Relocations: Economic inequality is giving rise to fascism again

An early sticker used by the Sweden Democrats with the slogan "Bevara Sverige Svenskt" ("Keep Sweden Swedish"). Wikipedia
September 29, 2022

Swedish party with fascist roots gains plurality in parliament

“Once one of the most economically equal countries in the world, Sweden has seen a … notable rise in inequality and a sense of profound loss.

By Herbert Rothschild

In Sweden’s general election held on Sept. 11, the Sweden Democrats won 20.6% of the vote. It will have more seats in the Riksdag (the parliament) than any other party. Unlike the even more recent Brothers of Italy victory, however, it won’t form the government, since a large majority of Swedes still reject fascism.

Herbert Rothschild

But the Sweden Democrats, despite its origins in the neo-Nazi B.S.S., or Keep Sweden Swedish, has rapidly gained strength. In 2010, it received 5% of the vote. In 2014 it doubled its share. This year it doubled that.

There’s a close connection between the party’s rise and immigration into Sweden of non-European peoples. The 2014 jump came after 160,000 Syrian refugees were admitted. The Swedish experience is by now familiar. Immigration has catalyzed rightwing nativism in several other European countries and in the U.S. As I wrote in a column on Aug. 5, a major distinction between proponents of authoritarianism and liberal democracy is the way they define the country. The authoritarians define it as “blood and soil,” the land of its true countrymen versus those others. Along with immigrants, Sweden Democrats exclude Sweden’s Jews and the indigenous Sami people.

It would be a mistake, though, to believe that tribalism is the primary cause of the drift toward authoritarianism in liberal democracies. “We” versus “them” is the way fascist leaders like Trump and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán distract a deeply insecure people from the real cause of their insecurity. As Joseph Goebbels, head of Nazi propaganda, counseled, “Propaganda must facilitate the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.

In the New York Times on Sept. 20, Swedish author and journalist Elisabeth Asbrink insightfully observed of the Sweden Democrats’ electoral success, “This monumental rise is thanks to the dramatic changes in Swedish life over the past three decades. Once one of the most economically equal countries in the world, Sweden has seen the privatization of hospitals, schools and care homes, leading to a notable rise in inequality and a sense of profound loss. The idea of Sweden as a land of equal opportunity … is gone. This obscure collective feeling was waiting for a political response — and the Sweden Democrats have been the most successful in providing it.”

Karl Polanyi, in “The Great Transformation” (1944), argued that fascism arose as a response to the ravages of the market economy. “Nineteenth Century civilization was not destroyed by the external or internal attack of barbarians; its vitality was not sapped by the devastations of World War I nor by the revolt of a socialist proletariat or a fascist lower middle class … It disintegrated as the result of … the measures which society adopted in order not to be, in its turn, annihilated by the action of the self-regulating market.”

Countries like ours don’t have to take the measures Mussolini and Hitler did to save us from the inevitable result of a self-regulating market economy, namely the concentration of wealth in a few hands and ceaseless insecurity, if not poverty, for everyone else. But we have to be clear that the relative economic equality in tandem with remarkable growth that characterized U.S. society during the 30 years following World War II was achieved through government regulation and trade union strength. The same was true throughout the industrialized world.

When, in the 1980s, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and other leaders committed their countries to the course of deregulation, neo-liberal trade policies, privatization and the crushing of unions, they set the world on a course in which, since 1995, the top 1% have captured nearly 20 times more of global wealth than the bottom 50% of humanity, and 252 men now have more wealth than the one billion women and girls in Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean, combined.

The Democratic Party under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama turned its back on their party’s traditional commitment to moderating the inevitable inequalities of an unregulated market economy. Now, thanks to progressives like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, the pendulum has begun to swing back. I fear, however, that the party’s success will be undermined by tribalism within its own ranks.

In the U.S., peoples of color have labored under the special burden of bigotry as well as the general burden of economic inequity. It’s entirely understandable that they focus attention on racism and its destructive power. But to allow that struggle to eclipse the struggle for economic justice is to play into the hands of the wealthy elites that control the Republican Party and facilitated the displacement of white working people’s aggression by specifying other races as the source of their grievances. Under those circumstances politics assumes the character of a zero-sum struggle.

In a talk Elizabeth Warren delivered at Howard University in 2018, she pointed out that the financial crash of 2008 “wiped out as much as $14 trillion in household wealth.” But the losses weren’t evenly distributed. “On average,” Warren said, “net worth of white families fell by 31 percent as a result of the crisis while black families lost 40 percent of their wealth.” There are two ways to respond to that injustice. One is to concentrate on the disparity between white and black losses and focus on race. The other is to note the disparity but concentrate on the way financiers screwed most Americans and emerged from the crash with an even larger share of the nation’s wealth. Which response do you suppose Wall Street would prefer?

Herbert Rothschild is an unpaid Ashland.news board member. Email him at herbertrothschild6839@gmail.com.

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.

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