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Socialism and Freedom – Part II

We bring here another part of Jens Bjørneboe's article series "Socialism and freedom".


Orientering 3-21 January 1967

- This is the world crisis today: that politics has no relation to the human. This crisis is going on again in the purely capitalist, the social democratic and the socialist countries, Bjørneboe argued – and in this connection highlighted, among other things, the processes in Moscow against the two authors, Daniel and Sinjavsky.
What has happened today is that Moscow is part of central Europe. Moscow is from now on in Europe, and it is no longer a matter of using a separate scale for the things that are happening in the Soviet Union. It is a world historical event that has taken place. Russia has gone through a process we have all witnessed – and the table captures:
We are currently considering and judging a Soviet court with the same objectives as we have in English, Swiss or Swedish law.
It is not opponents of the Soviet Union who judge this way – it is friends of the Soviet Union who set this scale.

One more thing it must be allowed to remind, because it drastically illustrates what a misjudgment of human identity and personality value can lead to.
During the alliance between Hitler and Stalin, during the cooperation on the division of Poland and the mutual adjustment in the alliance against the West, a large number of German and Jewish communists were handed over to Gestapo. I experienced it indirectly, but at close quarters because during the war as a refugee in Sweden, I was almost only surrounded by German or at least inter-European anti-fascist refugees. There were people living in Sweden, but had relatives, friends and commoners who had emigrated from Austria and Germany to the Soviet Union.
How many of these refugees, who were predominantly sincere Communists and at least active anti-fascists and partly of Jewish descent – who were extradited to German KZ, to prison prisons, to abuses and executions, I do not know – nobody knows. But there were thousands.
I know people who were picked up from Karaganda and sent to Auschwitz. What the Soviet Union could have gained from handing over loyal Communists to Nazi executioners has hardly been possible for anyone to realize. But whatever the Soviet Union lost to it, both morally and sympathetically all over the world, it is constantly suffering the country.

Countries where you can say your opinion out loud can be counted on your fingers.

At the time, when this was happening, I was about twenty years old, and I possibly belong to exactly the generation that made the last impression.
Our time has been marked by a policy of power externally – and by the state's unification of individuals internally. Countries where you can say your opinion out loud can be counted on your fingers.
Freedom of speech in the full, serious sense of the word we probably have today only in Canada, Australia, England-Scotland, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Scandinavia, possibly also in Japan and Italy. If you are going to include the USA and West Germany, dare to honor an assessment question with quite subtle nuances. But with that, the list of the really free, in our opinion democratic countries, will be almost fully subscribed. It is a rather deplorable result in a world where states are queuing up to declare themselves supporters of the UN Manifesto on Human Rights.
Freedom of thought and expression are undoubtedly best protected in the small group of countries that have the oldest parliamentary traditions: Switzerland, the Netherlands, England and Scandinavia. In these countries, it is not conceivable to raise the question of state control of the means of publication for discussion, at least not in terms of expressions of life, philosophy, religion or political opinion. The countries that today practice the UN Declaration had never had to read it. The demand for freedom of expression is completely in our blood, it is inherited. It is a matter of course in every constitution, in every political program.

Already in such a western and closely related countries such as Germany, this situation is totally different. Even in the last century, good Germans regarded democratic Switzerland as an anarchist robbery – a bandit state without authority and sas for discipline, a country that received a man like the playwright and nerve anatomist Büchner, gave him a residence permit, freedom of speech and even taught him at university . Could anything but go wrong with a country like Switzerland? – Even before, Holland was in the same situation, and received opinion refugees from all over Europe, let them research and speak with a high degree of freedom, and also have a religion they themselves wanted. Could it then go anything but wrong with Holland as well?

That it now turned out to go much better with these anarchist freedom paradises, Switzerland, Holland, England and for that matter also Scandinavia – than with the far stiffer and authoritarian states such as Germany, France, Russia etc., I think is a phenomenon that German, Russian, French and a number of other politicians today have a hard time understanding. I believe that the political environment in all countries that do not have centuries-old parliamentary traditions must almost necessarily be such that it produces politicians and statesmen who genuinely and sincerely are unable to imagine that it is possible to give a people both thought and freedom of speech, and moreover let it decide over itself. The new masters in these old authoritarian states have, without realizing it, taken over the reluctance of their old emperors, dukes and tsars to a free parliamentarism: they regard from the bottom of their hearts the freedom of speech as not only dangerous but in its essence deep immoral. And the same view also prevails in almost all classes of the people who are objects of the authoritarian state power – I know this best from Germany: it is wrong to criticize those in power, because those in power know best what is in the best interests of the people: to criticize their government means constantly harming their own people.

