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Swedish fascism 1920-1950

Research project The purpose of this project is to conduct the first comprehensive scholarly study of Swedish interwar fascism and ultra-nationalism. The study will focus on fascism and other types of ultra-nationalism as ideological systems, will be comparative in its approach, and will be correlated to the latest theoretical and methodological developments within the international field of fascist studies. For the sake of internationalisation of Swedish research in general and since there is in fact an international interest in this topic in particular, the results of the project will be accounted for in a book written in English for an international audience.

Head of project

Lena Berggren
Senior lecturer (associate professor)

Project overview

Project period

2007-02-08 2008-06-30


Finansår , 2003, 2004, 2005

huvudman: Lena Berggren, finansiar: VR hum-sam, y2003: 522000, y2004: 538000, y2005: 560000,

Research subject

History, History of ideas

Project description

General purpose of the project
The purpose of this project is to conduct the first comprehensive scholarly study of Swedish interwar fascism and ultra-nationalism. The study will focus on fascism and other types of ultra-nationalism as ideological systems, will be comparative in its approach, and will be correlated to the latest theoretical and methodological developments within the international field of fascist studies. For the sake of internationalisation of Swedish research in general and since there is in fact an international interest in this topic in particular, the results of the project will be accounted for in a book written in English for an international audience. The project also contains a four month stay as a Visiting Research Fellow at the Humanities Research Centre, Oxford Brookes University in the United Kingdom.

Perspectives, relevance and importance
The reason why the results of the project will be presented in English is above all that there is an interest within the international field of fascist studies for an accessible survey of Swedish fascism, a survey that to date is practically non-existant. During the last decade or so, the area of fascist studies has undergone a rapid theoretical and methodological development. Part of this development has resulted in what can be labelled an ideological approach to fascism, that is to assume as the basis for the analysis that fascism is in fact, and should be analysed as, a relatively coherent political ideology analogous to socialism or liberalism. This proposition is by no means uncontroversial, but does in fact open up the field of fascist studies to new approaches and offers a way to reaching new, hitherto unappraised suggestions as to what fascism is and how it can be understood, and it is within this framework that the study proposed here will be conducted.

In short, the premises for this new perspective are first and foremost that fascism should be perceived as a relatively coherent and serious ideology, which implies that studies of fascism should be conducted using the same theoretical, methodological and other tools as for other kinds of studies in political history. Second, this ideological approach implies that the concept one proposes to use must aim at a generic rather than a specific level, and thus focus on what can be seen as a kind of ‘fascist minimum’ in ideological terms. Finally, the formulation of this generic concept has to be a process of inductive construction of an ideal-type rather than the sifting out of ’objective’ characteristics (a ’real-type’ definition) based on one or a limited number of role-models. This approach has resulted in a number of attempts at formulating a generic ideal-type concept of fascism as a political ideology by scholars from a number of different countries (e.g. Griffin 1991 and 1998, Eatwell 1995, Mosse 1999, Sternhell 1994, Gentile 1996), but it is fair to say that this ideological approach at the moment has its main stronghold in the United Kingdom.

A consequense of this approach is that the greater the number of cases taken into account, in this case of different national variants of fascism(s), the more accurate the generic concept will be. The conceptualisation of fascism should thus be perceived as an ongoing process, in which knowledge about hitherto unresearched national variants of fascism will add precision, refine-ment and empirical strength to the ideal-type generic concept of fascism. From this follows, that a study of Swedish fascism, a phenomenon which at first sight, judging from the existing research on the topic, appears to be indigenously insignificant to say the least, actually has a bearing on the formulation of the generic concept of fascism. And this makes the study of Swedish fascism inte-resting and justifiable from an ideological perspective.

