A co-op is a company owned by its customers. Instead of issuing dividends for stock holders, it shares out any annual profit to the members. But there is no profit motive. The idea behind a co-op, instead, is simply that if ten people want two kilos of wheat flour each, they’ll get a much better price if they buy one 20-kilo sack and share the flour out.
I’ve wondered for over 30 years why the Swedish grocery co-op failed to compete for customers with profit-driven companies. Why wasn’t it a huge competitive advantage to be free of parasitic capitalists?
Reading this article today, I think I finally understood why. The Swedish grocery co-op was really cost inefficient with salaries and property rents. They would open stores in rural locations that no private business would touch. It was so bad that the unnecessary (?) costs were greater than any owner’s demands for dividends would have been. Sadly, one of the strongest forces known to improve cost efficiency is parasitic capitalists, of which the co-op had none.
(Cost efficiency is of course not the only way to evaluate a business. As seen in Sweden’s capitalist-driven parallel school system where dividends are a much higher priority than quality of teaching.)
Many or most Swedish archaeologists are in the same labour union as the country’s librarians, archivists and public information officers. But as a scholar and frequent outreach guy I feel a stronger kinship than most with these groups. I’ve hung out in libraries for over 40 years. Through decades of mostly rather lonely research, the Academy of Letters’ librarians and archivists have been my daily workmates.
When the union reports that one fifth of our librarians in the public sector have met with hate speech and offensive language from members of the public, I take it personally and I get fucking angry. Every third public information officer is at a workplace that has received a threat. The themes of the attacks are overwhelmingly racist, sexist and anti-hbtq.
This is not “polarisation”. This is a small demography of brutish asshole internet trolls who have been emboldened by online hate forums to forget the most basic rules of decency. Their mothers would be ashamed of them. And I remember what Dr. Jones taught us: punching Nazis is a core part of an archaeologist’s job description.
Successful young gangster rappers are making more or less successful attempts to murder each other around Stockholm for no very good reason. With the crypto-Fascists’ voters worrying about immigrants from outside Europe in general, and more specifically Muslims from the Near East, I found it instructive to look at some rappers in the news.
In October ’21 a Swedish Lutheran rapper was allegedly murdered by a Somali Muslim rapper, who was himself then shot several times this past autumn but survived. The other day, now, a Polish Roma Catholic rapper tried to blow the Somali Muslim rapper up and was soon arrested by the police. He is likely to have to… take the rap.
All in all, ethnic and religious affiliation does not seem to be quite the predictor of crime that poorly educated voters believe. The person you really don’t want to meet in a dark alleyway is in fact an elected representative of the crypto-Fascist party. That demographic is heavily overrepresented in the crime statistics.
Unherd is a London-based web site for Conservative opinion journalism that started in 2017. It’s mission statement includes:
“We want to … identify those things that have been lost, as well as gained, by the liberal world order … instinctively believe … a shift of emphasis: towards community not just individualism, towards responsibilities as well as Rights, and towards meaning and virtue over shallow materialism.”
This statement is actual old-school business-hostile Tolkienian Conservatism, not crypto-Nazism or slash-and-burn capitalist Libertarianism. But the site has many contributors and of course they don’t agree about everything. Glancing over the headlines I found some anti-veganism, attacks on the trans movement and Families First rhetoric, but not much to indicate that this is a web site for the crazy aggro Extreme Right.
The man writing as Stone Age Herbalist introduces himself as an archaeologist, as a junior researcher or PhD dropout, and as the author of the book Berserkers, Cannibals & Shamans: Essays in Dissident Anthropology. He has self-published the book and it has only 20 reviews on Amazon. (Its sub-title suggests that SAH might be an American, because in Europe the discipline of archaeology is not organised under the umbrella term “anthropology” like in the US.)
Before I comment on SAH’s claims, note firstly that archaeology is not a unified global discipline. It’s a patchwork quilt of regional and chronological specialisms that share a lot of methods but that have very few shared goals and largely ignore each other. In my research into 1st millennium AD Sweden I ignore Japanese archaeology completely. I also ignore all work on pre-agricultural Sweden itself.
Note secondly that the US political climate is alien to European academia. For instance, there was a ridiculous flap a few years ago where some Americans had discovered that UK scholars used the term “Anglo-Saxon” and thought this could somehow be equated with how American Neo-Nazis use the term.
The article’s sub header (which may not be his own writing) is a fair summary of SAH’s main message: “Censorship is driving dissident researchers underground”. SAH writes:
“… for many of us, anonymity has allowed us to pursue our passion for scholarly research in a way that is simply impossible within the censorious* confines of modern academia.”
