Socialist Left Party (Norway)
|Parliamentary leader||Audun Lysbakken|
|Founded||16 March 1975|
|Preceded by||Socialist Electoral League|
|Headquarters||Akersgata 35, Oslo|
|Youth wing||Socialist Youth|
|European affiliation||Nordic Green Left Alliance|
Red and Green
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At one point one of the smallest parties in Parliament, it became the fourth-largest political party in Norway for the first time in the 2001 parliamentary election and remained so until 2013. In 2005, the party became a governing party for the first time, participating in the Red-Green Coalition with the Labour Party and the Centre Party; before that, SV was frequently turned down by the Labour Party. Following the 2013 election, the party was reduced to the seventh largest party and became a part of the opposition.
The party was founded in 1973 as the Socialist Electoral League, an electoral coalition with the Communist Party, Socialist People's Party, Democratic Socialists – AIK and independent socialists. In 1975, the coalition was turned into a unified political party. The party was largely founded as a result of the foreign policies prevalent at the time, with the socialists being opposed to Norwegian membership of the European Union (then known as the European Economic Community) and NATO. While currently having the official ideology of democratic socialism, the party also increasingly profiles itself as a supporter of feminism and environmentalism. It calls for a stronger public sector, more government involvement in the economy and a strengthening of the social welfare net. Since 1987, the moderate faction of the party has held the leading positions.
As of 2008, the party has over 9,500 members; the number has steadily decreased since the party entered the governing coalition. The current leader of the Socialist Left is Audun Lysbakken, who was elected on 11 March 2012.
Like its predecessors, the Socialist People's Party and the Information Committee of the Labour Movement against Norwegian membership in the European Community, the Socialist Left is a left-wing party which favours a welfare state and taxation of the wealthy. Finn Gustavsen, former leader of the Socialist People's Party, believed that the Labour Party were not socialists, and the only socialist force in parliament were members from the Socialist Electoral League. He was one of the main opponents of Norwegian membership in the European Community, saying the organisation showed how "evil and stupid" capitalism really was. According to a 2002 poll, one out of four members in the Socialist Left wanted Norway to join the European Union.
The party's election program for the 2001 parliamentary election stated that the party was a "socialist party" with a vision of a Norway without social injustice. Since its inception, the party has promoted itself as socialist. In later years, the party has been portrayed as social democratic by some in the Norwegian media, and as democratic socialists. The party has been categorised as eco-socialist. The present leader, Audun Lysbakken, has been a self-proclaimed revolutionary, socialist, and Marxist. He believes the party to be a democratic socialist one.
Education has been one of main campaign issues since Kristin Halvorsen became party leader. Øystein Djupedal was elected Minister of Education and Research, and held that position for two years. He was replaced by fellow Socialist Left politician Bård Vegar Solhjell. Halvorsen took over the ministry in late 2009. Djupedal's first assignment in office was granting NOK 10 million to "even out social differences" between ethnic minorities. The party believes that everyone has the right to free access to kindergarten. Anders Folkestad, leader of the Confederation of Unions for Professionals, was not pleased with Djupedal's efforts during his term in office, saying; "Djupedal has created much uncertainty and a mess after he became Minister of Education and Research. Many had great expectations, but he is sure lagging behind from the time when he was a sideliner". Djupedal was heavily criticised by the Norwegian media for his controversial and bizarre statements. In late 2005, it was estimated that students studying general, business, and administrative studies would save up to NOK 11,978 under the Red-Green Coalition; school books became free when the coalition took power.
The party wants to reduce the number of private schools; Djupedal claims they are of no use. Bård Vegar Solhjell said he believed government-funded schools helped "smoothing social inequality". He further stated, "Many of those who remain outside the labor market have received lack of training from school. It prevents them from contributing to the community. Parties on the right often confuse social security and welfare schemes as the problem; however we tend to look at why they are struggling. There are systematic connections between social background and lack of training – it is a class question where something is needed to be done." Others believe that the party should nationalise non-public schools. Torbjørn Urfjell, former leader of the Socialist Youth chapter in Vest-Agder, said "School and adolescence is too important to be left to the market. Therefore, they should be taken back". During the 2005 election, the party promised to increase resources to public schools, believing that more money would lead to fewer pupils per teacher, and thus more individualised and personal instructions.
