There's no place like CounterPunch, it's just that simple. And as the radical space within the "alternative media"(whatever that means) landscape continues to shrink, sanctuaries such as CounterPunch become all the more crucial for our political, intellectual, and moral survival. Add to that the fact that CounterPunch won't inundate you with ads and corporate propaganda. So it should be clear why CounterPunch needs your support: so it can keep doing what it's been doing for nearly 25 years. As CP Editor, Jeffrey St. Clair, succinctly explained, "We lure you in, and then punch you in the kidneys." Pleasant and true though that may be, the hard-working CP staff is more than just a few grunts greasing the gears of the status quo.
So come on, be a pal, make a tax deductible donation to CounterPunch today to support our annual fund drive, if you have already donated we thank you! If you haven't, do it because you want to. Do it because you know what CounterPunch is worth. Do it because CounterPunch needs you. Every dollar is tax-deductible. (PayPal accepted)
The Far Right Victory
On September 14th, national elections were held for the Swedish parliament and led to the departure of the sitting Right-wing government. The new political alignment gave the Left bloc 43.8%, of the vote, with the Right bloc (Alliansen) only getting 39.3% according to the latest statistics. The big election winner was the Swedish Democrats (Sverige Demokraterna or SD), the far-Right party hostile to established Swedish immigration policy and many say immigrants themselves. In 2002, SD received only 1.4% of the vote. In 2006, this increased to 2.93% of the vote. By the 2010 parliamentary elections they got into the parliament with 5.7% of the vote (passing the 4% threshold for entry into the parliament). This year they got 12.9% of the vote. The SD got 29% of their voters this year from those who voted for the leading right-wing party, the Moderates in the last election. They got 16% from the leading Left party, the Social Democrats (see: http://www.svt.se/nyheter/val2014/var-tredje-ny-sd-valjare-kommer-fran-m). This points to a growing disavowal of both major parties whose similarities were more important to many voters than their differences. The result has led to a failure of either the Alliansen or the Left to gain control of the parliament through their own votes, i.e. SD has imploded the hegemony of both major blocs.
A perceived Right-Left convergence on immigration policy (and the status quo) was rejected by the SD voters. In 2010, Jens Rydgren, an analyst of Right-wing Populist Parties (RRP) in Denmark and Sweden, wrote in SAIS Review:
“a relatively high proportion of the voters want a tighter immigration and asylum policy and consider this issue more important than most other issues. It is among such voters that the RRP parties can hope to mobilize support, leaving us to conclude that there is a relatively large niche for a Swedish anti-immigration party, such as a RRP party, to take root” (see: http://people.su.se/~rydgr/Party%20system%20change.pdf). Once created, Rydgren argued such parties could make further gains by politicizing immigration.
The Far Right Success and the Left’s Delusional Mythology
From a Left perspective one can ask how these events came to pass. How did a party, that some persons argue have roots in Sweden’s Nazi movement, gain hundreds of thousands of votes? If SD is the party of the disgruntled, why can’t the Left capture such votes? One answer could be that with the realignment of class relations and stratification systems, the Left draws its base from persons who are relatively comfortable. The Left is implicated in policies that inevitably lead to winners or losers. The losers, who can’t find jobs in a globalized Sweden, turn against established parties. A third possibility is that the Left itself is filled with delusions or a failure to change its outlook and strategies to enhance success.
In his essay, “Notes on Nationalism,” George Orwell gives us a formula for understanding how even the Left can be subjected to an ideological system and is deluded. Orwell wrote that “a nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige.” He argued that nationalism was “power-hunger tempered by self-deception.” Moreover, “every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also—since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself—unshakably certain of being in the right.” The nationalist looks to support their favorite cause, but “only AFTER this would begin searching for arguments that seemed to support his cause.” Orwell explained that even “people of Left opinions” were “not immune” to nationalism. I am less interested in Orwell’s view of nationalism than I am his view of how discourse is deployed and can lead to self-deception by the Left.
If we replace the word “nationalism” with some version of a political party’s ideological belief system, we can begin to appreciate how even “radical” philosophies can lead to delusions or myopia. In “Politics and the English Language,” Orwell explained: “Political language—and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists—is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Orwell’s observations can help us understand the larger logic that lies behind the recent Swedish national elections. Given Orwell’s explanation that even the Left itself can be deluded, we need to examine myths of the Swedish Left. These myths are not uniformly distributed but reveal potential pitfalls that help explain why the Left is not more successful.
There are five core myths within the Left which help prevent a systemic challenge to SD and the respectable Right.
Myth 1: The Left’s Victory and a Tolerant Sweden
This myth of a Left victory is not widely shared but is part of the rhetoric of Social Democratic leaders. This myth was self-evident in the victory speech of the Social Democratic Party leader, Stefan Löfven. Löfven’s party is still the biggest and now will try to build a government. Fredrick Reinfeldt, the outgoing Prime Minister conceded the election and offered his future resignation. In this sense, the Left has somehow won. Löfven declared himself a winner and dispelled any complicating ideas to that thought. Yet, the party only gained .6% more votes in this election than they got in 2010. All of the Left block’s leaders pointed to the loss of the Alliansen in the election. Jonas Sjöstedt, the Left Party leader, also emphasized the point. Yet, his party registered a gain of only .1% over the last election. Likewise, one of the Green Party leaders Gustav Fridolin also pointed to the Reinfeldt-led government’s defeat. The Green Party lost .5% of their share of the vote compared to the last election.
The myth of a tolerant Sweden, generally accepting immigrants, is certainly true by some quantitative measures, but not others. The intolerance has a qualitative aspect which some intellectuals don’t register. Some polls have shown that the majority of Swedes support Sweden’s policy of immigration or are more accepting of immigrants. Many Swedes will comfort themselves by doing the math, SD did not get 87% of the vote. Yet, this spin of a Left victory and tolerant Sweden has to be balanced by other considerations.
First, while leaders of the Social Democrats, Greens and Left party also acknowledged the SD’s victory, they over-stated the progressive character of Reinfeldt’s loss, particulary when Reinfeldt lost many voters to SD, a party further to his right. Journalists from Swedish Television consistently pointed to the fallacy of a Left victory, but most politicians they confronted always had some qualifier about Reinfeldt’s defeat, a nuance that begs the question of the SD ascendancy.
Second, SD got about 788,000 votes in the parliamentary election. This is a substantial number of persons who have rejected the traditional Left and Right alignments. Many Swedes understand the significance of what has happened, with some recognition that a change in strategies are needed to constrain the SD, but usually the details of needed changes are vaguer than the clarity of the SD’s victory.
