George Lakey
Published: Saturday 28 January 2012
“[Norway'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.”

How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the ‘1 Percent’

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While many of us are working to ensure that the Occupy movement will have a lasting impact, it’s worthwhile to consider other countries where masses of people succeeded in nonviolently bringing about a high degree of democracy and economic justice. Sweden and Norway, for example, both experienced a major power shift in the 1930s after prolonged nonviolent struggle. They “fired” the top 1 percent of people who set the direction for society and created the basis for something different.

Both countries had a history of horrendous poverty. When the 1 percent was in charge, hundreds of thousands of people emigrated to avoid starvation. Under the leadership of the working class, however, both countries built robust and successful economies that nearly eliminated poverty, expanded free university education, abolished slums, provided excellent health care available to all as a matter of right and created a system of 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.”

Neither country is a utopia, as readers of the crime novels by Stieg Larsson, Kurt Wallender and Jo Nesbro will know. Critical left-wing authors such as these try to push Sweden and Norway to continue on the path toward more fully just societies. However, as an American activist who first encountered Norway as a student in 1959 and learned some of its language and culture, the achievements I found amazed me. I remember, for example, bicycling for hours through a small industrial city, looking in vain for substandard housing. Sometimes resisting the evidence of my eyes, I made up stories that “accounted for” the differences I saw: “small country,” “homogeneous,” “a value consensus.” I finally gave up imposing my frameworks on these countries and learned the real reason: their own histories.

Then I began to learn that the Swedes and Norwegians paid a price for their standards of living through nonviolent struggle. There was a time when Scandinavian workers didn’t expect that the electoral arena could deliver the change they believed in. They realized that, with the 1 percent in charge, electoral “democracy” was 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 percent; 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. (You can read more about this case in an entry by Max Rennebohm in the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The Norwegians had a harder time organizing a cohesive people’s movement because Norway’s small population—about three million—was spread out over a territory the size of Britain. People were divided by mountains and fjords, and they spoke regional dialects in isolated valleys. In the nineteenth century, Norway was ruled by Denmark and then by Sweden; in the context of Europe Norwegians were the “country rubes,” of little consequence. Not until 1905 did Norway finally become independent.

When workers formed unions in the early 1900s, they generally turned to Marxism, organizing for revolution as well as immediate gains. They were overjoyed by the overthrow of the czar in Russia, and the Norwegian Labor Party joined the Communist International organized by Lenin. Labor didn’t stay long, however. One way in which most Norwegians parted ways with Leninist strategy was on the role of violence: Norwegians wanted to win their revolution through collective nonviolent struggle, along with establishing co-ops and using the electoral arena.

In the 1920s strikes increased in intensity. The town of Hammerfest formed a commune in 1921, led by workers councils; the army intervened to crush it. The workers’ response verged toward a national general strike. The employers, backed by the state, beat back that strike, but workers erupted again in the ironworkers’ strike of 1923–24.

The Norwegian 1 percent decided not to rely simply on the army; 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, in the meantime, opened its membership to anyone, whether or not in a unionized workplace. Middle-class Marxists and some reformers joined the party. Many rural farm workers joined the Labor Party, as well as some small landholders. Labor leadership understood that in a protracted struggle, constant outreach and organizing was needed to a nonviolent campaign. In the midst of the growing polarization, Norway’s workers launched another wave of strikes and boycotts in 1928.

The Depression hit bottom in 1931. More people were jobless there than in any other Nordic country. Unlike in the U.S., the Norwegian union movement kept the people thrown out of work as members, even though they couldn’t pay dues. This decision 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.

Many people then found that their mortgages were in jeopardy. (Sound familiar?) The Depression continued, 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 percent; some could see that the ability of the few to rule the many was in doubt.

By 1935, Norway was on the brink. The Conservative-led government was losing legitimacy daily; the 1 percent 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.

This it did. In a compromise that 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 percent, to the point that majority ownership of all large firms was taken by the public interest. (There is an entry on this case as well at the Global Nonviolent Action Database.)

The 1 percent 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.

Although Norwegians may not tell you about this the first time you meet them, the fact remains that their 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.

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ABOUT George Lakey

George Lakey is Visiting Professor at Swarthmore College and a Quaker. He has led 1,500 workshops on five continents and led activist projects on local, national, and international levels. Among many other books and articles, he is author of “Strategizing for a Living Revolution” in David Solnit’s book Globalize Liberation (City Lights, 2004). His first arrest was for a civil rights sit-in and most recent was with Earth Quaker Action Team while protesting mountain top removal coal mining.

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79 comments on "How Swedes and Norwegians Broke the Power of the ‘1 Percent’"

Rlr

January 29, 2012 9:25pm

I think perhaps it is our low wage structure in the USA that fosters dependency. When the economy is going well for working stiffs, they or their children get uppity and think about improving things even more. Pauperize enough people and many start ducking their heads or just forget to think about politics except in a fatalistic pessimism.

Nice loooooonnnnnng article

Lagibby

January 29, 2012 3:43pm

I realize Lakey has space and focus limitations, and this article does not pretend to be a complete history of Norway or Sweden. But how could he jump from the 1930s, leap over the Nazi occupation in WWII and then extrapolate to today?Had you been comparing the U.S. and Norway in the 1950s, you would have had very different results. I was disappointed that he made his point on events from 100 years ago without updating to the present. I agree we need to resurrect the word and concepts of Socialism and I agree we should learn from other countries. But this is vastly disappointing in its incompleteness.

oslorani

January 29, 2012 3:40pm

Norway's population is about 4.5 million of which half a million are muslim. That is a lot more than you indicate. Am a norwegian born and lived in Oslo through highschool. Am very proud to be of Viking heritage. Have always loved this country (US) with a family that has contributed a lot to the US from the medical profession to skiing.

