Denmark: Bernie Sanders for Prime Minister

Scandinavia on the Skids: The Failure of Social Democracy (Part 5 in a 7 part series on Scandinavia’s “Socialism”)

Now that Bernie Sanders is out of a presidential candidate job, some Danes want him to migrate to Denmark. The “Politiken” daily newspaper published a chronicle by Peter Ahrenfeldt Schroeder and Jakob Esmann, on April 28, 2016, heralding a new association, “Sanders for Prime Minister”.

“Bring Bernie to Denmark and make him Prime Minister,” they wrote. Their idea is that because Bernie Sanders is a leading advocate of traditional Danish social democracy, and since it is under serious attack, he would be an excellent candidate in the next Danish elections. Moreover, Sanders would collect taxes from the rich because a key issue in his campaign was the elimination of tax shelters, of which many Danish rich people partake with impunity.

One of Denmark’s most serious problems is that the Social Democrats and the more leftist parties do not believe that the people are actually capable of ruling sensibly. They don’t truly believe in participatory democracy, and they don’t think workers will fight so they go along with capitalism.

Since WWII, the Social Democratic party has led a dozen governments in seven periods, a total of 39 years. In one period, four successive S.D. governments ruled for nearly 15 years. The Liberal (Venstre) capitalist party has led governments in six periods, a total of 21 years. The Conservative party ruled just once but for ten years, and the Social Liberals ruled for three years. The self-styled workers party controlled governments 57% of the past 70 years. Nevertheless, since PM Anker Joergensen’s time (1972-82), one cannot tell the difference between the governments.

Many workers and middle class people are distressed because the welfare state/social democracy developed under the leadership of Social Democrats, whom they trusted, is being dismantled under its leadership. One in four Danes experience anxiety and/or depression despite the claim that they are the world’s happiest, as the American Medical Association reported in May 2014.

Many feel afraid of just living.

Workers are stressed about losing their jobs, about companies packing up and moving to lower wage countries, of being forced to accept wage cuts. This threat is real, in part, because of the capitalist-dictated borderless European continent. Workers from poorer countries are encouraged to come to the wealthier ones and take jobs for less than union wages. Migrating workers are often helped by employers to cheat on the social welfare system by not paying taxes. Teachers are stressed because they must use less time in class preparation and more time “baby sitting” and filling out forms thanks to a 2013 lockout forced upon 67,000 teachers by the Social Democrat-Radical Liberal-Socialist Peoples Party government. Pedagogues of babies and small children also spend too much time filling out administrative papers, and due to cutbacks those remaining must care for too many children. College students have fewer scholarships, and have lost academic study opportunities because the government has eliminated “unnecessary” subjects to appease business interests. Many elderly and marginal persons are often stressed by racist/xenophobic political parties proclaiming that refugees-immigrants will take over Danish culture and religion, and commit terror.

Social Democrats are even ready to make an alliance with the anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim Danish Folkeparti (DF). Despite this capitulation to separatism, its abandonment of essential social democratic program, and support of US wars, Social Democrats are assisted by the allegedly more leftist Socialist Peoples Party (SF). This party grew out of the traditional pro-Soviet Communist Party. CP leader Aksel Larsen left his post to start SF, in 1959. SF sought a “third way” between social democracy and communism. It turned out Larsen had been a CIA informant.

In Socialist Peoples party’s early years it advocated social democratic programs and the peace movement. But it switched to support the neo-liberal Economic Union and joined the Social Democrat government in 2011. Its leader Villy Soevndal took the post of Secretary of State and supported US wars. SF support among voters has dived from nearly 15% to around 4%.

Then there is the even more self-proclaimed leftist Unity List party (Enhedslisten), which was created after the fall of the Berlin Wall by the traditional Communist Party, a Troskyist party and the Left Socialists. It too supported the peace movement but dropped out in 2008 when it made an alliance with the S.D. and supported its government in 2011-5, including its war against Libya. Unity List’s program today is a paled version of its original revolutionary one, seeking instead to reform capitalism with a raise in wage here and more hospital beds there.

Of course, the traditional capitalist parties (Liberals, Conservatives, Libertarians) are no slouchers when it comes to eliminating peoples’ benefits and in committing war crimes, but it is more depressing when the self-proclaimed pro-worker, socialistic parties scramble to compete.

Welfare state in disarray

Let’s look at what has happened to social democracy since the fall of the end of the Cold War. Back then everybody felt secure economically; at least no one lived in poverty or in fear. There was little violence, no Danes at war, no terrorism at home.

Since Denmark kills people who have done it no harm in the Middle East and Afghanistan, retaliation in the form of terrorism has hit Denmark. In February 14-15, 2015, one gunman killed two civilians and wounded three policemen in two occasions. The Danish-born youth was of Palestinian ancestry. He, like others who have attempted to harm artists who have mocked the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, acted against “blasphemy” and invasions of Muslim nations.

Before the fall of the European socialist-communist experiment, and pre-11/9 Permanent War Era, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) placed Denmark at the top in health care, not only in financing but in quality. Today, it is in 19th place.

