By the editorial board, Tjen Folket Media.
The great Swedish author and anti-imperialist intellectual Jan Myrdal died on the 30th of October. On the occasion of his passing, it is appropriate to commemorate his life and work, which more than all else was marked by his unshakeable solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world.
Jan Myrdal died at the age of 93, after a time of disease and declining health.
Myrdal was the son of two very prominent swedish social-democrats, Alva and Gunnar Myrdal, and grew up partly in Geneva and New York. His parents belonged to the upper elite in the swedish social-democracy and bourgeois society. Alva Myrdal received the Nobel Peace prize in 1983, the same year Jan Myrdal published a childhood novel that later painted an image of a cold mother who ridiculed her son’s need for parental love and care. Early on, Myrdal made a complete break from the life his parents position had made available for him. Instead he became a revolutionary intellectual, with a particular focus on the third world.
In 1967 he completed his break from his mother, and never met her again in the last of the 20 years she lived. This personal break is closely related to his political breakup from social-democracy. He joined the Young Communist League of Sweden (SKU) in 1943, the same year he turned 16. This happened after he was unsuccessful in getting grades in primary school, in part due to writing and reading difficulties and in part because of his rebellion against the teachers.
In 1944 he was employed as a journalist in the newspaper Värmlands Folkblad, and later he worked for the World Festival of Youth and Students held in Budapest 1949, Berlin 1951, București 1953 and Moscow 1957. He worked for the secretariat in the World Federation of Democratic Youth (WFDY) for five years. He later left the party after it turned revisionist, and did not join any other party for the rest of his life. He developed a strong position for the struggle of the third world, where he made many travels, and he was critical to the revisionist development in the international communist movement.
Myrdal became an affiliated part of the Marxist-Leninist movement, which erupted in the 1960s, inspired by Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution, and was active in solidarity with the people of Vietnam. Myrdal became a leading figure to the revolutionary intellectual movement, and is considered an inspiration in the work for the Communist Party of Sweden, which was founded in 1973 by its precursor KFML, under guidance of Mao Zedong Thought. Jan Myrdal took part in the founding of the magazine Folket i Bild/Kulturfront in 1971, and he wrote for it almost until his death.
Myrdal traveled a lot, and visited countries such as Afghanistan, India and China many times. He placed himself in the forefront against US imperialist ravages in the Korea War and the Vietnam war. He stood in solidarity with the people of China, and wrote important books on the struggle for socialism in the country, especially in 1969 and 1970, books that also are translated to norwegian. Here he describes how the masses of China are constructing socialism with their own hands. His clear anti-imperialist position is expressed, amongst others, in the critically acclaimed book “Confessions of a disloyal European”.
In many travels to India Myrdal showed solidarity with the marxist-leninist movement in the country, and in 2010 Myrdal visited the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) and the Party CPI (Maoist). The more than 80 year old intellectual went with the comrades into the deepest forests of India, and there he made several interviews, among them an interview with the general secretary of the Party. On basis of the travel and the interviews he released the book “Red Star over India”, paraphrasing the title of Edgar Snow’s famous “Red Star over China”, from the People’s War in China. Myrdal supported the Indian Maoists and partook actively in the international campaign against the old reactionary Indian state’s war against its own people.
Jan Myrdal could, as many independent intellectuals do, play a mixed role. Many times he chose, in his eagerness to make principled and “pure” positions, the wrong side. This includes how he fraternised with chauvinists, both in Norway and Sweden, and his statements on Le Pen in France. In his activism for bourgeios-liberal rights and freedom of speech, he often placed himself in bad company. His conclusions have far from always been wise.
Myrdals position on the regime of China after the counter revolution in 1976, was among his errors, even though he started out as critical towards Deng Xiaping. Myrdal with time deserted his position of viewing the class struggle of China as one of socialism versus capitalism, and instead viewed the capitalist restoration as a form of “new economic policy” similar to the NEP-period in the Soviet Union during Lenin. Myrdal viewed the integration of China in the capitalist world economy as a reconquering of “China’s place in the world”, a “readjustment” of the imbalance created by colonialism and imperialism. Thus a world view is exposed, where class struggle is negated by geo politics., this too typical of the petty bourgeois intellectual.
It is not our task or place to make a complete assessment of the life and work of Jan Myrdal, but we see a red thread through his body of work and his intellectual activity, where he struggled to always position himself with the most oppressed of the world. He followed up on his stance already at a young age, and made a break with the old life. He gave his voice to poor peasants in India and Afghanistan, and to cooperative workers in socialist China, and in the last years of his life, he gave his support to the People’s War of India. Such a great function, in the most Aristotelian sense, cannot pass in silence.
Jan Myrdal’s body of work is part of the revolutionary movement in the Nordic countries, in service of the Proletarian World Revolution. We greet his memory, and we are convinced his contributions, principally good in our view, will live on in this movement.
Jan Myrdal in English
Report from a Chinese Village (1963)
Confessions of a Disloyal European (1968)
Angkor: An Essay on Art and Imperialism (1970) – with Gun Kessle
Albania Defiant (1970)
The Silk Road: A Journey from the High pamirs and Ili through Sinkiang and Kansu (1977) – with Gun Kessle
Carpets from China, Xinjiang & Tibet (1979)
India Waits (1980)
Return to a Chinese Village (1984)
Twelve Going on Thirteen (2010)
Red Star Over India: As the Wretched of the Earth are Rising (2014)
Jan Myrdal (svensk Wikipedia)
By Jan Myrdal
Red Star over India (website with resources)
Ett folkets glömda krig (2004)
Det är rätt att göra uppror (2008)
Tjen Folket Media trenger din støtte. Vi får selvsagt ingen pressestøtte eller noen hjelp fra rike kapitalister slik som rasistiske “alternative medier”. All vår støtte kommer fra våre lesere og fra den revolusjonære bevegelsen. Vi er dypt takknemlige for dette. Vi overlever ikke uten, og du kan gjøre ditt bidrag ved å støtte oss med det du kan avse.