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Lecture at EVERGREEN STATE COLLEGE, Olympia, WA - USA May 18, 1994

"Since Danish wage earners have divided into groups of different political attitudes, occupation and perceptions of life, it is difficult to see what common vision they would be able to come up with regarding the management of companies."

This is what three young social democrats have to say about their party's failed aspirations of the 1960's and 70's to bring about some sort of economic democracy. They do so in a recently published and much debated book, Velfærd i Vanskeligheder - Socialdemokratiet mellem autonomi og solidaritet (Welfare in Troubled Water - The Socialdemocratic Party between Autonomy and Solidarity), (Christensen; Mogensen & Thuesen, 1994).

The entire book is a tract whose aim it is to reorient the policy and the politics of the socialdemocratic party towards the increasing absorption of the Danish economy in the European Union. It should be noted that these three SD rookies are in a certain - and at times 180 degrees - opposition to the general party line.

Their book, however, has been considered by several reviewers - including some more centrally placed SD`s - as a frank statement of the direction in which the Socialdemocratic party more or less will have to move, lest it hand over too much of the initiative in Union matters to the center and rightist parties.

With the quotation above I have already hinted at the perception the three authors hold regarding the way in which problems in the workplace - between workers and management - can and should be solved. They are all for a peaceful settlement of labor-management disputes, workers having to behave themselves and take into due consideration the fact that a certain profit margin is necessary for companies to allow them accumulate and compete successfully in the global markets.

"A basic understanding exists today between employees and employers to the effect that the objective is to improve the competitive power of the individual company, rather than having the two parties fighting each other...
Besides improved wage- and working-conditions employees have no natural interests in common and no mutual political project."

This rather capitulatistic attitude towards the employee/employer relationship has - as might be expected - some very distinct consequences for the authors' opinions in other fields, such as unemployment, the Welfare state and the European Union.

As far as unemployment in the EU is concerned they find it necessary to strengthen the political ability of the Union to intervene effectively and in a concerted manner. At the national level, which they - with much justification - find of declining importance they advocate the use of a certain fraction of workers' pension funds to be used as venture capital in order to create marginal employment where Capital would not do it.

According to the authors the welfare state as we know it has outlived itself. It is, however, not quite clear how they envisage their suggested stabilization, consolidation and renewal of achieved welfare schemes.

"The welfare project has completed its historic task...We shall have to renovate its foundation, move some partitions and add on a few extra programs...But the solution is not a frontal attack on our way of production and societal system...
The welfare state must be renovated, but not basically changed...
The homogenizing welfare state has been left behind by a population who used the wealth, the social security, and the good educational system as instruments to take control over their own lives and, as a consequence, becoming still more different. This has led to a breaking of the backbone of that working class who traditionally has carried the Socialdemocratic party...
The party must still work for the protection of the weak in society. But socialism has lost its value as an overarching ideological lodestar...
The future for the SD party lies in a combination of the equality and the solidarity, which is the rationale behind the welfare state, with the demand for the citizens' right to decide over their own lives, their autonomy...
But autonomy also means that we shall have as much influence as possible on the communities we are part of. Co-determination in the local community, schools, old age homes and hospitals. Through boards of users, local councils, public hearings, the participation of citizens in the political decision making process must be strengthened."

I have quoted at length here, in order to render as clearly as possible the very ideologically laden language with which the three authors go about making their points. Even if theirs is not the official SD policy it is beyond doubt the most likely road to take for younger generations of socialdemocrats.

Given the above calls for more local (radical?) democracy, one would suspect the authors to favor a not so strong European Union. Quite to the contrary. And this is precisely where they are most at loggerheads with their party and its official line.

As a consequence of the Edinburgh-amendments to the Maastricht treaty, brought about through a "national compromise" involving 7 of the 8 parties in parliament (only the far right Progress party would have no part in it) the Socialdemocratic party has tied itself to a non-federal solution to the eventual development of the Union into a more tightly politically unified entity - at least until Danish voters in a new referendum - or several - have decided that that is what they want. A very unlikely situation.

Here our three authors come out with blazing standards in favor of a federal Europe. And not any federal Europe, but a socialdemocratic such:

"The principle of subsidiarity must be safeguarded and at the same time the political power of the EC to act must be strengthened..
Instead of a strange jumble of bilateral and supranational cooperation it will be appropriate to establish a federate structure - an EC Federal state." (146)

The authors envisage a constitution stating the division of power between a central government and the member-states. There will be an EU Court to decide in case of disagreement over the interpretation of the constitution.

A two-chamber system is called for. A First chamber where representation is according to proportional population size and a Second chamber with each member-state having the same number of representatives, pretty much like the US system.

But since the European states are so different in terms of social, political, economic and - not least - historical and cultural conditions, it is very difficult to see how such a federal Europe could take shape within a foreseeable future. And this is also where the resistance amongst the populations of Europe probably will be the strongest.

It should be noted as a not unimportant fact that in taking this stance vis-a-vis their party, the authors are actually siding with the political arch-enemy of the SD party at this time, namely the Liberal party and its charismatic leader, the former Foreign minister Uffe Ellemann-Jensen. He and his Liberal party (he is the chairman) are strong proponents for an immediate abandonment of the "national compromise" and the Edinburgh-amendments, something which none of the six other partners to the "national compromise" are willing to seriously consider only a year after the fact.

