Swedish Social Democratic Party
The Swedish Social Democratic Party, officially the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Sweden (Swedish: Sveriges Socialdemokratiska Arbetareparti [ˈsvæ̌rjɛs sʊsɪˈɑ̂ːldɛmʊˌkrɑːtɪska ˈârːbeːtarɛpaˌʈiː] (listen); S/SAP), usually referred to as Social Democrats (Swedish: Socialdemokraterna [sʊsɪˈɑ̂ːldɛmʊˌkrɑːtɛɳa] (listen)), is a social-democratic political party in Sweden founded in 1889, the SAP is the country's oldest and currently largest party.
|Secretary-General||Lena Rådström Baastad|
|Parliamentary group leader||Annelie Karlsson|
|Founded||23 April 1889|
|Headquarters||Sveavägen 68, Stockholm|
|Student wing||Social Democratic Students of Sweden|
|Youth wing||Swedish Social Democratic Youth League|
|Women's wing||Social Democratic Women in Sweden|
|Religious wing||Religious Social Democrats of Sweden|
|LGBT wing||LGBT Social Democrats of Sweden|
|European affiliation||Party of European Socialists|
|International affiliation||Progressive Alliance|
|European Parliament group||Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats|
The Social Democratic Group
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From the mid-1930s to the 1980s, the Social Democratic Party won more than 40% of the vote. From 1932 to 1976, the SAP was continuously in government. Currently, the party has been heading the government since 2014 under Prime Minister Stefan Löfven, who has been the party leader since 2012.
Founded in 1889 as a member of the Second International, a schism occurred in 1917 when the left socialists split from the Social Democrats to form the Swedish Social Democratic Left Party (later the Communist Party of Sweden and now the Left Party). The symbol of the SAP is traditionally a red rose which is believed to have been Fredrik Ström's idea. The words of honour as recorded by the 2001 party programme are "freedom, equality, and solidarity". The party had influences from Marxism in its early days, but these were gradually removed in the years leading up to the split in 1917. Between 1923 and 1940, the party was a member of the Labour and Socialist International.
Unlike in many other European countries, the Swedish socialist left was able to form a stable majority coalition during the early 20th century. Early on, in large part due to the leadership of Hjalmar Branting, the Swedish socialists adopted a flexible and pragmatic understanding of Marxism. They were also willing to form cross-class coalitions with liberals and farmers. Political scientist Sheri Berman also credits the Swedish Social Democratic success during the interwar years to the party's adoption of Keynesianism during the Great Depression (which she contrasts with the Social Democratic Party of Germany's reluctance towards Keynesian policies during the same time and the German Social Democrats' subsequent decline).
In 2007, the Social Democrats elected Mona Sahlin as its first female party leader.
On 7 December 2009, the Social Democrats launched a political and electoral coalition with the Greens and the Left Party known as the Red–Greens. The parties contested the 2010 election on a joint manifesto, but lost the election to the incumbent centre-right coalition The Alliance. On 26 November 2010, the Red–Green alliance was dissolved.
Party organisation and voter base
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Currently, the SAP has about 100,000 members, with about 2,540 local party associations and 500 workplace associations. It has been the largest party in the Riksdag since 1914. The member base is diverse, but it prominently features organized blue-collar workers and public sector employees. The party has a close, historical relationship with the Swedish Trade Union Confederation (LO). As a corporatist organ, it has also formed policy in compromise mediation with employers' associations (primarily the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise and its predecessors) as well as trade unions.
Organisations within the Swedish Social Democratic movement include:
- The National Federation of Social Democratic Women in Sweden (S-kvinnor) organizes women.
- The Swedish Social Democratic Youth League organizes youth.
- The Social Democratic Students of Sweden organizes university students.
- The Religious Social Democrats of Sweden organizes all members with religious beliefs.
- The LGBT Social Democrats of Sweden (Swedish: HBT-Socialdemokraterna [hoːbeːˈteː sʊsɪˈɑ̂ːldɛmʊˌkrɑːtɛɳa] (listen)) organizes LGBT-people.
