Parliamentary and local elections in Sweden are expected to show a general shift to the left – but also a sharp and worrying rise in the vote for the fascist Sweden Democrats.
Despite the party’s name, these are no “democrats” – this is a party with nazi roots. Its gains are also giving confidence to smaller groups of fascist street fighters.
As Sweden approaches election day on 14 September, when both national and local elections will take place, voters are deserting the governing right wing coalition. But the polls show a degree of polarisation, with a pull to the fascist far right as well as to the left.
An Ipsos opinion poll at the end of June showed the centre-left Social Democrats on 31.1%, more than 10 points ahead of the conservative Moderates party on 20.5%. If this is borne out on election day the conservative government of the past eight years will be ousted.
The smaller radical Left Party also looks set to increase its share of the vote – the poll put it on 7.4%, up from 5.6% in 2010.
At the last elections in 2010, the Social Democrats finished a tiny fraction ahead, with 30.7% compared with 30.1% for the Moderates. But a conservative coalition, led by the Moderates, was able to hold onto power for a second four-year term.
Sweden is relatively prosperous by the standards of many European countries. But the poorer sections of society are still hit hard by the economic crisis.
Now anger at years of privatisation, attacks on Sweden’s prized welfare system and five lots of tax cuts to benefit the rich have seen the Moderates’ support plummet. As with much of Europe, rising unemployment tops the list of voters’ concerns.
But in Sweden there is also huge public concern over schooling – the joint top concern, according to the Ipsos poll. The introduction of “free schools”, from which private sector providers can skim off a profit – the model for the Conservative Party’s similar experiment in Britain – has produced dramatically falling exam results.
The centre-right’s slump in popularity already has bosses and business leaders worried. The Financial Times quoted Jacob Wallenberg, whose family foundations indirectly – and incredibly – control nearly half of Stockholm’s stock exchange, told the paper how worried he was about “a massive shift to the left” over the past few weeks.
Such a result would be welcome news for socialists, of course.
But anger at the conservative government has not only been reflected in a move to the left. The Ipsos poll puts the fascist Sweden Democrats on 9.6% – nearly one in ten voters – a substantial rise on the 5.7% they gained in 2010.
The Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraternas) use nationalism and racism – mainly aimed against Muslims and immigrants – to win support.
The Ipsos poll shows that immigration is well down the list of concerns of most of those polled, with just 4% citing it as a main concern. That figure is 29% among Sweden Democrat voters – it is top of their list.
The fascist party aims to use racist scapegoating to tap into the anger against the squeeze on welfare and the attacks of the conservative government coalition.
The 2010 results were enough to give the Sweden Democrats 20 seats in parliament. Thousands of people staged a spontaneous protest in Stockholm in response (see video, below).
But the new polling figures leave the 2010 result in the shade.
Ipsos’s 9.6% figure is consistent with the 9.67% the Sweden Democrats got in May’s European elections, when it entered the European parliament for the first time with two MEPs.
Disgracefully, Britain’s hard right party UKIP – which is racist but not itself a fascist organisation – has chosen to give the Swedish fascists cover by allying with them in Brussels.
Apparently, writing a letter “acknowledging” mistakes was enough to let the Swedish fascists in. It didn’t go very far:
The worst of these mistakes was that the party didn’t distance itself from radical youths with subcultural looks and that these were allowed to participate in some of the party demonstrations.
“Radical youths with subcultural looks” – what could that mean, I wonder? Let’s have a closer look at the Sweden Democrats.
The Sweden Democrats was formed as a white supremacist organisation in 1988, growing out of the racist Keep Sweden Swedish (Bevara Sverige Svenskt) network – it still uses this slogan. The party’s first leader, Anders Klarström was previously involved in the openly nazi Nordic Reich Party – he remained in charge until 1995.
Party auditor Gustaf Ekström was a veteran of Hitler’s Waffen-SS and in the 1940s was a member of Sweden’s own mirror to the German Nazi party, the Svensk Socialistisk Samling (formerly the Nationalsocialistiska Arbetarpartiet – the National Socialist Workers Party). The picture on the right shows this party campaigning in the 1936 election – note the swastikas.
The Sweden Democrats made links with other white supremacist and nazi organisations in the US and Europe. Klarström regaled his skinhead – and sometimes uniformed – followers with anti-Semitic speeches.
In the mid-1990s the Sweden Democrats – like other European fascist parties – switched towards the “Eurofascist” strategy pioneered by Jean-Marie Le Pen’s Front National in France, cleaning up its image in a bid to win electoral respectability. Its new leader, Mikael Jansson imposed a ban on paramilitary or nazi-style uniforms and the party attempted to sweep its violent street thug supporters neatly out of sight.
But the hardcore fascists did not go away. In 2005, the party acquired its current leader Jimmie Åkesson who continued the Eurofascist modernisation. The party replaced its old logo – a version of the British National Front’s flaming torch symbol decked out in Swedish colours – with a pretty little blue and yellow flower.
Last year Åkesson promised yet another purge of racist and “extreme” elements in his party – strangely enough these elements had still not disappeared.
But before the year was out, two of the 2010 cohort of Sweden Democrat MPs – Erik Almqvist and Kent Ekeroth – were caught on video, tooled up with iron bars and hurling racist abuse at comedian Soran Ismail and another man.
Ekeroth is the man who invited “Alan Lake” – real name Alan Ayling – the wealthy businessman who was a key strategist of the English Defence League – to a conference in Malmö. Here, Lake delivered a lecture on his strategy of bringing together football hooligan firms into an anti-Muslim racist street army.
This is the history of the Sweden Democrats – it has tried to hide its nazi roots and its true politics, but underneath the nice new suits and behind its little flower logo, the fascist core remains. It is not really a matter of mistakenly hanging around with young people who prefer “subcultural looks”.
And the rise of the suited fascists of the Sweden Democrats increases the confidence of the nazi boot boys on the street – the thugs of the far smaller Swedish Resistance Movement and Party of the Swedes. It is a neat division of labour.
Last December, members of the Swedish Resistance Movement attacked an anti-racists protest in Stockholm. Anti-racists responded with an even bigger protest, with 20,000 on the street. In March, nazis attacked an International Women’s Day demo, putting Showan Shattak, an activist against homophobia in football, in hospital with life-threatening injuries. There has been a wave of violent racist attacks on the streets, encouraged by the Sweden Democrats’ racist rhetoric.
It will be good to see the general leftward shift in Swedish politics borne out in September’s elections. But if – as seems likely – the suited fascists of the Sweden Democrats hugely increase their representation in parliament, that will represent a very real and increasing danger.