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  On the Question of
the Guilt of the New Left,
Revolutionary Sectarianism,
and the Silence of the Renegades

  by Karl-Erik Tallmo

  The radicalism of the 60's was at the beginning a rather playful phenomenon, there were music festivals and hippies and love-ins. But more dogmatic movements emerged, following the teachings of Lenin, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara, and Stalin or Trotsky. 
    Suddenly there were lots of young idealistic people claiming to love freedom and justice, and in the same breath they defended the purges of Stalin, justified the murders during the cultural revolution in China, and advocated violent measures towards their own country's military and capital owners.
  The author of this article was an activist with the Swedish Stalinists from 1969 through 1975, at first in the organization KFML, later in the separatist group KFML(r)

At the end of the 60's, in the shadow of the Vietnam war, everybody, more or less, seemed to turn left in their political views. A general radicalism characterized the debate in several issues; the poverty of the Third world did not awake compassion any more, but solidarity and the sense of a common battle being fought. Industrial workers found - sometimes to their astonishment - that they were the objects of a virtually fanatical sympathy from rebellious students and intellectuals.
  Even politicians within traditional parties to a surpringly large extent adopted the perspective, the topical agenda, of the radicals - if not always their exact ideas. In the news media, reporters more and more often chose an angle according to this new spirit. Teachers at school started to wonder about the values they hitherto had brought to their students - were they not bourgeois biased propaganda? There was much talk about "indoctrination", a new unfamiliar word that quickly was adopted into common usage. "Critical thinking" was encouraged - at least regarding the conservative or liberal press or schoolbooks. To be "aware" meant all of a sudden not just to be awake or determined; this was a question of political awareness, and furthermore, to be valid, this commitment had to be leftist.
  Even if quite a number of older revolutionaries with renewed hope found a place in the ranks among their younger comrades, the 60's rebellion was in several aspects a struggle between the old and the new. The coming generation versus the establishment, of course, but to a very large extent also a struggle between the old and a new left: the old, where one still regarded the Soviet Union during Khrushchev or Brezhnev as a model country, and the new left, where one thought of that big country in the east as nothing more than a degenerated socialist state, and rather gained one's inspiration from the times of Lenin and Stalin or Trotsky. And everywhere, you could see the jovial, chubby face of Chairman Mao shining down on us, an assertion that something new was still possible. Surely, the barefoot doctors out on the Chinese countryside, did they not represent a people's power much more alive and well than those stern stone statues, waving like ghosts from the balcony at the Red Square every year on the first of May?
  It is a strange and tragic oddity that Soviet troops invaded Czechoslovakia the very same year as the New Left took shape all across Western Europe. This, however, did not impel any serious reflection among young activists - the invasion only confirmed the bankruptcy of the old Communism. Even to a large part of the leftist movement today, Communist countries are not really Communist countries. The following passage, for instance, may be read on the homepages of the American Progressive Labor Party:

The former Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China returned to capitalism many years ago. Capitalism, not communism, is failing all over the world.

But the split of world Communism regarding how to look upon the Soviet Union was just the beginning. An almost religiously rigid quest for orthodoxy started, and as we all know the leftist organizations were split up into many factions. The struggle within the movement seemed to be as important as the struggle outside, against capitalism. Maybe the inner struggle was necessary for the members to keep their spirits up. After all, it is easier to revolt against the leaders of the movement than against the leaders of the country.
  Inner attacks are, in this context, automatically defined as bourgeois influence, and consequently they must be carried out by bourgeois infiltrators and apostates. Attacks from the outside indicate that you are feared by the enemy and thus that you have potential power:

It is good if we are attacked by the enemy, since it proves that we have drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves. It is still better if the enemy attacks us wildly and paints us as utterly black and without a single virtue; it demonstrates that we have not only drawn a clear line of demarcation between the enemy and ourselves but achieved a great deal in our work. (Mao Zedong: "To Be Attacked by the Enemy Is Not a Bad Thing but a Good Thing", May 26th, 1939.)

