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The war and the collective memory

Enemy or ally? The communist resistance movement in Norway
Forfatter: Frode Færøy
Forlag: Dreyer (Norge)
Who writes the story? The communist resistance struggle during the war was long diminished.


MODERN TIMES has chosen two different readings of the book on the history of communism in Norway.

When I, as a sixteen-year-old, joined the Youth League for the Norwegian Communist Party, it was largely because of NKP's emphasis that "Peace is the most important of all". For me, however, it was surprising how much focus the party placed on World War II and the military resistance to fascism. But soon it dawned on me that the memories of the war were held not only to warn against contemporary imperialism and fascist movements, but that it was also a proud part of the party's history.

I met party veterans who had fought against Hitler Germany, and learned that the Communists had been a significant part of the armed resistance struggle in Norway. It was surprising, because everything I had learned at school was about Milorg and the king and the attitude struggle. In the high school textbook there was only one sentence about the communist resistance movement. The theme gradually began to engulf me. In addition to the war history being intriguing in itself, I thought it was terribly interesting that the official production seemed to have retreated away from the communist resistance from history.

What was the cause of the Social Democratic aversion to Communists?

It was thus with great interest that I read Frode Faroey's thorough, at times somewhat well-detailed, book Enemy or ally. The communist resistance movement in Norway. Faroey's book is not primarily about the communist resistance movement, but about the relationship the bourgeois and social democratic part of the resistance movement had to the communist. However, this is interesting enough in itself, not least because it was these attitudes that underpinned the concealment of Communist efforts that have been up to our own time.

The lessons of history. Faroe Island begins his book with a historical review of the war literature, where he states that "until 1975 the activities of the communists largely appear as a parenthesis". To the extent it was mentioned, it was usually in negative terms. This changed later, thanks to the work of historians such as Torgrim Titlestad, Lars Borgersrud and Terje Halvorsen. Interesting to note is that the former writers of history were often social-democratic opponents like the anti-communist Jens Christian Hauge, while the latter were often relatives of communist opponents.

The Social Democrats found their way into NKP's analyzes of April 1940, when, because of the Hitler-Stalin pact, they laid the main blame for the war and the occupation of Britain and France. But it was concluded that the NKP at the same time made vigorous attacks against Quisling and warned that an NS government would lead to dictatorship and Jewish persecution. Faroey writes that most political groups at that time believed in the German assurances that the occupation had only a military, not political, character. The Storting parties then negotiated to establish a national council that could enter into a peace agreement with the occupying power.

We learn from the Faroe Islands review that NKP was banned on August 16, 1940, a month before the other parties. In July 1941, the communist-led Osvaldgruppe initiated sabotage campaigns. During 1942, NKP had established military groups in Eastern Norway, Bergen and Trøndelag. In the fall of 1944, NKP had active sabotage groups in Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Drammen and Vestfold. According to Faroe, the Communist refugee routes had "far greater capacity" than the others, and according to the party itself, their illegal press was the largest in the home front.

According to the Faroe Islands, on the other hand, the leadership of the civil resistance struggle, Kretsen, assumed early on that "all cases of violent attacks" were to be regarded as terrorist acts ". The military part of the home front, Milorg, also appeared at first as "categorical opponents of acts of sabotage". In September 1942, Foreign Minister Trygve Lie asked the Soviet Union to prevent the Norwegian Communists from committing "new terrorist acts". These were the dominant attitudes until the summer of 1944, long after the Communists had begun their military resistance against the occupiers and the NS.

The Faroe Islands' review shows that the communists began their military resistance struggle long before Milorg and the Norwegian exile government.

Communists' many efforts to merge their organizations with the rest of the home front were brutally rejected. And Faroe says that the most anti-communist forces in the home front were the social democrats, not the bourgeois. What was the cause of the Social Democratic aversion to Communists? Faroe Islands point to hostility from the interwar period and fear that "wild actions" could lead to reprisals and jeopardize the security of the resistance groups. Neither the government nor the home front doubted that the Communists aimed to restore the pre-war democratic order.

Temporary motives. The main charge against the communist resistance peoples has later been that they did not launch an active military resistance struggle before the Soviet Union was attacked in June 1941. But Faroe's review shows that the communists began their military resistance struggle long before Milorg and the Norwegian exile government. It is difficult to escape the notion that the Social Democratic historians' attack on the NKP's resistance struggle was motivated by weakening Communist support after the war.

In George Orwell's novel 1984 the protagonist Winston is working on editing historical documents so that people and events that do not fit the party's official history view are erased from the collective memory. In one of the novel's highlights, Winston discusses with party ideologist O'Brian whether the past has an objective existence. O'Brian maintains that the past exists only through records and memories, and that the Party, through its sole power, controls both. One of the Party's slogans is “Whoever controls the past controls the future. Whoever controls the present controls the past. ” When a waiver is edited from the history book, the result is that "He didn't exist, he never existed."

In the high school textbook there was only one sentence about the communist resistance movement.

Through its post-war history writing, the Social Democrats sought to edit the Communist resistance struggle out of history. Some went further. Einar Gerhardsen's nephew Rolf burned large parts of NKP's war archive, which his father had wrongfully acquired, in the garden. Fortunately, we live in a free country where collective memories could be maintained in alternative environments and where oppositional historians could bring them to light. In 2013, the then Minister of Defense Anne-Grethe Strøm-Erichsen decorated eight surviving members of the Osvaldsgruppe, and in 2015 they received a memorial outside Oslo S. That we live in a free society where one can challenge the official history was also an important part of what so many gave or risked their lives for during the war – both bourgeois, social democrats and communists. Faroe Island's book provides not only an important insight into the history of the occupation, but also about how there is a constant struggle for our collective memory.

See about the same book here

Aslak Storaker
Aslak Storaker
Storaker is a regular writer in Ny Tid, and a member of Rødt's international committee.

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