Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

July 15, 2015

Sweden’s Children

Filed under: Sweden — louisproyect @ 7:01 pm

From “The Swedish Experiment in Family Politics: The Myrdals and the Interwar Population Crisis” by Allan C. Carlson:

The Myrdals also pointed to population pressures from outside. The risk was high that a depopulating country like Sweden, with rich natural resources and a strong pension system, would attract foreign peoples. While migration from Scandinavian neighbors would be acceptable and even desirable as a positive step toward Nordic integration, the Myrdals thought it more likely that prospective immigrants would come from elsewhere: Southern and Eastern Europe or Africa and Asia. Such groups were difficult to assimilate and posed a threat to Sweden’s own cultural heritage. The Myrdals also emphasized the problems for the labor movement that this influx of immigrants, willing to work for a cheaper wage, would cause.”

The Myrdals’ “mild nationalism” and ethnocentrism represented a dramatic break with the internationalism that had marked Democratic Socialism. While their later work and reputations are largely based on “internationalism,” their population work was distinctly oriented toward Sweden. This could be seen as but another example of the abandonment by many interwar European intellectuals of historic doctrine, as they dug in to weather the economic and political crises swirling about Europe.” Indeed, this unilateral focus on Swedish self-sufficiency could be seen in Gunnar Myrdal’s general work. For example, in a 1935 speech on the farming crisis he stated that “Agrarian policies must first and foremost involve a monopolization of the whole home market, and within this monopolized home market must be built price and market policies that raise profitability.”14 Aversion to immigration, moreover, could be dismissed as merely another example of organized labor’s aversion to “cheap labor” as producing “cheap men.”

Yet such explanations are less than adequate explanations for the Myrdals’ reluctant, apologetic confession of a “mild Swedish nationalism.” The world war, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the Great Depression wreaked havoc with socialist internationalism. The new alternative, national socialism, took more than one form in the 1930s.

While the Myrdals never abandoned their commitment to democracy, they did cast their lot with ethnocentric nationalism. For Alva, the conversion may have been largely tactical, a way of selling her feminist socialism at an emotional level. For Gunnar, though, an almost tribal devotion to the Swedish “folk” drove him in a new direction. As his speeches over the next four years would make clear, he held a true passion for “Sweden’s children.”

Under the rubric of “quality-oriented” policy, the Myrdals described forced sterilization as a necessary option. While affirming, from a “race-biological viewpoint,” the equality of genetic material among all Swedish population groups, they added that a genetically inferior (mindervardighet) substrata existed within the population: the insane, the mentally ill, the genetically defective, and persons of bad or criminal character. With the German nazi program again as foil, the Myrdals stressed that their category of targeted individuals was drawn from all population and social groups. The reproduction of this inferior stock was undesirable, since offspring ran a strong risk of hereditary damage to health and intelligence. Because the government would be called upon to support genetically damaged children, the Myrdals concluded that the state had the right in limited cases to force sterilization on individuals. The guiding assumption should be to resort to the process only in recognized serious cases of illness and defect and only among those incapable of “rational decisions.” Where individuals were capable of reason, voluntary sterilization should be actively urged. Failing this, free contraceptives and eugenic abortion should be made available.

* * * *

From “Stieg Larsson: the Real Story of the Man Who Played With Fire” by Jan-Erik Petterson:

One feature of the extreme Right in Sweden is that, despite the weakness of its popular support, it is remarkably well represented among the elite and ruling classes: among scientists, academics and high-ranking military officers. It was not just theorists like Kjellen and Molin who were in the vanguard in formulating ideas which then became prevalent in the Third Reich. Herman Lundborg, the world’s first professor of eugenics, was part of the trend as early as 1910, and founded the Swedish Society for Racial Hygiene. A decade later he managed to get more or less the entire Establishment behind him when he set up a Swedish racial research institute.

The National Eugenics Institute opened in 1921, with Lundborg at its head, and became well known for its large-scale field-research projects on the Swedish people. He and his colleagues travelled all over the country, photographing, measuring and making notes. The subjects of this research, seeing no harm in it, were allocated to racial groups on the basis of their physical constitution, skin colour, hair colour, shape of cranium, cranial circumference and so on. And there were few who doubted its scientific validity. On the strength of his findings, Lundborg pursued a vigorous campaign for an active population policy, including compulsory sterilization of undesirables, such as Lapps, Gypsies and vagrants. If this were not implemented, the fusion of the races would escalate and culture would fall into decline: `Sexual urges would intensify, immorality, hedonism, vice and crime break out and leave their mark on society. Sooner or later it would lead to discord, dissent, riot and revolution’ (according to an article in Svensk Tidskrift in 1921).

One reason for the rapid and widespread support for Lundborg’s theories was that there had been a deep-seated belief since the mid-nineteenth century that the Germanic peoples of northern Europe were related and that Sweden was their original home. So when the Nazis stepped forward and began talking of restoring the honour of the German nation and defending the Nordic race, many Swedes were willing to listen. And these were not so much Swedish Nazi party members as influential individuals in politics, the civil service, the business world, the military, the police, even the royal family. Some of the greatest admirers of Germany before and during the Second World War were to be found in the Swedish military. When Hitler celebrated his fiftieth birthday in the spring of 1939, he was congratulated by a Swedish delegation of high-ranking officers led by the future supreme commander Olof Thornell. They were accompanied by the openly Nazi Carl Ernfrid Carlberg and Henri de Champs as representatives of the Manhem Society (a patriotic Scandinavian association named after Olaus Rudbeck’s seventeenth-century book of Gothicist speculations) and the Swedish-German Association, who also presented Hitler with a gift, a statuette of Charles XII, which he is said to have much appreciated.

July 9, 2015

Swedish imperialism in Africa

Filed under: Sweden — louisproyect @ 4:13 pm

Dag Hammarskjold: not quite the saint he was cracked up to be

(This is the third in a series of articles on “the Swedish model”. Part one is here. Part two is here.)

If Sweden seems pure as the driven snow compared to the major imperialist powers such as England, the USA and France, that is only a function of how low the bar has been set. In my last post I tried to show how indigenous peoples got screwed by the dominant nationality bent on creating a modern capitalist powerhouse. Now I will look into the question of Sweden’s footprints in Africa, a continent that most of us—including me until I began researching the matter—considered untouched by the reputedly benign northern European state.

If there’s any term that captures the essence of European colonialism, it is the “scramble for Africa”, a project largely associated with England, France, Germany, Italy and Belgium. Believe it or not Sweden was a player as well.

This is all laid out in copious detail in an article by David Nilsson titled “Sweden-Norway at the Berlin Conference 1884–85: History, national identity-making and Sweden’s relations with Africa”. Sweden and Norway had a common monarch in this period—King Oscar II whose visage adorns the brand of sardines seen in your local supermarket. Norway had been taken over by Sweden in the Napoleonic wars, just another indication that it was as capable of territorial aggrandizement as any other European empire-builder. Nilsson, like Gunlög Fur whose scholarship on the persecution of Sami I referred to in my previous article, is part of the generation of younger Swedish scholars who are taking a fresh look at the nation’s dark past.

Nilsson focuses on the role played by Sweden in a conference that awarded the grand prize of the Congo to King Leopold of Belgium, an act that would cost the lives of millions of its dwellers and the resources siphoned off of mines and rubber plantations for nearly a century. At the time King Leopold wrote a letter stating: “I do not want to miss a good chance of getting us a slice of this magnificent African cake”

When you keep in mind that Otto Von Bismarck was the ruler of Germany at the time of the Berlin conference, it follows that King Oscar would find a commonality of interests with the Prussian bent on suppressing socialism and radical democracy by any means necessary as well as his partner in crime King Leopold.

In 2011 to 2013 Nilsson dug into the Swedish foreign ministry archives to pull together an analysis of Sweden’s participation in the Berlin conference of 1884-5. The naked territorial ambition of European powers struck the USA as so blatant that it declined an invitation to participate. Sweden, however, had no such compunction and sent a full delegation.

