Here is the translated text of an article published in todays Dagens Nyheter written by Henrik Berggren.
Clearly the article is written from a social democratic/ liberal perspective and in a rather patronising tone but it does gives a number of historically accurate insights into Left Party history. Gudrun Schyman was the leader of the Left Party during its most electorally successful period in the mid 1990's. She quit the party two years ago and is one of the founding members of the Feminist Initiative, which is currently standing candidates in the Riksdag election. Whilst Left Party leader she was responsible for a more middle class radical outlook and favoured pretty much open collabaration with the Social Democrats. The partys new leaders Lars Ohly has taken the party back to the a more distinctive working class line and has found itself cut off from mainstream bourgeois opinion.
Doctor Schyman and Mister Ohly
Henrik Berggren on The Left Party's impossible choice.
When Lenin stayed in Stockholm in 1917 on the way to making the revolution in Russia, he took the opportunity to listen to the views of his Swedish comrades. The Social Democrats reformist leader Hjalmar Branting was admittedly a petit bourgeois that didn't beleive in the working class, declared the Soviet dictator to be, but he was also a much cleverer politician than the Swedish revolutionaries.
If Lenin had any proposals on how the local Bolsheviks were to be as clever as Branting, history doesn't tell of them. Simplest of course would have been to ally itself with the forward march of the social democrats. But it didn't happen. Instead the Swedish left sometimes tottered and sometimes strolled around on social democrays outskirts for nearly ninety years.
The Left Party began as a motley crew of opposition within the social democracy during the first world war, a spectrum of dreamers, culture radicals, buddists, atheists and peasant romantics- as well as a group of more robust admirers of Russian Bolshevism. In its multitude if not in its exact composition, it likened the 1990's Left Party under Gudrun Schyman.
In between lies a long and lugubrious period as a loyal Stalinist party. But the fidelity towards Moscow- and a strong local support in certain industries and areas- also gave Swedens Communist Party a stability that allowed it to survive on the margins despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of Swedish workers had unswaying faith in those social democratic class traitors. Something that perhaps Lenin suspected even before 1917.
But even during those hard years there was an inner contradiction that always characterised the Swedish left. Despite the undemocratic ideology and the hard party discipline, the communists were to be found most often around the most prominent campaigns for human rights and against oppression. Regardless of whether it was to do with sterilisation, immigration policy or other insults to the individual, the communists managed and dared to make their voices heard more than most others.
The cynical can suspect a diabolical strategy: to exploit bourgeois democratic freedoms in order to destroy them. But the truth is probably more complex. The outsideness that between the 1930's and the 1960's was associated with communism also attracted many obstinate and strong willed personalities. No guarantee of taking their place in the corridors of power but a strong chance of being blacklisted, interned or socially stigmatised.
Marxist information and their own outsideness were the basis for the the involvement of citizens and minorities that were affected by state repression and the conformity of Swedish society. Even if it was easy, not to mention fashionable, to be a leftist after 1968, there is still a radical individualist tradition in the Left Party. This creates a remarkable relationship with the liberals in the Folkpartiet, the other "ideas party" in Swedens Riksdag.
This aspect of freedom fighting can't defend the partys long and consistent support to dictators and its sympathy for undemocratic political ideas. But in its best moments, when Doctor Jekyll has temporarily fought back Mister Hyde, the party has looked like a meeting place for leftists that cannot reconcile themselves with Social Democratic centralisation and the arrogance of power.
Unfortunatly these moments have been all too few and short. Why, everyone asks, can't the Left Party once and for all break with the communist experiment and transform themselves back to a broad, free and democratic Left Party?
The answer is to be fond in the postmodern Left Party that was led by Schyman. It was charming, charismatic- but also opportunistic and intellectually unstable. It went back to being an umbrella party for a mixture of firm social discontent and vague left ideals.In its best moments it forced new issues onto the political agenda. In its worst moments it was as trustworthy as a street seller of miracle cures, a pretend party for social democrats that don't want to take financial responsibility.
Another party would have shrugged its shoulders and held fast with a winning concept. But the left couldn't run away from the requirements of its historical tradition: a conception of being a performer in world historys secret workshop, to be something more than a normal political vote maximising party. Gudrun Schymans medial breakthrough was phenomenal but she hardly got the bourgeois classes into a fit of panic.
In this perspective their was only two alternatives. Either admit that Social Democracy had been right all along and affiliate with their left wing. Or search for comfort in those old slogans, however uncomfortable it might be, and return to dancing according to dialectical materialisms complicated movements.
I am a communist, said Lars Ohly, and now the Left Party is down to the 4% mark. Branting certainly was cleverer.