Third, SD’s electoral growth, if it continues at the rates which we’ve seen in the past, could lead the party to gain anywhere from 20% to 30% of the vote. This might not happen under four scenarios: a) rates of immigration decrease, b) Sweden grows so fast that it absorbs marginalized non-immigrants and helps promote integration, c) integration policies improve, or d) there’s some threshold of support that SD won’t pass because of some deep-seated cultural barrier to the party’s politics. Given current support for integration and economic growth projections, options a) and b) seem unlikely. Option b) is limited by both “jobless growth” or growth that can benefit only certain groups and not others. I will discuss below some of the barriers to option c). The cultural barrier d) is based on a projected level of “progressive” or “enlightened” culture. Yet, the very barriers to comprehensive integration show constraints to d) as seen below.
Fourth, the Social Democratic leader and would-be prime minister Stefan Löfven ruled out cooperation with the Left party. With the Left party, the Social Democrats and the Greens only got 45% of votes in the parliament. By trying to get the Center and Liberal parties on board, the Social Democrats and Greens would have 51% of the votes in parliament. Yet, leaders in the Center and Liberal parties as of this writing have rejected such cooperation. In any case, the SD’s surge in voters, the growing power of the Right bloc within the Social Democrats and the Social Democrats modest electoral gains have pushed the Social Democrats party further to the right. At the local government level of politics, the only way majority votes will be realized is through cooperation between the Respectable Left and Right blocs. Some left Social Democrats have largely abandoned trying to push their party in a more progressive direction.
Thus, Sweden follows a pattern seen in France and the United Kingdom in which immigrant hostile parties are on the rise. We see the continuing unfolding of a new Third Way defined by both reaction and the failures of incumbent parties (see: http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/09/where-has-french-left-gone). Aside from SD, all the other parties in the Swedish elections were generally losers or registered relatively few gains. This turn of events partially reflects a mutual denial by both the respectable Right and Left, with the majorities in each clinging in part to self-destructive myths. These myths are important to expose because they are so prevalent and in some ways mirror myths parallel to those derailing progressive change in other parts of Europe, North America and elsewhere. The myths help sustain the new Third Way in Europe.
Myth 2: The Power of Electoral Politics
Electoral politics are important, but they have certain limits that many on the Left have failed to appreciate. In conversations with the most sophisticated Swedish intellectuals I have been told that the electoral system has been dominated by parties that really don’t get it or are busying themselves with electoral games rather than organizing people and projecting different forms of power, e.g. economic power. The basic problem is that political power is partially a function of one’s economic and media power. This is explained brilliantly by Gar Alperovitz, in his book What Then Must We Do?: Straight Talk About the Next American Revolution. Alperovitz writes that realignments in the power of trade unions have weakened the ability of progressive forces to alter powerful trends. He wrote “a capacity to alter big trends in virtually all advanced nations has almost always depended in significant part on the strength not simply of politics in general, and not only of movements in general, but also on the existence of powerful institutions—above all, labor unions.” As a result, “any serious future politics will have to find some other way—if it can!—to do what labor once did.” This means successful Lefts will have to also organize outside the traditional electoral system and leverage power in new ways.
Research by Anders Kjellberg at Lund University reveals a dramatic drop of blue collar workers has helped push Sweden into the same boat as other countries. In Sweden, the union density of blue collar workers went from 83% in 2000 to 77% in 2006 under Social Democratic Prime Ministers Ingvar Carlsson and Göran Persson. Under the Reinfeldt government this share declined further to 74% in 2007 and 67% in 2012. Union density of white collar workers went from 79% in 2000 to 77% in 2006 under the Social Democratic-led governments. This share has hovered around 73% for the period 2007-2012 during the Reinfeldt era (see: https://lup.lub.lu.se/luur/download?func=downloadFile&recordOId=3912694&fileOId=3912695&cover=0).
A relatively new feminist party, the Feministiskt iniativ, led by Gudrun Schyman, represented a Left alternative to the status quo but only got about 3.1 percent of the vote for parliament. In the elections for the European parliament some months back, the parties to the Left of the Social Democrats made impressive gains. The Feminist party even entered the European parliament. Their victory has built on a series of house meetings which has created a grassroots network of thousands of persons.
Currently, the Social Democrats will push the parliament into a fusion with the respectable Right that will marginalize much of the political goals of the Green, Feminist, and Left parties. The Greens will likely be in a government dominated by Social Democrats and other parties further to their right. The Feminists will not even be in the parliament. The Left party won’t be part of the government. Yet, collectively the Greens, Feminists, and Left parties got about 953,000 votes! If these persons were properly organized they could form the foundation of: a) support for cooperative banks or a new credit card system to fund radical NGOs, b) an alternative media network and a new media watchdog organization which spelled out biases in reporting (like the U.S. NGO, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, see: http://fair.org), and c) a purchasing cooperative that rewarded environmental and socially diverse businesses, etc. Today, Sweden’s JAK bank is one of the most important cooperative banks in Europe (see: https://www.jak.se). Linking a), b) and c) could provide a pressure system from the Left that could influence Swedish discourse. Now, the parliamentary system has simply fragmented the Left and helped to further marginalize it. Sweden used to be a global leader in cooperatives, but these organizations have either declined or become de-politicized.
Myth 3: Multiculturalism and Green Growth Rhetoric are Sufficient for Reigning in Extremists
In many ways the Left cultural elite and progressive politicians have used a liberal immigration policy, multicultural discourse and promises to promote green technology or sustainable growth as a palliative for dealing with social intolerance. Some have supported social welfare programs decoupled from any sophisticated program to generate (sustainable) growth. There is of course nothing wrong with welfare states, green technology, and sustainable growth. The problem, however, is what these things mean to voters and what these things don’t include.
Left promises of increased government investment, Green New Deals, and accompanying training and construction programs don’t convince a sufficient number of voters. These seem more like vague promises to some, perhaps because the Left does not have a lot of local examples to prove that they can really deliver jobs to disgruntled communities of the kind supporting SD. Or, these promises fail to register with SD voters because social welfare investments are still viewed as accompanying an embrace of globalization, deindustrialization, immigration and layoffs which hurt (or are perceived to hurt) disgruntled voters. Media commentators deconstruct such disgruntlement by saying the SD represents a party of dissatisfied voters lured by populism. Globalization and accompanying deindustrialization are just assumed to be givens. Yet, many dissatisfied voters simply view politicians of either bloc as offering vague promises. The “populist” label is what many academics and media professionals use to abort any self-reflection.
