Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 3

Work in Progress

Trotsky in Norway

WE have recently been contacted by Bernt Rougthvedt, who is writing a biography of the Norwegian author Per Imerslund who was the ‘Mastermind’ behind the break-in at Trotsky’s home Wexhall at Hønefoss, Norway in August 1936. Bernt points out that the day after the break-in, Imerslund left Norway for Germany with documents stolen from Trotsky’s desk, and his intention was to hand over names and addresses of German Trotskyists to the Gestapo. Imerslund’s meeting with the Gestapo was never investigated by the Norwegian police. If Imerslund had handed over list of names to the Gestapo, Bernt considers that people would have been watched or arrested in 1936–37. It was also Imerslund’s intention to contact the French police, who had raided the headquarters of the Trotskyists in Paris some time in June–July 1936, in order to exchange documents with them.

Bernt adds that there are very few books or articles published in Norwegian about the break-in at Trotsky’s home in Hønefoss. Yngvar Ustvedt wrote about Trotsky’s stay in Norway in Verdensrevolusjonen på Hønefoss, and he based his account on the newspaper reports of the break-in. Bernt says he has searched the archives in Norway, but found nothing about either the police investigation of the break-in at Hønefoss or Per Imerslund’s trip to France and Germany. Imerslund’s aim was to find further evidence of Trotsky’s political work during his stay in Norway, because the Social Democratic government in Norway had granted Trotsky a residence permit on condition that he promised not to engage in politics in Norway or in what the Norwegian government termed ‘friendly countries’. Originally, that did not mean that Trotsky could not continue his career as a political writer, but after the break-in the government changed its mind and expelled Trotsky because he had written articles with a revolutionary content in Unser Wort and La Lutte Ouvrière.

It seems that at least some of those articles were obtained by Per Imerslund when he visited the headquarters of the French Trotskyists in Paris in September 1936. During the trial of the six Nazis who broke into Trotsky’s home, Trotskyist papers were produced that Imerslund had brought back from Paris that in his opinion proved that Trotsky had violated the conditions of his residence permit. There are very few documents in the Norwegian archives concerning Imerslund and the other Nazis who did the break-in, as the focus soon shifted from the break-in to the question of whether Trotsky really had violated the conditions of his residence permit – and the Norwegian police was too busy investigating Trotsky to care about the Nazis who stole his personal papers.

We suggested that Bernt contact Einhaut Lorenz, Fritz Keller and Reiner Tosstorff, all experts in Norwegian, German or Austrian Trotskyism, while CERMTRI would be a good source for the French end of the operation.

Reiner Tosstorff knew of no one working in this field, but said that there were two archives which might yield secrets. Firstly, the archive of the German Foreign Office might have received information about the whole affair. Secondly, and probably more promising, is what remains of the archives of the Gestapo. These archives have only partially survived, and are held by the German federal archive (the Bundesarchiv) in Berlin.

If any reader is in a position to help Bernt, his address is Bernt Rougthvedt Gunnar, Knudsens gate 8B, 3912 Porsgrunn, Norway.

News from Italy

THE Italian revolutionary publishing scene remains to this day quite mixed and fragile. This is undoubtedly due to the limited market for Italian-language publications, but above all to the weaknesses of the non-Stalinist Marxist tradition which have been problematic in Italy even after the experience of 1968.

Every now and again, however, there are examples that run counter to this situation, as with the very recent publication of Bruno Rizzi’s La burocratizzazione del mondo (appearing for the first time in its unabridged version, published by Colibrì). The 450-page volume has been edited by Paolo Sensini, who should be praised for bringing back into public view a work and an author without whom it is simply impossible to understand Trotsky’s polemics on the social nature of the USSR in the last years of his life, as well as the theoretical development of important figures such as Max Shachtman, James Burnham and Hal Draper. Sensini has also traced letters written by Rizzi to Trotsky, and has published for the first time in Italian Shachtman’s 1939 essay entitled Whither Russia? Trotsky And His Critics. Sensini has committed himself to continuing his efforts of publishing Rizzi’s entire oeuvre. Given the very high quality of this initial volume, it is not surprising that this news has attracted considerable interest in Italy.

