and the sabotage of Nicaragua's only oil refinery.
Stenungsund, Tjörn and Orust.
To the memory of Olof Palme.
|I have been invited this evening to talk about Olof Palme, and I do so more than gladly. There has been a peculiar silence surrounding that remarkable figure, not least among his presumptive friends within the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Some time ago, for example, a former government minister told me that he always refers to Olof when he is out speaking to the party faithful. Afterwards, he noted, members of the audience invariably come up to thank me for mentioning Olof. No one else does, they say.
Strange. . . or perhaps not so strange, considering what has happened to Swedish Social Democracy since Palme was eliminated fifteen years ago.
Like so many others of my age, I first heard the name of Olof Palme in connection with the Vietnam War. At the time, I was living in my former homeland and working on a local newspaper in New Jersey. One day in the early 1960s, the chief editor turned to the staff and asked, How do you spell Vietnam?
Soon, nearly every knew how to spell Vietnam, and Olof Palme would begin his forceful opposition to the American War. His famous speech in the city of Gävle on 30 July 1965 included the following observations:
We encounter the fate of individuals in a strikingly simple manner. We see images of pain and torture, of mutilated children and crippled adults. . . . We react with sympathy, with outraged emotions in the face of this meaningless suffering. For a crime is always a crime, and terror is always terror, even when it is committed in the name of lofty principles and objectives. . . . It is an illusion to believe that it is possible to meet demands for social justice with violence and military might. . . .
I do not know if the peasants of the Vietnamese countryside-- for it is, of course, Vietnam that I have mainly been talking about-- have any utopian visions of the future. The impressions one receives convey a sense of hopelessness and resignation, of despair and bewilderment at a political power struggle that spills over onto their lives. If they dream of the future, it is most likely in simple terms-- a peaceful existence, without hunger and in which their human dignity is respected. To them, such a vision probably seems remote and unrealistic. To us, it seems modest and self-evident, illustrating the sharp contrasts of the world we live in.
But if we shift from a geographical to a temporal perspective, those contrasts tend to fade away. For, it was essentially just such a utopian vision that animated the pioneers of the labour movement. They dreamed of a society that could offer human dignity, bread, work and security. That vision of the future inspired them to action and faith in the future, even though it seemed remote and unrealistic. Now, that vision has become commonplace and self-evident: Yesterdays utopian vision has become todays reality.
The one honourable exception
The Gävle speech contained several of the basic themes to which Olof Palme would continually return during his entire political career, including the connection between the fundamental principles of the Swedish labour movement and events taking place far beyond the nations borders. Regarding the issue of Vietnam, he noted in 1973 that, I gave my first speech on Vietnam in 1954, against the French war in Indochina, and have basically been repeating the same speech for twenty years.
It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of Palmes leadership on that issue. Dagens Nyheters Washington correspondent at the time, Sven Öste, has written of Olof Palmes significance for the doves in the Senate and for the entire anti-war movement, particularly on university campuses. His principles and the Swedish protests gave strength to that side of the internal struggle in the United States, which in the end was proven right.
According to Bob Musli, chairman of Physicians for Social Responsibility, the U.S. branch of the international organization that received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985: Palme was a beacon of plain truth and courage for those of us who were struggling against the war. . . . When one considers the enormity of the destruction and suffering that the U.S. was inflicting everywhere in Southeast Asia, no criticism could possibly be too harsh. It is especially significant when it comes from the leader of a respected country.
Adds Daniel Ellsberg, the former government official who played a key role in disclosing The Pentagon Papers, the Defense Departments self-incriminating history of U.S. transgressions in Southeast Asia: I always thought that our allies and other countries were derelict with their silence. Sweden was the one honourable exception.
It was the same with a long list of other foreign policy issues, and a large portion of domestic policy. Among the factors that made him so effective was his far-sighted and consistent approach to fundamental issues, which was underlined by Ingvar Carlsson shortly after the assassination in 1986: Olof Palme was very clear on ideological questions. Precisely for that reason, he did not hesitate to fight when it was necessary. The most recent example is provided by the last election campaign, when he sharply attacked the neo-liberalism of the Conservative Party. It was necessary to do so, since the foundations of our general-welfare policy were being threatened.