James Richard Bailey

January 29, 2012 9:41am

This is exactly why History is not taught in American public schools. I was born in 1949 and went to public schools during the 50s and 60s. Never did I encounter any really relevant history. If I could make one book mandatory reading in our public schools it would be A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. BTW, it is available on-line for free at http://www.historyisaweapon.com/zinnapeopleshistory.html. Pass it along!

stefano

January 29, 2012 11:31am

absolutely! that book should be mandatory reading for all!

James Richard Bailey

January 29, 2012 9:38am

This is exactly why History is not taught in American public schools. I was born in 1949 and went to public schools during the 50s and 60s. Never did I encounter any really relevant history. If I could make one book mandatory reading in our public schools it would be A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn. BTW, it is available on-line for free at http://www.historyisaweapon.com/zinnapeopleshistory.html. Pass it along!

Arachne646

January 29, 2012 9:54am

Thanks, I didn't know "A People's History of the US" was available on-line!

Brian Glennie

January 29, 2012 9:29am

When Ford Motor Co. bought Volvo it was not get technology to improve the quality their cars, but to make Volvo's quality worse so Ford cars would not look so bad.
General Motors bought Saab, again to bring quality down to make their German division ,Opel, look better to gain a bigger market share.
The 1% don't think we deserve to have anything of quality. da,a,a

Ogblofeld

January 29, 2012 7:01am

Great article. Sadly, Norway and Sweden have been reverting, thanks in large part to the influence of the central bankers.

Brantwood's picture
Brantwood

January 29, 2012 5:53am

Small World Department: one of my uncles had George Lakey for his name; and in 1955 when I went abroad for the first time (I was a beneficiary of the British welfare society's expansion of access to higher education) I chose to go to Norway because I had this vague notion that it was a happy place. (I found that, on the whole, it was.)

At any rate I am very grateful indeed for the insights, and facts, contained in this essay, and plan to do everything I can to share it.

Karin-helen Jensen

January 29, 2012 2:27am

That 99% is incorrect!There are many shades here and it is working so far!Both countries are new to the difference ...big towns first and the the rural areas...so no...I see a different picture every day....and its colorful!

Rob Stumpf

January 29, 2012 12:21am

When are a free, individualistic people going to adopt socialism? Easy answer. How about never?

Ted Gemberling

January 29, 2012 7:35pm

The Norwegian and Swedish systems aren't socialist. Socialism means the entire economy, or at least all enterprises of any size, is socially owned. Owned by the people of the country. Those countries are capitalist but have found they can distribute wealth so that no one is desperately poor. We need the same thing. I remember looking at the annual Forbes List of the world's richest people, and of the top 100, several are in Sweden. So it's not socialist.

You speak of Americans as a "free, individualistic people." It's true that individualism is a pretty ingrained quality in our character. I'm glad we have provided a place where people can come and be freer than they were in their homelands. But we need to let go of the idea of this country as totally "exceptional." A lot of that came from us having a charmed existence after World War II. A lot of the rest of the world was destroyed, so people all over the world were buying our products, and we thought we could have everything. Those times couldn't continue forever.

Here's an example. In the late 40's, Walter Reuther of the United Autoworkers wanted to push for national healthcare, which other countries were beginning to set up at the time. The executives of the auto companies would have none of it. And that's understandable: at the time, the companies were doing great, and they assumed they'd always be able to take care of their workers' health care needs. Today that decision doesn't look very good: our auto companies' health care costs are way higher than those of Japanese, Korean, or European companies. We need to give up a bit of our individualism if we want to be competitive in today's economy.

stefano

January 29, 2012 11:37am

i think you should really READ about socialism and what it is, before making statements like that one. i am sure if they just changed the name and explained its principles, the vast majority of the population - EVEN HERE- would embrace it.

Arachne646

January 29, 2012 10:00am

Hi, look north of the border! We've been voting a socialist party (the New Democratic Party) in and out of Provincial (state) governments since before WWII. Those administrations introduced our first universal health care programs and provincial vehicle insurance programs, which continued running through election of governments of the right wing, the liberal, and the left wing, because free and individualistic and patriotic people all wanted them.

Tearlach Uisnec...

January 29, 2012 12:23am

You actually believe that you are free?

Johnny Coleman

January 28, 2012 11:43pm

Amen

Zarkhov

January 28, 2012 10:13pm

Concerning whose side the police will or will not be on: Under the Patriot Act, the military , in times of emergency (like people objecting to the tyranny of the 1%), is empowered to take command of the police. It might not matter if the cop is on your side when he is facing the possibility of trial by a military tribunal. The Nazis, on their way to power, were not well thought of in Berlin and didn't win elections there. When the Nazis came to Berlin as the ruling national party, the first thing they did was put the police under direct military control. There were no public demonstration in Berlin except those glorifying the National Socialists after that.The Patriot Act certainly isn't patriotic and it is definitely and Act, an act of violence toward americans if the 1% wish it.

Tearlach Uisnec...

January 28, 2012 11:08pm

Thank you for bringing this truth to the attention of those who don't know, because people need to know that America actually being run by undercover Nazi's. Check the backgrounds out of most of the 1%. One thing I object to is the reference to the 1% when in actuality it is around 5%!
http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html
http://theunderstatement.com/post/3999331289/us-wealth-distribution-visu...
As it states in this 2nd link 80% of Americans share around 7% of the wealth!

OurWorldReport

January 28, 2012 9:08pm

There are numerous countries/cultures that customarily eat with their hands. Surely, there are people who would recognize this as normal. Sounds like an urban myth. I cannot accept such an inflammatory accusation without sources.

longknowledge

January 28, 2012 10:30pm

I remember an amusing story told by Katherine Mayo, the author of "Mother India." When she first was invited to dinner in an upper class home she was surprised that they ate with their hands instead of using silverware. When she asked her host about it the host replied: "I always know where my hands have been, but I wouldn't be sure about the silverware!"

Tearlach Uisnec...

January 28, 2012 8:51pm

There is no third party here in America. We have a two party system, which needs to be changed! This is called a dichotomy, and here is the definition of dichotomy:
A dichotomy is any splitting of a whole into exactly two non-overlapping parts, meaning it is a procedure in which a whole is divided into two parts. It is a partition of a whole (or a set) into two parts (subsets) that are:

jointly exhaustive: everything must belong to one part or the other, and
mutually exclusive: nothing can belong simultaneously to both parts.

