Tag Archives: Social Democracy

Tea Torbenfeldt Bengtsson, Morten Frederiksen & Jørgen Elm Larsen (eds.), The Danish Welfare State. A Sociological Investigation (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015)

How is the welfare state transforming in an era of globalization, individualization and hence increased competition, and how are the changes seen on a macro and micro level? This is the main question raised in this book, containing 15 chapters, including a thorough introduction and a conclusion. More specifically, it explores how risk concepts and risk thinking transform the welfare state from responding to and from protecting its citizens from threats putting them at risk, to risks being seen as threats to the welfare state itself.

The book addresses a current discussion in Denmark concerning whether the welfare state, instituted to protect its citizens, is developing into a competition state, mobilizing citizens to take part in the struggle for the state to be competitive. In this picture, so-called non-productive citizens such as the unemployed, chronically ill, or newly arrived refugees, are increasingly seen as risk factors or even threats, and not primarily as humans worthy of protection. According to the editors of the book, Denmark as a modern welfare state endorsing both universal welfare and individual responsibility is an interesting case illustrating this development. Thus, they provide a frame for discussing whether it is worth ‘getting to Denmark’, as Fukuyama claimed in The Origins of Political Order (2011) as a metaphor for democracy.

The state increasingly seems to respond to macro-level threats from globalization and economic crisis with micro-level initiatives; hence the anthology focuses on risks both on a macro- and micro-level. In the opening chapter a thorough introduction is given to four sociological approaches to risk, namely risk society (Beck); risk culture/cultural theory (Douglas); risk control/governmentality (Foucault); and risk as uncertainty/managed uncertainty (Luhmann). These theorists, of whom particularly Beck and Foucault are cited in the book, claim in different ways that risks are socially founded. The explanation of this theoretical framework does not only serve a didactical purpose but also helps to underline how a social understanding of the risks of modernity can be used when analyzing welfare states like Denmark. Whereas the competition state is often associated with neoliberalism and deregulation, the social investment state is associated with reregulation, which several of the chapters analyzing policies on a micro level illustrate. Both the competition and the social investment paradigm however rely on a highly educated, healthy and productive workforce. Accordingly, policies of education, activation, and health become important. However, there may be unintended consequences of such risk management policies. As pointed out in several chapters, new risks may occur especially among the poor and poorly educated classes, who do not respond adequately to activation policies and often meet sanctions and cuts in benefits. Thus, the welfare state may end up reproducing rather than overcoming inequalities.

The book comprises three parts. The first part concerns risks at a macro level, mainly explored comparatively. Hence, in chapter 2, “Denmark from an International Perspective”, Peter Abrahamsen discusses the social investment paradigm drawing the traditional Social Democratic Denmark closer to liberal and continental models. In chapter 3, “Social Investment as Risk Management” Jon Kvist compares social investment strategies of Denmark, Germany and United Kingdom. In Chapter 4, “Employment Relations, Flexicurity, and Risk: Explaining the Risk Profile of the Danish Flexicurity Model”, Carsten Strøby Jensen explains how flexicurity presently is under pressure by cuts in unemployment benefits and decreasing support for labor unions. In chapter 5, “Precarity and Public Risk Management: Trends in Denmark across Four Decades”, Stefan Andrade shows that the Danish labor market has not yet become more precarious than in other European countries, though low- and unskilled workers have become more vulnerable to risks of poverty and unemployment. In chapter 6, “Towards a New Culture of Blame?” Morten Frederiksen shows from survey data, that Danes’ attitudes towards social assistance and unemployment surprisingly have changed very little.

The second part of the book is devoted to risk perspectives on the universal welfare state at a micro level. Thus, in chapter 7 “When Family Life Is Risky Business – Immigrant Divorce in the Women-Friendly Welfare State”, Mai Heide Ottosen and Anika Liversage discuss whether new and unintended risks of exclusion follow divorces in immigrant families. Education is the focus of chapter 8, “The Risky Business of Educational Choice in the Meritocratic Society”, where Kristian Karlson and Anders Holm demonstrate how citizens’ ability to risk management in educational decisions is related to inequality in education. Unintended inequality is also the topic in chapter 9 “Health in a Risk Perspective: The Case of Overweight”, where Nanna Mik-Meyer explores the increased focus on health problematizing an already vulnerable group. A similar tendency is seen in chapter 10, “Failing Ageing? Risk Management in the Active Ageing Society”, Tine Rostgaard explains how the Danish ‘active approach’ to elder care problematizes inactive groups unwilling or incapable of change.

The third and last part of the book stays on the micro level and explores the Danish welfare state’s approach to social problems and marginalized groups. In chapter 11, “Controlling Young People Through Treatment and Punishment”, Tea Torbenfeldt Bengtsson shows how the Danish system for juvenile crime is currently strengthening control influenced by ‘fears of “being soft on crime”’. In chapter 12, “Alcohol and Risk Management in a Welfare State”, Margaretha Järvinen argues that the healthcare authorities’ governmentality perspective on alcohol consumption does not reach certain alcohol consumers. In chapter 13, “The Tough and the Brittle: Calculating and Managing the Risk of Refugees” Katrine Syppli Kohl explores how Denmark’s selection of quota refugees has developed from choosing the weakest to picking those deemed most ‘capable of integration’, thus presenting the background for the Parliament’s 2016 suspension of the entire quota refugee program in Denmark. Lastly, in Chapter 14, “Cash Benefit Recipients – Vulnerable or Villains?”, Dorte Caswell, Jørgen Elm Larsen and Stella Mia Sieling-Monas examine the Danish unemployment policy including evermore severe sanctions as means of encouraging job seeking.

To sum up, the anthology offers a comprehensive overview of the Danish welfare state on a macro- and micro level, convincingly applying risk theories and discussing the social investment paradigm. In an era where publishing in journals is given priority over anthologies, this volume demonstrates that the anthology format is still justified. The volume is highly recommendable to students, scholars, and not least, decision makers.

Ulf Blossing, Gunn Imsen & Lejf Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model. ´A School for All´ Encounters Neo-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

The Nordic countries are a special case in the global context. In a world dominated by economic criteria for all things they seem to disprove that ideology. Their economies run smoothly and are efficient, the living standards are high and yet they sustain a welfare state that provides for some of the most important needs of any citizen, such as the need for medical care in case of serious sickness, the need for education to enable the citizens to function as well informed citizens in democracies, as knowledgeable employees in their jobs and as well balanced human beings.

Continue reading Ulf Blossing, Gunn Imsen & Lejf Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model. ´A School for All´ Encounters Neo-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

U. Blossing, G. Imsen & L. Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model: ´A School for All´ Encounters Noe-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

This is a timely book on the clash between the Nordic welfare practice and the neo-liberal state experiment changing nations from welfare states to competitive states and their individuals from citizens to being part of a workforce, as Rasmussen and Moors put it. The book is an important contribution to the discussions of the changes being implemented in the countries which aimed at realising the ideals of democracy, social justice and prosperity by equality in education.

Continue reading U. Blossing, G. Imsen & L. Moos (eds.), The Nordic Education Model: ´A School for All´ Encounters Noe-Liberal Policy (Dordrecht: Springer, 2014)

Tra utopia e realtà: Olof Palme e il socialismo democratico. Antologia di scritti e discorsi, (ed. and trans.) Monica Quirico (Rome: Editori Riuniti university press, 2009)

Monica Quirico has produced a nicely edited and translated work that collects together into Italian some of the writings and speeches of the assassinated Prime Minister. The volume consists of an introduction by the editor-translator and a division of Palme’s work into four sections: socialism and democracy, Swedish reform, the Neo-Liberal offensive and solidarity without limits. The book also possesses a useful glossary that succinctly explains various acronyms and persons of interest.

As one reads the speeches and writings of Palme, one is struck by their relevance for today. The texts reveal a politician that was formed at a time when social democracy was not only viable and rich with promise, but one also finds an astute awareness of the threat of Neo-Liberalism and the difficulties and challenges posed by globalisation and a globalised economy. With the collapse of the Left and the dominance of a globalised market-place politics, Palme still offers hope, even after his demise. One feels the palpable urgency of his message and his commitment to improving society and the state of the world.

The Introduction, written by Quirico, presents a biographical sketch of Palme, outlining the sources and influences that helped shape him throughout the various periods of his life. Born into a Conservative family, Palme developed a deep concern for injustice and inequality while studying both in Sweden and abroad. Quirico sets the stage for her readers to begin to appreciate the various concerns and programmes of Palme’s politics. Section One focusses on the speeches and writings of Palme that examine the nature and struggles of socialism and democracy. I should note, here, that the writings and speeches contained in the volume are not arranged in a strict chronological order; rather, they are organised around certain themes, which the editor-translator has rightly identified as indicative of Palme’s political vision and legacy. One sees in this section Olaf Palme’s struggles with various forms of socialism and how they represent themselves at the international level. Palme rejects communism as a viable form of socialism, as it undermines individual freedoms. The communism that he has in mind is the Soviet form. He is also critical of capitalism, for it values profit over individual and collective wellbeing. In fact, striking in Palme’s speeches and discourses is his conviction that individual wellbeing is intimately linked with societal or collective wellbeing, including global community. Democracy and active participation in democratic politics requires a just distribution of goods so that all peoples can actively participate in government. Palme identifies work as an important social mechanism that will allow more active participation. Unemployment eats away at the very possibility of a more communal and active sense of political life. He remarks, “The fight against unemployment takes on a crucial value in this respect, if we wish: to avoid wasting our economic resources; alleviate social tensions and personal suffering that stem from unemployment; maintain trust in our democratic form of government and reinforce democracy. Full employment not only creates wellbeing, it also distributes it. There is no greater division than between those who have work and those who do not. Moreover, the person who now suffers runs the greater risk of being unemployed. All that has been said up until now can sound quite obvious, so much so that it may ring as commonplace. But the problem is that such obvious commonplaces are not often spoken. It is good to repeat them, lest we forget them.” (99 Translation mine)

Section Two collects together some of Palme’s work on social reforms in Sweden. Here, the Swedish statesman’s commitment to the welfare state model of politics is very clear. There is an emphasis not only the intimate connection between a just and equal economic distribution of goods—an economic vision oriented toward a more encompassing goal of communal good rather than individual profit—and democracy, but one also finds here his conviction that solidarity is vital if Sweden is to carry out its social welfare values. We read: “The strength of a welfare state for all…is: it is just in and for itself such that all may benefit; it makes possible a redistribution among people in different phases of life and among different social groups; it is balanced because it consists of both rights and obligations for all; it protects the most vulnerable. International comparisons reveal how inefficient selective politics are in trying to lead those who live in conditions below average; it creates liberty, avoiding the enclosure of persons in a state of dependency, which could be difficult to get oneself out of; it offers autonomy. Individuals can live their lives, even when they become ill or old; it guarantees freedom of movement, for rights follow the person wherever he or she may be; it consists of a limited bureaucracy insofar as it does not revolve around the rise and fall of certain economic conditions, which is opposite to systems that only concern themselves with the most marginalised of a society.” (161–61 Translation mine) The section ends also with Palme reminding Swedes of their uniqueness in the world and their global contribution, especially concerning advances in social wellbeing and the environment. He sees Swedish unions as making vital contributions on this score.

