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With Trotsky in Norway

By Nils Dahl

From Revolutionary History, Vol.2 No.2, Summer 1989. Used with permission.


Discussions with Trotsky

Northern Norway: I had done my military service in the northern part of Norway, Finnmark, in 1929. When I first met Trotsky I had just been up there for a big manoeuvre in 1935. The first Labour Minister of Defence, Monsen, who had been a Communist between 1923 and 1928, had been in northern Norway to see for himself what the situation was really like. The Finns had a Fascist movement which thought that the northern part of Norway should belong to Finland. The Finnish ‘danger’ came in addition to the Russian ‘danger’. I raised the question, and I asked Trotsky what was the policy of Russia on the northern part of Scandinavia. He evaded the direct question by saying that the Russian policy there nowadays had more or less to resemble the old Czarist politics. Czarist expansionist politics had been defensive in the north and offensive in the south. That was because of their resources and geography. What we had, he said, were vast numbers of people who could not be used in the northern part because of the topography. It is impossible to use a great number of people there. That was a general point in the Czarist policies, and he said that such things as resources and topography were more important for strategic considerations of expansion than whether the society was Socialist or Communist or capitalist.

Berlin experience: Trotsky was obviously most interested in my report from Berlin and how the Nazis took over the trade unions. I told him quite a lot about the ‘Verkehr’ strike (buses and tram cars) in the autumn of 1932, and how the Communists and Nazis fought together during the strike against a police force built by Social Democratic ministers. Two Nazis were shot. The left wing of the Nazi party, which dominated the Nazi organisation in eastern Berlin, was inspired by Gregor Strasser, the so-called ‘Schwartze Front’ (the ‘Black Front’). They were violently anti-capitalistic from 1932 until they were liquidated by Hitler. In addition, Trotsky was interested in the outlook of the people around Brandler. I asked him what he thought about the organisation and the KPO people. He used the expression that they were ‘verkapte Trotskyisten’ (in Trotsky’s clothes or cap). I mentioned this later to some of the KPO people in Oslo and they were rather pleased by the characterisation. I told Trotsky about my studies, and about Brandler and Thalheimer: they believed that Trotsky had been right in his criticism of Stalin in all political matters, but in economic matters they thought Stalin was right against Trotsky. To that Trotsky remarked: ‘Well, there is a certain interconnection between economics and politics’.

I never liked Brandler. It was not just because he was a big bricklayer and I had a lot of trouble organising brickies in my union! My view of him is tainted by the fact that he half believed the accusations in the first Moscow Trial. I do not think that Brandler ever in spirit really left the Communist Party, and deep down he remained a Stalinist. Many of the refugees in Norway were like that. I was impressed by Thalheimer. He was a really good professor, and he knew his stuff. He was the real brain behind the Brandler organisation.

Comments on the Seventh Comintern Congress and on the United Front: In August 1935 the last conference of the Third International was held. After a seven year hate campaign against the Social Democrats, the Communists were ordered to collaborate with ‘all progressive forces’. That was the new name for the liberal and capitalistic forces. From the discussions in September 1936, I remember that Trotsky said it would not be easy to carry through the new line in China, where the Communists had fought a bloody war against the ‘progressive forces’ inside the Kuomintang. What we did not realise in those days was that, behind Stalin’s collaborationist line was the intention to be admitted to the salons of the capitalists as an ally, thus preventing independent revolutionary actions by the workers. To obtain that, he first characterised workers’ internationalism as a ‘tragi-comic misunderstanding’. So in Spain Stalin acted as a ‘bloodhound’ against workers and leaders suspected of thinking in the same way in 1937 as Lenin had done in April 1917.

In connection with the discussion in 1935 when the Communists were advised to go together with all progressive people in a People’s Front, Trotsky had been sceptical about the possibility of getting that line through in China, and I asked him if it was not allowed for revolutionaries to join together with other groups in the labour and radical movement. He said of course it is, there are times when we have to go part of the road together with others, but there are two conditions. Firstly, you must never leave your own followers in doubt about what your partners really represent; and secondly, you must keep your own organisation separate from theirs.

Trotsky’s comments on the Norwegian trade union organisation: Trotsky was also interested in the Norwegian labour and trade union organisation. As I was inside it, I could give him quite a lot of information about this, and he was deeply impressed by the organisation behind the trade union movement. The trade union movement in Norway was built up by revolutionary syndicalists along IWW lines, but with limited power at the top of the organisation. The real power at the top was held by 20 groups of unions mostly industrial unions.