Such a partition is also frequently called a bipartition.

The two parts thus formed are complements. In logic, the partitions are opposites if there exists a proposition such that it holds over one and not the other.
We are definitely a country divided! Am I wrong???

Tearlach Uisnec...

January 28, 2012 9:38pm

There is no perfect governmental system in existence on the Earth, but some are better than others. People need to look around them and learn from the mistakes and short comings of their government and use that as a tool of correction. To constantly allow pride to get in the way of reason when it comes to correcting mistakes will only lead to more mistakes of the same kind. American arrogance at believing that our system is perfect is why we are where we are now. America was not created from selfishness but out of the concern for everyone's well being! People need to learn the word "selfless." People talk about respect for our military, yet less than 1% have ever been in the military. The respect that we give to our military, and I am a veteran, is because the act of joining the military is a selfless one that is made to ensure the safety and well being of all! People keep calling America a Christian country yet those very same people don't even consider why it was that Jesus allowed himself to be crucified. Isn't it stated that "Jesus died for all of our sins?" Hypocrisy is basically not practicing what one preaches, so until people start to actually follow Jesus's teachings and example they should not call themselves Christians. Stop the proselytizing and worrying about whether someone else is going to go to heaven and start worrying if you are! Because you definitely aren't getting there through me or anyone else!

Charles Langford

January 28, 2012 8:03pm

How many more scandals will have to take place before a majority of the American people finally decide to ditch their fear of Socialism and get rid of present Anti-Socialist policies? Presently, Anti-Socialist policies continually increase the wealth of the rich while decreasing the wealth of the majority of American citizens. If people voted their pocketbooks, as is often claimed, then the majority should vote the Republicans out of office since the Republicans are merely shills for the rich and support policies that hurt the typical American. Republican Supreme Court Justices supported Citizens United whichgives the rich way too much influence in electioneering. Republicans like Scott Walker and Kasich of Ohio support policies that hurt the unions that bargain for higher wages, benefits and working conditions for the average American. And Republicans support tax cuts for the rich while having to have their arms twisted to support payroll tax cuts for ordinary Americans. Since the U.S. has had some popular Socialist programs in place for years - Social Security, public schools, public roads- it shouldn't be too scary of a leap for us to make.

In the past few years I watched a debate in the UK between political candidates in which each candidate was asked if they were a Socialist and, if so, why. All five or six of them said they were Socialist and stated their reasons for being so. Today, it is hard to imagine all the candidates in an American political debate all stating that they were Socialists yet, like the Norwegians, Swedes and Danes, the UK'ers at one time were not Socialist; they also had to make the leap to a new system. And if one thinks that Socialism is just a European thing, remember that Europe abolished slavery before the U.S. did. The point being that the forces that led to Europe's change, as Dr. Lakey suggested above, are presently at work here in the U.S. As evidenced by the Occupy Wall Street movement's large turnout, people are sick and tired of being pushed around by rich person machinations and they are voicing their frustrations loudly. Social programs are the cure to their frustrations yet the Republicans are against social programs while Democrats have long supported them.

Hopefully, our change to a more Socialist system here in the U.S. will be more peaceful than our transition out of slavery. After reading Dr. Lakey's article Ihave a much greater belief that it can be. The easiest way to move in that direction is to vote against Republicans. All it takes is for the masses to show up at the polls and happily send the puppets home to their rich puppetmasters. And if the Democrats who would move into the empty seats don't implement effective social programs then they should suffer the same fate so that a third party would gain power and get the job done.

Arachne646

January 29, 2012 10:16am

From what I've read on progressive, mainstream, and Christian forums from American commentors, very few have much idea what socialism means. Even fewer have investigated what democratic socialist parties have said and done in developed and third world countries in the 20th and 21st Centuries. There is mass use of the word "socialism" to mean any kind of repressive government or policy they didn't like the way chat-room arguments always end with someone or something being compared to Hitler or Nazi Germany.

stefano

January 29, 2012 11:40am

that is 100% correct; people yell and scream at 'socialism' here because they have been brainwashed to do so; if they actually KNEW what it is, they would not be so opposed - especially if they were half as christian as they claim to be!
however, over 50 years of consistent brainwashing will be hard to re-educate

Tearlach Uisnec...

January 28, 2012 8:42pm

There is no third party here in America. We have a two party system, which needs to be changed! This is called a dichotomy, and here is the definition of dichotomy:
A dichotomy is any splitting of a whole into exactly two non-overlapping parts, meaning it is a procedure in which a whole is divided into two parts. It is a partition of a whole (or a set) into two parts (subsets) that are:

jointly exhaustive: everything must belong to one part or the other, and
mutually exclusive: nothing can belong simultaneously to both parts.

Such a partition is also frequently called a bipartition.

The two parts thus formed are complements. In logic, the partitions are opposites if there exists a proposition such that it holds over one and not the other.
We are definitely a country divided! Am I wrong???

weneedrevolution

January 28, 2012 6:27pm

I've had friends in university who are American citizens who were dead serious about leaving the USA and going [back] to Norway. Even without speaking much Norwegian, since their grandparents are Norwegian, they said they could return there without much ado. After the recession in 2001 and no one could find a job.. they were extremely disgusted with the system here. Carrying 2 part-time jobs to barely make $300 a week is no way to live. To the guys that say "get a job, not enough money, get another job.." clearly haven't worked 2-3 jobs to experience the frustration of having no healthcare, being jerked around by clients who are late paying (if at all), having your hours cut back just because your boss gets a hard-on for a young single female employee.. the myriad of petty reasons an employer can cut you loose without much warning. The current status quo is hardwork begets more hardwork.. no raises, no respect, no severance anymore.

anono

January 28, 2012 6:06pm

Non-violence worked as well in India liberating a nation from the British Empire. Non-violence also worked here the United States some decades ago. We can only hope that non-violence will work here again. But one thing is true with all these examples of successful non-violent campaigns, people died. The ruling elites always resort to lethal violence as an attempt to prevent the inevitability of truth and justice. People will die here in the US as we try to non-violently liberate our Peoples from inequity, injustice, lies and tyranny.

