Tage Erlander

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Gustaf VI Adolf
Preceded byPer Albin Hansson[a]
Succeeded byOlof Palme
Leader of the Social Democratic Party
In office
11 October 1946 – 1 October 1969
Preceded byPer Albin Hansson
Succeeded byOlof Palme
Minister of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs
In office
31 July 1945 – 11 October 1946
Prime MinisterPer Albin Hansson
Preceded byGeorg Andrén
Succeeded byJosef Weijne
Personal details
Tage Fritjof Erlander

(1901-06-13)13 June 1901
Huddinge, Sweden
Political partySocial Democrat
Height6 ft 4 in (1.92 m)[3][4][5] [b]
(m. 1930)
Children2, including Sven Erlander
Alma materLund University
AwardsIllis quorum

Tage Fritjof Erlander (Swedish:

"Swedish Model" at the peak of its acclaim and notoriety.[8][9] His uninterrupted tenure of 23 years as head of the government is the longest ever in Sweden and in any modern Western democracy.[c]

Born to a poor family in

World War II coalition government in 1944, Erlander rose unexpectedly to the leadership upon the death of Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson in October 1946, maintaining the position of the Social Democrats as the dominant party in the country. Known for his moderation, pragmatism and self-irony, Erlander often sought approval from the liberal-conservative opposition for his policies, de facto dropping all pretences of wide-scale nationalizations whilst introducing reforms such as universal health insurance, pension additions and a growing public sector, although stopping short of raising tax levels above the average OECD levels at the time. Until the 1960s, income taxes were lower in Sweden than in the United States.[11]

For most of his time in power, Erlander ran a

upper house for most of this time and this allowed Erlander to remain in power after the 1956 general election, when the right-wing parties won a majority. A snap election in 1958
then reversed this result.

In foreign policy, he initially sought an alliance of Nordic countries, but without success, instead

In the

Early life and education

Erlandergården [sv], Erlander's childhood home and schoolhouse, now a museum

Tage Fritjof[d] Erlander[17][18][19] was born in Ransäter, Värmland County on June 13, 1901,[8][5] on the top floor of the house today known as Erlandergården [sv].[20] His parents were Alma Erlander (née Nilsson) and Erik Gustaf Erlander.[17][e] Erik Gustaf was a teacher and cantor.[21][13] and he married Alma Nilsson in 1893.[17] According to Erlander, his father was very religious, supportive of universal suffrage, pro-free market, anti-trade union,[22] and a liberal.[23] Erlander had an older brother, Janne Gustaf Erlander (born 1893), an older sister, Anna Erlander (born 1894), and a younger sister, Dagmar Erlander (born 1904).[17][5]

Erlander's paternal grandfather, Anders Erlandsson, worked as a smith at an ironworks, and his maternal grandfather was a farmer who held a public office in his home municipality.[21] On his maternal grandmother's side, Erlander descended from Forest Finns, who migrated to Värmland from the Finnish province of Savonia in the 17th century.[24][25]

Erlander in April 1925, photographed by Per Bagge [sv]

The Erlander family was initially poor,

lingonberries to Germany.[20] As a child, Erlander lived on the second floor of Erlandergården, and attended school on the first floor.[20] He later attended schools in Karlstad, living in a boarding house for children of clergymen.[21] He was reportedly a good student in high school.[20]

In September 1920, his father enrolled him at Lund University rather than Uppsala University, as he felt Lund was more affordable.[21] As a student at Lund, Erlander was heavily involved in student politics and met many politically radical students. He was exposed to societal and economic injustices, and began to identify with socialism.[26] Beginning in autumn of 1923, Erlander read the writings of Karl Marx.[26] He met his future wife, fellow student Aina Andersson.[27] They began working together in the chemistry department in 1923.[28] He also met and studied natural sciences with fellow student and future physicist Torsten Gustafson, who would later serve as an advisor on nuclear affairs to Erlander during his premiership.[29][30] In addition to his scientific studies, Erlander also read some economics,[31] and was an active member of Wermlands Nation, where he was elected Kurator (head executive) in 1922.[32] He graduated with a degree in political science and economics in 1928.[27]

From 1928 to 1929 he completed his compulsory military service in the Signal Corps and eventually went on to become a reserve Lieutenant.[citation needed] Erlander's first major job[27] was a member of the editorial staff of the encyclopedia Svensk upplagsbok from 1928 to 1938.[8] In 1930 Tage and Aina married, although in his memoirs he stated that they both opposed the institution.[28] They spent their first few years of marriage apart, as Erlander was working in Lund while Aina was working in Karlshamn, and they only saw each other on holidays.[28] Their first son, Sven Bertil Erlander, was born on May 25, 1934, in Halmstad, and their second son, Bo Gunnar Erlander, was born in Lund on May 16, 1937.[17]

Early political career

Local politics

Erlander (back left row, second from left) with the Lund Academic Association in 1930, photographed by Per Bagge [sv]

Erlander joined the Social Democratic Party in 1928,[27] and was elected to the Lund municipal council in 1930,[8] becoming involved in improving poor city housing, lowering unemployment, and installing a new bathhouse.[27]

He was elected as a member of the Riksdag (parliament) in 1932,[33][23]: 1:23-1:27 [8][13][34] representing Fyrstadskretsen, which he would represent until 1944.[5] He began making political connections, and attracted the attention of prominent Social Democratic politician Gustav Möller.[17] Erlander was appointed a state secretary at the Ministry of Social Affairs in 1938 by Möller, the Minister for Social Affairs.[35] After Erlander became a state secretary, he and Aina, with their children, moved to Stockholm.[28] In 1941, Sweden's Population Commission was created under Erlander's leadership.[36] He served as its chairman,[35] and it put forward proposals on grants and regulations of daycare centers and play schools.[36]

As a state secretary, Erlander was one of the most senior officials responsible for the establishment of internment camps in Sweden during World War II.[37] Various types of camps were set up, primarily to house and detain refugees and foreigners arriving to Sweden, to house interned German and Allied military personnel (e.g. pilots who had crashed in Sweden), and to replace the military draft for pro-Soviet Communists and others who were viewed as unreliable and hostile to Sweden's political system; instead of being stationed in the armed forces, they were conscripted to work camps organized to build infrastructure.[37]

