My wife and I spent about eighteen months, from June 1935 to September 1936, in Weksal, a village thirty-five miles from Oslo. We lived in the home of Konrad Knudsen, editor of a working class paper. This residence had been designated for us by the Norwegian government. Our life there was completely peaceful and well ordered – one might even say petty bourgeios. The household soon became used to us, and an almost silent but very friendly relationship was established between us and the people around us. Once a week we went to the cinema with the Knudsens to see two-year-old Hollywood productions. From time to time, mainly during the summer, we received visitors, mostly people who belonged to the left wing of the working class movement. The radio kept us abreast of what was going on in the world; we had begun to use this magical, and unbearable, invention three years earlier. We were especially amazed at hearing the official pronouncements of the Soviet bureaucrats. These individuals feel just as much at home over the airwaves as they do in their own offices. They give orders, threaten, and quarrel among themselves – neglecting the most elementary rules of prudence regarding state secrets. Without any doubt, enemy general staffs glean priceless information from the intemperate language of Soviet “chiefs” – big and small. All this goes on in a country where even being suspected of opposition carries the risk of immediately being accused of spionage!
The arrival of the mail was the high point of the day in Weksal. About one in the afternoon we impatiently looked for the disabled mailman who, by sled in winter and by bicycle in summer, brough us a heavy packet of papers and letters bearing stamps from every part of the world. Our unusual mail caused the police commissioner of Hønefoss (a neighboring village of 4,000 inhabitants) many a sleepless night. It had the same effect on the Socialist government in Oslo – something we were not to learn until later.
How did we come to be in Norway? I think it necessary to say a few words about that. For a certain period of time, the Norwegian Labor Party belonged to the Communist International. It then broke with the Comintern (and the Comintern was not completely to blame for the rupture) without, nevertheless, affiliating itself with the Second International, which was too opportunistic for its taste. When this party came to power in 1935, it still felt some links with its past. I hastened to ask Oslo for a visa, hoping to be able peacefully to pursue my literary work in this calm country.
After some hesitation and some squabbling among the leaders of the party, I was granted an entry visa. I gladly signed the agreement not to intervene in the internal life of the country, etc., having no intention whatsoever of becoming involved in Norwegian politics. From my very first contacts with the leaders of the Labor Party, I got a strong whiff of the stale odor of the musty conservatism denounced with such vigor in Ibsen’s plays. It is true that the central organ of the party, Arbeiderbladet, invoked Marx and Lenin, and not the Bible and Luther, but it remained permeated with the shallow, well-meaning mediocrity that inspired such unconquerable aversion in Marx and Lenin.
The “Socialist” government made every effort to be as much like its reactionary predecessors as it possibly could. The old bureaucracy, in its entirety, stayed on. Was that good or bad? I soon had occasion to become convinced, by experience, that the old bourgeois functionaries sometimes have a broader viewpoint and a more profound sense of dignity than Messrs. “Socialist” Ministers. With the exception of a semi-official visit from Martin Tranmael, the leader of the Norwegian Labor Party (who, during his stay in the United States, had – a youthful abberation! – once belonged to the IWW), and from Trygve Lie, the minister of justice, I had no personal relations with anyone in government circles. I had almost no contact with the radicals, in order to avoid even the appearance of mixing into local politics.
My wife and I lived in extreme isolation, without thinking of feeling sorry for ourselves. A very friendly relationship was established with the Knudsens, politics being, by tacit consent, excluded from our conversations. During the moments of respite my illness afforded, I worked on The Revolution Betrayed, trying to bring out clearly the causes of the victory of the Soviet bureaucracy over the party, the soviets, and the people, and to sketch perspectives for the subsequent development of the USSR. On August 5  I sent the first copies of the finished manuscript to the American and French translators. The very same day, with Konrad Knudsen and his wife, we left for the south of Norway, where we were to spend two weeks at the seashore. But the following morning, while still en route, we learned that a group of fascists had forced their way into the house to steal my archives. It was not a hard thing to do: the house was not guarded – even the closets and cupboards were kept unlocked. Norwegians are so accustomed to the peaceful rhythm of their lives that we had not been able to get our friends to take even the most elementary precautions.
The fascists arrived at midnight, displayed fake police badges, and sought to begin the “house search” right away. Our hosts daughter found this suspicious, did not lose her presence of mind, and stood with arms outspread in front of the door to my room, declaring that she would let no one enter. Five fascists, still inexperienced in this kind of thing, found themselves put out of countenance by the courage of a young girl. Meanwhile, her younger brother gave the alarm; neighbors appeared on the scene in their nightclothes. The frightened invaders fled, taking with them a few papers snatched at random from the nearest table. The next day, and without difficulty, the police established their identity.