Arachne646

January 29, 2012 10:27am

Let's remember people die in greater numbers, and on both sides, in violent revolutions. Nonviolence tends to curb the ruling elites' use of deadly force when their actions are on display for the world to see, even if only on newsreel footage. It was only the shame of the way that the "free, modern" America looked to the world that moved Washington to use Federal troops to enforce existing Civil Rights and Voting Rights laws in the South, after nonviolent action of people who were willing to risk their bodies and their lives for freedom. Armed insurrection against an enemy like the US government or the S. African apartheid government will result in huge numbers of dead on both sides.

William Bjornson Aloha Orygun's picture
William Bjornso...

January 28, 2012 7:39pm

Norskes can be every bit as contentious as swedes (norweigians with the poop kicked out of them). It said right in the article that in a country of only 3,000,000 people, the elite was able to call out 100,000 sycophant "Tories" from the middle class to "protect the strikebreakers" (who must have been a large number also). I would prefer that we not just "fire" our 1% but that we export them as well if they have, or have had, dual passports (do rich people still need passports?). And, most importantly, we take back our money from whatever devious channels the fed has fed it into, back to its destination and then back to us. We can retire the national debt completely. But it will take the Tea Party and OWS and the NRA and AARP and everybody to do it.

The Norske 1% didn't have drones, militarized police, the patriot act, nor extraordinary rendition of its citizens. A few people died. Fortunately, we pay the salaries of the police and we must make it clear to them who they are to protect in the event of an internal military emergency here. That is probably the key thing that needs to be done. The drug side of the police violates us daily, now, whoring for federal money. They harvest our kids to prisons (often private) to continue their employment. Mercenary police. And merciless police. The Restoration will hinge on these people. They will either become the military and shoot us, or, defend us from the real military. Being mercenaries, they will need a good reason to be on OUR side. The events that have occurred with OWS makes it CLEAR that we need to educate the completely and purposefully closed world of the local police. Go on patrol with them, ride alongs, talk with them and ask (e.g.) if such a thing as OWS became serious, what would s/he do when s/he faces you there. How would he treat you? How would his associates treat you? No politics! Just behavior. Communication. Politics closes that door. Don't ask, don't tell. Just educate by listening and asking questions.

Somehow, the debates seem to be whittling grinch/mitty down to sanctorum/Paul. sanctorum is not as dumb as he looks but is so crippled by religion that he is terrifying as an imagined POTUS. Hmmm. The weird guy. The most physically fit man on the podium to become POTUS is obviously Paul. He has emerged from the 'valley of death' that the other three are just now entering into and his life expectency is going up. For many people, all of their accumulated physical insults such as alcohol, smoking, x-ray, sports, ownership of diesel vehicle, come to interact with one another and the likelihood of death increases. After a certain age, all of these people are gone and the satistical risk of death appears to decrease with age for the survivors. Since health records will be available, we will see. Paul claims a "one page" health record.

He's "weird" only because "they" have told us he is weird, not because we really understand what he is saying. And ONLY Paul can beat BHO. In a debate, Ron Paul will have BHO up against a wall in minutes. BHO can talk circles around either grinch or mitty but he can't talk circles around the obvious truth. You don't have to vote for Paul, you just need to support him. He doesn't want to be "President". He wants to do all he can to restore our country to us, to true democracy, by destroying its greatest illness and center of the malady. However he needs to do this, even wasting his time in government, he will pursue this because he sees the problem and he sees its cause. This is not because he loves America. Much more deeply, he IS America, as am I, and as is anyone who thinks they are an American. Once the problem and its source are recognised, an American has no choice but to try to fix it for his or her own sake.

Our elite look and sound like Americans but they are not. They are the elite and have no real interest in America other than what they can suck out of its people. If your sociopathy is of a pure enough form and you have some sophistication, you may enter the elite and you then give up your nationality. It doesn't matter. The elite and its machines, the corporations, are killing us. We have no power in our own government. The host, the herd, is being damaged by its parasite, the elite, which is the primary symptom of a deranged elite. Historically only two fates follow elite derangement: complete destruction of the national identity, or radical elitectomy with accompanying social distrubance which may or may not result in a stable democratic organization. In chaos, there is opportunity and no end of people willing to seek opportunity there even if they have to create the chaos themselves. We will imprison these people. Ron Paul is probably our last chance to address the current situation through civilized legal channels which will significantly decrease the likelihood of the anomie that will come otherwise.

wsb1960tr3a

January 28, 2012 5:33pm

Nords are a staunch breed. They are a serious functional people. Some people think that if we become socialists that we'll turn Norwegian. Their society works because of their culture. It is also a small country that never had the evils slavery, nor do they share a border with a third world nation. All major production industries have failed or are failing, taking the middle class jobs with them. Scandie countries are ridiculously expensive to live in and they are obsessed with a pleasure filled lifestyle and maintain a very negative birthrate. Islamic influence is invading pervasively and it is all a matter of time now. It was good while it lasted.

Angie Johnson

January 29, 2012 2:00am

huh?

do you realize how hard it was to be an agrarian society in the far north? you basically never get ANY time off. Under the Danes and Swedes, pretty much everyone was a serf. Close enough to slavery.

I get restive whenever people try to tell me the Sibelius hymn has these wimpy pacific words: not at all. In Finnish, it speaks of no longer being enslaved (for Finns, either by Swedes or Russians.)

'obsessed with a pleasure filled lifestyle'? huh? have you visited or lived there?

to live in the far north, under harsh conditions IS to learn how dependent one becomes on one's neighbors, and the need to act collectively. Whenever anyone speaks wistfully of 'getting away from it all' in Alaska, I end up offering a speech on how more dependent, AND more careful, and disciplined, one becomes the more remote one lives.

