This book is about Sweden’s integration and role within global capitalism. It covers the period from 16th-century colonialism to the present day of transnational production chains. Sweden’s economic and political system cannot be understood without this long and global perspective. The development of global capitalism has significantly influenced the national contradictions that have come to define capitalism’s special “Swedish model.”
Globalization is not a new phenomenon. Capitalism has always been a world system. The breakthrough of industrial capitalism was closely linked to the Portuguese and Spanish looting of gold and silver from Latin America in the 16th century and Dutch, English, and French colonialism in the 17th and 18th centuries. The creation of the world system was at the same time a polarization of the world between a Northwest European core and the rest of the world, a colonial periphery. This process also shaped the birth and development of capital-ism in Sweden.
The inter-imperialist contradictions of the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, between England, France, the USA, and Germany, were of great importance to the economic and political development of Sweden. Up until the Second World War, Sweden was economically and polit-ically tied to Germany. The German defeat in the Second World War, however, changed and broadened Sweden’s pattern of alliances in the direction of the USA and the rest of Europe. Simultaneous with the further development of the social dem-ocratic welfare state — the “people’s home” (folkhem) — Sweden expanded its global economic and political influence in the 1950s and 60s. In the mid-1970s, the neoliberal counteroffensive hit Sweden’s model welfare state hard, putting an end to 44 years of continuous social democratic rule. Outsourcing of industry, global finance, and migration flows have changed Swedish society. One cannot understand Sweden without an analysis of how national contradictions interact with capitalism’s prin-cipal global contradictions. This may sound familiar, obvious, and trivial. However, most studies of Sweden’s economy and politics start from a national perspective, with the global perspective merely presented as background information.
In this book, I will use examples from history, from early colonialism to the present day, to trace the development of “the Swedish model.” The “folkhem” is, according to the Swedish self-perception, a special progressive form of capitalism with social features. “Capitalism with a human face.” The Scandinavian capitalist welfare states are often regarded as semi-socialist societies, by both left-wing politicians in the United States — like Bernie Sanders — as well as politicians in many Third World countries. For the latter, the Scandinavian countries’ progressive image is bolstered by the fact that they were not significant colonial powers and, even moreso, because Sweden supported many Third World liberation struggles in the 1970s. Even on the more radical left, I have come across the view that the social democratic welfare state is a step towards socialism and that, “we can go with the Social Democrats halfway to our goal.” Such views are manifestations of a lack of a global perspective. The global perspective is not only important for analyzing the world; it is equally important for strategies to change the world. In order to develop effective anti-capitalist strategies, it is necessary to start from the global contradictions. First of all, because they have a decisive influence on the outcome of national contradictions, but even moreseo because we, as socialists, must be internationalists, not only in words but also in deeds. We are not struggling for the specific benefit of the citizens of privileged nations like Sweden, but for the proletariat regardless of national or ethnic background. Finally, the global perspective is necessary because capitalism can only be defeated through a coordinated struggle. Internationalism is necessary if we want another, more equal and democratic, world order.
In what follows, I will describe how Sweden became part of the imperialist core — how it tried to be a significant European colonial power but was outmaneuvered by the great colonial powers. Instead, Sweden had to ride on the coattails of colonialism, especially that of Germany and Belgium. I describe the interaction between the breakthrough of industrial capitalism, the rise of social democracy, and the development of the Swedish welfare state, in the context of an increasingly globalized capitalism. Finally, I describe how neoliberalism has brought about economic change and altered the pattern of politics in Sweden, and provide an overview of the current economic and political situation.
Although the Scandinavian countries may seem more progressive than the leading imperialist powers, we will see that when you scratch the surface they are no different in their practice or ideology. For working-class people, they are certainly more comfortable than most countries, whether in the Global North or South — their exploits, however, are just as unscrupulous as those of the “hard-core” imperialist powers. While I focus on Sweden in the following pages, it is not because Norway or Denmark, my home country, are better or worse. It is because Sweden is the most important in economic terms; “the Swedish model” is the ideal type of capitalist welfare state and social democracy there is most advanced.
Louis Proyect’s 2015–2016 series about Sweden in his blog “The Unrepentant Marxist” served as an inspiration to write this book, as did many other sources. I attempt to take this material and show how it fits within an overarching process of imperialist polarization and shifting global contradictions. Of course, these conclusions are mine alone. I would like to thank everyone who has read drafts of this book and provided me with useful comments. In addition, I would like to thank Karl Kersplebedeb for assuming the task of editing the book, both in terms of language and content.
 Torkil Lauesen, The Global Perspective: Reflections on Imperialism and Resistance (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2018).