By Ragnar Røed. Originally published June 4th, 2018.
With the industrialization in the 19th century, Norway gained its modern working class, where the core was the industrial proletariat, and the class received its revolutionary ideology. With the class and ideology came also the organisation of the class and eventually its parties.
The ideology and inspiration for the organization were gained by the class from travelling foreign craftsmen from places like Germany, and from Norwegian workers that took jobs abroad and came back with socialist ideas.
Norway was a political and cultural outlier, and it was therefore that the socialist ideology and thereafter scientific socialism (Marxism) came late to the country. From 1849 to 1851, the Thrane movement grew quickly before it was just as quickly crushed and the leader Marcus Thrane was thrown in prison. It is claimed that one of the causes was that the movement did not have a strong enough following among industrial workers, but was rather stronger among crofters and rural areas in general.
At the beginning of the 20th century, a more solid labour movement grew forth in the form of the Det Norske Arbeiderparti (DNA) [“The Norwegian Labour Party”] and the labour union (AFL, which later would become LO). When the labour parties in Europe were divided among reformists and communists during WWI, the Norwegian labour party was long united in an unprincipled unity. Several years after the October Revolution in Russia, the labour movement was more organisationally gathered than it was in other countries. The majority of reformists depicted themselves as friends of the Soviet Union, and the revolutionaries did not seek to break with reformism. It was not until 1923 that a communist Bolshevik party in Norway was established – Norges Kommunistiske Parti (NKP) [“The Communist Party of Norway”] – when the Labour Party’s majority refused to follow the rules of the Communist International led by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
Where loyalty to the Soviet Union was the foremost factor on the “NKP-side”, national independence played a large role on the DNA-side – at least rhetorically. Those who refused to accept Comintern’s demands to DNA relied heavily on the argument that the party should not be micromanaged by Moscow, and that it must be a Norwegian party adapted for Norwegian conditions. This was the core of the rhetoric of the rightist wing in the party struggle, but it also appealed to people who were in earnest to the left of the party. On the other side, the loyalty to the Soviet Union and support from the international movement appealed to people who were actually to the right of the party. They saw it as opportune to appear to be friends of the Soviet Union, both tactically in regards to the masses in Norway, and also in regards to a powerful socialist country. With this background, both reformists and revolutionaries found themselves on both sides of the struggle and the split in the party.
The NKP was still influenced by the reformist labour party in both form and content. The common basis for the party’s leadership was not first and foremost ideological, but rather determined on the basis of their willingness to follow the Soviet Union and the Comintern as a leadership for the international communist movement. A number of leaders stood to the right, even further than leaders in the Labour Party on a number of questions, something that would reveal itself in the proletariat’s economic and political struggles in the 1920s.
Revolutionary workers nonetheless built up workers councils in the interwar period. Communists also participated when workers were attacked by the military and state police, including in Hammerfest Commune in 1921 (shortly before the establishment of NKP) and in Menstadslaget in 1931 (where Minister of Defense Quisling commanded the state’s troops and several workers were shot). Communists stood at the forefront in the denigrated iron strike – even though they needed to fight against union leaders who at the start of the conflict were members of the same communist party as them!
The Communist Party’s organisation was by far at its peak the year it was established. From there, they declined both in terms of the party’s size and their influence among the proletariat, all the way up until WWII. The party had its strongest position among poor industrial workers, particularly those in the western part of the country and the rural areas surrounding the capital city, as well as among foresters – particularly those in Hedmark, along with the large cities outside of the capacity, where the party was very small. But through several internal struggles, splinters, political errors, and failures, the part was incredibly weakened before WWII.
Through the heroic struggle in this war, the Communist Party won over many new members and supporters. Thousands of young workers who wanted to fight joined the party and the communist resistance groups. Despite the fact that the party began the military struggle against the German occupation far too late (not until 1941), the communists were the only party who went in the forefront for active and uncompromising resistance.
Norwegian communists who operated either on their own accord or with ties to the Soviet Union, were in fact the first who organised sabotage and guerrilla campaigns against the occupation. In particular, the Norwegian part of the Wollweber organisation was particularly early. They started the armed struggle against Germany as early as 1937, in the form of sabotage actions against German ships. The armed resistance gave us heroes like “Osvald”, “Pelle”, and the partisans in Finmark. Illegal apparatuses were built, and armed groups eventually carried out a number of sabotage actions and assassinations against fascists and Quislings. The efforts that the communists and active resistors stood for can inspire us all even today. And their organising and experiences can teach us useful lessons.
