Red Shift- Interview with ‘Redman’ from Norway’s Rødt Party

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In September, Norway went to the polls and the result, as many had been predicting, was a leftwards shift, with the incumbent Conservative Party losing their governing seat to the Labour Party, who like many centre-left parties had fallen in line with neoliberal orthodoxy in the 1980s, but have recently moved back to a more social democratist defence of the welfare state. To their immediate right and left are the Centre Party and the Socialist Left, with whom they are are expected to form a ruling coalition. Yet flanking all of the above on the left is the upstart Rødt (Red) party, whose 4.7% share of the vote is modest but pretty good for a party that’s only been around since 2007 and isn’t afraid to use the ‘c’ word to describe itself. Under election rules, breaking 4% also entitles the party to proportional leveling seats, meaning their representation in parliament has jumped from just 1 MP in 2017 to 8 MPs this year. We spoke to Red Party organiser ‘Redman’ about Red and the state of Norway in 2021.

Nm:Can you introduce yourself and what attracted you to left politics?

I am RedMan, also known as Red Anon on Leftypol. I worked for Red during the election on both debating and logistics and I also work in Red Youth. I’d prefer to remain anonymous for the time being, so I can’t say anything more than that :). I have always had a political family. Learning about how true value comes from labour and not from wealth made me realize the importance of socialism.

Nm: What made Red more attractive to you than the Labour or the Socialist Left parties?

Well I am a revolutionary socialist. So Red is the only relevant choice for me. However one might ask why Red instead of Socialist Left and that has to do with strategy. For me, a socialist party governing alongside the left neoliberal Labour Party is unacceptable. Red as of now does seem to understand that parliament is only but one front. The issue with Labour is that they are leading the neoliberalization of social democracy in Norway, albeit at a slower pace than the right wing due to them being more reliant on trade unions and workers.

 

“Everyone in Work. Urban and Rural Unity!”- poster from the leftwing days of the Labour Party.

Nm:Is there any chance that Red would ever go into coalition with Labour?

While Red might say officially that they want a deal with Labour, probably because they want to appear ‘reasonable’ to voters, everybody in Red knows that this is highly unlikely. The Centre Party, which is another huge coalition partner, does not want to work with Socialist Left, much less with Red. Ironically though, the Red and Centre Party share a lot of policy with each other on the question of the EU and farmers, as do the Socialist Left.

If Red somehow made a deal, this would strengthen the reformist wing of the party and make Red compromise its principles at the gain of some of our policy getting through. Which would only be a temporary gain. Because as we know, revolutionary parties can not have class-collaboration in parliament. The role of the revolutionary is to convince the worker of the futility of parliament instead. However electoralism is not something I am against. Even Lenin was for electoralism. My socialist vision is something akin to a pluralist socialist society where different visions for socialism are represented through a parliament and where the unions negotiate the budget for the planning quotas.

Nm:What kind of strategies (long and short term) does Red have to build its base?

Right now it is going into trade unions and getting support, while also getting support from the lumpenproles as well. The strategy is to slowly and steadily get hegemony away from Labour by getting the workers to trust us instead. For example, recently we gained support from railway workers because Labour supports the privatisation package from EU. Winning the majority of workers over is, however, something that will not happen overnight and will probably still take several years.

With the unions, organising can be more spontaneous. The workers themselves decide to support Red and if there is overwhelming support they give campaign contributions or work much more closely with us. In Norway we do try to have distance between government and unions. Although the trade union higher ups are much more with Labour of course.

Nm:What are the key policy differences between Red and the SL? And which of your policies do you believe has helped your party make notable gains in the polls?

That is hard to say since both the SL and Red have gone up. However I would venture it is because that SL is for people who want a more compromise position and in general want to have a big tent left wing party. While Red is for people who want to be “outside” the system. Which both appeal to different types of people. One of the key questions which needs to be analysed is the status of the youth parties, which are far larger in SL than Red.

Nm:What are the main issues that people in Norway are talking about?

The main issues are mainly the wealth gap between the rich and the poor and the neoliberalization of the economy which manifests in different ways for different people. For example, housing costs in the urban areas, and lack of infrastructure in the rural areas. Thankfully because of social democracy every Norwegian has a sense of class consciousness which allows them to react against right wing policies. However, right wingers still get support due to the social democratic mechanisms that have led to petit-bourgeoisification of the proletariat, by essentially attempting to make every worker a capital owner.

