Prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s right wing government is still in power after last Tuesday’s election in Denmark. The right-wing party Venstre (V) of the prime minister lost six MPs but can continue in government together with the Conservatives (C) and the racist Dansk Folkeparti (DF). This means that for a second time recently in Europe, a right wing government has been shaken by mass protests without falling - first France and now Denmark. There has been a resistance to the government’s neo-liberal attacks from school students and workers. But where is the political opposition? And why did they not manage to topple the government?
“One has one standpoint until one takes a new one”, was the motto of Social Democrat, Jens Otto Krags, 40 years ago and it characterises the Danish election campaign today. The differences between the established parties are so marginal that there is a desperate search through the forest of political rhetoric and political posing to understand any differences in the empty talk and unprincipled politics.
The election debates have therefore been harder. When they do not stand for different policies, the marginal differences must be made to look vast. The most common comment from workers in the papers was: “All the parties are the same”. The welfare state will be better, immigrants will be integrated and the environment will have priority is what is claimed.
When Venstre talk of welfare they point to the economic growth and “low” unemployment. The finance minister, Thor Pederson, could boast during the election euphoria, “We can buy the whole world”.
That does not mean anything to the new low-paid workers who wonder where and at what speed the boom passed them by. Rather than the policies of the government, the boom has been due to the world upswing and the rising house prices that have meant that people have been able to take out bigger loans. This will mean a harder landing for the Danish economy when it goes into recession.
In spite of the ‘boom’, Venstre still lost six seats in the election, going from 52 to 46. People remember how Fogh Rasmunssen has let the schools deteriorate. Over 100,000 school students were on strike and occupying their schools the week before the election. People also remember how the prime minister sent soldiers to Iraq and paid Björn Lomborg, associate professor of statistics, University of Aarhus, millions of Euros to travel around the world to deny there was any climate crisis. The strong boom and the weak opposition saved Venstre from further losses.
Racist immigration policies
The number of asylum applications being granted can now be counted in just a few hundred. Nevertheless the prime minister complains about a “flood” when he is asked if it is impossible to let the refugees live and work outside the refugee camps. Lots of people have paraphrased Shakespeare in various situations, but when couples are forced to move out of the country because Danish legislation forbids them to live together due to their ethnic backgrounds it must be said: “There is something rotten in the capitalist state of Denmark!” Every week two young couples move across the straits to Sweden because of the “24-year old” rule i.e. that young people under 24 with a nationality other than Danish are not allowed to marry or live with his or her partner.
”We are involved in a struggle of cultures and the outcome will decide the future of Denmark”, said Fogh Rasmussen. The enemies are said to be the Muslims, ”Led by Mullahs, in the service of darkness”.
Through Prime Minister Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish capitalist class wants to get their redress and revenge for the past, in a similar way as in France Nicolas Sarkozy wants to ”liquidate the ideas of 1968”. Both are obsessed with ”preserving the national identity”.
Eva Kjer Hansen, a minister at Rasmussen’s government, formulated the ideology: ”We stand in the middle of a settlement with old Social Democratic egalitarianism. That is finished now. Inequality exists and it should grow even more to create dynamics in society”.
The coalition partner of the government, the racist DF with Pia Kjaersgaard as a leader, produced posters with a woman in a veil with an automatic gun in her hands. The text on the poster says: “Cash dispenser.” (The machine-gun is a cash-machine)
While similar parties around Europe speak in less racist terms in elections, DF seems to do the opposite. And they have in spite of that managed to dominate the discussion about refugees and integration.
Despite the fact that the government has carried through a big part of Kjaersgaard`s policy on refugees, there is a worry about building a government too heavily dependent on such an extreme party that might scare some traditional liberal voters away.
That was one of the reasons for the mass hysteria around Naser Khader and his Ny Alliance (NA) when they split from Radikale Venstre (R) last May. Could the new party replace DF as a coalition partner in the government, the newspapers asked themselves. “I sleep well at night whith Rasmunssen guarding my money”, Khader told the daily newspaper Politiken.
For Khader unfortunately it has been his support for the government that has led to steadily dwindling figures in the opinion polls. The situation did not improve when Khader was found to have used untaxed labour in his home and asked the journalists to “shut up” when they asked him about it.
NA’s main issues have been to demand drastically lower marginal taxes and continue the restrictive policy on refugees, although with a more humane face. But with a fall in electoral support from an expected 17-18 seats to just 5 seats and 3.8% of the vote in the election, they lost the balance of power that they had hoped for.
Already on election night Kjaersgaad indicated a veto on tax and immigration policies, something that Rasmussen rejects. The prime minister wants a broader agreement, which has set off a chain of vicious racist attacks by the DF.
“Nasser Khader is an Arab with a grocer’s mentality, who, with a flock of amateurs, will open up a refugee flood”, said the ex-EU parliamentarian for the DF, Mogens Camre. Camre had police charges brought against him earlier in the election campaign, together with two other DF politicians after they have said that the Enhedslistens (EL) top candidate, Asmaa Abdol-Hamid, needed “psychiatric help” because she wore a veil.
This means that the prime minister is going to have huge trouble building a long-term government with such clashes within the ranks of the ruling class. There is therefore a great possibility that this latest election will not be the final say.
