The social origins of democracy in Sweden: the role of agrarian politics

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In discussions of Scandinavian democratisation, it is commonplace to argue that long-standing farmer representation in parliament and a lack of feudalism facilitated early democratisation. The present essay questions this interpretation in the Swedish case. It centres on a re-interpretation of farmer politics at the national level from the 1866 two-chamber parliament reform to the alliance between the farmers’ party and Social Democrats in 1933. It is shown that democratisation was late and rapid; the 1866 reform was profoundly undemocratic. Swedish farmers did not organise themselves independently of nobles and landowners until the 1920s, and did not play the role of an independent pro-democratic force. The broad-based organisations of farmers in the 1920s and 1930s, with their democratic, participatory culture, were heavily influenced by the political culture of liberals and the labour movement. The implication for analyses of democratisation is that deep roots are less decisive than often supposed, and that modern political agency and organisation conversely, in contrast to influential research traditions and theories of democracy, can reverse undemocratic traditions.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial History
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Oct

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • History


  • Democratisation
  • agrarian politics
  • Sweden
  • class politics
  • farmers


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