In 1942, Erlander and Möller initiated a nationwide census of the Swedish Travelers, a branch of the Romani people.[38]

Cabinet positions

Erlander ascended to Prime Minister

World War II coalition cabinet in 1944 as a minister without portfolio, a post he held until the next year.[33][39] Following the 1944 general election, he began representing the Malmöhus County.[5]

In the summer of 1945, as part of

Hansson's post-war cabinet, he became minister of education and ecclesiastical affairs.[40] It has been suggested that Erlander was chosen for the position due to his lack of experience with educational policies, as he was not associated with factional divides regarding debates over Sweden's educational system.[41] Erlander was initially skeptical about accepting the role, but he eventually grew accustomed to it, despite not holding the office very long.[20]

Erlander largely left ecclesiastical matters to other politicians, instead focusing on tangible educational reforms.[35] Influenced by his experiences at Lund University, he proposed larger investments in research and higher education.[40] He was a major driving force behind successful laws providing free school lunches and textbooks.[35] On October 29, 1945, Erlander was visited by Austro-Swedish nuclear physicist Lise Meitner, to discuss Sweden investing in nuclear physics and technology following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[42] In 1946, Möller introduced a new pension proposal, a uniform one which would lift all pensioners above the poverty line, which Erlander and Minister for Finance Ernst Wigforss opposed, but it passed in the Riksdag.[43]

At the 1945 Social Democratic party conference, Per Nyström presented a motion to update Swedish schooling. The conference was split on how much schooling should be mandatory, with some arguing it should only extend to elementary school. Despite the disagreements, the conference requested the party executive create a special committee to develop school programs.[44] The committee was divided on whether students should be separated by abilities, a practice known as streaming. It never reached a consensus, but finished a draft for a new school program requiring nine years of universal mandatory education, although it was never submitted to the party.[45] In 1946, Erlander, as minister of education, created a second committee, the Schools Commission, despite the first one being still active. This new committee, chaired by Erlander, was composed mainly of appointed party members.[41] By 1948, after Erlander had become prime minister, the second committee also proposed nine years of mandatory schooling, but the question of when to begin streaming was still debated.[46]

Selection as prime minister

The death of Per Albin Hansson unexpectedly led to the selection of Erlander as prime minister

Prime Minister Hansson suddenly died on October 6, 1946.

Minister of Defense Allan Vougt.[48]

On October 6, Hansson's cabinet and the Social Democrat executive committee met, and the executive committee scheduled a full board party meeting for October 9, as did the Social Democratic party caucus.[48] Erlander first learned of his possible selection as prime minister and party leader on October 7.[49] Erlander himself was reluctant and had little interest in becoming prime minister, saying he would only do so if the desire from the party was strong enough.[50]

At the October 9 meeting, the board voted 15 to 11 in favor of Erlander becoming prime minister,[48] and the caucus voted 94 to 72 to make Erlander party leader.[35][48] The choice was considered surprising and controversial, and some believed Gustav Möller, who received the 72 remaining votes, was Hansson's obvious successor, including Möller himself.[51] The choice of Erlander has been attributed to younger party members wanting a younger generation to lead[52] and Erlander being viewed as a greater figure of change, as he was experienced in areas seen as important to Social Democrats such as social and educational policies, and was able to foster cooperation between people with differing views.[49]

Prime Minister of Sweden (1946-1969)


After Erlander was chosen as prime minister, Hansson's cabinet all submitted their resignations, as was routine. King Gustaf V met Erlander on October 13, asking him to form a new government. Erlander asked all cabinet members to withdraw their resignations.[48]

Upon meeting Erlander at Drottningholm and asking him to form a new government, Gustaf encouragingly told Erlander that times were difficult, and that a younger man serving as prime minister was best for Sweden. He also assured Erlander that "things would work out well", and that the two of them would get along as initially he had some disagreements with Per Albin Hansson, who was ideologically a republican.[53]

First government

Karin Kock
(left) in 1947

Erlander inherited 14 ministers from Hansson.[54] Overall, Erlander allowed his cabinet ministers a great deal of freedom, as he did not want to become overly involved in coordinating them daily, but he did monitor them.[55][56] Over his premiership, Hansson's ministers slowly left the government.[57] Minister of Commerce Gunnar Myrdal implemented policies such as selling the Soviet Union machinery on a fifteen-year credit and a 17% appreciation of the Swedish krona. The former, conceived by his predecessor, was viewed as less economically attractive due to stronger trading partners existing post-war, and the latter worsened Sweden's trade deficit. Due to the backlash, he resigned in 1947,[58][59] becoming the first minister to leave Erlander's government.[57]

Erlander appointed

Karin Kock became the first woman in Swedish to hold a cabinet position when she became a minister without portfolio, and in 1948 she became minister of supply.[60][61][62] Kock was suggested by Riksdag member Ulla Wohlin, who would serve in Erlander's third cabinet as Sweden's third female cabinet minister.[63] Kock left the post in 1949,[62] and the office was abolished the following year.[64]

Weijne died in office in 1951, and Erlander appointed Hildur Nygren to succeed him, making her the second woman in Sweden to become a cabinet minister.[65]

Election of 1948

Going into the 1948 election, Erlander's first as party leader and prime minister, many Social Democrats expected their party to lose, including Erlander's future protégé and later prime minister Ingvar Carlsson.[66] Despite these fears, the Social Democrats won 46.13%.[67][68] In the Andra kammaren ("Second chamber" or lower house) of the Riksdag, the Social Democrats secured 112 out of 230 total seats.[69] The Liberal People's Party was becoming a major opposition party their new leader, Bertil Ohlin.[70] The Liberals came in second with 22.8% of the vote, one of their largest victories.[68][71][72] Erlander himself had now been elected as a representative of Stockholm County, following his four years a Malmöhus representative.[5]

Following this election, the Social Democrats remained in power, but desired to maintain a long-term majority, so they offered to form a coalition government with the Centre Party.[f] They declined, but this had no impact on Erlander's ability to form a government on time, as the talks were public but informal.[77]

Relations with the Swedish Monarchy

Erlander served under King Gustaf V for 4 years, and the two had a mutual respect.

