Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 19, 2015

Swedish Social Democracy and the Gotha Programme

Filed under: Sweden — louisproyect @ 8:34 pm

August Palm, father of Swedish Social Democracy

In my very first post on Swedish Social Democracy, I stated that it was closely related in spirit to the Lassalle wing of the German Social Democracy that Marx and Engels viewed as adapting to Bismarck’s welfare state reforms, which turned out to be a velvet glove concealing an iron fist. It turns out I was on the right track.

From Herbert Tingsten’s “The Swedish Social Democrats”

A document that [August] Palm published in his newspaper The Peoples Will (Folkviljan) in November 1882 is often characterized as the first Swedish social democratic program. It was said to have been adopted by a small organization known as “The Swedish Social Democratic Workers’ Federation,” which Palm had founded in Maimo. In reality, the program was an almost uniform translation of the Danish Gimle Program adopted in 1876, which was, in turn, derived from the German Gotha Program of 1875. Palm’s translation was poor, in some instances inaccurate; the various details in its formulation cannot be interpreted as expressions of specific ideas. This summary will not consider words or phrases that are obviously products of ignorance or misunderstanding.

The following sentence introduced the program: “Labor is the true source of all wealth and culture, and all the returns thereof should accrue to him who performs the labor.” The tools of labor are the monopoly of capitalists; the surplus produced by labor should revert to the workers. Salaried labor should be abolished. Production unions should be established through state subsidies to lay the groundwork for the solution of The Social Question. These unions should be so organized “that the socialist organization can develop through collective work.” The program set up a series of demands that were to be implemented even “under the present capitalist rule”: progressive inheritance taxes, abolition of indirect taxation, which weighed heavily upon the masses, abrogation of the ordinance regarding the treatment of vagrants and the defenseless, the establishment of a standard working day, prohibition of the use of child labor in factories, which jeopardized the children’s health, regulation of sanitary standards in workers’ housing, factories, and other places of work, the workers’ right to administer “without government intervention” funds for sickness and relief benefits, state care for the ailing, the aged, and for those disabled through accidents at place of work. In the autumn of 1885 the Social Democratic Union in Stockholm worked.


  1. It’s true that there was a Lassallean connection to Swedish Social Democracy in the 1870-1890 period because of August Palm. Palm had come from Denmark and maybe northern Germany back to his native Sweden, and so his background was Lassallean. But in truth Palm should best be described as a semi-anarchist Marxist as his lifelong views showed on many topics ranging from the Swedish SD anti-alcohol criminalization and his skepticism or criticism of Lenin’s government.

    Second, Palm himself, along with Lassalleanism (at least as an openly recognized ideology) became marginalized starting no later than the 1890 period as the majority of the Swedish SDs became Reformist in the model of Edward Bernstein. The Swedish SDs should really be seen as Bernsteinien therefore, rather than Lassallean in the 1890-1930 period. At some point the “official” Swedish SD policies became in practice what we consider standard for European SD parties in general today, a mix of liberal capitalism with some minor or marginalized revolutionary socialist elements or membership. I am not sure whether the Swedish SDs ever totally and officially rejected a belief in an eventual ideal socialist system.

    Third, Lassalleanism and Marxism in some ways are reconciliable, particularly in their economic understanding of capitalism. What happened is that Marx originally proposed a kind of iron law of wages and Lassalleanism took that up in accordance with Marx. But later on Marx changed his position as he implicitly recognized himself when he criticized Lassalle for holding on to earlier, outdated economic thinking. This is getting into the finer points of economic theory, but Marx’s original idea was not necessarily wrong if one thinks it through very carefully and flexibly.

    One might trace the origins of Marxist sectarianism back to Marx himself because of his conflicts with Bakunin, Bernstein, and Lassalle. It was unfortunate if those split the movement unnecessarily. Of course, taken to extremes, each of those three ideologies/trends does totally conflict with Marxism.

    Comment by Raccko (@racckoff) — August 22, 2015 @ 7:47 pm

  2. Yes, your comments are accurate. I have now read about 300 pages of Tingsten and will supply the particulars in a couple of days.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 22, 2015 @ 8:14 pm

  3. I Would take what Tingsten the pro US and Israel liberal.. writes about the history of SAP, with a huge pinch of salt.