Norway’s neoliberalization has private companies doing the tasks of the state welfare system and state companies being run as private companies. Central to this is something called New Public Management which was the war declaration of the capitalists of Norway against the vestiges of social democracy. Right now with the new elected government this offensive will go slower or maybe even stop. One point to make clear is that this is done not just because the capitalists are more greedy, rather it is because they have to do it to have the same profit margin, as the rate of profit, as Marx predicted, falling. Capitalists have to gain the profit from somewhere and now they have to cannibalize the very welfare state they allowed to be created.

Nm:Could you talk more about petit-bourgeoisification?

The petit-bourgeoisification within the social democracy is largely over. This was active from the 1960s till 1989. This is just an observation by me, you could say. This describes the tendency of social democracy to attempt to reconcile (not fuse however) labour with capital. This works, for example, by making everyone own a home, own stocks, have small businesses etc. To make everyone have some amount of capital in some form. This is why so many old people have so much wealth, because they have gained a lot of wealth from owning land or capital that was previously not worth that much.

Nm:What about modern platform economy workers who resemble freelancers but are often quite precarious and under control of the corporate platform?

There is a tendency in Norway towards this, however, due to our strong unions this is not working for Uber or Amazon. Around two years ago [food delivery company] Foodora, which is such a company, was the target of a brutal strike to get union labour contracts. Thankfully it succeeded.

Nm:You’ve mentioned unions and parliament, how about other realms of society, for instance the non-waged working class (i.e. people who do work such as caring for children and relatives) What’s Red’s position on this?

Red is very supportive of people who can not work or, as you say, the non-waged working class. We are for reversing a lot of cuts and means testing in those areas. The means testing is so insane in Norway that someone from the 22nd of July terror attacks was rejected social support for PTSD due to lack of evidence apparently. Thankfully this was reversed to due to public outcry.

Nm:Let’s talk a bit about Red as an institution. What are the internal mechanisms for policy creation within the party?

There is a party democracy in Red where there is a National Assembly, made up from representatives of each local charter, every two years where we discuss the major policies of the party that the leadership and MPs are bound to. For example, [current Red Party Leader] Bjørnar Moxnes supports removing the word communism from the party. However, a majority of members want to keep the word so now he has to defend it publicly. Also, no matter what they are paid by the state, MP salaries are capped by the party to a sum equal to the median national wage.

There is also the National Council which is represented by each regional chapter and the Central Committee which is elected by the National Assembly. The National Council only meets once every three months-ish. They adjust the course and decide priorities for the party. The Central Committee meets daily and is the organ that makes minute decisions on policies that the party as a whole has not decided on yet.

Nm: so the National Assembly indirectly steers the party? How do the elections go, is there any drama?

To the first question, largely, yes, although it remains to be seen if the party can democratize after the huge gain of MPs. I cant say a lot as of now due to uncertainty, all I can say that it is looking good so far in the direction of increased democracy, although it needs to be said that it is still lacking in other areas. The elections do not get drama filled as the members do not care so much about who, but rather about what the party does. Here in Norway we try to separate the person from policy. The main issue to watch for is parliament-brain, where results in parliament become more important then the larger picture.

Nm: You’ve mentioned that the public support for “communism” has been an issue that the party has voted to support; Does Red have an agreed upon definition of communism, or other concepts such as the state?

“Communism is the class society as defined by Karl Marx” is what is said on the program and the party does agree that the state is inherently capitalist, meaning that simply taking power through the state is not enough and that a revolution which is democratic and peaceful is needed.

Nm:Who are your personal ideological inspirations?

The most specific label I would give myself is Democratic Communist, but my ideas are mostly inspired by more modern literature such as Lars Lih and Mike Macnair. As regards concrete societies, I think SPD pre-1914 and the Erfurt programme are relevant, and the Labour Party during the 1920s and 1930s when they were revolutionary socialists (who almost made Norway join the Comintern and up to 1936 they called the USSR a proletarian dictatorship). The Old Bolsheviks are also people I am very much inspired by, especially giving me a new view on democratic centralism by focusing on democracy rather then centralism.

In short, I support the reinvention of the masses controlling the party, rather than the party controlling the masses, as a new way of establishing socialism.

Nm:What does the future hold for Red?

The Red Party is a definite sign of the increasingly heightened contradiction between labour and capital in Norway and should be celebrated as a victory for the working class. With that being said, it should also be careful not to be tempted by the parliamentary black hole which so many socialists have fallen through. We as the Red Party need to remain vigilant towards the forces of capital and especially social democracy. We, as revolutionary socialists, know that the only worthwhile conclusion is not the social democratic illusion but through class victory, not collaboration. The victory of labour and the destruction of capital. With that said, hopefully this will be a spark that which will ignite into a red flame.