The effort in ORIENTERING contributed to a turning point in the Norwegian labor movement

Sigurd Evensmo <7b> Journalist in the Arbeiderpressen from 1930 to 1949 in recent years as cultural editor of Arbeiderbladet.


Monday, February 14 fills Sigurd Evensmo 60 years. In this connection, it may be natural to stop and make an ever so small summary, not least because the jubilee is Orienterings first editor and the only member of the editorial committee who has been involved since the beginning.

- As an editor at the time, could you imagine that Orientering, and the circle around Orientering, eight years later was to become the center of a new party formation? Or that you should look back on your 60th birthday Orientering as part of a life's work?

- No. The situation was very difficult from the very beginning. We were completely silenced, the economy was miserable, and after only one year, the first crisis came. We had no idea how long it would take.

When we struggled on, it was because we felt that there were opportunities after all. We had contact with quite strong forces within the Labor Party. Oksvik was a Nicodemus who came to us secretly at night, and we had friends like Meisdalshagen and Fostervoll.

Such points of support meant something, and we knew that among ordinary members there were many who had been reduced and passive after the NATO national meeting in 1949. We hoped to reach them.

- The first issue of Orientering, the trial number, appeared in December 1952. But here, Storting member Jacob Friis is listed as responsible editor. Was it a tug-of-war behind the scenes that led to you, and not Friis, remaining as editor from the first regular issue in 1953?

- When I saw the sample number, I reacted strongly, because in my opinion it had a clear face to the east. For me, it was important that we highlighted an alternative from the outset.

Then there was a settlement. At a meeting of the Socialist Culture Association, I for my part directed harsh criticism at Friis, who was present. This became known and led to me receiving a phone call from Karl Evang a couple of days later. He was of the same opinion as I was. He himself had an article in the trial issue and reacted particularly strongly. In that way, I was drawn into the preparations for the real thing Orientering.

- Most of the members in the circle were still members of the Norwegian Workers' Party. Became Orientering taken seriously from the beginning Arbeiderpartiets management? Was it seen as a factional body?

- I think that the management above all underestimated us colossally, just as Gerhardsen also underestimated SF's chances before the election in 1961. But they took us so seriously that they consistently tried to silence us to death. After all, we had regular employees such as your own member of the Storting Jacob Friis, trade unionist Peder Ødegaard, Karl Evang, Finn Gustavsen, who at the time was a prominent member of the AUF in Oslo, and myself who came straight from the position of culture editor at Arbeiderbladet after having been 20 years in the party's service. It says a lot about the ceiling height that such unpleasant information should be suffocated by concealment.

- You yourself left the Labor Party and left Arbeiderbladet, after the national meeting in 1949. Didn't it create additional bitterness that Orientering was led by a person who had so demonstratively turned his back on the paternal house?

- My attitude at the time led to my being completely isolated from the environment I had had for 20 years. But the breakup came as a well-considered act on my part. We knew of the opposition against #NATO within the party and knew that there was a relatively sizable minority at the national meeting itself. It therefore seemed like a shock that this minority wiped itself out, so that the decision could be unanimous.

There is something in this that reminds of Soviet role models. One finds in the modern party organization a reflection of the past, a centralism characterized by Russian thinking. We feel the same today during the EEC match. Again, the demand is raised that the minority should bend, so that you can get the most unified party possible.

I see this as an egregious example of disrespect for the individual members' views on an overriding political issue, and this strongly contributed to the fact that the day after the national meeting I wrote my resignation to Arbeiderbladet, and left the party.

- But Orientering did not easily make contact with these many rank-and-file members. Is it not a fact that in the early years the circle consisted mainly of academics and intellectuals?

- It is true that Orientering over many years was written by intellectual workers with an academic background, simply because newspaper work is a profession that requires qualified professionals. But the huge difference between, among other things, Mot Dag and us was that the mot Dagists Never did anyone really connect with the working class. They were probably more skilled in many ways with their qualifications. We have later found them again in countless top positions within The Establishment, – take the Cappelen brothers for example; Andreas, Norway's Minister for Foreign Affairs; Johan, ambassador; Hans, social councilor in Oslo.

- But had Orientering in the 50s any better contact with the working class than Mot Dag 30 years earlier?

- We got it. While Towards Day ended rather miserably by creeping into the Labor Party in the mid-30s after failing its leader Erling Falk, we came to create a chapter in Norwegian political history precisely because we managed to get in touch with the workers over a period of ten years.

Thus, the foundation was created for SF, which today draws an equally large percentage of its voters from the working class as DNA.

- What is the reason for that Orientering in the early years to such a small extent addressed domestic political issues?

- In the program statement that I mainly formulated myself, and which was adopted by the general meeting at the start, it was stated that Orientering was also to lead opposition in the domestic political area. When it happened on such a modest scale, it was linked to two things: firstly, that NATO and everything that followed was the very basis for its start; secondly, that we did not have enough qualified labor to cover the Norwegian social contentious issues well enough.