That fact has since been confirmed in reverse by Swedens leading business journal, Dagens Industri, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with the headline, The Capitalistic Revolution: Olof Palme Delayed the Transformation.
For all of these reasons, it was hardly peculiar that U.N. General-Secretary Perez de Cuellar would observe at Palmes funeral that, Throughout the world today, the name of Sweden is synonymous with peaceful stability and human compassion.
On this day, when we honour the memory of Olof Palme, it seems especially urgent to consider the present condition of the foundations of Social Democratic policy, both foreign and domestic. How well and faithfully has the Party preserved the legacy of Olof Palme?
Although I am not a member of any party, I will attempt to answer that question. Such presumption may perhaps be excused by the fact that the SDP has been the reigning political party in Sweden for so long that its development is unavoidably a matter of importance to all Swedes, and in some respects to the world at large. I would like to emphasize, however, that the following observations are mine, alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization to which I may happen to belong.
I have now lived in Sweden for just over twelve of the fifteen years that have passed since the murder of Olof Palme, and can note that there have been some positive developments during that time. Among other things, the country has recovered from its worst economic crisis since the 1930s, and the Swedish people continue to make great strides in many areas, including athletics, music, science, literature, technology and, not least, business and commerce.
All of this demonstrates the essential strength of Swedish society and its economy. But that strength is based largely on decisions made some time ago. That Sweden is now on the leading edge of information technology, for example, is a result of investments in human capital made before and during the Palme era. When one considers what has happened since then, the picture becomes considerably less bright.
Olof Palme taught us that it is important to call things by their right names, so we should look the awful truth in the face: What is happening now in Sweden is an appalling betrayal of the principles for which he struggled throughout his life. Several illustrative examples can be noted offhand:
Palmes successors have adopted major elements of neo-liberalism, in the process subordinating national policy to a pack of international money brokers whose attitudes toward Social Democratic society appear to be characterized by incomprehension and contempt.
As a consequence, Sweden has recently undergone its worst economic crisis since the 1930s. But instead of conducting a genuine analysis of the underlying causes, the Social Democratic leadership has gone to the people with the misleading (and probably mendacious) message that, We have been living above our means. The effect of that message and the policy behind it has been to intensify the crisis.
Interest rates have become the political factor whose importance exceeds all others. They are now more important than democracy, more important than national independence, and more important than the cohesion of the labour movement. This has been clearly demonstrated by Göran Persson with his hardly surprising reversal on the issue of membership in the European Monetary Union.
In order to mollify the money brokers, the government has made such heavy cuts in the public sector that serious deficiencies have arisen, creating an opening for private alternatives that have been encouraged by leading Social Democrats.
Private schools are being operated for profit-- with tax revenues in amounts that often exceed the sums allocated to public schools.
Despite a solemn promise that cutbacks would not affect the most disadvantaged subgroups of society, that is inevitably what has occurred.
Dental care has again become a class issue. Ingvar Carlssons solution to this seems to be that all the nations mothers shall follow the example of his own, who gave up everything in order to finance lovely smiles for her children.
Together with some cronies from the business world, Prime Minister Perssons closest advisor has let it be known in the countrys most influential debate forum that Swedes in general suffer from self-pity. Demands on others-- the state, politicians, business leaders, as long as it is someone else-- are more common than demands on oneself, was one bit of wisdom that they offered. They also expressed their dismay that public debate has become brutalized.
The most popular programme on Swedish television nowadays is an orgy of mobbing, social rejection and raw egoism. This creation has been exported to the U.S. with great success, reversing the normal traffic in TV garbage.
In the absence of convincing arguments, the party leaderships coup in joining Sweden to the European Union has inevitably been followed by efforts to threaten, manipulate and lure the grassroots into accepting the new undemocratic order. Most EU sceptics and critics-- who represent majority opinion within the SDP-- have been systematically purged or demoted, while others appear to have learned to hold their tongues.
The Swedish passport has been replaced by an EU passport in which Sweden has been assigned a subordinate place.
