As Europe is preparing for the European Parliament elections, soL news talked with Andreas Sörensen, the General Secretary and Chairman of the International Relations of the Communist Party of Sweden (SKP).
Sörensen answered our questions regarding many issues, including their stance towards the EU, the intra-EU contradictions, Greta Thungberg, the young Swedish activist who became famous for her protests about the need for immediate action to combat climate change outside the Swedish parliament and the immigration of Turkish people to Scandinavia.
What are your thoughts on the historical purpose, function, and contemporary position of the European Union (EU)?
The historical purpose of the European Union (EU) is threefold; first, to combat Socialism. To coordinate the attacks of European capital on the socialist countries and to enhance the pressure on the socialist block. Another purpose is to coordinate the attack of European capital on the working people of the European countries. For example, today they coordinate their attack on the right to strike in France, in Belgium, in Greece and in Sweden. Everywhere the same tendency is clear.
What do Swedish people think of the French demonstrations?
I think most people are unaffected, but within the left, there is a tendency to view them as role models. Some people say that we need yellow vests in Sweden, but we are hesitant. The movement has a lot of tendencies and we are not prepared to support them unconditionally.
Okay, we can continue then.
The last function and purpose of the EU is to coordinate the European capital in the competition against the other imperialist centers around the world and this has shifted since the restoration of imperialism in Russia and China. These have been added to the competitors of European capital. This is very important for the Swedish capital because the Swedish capital is really big in relation to the country. We are ten million but we have very strong capitalism and very strong imperialist class and they cannot expand on their own. They need to expand together with others, for example, the German capital. So what we can see from the Swedish point of view is that the EU has helped Swedish capital to expand in Eastern Europe, for example in the Baltic countries. Swedish capital and Swedish banks dominate the economic life of these countries, and they play an important role in Ukraine, and to some extent in Russia. So the participation of Sweden within the EU has allowed it to carve out a small share for itself, while German and French capital has gained the most from the expansion to Eastern Europe.
From your point of view, where does the EU stand within the dynamics of the global capitalist system?
What we can see is that the EU is trying to act more and more independently. We can see for example that they are establishing defense funds to help European weapon companies to expand their businesses and operations at the expense of American companies. We can also see that there are differences in opinion between European capital and American capital on the role of Russia and on whether sanctions are needed. So we can see that the EU is trying to take a more independent stance and this will become clearer. Another example of the independent actions of the EU can be seen in relation to Iran, where the American government and the EU take different positions, as well as the relation to China. Differences are erupting.
What do you think about the future of the EU in this position?
I think that the EU will try to function more and more as an independent center and this means that the countries like Sweden need to choose – Swedish capital needs to choose. Because right now we are developing tight relations with NATO as well as EU and, in the long run, this is not possible because the interests of the two unions will clash. I think this will become more clear as time passes.
Some claim that we are at a critical junction in the history of the EU, with economic and political crises concentrating in the region, and the core of the EU supposedly cracking. The Brexit crisis is commonly associated with this rupture. Is the EU losing its standing? How do you interpret these developments?
We have analyzed Brexit as a contradiction within the Brexit ruling class, where some monopoly groups wanted to leave and some wanted to stay within the EU. Some has seen their profitability ‘decline’ as a result of the competition, for example, British companies or monopoly groups within the EU and they do not gain from the membership.
From a communist point of view, the risk with exits like this is that illusions are created concerning the role of a given country without the EU. That means if we say that an exit is positive, we say that it will be better outside of the EU, which it won’t. The Swedish capitalists will be subjected to the same pressure to attack the working class in its own country within the EU just as without the EU, an exit will not change the international dynamics of capitalism.
What we say is that an exit from the EU with socialism, because it is the only way not to create illusions in the working class concerning capitalism and the EU.
What we also have to remember is that Brexit in itself does not automatically weaken the EU. Great Britain was always an American foot within the EU, and as such, it stopped the efforts of Germany and France to centralize and concentrate power within the EU and we can see that as a result of the Brexit the concentration process of power within the EU started. Directly after Brexit, we saw the consolidation of the military forces of the different EU nations in PESCO (Permanent Structured Cooperation in Defense) – a military cooperation. We can see that other steps are being taken to consolidate the power within the EU. So Great Britain within the EU was always a weak link of the EU.
So while Brexit means that the EU loses one country, it at the same time means that the union can strengthen itself as well. This process has several aspects to keep track of.
So is the EU losing its standing? I don’t think so. I think it is starting to gain in standing, it is starting to take a more independent role within international capitalism-imperialism and it has been possible to take this step partly because of Brexit. So we interpret these developments as the EU getting stronger and taking a more aggressive stance within the world imperialist system.