Crown Prince Gustaf VI Adolf became king.[80][81][82] Erlander was also on good terms with Gustaf VI, but at times disapproved of the new king's more hands-on involvement in political matters than his father, and during Gustaf VI's time as Crown Prince, Erlander saw him as a "rather stiff individual who lacked perspective".[53]

In 1947, Kurt Haijby, who had previously been arrested multiple times on suspected homosexual acts, wrote a memoir about his experiences, which included previous claims that he had a sexual relationship with Gustaf V. The Stockholm police bought most of the stock to prevent distribution, and the government took charge of the affair. According to Erlander, Minister of the Interior Eije Mossberg [sv] opened a cabinet meeting by stating, "The King is homosexual!" to which Wigforss replied, "At his age? How vigorous!"[83] One of the only copies that got out was read by Erlander. He reportedly believed the allegations.[84] According to journalist Maria Schottenius [sv], Erlander later told her of how he was tormented for decades by the "Haijbyskiten" (Swedish: "Haijby shit").[85]

Coalition government

Centrist leader Gunnar Hedlund, Minister for Home Affairs in the coalition government.

In 1951, Erlander formed a coalition with the Centre Party.[86] He added four Centrists to his cabinet that year.[87] His working relationship with the party's leader, Gunnar Hedlund (Minister for Home Affairs in the coalition government[87]), is known to have been good.[88][89][90] The voter bases of both parties are also considered to have been similar.[91] Erlander and Hedlund also realized that, although they disagreed on some issues, they shared a common desire to outmaneuver the Liberals and the Moderate Party.[90][g]

One of the positions that the Centrists demanded be given to one of their own was the minister of education, which had been held by Nygren since earlier that year. Erlander did not get along with Mygren, and used the negotiations as an excuse to remove her.[65] The coalition government was formed on October 1, 1951.[81]

Election of 1952

In the 1952 general election, the Social Democrats won 46%, a slight decrease from the previous election.[93] The Centrists obtained 10.7%, which was also a decrease for them.[68] The Liberals gained 24.4%, an increase from their previous percentage.[68][71]

Election of 1956

In the 1956 general election, the party won 44.58%, a larger decrease than the previous one.[94] Erlander at one point stated that the setback was due to, among other things, "Christian anti-socialist agitation."[95] Their coalition partners, the Centrists, garnered 9.45%.[94]

Pension referendum

Balots from the 1957 pension referendum

Despite the ideological similarities between the Social Democrats and the Centrists, a major issue was Sweden's proposed pension system. Erlander desired a system that was mandatory for all citizens, while Hedlund wanted the pensions to be voluntary.[96] A referendum on the issue in 1957 included three proposals for pensions systems, and the Socialists' proposal won the vote.[97]

End of coalition

As a result of the pension referendum, the coalition dissolved that year.[96][98] Following this, the king facilitated inter-party dialogue, specifically asking about the possibility of the Social Democrats forming a coalition with the three non-socialist parties. Erlander was appointed formateur/informateur, but was very reluctant to create a four-party government. The king then designated the Liberals and Moderates as formateurs, and asked them to explore creating a non-socialist government. The Centrists stated that they were unwilling to join the other two parties in a coalition, and the plans failed.[99] Erlander was thus allowed to remain prime minister and formateur, leading a minority government into the next election.[100]

Final government and "the boys"

Erlander (left) in 1968, with three of "the boys": Olof Palme (far left), Sten Andersson (right), and Ingvar Carlsson (far right).

Nine of the ten cabinet ministries Erlander inherited from Hansson's cabinet existed by the end of Erlander's premiership.[101] Three additional ministries were created, with Erlander's final cabinet having twelve ministries by 1968.[101] Altogether, 57 people served in Erlander's cabinets.[5][54]

In August 1953, Erlander hired Olof Palme to serve as his personal secretary.[102][103] In 1963, he ascended to the cabinet as a minister without portfolio.[104] Palme became Minister of Communications in 1965, and in 1967 became Minister of Education.[105] Beginning with Palme, Erlander began to hire a larger group of personal staff, including typists and stenographers, consisting of young Social Democrats such as Palme, Ingvar Carlsson, and Bengt K. Å. Johansson.[106] In the 1960s, Erlander began to call his group of young aides "the boys".[107] Erlander frequently consulted the boys on speeches he planned to make, although according to Olle Svenning [sv], he was rarely satisfied with the speeches they wrote.[108]

Election of 1958

In the 1958 by-election, the party won 46.2%,[109] an increase from the 1956 election.

Adoption of ATP

Social Democratic efforts for a universal pension system continued. In 1958, a bill was proposed that would provide uniform, state-administered pensions to all Swedes over the age of 67. Left wing parties supported the bill, while right wing parties opposed it. It was defeated in a vote of 117 against to 111 for. Following this loss, Erlander asked the king to temporarily dissolve the Riksdag.[110]

In the spring of 1959, the Social Democratic pension system was again being voted on in the Riksdag. In the second chamber, the vote was evenly split, 115 for and 115 against. Ture Königson, a Liberal, chose to vote in support of the Socialst's proposal. Königson preferred his party's pension plan, but desired a secure future for Sweden's older workers, and reasoned that the Socialists' plan was better than a permanent political stalemate. Through his vote, the smallest possible margin, the pension plan passed.[20] The system, called Allmän tilläggspension (Swedish: "General supplementary pension") or ATP for short, was successful implemented in 1960.[111]

Election of 1960

In the 1960 general election, the Social Democrats' percentage of the vote was up to 47.79%, another increase from the previous election.[112][113][114] Erlander described the election as an "ideological breakthrough", which allowed the Social Democrats to pursue further reform.[113]

Wennerström scandal

The Soviet-backed espionage of Col. Stig Wennerström would cause one of the biggest scandals of Erlander's premiership

On June 20, 1963, Col.