The SAP had its golden age during the mid-1930s to mid-1980s when in half of all general elections it received between 44.6% and 46.2% (averaging 45.3%) of the votes, making it one of the most successful parties in the history of the liberal-democratic world.
In two of the general elections in 1940 and 1968, it got more than 50% of the votes, although both cases had special circumstances. In 1940, all established Swedish parties, except for the Communist Party of Sweden (SKP), participated in a coalition government due to the pressures of the Second World War, and it led to voters most likely wanting one party to be in majority to give a parliament that could not be hung. In 1944, the tides of the war had turned and the Allied nations looked to win, giving voters more confidence in voting by preference and explaining the more normal electoral result of 46.6%. The previously-excluded SKP also achieved a result of 10.3% in this election. In 1968, the established Communists, most likely due to bad press about the Soviets overtaking of Czechoslovakia (Prague Spring), got a historically bad result of 3% of the votes while the SAP enjoyed 50.1% and an absolute majority in parliament. Only in a fairly brief period between the elections of 1973 to 1979 did the SAP get below the normal interval of 44.6% to 46.2%, instead scoring an average of 43.2%, losing in 1976 (the first time in 44 years) and again just barely in 1979. However, the Social Democrats won back power in 1982 with a normal result of 45.6%.
Decline since 2006
This article needs to be updated. (February 2011)
In the 2006 Swedish general election, the SAP received the smallest share of votes (34.99%) ever in a Swedish general election with universal suffrage, resulting in the loss of office to the opposition, the centre-right coalition Alliance for Sweden. Among the support that the SAP lost was the vote of pensioners (down 10% from 2002) and blue-collar trade unionists (down 5%). The combined SAP and Left Party vote of citizens with non-Nordic foreign backgrounds sank from 73% in 2002 to 48% in 2006. Stockholm County typically votes for the centre-right parties and only 23% of Stockholm City residents voted for the SAP in 2006.
From 2006 to 2014, the SAP lost two consecutive terms to the centre-right Alliance due to the centrist liberal attitudes of then-Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt attracting some of the SAP voters. In 2010, 2014 and 2018, the vote share of SAP dramatically declined, with some of these votes being lost to the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats.
|Members of LO||51||+24|
|On sick leave||51||+24|
|Raised outside Sweden||49||+22|
|Local government employees||34||+7|
|Public sector employees||32||+5|
|Members of TCO||26||-1|
|Private sector employees||23||-4|
|Members of SACO||18||-9|
|All groups (total)||27||0|
In the 1890s, the Social Democrats usually stood on the same ticket as the Liberals.
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Ideology, political impact and history
The party's first chapter in its statutes says "the intention of the Swedish Social Democratic Labour Party is the struggle towards Democratic Socialism", i.e. a society with a democratic economy based on the socialist principle "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need". Since the party held power of office for a majority of terms after its founding in 1889 through 2003, the ideology and policies of the SAP have had strong influence on Swedish politics. The Swedish social democratic ideology is partially an outgrowth of the strong and well-organized 1880s and 1890s working class emancipation, temperance and religious folkrörelser (folk movements), by which peasant and workers' organizations penetrated state structures early on and paved the way for electoral politics. In this way, Swedish social-democratic ideology is inflected by a socialist tradition foregrounding widespread and individual human development.
In 1967, Gunnar Adler-Karlsson confidently likened the social democratic project to the successful social democratic effort to divest the king of all power but formal grandeur: "Without dangerous and disruptive internal fights. [...] After a few decades they [the capitalists] will then remain, perhaps formally as kings, but in reality as naked symbols of a passed and inferior development state".
The Social Democrats are strong supporters of egalitarianism and maintain a strong opposition to discrimination and racism. The party supports social welfare provision, paid for by progressive taxation. The party also supports a social corporatist economy involving the institutionalization of a social partnership system between capital and labour economic interest groups, with government oversight to resolve disputes between the two factions. Concerning constitutional issues, the Social Democrats advocate the abolition of monarchy.