The Swedish foreign ministry defined its goals for the conference, including the need for freedom of trade on the Congo River, an activity dramatized by Joseph Conrad in “The Heart of Darkness”. Sweden sought “most favored nation” status among the vultures circling the African body. Conducting its written communications in French, the Swedish diplomats regarded freedom of trade as “une œuvre essentiellement civilisatrice,” which meant a work of civilization or what Kipling described as the white man’s burden.

King Leopold welcomed Sweden’s participation in this civilizing mission, especially since its crackerjack troops could keep the savages in check. In a letter to the Swedish monarch, Leopold wrote that the Swedes had already “authorised several outstanding officers from her splendid army to enter into the service of the International Congo Association. Important stations, central nodes for vast areas in the middle of Africa, are today managed by Swedes.” One such officer was Lieutenant Matts Julius Juhlin-Dannfelt who supervised the construction of the Congo railways in 1888.

Nilsson admits that it is “difficult to argue that direct and short-term economic benefits were an important driving force for Sweden-Norway at the Berlin Conference.” But by allying itself with Germany, there were economic benefits—particularly in the sale of Swedish iron to German steelmakers. When you keep in mind that Sweden supplied Nazi Germany with iron ore throughout WWII, this pact with the devil makes perfect sense.

There were motives as well that could not be directly tied to profits. The Swedes were imbued with the “civilizing mission” that was at work when the Samis were pressured into forsaking their polytheism and rather free-spirited mores. There was lots of work for Lutheran missionaries considering what Swedish officers assigned to protect King Leopold’s interests as Nilsson reports:

Lieutenant Peter August Möller in 1887 depicted the Congolese as “mendacious and cowardly, indolent and vain, and deceitful and ungrateful.” This people, of a “half-human nature” are characterised by “want of development” and they “lack depth and could never resolve themselves for any kind of bold action or decisive steps.” Another Swedish officer, Lieutenant Wester, claimed in 1886 that “the inhabitants of Central Africa, who live in a luxuriant land, are particularly inclined to indolence, [and therefore] the work of civilising must be aimed at teaching them to understand the necessity of work” (Axelsson 1970:223ff). Teaching the local people to work in the context of Leopold’s Congo Association typically meant forced labour and gruesome punishment for those who refused, as Adam Hochschild describes in his bestselling book of 1998.

Now what does this have to do with the Social Democrats, one might ask—the same sort of question posed about the treatment of the Sami in the 1600s. As it turns out, plenty.

Fast forward to 1960 and you will discover Swedish footprints in the Congo, the same slice of the pie that was divided up in 1884-5.

And mostly the shoes belong to Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN’s General Secretary who is regarded by most fans of the “Swedish model” as a kind of martyred saint. For example, the Nation Magazine referred to him as the “Statesman of the Century” in a 2013 review Andrew Gilmour of a new biography. Gilmour sums up his contribution to the crisis in the Congo:

As they tried to hold the country in one piece and maintain a semblance of order throughout its transition to independence, Hammarskjold and the UN officials on the ground found themselves bitterly opposed by Soviet Communists, African and Congolese nationalists, American cold warriors, French Gaullists, Katangese secessionists, Belgian colonialists, mining companies and mercenaries. Despite this formidable array, Hammarskjold doggedly went on doing what he thought was best for the people of the Congo, the African continent and global peace.

Considering the fact that the name Lumumba does not appear once in this rancid article, we can understand why Gilmour was so ready to dismiss “Congolese nationalists”. Since he was identified as Director in the Secretary-General’s Office for Political, Peace-keeping, Humanitarian and Human Rights, you can understand why he would defend the party line of the liberal establishment.

For those of us who might be favorable to the agenda of “African and Congolese nationalists”, there’s more to the story starting with the fact that Hammarskjold backed the Christian, anti-Communist Moise Tshombe who led the breakaway province of Katanga.

In Ludo De Witte’s authoritative “The Assassination of Lumumba”, there is this succinct description of Hammarskjold’s agenda:

How can the UN’s respect for Tshombe be explained? Hammarskjold was well aware of the artificial nature of the copper state. Bunche, his assistant, made it very clear in his telegrams that Tshombe was “a puppet manoeuvred by the Belgians, that he took no decision that was not inspired by the Belgians, that no official meeting was held without the presence of a Belgian and that without the Belgians, he would he would have not come to power”. But the UN leadership shared he West’s strategy: to use secession as an instrument to destroy the Congolese government. In his confidential message of 26 July, Hammarskjold talked of Tshombe’s “legitimate aims”. A telegram sent by “H” on I August reveals that he UN leaders were convinced of the need to break Lumumba’s nationalist government. The secretary general was in Leopoldville at the time:

After a number of meetings here with the Cabinet and members of the Cabinet, I have a fairly clear picture of the internal dynamics of politics in the Central Government. The two or three men who may be characterized as moderates and who at all events are men of real integrity, intelligence and sense of national responsibility understand, I believe, fully my approach. . . . However, the vast and vocal majority have a highly emotional and intransigent attitude. . . . Until the Katanga problem is in hand . . ., there will, I am sure, be a continued drift towards extremism in the Cabinet and a continued weakening of those on whom, in my view, Congo’s political future if at all possible has to be built.

in the light of developments, the Congolese nationalists could draw only one conclusion, one that Colonel Vandewalle much later formulated as follows: Until the final drafting of the Congolese constitution and its approval by Katanga, the status quo would be based on the Katangan constitution. . . . This arrangement . . . consolidates the Katanga regime. It was to have dire consequences for Lumumba.”

When Brian Urquhart, a former official at the UN, attacked De Witte’s debunking of the Hammarskjold legend in the New York Review of Books in 2001, he replied in a letter.

Brian Urquhart [Letters, NYR, December 20, 2001] writes that my analysis of the role of the UN in the Congo crisis (1960–1964) is dogmatic, partisan, and simplistic. However, he gives not one refutation to the facts I mentioned about the complicity of the UN in the downfall of the Congolese prime minister Lumumba. He tries to make the best of it writing that Secretary-General Hammarskjöld’s green light for the coup against Lumumba was a staple of Soviet propaganda. That’s true, but doesn’t refute my thesis. The cable traffic between Hammarskjöld and his envoy Cordier before and during the coup and testimonies from Belgian advisers are crystal clear: the UN wanted Lumumba “to be broken,” in the words of Hammarskjöld. Not one or two, but tens of cables gave evidence of the partisan role of the UN in the crisis.

While there is little doubt that Hammarskjold was acting on behalf of all imperialist interests in the Congo, radical scholar David N. Gibbs identifies the particular Swedish interests in the overthrow of Lumumba in an article titled “Dag Hammarskjold, the United Nations, and the Congo Crisis of 1960-1: A Reinterpretation” that appeared in The Journal of Modern African Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Mar., 1993). In this article he raise the possibility that while hostile to Lumumba’s nationalist aspirations, Hammarskjold came into conflict with Belgian interests after he began promoting Swedish and American ambitions in the Katanga province. Gibbs writes:

The facts are as follows. The Hammarskjold family was associated with the Liberian-American Swedish Minerals Company, known by the acronym Lamco. This syndicate of six separate Swedish mining companies was closely connected with Boliden, another Swedish enterprise with interests in copper mining, and with the International African American Corporation. Several persons from the syndicate were involved in the U.N. force in the Congo, notably Sture Linner, the first head of civilian operations, who was, at the time of his hiring, a ‘managing director’ of Lamco. Two other Swedes employed by the U.N. mission as consultants also had connections with Lamco: Sven Schwartz had been a director at a constituent company as well as chairman of the board at Boliden, and Borje Hjortzberg-Nordlund was listed as an ‘alternate director’ at Lamco. Both assisted the U.N. in evaluating the prospects for economic development, especially in the mining sector, and their interest in the Congo probably alarmed the Belgians, especially those affiliated with the Union miniere, which regarded the Swedes as interlopers in what had historically been a special ‘preserve’ for Belgian capital. Such suspicions were increased when it was discovered that Bo Hammarskjold, the brother of the Secretary-General, was on the board of directors of Grangesberg Oxelosund, the largest of Lamco’s constituent companies.