The party has held the office of Minister of the Environment since 2005, first by Helen Bjørnøy, followed by Erik Solheim and since 2012 by Bård Vegar Solhjell. During the 2009 parliamentary election, the party promoted itself as the "biggest" and "strongest" green party in Norway. The party was highly vocal against oil drilling in Lofoten and Vesterålen during the election campaign. A large minority within the party are opposed to the conservation plan, with the majority of them coming from Nordland, the county where the drilling is taking place. The party struggled, despite the public's strong focus on the green movement and global warming. They failed to gather new voters and instead experienced one of their worst elections in years. By August 2009, various opinion polls gave the party 10% support, but they lost most of their voters to the Labour Party during the last days of the election.
The party's strong emphasis on green politics and its failure to capture new voters has led to debate among electoral researchers. Frank Aarebrot commented, "It is interesting that both the Socialist Left and the Liberals has this bad turnout, when the environmental conference is taking place in Copenhagen". Halvorsen felt the environmental policies of the second Soria Moria declaration showed a clear level of commitment from the party's coalition partners. She called the environmental policies of the government one of the "most radical in Europe".
The party has promoted itself as a feminist party. In one of the Socialist Left's brochures published in 2005, it said "The Socialist Left is a feminist party. We are fighting for a society where women and men have equal opportunities. This means that women should earn as much as men, that there must be more women in the top positions and that there are welfare schemes that provide equality in the workplace". During the 2005 parliamentary election, one of the four main issues raised by party's youth wing was fighting against sexual harassment. In January 2005, Klassekampen asked 150 of the 169 representatives in parliament if they considered themselves feminist. According to the survey, the Socialist Left and the Liberal Party were the two most feminist, while The Progress Party was the least feminist party in parliament.
Audun Lysbakken was Minister of Children and Equality from 2009 to 2012. Arild Stokkan-Grande claimed equality amongst men and women has been a major issue in government mainly because of the activities of the Socialist Left. He claimed that there were more women then men serving in the departments the party controlled.
Immigration and diversity
In 1992 Carl I. Hagen of the Progress Party accused the party of supporting free immigration to Norway, after Lisbeth Holand proposed that immigrants from non-European countries should have the same immigration opportunities as immigrants who have their origins from countries who are members of the European Economic Area. While Hagen was highly critical, she felt that the policy would offer housing and jobs for non-Europeans who needed them. An opinion poll showed that 82.9% of the Socialist Left members were open to more immigration, making the party the most immigration-friendly party in parliament, but still less than the non-parliamentary Red Electoral Alliance. In a measurement done in late 2009, the Socialist Left became again the party least hostile to immigrants, this time behind the newly established party Red.
Another poll showed that almost one-third of Socialist Left voters would not want to live in an area with a high number of immigrants. Social geographer Karl Fredrik Tangen responded that it is easy for the typical intellectual Socialist Left voter, living in upper class areas, to agree to what was for them hypothetical question. Recent surveys show that support for the party by immigrants plummeted from 25% in 2005 to 6% in 2009. Norwegian-Somali writer Amal Aden explained that "we do not earn anything from the policies of the Socialist Left. They say that everyone is okay, and that does not work".
The party is open to more immigration, believing Norway will evolve into a more multicultural society. The party believes the only way to create social equality is to create ethnic equality in Norway. By 2009, Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said his government would tighten the then prevailing immigration policy, which would make it harder for immigrants to be granted asylum in Norway. The Socialist Left, along with the Liberal Party and the Christian Democrats, felt the new policy was too strict. and the party took a formal dissent in government regarding the asylium policy. The party in particular wants more liberal regulations for asylium cases that involve children.
In 2012, the party leader Audun Lysbakken strongly warned against Islamist extremists like Profetens Ummah, and woved to fight them.
The party is in favour of lifting the ban against religious headwear like hijab and turban for police employees, but the party has been split over the issue and a substansial minority, including the youth fraction, voted against allowing religious headwear at the party's convention in 2013.