Liberalism has also strongly infused social-democratic ideology. Liberalism has oriented social democratic goals to security. Tage Erlander, prime minister from 1946 to 1969, described security as "too big a problem for the individual to solve with only his own power". Up to the 1980s, when neoliberalism began to provide an alternative, aggressively pro-capitalist model for ensuring social quiescence, the SAP was able to secure capital's co-operation by convincing capital that it shared the goals of increasing economic growth and reducing social friction. For many Social Democrats, Marxism is loosely held to be valuable for its emphasis on changing the world for a more just, better future. In 1889, Hjalmar Branting, leader of the SAP from its founding to his death in 1925, asserted: "I believe that one benefits the workers so much more by forcing through reforms which alleviate and strengthen their position, than by saying that only a revolution can help them".
Some observers have argued that this liberal aspect has hardened into increasingly neoliberal ideology and policies, gradually maximizing the latitude of powerful market actors. Certainly, neoclassical economists have been firmly nudging the Social Democratic Party into capitulating to most of capital's traditional preferences and prerogatives which they term "modern industrial relations". Both socialist and liberal aspects of the party were influenced by the dual sympathies of early leader Hjalmar Branting and manifest in the party's first actions, namely reducing the work day to eight hours and establishing the franchise for working-class people.
While some commentators have seen the party lose focus with the rise of SAP neoliberal study groups, the Swedish Social Democratic Party has for many years appealed to Swedes as innovative, capable and worthy of running the state. The Social Democrats became one of the most successful political parties in the world, with some structural advantages in addition to their auspicious birth within vibrant folkrörelser. At the close of the 19th century, liberals and socialists had to band together to augment establishment democracy which was at that point embarrassingly behind in Sweden and they could point to formal democratic advances elsewhere to motivate political action. In addition to being small, Sweden was a semi-peripheral country at the beginning of the 20th century, considered unimportant to competing global political factions, so it was permitted more independence while soon the existence of communist and capitalist superpowers allowed social democracy to flourish in the geo-political interstices. The SAP has the resource of sharing ideas and experiences and working with its sister parties throughout the Nordic countries. Sweden could also borrow and innovate upon ideas from English-language economists which was an advantage for the Social Democrats in the Great Depression, but more advantageous for the bourgeois parties in the 1980s and afterward.
Among the social movement tactics of the Swedish Social Democratic Party in the 20th century was its redefinition of "socialization" from "common ownership of the means of production" to increasing "democratic influence over the economy". Starting out in a socialist-liberal coalition fighting for the vote, the Swedish Social Democrats defined socialism as the development of democracy—political and economic. On that basis, they could form coalitions, innovate and govern where other European social democratic parties became crippled and crumbled under right-wing regimes. The Swedish Social Democrats could count the middle class among their solidaristic working class constituency by recognizing the middle class as "economically dependent", "working people", or among the "progressive citizens", rather than as sub-capitalists. The Social Democratic congress of 1932 established that "[t]he party does not aim to support and help [one] working class at the expense of the others". In fact, with social democratic policies that refrained from supporting inefficient and low-profit businesses in favor of cultivating higher-quality working conditions as well as a strong commitment to public education, the middle class in Sweden became so large that the capitalist class has remained concentrated. Not only did the SAP fuse the growing middle class into their constituency, they also ingeniously forged periodic coalitions with small-scale farmers (as members of the "exploited classes") to great strategic effect. The SAP version of socialist ideology allowed them to maintain a prescient view of the working class. The party's 1932 election manifesto asserted that "[the SAP] does not question whether those who have become capitalism's victims are industrial workers, farmers, agricultural laborers, forestry workers, store clerks, civil servants or intellectuals".
