Swedish social democracy from a strong society to a third way

Social policy is not a cost, but a productive investment, wrote the Swedish social democratic economist Gunnar Myrdal in 1932, the year the Swedish social democrats (SAP) gained electoral power. This notion of social policy as a productive investment and a prerequisite for economic growth became a core feature in the ideology of Swedish social democracy, and a central component of the universalism of the Swedish welfare state. However, as the SAP embarked on its Third Way in 1981, this outlook on social policy as a productive investment was replaced by the identification of social policy as a cost and a burden for growth. This book discusses the components of this ideological turnaround from Swedish social democracy's post war notion of a strong society, to its notion of a Third Way in the early 1980s. It contributes to the history of Swedish social democracy and recent developments in the Swedish welfare state, and also sheds light on contemporary social policy debates.

This chapter considers changes in the discourse surrounding social policy in the 1970s. Beneath the grandeur of the Swedish Social Democratic party's (SAP) discussion of individual welfare and security as the guiding stars of the Labour movement's 1970s policies and the expansion of social rights that this meant in a wide range of areas, it is possible to see a gradually emerging language around welfare reform that was distinct from the SAP's historic articulations. This language focused on the separation between productive and non-productive elements in the economy. Where 1930s discourse emphasised the links between the activities for the reproduction of labour taking place in the public sector and production in industry, 1970s economic discourse gave a clear priority to the latter. The public sector was consumption, not production, and in a world of shrinking resources, production had to come first. This same dichotomy was applied to the social sphere. Where the functional socialism of the 1930s set in place a worldview that stressed the interdependencies between work and need over the life cycle, the social democratic ideology 1970s of the spoke of the productive and the unproductive as two fundamentally different groups in society, where one was a burden on the other. The notion of ‘cost’ came to incorporate a significant opening in this process of rearticulation. The formulation of ‘cost’ in the late 1960s as the social cost for growth and production, was replaced in the course of the 1970s by a notion of ‘cost’ that identified the costs of social policy as costs that must be paid for with more production and growth.

in Between growth and security
Social policy in the strong society

This chapter describes the ideology of the strong society as a social democratic worldview, where economic and social advances drew on each other, and where the expansion of security was inextricably related to industrial expansion. Growth, under the control of democratic socialism, was identified as the primary means for social development and increased security, and as a means that would, in the near future, overcome the evils of capitalism and spread affluence to all groups in society. Security, on the other hand, was articulated as a precondition for a productive economy—the lubricant of the process of modernisation towards the advanced industrial economy. To this extent, the strong society was a coherent worldview, where economic expansion and individual security coexisted in utter harmony. Its commitment to progress in the form of a highly productive economy was based on this faith in a balanced development. This, then, was a notion of progress that saw change as a fundamentally unproblematic process. The role of politics within this framing was to steer change towards the fulfilment of individual and public good. However, the strong society was also an inherently economistic ideology, one in which social goals seemed to derive their meaning from the economic.

in Between growth and security

This chapter discusses the changes in the 1970s as a gradual emergence of a new ideology in reaction to the critique of the late 1960s. This can be discussed in terms of an ideological crisis of social democracy. This crisis was directly related to the changed standing of the concept of growth in social democratic ideology. The rearticulation of growth from a solution to social problems to being the problem itself created profound tensions in the strong society's worldview. Chapter 3 discussed social democracy's initial reaction to the critique of the late 1960s, which was to retain and defend the strong society's framings and particularly the standing of growth in party ideology. But in the transition between the 1960s and 1970s, a gradual process began where the Swedish Social Democratic party's (SAP) defensive position and ambivalent reactions to the critique were replaced by ideological rearticulation and eventually with a break with the strong society's framings. In this process, the SAP incorporated the metaphors and definitions of the problem of social exclusion that had been put forward in critiques of party ideology in the late 1960s.