So, you can never be wrong. These mechanisms, that make this system of thought so closed, that defend it against every attack, from the inside as well as from the outside, resemble another hermetic system, psychoanalysis, where every protest is a sign of psychological resistance, only confirming the accuracy of the questioned theory or interpretation.
  It is true that the teachings prescribe that one distinguishes between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions. Yet it is strikingly frequent to see more serious criticism being refuted as something "foreign to the species"; a sense of "us against them" is created, which permeates everything and is aimed at all directions of the compass, depending on in which course deviates and factions are heading - until these persons have been expelled or have marched out from some meeting, shouting their slogans in unison. Then, they have turned into a "them", that we may securely attack together.
  This mechanism of "us against them" is to be found in a milder form in several political parties. I have seen it at work among the conservatives as well as among social democrats. Sometimes you discuss a matter with somebody, known to you as normally a sensible, judicious person, who suddenly refuses to listen to your arguments, because they don't accord with the party line. You present your chain of reasoning over and over again, each time with a slightly different angle, with different metaphors to illustrate your case - but it just doesn't stick. Every time arguments are being rejected in that way, without any real dialogue, like an extraneous transplant, then the "us against them" mechanism has conquered reason.

The yuppie era and political hangover

Then, after little more than a decade, everything changed. In the 80's came a conservative wave, and young lions played the stock market. Gordon Gekko was more fashionable than Che Guevara. Old radicals made careers in the corporate world and in the administration. Considering the prevalence of the 60's and 70's radicalism, one is not really surprised to find old rebels everywhere in the establishment of today.
  At least in Sweden there has been a debate, smouldering and now and then flaring up since the 80's - the discussion about the "guilt of the New Left" and how the Left "deals with its disappointment". By that one means either the disappointment of having been totally absorbed by an ideology that turned out to be wrong, or the disappointment of never having been able to realize the utopian vision - certainly two completely different aspects. The question of the "guilt of the New Left" concerns whether old radicals should feel bad about having justified the terror of the Chinese cultural revolution, the executions of Pol Pot, or the purges of Stalin. In this context, another question is frequently raised, namely if it should be considered more excusable if you once advocated Stalin than if you once advocated Hitler.
  Of course, there is no guilt of the New Left. Guilt in a political movement is an anomaly. Only individuals are capable of feeling guilt, and mostly they prefer to remain silent regarding things they are ashamed of, or they can pretend as if nothing has changed. "My ideals are exactly the same now as back then," say many of those who fought on the barricades and now fight in the hallways of bureaucracy: "At that time it was a question of social commitment, and still is." With the help of a little selective amnesia you no longer have to think about all the things you once justified: the liquidation of the kulaks in the Soviet Union, or Stalin's executions of "the Trotskyite agents of fascism", or how you, when you got drafted, were supposed to turn your guns against your own generals. Even if one these days has very idyllic memories of sausage grilling over some camp fire under the red flags, the revolution was, as we all know, never supposed to be a tea-party.
  There is also, of course, a democratic, liberty-loving left, whose members may advocate all sorts of state interventions in the individual's life, but never strive towards terror and oppression. Their opinions can certainly be of value in the public political debate. It is true though, that the democratic part of the Left now and then has tended to yield to the non-democratic part, the result still being a defence for opression. But this is also true of the democratic Right. Whether it is a question of vagueness or opportunism - or when it comes to party people in office: practical politics and protocol - this will prevail in all political camps. That is, though, not what this article is about. It is about groups or individuals who clearly have justified or directly advocated violence, terror, and opression.

The enticement of the extreme

Then, one must ask - what is so attractive about totalitarian ideology? Probably just that, the all-embracing, a system of thought with absolutely sure answers for precisely everything. And the receptive soil for all this was, presumably, young people's predisposition towards excess, purism, orthodoxy, total absorption; the exploration of extreme mental states, the precociousness and its susceptibility for all sorts of short cuts to happiness, whether it be through drugs or ideology. And of course there were hormones, ignorance, lack of experience, and a general rebelliousness towards grown-up society, which was easily applied on certain topics and conspicuous problems - the educational programs at school, the Vietnam war, Rhodesia ... It might seem a little far-fetched that this commitment also was extended to a concern for the well-being of the working class, since the activists mostly were students and intellectuals. But according to Marx, the working class is the only revolutionary class. Futhermore, in 1969 the miners up in the North of Sweden had begun a militant strike. Other groups of workers followed. We believed that this clearly indicated that a general revolutionary situation, of the kind Marx and Lenin had described, slowly drew nearer.

