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The battle for the left side's soul

Next week, Samtiden will be launched with a larger essay on the left's challenges, written by Ny Tid's cultural journalist Halvor Finess Tretvoll. We need a social liberal wing with a well-thought-out cosmopolitan project, Tretvoll concludes in this excerpt.


The core narrative of the left's self-understanding was challenged in the transition to the 1980s. Since the collapse of the Social Democrats, the right-wing wave and the fall of the wall, the left has tried to find itself again – without success.

Part of it makes the old tales into fascination. The second part does not ask for overall perspectives that can guide everyday politics. This is how anti-intellectualism characterizes both wings.

This Gordian knot characterizes the left's idea story after 1980. Again, we can get a majority government from the left that ends 25 years of right-turning, mustn't the question is asked again: How should the left understand its own role in a fundamentally changed world?

1979: Leftist conservatism in Norwegian

Rune Slagstad understood early the need for new ideas and argued that the left side suffered from political "embarrassment and bewilderment towards a society in transition from industrial to post-industrial society."

But his medicine was a municipal ecopolitical socialism. The key concept should be "limit". And it became a virtue to preserve: “As an intimate connoisseur of the Norwegian way of thinking, Georg Johannesen from Bergen, said some time ago: 'We must be (…) more conservative than the Conservatives: We stand for what Norway has stood for for 150 years, and which is now threatened by the Conservatives, DNA, etc. '

The lecture "Socialism in Norwegian" was forward-looking at some points. Slagstad wanted to ensure ecologically sustainable development. But he was also concerned about the consequences of modernization for the dense communities that would strengthen the nation state limits and set limits for technological innovation. Technology pessimism and self-storage were Slagstad's answer. There is an undercurrent to this day. We see it in the biotechnology debate: Of the red-green, Sp goes for a revision of one of the world's most stringent biotechnology laws, while SV has wavered on this issue. And we see that in the EU case. But in the face of an economy that has become global while politics and law remain national, the socialism of machine crushing on Norsk.

Slagstad was in the SF tradition between the Ap and the Stalinists. So did Steinar Hansson, but he would rather Anders Giæver in the preface of the book The editor calls «a constant renewal and modernization of the public debate. A radicalism that was not retrospective like so much of the coagulated left, but which sought new solutions in a globalized world. Today, Steinar Hansson's vision drowns – a cosmopolitan and liberal left with a well-thought-out holistic view – in simple case-by-case politics on the one hand and nostalgia on the other.

Jumping in Etna after Solstad

This has its basis in Norwegian left-wing intellectuals' relationship with the outside world. Kjartan Fløgstad has described one of the first Norwegian encounters with the new generation of French philosophers who broke through in the 70s and challenged left-wing conservatism. A delegation of Norwegian writers met the semiotician Per Aage Brandt at a seminar in Aarhus in 1975. After a lecture on "Scripture writes scripture in forms and times and modes that the three social realists from Norway had never heard of," Brandt formulates a question for one of guests. Fløgstad writes: "Dag Solstad held his breath, Espen Haavardsholm held his breath, I closed my eyes and prayed a silent prayer that it was not me the question was addressed." The lucky one was Solstad. And then it comes: "'Civil metaphysics!' said Dag Solstad, clapping his mouth again. "

He refused to take the postmodern challenge seriously. And he was not alone. Mostly the critique and caricature of postmodernism came before a serious attempt to understand its challenge. The otherwise skilled philosopher Hans Skjervheim compared in the essay "Invitation to (cultural (?)) Suicide?" Derrida's deconstruction of jumping in Etna.

The class struggle's editor Bjørgulv Braanen is among those who still grin when he can deliver a pin against deconstruction or poststructuralism. He thinks it has something to do with neoliberalism.

Enemy images are also drawn in the battle for the soul of the left. The cosmopolitan and liberal of the Left elite has failed the masses and entered into alliances with the market liberals, it is said. Postmodernism is a sign of that. The same applies to multiculturalism and tolerance, a positive view of globalization and the struggle against religious and political fundamentalism. But next to neoliberalism, these are some of today's biggest political challenges.

Or should we all jump in Etna after Solstad?

Skjervheim on Skiphelle

If there is a "left-liberal elite", it must be in the Labor Party. As part of an attempt at renewal, a broad "freedom debate" was initiated there. Hans Skjervheim was invited to the opening conference at Skiphelle Conference Center near Drøbak in April 1986. Here he warned of the consequences of postmodernism, which he saw as a resolution of the distinction between valid and invalid, true and false. Skjervheim biographer Jan Inge Sørbø describes what happened when it was opened for debate: “An older man took the floor. (…) He had worked in the postal service for a long life, and now he was both frightened and confused. (…) If the postal service were to be modernized on the basis of such complicated theories as those Skjervheim had presented here, then he predicted a dark future. Then he sat down, and it was silent. No other response came. "

In 1986, the liberal left lacked notions of theory at all. It still does.

1989: The third dead end

When the communist regimes in Eastern Europe collapsed, the need for left-wing innovation was further intensified.

Anthony Giddens, the central ideologue behind New Labor, did in The third way – the renewal of social democracy, an attempt at a comprehensive reinterpretation of the role of the left after all the changes in modernity. He believed that it would provide "[t] he political skeleton needs (…) theoretical flesh on its bones," and distinguishes between a classical social democracy where linear modernization, low ecological consciousness, corporatism, collectivism and extensive state dominance over civil society dominate, and " the third-way policy ”, which challenges economic and cultural protectionism and accepts that today there are many issues that lie outside the right / left axis.

Those were wise words. But in practical politics, they were unfortunately privatized and exposed to competition – as with Stoltenberg in his first government.