In my next post I will take up the question of eugenics in modern Sweden.

July 7, 2015

Swedish colonialism, part 1: the persecution of the Sami

Filed under: Sweden — louisproyect @ 8:09 pm

A Sami family, 1900

(This is the second in a series of articles on “the Swedish model”. Part one can be read here.)

It is likely that one of the reasons Bernie Sanders advocates socialism based on the Swedish (or Scandinavian more generally) model is that it does not seem to have the same awful history as British, French or American colonialism. In order to develop a critical understanding of this model, it is necessary to dig a bit deeper into Swedish history.

To some extent, there is a reasonable basis for being pro-Sweden, at least if you are old enough to remember the role of Olaf Palme in the 1960s. The Swedish prime minister was a vocal opponent of the war in Vietnam and his country became a haven for American servicemen opposed to the war and antiwar activists fleeing prosecution for misguided attempts to sabotage the War Machine, including one Robert Malecki, a Spartacist League sympathizer and general nuisance on the early days of Marxism on the Internet.

Malecki ended up in Robersfors, a tiny town in northeast Sweden that is traditionally part of what was once called Lapland, but more properly known as Sami (or Saami) territory. If Sweden had been innocent of the brutal treatment of native peoples, that certainly would have been news to the Sami who as I shall now try to point out had much more in common with indigenous peoples in North America than they did with the Swedes who swept north in the 17th century in their own version of what took place in Ireland or in Indian territories in Canada or the USA. There might not have been wholesale extermination but there was forced assimilation. Indeed, the parallel is much more with Canada where a policy pursued by the dominant nationality can seem benign in comparison to that carried out by the Wild Bill Hickocks or Andrew Jacksons to the south.

This picture of a Sami family above should give you a good indication of why such comparisons make sense.

Nobody quite knows where the Sami came from but they occupied the northern regions of what would become Norway, Sweden and Finland from at least 5000 years ago. There are also Samis in Russia who despite being designated as an indigenous people with rights guaranteed by the Soviet state are now being encroached upon by commercial interests determined to exploit oil and other mineral resources on their homeland. No big surprise there.

In his chapter on the Sami in “Colonialism in the Margins”, Gunlög Fur presents a picture of a hunting-and-gathering society not that much different from the Lenape indians in North America, who were the subjects of his 1993 dissertation earned in 1993. Among younger Swedish scholars, Fur departs from the traditional Swedish narrative of being pure as the driven snow.

Although Sweden was a bit player in the colonialism game in the 17th century, the parallels with the British were striking. Establishing a Swedish West India Company, they created something called New Sweden that extended along the Delaware River. The colony was short-lived, being conquered by the Dutch in 1655.

But in the Swedish kingdom, it was much easier to defend the interests of Gustavus Adolphus who had the same sort of territorial ambitions as other European monarchs. Throughout the 17th century this would entail bringing the Sami into the “civilized” world by hook or by crook.

Just as the Northern Plains Indians relied on the bison for food, clothing and shelter, the Sami both hunted and domesticated reindeer for the same purposes. Fur describes the communal nature of Sami society in a way that resonates with how most pre-capitalist, hunter-and-gathering bands existed. It was primitive communism, so to speak:

Hunting fur-beating animals was primarily a winter occupation while fishing belonged to the summer. Male hunting parties representing all the families in the village chased reindeer and beaver. The catch was then divided among the households according to tax burden. The old and the infirm received a full share. Reindeer caught outside the communal hunt belonged to the hunter alone, but no matter how or when it was caught, all beavers had to be shared with the whole village. Beaver pelts were particularly attractive as trade items in the early seventeenth century and also formed part of the tax payment in certain areas. Village custom regulated the hunt so as to avoid over-hunting. Each family kept some tame reindeer that they milked and used for transportation. The families guarded the domesticated animals well and sometimes brought them onto islands in the lakes where people fished during the summer.

In contrast to the sociobiological tripe found in Steven Pinker, Jared Diamond, Napoleon Chignon et al, the Sami were anything but warlike:

Contemporary accounts held that Saamis were “useless” as soldiers. According to these sources, Saamis were easily frightened and squeamish, and money could not persuade them to enlist as soldiers. Johannes Schefferus offers the unlikely explanation that their fear of war was due to “their diet, which cannot supply good blood and spirits.” Violence and murder, as well as daring deeds, were not unknown to them, but it is probable that the autonomous Saami villages had no tradition of concerted action against a common enemy and had no leadership who could demand such action from their people. Samuel Rheen described their “natural inclination” and physical constitution in derogatory terms. Most of them were “useless in war, because among them there is no Manly courage, instead they arc generally timid and faint-hearted: and although a few of them might enroll in the army for money, such happens rarely.”

King Gustavus Asolphus, regarded as the father of modern warfare, was able to assimilate the Sami mostly through the agencies of the Church rather than the Cannon. Of course, the cannon was always held in reserve if the Sami proved too unruly. The Crown mostly had a need in the mid-17th century for the Sami as coolie labor transporting silver and copper ore from newly developed mines in the far north. Given the ruggedness of the terrain and the brutal cold, the only possible transportation were reindeer-drawn carts that the Sami men were dragooned into operating. The Sami were called hallapar, which meant “kept men”. If you read B. Traven’s “Trozas”, about the debt peonage that forced Indians to work on ox-carts, you’ll how it was done in Mexico.

Keeping in mind that the Sami were polytheists with the men worshipping male gods and the women worshiping females, the dour Lutheran missionaries had a job on their hands. Commenting on the relationship between the silver mines and piety, the Swedish chancellor opined “since we have not be able to come there [to Sami country] per pietatem [by piety], God draws us, opens doors, and shows us the way through a new silver mind, that we may come here per vitium avaritie [through the vice of avarice].” The Queen concurred, stating “God who has blessed this Country with such a magnificent mine; He intends thus to help our subjects and Lapps [a pejorative term for Sami] out of the miserable condition in which, until this day, they have lived.”

Pastors assigned to the “Swedification” of Sami villages were instructed to impose fines on all men and women who engaged in premarital sex, something that these people preferred to making war, showing up drunk on Sunday services or avoiding the church altogether on major holidays.

Finding pastors to work in Sami country was no easy task as one observer described:

[H]e who becomes used to warm houses, feeding on bread and beer, lying in good beds, he will not be eager to live among the Lapps . . . they quickly die when they have to … refrain from bathing, drink water and eat smoke, run on skis, lie like a dog in snow and huts in the winter, withstand cold and frost, walk through rain in the summers, across marshes, swamps and mosses … put up with mosquitoes and gnats so that they may eat one alive in summer, above and around giving one peace neither day nor night.

But the key to driving the demon out of these people was getting to the youth. Like the Canadians, the Swedes forced the Samis to enrol their children in boarding schools where the native would be driven from their unclean souls. Not only were the children required to speak Swedish, they had to Swedishize their names—Pagge became Paul, etc.

One devout Swede described the efforts at conversion (ie. assimilation) as virtually hopeless:

I began by asking them about the catechism … What they understood was quite little; charged them with Idolatry and witchcraft; Intercourse with animals; incest, manslaughter, fornication, but saw no more reaction than from a log… when I more clearly repeated his [Christ’s] suffering in the garden, etc. was an equal lack of reaction, I saw only 2 or 3 that cried tears … the Pastor has scant responsibility for this, when the Lapp is like this, he can achieve little.

With all due respect to those who admire the Swedes, I’d have preferred to live like a Sami.

Now you might assume that these were the bad old days and that the Swedes straightened out their act under a benign and enlightened social democracy in the 20th century when Sami rights would finally be respected. Well, let’s take a look at the record.

Roger Kvist, a faculty member in the Department of Saami Studies at Umeå University, wrote a paper titled “The Racist Legacy In Modern Swedish Saami Policy” that demonstrates the continuity between the 17th century and the modern era.