It also combined the workers in all the districts in Norway horizontally: ‘samorganisations’ – combined district organisations. There was close cooperation between unions in all the districts or parts of Norway. It was also a syndicalist idea for trade unions to group together all unions in a district and in the cities, even in peaceful periods in the class war, mainly for educational purposes. Trotsky said he thought that the Norwegian trade union organisation was more representative of the workers of Norway than the Soviets of 1917, especially in relation to the building trades workers and the land workers. It was much, much better because those groups did not have much representation in the Soviet. So he said that according to his view, to get Socialism in Norway would be very easy. All one had to do was call a ‘trade union congress in permanence’, if you keep the workers representing the collectives, their clubs and trade unions, and let them be elected or called back at any time. Each congress would, in reality, be a parliament, and much more fitted to keep the industry of Norway running than a parliament based on constituencies localities). In reality, later the development of the top trade union organisation in Norway was built up with sections for international connections, with statistics, research sections, with a section for lawmaking, etc. Since the war, the lawyers in LO (Norwegian equivalent of the TUC) have had a powerful position during the 30 years that Labour was in government. So, from that point of view, to get Socialism in Norway should have been very easy if it was only a question of organisation. However, in a letter to Held, Trotsky analysed the developments in the Norwegian labour movement in 1935-36. His conclusion was that the Labour Party would have a poor future and Mot-Dag would have no future. That might be a better assessment of his view.

On Bolshevik internationalism and free discussion: In connection with our work in Mot-Dag and our attempts to build a revolutionary organisation and to study the Russian experience, we had done some research and studies of Marxism in Russia. I asked Trotsky why the Russian Revolution was the only revolution in the world that had been able to develop thoroughly internationally orientated cadres, whilst most of the labour cadres in other countries were stuck deep in nationalism. How had it been possible, not only to develop some deep going studies in Marxist theory, but also to get acquainted with the situation of the labour movement in many other countries, including quite primitive ones? He said that this cadre development was due to Czarism:

Czarism gave us good working conditions; in Siberia where there were a number of collectives, we were able to make our own papers up there and send them to other groups, and make thorough criticisms of other groups. In addition, the Russian revolutionary students in Siberia learned about different political conditions all over the globe. Thanks to Czarism we went around the globe in the opposite direction to the sun: many of us went to Japan and China and further on to America, and then to Europe and back to Russia again; and some of us journeyed around the globe twice; and it was obvious when you work your way round the globe you become acquainted with a number of new situations, and so it becomes easier to be an internationalist.

In addition I asked him what really happened when Lenin set up his first revolutionary government. It was not only a government of the Bolshevik Party, since it included other organisations, such as the Social Revolutionaries, and other people, some of whom had rather Anarchistic leanings. He said that the first government, the government that took power on behalf of the Soviet Congress, was picked out from among people many of whom had never seen each other before. Those who were put in positions of authority had known so little of each other that they did not say ‘you’ [10] to each other. This was an expression of the personal relationships in that government.

Lenin had always regarded criticism as valuable. When he had to expel his main enemy on the theoretical plane, Martov, to Switzerland, and Martov had some financial difficulties in building up a newspaper in Switzerland, Lenin let him have money secretly so that Martov could continue to make criticisms. [11]

On the future of capitalism: We had a lot of discussions about whether it was possible for capitalism to find an equilibrium and stabilise itself, and we took this problem up in an inner study circle and went through what Rosa Luxemburg had written about it. The Russians had hypothesised that a steady advance might be a theoretical possibility, but there were so many practical difficulties that it could not be achieved. It could happen if you balance the production of commodities for production with those for consumption. Trotsky said that he would like to join the study group, but he did not have the necessary material! The only time I found him without an answer was when we spoke of Bruno Rizzi’s book and I took it up with him. He evaded the question and said that if that is correct we will have to alter all our opinions. Rizzi stated that Stalinism and National Socialism would grow closer and closer together. I do not know if we read Rizzi’s book in manuscript. We heard an Austrian speak to us on this called Bruno. I thought that it was Rizzi. [12] We got all these things from Waiter Held, who had an enormous correspondence.

Sending Trotskyist material to Russia: Held once told me that Trotsky had instructed him to get the newspaper stalls near to the Russian Embassy to put his Russian Bulletin on sale.

Some impressions of Trotsky as a person: These were among some of the important political questions which we discussed. Now I will also say something about my personal impressions of Trotsky. Because it was my honeymoon in September 1935, I had taken with me to Skoger some lobster and wine. That was unsuccessful because Trotsky did not drink, and we did not have the necessary gadgets to eat the lobster properly. When Trotsky refused to take a drink I said to him: ‘I agree that in principle people shouldn’t drink, it’s not healthy, but as a personal pleasure I like to take a drink’. He answered that he had met a lot of people who were revolutionary in principle and theory, and in practice were reformists. I retorted by asking if he had always been on the radical side of everything throughout his life. He said:

No, I admit that once when I was a youngster walking in the Alps, I got terrible toothache, so I had to go to Munich to have it seen to. I found out that among the dentists there were two schools: the conservative dentist, who believed in conserving the tooth, and the other revolutionary or radical dentist who thought the only decent thing to do was to get rid of it. I admit I went with my tooth to the conservative.

He was able to give and take teasing.