in Between growth and security

This chapter deals with the period spanning the late 1960s and early 1970s as a period of critique in which the relationship between social reality and social democratic ideology was fundamentally questioned. This debate of the late 1960s was a major break with the relative consensus around social policy in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and social policy, particularly the policies directed at groups within social welfare and social services, became a core ideological issue for the Swedish Social Democratic party (SAP).

in Between growth and security
Abstract only

This chapter presents some concluding thoughts from the author. It suggests that a central point of change in Swedish social democratic thought is the gradual acceptance in party ideology of a group in Swedish society that is not productive and that constantly falls behind. The empirical observation of the existence of such a group, as happened in the 1960s, and the rhetorical construction of it in a political discourse drawing on descriptions such as ‘weak’, ‘handicapped’, and ‘those who can't cope’, are of course two interrelated things. The emergence of this group—and the gradual acceptance of its existence in social democratic discourse—is a major challenge to the logic of productive universalism. A group that cannot be presumed to participate on the same terms as others is a burden on the solidarity of others, and the question then is how to create space within notions of solidarity for such differences.

in Between growth and security
Social policy in the third way

The articulation of a third way in the early 1980s seemed to mark almost a complete turnaround in the outlook on social policy from the point of view of Swedish social democracy. Once understood as a productive investment into growth, it was now spoken of in terms of a cost, that needed to be cut. Through the party's rereading of its main ideologue Wigforss, saving became an instrument for social reform, the fundamental means of safeguarding security in a time of economic trouble. To this extent, since the late 1960s, the third way became a culmination of the gradual slippages in the grass roots of party rhetoric. In third way ideology, growth decisively displaced security as the dominant element of party discourse, as the overarching ideological goal of the third way was the re-creation of economic efficiency. In this new ideology, security lost its strategic role for growth, and the party's social theory became a question of the adaptation of social objectives to growth. Freedom of choice, as a new element for individual security and emancipation, was a concept whose meaning came from the economic.

in Between growth and security
Abstract only

This introductory chapter sets out the focus of the book, namely the ideological turnaround and how the notion of the productive role of social policy has changed in the Swedish Social Democratic party's (SAP) economic and social policy discourse in the post-war period, from its ideology of the ‘strong society’ in the 1950s and 1960s, to the attempts to articulate an ideology around the notion of a third way in the early 1980s. The analysis focuses on the two key ideological concepts—‘security’ (trygghet) and ‘growth’ (tillväxt)—and how they are constructed and articulated in social democratic discourses on social policy over time, as ideological objectives in harmony or in deep conflict.

in Between growth and security

This chapter begins by tracing the development of Swedish social policy from the 1930s to the 1950s. It then details the rise of third way policies, which have introduced a turnaround in the power hierarchy between economic and social objectives. The place of the economy in social democratic ideology has shifted decisively, from a sphere of intervention in the name of the social good, to a sphere largely outside of the realm of politics and ideology, one that is governed by the logic of forces that are understood as outside of political control. This naturalisation of the economy has resulted in new discourses around social reform—discourses that have centred in on the needs of the market economy. The book's main argument is then presented, that Swedish third way policies can be interpreted as a major ideological turnaround, in which growth took priority over security and security lost its role for growth.

in Between growth and security
Reflections on the erosion of a paradigmatic case of social democracy

Swedish social democracy has long since lost its hegemonic position in domestic politics. Nevertheless, the situation since 2006 is itself relevant to our understanding of the way that social democracy's capacity of action in the present suffers from a series of historical mistakes that it has performed over time. The particular historical events addressed here is the restructuring process of the 1990s. This chapter argues that the consequences of these mistakes are today actively circumscribing social democracy's capacity for reformism on the strategic as well as on the ideological level. Social democrat policy makers in Sweden and elsewhere have, at least since the 1990s, have understood the market as a central vehicle for politics and for the active building of middle-class values and individual preferences. The institutional shifts in the Swedish welfare state have been accompanied by a massive shift in resources, and in some cases important speculative effects.

in European social democracy during the global economic crisis