In the process of formulating a generic concept of fascism, Swedish fascism might also be of special interest since it includes not only a wide variety of different strands of fascist thought, but also encompasses related ideological phenomena such as völkisch thought, radical and authori-tarian conservatism, and what has been labelled redemptive antisemitism (Berggren 2002a, Friedländer 1998). In other words, a study of Swedish interwar fascism could be a vehicle not only to support the idea of fascism as a relatively coherent ideology that can be generically de-fined, but also to refine the conceptualisation and add new dimensions to the important discussion about the varieties and boundaries of fascism. It has also been pointed out (Baker 1996) that more insignificant fascist movements, because they were less constrained by an oppor-tunism encouraged by the closeness to power, actually might present a ’purer’ kind of fascist thought. This is a hypothesis that needs to be tested, but if Baker is right, the Swedish case becomes even more significant.

Relevant concepts
I use the term ‘fascism’ with a lower-case f as a generic term. It thus includes Italian Fascism (with a capital ‘F’), German National Socialism and other types of fascism such as those repre-sented by for instance the Spanish Falange, the Rumanian Iron Guard and the Hungarian Arrow Cross. The best investigation to date of the different variants of fascism can be found in Payne 1995. I further propose that distinctions have to be made between fascism and the radical and authoritarian right, between fascism and völkisch thought, and between fascism and ideological racism such as political antisemitism (See further Payne 1995, Eatwell & O’Sullivan 1989, Mosse 1964, Puschner 2001, Berggren 1999). Exactly how these distinctions should be made will be one of the issues addressed in the project by using the Swedish source material as a starting point for an international comparison which will result in suggestions on how the demarkation lines between fascism and the above mentioned other types of ultra-nationalism generically can be drawn.

As a blanket term for fascism, the radical and authoritarian right, völkisch thought and so on, I propose the the use of ‘ultra-nationalism’. The concept of ultra-nationalism has by Roger Griffin been defined as ‘forms of nationalism which “go beyond” and hence reject, anything compatible with liberal institutions or with the tradition of Enlightenment humanism which underpins them’ (Griffin 1993, p 37). This conceptualisation will, within the proposed project, be used as a preliminary definition of ultra-nationalism. It must however be refined even at this early state by adding that all kinds of ultra-nationalism contains a strand of racist thought in some form, albeit this feature in some stages of the development of ultra-nationalist movements can be more or less latent.

Besides defining the blanket term ultra-nationalism, it is also necessary at this early stage to pre-sent a preliminary working definition of fascism, since this concept is so central to the proposed study. I propose to conduct my analysis using the following generic definition: Fascism is an ultra-nationalistic, revolutionary and modern ideology with holistic and syncretic preten-tions aiming to create a radically new society and a new type of man. This concept will however need to be refined further by a qualification of the elements contained. I will have to clarify what I mean by revolutionary, modern, holistic, syncretic, and so on. But to include this elucidation here would lead too far astray, and will thus have to wait.

From a theoretical perspective, it finally needs to be pointed out that political history in general can be analysed on three different levels, dealing with ideology, political movements and regimes respectively (see for instance Blinkhorn, 2000). Up until now, there has been quite some mud-deling of these different analytical level within the field of fascist studies, where features belonging to the movement and regime levels have been included in definitions of fascism, which belongs on the ideological level, and the result of this has quite frankly caused a lot of confusion. The purpose of the study proposed here is to focus on the ideological level of analysis, simply because the key issue here is to try and understand what fascism and other kinds of ultra-nationalism was, to capture its ideological content. It must however be emphasised that a full understanding of fascism has to include all three levels of analysis, lest we end up treating historical phenomena in an ahistorical way. The ideological level should thus be seen as the first level of analysis, not the only one.

It should also be emphasised that these constructed levels are interrelated and effect each other, and that the study of fascim always, like all kinds of historical research, has to take the actual context into consideration. But even here, we can make use the analytical levels of ideology, movement and regime in a fruitful way, since each level attaches to different kinds of context. Unregarding of what level is being focused, it is imperative that there is an awareness of the whole picture since this helps both to crystalise the analysis in question and determine which factors and contexts that can be regarded as belonging to another level of analysis.

