Athens Meeting 19-20 June 2003, Contribution by CP of
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by Peter Cohen
SWEDISH ANTI-WAR MOVEMENTS
The general crisis of capitalism has intensified
considerably in recent years. The trend to economic
stagnation that dates back to the early 1970s is now so
obvious that even bourgeois economists are becoming
alarmed. But already before the latest bubble of
speculation and fraud had burst, some capitalists were
issuing warning signals.
For example, Jack Welch, former head of General Electric in
the US, said in 1999 that "we see over-capacity in every
sector". Today, it appears that utilization of industrial
production capacity in the OECD countries is hovering
around 70-75 per cent. As the worldwide recession deepens,
the indications are that under-utilization and unemployment
will continue to increase, and the efforts of imperial
capital to maintain profits in a deteriorating economy will
become even more ferocious.
It is worth recalling that so-called free-trade agreements
and organizations such as the European Round Table, the EU,
the WTO and the Transatlantic Business Dialogue are to a
great extent reflections of capital's need to compensate
for economic problems that not only refuse to disappear,
but insist on growing steadily. The same may be said for
the huge wave of corporate mergers that began in the 1990s.
Imperialist wars of aggression since the early 1990s also
reflect the general economic crisis, as well as capital's
need to secure sources of cheaper minerals and also combat
resistance to imperial rule, as in Latin America.
The general crisis has generated a combination of brutal
neo-liberal policies and military aggression that has had
far-reaching and highly negative effects for the working
class, and for sections of the middle class as well. This
has been especially noticeable because in the early 1990s
we were told repeatedly and triumphantly that the game was
over, capitalism had won, and we could all look forward to
the rosiest of futures.
The effects of the crisis comprise one of the main causes
of the widespread protest movements that have arisen during
the past five years or so both within and outside the OECD
countries. I am not qualified to discuss the varied levels
of political consciousness within protest movements in
different countries, but it certainly seems that there is a
growing awareness that the problems generated by capitalism
cannot be solved within the framework of the capitalist
For example, the central document adopted at the ninth S�o
Paulo Forum contained the words "Our goal is revolution, a
profound transformation of society" The Cuban comrades I
spoke to at the tenth forum in Havana in 2001 agreed that
such a formulation would never have been accepted in 1992
at the first SPF. It is the imperialist offensive that has
driven non-communist Latin American political parties on
the left into a more militant position.
Protest Movements In Sweden
The Communist Party of Sweden (SKP) has participated in
protest movements both domestically and internationally.
Since we have been directly involved in planning and
leading such movements within Sweden, I will restrict my
comments to our domestic experiences. These include
struggles against the EU and the EMU, and against the wars
on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sweden has Europe's most powerful Social Democrat party,
which has been in power for about 49 of the past 58 years.
The social democrats have proven to be extremely skillful
at simultaneously implementing bourgeois policies and
retaining working-class support, although this support has
been wavering in recent years. The current minority Social
Democrat government has been in place since 1994, and is
supported by the Left Party, which broke off from the CP of
Sweden in 1977 and has been moving steadily to the right
ever since. Together, these two parties received close to
50% of the vote in the last national election.
Both the Social Democrats and the Left Party have eagerly
joined the Swedish bourgeois parties and the mainstream
media in continuous anti-Communist propaganda, which is
increasing significantly in volume and vulgarity as the
economic crisis deepens. For example, in a speech in
Finland last winter Prime Minister Persson praised the
Finns for their achievements in the "War of Continuation",
which is what the Finnish bourgeoisie calls the Second
World War. Persson said that the Finns should be proud that
they fought against the Soviet Union and helped prevent the
Bolsheviks from seizing control of Western Europe in 1945.
There were no protests from the Left Party leadership.
However, many members of the Left Party still call
themselves Communists, so the leadership is forced to give
the appearance of joining protest movements, while at the
same time doing everything possible to sabotage them.
They were rather successful in the case of protests against
the war on Yugoslavia early in 1999 a Yugoslav Committee
was formed in Stockholm with the aim of arousing public
opinion against the coming NATO assault, and appealing to
the strong anti-war tradition among the Swedish working
class to put pressure on the government.
A demonstration was held in a square in central Stockholm
on the day the bombings started, and on each of the next 77
days. The participants were mostly Yugoslavian immigrants
to Sweden. The CP of Sweden was represented at all the
demonstrations and our general secretary was often on the
speakers' platform. Although a Left Party member of
parliament was on the committee, the party itself was never
visible, and the leadership joined in the demonization of
Milosevic, along with the Social Democrats. The Left Party
rank-and-file was conspicuous by its absence. Worst of all,
no other large immigrant organizations participated in the
In short, the movement in Sweden against the war on
Yugoslavia was a bitter failure. We believe that the public
perception of Milosevic as a "genocidal socialist dictator"
was the basic cause. I personally regard the propaganda war
against Yugoslavia as one of the major capitalist victories
of the late 20th century.
The protest movement against the EU during the Swedish
chairmanship in the first half of 2001 was much more
successful. The demonstrations leading up to the final
protest in Gothenburg at the end of June attracted large
numbers of people, and the march in Gothenburg was bigger
than any demonstration we had seen for some years. At
meetings and seminars the link between capitalism and the
EU was discussed intensively, especially by young people.