Andreas Johansson Heinö, a political scientist at Gothenburg University who works with the think tank Timbro, signaled something of a break from this line of thinking in an editorial published the day after the election. He wrote in Dagens Nyheter: “Established parties have in many parts of Europe since the mid-1980s decided in favor of globalization, for deeper European integration and strengthening the rights of minorities. In some countries, Sweden included, this has been combined with a liberal immigration policy and an ideological commitment to multiculturalism. The majority of voters have kept pace with these developments. But there is also a not insignificant minority who are hesitant or directly adverse to those changes. In some countries increasing resistance to multiculturalism and immigration fit within the established right-wing parties, but in many countries, it has also created a space for anti-immigration parties.” While the majority of Swedes support continued integration, neither major party wanted to talk about integration, leaving SD to capture these voters (see: http://www.dn.se/debatt/andra-partier-maste-mota-sds-valjare-utan-sd-politik/).
Social liberalism based on a rights based policy, open immigration and multiculturalism may have different objectives in comparison with social democracy tied to notions of equality and building local communities. Although Henö recognized the limits of contemporary discourse, he offered few detailed suggestions about how to win over SD voters. Part of his agenda may be to deconstruct the Left from a Right perspective, so while he has helped open an important question his answer thus far is still be limited. Timbro is a market liberal think tank.
Myth 4: Politics Should Focus on Deconstructing the Right, Not also Reconstructing the Left
A fourth core myth is that the Left will gain power by simply or largely attacking the Right. The Social Democrats offered few specifics during the election. As I suggested above, the Left must reconstruct itself outside of the electoral system. It also has to reconstruct Swedish foreign policy by not simply deconstructing arms exports and NATO membership but also advancing economic alternatives to these. A central aspect of the Left mythology sees its identity as being tied to deconstructing the Right rather than reconstructing the Left. It’s true that all parties more or less acknowledge the cloud of the SD ascendancy and their own electoral disappointments. Yet, some Left intellectuals have made their major raison d’être demonizing both Reinfeldt and the respectable Right as well as SD. Demonizing SD would be sufficient if it accompanied some meaningful alternative, but it hasn’t always. It’s also true that Reinfeldt’s Moderate Party-led government has in many ways weakened the Swedish welfare state by supporting various government sellouts and privatization. Sweden has the among the fastest growing income gaps in the OECD. The outgoing respectable Right government has also limited social welfare payments and pushed Swedish membership in NATO.
After the Reinfeldt era reforms, hotel and restaurant workers had to pay a higher co-payment to the Swedish unemployment system to receive benefits. The unemployed received lower benefits than before. Some of these workers even ended up quitting their unions. The level of compensation in health insurance has been reduced, the requirements to work in spite of illness increased significantly. Anna Filipsson, chief editor at the Handelsnytt newsletter argued: “The government increased the possibility for firms to hire using short and temporary jobs, whether they need it or not…Schools, hospitals, housing, state enterprises…were sold cheaply to private owners who were subsequently able to make good profit to put in their own pockets.” (see: http://www.handelsnytt.se/nagra-ledtradar-till-tanket-om-valet). These are indicators of how Reinfeldt pushed Sweden further to the Right. Kjellberg at Lund University says that union declines have been encouraged by “profound changes in the unemployment insurance [system] introduced by the centre-right government in 2007.” After unemployment funds were required “to finance a larger part of benefits” they had “to raise their fees considerably.” As a result of “considerably increased fund feeds,” there was a “massive” loss in “both unions and funds.”
There are some limits to the critique of Reinfeldt. First, part of the Left’s attack on Reinfeldt was incomplete or ill founded. Parts of the Left railed against the respectable Right-wing bloc’s use of tax deductions for individuals or restaurants designed to create jobs. Many individuals receive tax deductions to hire persons, a lot of whom are immigrants, to clean their houses or apartments for example. Tax deductions for restaurants also help such employers hire less skilled persons or persons who don’t depend as much on speaking Swedish fluently. These kinds of policies helped create jobs for thousands of persons and many of these were immigrants. One estimate says that 12,000 to 35,000 such jobs were created in 2009 (see: http://www.svensktnaringsliv.se/fragor/rot_rut/). Without this program, many jobs would have been performed illegally, with “under the table” payments, such that workers would receive no benefits and would be easier to exploit.
In contrast, the Left insisted that these jobs were demeaning jobs or were an expensive opportunity cost against training programs. The Left offers training programs without any consideration of where demands are for workers so trained (or the quality of the labor demanded by employers). For example, the Social Democrats said that young people could get jobs in the health sector. Yet, many people in the health sector view the jobs they need filled as requiring rather extensive skills and experience that can’t easily be supplied by young persons. Reinfeldt’s government used a combination of tax breaks and consumer purchases of social service jobs and restaurants to help lower costs of each job provided. These consumer purchases also provided an effective demand for jobs that a training program, in and of itself, could not.
Of course, the low level jobs created for cleaners and restaurant workers in and of themselves represent at worst a dead end job or at best a stepping stone into the labor market. Such jobs are better than being unemployed and potentially better than the mere promise of a job after entering a training program. In an era of global recession, fierce global competition, and somewhat stagnant growth any job creation program should be valued against theoretically projected jobs. The Left did not demand complementary programs to create job ladders or cooperatives to enhance the tenure or quality of jobs created by the Right-wing jobs program. Instead, they simply called for abolishing these actually existing jobs that helped lower skilled persons, often immigrants, gain jobs.
The outgoing Reinfeldt government can point to their helping to create hundreds of thousands of jobs, but this took place against the backdrop of substantial unemployment. The respectable Right’s earlier electoral victories were partially predicated upon exposing state failures, underlined by nepotism in Social Democratic appointments. Now, this Right has lost power against the backdrop of certain market failures. While there has been confidence that the economic recovery may have inspired (leading other issues to gain voters’ attention), there has been aversion to social welfare cutbacks and privatization scandals (such as closing down of for profit schools). Yet, many Left politicians simply talk about market failure without talking about state failure.