 Mao's "Little red book" became a political fetish - also for young people in the Western world.

    The metaphors of Mao probably caught on due to their exotic flavor, which appealed in a similar way that Indian philosophy or meditation attracted other groups. The Chairman was a helmsman. The atom bomb was a paper tiger. And there were foolish old men trying to remove mountains.
  Mao's "Little red book" became a fetish for many to keep in their pockets, and although those quotations often dealt with internal party affairs, they were suddenly used as a magic formula with the power supposed to convince even uninitiated people. In Sweden the cultural revolution also inspired a few very extreme sects, e.g. the so called Rebel Movement. Here, discordant members could be held in custody and were even threatened with execution.
  We, who were active in some of these extreme left movements, probably suffered from some sort of megalomania, a paradoxical sense of omnipotency considering how small these sects were, and the inebriation we felt when the number of sympathizers increased, never had anything do to with our prospects in something as petty as a general election - instead it was a question of Our Historical Task. We felt like scientists, and we were but humble tools for the inevitable progress of class struggle. The revolution would come as sure as water turns into steam at a 100 degrees centigrade: When the increase of quantity, like Stalin and Engels taught, can no longer continue, instead a qualitative change occurs - the water starts boiling.
  Studies in Marxist classics were carried out diligently, and study groups covered Communist basics as well as the current editorial of the party paper - the members must be able to spread a uniform party line and argue for it. At the beginning, I found it strange that all of the questions in the course literature were put "Why is it correct to say that ..." and not "Is it correct to say that ..." But I got used to it.
  Most of us were under 20. We were deadly serious and truly believed that we bore history on our slender shoulders. At the same time we developed a sort of self-critical sense of humour, but this did not help us see. Rather, the irony helped us to stay blind, it embedded and toned down the ridicule of our grand words. You could, for example, say - with a wry little smile - "I went out for a beer with the politburo yesterday." You felt important and comical at the same time. Or, you could burst out with a few bombastic phrases from the Communist Manifesto, something about how the bourgeoisie had drowned out the heavenly ecstacies of religious fervor and chivalrous enthusiasm in the icy water of egotistical calculation. Then came that embarrassed but admiring smile again.

Violence and terror

In 1972 two terrorist attacks occurred, which shook the world. In May, Japanese terrorists, with connections to the Palestinian liberation organization PFLP, shot 26 persons at the airport in Lydda (Lod) in Israel. The Swedish Stalinists obviously had an urge to stick their neck out, since the paper "The Proletarian" (issue 18/1972) approved of this action, the headline being "PFLP's Lydda action shocks the bourgeoisie". I remember how me and a few other comrades were somewhat shocked ourselves about this standpoint, but after a "study meeting" with discussions about the editorial, we accepted it, and were even a little proud that we in this way distinguished ourselves from other "petty bourgeois" leftist groups.
  In issue 19/1972 there was a new editorial shortly titled "Terror": "Communists are not on principle against terror. But we believe that terror can only be used in connection with a mass movement by the working class itself ..." In issue 21 there was a letter to the editor, written by a confused reader, who asked if the editors had changed their minds from issue 18 to 19. The editors practised self-criticism for the very first article, but they still emphasized that "the civilians who were killed during the operation was to a very small extent, tourists. Most of them were faithful Zionists on a pilgrimage to the occupied Palestine."
  In September the same year, during the Olympic games in Munich, the terrorist group Black September seized Israeli athletes as hostages. When this drama ended, a total of 18 people had been killed. The KFML(r) paper "The Proletarian" staggered on between some sort of technical repudiation and moral admiration. "We do not believe that the action carried out by Black September in Munich brings the Palestinian cause forward," the editors say in issue 32/1972. But in the very same article they also state: "The reactions of the bourgeoisie are not an expression for desperate despair at lost lives and bloodshed. In Vietnam, hundreds of women, old people and children are being murdered every day ..." And furthermore: "Unlike the bourgeois press [...] we do not shed any crocodile tears for the 11 dead Israeli athletes and coaches."
  Naturally, according to a Communist's concept of the world, no other tears may be shed than those guaranteed to benefit a certain party interest.
  In particular the separatist group KFML(r) excelled in the glorifying of violence. Obnoxious class traitors always deserved a good beating. At one time the paper "The Proletarian" instructed its readers to rearrange the face of journalist and writer Rune Moberg (regarded as an unusually detestable anti-Communist), should one of the readers meet him. "But beware of witnesses", was the closing remark. The murder of Trotsky, which was done with the help of an ice ax was turned into a joke, when the same paper for some time bestowed people on the left-wing with a sort of anti-prize - "Ice ax of the month" - if they showed signs of Trotskyite deviation.
  Regarding the movement's bombastic language, one could write a linguistic thesis about it. This kind of agitational, hateful prose is strikingly similar to the stylistics used by the extreme right. This is what "The Proletarian" (issue 10/1971) wrote after an incident when a Vietnam march allegedly had been attacked by a gang of bikers:

To those forces that try to use the bikers for their purposes – upper-class brats of the Democratic Alliance, von Sydow Jr (we know it's you), and others – to you we say: – You use 16 to 18-year-old political cowards for your dirty fascist purposes. Dare to show yourselves, Democratic Alliance, von Sydow and the rest of you rich man's children! Step out of the darkness in your upper-class appartments and stand face to face with the working class, you cowardly fascist pigs! Confront us openly and we will boldly counter you, we will meet you with all the decisive organized and revolutionary violence, which the advanced workers are mighty in their class hatred against you.// And the power of our class hatred, you rich men and rich men's sons, is excessive, for it strengthens ourselves every day we see one of us break down in the inhumane compulsive work in your factories, the daily exploitation to the last drop of what our bodies can manage, or when risking our lives, getting mutilated or lacerated to death. All this to feed you, owners of the factories.// We will confront you and we will hunt you down violently.
Regarding attitudes towards Stalin, the original KFML sometimes claimed that Stalin was "70 percent good and 30 percent bad". The separatists in KFML(r), however, insolently announced that Stalin was a 100 percent good. To emphasize this fact, they published a biography in 1972, titled "J.V. Stalin - the steel-hard leader of the Bolsheviks". The chairman of KFML(r), Frank Baude, wrote a special preface, where he says that some leftist groups consider Stalin to be both good and bad. "What these alleged faults of Stalin would consist of, they can never explain," Baude says and goes on: "The critique against Stalin for being to hard against the class enemy is a bourgeois argument. For a Communist it can never be a bad thing to treat class enemies in a hard way."
  The Art Bin has also - in connection with this article - published the complete court proceedings report (in English) from the Moscow trials of 1936, as it was published by the People's Commissariat of Justice in the Soviet Union. These reports were also published in Swedish the same year, a task taken care of by the Communist Party of Sweden (SKP). It is highly remarkable, that those proceedings reports - which show that the trials were based almost solely on confessions, an extremely dubious judicial principle - could be used as propaganda for  Communism. Furthermore, René Coeckelberghs' Trotskyite publishing firm reprinted a facsimile of this book in 1971, to demonstrate the horrors of Stalinism. Then, the real irony was that the Stalinists themselves started selling this new "Trotskyite edition" in their own book stores. The circle was closed.

The book "J.V. Stalin - the steel-hard leader of the Bolsheviks" (1972).

  Marxist-Leninist and thus neo-Stalinist movements appeared in many European countries in the early 70's. If you travelled to one of the few Promised Lands still remaining in the world, according to a Communist view, namely Albania, you would encounter devotees from England, Italy, Spain, and Western Germany. The French had an unfortunate preference for Trotsky, but they could present a couple of Stalinists as well. The Nordic countries were represented there, even Iceland, where the Marxist-Leninists published a paper called "Stéttabaráttan" (The Class Struggle).
  Professor Bruce Franklin, from Stanford University in the US, became a Communist in 1965, and in the early 70's he published an anthology - both in America and in England - of assorted texts by Stalin. In his preface, professor Franklin writes:

I used to think of Joseph Stalin as a tyrant and butcher who jailed and killed millions [...] Even today I have trouble saying the name 'Stalin' without feeling a bit sinister.