The Trotskyist Movement and the Left in Norway 1936-41

The situation among the immigrant and political refugees 1933-39: When I came back from Germany and was quite involved in politics at Mot-Dag’s headquarters, many immigrants arrived from Germany. Mot-Dag built up separate sections for Germans. In Norway different types of people belonging to different German organisations were able to meet and discuss. There was the KPO section, which was led by a man called Strobel. He has been Minister of Justice in the Munich Republic and had been imprisoned for seven years. I had met him in Berlin previously, and, to start with, I was mainly involved with the KPO people. In addition there was also a group of Germans thrown out of the Social Democratic Party as left wingers. In that group (SAP Socialistische Arbeiterpartei), Frölich and Walcher (originally KPO) were the leading members. Willy Brandt [13] had been the leader of SAP’s youth organisation. One of my jobs in the summer of 1934 was to give Willy Brandt some training in Marxism. I did not succeed. In addition to that there was the Trotskyist position formulated in (Unser Wort) and led by Waiter Held. That was his pen name; his real name was Helm Epe, and he was very well acquainted with politics, and was a very good writer with a leaning towards literature, too. In 1933-34, being on good terms with Falk, he was allowed to use Mot-Dag’s secretariat as his forwarding address. When I was in this aeroplane firm in 1935, his wife was my secretary. (See Revolutionary History, Vol.1 No.2)

I did a great deal of work with immigrants in 1936-39. I was occupied in the trade union movement. My job was helping to get some of them placed in Norwegian industry. Most of them spoke only German. I was the only one of us who spoke German, which was not really common in the trade union movement in those days. The immigration into Norway then was most interesting because many of the internationalist-minded people thought that Norway would be kept out of the war as in the First World War. From there they could maintain contact with Central Europe. Some people on the periphery of Trotskyism came to Norway when Czechoslovakia was invaded. One of the most important immigrants was Alois Neurath; who was a founder of the Czechoslovak Communist Party and the General Secretary of the Comintern between the Third and the Fourth world congresses, when he ranked above, or was superior to Stalin, from an organisational point of view. He was expelled, but he arrived in Norway some time in 1936. He was a good writer. When he was expelled from the Communist Party in Czechoslovakia, his position had been taken over by a man called Guttman. Guttman arrived in Norway some weeks later and met Neurath in my house. Later, Guttman went to America. Neurath was in a curious situation, as he left Norway when Germany invaded it and went to Sweden. Neurath returned to Czechoslovakia after the Second World War and was expelled for the second time in 1948. Then suddenly in 1948 he popped up in my house again and said ‘Here I am for a second time, thanks to the Czechoslovak Stalinists!’ He died in Sweden. I tried to persuade him to write his memoirs, but I did not succeed.

In addition to the Czechoslovaks, Guerin came to Norway the day after war broke out, together with three Frenchmen from Pivert’s group. Guerin belonged to my group in Oslo. He was very well informed, and his book about Nazism, Fascism and Big Business, is one of the best there is. He spent nearly the whole war in Norway. Guerin lived for a long time in Oslo. It was not easy, and a man had to take great precautions to live there in the war if the Gestapo were after him. He had some trouble after the war because he had worked and settled here then. When he went back to France he was accused of having been in the service of the Nazis. I turned out a declaration saying that Daniel Guerin had sold fruit and chocolate at the railway station in Oslo at the beginning of the war. He lived with Jorgen Fenelson – his first wife. He phoned me one morning after the war and said ‘Can you help me?’, I said, ‘Alright’. It came down to this. He said: ‘I have a little trouble. They regard me as a deserter from the French army.’ When Guerin was called up he was a reserve officer, and he was a bit afraid of his captain. Now he was negotiating with a minister whom he told that he was in Norway the night that war broke out. The minister said: ‘Alright, I will drop the case if you can prove that you were in Norway.’ So he went to me and, since the police forces had been taken over by Mot-Dag people after the war, I was able to phone up a leading policeman who said: ‘I remember it, because I saw the document when he came to Norway.’ I asked the policeman to send it to him, but he replied that Guerin was French and the document was in Norwegian. I said: ‘It does not matter. He speaks better Norwegian than you!’ The matter could not wait, as French governments were constantly changing, and a new minister might not have agreed. Guerin succeeded in getting off the charge of desertion.

Oslo was very lively in those days, and we had a number of psychologists and psychoanalyists there, such as Wilhelm Reich. Of course we in Mot-Dag knew of Reich and his work. Reich lived in Norway for many years. He was interested mainly in psyche-analysis and the sexual question, and in this he was to the left of Mot-Dag. Wilhelm Reich had his own organisation in Norway which tried to combine Freud and Marx. Reich’s articles in 1932 or 1933 were very good, and miles ahead of the Norwegian psychologists. Mot-Dag’s activities in this respect were led by Karl Evang and a group of Socialist doctors, who concentrated upon freeing people from prejudice and superstition in sexual matters. Evang’s point of view was more liberal than Marxist. My interest was mainly political theory and trade union organisation.