Previous and forthcoming research of relevance to the project
Until now, very little scholarly work has actually been done on Swedish interwar fascism and ultra-nationalism as such (For a thorough discussion of the state of research as of today, see Berggren 2002b). Scholarly monographs on interwar Swedish fascism is limited to Wärenstam 1970, Lindström 1985, Lööw 1990 and Blomqvist 1999. If the context is widened to include ultra-nationalism in general, Wärenstam 1965, Torstendahl 1969, Oredsson 1996 and Berggren 1999 can be added to the rather meagre monograph list. To be sure, there are also a number of articles available, but these add little to what can be found in the monographs. Scholarly studies written in English are even scarcer. There are, to date, one monograph (Lindström 1985) and three articles (Hagtvet 1980, Lööw 1988, Berggren 2002). However, there are several studies with a journalistic or popular scientific character available, and cumulatively considerable empirical detail has been gathered relating to the subject.

Most of what has been written on interwar Swedish fascism and other kinds of ultra-nationalism so far however suffer from a lack of a comparative perspective as well as a clear theoretical orien-tation and a synthetical approach. The ideological perspective is also, for the most part, weak. Taken together, it is fair to say that most previous research in this area has focused on the regime level, trying to answer the question why fascism failed to form the basis of a regime in Sweden. In Lööw 1990, however, a serious attempt at investigating the movement level through a study of the largest nazi parties is available. Lööw also touches on the ideological level of analysis as does Oredsson 1996, Blomqvist 1999 and Berggren 1999, but these studies are all rather limited to organisations or contexts somewhat away from the core fascist movement in Sweden. It is thus fair to say, that a study of Swedish interwar fascism and ultra-nationalism focusing on the ideological level of analysis is yet to be conducted, and there is a need for a new scholarly approach toward Swedish fascism and ultra-nationalism that tries to synthesise what we know so far, fill out the existing gaps with new research, analyse Swedish fascism within a modern theoretical and methodological framework, and apply a comparative perspective.

There are, however, four studies in particular in progress that will hopefully underpin the com-prehensive study proposed here, since they use a more ideological approach. First, there is my own study of the Swedish National Federation which will be completed in the spring of 2003. Second, Conny Mithander at Karlstad University is working on a biography of Per Engdahl which should be completed shortly. Third, Kristina Andersson at Gothenburg University is wor-king on a PhD thesis on Annie Åkerhielm, and, fourth, Patrik Tornéus at Umeå University is working on a PhD thesis on Per Engdahl from a litteraty perspective. Some of the projects which will be conducted within the framework of the research programme on ’Sweden’s relations to nazism, nazi Germany and the Holocaust’, which is being monitored by the Swedish Research Council will also, hopefully, generate results of interest for the project suggested here.

The contents of the study
The project will principally involve the following dominant fascist organisationsand their predesessors: the Swedish National Socialist Party (Svenska Nationalsocialistiska Partiet, SNSP), the National Socialist Labour Party/the Swedish Socialist Coalition (Nationalsocialistiska Arbetarpartiet/Svensk Socialistisk Samling, NSAP/SSS), the National Socialist Bloc (National-socialistiska Blocket, NSB), Sweden’s Fascist Combat Organisation (Sveriges Fascistiska Kamp-organisation, SFKO), the National Federation of the New Sweden (Riksförbundet det Nya Sve-rige, RNS) and Swedish Opposition (Svensk Opposition).

