Over the last couple of days we’ve been surveying some of the biggest Communists on the Swedish literary scene. We’re talking names like Jan Guillou, Stieg Larsson, and Henning Mankel.
One might get the impression that these people all write crime fiction. Not true. Jan Myrdal (b. 1927), who’s been called “Sweden`s most rebellious writer” and who during the 1970s was one of its most influential intellectuals, is famous, rather, for his novels, memoirs, and travel writings.
His parents were both immensely famous, especially in their homeland. Gunnar Myrdal, an economist and politician who served as Sweden’s Minister of Trade, taught economics at the University of Stockholm, and wrote a book, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, that influenced the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education. In 1974 he shared the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economics with Friedrich Hayek.
Alva Myrdal, a sociologist and politician who played a major role in shaping the Swedish welfare state, served as a Member of Parliament, held a high-ranking position in UNESCO, was Sweden’s Ambassador to India, Burma, Nepal, and Sri Lanka, and, with Mexican diplomat Alfonso Garcia Robles, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982. By that point, as Jay Nordlinger wrote in his history of the Nobel Peace Prize, Alva was “the doyenne of Scandinavian social democracy, which is practically to say, of Scandinavian political culture.” Both Myrdals were big on moral equivalency – routinely equating the U.S. and USSR and priding both themselves and their nation on showing no favoritism toward either side in the Cold War.
But social democracy wasn’t good enough for Jan Myrdal. Deciding at age 15 that he was a Communist, he left school, broke off communications with his family, and “became a drifter.” At first a member of the Swedish Communist Party, he later left it and joined a Maoist group.
Throughout his career, his specialty has been standing up for mass violence in the name of totalitarian Marxism. He’s defended the millions of murders committed by Stalin and Mao and gone to bat for a Nazi genocide denier, Robert Faurisson, saying that “much of what Professor Faurisson writes is probably true.” For his own part, he’s vigorously denied the Cambodian holocaust. In 1978 he was part of a group from the Swedish Cambodian Friendship Association that visited Cambodia at Pol Pot’s invitation. They took a two-week Potemkin-village tour and dined with Pol Pot himself. “We met only the well-fed people,” a colleague who was also on that visit later said. “There were no soldiers, no prisons, and certainly no torture on display. There were, however, cities with no people.”
Myrdal was impressed, though, and returned to Sweden full of acclaim for Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. Even after it became clear that his host had committed one of the greatest genocides in human history, and other Western intellectuals who’d praised Pol Pot expressed the deepest remorse for having done so, Myrdal refused to back off from his words of praise – or to acknowledge the reality of the Cambodian genocide. Writing in 2006 in Aftonbladet, one of Sweden’s largest papers, he denied the genocide; appearing in 2012 on SVT, the government TV channel, he denied it again.
He was also a great fan of Albania at a time when it was a totalitarian autocracy and more hermetically sealed than any other nation on the planet, excepting North Korea. In 1970, Myrdal and his then wife, Gun Kessle, wrote Albania Defiant, a love letter to the country’s dictator, Enver Hoxha, and his Labor Party. Albania, they wrote, is an “eye-opener about a possible alternative” to Western democracy,” a nation marked by “social revolution, economic progress and general enlightenment.” When an Albanian priest spoke on TV about Hoxka’s execution of his country’s intelligentsia, Myrdal called him a liar and recalled his grandfather’s comment that “we should hang the last priest with the intestines of the last capitalist.”