In cutting back on health care, the Social Democrats outdid the openly proud capitalist parties. Here are a few media headlines during the last Social Democrat-led government:

  • “Since 2007 every 6th hospital bed removed” (2014 headline after three years of S.D. government)
  • “Overflowing hospitals leads to more deaths”
  • “Doctors and nurses are furious: we can’t run faster”
  • “Undernourished patients starve in hospitals”

The numbers of beds removed from hospitals averages 507 per year in the past decade. This causes some hospitals to stack patients on beds in the aisles. Overfull hospitals experience ten percent greater deaths than normally.

Government cutbacks to public schools in the past decade are also prevalent:

  • Spending on public schools has fallen 13%
  • 4000 studies cut out
  • 30% fewer university courses
  • 11% fewer teachers
  • State scholarships fallen 3.7%
  • Educational grants fallen 19%

Cutbacks in education continue in this first year of the traditional capitalist Liberal Party government: 500 university educators (7%) fired; government saves $300 million in education contribution this year and $1.4 billion savings planned; cuts of entire themes or many courses in natural science, health science, ancient history, contemporary society, law, theology.

Private schools, private hospitals, private transportation companies, private post offices at supermarkets served by untrained personnel emerge from neo-liberal deregulation and farming out of public services. One result is that the government pays greater fees to private hospitals and clinics for hundreds of thousands of patients who can’t be treated at public facilities because of the cutbacks. Of course, the rich can easily pay for quick services at private hospitals. There is no evidence that private service is more competent than public services.

Although one can’t determine that the nation actually gains anything from this idiotic policy what matters to governments is that the rich profit. Scandinavians are witnessing the same revolving door policy long in practice in the US—from government posts to big business and vice versa—and that keeps politicians close to the pocketbooks of the rich.

A good example of how the government looks the other way when capital seeks greater profits at the expense of workers health is the current scandal concerning the German-owned Siemens Wind Power company. In the past decade, 64 workers have become seriously sick and disabled due to exposure to dangerous chemicals (epoxy and isocyanat). The Danish Worker Environment Service and the Industrial Injury Board have allowed Siemens to operate without adequate safety controls, although they have known about the sicknesses. This decade-long “oversight” is so gross that TV news has covered the scandal, showing government officials acting bewildered about how this could have happened. A clear answer to such “bewilderment” is that one of the companies hired to oversee work security is a private concern, an outgrowth of deregulating industry.

A civil court just granted three worker plaintiffs $150,000 in “compensation” damages, which the company is to pay. The government has done nothing.

We see government neglect time and again in the food industry where retailers sell outdated food, and restaurants do not uphold health and safety regulations. The Danish Veterinary and Food Administration look causally on. We can read in an otherwise passive newspaper industry that so and so many have been stricken ill from eating bad meat, food that authorities allowed to be sold without significant consequences to the perpetrators. Sometimes a restaurant is dealt a fine or even closed down for some days, but the culprits don’t go to jail.

Welfare cash payments have been so drastically cut back that many are taken out of the system. In just the last two years, 70,000 people have been pushed out of the welfare daily cash system; 62,000 under the last Social Democrat-led government. This has plunged 16,400 of them under the poverty line, especially hitting single mothers. 11,000 additional children now live in poverty.

The “red” and “blue” governments cut back on day care centers and old-age homes too. Because of national government reductions to local districts some nursing home administrators feel forced to buy vacuum-packed meals delivered by private businesses, rather than cooking at the homes.

“My fantasy can not grasp that one can serve nine-day old meals that smell or nothing, taste of nothing, have no nutrition, just to save a million kroner,” a union leader told the newspaper, Metro, which tried to find politicians who would eat this food. There were no takers.

Social Democrats have no vision

A “Politiken” debate column, written by political science professor Erik Joergen Hansen, on March 21, 2016, points out the loss of social democratic values in Denmark.

“As far as I can tell, the Social Democrats have no vision. They just wish to follow the stream of the power elite…dismantling the welfare state for a competitive one,” Hansen wrote.

“Economic inequality has grown over several years. Nevertheless, it has been a long time since we see Social Democrats indicate that there should be greater distribution from the rich to the poor.”

Joergen takes on the current S.D. chairwoman, Mette Frederiksen, for her perspective that welfare policy should be one of “social mobility”. Hansen contends this would diffuse the traditional social democracy values based on social benefits, public services, narrowing the gap between rich and others. He says Frederiksen heralds the land of opportunities to become rich is now the goal, not to become equal or even fed well enough.

Joergen sees contemporary Danish Social Democrats in the same light as expressed by US sociology professors Stephen McNamee and Robert Miller in their book, The Meritocracy Myth. The American Dream is called such “because one must be asleep to believe in it.”

Social mobility, Joergen contends “does not create social ascent but rather individual ascent, for those who are the quickest”…”The consequence of such a strategy, in fact, is to increase societal inequality”, thus eradicating the very definition of social democracy, let alone socialism.

• Read Part One, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four,

Next: Denmark: Rogue State

Ron Ridenour is an anti-war activist and author of 12 books. His latest is The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert, Punto Press. Read other articles by Ron, or visit Ron's website.