Then Franklin does his best to prove that Stalin was a beloved ally to the peoples of China, Vietnam, Korea and Albania in their struggle for liberty. Inter alia, Franklin quotes the American ambassador to Moscow (1936-38), Joseph E. Davies, whose book "Mission to Moscow" (1941) is one of the most notorious publications in the West, a diary where Stalin's purges and the Moscow trials are justified.
  Among historians, it is much discussed whether comparative studies of Nazism and Communism, of Hitler and Stalin, are really fruitful and scientifically correct. One drawback with this method would be that one is tempted to project properties of one of the two upon the other. Science would capsize and degenerate to ideology and campaign. One would gain propagandistic benefit with the Nazis, by comparing them to the worst they know of, namely Communism, and corresponding food for thought would be planted by the Communists by having them compare themselves to the Nazis.
  Claiming that Nazism and Communism are one and the same is, certainly, a way to easily offer arguments for your opponents. It will be of no advantage to the debate if differences and distinctive features are wiped out. On the other hand, one may, of course, point out and emphasize certain similarities, which are of vital importance to human morals and human deeds; things like the regimentation, the envisioned Utopia, the lack of freedom to think and criticize, the paranoid atmosphere together with the informing mentality, the personality cult and the tendency towards autocracy, and mass executions and purges as a political method.
  At the WWW site of the Progressive Labor Party, in the magazine "Challenge", I found a review of the book "Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia, 1934-1941" by Robert W. Thurston (1996). The anonymous reviewer says:

[...] the bosses use anti-Stalinism [...] to justify fascist repression and murder of any workers' attempts to rebel against capitalism. After all, if "Stalinism" -- the anti-Communist name for communism -- is "worse than Nazi Germany", and if any attempt to build communism can lead only to "Stalinism", then any and all repressive measures to suppress revolution are justified, including torture, mass murder, and fascism itself.

Yes, totalitarians are always upset about torture and mass murder - in the opposing camp. But if Trotskyites can be depicted as agents for Nazi-Germany, then the barbarous methods of fascism may conveniently be justified and used also by Communists.
  What the reviewer in "Challenge" means is that since the bourgeois establishment equals all Communism with Stalinism, you must defend Stalin to be able to defend what is left of Communism in the world today. In that respect the Thurston book is apologetic enough for the purpose. A more wholehearted defense is presented in Belgian Communist Ludo Martens' book "Another view of Stalin" (Un autre regard sur Staline), published in 1995.

The renegades

Renegades have mostly given rise to only mockery or ridicule within the Communist ranks, rather than reflection and revaluation. I remember how someone left the student organization Clarté, which was closely related to the KFML, and then joined the Pentecostal Movement instead. He turned to the press and claimed that the Communists had made lists of people to be killed when a revolutionary situation arose. Personally, I never heard of or saw any such lists, neither in the KFML nor in the KFML(r), but if any members worried about such things, they did not have to. Just the fact that the defector had turned to religion, was somehow enough to invalidate him as a witness to the truth.

From Swedish daily Expressen May 15th, 1972. The headline reads: "I took part in the making of death lists".