I can also remember a man from Danzig (Gdansk) who visited Trotsky. Trotsky was very interested in the situation in Danzig. In 1938 the Trotskyist group there was quite strong, with excellent members, and leaders who knew how to take advantage of the League of Nations rule in Danzig as a Free City, and there may have been some connection between them and the Polish Bund. The visit of the Danziger may have been the reason why the Germans sent a Norwegian SA member to Hönefoss to tap his phone and burgle his study. Some people from Danzig wrote a very good book about Marxism. [14] Trotsky wrote articles in the Danzigers’ defence when they were tried after attempting to prevent arms being shipped to Spain from their city. Some Frenchmen also came to see him.

Like the government and royal family, some of the left wingers and revolutionaries used the last opportunity to get out by ship from western Norway when the Nazis invaded. Some went to America.

Defenders of Trotsky and Trotskyism 1937-39: Erwin Wolf was Trotsky’s secretary in 1936. He fell in love with Hjordis, the daughter of Konrad Knudsen. After their arrest by the state police, Jonas Lie decided to put Wolf and Jean van Heijenoort on a ship bound for Hamburg, which would have been the same as killing them. As soon as they got in contact, one of the Labour Party journalists, Finn Moe [15], intervened. It was then decided that the ship should first go to Copenhagen, and then it would be up to the Danish police to decide further. As a matter of fact there was no charge against them, and they had legal passports. The Danish police decided that they had to be expelled from Demark too. They were eventually put on a plane for Morocco so far as I know, and they succeeded in coming back to Europe from there. Hjordis Knudsen went to see Erwin Wolf in Paris, and together they went to Spain. I do not know if they did it on their own or organisationally, but Hjordis Knudsen told me afterwards they got a warning that they were going to be arrested by the GPU. She succeeded in escaping. Erwin Wolf disappeared. [16]

Hjordis went later to the United Nations and there worked for Trygve Lie in a secretarial capacity. She married a very important and wealthy civil engineer. [17] I met her again when her father, Konrad Knudsen, died. After the war he brought out a book by the Mexican police chief Salazar. [18] He used his influence in a publishing firm to get it translated into Norwegian. A short time later he died in peculiar circumstances, and no-one knew what had happened. It is said that he was working on his car and he was killed when it rolled over him – most peculiar, and two others of my friends were killed in car accidents – rather too many to be a coincidence.

Trotskyist politics in Norway: After Trotsky’s expulsion, Walter Held had contact with two of the most important Norwegian writers who had defended Trotsky in 1936, Helge Krog and Sigund Heel. Sigund Heel was the first (1920) editor of Mot-Dag. Helge Krog took up the defence of the Trotsky case against Trygve Lie and the Norwegian Labour Party on a legal basis. He was a first class author who wrote plays in defence of the feminists and their organisation in Norway. He was also a first class polemicist. We decided in spring 1937 to carry on the defence of Trotsky and to publish a paper defending Trotskyism. I was at the first editorial board meeting with Helge Krog and Heel during the spring of 1937, after Trotsky was expelled at the end of 1936. We tried to collect people who belonged to, or leaned towards, the Trotskyist position. The editorship was taken over by Jeanette Olsen. She had been on the Central Committee of the Communist Party from 1923-28 as secretary in charge of work amongst women. She had left the Communist Party in 1926 when most of the important members of different Communist Parties had been expelled because of their being to the ‘right’ in 1928. She took over the editorial work, and this Trotskyist paper, Oktober, came out until the outbreak of the Second World War. There were up to 10 issues every year. They produced a pamphlet, Is Trotsky an Enemy of the Labour Government?. Trotskyism – a Poisonous Plant was the title of a Labour Party article denouncing the paper. In addition to the Oslo organisation there was a group of people on the western coast in Sarda under the leadership of Jens Solli. He had been one of the legendary trade union bosses on the work sites around Norway – people whom we called Veralle (you would call them navvies). They had quite a lot of importance, since they were Syndicalist or Anarcho-Syndicalist, and were violently opposed to all politicians. Solli was originally an Anarcho-Syndicalist. He had been able to teach himself French, and he had therefore been able to follow the literature of the opposition and the international discussions for many years. He played a certain role in 1934 and 1935 in Sarda in a group which was more or less dominated by Communist Party sympathisers on the west coast.

In 1934-35 there was an international appeal to collect money to get Ciliga and Victor Serge and a third man, whose name I have forgotten, from Moscow, from Russia. The three were more or less interned there. In 1934 there was a certain weakening of Stalin’s position in Russia before the deepening purges in 1936-39. In 1934 it was still possible to get people out. Solli began to collect money by telling the Communists that the money was to help out interned Communists, without saying that they were interned in Russia. He collected a lot of money on the west coast for the International Relief Committee. That is how the Committee succeeded in getting those three people out of Russia, but after that Solli was not very popular in the Communist Party. His son, Ragnar, was one of the leading ‘dynamiters’ (‘dynamitardes’) during the occupation. He was arrested and should have been shot, but in May 1945 he was found alive in prison, so he was spared. In reality Trotsky’s followers were split into three groups: there was some interconnection on a personal plane but no organised working together. Scheflo and his collaborators in Kristiansand were hard pressed. The group in Sarda fell apart. Because Scheflo in his paper compared the Catalan rising with Lenin’s April Theses, Solli came to Oslo. The main force was obviously the editorial board in Oslo, and from there we had quite a number of important people coming in to help us from Central Europe.