While the SAP has worked more or less constructively with more radical left-wing parties in Sweden, the Social Democrats have borrowed from socialists some of their discourse and decreasingly the socialist understanding of the structurally compromised position of labor under capitalism. Even more creatively, the Social Democrats commandeered selected, transcendental images from such nationalists as Rudolf Kjellen in 1912, very effectively undercutting fascism's appeal in Sweden. In this way, Per Albin Hansson declared that "there is no more patriotic party than the [SAP since] the most patriotic act is to create a land in which all feel at home", famously igniting Swedes' innermost longing for transcendence with the 1928 idea of the Folkhem, or the People's Home. The Social Democratic Party promoted Folkhemmet as a socialist home at a point in which the party turned its back on class struggle and the policy tool of nationalization. Hansson soothed that "[t]he expansion of the party to a people's party does not mean and must not mean a watering down of socialist demands". He further stated:
The basis of the home is community and togetherness. The good home does not recognize any privileged or neglected members, nor any favorite or stepchildren. In the good home there is equality, consideration, co-operation, and helpfulness. Applied to the great people's and citizens' home this would mean the breaking down of all the social and economic barriers that now separate citizens into the privileged and the neglected, into the rulers and the dependents, into the rich and the poor, the propertied and the impoverished, the plunderers and the plundered. Swedish society is not yet the people's home. There is a formal equality, equality of political rights, but from a social perspective, the class society remains, and from an economic perspective the dictatorship of the few prevails.
The Social Democratic Party is generally recognized as the main architect of the progressive taxation, fair trade, low-unemployment, active labor market policies (ALMP)-based Swedish welfare state that was developed in the years after World War II. Sweden emerged sound from the Great Depression with a brief, successful "Keynesianism-before Keynes" economic program advocated by Ernst Wigforss, a prominent Social Democrat who educated himself in economics by studying the work of the British radical Liberal economists. The social democratic labor market policies, or ALMPs, were developed in the 1940s and 1950s by LO (Landsorganisationen i Sverige, the blue-collar union federation) economists Gösta Rehn and Rudolf Meidner. The Rehn-Meidner model featured the centralized system of wage bargaining that aimed to both set wages at a just level and promote business efficiency and productivity. With the pre-1983 cooperation of capital and labor federations that bargained independently of the state, the state determined that wages would be higher than the market would set in firms that were inefficient or uncompetitive and lower than the market would set in firms that were highly productive and competitive. Workers were compensated with state-sponsored retraining and relocating. At the same time, the state reformed wages to the goal of "equal pay for equal work", eliminated unemployment ("the reserve army of labor") as a disciplinary device and kept incomes consistently rising while taxing progressively and pooling social wealth to deliver services through local governments. Social Democratic policy has traditionally emphasized a state spending structure, whereby public services are supplied via local government as opposed to emphasizing social insurance program transfers.
These social democratic policies have had international influence. The early Swedish red–green coalition encouraged Nordic-networked socialists in the state of Minnesota to dedicate efforts to building a similarly potent labor-farmer alliance that put the socialists in the governorship, ran model innovative statewide anti-racism programs in the early years of the 20th century and enabled federal forest managers in Minnesota to practice a precocious ecological-socialism before Democratic Party reformers appropriated the Minnesota Farmer-Labor Party infrastructure to the liberal Democratic Party in 1944.
Under the Social Democrats' administration, Sweden retained neutrality as a foreign policy guideline during the wars of the 20th century, including the Cold War. Neutrality preserved the Swedish economy and boosted Sweden's economic competitiveness in the first half of the 20th century as other European countries' economies were devastated by war. Under Olof Palme's Social Democratic leadership, Sweden further aggravated the hostility of United States political conservatives when Palme openly denounced American aggression in Vietnam. President Richard Nixon suspended diplomatic ties with the social democratic country. In 2003, top-ranking Social Democratic Party politician Anna Lindh—who criticized the American-led invasion of Iraq as well as both Israeli and Palestinian atrocities and who was the lead figure promoting the European Union in Sweden—was assassinated in public in Stockholm. As Lindh was to succeed Göran Persson in the party leadership, her death was deeply disruptive to the party as well as to the campaign to promote the adoption of the EMU (euro) in Sweden. The neutrality policy has changed with the contemporary ascendance of the centre-right coalition and Sweden has committed troops to support the United States and United Kingdom's interventions in Afghanistan.
From Rehn–Meidner to neoliberalism
Because the Rehn–Midner model model allowed capitalists owning very productive and efficient firms to retain excess profits at the expense of the firms' workers, thus exacerbating inequality, workers in these firms began to agitate for a share of the profits in the 1970s, just as women working in the state sector began to assert pressure for better wages. Meidner established a study committee that came up with a 1976 proposal that entailed transferring the excess profits into investment funds controlled by the workers in the efficient firms, with the intention that firms would create further employment and pay more workers higher wages, rather than increasing the wealth of company owners and managers. Capitalists immediately distinguished this proposal as socialism, and launched an unprecedented opposition—including calling off the class compromise established in the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement.