After the war, the communist party was quickly torn apart by internal conflicts. The leadership that was established in illegality during the war were pushed aside by pre-war leaders who returned home from the German concentration camps. The party was initially strong but quickly gave in to compromises with capitalism. NKP participated with two ministers in the first government after the war – along with all the other parties in Parliament. Weapons were handed in and all illegal organising was put to an end. The heroes from the war received little honour – even by their own party. Thirty years later, the party itself had admitted that it neglected them and also that the party had an incorrect position in regards to the occupation and the resistance in the first few months after the invasion.
The NKP never broke with social-democratic parliamentarism. There were a number of splits and splinters after the war, but only a very small group eventually broke with the party on a revolutionary basis. All others were purely unprincipled breaks, breaks that regarded tactics in relation to the Labour Party, more or less independence from the Soviet Union, or in regards to merges with other social-democrats (SF and SV). The unprincipled and opportunistic character of both sides of the breaks were especially clear in the three largest splits that occurred in 1949 (Furubotn), 1967 (Vogt/Kleven), and 1975 (Larsen).
The small group, Marxist-Leninistisk Front (MLF) that was established in 1970 by expelled revolutionaries from NKP joined forces with the Marxist-Leninist youth that has their start in the youth organization of Sosialistisk Folkeparti [“Socialist People’s Party”]. These young revolutionaries became the core of the ML movement and the new communist party, AKP(m-l) that was established in 1973. They were inspired by the Cultural Revolution, Mao, the wars of liberation in the colonies – particularly by the Vietnam War – and youth rebellions. But they were organised after the pre-war NKP model and eventually were also inspired by Albania, that, after all, was closer to Norway than China was. Both the Albanian party and NKP in the 1930s belonged to the so-called “orthodox” Marxism-Leninism, before Mao further developed dialectics, before Mao’s theories on people’s war were expanded and understood, and before Mao’s line for two-line struggle and cultural revolution were integrated into organising for communists.
Like other ML parties in the new communist movement, AKP(m-l) was ideologically first and foremost a counter-reaction against the bourgeoisification of the Soviet Union and the old “communist parties”. Despite the Chinese inspiration, the first and foremost followed the thread from Lenin and Stalin, as well as NKP. “Mao Zedong Thought” became a parenthetical to the parenthetical. Despite Mao’s popularity as both a theorist and a symbol of people’s war and cultural revolution, Maoism was neither clearly formulated nor acknowledged as a universally applicable, third and higher stage of proletarian ideology. This movement was in other words, not a Maoist movement, despite the fact that the party’s theorist Tron Øgrim referred to it as one – but only after the fact.
This movement had a short-lived heyday. AKP(m-l)’s peak came in 1977, just four years after the establishment of the party, and just 10 years after the Marxist-Leninists took the leadership in Sosialistisk Ungdomsforbund [transl. “Socialist Youth League”, the youth organization of Sosialistisk Folkeparti]. The party’s foremost leaders were for the most part still in their twenties when the party was at its strongest.
After the counter-revolution in China in 1976, the party quickly became a normal “communist” party. The model was the old labour parties with a focus on “normal” union organising and election campaigns. In the 1977 electoral campaign, party leader Pål Steigan placed focus on election campaigns and “Red Electoral Alliance of AKP(ml) and independent socialists.” Thousands of communists were put on ballots that were delivered to the state. The only exception from legalism was primarily based on the party’s preparations, both political and organizational, on a war of national liberation in the event of Soviet invasion.
Neither NKP nor AKP(m-l) made any clear and ideologically motivated breaks with the working methods of its predecessors. Most of the parties in the west never developed their work for illegality and revolutionary war. This only happened if they were “forced” to do so by the war. As soon as the war was over, such work was put aside in favour of legalism in the work with unions and elections – with the exception of Greece, where only an invasion by the UK and three years of war hindered communists from taking power through continuing the guerrilla war.