Despite the fact that reindeer was a key to the cultural survival of the Sami ethos just as the bison was to the Lakota, the Swedish government has consistently tried to impinge on the right to hunt and to tame the beasts. Social Democrats like  Gunnar Sträng (Minister of Finance) and Torsten Nilsson (as Minister of Agriculture, responsible for Saami Affairs, Roger Kvist Minister of Foreign Affairs) were for strict control of reindeer grazing.

In the 1980s, even after Norway had passed legislation favorable to Sami self-determination, the Swedish social democrats failed to pass a similar bill. Also, the government would not sign the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention 169, concerning Indigenous and tribal peoples in independent countries. Ironically, despite the social democratic pretensions to being concerned about the rights of the downtrodden, it has been non-social democratic governments in Sweden that have been more forthcoming.

But this is not the half of it. On August 29, 1997 the Washington Post reported on how “Sweden Sterilized Thousands of ‘Useless’ Citizens for Decades”:

The victims were young and mostly female, judged to be rebellious or promiscuous, of low intelligence or perhaps of mixed blood. One was a young woman whose priest believed she had not learned her confirmation lessons well enough, another who couldn’t read a blackboard because she did not have eyeglasses and was deemed to be retarded.

In the eyes of Swedish authorities, they were misfits in a forward-looking nation, and for that they paid a terrible price: sterilization at the hands of the state, often against their will. From 1934 to 1974, 62,000 Swedes were sterilized as part of a national program grounded in the science of racial biology and carried out by officials who believed they were helping to build a progressive, enlightened welfare state.

Now the collective history of the victims, brought back into public view by a sharply written series of articles in Sweden’s largest morning newspaper, has stirred the public consciousness of a country that has often ignored the darker corners of its past.

The policy weighed heaviest on the Roma who were specifically targeted by the social democrats who were heavily into eugenics but there is little doubt that Sami women were victimized as well, not so much for being Sami but for being rebellious or promiscuous—in other words the same kind of behavior that offended Lutheran preachers 350 years earlier.

In my next post, I will deal with the Swedish social democrats and Africa.

May 24, 2015

The Swedish model (part 1)

Filed under: socialism,Sweden — louisproyect @ 8:43 pm

Otto von Bismarck: a forerunner to Swedish socialism

Bob Schieffer: Let me just start out by asking you, what is a socialist these days? I mean, I remember when a socialist was somebody who wanted to nationalize the railroads and things like that.

Bernie Sanders: When we talk about Democratic socialism, I think it’s important to realize that there are countries around the world like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, who’ve had social democratic governments on and off for many, many years. And we can learn a whole lot from some of those countries.

Face the Nation interview, May 10, 2015

Sweden is a funny country to call socialist. In France or Austria the government owns a much larger share of industry, and I would expect that in a socialist country personal income taxes would be low and company taxes high, whereas in Sweden it is the opposite. It has the world’s highest personal income taxes and it’s a tax haven for companies!

–A statement made in 1976 by Rune Hagelund, a member of the board of the Swedish Employers’ Federation (SAF), a former professor of economics, and president and chairman of the board of two of Sweden’s major corporations.

In my freshman year at Bard I was a 16-year-old wet-behind-the-ears libertarian who got schooled by upperclassmen why Sweden’s welfare state was a good thing (from my unpublished memoir):

bard sweden 1

bard sweden 2

After being converted to a Camus-styled liberal, I naturally became predisposed to the welfare state and voted for LBJ in 1964 in the expectation that he would govern as a New Deal reformer, which he did for the most part.

When the war in Vietnam began, I radicalized and joined the Trotskyist movement out of a belief in part that the New Deal was a fraud, just something to help keep American capitalism afloat, which was after all FDR’s hope. I never thought much about Sweden in this period except to welcome its socialist Prime Minister Olof Palme as an ally of the antiwar movement. I was also happy to see Swedish material aid to Nicaragua when I was working with Tecnica. So, all in all, Sweden had a much more benign image for me even if I understood it operated on the basis of capitalist property relations.

In 2014, after having read a couple of Stieg Larsson novels and watching Swedish TV adaptation of Marxist detective novels by other writers, I began thinking more deeply about the Swedish model. It was these writers focus on the corporate/fascist presence that motivated me primarily but I always wondered in the back of my mind how Sweden became such a success story, at least enough of one to allow Bernie Sanders to embrace it unabashedly.

In writing about the ultraright, I discovered that Sweden had a chummy relationship with Nazi Germany during WWII. I didn’t realize at the time I was exposing this relationship in a CounterPunch article that it was the Social Democrats who were in power, not some rightwing party. Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson advocated a national front that included all the parties except for the CP.

While the image we have of Sweden is one of resistance to Nazism, based on the country providing a haven for Jews and Raul Wallenberg’s efforts on behalf of Hungarian Jews, it is worth noting that the Wallenbergs—arguably the most powerful capitalist family in Sweden—were capable of cutting deals with the Nazis after the fashion of the socialist Prime Minister as an article in a Bay Area Jewish newspaper reported:

The Wallenberg documents shed light on “Sweden’s involvement with and collaboration with the Nazis during the war,” Steinberg said.

“Sweden is clearly emerging as one of the places where the Nazis moved assets.”

According to the documents, The Enskilda Bank, owned by Jacob and Marcus Wallenberg, Raoul’s uncles, dealt in large black-market operations, money laundering and concealing German investments in the United States.

The documents also contain evidence disproving the belief in some circles that Marcus Wallenberg was on the side of the Allies. He traveled to the United States in 1940 on behalf of German interests to buy back a block of German securities being held by America, according to the documents.

The disclosed information about the collaboration between the Nazi regime and Marcus and Jacob Wallenberg suggests a reason for the feeble attempt to find their nephew.

“It’s long been out there that the Wallenberg family in Stockholm apparently did very little to locate Raoul after his disappearance into the Soviet gulag in January 1945,” Steinberg said.

Perhaps the main reason Sweden has such an elevated status is its ostensible commitment to the welfare state. In a period of deepening austerity, the fact that there was a nation like Sweden that apparently departed from the neoliberal model for well over a half-century had a tendency to mesmerize Bernie Sanders and allow the more Marxist-minded members of the left to cut it some slack.

In this, the first in a series of articles on Sweden, I hope to convince the left to think more critically about the Swedish model if for no other reason than to put Bernie Sanders socialism into some kind of context.

The first place to start is with some discussion about the real origins of the welfare state, which was not in 20th century Sweden (or the USA for that matter) but under Bismarck’s Germany.

For the best appraisal of Bismarck’s “state-socialism”, the term that the Lassalleans would apply to his regime, I recommend the chapter in volume four of Hal Draper’s “Karl Marx’s Theory of Revolution” titled “Of State-Socialism”: Bismarckian Model”. Draper writes:

Bismarck was too shrewd to depend only on the policeman’s club. The stick to the donkey’s rear had to be supplemented by the carrot dangled in front.5 In the course of the 1880s Bismarck brought out a whole bunch of carrots. Familiar to us now, they then looked revolutionary to many: a series of social-welfare measures providing for accidents, illness, old age, and other workers’ disabilities.

Bismarck’s first proposal, for insurance against industrial accident. came in 1881 and was defeated in the Reichstag by the bourgeois parties. After all, Bismarck’s aim was not only to isolate the working class from the socialists but also to mobilize a “bodyguard proletariat” of its own i order to dish the liberal bourgeoisie and its demands for constitutional liberties, its aspirations for bourgeois dominance in the government and the weakening of absolutism. The new measures being proposed by the Bismarck government were going to be paid for by the class that was the government’s main target. The proletariat was not only supposed to come all over grateful to the state but also to turn antagonistic to the state’s main political opposition, the Liberals or “Progressive party.” But the bourgeois liberal deputies could not resist very long, in this as in anything else.

