Swedish politics 1917-1945


A few days ago I wrote a text about the present political situation here in Sweden. I will return to that later on. These coming days I intend to write some more about various aspects of how our society has developed, about our potential future, and the danger with totalitarian régimes and ideologies. Soon I will also write about eight different politicians in more recent years until today.  Today my text will deal with the years 1917 – 1945.

In 1917 Sweden was on the brink of civil war, since the country was boiling over of malcontent because of the lack of democracy. What we had here in Sweden slightly less than a 100 years ago can easily be compared with the situation in countries now like Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria etc, but with some important differences. We never had revolution. The turn of democracy took a more peaceful way, and hopefully régimes in other countries might learn something positive from it, since all people want is justice, food, jobs and a democratic influence. That is all. If leaders and régimes in troubled areas started to listen in the inhabitants of their countries without calling them names, arresting, beating and killing them, a change to the positive might happen without bloodshed. What happened in Sweden was this.

In 1917 Sweden was close to a civil war. The ruling government didn’t want to agree to the demands of general and public elections and rights to vote for everyone. The leader of the Right Party/The Conservatives Lindman said: “The right to vote is neither a right for this person or that. The only importance hereby is the use for the state”. The Social Democratic party had during 1917 been divided in two fractions, one that wanted revolution and overthrow the monarchy and one that wanted peaceful parliamentarism. The last one finally got the upper hand. Per Albin Hansson, Social Democrat, was leading in the split to exclude the revolutionary section led by Zäta Häglund. In the 1917 election the Right/Conservatives lost ground, while the Liberals and the Social Democrats gained lots of votes. King Gustav V and queen Victoria tried for a long time to avoid the formation of a government led by Liberals and Social Democrats. The negotiations were hard and it was no easy matter for ordinary workers to be called to meetings with the king. Many Social Democrats in those days were suspicious of parliamentarism and democracy, but the king first was pressed to agree to a new constitution with general elections and a right to vote for all citizens. A government was eventually formed containing The Liberal Congregation Party (today’s People’s Party) and the Social Democrats. Leader of the new government was Nils Edén, Liberal. One of the first things that Edén and his government did was to pass the law in 1919 that allowed women to vote. The king and many others were horrified when the Social Democrat Per Albin Hansson, who for the last ten years had been known as antimilitary and anti-war man became Minister of Defence. The government was weakened however after internal struggles about poll taxes, how to solve the municipal responsibilities on that. Edén’s government fell in 1920. In 1920 the Social Democratic party also changed its programme into a more Marxist wording, which wasn’t popular among most Swedes, and they lost many voters that way. Today many Social Democrats gloat over the discussions within the Centre Party and its renewed party program, but they ought to be more humble and remember their own problems from 1920. When Per Albin Hansson realised that the Marxist influences weren’t popular he instead introduced the idea of “Folkhemmet”/The People’s Home.

Carl Gustaf Ekman would then be Sweden’s Prime Minister in two periods, 1920 – 1928, and 1930 – 1932. He was the farmer boy with working class background that turned bourgois and became part of the Liberal movement. He started a new Liberal party called The Free Minded People’s Party, and as Prime Minister he co-operated both to the left and to the right, finding an honour in broad solutions over the borders. In 1922 Sweden had a referendum concerning licker prohibition, a bit like in the USA. The Liberals were divided. Most liberals wanted the booze to remain, but Ekman and the Free Minded was pro this prohibition, since they thought the alcohol created too many problems in society. Carl Gustaf Ekman was also supported by Per Albin Hansson who also wanted a more sobre Sweden. Even if Ekman had problems in his government he did solve the problems with the taxations and introduced a proportional municipal tax, a system that remains till this day here in Sweden. During Ekman’s second round in power 1930 – 1932 the problems were more dire, because of the depression after the stock crash on Wall Street. He did though try to find solutions both for the industry and the farmers. His Free Minded People’s Party had however recieved economic support from the mercantile mogul Ivar Kreuger, called “King of the Matches”. After the Wall Street crash Ivar Kreuger lost most of his fortune as well as influence and commited suicide in France. When it was revealed that Ekman had received financial support from Ivar Kreuger Carl Gustaf Ekman lost power. In 1934 his party was no more and the Liberals again became part of the more common “People’s Party”.

