National Sections of the L5I:

Split in Swedish Socialist Party. New LRCI section in Sweden!

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At the end of 1993 a group of comrades inside the Socialist Party (SP), Swedish section of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI), formed a tendency to fight the right centrism of the party leadership. We named ourselves the “Against the Stream” tendency (ATS). As a tendency we fought against the revision of the party’s programme, which was being adopted at a Congress early this year. At that Congress, ATS received 30% of the delegates’ votes for an alternative “Fundamental Principles” document. One member of the tendency was elected onto the leadership.

This year proved to be decisive in our evolution. General elections were to be held in September followed by a referendum on European Union (EU) membership in November. It was clear that, in preparing its own list of candidates for the elections and in throwing itself into the “No” camp for the referendum, the SP leadership was set on deepening its errors. In August of this year we transformed ourselves into a faction, a step that recognised that the future course of the SP could not be altered without the ousting of the leadership.

As SP members we loyally participated in the election campaign, despite our far reaching criticisms of the programme upon which the SP candidates sought election. The prospect of an even more discrediting campaign around the EU referendum posed us with a sharp choice; be complicit in this farce or terminate the faction fight, establish an independent Trotskyist group and intervene into Swedish political life with a new banner and new hope.

We chose the latter course. In transforming our growing doubts and misgivings about the USFI in Sweden into a rounded political critique of its centrism, we found the publications of the LRCI to be a powerful aid. After years of paying close attention to its practice and its sharp criticisms of the USFI we concluded that the logical step for ATS was to join the ranks of the LRCI. In early October 1994 we broke with the SP and founded Workers’ Power (Arbetarmakt) as the Swedish section of the LRCI.

The SP is the latest incarnation of the USFI in Sweden. Its origins lie in the early 1970s when the League of Revolutionary Marxists was formed. Following a decade of losses in the 1980s the SP almost succeeded in dissolving itself into a small split off from the social democrats called Workers’ Lists. This proposal was in line with the decisions of the 12th USFI World Congress in 1985 on the “recomposition of the labour movement”.

This strategy, a product of demoralisation and deep seated opportunism, urged the liquidation of the USFI sections into “broader”, “left” movements or parties. The USFI leadership claimed that after 1979 there was a gradual radicalisation of the world working class which would pass the USFI sections by unless they fused with broader currents. Needless to say, the leadership argued that this liquidation of their own organisations should not be based on any programmatic affinity with the organisations with which they sought to fuse. Nor was it to be an “entryist” means of carrying on the fight for the Trotskyist programme. On the contrary, it was consciously designed as a way of abandoning their own programme in the hope that there would be a “favourable” evolution of the broader left parties under the impact of mass radicalisation.

In countries as diverse as Germany, Peru, Colombia and Spain such fusions had the desired effect. The USFI sections were effectively liquidated. In Sweden this fate was only averted by the resistance of rank and file members. But, as in the case of France and Belgium—other countries where, despite their best efforts, the leaders could not find partners to fuse with—in Sweden the SP adapted its politics to the reformists, waiting, willing and able to liquidate itself when the time was right.

In the general elections of 1991, the SP ran its own candidates on the slate of the left social democratic Left Party (LP), the renamed Communist Party. No formal political agreement existed between the SP and LP, and SP candidates were accepted onto the slate by the LP individually. The LP preferred those SP members who were well-known trade unionists, people that they hoped to recruit, having noted the turn to the right inside the SP. Naturally this could hardly be expected to strengthen the SP and, although they got local councillors elected in 1991 on the back of the LP slate, they lost them again in the 1994 elections without this backing.

This experience provoked criticism from leftists inside the SP, as did the new proposal to create a common weekly newspaper with other groups. This proposal illustrated another aspect of the degeneration of the SP leaders. They were motivated in part by fear that the strain of producing their own weekly paper—Internationalen—was too much. Yet, at the same time, without it the SP itself would probably collapse. This was not because the paper was a vital means of building the SP, nor any sort of organising focus for the party. No, the calculations of the leadership had a more sordid aspect. Their paper only survives courtesy of a Swedish government subsidy of $125,000 a year! This government hand-out supports an apparatus that would not be possible if it simply relied upon the dedication and self-sacrifice of its own supporters.