In 1883 a Sickness Insurance Act was passed, with the workers contributing only a third of the cost. In 1884 an Accident Insurance Law followed, with costs borne by employers alone. In 1889 an Old Age and Disability measure was adopted. In 1903 came a code of factory legislation, with a system of labor exchanges to promote employment. Many of these mea- sures were the first of their kind in the world; by the time of the world war Germany had become the model land of advanced social legislation, under the pressure of the absolutist state, not the bourgeoisie. (However, unemployment insurance was never passed; it took a revolution to achieve this reform under the Weimar Republic.) There was a connection between this beneficent program and the coming world war, for Bismarck’s social strategy had still another side: it was intended to ensure internal unity and class peace while the state intensified an aggressive foreign policy of colonialism and foreign-market penetration, thereby compensating the bourgeoisie (at least its upper reaches) for its social-welfare expenses. This foreign policy was also going to drive a wedge between the right wing and left wing of the Social-Democratic Party, but we will see only the beginning of this process before this chapter ends. In part to finance the technological substructure for war, Bismarck introduced another installment of “socialism”: a state tobacco monopoly in 1882 (a big source of revenue) and the nationalization of the railways. Here was something that began to really look like socialism to many people; at any rate, it was a definite intervention by the state into the economy, even if on a small scale.

As I will point out in my next post, the Swedish bourgeoisie and its partners in the social democracy had pretty much the same agenda.

April 15, 2015

Adalen 31

Filed under: Film,Sweden,trade unions,workers — louisproyect @ 4:48 pm

After a number of false starts, I was finally able to upload Bo Widerberg’s “Adalen 31” to Youtube, a film that I saw when it came out in 1969 and that has lingered in my memory all these years. The title is a reference to a general strike in the Adalen district by paper mill workers in 1931 that led to the first in a series of Social Democratic governments that for many people defined the word socialism. What I took away from the film, besides its stunning artistic power, was the idea that there was a dialectical relationship between revolutionary struggle and reform. If not for the four men and one young girl who were shot down in the village of Lunde on May 14, 1931, it is altogether possible that the modern Scandinavian welfare state never would have been born.

Yesterday I watched the film for the first time in 46 years and realize now why it has stuck with me. Despite the languid and pastoral quality of the first two-thirds of the film, which typified Widerberg’s “Elvira Madigan” made two years earlier, the final third is a powerful recreation of the armed attack on a demonstration that resonated with the struggles taking place around the world in 1969. And it will resonate now with people watching it for the first time who have the Marikana massacre fresh in their mind, or any other military attack on protesters in the Middle East and North Africa.

The film opens in the house of Harald Andersson, a man who has been out on strike for a number of months. He has three sons, the eldest of whom is named Kjell and is in his late teens. Kjell plays trumpet in the trade union marching band but probably prefers playing jazz.

The primary drama in the film revolves around Kjell’s romance with the daughter of one of the paper mill owners, a blonde girl named Hedvig who is troubled by the bitter strike but not to the extent of breaking with her father.

Widerberg is obviously interested in tensions between the personal and political since another story line involves Harald giving first aid to a wounded scab worker in his home. When he is confronted by his fellow trade unionists, he makes the case that violence undermines their cause and insists that negotiation was the only way forward.

When the army is brought in to defend the scabs’ barracks, the union organizes a march on their stronghold with the marching band in the front ranks playing the Internationale. In an interview with the NY Times’s Mel Gussow in October 1969, Widerberg revealed that 3,000 extras were used in the scene and that he developed the action just two hours before shooting began.

Despite the absence of the word Communist throughout the film, there is little doubt as to the affiliations of the leadership of the strike and many of the rank-and-file workers. Axel Nordström, who served 2 ½ years of hard labor for his role as a strike organizer, was a Communist member of Parliament from 1937 to 1940. In an article on the Adalen general strike that appeared in the Swedish section of Alan Woods’s International Marxist Tendency (http://www.marxist.se/artikel/adalen-31-det-vi-aldrig-far-glomma), there’s a report on the killings that day from Harry Nordlander, a member of the Communist youth group in Adalen:

As we approached the ferry pier near the meadow, where we said that we would turn, a soldier on horseback charged us. The rider shouted something and then fired his gun over his shoulder, probably frightened by a banner that fluttered. Some of the marchers saw bullet holes in the banner. Then we heard clearly a loud command: Fire! The bullets began to whistle through the air. They did not come from the front, but from the side a few yards from the lead.

Then we saw how one of the musicians rushed forward in the hail of bullets and blew “cease fire” [recreated by Kjell in the scene]. The guns fell silent. It was the young Communist Vera who showed courage and presence of mind to stop the killing. But there were already five comrades dead or dying and several more wounded. One of those killed was a young girl who stood in the garden at the side of the road. Her name was Eira Söderberg and was a member of our youth club in Svanö.

 The best account of the Adalen struggles can be found on the Global Nonviolent Action Database located at Swarthmore University. Interestingly enough, Axel Nordström is cited in this article as being opposed to violence against scabs—this despite the fact that the CP’s were aligned with the Kremlin’s ultraleft turn at the time:

In the fall of 1930, the management of a sawmill in Lunde in the Ådalen Valley announced wage cuts for all workers. In response the laborers began a strike.

The workers continued their strike through the fall, shutting down the mill. The director of the Lunde mill also had investments in two pulp mills in nearby towns. In January 1931 the laborers in these two mills began a sympathy strike. Meanwhile workers and management held ongoing negotiations.

Axel Nordström, a communist leader, was one of the leaders of the strike campaign and the workers also had ties to LO.

On May 12, when management called in outside strikebreakers to commence work in the three mills, the strike leaders immediately put up fliers against the strikebreakers. These fliers also called for further protests, work stoppages in other industries, mass demonstrations, and a meeting scheduled for the next day.

The county government ordered police to protect the strikebreakers and sent several officers to the meeting. At the meeting Axel Nordström called for demonstrations, but did not condone violence against the strikebreakers. The strikers decided to march and demonstrate at one of the mills where workers were holding a sympathy strike. Once at the mill another leader spoke and a band played the workers’ theme song. The demonstrators there decided to get rid of the strikebreakers.

Police asked Nordström to prevent the protesters from hurting the strikebreakers, but he was no longer in control of the situation. Demonstrators pulled strikebreakers from the mill, and inflicted some minor injuries. The strikers then chose to hold another meeting the next day and follow it with a march to the mill in Lunde where the strike had begun. They continued protests that day, throwing stones at the strikebreakers’ barracks and knocking out electricity for the city of Lunde.

Bo Widerberg is pretty much a forgotten figure today with very poor representation on the usual sources. None of his films are available on Netflix or Amazon, and in the well-stocked Columbia film library you can only locate “Elvira Madigan”. Despite the fact that his films are now in the public domain, the only one that could be seen previously on Youtube was “Joe Hill”, a 1971 film about the martyred IWW member who was born Joel Emanuel Hägglund in Gävle, Sweden.

Widerberg died on May Day 1997, a symbolic date for the radical filmmaker who was born into a working-class family in Malmo sixty-six years earlier. He started off as a film critic professionally, creating controversy with his 1962 book “The Vision of Swedish Cinema” that took aim at Ingmar Bergman and his followers for being “preoccupied with problems that didn’t interest me and my generation of comrades.” He found that the Sweden Bergman represented was “not contemporary at all”.

Clearly Widerberg was tuned into the Marxist detective novel authors that I wrote about for CounterPunch back in September 2014. Fortunately his 1976 “Man on the Roof” that was based on the Martin Beck novel co-authored by Marxist husband and wife writing team Per Wahloo and Maj Sjowall can be seen with English subtitles at Daily Motion, something that I hope to see along with “Joe Hill” the first chance I get.

October 17, 2014

Nazi Germany and the Swedes

Filed under: Fascism,Film,Sweden — louisproyect @ 2:53 pm
Neutral on a Moving Train

Nazi Germany and the Swedes

by LOUIS PROYECT

In the course of researching my CounterPunch article on TV adaptations of Swedish Marxist detective novels, I became familiar with the looming presence of Nazi sympathizers in Sweden like the monstrous Vangers in Stieg Larssen’s Dragon Tattoo novels.