Another important person during these years has already been mentioned and that was the Social Democrat, Per Albin Hansson. He was born here in Malmoe in 1885 and started his career in politics at the age of 20. At the age of 32 he became an MP when he also was given the task as Minister of Defence. Between 1917 and 1923 Per Albin Hansson also was chief editor of the news paper “Social-Demokraten”. In the beginning of his career Hansson was working hard to introduce Republic instead of Monarchy, eight hours working day, (which we now have had for many years), and better security in factories and other working places. As Minister of Defence he in the 1920’s reduced the amount of money to the military to instead support social issues. In 1925 he became the new party leader of the Social Democratic party and in 1932 the new Prime Minister. The following year Per Albin had a crisis deal with Bondeförbundet/The Farmers’ Union (today’s Centre Party). It concerned accepting a corporative agrarian policy and protection of Swedish agrarian products. After the elections in 1936 Per Albin Hansson and his Social Democrats was in a coalition with the Farmers’ Union. Janne Nilsson from that party became the new Minister of Defence and started to upgrade the military because of the dangerous situation in Europe. Hitler had by then been Reichs Kanzler for three years. At the same time Per Albin Hansson continued working for upgrading the Swedish society in general. In 1939 World War II was a fact. After the Soviet attack on Finland in December 1939 Sweden got a broad coalition government led by Hansson containing The Social Democrats, The Farmers’ Union, The People’s Party and The Right/the Conservatives. The idea was to prevent Sweden from being dragged into the war. When the Chief of the Defence Staff Axel Rappe suggested a division of Swedish troops in the Finnish Winter War against the Soviets Per Albin replied: “Bloody bullshit”.

Sweden tried to remain neutral during World War II, but many things happened, both good and bad. On April 9th 1940 The German Nazi troops invaded our neighbour countries Denmark and Norway. I have seen a copy of the order my paternal grandfather got as an officer that morning to go to the regiment at once. He recieved the message already 10 o’ clock that morning, so things were already prepared, and my grandfather only had two hours to get there not to be seen as a deserter. My father and his brother were evacuated, there were curfews, ration cards for food, coffee, gas etc. Swedish men enrolled to defend our country and most men were in the army. However there were also individuals fighting on different sides in the war. There were Swedes fighting against Franco in Spain for the Communists, there were Swedes in the Nazi troups and Swedes supporting the Finns in the war against The Soviet Union. The Swedish government allowed German troops to go by train through Sweden to Norway, and as I’ve explained before there were Nazis and German sympathisers also here. The Norwegians were naturally angry for this. Swedish authorities mapped out Communists, Jews and others who were seen as a potential threat. Nevertheless Swedish fishermen helped Danish Jews to escape a certain death in the Nazi death camps in October 1943. Raoul Wallenberg helped many Jews to evade the Nazis and the Hungarian Fascists in Budapest, before he was taken captive by the Russians. Folke Bernadotte and the Swedish Red Cross helped Jewish and other refugees to Sweden after the War in the White Buses. Per Albin Hansson as Prime Minister though signed the decision to deliver over 2 500 refugees from the Baltic States to the Soviets in June 1945. This has been one of the big scandals in our national history during those years. All the same Per Albin Hansson will mostly be remembered as a Father of the Nation and a society builder. The other Prime Ministers I’ve mentioned are equally important and must be given credit for their work in a tricky and sometimes nasty world. In many respects they were in a way ordinary every-day heroes, despite their shortcomings and frailties.

Anders Moberg, February the 17th 2013


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