First Published in English: Class Struggle, No. 17, July 1985.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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Many people from different countries ask me why it is so that the Workers’ Communist Party (m-l) of Norway has not only survived the general crisis of the western communist movement, but has also succeeded in doing a lot of good work. I use to answer that it is due to a happy mixture of objective conditions, skill and luck, says Pal Steigan, the former leader of WCP(m-l), in this article. That is of course a not very scientific summing-up, so my point has to be explained a little further.
In a way the revolutionary movement in Norway is a sort of anachronism. It is one of the stronger of the new parties in the most tranquil and reformist country in Europe. With the general state of splits and demoralization that you find in the ml-movement on our continent, it isn’t to be expected that you should find a revolutionary party with a countrywide organization, a daily newspaper, a lot of trade union militants and lots of other activities too. But still it is there. All other political parties in Norway will claim that the WCP (m-l) is insignificant, mostly because it has no parliamentary representative in the national assembly. But that doesn’t prevent the huge social-democratic party to name WCP (m-l) as their most important opponent in the trade-union movement. The claim of insignificance does neither prevent the biggest bourgeois newspapers from attacking the party every now and then in their editorial columns. Nor does it prevent the party’s daily from being one of the most frequently quoted newspapers in the country.
The claim of insignificance also runs counter to the fact that the electoral alliance in which the party plays a leading role polled enough votes in the capital in the latest elections to become represented by two out of 85 delegates. In spite of all wishful thinking from our opponents it must be admitted by any neutral observer that the WCP (m-l) is alive an’ kickin’.
How has the party worked its way to this position?
As I said, partly because of objective factors. Here some people may object, saying that the class struggle in our country is at a low level compared with almost any other country in Europe. That is true.
But the objective factors I am talking about is somewhat different. It has to do with the dominating position of Norwegian social democracy. During the fifties the social-democrats achieved a position as a pivot in the political arena in Norway. It rode it rough over the trade union movement, hitting down on anything faintly resembling radicalism, not mentioning communism. At the same time it managed to play the architects role for the state monopoly capitalism in Norway. The bourgeois parties in Norway are all social democrats whatever they call themselves. This position of strength also became a weakness when the youth movement erupted. That movement had to rebel against the establishment, and therefore against social-democracy in all its hues, also against the social democrat “communist” party. The mere lack of any other alternative, the gravitational field of the young Marxist-Leninist movement was strong enough to attract lots of dissidents. It also succeeded in winning over some sections of the social democrat youth movement, social democracy then being at its nadir among young people.
Another objective factor was the impotence of the old party. The Communist Party of Norway had become so much a copy of the social democrats in its domestic policies, and very much of an echo of the Kremlins in its foreign policy that it lacked all possibilities of attracting young revolutionaries. It wasn’t even militant in trade union affaires.
For various reasons the basis for trotskyism and similar tendencies is very scarce if not non-existing in Norway.
Nor has there been any militant trade unionist tendency outside of the parties. Therefore the young ml movement became the sole representative of important segments of the radical tide of the sixties and early seventies.
When it comes to the luck of the movement, it so happened that it drew winners at some important stages of its development. First the marxist-leninists managed to take over the entire youth organisation of the Socialist Party, partly due to extreme clumsiness on the party’s side. Second the movement had become properly organized when the youth movement erupted in bigger scale. Third there came a big popular movement following the youth-movement, namely against Norwegian membership in the Common Market. This prolonged the waning time from the student movement, and gave the marxist-leninist movement good conditions for growth. And so on. It was a matter of being at the right place at the right time.
Of course there couldn’t have been a marxist-leninist movement of any significant strength in a country like Norway if there hadn’t also been some skilful work. I believe that our party has gained some experiences during our development that may be of interest to comrades in other countries as well. But I stress that these are our own experiences and I would not insist that they are compatible to conditions elsewhere. Most probably they are not.
