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The labour movement past and present

Share on FacebookShare on WhatsAppShare on TelegramShare on X (Twitter)Första maj! Nu när det värsta tumultet har lagt sig kan det vara läge att luta sig tillbaka och reflektera lite över arbetarrörelsen förr och nu. Låt oss värma upp med två rader ur Internationalen, en av arbetarrörelsens […]

May Day! Now that the worst of the turmoil has died down, it might be a good time to sit back and reflect on the labour movement past and present.

Let's warm up with two lines from the International, one of the greatest songs of the labour movement:

"Boats' state and laws oppress us,
we under taxes dig down."

How many on the left do you think are singing these lines with sincere enthusiasm and fighting spirit today?

Here are some more appropriate lines by the suffrage campaigner Isidor Kjellberg (1841-1895), founder of Sweden's first suffrage association in Linköping on 24 July 1887 and whose agitating poem was heard at many of the early labour movement's suffrage meetings in the squatter's and farmer's huts of the late 19th century.

The poem agitates not against capital, but against the state.

In the third and final volume of The Freedom Struggles of the Swedish Allmog, Kjellberg is described by Alfred Kämpe as "the indefatigable old fighter for suffrage", and it was also in this book that the poem was found.

Kämpe describes in the book how state food tariffs on grain and flour threatened in 1887, and especially "would be to the disadvantage of the poor, and because of this, among the lower commoners, a dawning discontent arose, which gave impetus to the rural suffrage movement. When the agitators, rather scarce in the beginning, arrived at some more populous place, large crowds of the disenfranchised therefore gathered and listened to them."

In a report from northern Ångermanland, published in Sundsvall's newspaper on 26 February 1887, one can read the following about the opinions of the general public on the customs:

"Most of the participants expressed the opinion that the duty on grain, if it came into being, would be unjust in the highest degree, since it would affect the population of the five northern counties, of Dalarna, of the so-called. Snapphane district in Småland and on the Halland ridge, in the Finnish forests of Värmland, for the workers and fishermen of the coastal population in the rest of Sweden, and for all the urban population of Sweden, and thus for most of the people of Sweden, who could not under any circumstances produce their needs of milled and unmilled grain, would have the effect of directly increasing the cost of the most essential necessaries of life, and indirectly of raising the price of some other articles of consumption, while the price of grain, increased by duties, would benefit a comparatively few landowners."

Kjellberg's poem, and the International itself, gives some perspective on how far today's political scale has shifted towards the coercive collectivist. From being, at least in part, a libertarian movement for reduced taxation and state patronage, it is now the left that cries out loudest for higher taxes and more state control over society. Much of the contemporary left has thus become what the original left fought against. They are now part of the state autocracy.

"The state will help! The state must intervene! The state shall support! That is the cry", said Vilhelm Moberg during a speech in Norrtälje, 12 October 1947. He continues:

"And the State sneaks up on us, tempting and tempting: here shall be help! Here is intervention! Here shall be aid!

The state asks only a small trifle in return. Just one small trifle: the freedom of the individual. The submission of the individual to his autocracy."

Somewhere along the way, the representatives of the labour movement forgot that the state and capital are in the same boat. Perhaps it was at that moment that they themselves dropped the oars, sat in the front of the fine seats, and left the task of rowing to all the rest of us.

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