The 1980s were a very turbulent time in Sweden that initiated the occasional decline of Social Democratic Party rule. In the 1980s, pillars of Swedish industry were massively restructured. Shipbuilding was discontinued, wood pulp was integrated into modernized paper production, the steel industry was concentrated and specialized and mechanical engineering was digitalized. In 1986, Olof Palme, one of the Social Democratic Party's strongest champions of democracy and egalitarianism, was assassinated. Swedish capital was increasingly moving Swedish investment into other European countries as the European Union coalesced and a hegemonic consensus was forming among the elite financial community while progressive taxation and pro-egalitarian redistribution became economic heresy. A leading proponent of capital's cause at the time, Social Democrat Finance Minister Kjell-Olof Feldt reminisced in an interview: "The negative inheritance I received from my predecessor Gunnar Sträng (Minister of Finance, 1955–1976) was a strongly progressive tax system with high marginal taxes. This was supposed to bring about a just and equal society. But I eventually came to the opinion that it simply didn't work out that way. Progressive taxes created instead a society of wranglers, cheaters, peculiar manipulations, false ambitions and new injustices. It took me at least a decade to get a part of the party to see this". With the capitalist confederation's defection from the 1938 Saltsjöbaden Agreement and Swedish capital investing in other European countries rather than Sweden as well as the global rise of neoliberal political-economic hegemony, the Social Democratic Party backed away from the progressive Meidner reform.
The economic crisis in the 1990s has been widely cited in the Anglo-American press as a social democratic failure, but it is important to note not only did profit rates begin to fall worldwide after the 1960s, this period also saw neoliberal ascendance in Social Democratic ideology and policies as well as the rise of bourgeois coalition rule in place of the Social Democrats. 1980s Social Democratic neoliberal measures—such as depressing and deregulating the currency to prop up Swedish exports during the economic restructuring transition, dropping corporate taxation and taxation on high income-earners and switching from anti-unemployment policies to anti-inflationary policies—were exacerbated by international recession, unchecked currency speculation and a Moderate Party government led by Carl Bildt (1991–1994), creating the fiscal crisis of the early 1990s.
When the Social Democrats returned to power in 1994, they responded to the fiscal crisis by stabilizing the currency—and by reducing the welfare state and privatizing public services and goods as governments did in many countries influenced by Milton Friedman, the Chicago School of political and economic thought and the neoliberal movement. Social Democratic Party leaders—including Göran Persson, Mona Sahlin and Anna Lindh—promoted European Union (EU) membership and the Swedish referendum passed by 52–48% in favor of joining the EU on 14 August 1994. Liberal leader Lars Leijonborg at his 2007 retirement could recall the 1990s as a golden age of liberalism in which the Social Democrats were under the expanding influence of the Liberals and its partners in the centre-right political coalition. Leijonborg recounted neoliberal victories such as the growth of private schooling and the proliferation of private, for-profit radio and television. It has been argued that the Swedish Social Democrats' Third Way pension reforms have been more successful than those enacted by the German Social Democrats.
In the 21st century, many of the aspects of the social-democratic welfare state continued to function at a high level, due in no small part to the high rate of unionization in Sweden, the independence of unions in wage-setting and the exemplary competency of the feminized public sector workforce as well as widespread public support. The Social Democrats initiated studies on the effects of the neoliberal changes and the picture that emerged from those findings allowed the party to reduce many tax expenditures, slightly increase taxes on high income-earners and significantly reduce taxes on food. The Social Democratic Finance Minister increased spending on child support and continued to pay down the public debt. By 1998, the Swedish macro-economy recovered from the 1980s industrial restructuring and the currency policy excesses. At the turn of the 21st century, Sweden has a well-regarded, generally robust economy and the average quality of life after government transfers is very high, inequality is low (the Gini coefficient is .28) and social mobility is high (compared to the affluent Anglo-American and Central European countries).