The demonization of the Right is one reason why a discussion of competence as the alternative to either market or state failure becomes difficult. This demonization displaces (avoids and helps bury) the discussion. The recent election never generated any meaningful discussion about what a competently managed school or hospital would look like in terms of its very organizational design. The Right often assumes the market works better, by pointing to state bureaucratic failures. The Left often assumes the state works better, by pointing to private (for profit) failures. Sometimes these comments are triangulated by accepting some mixture of private and public involvement, but the basic problem is that organizational solutions are often blocked. Such solutions would have the leaders of organizations giving up some hierarchical power to users (or customers) or workers (which sometimes alienates or disinterests the Right). Other solutions involve assessing the limits of certain workers’ competence which goes against the Left’s assumption that there is no heterogeneity or differentiation within workers’ skills. The Left might be correct about this in the long run, but not in the short run. In the short run the ability to implement a policy quickly often shapes the contours of electoral success and short run decisions can influence who is actually hired. Sometimes the Left mistakenly thinks that training is enough to produce competence in a job. Yet, often knowledge comes from experience and labor unions can block access to experiential space by keeping immigrants out.
The educational system (a bi-partisan project of the major parties) has supported equality on the cheap by underpaying teachers and by creating profit centers in under-staffed universities. The system has also weakened reading standards to accommodate quasi-illiteracy (cf. students’ reading loads are decreased in universities because of the platitude that students can’t really read as much as they used to). Some on the Left have pointed to the problem of underpaid teachers, but it’s not clear whether their financing plans will hurt one group of workers (those with low skills) in order to aid another (persons who can enter training programs or enter the education and health sectors).
Another key problem with demonizing Reinfeldt was that parts of the Left have engaged in bad faith about how the Social Democrats have embraced many of Reinfeldt’s policies. Under the previous, competing Social Democratic governments, Sweden has participated in secret cooperation with NATO, bolstered Sweden’s military industrial complex, sanctioned weapon exports to shady governments or poverty stricken developing nations, and built a policy of privatization and state devolution that helped diminish welfare state capacities. Sometimes the Social Democrats have supported even greater military expenditures than the Right to keep unionized defense jobs and Sweden’s “neutrality” (the former policy) or “non-alignment” (the current buzz word) going. Yet, Sweden is increasingly aligned with NATO, supporting NATO missions and military training exercises. The Left party, Greens and Feminist party all criticize these policies, but these policies have placed Social Democrats with a critical view of militarism into something of a bind. Persons climbing up the political ladder in the Social Democratic party, however, must subscribe to the myth that their party differs significantly from the Moderate party in defense. In sum, while the Left has been correct to criticize Reinfeldt, some have used a deconstruction of his policies as a means to avoid proposing coherent alternatives.
Myth Five: The Swedish Warfare State has Nothing to Do with the Welfare State
The fifth myth is closely related to the previous myth, but is slightly different. It’s not just that some within the Social Democratic party are blind to their own party’s support for militarism. Some even embrace such militarism as part of Sweden’s supposed non-alignment which is really an Orwellian alignment that pretends to be a non-alignment. The problem is that both the Left and Green parties were willing to be in a government whose core pillar involved Social Democratic militarism because they regarded this sacrifice as necessary for reaching common ground on welfare, diversity/immigration and policies to promote ecological transformation. This electoral compromise may have been a wise one, but the core problem that remains is how Sweden’s warfare state compromises its welfare state. As I will show, Swedish military spending constrains the welfare state, limiting both immigrant integration and certain support systems for ecological transformation.
In security policy, the difference between the Social Democrats and the Moderate parties are minimal, with the former party joining the Moderates and the respectable Right recently to approve the purchase of 60 new military fighter (JAS) planes produced by Saab Aerospace. This parliamentary decision, just a few weeks prior to the election, made hardly a dent in the mass media or intellectuals’ consciousness. The premium was placed on simply defeating the Right, not questioning the Left in the middle of an election. There was no protest rally organized in response or objections because critiquing the Swedish warfare state is less important to many than defending assaults on the welfare state or embracing other policies. This non-sequitor arises because many “Left” intellectuals rarely see the warfare and welfare state budgets as being related.
How Swedish Militarism Helps the SD Agenda
One way to pay for the incorporation of new immigrants, improvements in the integration of old immigrants and expansionary growth encompassing non-immigrants is through tax spending to fund new social investments. Yet, the Social Democratic Party (SDP) will be hostage to Right wing parties that will constrain the level of tax increases. The Moderate Party promised to increase taxes, partially to avoid electoral defeat. But even in losing the Respectable Right has power to block tax increases because neither the Left nor the Respectable Right has a majority of parliamentary seats. So the SDP has tried to gain Right allies and so will become dependent on them. Today, this outcome seems unavoidable until one realizes that the Left’s failure to offer alternatives helped lead to the SD. Some on the Left want to blame the Reinfeldt government for SD’s rise by making workers feel insecure. Even if that were true, why couldn’t the Left make workers feel secure?
Another way to accommodate new immigrants and the integration system is through cutbacks to social welfare. SD claims that the Moderate party’s new immigration expansion plan would have led to such cutbacks. This contrast may help explain why the Moderate party lost 23 seats in the parliament and SD gained 29 seats. Cutting back social welfare has now become unpopular (see: http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/17/us-sweden-economy-insight-idUSBREA2G0KA20140317), but as noted expanding the welfare state dramatically will be difficult given future Left dependency on Right parties in the parliament.
A third way to make new investments is cutting back the expansion of the defense budget and converting some defense firm activity to civilian production. This would produce a peace dividend and make defense firms less dependent on tax revenues for their markets. This option was foreclosed by the further militarization of Saab Aerospace and the de facto arms exports industrial policy backed by SDP and the Respectable Right. In the past Sweden managed to provide an alternative foreign policy that stood above big power rivalry, but now the country is trying to participate in an arms race. The current path towards militarization is both a dead end, so policy must move beyond it. Yet, this option is thoroughly marginalized because the Social Democrats have failed to challenge informal pro-NATO alliance or the arms race bent of the Swedish media. The media discourse (particularly evident in television coverage) on Russia as a looming enemy has been accepted by almost all parties. Russian aggression is true enough, but is always exaggerated without nuance by the media and allies of Sweden’s military industrial complex.
The fighter plane decision was somewhat like George Bush’s wars which helped lock President Obama into a major budgetary commitment of billions of dollars. Now, Obama’s two terms as President are partially extensions of the Bush presidency. How much do 60 new Swedish military fighters represent? One new JAS Gripen fighter plane costs about $43 million according to one estimate (see: http://aviationweek.com/awin/new-gripen-aims-low-cost-high-capability). If one multiplies this number by 60 you can get the size of a capital fund which the Social Democratic-respectable Right consensus have committed to the new military fighter spending budget. This amount is somewhere on the order of $2.58 billion U.S. dollars.
