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Folkhemmet (English: the people's home, definite form of folkhem) is a political concept that played an important role in the history of the Swedish Social Democratic Party and the Swedish welfare state. It is also sometimes used to refer to the long period between 1932-1976 when the Social democrats were in power and the concept was put into practice, but also works as a poetic name for the Swedish welfare state. Sometimes referred to as "the Swedish Middle Way", folkhemmet was viewed as midway between capitalism and socialism. The base of the Folkhem vision is that the entire society ought to be like a small family, where everybody contributes. The Swedish Social Democrats' successes in the postwar period is often explained by the fact that the party managed to motivate major social reforms with the idea of the folkhem and the national family's joint endeavor.
The term is thought to have its roots in Rudolf Kjellén's vision of a corporatist-styled society based on class collaboration in the national interest, largely based on Otto von Bismarck's juxtaposing of conservative stability and continuity to social reforms otherwise associated with socialist parties, such as universal healthcare and unemployment benefits.
The Folkhemmet ideology is generally considered to be a compromise between Soviet Marxism–Leninism and Western ideologies. The aim of the Swedish Social Democratic ideology is, as was the case of Soviet Marxism–Leninism, to create a completely new society without any major income differences. There are thus marked similarities between Soviet ideology and Swedish Social Democratic ideology. The methods of reaching this aim is however different in that social democracy want to realize this aim through gradual reforms, whereas communism aims to realize this new society through a swift revolution.
The Social Democratic leaders Ernst Wigforss, an avid Keynesian, and Per Albin Hansson, a social corporatist, are considered the main architects of folkhemmet, with inspiration from the conservative Kjellén. It was later developed by the Prime Ministers Tage Erlander and Olof Palme until the Social Democratic party historically lost power in 1976. Another important proponent was Hjalmar Branting, who came into contact with the concept while a student at Uppsala university, and went on to become the first socialist Prime Minister of Sweden.
Hansson introduced the concept in 1928, saying that Sweden should become more like a "good home", this being marked by equality and mutual understanding. Hansson advocated that the traditional class society should then be replaced by "the people's home" (folkhemmet).
The concept came at a time when nationalization was being questioned, and marked the party's abandonment of the notion of class struggle, a concept fundamental to the early Social Democratic movement. Instead they adapted a planned economy and what would be called Funktionssocialism, where businesses were controlled through regulations rather than government ownership. The government would then also have more control over the individual, however, to the extent required to increase the wellbeing of citizens.
Good and easily available education, even to higher levels, was considered particularly important for building the new society. As a result, Sweden became one of the first countries in the world to offer free education at all levels, including all public universities, along with several new universities founded during the 1960s. Free universal health care was provided by the state, enacted in 1947-55, along with numerous other social services.
During the 1930s social engineering became an important part of folkhemmet. Alva and Gunnar Myrdal's 1934 book Crisis in the Population Question (partly inspired by Malthusianism and Jean Piaget) inspired a radical and progressive policy for how to deal with a declining population. A number of changes took place in this period including expansion of the public sector, Wigforss' economic policies, Gustav Möller's reform of the pension system, and Gunnar Myrdal's housing policies.
In the 1940s and 50s, old worn down houses that served as the overcrowded dwellings of the lower class were demolished. Instead, people were offered modern housing with bathrooms and windows to let light into every room, so called funkis architecture. In the same way, new housing projects – or "working class suburbs" – were constructed in the 1960s and 70s to fill the needs of the increasing population in the Million Programme.
Alva and Gunnar Myrdal suggested a series of programs designed to help families but also regulations in the form of compulsory sterilization. This was meant primarily to prevent mental illness and disease, and was thus supported by the government. As in Canada and the US, however, racial politics also became involved, due to a strong belief in the connection between race and genetic integrity among leading scientists and those carrying out the sterilizations. In the later decades it was primarily the mentally ill who were forcibly sterilized, and around 62,000 individuals were sterilized over a period of 40 years until 1976. The Swedish state subsequently paid out damages to those who were sterilized.