Could you tell us more regarding the conduct of the Communist Party of Sweden in the upcoming European Parliament elections? More specifically: a) This is the first time a communist party from Sweden is joining these elections, what were the drivers for this decision? b) As the communist party of a European Union member country, which is fundamentally opposed to the EU as an organization, and yet entering the parliamentary elections, you must have had certain hardships in getting your message through to the public. You call upon the people to join the struggle for communism rather than the EU, but will de facto be asking for their votes in an EU election. How do you deal with the need for a finer ideological elaboration and delicacy in expression, in your day-to-day politics?
This is the first time a communist party in Sweden is joining these elections. Sweden entered the EU in the middle of the 90s and since then it has been a policy of communist parties in Sweden to boycott the elections. This has partly to do with strength. Last year, we had an election campaign for our National Parliament, and we also decided to participate in the EU elections. This means we are participating in two elections within one year and we have ambitious campaigns in relation to our size. Previously, we have not been able to do this. We have been too weak. But now we have strengthened our organization. Today, we had the first independent demonstration in years. We are taking steps forward.
And it was a pleasure for us also to be participating as a communist party of Turkey.
First, you are always invited. I’m sending the invitation. At the same time, we have updated our analysis, we have gone back to the classics, we have studied Lenin, we have studied “Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder and we have studied the participation of the other parties in bourgeois elections. After doing this, we have come to the conclusion that we need to take the political struggle everywhere. We cannot lean back and say “no, this election is not for us”.
We have also reached the conclusion that it would be dangerous for us not to participate. If we participate in the elections to the National Parliament, as we did, but we say that we will boycott the European elections because they are undemocratic, that the EU is an imperialist organization and so on, we will automatically say that Sweden is a democracy and that Sweden is not an imperialist country, because we participated in the national elections. Had we done this, we would have helped spread illusions about Swedish capitalism. We have to say that Sweden is an imperialist nation and that the system is undemocratic. Sweden is not democratic, Sweden is an imperialist country. The EU is an imperialist union and it is undemocratic.
But we participate anyways because we use these campaigns to come into contact with people to broaden the base of support of the party, to make the party known. Because, before the last elections, in September 20/18, only 8% of the people in Sweden knew that there was an alternative to the left of the Left Party. No one knew about us. So, because of the fact that few people know about us, it is very important for us just to get our initials – SKP – into the minds of people. That is one of the reasons.
Also, people react positively to our slogans. We say no to the EU. A lot of people are against the EU. And this is not a contradiction to participate in the elections. For example, the Sweden Democrats participated in the elections in 2014 with a campaign against the EU (obviously, from a right-wing perspective), and they still received almost 10 percent of the vote. This time, they are projected to receive almost 20 percent, although they have softened their attacks on the EU.
Sometimes people ask us how we can be against the EU, while at the same time participate in the elections. This is easy to explain. We are against the national parliament as well, but we participate to get our message out, for people to see us. People understand this. This is logical. We can explain this and from a logical point of view make people familiar with basic Leninism. In this way, people get to know the logic behind the communist party and they see that we are not the party of contradictions. We are very clear in our aim and in our practice. So, if people react to this, and ask us these questions, we can explain to them because it is a very logical decision.
So how do Sweden Democrats defend their ideas? And why are they involved in the EU?
They say that the EU is limiting the national sovereignty of Sweden. We say this is false because the EU is an imperialist union and membership in an imperialist union does not negate the national sovereignty of the Swedish nation. The imperialist class in Sweden is in power, within the nation. They have used the sovereignty of Sweden to enter into this union. They need the union and benefit from it, which is why this is not a question of leaving the EU to reassert national sovereignty. This is a struggle for socialism. We need to struggle for the self-government of the working class within the nation. That is our main issue, and we maintain that it is an issue of class, not of the nation. We have emphasized this in our national campaign because there are a lot of nationalist prejudices.
Where do you stand regarding the debates around global warming and the culture of “activism”? How critical is the situation in your opinion? Is “activism” a substitute for the communist political struggle? Can people be organized to the communist struggle through an environmental agenda? How do you evaluate the government policies and the reactions from the public in Scandinavia / Sweden? Where does the SKP stand regarding the recent popular movement, calling for the protection of the environment and natural life, spearheaded by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg? We observe a surge in the population of youth joining in, what are your plans to communicate with these groups? Are you targeting this population for recruitment activities and political organization?
I think that the culture of activism around environmental issues shows that people participating here, they have their hearts in the right place. They want a better world. They want a world where everyone can live, but as long as this anxiety, this fear, and this criticism don’t attack the system, it is useless, unfortunately. That is why capital wants to keep these protests within the limits of capitalism.