How can we interpret this figure? The Swedish migration authority recently requested an additional 48 billion crowns (or $6.9 billion) in addition to a “91 billion kronor budget for the next four years – to handle an upsurge in refugees, with an estimated 2,000 arriving per week mainly from Syria and Somalia,” reported the English on-line newspaper, The Local (see: http://www.thelocal.se/20140829/reinfeldtrefugee-focus-puts-immigration). In other words, the new military fighter program could pay for 37% of the additional immigrant expansion plans. The new military fighter program could also create jobs for 45,853 immigrants based on a rough projection using a training program for immigrants which costs $65,500 per job created (see: http://blogs.worldbank.org/impactevaluations/helping-new-immigrants-find-work-a-policy-experiment-in-sweden).
The military fighter program represents an opportunity cost to immigrants’ integration and the fight against unemployment. In August 2014 the total number of unemployed persons was 389,000 according to official Swedish government statistics (SCB). In 2013, the total number of foreign born persons who were unemployed was 144,800 according to SCB. Yet, if the monies allocated for the military fighter program would be spent on these persons it would have helped solve about one third of the total immigrant unemployment problem (31.6%). Thus, the military fighter program represented a serious blow to any immigrant integration peace dividend. The two major champions of the program, the Social Democrats and the Moderate party, both lost ground to SD which has also supported military Keynesianism. Thus, SD embraces militarism which limits funds for integration and thereby perpetuates hostility to integration. In contrast, many academics decouple the study of “ethnicity” and integration from the study of “militarism” and demilitarization.
There are several counter objections to this analysis which will now be considered.
Challenges to the Integration Peace Dividend
The first is that Russia is a threat and this requires a military buildup. One problem is that defeating a Russian invasion would require a more competent and comprehensive system for developing the army and defensive equipment for land forces, rather than using an expanded air force which would be defeated by the Russians. Another problem with this argument is that the elite Swedish media and most politicians view their very own military exercises aimed largely at the Russians and NATO’s eastward expansion as benign but Russian military exercises and moves against the Ukraine as hostile. This double standard is largely unchallenged and is the hegemonic answer to ever seriously questioning the military budget, save arguments made by the fringe peace movement and parties to the left of the Social Democrats. These further Left parties (the Left, the Greens and the Feminists) represented only about 16% of all voters in the recent parliamentary election. The elite Swedish media’s one-sided coverage of Russia’s incursions against the Ukraine largely helped limit the debate about foreign policy and NATO’s eastward expansion. This turn of events explains why the further Left won’t get anywhere unless they establish a more sophisticated alternative media presence and expose the bias of established media.
A discourse related to the conversion of defense firms might represent political suicide for any party that took that discussion too far unless several problems could be overcome. These problems include: the way elite Swedish media totally lacks any nuance in its reporting of Russian aggressions (placing a straightjacket on most anti-militarist discourse), the failure of economists and social scientists to offer any significant challenge to the military economy, and the general weakness of education about disarmament and militarism in Sweden. Swedish politicians talk about “new defense challenges,” one of which is obviously terrorism. Yet, some immigrant areas in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe are recruitment bases for ISIL (the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). Thus, you can see how cutting military programs and funding immigrant integration makes sense, yet militarism is held to be the solution to terrorism. Instead, at home and abroad militarism and terrorism are self-supporting. Please note: Luton was the site of a terrorist cell linked to the July 7, 2005 London bombings and also a major area of British deindustrialization.
The second argument is that the training program I identified won’t really create the jobs because training in itself only affects the quality of labor supplied and not the demand for that labor. This is partially a valid argument until one recognizes the huge looming issue that is also totally excluded from Swedish discourse, except in the most superficial fashion. This is the need to generate (or at least support) more large firms in Sweden. As one industrial observer told me recently, “you don’t win Swedish elections by talking about large firms.” Instead, Left politicians talk about “innovation,” “small firms,” or ecological “non-growth.” The respectable Right offers firms tax breaks. Neither Right nor Left talks about industrial policy or creating new large firms as generators of thousands of jobs. What is also missing is how large firms function as procurement systems for the very small firms that are fetishized. A sensible industrial policy would promote large industrial enterprises, integration between communications and transportation sectors, and systems of locally anchoring production and jobs.
The need for an industrial policy is relevant to my considerations of the military fighter program. Why? In 2005, the Swedish military firm Saab Aerospace employed far more persons than the Danish civilian wind manufacturer Vestas. By 2007, the Danish firm exceeded Saab as a generator of employment. In 2005, Saab’s total revenue represented 60.0% of that of Vestas. By 2013, Saab only generated 42.9% of Vestas’s total revenues. In essence, Saab has been largely outclassed by Vestas as a wealth and employment generator. In the recent past Vestas became heavily indebted and saw its share price plummet. Nevertheless, by May of this year the company had turned itself around after restructuring operations (see: http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/0/bb41925c-d752-11e3-a47c-00144feabdc0.html?siteedition=uk#axzz3DTYE1hV1).
The established Right and Social Democrats see the defense industry as a jobs generator and the other Left parties have little to say about converting Saab to be more like Vestas. Yet, Saab tried to develop windmills in the post-Vietnam War era and failed. And one of the reasons why it failed was that the Swedish national wind agency got far less support from the Swedish government than did military procurement or civilian nuclear power procurement. More recently, the Saab automotive manufacturing company went bankrupt. Were the hundreds of thousands of persons who have voted for the further Left (non-SDP) parties mobilized to rescue these industrial assets? Was a coalition created linking such voters to trade unions and a system to promote green jobs and technology? No such connection was made, nor was a movement organized. This may have been the fault of the union, but I doubt they would have opposed the creation such a movement. A few Left intellectuals, like Göran Greider, raised the argument about a green conversion option for the Saab automotive industrial complex, but nobody really listened. The Social Democrats in opposition made some suggestions, but did not organize a large scale movement.
The defense and nuclear power industries have been part of the core industrial portfolios of the Social Democratic Party and the respectable Right. One way for the Left to challenge this non-sustainable and militarist corporatism is by championing civilian industrial policies and conversion of defense firms. Investments in windmills and trains are widely discussed, industrial policy is not.
Another key problem is that European Union policies have not encouraged national civilian industrial policy but rather European military industry integration and globalization. Swedish politicians also offer minimal resistance or alternatives to foreign enterprises buying up the Swedish defense industry, automobile manufacturers, pharmaceutical companies, truck manufacturers and the like. Here, the European Union policies are a major problem as is the intellectual implosion of any alternative, industrial policy discourse. While the Social Democrats correctly talk about industrial development and R&D programs, they have no comprehensive program for anchoring the resulting growth within the country (aside from simply supporting incumbent industrial sectors like the nuclear, defense and construction industries, the limits of which will be explained below).