As readily anticipated, EU membership has meant a gradual approach to NATO. Sweden already has a staff of observers assigned to NATO headquarters, has organized and hosted NATO exercises, has allowed (and probably encouraged) its weapons industry to join a consortium with those of five NATO countries, etc., etc.
As a member of the EU, Sweden has sharply restricted freedom to conduct an independent foreign policy. Even in the United Nations, Sweden must subordinate itself to the EUs common policy.
The Persson government has now committed the country to supply troops and equipment to the EUs new military force, whose initial size is 60,000-- nearly twice as many troops as the U.N. has at its disposal. According to the imperialistic language, the purpose of this military force is to defend EU interests within a radius of 4000 kilometres from Brussels. As pointed out by Maj-Britt Théorin, currently M.P. in the EU parliament, that is an area which stretches from Peking to the borders of Ecuador.
Olof Palmes current successor has endorsed USA/NATOs war of aggression in the Balkans, and has actively spread the war propaganda that has been concocted to justify that disastrous intervention.
In every possible way, the Persson government has turned Sweden into an obedient vassal of the United States. A highly placed official of the superpower has contentedly observed that, Nowadays, we have no problems at all with Sweden.
The leadership has proposed a new party programme which does not include any reference to solidarity or neutrality.
This is just a small sample of the many indications that the Sweden of Olof Palme and the Swedish people is being dissolved. But even though these tendencies have now become quite evident, it is difficult to discern any consistent ideological purpose behind them. Rather, the impression one gets is that of a series of unplanned concessions to prevailing forces, whether it be the European Union, the market or the United States that applies the pressure.
Without a clear ideological focus of the sort that guided Olof Palme, the result has been a steady shift in the direction of various power centres. This tendency is especially evident in the Persson governments accommodation to Pax Americana, as in the case of the Kosovo disaster. During the run-up to that war of aggression, the governments line was that the conflict must be resolved within the framework of the United Nations, that a bombing war would exacerbate the problem rather than solve it, and so n. In other words, the enlightened foreign policy traditionally practised by Swedish Social Democrats.
But as soon as USA/NATO went to attack-- with precisely the disastrous consequences that the Swedish government had warned of-- it made yet another about-face and endorsed the onslaught. I have no time for those within and outside the labour movement who criticize the bombing, said the current Social Democratic prime minister of Sweden. He has even praised the U.S. for contributing with its attack planes and bombs.
In order to justify this betrayal, the government has diligently spread the associated war propaganda-- and is still doing so today, even though all the lies and fabrications have now, in due course, been exposed. No doubt it feels compelled to do so, as the alternative would to be acknowledge its complicity in an extremely serious crime against international law which has aggravated the Balkan crisis and created new tensions in that region and the world at large.
So, it is undeniably true that the U.S. has no problems at all with Sweden nowadays. For the time being, the superpower does not have to waste a single thought on the possibility that some Social Democratic leader might cause some bother by calling things by their right names. Instead, Olof Palmes successors have become clever at understanding things, as for example when Foreign Minister Lena Hjelm-Wallén expressed her understanding of why the land of the free took the liberty of bombing civilian targets in Sudan and Afghanistan a couple of years ago-- because someone had exploded bombs at U.S. facilities in Kenya and Tanzania.
When it comes to the global claims and power of the United States, which now extend to outer space, the Persson government seems prepared to understand exactly anything. The only thing that it does not appear to have any understanding for is the kind of enlightened policy to which Olof Palme devoted his life. It has gone so far that, if anything like the Vietnam War were to occur today, the current Social Democratic government of Sweden would in all likelihood understand it-- and even explain to the Swedish people why it was necessary to support the U.S., especially considering its generous contribution.
Under the leadership of Göran Persson, yesterdays one honourable exception has now taken its subordinate place in the flock.
|Schism is a fact
To paraphrase a well-known quotation of Palme: The amazing thing is that this continues, that these damn turncoats are allowed to carry on as they do. For, the fact is that the policies adopted by his successors are directly opposed to the will of the Swedish people, particularly the majority of Social Democratic voters.