The military action in Kosovo was a controversial issue within the party; the party leadership supported the military interventionism saying the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo had to be stopped. Supporters included Kristin Halvorsen, who favored NATO's air strikes, but a large group within the party vehemently opposed such support, arguing that violence would only lead to more violence. The party's chapter in Akershus called the attack a "NATO-led terrorist bombing" and believed the bombing marked the first time that Norway had declared war on another nation. They wanted the United Nations to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Stein Ørnhøi, leader of the Socialist People's Party, said the party's representatives in parliament acted preposterously; he felt they made the wrong decision in supporting NATO's actions in Kosovo when the majority of the party was against it. During the national convention, Halvorsen threatened to resign as party leader unless the factional fighting within the party stopped. This led to a split within the party, with the first group supporting her resignation and the larger second faction concluding that the NATO bombing was to be immediately terminated if the Serbs stopped the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, if Halvorsen continued as party leader.
In most foreign policy issues the party has opposed military action. They were against the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and were very much against the War in Iraq. After joining the Red-Green Coalition in 2005, the party stopped their strong opposition to the two wars, and in 2008 the party proposed creating a "new strategy" for the Norwegian armed forces located in Afghanistan. In 2007, Erik Solheim from the Ministry of International Development visited Norwegian troops in Afghanistan. The policy regarding Afghanistan has led to much unrest within the party, most notably with the party's chapter in Bergen. By early 2008, the party chapters of Hordaland and Rogaland criticised Kristin Halvorsen and the government regarding their Afghanistan policies, and demanded an immediate withdrawal by October 2009. The Oslo chapter asked for drastic changes in the military strategy created by NATO.
Thorbjørn Jagland, then President of the Storting, requested the government should send more soldiers to Afghanistan, if NATO requested it. The Socialist Left supported the war, but was against sending more soldiers to the region, and denied access for the Norwegian Special Forces. Their main reason was that Norway, along with the Netherlands, "clearly had the most soldiers located in Afghanistan [...]" in relation to population in the respective countries, and Afghanistan was "the largest military commitment Norway currently has abroad".
Organisation and structure
The party is split into five organs: the first national convention, which held every second year, the National Board, the Central Committee, Municipal and Local Chapters, and the Party Representatives. The national convention works as a democratic body for the party, where members representing their county or municipal can elect new national representatives for the party. One example of this is the party leader, who stands for election every second year.
The National Board is the party's highest decision-making body between the national conventions. The Board consists of 19 members. Members are elected by each county, plus six members are directly elected during the national convention; some of these are permanent members. In total there are 36 members. The board meets approximately six times a year to deal with current political and organisational issues. Its task is to adopt the party's budget and to select the party's permanent political representatives. The Central Committee manages the party in the interim period between National Board meetings. Members of the committee are elected by the national convention. the Committee consists of the party leader, the two deputy leaders, the party secretary, the parliamentary leader, the leader of the Socialist Youth, and five other members. The board holds a meeting almost every Monday. The Municipal and Local Chapters organ works as "communication" body between the chapters and the national party.
The last body, the Party's Representative organ, consists of nine national party offices. These offices serves as advisory bodies for the party. The officeholders work alongside the party's parliamentary group, the government apparatus, and the rest of the party organisation on their specialised offices. They also have contact with organisations and communities in their local area. The Party's Representatives normally meet four to six times a year; the group consists of party members from all over the nation who have any special expertise. Party's Representatives are elected by the national convention.
In total, there are twelve offices, all of which are located in the party's headquarters at Akersgate 35, Oslo. These offices are in turn the administrative organs of the party. The most important office of the Socialist Left is the party secretary; a post held by Silje Schei Tveitdal.
After losing all its parliamentary seats in the 1969 parliamentary election, the Socialist People's Party sought to create an election coalition between various left-wing parties. While previously being sceptical of working with the Communist Party of Norway, the party eventually became a member of the coalition, along with the Information Committee of the Labour Movement against Norwegian membership in the European Community and various non-party-aligned independent socialists. Reidar T. Larsen, leader of the Communist Party, said the members at the party's national convention unanimously agreed to join the coalition, which would later go by the name of the Socialist Electoral League.
It took 16 days to negotiate a settlement between the groups. Members agreed that this coalition would be the only way to get a "socialist government" in Norway. By 1973, the Labour Party had suffered a decrease in popular support, which at that time was estimated to around 100,000 voters. Speculation arose that voters had left the Labour Party for the newly created Socialist Electoral League. Early Labour Party predictions were that the Electoral League would dissolve because of internal strife. Reiulf Steen later stated that he had more "respect" for the Maoist Red Electoral Alliance party than the Electoral League. The coalition gained 11.2% of the popular vote and 16 seats in parliament in the 1973 parliamentary election.
