My Masters Essay (D-uppsats) in Economic History will be about the Swedish Pensions Reforms in the 1950s and in the 1990s. For this purpose, I am reading Timothy Tilton's book "The Political Theory of Swedish Social Democracy" with the subtitle "Through the Welfare State to Socialism". I chose to borrow this subtitle in the top of this blog, as I think it describes something very important with the Swedish development.
Ernst Wigforss described this in saying that "welfare is not socialism, but a necessary basis for a further move forward". He also said that "the one who has accepted a democratic principle of equality, can't later on simply restrict its use to certain areas of life".
This idea of a gradualist way towards socialism with the welfare state as its means took shape in Tage Erlander and Olof Palme's ideas on the "Strong Society" in the 1950s and 60s. A society that develops and becomes rich, is also a society where the citizens get higher expectations. The Strong Society was a response to "the discontent of higher expectations" (de växande förväntningarnas missnöje).
The clearest example of this strategy was the supplementary pensions - ATP - decided after a hard political battle in 1959. With this reform, white as well as blue collar workers got their social security guarateed through public systems. The cornerstone of the policy of Living Standard Security was laid, and reform after reform came during the 1960s and 70s that made the citizens rely more and more on the democratic welfare state for their social security. The importance of this strategy to move society towards socialism was stressed by Tage Erlander in his memoirs when he said that “You can’t draw a line between social policy and institutional change in society. There is no wall between reformism and socialism."
Even though much has changed the last decades, the fundamental idea of Swedish Social Democracy is still intact. I would say that Swedish citizens today are more Social Democrat than the Social Democrats, as people still believe in the values of the welfare state. Voters tend to award the parties that give the impression that they stand for the values of the welfare state.
I think that the big threat in the election in September 2006 is that voters will be bored of Social Democrats that seem to be out of ideas and convinced that the Conservatives won't do any dramatic changes in the welfare state.
The Swedish Conservatives don't simply do the "out-Social Democrat the Social Democrats"-thing and copy Tony Blair, they want to roll back the welfare state step by step. This will be said by the Social Democrats over and over again in the election campaign. But there is a possibility that voters won't be satisfied with that.
Voters might have higher expectations on the Social Democrats than simply to defent status quo. They might want us to restore full emplyment and to heal the wounds in the welfare state, and to continue forward towards equality.