We had a little group inside Mot-Dag of two or three people connected with Trotsky, and five to ten with the KPO. Those groups were close to Falk in 1934-35. In 1936 he was pushed out, and in the summer the organisation went into the Labour party under the leadership of Hegna, a man with Stalinistic views. In the spring of 1936 the two groups were regarded as factions having ‘enemy’ connections. I was expelled from the organisation at the last meeting. The expulsion took the form of the secretariat refusing to make application for my membership of the Labour Party. At that time I had got an important job in the biggest trade union in Oslo. As soon as I joined the Labour Party Group inside the union I was sent to the party’s political high school in the summer, and was elected as a delegate to the party’s Oslo council in the autumn. It was the central committee for Oslo city with something like 500 members behind it. I also took a membership card in the youth organisation, but I was asked to get out because of pressure from Mot-Dag. When I threatened to appeal to a higher authority if I was expelled, the case was dropped. Waiter Held was expelled from the biggest Labour organisation in Oslo, and so was Mot-Dag when it tried to defend him. I was called up before them, and I said that I was a member, but they could not expel me, unlike Held, and I would appeal to higher party bodies, so they backed off. After I had written an analysis of the Moscow Trials in Oktober some bureaucrats tried to get me off the party’s board, without success; but I had to find a new pen name. In 1939 Falk said that if he had known that the opposition within Mot-Dag had been so strong, he would have fought against the secretariat.

The Finnish War: The whole group in Norway unanimously opposed the line of Trotsky on the Finnish War, and wrote a letter containing their position to the International Secretariat in Paris. [19] Trotsky had said that one should not oppose the Russians militarily, but simply keep one’s distance from the occupying forces if they invaded a capitalist country where Trotskyists operated. We believed that this would be a sentence of death on every one of us if this was applied to a small country like Norway, where everybody knew everybody else, and even more so in Finland. However, within the labour movement, we fought against any bans or proscriptions on members of the Communist Party. Though Held was horrified by Mannerheim’s politics, we had studied Finnish history and felt that their right to nationhood was justified.

We remembered that, in Norway in 1935, Trotsky had been asked by a journalist whether the Russian, like the French Revolution, had not devoured its own children. He replied that it had, but that the world had moved on since the eighteenth century. No longer were oppositionists sent to the guillotine, but they were simply imprisoned, because society as a whole was more humane. This was only a year before the Moscow Trials! Thus we felt his opinion about the Russian regime was naive. [20]

We had some contact with the four Finnish Deputies who refused to vote for the war credits when the Russians invaded. They were imprisoned during the war and immediately afterwards they were, rather cruelly, released and given consular appointments in the ex-Baltic states to give them first-hand experience of Russian rule. That broke them.

My role in war and Resistance: When the Germans had invaded there was considerable confusion. I fought in the war against them. We had no time to discuss the question of revolutionary defeatism in relation to a non-imperialist country invaded by the Nazis and where the proclamation of the Quisling government gave the war the aspect of a civil war against the Fascist right, as well as an international war on the side of British imperialism. In fact, we did not even know if the British had come in on the Norwegian side for at least two or three days, and an immediate decision had to be made. Some of us just got across the but I joined up. The government decided to resist, against the advice of the officer corps. Some soldiers in the army remonstrated with them and asked Trygve Lie to take the lead, and they were given a new leader in General Ruge. The confused irregular warfare gave time for the regular army to be mobilised. I got hold of a lot of documents about the Norwegian government, which had nearly capitulated to the German attempts to Nazify Norway, as I had gone up to Klealum, just north of Oslo, where the government was. There I met Knudsen and Hjordis and her brother, and I recruited them to my staff. In addition there were seven wireless experts, and two Germans with experience of the Spanish Civil War, and that was the nucleus that we made into two companies of volunteers. I did not have a higher command than a company to coordinate, so we had to get people who would run the two companies.

