Copenhagen Business School
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Scandinavian Social-Democracy and the Economics of Reformism (1890-1940)
It is boilerplate knowledge that postwar social democracy abandoned Marxism and embraced cross-class alliances before governing as the most economically progressive arm of political liberalism. Yet this is a particularly continental European story. In Scandinavia, transformation had unfurled decades earlier and without much agony. Moreover, in the particular context of Northern Europe, the parliamentary alliance between social-democratic parties and parties representing rural interests established a political hegemony that lasted almost half a century and transformed many of market-society relations there. The German-Scandinavian comparison highlights the limited political value of theoretical sophistication in the history of the reformist Left, challenges the conventional view that social-democracy needed Keynesian macroeconomics to govern the capitalist economy with a clear class agenda and downplays the threat of the Soviets’ authoritarian communism as a domestic political lever. Instead, the article shows that during the 1920s and the 1930s the Scandinavian social-democrats developed indigenous macroeconomic programs that they deployed to win and defend their political power before Keynes’ ideas had been translated into political practice elsewhere. As for the threat of Soviet communism, the case of the (initially) Comintern-affiliated Norwegian social democrats shows that this threat worked not to scare capitalists into giving in to the demands of the office-seeking Left, as the conventional wisdom asserts, but to convince this Left and particularly their labor union base that organized labor interests and Leninist democratic centralism were mutually exclusive political phenomena.
Keywords: social-democracy, Scandinavia. SPD, Keynesianism, underconsumptionism, Bad Godesberg, revisionist Marxism
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