The better part of the Swedish people do not want to abandon the peoples home for the neo-liberal jungle, with the two-thirds society* (or worse) which that implies. A large majority stubbornly prefers to join neither NATO nor the EMU. It is only with great reluctance that most have now accepted the fact that they allowed themselves to be duped and threatened into the European Union five years ago. (For a description of that distasteful process, see Doubtful Referendum in Great European Expectations.)
*A standard expression which refers to a society in which two-thirds of the population are relatively well off, while the remaining one-third are permanently marginalized. The prime example is, of course, the United States.
Nevertheless, the majority that has captured power continues to pull and shove the entire country along the path staked out by the market and the United States. How is that possible, in a country that was previously regarded as a model democracy?
There are no doubt many explanations, including the fact that Swedes long ago acquired the habit of going to just about any lengths to avoid conflict. The predisposition to smooth over conflicts in order to achieve consensus is a deep-rooted cultural trait, which has especially distinguished the labour movement. The spirit of co-operation is sacred and Olof Palme, himself, emphasized the importance of preserving unity within the movement. Come rain or come shine, it has always been regarded as necessary to stick together and avoid divisive schisms.
But it is now too late to avoid a schism within the Swedish labour movement: It is already a fact, and it has not been caused by the Social Democratic majority, but rather by the neo-liberal minority that has seized power. The election results of recent years speak very clearly: During the Palme era, the SDP consistently received about 45 percent of the vote. Now, the party is wavering between 30-35 percent, as large numbers have shifted their allegiance to the Left Party or have dropped out of politics altogether.
But it is a collapse that is taken calmly by party leader Göran Persson, who has said that there is no difficulty in continuing to rule with the support of about one-third of the voters. In some respects, it may even offer advantages: The more Social Democrats who leave the party, the stronger the grip of the neo-liberals who remain.
This is a dilemma of which disaffected party members are well aware. At last years convention of the Swedish Trade Union Association (LO), for example, I spoke with a well-known labour economist who observed that, I would have gladly switched to the Left Party long ago, since its policies are in basic agreement with LOs. But if everyone were to leave, only the so-called renewers would remain, and god knows what they might get up to then.
Another key factor that has doubtless contributed to the democratic majoritys peculiar passivity is the pious hope that things are actually not as bad as they seem. Despite everything, the sky rarely falls. But in point of fact, it sometimes does, and in that connection it may be possible to learn valuable lessons from history, including that of Nazi Germany.
A recurrent question is why the German people did not react sooner to the peril that Hitler and the Nazi movement so clearly represented. All the signs were distinctly visible, the basic direction was obvious. How could so many well-informed and otherwise sensible people allow it to happen?
It goes without saying that I do not draw any direct parallel between Germany of the 1930s and the Sweden of today. At this stage, there is no question of any such threat on that order. But the psychological mechanisms that apply are probably the same now as then. Especially if one is relatively comfortable, there is a great reluctance to believe that the sky is actually falling. This is merely human, and helps to explain why, as Oscar Wilde observed: We learn from history that we do not learn from history.
But ten or twenty years from now, when we awake to a Sweden that has become a modest presence in the United States of Europe-- with, at best, a two-thirds society that sends its sons to Macedonia or Colombia to defend EU and/or US interests with violence and their bodies-- we will no doubt ask ourselves, just as so many Germans did after World War II: How could we be so blind, and thereby so stupid? All the signs were there to see, and it was perfectly evident what the neo-liberals had in mind.
Does this sound exaggerated? If so, consider the above-noted sample from the much longer list of all the changes in that direction which have taken place just during the past twelve years.
Naturally, the Social Democratic leadership feels that the changes have been necessary under prevailing circumstances. But to a great extent, those circumstances have resulted from a series of unfortunate decisions in which the leadership has itself participated. These include the deregulation that led to the 1980s bank crisis, the 100-year tax reform which undermined state finances, the mad effort to maintain a fixed exchange rate, the forced adaptation of economic policy to the requirements of EU membership, etc.
