Why Sweden is not Socialist, and Never Really Was
Sweden's socialists attempted, but failed, to revolutionize society through peaceful means, and without emulating Soviet totalitarianism.
Sweden is not a socialist economy, and it never was. Not even according to its radical social democrats. But it did represent an attempt to gradually and indirectly implement socialist totalitarianism through the cultural and material hegemony of the state.
The “cultural” Marxism of the Frankfurt School is the macabre combination of dialectical materialism and psychoanalysis. The most influential branch of neo-Marxism that Gramsci initiated featured theories of the hegemony of the “new common sense” imposed by the infiltration of the organic intellectual. Frankfurt multiplies the importance of the “historical subject” of the revolution: the proletariat. It had disappeared in advanced, capitalist societies. The Swedish Socialists thus sought totalitarian socialist goals by other means.
The influence of “cultural” Marxism in the elite universities of the United States is well known. Less known is that it was facilitated by the previous influence in the United States of ideas borrowed from the most radical of Swedish socialism.
A “good” socialist’s “humanism” included eugenics and racism as state policies until the end of the 1970s. Their myth was and still is idealized by aspiring social engineers from all over the world.
Sweeden’s implementation bears resemblance to the Soviet process.
In the second decade of the twentieth century, the Swedish socialist party renounced orthodox Marxism and proposed its revolutionary version of British Fabian Society socialism: eradicate capitalism gradually and without expropriating means of production. Instead of violently controlling supply like the Soviets, condition consumption by centrally planning demand from the state. The capitalists would produce only and exclusively what the authorities planned, as long as the citizens demanded only what the socialist planners would indicate. And as for this the social engineering, before considering production, it had to infiltrate all aspects of the private life, starting with education and culture.
The mother and father of this non-Marxist cultural socialism, sometimes indistinguishable from the neo-Marxism of Frankfurt, were Gunnar and Alva Myrdal, the school’s most influential intellectuals of the first third of the 20th century. The influence of the Swedish model in the United States, from whence it extended to the rest of the world, begins with the journalist Marquis Childs, who in the 1930s wrote several books about Sweden. In his most successful book, Sweden: The Middle Way, written in 1936, he affirmed that the Swedish model combined the best of capitalism with the best of socialism. The influence of his vision of the Swedish model was enormous in the United States, where the radical progressivism of Roosevelt advanced its own indirect socialism with the New Deal.
In the 2006 book Är svensken människa? (Is the Swedish human), Lars Trägårdh and Henrik Berggren defend the failed experiment of command-economy-socialism and redistribution of wealth, and personally, I have not found critics of the model who explained so clearly their dangerous mechanisms of social control as these two propagandists.
The Swedish welfare system was oriented to the individual only to promote the destruction of family ties, explain Trägårdh and Berggren, because the socialist intellectuals considered the family a hierarchical institution that impeded freedom, so that the restrictions of family dependence, and in general interpersonal dependence, should be replaced by the guaranteed benefits of the welfare state.
George Orwell attacked Soviet totalitarianism in his dystopian novel 1984, highlighting its social control, political police, repression, and propaganda amid misery and cynicism. The subtle, and failed, totalitarian aspirations of the Nordic intellectual radicals is reflected in Huxley’s Brave New World. They did not really reach what they aspired to. Social control, although extensive and powerful, was not a sufficient substitute for repression. In the absence of a political police force and separation of powers, with a majority rejecting the decreasing benefits, and increasing costs of the model, democracy dethroned socialism.
Meanwhile, 60% or more of the Swedes have maintained, against the subtle but intense efforts of social engineering, their strong bonds of family and social interdependence.
But there is no other place in the world where an individualism as radical as that of the transcendent spiritual promise of Christian salvation had that infernal material mirror. The radical individual material and moral dependence on the state from the promise of “salvation” and “freedom” from all family ties. In their own peculiar way, the Swedish socialists tried to be more radically-socialist than the Soviets.
Their social engineering, contemporaneous with the Soviets, in competition with the Marxists, was not able to create a new man either. But they tried. And with less violence than the Soviets, but not without tragedies. About 40% of the population lost so much of human interdependence, “won” via material and moral dependence on the state. Too many still live mainly in solitude as a result. They are the hidden victims of the failed subtle social engineering of “good” socialism. They were also children torn from their families and people necessarily sterilized by eugenic policies. Finally, this was recognized as criminal state racism under the Swedish social democracy, by the conservative governments that succeeded it.
Swedish socialism fell as it ascended. In elections. It failed to build socialism by the indirect means it proposed. Because all central planning of the social order is inviable by any means other than the full collectivist primitivism with all its consequences. It was relatively benign in comparison to the genocidal Marxist socialism of the Soviets and their emulators. But at the time, it was much more socialist, and as such more cruel and dark, than is usually thought of.