Section Three is one of the most poignant and salient sections of the book. Quirico has collected here Palme’s writings and discourses on the Neo-Liberal offensive. Given that, today, we have completely succumbed to the Neo-Liberal model, especially in the West, what Palme criticises and fears have come true. In many ways, reading these speeches from our present point of view makes him seem like a prophet. The late 1970’s and early 1980’s introduced massive economic difficulties on the world stage. One feels in the texts of this section the effects of massive unemployment, an increased cost of living due to inflation and high interest rates and the fleeing of European and North American labour markets by producers of goods in favour of places where labour is cheaper and, therefore, more profitable. The social democratic and welfare state models advanced by Palme are under severe attack as unable to sustain the goals he claims it could promote. He comments on the dissolution of unions in North America and England: “To launch a politics directly aimed at workers, especially when it deals with unemployment, social security, etc., is to attack the union, incriminating its legitimacy as the voice of its members. This is what is happening in country after country. This is why it is necessary that unions react, uniting their respective forces at the international level. The strong unions of Sweden have a particular responsibility in this battle for human rights and the freedom of unions. It is to you, I am convinced, that the future belongs.” (194–95 Translation mine) Today, unions have lost their voice and workers are subject to the whims of the markets—the security of the welfare state is no longer.

Section Four concludes the volumes with a hopeful message and, perhaps, a useful tool to mobilise us against the excesses and faults of a globalised Neo-Liberal economy, with its recent crashes in 2008 and 2011. We find here various addresses that Palme gave against apartheid as well as in former war-torn Vietnam. Ultimately, solidarity, especially at an international level, is invoked as a source of change and reform; it can also prevent us from falling into a politics of fear and oppression. Solidarity is no longer local, but global, and it entails a profound social responsibility—one that Palme lived whole-heartedly, for example, as mediator in the Iran-Iraq war and in his fight against apartheid. “All of us have a role to play in the struggle against apartheid. I have reported to United Nations and to other agencies of the measures of our government. We are actively engaged so that other countries may adopt, in turn, measures similar to ours. One of the reasons why we are concerned that our actions are compatible with those of others at the international level is so that the probability increases that others may follow our example […]” (260 Translation mine)

Unfortunately, Olaf Palme’s life came to an abrupt and unexpected end with his assassination in Stockholm in 1986. With his death, his fight for a more democratic society based on justice, equality and a communal well being rooted in solidarity and responsibility also came to an end. Quirico has given us an important resource for preserving and studying Palme’s legacy and political message of the need for certain values that preserve and promote human life and society as well as create a more just and equitable world. Perhaps Palme’s speeches and writings may help in reinvigorating the left or producing a new social democracy. Only time will tell.

 

Göran Greider, Ingen kommer undan Olof Palme (Stockholm: Ordfront, 2011)

To the pressing return of Palme’s figure in the debate on the future of Swedish Social Democracy an intense book by Göran Greider – poet and journalist, one of the ten most authoritative intellectuals in Sweden – has remarkably contributed: Nobody escapes Olof Palme[1]; an evocative title for a work which is not meant as a biography but rather as a “walk”, taken during and just after the 2010 electoral campaign, across Palme’s life as well as through the changes occurring in the Swedish Social Democratic party – and in Sweden in the whole – under the last decades (subsequently to Palme’s death).

Greider’s path – made up of meetings with old and new activists, in Stockholm as well as in more peripheral areas – starts from four places in Stockholm with a symbolic value in Palme’s life: Östermalm, the upper class neighbourhood where he grew up; Vällingby, the ultra-rationalistic suburb where the Palmes moved to in the 1950s; the street (Västerlånggatan) in the Old Town, where he lived in the last years of his life; and the road (Sveavägen) in the modern city centre where he worked (the Social Democratic party has its head office there) and where he was murdered.

In the first chapter (Östermalmsgatan) Greider points out that the Swedish Conservative Party (Moderaterna), although claiming the legacy of Tage Erlander (Palme’s predecessor, prime minister from 1946 to 1969, the age of the making of the impressive Swedish public sector), still looks at Palme as a taboo. Unless… he is not purified by any Socialist corruption. Greider is persuaded that exactly this embarrassing contamination explains why the centre-right parties as well as the Social Democrats try in any way to escape Palme.

The second chapter (Tornedalsgatan) focuses indeed on the biographies (by Henrik Berggren, by Kjell Östberg and by Klas Eklund[2]) offering an embalmed portrait of Palme as statesman (and in the case of Berggren’s work, also trying to turn Palme into a liberal). After all, why should the upper class give up claiming the most talented politician grown up from its own ranks (although unfortunately gone over to the enemy)?

Greider makes clear that his own aim is on the contrary to discuss the most controversial elements in Palme’s political career. The author’s thesis is that the Social Democratic leader can be understood only in the light of the social movement, aiming at a social transformation, which he led from 1969 (when Palme was appointed party leader and subsequently prime minister) to 1986, both in power and in opposition: the working class and its allies. According to the author, “the movement is the message”, as he makes clear already in the short Introduction, coming back to this idea in the second chapter, where moreover he points out that nowadays in Sweden the only political organization aiming at, and succeeding in, building a political movement is the xenophobic party, the Sweden Democrats.

In the light of these worrying processes, Greider questions one of the commonplaces about the crisis of the Left all over Europe: what is needed – in Sweden and not only – is not so much to work out again the transformation thinking (it is not ideas and analysis which are missing), but instead to find new forms of organisation for social movements.

The author is critical with the influential historiographic trend explaining the ideological development of Swedish Social Democracy as a gradual but at the same time unavoidable removal, from the 1930s onwards, of all Socialist core ideas; starting of course from Socialization, being replaced by the more reassuring – and thus more suitable to ensure Capitalists’ support – social democracy.

Greider recalls the great visions the Swedish Social Democrats built upon the cross-class consent they enjoyed, stressing that these were not inescapable paths, but instead the outcomes of choices made by the labour movement: first the “people’s home”, launched in 1928 by Per Albin Hansson and since then revised several times as slogan; then, between the 1950s and the 1960s, the “strong society”[3], to refer to the need of an active role of the State aiming at safeguarding citizens’ welfare. In both cases, socialization played no role. Nevertheless, Greider asks himself: what does it mean that in the last years of Palme’s life, after more than four decades of Social Democratic rule (yet interrupted by the centre-right government 1976-1982), almost four workers out of ten had a public employer?

By doing so Greider raises the question as far as the identity of Swedish Social Democracy is concerned, i.e. the role of the State in re-shaping the power relations between classes. His answer is that such an achievement reflected an unmatched degree of socialization of the economy. According to Greider’s analysis indeed the SAP did not restrained its intervention to a socialization of incomes, but rather built an imposing public production system. This is exactly the history which has been removed: the making of a “embryonal Socialism” in Sweden. The centre-right can not take possession of it, because of the incompatibility with its own social-liberal vision; furthermore, this history makes many Social Democrats feel uneasy as well.

After making amends for the sins of Soviet Socialism, it is time, Greider writes in the third chapter (Västerlånggatan), to look forward: if not nowadays, in ten, twenty years the good “utopia” contained in Communism will become topical again.

The great chance missed by the Swedish Social Democracy, the third crossroad it had to face, is indicated by Greider in the debate on wage earner funds, started in the early 1970s (but with earlier roots) from the awareness that capital formation should be increased without helping at the same time wealth concentration. Put forward in 1975 by the trade union economist Rudolf Meidner, the proposal provided the establishment of funds – stocks being strategic property – to be administered by workers and constituted through the transfer of a share of annual corporate profits; they were supposed to shift gradually the ownership in medium to large companies from employers to workers. The SAP strove to turn the funds into an instrument of capital accumulation; when they were finally introduced by a law, in 1983, had no longer anything to do with the original proposal, being rather an element within a general anti-crisis policy. That, too, as well as the People’s Home and the Strong Society, was a choice, Greider stresses, without playing down at all Palme’s contribution in neutralizing the subversive component of the funds, in the face of the hysterical reactions from business circles.

The divide between Palme and his successors is identified by Greider not in the capacity to take unpopular decisions – which Palme, too, took, and which the author accepts as hard lesson of politics – but rather on one hand in Palme’s attachment to Democratic Socialism and on the other hand in his successors being unable to make it clear that, notwithstanding unfavourable circumstances, the aim is still the same: to ensure equality and safety. It is not by chance that what is considered worthy being celebrated in Palme is his internationalism, not his democratic socialism, i.e. not the politician who recalled the Socialist legacy always present (even though in an underground way) in the party history.