Just this week I viewed press screenings for two new films that focus in on another aspect of Swedish political history, the country’s longstanding neutrality that goes back to the early 19th century and that became widely known and respected during the Vietnam antiwar movement, when Prime Minister Olof Palme marched alongside the North Vietnamese Ambassador to the Soviet Union Nguyen Tho Chan.

“Diplomacy”, that opened on Wednesday, October 15, 2014 at the Film Forum in New York, is set during the final days of WWII when Swedish Consul General Raoul Nordling tries to persuade Nazi General Dietrich von Choltitz not to blow up Parisian landmark edifices. “The Last Sentence”, available as a DVD or On Demand from Music Box Films, is a biopic set during the later years of Torgny Segerstedt, a newspaper editor who was famous for excoriating Adolph Hitler until the Swedish prime minister, deciding that the country’s neutrality was being undermined, clamped down on Segerstedt, confirming the precept once again that truth is the first casualty of war.

read full article

trailers for films under review:

September 24, 2014

Stieg Larsson on the Sweden Democrats

Filed under: Sweden,ultraright — louisproyect @ 5:12 pm

 

As I pointed out in my CounterPunch article on Stieg Larsson, I would have liked to see him live long enough to comment on the electoral breakthrough of the Swedish Democrats, a far-right party that got 13 percent of the vote and that prevented the Social Democrats from forming a majority-led government. I pointed out in the article that the NY Times covered the election in a most peculiar way, referring to how leftwing activists were harassing the Swedish equivalent of the French National Front.

A couple of days after I wrote the CounterPunch article I got a copy of “Stieg Larsson: the Expo Files”, a collection of the articles he wrote over the years for the anti-fascist magazine that the Millennium of his novels was based on. As it turned out, he wrote about the Swedish Democrats (more honestly named the anti-Democrats) in 2002. This is a good introduction to his journalism as well as a rebuttal to the NY Times article. Apparently these scumbags were complaining 12 years ago about being harassed, a ploy to get sympathy from confused liberals. Too bad the Times doesn’t have anybody on the payroll 1/100th as canny as Stieg Larsson. Co-author Mikael Ekman was one of his closest collaborators and a good friend.

Finally, used copies of “Stieg Larsson: the Expo Files” can be purchased for $1.51 on Amazon.com. Well, what are you waiting for?

RESPONSE TO ANTI-DEMOCRATIC PROPAGANDA

Expo 1-2/2002 Co-authored with Mikael Ekman

The Sweden Democrats describe themselves as a democratic party that is ruthlessly harassed and persecuted by an anti-democratic system—politicians, the mass media and state authorities. That strategy—and accompanying rhetoric—is copied from the Front National in France and similar parties. And the response should be the same in Sweden as it is in France. Expo now offers some of those responses to the most common arguments put forward by the Sweden Democrats.

The Sweden Democrats are not allowed to participate in the election campaign on the same terms as other political parties!

This is a political lie. All parties operate under exactly the same conditions and compete for exactly the same voters. The Swedish constitutional right of free speech and freedom of organization applies to all Swedish citizens without exception. There are no constitutional obstacles preventing the Sweden Democrats from taking part in the election: they have access to the same opportunities to publish election manifestos, leaflets, magazines; the same opportunities to produce local radio broadcasts and publish material on the Internet as any other party. It is true that the Sweden Democrats do not feature in the mass media and on television to the same extents as, let us say, the Social Democrats, the Left Party or the Moderates [the Swedish Conservative Party]. The Sweden Democrats are a marginal party, and it is entirely appropriate that parties represented in parliament and with significantly greater support among voters should attract proportionately more attention.

The Sweden Democrats are gagged and suppressed by the political establishment!

This claim is nonsense. It is true, however, that none of the democratic parties is particularly interested in debating with a marginal, racist party that subscribes to conspiracy theories and conducts hate campaigns against democratic politicians.

The Sweden Democrats are not allowed to hire rooms in community centers such as the People’s House or the Workers’ Educational Association. This proves that Sweden is a sham democracy!

Democracy does not exist purely for the benefit of racist parties. The A.B.F. (Workers’ Educational Association) and other educational associations do have democratic rights. They are independent institutions with the right to decide which groups they will admit into their premises as guests.

Democracy gives rights to opponents of the Sweden Democrats—in this case the right to refuse to let rooms to racist organizations. If the Sweden Democrats want to hold public meetings there is nothing to stop them from doing so in their own premises.

They can’t afford it? Ah, well, that is sad—but hardly a problem for the A.B.F. and other educational organizations. Every newly formed party seeking the support of voters operates under precisely the same marginal conditions.

The Sweden Democrats are subjected to censorship in public debate, and their letters to the editor are not published by local newspapers!

This claim is a political lie. Articles and letters to the editor from the Sweden Democrats are published regularly in local newspapers. But in any case, the same argument applies as in the previous repudiation: democracy is not merely for the benefit of racist parties. Swedish newspapers are independent institutions whose editors are free to choose what material their publications will carry.

Most letters editors are not interested in publishing contributions from groups manifestly devoted to con-spiracy theories and who claim, among other things, that the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center was “partly financed by the Swedish government:’ This is not an issue about democracy but rather an example of common sense being displayed by editors.

The Sweden Democrats are a normal democratic party!

The Sweden Democrats are a racist, anti-democratic party dedicated to conspiracy theories. There is no such thing as “democratic racism”—the fact that the party conducts racist campaigns and stirs up contempt for and discriminatory attitudes towards sexual minorities also justifies the party being labelled as anti-democratic.

The Sweden Democrats are not against immigration, but only want to criticize Swedish immigration policies!

From the very start racism and xenophobia have been the cement that holds the party together. Over the years the party has conducted crude hate campaigns and tried to cultivate the myth that immigrants in general are “potential criminals:’ “spreaders of HIV” and “potential rapists:’ The constant intention has been to cultivate an attitude of contempt towards people whose skin is a different color.

The Sweden Democrats oppose immigration from non-European countries and their aim is the repatriation—in other words the expulsion—of immigrants.

The leader of the party, Mikael Jansson, has stated that they are not talking about voluntary repatriation: “We are in favor of the compulsory repatriation of all asylum seekers from foreign cultures who have entered Sweden since 1970.” The Sweden Democrats thereby advocate a doctrine that can only be called “ethnic cleansing in Sweden?’

The Sweden Democrats are not interested in the color of a person’s skin; we believe that “It doesn’t matter whether adopted children are white or black”!

The Sweden Democrats’ manifesto states specifically that the adoption of children from outside Europe should cease. Since children brought up in Sweden from an early age will be to all intents and purposes Swedish from a cultural point of view, this stipulation can refer only to skin color.

Discussion of the immigration problem in Sweden is suppressed, and criticism of immigration policies is not permitted!

This claim too is nonsense but is raised over and over again by the Sweden Democrats and other racist groups.

In fact the immigration question is one of the most widely debated issues in Swedish politics over the last thirty to forty years. Immigration has been discussed by all the democratic parties, by the government, the parliament and local government institutions, within trade unions and employers’ organizations, within state authorities, in schools, universities, workplaces and voluntary organizations. The upshot of these deliberations is that there is remarkable unity within Swedish public institutions to the effect that our country supports the U.N. Charter of Human Rights, directives from the U.N. Displaced Persons Commission and other international agreements: immigrants are welcome in Sweden.

On the other hand, the precise form that immigration takes—what numbers, at what rate, how immigrants should be received and treated and how the integration process should proceed—is under continual discussion, and there can be many differences of opinion. It is not racist to criticize the immigration process, nor to argue that immigration policies have serious shortcomings.

Racism is on the increase in our country. It is out of concern for the welfare of immigrants that the Sweden Democrats want them to “return home”! Immigrants usually politely decline assistance from the Sweden Democrats. Ever since the party was founded as a campaigning organization entitled “Keep Sweden Swedish” in 1979, it has cultivated racism and conducted xenophobic campaigns. After spending many years encouraging xeno-phobia, the Sweden Democrats now use “increasing rac-ism” as an excuse for repatriating immigrants.

The Sweden Democrats are the party for those who are in favor of law and order in our society!