Pirouette back

The latest turn within the Labor Party can be summed up with Martin Kolberg's mantra from the national meeting this spring: "The trade union movement, the trade union movement, the trade union movement." Then the LO leader was re-elected to the Labor Party's board.

"With his firm pirouette, Martin Kolberg sent the party back in history," commented John Olav Egeland.

But that is only in the rhetoric. A political-theoretical project is still missing. Stoltenberg represents only an administration of the welfare state that is a few degrees warmer than the water the Conservatives bathed in in the 80s, and which the Bondevik government has waded in the last four years. Let us hope that neither the technocracy of Stoltenberg I nor Kolberg's pirouette will be dominant in Stoltenberg II. For neither economic liberalization nor left-wing conservatism can lift the left out of the crisis of ideas. We need both a radical economy with a view to creating equal opportunities, og liberal attitudes in matters of rights, in matters of culture and in matters of value. It is the combination of moralism and market liberalism, visible in the marriage between KrF and the Conservatives, but even more clearly in countries such as Italy, the United States and Denmark, which must be the main opponent of a renewed left.

Dag Solstad vs. Jan Kjærstad

In an essay in the Swedish magazine 00 NUMBER draws the two non-fiction writers Dag Herbjørnsrud and Stian Bromark forward Jan Kjærstad and will transfer his fictional poetics about The Unclean in Literature to his own non-fiction. For the world is also unclean, they write: The two towers of the World Trade Center were intended by the Japanese architect Minoru Yamasaki as a tribute to Mecca and Islam, the Indians of the Iroquois tribe developed principles of democracy, distribution of power and freedom of speech in the United States long before Europeans crossed the Atlantic. But such remains hidden in a world marked by Eurocentrism and images of enemies directed against Islam, the Jews and the United States. Therefore, Kjærstad's Jonas Wergeland trilogy can be read "as a challenge to the prevailing view of society in Europe under the motto 'Norway in the world, and the world in Norway'," they believe.

Herbjørnsrud and Bromark want "a new ideology-free, globalized and cosmopolitan worldview", where facts that thwart the simple enemy images are not suppressed. But it is Dag Solstad who, after his turning operation at the Dokka seminar in the autumn of 1980 could he became the one who cut the Norwegian left's Gordian knot, which has been allowed to dominate. Already here, at the AKP (ml)'s cultural seminar, a new attitude took root: "I would argue that the culture of the working class is poor, in poor shape it is served a reactionary content (…) The culture that is today the working class must be fought, for it slows people down. "

This is elitism, and it characterizes parts of the left. When Solstad withdrew with the article "On the problem of communication" in the summer of 1997, the resignation became absolute. It is symptomatic that the left – wing's foremost author, yes, perhaps Norway's foremost author at all, thus made his «contribution to the slight opposition to the future». From that edge, it is silent in all matters of importance to one renewed radical position.

1999: Alas, Alas, Attac

One of those who has most clearly continued Solstad's attitudes to cultural development is Morgenbladet literature editor Bendik Wold. Together with Attac leader Magnus Marsdal, he has written the book Third left. Their vision is "a socialist people's government" – a "benefit socialism from below". The enemy is a three-headed troll consisting of neoliberalism, "postmodernism" and the cultural industry, where the latter two serve as ideological support wheels for the former.

The opposite is a "third left" that is individualistic in a different way than the bourgeois ideology. There will be equal rights, more leisure, more joy of life. The project is a bit interesting, but has some more serious weaknesses: The dream is a big break. The willingness to work with existing institutions that can constitute a political and legal framework for a globalized economy is absent.

Bjørgulv Braanen wrote in a review of Slagstad's collection of debate articles that came out this spring, that the project in Third left basically reminiscent of «socialism in norwegian». Thus, the ring is closed. The latest attempt at innovation is returning to a project that is dead.

2005-2009: A new left?

The left needs a liberal phalanx that is something more than politics on a case-by-case basis. The old Orienteringthe circle stood between DNA and the communists. In the same way, a renewed left today must stand between the “The third way"Became and the Marswolds"Third left".

The historical goal of the left is increased freedom for all. Collective solutions are one means, not the goal itself. The opportunities for realizing their life project must be more equal, which means a significant degree of redistribution and a well-functioning welfare state. But at the same time, the left must maintain that there are different paths to the good life. Therefore is not reforms of the welfare state cruel. As Cathrine Holst has pointed out, the particular life choice rewards more than others. The left should step in to try for a citizen's salary. At the same time, other support schemes should be made more flexible. The state must be neutral in value and cultural issues. This means, among other things, that the state church must be closed down.

The left must find itself in the space between moralism and indifference. People must be allowed to have their ideas and delusions about life and the cosmos in peace. But as soon as a regime violates fundamental rights, the left must clearly express its indignation. It must address the struggle against fundamentalism in both religious and political disguises. It must support democratic and peaceful revolutions in the former Soviet vassals, in the Middle East and elsewhere.

The idea of ​​Norway must be deconstructed. The economy is global. Then the left must step in to build a global democratic governance system based on existing institutions that can handle it. Norway is rudely rich. The left must take a global perspective when it comes to justice. When even Attac had the fight against pension reform as one of its main issues for a long time, we must ask: Who is it that you should first and foremost show solidarity with? The Norwegian working class, or those who fight against bottomless poverty in the South? Can Polish labor immigration be a means of equalization at a European level? Should Norwegian agriculture be protected at the expense of poor farmers who want access to western markets?

The left must agree with itself that the world looks different from the last time it had hegemony. The Gordian knot must be cut.

(This is an abridged version of the essay in the next issue of Contemporary.)





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