Colibrì has also published the first Italian translation of Maximilien Rubel’s Karl Marx, a monumental biography of 606 pages. In this work Rubel proposes an interesting, albeit controversial, ‘anarchist’ thread in Marx’s work. The editors of Rubel’s book, Centro d’Iniziativa Luca Rossi, based in Milan, also published a political biography of Agis Stinas during the Second World War, written by our sadly departed comrade Arturo Peregalli, who will be known to the readers of this journal. Prior to his death, Peregalli had indicated that Stinas’ biography would become part of a wider study on the ‘third front internationalists’ (Arturo Peregalli, Contro venti e maree, CdILR, 2002). Unfortunately, his sudden death prevented him from carrying out this project. Nevertheless, even this short contribution on this ‘heterodox Trotskyist’ remains very valuable, given that the only other work on Stinas of which we are aware is his autobiography in French, published by La Bréche in 1990.

Federico Gattolin has written a new monograph on C.L.R. James, C.L.R. James. Il platone nero (Prospettiva edizione, 2002, pp. 114). The only works of James previously available in Italy were his classic I giacobini neri (The Black Jacobins, published in 1968) and an essay on slavery, Da schiavo a proletari (Musolini editore, 1975) were so far. Therefore, this new book is a pleasant surprise, although it has to be said that anyone acquainted with James’ works in English cannot but be disappointed, on account of the absence of his important work American Civilization and the controversial conception of the party which he started to develop during the 1970s. Prospettiva edizioni is also continuing with the publication of Trotsky’s Opere scelte (Selected Works), now at the seventh of the 13 scheduled volumes. The latest volume, the twelfth, La Guerra e il futuro, edited by Isabella Alagia and Vincenzo Sommella (Prospettiva edizioni, 2001) presents Trotsky’s last writings on war, which are still largely unknown in Italian. It is unfortunate, however, that such an important publishing project did not use direct translations from the original texts, which would have improved the quality of the final result, and that the libertarian socialist approach of the editors (both members of the Socialismo Rivoluzionario group) is all too evident.

Another important contribution to the history of the communist movement is the publication of Friedrich Sorge’s writings on the origins of the workers’ movement in the United States, Il movimento operaio negli Stati Uniti d’America 1783–1892 (Pantarei, 2002, pp.%nbsp;435). This represents only the third edition after the Russian and American editions of 1977. As usual, Pantarei completes this new book with a phenomenally large array of additional material, biographical notes and maps.

Massari editore has published Livio Maitan’s autobiography, La strada percorsa (dalla Resistenza ai nuovi movimenti: lettura critica e scelte alternative) (Massari editore, 2002, pp. 720). This book deals exclusively with Italian events (further instalments on Maitan’s international activities should follow), and retraces the political past of the best-known exponent of Trotskyism in Italy. Maitan joined the Fourth International in 1947. His USFI group joined Rifondazione Comunista in 1991, and this volume also includes a long introduction by Fausto Bertinotti, the leader of the RC. Maitan’s comprehensive autobiography begins with his politicisation during the anti-fascist movement of 1943–45 in Italy and continues right up to the anti-G8 protests in Genoa in July 2001 and the events of 11 September 2001 in the USA.

Edizioni Giovane Talpa has produced a pamphlet on Silvio Paolicchi, a veteran of Italian Trotskyism who sadly died recently, La parola al compagno Puntoni … (2002, pp. 30), which also includes an extensive biography and some of his militant writings.

We conclude with the news of a new book, useful for anyone wishing to understand the 1970s in Italy, Marco Philopat, La banda Bellini (ShaKe Edizioni, 2002, pp. 190). It is a ‘false’ novel, which presents instead the much-mishandled ‘oral’ history of the oppressed classes, and tells the story of a local far-left group in Milan. Considering the extraordinary longevity of the social movements born out of 1968 in Italy, the book will be a contribution to a discussion that remains very much alive even after 30 years.

Yurii Colombo

Updated by ETOL: 22.10.2011