In the final chapter (Sveavägen) Greider points out to the two conditions which can allow a revival of Democratic Socialism in the XXI Century. The first is that as long as we live in a capitalist society, Marxism, yet not self-sufficient (but rather to be supplemented by the Green thinking and by social movements other than the labour one), remains the best conceptual tradition we have at our disposal in understanding – and in changing – reality. The second condition is to give raise to new social movements and at the same time to revitalize the existing ones, too often unable to communicate with each other.

The goal is, once again, with more urgency than ever, labour liberation.

Endnotes

———————————————————————————————————-

[1] G. Greider, Ingen kommer undan Olof Palme, Ordfront, Stockholm 2011.

[2] See M. Quirico, Olof Palme: One Life, Many Readings, “Nordicum Mediterraneum”, 2011, VI, 1.

[3] At that time the distinction between State and civil society was weak, in the Swedish political lexicon, thus the translation into another language has to take into account this ambiguity, due to the close relation between the two spheres. See L. Trägårdh, The Paradox of Swedish Political Culture: State and Civil Society in Sweden, Introduction to State and Civil Society in Northern Europe. The Swedish Model Reconsidered, ed. by Id., New York-Oxford, Berghahn Books, 2007, pp. 1-3.

Olof Palme: One Life, Many Readings

In short, historiographic reflections have been penalized by a kind of personality cult, even if reversed in the case of Palme’s opponents.[1]

 

1. Literature on Olof Palme

 

His spectacular political career, on the one side, and his tragic end, on the other side, have nourished – already when Palme was still alive – a thriving and deplorable literary genre made up of speculations on his demoniac nature, his crimes, or at best his inadequacies;[2] as well as conspiracy theories of all kinds and hundreds hypothesis on the murder.[3] . In the end of the 1980s the first biography came out, written by the journalist Björn Elmbrant:[4] it is still an unavoidable reference. It was followed later by the purely political biography written by the journalist Peter Antman and by the Social Democratic politician Pierre Schori,[5] who was State Secretary for Foreign Affairs in the second Palme government. Collective volumes[6] followed too, including contributions that focused on particular aspects of Palme’s politics/policies (first and foremost the foreign one)[7], and memoirs by representatives of the Social Democratic Party.[8]

Due partly to the awareness that much was left to be studied with regards to Palme’s life and political role, and partly to the approaching 25th anniversary of his tragic death, recent years have witnessed a renewed biographic effort, thanks first of all to the monumental work (nearly 900 pages) by Kjell Östberg, a historian who has devoted great part of his scientific production to social movements and to the relationship between intellectuals and politics. One could wonder what was left to be said about Palme after this two-volume biography, published between 2008 (1. I takt med tiden. Olof Palme 1927-1969 – Behind the times. Olof Palme 1927-1969[9]) and 2009 (2. När vinden vände. Olof Palme 1969-1986 – When the wind turned. Olof Palme 1969-1986[10]). Nevertheless, in 2010 two more works were published: the short Palme, by Klas Eklund,[11] who was one of the economic advisors of the second Palme government; and the impressive (more than 700 pages) Underbara dagar framför oss. En biografi över Olof Palme (Wonderful Days in Front of Us. A biography of Olof Palme)[12] by Henrik Berggren, historian but above all leading writer of “Dagens Nyheter”, the most influential Swedish newspaper, which typically endorses “independent liberal” stances.

The aim of this article is not to review the last three biographies mentioned above, but to try to identify their methodology, so to speak, then singling out – in a way which may come across as arbitrary – some of the controversial points in Palme’s political career (leaving out both scandals and vulgar attacks), as they will prove to be good opportunities for comparing the interpretations given by their authors.[13]

2. Different ways to tell a life

Eklund’s book differs from the other two works for it is part of a series devoted to the Swedish Prime Ministers in the last hundred years (i.e. from Karl Staaff to the present PM Fredrik Reinfeldt). Each volume is meant as a quick introduction to a specific PM, and in fact Eklund’s Palme is a fairly simple political biography (with only a limited attention to Palme’s private life). Nonetheless, its final section (Arvet efter Palme, Palme’s legacy) makes it different from a flat list of facts and dates. In a few pages, the author takes indeed a stock of Palme’s outcomes and failures and then even goes so far as to try to imagine what could happen if Palme had not been murdered — a kind of counterfactual history, in other words.

Östberg’s and Berggren’s biographies show at first glance a similar structure, not only due to their remarkable length, but also insofar as both aim at an in-depth reconstruction of Palme’s life and role, as well as of the world around him (i.e. 20th-century Sweden and international, history). The title of the first volume of Östberg’s biography, Behind the Times, summarizes very well the author’s starting point, as it is made clear in the Introduction: first of all, the idea that Palme went across several ages during which history turned more than once to a new direction; secondly, the acknowledgement that Palme showed an extraordinary talent for grasping the Zeitgeist and the changes affecting it, and therefore was in the best position for exerting an effective influence on what was going on.

Östberg’s approach is not at all individualistic.[14] His biography is rather a history of Palme within the history of the Swedish labour movement and of its changing relationship with Capital, with a swinging from collaboration to conflict that took place exactly under Palme’s political apex. That does not imply that Palme’s individuality is sacrificed in the end, but rather that the dilemmas which he had to face and the choices which he made are understandable only in the view of the power relations between classes and of the pressures upon the labour movement and its organizations coming both from the Right and from the Left. That explains why the two volumes of Östberg’s biography represent an imposing picture of 20th-century Swedish political and social history.

To sum up Berggren’s work is a trickier task, because of a kind of paradox which somehow undermines it. The main perspective is definitely individualistic, with regards both to the methodology – Palme’s behaviour (as a person and as a politician) is often, too often perhaps, interpreted from a psychological and philosophical point of view – and to the interpretation – Berggren portrays Palme, whom he states to have voted for in 1982 and 1985,[15] far more as a liberal than as a socialist. On the other hand, it is exactly Palme who disappears eventually in the demanding history of Swedish culture and, in a way, Swedish civilisation in the 20th century, which constitutes the actual core of the book. Though fascinated by the gallery of poets, artists, film-makers, theorists and journalists – besides politicians – that Berggren recalls and outlines with great skill, the reader can not help wondering: “where has Palme gone?”

3. “Class treason”

One of the more investigated turning points in Palme’s life are the reasons that led a talented offspring of one of the most influential families in Stockholm to join the Social Democratic Party (SAP) in 1951 – after drawing attention to himself as student leader on an international scale –, only to be appointed two years later as secretary of the then prime minister, Tage Erlander, at the age of twenty-six years.

All three authors stress the formative impact on the young Palme – until then holder of the conservative vision (even if with social and international openings) inherited from his family – of the journeys made around the USA (1948), Eastern Europe (1949) and Asia (1953). These experiences meant the dramatic discovery of a reality made up of misery and oppression.[16] All three authors refuse the common yet misleading explanations focusing on Palme’s opportunism: a young man with his background could have chosen far more promising careers. Besides, that the Social Democratic Party, in power since 1932, would have kept its position until 1976 was something that no one in the beginning of the 1950s could expect. On the contrary, many took for granted the forthcoming end of the Social Democratic age, as the party, perhaps as a consequence of being so successful, seemed unable to renew itself.[17] Why the labour movement then?

Eklund puts forward the easiest explanation: Palme joined the SAP because of his ideology: anti-colonialist, reformist, anti-communist.[18]

Östberg’s thesis is summarized in a few words in the very last page of the second volume, but his whole work illustrates it. Two were the driving forces which turned Palme into a Social Democrat: the awareness that the world was about to change – and that he was in the best position, with his talent and his social and intellectual network, to contribute to a new age – and what Palme himself called the “joy of politics”;[19] a feeling, the latter, that evokes the portrait of the politician by vocation outlined by Max Weber:

Politics is a strong and slow boring of hard boards. It takes both passion and perspective. Certainly all historical experience confirms the truth – that man would not have attained the possible unless time and again he had reached out for the impossible. But to do that a man must be a leader, and not only a leader but a hero as well, in a very sober sense of the word. And even those who are neither leaders nor heroes must arm themselves with that steadfastness of heart which can brave even the crumbling of all hopes. This is necessary right now, or else men will not be able to attain even that which is possible today. Only he has the calling for politics who is sure that he shall not crumble when the world from his point of view is too stupid or too base for what he wants to offer. Only he who in the face of all this can say “In spite of all!” has the calling for politics.[20]

As to Berggren, he argues that one could expect that Palme would choose a career in politics, due to his interest in social problems, as well as in journalism or research, due to his strong liking for intellectual life; but in the former case, siding with the Right; while in the latter keeping a more distanced approach to the public debate. What Palme did was to combine these two alternatives by turning to political engagement in the ranks of the Social Democratic party. Palme’s unexpected choice was therefore twofold, as both an active role in politics and even more so a left-wing position did not belong to his social background, even if Berggren often insists on the continuity between Olof and his grandfather, Sven, the founder of the family fortune, who advocated social reforms.[21] It is noteworthy that Palme’s political radicalism and the reformism that both Eklund and Östberg point out as one of Palme’s main features (with Östberg referring to it in a double meaning: the awareness that reforms were needed and the talent for bringing forth reforms), are kept in the shade in Berggren’s work. Yet, what comes in the spotlight is an overall attitude of cultural radicalism that, in Sweden, is traditionally associated with the Liberal party.

4. Radicalism abroad and compromise at home?

 

 

One could be tempted to wonder whether the biographers’ conclusions as to Palme’s joining the labour movement have influenced their interpretation of his politics as a whole; or whether on the contrary the opinions on Palme’s place in Swedish history, developed at the end of their works, have favoured a retrospective reading of Palme’s first controversial step, that is to say, “going over to the enemy”, as his decision was perceived by many of his class peers. Whatever the answer, it is most interesting to see what kind of connection is established in the three biographies between the talented upper-class young man who committed himself to the struggle for the labour movement and the worldwide-known politician who displayed his radicalism in foreign affairs and was nevertheless inclined to compromise in domestic politics, both with the opposition parties and with the business community. What the biographers face here is the debate about Palme’s position within the party, and his role within the history of Swedish Social Democracy as a whole.