A final objection is that failures to invest in the military budget will cost the economy jobs. In 2013, Saab Aerospace employed 14,140 persons and their total revenues were 23,750 million crowns. This means that the revenue per job in this part of the Swedish defense industry is 1,679,632 crowns per job. According to Saab’s annual report in 2013, 41% of its sales are to Sweden. That means the cost to the Swedish government per job created at Saab is about 688,649 crowns (about $96,000). If the average worker works fifteen years (a conservative estimate), these jobs cost $1.44 million. In contrast, an investment of about $70,000 can create a job for an immigrant. This means one Saab career could help create 20.6 jobs for immigrants. The Swedish government subsidy to Saab’s total workforce over fifteen years could help create jobs for 290,880 persons, i.e. twice the number of immigrant persons currently unemployed and 75% of the number of all persons unemployed. In sum, the Swedish government subsidy of one firm in the defense industry represents a huge opportunity cost against immigrant integration and integrating non-immigrants who (being unemployed) might support SD. Another source of capital to generate jobs is the hundreds of billions of dollars in Swedish bank profits, assuming these funds could be taxed somehow (see: http://www.riksbank.se/Documents/Rapporter/FSR/2014/FSR_1/rap_fsr1_140604_updated_eng.pdf).
There are two further objections to my argument that need to be considered. First, each Saab defense job is subsidized 59% by arms exports. So, arms exports end up paying for these jobs. The problem is such exports come at an exceptionally high moral cost. More economically significant is that these jobs’ aircraft outputs also leave no means of production in place that could be a further means to generate wealth. Seymour Melman, the conversion scholar at Columbia University, noted this key difference between the value of what a tank or fighter aircraft could yield and the outputs generated by a machine tool or windmill. For that reason Melman cooperated with Inga Thorsson, the Swedish disarmament champion, to advance defense-to-civilian economic conversion planning in Sweden. In other words, the flow of wealth generated by products like machine tools and windmills could subsidize Saab workers in the same way arms exports could.
A second counter-argument is that an immigrant training program simply supplies a potentially trained worker and not a labor demand. Now, compare that to the wealth destroyed by producing military assets which provide no economic utility once produced. This relationship between the demand for labor and the supply of labor is very important for understanding the superficial aspects of the Left’s critique of the Right. Much of this critique is valid, but large chunks of the argument are totally superficial. Training programs need to be complemented by labor demand which can come from government, industrial or consumer purchases. The Moderate Party has used tax breaks and actual consumer purchases to help create lower skilled jobs for immigrants, the Left tends to favor the first option or projected demand from other sectors. All parties largely ignore the middle option when it comes to creating new larger firms (or expansion of incumbent large civilian firms) as employment engines. The expansion of incumbent large firms (not subject to domestic anchoring), however, risks rewarding companies that will later outsource production and jobs. Yet, industrial conversion of domestically-anchored military capacity can be a good way to generate spin-offs and large firm civilian growth. Saab Aerospace has highly competent and well-trained engineers, a portfolio of sophisticated technologies, and locally-anchored (in Sweden) workforce and production capacity.
How Aborting Industrial Policy Constrains the Welfare State
During the election, the Social Democrats did call for a massive investment in railroads and other modernization programs. These in theory will create new, public markets which the Right’s tax break programs made difficult. Yet, who will actually support such developments? Experts on Sweden’s construction industry have pointed out that one source of immediate construction jobs will have to be foreign construction firms and foreign workers as there is a shortage of such workers (see: http://www.stockholmsbf.se/brist-pa-personal-hotar-byggbranschen__3526). The Social Democratic Party is hostile to such initiatives which they see as threatening domestic unions and workers. Byggnads, the construction union, argues that many guest workers “come to Sweden are exploited through low wages and slave-like conditions” (see: http://www.byggnads.se/Om-Byggnads/Press1/Johans-kronika/2014/Nyliberala-spoken-vill-stalla-arbetare-mot-arbetare/).
One observer familiar with the trade union point of view argued that if there was a dramatic increase in Swedish construction, “there would probably be a shortage of skilled labor to match demand.” Yet, this informant explained to me: “More can be done to increase the supply [of skilled construction workers] in Sweden. One example is that there are lots of young people who have vocational training so they can become building workers, but they don’t get enough on-site training to get a certificate as skilled workers. Here, the larger construction companies should be doing more.” As the European Union has an open labor market, any companies or individual workers from other EU countries can compete for construction jobs in Sweden. In larger infrastructure projects, non-Swedish companies often tender for part of the projects and some are involved as subcontractors. A view that unions have taken is “that foreign workers/companies are welcome, but that Swedish collective agreements should apply for work in Sweden.” If a new Social Democratic government takes power, it’s expected that they would “tighten up legislation to prevent any social dumping in working conditions.” In sum, if companies don’t do more, then expect a large part of the jobs dividend to leak out. If legislation is tightened and can be accepted by EU authorities, there might be a way around this problem, yet delays in even on-site training will lead to some jobs leakages to foreign-based workers or firms.
Another problem is that the Green Party and others seeking to get jobs out of rail sectors have somewhat fetishized or simplified the issue. What happens after railroads are built? Will Sweden simply be left with just another service industry? The problem is not that the railroads won’t help in the fight against global warming or spur productivity-enhancing investment. Rather, the problem is how to get the most out of such Green investments.
Consider the history of Sweden’s Miljonprogrammet, an initiative in the 1960s and 1970s to build hundreds of thousands of apartments to address a critical housing shortage. This huge construction program was financed in part by pensions and the wealth generated by Sweden’s postwar industrial export boom. The housing program was also a kind of Fordist production on the cheap as a 2010 analysis showed that about 80% of these buildings needed serious rehabilitation (see: http://www.svd.se/naringsliv/miljardrustning-miljonprogrammet-maste-renoveras_5186815.svd). The dependency of the construction sector on the industrial sector (witnessed today the Chinese boom in the former tied to the later) and the costs of rehabilitating existing housing each point to the need for some kind of new growth engine. Taxing the finance sector could certainly play an important way to generate housing.
Very much like their American counterparts, advocates of a Green New Deal often decouple green technology development from any coherent discussion of how to integrate rail construction with indigenous development. On the one hand, SDP talk about R&D investment is too vague. On the other hand, Green Party discussion about having limited growth mitigates against the necessary industrial coupling. Some people in these parties don’t explain how to promote the industrial expansion necessary for accompanying investments in wind power and rail systems. The Green Party does address the problem of sustainable development, which is a step in the right direction.