  The American David Horowitz, once editor of the radical magazine Ramparts, recently published the book "Radical Son - A Generational Odyssey" (1997). It is true that Horowitz had an inclination towards Trotskyism, but he also describes the fascination for violence and illegal action. Horowitz was also defamed and ridiculed after his political recovery.
  When I was as most active in the Stalinist movement, I actually read the memoirs of a Swedish defector - but was not impressed. The book in question was Björn Hallström's "Jag trodde på Stalin" (I believed in Stalin), which he wrote in 1952 and which I read two decades later.
  Hallström had a high position within the Communist Party of Sweden (SKP), and among other assignments he worked for the paper "Norrskensflamman", published by the Communists in the Northern part of the country. Hallström abandoned Communism after 17 years and became a Quaker. Everything Hallström wrote about brainwashing, false ideals, regimentation and the necessity of lying when it serves the cause - nothing of this had any effect on me at that time. Hallström was a renegade, right? And on top of that he had become religious.
  "Now I had found the political Left!", Hallström writes in his book. This was in the 30's and he was a student at an exclusive boarding school in Germany, where the Nazis were also active. "And what could be more natural than making for the most extreme on the left-wing?" he adds. I recognize that feeling. If you have seen the light, you don't want to cloud it with nuances. Hallström also mentions the constant agitation during lessons, how impossible it was to ever keep quiet. The Communist angle or commentary must be brought forward in each and every question, no matter how unimportant it was - one's poor fellow-students had to be protected aginst the depravity of the bourgeois influence.
  All at once the world became so easy to survey. To me, history had up till now appeared as nothing but a confusing mess of kings, dates, and strange wars flaring up incomprehensibly, but in the light of class struggle everything was understandable. Not only was history covered with a clarifying grid, but we also put uncomplicated labels on present day people and phenomena. One person was petty bourgeois, another was not even that, but belonged to an "unproductive middle-stratum", some sort of irrelevant asteroid belt on the political star chart. Such people were neither friends nor foes; they meant as little for the revolution as the lumpenproletariat.
  Hallström tells us, with some fascination, about his "illegal" work, travelling as a courier, getting arrested, etc. It is easy to remember such conspiratorial activities as something exciting. Hallström writes: "We were all boys between 17-20 years old. Only a few years earlier, we had been playing Indians." Saying that, he hits the nail on the head. Personally, I remember pasting up posters at night in forbidden places, secret meetings during my military service inside the regiment area. It was all a sort of juvenile play and a deadly seriousness at the same time.

Flags or batons? From a march in Båstad September 20th, 1975, where 6 500 people protested against the military regime in Chile in connection with a tennis match. Photo © Karl-Erik Tallmo.

  Speaking of the military, I remember how, during my military service, I dug up a journalistic scoop, which was published in our special Communist paper for soldiers. I had discovered that the highest commander in our military district, a general, as a young man had been a leading figure within the Swedish Nazi party. At the library I got hold of a few issues of an old Swedish Nazi paper called "Stormfacklan", where I found a report from the Nazi party's national congress 1935, where the future general had delivered a fervent speech, to an audience of such enthusiasm that it responded with "roaring ovations", and the gallery "descended ... several inches". Of course, I quoted this with great pleasure. However, somewhere deep in my mind, I guess I cherished a wish to address such an enthusiastic audience too - but with a Communist speech.
  Hallström recounts his first trip to the Soviet Union; he travelled by train through Karelia and Viborg to Systerbäck, which at that time was the last stop on the Finnish side. From there Hallström sends a postcard home. "I am enduring my last hour in the capitalist world." He notes the dazzlingly white table cloths at the railway restaurant. Everything was scrubbed and polished, nothing to object to. "The show window of capitalism!" Hallström says to himself with contempt. Later, when he has crossed the border to the Soviet side and sees how old and dirty everything is, he thinks "The worker state's legacy from the Czarist age." At the sight of people with dirty and torn clothes everywhere, his inner commentator says: "First the heavy industry is being developed. Then comes the time for light industry, which will provide the people with better clothes and shoes."
  "The Left's indignation seems exclusively reserved for outrages that confirm the Marxist diagnosis of capitalist society", David Horowitz says about this phenomenon in his book. And I recognize this mechanism myself, for instance from my trip to Albania in the early 70's. Things that seemed less good were overlooked, and I tried to think that more important priorities were made for the moment. And things that seemed good in the capitalist world, were nothing but appearance, a trick to lull the masses into the belief that they lived in the best of all worlds. For example, who needs twenty different brands of soap to choose from? All you need is one, of course, which every sensible person realizes.
  Hallström describes extensively how Moscow, with iron hand, controlled the old Swedish Communist party. Both book publishing and book keeping was, to the smallest detail, controlled by the Russians. And during the Moscow trials, it was imperative for Communists all over the world to arrange "spontaneous" demonstrations, so that Vyshinsky in his final speech to the court could refer to "demands from the international working class." Consequently there was a march also in Kiruna, in the North of Sweden, under the banner "Death sentences for the traitors!"
  What made Hallström eventually leave the party was when he realized how the Communists worked within the anti-fascist fronts. They participated for purely egotistical reasons, for the benefit of the party only, not at all for the anti-fascist cause. On the other hand, there was a Methodist pastor who did just that, worked very unselfishly, and Hallström admired that in him.
  Personally, me and several of my comrades became increasingly skeptical to this militant implacability but also to the working class romantic hostility towards university students and intellectuals. At the Fourth Congress of the KFML(r), held during the New Year holidays 1974-75, I heard a now renowned actor from the platform call a now renowned expert in foreign politics a "student whore".
  At that time I also received new facts about a Swedish trial from 1973, that had attracted enormous attention. A young woman was prosecuted for having assaulted a police officer during a demonstration in Gothenburg in 1971. She claimed, however, that she had been beaten by the police officer and presented 19 witnesses to prove it. During the proceedings, all 19 of them were arrested for perjury as soon as they had opened their mouths to confirm the defendant's story. This remarkable trial was seen as proof that the Communists now had become so powerful that the establishment must fight back with false accusations and mock trials. In the Communist press, the prosecutor was depicted as a Nazi, and the arrested witnesses - all of them KFML(r) sympathizers - became martyrs. During this congress, I learned that the witnesses had indeed been lying, they had seen nothing of the sort. A strategy to tell the same story had been made up in advance. Thus another illusion shattered - that the Communists fought for the revolutionary truth against the cowardly lies of the bourgeoisie.