It seemed that life would return to its usual calm. But, continuing our journey to the south, we noticed that an automobile with four fascists, led by the engineer N., their propaganda director, was following us. We succeeded in getting rid of our pursuers only at the end of the trip, by not letting their car onto the ferry that was to take us to the other side of the fjord. We spent ten very peaceful days in the solitary fisherman’s cottage built on the rocks of the tiny island.
Elections to the Storting [parliament] were approaching, and the opposing candidates were looking for some sensational issue to enliven their not very original programs. The government newspapers (Norway has a population of only three million, but the Labor Party there publishes thirty-five dailies and a dozen weeklies) launched a rather moderate anti-fascist campaign. The right-wing press answered with an extremely violent campaign against me and against the government that had granted me an entry visa. The reactionary press collected political articles by me that had appeared in various countries, had them hastily trans lated, and ran them under sensational headlines. Suddenly I found myself in the very center of Norwegian politics.
The attack by the fascists had aroused the greatest indignation among the workers. “We must pour oil on the troubled waters,” observed the Social Democratic leaders, with an air of profundity. “But why?” “So that the fascists aren’t torn to shreds by the workers.” The experience of several European countries had taught these gentlemen nothing; they prefered to wait until the fascists tore them to shreds. I steered clear of polemicizing, even in private conversation, because any careless word might find its way into print. There was really nothing for me to do but shrug my shoulders and wait. For several days we continued to climb the rocks and to fish.
Far more threatening clouds were meanwhile gathering in the East. There they were preparing to let the world know that I was working with the Nazis to destroy the Soviets. The Weksal attack and the violent press campaign of the fascists came at an awkward time for Moscow. Confronted with these untimely events, would Moscow have to call a halt to its plans? On the contrary, it was possible for the events in Norway to speed up the setting of the stage for the Moscow trial.
Needless to say, the Soviet legation in Oslo was not idle. On August 13, the Oslo chief of criminal police, Mr. Swen, arrived by plane to call on us; he wished to interrogate me, as a witness, about the fascist raid. This hastily scheduled interrogation, by order of the minister of justice, boded no good. Swen showed me a letter (the contents of which were completely innocuous) that I had written to a friend in Paris and that had already been published in the Norwegian press. He asked me to account for my activities in Norway. This police functionary justified his questions by telling me that those who had attacked my home insisted on the criminal character of these activities. A fascist lawyer was even demanding my indictment by reason of “plots that could drag Norway into war with other states.” Mr. Swen’s conduct was most correct. He was obviously aware that the questions he had been ordered to ask me were uncalled for. At the close of my long deposition, Mr. Swen informed the press that he found nothing in my actions to be contrary to the laws or to the best interests of Norway. We could again feel that the “incident was closed.” But it had only just begun.
The minister of justice, until fairly recently a member of the Communist International, did not in the least share the police chiefs liberalism. Prime Minister Nygaardsvold showed himself even less inclined toward indulgence, He burned with desire to show proof of his firmness – but by no means toward the fascists who had committed the Weksal raid. My attackers remained at liberty, under the protection of the democratic constitution.
On August 14 the Soviet press agency Tass announced the discovery of a Trotskyist-Zinovievist terrorist plot. Our host, Konrad Knudsen, was the first to hear this news on the radio. But there was no electricity on the island, the antennas were most primitive, and, to make matters worse, the radio was not working well that night. “... Trotskyist groups ... counter-revolutionary activity ...” was all that Knudsen could get.
“What does it mean?” he asked me.
“Some very nasty piece of work,” I replied, “but exactly what, I don’t know.”
Toward dawn, a journalist friend, who had taken notes of the Tass communique, arrived from Kristiansand, a small neighboring village. Prepared for anything though I was, I still could not believe my eyes – so outrageously unbelievable did the mixture of villainy, impudence, and stupidity in this document seem to me.
“Terrorism, well and good,” I repeated, stupefied, “that is still within the realm of comprehension. But the Gestapo! Are you quite sure that it said ‘Gestapo’?”
“So, right after the fascist attack, the Stalinists accuse me of being an ally of the fascists?”
“There is no doubt about it.”
“All the same, there are limits to everything! A communique like this can only be the work of a drunken agent provocateur and an illiterate one, to boot!”
Then and there, I dictated to the journalist my first statement on the announced trial [Let Us Know the Facts, in Writings 35-36]. It was necessary to prepare for struggle – some terrible blow was in the offing. The Kremlin could not, without strong reasons, compromise itself with so odious a frame-up.
The trial took world opinion, and even the Communist International, by surprise. The Norwegian Communist Party, despite its hostility to me, had held a meeting on August 14 to protest the fascist attack at Weksal – only a few hours before Tass had allied me to the fascists. The French Stalinist organ, l’Humanité, later published a cable from Oslo saying that inasmuch as the fascists had paid me a “friendly visit,” the Norwegian government considered my nocturnal interview with them an interference in the political life of the country. These gentlemen of l’Humanité have long since lost all shame and are ready, in all circumstances, to do anything to justify their salaries.
