Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 5, 2015

When the Swedish Social Democrats partnered with Nazi Germany in the name of neutrality

Filed under: Sweden — louisproyect @ 8:35 pm

Prime Minister Per-Albin Hansson: architect of the “Swedish model” and Hitler’s enabler

(This is the fifth in a series of articles on “the Swedish model”. Part one is here. It is an introduction that relates Swedish socialism to Bismarck’s reforms. Part two is here. It is about the persecution of the Samis. Part three is here. It deals with Sweden and the “scramble for Africa”. Part four took up the Myrdal enthusiasm for eugenics.)

For most people of Bernie Sander’s age, Sweden’s long-standing neutrality gave it an aura of progressivism during the Vietnam War when it lent itself to peace activism at the highest level of government. However, during WWII that policy had a much more malevolent effect insofar as it meant that the government would tilt toward Nazi Germany economically and militarily—this despite the fact that the Prime Minister Per-Albin Hansson was a Social Democrat.

In December 1939 Hansson called for a government of national unity that would include parties from all parts of the political spectrum except for the CP. He named a non-party career diplomat Christian Guenther as Foreign Minister to replace the Socialist Rickard Sandler, a move calculated to advance Sweden’s pragmatic view of neutrality.

To avoid war with Germany, a nation that had already conquered Denmark and Norway, Sweden took a very flexible attitude toward Nazi troop movements on its soil. On July 8, 1940 the two nations hammered out a deal that would prove useful to Nazi war plans. Around 30,000 Nazi soldiers would board Swedish trains each month as the same railway transported 1500 trainloads of Nazi armaments. Although the rank-and-file Socialist objected to this, the king and Christian Guenther pushed strongly for acceding to German demands. As will be noted in the film clip below, Per-Albin Hansson was much more persuaded by these two men than he was by the ordinary Swede.

On June 26, 1941, the day that Finland entered the war against the USSR, Sweden gave the green light to a trainload of 15,000 Nazi soldiers to head East on behalf of Operation Barbarossa. Between June 22nd and November 1 of the same year Swedish trains carried 75,000 tons of German war material to head in the same direction. As the trains came back from the front, they carried wounded Nazi soldiers to occupied Norway where they were treated in Oslo hospitals until they were ready to return to the killing fields. Swedish authorities also set up base camps for the Wehrmacht fully supplied with food, oil and other necessities. And all the while German warplanes flew over Swedish air space en route to Russia. Sweden was also nice enough to sell or lease more than a thousand trucks to Germany just to make sure that the invasion of Russia would not go haywire.

It was only when Germany began to suffer a serious setback in Russia and when the allies escalated their pressure on Hansson that Sweden finally began to deny German requests to transport men and material on its railway system. One can easily imagine that if Germany had accomplished its goals in Russia, the government of national unity led by a politician who was considered the architect of the “Swedish model” might have kept up its de facto support of Nazi Germany’s genocidal war.

A large part of Sweden’s implicit support for Nazi war aims can be explained as old-fashioned profiteering after the fashion of Swiss banks, another bastion of WWII neutrality. It was fairly incontrovertible that Swedish iron ore was crucial for the German war industry, as this table would indicate:

Year Millon Tons
1933 2.3
1937 9.1
1942 9.0
1943 10.1

In November 1934 Hitler admitted that without Swedish iron ore, Germany would not be able to make war. Meanwhile, a balance of trade was maintained to some extent by Sweden’s willingness to buy German coke and coal, as well as German weapons that by all accounts were very cost-efficient. Just ask the people of Leningrad. It should be added that a large part of Germany’s payments for Swedish iron ore and ball-bearings (another important component of the war machine) was made with gold that by all accounts consisted to a large degree of loot stolen from Belgium, the Netherlands and Jewish families and then melted down to avoid detection. But then again, if the gold was being used to pay for socialized medicine in Stockholm, who could complain?