The death of an illusion

Those who joined Marxist organizations because they wanted to rebel against authorities must have been deeply disappointed - or maybe they just changed their aspirations. And nobody can claim that the ultimate objective, the dictatorship of the proletariat, would be some sort of grass-roots movement.
  Sometimes you hear that socialism had already jumped the tracks during Lenin's time. If socialists had only clinged to the more humane teachings of Marx and Engels, these later "mistakes" would never have occurred. But all of the controversial concepts were actually clearly stated already in the Communist Manifesto of 1848; where the authors emphasize the necessity for both violence and dictatorship. There is certainly much to dissociate oneself from, if one wants to be a democratic socialist.
  It was with a certain repugnance that I took part in my last demonstration in 1975. As late as 1981, while I was a music critic for a Swedish daily, my phobia against any sort of collective involvement was still so strong that I was the only person sitting down in the audience, when the violinist Isaac Stern received a standing ovation in the Stockholm Concert Hall. It took me about ten years before I was once again capable of reading the foreign news section in a paper - anything insisting that one took up a definite position in political matters was appalling. Ignazio Silone, who wrote the book "The God That Failed" (1950) together with Arthur Koestler and others, says that "[s]omething of [the communist experience] remains and leaves a mark on the character that lasts all one's life."
  How other old activists deep down feel about those extremist years of the 60's and 70's is, of course, impossible for me to say. Personally, I can not see them in the light of fine comradeship or exciting unlawful actions or all that about "the same passion for social justice now as then". I can not even regard the period as a beneficial but hard-earned vaccination against totalitarian tendencies. It is and remains a disgrace.
  "Nothing is more sad than the death of an illusion," Koestler says in "The God That Failed". But dead illusions are in fact only the next most sad. An illusion that survives and lives on, enslaving and oppressing people, is something even more sad.


1. The KFML was an acronym for "Kommunistiska förbundet marxist-leninisterna" (The Communist League of Marxist-Leninists). The separatist group KFML(r) added one letter, signifying "revolutionaries". In 1977 the league changed its name to KPML(r) - where P stands for party - and in 2005 the name was shortened to the Communist Party. To an outsider, this may seem trivial, but in a communist context, the issue of party formation is something quite crucial. Before a communist organization may call itself a party, it should have rooted in the working class, and the organization should also have developed a so-called class analysis of the society in which it operates. In KFML(r) prior to 1975, this was regarded to be a matter of scientific Marxist method, an extensive economic-political work spanning several years. One were to execute a correct analysis of all the classes and strata in the Swedish society, and how these possibly would stand in a revolutionary situation; which of them were likely to be allies, who were enemies, and which groups might move in one direction or the other. The fact that KFML(r) formed a party already in 1977 most surely reflects a new approach to this process. [Go Back]

This article is  © copyright Karl-Erik Tallmo 1997. Two additions to the text were made in 2011.

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