A way to link industrial development, construction investments, and job creation that are sustainable economically and environmentally is to expand a locally-anchored industrial system that can flexibly sell products in multiple markets. Anchoring can occur by means of agglomeration (firm-to-firm local linkages), worker ownership (so that workers can block the closure of a plant by absentee owners), the enhanced productivity of capital (so automation generates economic surplus to reinvest in training and skills development), and learning by doing or specialized know-how (such that skills are unique and can’t easily be relocated) in multiple spheres and product lines (see: http://www.amazon.com/After-Capitalism-Managerialism-Workplace-Democracy/dp/0679418598 and http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/@ed_dialogue/@actrav/documents/publication/wcms_153352.pdf).
Through an anchoring system tied to firms capable of entering a diversity of markets, public state investments in railroads and wind power support (and the like) would help expand capacities that could later be used to enter private, non-governmental markets. In this way, government spending could help leverage capacities for future non-governmental projects. One way to promote such a diversified system would be to create some kind of domestically anchored industrial variant of the South Korean firm Rotem, the German giant Siemens or the U.S. General Electric. Such companies make windmills, trains, and other products, i.e. a green multi-divisional, multi-product firm with diverse kinds of customers. Sweden has pieces of these kind of firms, but has no industrial policy coordination system necessary for a long term strategy. Instead, Sweden has seen Right-wing governments buying coal plants and Social Democratic governments propping up the military sector. If Sweden does not grow, it won’t be able to sustain its immigration policies much longer. If it grows by non-sustainable and militarist means, that will help fragment the Left. If the Left embraces a Green New Deal and can’t properly execute it, it will lose power.
From the Anti-Immigrant Backlash to the Swedish Dilemma
The mass immigrant unemployment, together with institutional racism and police abuses, are one of the reasons why a wave of riots swept through immigrant areas in Sweden last year and also why the far-Right SD became even more successful in this year’s elections. The one side of the equation is a backlash against Sweden’s failed immigration policy. I have already noted this problem in my analysis of why the Swedish Left lost the last elections in 2010 (see: http://www.counterpunch.org/2010/09/22/why-the-swedish-left-lost/). Yet, the failure to confront failed integration has continued year after year after year. The anti-immigrant backlash is partially tied to failed integration. Why?
First, during the Fordist era (centered in the 1960s), Sweden absorbed thousands of immigrants who got Swedish manufacturing jobs. These jobs have shrunk and many have been replaced with new qualified, “white collar” jobs that require sophisticated pathways for entry. These pathways in turn depend on policies for their extension, but politicians rarely discuss these, e.g. building social capital or investing in a learning space for skilled jobs, but prefer platitudes about training and language instruction. There has been some gradual understanding of the need for an apprenticeship program or systems to link Swedes and non-Swedes. Yet, training, language instruction, apprenticeships, and social capital initiatives must be integrated somehow, not treated serially or atomized by different bureaucratic fiefdoms.
Today, the accelerating sympathy for SD seems almost directly proportional to the accelerated growth in redundancy notices, according to an analysis by Sweden’s leading newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, about two years ago (see: http://www.dn.se/nyheter/politik/sympatierna-for-sd-okar-i-takt-med-varslen/). In the current election, SD was projected to be the second most popular party among voters from LO (the industrial labor federation) (see: http://arbetet.se/2014/09/05/sd-drar-lo-valjare-fran-m/). Can racism or the “stupidity” of the voters simply be the reason for the far Right’s success? If this were the case, one would still have to explain why voters have grown more racist or stupid. One explanation is the more than doubling of the number of persons with immigrant backgrounds from 1970 to the recent past (see: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/assessing-immigrant-integration-sweden-after-may-2013-riots). By this theory, the increase in the total number of persons with immigrant backgrounds leads to more racism. Yet, that argument itself is limited.
This leads us to the other side of equation, i.e. the relationship between immigrants, immigrant unemployment and immigrant animosity. One source of this animosity is the backlash against the wave of immigrant riots that swept the country last year, lasting several days and gaining extensive media coverage. Like SD’s victories, these riots were yet another piece of evidence revealing the failures of Sweden’s immigration policies. The riots were triggered by a police killing but also tied to the economic and political marginalization of immigrants. Likewise, racism against ethnic minorities is triggered by such marginalization.
This is made patently clear in Paul A. Baran and Paul M. Sweezy’s book Monopoly Capital where they discuss the work of Swedish Nobel Prize winner Gunnar Myrdal in An American Dilemma. A key passage is worth quoting at length: “The dynamics of race relations in the United States, according to Myrdal, are to be sought in the tension between white prejudice and what he calls the American Creed. Prejudice results in discrimination, segregation, and a generally inferior socio-economic status for [African Americans]. The Creed expresses the devotion of the whole people to the ideals of freedom and equality. Prejudice, discrimination, and inferiority interact: the more prejudice, the more discrimination; the more discrimination, the more inferiority; the more inferiority, the more prejudice; and so on in a vicious spiral. But it works the other way too. Any measures taken to promote the realization of the Creed will lessen inferiority, diminish prejudice, and counteract discrimination; and this too will be a cumulative process” (Monopoly Capital, New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966: 249-250). Applying the American Dilemma to Sweden leave us with what Dennis Sven Nordin calls The Swedish Dilemma (see: http://www.amazon.com/Swedish-Dilemma-European-Xenophobia-1990-2000/dp/0761831517/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1410788091&sr=1-1).
Baran and Sweezy took issue with some of Myrdal’s conclusions, particularly his optimism about the growing ability of the United States to solve its inequality problems. One key omission is the role of African Americans’ political power in combatting racism and discrimination, but attempts at juridical equality in and of themselves have limits unless connected to an economic program that involves whites, African Americans and others. In the Swedish context as well, immigrant empowerment is a necessary condition for a solution, but in and of itself could generate a backlash if such empowerment is not coupled to some kind of sustainable growth policy (as outlined above).