Minister of Defence Sven Andersson had been informed of suspicions against Wennerström four years earlier[118] and had become personally suspicious of him two years earlier,[116] as had Foreign Minister Undén.[118] Erlander, however, had not known about the suspicions until the day Wennerström was arrested.[116] Undén's successor, Foreign Minister Torsten Nilsson informed him via telephone the day of the arrest while Erlander was in a restaurant in Italy on vacation with his wife, and asked him to return to Sweden immediately.[118]

Upon returning to Sweden, in response to criticism over the lack of government coordination, Erlander stated on television that, "It is impossible for the government to be informed of every person who is under suspicion. We need more proof in a democratic society before we can take action."[116] It later surfaced that twice in 1962, meetings were scheduled with Erlander to discuss Wennerström, but the first was canceled due to the minister of Justice being ill, and the second was canceled due to Erlander's schedule being full.[118] Opposition parties demanded a parliamentary investigation,[116] and Bertil Ohlin led the opposition's push for the censure of Sven Andersson and Östen Undén for negligence.[119] In 1964, after two days of debate in the Riksdag, Andersson was not found guilty of gross negligence, and Ohlin dropped plans for a vote of censure. Simultaneously, the lower chamber voted 116 to 105 to clear Undén of negligence charges. Erlander stated that he would regard votes of censure as a question of confidence in his entire cabinet, and that it was "a tragedy" that Wennerström's arrest and trial became a political issue.[119]

Also in 1964, Wennerström was found guilty on three counts of gross espionage, was stripped of his rank, and was ordered to pay the government $98,000 of the $200,000 he was paid by the Soviet government.[117] He was sentenced to life imprisonment.[120][117][h] The entire arrest, trial, investigation, and scandal took up much of Erlander's energy for almost a year.[122]

Election of 1964

Erlander and Aina with their ballot papers during the 1964 election

In the 1964 general election, the Social Democrats won 47.27% of the vote,[123] a slight decrease overall from 1960, but the party now obtained a majority in the second chamber. The Social Democratic campaign slogan was, "You never had it so good".[124] The Left Party[i] made larger gains that year, as they won 3 new seats in the second chamber (in addition to the 5 they previously won) and were the only party to increase their percentage from the previous election.[126]

Traffic change

In a 1955 referendum, a proposal was put forward to switch Sweden from left-handed driving to right-handed driving. The referendum results overwhelmingly rejecting the proposal, with 82.9 percent of voters voting no to the switch,[127] although the voter turnout of 52.9 percent was considered low.[128][127] Despite the general lack of support, efforts continued well into the next decade. In 1963, the Riksdag voted in a majority to switch traffic to the right side, despite the public's rejection of the idea in the 1955 referendum. This sparked backlash, and in response, Erlander stated, "The referendum was only advisory, after all."[128]

Following the 1963 Riksdag vote, the project began to go underway. Olof Palme, now Minister for Communications (Transport), oversaw the project,[129] which was often seen as a way to bring Sweden in line with the driving standards of most of Europe.[130]

Debates were held over the proposed change, with pro-switch politicians arguing the change would reduce the number of traffic accidents.[130] A massive advertising campaign was carried out to shift public opinion.[130] On September 3, 1967, an event known as Dagen H, Sweden began the drastic change, with an estimated 360,000 street signs needing to be changed overnight.[131] The final cost was expected to exceed 800 million Swedish krona.[129] Initially the number of accidents went down, but the number reached pre-1967 levels by 1969.[130]

Unicameral Riksdag

In 1954, Erlander met Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill, and the two discussed different electoral systems. Churchill was surprised to learn that Sweden did not have a system of majority voting in single-member constituencies. Erlander explained the reason was because that system would benefit the Social Democrats. Churchill replied, "A statesman must not hesitate to do the right thing, even if it benefits his own party."[132]

In March 1967, Sweden's political parties finally agreed to replace the bicameral Riksdag with a unicameral chamber that would be directly elected.[133] The Första kammaren ("First chamber" or upper house) voted to abolish itself on May 17, 1968, 117 for and 13 against.[134] The Riksdag would fully become unicameral in 1971, after Erlander had retired from the premiership.[81]

Republic of Jamtland

In 1963, actor Yngve Gamlin humorously declared himself president of the Republic of Jamtland, a breakaway state in Swedish territory.[135] In 1967, Erlander invited Gamlin to Harpsund.[136][137] However, when discussions did not go the way he hoped they would, Gamlin stole the plug from Erlander's boat, Harpsundsekan [sv].[137]

Million programme

A housing complex in Rosengård created as part of the Million Programme

Following World War II, Sweden increasingly developed a housing shortage in larger cities.[138][139] In response, at the 1964 Social Democratic Party conference, the party adopted the Million Programme, a plan to build one million homes in the span of ten years. The proposal successfully passed through the Riksdag in 1965.[139] The motto for the program was, "A good home for everyone."[140]

In 1966, during the early period of the project, during a debate he was asked what a young couple should do if they wanted to buy an apartment and start a family in Stockholm. Erlander answered, "stand in the housing queue."[141][133][138][142] It was intended as an honest answer,[133] but was unpopular, as the wait for an apartment in Stockholm was found to be ten years long,[141] and it is said to have been the cause of Social Democratic losses in the municipal elections that year.[133][138][142]

Additionally, critics argued that the Million Programme created a form of segregation,[140][143][144] with more recent evidence indicating that creating uniformity and separating this housing from more high-quality housing was part of the plan.[144] In 1965, in response to this criticism, Erlander defended the program by arguing that American racial tensions and segregation didn't exist in and couldn't be reproduced in Sweden. Erlander stated, "We Swedes live in an infinitely more fortunate situation. The population of our country is homogeneous, not only in regard to race, but also in many other aspects."[144][145] Critics also argued that the new housing was somewhat ugly[138] and visually monotonous.[140]

Despite this, the goal of 1,000,000 homes was successfully reached by 1974,[140] with 1,006,000 homes built,[143] which, at the time, solved most of the problem,[142][140] though not all of it.[138][140] The Social Democrats were eventually able to recover from the municipal losses.[133]

Election of 1968

In the 1968 general election, Erlander's final election as prime minister, his party won 50.1%, the Social Democrats' largest victory under his leadership.[146][147][20] They had also obtained a proper majority.[20] This would be the last bicameral election in Sweden.[134]

Relations with opposition parties

Bertil Ohlin and Erlander during a debate held in September 1952. Their debates are considered among Sweden's most notable.