4.a Foreign policy

Palme’s radicalism in foreign policy has been related above all to his firm condemnation of the Vietnam War, which created considerable troubles to Sweden in its diplomatic relations with the USA. This was an irony of fate, given that Palme has been defined by many — Östberg and Berggren among them[22] — as the most American among Swedish politicians, due to his education, his journeys and his contacts in the USA.

Palme expressed his contrariety to the American military intervention in Vietnam in a few well-known speeches and articles: the so-called “Gävle speech” delivered in 1965, when Palme was minister of Transport and Communication;[23] the speech held at the Vietnam demonstration on February 1968,[24] when Palme was minister of Education and Culture and marched close to the North-Vietnamese ambassador in Moscow – and the picture came out in hundreds of newspapers all over the world; the article on Song My (a Vietnamese village destroyed by 19-20 years-old US soldiers) published in 1970,[25] when he was already prime minister; and finally Hanoi, Christmas 1972, a speech broadcast on the Swedish Radio and which is worth being quoted:

We should call things by their proper names. What is going on in Vietnam today is a form of torture.

There cannot be any military justification for the bombings […].

People are being punished, a nation is being punished in order to humiliate it, to force it to submit to force.

That’s why the bombings are despicable.

Many such atrocities have been perpetrated in recent history. They are often associated with a name: Guernica, Oradour, Babi Yar, Katyn, Lidice, Sharpeville, Treblinka.

Violence triumphed. But posterity has condemned the perpetrators.

Now a new name will be added to the list: Hanoi, Christmas 1972.[26]

Östberg presents the reader with the diverse reactions raised by Palme’s statements. For most of his party fellows his engagement on such an issue not only was absolutely sincere, but also in line with the labour movement tradition of internationalism; right-wing representatives complained his home (ab)use of foreign policy, aiming at opposing the growing influence on social movements gained by the New Left in the 1960s; others have seen in his position a sign of his opportunism and careerism: he benefitted from the solidarity movement with the Vietnamese people and strengthened his position within the party and/or consolidated his reputation as international politician.[27]

Eklund maintains that thanks to Palme’s Gävle speech “it became legitimate to criticize the USA”, and that his statements shifted the whole Swedish debate on international affairs to the Left. At the same time, he notes that the Vietnam issue strengthened Palme’s political identity, anointing him once and for all as an icon of the new time; because of his age (38 when the War started), no one among the Social Democratic representatives was more suitable than him to undertake the task of competing with the New Left for the “hegemony” on the new social movements.[28] Berggren shares this analysis, emphasizing furthermore Palme’s skill in awaking a kind of national feeling, a sense of honour which moved a little country like Sweden to express its indignation in an unusually plain language. The words “Swedish neutrality” – which under the Second World War had got a quite bitter taste – came to be related to the solidarity with the struggle for independence of Third World nations. That is why Berggren refers even to a paradigm shift, as Palme introduced an interpretation of what was going on in Vietnam which challenged the one up to then prevailing, i.e. that the USA fought always and only for democracy, yet without embracing a Communist perspective.[29]

The home impact of the debate on the Vietnam War is also the focus of Östberg’s chapter Vietnam!.

The starting point whereby to explain Palme’s behaviour is the same, i.e. the Social Democrats’ awareness that they were in danger to lose support from the Left, and that the person in the best position to try to resist that trend was Palme, whose anti-communism was well-tested. Unlike Eklund and Berggren however, Östberg is more sceptical about the outcomes of this strategy: if Palme succeed in keeping the party together around the Vietnam issue, the SAP lost nevertheless the battle for the hegemony on the Vietnam movement. It was not devoid of significance that business – including trade of military technology – and intelligence relations between Sweden and the USA were not affected by the turbulence roused by Palme’s vehemence, and that did not increase the SAP’s credibility among the New Left activists. Östberg’s conclusion is that the Vietnam War did not ruin at all Palme’s attachment to US liberalism, with its belief that the best way to resist Communism was to gain influence on radical social movements. But Palme was in no way a pure pawn in the party’s hands (as Eklund and Berggren, too, acknowledge); he did not hesitate to make statements that in few hours could compromise years of careful diplomatic relations. It was not Palme to create the Vietnam issue; but his role in putting it on the agenda can not be underestimated.[30]

On the occasion of the Portuguese Revolution (1974) some of the core values in Palme’s view of international affairs came again in the light, according to Östberg: colonialism vs liberation struggles, poor countries vs rich ones, democracy vs fascism as well as communism, great powers vs small States. In the neutralization of the pressures aiming at questioning the Western Order, the Socialist International played a crucial role, and Palme, thanks to the influential example of his country, was in the forefront – in his own way: not by clash but by dialogue, favouring a reformist outcome of the Portuguese revolutionary phase.[31] Eklund discusses shortly the event, by writing that Palme contributed to avert the danger of a too radical shift to the Left and secure the establishment of a Democratic government;[32] while Berggren puts the accent on the rapproachement that took place on that occasion between Sweden and the USA, as both countries feared  revolutionary developments in Europe.[33]

 

 

4.b Home politics

It is a widespread opinion that Palme, in spite of his radicalism in foreign policy — which however, as we have seen, is to be understood in the light of his effort to put forward Social Democracy as a successful alternative to Communism — showed a willingness to compromise when domestic policy was concerned that often aroused dissatisfaction in his own ranks. If there is a wide consensus on the wave of reforms passed by his first government (1969-1976) – on gender equality, Welfare State, labour markets – that consolidated the notion of Sweden as a “model” country, other issues were highly controversial, both within the labour movement and in the relationship with the opposition. Here the focus will be on Palme’s line with regard to the wage earners’ funds, a cross which went along with him from the middle 1970s to 1983, and the so-called “Third Way”, the economic policy introduced by Kjell Olof Feldt, minister of finance in the second Palme government (1982-1986). By examining these issues it will be perhaps easier to understand Östberg’s, Eklund’s and Berggren’s concluding remarks on Palme’s role in the history of Swedish Social Democracy.

Between 1975 and 1983, under the influence of the radicalization of society and of the debate of the perverse effects of the solidarity-focused wage policy[34] – a cornerstone of the Rehn-Meidner model, i.e. the Swedish model for economic policy from the late 1950s onwards – the Swedish labour movement discussed the proposal put forward between 1975 and 1976 by the leading economist of the General Labour Confederation (LO), Rudolf Meidner, so as to establish employee funds (löntagarfonder) that would gradually shift the ownership in medium to large companies from employers to workers.[35] The principle “equal pay for equal work”, aiming at avoiding inequalities among employees, caused that profitable companies, not being required to pay wages commensurate with their higher profits, found themselves with a surplus that was not being redistributed among the workers, thus ultimately widening the gap between capital and labour.[36]

The debate on Wage Earners’ Funds turned into a hot potato for the Social Democrats, who were about, in 1976, to face an uphill general election. Certainly, these funds did not help; the right-centre parties and the Employers’ Association charged the labour movement with the will to introduce in Sweden a socialism of the Eastern kind.

The question which is interesting to raise when comparing different interpretations of Palme’s politics is not so much why he was against the funds – his whole political education and experience led him to oppose socialization – but rather why the prime minister managed the issue in a way which has been blamed either as ambiguous (by the supporters of the Meidner plan) or passive (by his opponents). Eklund and Berggren focus on the latter problem, the more “tactical” one, though not leaving out entirely the ideological dimension. Eklund’s starting point is his own personal thesis, whereby Meidner’s plan went far beyond what up to then had been discussed within the labour movement – and what in fact was needed – in order to resist the concentration of property; as it aimed at socializing the Swedish economy, it was not consistent with the Swedish model, which – as Eklund recalls – has identified in taxation, legislation and the Welfare State the counterbalance to Capital. On the other side, however, Eklund acknowledges that Palme was aware of the discussion which was going on within the LO, even if he expected that at the end the Union leadership would invite its activists to a realistic approach. But it did not go this way. As to the party leadership, after the 1973 general election, even if still in power, it had to face the “lottery-parliament” (the seats in parliament were equally divided between the two blocks) and it seemed not particularly interested in the issue; that is why Palme and his colleagues in the government did not follow it close up from the beginning.[37]

Berggren agrees on the idea that Palme, reluctant to interfere in the debate within the union, relied on the LO chairman, Gunnar Nilsson, in order to neutralize the funds; the latter nevertheless had to take into account the appreciation which the funds enjoyed among the workers. Furthermore, the personal relationship between the two labour leaders was not so good. Berggren points out as well that Palme had difficulty in understand the plan’s core in itself. It seems that Palme said, referring to the LO’s support to the plan: “They have gone further than what I had thought in my most unrestrained imagination!”[38]

Eklund discusses also Palme’s political calculations: besides the workers’ support to the project, it must be borne in mind that when the confrontation on the funds actual set up took place, between 1978 and 1980, the SAP was in opposition and for the first time Palme’s leadership was questioned, not so much because of the electoral defeat in 1976, but due partly to his “flirt” with the Liberal party (then in power by a minority government), and partly to his intense engagement in international affairs (e.g. the Socialist International, the commission on disarmament, the Iran-Iraq war). Additionally, his upper class background could expose him to criticisms from the labour movement, if he dared go against the union on such a crucial issue. Finally, though against the funds on principle, he could not but support them in the face of the opponents’ attacks: the enemy was not allowed to settle the labour movement’s programs.[39]

Compared to Berggren’s and Eklund’s, Östberg’s work devotes more attention to the ideological implications of Palme’s dilemma. In the author’s view, the wage earners’ funds were the major issue among those which forced Palme to take a definite position between market and planning: it was unthinkable under that circumstance to keep the balance peculiar to the Social Democratic Third Way. Meidner’s Plan was – this is Östberg’s view – perhaps the most ticklish question Palme had to face. Paradoxically, the challenge – to question private property – did not come from the Left, but from the pillar, together with the SAP, of the Swedish way to reformism, that is to say, the union.