I was a captain, then a chief of staff, to a force of 3000 men and nine guns which included an anti-tank gun. We formed a front and withdrew through the valleys of Central Norway whenever we were outflanked. The Germans only had three little tankettes on our front and never broke through, as our artillery held them off. Their bombing was very ineffective, though we were never attacked by accurate Stuka dive bombers. The deep snow blanketed the bomb explosions in a most remarkable way, so that one bomb fell within ten metres of me with little effect. The British troops who finally appeared were very badly equipped, even worse than ourselves. Later, when the British on our left had withdrawn, we were forced into a valley with no way out and had to negotiate a surrender. The colonel commanding was a distant relative of mine called Dahl. I negotiated the surrender so the document had the signature of two Dahls on it. However, I took those 11 members of my staff who would have been shot by the Germans as franc-tireurs, so there were 12 of us, with 100 Norwegian crowns each from the regimental chest, and skied off into the mountains where we found an isolated farmhouse, buried our uniforms and documents and, after three days, came down into another valley, which was still unoccupied by the invaders, in civilian clothes. There we got a car and, as if we were refugees from the fighting who had been ordered by the Germans to return home, drove back to Hönefoss. The documents that we had buried included a detailed account, which I had dictated to Hjordis during intervals of the fighting, of what I had seen and heard at Klealum, when many Labour Party elements, and most sections of the state machine, had wanted to do a deal with the Germans.

From Oslo I tried to get out to Sweden. I went to Halden on the frontier, where I had done trade union work, and asked my contacts if they knew any smugglers who could help me. Eventually I got across, with a smuggler’s help and, since I had a cousin of my father’s who was in the Embassy in Stockholm, I persuaded the local Swedish authorities to let me in on business. In Stockholm in May I gave a talk to the Swedish General Staff on some technical aspects of the fighting in Norway. Then I went to north Sweden and took the railway to Narvik that was still in German hands and where British, French, Norwegian and Polish troops were fighting. I got off the train at the last station in Sweden on 17 May and, with despatches from people in Oslo, skied north over the mountains to avoid the German lines. Eventually I got to Tromso, where the government had taken refuge. As an artillery expert I was put in charge of a battery of mountain guns to train some recruits for a fortnight. Then I was posted as a liaison officer to the French Chasseurs Alpins regiment. Already, however, the Allies had decided to leave Norway without telling the Norwegians and, on 7 June 1940, they evacuated their troops, leaving us in the lurch.

Two amusing and bizarre things happened to me. First, a day after the Allied evacuation, I encountered seven or eight extreme right wing Norwegian nationalists, whom I had known during my student days. The day after their own country had been conquered, they were getting hold of a boat with three machine guns to go off and conquer Greenland, then a colony of Demark, against which Norway had irredentist claims since 1908! They wanted a colony to rule, though their own land was almost a colony of the Germans! Secondly, I met this Norwegian officer who, like me, had fought in the south and then come north, but unlike me he had surrendered to the Germans and thus had broken his parole to do so. He was a Fascist from the Nasionale Samling. He was very distressed, as the Wehrmacht would certainly shoot him if they found him, and they were entitled to do so. I said: ‘There is only one thing for it, you must have a nervous breakdown and enter a lunatic asylum for the duration of the war.’ I dealt with the paperwork, and after happily incarcerating the Fascist in the asylum, I took off my uniform for a second time. The German command had ordered all refugees to go back to their homes, so I pretended to be a civilian refugee and filled up a boat with refugees and some officers in civilian clothes and sailed south to Trondheimfiord. I thought we might be arrested if the German fleet was there, and I wished to check on that, so I stopped at Namsos and persuaded the local German commander to give me a pass to Trondheim. We got into Trondheim after some difficulty and I went back to Oslo from there.

In Oslo I was told that the police were after me, since I was rumoured to have embezzled half the funds of the Norwegian army! This turned out to be the 100 Kroner I had taken for my staff, which my father happily paid, but I was also told I had requisitioned large quantities of goods for our brigade and had not kept any proper paperwork or accounts during the fighting. I pretended to be very angry and offered to go over the entire area of the fighting in central Norway and agree all the requisitioning matters with the local people, from whom we had taken food, fuel and transport in the campaign, and then render proper accounts. This I did and thus was enabled, without any suspicion, to pick up all the documents, uniforms, pistols and so forth that we had buried, and to hide them in other more convenient places, and afterwards to take the documents to Sweden.

I published my account of the negotiations within the Norwegian government during April 1940 and their waverings in face of the Nazi threat in a Swedish trade union paper, while I was a serving officer in England in 1943. I was threatened with a court-martial for giving away state secrets, but they finally did not dare because of the publicity that would have been focused on their own behaviour.

So I had a lot of interesting experiences, and later I wrote a book in Norwegian about them. [21]

The early days of the Occupation: Waiter Held had gone straight to Sweden when the Germans invaded, but Scheflo’s son, who also went there, travelled back to Norway, as did most of the Labour Party people who had crossed at the outbreak of war. By the autumn nearly all the Norwegian labour movement refugees had gone back to Norway, or had been sent back by the Norwegian Embassy. This was in part because of the crushing moral effect of the fall of France. I was furious that the Embassy had sent back a friend of mine who was a trained pilot. I regarded talk that Hitler would win the war and soon be in Stockholm as simply evidence of defeatism and low morale, but I had not been in Stockholm and experienced the panic there in June 1940 when France collapsed.