During the World War II coalition government, Bertil Ohlin had served as Hansson's minister of commerce,[58][59] but he opposed Hansson's various social policy proposals[148] During Erlander's government he generally came to support many of the Social Democrats' policies.[87][149] Despite this, Erlander, still partially influenced by Ohlin's opposition to the Hansson government, harbored a strong dislike of the Liberals and their leader.[148] In speeches and during Riksdag debates, Erlander frequently attacked the Liberals with accusations including irresponsibility, opportunism, and irreconcilability.[150] Erlander viewed Ohlin as "stiff, self-righteous, arrogant, bossy, and lacking in principles", while Ohiln wrote in his memoirs that Erlander was "evasive, ungenerous, uncertain, quick to take offense, and a somewhat unfair debater."[151] Their political rivalry is considered one of the most notable in modern Swedish history.[149]

Erlander had a good relationship with Moderate Party leader Jarl Hjalmarson, although Erlander viewed him as a "political lightweight."[152] Erlander hoped in 1968 that later Moderate leader Yngve Holmberg would remain in office due to the disorganization of the opposition parties and Holmberg's perceived "clunkiness".[153]

Despite disagreements between parties, particularly the Liberals and Moderates supporting lower taxes, Sweden's major political parties began to increasingly agree on the goal of developing Sweden as a welfare state.[154]

Economic policy

In 1947, a tax reform was carried out that reduced income taxes in low-income brackets, introduced an inheritance tax, and raised the marginal tax rate for higher tax brackets.[155] Also in 1947, a special law was passed “setting up principles governing the construction and operation of homes for the aged.”[156]

In 1959, Erlander's government proposed raising the previously lowed income taxes, partially to provide funding for recent welfare programs.[157] Conservstive parties opposed the proposal, and the Left Party abstained from voting in the Second Chamber, allowing the proposal to go into law.[114]

In 1962, Sweden joined the G10, being one of ten countries that agreed to provide an additional $6 billion each in funding to the International Monetary Fund.[14]

In 1964, Erlander's gorvernment proposed a new budget that would begin on July 1 of that year. The total budget would be $4.858 billion (in 1964), an increase from the previous budget by $475 million. The expected deficit was $180 million, and to prevent it from increasing, Erlander's government proposed ending deductions of old-age pension fees from taxable income. About half the budget was expected to be spent on welfare-related benefits and programs.[158]

On average, during Erlander's premiership, Sweden's

GNP increased roughly 2.5% a year.[159] It rose 5% in 1963 and 6% in 1964.[114]

Social policy

Erlander (center) in 1951 with Lt. Gen. Ernst Bredberg [sv] (left) and glazier Gerhard Nilsson [sv] (right)

Under Erlander, the central pillars of the Swedish welfare state were enacted between 1946 and 1947, a period known as the Social Democratic "Harvest Time." In 1946 and 1947, three major reforms were enacted that introduced a basic pension, general child allowances and sickness cash benefits. The National Housing Board was set up as the central authority providing subsidized loans and rent controls, while the National Labor Market Board was established to coordinate the nationalized local employment offices and supervise the union-controlled but state-subsidized unemployment insurance funds.[155] From 1946 onwards, an extensive system of scholarships and fellowships was provided for higher education,[160] along with free lunches, school books and writng materials for all primary and elementary school children.[161]

In 1948, a general child allowance was made payable to all persons in Sweden with at least one child under the age of 16. In 1947, housing allowances for families with children were introduced. In 1954, housing allowances were introduced for pensioners. In 1960, the income-test for the children's pension was abolished. In 1950, a ten-year experimental period was established to build up a nine-year compulsory comprehensive school to replace the old parallel system. A law of 1955 provided state subsidies for municipally organized vocational schools, while a law of 1958 provided state subsidies for adult education centers. In 1962, a final decision was made on nine-year comprehensive school; implemented over a ten-year period. A law of 1964 revised upper secondary school; introduced special preparatory vocational school (fackskola) to complement the high school (gymnasium). A law of 1964 expanded higher education; new decentralized universities and colleges. A law of 1967 instituted municipal adult education (vuxenutbildning).[162] In 1955, medical insurance that provided earnings-related benefits was introduced,[155] and the following year the Social Democrats sponsored a law on "social help" which further extended social services.[163] A maternity allowance was introduced in 1962 that provided a six-month period of paid leave to new mothers, and a reform of unemployment benefits in 1968 doubled the maximum duration of such benefits from 30 to 60 weeks.[155] In addition, a number of laws concerning vacations, worker's safety and working hours were introduced.[164]

Erlander coined the phrase "the strong society", describing a society with a growing public sector taking care of the growing demand on many services that an affluent society creates.[165] The public sector, particularly its welfare state institutions, grew considerably during his tenure as Prime Minister, while nationalizations were rare. In order to maintain employment for his vast electorate and Swedish sovereignty as a non-NATO member, the armed forces was greatly expanded, reaching an impressive level by the 1960s, while nuclear capability was ultimately dropped after outcries, not least from the Social Democratic Women's League.

Foreign Policy

Under Erlander, Sweden had to navigate the challenges of the Cold War. Sweden did not officially side with either the United States or the Soviet Union, although Sweden's official position has been described as a "non-alliance", rather than "neutral", and Erlander once stated that Sweden shared an "ideological affinity with the Western democracies."[166]

Erlander represented Sweden at the funerals of several foreign heads of state, such as those of United States President John F. Kennedy in 1963[167] and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in 1967.[168]

Defense and nuclear weapons

The question of nuclear weapons as a means to deter a possible attack remained a divisive factor in Swedish society and among Social Democrats and prompted diplomatic agreements with the United States, guaranteeing intervention in the case of an invasion. Erlander was initially in favor of acquiring nuclear weapons as a means of defense, but received criticism for this position.

limited nuclear war, inspired by Henry Kissinger's advocation of the policy, as it was a "defense strategy that appeared to be made for a small state's defense".[172]

Negotiations for a Scandinavian defense alliance began in 1948, but ended unsuccessfully in 1949, with each country, including Sweden, following separate security policies.[173]

In 1961, Erlander and President John F. Kennedy advocated for the West to strengthen the

Secretary General, Swedish politician Dag Hammarskjöld.[174]


Erlander (third from left) and his wife Aina (second from right) with Gunnar Jarring (left), Jarring's wife Agnes Charlier (second from left), and President John F. Kennedy (right) in 1961