A politically bankrupt opposition
The opposition to the government coalition during the election was the Social Demokraterne (S), the Radikale Venstre (R) , and the Socialistisk Folkparti (SF). But how credible is the opposition?
The opposition leader, Helle Thorning-Schmidt (S) has continued with a politically right wing course while at the same time using political rhetoric to attract voters. He stands to the right in a party that long ago ceased to be a workers’ party. There were several major privatisations during the so called SR government in 1998, more that any government before or after.
The same huckster politics applies to the S image of having a different policy on refugee and integration issues from that of the right wing government and the DF.
In reality all the established parties have the same hard-nosed politics against immigrants and asylum seekers. It was in fact during the SR government that the present right wing and inhumane immigration politics were born, with for example language tests, cuts in economic aid and their nuclear family policy.
Radikale Venstre, a right wing liberal party that uses social democratic rhetoric, four years ago helped the right wing government abolish the post of part-time teacher that led to an increase in teacher unemployment. This shows that if they joined a coalition with a Social Democratic government, such a new government would go even more to the right than the right wing government so far has dared to go.
In the financial plans of the party, the expenditure of the state will be reduced by more than the government. The Radicals even quote a warning from the director of the Danish Central Bank that the, “Financial plan of the government increases the risk of over-heating the economy”. The ‘solution’ is even harsher cuts in the public sector, further cuts for the unemployed and bigger tax-reductions for the richest! These examples show how even if the so-called opposition had come to power the same policies would have continued.
The most politically aware workers and youth have already scrutinised the established parties and voted in the last election for the Unity List (EL), which got 3.4% of the votes and won six seats.
A Socialistisk Folkeparti and Enhedslisten rainbow coalition
In spite the fact that the posters of EL have been more visible than the ones from any other party and in spite of the fact that they have the best programme for workers and youth, they have lost heavily and are balancing precariously on the two-percentage barrier needed to enter parliament. The main slogan of the party, “We say what we mean and do what we say”, did not help. EL only got 2.2% in the election and lost two of their six seats.
On the other hand, it was SF – the Danish ex-communists – that came up with clear demands for the election, e.g. increasing the minimum wage by 2,000 Dkr, a commitment to wind power and more public transport, improvement of school buildings, a maximum of 22 pupils per class and a maximum of two teachers per class during the first three years of schooling.
SF is completely geared up for election cooperation and ministerial posts, though not for struggle. Because of that, their slogans are written in sand. In the opinion polls the party has doubled since the last election, but they have a history of supporting cuts.
SF was even a coalition partner in the worst right-wing government of the 1990s with S, R, the Centre-Democrats (CD) and the Christian People`s party (K), a government which was in the forefront of forcing the unemployed to take low paid jobs, cuts in dole payments and cuts in the public sector.
When the leader of the SF, Villy Søvndal was interviewed in the paper, Politiken, he welcomed NA with open arms and noted that their politics – apart from the taxes – is a copy of the SF:s own policy! That shows how far the SF is prepared to go in order to come to power. SF has also completely abandoned their resistance to the EU and is scaling down their socialist demands.
Since the start of 1989, EL has refused to support any governmental alternative, as both sides are building on a policy hostile to workers. Lately the leadership has more and more silently leaned towards supporting a so called “left block” with S and SF. Two days before the election you could read that, “The seats of EL are decisive to kick Fogh out. We want to support Helle Thorning (S) as the new prime minister”.
This was a manoeuvre completely on behalf of the leadership. It indicates the sense of panic about being expelled from parliament, but it is also a further sign that the leadership is going to the right, cut off from the workers’ and youth’s struggles as it is, and completely submerged in electoral methods.
The party debate which the LO (Trade Union Organisation) organised in the radical café, Blågårds Apotek, in the working class area of Nørrebro gave a picture of this. EL’s young candidate, Johanne Schmidt Nielsen, had admittedly no problems in defeating Christine Antorini (S) and Jan Jörgensen (V) (who came a quarter of an hour late in a limousine!) but had only a limited election proposal that all parties must agree to. She demanded improvement of the schools, but did not mention the struggle of the school students or the significance of it, as if it was the election debate itself that was going to change things not the strikes or the occupations.
Build the resistance!
The distance of the EL (Unity List) from the struggle and the tendency of the leadership to go to the right meant that the party lost out in the election. If events and their possibilities are not entirely going to pass by EL, a discussion must start among the members of how to formulate a socialist programme and what type of party needs to be built.
For socialists it is not too late to change course. Everything points to the fact that the school struggle during the election campaign was just a beginning. From January 1st, 2008, the so called system of ‘taximeter’ will be introduced. That means that that the 6th form colleges will get a state grant for every student attending that particular school. That means competition and a risk that smaller schools are forced to close.
A hot Autumn has laid the basis for an even hotter Spring! Apart from the 24 schools occupied by the students, there are strike committees that are active in at least 100 schools in four major towns.
EL still has around 4,000 members. If it not only gave the school students’ struggle their whole-hearted support, but also actively participated in it with a socialist programme, it would be possible to recruit a new generation of socialist fighters and lay the foundation for a real opposition to right-wing policies.