SAH, then, describes himself as a “dissident anthropologist” in his book’s sub-title. In this piece he claims that important archaeological matters cannot be discussed openly at universities. Yet SAH repeatedly describes his own views as common sense that is obviously true to the public.
Much of the text summarises recent DNA-based advances in ancient population history. SAH does not say that it’s impossible to pursue or discuss such research: after all, all of it comes out of mainstream academia. But he quotes one archaeologist who opposes simplistic interpretations of the results, and one elderly historian who comments on archaeological matters from a clearly poorly informed position. SAH offers no evidence that theirs are majority concerns or that these two have the power to silence anyone.
Where then are these oppressive universities? Remember, academia has no single discussion about archaeology that can be silenced or moderated “censoriously”. SAH doesn’t name any, but the scholars he quotes disapprovingly are at Cambridge, Nottingham, Freiburg, Turku, Uppsala and Stockholm. Six people in four European countries make for a pretty slim thought police force.
From the discussion of ancient population genetics, the piece just devolves into aggro far right rhetoric:
“… not a week seems to go by without some new claim that today’s morality has always been the norm. For the British public, perhaps no single phenomenon better demonstrates this than the ‘discoveries’ of black people in British history and prehistory.”
“… these discoveries … are weaponised for supporters of mass immigration to make the rhetorical claim that ‘Britain has always been a nation of immigrants’.”
But really, to my mind SAH is baring his heart here as a lonely young man who hasn’t been able to fit in, and who consoles himself by imagining a worldwide “censorious” Liberal hegemony operating against him:
“A young man entering full-time research interested in warfare, conflict, the origins of different peoples, how borders and boundaries have changed through time, grand narratives of conquest or expansion, would find himself stymied at every turn and regarded with great suspicion. If he didn’t embrace the critical studies fields of postcolonial thought, feminism, gender and queer politics or antiracism, he might find himself shut out from a career altogether.”
Finally, note that most archaeologists simply don’t deal with the brief events where one pottery style (and sometimes one set of genetic haplotypes) replaced another in a region. Even fewer pursue “grand narratives of conquest or expansion”. And even among those who do, you need to be really invested in the idea of national identity, like SAH seems to be, to respond emotionally one way or another to the research findings.
I’m one of SAH’s anti-nationalist Leftie bugbears in academia, and I love ancient DNA. I’m completely fine with the fact that both the arrival of agriculture in Sweden and the much later arrival of the Corded Ware culture coincided with radical changes in the population genetics. Because like almost all archaeologists, I seek scientific truth in my work, not validation of my political beliefs. The facts of what society was like 2000 years ago can argue neither for nor against what I would want society to be like tomorrow.
* Censorious: this adjective goes together with the verb ‘to censure’, to express severe disapproval. Not with censorship, as SAH seems to hint.
Social class is a useful concept to understand society, but it’s also pretty vague in the definition of each class. In ideological training courses taught through the Swedish labour movement you may encounter the idea that there are only two classes, employers and employees. My view is I believe more common, viz that class is similar to subculture: goths and jocks etc. In this view both the owner and the employees of a small plumbing firm are working class. Meanwhile a poorly funded environmental research scientist is middle class, even though she makes far less money.
This is because the main distinction between the working and middle + upper classes in Sweden is not economic, but cultural. The main parameter is higher education, which is open to anyone: no term fees, generous study loans. In 2021, 30% of Swedes between the ages of 25 and 64 years had at least a BA degree. (Swedes are often confused by the English term “an academic”, because Sw. en akademiker means “a uni graduate”.)
As for the upper class, Sweden has a hereditary nobility whose last legal privileges were abolished only 200 years ago. Most noble families are still culturally upper class, but have long been joined there by a large number of wealthy non-noble families. Sweden’s upper class can actually usefully be distinguished on the basis of wealth. So a provisional set of descriptions might be:
Working class: no uni degree, possibly economically comfortable, may own a small plumbing business.*
Middle class: has uni degree, dominates media and cultural scene, possibly economically comfortable, may be an environmental scientist.
Reading about US politics though, I realise that the class terminology there is quite different. Considerably more Americans than Swedes of working age have at least a BA: 35% in 2018. But in my reading, it seems that education does not really figure into the US definition of the middle class. As Wikipedia puts it, “With the development of capitalist societies and further inclusion of the bourgeoisie into the ruling class, middle class has been more closely identified by Marxist scholars [and mainstream US discourse] with the term petite bourgeoisie.” And the petite bourgeoisie according to Marx is “small shopkeepers and self-employed artisans … they typically work alongside their employees, unlike the haute bourgeoisie.” In the US a plumbing business owner is middle class. (You rarely see the term upper class used at all in US writing.)
