Stefan Nyzell and collective violence

“What happened in Malmö in connection with the conflict at the A W Nilsson factories may be considered to be part of a protracted period of escalating, and at least to some extent violent, labour disputes between the employed and the employer on the Swedish labour-market, lasting between 1925 and 1932” (p. 109).

“We are talking about acts of collective violence, which, though they occurred openly in those days, have been more or less forgotten in Swedish research on industrial conflict. In latter years this has been explained by the fact that this research remarkably often has been focused on explaining ‘the Swedish Model’ with its spirit of mutual understanding and willingness to compromise, as well as by its historical roots, thus giving Swedish historical research a teleological tendency, conflicts having been played down, while putting stress on and emphasizing mutual understanding” (p. 110).

Nyzell, Stefan. “Sweden, Country of Consensus – A Teleological History? An Essay on Social and Political Collective Violence in Swedish History”. In: Political Outsiders in Swedish History, 1848-1932. Edgren, Lars and Olofsson, Magnus (ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2009.

In this article, Nyzell mentions the social democratic historian Klas Åmark as one example of someone who has toned down the element of collective violence in Swedish labor history. He also mentions Per Thullberg and Kjell Östberg, in the book Den svenska modellen (2006) (en: The Swedish model).

This is one example of  arecent criticism of the extent to which the utopian myth surrounding the Swedish Model has had a direct negative effect on the impartiality of Swedish official historiography.

We can also note the contradiction compared to Marquis W. Childs’ depiction of a Swedish spirit of co-operation, in 1936. It seems that violent labor conflicts were only some years back.

Nyzell also mentions three doctoral thesis (all from 2001) that have pointed to the strong influence that the social democratic party in Sweden has had over Swedish historiography, especially the notion of consensus. In this, he cites an article by the historian Lars Berggren, who has observed the same thing.

Nyzell’s conclusion is that these examples of biased Swedish historiography “provides a basis for regarding critically what has been written about social and political conflicts in Sweden, especially violent ones” (p. 117).

He then proceeds to discuss research about violent conflicts in Swedish history. His conclusion is that “On the macro level, Sweden may appear peaceful, with no large-scale social and political violence on a national level, but on the meso and micro level the picture becomes different – as we find a large number of both social and political conflict and collective violence in the local communities”. (p. 123).

(The only three nation-wide conflicts since 1789 that he identifies were hunger-riots, in 1855, 1867 and 1917).

What this suggests is that the Swedish people had little experience, potential, opportunity or reason to act on a national level during the 19th century. Life was lived locally. This furthermore suggests that Sweden was never really constituted as a modern nation before the emergence of the 20th century welfare state.

It should be pointed out that Nyzell does not cover the issue of consensus in its entirety. His focus is collective violence. Another aspect of consensus is the degree of shared values, regardless if conflicts are resolved with violence or not. To what extent is it true that most swedes have had shared values?

The answer is that we probably do not know, since we cannot trust official historiography to have studied this in an impartial way, if it has studied it at all.

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