Starting with my very first statement to the press, I demanded a complete and open inquiry into Moscow’s accusations. I addressed an open letter to Mr. Swen, to complete my testimony [Open latter to the Oslo Chief of Police, in Writings 35-36]. The Norwegian government knew very well, the letter said, when it afforded me asylum, that I was a revolutionist and one of the moving spirits in creating a new International. While I rigorously abstained from any interference in Norway’s internal affairs, I did not believe – and I still do not believe – that the Norwegian government was called on to control my literary activity in other countries – and even less so since nowhere had my books and articles been the object of legal proceedings. My correspondence was permeated with the same ideas as my books. These ideas are possibly not to the taste of the fascists and Stalinists – about that I can do nothing. In the last few days something new has developed that outdoes everything the reactionary press has written about me. Moscow accuses me, on the radio, of unheard-of crimes. If the tiniest part of these accusations were true, I would not in truth merit the hospitality either of the Norwegian people or of any other people. But I am ready to answer these accusations immediately, in front of any impartial commission of inquiry whatsoever, in front of any public tribunal whatsoever. And I undertake to prove that my accusers are the real criminals.
Most of the Norwegian newspapers published this letter. It should be noted that, from the very beginning, the Norwegian press adopted a most suspicious attitude toward the Moscow trial. Martin Tranmael and his colleagues had belonged to the Communist International recently enough to know just what the GPU and its methods are! Besides, the state of mind of the masses of workers, angered by the fascist attack, was completely favorable to me. The right-wing press had lost its head completely. The day before, it was maintaining that I was acting in secret agreement with Stalin to prepare a revolution in Spain, France, Belgium, and also, naturally, in Norway. Without renouncing this thesis, it then went to the defense of the Moscow bureaucracy against my terrorist attacks ...
We had returned to Weksal for the end of the Moscow trial. Dictionary in hand, I puzzled out the Tass reports in the Oslo papers. I felt as if I were in a madhouse. Journalists besieged us – the Norwegian wire service was still conscientiously publishing my rebuttals, which were spread throughout the world. At that moment two young friends, who had at an earlier date been my secretaries, arrived: Erwin Wolf from Czechoslovakia, and Jean van Heijenoort from France. – They were of tremendous help to us in those hectic and anxious days of waiting for two denouements, one of developments in Moscow and the other of developments in Oslo.
If the accused were not put to death, no one would take the accusations seriously. I was convinced that it would all end with executions. Nevertheless, I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard the Paris announcer report, with trembling voice, that Stalin had had all the accused, among whom were four members of the Old Bolshevik Central Committee, shot. It was not the ferocity of the massacre that stunned me; no matter how cruel it may be, this epoch of wars and revolutions is our epoch – our fatherland, in point of time. I was stunned by the cold-blooded premeditation of the frame-up, by the moral gangsterism of the clique in power, by this attempt to deceive world opinion on such a massive scale-over the entire earth, in our generation and for generations to come.
“Cain-Dzhugashvili [Stalin] has reached the very peak of his destiny,” I said to my wife when the first minute of stupefaction had passed. The international press reacted with obvious distrust to the Moscow trial. The professional Friends of the Soviet Union were silent, disoriented. Not without difficulty, Moscow activated the complicated network of “friendly” organizations under its complete or partial control. Little by little, the international slander machine went into operation; it did not suffer any lack of grease. The principal mechanism of transmission was furnished, naturally enough, by the apparatus of the Communist International. The Norwegian Communist paper, which only the day before had seen itself obliged to defend me against the fascists, suddenly changed its tune. It now demanded my expulsion, and, above all, it demanded that my mouth be closed. The functions of the Comintern press itself are well known. It uses the time remaining to it after executing the minor tasks of Soviet diplomacy for doing the GPU’s filthiest jobs. The wires hummed between Moscow and Oslo. The very first thing to be done was to prevent me from laying bare the frame-up. These efforts were not in vain. A sudden turn became apparent in leading Norwegian circles, a turn that the Labor Party did not become aware of right away, and later did not understand. We would soon know the hidden causes for the change.
On August 26, while eight plainclothes policemen occupied the yard of our house, Police Chief Askvig and a functionary of the Central Passport Bureau in charge of the supervision of aliens called on us. These important visitors invited me to sign a document accepting new conditions for residing in Norway: I was to agree to write no more about current political matters and to give no interviews; I was to agree to have all my correspondence, incoming and outgoing, inspected by the police. Without making the slightest allusion to the Moscow trial, the official document mentioned, as an example of my misdeeds, only an article dealing with French politics that had appeared in an American weekly, the Nation, and my open letter to the chief of criminal police, Mr. Swen. Obviously, the Norwegian government was using the first pretexts that came to mind to mask the real cause of its change in attitude. Only later did I understand why they asked for my signature: the constitution of the country makes no provision for restricting an individual’s liberties without due process. The ingenious minister of justice had only to fill this gap in the basic law of the land by inviting me, of my own free will, to ask for chains and handcuffs. I categorically refused.