Whose influence on society was, in the first half of the 1970s, at its peak; but at the same time, the Swedish Employers’ Confederation started right then its ideological and political counterattack. Palme’s strategy was first to postpone the issue (after the 1976 general elections) and then to neutralize the most “subversive” elements in the plan, stressing from the beginning its compatibility with a market economy. And at last the aim – to reassure the business circles – was achieved by adding a fourth goal to the three formulated by Meidner (to transfer a quote of profits from capitalists to workers; to oppose property and wealth concentration; to establish workers’ influence on the economy through property): to favour capital formation, for the benefit of industrial investments. This was not exactly what had aroused, in 1975-1976, the union activists’ enthusiasm. In the early 1980s, the Meidner plan, then completely perverted, came to be incorporated into the program against the economic crisis worked out by the SAP.[40]

Noteworthy is that while the three biographers agree that the law on funds passed by the parliament in 1983 and introducing a pension funds scheme, had nothing to do with Meidner’s original plan, they differ as far as the effectiveness of Palme’s line is concerned. For Eklund, the whole discussion on the wage earners’ funds was one of Palme’s worst failures from an ideological point of view, as he stayed all the time on the defensive and contributed to a deep demoralization in the labour movement’s ranks.[41] On the contrary, Palme’s strategy seems to Östberg to have been successful, in terms of impact on the public opinion: he could neutralize the plan, without provoking too serious inner splits.[42] Berggren is more neutral, just joining under the category of “symbol-politics” the impressive demonstration against the funds held by the Employers’ Confederation on October 4, 1982 and the passing of the law few weeks later.[43]

The program against the ongoing economic crisis implemented by the second Palme government and to which, as we have seen, the wage earners’ funds were utilized, is considered as well one of the most controversial chapters in his political career.[44] In 1982 the minister of finance Kjell Olof Feldt presented three alternatives: an expansionist policy; a restrictive one; and what he called “the big bang”, that is to say, a policy aiming at stimulating investments and production, but at the same time squeezing domestic demand by means of devaluation. The last one was accepted. On this point, it is of particular interest to read Eklund’s points, as he was one of Feldt’s staff members. According to him, Palme and Feldt failed in the task of curbing the spiral of inflation, provoked by unrestrained wage claims by the unions. Palme showed once again – this is Eklund’s thesis – his weakness before the unions, portrayed by the author as a short-sighted organization, unable or unwilling to grasp the requirements of the economic system.[45] However, in the pages dealing with the “war of the roses”, that is to say, the unions’ dissatisfaction with the SAP’s profit-oriented economic policy, the author recognizes that the labour movement had to accept major changes in the Swedish model yet with no return (e.g. an active industrial policy or wage earners’ funds worthy of the name).[46]

Berggren is content with reporting Palme’s satisfaction for the economic recovery, which he comments upon in an interview given on February, 28 1986 (mind the date) when he declared, with a tragic irony of fate, that 1986 was a year full of opportunities,[47] thereby acknowledging that Feldt’s policy was effective and that the Social Democrats had once again fortune on their side.[48] Yet, the long-term consequences, both economic and political, of the shift begun under Palme are not deepened by Berggren. They come instead in the forefront in Östberg’s work, where it is pointed out that the real nature of the ”Third way” (as the new economic policy was called, i.e. neither expansionist nor restrictive) was bound to be widely discussed. Was it consistent with a Social Democratic orientation or did it mean the surrender to Neo-Liberalism? Certainly Palme supported his minister of finance, and he did so by arguing that the new economic policy was a condition for preserving the Welfare State.[49] Nevertheless – and this is one of the crucial points in Östberg’s biography – Palme accepted it as a necessary evil, while to Feldt’s eyes the policy was dictated by a long-term adaptation, perceived as unavoidable, to a more market-oriented political climate. As a sign of the ideological disagreement between the two leading Social Democratic politicians, Östberg brings forward Palme’s disappointment when Feldt made a statement in favour of the privatization of Swedish pre-schools; also in his last interview, few hours before being murdered, Palme confirmed his strong support to the public sector, which he regarded as a key aspect of modern civilisation.[50]

Berggren too reports Palme’s firm reaction to the openings to neo-liberalism made by his minister of finance, but the interpretation of their relationship is definitely different. Palme was moved, Berggren argues, not so much by the concern of safeguarding a distinct Social Democratic platform, but rather by tactic calculations: a breakdown in the labour movement tradition would have caused inner splits and favoured the building of a competing party on the Left. Berggren agrees that Palme was against privatization, but at the same time the author believes that the prime minister shared many of Feldt’s viewpoints and perhaps that is why he reacted so firmly. With a member of the government staff Palme indeed seems (Berggren unfortunately does not refer to any source) to have made clear his awareness that increased competition, effectiveness and freedom of choice within the public sector (a condition that Berggren should have emphasized) were needed.[51]

Eklund’s version is somehow in the middle: he recognizes an ideological gap between Palme and Feldt, but reduces it essentially to a matter of make-up: the former kept a more traditional rhetoric when arguing in favour of the new economic policy, while the latter made no secret of the fact that the “Third way” was part of a process of “modernization” of the national economy.[52] Palme’s early and vehement condemnation of the dangers inborn in Neo-Liberalism – social atomization, destruction of the environment, democracy turned into an empty box – is not mentioned here.

5. Continuity or breakdown?

Maybe Palme was only tired or even depressed because of the long time in the frontline, the many troubles that he had to face from the very beginning since coming back in power in 1982 (the U-boat affair, the Bofors and the Harvard scandals, incessant union unrest), and the many personal attacks that he suffered from; maybe he was planning to leave, perhaps accepting an appointment as United Nations (UN) Commissar on Refugees, or staying on for a while.[53] What is certain is that everything was shattered by the shots which echoed in the evening of February 28, 1986.

Berggren, with a choice that can be disappointing to the reader and nonetheless reveals some elegance, stops his long story then, when the Swedish prime minister died in the heart of the city where he had spent all his life, not far from his childhood home, close to the SAP building, next to the wife he had been married with over nearly thirty years.[54] Nothing is said on the inquiry that followed.

Eklund shortly summarizes what happened in the aftermath: the widespread belief that a murder of a prime minister can not but be the outcome of a plot; the only person ever charged with the crime (and then released) being a single and violent individual, Christer Pettersson; the kind of private investigation (backed by the SAP leadership) which did its best to confirm the PKK (the Communist party of Kurdistan) hypothesis.[55] Eklund writes nothing about the tremendous failure of the Swedish justice in an inquiry that has exceeded even the one on the murder of US president John F. Kennedy.

Östberg’s second volume takes up in the end an epic style: on the one hand we follow a man and a politician who was fed up, worried for the world and for his own safety, getting older and no longer as unquestionable as he had been in the 1970s;[56] on the other hand, we enter the opaque area of hate campaigns arranged by a blend of different groups, ranging from the extreme right of the Employers’ Confederation to unaffiliated anarchic psychopaths, affecting Palme in his last years more than ever before.[57] In other countries the relationship between a murder and the preceding hate campaign against the victim has been regularly scrutinised, apart from the person who materially committed the murder; in Sweden this scrutiny has been less common. Under this perspective, Östberg definitely contributes a significant study. Besides, his chapter devoted to the murder and the ensuing inquiry is a useful and involving reconstruction of what happened and what ought not to happen, yet without trying to add one more Truth about the murder to the long list of hypotheses – some of them pretty fanciful – formulated until now.[58]

After twenty-five years the murder is still unresolved, the SAP has lost two elections in a row (2006 and 2010), and Palme remains a controversial issue. Who was Olof Palme? Which was the connection between the Olof Palme who made the US government fly into a fury due to his condemnation of Imperialism and the Olof Palme who backed the business-friendly “Third way” in economic policy?

It has to be noted here that the three biographers are all fascinated by his talent, meant both as intellectual brightness and as ability in problem-solving (hence Palme’s success in bringing forth actual reforms); yet they acknowledge too that this talent could turn into a double-edged weapon in the relations, both political and personal, with others.[59]

In Eklund’s final remarks, Palme appears as the highest expression in Sweden of the 1950s and 1960s Zeitgeist: the commitment to achieve demanding and long-term reforms; nevertheless he is also described as unlucky, for his appointment as prime minister in 1969 took place at the same time when the Golden Age ended, and he was not inclined to face a downward age.[60] What has been perceived by someone as Palme’s ambiguity or contradiction, or, worse, opportunism, depended instead on a diverse approach to the different fields of reality: Palme was left-wing as far as social, educational and foreign policy were concerned, but he was right-wing as to economic and security policy. He personified the unending swing in Swedish Social Democracy between Democratic Socialism and Social Democracy.[61]

Berggren’s interpretation is equally continuity-oriented: Palme was a democrat, moved to politics more by an “existential” choice than by an ideological conviction; along his whole life, he remained a pragmatist. As such, his role can not be defined either as a Cold War soldier (under the 1950s standard banners) nor as an anti-imperialist (under the 1960s and the early 1970s ones). Rather, Palme showed the typical Social Democratic ability to achieve viable arrangements. After tracing Palme’s relationship with politics back to his existentialist philosophy – a puzzling thesis broadly developed in the book– Berggren goes further in his accentuation of Palme’s individualistic dimension – and in the removal of the socialist one. The other distinguishing features that he singles out are indeed, besides the international perspective, Palme’s belief that the individual has a duty to pursue what he maintains to be Truth and Justice, and Palme’s strong volunteerism.[62] In the end, according to Berggren’s biography, Palme seems to have shared with Swedish Social Democracy only an attitude to compromise, on one side, and to modernization, on the other side; the latter element implied also to improve people’s living conditions, but more in a liberal perspective (i.e. to give everybody the chance to lead his own existence) than in an endeavour to make society more equal.[63] According to Berggren’s analysis, Palme’s awareness that society can safeguard freedom only by securing equality (and in a substantive meaning) is negligible.[64]

Östberg’s conclusions are more complex with regard to the dilemma continuity vs breakdown. Palme was behind the times until the Golden Age went on; in the mid-1960s he was able to understand, thanks to his good relationship with intellectuals and young people, that the Zeitgeist was changing. That favoured the portrait of him as a radical, but also the disappointment of those who had misunderstood Palme’s position. He was not a radical, Östberg stresses; rather he took his place in the party centre-wing. His condemnation of colonialism and violence was sincere, and at the same time perfectly consistent with his reformism: he hoped and believed indeed that sooner or later the countries fighting for their liberation would have followed the Swedish way, that is to say, the achievement of political, social and economic democracy by reformist politics. Somehow he contributed to the radicalism of that age without being a radical.[65] The impact of the reforms passed under his first government was such as to raise in many (both sympathizers and opponents) the question: are the Social Democrats about to reverse the Swedish system?