At the same time, the environmental movement can be very radical. They can be very critical but lack of a view of the system. They lack an anti-capitalist viewpoint, which limits them and in the end, makes them tools for the capitalists to use. We have analyzed this in a Swedish context. We have a green party which was able to attract around 5 percent of the votes. They are a result of the environmental movement during the 80s, which was very radical and a lot of radical people, communists and socialists participated in it. From this movement, the Green Party was formed. The formation of the Green Party was a way in which they could keep the environmental movement within the confines of capitalism. It serves the same function as the Left Party, but it serves the function of preserving capitalism by attracting environmental activists whereas the Left Party serves the same function when they attract the discontent workers and so on. That is our analysis of the environmental movement and the Green Party.
And I’m convinced; the people can be organized in the communist struggle through the environmental agenda because it is logical. The problem that the environment faces is the capitalist system. The anarchy in production and the constant struggle for more profit is incompatible with an environmentally friendly policy. The only possibility we have is saving the planet is through a centrally planned economy, which can guarantee an environmentally friendly production.
So as you know millions of people talk about Greta, the 16-year-old girl. As a representative of the Communist Party of Sweden, what do you think about her? How did she affect the environmental political discussions in Sweden or in Europe?
Spontaneously, I would say that Greta Thunberg is more popular outside of Sweden than here.
I realized this, that is why I would like to open this issue also.
So, I think she has had a greater effect in Belgium, for example, where there were massive demonstrations of youths and pupils. This did not occur in Sweden. There were a couple of people gathering on squares, distributing leaflets, but she did not start a mass movement in Sweden. I don’t think it has affected people in general as well, because people, they know that the environment is being damaged every day. They know this; everyone knows this. But they do not connect it with capitalism. And in this sense, Greta Thunberg has not helped to connect the damage to the environment to capitalism, and that is why I don’t think she has mattered that much to how people feel. I think, for example, in Belgium where tens of thousands of students were out of the streets, she has had a bigger influence. Why that is, I cannot say for Belgium.
The European Communist Initiative, of which you are also a member, sees this phase as an opportunity to communicate their anti-imperialist agenda with the peoples of Europe more clearly, as well as to strengthen the anti-European Union movement. What are your thoughts on the importance of international solidarity before, during, and after the parliamentary elections?
What are the most important aspects of the joint struggle, and what role do you assume within this collaboration?
For us, international solidarity between communist parties is essential. It means we can help each other with our analyses, discussions and ideological understanding of the world. We learn how imperialism works and the different forms it takes in other countries and different parts of the world.
Because capitalism is a global system, it is important for us to show that our struggle is international as well. We are facing the same problems in Sweden that people are facing in France, in Greece or in Turkey. Regardless of whether they are inside or outside of the EU. International capitalism develops and it puts the same kind of pressure on the Turkish capitalists, Greek capitalists, French capitalists or Swedish capitalists.
It is also important to point out that the capitalists co-operate, through the EU to take one example. They are united (even though their unity is temporary) in their struggle against the international working class. The revolutionary communists need to be united as well, across our national barriers. Strong international bonds between the parties and strong bonds between our parties and the workers are essential.
The Communist Initiative has helped us clarify a lot of things. It has helped us, insofar as we have not had to do all the analyses ourselves. We are a small party and do not have the capacity for that. Instead, we can use the analyses of other parties to strengthen our own party.
For a large number of well-educated people from Turkey, European (and more specifically Scandinavian) countries continue to have a tremendous appeal. These countries are viewed as a center for “democracy” and “freedoms”, as well as an opportunity to pursue higher academic/professional goals. What are your thoughts on these views and the increased (attempts at) immigration, especially from people of higher educational backgrounds?
It is important for us to help dispel the illusions about the so-called “socialism” of Scandinavia or the Scandinavian model and/or the Swedish model. At the same time, it is also important for us to see struggles in other countries as an inspiration for ourselves.
What we have to see is that this model that was developed in Sweden corresponded to the needs of capital as well, not only to the needs of people. We have a lot of big housing complexes, as in any industrialized country. Swedish capitalism benefitted from the building of these housing complexes, insofar as they concentrated the workforce into the cities, where they could also locate industries and other big workplaces.
The same thing happened with the schools. In 1962, the Swedish school system was made unitary, which allowed the working class access to the educational system. This was not done because of the good-will of the capitalists, but because the productive forces needed an educated workforce to handle them. So, an important aspect that we find in the Swedish model is the need for capital to push through certain reforms.
At the same time, the working class had been highly organized. During the ’30s, the Swedish working class organized the most strikes in the world per capita. After the Second World War, the Social Democrats asserted their dominance within the working class movement and eventually disorganized it. However, before it was disorganized, it was able to assert pressure on the capitalists, forcing them to make a concession. This is another important aspect of the creation of the Swedish model.