Unlike the smaller Danish USFI group (Socialist Workers Party), which did succeed in turning its paper, The Red Thread, into a common paper of the CP remnants and Left Socialists, the SP has failed to entice any partners. But in order to sustain the minimum circulation targets demanded by the state the SP leaders seek to turn Internationalen into a general paper of the left, further liquidating its political content.

In common with the USFI generally the SP had the greatest difficulty in analysing the events in Eastern Europe during and after 1989. Confusion abounded as to the character of the mass movements, their objectives and the results of the struggles that took place. The Trotskyist programme of political revolution, long since abandoned in practice by the USFI, played no role whatsoever in shaping the USFI’s analysis of, or response to, these world historic events. Baffled, the SP leadership decided to rewrite the party programme, inherited from the early 1980s, with a reformist premise and pracical conclusions that marked a conscious accommodation to bourgeois democracy.

This opportunism proved to be another rallying point for leftist elements inside the SP and gave rise to ATS in 1993. The new party programme was adopted at a special congress in February 1994 and contains lengthy rhetoric and major revisions designed to appeal to the much sought after broader milieu. The resulting redraft by the SP reflects the strength of reformism in the Swedish labour movement, but does nothing to challenge it. After a decade or more of increasingly reformist practice the programme was being brought into line with this practice.

At the heart of the new programme the difference between revolution and reform is blurred over. For revolutionaries there is no room for ambiguity on the capitalist state: it must be smashed before the transition to socialism can be begun. For reformists this state needs only to be modestly transformed and used for the benefit of all the “people”. The class character of the state (capitalist) and the class character of the revolution needed to smash it (proletarian) are obscured. The SP echo the reformists, not the revolutionaries, in their new programme:

“To break the old power of the owners of the big companies, institute a radical reallocation of incomes, and establish people’s power in everyday life, requires a decisive change in the central political power apparatus of society, the state.”

But what is the character of this “decisive change”? The programme calls for “the workers’ own democratic and decentralised state power”. But since it omits any mention of the basic Marxist proposition that the workers’ council (soviet) is the necessary form of proletarian power that must smash the state apparatus of the bourgeois state, its phrases about “change”, “people’s power” and so on, are indistinguishable from similar tired phrases that are common coin amongst left-reformists.

When they are mentioned, workers’ councils are seen solely as organs of administration under a future regime of “workers rule.” This allows the SP to downplay the revolutionary character of the transition at the level of state power. In this way they can draw closer to the left reformist vision of an essentially parliamentary road to socialism, if aided and abetted by popular mobilisations. This elision is further compounded by advocating a “central national people’s assembly, parliament—[elected] by the people in free, general, and direct elections. ” The term “people”, in place of working class, is telling, but even worse, the SP present the idea of an elected chamber as in no way different from bourgeois parliaments. Rather, in the manner of all USFI programmes it presents the workers’ rule not as a regime of class dictatorship but as the “ideal” fulfillment of bourgeois democracy. So we find that all citizens, regardless of class, will enjoy “full democratic rights and freedoms”.

In the action programme also adopted at this Congress, the benign vision of the class conflict is extended into the conception of the workers’ government. In the Leninist and Trotskyist tradition a revolutionary workers’ government bases itself on organisations that are seeking to destroy capitalism. A workers’ government has to try and arm the workers, to take the wealth of the capitalist class and disarm their repressive forces. The SP reduced the workers’ government’s ambition to the following:

“ . . . the labour movement must immediately seek collaboration with those popular forces that puts the population and the environment first. The goal must be to establish a common government that defends and develops a good welfare according to the needs of the people and the surrounding environment.”

Rather than smash and dissolve the forces of armed reaction through the use of workers’ councils and militia we are informed by the SP that:

“Old loyalties and hierarchies, and the closedness in both (army and police—LRCI) these corpses, has to be broken by democratic reforms.”