We wanted to, but didn't succeed until many years later. We were still not completely blank. Despite all the weakness represented Orientering in its early years a left-wing opposition in the domestic political area.

- When SF was founded, it seemed that some within the circle held back. Neither Evang, August Lange nor Vilhelm Aubert initially joined the new party – Evang and Aubert never, Lange at a later stage. And you yourself only became a member after several months. Why?

- The situation in 1961 was difficult in many ways. Many still flocked to the Labor Party, and several of us feared a crisis if Orientering became a purely party organ. So we finally found a compromise. Orientering was supposed to be a mouthpiece for the new party, but thus not a pure party organ.

Personally, I wanted to be a link between the two groupings, and I think there was general satisfaction with the solution we found.

When I took over the editor's job again in the autumn of 1961, I was, of course, SF. But I refrained from signing up precisely to mark that the newspaper would still be open to others as well.

Later, after a year, I joined because I had then learned that I needed the close contact with the party leadership that presupposed membership. But what I and others with me have not wanted, and do not want, is that Orientering will become a central board-directed body.

- Would you have edited it yourself Orientering significantly different than your successors have done?

- No. I think we have taken care of both the essential considerations; fight for SF and at the same time make room for the views of other radicals.

- As a professional writer, didn't you ever feel a certain bitterness that what you wrote was hidden away and overlooked in the tiny magazine that came every fortnight, and from 1961 weekly, in a circulation of a few thousand? Among other things, you have described the long concealment, the attempt at "The Silent Killing" of Orientering in the 50s. Your little we could become an institution in a larger newspaper, something like Johan Borgen's Mumle Gåsegg.

- Yes, it is clear that I could have reached further, if I had operated in Dagbladet, which would certainly have opened the columns. It is also clear that I have been discriminated against as a writer, because many people knew my political position. For example, I have experienced getting English sailors in return with an inscription stating that the author has become "a poisonous traitor".

The work in Orientering has probably also taken a lot of time, and at times it has been awful to push the fiction work aside. But when I look at the result today, after almost 20 years, the effort is still there Orientering as the most important thing. The sum is that I have helped create a turnaround in the Norwegian labor movement, and I am happy about that.

SF is still only at the beginning. I reckon, as a sober forecast, that the EEC struggle will lead to new shifts within the labor movement and that within a few years the party will have support from between 10 and 20 per cent of the electorate.

- For me, the trilogy stands Borderlands – Bats – Homeward as the central work on the Norwegian labor movement in the period 1920–45. Do you think the work would have had a different fate if it had been published today and not in the years 1947–51 – in the middle of the build-up to and outbreak of the Cold War?

- I don't know if it came 10 years too late or 20 years too early. But the number of Labor papers covering it was minimal. I remember it shocked me to experience how little they cared about poetry that went to party life itself. But if it can arouse interest today, among a new generation of socialists, that is nice.

- Has it never occurred to you to make a film of the Bats?

- I have neither had the surplus nor faith that anyone would take on the task. But when Bo Widerberg can make a film about Ådalen 1931, we should of course be able to make a film about, among other things, the Menstad team.

- Which of your own books do you value most today?

- Fifteen days with Gordona. In recent years, however, I have abandoned poetry and instead concentrated on non-fiction. In all modesty, I think I have done a decent job there.

- Does it mean that you have lost faith in The little we and the drama series in NRK are, in turn, characterized by the author. I will not deny that the two of them – the journalist and the writer – may sometimes have gotten in each other's way and created certain conflicts. But I've settled on the fact that it couldn't be otherwise.

I have always worked from a basic point of view and selected different media based on what I thought was most useful.

By Kjell Cordtsen (1972)
Editor in chief


Editor of Orientering 1953 (MODERN TIMES' forerunner), co-editor 1954–58 and 1961–62. Regular film chronicler at NRK 1948–62. Censor at the Norwegian Film Board from 1962. Reported by Rinnan's people and arrested while fleeing to England after the roll-up of the Bulletin and the Free Trade Union Movement in 1942 – the only one of the 19 refugees on board who escaped with
life, thanks to the Gestapo's interest in his involvement in other cases. It is the background for the debut novel Englandsfarere (1945).

Has since published the novels Opbrudd eter midnatt (1946), Grenseland (1947), Batgermusene (1949), Hjemover (1951), Fifteen days with Gordona (1963), Miraklet på Blindern (1966) and the short story collection Glassveggen (1954). Films are about The Trollspeilet (1955), The great fairground (1967), Violence in the films (1969) and The naked truth – sex in the films (1971).

Has also published Documents from the ruins (together with Eilert Eriksen 1946), Østenfor West and westenfor east – Yugoslavia under Tito (together with Alex Brinchmann 1968) and edited the Norwegian edition of Siste brev – from condemned freedom fighters in Europe 1939–45 (1962) . Film scripts: Lenkene brytes (1938), Blodveien (1955), Afrikaneren (1966), Bare et liv (together with, among others, Odd Bang-Hansen 1968), and The big game (1969).

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