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Defeat for the right in Danish elections – where now for the left?

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The victory of the left in the Danish elections opens up new possibilities says Per-Olof Mattsson

After ten years of governing, the defeat of the Danish right-wing government in September 2011 elections is a cause for celebration for all socialists, workers and anti-racists. The recent liberal-conservative government - first under prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, then under Lars Lykke Rasmussen - has not only pursued a reactionary, pro-rich policy in the field of economics, it has also pushed Denmark into an active participant in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. The Danish capitalist class has been the most enthusiastic in Scandinavia to position itself as an active part of U.S. imperialism's "war on terror". Anders Fogh Rasmussen has also been rewarded richly for his enthusiasm by being designated as Secretary General of NATO.

But the Danish government has also made itself infamous in wide circles as one of the leading forces among the bourgeois camp of Europe when it comes to giving the "war on terror" the more precise meaning of "war against Islam and Muslims." The bourgeois parties, Venstre (right-wing liberals) and the Conservative People's Party, has unabashedly relied on Pia Kjærsgaard’s racist Danish People's Party to gain majority in the Danish parliament.

Through political pressure, the Danish People's Party has managed to create a racist atmosphere in the Danish society, being jealously admired for this “achievement” by racist right-wing parties and fascists in the whole of Europe. Non-European immigrants and their children are often described as “alien", a language that has been widely disseminated in the Danish society. Liberal critics such as the well-known journalist and writer Carsten Jensen has castigated Danish racism and xenophobia. The reward has been a massive boycott of his articles in the Danish press.

The measures that the Danish People's Party has driven forward – among other things the provision that a person with residence in Denmark must not marry a "foreigner" unless the parties are at least 24 years old – has led to a number of Danes moving to southern Sweden to marry with whomever they want. Recently, the Danish government also decided to set up border controls with Sweden and Germany. The decision has been heavily criticized in Germany, while the Swedish government remained silent, obviously not wanting to offend its party colleagues on the other side of the straits.

The Danish right-wing government has spearheaded an openly Islamophobic racism of a kind that elsewhere in Europe is only being represented by right-wing populist and racist opposition parties. This open racism has led to fragmentation within the political representation of the Danish capitalist class. The social-liberal party Radical Left (Radikale Venstre, RV) – closely associated with the Danish cultural radicalism and the newspaper Politiken – has openly criticized the government's racist policies. It paid off in last week's election – the party gained 17 seats (9.5 percent), up from 9.

Racism and islamophobia has also found its way into the reformist workers' parties. During the ten years that Danish People's Party pushed the government's policy, the Social Democrats and the Socialist People's Party (Socialistisk Folkeparti, SF) embraced the old motto "if you cannot beat them, join them". Both parties have capitulated to Islamophobia and racism in a most shameful way. Coupled with SF's rapid development to the right, this has opened the road for the emergence of an alternative to the left – Enhedslisten, The Unity List.

The left

The Unity List is an electoral party originally set up by three organisations of the far-left in 1989: the old Stalinist Danish Communist Party, the Socialist Workers Party of the Fourth International (Socialistisk Arbejderparti, SAP) and the Left Socialists (which comes from a split from within the Socialist People’s Party in 1967). It’s previous best result came in the elections of 2005, when it received 3.4 percent. In the preceding elections in 2007 they lost ground, only reaching 2.2 percent. But in last week’s elections it gained its biggest support ever and tripled, receiving 6.7 percent of the votes – which gave them 12 seats (up from 4).

Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen has been the most prominent leader of The Unity List in the election. She is often presented as one of the three women politicians who have advanced to the forefront of Danish politics (the other two are RV's Margrethe Vestager and the new Prime Minister, Social Democrat Helle Thorning-Schmidt). The day after the election, Schmidt-Nielsen anounced the following on the website of The Unity List: "A red government is now in the process of formation - with Denmark's first female prime minister at the head." She also notes that the "red" government will be dependent on the strongest Unity List ever. The message ended with the following illusions about the new government: "From today we will deal with securing a new policy of solidarity for Denmark.”