The minister immediately had me informed that henceforth journalists and intermediaries or third parties in general would not be permitted to see me, and that the government would soon assign me and my wife another residence, I made every effort, by mail, to get the minister to understand certain basic truths: that control of my literary activity was not within the jurisdiction of a Passport Bureau employee; that restraining my freedom to communicate with the press, at a time when I was the object of malicious charges, was tantamount to siding with my accusers. All this was very true – but the Soviet legation had more convincing arguments at its disposal!
The following morning, police agents conducted me to Oslo to be interrogated – still in the capacity of “witness” in the affair of the fascist raid. The examining magistrate was hardly interested in the facts. On the other hand, he interrogated me for two hours about my political activities, my connections, my visitors. Long debates ensued on the question of whether my articles criticized other governments. It goes without saying that I did not dispute the point. The magistrate concluded that this kind of behavior was not in accordance with the agreement I had made to avoid all actions hostile to other states. I replied that only in totalitarian states are governments and states considered one and the same. Democratic regimes do not consider criticism of a government as an attack against the state. Otherwise, what would remain of the parliamentary system? The only sensible interpretation of my original agreement was that I had promised not to engage in any illegal, clandestine activity whatsoever in Norway. But it could not possibly occur to me that, living in Norway, I would not be able to publish, in other countries, articles in no way contrary to the laws of those countries. The judge had other ideas on the subject or, at the very least, other instructions – not very clear to be sure, but (as we were to see) sufficient to cause my internment.
From the courthouse I was taken before the minister of justice, who was surrounded by his highest officials. Again I was invited to sign the document, very slightly modified, agreeing to police surveillance, which I had refused to sign the previous day.
“If you want to arrest me,” I demanded, “why do you want me to authorize you to do it?”
“But,” the minister replied, with an air of profundity, “between arrest and complete liberty there is an intermediate situation.”
“That can only be an equivocation – or a trap; I prefer to be arrested!”
The minister made this concession to me and gave the necessary orders on the spot. Police agents roughly shoved aside Erwin Wolf, who had until then accompanied me and who was getting ready to return with me. Four policemen, this time in uniform, brought me back to Weksal. In the courtyard I saw others pushing van Heijenoort, whom they held by the shoulders, out of the house. My wife, alarmed, came out. They kept me locked in the car while indoors they prepared our isolation from the Knudsen family. Police occupied the dining room and cut the telephone wire. We were thus prisoners. The mistress of the house brought us our meals under the surveillance of two policemen. The doors to our rooms were always kept ajar. On September 2 we were transferred to Sundby, a village in Storsand about twenty-two miles from Oslo, at the edge of a fjord. There we were to spend three months and twenty days under the surveillance of thirteen policemen. Our mail passed through the Central Passport Bureau – which couldn’t see any reason for hurrying. No one was admitted to see us. To justify this procedure, which is contrary to the Norwegian constitution, the government had to pass a special law. As for my wife, she was arrested without even any attempt at explanation.
It would seem that the Norwegian fascists had a victory to celebrate. In reality, it was not they who were the victors, The secret of my internment was simple. The government in Moscow had threatened Norwegian commerce with a boycott – and had immediately given concrete examples of the seriousness of this threat, Shipowners besieged the ministries:
“Do what you like, but give us Soviet business.”
The country’s merchant marine, fourth largest in the world, holds a decisive position in public affairs, and the shipowners make policy – regardless of who occupies the seats of government. Stalin used the monopoly in foreign commerce to prevent me from unmasking his frame-up. Norwegian financial circles came to his aid. The Socialist ministers justified themselves by saying: “All the same, we can’t sacrifice the country’s vital interests to Trotsky!” That was the reason for my arrest.
On August 17, that is, after the sensational revelations of the fascists, after the Moscow charges, Martin Tranmael wrote in Arbeiderbladet that “Trotsky is being strictly held, during his stay in our country, to the conditions that were imposed on him on his arrival.” Now Tranmael, in his capacity as editor-in-chief of that paper, was more familiar than anyone else with my literary activity – especially with the articles that were in a few days to furnish material for the report of the Passport Bureau. But no sooner had this report been approved by the government (which had ordered it at Moscow’s command), than Tranmael realized that Trotsky was the big culprit in all this. Why hadn’t he renounced his ideas, or at least refrained from expressing them? He could then have peacefully enjoyed the benefits of Norwegian democracy.