The pressure on the Left Party leadership from its members
was so strong that the party was forced to openly and
officially participate. In combination with other
progressive parties we were able to mobilize opinion
against the EU and for democracy on a bigger scale than we
In September 2001 the CP of Sweden helped to establish a
"Coalition against war", focused on the planned aggression
against Afghanistan. Participants at the constituent
meeting included a range of left-wing organizations as well
as a Left Party member of parliament who tried openly to
torpedo the movement.
The Coalition arranged a number of large demonstrations.
Mainstream media coverage was negative, describing the
movement as "Communist-inspired". Our party spoke at all
the demonstrations, concentrating on the connection between
capitalism, the war on Afghanistan, and war in general. The
response was very positive, and at every demonstration we
met many young people who asked for more information.
Here again, the pressure from the Left Party rank-and-file
was so great that the leadership was forced to participate
openly. The Left Party speaker at the third demonstration
was the same person who tried to block the movement at the
I mention this again because the size of the Coalition
demonstrations and the growing pressure from below alarmed
both the Social Democrats and the Left Party to such an
extent that they are actively trying to gain control of the
anti-war movement. The first step was to change the name
from "Coalition" to "Network against war". The argument was
that the Coalition was associated with the extreme left,
which would frighten "ordinary" people away.
The next step was to ensure that organizations close to the
Social Democrat party joined the network. None of them had
previously participated in Coalition demonstrations or
seminars. They are all openly anti-communist. With a
majority at the Network meetings, they were able to focus
on the humanitarian aspects of the war on Iraq. Use of the
words "capitalism" or "imperialism" on placards was
expressly prohibited. Representatives of the CP of Sweden
were not allowed to speak at demonstrations. Protest was
channeled against the person of George Bush and US war
policy, which was never mentioned within the context of
The demonstration against the war on Iraq on February 15 of
this year was the largest in Stockholm since a peace rally
in the early 1950s that was arranged by our party.
Demonstrations in other Swedish cities were also very
large. By this time the government and the Left Party had
begun to realize that anti-war sentiment was and is - very
strong in Sweden, in line with the rest of Europe. The
speakers at the February 15 demonstration therefore
included the chairwoman of the Left as well as high-ranking
representatives of the Social Democrats. The strength of
anti-war sentiment also explains the extensive and
relatively sympathetic coverage of the protest movement in
the mainstream media.
Since the French and the German governments were opposed to
the war, the Swedish Social Democrats and Left Party could
safely follow. But they did not dare to go as far as
Gerhardt Schr�der in refusing to join in any aggression,
with or without UN authorization. The position of the
Social Democrats, the Left Party and most Swedish media
commentators was that war on Iraq was not acceptable
without an appropriate Security Council resolution. This
position was not shared by the majority of the
demonstrators, as they repeatedly booed speakers who would
not categorically denounce wars of aggression.
Complex Tactical Situation
For ideological reasons, the majority of the steering
committee of the Swedish Network against War must avoid
discussing war as a capitalist phenomenon. They are working
hard to maintain a focus on Iraq, opposing the occupation
and demanding autonomy and humanitarian aid.
There is an interesting historical precedent. In 1968 Olof
Palme made several speeches condemning the Swedish movement
against the Vietnam War, implying as usual that it was
Communist-inspired and therefore dangerous. Less than two
years later he could be seen leading a demonstration in
front of the US Embassy in Stockholm. From then until the
end of the Vietnam War the Social Democrats concentrated on
participating in the anti-war movement and depoliticizing
it at the same time. Vietnam became a moral, not a
As I have indicated, we are facing the same situation
again. And the ideological contradictions within the
Swedish Network against war are now so intensive that the
last meeting as of the time of writing had to be adjourned
because no agreement could be reached on a statement of
The text proposed by the steering committee referred almost
exclusively to Iraq. It called for resolution of the
"conflict" between Israel and the Palestinians. It also
opposed "US military policy". It did not mention the war in
Colombia or the threats of war against Cuba, Iran, North
Korea and Syria. It did not include the word "imperialism".
It was a moral, not a political statement and as such was
rejected by at least half of the organizations at the
It should be understood that there are Communists in Sweden
who were originally refugees or immigrants. The majority of
them belong to Communist parties within Sweden that are
affiliates of Communist parties in their homelands, which
include Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Iran and Iraq. These
parties are members of the Network against War.
We and our comrades in these parties now face a complex set
of tactical choices. We do not want to split the Network,
which we believe could be a platform for meaningful
progressive action, and especially for increasing contact
with young people.
We are aware that we must make compromises to serve the
cause of peace. But we cannot accept a document or a policy
that completely avoids the reality and the nature of the
imperialist threat, especially since we are convinced that
opposition to imperialist policies is strong and growing
within the Swedish working class, and to some extent within
the middle class.
Another factor to be considered is the tendency to
personalize imperialism, i.e. to reduce it to individuals
such as Bush or Blair. In Sweden it is imperative to show
that we are faced with a system, not with a few scoundrels
whose removal would solve the world's problems.
In this connection I would like to mention that our
comrades from Chile are organizing a series of activities
in Stockholm to commemorate the 30th anniversary, if I may
call it that, of the Pinochet coup on September 11, 1973.
They have underlined that these activities concentrate on
imperialism, not on Augusto Pinochet.
It will not be easy to solve the complex equation for
maintaining a strong Swedish anti-war movement and
preventing it from being depoliticized. But we believe that
there is a good chance that we can succeed.