I assuredly have no idea what you're intimating about 'islamic influence', either.

Arachne646

January 29, 2012 10:36am

I think he means that by having immigration from countries in the Global South, including refugees, the Scandinavian countries are in danger of being Islamified. They have a quite small degree of Christian devoutness, even if there is a state religion, for example, the Norwegian Lutheran Church (I think). They are not obsessed with turning Pakistanis into Swedes, as Americans are for their immigrants, so they will fall to what the Islamophobe websites warn about some "Global Caliphate" (half of Islam has no Caliphs).

Eddasdatter

January 28, 2012 5:08pm

My family emigrated from Norway. The combination of individual determination, stubbornness and cooperative activism sounds right. Not out of character at all, at least for the Norwegians of the late 19th and most of the 20th century. I can't speak for the younger generation. Norway and Sweden aren't perfect; they each have their own arrogance that gives rise to questionable social expectations and decisions. But in regard to economic and political history, this is a worthy example to study and learn from.

booberandpuzz

January 28, 2012 4:53pm

While I'm a firm believer that the US version of the 1% has shamelessly raided the cookie jar to the point of destroying our economy, this portrayal of the Norweigian success conveniently omits one crucial aspect of their current success: they are, per capita, one of the wealthiest nations in existence by virtue of their vast Arctic energy resources which, to their credit, they exploit for the benefit of their entire population. Most of Europe, even the countries that are struggling, still devote significant resources to the middle class. The U.S. has lost its way, essentially forgetting what got us here. Benjamin Franklin clearly foretold what would become of the republic were it not cared for diligently by its citizenry. By allowing lobbysists--paid shills for the 1%--to control government while we play with our iPads, we have lost our inheritance, formerly the greatest nation on earth.

stefano

January 29, 2012 11:48am

i am not sure where people get the notion that this would be 'the greatest nation on earth'; first of all, any such claim is futile, since there is no way to back it up. MANY places can - and do - claim the same, and who is to say which one is right?
i would have a hard time claiming that a country funded on the genocide of its indigenous population, followed by 400 years of slavery could even THINK of being the greatest, but that it another story.

our country IS, per capita, the wealthiest place on earth, we have more resources than any other place - and what we did not have, we just took from others.
the fundamental issue is that the distribution of such enormous wealth is completely off balance.
NOW< if we could address that, THEN we could start building THE GREATEST NATION ON EARTH.
we are very far from it today.

Dunderlandsdal

January 28, 2012 4:52pm

1. Kurt Wallender is not a writer, he is a character in books by Henning Mankell.
2. Jo Nesbro is spelled correctly Jo Nesbø
3. They are not "left wing" writers, they are fiction writers, published in many languages (and btw, some of the best writers I've ever read)
4. They write about stuff that doesn't happen in Scandinavia, in particular mass murder
5. Norwegians still speak regional dialects and they understand each other, but the culture is very different depending on location.
6. You don't mention WWII and it's impact...
..sigh...

Upplänning

January 28, 2012 10:30pm

Henning Mankell is certainly on the left! As was Stieg Larsson. Both are/were writers of fiction too, of course. There wouldn't seem to be any contradiction between these two characteristics; indeed, they go rather well together in the case of both writers. Nor are the left convictions of these authors irrelevant here; on the contrary, said convictions find appropriate and natural expression in their writings.

As for George Lakey's article, it's very fine in many respects, but I rather regret that it didn't take up the counter-revolution which -- at least here in Sweden (I know far less about Norway) -- has unfortunately restored a large measure of the disproportionate power, wealth, and income of the 1 percent. On the other hand, Lakey's portrayal in the regard is perhaps understandable, given that the social advantages of Swedish society (as seen from the standpoint of an American lefty) still look awfully good, even if they've gotten a bit tattered and torn as compared with the period of their greatest robustness.

All the same, a considerable social retrogression (as seen from a left standpoint) has taken place here in Sweden over the last 20-30 years, and a good many left-oriented Swedes are extremely unhappy about it. There are various ways in which this has expressed itself; but the most important one, for my money, is that full employment has abandoned. Over the last twenty years, levels of unemployment that would have seemed outlandish in earlier decades have come to be regarded as pretty much unalterable. In addition, inequalities of wealth and income have increased substantially.

Now then, just what it was which has made this (at least partially) successful counter-revolution possible in Sweden is a matter of considerable debate. My own view, for whatever it's worth, is that the bargaining/war of position conducted by the capitalist class was greatly strengthened by the increased exit options afforded capital by the advent of "globalisation" and "Europeanisation".

However, this counter-revolution would scarcely have been possible if left forces in Sweden has been willing/able to settle accounts with the capitalist class in a more fundamental way. They never did carry out such a fundamental settling of accounts, not even when the power and radicalism of the labour movement was at its greatest (meaning in the 1970s). Granted, it looked for a little while there that, just maybe, a more basic settling of accounts was on its way; but the interesting possibilities (in connection with wage-earner funds most especially) never materialized (although a token system of funds actually was established in the early 1980s, but it was scarcely more than a formality).

Instead, the main method used by the Swedish Social Democrats to restrain the power of capital was "funktionssocialism" (functional socialism). This entailed a variety of restrictions, regulations, counter-powers, and so on. At the level of pure theory, functional socialism really could involve a essentially complete settling of accounts with the capitalist class (much as the power of the Swedish king is gone now, notwithstanding the country's continued formal status as a monarchy). In practice, however, the functional-socialist strategy left the basic privileges of the capitalists intact, even if it hemmed in those privileges in various ways. Crucially, moreover, those restrictions, regulations, counterforces, etc. worked much better against certain background conditions than against others. I'm thinking here, among other things, about the background conditions that applied at a world level. There were some bigtime counterforces (counter to capital, that is) that existed once upon a time at the international level, and the existence of these counterforces helped (even when the counterforces had a nasty quality, as they often did) to restrict capital's room for manoevre and to increase capital's inclination to compromise with popular forces. This had an impact in Sweden too.