To this climate Palme contributed by the radicalism accompanying the passage of the reforms. But – Östberg insists on this crucial passage – when the borders of Swedish reformism were questioned, e.g. on the occasion of the debate on the wage earners’ funds, he refused to go over. He lost touch with the Zeitgeist, as the historical phase when he had developed his ideas and approach – the age of the trust in never-ending economic growth and therefore in an increasing Welfare State– was over. This loss was not Palme’s failure, but the result of the challenge issued by the ongoing economic crisis and the spreading of Neo-Liberalism to the whole Swedish Social Democracy. From the 1950s to the 1980s Palme maintained a unitary vision, although trying to tailor it to changing conditions: the task was to extend democracy from the political dimension to the social and economic one, yet without questioning private property.[66] Such was Olof Palme in fact: when blaming the USA and the USSR for their arrogance and oppression, when putting gender equality on the agenda, when flirting with the Liberal Party, or neutralizing the more demanding union claims; he was a Social Democrat, who experienced the shift from an age when everything seemed possible to a crisis undermining all the certainties and requiring new answers.

How and whether Palme’s heirs have succeeded in this hard task: to be up to the new challenges without getting rid of the Social Democratic tradition – hence of Palme’s legacy too – is today, at least apparently, matter for discussion, in one of the toughest phases of the party’s history.


[1] See Å. Linderborg, Socialdemokraterna skriver historia. Historieskrivning som ideologisk maktresurs 1892-2000, Stockholm, Atlas, 2001, pp. 108-111.

[2] See B. Östergren, Vem är Olof Palme? Ett politiskt porträtt, Stockholm, Timbro, 1984; Claes Arvidsson, Olof Palme. Med verkligheten som fiende, Stockholm, Timbro, 2007. Noteworthy is that the publisher of both these highly polemic works, come out at a distance of twenty-three years, is the same, the new-liberal think-tank “Timbro”.

[3] Among the many possible references, K. and P. Poutiainen, Inuti labyrinten: om mordet på Olof Palme, Stockholm, Grimur, 1995 (on the domestic track); J. Bondeson, Blood on the Snow. The Killing of Olof Palme, Ithaca, Cornell University, 2005 (on the track related to the traffic in arms); H. Hederberg, Offret & gärningsmannen: en essä om mordet på Olof Palme, Stockholm, Atlantis, 2010 (guilty: Christer Pettersson, the only person sentenced, yet then released, for the murder).

[4] B. Elmbrant, Palme, Stockholm, Fischer&Rye, 1989.

[5] P. Antman, P. Schori, Den gränslöse reformisten, Stockholm, Rabén Prisma/Tiden Debatt, 1996.

[6] See E. Åsard (ed. by), Politikern Olof Palme, Stockholm, Hjalmarson & Högberg, 2002, focusing on Palme’s view of politics, massmedia, foreign policy and rhetoric.

[7] See for instance A. Kullenberg, Palme och kvinnorna, 1996; U. Larsson, Olof Palme och utbildningspolitiken, Stockholm, Hjalmarson & Högberg, 2003;  A.-M. Ekengren, Olof Palme och utrikespolitiken, Umeå, Boréa, 2005; G. Björk, Olof Palme och medierna. Umeå, Boréa, 2006.

[8] See I. Carlsson, Ur skuggan av Olof Palme, Stockholm, Hjalmarson & Högberg, 1999 and T.G. Peterson, Olof Palme som jag minns honom, Stockholm, Bonnier, 2002.

[9] K. Östberg,  I takt med tiden. Olof Palme 1927-1969, Stockholm, Leopard, 2008; see, on this e-journal, IV, 2009, 1, my review.

[10] Id., När vinden vände. Olof Palme 1969-1986, Stockholm, Leopard, 2009; I have reviewed both the volumes in Olof Palme e i venti della storia, “Meridiana”, 2008, 62, pp. 233-243.

[11] K. Eklund, Palme, Stockholm, Bonnier, 2010.

[12] H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss. En biografi över Olof Palme, Stockholm, Norstedts, 2010.

[13] In order to accomplish such a task, I will profit by the “confrontation” among the three biographers arranged by the “Liberala Klubben” at the ABF (Arbetarnas bildningsförbund, Workers’ Educational Association) in Stockholm, on December 8, 2010, which I attended to.

[14] See K. Östberg,  Inledning, in Id., I takt med tiden cit., pp. 13-14.

[15] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, p. 8.

[16] See K. Östberg,  I takt med tiden, pp. 61-68 (on the USA), pp. 74-76 (Eastern Europe), pp. 104-106 (on Asia);. H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, pp. 111-141 (USA), pp. 156-159; K. Eklund, Palme, pp. 22-23.

[17] See K. Östberg,  I takt med tiden, pp. 108-112; K. Eklund, Palme, p. 24.

[18] See K. Eklund, Palme, p. 24.

[19] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, p. 421.

[20] M. Weber, La politica come professione, in Il lavoro intellettuale come professione (1919), Torino, Einaudi, 1983, pp. 120-121; for the English translation, see www.sscnet.ucla.edu/polisci/ethos/Weber-vocation.pdf.

[21] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, p. 109.

[22] See K. Östberg,  I takt med tiden, p. 394; H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, pp. 313-315.

[23] One month after the speech, the USA embassy in Stockholm sent a report to the State Department in Washington where the event that Palme would be appointed as the next prime minister was faced with anxiety. Cfr. K. Östberg,  I takt med tiden, p. 279.

See the English translation in http://www.olofpalme.org.

[25] See O. Palme, For My Lai in our hearts… (1970), and a partial English translation of it in Olof Palme speaking. Articles and Speeches, ed. by G. Banks, Stockholm, Premiss, 2006, pp. 137-141.

[26] See O. Palme, Hanoi, Christmas 1972 (1972), in Olof Palme speaking, pp. 141-142.

[27] See K. Östberg,  I takt med tiden, pp. 165-166.

[28] See K. Eklund, Palme, p. 43.

[29] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, pp. 355-357.

[30] See K. Östberg,  I takt med tiden, pp. 309-311.

[31] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, pp. 131-139.

[32] See K. Eklund, Palme, p. 64.

[33] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, pp. 517-518.

[34] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, p. 527.

[35] See the English translation of the 1975 Report, R. Meidner (with the assistance of A. Hedborg and G. Fond), Employee investment funds : an approach to collective capital formation, London, George Allen & Unwin, 1978.

[36] See K. Eklund, Palme, p. 72.

[37] See K. Eklund, Palme, pp. 72-75.

[38] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, pp. 529-532; Palme’s quotation p. 531 (the Author yet does not refer the source of Palme’s statement).

[39] See K. Eklund, Palme, pp. 76-77.

[40] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, pp. 247-256.

[41] See K. Eklund, Palme, p. 78.

[42] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, pp. 258-259.

[43] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, pp. 627-628. The confrontation on the wage earners’ funds, that is, the inner splits between the LO and the SAP and within the SAP, and the bourgeois mobilization, is however reconstructed quite hastily by the author.

[44] According to Östberg, it is one of the most controversial issue in the whole Swedish contemporary history. See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, p. 299.

[45] See K. Eklund, Palme, pp. 91-92.

[46] See K. Eklund, Palme, pp. 103-104.

[47] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, p. 655.

[48] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, p. 617.

[49] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, pp. 301-304, within the chapter on The War of the Roses.

[50] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, p. 312.

[51] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, pp. 639-640.

[52] See K. Eklund, Palme, p. 93.

[53] Eklund’s idea is that Palme would have left in 1987, or perhaps two years later (after the 1988 general election), and that his successor would have been Anna-Greta Leijon; in other words, the SAP would have elected its first female party leader in the late 1980s, and not in 2007. Paradoxically, Leijon’s political career was damaged due right to a scandal involving the party leadership which had to do with the inquiry on the murder of Palme. See K. Eklund, Palme, p. 123.

[54] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, p. 657.

[55] See K. Eklund, Palme, pp. 106-107.

[56] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, pp. 366-385.

[57] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, pp. 362-365.

[58] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, pp. 386-405.

[59] See K. Eklund, Palme, pp. 108-109; K. Östberg, När vinden vände, passim; H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, passim.

[60] See K. Eklund, Palme, pp. 108-109 and 113.

[61] See K. Eklund, Palme, pp. 120-121.

[62] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, p. 179.

[63] See H. Berggren, Underbara dagar framför oss, pp. 333-334.

[64] See P. Antman, Arvet efter Palme , in P. Antman, P. Schori, Den gränslöse reformisten, pp. 45-48.

[65] See K. Östberg,  I takt med tiden, pp. 394-396.

[66] See K. Östberg, När vinden vände, pp. 417-418.