    Comment by Syntagma squared — August 25, 2015 @ 6:21 pm

  4. Tingsten’s book was written in 1941, a few years before the state of Israel was created. Maybe you were thinking of Bruno Tungsten who used to wear a lavender corduroy suit and smoke a meerschaum pipe?

    Comment by louisproyect — August 26, 2015 @ 12:03 am

  5. You have no clue what your talking about. Tingsten was also an avid NATOist from the beginning and was part (among the very upper echelon of sweden’s cultural elite) and of the Congress for Cultural Freedom and an integral part of the cold war propaganda wave, that has swept over Sweden. Did you think he was an Leftist Scholar in 1941? Please your attempt at “humour” is ill placed. Tingsten also never switched “sides” since he was always a liberal, and was on top of all that an apologist of, and admirer of Nuclear Weapons.

    Comment by Syntagma squared — August 26, 2015 @ 12:45 am

  6. Do you have any fucking idea what Tingsten wrote in the book I cited? If not, shut the fuck up.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 26, 2015 @ 1:59 am

  7. You resort to ad hominem, that says a lot about you as a person and nothing else so you might as well follow you own advice.. Did you seriously try to portray Palm as furthering “a hidden iron fist” in Sweden, like a bad swedish copy of Bismarck? That is not was Tingstes says at all. and then have not even began to discuss the critiuqe by Palm, Danielsson and Wermelin, against the Gotha program.

    Comment by Syntagma squared — August 26, 2015 @ 5:50 pm

  8. Have I said word one about Palme? I am trying to explain how Swedish Social Democracy abandoned Marxism. Tingsten’s book is a massive record of that evolution. Tingsten in fact wrote the book when he was in the left wing of the Social Democracy. He only became a rightwinger later on.

    Comment by louisproyect — August 26, 2015 @ 5:52 pm

  9. Swedish Social Democracy as a political party was standard Marxist until somewhere in the 1890-1900 period. August Palm was a mixed Lassallean / Anarchist revolutionary SD, but then Branting took over and set it on a Reformist track in the mold of Edward Bernstein. Branting himself probably evolved in that direction over time. Certainly by the time of the Bolshevik Revolution the Swedish SDs had already taken a Reformist / Menshevik style course, although I am not certain when they became “Bernsteinien”. But the Reformer / Revolutionary split was already about the 1886-1900 period. I would have to review my research.

    Comment by Raccko (@racckoff) — August 28, 2015 @ 6:35 am

  10. The unique thing about the Swedish SDs is that they were one of the later European parties to be introduced to Marxism. Before about 1882 Marxism and the SDs were basically absent from Sweden. So most of the era that you read about with the standard Marxist mass movements of the pre-Bernstein era were really over or ending by the time it got to Sweden. I am talking about the Paris Commune, the Rheinische Zeitung, etc. Engels was an old man by the time it got to Sweden. Granted, something similar might be said about the Russian Marxists. But anyway, it meant that you didn’t have the same period in Sweden where the mainstream of the SDs were still revolutionary like in Marx’s era. The currents were already more reformist by the time they got to Sweden.

    August Palm was really much more of a regular working class hero. He was not a deep thinker and philosopher like Lenin, Trotsky, Lassalle, Bakunin, or Palm’s opponents in the Swedish party who basically wrested control from him without an open fight, if any fight at all.

    Comment by Raccko (@racckoff) — August 28, 2015 @ 6:54 am

  11. Louis,
    Since you are getting deep into this topic, I would recommend my paper on the battle between the reformist and revolutionary tendencies at the founding of the Swedish SD Labor Party, however one needs to use the Archive Wayback machine to get to it.

    Writing the paper, I was not able to grasp as fully as I wanted the difference between the Reformist and Revolutionary strains on the question of revolution. I am certain that there was a major difference in this regard between Branting and Palm. However it is not clear to me what that was: Branting and Palm both agreed that if the government suspended democracy to the point where they could not even have elections, then there would be no option but to have a revolution to restore democracy. Further, they both agreed that their societies should go on a path to Socialism in economic terms. They both thought that either a socialist state should be elected into power to carry out the socialist transformation, or else if the government made elections impossible, then they would need a revolution.
    So in what way was Branting’s theoy non-revolutionary such that standard Marxism from Marx’s time would be in disagreement with Branting?

    Comment by Raccko (@racckoff) — August 28, 2015 @ 7:15 am

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