As a country heavily dependent upon exports, Sweden’s SDP is highly supportive of global firms and their agenda. Many SDP voters are members of industrial trade unions whose jobs and living standards are tied to these firms. Yet, the advance of these firms also accompanies mass layoffs, closures of industrial plants or relocation of jobs to China or Eastern Europe. This is a kind of Faustian bargain that trade unions live with and accommodate through support for job training programs and welfare for the losers. All three of the incumbent Left parties more or less support some kind of indigenous growth plan to promote alternative energy or rail investments to address the problems of oil imports from Russia, ecological devastation and mass unemployment. Sweden has a mixture of domestic rail manufacturing centered in Bombardier facilities, but no local wind energy champion on the scale of the Danish Vestas. The Left has not spelled out how green investments wouldn’t leak out of the country as they are supplied by foreign transnationals, as they have in the United States. Jobs tied to rail investments don’t last forever. Even if Swedish construction companies and Bombardier could handle these investments through domestic production, after this initial investment many jobs would disappear. Before they disappeared many might go to foreign workers.
There are two ways around the twin problems of leakage and one shot growth: (a) diversify existing companies receiving national government procurement to get them outside of their specialized niches, (b) or to turn to firms with potential capacity that are domestically anchored, like Saab Aerospace. Option (a) is limited by Swedish Bombardier’s specialization within transit as opposed to other sectors. This means that Swedish Bombardier basically makes rail-related equipment and serves rail markets (see: http://se.bombardier.com/se/home.htm). It does not make other products like windmills (as do Siemens and Rotem). Option (b) is limited by the competing defense industrial policy which keeps military serving firms military markets.
The first alternative to (a) and (b) would be the creation of a joint venture which involved the incumbent firms and an industrial platform that could enter and capture new or multiple markets. The second solution to these problems would be to build up a cooperative or worker owned industrial system that would provide job tenure and a domestically-anchored multi-product industrial system. A third solution would be the conversion or diversification of the defense industry to new products and markets. These kinds of policies might necessitate some form of protectionism, a new cooperative industrial development bank, or the creation and expansion of university programs that facilitated the state’s technical capacities. Yet, all of these options are limited by Sweden’s EU membership and EU rules which constrain protectionism, favor competition, and reward incumbent transnational firms.
A possible way out can be seen in how the French are already toying with changes to EU rules so as to promote greater growth benefitting France. Orwell’s concerns about nationalism aside, some measure of national industrial policy is urgently needed. A report in The Financial Times in June of this year, pointed to President François Hollande’s “drubbing” in the May European Parliament elections “at the hands of the anti-EU National Front.” The article also explained how the Socialist Party has “struggled to spur economic growth and employment in France and has little leeway to loosen fiscal constraints under EU rules.” The French government backs proposals for what they call “a genuine industrial policy.” This policy would “adapt current EU competition rules to allow for ‘European champions.’” In contrast, “EU law prevents government subsidies to private industry and frequently blocks mergers if they are viewed as reducing competition” (see: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/b89dc694-fb9f-11e3-aa19-00144feab7de.html#axzz3DO4j4vgF). Sweden’s economy is doing far better than France and the Swedish Social Democrats are rhetorically opposed to the austerity policies that have plagued France (see: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/17/opinion/krugman-scandal-in-france.html?_r=0). Nevertheless, the rise of the SD suggests that Sweden may have to rethink the status quo. This rethink could involve the creation of a consortia of nations within the EU to challenge established economic orthodoxies. Such an alternative would have to link the joint political capital of Sweden, Denmark, Greece and other states to a new civilian industrial policy and reflation agenda.
U.S. and Russian militarisms represent a threat to this agenda as Sweden has “chosen sides,” and ramped up military procurement at the expense of civilian industrial policy. Sweden’s cooperation with NATO will help reduce the frontier of a civilian industrial expansion. Please note: Sanctions against Russia which impinge on free trade are acceptable for the EU. Protectionist policies which build up national domestic industrial sectors have not been. A key problem is the social construction of the Russian threat based on selective media reporting.
Let’s return now to Orwell’s essay on nationalism. He wrote: “Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and hard to discover what is actually happening.” What happens when we replace the distant places of the world (as construed by nationalism) with the social structure of the economy (as construed by the Left)? Two dominant trends have plagued the Left. In one the Left creates its own ideological system focused on exposing the lies of the Right and the statements of the business class. This works up to a point, but usually fails by not responding to any truths congealed within the discourse of the Right or the business class. Businesspersons often know how to organize an economy and that might just be important. Even the Left once talked about controlling the “means of production.” Here, the Left does not believe in any of the capacities of the business class. Instead, they embrace the state as a cure all, failing to note problems of state failure or the advantages of democratic cooperatives over state bureaucracies as service delivery systems.
In the other, the Left tries to neutralize the Right or business class by embracing some version of their truths without acknowledging their lies or limitations. In this case, the Left simply supports business groups to create jobs but does not question the politics of managerial failure. Here, the Left believes too much in the capacities of the business class. In sum, the Left usually can’t see beyond the market and the state.
Blind faith in the market or the state is a mind-numbing short cut that will produce further victories for the Far Right. As Jens Rydgren wrote: “Dealignment and realignment processes provide a favorable political opportunity structure for emerging RRP [Right-wing Populist Parties]. Several cleavage dimensions always exist simultaneously, most of them ultimately based on social identity or interests. Although these cleavage dimensions exist side by side, either manifest or latent, their salience increases or declines during certain periods. Contemporary Western European democracies are characterized by two major such dimensions: the perceived economic rift, which pits workers against capital, and concerns the degree of state involvement in the economy, and the sociocultural conflicts, which revolve around issues such as immigration, law and order, abortion, among others. The relative strength of these two sources of tension influences RRP parties’ chances for successful electoral mobilization. As some of these issues lose salience, frames connected to them become less relevant to people’s interpretation of the world.” The problem, however, is that economic rifts and state intervention have only become subjectively less important to certain voters because the Left, Rights and media’s interpretation of these issues has become clouded in confusion.
Some people on the Left find it hard to realize that they are engaged in a self-delusionary propaganda system. Yet, the only Left credential that might matter is a movement to socially democratize technology and the economy as well as produce a system of truth decoupled from Right and Left propaganda systems. If the old routines were working, all the Lefts would be registering dramatic victories. The party that has won the most has exposed the limits of both the Right and the Left by telling even greater lies, while exposing the failed integration system. The 953,000 voters of the further Left parties can help constrain SD by embracing an economic reconstruction program with one leg outside electoral politics. The accumulation of political capital depends on organizing economic and media capital. The Left must learn the lesson self-evident in the cycle linking political militarism, military industrial complexes, and elite media coverage.
Jonathan M. Feldman is part of the Global Teach-In network, reachable via @globalteachin on Twitter. The author thanks Daniel Berg, Mark Luccarelli, Akhil Malaki and Birger Viklund for comments on an earlier draft.