Past, Present and Future of Social Democracy: The Debate (?) in Italy and the Nordic Experience

1. The weakness of the Social Democratic tradition in Italy

To such a question is devoted one of the rare reflections on Social Democracy published in Italy, in 2009, i.e. Giuseppe Averardi’s book The mutants. Why the post-communists have rejected the Social Democratic choice. According to the author (a journalist and former politician), during Gorbachev’s leadership in former USSR,  the belief prevailed within the PCI that both Communism and Social Democracy were to be abandoned, as both had failed[2]. However, in addition to this historical judgment, a crucial role was played by the will to keep together the traditional electorate, who used to consider Democratic Socialism as the betrayer of the working class, whilst the leadership was imbued itself with the same hostility[3]. Averardi disregards the influence played by the presence, and then by the collapse, of the Socialist Party (PSI) on the PCI leadership’s line of action. At a first time (1989-1992), the choice of a Social democratic option would have implied for the PCI-PDS to be absorbed by the rival party[4] – which had not been questioned by the fall of the Soviet system. Later, after the early 1990s trials for bribery and corruption involving the leaders of PSI, the Social Democratic wing within the PCI found itself bereft of its main external partner, coming out weakened in the power struggle within the PCI[5].

Averardi’s main thesis is that, like mutants, the Communist leaders changed, under the pressure of external events, the party form, but not the party machinery, which survived untouched, and neither their mentality, which remained Stalinist[6]. Hence the failure of the project, nourished between 1995 and 1998, by Massimo D’Alema (a key-figure in the 1990s-2000s party history, as he became Italy’s prime minister in 1998-2000). D’Alema wished to convert the Democratic Party of the Left into a Social Democratic Party[7]; but he failed, and so did his successor Walter Veltroni’s (another prominent party representative), who attempted to transform the party into a liberal-socialist organization[8]. The final point is the PD, which is a generically liberal party along an American political line. This is an outcome to which “Repubblica”, the newspaper now in the frontline against Berlusconi, has strongly contributed, with its determination to avoid a Socialist landing-place for the post-communists[9]. Averardi’s conclusions are disconsolate: once abandoned revolution, the heirs of the PCI believe no longer either in reformism, and, as good Stalinists, have entirely fallen back on the management of daily power. “This is their plague and at the same time the misfortune they have thrown the country into”[10].

2. A double crisis: Social Democracy and Capitalism as well

In the light of this poor gift for Social Democracy on the side of the Italian left, it is not unexpected that the debate on the turn that Socialism can take in the XXI Century focuses mainly on foreign countries (and makes use of foreign contributions). There is a general agreement on the crisis that Social Democracy is going through; at the same time, no one forgets to stress that the financial crisis that shook the international economy in 2008 – with lasting consequences – is a turning point too. Yet European Social Democracy seems unable to turn the lack of confidence in the free market to its own advantage.

According to the already mentioned D’Alema (founder and chairman of a foundation, “Italianieuropei”, which is among the few research-centres promoting a reasoning on Social Democracy in Italy), two are the reasons for such a débâcle. First, the managerial shift carried out by socialist parties in the second half of the 1990s has assured their permanency in power, but it has not undermined social inequalities (which, on the contrary, have increased); turning themselves more and more into neo-liberal forces, socialist parties have made themselves jointly responsible for such an outcome. Secondly, these parties have restricted themselves to national perspectives, giving up the chances implied by European integration[11]. Both these arguments are a recurring complaint in the diagnosis of the crisis from which Social Democracy is said to be suffering. Let us start with the Socialist leveling-off on Neo-Liberalism.

Massimo Salvadori, one of the most prominent Italian scholars of Socialism and Communism, focuses on the impact produced on Social Democratic policies by the changes in the production system, the fall of Socialist bloc, the neo-liberal counterattack, and the Chinese opening to the free market. Exactly when Social Democracy was celebrating the end of Communism, it came to be stricken by the attack to the State, in every respect. Globalization, for its part, compromised the power of politics over the economy, sealing the triumph of wild capitalism. In the face of such an upheaval, Social Democracy has given in, from a cultural and from a policy-making point of view, splitting up between Renewers and Traditionalists. The outcome has been a withdrawal from the two main targets of 1) defending the weakest social groups and 2) facing economic powers. By pursuing obsessively the middle electorate – giving up the task to organize what once were called “subordinate classes” – Socialist parties have betrayed their identity, to the advantage of the Right[12].

Paolo Borioni, expert of the Nordic model, points out nevertheless a kind of symmetric process, particularly clear in Scandinavian countries[13]: while Social Democracy absorbed more and more right-wing values and policies, the Right, for its part, was reducing its laissez-faire aggressiveness; today it avoids ideological confrontation, defining itself as a centre force; it is very careful not to question openly the Welfare State, which rather is slowly worn down. Clearly, the right-wing Welfare State is not a vehicle of equality; on the contrary, it turns into a kind of refuge for those who are left out of competition; but it works to some extent, at least as a populistic instrument for consensus[14].

Giuseppe Berta, economic historian and author of the only recent book (even if very short) entirely devoted to Italian Social Democracy, insists upon the convergence of the opposite fronts; while once upon a time one could talk about a “labour capitalism” (following Schumpeter), nowadays it seems to be suitable to resort to the concept of “capitalistic Social Democracy”. In the age of globalization, Social Democracy has found out to be forced to adapt itself to capitalistic requirements, giving up its original claim to transform society[15].

3. European Socialist parties’ state of health

Typically, the main culprit for the rejection of genuine Social Democracy is said to be Tony Blair. Even if New Labour has been, together with the Nordic socialist parties, the only left-wing movement able to catch the importance of changes occurring because of globalization, instead of ruling them out, it is often accused of having complied with them far too much[16]. What Blair did was to put a humanistic breath on a Thatcher-inspired politics[17]; his New Labour accepted the so-called “turbo capitalism” of the 21st century, shifting from a collectivist ethics to full-fledged individualism: in this view, emancipation becomes the outcome of a process made by: education – skills improvement – and competitiveness on the labour market[18].

The German Social Democratic Party, SPD – as one of its MP, Angelica Schwall-Düren,  points out – spent the eleven years in power (first as ruling party, later in the grosse Koalition with Angela Merkel’s CDU) engaged above all in technocratic modernization, i.e. reforms were put forward without discussion with the citizens, who therefore did not identify themselves with those policies. No participation, no consent. In the light of such a line of action,the catastrophic electoral result of the SPD in the last general elections (September 2009) should not come as a surprise: 23%, the worst result since 1949[19]. The difference between New Labour and SPD lies, in Berta’s analysis, in the greater determination of the former as to the rejection of Socialist tradition; the SPD being more hesitating, albeit its policies show no autonomous profile: the party does not distinguish itself from the others in any significant respect[20].

As to the French Socialist Party, Zaki Laïdi reminds us that it was in power for only fifteenth years (i.e. with Mitterand and Jospin) out of the last fifty. Being traditionally not a labour party, it has suffered from a deep split between the national level (ruled by an ideology with no obvious connection with social reality) and the local one (quite pragmatic).[21].

There are nevertheless in the European political landscape two (seemingly) successful cases: the Greek and the Spanish one. The journalist Panos Papoulias acknowledges yet that the victory of the Greek Socialist Party (PASOK) in the 2009 elections has been due not secondarily to the failure of the conservative government, even if it must not be neglected the cleverness of the party in exploiting the discontent aroused by the 2008 economic crisis. But now the PASOK has to face several and demanding challenges[22].

Before the widespread love affair with Barack Obama[23], the only political leader able to give the European Left some hope back, in the last decade, has been Josè Luis Zapatero. His governments have been indicated like the demonstration that even in the XXI Century the Left can successfully rule a country, without betraying its ideals. The historian of Spain Alfonso Botti, nevertheless, even if commending Zapatero’s good record (in foreign policy, civil law, Welfare State, minorities protection), warns that, because of the 2008 economic crisis, his golden age is behind him. Then Botti wonders what kind of Socialism Zapatero has represented: not a working class’ expression, but a mix of Social Democracy and political Liberalism, with its emphasis on the extension of civil rights and individual freedom; a modernization strategy, aiming to bring near to the party new social groups (mainly the youth and women). If Spain proves to be today a tolerant and hospitable country, its economy shows weak roots; Zapatero has not been able to modify substantially the labour market, the banking system, Spain’s fiscal policy. Revealingly, the Spanish success has not involved a decrease in social inequalities[24].

4. Globalization/localization: threat or opportunity?

As mentioned above, Social Democracy is often blamed, not only for its falling into line with the Right, but also because of what philosopher Antonio Negri calls its “geopolitical failure”: instead of making the EU into a political subject, in every respect (that would have been, in Negri’s analysis, the last chance to salvage whatever possible), Social Democratic parties have allowed it to become a maidservant of the USA. Furthermore, they have offered little resistance against identity-oriented and populist forces. In brief, European Socialists have not understood either the crisis in national sovereignty or the one in government, that is to say, the shift to governance, a key-word in the moderate-left debate nowadays[25].

Giuseppe Vacca, chairman of the Gramsci Foundation, reminds that, in the 1970s, Socialist parties replied to the challenges of that time by the pro-European shift, for they were aware that the so-called “social compromise” could be preserved only at a continental level, However, from the end of the 1990s they have delegated the rule of economy to the European Central Bank, which has implied the priority of monetary stability, not of growth; hence,the return to national economic policies, and of the missed chance of European integration, esulting into the worst crisis suffered by Reformism in the post-war age. Indeed, within the EU, political initiative is more and more in the hands of the European Popular Party[26].

On the other hand, Berta stresses that, compared to the golden age of Social Democracy, the territorial dimension has changed too. Nowadays, the real decision-making centres are no longer nations, but urban areas, macro-regions, as shown by localist movements in  Italy and Belgium above all. It is a “federalism with a metropolitan ground”, a “borgomasters’ Europe”[27].

Are Social Democratic politics still conceivable, in an age of globalization and localization? And furthermore: is Social Democracy going to regain credibility, thanks to the severe lesson given by the economic crisis of 2008 as regards to the alleged virtues of the free market?

