July 28, 2011
“Half my friends are dead.
I will make you new ones, said earth.
No, give me them back, as they were, instead,
with faults and all, I cried.”
- Derek Walcott, Sea Canes
The massacre of scores of innocent and unsuspecting Norwegians by a right-wing extremist would normally leave little room for commentary or analysis. The actions of madmen are like natural disasters: they can evoke awe and terror, pity and fear, but since they are bereft of rationale they do not lend themselves to the normal processes of abstract reason, appealing to raw emotion only. But the actions of Anders Behring Breivik, in bombing a government headquarters in Oslo and simultaneously executing in cold blood a large number of young people gathered for the summer camp of the Norwegian social-democratic youth wing AUF, are not entirely of this kind. Firstly, because the man does not appear to be insane, but on the contrary very much in control of his faculties. His hastily cribbed manifesto in favor of a restoration of Europe against the perceived threat of Islam and immigration generally contains nothing that has not been done before, and does not rate him as a particularly intelligent man, unlike for example the terrorist Kaczynski. Its clichés are as dull as they are plagiarized. But the mode in which the terrorist attack was undertaken suggests it was the fruit of years of careful planning, as some of his statements on online accounts also seem to indicate, and he effected his plans with consummate skill and care. Unlike most madmen is also his decision not to commit suicide after his deeds, but to actually surrender to the police when they finally arrived. Presumably his motive was to publicize his political views further, and he seems to have succeeded in this as well.
Much has now been written about his ideas: his identification as a ‘conservative Christian’, his hatred for ‘multicultural’ Norway (such as it is), the paranoid fear of an all-encompassing Islamic conspiracy brought into Europe by means of the Trojan Horse of immigrants and refugees, and pulled happily into the gates by ‘cultural Marxist’ social-democratic politicians, who thereby are ipso facto traitors to Europe’s identity and survival. Much of this is the usual fare accompanying the revival of the European ultra-right in recent years, but that it actually inspired someone to go about not attacking some unsuspecting Afghan refugee in an alleyway, but systematically attempting to murder the next generation of social-democrats is a completely new (though not unpredictable) development. That the killer was so astoundingly efficient at his operation is thereby all the more frightening. While we, as the real ‘cultural Marxists’ (!), will continue to have our strong differences with the mainstay of continental social-democracy – itself trending ever rightward under the pressure of Europe’s fascistoid nouvelle vague in politics – this case of mistaken identity on the part of Breivik and his ‘peaceful’ fellow travellers hardly diminishes how serious the implications of this threat are. Not since the Gladio/P2 conspiracies in Italy in the 1970s and early 1980s has there been such a direct assault by what are essentially fascist elements (whatever romantic reactionary garb they may clothe themselves in, whether Knights Templar or Roman legions) on the organized left, broadly understood. With members of Italy’s Lega Nord already underlining their essential agreement with Breivik on his political outlook, and with the political fortunes of Hungarian fascists and immigrant-baiters such as Geert Wilders and Jean-Marie Le Pen waxing, this threat is considerably more serious in the longer run than the occasional islamist fanatic. The latter have no meaningful organisation and no power, and chances of them obtaining any are negligible; the same cannot be said for the former.
The sad occasion, as is often unfortunately the case, also presents an opportunity for socialism. Now is the chance to see the folly of the attempts by so many social-democratic and ‘left’ parties to attempt to appease the right-wing and the traditionalist currents in European politics. Now is the chance to stand by workers and taxpayers, no matter where they are from, and to reject the politics of xenophobia and division in clear terms. Now too is the chance to take the threat of the new fascism and its fellow travellers seriously, including the very real physical aspects of this threat. Now is also the chance to reject the failed politics of the incoherent ‘War on Terror’, which did nothing to prevent or even consider this massacre, one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Europe in decades. Now is the chance to reject the American-inspired policies of repressing the people’s civil liberties while engaging in one hopeless crusading adventure abroad after another, while the snake of fascism rears its ugly head at home. Whatever one may think of their political position in general then, all plaudits should go to the government of Norway, led by Jens Stoltenberg, and its admirable response to this event. In the best traditions of socialism, unexpected perhaps from the usually jelly-kneed social-democratic political class of today, Stoltenberg and his associates have immediately made clear that they will not respond with stricter laws, ad-hoc repression of liberties, or calls for executions; nor will they entertain the idea that the presence of migrants among them is in any way the ‘real cause’ of Breivik’s actions. They have singularly refused to change the peaceful and cooperative tone that usually characterizes Norwegian politics and have correctly identified Breivik’s own hatred as the real cause, not its victims. In rejecting both the temptation of the police state and the scapegoating of the migrants, Stoltenberg and his colleagues have shown themselves true statesmen and -women. All praise also for the people of Norway, who have immediately responded in kind to this appeal to their common social-democratic tradition: they have shown solidarity, rather than xenophobia, and pity, not hatred.
Surely one cannot pretend in too naive terms that all political issues let themselves be buried in the spirit of brotherhood without further ado, even in Norway. One can certainly ask pointed questions about the Norwegian contingent in Afghanistan, and one should not forget that it is mainly its position as an oil rentier state that allows Norwegian politics to be so peaceful and so close to ‘the administration of things’, as socialists used to see the ideal politics free from class conflict. But this in no way diminishes the impressive nature of the Norwegian response to this tragedy, compared to which the vengeful instincts of powerful groups of people in for example the United States or India, after similar events, stand out as shrill. Perhaps this moment of reflection then can give us a sign that European social-democracy, within which Norway certainly represents its more ‘old school’ wing, still has strength and potential for a real socialist stance that stands out among the warmongers and immigrant-hunters of today. It is a tragedy that such a moment had to be bought at such a terrible price.