Christian Leitz, the author of “Nazi Germany and Neutral Europe During WWII from which the data in this article derives had this to say about Per-Albin Hansson:

In view of continued Swedish supplies to the Third Reich it is not surprising that relations between Sweden and the Allies ‘remained characterized for the rest of the war by suspicion and anger on the part of the Allies and nervousness over post-war trade prospects among the Swedes’. Although, by 1944, Germany was evidently losing the war, Sweden continued to make a vital contribution to the German war effort. In September 1944 Churchill brought the attitude of the Swedes to a point when he accused them of ‘calculated selfishness, which has distinguished them in both wars against Germany’. Why did the Swedish government not respond more readily to the growing Allied pressure?

One important reason was that, even during the second half of the war, the Swedish government and an overwhelmingly pro-Allied Swedish public accepted trade with Germany as a national right under international law.”‘ During the course of 1944, this line of argument rang increasingly hollow in the light of growing evidence about the horrifying nature of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany. Leading members of the Swedish government continued to believe, however, in the need to retain normal relations with the Nazi regime. Historians have highlighted particularly the attitude of the leader of Sweden’s government, Per Albin Hansson. According to Alf Johansson, a leading Swedish authority on wartime Sweden, Hansson continued to believe in the threat of a German invasion long after it had ceased to be a realistic possibility. Moreover, Johansson argues, ‘Hansson’s role during the last years of the war was to act as a brake on all attempts towards an activism of Swedish policy in one direction or the other.’ Essentially, Hansson seems to have wanted to sit out the war without having to make any radical changes in the course of Sweden’s policy of neutrality. In this undertaking Hansson was very willingly supported by his foreign minister, Gunther. On the basis of observations made by various of Giinther’s fellow officials, Levine has concluded that Gunther’s policies were quite pro-German even in the later stages of the war.

* * * *

Last October I reviewed a film called “The Last Sentence” for CounterPunch that was a biopic of the later years of Torgny Segerstedt, a Swedish newspaper editor who blasted Hitler repeatedly much to the chagrin of Per-Albin Hansson, his foreign minister Christian Guenther, and King Gustav.

I watched it again yesterday (available on Vimeo or Amazon streaming) and got much more out of it this go-round. Using the ability of the latest version of Quicktime on my spanking new Macbook, I have used its screen capturing abilities to excerpt four key moments of the film (I am still trying to get the audio kinks worked out as will be obvious):

  1. Over drinks, Albin warns Segerstedt to quiet down his anti-Nazi editorials.
  2. King Gustav reads Segerstedt the riot act.
  3. Segerstedt confronts Marcus Wallenberg, a member of the banking dynasty best known for the efforts of his nephew Raul Wallenberg to save the lives of Hungarian Jews.
  4. Segerstedt confronts Christian Guenther in the men’s room of Swedish government offices.


  1. It is a fact that the ideas convoluted with national socialism and fascism was indeed present in the student bodies in both Sweden and Germany and troughout Europe. It is long known that the major success of the nazi party in germany started among Students that in itself already rested on (decades old) the aforementioned anti democratic and antisemitic student movement. The “reactionary” in fact anti Anti-Parliamentarian university student base in Sweden had 31 700 members in 1930. This disparate demographic is then spread throughout the swedish establishment. This base of “civil servants” (ämbetsmannakrati) permeates the base of swedish decisionmakers and indeed SAP.But of course the big factor is the swedish industrialist who had very well funded interests with their german counterparts, which is true of all eruopean industrialists and of course the powerful private banking sector. The Segerstedth affair is just a small “public” power struggle, the big push was formed against SAP to ensure the support to the industrial base. Also our “governments” has had long ties with the colonial “white” cultural paradigm that was an essential part of the propaganda that came from Italy and Germany. This historical “struggle” is very much at the fore front of what drives the swedish political scene to this day.

    Comment by Syntagma squared — August 8, 2015 @ 6:09 pm

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  6. Very interesting,

    Could you please provide supporting evidence for this claim Syntagma: “The “reactionary” in fact anti Anti-Parliamentarian university student base in Sweden had 31 700 members in 1930”?

    Comment by Aron Flam — October 11, 2017 @ 9:59 pm

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