The Sweden Democrats have far and away more criminals among their numbers than any other party. Expo’s investigation into 330 “leading Sweden Democrats” (people who had either been members of the national party council or submitted themselves as Sweden Democrat candidates in an election) between 1988 and 1998 showed that more than 23 percent of them had been found guilty of criminal activity.

That is almost twice the highest-known figure for immi-grant criminality, which shows that just over 12 percent of all immigrants have been convicted of crimes. This figure has been criticized as exaggerated. It is normally reckoned that about 6 percent of all Swedes will sooner or later be convicted of a crime, and that the corresponding figure for immigrants is only slightly higher at about 7 percent. Criminality within the Sweden Democrats covers all categories—insurance fraud, cruelty to animals, theft, assaults on women, grievous bodily harm, drink-driving, embezzlement, arson, and so on.

There are criminals in all political parties!

Very true. But the conduct of normal politicians is scrutinized by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on the Constitution, the National Audit Office, local auditors, opposing par-ties, public prosecutors, police authorities, and not least by the mass media. Politicians in normal parties who are convicted of crimes are disqualified more or less straight away.

The crime statistics for the Sweden Democrats are in no way comparable with the situation in normal democratic parties.

The Sweden Democrats have no contacts with anti-democratic or right-wing extremists abroad!

The Sweden Democrats are members of the cooperation organization Euro-Nat and hence one of the signatories of the “Young European Nationalists’ Manifesto:” Among other signatories are the racist party Vlaams Bloke in Belgium, the anti-Semitic Romania Mare’ from Romania and the neo-fascist Forza Nuova4 from Italy. The foreign organization closest to the party is the French Front National.5

The Sweden Democrats are Not Nazis!

No, but on the other hand nobody has suggested that the Sweden Democrats are a neo-Nazi party. There is, however, plenty of evidence that over the years the relationship with Nazism has been fluid, that Sweden Democrat members have moved to or from Nazi sects, or have been members of both.

The Sweden Democrats were founded originally as the racist campaigning organization Bevara Sverige Svenskt (Keep Sweden Swedish) in 1979. Several of the founders have a background of neo-Nazi group membership, and over the years a large proportion of the party executive have been linked with neo-Nazi movements.

The claim by Expo that the Sweden Democrats have had Nazis among their leaders is a lie!

There have been a few cases of short-lived youthful folly, and a few infiltrators when the party was first launched. At the beginning of the 1990s just over half the members of the S.D. party executive had links with openly Nazi groups. In 1995, 42 percent of the party executive still had Nazi links. Then a purge was begun. Yet some of the youth-ful folly has continued for rather a long time: as recently as 2001 several leading members were expelled in connection with the formation of the National Democrats. They were accused of being—Nazis.

Notes

  1. Euro-Nat was a network of nationalist parties in Europe which grew out of a collaboration between parties that had tried to form a right-wing group in the European Parliament during the ’90s.
  2. Vlaams Blok was founded in 1978 as an alliance between two nationalist right-wing parties. The party called for an independent Flanders and reduced immigration, and gained rapid success. It was banned in 2004, when the Belgian court decided that all three non-profit organizations connected to the Vlaams Blok had violated the 1981 anti-racism law.
  3. Romania Mare was founded in 1991 by Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who still leads the party. It has often been represented in both the national parliament and the European Parliament. The party has several times been accused of having distributed anti-Semitic propaganda.
  4. Forza Nuova is a radical right-wing party led by Roberti Fiore. It has not generally been successful in elections, but nevertheless plays an important role in building alliances between right-wing extremist groups across Europe.
  5. The Front National is one of the most famous right-wing parties in Europe. Founded in 1972, it got its big break in the 1984 elections to the European Parliament. Front National was for many years led by Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has now been replaced by his daughter, Marine Le Pen.

 

September 19, 2014

How Stieg Larsson Exposed the Swedish Far Right

Filed under: Fascism,journalism,literature,popular culture,Sweden — louisproyect @ 1:04 pm
Kicking the Hornets’ Nest

How Stieg Larsson Exposed the Swedish Far Right

by LOUIS PROYECT

For the average person the early death of Stieg Larsson must have come as a disappointment since that meant that the fourth Dragon Tattoo novel would remain uncompleted, the last in a series that were perfect reading on the bus or subway going to work. I understood how they might feel since I once missed my stop while reading the account of the petite but potent Lisbeth Salander beating up a 300-pound biker and stealing his Harley-Davidson.

But after reading Jan-Erik Pettersson’s “Stieg Larsson: the real story of the man who played with fire”, I felt a keener loss, that of a man who I never met but now miss as a comrade in the fight against a decaying capitalist system. I was always aware that Karl Stig-Erland “Stieg” Larsson, who died at the age of 50 from a heart attack on November 9, 2005, was a member of the Trotskyist movement–as was I–but never knew much about what he did in between the time he left the movement and began writing the novels that made him famous. I was under the impression that he made his living as a journalist but that would be like saying that John Reed did so as well. Like so many journalists with integrity over the last 100 years, Stieg Larsson aimed his words like a Molotov cocktail at the forces of capitalist reaction. If anything, the exploits of Mikael Blomkvist, the journalist hero of his novels, pale in comparison to the life that the author led.

I picked up Pettersson’s book (used copies sell for a penny on Amazon.com!) primarily to get a handle on how Sweden moved away from the welfare state in the 80s and 90s and on how those changes impacted the Marxist detective novel writers I wrote about inCounterPunch recently. While the book provided valuable information that allowed me to put someone like Henning Mankell, the creator of the Wallender novels, into context, the story of Stieg Larsson began to captivate me, so much so that I decided to write this article as a way of paying homage to this extraordinary human being. The facts about Larsson’s life that follow come from Pettersson’s book; the analysis you can blame on me as always.

read full article

September 12, 2014

Sweden and the Renaissance of Marxist Crime Stories

Filed under: Counterpunch,crime,popular culture,Sweden,television — louisproyect @ 2:36 pm

From Beck to Wallander

Sweden and the Renaissance of Marxist Crime Stories

by LOUIS PROYECT

For fans of Stieg Larsson’s Dragon Tattoo novels and the film adaptations both American and Swedish it inspired, I have good news about similar crime stories that appeared on Swedish television originally and that can be seen on Netflix, Amazon and on other commonly available sources.

For reasons to be explained momentarily, there are good reasons why Marxists like Larsson decided to write what can arguably be called pulp fiction. Foremost in Larsson’s mind was the need to create a nest egg for his long-time partner who unfortunately has run into conflicts with Larsson’s father and brothers over the author’s estate. (Larsson, who died unexpectedly from a heart attack, did not leave a will.) While there are undoubtedly sharp observations about the dark side of Swedish society in his novels, his main goal was to tell compelling stories with memorable characters. If that is the sort of thing you are looking for in popular culture, then the existence of other Swedish works in this genre should be most welcome.

Full article

 

 

September 10, 2014

The Marxist roots of Swedish detective novels

Filed under: literature,popular culture,Sweden — louisproyect @ 5:36 pm

From “Stieg Larsson: the Real Story of the Man Who Played With Fire” by Jan-Erik Petterson:

ABOUT A WEEK AFTER THE FIRST Swedish anti-Vietnam War demonstration and the same year the Swedish police were nationalized, the detective story Roseanna by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo was published. This was the book which was to introduce the revolution in Swedish detective fiction and without which Jan Guillou’s Hamilton books, Henning Mankell’s Wallander series and Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy could probably never have been written.

Sjowall and Wahloo threw out the old props of the ingenious sleuth assembling the suspects in the manor house library and instead placed the real, unromantic, crime-solving police centre stage.

Roseanna was just the start of a carefully devised plan. The man-and-wife team had decided they would produce exactly ten novels over ten years, published under the collective rubric of The Story of a Crime. The books would use the detective story format to reflect and analyse contemporary Sweden. More than that: they would, in Per Wahloo’s words, ‘rip open the belly of an ideologically impoverished society’.

Per Wahloo had already had some novels published, mostly political thrillers, but Maj Sjowall, who worked for the weekly press, was new to fiction. Both were politically committed and way to the left of the ruling Social Democrats.