The election campaign of The Unity List focused on the defense and improvement of the public sector through taxation of the rich, multi-national companies and speculation. A plan for the immediate creation of 56,000 new green jobs was also launched. The “Red-Green Alliance”, the name Enhedslisten often prefers when presenting itself, became the largest party in the two working class districts of Nørrebro and Vesterbro in Copenhagen. The party has also gained a thousand new members.

The part of The Unity List which is most active in trying to push the party to the left is arguably the SAP. Out of The Unity List’s twelve MPs, two are members of the SAP. In its position on the electoral success, the leadership of the SAP is focused on keeping the social-liberal Radical Left (RV) outside of the incoming government.

The background is the following: One of the biggest electoral issues in the campaign up to elections has been the defense of the so-called “after wage”, which allows employees to retire by the age of 60. It had been under threat under the former right wing government. The SAP accuses the Social Democrats (S) and the Socialist People's Party (SF) of avoiding turning the election into a referendum on the “after wage”. They also rightly criticises the Social Democrats and SF to invite RV into the government, which effectively means that they which to use the RV as an excuse for not living up to their election promises. The SAP therefore sees the demand that the Social Democrats and SF keep the RV outside the government as the most important post-election task for The Unity List.

RV's requirement for joining the new government is that it will accept dropping the after wage. The party has already before the elections promised continued support for the last rightwing government's economic policy. What the S and SF are now doing – through its invites to RV into supporting their government – is effectively to give RV a veto over all proposals from the new government. That is, as the SAP correctly states, a betrayal of the voters who voted on the S and SF to get through any real changes.

SAP's conclusion with regards to the after wage looks like this: "Anything is better than RV’s participation in the government: even if this means the approval of the reform through the withdrawal of the new government despite the votes received for the Social Democrats, SF and The Unity List together.”

SAP is also trying to point out a path for The Unity List from the "quagmire" resulting from the mess created by the cowardice of the S and the SF: The Unity List should put forward demands that will improve the situation of the working class, which is already shared by S and SF, demands that the RV will find it hard to reject. The Unity List shall demand that the S and SF strikes an agreement on these demands and then "invites" RV to vote for them. This places the RV in a situation where it openly has to decide whether to remain in the red block or whether to act as a Trojan horse for the blue block. If RV rejects such an agreement, the government should threaten to announce new elections, which would put it in a favorable situation in front of the electorate in which it should be able to win ground.

With regards to the after wage however, the SAP suggest a path that always tends to lead to defeat. The measures they propose includes legal pressure, petition campaigns and even pressure on the Danish People's Party – which has said that they want to keep the after wage. The fundamental problem, being reflected in these suggested measures, is that the SAP is confined to parliamentary work and to change the public opinion through these measures only. What is missing is the road that experience shows to be the most effective – the means of class struggle.

A campaign must be now be organised in the unions and other workers organisations for a general strike that could halt the removal of the after wage. In such a campaign, both the SAP and The Unity List could play a crucial role. The newly gained force for The Unity List within parliament must be used to mobilise the organised working class. Petitions or even legal measures may well be used in such a campaign, but the campaign must aim beyond parliamentary pressure.

The SAP belongs to the centrist organisation of the Fourth International, which vacillates between revolutionary and reformist positions, but which ultimately undermines the struggle for revolutionary politics. Danish revolutionaries should support SAP's criticism of the right wing of The Unity List and make common cause with SAP and others in the party's left, but this is not enough. Those who recognise the inadequacy of the policy of both The Unity List as well as the SAP should go further and organise themselves into a revolutionary wing of the The Unity List in order to win as many as possible for a revolutionary stance, and go on and put up a consistent political struggle for an orientation of The Unity List towards the methods of class struggle. The current situation provides excellent opportunities to raising the banner of revolutionary socialism in Denmark.