Left turn in Denmark after a decade of right-wing rule

Submitted by AWL on 4 October, 2011 - 5:26

By Bjarke Friborg,a member of the RGA, the SAP (Danish section of the Fourth International) and AWL sympathiser

Since 15 September, Denmark is the European country with the strongest and largest socialist representation in parliament. Tripling its votes to 236,000, the Red-Green Alliance (RGA) won a record 12 MPs. Remarkably, the party spokesperson Johanne Schmidt Nielsen received more personal votes than the Labour leader and newly appointed first female PM of Denmark, Helle Thorning Schmidt.

RGA is now supporting the incoming minority government of Labour, the Socialist People’s Party and the Social Liberal Party. This replaces a liberal-conservative government supported by the far-right. Inheriting a legacy of war, debt and xenophobia, however, will certainly confine the new government firmly within the shackles of the capitalist system. Will the new strength of the socialists result in any kind of policy change?


It took 10 years for the centre-left to take back the majority from the ruling liberal-conservative coalition that has made Danish immigration policy one of the most restrictive in Europe, reduced taxes for the rich and neglected environmental issues. Despite this, it has been possible for the left set a new agenda by working together on a broad platform.

Twenty years, however, was what it has taken for the hard left to rebuild itself to a level resembling the 1970s and early 1980s. The RGA has taken back the space vacated by the old left parties which for two decades up to 1988 won 4-6% of the votes before the revolutionary left fell out of parliament.

But both Denmark and the hard left are quite different today. The liberal-conservative government – basing its narrow but effective majority on the right-populist Danish People’s Party – has firmly made its mark. They have cut down on welfare spending and development aid while reducing the tax rates for the well-off. They have made life harder for the trade unions, promoting apolitical “discount unions”, thereby undermining collective organisation. By backing invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan they revoked a policy of not sending Danish troops into war for the first time ever since 1864. This smashed the international and traditional humanist image (and self-image) of Denmark as a small, friendly, left-leaning nation. All this has to be rebuilt and renewed, while at the same time reconstructing class organisation and popular internationalism – hopefully now freed from petty-bourgeois "small state" nationalism.

While genuinely a socialist party, the RGA has a relatively low ideological profile. This harks back to the RGA’s political roots as a united electoral slate for the remainder of the left of the 1970s and 1980s. In this period, the Danish revolutionary left were represented in parliament by the left-socialist VS (Venstresocialisterne) and the Stalinist DKP (Communist Party of Denmark). After 1988, the VS and DKP joined forces with the Trotskyist Fourth Internationalists of SAP (Socialist Workers’ Party) and the Maoists of KAP (Communist Workers’ Party). The RGA was founded in 1989.

From its outset, the RGA was an attempt to rise above the sectarian infighting of the classical left and to obtain seats in parliament. It won 6 MPs in 1994. The RGA has gradually strengthened its organisation and politics and now has 7,000 members. The RGA has also grown politically, having survived both internal crises and the pressure for “real politics” (i.e. to water down its radicalism).

What kind of organisation?

For two decades now, the RGA’s guiding slogan has been “in favour of anything better, against anything worse”, giving the RGA a clean profile against all “dirty deals” and a strong self-consciousness. All elected MPs and all hired staff receive an average worker’s salary and are committed to giving a voice to the extra-parliamentary movements, progressive unions etc. This has worked surprisingly well. How will the RGA continue to relate to the extra-parliamentary movements? Whatever the strengths of a voting system with proportional representation – allowing for parties like the RGA to have a platform from where to grow even within the system – the fact remains that it is the extra-parliamentary movements that need to mobilise for systemic change, in alliance with the revolutionary socialists. Socialist MPs can only be there to support these movements and give them a voice. They can do nothing to replace capitalism without popular and workers' power in the streets and in the workplace.


Submitted by guenter on Tue, 11/10/2011 - 00:10

since when is a socialdemocratic govtm with an heavy austerity programm a left turn? as far as i heard, the left (or "left"?) supporters of the SP already made many foul compromises with them.

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