In Erlander's 1952 United States tour, Erlander stated that Sweden would not join the recently established

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).[175] Erlander was generally considered a pro-Western leader despite this, and wrote that America was doing Europe a great service by allowing itself to increase their arms for defense against the Soviet Union.[176]

United States and Vietnam

In 1952, as part of his U.S. tour, Erlander visited United States President Harry S. Truman, which was the first time a Swedish Prime Minister and a U.S. president met. Erlander would later meet Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Lyndon B. Johnson.[177]

In 1958, Sweden recognized

Saigon in 1960, but did not establish an official ambassador there.[178]

In the 1960s, Erlander and the Swedish government became critical of the Vietnam War.[179] Despite Erlander's personal opposition to the war and the uneasy nature of U.S.-Sweden relations at that point, William Womack Heath, the U.S. ambassador to Sweden during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, found Erlander to be "completely pro-American" from 1967 until early 1968.[180]

Olof Palme (second from left) marching against the Vietnam War with the North Vietnamese ambassador Nguyễn Thọ Chân (left) in Stockholm, on February 21, 1968.[181] This event was controversial domestically and abroad, and fractured Sweden-U.S. relations.[182]

On February 21, 1968, Olof Palme participated in a torchlight parade through

draft-dodgers from the United States, and Erlander, soon followed by opposition party leaders, publicly stated his opposition to the Vietnam War.[185]

Soviet Union

In June 1952, during the

fall of the Soviet Union about Wallenberg existed that Khrushchev denied, and that on his official Soviet prison card Wallenberg's fingerprints were not taken and the crime he was arrested for was not specified.[188]

Erlander (center) in the Harpsundseka rowboat on the lake at Harpsund in 1964 with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev (right) and his interpreter (left)

In 1963, after the arrest of Stig Wennerström, Erlander stated that the case had seriously disturbed relations between Sweden and the Soviet Union. Nikita Khrushchev had planned a goodwill tour of Scandinavia in 1964, which was to begin 10 days after Wennerström had been given a life sentence. Erlander declined to state how the sentencing might affect Khrushchev's visit.[120]

During that 1964 visit, while receiving Khrushchev at Harpsund, Erlander took Khrushchev and his interpreter in an eka rowing boat called the Harpsundseka across the 300-yard lake nearby.[189] It has since become tradition for Swedish prime ministers and foreign heads of state to row across the lake in the Harpsundseka when they visit Harpsund.[190] In that same visit, Erlander was once again unable to get information out of Khrushchev relating to Raoul Wallenberg.[191] Khrushchev continued denying that Wallenberg was in the Soviet Union, and Erlander and the government expressed "deep disappointment" over the lack of development in the case.[192] There were anti-Khrushchev protests in Sweden from Soviet exiles upon his visit, and the Swedish press criticized him as a liar relating to his discussions over Wallenberg and the stringent security (3000 police officers upon his arrival[186]) around him.[191] Both Khrushchev and Erlander ultimately stated they were pleased with the visit, and Khrushchev left for Norway on June 27 as part of his Scandinavian goodwill tour. Khrushchev did not mention the Wallenberg controversy or the negative press he received in his farewell address.[191] After visiting the Soviet Union in 1965, Erlander stated that the case had to be closed.[193]

In 1968, Erlander, the Social Democrats, and all opposition parties condemned the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.[194]

South Africa

In the 1960s, after Erlander finished giving a speech to students at Lund University, South African Lund student and

anti-apartheid activist Billy Modise personally asked Erlander to impose sanctions on South Africa in response to apartheid. Erlander stated that he did not have the power to do so, but advised Modise to publicly lobby for the policy.[195] Olof Palme was also an advocate for sanctions against South Africa, and became more outspoken on his opposition to aparthied after he joined Erlander's cabinet in 1963.[196]

The Swedish South Africa Committee was created in 1961. In 1963, the National Council of Swedish Youth launched a boycott against South African goods.[197] Erlander and Palme were among the sponsors of the committee.[198] Swedish donations to the International Defence and Aid Fund for Southern Africa (IDAF) increased around 140,000 SEK. The number continued to go up when, in 1964, Sweden became the first industrialized Western country to donate public funds to the IDAF, the equivalent of $100,000. In the end, Sweden was the largest donar by far.[199]


In 1947, Sweden voted in favor of the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine. In 1948, Sweden recognized Israel. Sweden established an embassy in Israel in 1951.[200]

In 1962, Erlander became the first Swedish prime minister to visit Israel.[200] During his visit, Erlander was famously photographed swimming in the Dead Sea.[201] He spoke to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. According to Erlander, no specific policies were discussed, although he stated he hoped the visit would strengthen Israeli-Swedish relations.[202] Erlander stated that he was "fascinated" by the country, and he invited Premier Ben-Gurion to visit Sweden.[202] Ben-Guiron visited Sweden later that year.[201]

Popularity and public image

Erlander speaks to the Republic of Jamtland's free radio in 1967.

Erlander was initially somewhat controversial, paritially because he was not considered an obvious successor to Per Albin Hansson.[j] When he became prime minister, many Swedes didn't know who he was,[20][204] and he was often seen as being in Hansson's shadow politically during the early years of his premiership.[20] He was initially both praised and criticized for having been a university graduate. Critics believed he had not risen as far as Hansson, and he had not been a traditional worker.[205] Liberal newspapers were optimistic, as Erlander had more education and administrative experience than Hansson, which was seen as beneficial to the party.[203] His youth also won him both praise and concern. He was seen as a figure whose youth and stronger left-leaning ideals could bring new energy to the party.[205] However, as he was younger than several members in his cabinet, it was feared that he would be unable to maintain party unity.[203]

Despite initial fears about party instability, throughout his premiership, Erlander became increasingly known as a unifying figure within his party, as he came to be viewed as a

centrist who would sometimes utilized both left-leaning and right leaning policies,[206] although overall the party moved more towards the left.[207] Erlander's nationwide support during his premiership was at its strongest in the 1960s. While making radio broadcasts, he was criticized for his "unpleasant" voice. His popularity increased as television began to play an important role in Swedish politics, as Erlander's amiable and humorous personality was more apparent.[208] Historian Dick Harrison cites a 1962 appearance on Lennart Hyland's popular talk show Hylands hörna where Erlander told a humorous story about a priest as the beginning of his growing popularity among the Swedish public.[20][209] Also attributed to his rise in popularity was an increased emphasis on his poverty-ridden childhood and less emphasis was placed on his time at university, improving his image as a "man of the people".[210]