With these comments to and quotations from the book from three "rebel" socialdemocrats, I hope having been able to point to some of the problems which the SD party has with their policy towards the welfare state and the European Union. A clearcut conclusion, of course, is not permissible on such scattered evidence.

But it is a fact that the SD party is in deep trouble. Its membership is declining and between leading members of the party a growing disunity exists as to the future line of the party, a disunity which at times reaches into the fragile coalition government. The latter is going to be replaced by a new one, after elections before the end of the year.

Waiting in the wings we find a strongly pro-Union party, the Liberal party, with poll-ratings giving them a considerable gain in seats in parliament and a near majority together with the Conservative party alone, and a comfortable majority if the Progress party can be made partner to such a coalition.

The "alternative" socialdemocrats

However, the SD party is not alone in defending socialdemocratic values, the welfare state and Denmark's cautious integration in the Union. After having opposed the EC and its union aspirations for many years, the Socialist Peoples' party took the initiative which eventually led to the abovementioned "national compromise".

This means that the SP party now is obliged to engage in constructive and serious attempts to work out solutions to the various problems we face with the Union in a manner coming closest to the still socialist ideals of its program. This is not an easy task, and it has caused quite a stir in the party.

A few weeks ago, the chairman of the party, Holger K. Nielsen, published a book, Frihed i Fællesskab - Moderne socialisme (Freedom in Community - Modern Socialism". He writes the following regarding the development of the Union:

"Today it is not a central issue to create a federal Tower of Babel, but, to the contrary, to create the preconditions for civilized forms of cooperation in the entire continental Europe." (178)

The three main objectives for such a cooperation would be, according to H.K. Nielsen:
; economic help to the eastern European countries, so that none of them are left in the lurch.
; political regulation of the Internal market and abatement of unemployment.
; popularization and democratization of cooperation in Europe.

The Maastricht treaty is up for revision in 1996 at which time

"...it should be a demand that the role of the national parliaments should be strengthened. No EC-decision should pass unless the national parliaments of the individual countries have been involved." (185)

Here the chairman of SP departs from the ideas of the three SD's on the federal Union, and rightly so. I already mentioned that he and his party were the main driving forces behind the "national compromise" which led to the special arrangement for Denmark's membership, laid down in the Edinburgh-agreement.

The whole idea with this agreement was to avoid those parts of the Maastricht treaty which came closest to a federal construction: a Union citizenship; a single currency and an expanded monetary union; common foreign and defence policy; and finally transfer of sovereignty in judicial and police affairs. If any changes in the Danish position vis-a-vis the EU have to be made, new referendums are mandatory.

The problem with the "national compromise" and the Edinburgh-agreement is that the shifts taken place within the global capitalist economy makes it more and more difficult for Denmark to insist upon our separate status.

This is particularly a problem for left forces, which are few and weak. Outright resistance to the EU and its most likely course is only effected by the now two grassroots movements which resulted from the split in the original Peoples Movement against the EC: the June Movement (named after the referendum in June 1992 when Maastricht was rejected), and the remainder of the original movement which has now changed its name to something like The Peoples' Movement against EC and the Union. The latter is the organization where most of the "genuine" socialists and former communists are gathered.

The first is a mix of bourgeois, socialdemocratic and more or less socialist people out of which a new party, The Solidarity Party, is taking shape, most likely running in the fall elections for parliament.

The overall picture as far as left opposition to the European union is concerned is one of disintegration, disunity and very sparse support in the electorate. When it comes to the defense of the welfare state, the picture is less dark


But here, it seems, there is a general lack of realistic analyses of the consequences of the globalization of the capitalist economy; a lack which in most cases lead to naive assumptions as to what can be achieved in way of welfare, while still trying to hang on to the increasingly evasive economy.

It seems that leftist forces, not only in Denmark, tend to nurture very different pet ideas and strategies for how to combat - or more often - "civilize" the capitalist economy. Personally I have not been able to see any of such strategies as particularly promising, but of course this should not give cause for despair and loss of hope for a better future.

The determinists, the fundamentalists and the fatalists of our times are all those who think and believe that Capitalism is the final and highest economic achievement humankind will ever reach.


Christensen, Jacob; Mogensen, Peter; and Thuesen, Eskil ; Velfærd i vanskeligheder - Socialdemokratiet mellem autonomi og solidaritet ; Fremad:Copenhagen 1994

Nielsen, Holger K. ;Frihed i Fællesskab - Moderne socialisme ; Samleren:Copenhagen 1994

Material related to the issues, but not quoted:

Tiilikainen, Teija & Petersen, Ib Damgaard (Eds.) The Nordic countries and the EC ; Copenhagen Political Studies Press:Copenhagen 1993

Sassoon, Donald ; "Social Democracy and the Europe of Tomorrow" in: DISSENT, Winter 1994 pp. 94-101

Rothstein, B. ;"Marxism, Institutional Analysis and Working Class Strength. The Swedish Case" in: Politics and Society 18:317-345, 1990