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The fight continues

There are many opinions on the strategies of the left. Halvor Finess Tretvoll's essay last week has started the debate.


Last week, Halvor Finess Tretvoll had an essay in Ny Tid entitled "The struggle for the soul of the left". Here he claimed that the left has had problems with its own self-understanding ever since the right-wing wave hit the world around 1980, and that parts of it have succumbed to nostalgia, nationalism and conservatism. The entire essay can be read in Samtiden 3/2005, which was published this week.

He criticized, among other things, Rune Slagstad's concept of "socialism in Norwegian", the refusal of leftist intellectuals such as Dag Solstad and Bjørgulv Braanen to take postmodernism seriously, and that Attac had the fight against pension reform as one of its main issues.


- Yes, parts of the Norwegian left are very nationalistic, says Thomas Hylland Eriksen in a comment to Tretvoll's post.

- There has long been stagnation where there should have been new thinking. The left has lacked the ability to take on board the implications of the transnational issues. Take a thinker like Slagstad: He has never talked about anything but Norway. This possibly worked a generation ago, when Norway was more isolated, but today it is not a viable position at all.

Hylland Eriksen believes the stagnation does not only apply to Norway.

- In most other countries in the world you will find the same lack of left-wing analytical innovation, but this nationalist variant is quite distinctive for Norway. Look at the election campaign: Thorbjørn Jagland is the only one who has tried to draw up an international perspective.

- What do you think the left side should get better at?

- It has usually been better at promoting equality than understanding differences. Among other things, this has had some strange consequences in the immigration debate, where it has been difficult to distinguish between different types of rights. I also suggest that it updates the world map, and for example sees that there is a connection between immigration, aid and security.

Finally a call to Tretvoll:

- He has written similar articles before. Now it's time for him to move on and launch some alternatives.


Nor is Reiulf Steen particularly fond of Slagstad's concept.

- I am not a supporter of a socialism in Norwegian, says Reiulf Steen.

- That something like this is an impossibility, Marx tried to teach us over 170 years ago. When capital is international, the labor movement and its struggle must also be international.

On that basis, Steen is a supporter of the EU.

- Because Europe must stand together. But I am also part of Attac, because it addresses the most important global issues, and in particular the skewed distribution of resources worldwide.

Steen believes that socialist thinking since Marx's time has been based on the world there and then. He's not sure if that applies today.

- Today's left side makes far too little effort to provide a social analysis of the challenges of our time.

- Tretvoll talks about «national left-wing conservatives».

- My impression is that these do not primarily think nationally, but that they see so much power concentrated in the IMF, WTO and EU that they turn to the nation state as a protection against all this. And they must be allowed to think so, but I do not agree.

- Error analysis

- I do not think Tretvoll has much to offer when it comes to concrete politics, says Klassekampen's editor Bjørgulv Braanen.

- He talks about politics as if it were aesthetics. He takes these terms he does not like, as "nationalist" and "conservative", and builds up a kind of idea that the left is old-fashioned and out of date. That may well be the case, but we will not go far without discussing specific issues. Like the WTO agreement: What does the left think about it? Yes, we want an agreement that ensures global equalization, and we are against free trade because the poor countries should be given the opportunity to protect their industry. Clear positions. If Tretvoll wants us to support the US and EU line instead, he can say it outright and not bring down the nation state.

Braanen believes that Tretvoll's perspective does not capture the real lines of conflict in the world community.

- Both before and after 1980, the line of conflict between labor and capital runs, but this is completely absent in Tretvoll's analyzes. Instead, he seems to be able to end this conflict. Is it the case that the capitalists' wet dream of breaking down borders and letting everything, both goods, services and workers, flow freely, is in the interest of the working class? So nice, then we are all on the same team. Right and left become empty concepts. No, my urgent appeal to Tretvoll is to be more specific next time.

- Misunderstood

Tretvoll thinks Braanen has misread him.

- If he had read the case thoroughly enough, he would have seen that I was not looking to end the conflict between labor and capital, but to point out that there are some things we can do for the poor part of the world that are more important than riding our own principles – including providing market access to farmers from the South.

- The intention was also to start new thinking on the left, Tretvoll concludes.

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