It would be enlightening and becoming if all this were acknowledged. Instead, the leadership has gone out with the same message as that of conservative forces both in Sweden and abroad-- namely, that the Social Democratic society built up during the Palme era was grossly overproportioned and had to be cut down to size.
Of course, now that the economy is booming again, some public expenditures have been restored-- but only on neo-liberal conditions. What will happen to the newly reawakened interest in the public sector during the next downturn of the business cycle, when disadvantaged groups in society are most vulnerable? All indications are that the effects will be much the same as during the self-inflicted crisis of the 1990s. (For a more detailed discussion of these issues, see The Price of Everything, especially the sections subtitled The Return of Laissez-faire and The Politics of Self-delusion.)
It is now the market which sets the limits of what is possible in politics, and it continues to exert pressure in the direction of lower taxes, a smaller public sector, increasing privatization, more egoism, and a steadily withering conception of society. Having once subjugated oneself to this ideology and its various articles of faith, it is demonstrably difficult to escape-- and the pressure is not likely to be less if Sweden enters the EMU.
Accordingly, it is of little significance if some members of the government, perhaps even the prime minister, are sincere in their assurances that they want nothing more than to restore Swedens general-welfare system. They will not be permitted to. With their own decisions, they have painted themselves and the entire country into a corner, which probably helps to explain why the gap between word and deed is steadily widening.
With regard to foreign policy, however, there is not even a gap: Swedens once so widely admired policy has been totally subordinated to EU and US interests. This means, for example, that no significance whatsoever can be assigned to the governments assurances that it is not dragging the country step-by-step into NATO. It is an completely visible process that is unfolding in plain sight.
The only question is whether or not the SDP leadership has succeeded in convincing itself that it is not doing what it so obviously is doing. That possibility cannot be excluded, as human beings have a well-known and nearly limitless capacity for self-deception. The risk is especially great among the high and mighty if they never encounter any genuine resistance, which has thus far been the case with the neo-liberal minority currently in control of Swedens Social Democratic Party.
Honouring Palmes memory
As previously noted, this lack of resistance is due largely to Swedens culture of consensus and the holy spirit of co-operation. Those factors have exerted an extremely inhibiting effect on the democratic process within the SDP, something that the neo-liberal minority has been able to use to its advantage-- whether consciously or unconsciously is of little importance.
It would appear to be an appropriate moment to recall Ingvar Carlssons observation about Olof Palme: He did not hesitate to fight when it was necessary. Of course, it would be more pleasant if it were not necessary-- i.e. if the neo-liberal minority that has caused the schism would admit its mistakes and revise its policies. But that is a lot to expect of human beings-- to voluntarily reject everything they previously adhered to-- and there is no indication that the thought has ever occurred to the current leadership. It is the prisoner of its own mistakes and rhetoric, and probably also of the praise it has received from the neo-liberal establishment that now dominates the planet.
I would very much like to be proven wrong, but it seems to me that there are only two alternatives in the present situation: Either the majority of the Social Democratic Party has to restore democratic order, or there will soon be nothing left of Olof Palmes Sweden-- the country that a clear majority of the Swedish people and the surrounding world would like to preserve.
Naturally, the mere thought of a revolt arouses anxiety, and such a revolution would be far from painless. It is hardly likely that the reigning minority of the SDP would freely abdicate, and the market could be expected to react ferociously against any attempt to restore Social Democracy in Sweden. Further, since a large portion of Swedens sovereignty has already been given away, it would be very expensive to repurchase the nations integrity. One could also anticipate a destabilization campaign orchestrated by the CIA and its various accomplices, including international news media.
On the other hand, one could count on a certain amount of support from people all over the world who have previously looked to Sweden as a positive example. Sweden has many friends around the world-- far more than most Swedes seem to be aware of-- and that is very much to the credit of Olof Palme.
At present, a world-wide resistance movement against neo-liberalism is forming, as demonstrated in Seattle, Prague and similar settings. With the support of that movement, it might be possible to organize boycotts and other actions against corporations and financial institutions that try to strangle democracy in Sweden. This country could very well be at the forefront of a global resistance movement against neo-liberalism. That would be the best imaginable way to honour the memory of Olof Palme, would it not?