So after my active part in the two months’ war in Norway, we had some discussion in my trade union in Oslo about the future. After my experience of Berlin in 1932-33 I was in no doubt that it was only a question of time before the Nazis treated the Norwegian Labour leaders and movement as they had treated the German. According to German propaganda they had come to Norway to guard the Norwegians against attacks from the Western powers. In the first stages of the occupation that hampered them, and though they began to make a register of the active labour leaders, it prevented them from using violent measures against a resistance of workers and war veterans. It was a difficult situation, because the top Labour parliamentarian politicians and the left wing of the Labour Party, led by Haakon Meyer, competed to collaborate with the Germans. It was during the period of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. I know that the Germans collaborated with a group of Communist trade unionists to get the trade unions under their control. In my trade union, which was dominated by the Syndicalists, the first arrests were made in the summer of 1940; there were no collaboration problems at all. The union leaders were distrustful of all politicians, especially the Stalinists, but they had used the Stalinists for trade union purposes in the fight against the employers, and they had worked together with the Labour Party politicians. I was in Stockholm when Germany attacked Russia and so Norway and Russia became allies. Only then, as elsewhere, did the Communists become part of the Resistance, and only then did the Germans start to shoot labour movement leaders.

Though the records of the Gestapo and their personnel went down with the Blücher, a heavy cruiser torpedoed in Oslo fiord, it only postponed the rounding up. Though they occupied Norway in April the Germans did not move against Norwegian labour until a year and a half later. They had all the original documents in Hamburg. They used the Gestapo to try to pump Norwegians, and though they got very little help, there is nothing that is really a secret in a country like Norway, where everybody knows everyone else and is related to everyone else. At the time of the Hitler-Stalin Pact the Norwegian Communists were not too unfriendly to them and gave them a little help. Otherwise there were not many informers. They were killed afterwards, and it was not easy to be an informer in Norway during the war. The whole population was against the Germans and were very careful not to mix with Nazi Norwegians, who were totally isolated. Even they were not entirely happy with the Germans. They thought that the Reich should rule Norway in a big Federal European state, but that Hitler was centralising everything. It is true that they made up a battalion of some 600 men to fight on the German side. We reckoned that 20 per cent of the Norwegian Nazis were idealists – the rest were in it as a job. However I knew many non-Nazi people who were sincerely against Russia and Socialism.

I knew that the labour movement would be crushed within a certain time, and it was a question of using that time for building up the resistance in my construction workers’ union. It was decided that we would try and make a centre in Stockholm. I went back to Sweden on a legal passport in October 1940 before the Germans were in full control. I was met on the railway station in Stockholm by Trannael, the editor who had protected Held. He had contacts there, and when I went up to his office it was in a trade union building which was helping him by letting him use it. There I met Scheflo’s son and Waiter Held, and it was we three people from the Trotskyist movement who really maintained the trade unions and Norwegian Labour Party in 1940. At that period of the war the Labour Party did not really have any representatives at a political level except us. There was some conflict between us and the representatives of the exile government in Stockholm.

Held and the Reason Why he Left: The question as to why Held left Sweden and took the fatal road through Russia has been nagging my mind for years. After all, his family and his best friends were in Stockholm, and he had better opportunities there to make a living from his pen than in America. In addition Stockholm was a most interesting place during the Second World War. So why did he not stay, like Willy Brandt? What pressures made him choose to go through Russia? One clue may be that the day after France fell in 1940 the Swedish government received a telegram from their ambassador in London with a message from Lord Halifax and R.A. Butler asking Sweden to help them negotiate a compromise peace with Germany. Hitler’s Reichstag speech that offered peace to Britain seems to have been a direct response to Butler’s message. [22] One of the ministers in the exile Norwegian government, Frihagen, was stationed in Stockholm and was informed of the telegram. Frihagen was a friend of Held’s, and he might in confidence have told him of the telegram and, if Britain had made a peace with Germany, the Swedes would have done what they were told with German Trotskyist exiles. (Just before Held left Sweden on his last journey Frihagen had lent him 500 Kroner in return for an IOU from Held which stated that he would get the money back from the fees paid by a Swedish labour newspaper for which Held was going to write articles in America.) Despite the continuation of the war into 1941 – and Held set out then he may well have thought that there were far stronger political tendencies in the British ruling class that wanted a peace than was in fact the case, a view shared by Hitler and for the same reason. Certainly the telegram had a crushing moral effect on those who knew about it. There was an extradition agreement for criminal offences between Germany and Sweden, the definition of criminal being decided by the court of the country demanding the extradition. There had already been a long drawn out case of one of the leaders of the German navy mutiny of 1918 who was arrested in Sweden just after the war began. To avoid handing him over to the Germans he was put in a Swedish mental hospital, which broke him. That, too, may have been what Held feared.

