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  • The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Welfare Machine: Immigration and Social Democracy in Twentieth-Century Sweden by Carly Elizabeth Schall
  • Eric S. Einhorn
Carly Elizabeth Schall. The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Welfare Machine: Immigration and Social Democracy in Twentieth-Century Sweden. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. 2016. Pp. 245.

Major political institutions are built over many decades, and so it was with the Swedish welfare state. Although the story of the rise of the Swedish "model" has been well told by both Swedish and foreign scholars, its numerous facets and continuing development remain worthy of serious scholarship and discussion. This Carly Schall has done with verve in her concise but comprehensive study. She covers the rise of the Swedish Social Democratic Party (SAP) and their welfare state project from roughly 1920 through 2014. Her focus is on how the SAP adjusted to tumultuous political, economic, and—not least—social changes in Swedish society.

Part I covers the concept of the "People's Home" (folkhemmet) made famous by Social Democratic eminence Per Albin Hansson in his 1928 speech. Schall notes that this speech is the key to the evolution of the SAP from a class-based socialist party to a broadly inclusive people's party. In the early twentieth century, Sweden was a highly homogeneous society with few non-economic social divisions. The era of mass Swedish emigration had ended, but within a few years, a new era of immigration would soon commence. How would the continuing and at times rapid rise of ethnic heterogeneity affect development of the Swedish universal welfare state?

Schall uses a variety of sociological theories and methods to trace the issue through five specific periods: 1928–1932 (the accession of the [End Page 413] SAP to power), 1945–1950 (post-World War II assessments and goals), 1968–1975 (the zenith of Social Democratic hegemony and the acceleration of immigration), 1991–1995 (economic crisis and political changes), and 2006–2014 (non-socialist politics, economic crisis, and mass refugee migration). Her data sources are comprehensive: parliamentary and party records and archives, as well as major newspapers. There is also an extensive survey of the academic and political literature to place Schall's study in its larger historical and social science context. The text is enlivened by numerous quotes from the recurring debates.

We learn that even in the 1920s and 1930s as the welfare state foundation was being laid, Swedish politicians and administrators were concerned with the country's ethnic characteristics. Sámi, "tattare" (Roma), and even Finnish and Swedish émigré minorities were a worry, as were the growing stream of refugees mainly from Nazi Germany (pp. 44–7). It was also the era of eugenics in which "racial hygiene" enjoyed support, not least in the Social Democratic party. During World War II, Sweden gradually accepted more refugees, mainly from other Nordic countries. By 1945, there were also numerous Baltic and European refugees. There were issues with Balts and others who had served in German military units, but overall these refugees were accommodated in part because of Swedish labor shortages.

Chapters 2 and 3 trace the rise of the welfare state consensus, smoothed in large part by accelerating economic growth and prosperity. By the late 1960s, refugees had become an insignificant element, but foreign labor recruitment was regulated by state and labor union concerns. Finns were the largest labor immigrants, and earlier discrimination gave way to more accommodating policies, not least after the Nordic labor market agreements and passport union of the late 1950s. Southern European, Balkan, and Turkish immigrants faced closer supervision, but responded to economic cycles. Economic recession in the early 1970s led briefly to negative net emigration of foreign workers.

By 1975, immigrants were increasingly visible in Swedish society, but their growth coincided with the final leftist surge in Swedish politics. The consensual SAP hegemony of Tage Erlander was replaced in 1969 by more militant and internationalist leadership under Olof Palme. Immigrants were now accepted as a permanent component of Swedish society, but one to be socialized by the SAP and the labor movement. The new "Basic Law on Integration" reflected an emerging multicultural ethos with broad political support and...


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