Erlander's debating style was controversial, and was criticized by many, including writer Stig Ahlgren [sv]. During debates, Erlander was often known to change between serious and comical tones, and those he debated were often frustrated as they could not keep pace with him.[211]

In 1967, standard

public opinion polls began in Sweden. In February, 65 percent of Social Democrats approved of his party leadership, 25 percent were unsure, and 10 percent thought his leadership was poor.[15] In November of that same year, his approval ratings had reached 77 percent, and reached 84 percent in May 1968.[15] After the 1968 general election, his approval within the party was 95 percent.[15] In 1969, 54% of the general population polled showed approval of him as prime minister, while 80% approved of his leadership of the Social Democratic Party.[210]

Erlander garnered a number of nicknames during his tenure as prime minister. He became known as "Sweden's longest Prime Minister" referring to both his physical stature – 192 cm (6 ft 4 in)[b][k] – and his record tenure of 23 years (the Swedish word lång meaning both 'long' and 'tall').[3][4] Political cartoons often mocked Erlander by exaggerating his height.[204] By the 1960s, he become generally affectionately referred to as "Tage" (as opposed to Erlander, Mr. Erlander, Prime Minister Erlander, etc.) within the Social Democratic Party, similar to how Per Albin Hansson had become known more as "Per Albin".[15]

Resignation and succession

Resigning at 68 in 1969, with an absolute majority for the Social Democrats in the second chamber since 1968, Erlander was succeeded by 42-year-old Olof Palme,[213][214][215] who, although more radical and more controversial,[182] had in many ways been Erlander's student and protégé, and was endorsed by Erlander.[105] Palme was later asked when Erlander first hinted to him that he wanted him as his successor. Palme stated, "It never happened."[216] Prior to the announcement of Palme, President of Finland Urho Kekkonen asked Erlander who his successor would be, and Erlander did not give a concrete answer. Kekkonen then asked if it would be Palme, to which Erlander responded, "Never, he is far too intelligent for a Prime Minister".[217]

Later life and death

The Erlander family graves in 2011, including Tage and Aina Erlander's headstone (right)

After his resignation, Erlander and his wife lived in a house constructed at Bommersvik by the Social Democrats to honor him, and was owned by the Swedish Social Democratic Youth League.[218]

Erlander remained in the Riksdag for several years after it became unicameral. Following the 1970 general election, he once again changed constituencies, now representing Gothenburg, which followed 22 years as a Stockholm representative.[5] He resigned from the Riksdag in 1973, after holding seats there for over forty years.[17][23][34][219][220]

From 1972 to 1982, Erlander published his memoirs in six volumes.[221][5] In the 1980s, Erlander allowed writer Olof Ruin [sv] unlimited access to his diaries, which would serve as a source for Ruin's biography of Erlander.[222]

Erlander died on 21 June 1985 in Stockholm at the age of 84 from pneumonia and heart failure.[6][8][223] Erlander's coffin was covered with a socialist flag and blue and yellow flowers (the colors of the Swedish flag), and was carried through Stockholm. An estimated 45,000 Swedes lined the streets to pay respects to him. A large, secular ceremony was held in Stockholm, wherein Olof Palme delivered Erlander's eulogy. At the end of the service, the audience sang the socialist hymn "The Internationale". After the Stockholm ceremony, his funeral crossed the country and returned to his home town of Ransäter, Värmland, in a triumphant procession for the final rest.[224] His wife, who died in 1990, is buried beside him.[28]

Ideology and political positions

Despite Erlander being familiar with the writings of Karl Marx and identifying as a

social welfare programs.[225] Based on his university studies, Erlander believed that Keynesian economics and Stockholm School economics were compatible with social democracy, and could be useful in ending economic slumps.[31] Unlike many other left-leaning intellectuals, Erlander did not sympathize with the Soviet Union, although he did attempt to maintain positive Swedish-Soviet relations.[226]

On the role of politicians, Erlander reportedly stated that, "A politician's job is to build the dance floor, so that everyone can dance as they please."[227]

Erlander acknowledged the need for women to play a larger role in politics and hold cabinet positions. However, he had disputes or grievances with all the women who actually did serve in his cabinet.[228]

Erlander admired the writings of Adlai Stevenson II, because Stevenson "expressed his views more deftly than he could himself".[6]

Personal life

Family & living situation

Aina and Tage Erlander in 1964
Tage and Aina's son Sven Erlander

He met his future wife Aina Andersson while they were both students at Lund University.[229] They married in 1930.[230] Their marriage has been described as "deeply harmonious" and "full of mutual trust", and Erlander's family life as "remarkably happy".[231] Their son Sven was a mathematician who published much of the content of his father's diaries from 2001 on.[232][233] Erlander's mother, Alma, died in 1961, at age 92, during her son's premiership.[234]

Through one Erlander's Finnish ancestors, Simon Larsson (née Kauttoinen) (c.1605-1696), he is a distant relative of Stefan Löfven, the Social Democratic Prime Minister of Sweden from 2014 to 2021.[25]

Christmases, Easters, weekends, and summers at vacationing at Harpsund.[102] For most of his career, the Erlander family lived in an apartment in Bromma, Stockholm, until the summer of 1964, when they moved to an apartment in a high-rise complex in Stockholm's Gamla stan (Old Town) district.[236] Earlier in his career, Erlander traveled via subway to and from work rather than use a car, although eventually he and Aina bought one.[237] After getting the car, Aina would usually drive him to work, as he did not have a driver's license,[238] dropping him off and then driving to the school where she worked.[236] When Aina was unable to take him, neighbors in Bromma usually offered him rides.[239] Erlander did not have an official car to travel in, and visiting foreign heads of state were often surprised to see that he usually arrived at events alone.[239]

Personality, interests, & habits

Erlander was known to be a dedicated diarist, often writing daily entries, with his diaries serving as key sources for his memoirs.