Perhaps a brief historical digression would not be amiss here. On December 16, 1928, a special detail of the GPU arrived in Alma Ata from Moscow to demand that I agree to abstain from all political activity, and they threatened me with coercive measures if I declined. I wrote the Central Committee:
“To demand that I renounce all political activity is to demand that I abandon the struggle for the cause of the international proletariat, a struggle I have supported ceaselessly for thirty-two years – that is, from the very beginning of my conscious life ... The historic power of the Opposition comes from the fact that despite its seeming weakness at this time, its fingers are on the pulse of the world historical process; it clearly sees the dynamics of social forces; it foresees the future and consciously prepares for it. To renounce political activity would be to renounce preparing for the future ... In our written message to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, we, the Opposition, foresaw the very ultimatum addressed to me today: ‘Only a completely demoralized bureaucracy could demand that revolutionists abandon political activity. And only contemptible renegades could agree to such a demand.’ I have no reason to change these words.”
In answer to this statement, the Political Bureau decided to banish me, and sent me to Turkey. I thus paid with exile for my refusal to renounce political activity. The Norwegian government now demanded that I pay for my exile by abandoning all political activity. No, Messrs. Democrats, I cannot agree to that.
In the letter to the Central Committee that I have cited, I expressed the conviction that the GPU was preparing to imprison me. I was mistaken. The Political Bureau settled for banishment. But what Stalin had not dared to do in 1928, the Norwegian “Socialists” did in 1936. They imprisoned me for having refused to halt the political activity that is the very essence of my life – that gives my life its meaning. The official organ of the government justified itself by saying that those days were past when great exiles such as Marx, Engels, and Lenin could write what they pleased against the governments of countries that gave them asylum. “Today there are quite different relationships that Norway has to take into consideration.”
That monopoly capitalism has mercilessly battered democracy and its guarantees is beyond question. Doesn’t Martin Tranmael’s dreary sentence give us a glimpse of how the Socialists plan to make use of this much-abused democracy to transform society? Moreover, it must be added that in no other democratic country but “Socialist” Norway would it have been possible to flout the norms of legality with so much cynicism! We were interned on the twenty-eighth of August; a royal decree was promulgated on the thirty-first, giving the government the right to intern “undesirable” aliens. Even granting the legality of this decree – which was contested by many jurists – for three days we had been arbitrarily and forcible imprisoned. But this was only the beginning – and things were to go from bad to worse.
The first few days of internment seemed like a rest cure to us, after the nervous tension of the Moscow trial week. It was good to be alone, without news, without telegrams, without mail, without telephone calls. But from the day we received the first newspapers, internment became torture. The role that the lie plays in the life of society is truly disconcerting! The simplest facts are the most often distorted. I do not refer to insignificant distortions resulting from social contradictions, from minor antagonisms and psychological quirks. Infinitely more formidable are the lies spread by the powerful machinery of the government, which can reach everyone, everywhere. We had already seen this in operation during the war – when totalitarian regimes were as yet non-existent. In those days, the lie itself retained an element of dilettantism and timidity. We are far from that stage today in our era of the absolute lie, the complete and totalitarian lie, spread by the monopolies of press and radio to imprison social consciousness.
We were, it is true, deprived of the radio during the first weeks of our detention. We were placed under the supervision of the director of the Central Passport Bureau, Mr. Konstad, whom the liberal press called, out of politeness, a semi-fascist. In addition to his capricious arbitrariness, he had an extremely provoking way of doing things. Intent on consistency in police methods, Mr. Konstad felt that the radio was incompatible with a regimen for internees. Nevertheless, the liberal tendency within the government won out, and we received a radio.
Beethoven was a great help to us, but the music was a rarity. Most often we had to listen to Goebbels, Hitler, or some orator in Moscow. Our small, low-ceilinged rooms were immediately filled with a muddy tide of lies. Moscow’s orators lied in diverse languages at diverse hours of the day and night – always on the same subject: They explained how and why I had organized the Kirov assassination. (I had paid no more attention to Kirov during his lifetime than I had to some general somewhere in China.) The orator, invariably devoid of knowledge and talent, went through an endless string of sentences, to which only the lie lent any cohesiveness.
“Allied with the Gestapo, Trotsky intends to bring about the defeat of democracy in France, a victory for Franco in Spain, the fall of socialism in the USSR, and, above all, the loss of our great leader, our man of genius, our beloved ...” The speaker’s voice was mournful and yet, at the same time, impudent. Obviously, this assembly-line liar was sneering at France, Spain, and socialism. He was thinking of his bread and butter. After a few minutes, listening to this became intolerably painful. Afterward, we asked ourselves several times a day with embarrassment: Can the human race possibly be so stupid? And just as often, my wife and I would repeat this sentence: “All the same, we cannot believe them to be so low.”