That the recent collapse of international capitalism can pave the way for a Social Democratic resurrection it is not a common belief. It depends, on one hand, on the awareness of the differences between 1929 and 2008. Back in 1929, capitalism was said to be done for good; today, a Socialist economist such as Giorgio Ruffolo can sentence that “not the days are numbered, of capitalism, but the Centuries” and that, “at least in a discernible historical perspective, capitalism is essentially not irreplaceable” [28]. On the other hand, unclear are the will and capability, on the side of Social Democratic Parties, to renew their identity without wasting their traditions and achievements (first of all global thinking and Welfare State). A complicated balance; how to achieve it? Here the answers differ greatly.

If someone, like the philosopher Giuseppe Bedeschi, gets rid of the problem hastily, pressing for more Liberalism within Social Democracy[29], others  work out more concrete proposals. Negri, for example, urges Socialist parties – which are upon death’s doorsteps, in his opinion – to commit themselves to the following tasks: 1) to organize brainwork, favouring the alliance with the working class; 2) to create a Welfare-oriented income distribution (starting from a productive system that must be tailored to actual human needs); 3) to achieve a democratic control of the financial system, turning the measures introduced in order to face the peak of the crisis into permanent features, then removing unearned incomes, which must go back to the community (in Negri’s view, this is a basic point, for those who aim to improve democracy); 4) to strengthen the European Union, breaking apart the NATO alliance; finally, 5) to show courage, if necessary even bypassing the worn polarization between Left and Right[30].

D’Alema for his part believes that the best therapy for Social Democracy would be to rediscover social conflict and labour (not only blue collars, but also craftsmen and minor entrepreneurs) and to improve democracy, at every level (from the local to the global one);. Also, politics must recover its supremacy over the markets, but without falling back into an outdated centrally planned economy. D’Alema wishes as well a renewal of the struggle against social inequalities (thanks to a redistribution of wealth), which have been exacerbated by the crisis occurred in 2008; wealth must be produced not by low wages, but by innovation, both in products and in processes. Shortly, D’Alema’s thesis is that Social Democracy is over, it is an old experience, depending as it is on conditions that  no longer exist. However, its vital elements – democracy, equality, innovation – must be preserved, adjusting them to the present circumstances[31].

Different is Salvadori’s conclusion: from the 2008 crisis, Social Democratic aims come out strengthened; what is needed is a strategy free from the race to the middle of the political spectrum and the recovery of a leftist identity, with a commitment to join together the varied world of subordinate employment, to integrate immigrants, to safeguard secularism and pluralism, and to protect the environment[32].

Berta is fascinated by New Labour’s new course: under Gordon Brown and David Milliband, the party seems to take some distance from Blair’s age, reminding that the task is to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor and therefore that the market cannot be left unrestrained; the language of social solidarity must be restored, even by the regulation of economic activity[33]. But what is more astonishing, in Berta’s book, is that, after 110 pages spent in repeating a sentence to death for Social Democracy – warning reformist parties that they are wrong, if aiming to go back to the past – in the final part of the work the author glorifies… Keynes’ relevance to the present; not Keynesianism or the mixed economy, dead and buried as well as Social Democracy, but Keynes’ theories (never applied, according to Berta) about the relationship between liberalism and socialism. In other words, centre-left-wing parties have to test, with a pragmatic attitude to reassembling, if Keynesian lines of action – economic efficiency, social justice and individual freedom – can turn into their own agenda[34].

The more well-constructed proposal comes from Borioni, and, consistently with his research-field, it is inspired to the Nordic model, particularly the Danish one. Yet the core of his reasoning is not flexicurity in its Italian declination (Borioni here refers to economists like Francesco Giavazzi of Bocconi University) or in the European one (Barroso), that is to say, a mainstay of current market economy. On the contrary, Borioni emphasizes the role of flexicurity as a policy intended to influence – thanks to the Welfare State – the market itself. The way out of the crisis lies, for Social Democracy, in planning the economy on the basis of three aims: (1) jobs (labour market policies and higher wages, in order to favour market expansion, abroad and at home), (2) Welfare (such as competitiveness incentives) and (3) innovation (i.e., a specialized system production): in other words, the shift from “turbo capitalism” to a “patient capitalism”, with finance coming back to its maidservant role. If most of the Italian scholars restrict their attention to the developments in the UK and Germany, Borioni turns to Norway as a success story: Social Democrats have once again won the elections thanks to a politics based on: few fiscal reliefs; public investments not in colossal projects, but instead in works achievable in a short time (such as maintenance of infrastructure); a good relationship with the trade unions; and a definite opposition to populism and xenophobia. The basic assumption, in the Norwegian Social Democrats’ strategy, is that competitiveness requires the inclusion of everybody and the latter must be ensured also by using State-owned oil revenues as a long-term fund to preserve the Welfare State[35].

5. Concluding remarks

There is no Italian way to Social Democracy: because of the historical reasons that have been recalled hereby, but also owing to intellectuals’ and politicians’ incapacity to face the challenged to Social Democratic policies and reformism as a whole, especially in connection with the Italian peculiarities. There is no reference to territorial lacks of balance, for example, and to the backwardness of the national economic system. The weak social groups who should constitute the target of centre-left-wing policies remain indistinct and secondary. Furthermore, inequalities are mentioned only with regards to their economic dimension, which obviously is fundamental, but not exhaustive. Gender equality is completely absent from the debate; and one can with good reason wonder how the issue can be avoided, in a country where the female employment rate is among the lowest ones in Europe, with the following economic, but also cultural and political, marginalization of women. Let alone the discrimination that other social groups (e.g. immigrants and homosexuals) also suffer from.

The poorness of the Italian debate is not unexpected, as already pointed out: the party which was the natural candidate to sponsor a debate on Social Democracy has instead adopted a confuse profile; in the effort to seduce the moderate electorate, it has displeased the traditional one without succeeding in gaining new votes, and now it is drowning in a sea of pornographic scandals and judicial inquiries.

The party which nowadays seems inclined to receive the Social Democratic inheritance,  i.e. the Party of the Communist Refoundation, has been deleted from parliamentary institutions in the last general elections and it is now engaged in safeguarding its survival, struggling between identity-oriented pressures (the preservation of a Communist tradition) and the search of economic and social policies suitable to XXI Century Italy and Europe.

As to leftist intellectuals, they seem to be marginal in a country where the public opinion spends more time in talking about the prime minister’s sexual life than about the ongoing economic crisis.

 


[1] On the shift from PCI to PDS to DS, see I. Ariemma, La casa brucia. I Democratici di Sinistra dal PCI ai nostri giorni, Venezia, Marsilio, 2000.

[2] See G. Averardi, 1989-2009 I mutanti. Perché i postcomunisti hanno rifiutato l’opzione socialdemocratica, Roma, Datanews, 2009, p. 88. Marcello Flores, historian, is however of a different opinion: during the several transformations (from PCI until PD), the party leadership, shocked by the fall of Communism, has not been able to realize that Social Democracy as well is over; such a blindness, with the consequent attempt to merge two outdated culture, i.e. the Social Democratic one and the popular-Catholic one, in the Democratic Party, has prevented the discontinuity which is required in order to give Left a new identity. See M. Flores, Una sinistra ancora in cerca di una nuova identità, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, pp. 39-42.

[3] See G. Averardi, pp. 109-111. See also A. Possieri, Il peso della storia. Memoria, identità, rimozione dal PCI al PDS (1970-1991), Bologna, Il Mulino, 2007, p. 289.

[4] See I. Ariemma, p. 58.

[5] See E. Macaluso, Al capolinea. Controstoria del Partito Democratico, Milano, Feltrinelli, 2007, pp. 50-52.

[6] See G. Averardi, p. 102.

[7] See G. Averardi, pp. 120-131.

[8] See G. Averardi, pp. 144-145.

[9] See G. Averardi, pp. 160-161.

[10] See G. Averardi, p. 227.

[11] See M. D’Alema, Editoriale, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, pp. 10-11.

[12] See M. Salvadori, Considerazioni sul passato e il presente della socialdemocrazia europea, “Italianieuropei”; 2009, 4, pp. 31-32.

[13] On Sweden, see M. Quirico, Il socialismo di fronte alla realtà. Il modello svedese (1990-2006), pp. 215-227 (Una conclusione provvisoria. Le elezioni politiche del 2006).

[14] See P. Borioni, La socialdemocrazia: perché perde, perché potrà vincere, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, p. 65.

[15] See G. Berta, Eclisse della socialdemocrazia, Bologna, Il Mulino, 2009, pp. 11-18.

[16] See A. Negri, Sul futuro delle socialdemocrazie europee, “Italianieuropei”; 2009, 4, p. 22.

[17] See P. Borioni, p. 71.

[18] See G. Berta, pp. 24-26.

[19] See A. Scwall-Düren, La SPD nella trappola della credibilità, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 22-26.

[20] See G. Berta, pp. 28-34.

[21] See Z. Laïdi, Perché il Partito socialista è in crisi?, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 36-38.

[22] See Panos Papoulias, La vittoria elettorale dei socialdemocratici greci e il suo significato per il centrosinistra europeo, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 53-57.

[23] See G. Berta, pp. 52-56.

[24] See A. Botti, Il socialismo di Zapatero nella crisi della SD europea, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 44-52.

[25] See A. Negri, pp. 20-21.

[26] See G. Vacca, Il socialismo europeo e la globalizzazione. Le radici della crisi pp. 70-73.

[27] See G. Berta, pp. 63-64.

[28] See G. Ruffolo, Crisi dell’economia e declino della socialdemocrazia, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, p. 43 e p. 44.

[29] See G. Bedeschi, La crisi della socialdemocrazia, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 4, p. 63.

[30] See Negri, pp. 23-24.

[31] See D’Alema, pp. 12-14.

[32] See Salvadori, pp. 34-35. Papoulias follows a similar line, when listing the challenges the PASOK is going to face. See Papoulias, p. 59.

[33] See Berta, pp. 75-85. On Brown and the recent developments within Labour, see R. Liddle, L’impatto della crisi economica globale sul futuro della socialdemocrazia europea, “Italianieuropei”, 2009, 5, pp. 14-21.

[34] See Berta, pp. 112-126.

[35] See Borioni, pp. 72-75.