Their views were not entirely surprising, even though several years ahead of their time. But the literary venture was a bold one. Crime fiction was middle class. In the circles they moved in they certainly got no brownie points for writing in that medium. Even from a commercial perspective, thrillers were no guarantee of success. The publishing director at Norstedts, Lasse Bergstrom, wrote in his memoirs, Bokmarken (Bookmarks), that he was rather disappointed when Wahloo, whom he already knew well, came to the office with Maj Sjowall to propose their project.

`But my disappointment was in total ignorance of what was to come,’ was his later terse comment on his reaction at the time.

Sjowall and Wahloo wanted to try something new, something daring and unexpected. To hell with traditions, even those of the Labour movement. They would write for a broad public and make it so easy and exciting that the bitter pill of the authors’ social critique would slide down without meeting any resistance.

And weren’t class divisions in society a crime in themselves, anyway? And shouldn’t they be depicted as such?

From Sjowall—Wahloo onwards, the Swedish crime novel — oddly enough given its context — has been a genre with a strong tendency to the Left.

Fortunately for the authors, it was as if the era itself was crying out for a fresh sort of literature. The expansive, realistic, elaborate epic felt played out. What was needed now was something more in keeping with the pulse of the new decade — edgy, nerve-tingling, straight to the point.

At that period, the documentary form predominated in all the arts. Truth carried more weight than fiction. Within the space of a few years the book market was flooded with current affairs and reportage. Sjowall—Wahloo, despite opting for the novel, were in perfect accord with the trend. Their blow-by-blow accounts of meetings in police headquarters, interrogations of witnesses and suspects, post-mortem reports and so forth convinced the reader that these procedures were completely true to life.

Such devices would go on to become the staple for all Swedish crime writers.

Sjowall and Wahloo were aware too of crime fiction traditions other than the Swedish, just as Stieg Larsson was thirty years on. In the USA Dashiell Hammett had introduced the hard-boiled school of crime fiction with his novels about the private detective Sam Spade. Hammett was an anti-fascist and member of the American Communist Party, and wrote about a society that seldom showed any mercy to anyone born on the wrong side of the tracks. And in France Georges Simenon had created his Chief Superintendent Jules Maigret, who not only solved crimes but also sought to analyse their cause and was able to feel sympathy for the perpetrators.

Sjowall and Wahloo had found a useful model in the American crime writer Ed McBain and his novels about the 87th Police Precinct in the fictional town of Isola. McBain depicts the cops Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling and their laborious daily grind confronting a criminality of steadily increasing ruthlessness. These books were fine examples of the police procedural, detective stories where the efforts of the team are much more important than an individual detective hero’s flashes of insight. Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo decided to learn from McBain and even translated some of his books into Swedish.

Roseanna introduces a Swedish police team at the Homicide Bureau in Stockholm. They are Detective Inspector Martin Beck (later superinten-dent and head of the National Homicide Bureau of the Central Bureau of Investigation) and his assistants Lennart Kollberg and Fredrik Melander. The cast is gradually augmented: Gunvald Larsson, Einar Minn, Ake Stenstrom (who is murdered in the fourth book and succeeded by Benny Skacke), and also Stenstrom’s former girlfriend Asa Torell.

This is the team that battles to solve various crimes and more often than not succeeds. Yet in the final analysis they always lose. In contrast to the crime stories of the 1950s, no equilibrium is restored in the police procedurals of the 1960s and 1970s. Society itself is constantly producing new and more serious, more audacious and better-organized types of crime. The Sjowall—Wahloo books are not reading matter for the optimistic.

These novels are about the triumphs and impotence of the collec-tive. Young individualists and careerists who are too self-important are bullied and cut down to size, not least by Lennart Kollberg. But the biggest difference of all in comparison with earlier crime novels lies in something more elusive: in the language, the style, the atmosphere:

The little black car hurtled forward through the darkness precisely and implacably, as if it were a weightless craft in space.

The buildings tightened along the road and the city rose up beneath its dome of light, huge and cold and desolate, stripped of everything but hard naked surfaces of metal, glass and concrete.

Not even in the city centre was there any street life at this hour of the night. With the exception of an occasional taxi, two ambulances and a squad car, everything was dead. The police car was black with white fenders and rushed quickly past on its own bawling carpet of sound.

The traffic lights changed from red to yellow to green to yellow to red with a meaningless mechanical monotony.

Here, at the beginning of The Abominable Man, the authors manage to get everything into one short sequence — the forward movement, the suspense of the thriller, the doom-laden feeling of imminent calamity, together with an evocation of the new Swedish capitalist society as they see it — cold, desolate, inhuman.

Something really had happened to Swedish crime fiction.

THE SJOWALL-WAHLOO BOOKS were written from the outset in a restrained objective style, but by degrees the text became more inter-spersed with ironical and critical comments on everything from beer prices and fashions to government foreign policy and the incompetence of the police force and its top management.

What the authors diagnosed in the mid-1960s was a welfare state degenerating, no longer class-equalizing but class-dividing, where people were oppressed by assembly lines and rationalizations, where original residential town centres were being demolished and the urban populace pushed out to so-called dormitory towns.

And the social drama was escalating as the volumes were being written. Vietnam demonstrations were attracting thousands of participants, police and demonstrators clashed, a tennis tournament in Bastad between Sweden and Rhodesia was disrupted by riots, a students’ union building in Stockholm was occupied, a wave of wildcat strikes hit the whole country, the Establishment was rocked by the IB Affair of secret service malpractice, and a hostage drama on Norrmalmstorg and a terrorist attack on the West German embassy brought Stockholm to the attention of the world.

Politics had moved out on to the streets. Violence was making itself felt.

The authorial voice became more explicit as The Story of a Crime progressed. At the very end of the last volume, as some of the main characters are sitting playing party games, it becomes over-explicit:

They all turned their papers over and drew more squares. When Kollberg was ready, he looked at Martin Beck and said, ‘The trouble with you, Martin, is just that you’re in the wrong job. At the wrong time. In the wrong part of the world. In the wrong system.’

‘Is that all?’

‘More or less,’ said Kollberg. ‘My turn to start? Then I say X. X as in Marx.’

This final scene in The Terrorists is dated 10 January 1975. Four months later NLF troops marched into Saigon and the USA left Vietnam. The war that had brought the youth of the West to their feet was over. In Cambodia the Khmer Rouge took power and ushered in a period of unimaginable terror.

The Left to which Sjowall and Wahloo felt they belonged was about to experience disillusionment and factionalism. Nothing was straightforward any more. The unique combination of anger and hope that had swept the emotions along during the dramatic years when The Story of a Crime was being written was gone, never to return.

Maj Sjowall and Per Wahltio had wanted to write for the people and not for the Swedish Academy or the broadsheet newspaper critics. As a result they became the critics’ favourites, which was to have a decisive impact on the Swedish crime novel. Because it was this interplay of effective popular storytelling, widespread media attention and positive reactions on the arts pages that brought the Swedish crime fiction vogue into being and allowed it to flourish.

With the praise came honours and prizes. In 1968 the authors received the Edgar Allan Poe Award, the highest accolade for a crime novel, for The Laughing Policeman. Now even the most dismissive of readers could bury themselves in a Martin Beck police thriller with a clear conscience.

It was not long before the Sjowall—Wahloo police team progressed into the film world. Martin Beck has been played by such stars as Keve Hjelm, Gosta Ekman, Carl Gustaf Lindstedt and Peter Haber. A German version of The Man Who Went up in Smoke featured Derek Jacobi in the role of Beck. Walter Matthau was given the part in the Hollywood version of The Laughing Policeman and Jan Decleir in a Dutch film of The Locked Room.

Ironically, it has only been in later years, with the industrial production of Martin Beck films on standardized thriller lines (twenty-six so far) that the protagonist has become well known to a really wide audience. Yet the Martin Beck and Gunvald Larsson we meet there have almost nothing in common with the classic detective story characters that Sjowall and Wahloo created.

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