From the very outset the ml-movement in Norway was dedicated to practical revolutionary work. The cadres studied theoretical works of marxism, but insisted upon a practical stand. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”, was one of the catchwords of early Norwegian marxist-leninists. Therefore the movement did its best to take part, and a leading part at that, in the class-struggle in Norway. At the same time, it tried to not be falling prey to practicism. When the crisis hit the ml-movement, the WCP (m-l) had a cadre comparatively well versed in ml-theory and at the same time a cadre with some experience from class-struggle. The ml-movement has tried with a varied degree of success to integrate with real movements among the progressive people in Norway. Under the slogan “serve the people” there has been a consistent pledge of the party to promote these movements and become as one with them, trying to chart routes towards victory for these movements. This has been the case with the strike-movement, with the anti-Common Market Movement, with the movement of the Samic national minority, and many others.
There has been a fairly good quality of the party membership and cadre. From the start there was a strong link with the former generation radical workers’ movement and with the national resistance during the Second World War. Though most of the memberships were young people, high School and college students, they were mostly from working class or radical intellectual background. The party managed early to recruit some of the most active and radical young workers to the party. Together the students, young workers, and a few veterans form a healthy body of dedicated revolutionaries. It wasn’t a party of “ivory-tower-revolutionaries”, but rather practical folks with a matter of fact way of handling things.
There wouldn’t have been a ml-movement without the general principles of Marxism-leninism, Mao Zedong thought. But nor would there have been any further development without Concrete application.
The ml-movement has developed a policy of its own, with strategies and tactics alike directed towards the situation in Norway. It was soon clear to us that no other party could solve our problems, so we better had to try to solve them ourselves. On many occasions the concrete analysis of the party has become a guideline for a much broader movement. This has been the case with the strike movement, the left-wing of the anti-common market, the movement against Soviet expansionism in the northern areas.
The party has been concerned with class analysis and its program is developed from a class analysis of Norway. The same with its military policy and its work with the women question.
In the early seventies the ruling class and most political parties in Norway wanted the country to join the Common Market. But there developed a mass movement against membership among the workers, peasants and fishermen. This movement had a considerable impact on all political activity in the Country for more than two years. Mass demonstrations, rallies, protests campaigns and so forth. The ruling echelon of the trade unions were in favour of membership, but rank and file members voted against.
The ml-movement was actively campaigning against membership from the very outset, taking no notice of the fact that official Chinese spokesmen were positive in their attitude.
Though in its infancy the ml-movement initiated a united front against the EEC, whose membership totalled 25,000 in 1972. By this vigorous activity the ml-movement won new activists and a firm foothold in Norwegian society. This campaign also focused the party’s interest on the concrete economic and social conditions of Norway. We also learned that all par ties must define a strategy on their own, not relying on any other party to do it.
A mainstay in the party building of the Norwegian marxist-leninist has all the way been our newspaper. Founded in 1969 as a monthly, “KlasseKampen” (The Class Struggle) has been an important lever for organizing the party and creating revolutionary and progressive public opinion. When the party was formed in 1973 the newspaper already had developed into a weekly and years it finally became a daily.
The newspaper has always focussed on the interests of the working class and the working people and on solidarity with oppressed peoples as well. It has demasked a lot of undercover-activity by the ruling circles of Norway, it has become a loyal organ of all people fighting for justice. At any time workers on strike or women activists or foreign workers have their interests best represented by “KlasseKampen”.
I am totally convinced that if it hadn’t been for the daily our party would have been much more seriously harmed by the international crisis of the ml-movement by the turn of the seventies. It has also been an important lever for turning the party into the day-to-day problems of Norwegian society. You cannot develop a communist daily on abstract issues.
Having gained the hegemony on the universities in the early seventies the ml-movement decided to encourage a vast part of its university and high school students to quit their studies and become workers. Hundreds did, in two waves, and added to a rather small number of members in the factories. In spite of some shortcomings, some anti-intellectualism and some leftism in the beginning this draw was a strategic consolidation of the ml-movement in the working class. Most of the people who followed the call to become workers have managed to take roots and become experienced and respected leaders among their fellow trade union members.
Without this move, the party would not have been able to profit lastingly from the youth-movement. There are also reasons to believe that the party was more resistant to the ideological crisis when that became the vogue.
At the end of WW2 the social democrats launched a “joint program” in which the trade unions gave up their independence and pledged to enhance profits in exchange for welfare and job security.
During the fifties all revolutionaries and communists were stamped out of trade-union posts and the unions became tools of class collaboration.