The removal of most of those counterforces at the international level had a big impact on class relations within Sweden as well. At this point the capitalists -- whose powers and privileges, as mentioned, had basically been left undisturbed -- were able to undertaken their long-desired counter-offensive. They had bided their time for many decades; now they could strike. And they ended up getting a large part of what they wanted.

If the left had been willing/able during its time of greatest power really to settle acccounts with the capitalist class, the gains of Swedish society would have been rooted in much firmer soil, and the domestic impact of the great subsequent shift at the international level would have been much less. Or so I'd wager, at any rate.

It is this point which, in my view, would have been worth stressing (in Lakey's article) to an American lefty audience too. There's always a danger, namely, that social gains previously achieved be will be lost (at least in considerable measure), and that the concessions made by the 1 percent in certain periods will be rescinded in other periods. I guess that means eternal vigilence is needed. I would argue too, though, that the moral of the story is that a more fundamental and far-reaching settling of accounts with the capitalist class is needed.

Margarita Matlis

January 28, 2012 4:47pm

I urge everybody to read this article in http://www.economist.com/node/18805503 before you give Mr Lakey too many accolades!!!

Rayvr

January 28, 2012 4:38pm

I'm gonna need some proof there CTMaloney. Sounds suspect to me. I've been to Norway. This sounds way out of character!

Dennis Shellhorn

January 28, 2012 4:37pm

I think American arrogance has a lot to do with our inability to even conceive there is any system that could possibly be better than ours or even improve the current system. That unbridled, dog eat dog capitalism is so much more efficient than other systems that even the poor are better off under it. (let them eat cake) Unfortunately in recent years commingled with religion to justify it’s over riding theme of greed, rationalized with thoughts that people are lazy and it is this character flaw born out in the bible which is the total cause of poverty. (Calvinistic approach to the bible and that our system is nothing more than god’s democratic system put into divine action. ) To believe differently is to argue with god himself. I fear for my beautiful country we are on such and ego trip. The young seem to get it and hopefully we will snap out of it. Morality has been totally rationalized away because we are told we fight for the greater good!

Tearlach Uisnec...

January 28, 2012 8:02pm

You are absolutely on point Dennis. People are so quick to get in line and follow the rest of the sheep and have been indoctrinated to be so. This is why my friends and I have called our Fellow Americans ... Sheeple! Since the 80's. ... the LORD is our shepherd, we shall not want ... Who's taking care of all of the sheeple now? Willing servitude ... certainly makes one easier to manipulate. Most don't realize that a shepherd not only cares for the sheep but has a motive for doing so. Slaughter!

CASnyder

January 28, 2012 4:34pm

There is one successful tactic against that kind of punitive uniform divide and conquer tactic - the entire populace needs to unite with the despised and oppressed. When Hitler's goons announced that the Jews had to start wearing yellow stars, the resistance organized everyone they could reach, and on the appointed day that the stars were required, the King and every Dane who knew of it went out of their homes with yellow stars on their chests. Denmark was the only occupied nation that managed to preserve almost all the lives of their Jews, due to the Dane's being willing to stand united with the Jews and to hide and smuggle them to safety at risk of their own lives.

I don't believe that high taxes are the way to go anywhere.

I actually think taxes should be kept as low as possible for everyone, making a country a lot more attractive. What a pleasure if rich or poor, you could keep 90% of your income. You want to put everyone at equal level? A flat tax for all this way any increase or decrease will affect everyone rather than groups.

This income should be more than enough to cover our required gov expanditures.

Healthcare and education should cost a fraction than what it does today! That will slash our expenses at the federal level.

People should THEN and ONLY THEN decide to opt in or out of social programs. You want in? You pay and benefit. You want out? You don't pay and figure it out on your own.

People should be FREE to choose what programs to enter or not, and what programs they want to handle on their own.

This is true freedom where you stop depending on your goverment or others to thrive.

You want to talk about freedom? Freedom to choose what to do with your life and money without having it being controlled and managed by politicians who don't know better.(Of course as long as you respect the freedom of others).

It is too easy to always ask more from others. It is much harder to empower yourself and do what's needed to do to thrive in life.

One last point, keep government out of businesses. That's how you end up having the 1% decide for all (think big banks, pharma, food, etc.).

The new trend in NGOs is the empower people by teaching them to make it on their own rather than making them too dependent on them.

We are still far from this ideal, but hopefully we will one day taste real governmental freedom.

Lagibby

January 29, 2012 3:52pm

There is one flat tax we ought to be supporting and extending and that is the so-called "payroll tax" that funds Social Security. Why don't we keep it at the reduced rate and simply extend it to any individual's (and employer's) full salary, instead of taxing just the first $106,000? As constructed, it is a regressive flat tax. Remove the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes. Then we would be able to fund this most successful, important program for the American people into perpetuity. Flat tax? Yes. Start with that.

stefano

January 29, 2012 12:27pm

i am not sure i can follow your logic.
- taxes are necessary, whether we like it or not. money IS needed to pay for services that the community enjoys as a whole. too bad they are squandered on unnecessary military expenditures (the black hole that we call the pentagon), instead of being used for real useful things, such as medical coverage, social security, public infrastructures, education .... what civilized society allows health care and education to become FOR PROFIT enterprises??
for too many, 'figure it out on your own' is not a viable option!
- a flat 10% rate would not be equal at all (and i doubt it would raise enough anyways). the people who barely survive would have to contribute at the same rate as billionaires??? on the contrary, there should be a ZERO tax rate for people at low income, a fair rate for the middle, and then a progressively high rate for the high earners (like it was before crazy ronnie messed it up so badly).
- the 1% decide it all BECAUSE they have NO control, not because government is too involved. again, thank ronnie and his de-regulation policies.

Tearlach Uisnec...

January 28, 2012 8:05pm

How about the total removal of "excise taxes" that inherently have more of a negative impact on those who are not wealth?

Ted Gemberling

January 28, 2012 8:01pm

Do you really believe that low taxes and small government create a level playing field for everyone? I think you've been listening too much to conservatives and libertarians.

