REVOLUTION BY THE 98% A CASE STUDY OF NORDIC NATIONS: THIS CAN WORK WITH UNITY AND ORGANIZING
“How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the ‘1 Percent’” July 2, 2016 by Bruce Mangels
Masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. = Sweden + Norway = “Fired” the top 1% following a history of horrendous poverty and hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation.
Under Leadership of the working class = They built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care for all, and full employment.
Unlike the Norwegians, the Swedes didn’t find oil, but that didn’t stop them from building what the latest CIA World Factbook calls “an enviable standard of living.”
Critical left-wing authors push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies.
Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle against the electoral system that was corrupted and stacked against them, so nonviolent direct action was needed to exert the power for change.
In both countries, the troops were called out to defend the 1% and people died.
Award-winning Swedish filmmaker Bo Widerberg told the Swedish story vividly in Ådalen 31, which depicts the strikers killed in 1931 and the sparking of a nationwide general strike. see Max Rennebohm in the Global Nonviolent Action Database for details.
Norwegians had a harder time organizing a cohesive people’s movement = Small population of three million spread out over a territory the size of Britain divided by mountains and fjords, and they spoke regional dialects in isolated valleys. In 1905 Norway finally became independent from Sweden and Denmark. The Norwegian Labor Party joined the Communist International organized by Lenin. But Norwegians parted ways because of Leninist violence and chose collective nonviolent struggle, along with establishing co-ops and using the electoral arena. In 1920s strikes increased in intensity and formed a commune in 1921, led by workers councils that the army tried to crush. The workers’ response was a national general strike. The employers & Government beat back that strike, but workers erupted again in the ironworkers’ strike of 1923–24. In 1926 they formed a social movement called the Patriotic League, recruiting mainly from the middle class. By the 1930s, the League included as many as 100,000 people for armed protection of strike breakers—this in a country of only 3 million!
The Labor Party opened its membership to anyone = Middle-class + Reformers + Many rural farm workers + Small landholders. Labor leadership planned a protracted struggle, constant outreach and organizing were needed for their nonviolent campaign. In the midst of the growing polarization, Norway’s workers launched another wave of strikes and boycotts in 1928.
1931 Depression hit bottom and people were jobless more than other Nordic countries. But the Norwegian union movement kept the people thrown out of work as members, even though they couldn’t pay dues and it paid off in mass mobilizations. When the employers’ federation locked employees out of the factories to try to force a reduction of wages, the workers fought back with massive demonstrations.
Depression = Many people could not pay their mortgages and farmers were unable to keep up payment on their debts. As turbulence hit the rural sector, crowds gathered nonviolently to prevent the eviction of families from their farms.
The Agrarian Party, which included larger farmers and had previously been allied with the Conservative Party, began to distance itself from the 1% = Recognized that the few could not rule the many.
1935 The Conservative-led government was losing legitimacy daily; the 1% became increasingly desperate as militancy grew among workers and farmers. A complete overthrow might be just a couple years away, radical workers thought. However, the misery of the poor became more urgent daily, and the Labor Party felt increasing pressure from its members to alleviate their suffering, which it could do only if it took charge of the government in a compromise agreement with the other side. The compromise allowed owners to retain the right to own and manage their firms, Labor in 1935 took the reins of government in coalition with the Agrarian Party. They expanded the economy and started public works projects to head toward a policy of full employment that became the keystone of Norwegian economic policy. Labor’s success and the continued militancy of workers enabled steady inroads against the privileges of the 1%, to the point that majority ownership of all large firms was taken by the public interest. (See entry in the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)
The 1% thereby lost its historic power to dominate the economy and society. Not until three decades later could the Conservatives return to a governing coalition, having by then accepted the new rules of the game, including a high degree of public ownership of the means of production, extremely progressive taxation, strong business regulation for the public good and the virtual abolition of poverty. When Conservatives eventually tried a fling with neoliberal policies, the economy generated a bubble and headed for disaster. (Sound familiar?)
Labor stepped in, seized the three largest banks, fired the top management, left the stockholders without a dime and refused to bail out any of the smaller banks. The well-purged Norwegian financial sector was not one of those countries that lurched into crisis in 2008; carefully regulated and much of it publicly owned, the sector was solid.
Norwegians society’s high level of freedom and broadly-shared prosperity began when workers and farmers, along with middle class allies, waged a nonviolent struggle that empowered the people to govern for the common good.