I realize that this may sound frightening, and that one would prefer that Olof Palme were still here to lead the struggle. But keep in mind that he would never have been able to become the prominent figure he became, if he had not received broad support from a significant portion of the Swedish people. His political career was thus an expression of the finest that Sweden has to offer the world and itself.
As a matter of fact, Olof Palme is still among us, in the form of the exceedingly valuable intellectual legacy he left behind. If we neglect or squander that legacy, we make of ourselves something less than what we are-- which, for the reasons noted above, is a important not only for us, but for the world at large.
|The war continues
There is another useful way to honour Olof Palmes memory in practice, and that is to revive Swedens previously strong support for Vietnam and the rest of Indochina. Most people probably believe that the Vietnam War ended in 1975, when the country was finally reunited and the last U.S. soldier departed. It was the end of the war for the U.S., but its lasting consequences will continue to plague Vietnam long into the future.
The war left behind a terrible legacy that is almost inconceivable. You may have seen images in films or TV programmes of the monument erected in Washington, a wall with the names of all the U.S. military personnel who died in Vietnam. That wall is roughly 150 metres long; but a comparable structure, with the names of all the Vietnamese who died during that war would have to be around 45 kilometres long.
Vietnam is a country that has been forced to endure twice as much explosives as the total amount used all over the world on all sides during all of the Second World War-- on a land area less than four percent of the United States. Left behind in the landscape are 23 million bomb craters (corresponding to 644 million in the U.S.), along with some 3.5 million unexploded mines (ca. 98 million in the U.S.) which have already harvested the equivalent of 3.5 times the number of lives lost by the U.S. during the entire war. Vast tracts of forest were defoliated with toxic chemicals whose lingering effects will haunt the population for generations to come.
Following the shooting war, the U.S. continued to conduct economic warfare against Vietnam with a trade embargo, by exerting pressure on allies and international financial institutions, and other measures. Through its influence on international news media, including Svenska Dagbladet and Swedish public radio, the U.S. has also conducted a propaganda campaign which has effectively isolated Vietnam from world opinion. This is just part of the suffering inflicted on the small, impoverished country of Vietnam by its powerful tormentor across the Pacific.
In his 1965 Gävle speech, Olof Palme said of Vietnams country folk: If they dream of the future, it is most likely in simple terms-- a peaceful existence without hunger in which their human dignity is respected. Since then, the bombs have ceased to fall; but for the reasons noted, there is a long way to go before much of the population will experience decent living conditions.
It is for that reason that the non-profit organization, Levande Framtid (Living Future) has been formed to spread knowledge of Vietnams tragic fate and to promote contacts between our two countries. Among its current initiatives are a project to establish a network of sister-schools between Sweden and Vietnam, and an international conference on the long-term environmental consequences of the war that is tentatively scheduled for June of 2002.
With its exceedingly limited resources, Levande Framtid also conducts public education on the Vietnam War and other crimes against humanity committed by the United States and its allies. The project was inspired by Göran Perssons public education campaign on the Nazi Holocaust, Levande Historia.
That initiative of the prime minister has been justifiably acclaimed. But it is not especially risky or courageous to criticize Hitler and Nazi Germany, which no longer exist. It seems much more urgent to carefully monitor todays only remaining superpower and to educate the youth of Sweden about the Vietnam War, the worst crime against humanity since World War II. Levande Framtid would gladly participate in such an initiative if it were conducted under the same conditions and with the same level of financial support as Levande Historia.
I would like to close with yet another quotation of Olof Palme, which seems as relevant today as when it was first uttered nearly 35 years ago. This is what Olof Palme said in his Labour Day speech in the city of Malmö on 1 May 1966:
Throughout history, people have lived in poverty and misery. They have been degraded by hunger and ignorance, they have tormented each other and been driven into war.
Yet, not everything has remained the same: The difference is that we have acquired greater knowledge. The difference is, above all, that we are beginning to display a willingness to take responsibility for each other.
Therefore, it is not without meaning when we react, take a stance and, to the best of our ability, try to influence human development.