Stalin was not at all concerned with plausibility. In this respect, he had assimilated in full the psychological techniques of fascism, which consist of smothering criticism under a massive blanket of repeated lies. Should we refute, lay bare, the lies? There was no lack of material to do this. In our papers, in our memoirs, my wife and I had huge quantities of data for unmasking the lies. Day and night, at every instant, we remembered facts, hundreds of facts, thousands of facts, each one of which annihilated some accusation or some “voluntary confession.” At Weksal, before our internment, I had for three days dictated, in Russian, a pamphlet on the Moscow trial. Now I no longer had any secretarial help; I had to write everything by hand. That, however, was not the main difficulty. As I was making notes of my refutations, carefully verifying the sources I was citing, the facts, the dates, inwardly murmuring hundreds of times, “But isn’t it shameful to answer such infamous charges?” – printing presses all over the world were rolling at top speed, spreading new and apocalyptic lies through millions of newspapers, and Moscow’s announcers were poisoning the airwaves.
What would be the fate of my pamphlet? Would it be allowed out of the country? The ambiguity of our position was especially difficult. The president of the council and the minister of justice visibly leaned toward complete imprisonment. The other ministers feared that public opinion would be against this. All the questions I asked in order to ascertain what rights I had remained unanswered. Had I at least known that all literary work was forbidden me, including all work of self-defense, I would have, for the moment, laid down my arms and read Hegel – there he sat, right on the shelf. But the government was not forbidding me anything – not in clear and distinct terms. It limited itself to confiscating the manuscripts I was sending to my lawyer, my son, my friends. After bitterly laboring to prepare a document, I had to wait impatiently for an answer from the addressee. A week would elapse, sometimes two. Then a petty police officer would arrive, along about noon, to deliver a paper signed “Konstad,” bearing the news that such and such letters and such and such documents would not be forwarded. No explanation – nothing but a signature. But what a signature! It is worth reproducing here, in all its original grandeur:
One didn’t have to be a graphologist to see in what hands the government had placed our destiny!
Mr. Konstad, however, exercised control only over our spiritual lives – radio, correspondence, newspapers. Our persons were in the care of two highly placed police functionaries, Messrs. Askvig and Jonas Lie. The Norwegian writer Helge Krog, whose judgement can be relied on, calls them both fascists. They comported themselves better than Konstad. But the political aspect of all this is not at all changed by that fact. The fascists attempt a raid on my home. Stalin accuses me of an alliance with the fascists. To prevent me from refuting his lies, he obtains my imprisonment from his democratic allies. And the result is that they lock us up, my wife and me, under the supervision of three fascist functionaries. No chess player, in his wildest fantasy, could dream up a better deployment of the pieces.
Nevertheless, I could not passively submit to such abominable accusations. What could I possibly do? I could try to bring suit against the Norwegian Stalinists and fascists who had slandered me in the press, in order to prove in court the falseness of Moscow’s accusations. But in response to my attempt, the government on October 29 promulgated another special law authorizing the minister of justice to deny any recourse to legal action to an “interned alien.” The minister was not slow to use his new right. The first illegality thus served to justify the second.
Why did the government adopt so scandalous a course? Still for the very same reason. Oslo’s tiny “Communist” sheet, which only the previous day was lavishing on the Socialist government proofs of its servility, now addressed the most outrageously arrogant threats to that government: Trotsky’s attack on “the prestige of the Soviet courts” would bring about the most unfortunate economic consequences for Norway! The prestige of the Soviet courts? But that could suffer only if I succeeded in proving before the Norwegian bar the falseness of Moscow’s accusations. That was exactly what the Kremlin was in mortal fear of.
I tried to prosecute my slanderers in other countries, in Czechoslovakia, in Switzerland. The result was not long in forthcoming: the minister of justice informed me on November 11, in a rude letter (Norwegian Socialist ministers seem to feel that rudeness is a symbol of power), that I was forbidden to attempt legal actions, anywhere. To protect my rights in another country, I would first have to “leave Norway.” These words contained a scarcely veiled threat of expulsion – of delivery to the GPU. And that is the interpretation I gave this document in a letter to my French attorney, Gerard Rosenthal. The Norwegian censor permitted the letter to pass, thus confirming its tenor. Alarmed, my friends began to knock at every door, in search of a visa for me. The result of their efforts was that the doors of far-off Mexico were opened to me. But we shall come back to that.
