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Denmark: Failure of the "modernised" Social Democracy

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For some years, the "modernisation" of the Danish Social Democrats, under its leader Mette Frederiksen, has been hailed as something of a model for European social democracy. Now there are many indications that, with early elections in the autumn, Mette's star is setting.

Denmark moved to the right over the last decade as a result of the rise of right-wing populism around immigration issues. In the 2015 election to the Folketing, the Danish parliament, the anti-immigrant "Danish People's Party" (comparable to the German AfD’s rise at the same time) received around 20 percent of the vote, making it the strongest of the openly bourgeois parties. The hitherto leading party in this camp with the misleading name "Venstre" (which literally translates as "The Left", probably because in the 19th century a liberal party was considered left-wing) formed a minority government under Loekke Rasmussen with the support of the right-wing populists as well.

The Social Democracy, which was in opposition, then "renewed" itself under its new leader Mette Frederiksen largely by adopting the racist immigration policy of the right-wing populists, coupling it with a social programme, but only for "native" Danes. As a result, in the 2019 election, the Social Democracy became the strongest party once more, with over 25 percent of the vote. At the same time, the right-wing populists of the "Danish People's Party" halved their support to under 10 percent.

However, this did not favour the social democrats alone - the other bourgeois parties, especially "Venstre" and the "Conservative People's Party", which performed the same rightward manoeuvre, also took votes from the far right. Overall, however, it was enough for the Social Democrats to form a minority government.

In fact, in Denmark, minority governments are the norm. It is assumed that there is a "red bloc" around the Social Democrats and a "blue bloc" around Venstre and the Conservatives, and they alternate in forming minority governments. According to Danish law, these remain in office as long as no explicit announcement is made from the respective bloc in parliament that the government will no longer be supported.

The “red bloc” traditionally includes the "Socialist People's Party", which emerged from a Eurocommunist split of the Communist Party, in the European Parliament it sits in the Green group and is a somewhat more left-wing version of the German "Greens", and the "Red-Green Unity List" (the sister organisation of the German "Left"). However, the bloc also includes an openly bourgeois party, the "Radical Venstre" (which emerged decades ago as a left-liberal split from Venstre).

The "Radicals" ensure that the social democratic governments always pursue "moderate" social and fiscal policies. In the 2019 election, support for the "red bloc" fell from 52 percent to 48 percent. Thus, the Red-Green Alliance or Unity List (with its 7 percent share of the vote) was also involved, with a toleration agreement, and was, therefore, also responsible for such racist laws as the one to the prevent "ghettoisation" through quotas on the influx of migrants into certain municipalities.

The Frederiksen government lined up with the European bourgeoisie during both the Corona crisis and the Ukraine war. Denmark is in the forefront of arms deliveries and rearmament (especially of the navy). In addition, Frederiksen pushed through, by a referendum, that Denmark will now join the European defence community, which had previously been vehemently opposed. Denmark achieved an exemption from this in the European treaties, which is now being lifted - only the Unity List opposed this but continued its toleration in parliamentary votes.

On top of this, Frederiksen is a radical supporter of all aspects of Israeli policy and regularly uses this to justify racist policies against migrants from Arab countries and their left-wing supporters, raising accusations of anti-Semitism against any criticism of Israel. In short, in almost all respects, Frederiksen sided with the right-wing of Social Democracy in Europe, rather like the anti-Corbyn forces in British Labour.

The fact that the Danish bourgeoisie feels the need to overthrow them by means of the "Radicals" is remarkable. On the surface, it is about a commission of enquiry into the slaughter of mink stocks during the Corona crisis. It seems that the government (like many governments during the Corona crisis) was operating in a legal grey area when it ordered the mass culls based on studies of the transmission of Corona viruses by mink. Obviously, this is a pretext in response to recent opinion polls showing a swing in favour of the “blue bloc”.

The Danish bourgeoisie probably sees the advantage of having a government that does not have to make any concession to the trade unions and the left during an economic crisis situation. Both the trade unions and the Unity List are pushing for price controls, rent controls and, in certain areas, nationalisation - and have broad support for this in parts of the social democracy.

The right-wing parties, on the other hand, are backing tax cuts, which the "Radicals" also support. To this end, they have now used the "mink affair" to declare that they will no longer support the Frederiksen government. Since a tax policy in favour of the rich (and the mink scandal) alone will certainly not win an election, right-wing populism is also needed to play its dirty role again.

Although the decline of the "Danish People's Party" continues, a new right-wing populist alternative has emerged: a member of the former Venstre government, Inger Stojberg, whilst minister of integration, had separated migrant spouses in violation of the law and had even been sentenced to 60 days in prison for it. Now she has left Venstre and founded a new party, based on the far right Sweden Democrats model, called the "Danish Democrats".

As a "heroine" of the anti-migrant struggle and a staunch critic of the EU establishment, she immediately gathered a large following and catapulted her party to 11 percent in the polls. The “blue bloc” is, of course, not above taking even nastier right-wingers into their ranks. The Conservatives and the Venstre are already haggling over which of the two will provide the prime minister in a future government (there are only two male candidates).

Accordingly, the Social Democrats have dropped to 21 percent in the polls, and the “red bloc” as a whole to 48 percent. However, the former prime minister, Loekke Rasmussen, is thwarting the calculations. He wants his "Moderates" to split from Venstre and force the formation of a "grand coalition" (probably under his leadership).
So, it looks like it is "time for a change" in Denmark but, in any event, this will not be in the interests of workers and migrants. The Social Democrats, instead of learning from the debacle of their right turn, will continue to present themselves as the racists with a social face; and now as faithful NATO warmongers; with their left flank covered by the "Socialist People's Party" (SF).

However, the turn to the right has brought the Social Democrats strong losses to the left, especially in the big cities such as Copenhagen or Odense, to the benefit of the Red-Green Alliance - Unity List. In Copenhagen it is now the strongest party in the local government. In the polls, too, SF and the Unity List are at 9 percent. Even though the Unity List has disgraced itself in recent years with its support for social democracy as it turned rightward, its pre-election campaign is now uniting all those who want to fight racism, militarism and for redistribution from the rich to the poor in times of inflation.

It may be that the greater part of the organised working class will continue to vote for Social Democracy, but at the cost of accepting or even supporting the party's racist course. The Unity List therefore unites the progressive sections of the working class vanguard behind it, and should therefore be critically supported in the election campaign.

An anti-crisis movement in Denmark, which is just emerging against the right-wing Frederiksen Social Democracy, can indeed be a signal for the workers' movement in the whole EU. However, this would need a new revolutionary Danish workers' party to emerge from the current struggles around the Unity List and the centrist organisations represented in it.