Think about it this way: Haiti and Somalia have low taxes and small government, and what has that given them? It only means that the average person is at the mercy of the rich. In Haiti, the rich can hire their own militias to protect their wealth. There's no chance for anybody else.

Now, on the other hand, part of the reason Haiti is in such bad shape is that proponents of "the 99%" used violence to improve their lot. The Duvalier family, which ruled Haiti for about a generation, thought they could improve the lot of the people that way. These stories about Norway and Sweden show how nonviolent change is needed to improve people's lot. Instead of threatening them with weapons, the 99% need to shame the rich into a just distribution of wealth.

I just said "a just distribution of wealth." I bet you're thinking, "that's taking people's hard-earned money and giving it to loafers." But do you really believe income distribution is just in our society, let alone Haiti's? I believe there needs to be some inequality to give people an incentive to work hard. We need to have rich people. But is it just that Bill Gates has 50 million times the wealth of many people in this society? He couldn't possibly be that much more talented or harder working.

I think the best predictor of the prosperity of a country is its educational level. If almost everyone can read, the country will probably be prosperous. That is something provided by society, not by private enterprise. Sure, the rich can provide good schools for their own children, but not for everybody. We have cut funding for education so much in this country that we could be heading for the same fate as Haiti.

belleville

January 28, 2012 7:50pm

The United States of America has always had a progressive tax system. It's not until Reagan's "Trickle Down" policy and the decades following, that the rich found that they could manipulate the politicians by donating to their campaigns instead of paying Income Tax. This turned into a Win/Win situation for them both. The downside was that the major portion of the tax burden was thrown upon the backs of the middle class, and when we couldn't keep up with the National Debt, our politicians sold our country to the Chinese. In 1936 we had 33 tax brackets, from 4% for income of $0 to $64,000. on up through 32 more brackets to the top marginal rate of 79% on income over $80,000,000.00. I know that there aren't many people with incomes over $80,million but it's nice to know that these people pay a higher rate on their taxes than the people just scrping by on $20,million or so. This is precisely what we need today. Tax the rich like they did in 1936, or 1937, or 1938, or 1939, or 1940. Many enonomists agree that a major cause of the "Great Depression" was the inequality of income within the country. You see, the masses have to have "Disposable income" in order for the country to sustain and grow. Everyone needs a living wage, and a little left over for a night on the town or a movie. This is the American way.

I don't believe that high taxes are the way to go anywhere.

I actually think taxes should be kept as low as possible for everyone, making a country a lot more attractive. What a pleasure if rich or poor, you could keep 90% of your income. You want to put everyone at equal level? A flat tax for all this way any increase or decrease will affect everyone rather than groups.

This income should be more than enough to cover our required gov expanditures.

Healthcare and education should cost a fraction than what it does today! That will slash our expenses at the federal level.

People should THEN and ONLY THEN decide to opt in or out of social programs. You want in? You pay and benefit. You want out? You don't pay and figure it out on your own.

People should be FREE to choose what programs to enter or not, and what programs they want to handle on their own.

This is true freedom where you stop depending on your goverment or others to thrive.

You want to talk about freedom? Freedom to choose what to do with your life and money without having it being controlled and managed by politicians who don't know better.(Of course as long as you respect the freedom of others).

It is too easy to always ask more from others. It is much harder to empower yourself and do what's needed to do to thrive in life.

One last point, keep government out of businesses. That's how you end up having the 1% decide for all (think big banks, pharma, food, etc.).

The new trend in NGOs is the empower people by teaching them to make it on their own rather than making them too dependent on them.

We are still far from this ideal, but hopefully we will one day taste real governmental freedom.

Al Travland

January 28, 2012 4:19pm

I am a 2nd generation Norwegian/American from Minnesota whose ancestors are from Fogn Island near Stavanger. I grew up in rural Mn with cooperatives and an alliance between labor unions and farmers called DFL. This history lesson makes me proud of my Norwegian heritage!

bI don't believe that high taxes are the way to go anywhere.

I actually think taxes should be kept as low as possible for everyone, making a country a lot more attractive. What a pleasure if rich or poor, you could

However if we were to reform healthcare in the US to the point where big pharma didn't benefit so much, we could really slash costs.

Actually healthcare should be opted in or out by people. Nothing should be imposed the way it is today is so many so called developed countries.b

MotherLodeBeth

January 28, 2012 4:13pm

Sweden and Norway are pretty much 99% white citizens and when you have a country with citizens who all look like you it is much much easier to want change that will benefit everyone. And these are work ethic minded countries where education and a serious work ethic.less is more lifestyle is paramount.

harebob

January 28, 2012 3:45pm

I am also an ex-patriot Brit. I endorse what is said here wholeheartedly. The word socialist in this Country is constantly reviled but much of the good things done in England under Socialist governments were for the betterment of all the people, not just a favored few.

Tearlach Uisnec...

January 28, 2012 8:09pm

That is because people have been duped into believing that Communism and Socialism are one and the same. They need to teach basic economics and political science in school. Not just in post-secondary school!

Lawrence Neal

January 28, 2012 3:39pm

If there's going to be a change in the US, it better be soon. Infertility from eating GMOs is going to reduce the population by at least 75% within three generations. This is the agenda of the 1%, the Elite.

Norman Allen

January 28, 2012 3:08pm

When society can divide its income fairly (the owners can keep ownership but anything over their yearly use is put back into the system for betterment of the society), legitimacy and cohesion is the result and a just social order is in place. There is no more need for continual building of prisons, no irrational, useless laws, no more militarism and no more waste of precious resources. Why is this so hard for a society like the US? Most of the 1% is mentally ill and addicted to hoarding. How do we wean them from this addiction?

Koondog

January 28, 2012 3:06pm

Spend a month here in the summer and then decide.

danh

January 28, 2012 2:58pm

But what about Sweden's incredible harassment of Julian Assange?

This is a big important fact that needs to be dealt with by any theory that would assert that Sweden is not at least part-puppet.

