Friday, August 05, 2005


I have previously pointed out that modern-day Sweden is rather fun for conservatives to know about but what about the Sweden of the past? I argue below that the old Swedish model -- the "folkhemmet" (people's home) -- gradually became a version of the Fascist "corporate State" with government, business and labor all intertwined to the detriment of the economy

Although it is a commonplace that Hitler got good co-operation from Sweden both before and during the war, the idea that Sweden was itself in any sense Fascist must seem like one of the most absurd suggestions ever made. Has not Sweden been the great icon of the Democratic Left in the postwar period? It has indeed, though these days conservatives have better reasons for mentioning the Swedish experience than Leftists do. Nonetheless, little-recognized though it might be, there are substantial reasons for seeing interwar Sweden as Fascist. Like all Fascisms, however, Swedish Fascism had its own unique national characteristics and its most unusual characteristic was how slowly it developed, with much of its development taking place AFTER WW2 rather than before.

I have set out at considerable length elsewhere the historical details which show that Fascism was nothing more than a particularly authoritarian and nationalist form of Leftism so we only have to ask here whether Sweden in the interwar years was nationalist, authoritarian and Leftist. And the answer to all three questions is undoubtedly: Yes.

And that answer does not depend on the various small explicitly Fascist and pro-Nazi movements that arose in Sweden in the 1930s. It flows from a look at the dominant political party in Sweden from 1932 on: The Social Democratic Party. The program and policy of the Social Democrats centred around transforming Sweden into a folkhemmet (Volksheimat in German). This became the dominant Swedish concept of Sweden in 1932 with the accession to power of the Social Democrats but was well in evidence before that. The concept is usually traced to a book, The State as a Live Form ( Staten som livsform ), written by Rudolf Kjellen in 1910. Like all versions of the word Volk it is not exactly translatable into English as Volk means both "people" and "race" even though there are separate words for people (Leute) and race (Rasse). So folkhemmet is probably best translated as "a home for the Swedish people". And this idea of what Sweden should be was what the Swedish Social Democratic Party preached. The concept is the core of the "Swedish model" and what it brought about was essentially just another version of the characteristic Fascist "corporate" or "collectivist" State. So, like Fascism generally, the Swedish model was seen as a Third Way between Communism and Capitalism.

The Swedish corporate State really got going only in 1938, however, with the Saltsjobaden Agreement between the unions and the employers. This agreement outlawed strikes and created a central wage-fixing system for the whole country.

And the ideology of the Social Democrats did originally include racial elements. The folkhemmet was seen as including only a racially defined folkgemenskap (Volksgemeinschaft, people's community) with members being only people belonging to den Svenska folkstammen (Volkstum, Swedish racial group) with minorities such as the Tornedal Finns being excluded.

And Sweden did have a charismatic leader, in the form of Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson from 1932 to 1946 -- which rather neatly brackets Hitler's years in power (1933 to 1945).

And it was at the initiative of the Social Democrats that Sweden's eugenic laws were set up, with "undesirables" being forcibly sterilized. Does that remind you of anyone?

And Sweden has been essentially a one-party State since 1932, with only a very brief interlude in the 1990s. But what exactly the folkhemmet should consist of evolved and developed only very slowly and gradually. Change in Sweden is glacial even in the hands of Leftists so the fundamentally paternalist folkhemmet took many years to develop a sweeping dominance of Swedish life. Bit by bit taxes were raised, business was regulated and taken over and welfare programs were expanded. It was not in fact until the early 1990s that the whole edifice came crashing down. So the concept of a fatherly government was there from the beginning, the one-party State was there and a quiet conviction of Swedish superiority and unique wisdom was also there.

Like all Fascist ideologies, however, folkhemmet had its own unique national character. Sweden experienced nothing remotely like the huge interwar disruptions that took place in Germany and Italy -- for the excellent reason that Sweden stayed out of WW1. So Swedish nationalism was much calmer and less excitable. Which led to it being neither strident nor expansionist. Swedes felt perfectly comfortable with the burgeoning wealth being produced by their own country and so felt no need for foreign adventures or huge and sudden changes. It should perhaps be noted, however, that there is nothing intrinsic to the Swedish character that is opposed to foreign adventures. That should be obvious both from the Viking age and the perambulations around Europe of Gustavus Adolphus in the 17th century.

One thing that was NOT greatly different, however, was that the power of the Swedish Social Democratic party was founded on its popularity and was achieved by constitutional rather than revolutionary means. Mussolini and Hitler too were very popular and achieved power legally rather than via revolution. Unlike Mussolini and Hitler, however, the Swedish party had no hesitation in renewing its mandate by way of regular and properly conducted elections. And, like the Franco regime in Spain, it kept out of WW2 and thus stayed in power much longer than the Hitler and Mussolini regimes.

So the Swedish folkhemmet State was welfarist, nationalist, paternalist and essentially all-powerful. Because it used its power very sparingly and cautiously, however, and respected civil liberties, it was undoubtedly the mildest of the Fascist States. Fascism varied greatly from country to country (to take a rather striking example, Sir Oswald Mosley initially used to expel from the British Union of Fascists anyone who made antisemitic remarks!) and the distinguishing feature of the Swedish version was undoubtedly that it was the least authoritarian. And after the war the Swedish Social Democrats did as all Leftists did and abandoned overt nationalism -- though a sense of Swedish superiority undoubtedly continued and discreetly made itself apparent from time to time.


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