My Experiences during the Rest of the War: In the 1940-41 period I built up an escape route by car from Norway for supplying the Swedish High Command with intelligence about the Germans, though we had to keep the operation secret from the Swedish police. We had everything prepared to get out Scheflo, but he was too ill to travel and died in hospital in 1942.

I stayed in Sweden until I was flown out to England in 1943. Before that, in the spring of 1941, while the Germans and the Soviet Union were still at peace, the Russians had refused permission for me to travel through Russia to Britain, though whether it was because they knew of my Trotskyist links or because I was a serving officer and quite well known after my talk to the Swedish General Staff, I do not know. When in England I was asked, with five other officers, to go to Russia in 1944 to liaise with the Russian army that was invading the extreme north of Norway, the province of Finnmark. The other five were given visas, but not me. That was fortunate, as I had no intention of going to Russia after what had happened to Held. Later three of the five who were sent were returned by the Russians. When the Norwegians complained that this sort of behaviour was no way to treat an ally, the Russian commander replied that he was sorry, but all this kind of thing was ordered from higher up.

When I got back to Norway after the war I found that most of my old comrades were useless for political work. The long years working in the underground under the Nazi terror had rendered them incapable of looking outwards politically in more normal times.

Nils Kaare Dahl



10. The familiar form of ‘you’ used to relatives and friends in many languages.

11. This piece of information also comes independently to us from Lenin through Fritz Platten to Mr Don Bateman, a veteran of the ILP. There can be no doubt about its authenticity.

12. Bruno Rizzi did not have his book, The Bureaucratisation of the World, published until 1939, in Paris. But he had already published Where is the USSR Going? in 1937, of which the first two chapters set forth his ideas. It is probably this book to which comrade Nils is referring. (cf. The Bureaucratisation of the World, ed. A. Westoby, London 1985, pp.6-7.)

13. After the war Brandt became better known as the Chancellor of the German Federal Republic. He does not seem to have made any enquiries of the Russians of his old acquaintance Waiter Held when he was in a position to do so. (See Revolutionary History, Vol.1 no.4, pp.39-43). Of Mot-Dag he later said it was one of the ‘ivory towers where intellectual cliques practise spiritual inbreeding’. (Min Yiei Til Berlin, p.50, published 1960, cited in T.K. Derry, A History of Modern Norway 1814-1972, pp.315 and 464.)

14. Franz Jakubowski, Ideology and Superstructure, London 1976. Jakubowski came from Danzig. Nils Dahl does not think that it was he who came to Norway.

15. Finn Moe (1902-69) represented the NAP at a Youth Conference in Holland and then in Belgium in February 1934. He went on to become foreign editor of Arbeiderbladet and a leader of the Second International. See Writings of Leon Trotsky: Supplement (1934-1940), New York 1979, pp.895-6.

16. In a future issue Revolutionary History hopes to publish a short biographical note on Erwin Wolf by Pierre Broué taken from the Cahiers Leon Trotsky.

17. Hjordis Holt (nee Knudsen) died about 10 years ago. They quit politics when they left Sweden in 1941. Information in a letter to us from Harrison Salisbury, who got in touch with her widower.

18. L.A. Sanchez Salazar (with the collaboration of J. Gorkin) Murder in Mexico, London 1950. (English translation)

19. The editors of Revolutionary History are not aware of this document, which un doubtedly exists. If a reader could provide us with a copy, or inform us where it could be found, we would be very happy to publish it.

20. Arbeiderbladet, 26 July 1935, in Writings of Leon Trotsky 1936-38, 2nd edition, New York 1977, p 55.

21. Harald K Johensen, Den Norske Tragedin, Federation Forlag, Bet Stockholm 1943. Johensen was Dahl’s pseudonym.

22. There is brief and misleading reference to this in Cecil Parrot, The Tightrope, Faber, 1975, p.158:

At this juncture a telegram arrived from Prytz, the Swedish Minister in London, reporting certain remarks by Halifax which he had construed as indicating Britain’s desire for a compromise peace, an interpretation later stated to be incorrect by the Foreign Office. But Gunther’s reference to the telegram – he read it out to the Foreign Affairs Committee – had its effect on those present, the effect indeed that he wanted to produce.

Parrot is, of course, a diplomat and is behaving professionally here. There is also a fuller, if equally misleading account, in Anthony Howard, RAB: The Biography of R.A. Butler, Cape, 1987. But see Allman Forlaget, Svensk Utrikespolitik 1939-45, Stockholm, 1973, pp.193-297. Revolutionary History hopes to take up the details of this well-hidden ruling class faction fight at some future date.

All the notes to this article were inserted by the editors of Revolutionary History to help readers unfamiliar with the history and personalities of Norway and the Norwegian labour movement. The standard work in English by a bourgeois historian is KT Derry, A History of Modern Norway, 1814-1972, OUP, 1973. Derry also wrote the Official History of the Norwegian Campaign, HMSO, and thus must have diplomatic and security clearance and connections.


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Last updated on 29.12.2002