The study will also, for the sake of comparative analysis and in order to mirror the full ideological spectrum of antidemocratic ultra-nationalism, consider a few border-line cases with strong fascist tendencies. These include the Swedish National Federation (Sveriges Nationella Förbund, SNF), Sweden’s Socialist Party (Sveriges Socialistiska Parti, SSP), the Clerical People’s Party (Kyrkliga Folkpartiet, KFp), and the völkisch organisations the Manhem Society (Samfundet Manhem) and the National Association Sweden-Germany (Riksföreningen Sverige-Tyskland, RST). Some other, minor organisations might also be of interest provided that they have generated source material of significant extent, as will some unorganised individuals within the ultra-nationalist framework such as Elof Eriksson, Einar Åberg, Holger Möllman-Palmgren, Annie Åkerhielm and others.

A detailed list of the material that will be used for the project is not possible here, since it would be too extensive, but something needs to be said. The biggest bulk of the source material will be newspapers and journals. Among these are Spöknippet, Vägen Framåt, Nationalsocialistisk Tidning, Den Svenske Nationalsocialisten/Den Svenske Folksocialisten, Nationell Socialism, Riksposten, Sverige Fritt, Nationell Krönika, Nationell Tidning, Dagsposten, Folkets Dagblad and Sverige-Tyskland to mention only the most important ones. Books, pamphlets and political programmes will also be used. Some of this material is available through the university library system, some in personal and party archives predominantely at the Swedish National Archive. Some of these archives also contain letters and manuscripts that will be of interest, especially in trying to determine how the networks linking the different organisations together looked like, officially as well as inofficially, and in determining what international contacts the Swedish groups had. Relevant material in the archive of the Secret Police will also be used. I know fairly well what archive material is available and where it can be found, and I also have previous experience from working with material from the archive of the Secret Police.

A key hypothesis which will be applied to structure the study is that Swedish fascism and ultra-nationalism can be divided along an ideological spectrum from ’right’ to ’left’ within this parti-cular context. Much of the investigation will centre round an indepth analysis of what the Swe-dish fascists and other ultra-nationalists tried to achieve, what their core utopian myth looked like and how this goal was supposed to be realized. This analysis will be conducted using fairly tradi-tional tools from the field of the history of ideas, wiz. in-debth text analysis, contextualisation, and a hermenutic perspective aiming at understanding without legitimising or justifying.

Through this rather source-bound analysis and comparison with equivalent strands of thought in other countries, it should be possible, in the later stages of the project, to address the more com-plex issues such as what the major differences between fascism and other kinds of ultra-nationalism are, how völkisch thought relates to fascism in general and national socialism in par-ticular, what role racism and antisemitism play in the formulation of the fascist ideology and so on. In short, the study’s final aim is to use the rich Swedish source material and the international comparisons to make suggestions on a generic level, thus completing the circular movement from general, abstract theory through a very source dependent research to refined theory.

Through this process it will also be possible to address the issue of what makes Swedish fascism Swedish, that is to determine which ideological or other features that are specific to the Swedish context. Since fascism is an ultra-nationalist ideology, it has a strong indigenous make-up deter-mined by the particular national setting. To some scholars, this has lead to the conclusion that one can not talk about fascism as a generic phenomenon, only as national variants. This conclu-sion is a bit too drastic, but it is a fact that there are, at least during the interwar period, decisive national differences. Determining what constitutes the swedishness of Swedish fascism thus tells us something of its context, that is of interwar Sweden in general.

The proposed project will focus on the interwar and immediate postwar years. The major reason for the limitation is that there are some works in progress on the postwar period. Heléne Lööw will shortly publish a comprehensive volume on the period 1950-1980, and Stéphane Bruchfeld at Uppsala University is working on a PhD thesis on Holocaust denial in Sweden, which is the most significant and ideologically interesting development that takes place after 1950 before the boom of the White Power network in the late 1980s. To my knowlede, Conny Mithander’s forth-coming biography on Per Engdahl, who is as interesting after 1950 as before, will cover the later period as well. Since the postwar period contains a much smaller fascist movement in Sweden, there is not as much material to do research on, and given the works in progress just mentioned, I find it justifiable to end this particular project in 1950. It should be noted though, that the immediate postwar years will be covered within the project.