Social-democratic politics can exist without social-democratic parties
Recently, the Social-Democratic Party in Sweden had its annual party congress. The elections in Sweden are taking place in September 2022, and political parties are already starting their campaigning.
For the Social-Democrats (S), the situation is historically seen as very bad. Because S used to be a party gathering 40-55 % of the votes during elections as in the 1960s and 1970s. The party is also a big part of Sweden’s political history regarding the welfare state development, politicians as Olof Palme and Tage Erlander, and the image of Sweden as a socialist state and society.
However, just as in most other parts of the European Union, social-democratic parties have lost many voters and popular support since the 1990s. There are many explanations for why this is taking place. For example, progressive-oriented political-scientist Cas Mudde writes in his long-read.
It partly has to do with Europe’s post-industrial development, meaning reducing individuals categorized as working-class. It also has to do with social-democratic parties becoming more “neo-liberal” by supporting globalization, individualism, and European integration.
Social-democratic parties have mostly lost their voters to other progressive parties and socialist and green-left ones, often with a more outspoken agenda around climate change and environmental politics, while also losing a smaller number of voters to far-right populist and nationalist parties.
As the social democrats in Sweden have been gathering for their party congress, many opinion-makers, journalists, and political experts have written about the party. This includes writing, depending on one’s political views and identification, what the party should be and do regarding politics and ideas.
Hynek Pallas is a liberal opinion-maker who often writes about European politics and compares developers in Sweden with other EU countries. In his recent article, Pallas writes that the recent performance of social-democratic parties as in Denmark and Germany can signify a new democratic-socialism, but that is no longer about cultural radicalism and pluralism. Instead, it is about combining social democracy with national conservatism - by combining high-tax welfare state social spending with restrictive immigration policies and collectivist identity politics.
Pallas writes that “we are 68ers and 89ers influenced by promises of a more open world after the fall of the Berlin wall who now see our liberal dreams being crushed”. The S has not communicated about cooperating with the far-right populist Sweden Democrats. Still, the rhetoric of Magdalena Andersson reminds of the rhetoric of her colleagues in Denmark - tougher criminal punishments, language demands, and mandatory work demand for individuals on benefits.
According to Pallas, it is not unbelievable that even voters in Sweden will turn a blind eye regarding the treatment of humans that comes with “restrictive” immigration and “hard” integration as long as the S presents itself as more left-wing regarding welfare. His conclusion is at the same time that regarding what has been happening in Europe that social-democratic politics can and exist without social-democratic parties.
Pallas mentions the Zukunftsfähigkeit, the ability to conduct future-oriented sustainability that is needed in Germany has been a challenge for social-democrats. This is because social democrats have originally and historically been operating on the needs and functions of the industrial society while post-industrial development has been taking place for the last 30 years.
Pallas also writes from the current development in the Czech Republic where the social-democratic ČSSD party, with large support among retired and senior citizens, is outside of the parliament for the first time since 1989. This is partly because a centrist-populist party, ANO, which belongs to the liberal ALDE and Renew Europe groups, has taken over social-democratic voters by providing more money to the retired citizens, a large voting group compared to, for example, younger people.
Under the leadership of Andrej Babish, one of the most corrupted leading politicians in Europe, ANO also did that by using xenophobic rhetoric regarding immigration. The ČSSD tried to do the same by campaigning with “stop the migration invasion of Czechia”.
Pallas writes that if such behaviors are examples of social-democratic identity and politics, why do whole people vore for them when the populists have a more clear stance and messages? For example, under “a demography conference” in Budapest, organized by the Hungarian nationalist and right-wing collectivist prime-minister Viktor Orban, he and Babish explained that immigrants would “not replace” their populations and governments stimulate childbirths.
Despite that Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Eastern Germany need more people for the future, but immigrants are now a high-risk project for the social democrats. Just as the Danish social democrats now are focusing on shaping uniformity and “people’s home” politics, the right-wing populists in Central Europe are doing the same with inspiration from social democracy that saw homogeneity as a guarantee for welfare creation.
This is why Pallas argues that the Swedish social-democrats have a similar choice to make. Politics that places “our” retired citizens’ welfare against “the others” bad integration will lead to sorting out people based on place of birth and make it harder for humanitarian refugee policy. At the moment, there is a wave of social-democratic politics in Europe, but it is not always social-democrats who are behind it or who are in power.
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