This situation prevailed until the end of the sixties. Then some base level unions broke these fetters and waged strike movements in spite of top-level veto. The young ML movement took directly part in these movements and became the most reliable force in supporting these wildcat-strikes. We developed a whole series of measures and means to forward the success of this movement. Since support for the strikes was prohibited by the trade-union centre, funds had to be collected outside the trade union-network. The party launched a lot of new principles for union work. Against social democrat top-level control we promoted base level activism. Against splittism according to trade we launched broad union solidarity and unity workers-students. Against corruption we launched a style of membership-control and hardworking shop stewards. It can all be summed up in the “class-struggle line” versus the “class collaboration line”. (Class collaboration meaning collaboration between workers and capitalists).
In the beginning of the seventies there was a debate between two different approaches to the trade-unions. Some people calling themselves revolutionaries didn’t want to work inside the trade-unions, but to set up brand new ones instead, untainted by social-democrat influence. We denounced that line. If we hadn’t I really doubt if we would have-made a marxist-leninist party today.
It has been a principle for our party to carry out united front work. We have worked for united fronts between workers and small peasants and fishermen, between workers and students, between working people of different nationalities. It mostly has been “unity from below”, but in some cases even “unity from above”.
Our party has never yielded to trotskyite (national nihilism). We have fought vigorously against any attempt to undermine the national sovereignty of Norway, and at the same time we have fully respected and supported the right of self-determination for the Samic national minority in Norway. We have a program for national military resistance in case of any military attack on Norway.
The WCP (m-l) has always fought against Soviet social imperialism and been in the forefront for supporting the peoples in Afghanistan, Poland, Eritrea and others being oppressed by social imperialism.
We hold that this is a principle for all revolutionary parties, a demarcation line between true and sham marxism.
The new women’s movement started in 1970. In most countries this movement is named the feminist movement, but in Norway the name of “Kvinnefronent” (Womens’ Front) has become synonymous with the women’s movement. The marxist-leninists were the main initiators of the front and have been actively promoting this movement for fifteen years. One result of this is that bourgeois feminism has had a narrow foothold in Norway. The movement has always been an activist force promoting the interests of the great majority of the women. At the initiative of Kvinnefronten the 8th of March has become a day of protests and rallies almost on a par with Mayday.
The party has taken many important initiatives in the struggle for full emancipation of women, and even in the last few years there has been an upsurge on this front, in which party comrades have played a great role. From our point of view a neglect of this important field would have been wrong in principle and lead to setbacks in practice.
The party has played a significant role in many fields of culture during the seventies, especially literature and arts and also theatre. A generation of young writers and artists have been strongly influenced by the party. There is a general consensus that some of their works have been among the most important ones on a national scale in a whole decade.
In general the revolutionary cultural workers have been trying to create art that would serve the people, but they have done so in many different ways using many different techniques and approaches. Our cultural workers have added a lot to the party’s influence and also played an important role for the self-respect of the working people.
Our party has carried out a lot of international work and solidarity work. Party members have been working as medical workers for liberation movement, the party has carried out innumerable campaigns in solidarity with the peoples of the third world and with the working people in other countries in general. This work has played a great role for the orientation of the party and the radical section of the working class movement. And it has also had measureable impact on the society as a whole.
It has been and is our philosophy and our pledge that we always will carry out solidarity work. As a party we have also gained a lot from this work. We have had the undivided pleasure of taking part in the valuable experiences of other parties and revolutionary organizations. I believe that this experience has been an important reason for our ability to take countermeasures against the liquidationist trend that hit the ml-movement a couple of years back.
Although we support comrades in other countries as far as our small means allow, we will never be subject to the directives of any other party.
The central leadership of the party has never been split. The leading comrades have taken part in a collective leadership and there are only rare cases of factionalism. Though the leadership has developed all the time, there has never been any major desertion from the leading bodies of the party.
The WCP (m-l) practices democratic centralism and our experience is that this organizational principle is indispensable in a revolutionary party.
One major cause of the party’s relative success is that we managed from the very outset to unite all significant marxist-leninist forces in one organization. This has added to the gravitational field of the party that has made it more attractive to more people.
This concludes my brief summary of same of the most important experiences of our party. There most certainly are shortcomings in such a brief account. Please blame them on me, not on the party.