On the surface it might seem as though nothing is happening in Denmark. And compared to many other countries that are experiencing one mass movement after the other, it is calm waters. But if we look beneath the surface things are also heating up here.
The same processes are taking place in Denmark as in the rest of the world: the deep crisis of capitalism is undermining all stability. And from last summer we saw a break in the situation, where class struggle entered a new stage.
Danish capitalism in a blind alley
Denmark is an inseparable part of the global capitalist system. Danish export accounts for more than 50 percent of the GDP, and the Danish economy is completely interlinked with the world economy, not least Germany and the rest of the EU. Like the world economy the Danish economy finds itself in a blind alley. The crisis of overproduction that shook the world in 2008, hit the Danish economy hard. But already before the crisis hit, the economy was slowing down.
Around the millennium the curve of development of GDP per capita, that had seen a gradual growth in the post-war period, turned horisontal. Apart from the speculative bubble building up, especially from 2004 to 2007, the economy has more or less not moved for a decade. Like in the rest of the world the Danish capitalists tried to postpone the crisis that began around year 2000 by a huge expansion of credit, primarily through mortages. Like Marx explained this is a way to expand the market beyond its limits, but it is only possible for a limited amount of time. This lead to a huge crash in 2008 when the debt- and housing bubble burst. But nothing has been solved yet. The bourgeoisie are impotent and use the same tools that lead to the crash in 2008 and are trying to inflate bubbles once again. The short sightedness of the politicians is a sign of a system in a profound crisis.
The Danish households are still the most indebted in the OECD with an average gross debt of more than 300% of the yearly disposable income. 70 percent of these loans have flexible interest rates and 42% of the mortgages are “intrest-only”, thereby making the households, the housing market and the financial sector extremely vulnerable to changes in the interest rates, which at this moment are historically low. In 2014 the household debt rose by 9,4 bio. kr. and yet the domestic consumption is still low.
This turns the attention of Danish capitalists outwards even more. Danish Industry (the biggest employers’ organisation) has a vision that in 10 years export should account for 75% of Danish GDP. This can only be achieved by brutal attacks on wages and working conditions as we saw in the German Hartz reforms, a reform which has created a large group of working poor in Germany. This is the model the Danish politicians are looking to. This means harsh austerity. A task the government, supported by the rest of the right wing, gladly takes on, helped by the Social Democrats. But the more they cut wages and welfare, the more they cut into domestic demand and thereby must rely even more on export in a vicious spiral towards the bottom.
Cuts and inequality
It is in this light the attacks of the last years on unemployment benefits, welfare and pensions are to be understood. The reforms of the last years throw increasingly larger groups of sick, old and unemployed into poverty and undermine the social security system won over decades of struggles by the working class. It is not something the politicians speak loudly about, but according to the reformed pension system a new born child today must work till the age of 72-74, before being able to retire - one of the highest retirement ages in the developed world.
Despite cuts in company taxes the Danish capitalists do not invest. The companies have historically high fortunes in savings, but because of overproduction it makes no sense for them to invest in even more productive capacity to produce more products which they cannot sell. So we have seen no real recovery.
Seven years have been torn out of the calender when we look at Danish GDP, which is only 0,25% higher now compared to the top in 4Q 2007. If you look at GDP per inhabitant it is still 6% lower than the peak before the crisis.
Also in Denmark inequality is growing. When the crisis hit, the politicians spoke about the need to carry the burden equally. But while the workers and youth had to tighten their belt, the banks were saved with state funds and the rich just got richer. The 100 largest personal fortunes in Denmark grew by 15% in 2015 to a total of 498 billion kr. All other groups than the richest 1,5 percent has seen a drop in earnings.
Despite the harsh attacks on living standards and welfare we haven't seen the same movements as in, for example, Southern Europe. Since the crisis set in 2008 and til the movements in the autumn 2015 we haven't seen any major movements in Denmark. It has led some to draw the conclusion that in Denmark nothing ever happens, that the Danish workers are too lazy or to content. But that would be a very wrong conclusion.
The years leading up to the crisis was marked by massive class struggle in Denmark. Between 2005 and 2009 Denmark was the OECD country with most working days lost due to strikes pr 1000 inhabitant. Because of the half-hearted reformist leadership of the unions, who were afraid to mobilise the workers in an all out struggle, they were defeated and austerity continued. Instead, the workers looked to the political front and elected a Social Democratically led government, which for the first time included the then popular Socialist Peoples Party (SF). This government however became a huge disappointment for workers and youth. It simply continued the austerity policy of the previous liberal government.
But still, the Danish welfare state build in the postwar boom means that there is a layer of accumulated “fat” compared to Southern Europe. But the postwar boom was an exception, and the reformist illusions which exist in much of the Danish left wing of the possibility of returning to the “good old days” are precisely that – illusions.
