn’t mean that the Capitalist ideology itself is the problem any more than it means Social Democratic ideology in Sweden was the problem. And it also doesn’t mean that we have to go as far left as full blown Socialism or Communism to swing the pendulum back to the center either (the center being where the majority of a country’s citizens are prospering, NOT just a few hundred).

  5. For me personally, my take-away from your article is that ANY extreme form of a political ideology and abuse of ANY economic systems can be potentially dangerous. Castro, Stalin, and others are no better than Franco, Hitler and the like. As you noted, people in Sweden flourished under Social Democracy until extreme elements took over. Those in power who abuse power (whether it be extreme/predatory capitalism or extreme/predatory communism) are just criminals and make ANY economic system criminal and despicable. Abuse of the powerful rich has rendered American capitalism, to be shameful, thus destroying the beautiful image of the great capitalist society that Roosevelt proudly presented the world. When only a few hundred elite are thriving out of over 300,000,000 (1% of the 1%) in a society then it is not functioning as intended. And contrary to what the Tea Party thinks, the U.S. right now is an Oligarchy (Far right) NOT Communist. The people who founded and are the major funders of the Tea Party represent many of that tiny handful of elites and have tricked their followers into doing their bidding for them. The reason they don’t want to contribute to Public Education, Health Care, Social Security, etc. is because THEY don’t need those programs. But the middle class do. However, having said that, the fact that America right now is no longer a representative democracy but an Oligarchy that only represents a few hundred elitists doesn’t mean that the Capitalist ideology itself is the problem any more than it means Social Democratic ideology in Sweden was the problem. And it also doesn’t mean that we have to go as far left as full blown Socialism or Communism to swing the pendulum back to the center either (the center being where the majority of a country’s citizens are prospering, NOT just a few hundred).

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