VivLo

January 28, 2012 2:58pm

Professor Lakey described very well the systems in Norway and Sweden. We can only dream to have the courage to wage war on the 1%. I remember very well the movie "Ådalen 31" that he writes about and it would be wonderful to have the history channel show it. That film changed my very restricted view from the right to become a gentler understanding woman. I lived in 3 other countries, including Sweden, and grew to not fear the word “socialism”. I long very much for so-called “socialized” medicine in our own country and for free good education for our children and grand-children.

Bill Davis

January 28, 2012 5:43pm

How are you going to fulfill your longing for universal comprehensive healthcare in the U.S.? Have you found a group of activists to join and support? That is the only way it will happen. learn more by searching single payer on youtube for videos on the topic. See pnhp.org, healthcare-now.org, etc.

George Stockman

January 28, 2012 2:48pm

Prof. Lakey is a real historian.

CTMaloney

January 28, 2012 2:32pm

Very good-- but the conformism in this small society is too much for me and I would not like to live there. For instance, two small children of Indian parents were taken from their parents because the parents fed them with their hands-- which is commonly done in India out of love. The parents want to go back but cannot because their children, for now, are in state custody.

OurWorldReport

January 28, 2012 9:10pm

There are numerous countries/cultures that commonly eat with their hands. Surely, there are people who would recognize this as normal. Your account sounds like an urban myth. I cannot accept such an inflammatory accusation without sources.

Koondog

January 28, 2012 3:10pm

CTMaloney, spend a month here in the summer and then decide. You might somehow survive. They will even teach you the language for free and give you a $2,000 bonus when you finish.

Prove it. What's your source for this?

interd0g

January 28, 2012 2:10pm

I admire Prof Lakey's courage in publishing this article. In the USA where the very word 'socialist' is often used as a curse, the article will be reviled in some circles and might even be regarded as a threat to the status quo.I am an ex patriot Brit who owes his life and his career to post war social provisions fo free health care, and government support for education to any level for which you could prove yourself ready.Without those , I would be a dead unemployed bus driver!

Richard Avard

January 28, 2012 2:08pm

this report needs to get out far and wide. I lived in Sweden for one year (at school there) back in 1964, and I have say all that Mr Lakey reports is true from what I observed back then regarding no poverty, a very high standard of living, etc While taxation is high, you do not see the stark poverty that one sees here with our expanding homeless class. Sweden has free education through university level, excellent health care, and they manufacture like crazy and have a huge export surplus Scandinavia is doing well, a hell of a lot better than us, and we should learn from them
Maybe, if and when the people in the US take back their government through a 3rd Party, maybe then we can become more like Scandinavia where the wealth is much better distributed amongst its people so that everyone has a descent life

stefano

January 28, 2012 1:57pm

it is a great analysis and it illustrates very well a path that we could/should also follow in order to finally become a civilized society.
unfortunately, we do not have a 'labor' party or movement here, our so called democracy has a system built in to preserve the status quo and ensure that the people who really hold the power never give it up.
they gave us the illusion of a two party system which is virtually a show, where the players from the two parties pretend to lean towards one direction or another, get people all fired up against each other, with no consequence at all.
the money people decide who gets elected by providing them with plenty of funds, and the 'elected' officials do all they can to pay them back.
call them democrats, republicans, it makes no difference (just look at the real policies, not the rhetorical nonsense).
it is a very well organized system, one that is hard to break, after so many years of extensive brainwashing.
the current 'occupy' movement represents a small glimpse of hope, however it must reach critical mass before anything substantial can change.

thomwest2634

January 28, 2012 6:23pm

Stefano, I am heartily in favor of "critical mass" next week, and long may it reign. These postings are wonderfully strong. I've not travelled, I'm not anywhere near the 1%, and I'm not blind, and almost ill watching what's happening. Can we speed things up?

stefano

January 29, 2012 12:06pm

i wish there was an easy and quick solution! sometimes things have to get really bad before people open their eyes and DO something. i was visiting Romania the week their revolution started (by the way, Ceausescu was another dictator tolerated if not supported by our government!) , and i saw the conditions they had to live in; when you get to that point, you sure feel compelled to take it to the streets.

Curt Birger Halen

January 28, 2012 1:42pm

The Scandinavian example of social egalitarianism is a very successful system that puts the needs of the majority of its peoples first, in a much kinder and gentler way than what`s done in most `free-market`` capitalist countries like the USA and Canada. Opting for a similar system would help decrease the currently-widening gap between the 1 % and the 99% in North America. Thankfully, President Obama`s State of The Union address spoke forcefully to the need for such changes in America`s social and economic structure.

stefano

January 29, 2012 12:09pm

if only they were not the same empty words he spoke when he got us to elect him; we believed in the message, the actions unfortunately proved he is no different than the rest.
he is busy raising a billion dollars (and guess who is paying??), in order to get re-elected, and keep the same agenda as before - which happens to be pretty much the same as gwb before him, and clinton, etc., etc. ... they all work for the same masters!

Wende Jarman

January 28, 2012 3:55pm

Yes,I agree that it is the deepest intent of our current intelligent president to create fairness and justice in our corporately ruled American society.It takes all of us,the 98% coming together,determined to break the clutches of the corporate military dictatorship thru the amendment of our constitution,where it claims corporations are entities,who have the right to pour their thousands and milions into our political choices and candidates.movetoamend.org...help us win!

altagir

January 28, 2012 1:35pm

Study this in every public High School and University in the USA and perhaps the 1% might be finally reined in through expanded Occupy Movements with a real agenda. Not likely to happen unfortunately.

Wende Jarman

January 28, 2012 3:57pm

the greatest problem in

America today,is the people's lack of courage to hope.

Curt Birger Halen

January 28, 2012 1:47pm

Altagir:

Good idea! More pressingly, politicians at all three levels of government need to take a close look at what`s been accomplished in Sweden and Norway. Then, such much-needed changes could begin to be implemented in order to strenghten the Middle Class and the many poor, homeless, and disadvantaged people now eking out a living in America.

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