gypsy," and "lapp". Erlander also frequently criticized Bertín Ohlin, although he would occasionally complement him.[243]

Erlander was often described as a "fatherly"[245][246] or "avuncular".[247] Ingvar Carlsson stated that to him, Erlander became like a second father or a guide.[244] Biographers Harrison and Ruin note that although Erlander was in power longer than any other Swedish leader, he didn't seek power for himself,[248][165] which Carlsson affirmed.[244]

Erlander was an avid lover of literature and theatre, which often served as a source of recreation.[249] Erlander's favorite novel was John Steinbeck's Cannery Row.[250] Many contemporary Swedish writers were often surprised to learn that their prime minister had read their work.[102]

During his premiership, Erlander often visited his former college Lund University, meeting the Värmland Student Association. At one of these meetings, Student Association members Olof Ruin [sv] and Lars Bergquist [sv] proposed that Erlander should give annual speeches to Lund students, to which Erlander agreed. In total, he gave fourteen of these student addresses.[251]


Erlander's protégées Olof Palme (left) and Ingvar Carlsson (right) both became prime ministers of Sweden

Erlander served as prime minister for 23 years,[245][252] making him the longest-serving one in Swedish history.[253] His uninterrupted tenure as head of the government is also the longest ever in any modern Western democracy.[223][c] Two of Erlander's closest advisors, Olof Palme and Ingvar Carlsson, also became prime ministers of Sweden, and together their tenures equal more than 40 years.[244]

Upon his death, The Washington Post described Erlander as "one of the most popular political leaders".[8] Erlander has been dubbed a "political giant" who transformed Sweden's political climate and brought the nation together. He has been compared to other notable Swedish "political giants" such as Palme and Dag Hammarskjöld.[254] Ruin notes that as Sweden encountered difficulties in the 1970s, nostalgia sometimes influenced positive views of Erlander, and that his time as leader was looked upon by some as a "golden age" of Swedish history.[255]

Some conservative and liberal analysts have argued that during Erlander's premiership an air of Sweden becoming a de facto one-party state developed.[256][257] Critics of Olof Palme have also criticized Erlander for his role in Palme's ascension to the premiership.[256] In general, following Sweden's economic crises in the 1970s, the Swedish Model, and to some extent Erlander's premiership, was scrutinized more.[255]

Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar praised Erlander in 2022, citing him as an inspiration who passed reforms laying the foundation of Sweden's welfare state.[258]

The building that served as Erlander's childhood home and schoolhouse in Ransäter is now a museum named Erlandergården [sv] centered around him and his life.[259][260]

The Tage Erlander Prize, given by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, is a prize for research in natural sciences, technology, and mathematics which is named after Erlander.[261]


Erlander was a nominee for the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize, although he didn't win.[262][263]

Erlander was awarded the Illis quorum in 1984.[264]

In popular culture

In the 2013 comedy film The Hundred-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, Erlander was portrayed by Swedish actor Johan Rheborg.[265]

In the 2021 series En Kunglig Affär [sv], which depicted the Haijby scandal, Erlander was portrayed by Swedish actor Emil Almén.[266]

In the 2022 Netflix series Clark, which depicted the life of Swedish criminal Clark Olofsson, Erlander was portrayed by Swedish actor Claes Malmberg.[267]



  • Erlander in 1952
    Erlander in 1952
  • Erlander (left) in 1954 with People's Party leader Bertil Ohlin (right)
    Erlander (left) in 1954 with People's Party leader Bertil Ohlin (right)
  • Erlander (left) in 1959 with two of "the boys", Olof Palme (center) and Ingvar Carlsson (right)
    Erlander (left) in 1959 with two of "the boys", Olof Palme (center) and Ingvar Carlsson (right)
  • Erlander (right, standing) answering journalists' questions in 1964 with Olof Palme (left, seated)
    Erlander (right, standing) answering journalists' questions in 1964 with Olof Palme (left, seated)
  • Erlander (right) in 1966 with his wife Aina during a state visit to Cairo
    Erlander (right) in 1966 with his wife Aina during a state visit to Cairo
  • Erlander during the 1966 municipal elections
    Erlander during the 1966 municipal elections


  1. ^ Östen Undén acted as Prime Minister from 6 October 1946 to 11 October 1946[2]
  2. ^ a b Erlander's height has been given as both 6 feet 4 inches[3][4] and 6 feet 3 inches.[6] 192 centimeters technically falls between the two inches, and other figures of the same height, such as Lyndon B. Johnson, are often cited as 6 feet 3 1/2 inches.[7] This article uses 6 feet 4 inches for consistency with sources.
  3. ^
  4. ^ Some biographers have spelled Erlander's middle name as Fritiof[6] or Frithiof[5]
  5. patronomic referring to his father Anders Erlandsson), but he later changed his surname to Erlander, which his son Tage and his descendants kept.[17]
  6. ^ Named the Farmers' League until 1957.[73][74] Also previously known as the Agrarian Union or Agrarian Party.[75][76]
  7. ^ Named the Right Party until 1969[92]
  8. ^ Wennerdtröm would be eligible for parole in ten years.[117] He was pardoned and released in 1974[121]
  9. ^ Named the Communist Party until 1967, when they changed their name to Left Party - The Communists, and in 1990 they chose their current name.[125]
  10. ^ There is disagreement over whether Hansson would have supported Erlander. There is no written evidence of his opinion, but some verbal evidence exists. Hansson was asked at a summer 1946 dinner in Uppsala about who would succeed him. Hansson said the party would choose, but he thought it could be Erlander. According to Hansson's wife Sigrid, days before he died he said, "Now I know who is going to succeed me. It will be Tage Erlander." She told this to many people on many occasions, including the Erlanders.[203]
  11. ^ Carl Bildt, Prime Minister of Sweden from 1991 to 1994, is also 1.92 meters tall, meaning they are tied for the tallest Swedish prime minister.[212]



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Further reading

In English

In Swedish

External links

Media related to Tage Erlander at Wikimedia Commons

Political offices
Preceded by
Minister without Portfolio

Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Education and Ecclesiastical Affairs
Succeeded by
Preceded by Leader of the Swedish Social Democratic Party
Succeeded by
Prime Minister of Sweden