Sweden: gang violence and army involvement- statement by Workers Party

We are publishing a translated version of the statement by Arbetarpartiet (Workers Party in Sweden) regarding the recent wave of gang violence and the response of the state.

Sweden has seen a huge rise in violence related to youth gangs, with shootings and bomb blasts occurring at record levels. In 2022, there were 391 shootings in Sweden, 62 of which were fatal. This is number expected to be even higher this year, as September was the worst month on record. 2023 gun violence in Sweden had risen to 2.5 times the European average.

Arbetarpartiet is affiliated with the Workers International Network, with which Internationalist Standpoint cooperates.   

The Military Can’t Stop the Gangs

In a dramatic “state of the nation”-speech Swedish prime minister Ulf Kristersson announced that he would summon the National Police Commissioner and the Supreme Commander of the Army with the aim of “seeing how the Armed Forces can help the Police in the work against the criminal gangs”. The background is an unprecedented rise in violence, shootings and bombings from organized crime in Sweden. 20 years ago, Sweden was one of the countries in Europe with the least amount of gang-related violence. Today, the country is in the European top when it comes to shootings and bombings. Only in September 2023, eleven people have been killed in gang-related violence in Sweden.

The proposal by Mr Kristersson, who represents the traditional right-wing Moderate Party, was supported by far-right Sweden Democrats as well as the Social Democrats. The three largest parties are now competing to be the best at “tough measures” to fight crime. The truth is that Moderates, Social Democrats and Sweden Democrats have, in practice, formed an authoritarian alliance based on ignorance and opportunism.

The problems that have been building up over two or three decades cannot be expected to be solved, in a short period of time, by a historic escalation of “tough measures”. We are referring to the decision of the political establishment to call in the military as a response to the disintegration of social structures of which gang violence is the worst, but not the only, expression to date.

Trust in society must be rebuilt in suburbs that are plagued by poverty, unemployment, and segregation. In some of these areas, parallel social structures have emerged. What happened during Easter 2022 is one example. In four days, there were nine riots in seven Swedish cities, with one of the worst being in Örebro. The attacks on the police and other emergency personnel did not only come from violent criminals. Grandmothers with their grandchildren also took part in the throwing of stones at the police. What happened at Easter 2022 shows how easily today’s situation can grow into a low intensity, but nevertheless, war between the state and the suburbs. But this does not bother the representatives of the Moderate Party, the Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats.

The Easter 2022 events were triggered by the police’s protection of the Koran burnings conducted by the far-right politician Rasmus Paludan. The constant escalation of crackdowns, most recently in the form of military interventions in civilian life, might be the trigger for the next low intensity civil war tomorrow.

In 1931, the Swedish military was mobilized to protect scabs during a series of strikes in the forest industry in the Ådalen region, in the north of Sweden. It resulted in a mass shooting where five workers were killed by the military and several others injured. Since then, it has been an unwritten rule, and later a part of official legislation, that the military should never be used against the civilian population. Today someone might say that there has only been talk of the military being used for surveillance, investigation, and transport. But once the taboo of using the military for civilian tasks has been broken, there is very little to prevent the Moderate Party, Social Democrats and Sweden Democrats from making decisions to expand the military’s tasks. Perhaps for surveillance missions that affect segregated suburbs?

It is one thing for outraged individuals to want to escalate the spiral of violence without a second thought. But more is required of the parties in power.

The underlying problems in poor and segregated areas remain even after the moves by the Moderate Party, the Social Democrats and the Sweden Democrats. The labour or housing markets today do not play the role they have played in the past when it comes to integration. Failed immigration and integration policies, a lack of public debate, and cuts in the welfare state have all contributed to the fact that measures that should have been taken quickly and forcefully was done too late and were too little. While Sweden has the most shootings in western Europe it also has the most dollar billionaires per capita. 

The leading parties (Moderate Party, Social Democrats and Sweden Democrats), only seem to be able to escalate the spiral of violence and push society in an increasingly authoritarian direction. Their authoritarian alliance appears to be incapable of asking itself how trust in the authorities can be built up, and rebuilt, in certain segregated communities.

The three parties, the Moderate Party, the Social Democrats, and the Sweden Democrats, as well as the heads of the relevant government agencies, have previously been able to take the trust in society’s various institutions for granted. But that’s not the case today. They do not understand what has already occurred – that a lot of people in Sweden’s segregated suburbs no longer have confidence in the authorities.

If it is to be possible to curb gang crime, confidence in the Swedish society must be built up in the environments that surround the gangs. We are talking about the population in the increasing number of poor and segregated areas that are emerging in Sweden. The historic decision to order the military to take over civilian tasks is a huge step in an authoritarian direction. This step goes in the opposite direction to the necessary project of building, and rebuilding, confidence in society. And it is a project, in the right sense of the word. The project requires a mobilization of workers of both Swedish and immigrant background behind a crisis programme that covers several sections of society: labour market, schools, health care, housing, etc. The struggle for a crisis programme must also be connected to the struggle for a socialist society.

It is in the battle for trust in poor and segregated communities that the fight against the gangs is won or lost. Today’s rulers do not understand that Ådalen 1931 might reoccur in Rosengård 2024.

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