Società italiana per lo studio della storia contemporanea



Paolo Borioni

Milano, Unicopli, pp. 275, euro 16,00 2005

Paolo Borioni is an eminent expert on the Scandinavian societies historically since the early modern period and in the present. One of the expressions of his competence is his PhD on Danish early modern theological debate. He demonstrates his competence also in this volume. The point of departure is the end of the United Kingdoms Sweden-Norway (1814-1905), an end which at the beginning of the 20th century changed the geopolitical preconditions in the North considerably. The union broke down through an escalating spiral of protectionism and nationalism where the union as such did not have any institutions that could control this vicious circle. After the peaceful liquidation of the union a conservative reform policy of domestic modernisation began. The conservatives, which so far had had a considerable portion of reactionary adherents and been largely agricultural in its profile, remarkably fast developed into a modernising party affirming industrial expansion and socioeconomic rationalisation. The political struggle with a growing and ever stronger social democratic party during the following three decades moulded together a political culture with a high capacity to find compromises and mediate between conflicting interests. The popular movements of organised workers, teetotallers and pietistic free church members, in opposition to the powerful Lutheran state church and the political and administrative elites of the state apparatus, formed a powerful protest and reform coalition with a growing pressure on the parliamentary order from the 1870s. The popular movements of social protest never became populist. They based their activities on self-education and became an important reference point for social democratic politics. The popular movements provided the historical framework when the social democrats in the early 1930s re-defined themselves from a class to a people's party, a re-definition that opened the way for a long period of political power. B. outlines convincingly the neutrality policy as a historically developed doctrine and as political practice. The neutrality policy with roots in the 1830s became a century later the second important power pillar for the social democrats besides the popular reform coalition. Their third important point of reference was the conservative modernisation strategy after the break-up of the union with Norway, which gave the social democrats a clear political target and, in turn a clear profile. Alternative politics ? conservative and social democratic ? for a shared goal of rationalisation emerged. In the 1930s the social democratic confession to economic and industrial rationalisation and social engineering became the winning concept for a long period. The economic and the social reinforced one another in a virtuous circle of social democratic modernisation and rationalisation. Borioni's elegant study is chronologically organised with the 1930s and the 1970s as important divides. Both decades were marked by economic depression but whereas the 1930s were the beginning of a long period of social democratic power the 1970s brought a period of more political instability and varying governments of different colour. B. has produced a convincing political history of the 20th century which in a concise form presents the Swedish history of the last one hundred years.

Bo Stråth