The party now known as the Socialist Left was founded in 1975. The Communist Party did not want to dissolve to become a member of the Socialist Left Party, and voted against membership. This led to an internal struggle within the party, with the party's official newspaper, Friheten, strongly suggesting the party could not dissolve, because that would mean the death of the revolutionary movement. The official newspaper of the Socialist People's Party, Orientering, attacked what they called the "hard-core" leaders of the Communist Party. Without the Communist Party, the other parties voted to dissolve the coalition and to replace it with a political party.
Early years (1976–1997)
The first years were not successful, as the party lost many of its seats in Parliament, but under Berge Furre's leadership during the 1980s, the party's popularity rose again. Internal conflicts within the party escalated; there were rumours that then sitting deputy leader Steinar Stjernø was trying to throw out the social democratic wing of the party. A more serious problem for the party was that two of the party's MPs had been convicted of betrayal of the country in the aftermath of World War II, the most notable being Hanna Kvanmo. Later, Kvanmo became one of the leading and most-liked politicians in Norway. Under the leadership of Theo Koritzinsky later in the 1980s, the party became prominent in their efforts for peace, disarmament, employment, green politics, and economic equality.
At the beginning of the 1990s under Erik Solheim, party popularity again declined. They lost most of their "no to EU" voters to the Centre Party, when the party fought actively against Norwegian membership in the European Union, and when Norwegians again voted against membership in a referendum. Solheim's tenure as leader—while praised by some—was seen as very controversial. The socialist wing of the party, the "Museum Guardians" as they were called, were worried that Solheim was moving the party too much to the centre. Outside critics of Solheim said his policies had led to a "grey-blue social democratic" party with little or no differences from the Labour Party. Solheim tried to get the party to change direction and form a coalition government with the Labour and the Centre Party. Solheim was forced to resign in 1997, with the party seeing him as the main reason for the new power struggle between the left- and right-wing factions of the party.
Early leadership of Halvorsen (1997–2005)
With the election of Kristin Halvorsen as new party leader in 1997, the party's popularity rose again. Under her leadership, the main focus became education, and the slogan "children and youth first" was coined. The party steadily built up its voter base during the Labour Stoltenberg's First Cabinet, which moved the Labour Party more to centre while privatising government-held assets. This led to a historic high voter turnout for the Socialist Left; they earned 12.5% of the national vote in the 2001 election. The Labour Party earned a record-low turnout, with only 24.3% of the vote. The turnout only worsened the inner struggle within the party, with party leader Thorbjørn Jagland and Jens Stoltenberg accusing each other. The right-wing faction of the party wanted to continue to move the party further to the centre, while the left-wing faction wanted to move the party closer to the Socialist Left. By early 2005, polls showed that over 20% of Norwegian voters would vote for the Socialist Left.
Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik from the Christian Democratic Party believed the three parties were "unclear" and "vague" when talking about the Red-Green Coalition ideological and political position. After discussing the national budget with the Socialist Left and the Centre Party, Jens Stoltenberg agreed with Halvorsen that they needed to create a universal free day care service. By February 2005, an opinion poll gave the coalition 96 of 169 seats in parliament, with the Socialist Left increasing with 3.9%. Later in February, a small faction within the party called the future coalition the Red-Grey Coalition, believing the environmental policies of the Labour and the Centre Party were not "radical enough".
Before the 2005 parliamentary election, Deputy Leader Øystein Djupedal said that the Socialist Left would not contribute to any radical changes if they earned a position within the government. Erna Solberg, leader of the Conservative Party, accused the party of being "communist", because some of its present and earlier connections to communist organisations around Europe. By early August, the Socialist Left was the party having the most progress in the opinion polls, but 17% of the people who voted for the Socialist Left previously were unsure what party they would vote for in the 2005 election. By late August the party was labelled one of the "big losers" in the election, along with the Conservative Party. Many election researchers believed that the Socialist Left had lost voter's interest when they entered the coalition and worked alongside the Labour Party. The bad election results led to internal struggles within the party, with Djupedal claiming it to be the hardest election in the party history. The party had 5 of 19 ministers in the government, one more than the Centre Party.