Human consciousness is lagging behind the objective development. But the Danish workers and youth are now starting to wake up realizing they are now living in a new normal of austerity and crisis. You cannot draw a line saying that at this or that particular point in time class struggle will emerge. The workers move when enough is enough. And right now we are in the process of accumulating frustration and anger beneath the surface.
The June elections
But in the last half of 2015 we saw the beginnings of a break in the situation. The national elections in June marked the first step in this shift. The election itself showed in a twisted way the same process as in the rest of Europe. On the surface it could look as a massive shift to the right. But in reality what was shown was a widespread distrust in all the old parties. The parties that put forward an anti-austerity program got a majority.
The success of the Danish People Party (DF) cannot surprise anyone after four years of austerity carried out by the Social Democratic government supported by SF and the Unity List. They paved the way for the present right wing government. As the Danish Peoples Party is forced to take responsibility for government policies, their support will begin to dwindle. This has all ready begun not least after they supported cutting housing benefits for the poorest pensioners in December.
The four traditional parties of government, the pillars of bourgeois democracy, used to get 85-90% of the votes in the post war period. This has been gradually declining, and in the 2011-election they got only 65% in total. At the elections in 2015 their support was reduced to just 53,8%. What we have seen is a polarisation to the right and to the left.
This is reflected in the declining trust in politicians. In a survey from December 2015, six out of ten Danes said they have “little” or “very little” trust in politicians. The section that answerd ”very little” is historically high, almost 1 in 4, up from 1 in 10 in 2011 and 1 in 6 just one year ago. The politicians are seen by the general public as living on another planet far from the lives of normal people.
The election resulted in the formation of the weakest government in decades, only made up by the Liberal party (Venstre) who is only the third biggest party in parliament. The fact that none of the parties wanted to be in government also shows the changed situation: they can see in Europe how the parties carrying out austerity are destroyed one by one.
But even though the present government is weak, they have not held back in attacking the workers and youth and not least the refugees. They are able to continue this since the so-called 'opposition' is no opposition at all. The (so-called) left wing parties put forward no alternative to the present austerity. And we have only seen the beginning – the brutal attacks on refugees now show the future for the rest of us.
A break in the situation
Not long after the election it became clear that a break in the situation had taken place. Thousands of refugees arrived at the boarders of Europe and also at the Danish boarder. The politicians were paralysed and absent. Instead thousands of Danes took matters into their own hands and did what they could to help the refugees: collected clothes, blankets, food etc and drove to the boarders to help. It was a spontaneous movement mobilising thousands. In the end of August a demonstration, not organised by any organisations, gathered 40.000 and again in September a large demonstration took place.
After that the students moved onto the scene with another 40.000 strong demonstration in October against 8,7 billion kroner cuts in education announced by the new government. 100 high schools were occupied in this movement.
In Copenhagen, school students 12-15 years old went to the streets and on their own initiative, against their own organisation, and organised several demonstrations in which several thousand school students participated in. This explosive movement, revealing the massive frustrations among the youth, shows the future.
The spontaneous nature of these movements prevented them from developing further. There is a complete vacuum on the left wing, and none of the left wing organisations of any size did anything to organise and channel this anger, let alone provide a socialist alternative. But even though the movement dies out, it does not mean we are back at status quo. Thousands are realising that the politicians are not part of the solution, but part of the problem, and that the only way forward is to take matters into our own hands and get involved. That is a conclusion that in the longer run has revolutionary implications.
Fight for Socialism
Capitalism is in a blind alley, as a social system it can no longer provide the youth with a future. Now all over the world, including Denmark, the youth can look forward to worse conditions than their parents. The youth are the only age group in Demark earning less now than in year 2000 – a drop of income of 10%. This is partly due to the fact that to get the youth out of the unemployment statistics, following the crisis in 2008, they were pushed into the education system. Now the government has put forward the explicit ambition that people should get an education.
”The general perspective is that there has been an idea that things became better and better from one generation to the next. But something indicates that it is not certain that that will be the case for the generation growing up now” said sociologist Turf Böcker Jakobsen.
It is a sign that capitalism has outlived its historical role. Nothing could be more damning for a social system than the fact that it can not offer a future for the younger generations. The youth of the world are rising to fight for a better world and a dignified future. The Danish youth will join them. In this struggle they will pull along the older generations of workers.
We are living in a period of revolutions, counterrevolutions and wars on an international scale. We see sharp and sudden changes in the situation. We have seen phenomenas such as Podemos in Spain, Corbyn in Britain and Sanders in the US express this same processes of radicalisation. The masses are moving onto the scene looking for ideas.
A growing number are looking for alternatives to the present system of crisis also in Denmark. These layers are open for revolutionary ideas. It is these layers that must be organised on the basis of the ideas of Marxism, so that the struggle to overthrow this rotten system can be victorious.