Tell that to the workers of Chile, who in 1973 paid with thousands of lives for the cruel illusion that “democratic reforms” could tame capitalism. The military coup that ended the “democratic experiment” should remind all Marxists of the bankruptcy of the parliamentary road. The parliamentary illusions held by the masses in Eastern Europe should not lead us to erase that lesson of history and adapt to reformism. It should rally us to ever greater efforts to break the masses from their illusions and keep the revolutionary banner aloft. That is what we did in the face of the SP leadership’s new programme.

All in all it was not a pleasant experience taking their programme into the general election campaign. On the one hand, it had no superiority over that of the LP, obscuring all the fundamental issues on which a revolutionary organisation justifies its break with social democracy. On the other hand, the reason that the SP always insists on standing its own candidates is that the social democrats are no different to the open bourgeois party that ruled between 1991 and this year!

As its turned out the election results for the SP were little short of disastrous, with a much reduced vote for their candidates as compared with 1991. It only managed to hold onto to one municipal seat. In truth our break with this blend of ultra-leftist prejudice and opportunist programme could not come soon enough.

The last political fight we fought with the SP leadership was over what attitude revolutionaries should take to the referendum on entry into the EU. We had become convinced that the LRCI position of revolutionary abstention was correct. The big sectors of the bourgeoisie clearly want entry, but the working class does not always simply put a minus where the bosses put a plus. Opposition to entry comes from other bourgeois forces as well as parts of the labour movement and petit bourgeoisie. It is not true that outside the EU the Swedish working class has better prospects for prosecuting the class struggle than inside. A Swedish bourgeoisie deprived of further privileges of membership is just as likely to seek to maintain competitiveness against the EU member states by a more savage attack on the workers.

The “No” campaign in Sweden was formed several years ago, drawing most of its members from the Left Party, the Greens and the small left groups. The left component of the campaign is quite strong and lays stress upon the social and economic disadvantages that come with membership. There can be no denying that in Sweden, as in other countries, the implications of membership for budget control, public spending limits and fiscal conservatism will increase and with that the pressures to “reform” away many of the social benefits for which Sweden has been famous. But in or out of the EU the working class has got to defend these gains. And it shows a touching faith in the bourgeoisie to believe that somehow these gains are any safer in the hands of our bosses if they stay outside the EU.

More worrying still, over the last months the opponents of entry have been joined by neo-nazis and ultra-rightists as well as prominent representatives of the social democratic and open bourgeois parties. The voice of the left “no” is being drowned out.

As they have grown, the bourgeois opponents of entry have sought, successfully, to exclude the left and the far right from the mainstream campaign. If the SP had any revolutionary aspirations they would at least have taken this as an opportunity to direct their campaign in the working class towards an unamibiguous revolutionary opposition to nationalism and for internationalism. But no. In a new pamphlet for the referendum campaign the SP is still trying to worm its way back into the mainstream campaign. Faced with the argument that many companies would leave Sweden if they stayed outside the EU, the SP argue that:

“Companies wanting to move abroad have to be made to understand that they thereby also leave their companies in the hands of society. Faced with such a resolute direction, we are confident that many entrepreneurs would prefer to stay.”

Such a polite and veiled threat to nationalise them - and only if they become unpatriotic capitalists! Whether they choose to stay or leave, of course, our answer is the same—workers’ control and expropriation.

Meanwhile, campaign allies in the “No” campaign are dealt with equally politely. In addressing the issue of self-determination and the EU, the SP merely rebukes the allies for their “one-sided nationalist position”. No sharp internationalist programme is put. No doubt, with effort, the SP can construct a more “rounded” nationalist opposition to the EU.

There are no reasons for revolutionaries to stay in the SP. Long touted as one of the stable parties in the USFI, it is stagnant in spirit and practice, propped up merely by state subsidies and the inertia of a politically bankrupt leadership. These leaders have no belief in their project. They share the same “non sectarian” attitude to their own International; namely, that Trotskyism is not the only brand of authentic revolutionary politics.

Breaking with this centrist outift is the best course of action for revolutionaries. And in breaking we can begin to help the Swedish working class prepare for the inevitable big battles that lie ahead. Hand in hand with the LRCI sections in Europe and beyond we are confident of success.n