It is a dialectical process and we need to recognize both sides. However, this is not needed in the same way anymore. This is why the capitalists are attacking it. Firstly, there are no radicals in Sweden protesting the development, and the few that exist have not succeeded in agitating the masses of workers. That means that there is no organized radical working class that can fight for betterment, which in turn means that the capitalists have an open field, so to speak. They can attack to working class without any resistance, they can lower the wages, they can worsen the working conditions, they can raise the rents and so on.
Regarding your comment, can we say that social democracy is changing its historical role?
I think it depends on how we interpret the role of social democracy. Because we can say that, in general, the main mission of social democracy is to preserve capitalism by binding the working class to capitalism. It makes the workers passive. In this sense, it has not changed because it was the same in the 20s and 30s when they took an active anti-communist stance and actively compromised with the bourgeoisie. In World War Two, they continued to compromise and neutralize the working class and today they prepare big attacks on the workers, while at the same time it makes them passive. So the role of social democracy has not changed even though the form of social democracy may have changed. For example, Syriza replaced Pasok in Greece and in Sweden, social democracy will eventually be replaced with something else.
What are your thoughts on the imperialist aggression demonstrated today by Sweden as a supposedly peaceful Scandinavian country? How do you fight against the government’s semi-disguised sale of weapons, war-profiteering from conflict zones, etc.?
As my comrade mentioned in the speech earlier, Sweden is one of the top exporters of weapon in the world. We have weapons of a very high standard, which are very effective. We sell them to whichever nation we want, even though we have some theoretical limitations. For example, our Prime Minister Stefan Löfven made a trip to Saudi Arabia a couple of years ago, which was heavily criticized. He was there in order to smoothen the sale of weapons from Sweden to Saudi Arabia. At the same time, his government called itself feminist, illustrating the double standards they employ and the difference in rhetoric and action. They called themselves feminist but sold weapons to one of the most repressive and misogynist dictatorship in the world.
At the same time as they are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia, which they use in Yemen they also try to make peace between them.
I think Swedish politicians and Swedish capitalism have a need to maintain a facade and an illusion. That is why the rhetoric of the government and politicians has to be discussed separately from their actions. For example, they say they are for peace but they are destroying that peace by selling weapons.
They say we are a neutral country, we have 200 years of neutrality, but we have participated in the occupation of Afghanistan. How are we neutral? During the cold war, we cooperated with NATO and established anti-communist fighting groups consisting of former Nazis which are underground and they waited to be activated for the case if communism ever became a threat. How are we neutral? We cooperated with Great Britain against the Soviet Union when they sailed through our Swedish territorial waters with a submarine and we gave all the information to the MI6. We are not neutral. This is a facade that they are trying to maintain. They need to maintain this illusion.
They maintain this illusion also in regards to EU elections, they say we need to strengthen the rights of the workers. This is their slogan for the EU elections but what they do in reality? On the first of May, they were demonstrating with this slogan and on the second of May they were handing in a proposal to limit the right to strike. They are mocking people when they say that they want to protect working people. They say this without blinking. If you look up the word opportunist you will have a picture of them. This same thing is repeated in everything they do. If you trust their rhetoric they will sound really good. We need workers protection, we need equality, we need everything but what they do is the opposite of what they say. They function against the working class, they function within capitalism and they maintain the illusion for the working class in capitalism.
As a political heritage of Soviet socialism, the “social/welfare state” has been in practice in some European countries for many decades. However, with the USSR gone, the social government paradigm does not meet the needs of international capitalism anymore and is under attack. What are your thoughts on this transformation?
As I explained earlier the social welfare state was created by two dynamics. An organized radical working class and the needs of capital to concentrate the working class in certain areas. But it is also important to be clear that the existence of Soviet socialism on the other side of the Baltic sea had a great impact.
You can say that at every table of negotiation between unions and capitalists there was a Soviet delegate present, fictional. They were always there. The capitalists always had to calculate because of the Soviet Union. Because if they push too hard, the working class became radicalized and would have turned to socialism as a real alternative. This could not be allowed to happen. In Germany for example, they say in every negotiation there was a representative of the German Democratic Republic because they always had to adapt to existing socialism.
With the Soviet Union gone, they are pressing forward. The pressure on the working class, on the people of Sweden, become more and more difficult. For example, our school system has been reformed thoroughly since the 90s. They have decentralized, they have opened up to private initiatives which are funded by the government and for the working class, it is a collapse. And, for example, the existence of work centers have been increased which are used to lower the wages of the workers and they adapt to the needs of capital for flexible workers.