A free press and a critical control of what the statesmen do will be beyond all natural needs.

If one believes that the regular walked around and suffered from being deprived of his freedom of expression, or missed a free critique of the government, free information from abroad, etc., then one is guilty of a serious misjudgment. It is a mistake that can be very costly to us today, if we allow ourselves to hope that large sections of the world's population are genuinely interested in freedom of thought and expression. The three billion, who today populate our German under the Hitler dictatorship hard-pressed globe, are predominantly interested in completely different things than the opportunity to put their political or philosophical views in print. They do not question whether the state newspapers, radio stations or television stations they are influenced by really give the right pictures of the world. A free press and a critical control of what the statesmen do will be beyond all natural needs. And these masses of people are today of enormous political importance.
The need for freedom of thought and expression exists only in a microscopic fraction of humanity, within a small group of prosperous western countries. Drawn and colored on the world map, we form some rather small islands in a boundless sea of ​​more or less authoritarian areas. Once upon a time, the carpet of silence could be drawn over all of us, and in the coming years – with the sharp increase in the Asian population – our percentage will be smaller and smaller.

If we now consider our own, parliamentary small part of the world, we are also in danger of overestimating our own – inherited, and therefore somewhat passive – need for personal freedom of thought, for what we here call the freedom of intellectual life. It is possible that our ability for a truly personal, mental freedom is far more strongly threatened than we are aware of – partly through state forces (such as the physicists of the defense ministries, etc.), but to a far greater degree of general conformism, the voluntary unification through a standard thinking (in black and white, east-west), which applies to all collective opinion groups, whether they are on the right or the left. Nevertheless, our catastrophic overestimation of our living standards needs could probably be the most dangerous for both freedom of thought and expression: that we become satiated pets at the stall, without the need to express any deviant or independent thought. What governments or the police do not even threaten, it can wipe out the West's huge economic swelling, and then with ourselves as our own, voluntary prison guards and executioners.

If my neighbor can be imprisoned without an open, public trial, then so can I.

Except a small handful of professional press people and writers, a number of scientists, politicians and a few individualists – who in our wealthy and free parliamentary countries is really interested in intellectual freedom? How many people would personally suffer if freedom of speech was slowly and carefully, step by step, suffocated? – Under the term "freedom of intellectual life", a fairly large majority will probably imagine something that does not concern them very intensely personally. One will very easily come to think of a kind of lasting "pornography debate" about the right to put ugly words in print – quite accurately the words one himself occasionally uses, but at the same time tries to deter his children from using . One will look at it with some irritation or with indifference.

Only on one point do I think one can find a real recognition of the value of freedom of expression: It is our guarantee of our legal security – provided we use it! – If my neighbor can be imprisoned without an open, public trial, then it can also happen to me. My own security lies in the fact that I protest, when injustice strikes another and does not wait to speak until I myself am the victim. The basis of our democracy, and the moral background of freedom of expression, is in fact that we actively use it, that we realize that the freedom to criticize the authorities and politicians is not a civil right, but a civic duty! Every citizen of a democracy is personally co-responsible for everything that happens in the country. If he does not feel that way, he does not need freedom of speech either.

Today is the whole world shrunk to a manageable unity: we have opportunities to know about what is happening on the planet, and we still have – in our small area – our freedom of speech: as grotesque as it may sound: we are co-responsible for everything.
With the whole world that has moved us so close, it may go really wrong in the time ahead – but it can also go well. It works well if you think the right thoughts, and put them into effect. The prerequisite for the right solutions is free research, free thinking, free criticism – and free information. In this way, the necessary reforms can take place. That is, freedom of speech is the gate the whole future must go through. If this gate is not kept open, one can imagine a world in complete darkness that threatens us from all sides, if we do not defend intellectual freedom.
This means that freedom of expression today is the most important point to defend in the world. Only under the protection of it can the other necessary things take place. That is the outpost we must keep.


Orientering is the forerunner of the New Age (1953-75)

READ MORE: Part 3 of Socialism and Freedom


Jens Bjørneboe
Jens Bjørneboe
Author. Wrote in Ny Tids predecessor Orientering.

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