AKP(m-l) had organisational structures for illegality, but this was first and foremost justified on the basis of a fear of invasion by the imperialist Soviet Union. They created working groups, committees, and cells, and they made military training resources and documents to help with this. But they spoke of people’s war only in the context of a hypothetical Soviet invasion. The communists’ work in mass organisation was not typically done in the context of building red power, revolutionary united fronts, or the militarization of the masses’ organisations and struggles.
The ML movement was primarily good. Not only did it carry forward much of the things that were good and correct from the old communist parties, from Lenin and Stalin’s Bolsheviks, but it was also inspired by Mao’s theories and by the Cultural Revolution in China. It printed Mao’s works in Norwegian and thousands of Norwegian youth and workers studied Mao’s theories. It developed communist practice in Norway and it built a relatively large movement form this work, which we must learn from. But this was an ML movement, and not a Maoist movement. Nor was it by any means the world’s most advanced ML movement, ideologically or organizationally speaking. They were not like those who saw through the counter-revolution in China or began a people’s war in their country like the Naxalites in India, the CPP in the Philippines, or like the highest of these – the Communist Party of Peru. The ML movement’s character as an ML movement, and not even the world’s foremost ML movement, necessarily had consequences for the movement’s future development. And it necessarily has consequences for our estimation of it and how we can learn from it.
Up until now, there have been four attempts to constitute the proletariat as a political party in Norway:
1) The labour unions under the leadership of Marcus Thrane.
2) The Norwegian Labour Party (DNA), inspired by the labour parties in other countries
3) The Communist Party of Norway (NKP), a member of the communist international.
4) The Worker’s Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist) (AKP(m-l)), a part of the new communist movement in the 1970s.
These four attempts also corresponded with international waves of proletarian organising. The proletariat is an international class and this proletarian internationalism has gone hand in hand with the development of class organising in Norway. Today, the proletariat again stands without a party. This is not abnormal in the proletariat’s development. Mao Zedong put like this:
“Fight, fail, fight again, fail again, fight again… until their victory; that is the logic of the people, and they too will never go against this logic. This is another Marxist law. The Russian people’s revolution followed this law, and so has the Chinese people’s revolution.”
The proletariat is the largest and toughest class, but it does not have the economic, political, and military power. This lies with the bourgeoisie. And the ruling thoughts are the ruler’s thoughts. Therefore, the main rule is that the proletariat’s ideology and organisations currently stand weaker than that of the bourgeoisie.
The labour unions have been crushed by the state and capitalism and did not have an ideological line that could inspire people to stand against the oppression. Thrane was a great leader, but he was a legalist who rejected the revolutionary struggle.
The Labour Party fell to the hands of the labour aristocracy, became an opportunistic and reformist party, and over the course of just a few decades, became completely integrated into the bourgeois state apparatus and parliamentarism. In some periods, the NKP fought hard and well, but never liberated itself fully from reformism and opportunism. The party fell totally for Khrushchev-revisionism after Stalin’s death and became an eager defender of both social democracy and social imperialism. Sharp tongues would refer to the party as the mere echo of the Labour Party in domestic affairs and a mere echo of the Soviet Union in foreign affairs.
AKP(m-l) made, to a large degree, the same errors as the NKP did, even though they sought to make a break with some of them. It further they continued the legalist organisation form and main focus on union work and electoral campaigns. The party learned from the NKP’s errors during the war and they were inspired by Mao, but they fell for the Chinese revisionists’ game, bought the revisionists’ condemnation of the Cultural Revolution and the so-called “Gang of Four”, and rejected the Maoists in Peru.
Both the NKP and AKP(m-l) were genuine communist parties during some periods, and parts of their history are proud chapters in the Norwegian proletariat’s history. Nonetheless, it is important to point out the fundamental errors that they made, so that we do not repeat them today or in the future.
The Communist Party is the proletariat’s foremost and highest form of class organisation. Therefore, it is also communists’ most important task to reconstitute the proletariat’s own party. This must occur on the basis of the proletariat’s own ideology, scientific socialism – today Maoism. The fifth attempt to organize the proletariat’s party in Norway will be the Maoist communist party.
This fifth attempt must evaluate the errors from the four previous attempts, learn from them, and not least, communists must learn from the world’s foremost Maoists in our own epoch.
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