Socialism: The Swedish Model

  • Leslie J. Macfarlane


In the mid-nineteenth century Sweden was a poor, overpopulated, predominantly agricultural country, lagging far behind Britain and Germany in both industrial and political development. It was not until 1866 that the old Riksdag (Parliament) of the four estates of nobility, clergy, burghers and peasantry was replaced by a two chamber assembly, the higher chosen indirectly on a franchise designed to secure the representation of the aristocracy of birth and wealth, and the lower directly elected on a franchise sufficiently narrow to exclude most workers in the towns and almost all but landed farmers in the countryside. During the agricultural depression of the 1870s and 1880s there was massive migration externally to North America and internally into the rapidly developing Swedish industries, particularly forestry and the iron industry, the latter to meet expanding German demands for high grade ore. Swedish agriculture was not labour intensive, with well-established family farms alongside a great mass of peasantry. But, unlike the peasants depicted by Marx in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, the Swedish peasants were not akin to ‘a sack of potatoes’ incapable of representing themselves. On the contrary they were educated and had a tradition of self-organisation and independence in relation to those in authority. The peasant and small farmers played an important role in the struggles for electoral reform which resulted in an extension of the franchise in 1907.


Trade Union Pension Fund Pension Plan Pension Scheme Social Democratic 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    Branting, speech delivered 24 October 1986, quoted in Tim Tilton, The Political Theory of Swedish Social Democracy: Through the Welfare State to Socialism ( Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990 ), pp. 19–20.Google Scholar
  2. 6.
    See G.D.H. Cole, A History of Socialist Thought, Vol. IV Communism and Social Democracy 1914–1931 (London: Macmillan, 1958), Part II, pp. 520–1.Google Scholar
  3. 9.
    Malcolm B. Hamilton, Democratic Socialism in Britain and Sweden ( London: Macmillan, 1989 ), pp. 160–1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 19.
    Donald Sassoon, One Hundred Years of Socialism ( London: I.B. Tauris, 1996 ), p. 86.Google Scholar
  5. 22.
    See John D. Stephens, The Transition from Capitalism to Socialism (University of Illinois Press, 1979), pp.178–9.Google Scholar
  6. Henry Milner, Sweden: Social Democracy in Practice ( Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989 ), pp. 126–8.Google Scholar
  7. 25.
    Rudolf Meidner, ‘Why Did the Swedish Model Fail?’, Socialist Register 1993 edited by Ralph Miliband and Leo Panitch (London: Merlin Press, 1993), pp. 222–3.Google Scholar
  8. 31.
    Quoted in Sven Steinmo, ‘Social Democracy v Socialism: Goal Adaptation in Democratic Sweden’, Politics and Society, Vol. 16, No. 4 (December 1988), p. 431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 39.
    See Diana Salisbury, ‘Swedish Social Democracy in Transition: The Party’s Record in the 1980s and the Challenge of the 1990s’, West European Politics, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1991), pp. 36–7.Google Scholar
  10. 40.
    See Hans Bergstrom, ‘Sweden’s Politics and Party System at the Crossroads’, West European Politics, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1991), pp. 15–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 41.
    Rune Premfors, ‘The “Swedish Model” and Public Sector Reform’, West European Politics, Vol. 14, No. 3 (1991), pp. 85–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 43.
    John Madeley, ‘The Return of Swedish Social Democracy: Phoenix or Ostrich?’, West European Politics, Vol. 18, No. 2 (April 1995), p. 427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Leslie J. Macfarlane 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie J. Macfarlane
    • 1
  1. 1.St John’s CollegeOxfordUK

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