The US definition of the middle class, then, has a solid Marxist foundation. But Marx didn’t foresee the rise of a culturally dominant but not particularly affluent class of university graduates. They don’t own a lot of stock and so cannot be said to control the means of production. They are almost entirely employees, not business owners. In their mental and material culture they are sharply distinct both from the comfortable petite bourgeoisie and the wealthy upper class. And in their political leanings, they have increasingly become the supporting pillar of the Swedish Left, as a large proportion of the working class voters has turned to right-wing populism. The small-business-owning petite bourgeoisie has long voted Conservative. Karl Marx would be extremely confused if he took a look at social class in Sweden of 2022.
* Side note: From a gender and class perspective, something pretty strange is happening to the current generation of the Swedish working class. About half of the men have begun to vote far-Right, while the women still largely vote Centre-Left. And nursing school has been extended to become a degree in higher ed. So in many Swedish marriages right now, there is a growing gap across the breakfast table both politically and in terms of class aspiration. Mothers with degrees encourage their children to study.
I hardly ever get attacked online by people whose opinions I fundamentally oppose. They mostly just ignore me, even though I frequently attack them and their organisations in public. But every now and then I get these really vicious attacks from people who know that I basically share their opinions. Usually they get angry with me because I (seem to) question some in-tribe Leftie sacred truth.
One example was when I mused ”I wonder when the covid vaccine will become commercially available and what it will cost”. People went apeshit over this and called me a bad Social Democrat, apparently because somehow they interpreted the question to mean a declarative statement, ”I think rich people should be able to buy the vaccine ahead of everyone else”. Another was when I said that I think it’s great that modern medicine allows women to opt out of Down syndrome pregnancies. Again, some people apparently interpreted this quite differently, perhaps as ”Down syndrome people have no value and should all just be shot”. Or the time when I said that I didn’t see the practical value of organising a massive multi-thousand participant protest rally against a small local neo-Nazi club, when 90% of the parliamentary voters supported explicitly anti-Nazi parties. Or the time when I scoffed at the most recent ungainly euphemism for disability.
I’ve been trying to formulate my view of these attacks from the Left. There are some good English and Swedish words.
Facebook calls your contacts ”friends”. That’s my yardstick there. If people are unfriendly on Facebook, for instance by not giving me the benefit of the doubt if they question something I seem to say, I usually block them right away. I’m not on the social media to debate hostile people. At the time of writing, I have 3267 Facebook friends and there are 44 names on my block list.
I’ve known Dr. Fedir Androshchuk for decades while he’s lived mainly in Sweden. He is the world’s main authority on Scandinavian swords of the Viking Period. Last week I learned that Fedir is now the director of Ukraine’s National Museum and thus arguably one of the main custodians of the country’s past — a country under severe threat. Respect!
Some Twitter conversation and a comment by Aard regular Phillip alerted me to an on-line offensive that the Swedish extreme Right seems to be staging against critical race theory and wokeness. I thought I’d take the opportunity to clarify my own position.
In general politics I’m a member of the Social Democrat party. In US terms this means that I consider AOC and Bernie to be good vanilla politicians. In one Swedish Leftie internal debate, I am on the side of Socialism rather than Identity Politics. I am more interested in your relationship with your employer and the banks than in your skin colour. Of course I’m anti-racist anyway.
But inside the walls of Academia, I part company with many Leftie friends. I like to refer to myself as a member of the Alan Sokal Academic Left. We’re academic Lefties who seek scientific truth first, and want to further Leftie political causes second. You can’t right a societal wrong if it’s impossible to determine if the societal wrong has any objective existence. Nor can you right a societal wrong if there is no way of measuring objectively which methods work.
On an unrelated note, I also like to annoy earnest Leftie humanities colleagues by pointing out that it doesn’t matter in practice what our politics are, because Swedish humanities have almost no political influence or relevance. You can try all you like to “make visible the power structures” in archaeology, it will not move society at large in any particular direction anyway. Also, it’s my opinion that if such activities do not increase our knowledge of societies in the past, then they should receive no archaeological funding. Because archaeology is about material culture and societies in the past.
As for wokeness, we don’t really have a word for that in Swedish that I am aware of. Here the extreme Right often attacks “political correctness” instead, which seems to refer to the same things. My opinions are probably quite woke seen from a US perspective where AOC and Bernie are considered extremists (which makes everyone in European politics laugh). But in the Swedish context my political correctness is middling.