The autumn was foggy and rainy. It would he difficult to describe the atmosphere at Sundby: a wooden house, half of which was occupied by slow-moving, heavy policemen who smoked pipes, played cards, and at noon brought us newspapers overflowing with slander, or messages from Konstad with his inevitable signature. What would happen next? As early as September 15, I had tried to alert public opinion, through the press, that after the political debacle of the first trial, Stalin would be forced to stage a second. I predicted that this time the GPU would try to move the base of operations of the plot to Oslo. I tried in this way to bar that road to Stalin, to prevent him from setting the stage for a second production, perhaps to save the accused. In vain! My message was confiscated. I wrote, in the form of a letter to my son, an answer to the sycophantic pamphlet of the British lawyer Pritt. But since “His Majesty’s Counselor” was zealously defending the GPU, the Norwegian government felt obliged to defend Mr. Pritt, and my work was impounded. I wrote to the International Federation of Trade Unions, reminding them, among other things, of the tragic fate of the former leader of the Soviet trade unions, Tomsky, and demanding forceful action on their part. The minister of justice confiscated that letter.
Each day the noose tightened. Soon they deprived us of our outdoor walks. No visitor was admitted. The censors held on to our letters, even our telegrams, for a week and more. In interviews with the press, some of the ministers scurrilously attacked those whom they thus imprisoned. Helge Krog, the writer, notes that the government appeared increasingly antagonistic toward me, and he adds: “It is not unusual for people to become hostile to those they have wronged, to those toward whom they have feelings of guilt ...”
When I look back today on this period of internment, I must say that never, anywhere, in the course of my entire life – and I have lived through many things – was I persecuted with as much miserable cynicism as I was by the Norwegian “Socialist” government. For four months these ministers, dripping with democratic hypocrisy, gripped me in a stranglehold to prevent me from protesting the greatest crime history may ever know.
These lines are being written aboard the Norwegian oil tanker Ruth, sailing from Oslo to Mexico, with the port of destination as yet unknown. Yesterday we passed the Azores. For the first few days the sea was agitated; it was difficult to write. I avidly read books about Mexico. Our planet is so tiny but we know so little about it! After the Ruth left the straits and turned to the southwest, the waters of the ocean became calmer and calmer and I could now busy myself with setting in order my notes on our stay in Norway [In “Socialist” Norway]. Thus the first eight days were spent in intensive work and in speculations about mysterious Mexico.
Ahead of us are not less than twelve days’ sailing. We are accompanied by a Norwegian police officer, Jonas Lie, who at one time served in the Saar district, under the jurisdiction of the League of Nations. At the table we make a foursome: the captain, the police officer, my wife, and I. There are no other passengers. The sea is extraordinarily calm for this season of the year. Behind are four months of captivity. Ahead – the ocean and the unknown. However, on the ship we still remain under the “protection” of the Norwegian flag, in the status, that is, of prisoners. We are not permitted to use the radio. Our revolvers remain in the custody of the police officer, our neighbor at the dinner table. The conditions for landing in Mexico are being arrange by radio without our knowledge. The Socialist governmerit does not trifle when the principles of ... internment are involved!
In the elections, held shortly prior to our departure, the [Norwegian] Labor Party obtained a considerable increase in votes. Konrad Knudsen, against whom all the bourgeois parties combined for being my “accomplice” and who was hardly defended from attacks by his own party, was elected by an impressive majority. In this was expressed an indirect vote of confidence in me ... Having obtained the support of the population who voted against the reactionary attacks upon the right of asylum, the government, as is proper, proceeded to trample decisively upon this right so as to curry favor with reaction. The mechanics of parliamentarianism is wholly constructed upon such quid pro quos between the electorate and the electors.
The Norwegians are justly proud of lbsen, their national poet. Thirty-five years ago, Ibsen was my literary love. One of my earliest articles was devoted to him. In a democratic jail, in the poet’s native land, I once again reread his dramas. A great deal in them seems nowadays naïve and old-fashioned. But how many pre-war poets are there who have completely withstood the test of time? All of history prior to 1914 appears to be soft-headed and provincial. But on the whole Ibsen seemed to me fresh and, in his northern freshness, attractive. I reread An Enemy of the People with particular satisfaction. Ibsen’s hatred of Protestant bigotry, provincial sottishness, and stiff-laced hypocrisy became more comprehensible and closer to me after my acquaintance with the first Socialist government in the poet’s native land.
“There are any number of ways of interpreting Ibsen,” said the minister of justice in his own defense, as he descended upon me in Sundby with an unexpected call.
“Whatever the interpretation, he will be always found against you. Recall the Burgomaster Stockmann ...”
“Do you imply that I am Stockmann?”
“To make out the best case for you, Mr. Minister: Your government has all the vices but none of the virtues of a bourgeois government.”
Notwithstanding their literary flavor, our conversations were not remarkable for excessive courtesy. When Dr. Stockmann, the brother of the Burgomaster, came to a conclusion that the prosperity of his native town was based upon infected mineral baths, the Burgomaster had him dismissed from service; the columns of the newspapers were closed to him; his fellow citizens proclaimed him an enemy of the people. “Now we shall see,” exclaims the doctor, “whether baseness and cowardice can stop the mouth of a free and honest man.” I had my own reasons for repeating this quotation against my Socialist jailors.