Red-Green Coalition (2005–2013)
In the 2009 parliamentary election, the party lost four seats and was left with 11, but a three-seat gain by the Labour Party secured the Red-Green Coalition an 86–83 majority. The shift of power within the coalition resulted in the loss of one Socialist Left cabinet minister, leaving them with four, the same as the Centre Party. The Socialist Left and Halvorsen conceded the influential Ministry of Finance to the Labour Party in order to keep control of the Ministry of Education and Research. Halvorsen announced her resignation following the 2011 local elections. The new leader was to be chosen on an extraordinary party congress in 2012. Audun Lysbakken, Heikki Holmås and Bård Vegar Solhjell have announced their candidature for the leader position. Lysbakken was elected the party's leader on 11 March 2012.
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In the Norwegian parliamentary elections, the Socialist Left Party holds the position as the seventh-largest party in Norway, behind the Labour Party, the Conservatives, the Progress Party, the Christian Democrats, the Centre Party and the Liberals. Their popularity initially declined from levels achieved by the Socialist Electoral League. Their seat count rose to its peak after the 2001 parliamentary election; this election also marked the Socialist Left's largest voter count, with 12.5% of the national vote.
When the Socialist Electoral League was founded in the early 1970s, the party won voters from the Labour Party, which ruled as a majority government. Early speculation said that the Labour Party had lost 100,000 votes to the Electoral League. The Socialist Left Party gained 16 seats in Parliament. After the unification process was finished, the party's voter base collapsed and they earned only 4.2% of the national vote in the 1977 parliamentary election, and earned only two seats in parliament. After the election, the party won new voters, and in the 1989 parliamentary election, it gathered 10.1% of the national vote. After the election, the party lost voters again, and after the 1997 election, the party mustered 9 representatives in parliament.
After having what many described as a bad election in 2001, the Norwegian Labour Party lost many of its voters to the Socialist Left, with the Socialist Left increasing from 6% to 12.5% of the national vote, again becoming the fourth largest party in the country. However, this growth did not last long. In the 2005 election the party gathered 8.8% of the vote; this further decreased in the 2009 election, when the party gathered 6.2% of the vote; and again in the 2013 election when the party gathered 4.1%, 1,600 votes away from falling under the election threshold.
The 1975 county and municipality election was met with a sharp decrease in voters, with the party earning a disappointing voter turnout of 5.5% in the municipal election and 5.7% in the county election. In an opinion poll done before election day in 1975, it was estimated that half of the voters who voted for the Socialist Electoral League would not vote for the party again. The decrease in voters was due the Labour Party's election surge during the 1973 parliamentary election. The party further decreased in popular support by the 1979 local election, earning 4.1% in the municipal and 4.4% in the county respectively.
By the 1983 local election the party increased by 1% in the municipal and 0.9% in the county election. According to an opinion poll done in early September, the Labour Party would lose four of its Oslo representatives in parliament to the Progress Party, Conservative Party, and the Socialist Left. If the 1983 local election had been a parliamentary election, the Socialist Left would have received 8 seats in parliament. The party earned 5.5% and 5.7% in the county and municipal elections in 1987 respectively. The party's strongest county was Nordland, where the party gained 21.9% of the popular vote.
The 1991 election marked a large increase in voters for the party, earning 11.6 in the municipalities and 12.2% in the counties, making the party the third-largest party in Norway. The Socialist Left, along with the Centre Party, was named the election's "big winners" by the Norwegian press. In the following election, the party gathered 5.9% in the municipalities and 6.1% in counties. Before the election in 1991, polls showed an increase in popular support for the Socialist Left in Oslo. The reason for the increase was that the party was again able to win votes from the Labour Party. The party gained 7.8% of the votes in the municipalities and 8.5% in the counties.
By 2003, the party's voter based had increased dramatically over the 1999 local elections. The party had what many described as a "record election", winning most of its voters from the Labour Party. The 2007 elections went badly for the party; their voter base was reduced by half from the local elections of 2003. In the 2011 local elections, the party fared even worse, getting only slightly above 4% of all votes on a nationwide basis. After this, leader Kristin Halvorsen announced her resignation on the election night.
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