I get along poorly with the woke academic Left because of their bad science/scholarship: their knowledge relativism, their incomprehensible fad jargon and their focus on meta-issues. But I’m fine with their politics.
Parliament. The main result is that despite re-shuffling of the figures within the Left+Green and Right blocs, neither has gained a decisive upper hand. It looks like the Left+Green bloc has beat the Right bloc by only a few tenths of a percentile unit. It will be exceptionally difficult to negotiate a secure ruling coalition. No present party failed the 4% cutoff, and no new one got past it. Hate & Fear got 17.6% of the parliamentary vote, which is a bit more than in the last election but less than what the polls had us worrying about.
Stockholm county council. The Right kept their slight lead over the Left+Greens.
Nacka municipality. Again, reshuffling: the Right kept their solid lead over the Left+Greens with an unchanged seat count, but the Conservatives lost 5 out of 24 seats (on a 61-seat council) to the Centrists and Christian Democrats. No big deal for the Conservatives, I should think. Us Social Democrats kept our 11 seats, which is a considerably better result than what we saw in Parliament.
One of my main personal goals of the election season was to help push up voter turnout in my multicultural tenement housing area. We failed. In 2014, 67% of Fisksätra’s voters went to the ballot urn. In 2018, only 63% did. I’m pretty sure though that participation would have been even worse without the work we put in.
All in all, the canvassing work we’ve done over the past months gained us nothing in comparison to the 2014 election result. But it helped us hold on to most of what we had. To me personally, the most encouraging result in all this was that my kid voted for my party and ticked the box next to my name. Also, it looks like a family member of mine might just get a seat on the municipal council for another party…
For much of this year, and from May as a paid occupation, I’ve been working for the Social Democrats towards the elections on Sunday. Swedish politics has many parties which were until recently grouped into the Left+Green bloc against the Right bloc. Each bloc had roughly half of the vote. To explain this to an American, we basically had 50% Bernie+Nader voters and 50% Democrat voters – and the Democrats were our right wing. Mainstream Republican politics have no place in Sweden.
Things changed with the growth of the Hate & Fear Party, who are xenophobic right-wing populists: the Tea Party in US terms. They got 13% of the parliamentary vote in 2014 and will probably get 20% on Sunday. These voters have moved to Hate & Fear from both of the previous blocs in roughly equal proportions. So now polls are 40% Left+Green, 40% Right, 20% Fear & Hate.
Here’s a snapshot of how I see our Social Democrat chances.
Local government: Nacka kommun. For reasons of social demography, we have never governed this affluent suburban area since its current borders were drawn in 1971. I’m optimistic about us gaining several seats here, but I would be pleasantly surprised if the Left+Green bloc actually gained the municipal council majority.
County government: Stockholm landsting (mainly organises hospitals, old-folks’ homes and public transport). The current Right bloc majority here is slim. I’m pretty confident that we will gain the upper hand.
Parliament and national government: riksdagen & regeringen. This is going to be messy. Parliament currently consists of eight parties. The cutoff to get in is 4% of the vote. (If a party gets 3.9%, then those votes are not taken into consideration.) Three parties are barely over the limit in the polls. The leading party in the polls, us Social Democrats, has only about 25%. We have been able to govern Sweden for four years together with the Greens only because the Right bloc has refused to collaborate with Hate & Fear. The rule is that the Prime Minister after Sunday is whoever doesn’t meet with enough parliamentary opposition to stop her.
As I understand things from current polls, our best chance is to form a Centrist coalition that excludes parties on the outer ends of the Left-Right axis, breaking up both of the earlier blocs. A possible alternative is that the Right bloc sticks together and makes the deal with Hate & Fear that they have refused in the past four years. A lot of Right bloc voters would be deeply ashamed of such a move.
It wouldn’t give Hate & Fear a seat at the government table, but they would definitely receive something. This has already (infamously) happened in a few local assemblies, and there Hate & Fear have proved an unreliable ally. In Gävle, for instance, Hate & Fear helped topple the Left+Green leadership but then refused to support the Right bloc’s municipal budget. Also, not only is Hate & Fear erratic as a party, but individual party representatives are also uniquely prone to flaking out on their responsibilities or quitting the party entirely. The latter usually happens because they don’t like the party line of avoiding Nazi salutes and Islamophobic comments in public.
So the situation is volatile, and it’s a really interesting parliamentary election. Meanwhile, me and my party friends are busy canvassing. Sunday will tell.