“We committed a stupidity by granting you a visa!” I was unceremoniously told by the minister of justice in the middle of December.
“And are you preparing to rectify this stupidity by means of a crime?” I replied, repaying frankness with frankness. “You are behaving toward me in the same way that Noske and Scheidemann behaved toward Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg. You are paving the road for fascism. If the workers of Spain and France don’t save you, you and your colleagues will be émigrés in a few years like your predecessors, the German Social Democrats. All this was true enough. But the key to our prison remained in the hands of Burgomaster Stockmann.
I did not entertain any great hopes about the possibility of finding a haven in some other country. Democratic countries protect themselves against the danger of dictatorships by this, that they borrow certain worst aspects of the latter. For revolutionists the so-called “right” of asylum has long since been converted from a right into a question of indulgence. Coupled with this were: the Moscow trial and my internment in Norway.
It is not hard to understand how welcome a piece of news was the cable from the New World stating that the government of distant Mexico would extend to us its hospitality. There loomed a way out of Norway and the impasse. On the way back from court, I said to the police officer accompanying me: “Kindly inform the government that my wife and I are ready to depart from Norway at the earliest possible moment. However, before applying for a Mexican visa I should like to make arrangements for a safe voyage. I must consult my friends – the deputy Konrad Knudsen, the director of the National Theater in Oslo, Haakon Meyer, and the German émigré, Walter Held. With their assistance I shall be able to secure an escort, and to assure the safety of my archives.” The minister of justice, who arrived on the following day in Sundby, chaperoned by three of the highest police officials, was obviously staggered by the extremism of my requests. “Even in czarist jails,” I told him, “the exiles were allowed to see their relatives or friends in order to arrange their personal affairs.”
“Yes, Yes,” replied the minister of justice philosophically, “but times have changed ...” He refrained, however, from specifying in greater detail the difference between the times.
On December 18, the minister once again made his appearance, but only to announce that I had been refused the visits, that the Mexican visa had been obtained without my participation (how this was done remains a mystery to this day); and that tomorrow my wife and I would be deposited on the freighter Ruth, on which we would have the ship’s infirmary, I will not conceal that when we parted I did not give the minister my hand ... It would be unfair not to mention that the government was able to pursue its course only by directly violating the judgment and the conscience of the party. And they thus came in conflict with the liberal or merely conscientious representatives of the administration and the magistracy, and found themselves compelled to rely upon the most reactionary section of the bureaucracy. At all events, the police ardor of [Norwegian Prime Minister] Nygaardsvold did not arouse any enthusiasm among the workers. I take the opportunity here to mention with respect and gratitude the efforts of such worthy activists in the labor movement as Olav Scheflo, Konrad Knudsen, Haakon Meyer, to effect a change in the government’s policy. I cannot but take this occasion to mention once again the name of Helge Krog who found words of passionate indignation to stigmatize the conduct of the Norwegian authorities.
In addition to a night of anxiety, we had only a few hours in which to pack our belongings and books. Not one of our numerous migrations ever took place in such an atmosphere of feverish haste, such feeling of utter isolation, uncertainty, and suppressed indignation. Amid the helter-skelter, my wife and I would exchange glances from time to time. What does it all mean? What lies behind it? And each of us would rush off again with a bundle of our possessions or a packet of papers. “Mightn’t it be a trap on the part of the government?” my wife asked. “I hardly think so,” I replied with none too great assurance. On the veranda policemen, with pipes clenched in their teeth, were nailing down the book crates. Over the fjord, the fog was gathering.
Our departure was surrounded with the greatest secrecy. In order to divert attention from the impending journey a false dispatch was issued to the papers to the effect that we were shortly to be transferred elsewhere. The government was also afraid that I would refuse to depart and that the GPU would succeed in planting an explosive device on the ship. My wife and I could by no means consider the latter fear as unfounded. Our own security coincided in this instance with the security of the Norwegian vessel and its crew.
On board the Ruth we were met with curiosity but without the slightest animosity. The elderly shipowner arrived. On his polite initiative we were assigned not to the semi-dark infirmary with its three cots and no table, as had been for some unknown reason ordained by the ever-vigilant government, but to a comfortable cabin belonging to the shipowner himself, which adjoined the captain’s quarters. Thus I obtained the possibility of working during the voyage ...
All this notwithstanding, we carried away with us warm remembrances of the marvelous land of forests and fjords, of the snow beneath the January sun, of skis and sleighs, of children with china-blue eyes, corn-colored hair, and of the slightly morose and slow-moving but serious and honest people. Norway, goodbye!
Last updated on: 18.3.2007