The Social Democratic Party pursues environmentalist and feminist policies which promote healthful and humane conditions. Feminist policies formed and implemented by the Social Democratic Party along with the Green Party and the Left Party (which made an arrangement with the Social Democrats to support the government while not forming a coalition), include paid maternity and paternity leave, high employment for women in the public sector, combining flexible work with living wages and benefits, providing public support for women in their traditional responsibilities for care giving and policies to stimulate women's political participation and leadership. Reviewing policies and institutional practices for their impact on women had become common in social democratic governance.
The Social Democratic Party was defeated in 2006 by the centre-right Alliance for Sweden coalition which according to research from the Department of Government at Uppsala University can be largely traced to the SAP government's poor handling of the two major natural disasters that struck the Swedish political landscape at the turn of the new year of 2004 and 2005. These disasters are known as the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami and the 2005 Storm Gudrun (Erwin). In particular, the Centre Party was very successful in its opposition against the SAP on the issue of the party's poor crisis response to these disasters. Mona Sahlin succeeded Göran Persson as party leader in 2007, becoming the party's first female party leader. Prior to the 2010 Swedish general election, the Social Democratic Party formed a cooperation with the Green Party and the Left Party culminating in the Red–Green alliance. The cooperation was dissolved following another defeat in 2010, throwing the party in to its longest period in opposition since before 1936. Sahlin announced her resignation following the 2010 defeat and she was succeeded by Håkan Juholt in 2011. Initially, his leadership gave a rise in the opinion polls before being involved in a scandal surrounding benefits from parliament which after a period culminated in his resignation. Sahlin and Juholt become the first party leaders since Claes Tholin, who was party leader 1896–1907, to not become Prime Ministers.
Stefan Löfven, elected by the party board, succeeded Juholt as party leader. Löfven led the Social Democratic Party into the 2014 European Parliament election which resulted in the party's worst electoral results at national level since universal suffrage was introduced in 1921. He then led the party into the 2014 Swedish general election which resulted in the party's second worst election result to the Riksdag since universal suffrage was introduced in 1921. With a hung parliament, Löfven formed a minority coalition government with the Green Party. On 2 October 2014, the Riksdag approved Löfven to become the country's Prime Minister and he took office on 3 October 2014 alongside his Cabinet. The Social Democratic Party and the Green Party voted in favour of Löfvén becoming Prime Minister while the Left Party, a close ally of the SAP, abstained. The oppositional Alliance-parties also abstained while the Sweden Democrats voted against.
In the 2018 Swedish general election, the Social Democrats' vote share fell to 28.3 percent, its lowest level of support since 1911. Nevertheless, a Social Democrat and Green Party coalition government was formed in January 2019. Relying on support of the Centre Party and the Liberals, it is one of the weakest governments in Swedish history.
|Party leader||Period||Party secretary|
|Claes Tholin||Karl Magnus Ziesnitz|
Carl Gustaf Wickman
|First party leader after collective leadership.|
|Hjalmar Branting||Carl Gustaf Wickman|
|Prime Minister (1920, 1921–1923 and 1924–1925). Died in office.|
|Per Albin Hansson||Gustav Möller|
|Prime Minister (1932–1936 and 1936–1946). Died in office.|
|Tage Erlander||Sven Andersson|
|Prime Minister (1946–1969). Longest-serving Prime Minister in Swedish history.|
|Olof Palme||Sten Andersson|
|Prime Minister (1969–1976 and 1982–1986). Assassinated.|
|Ingvar Carlsson||Bo Toresson|
|Prime Minister (1986–1991 and 1994–1996).|
|Göran Persson||Ingela Thalén|
|Prime Minister (1996–2006).|
|Mona Sahlin||Marita Ulvskog|
|First female leader of the party.|
|Håkan Juholt||Carin Jämtin|
|Resigned after a scandal.|
|Stefan Löfven||Carin Jämtin|
Lena Rådström Baastad
|Prime Minister (2014–present)|
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Det tyska Gotha-programmet mes dess blandning av laselleanska och marxistiska element betraktades som partiets program, men efter hand tog man även intryck av andra länders arbetarrörelser
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