Peoples' movements and protests




Classical Social Democracy was above all anti-neoliberal





by Jan Wiklund



Every movement has its shadow movements - intellectuals who ride roughshod over the movement to climb to power on its back. But not everyone has done it as
successfully, and as neatly, as the generation of Social Democratic politicians who created the Swedish welfare state.

Sten O Karlsson has written a thick book about this: Det intelligenta samhället (The intelligent society).

August Palm may have won his position as a tireless fighter against bourgeois labour friends, but as every Swede knows, he ultimately failed to do so. The men who dominated the first and second generations of the Social Democratic Party were inspired not so much by the labour movement as by three anti-neoliberal reform movements - the German Verein für Sozialpolitik, the English Fabian Society and the American Progressives.

For all three, the main goal was to use political methods and state control to keep the capitalist market in check so that society would not break down.

And for all three, it was obvious that the only people who could do this were the well-educated experts of the middle class - albeit with the political support of the underclass that would benefit most from the activity.

The leading Swedish Social Democrats, for the most part, had no problem with this, according to Karlsson - Hjalmar Branting, Arthur Engberg, Rickard Sandler, and even social climbers like Per Albin Hansson and Gustav Möller saw politics as the calling of the skilled to organise life for the good of the underclass. Only Ernst Wigforss was somewhat torn between the elitist and democratic impulses.

The fact that the result of their endeavours was nevertheless so positive for the majority of the people is of course due to the fact that, despite their elitism, they were still good communitarians. Communitarianism is the antithesis of liberalism - the idea that society, not the individual, is fundamental, because the individual does not thrive without a protective and nurturing society. Communitarianism was what held together the movement and the shadow movement within the classic SAP, but communitarianism can be both elitist and democratic, and through its focus on the state fixing society, it was the elitists who won.

And of course, if you're going to have a state, it's better if it's communitarian than if it's liberal...

The question is whether it was inevitable. Could a better balance between movement and shadow movement have been possible? And more importantly - what will be the task today, when it is doubtful whether the Social Democrats are even communitarian anymore? Is a democratic communitarian movement at all possible today, in Sweden?

Or are we definitely stuck in a liberal jungle where every man is for himself? The only thing that is certain is that popular movements are like the weather, impossible to predict.



Published by Folkrörelsestudiegruppen: