Room 101 at the top: Reds in the Norwegian elite

We’ve been poking through Bård Larsen’s book The Idealists, which can be fairly described as a history of useful stoogery in modern Norway. It’s a country in which a high-profile involvement in Communist politics not only doesn’t hurt your ability to make it to the top in a variety of fields – in one instance after another, it often seems to have helped.

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Aslak Sira Myhre

In some cases, indeed, people who have almost nothing but their Communist affiliations are handed top jobs. Aslak Sira Myhre‘s parents were prominent members of the Workers’ Communist Party (AKP), and he himself was head of a Communist party called Rødt Valgallianse (RV) before he was recruited in 2006 for the powerful and prestigious position of director of Litteraturhuset, Norway’s leading literary institution and debate venue.

In 2014, Myhre left that job for one that was even more high-profile: director of the Norwegian National Library. And no, he has no background whatsoever in library science or in any related profession.

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Gerd Liv Valla

A not terribly dissimilar case is that of Gerd Liv Valla, who was appointed Minister of Justice in 1997 by then Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland. During her student days at the University of Oslo, Valla had been active in the Kommunistisk Universitetslag (KU), a group whose politics, as Larsen reports, were to the left of AKP’s: KU supported the Kremlin line until the USSR underwent de-Stalinization, whereupon it switched its allegiance to Mao’s China; after Mao died and China moved beyond the Cultural Revolution, the KU aligned itself with Albania. That a woman with such a background should be put in charge of a democratic system of justice outraged many, but the furore was dismissed by the political class as right-wing nonsense. From 2001 to 2007, Valla was head of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), the workers’ organization that is one of the most powerful institutions in Norway.

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Egil “Drillo” Olsen

In one field of endeavor after another, some of the most high-profile people in today’s Norway are Communists. Sports? No sports figure has been more prominent over the past couple of decades than Egil “Drillo” Olsen, the colorful, outspoken coach of the Norwegian national soccer team. “I believe in the collective, I believe in solidarity, I believe in taking the side of the weakest people in the most important conflicts in the world,” he said in a 2010 interview. “Therefore I’m a Communist.”  

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Mads Gilbert

Medicine? No doctor in Norway is more famous than Mads Gilbert, an anesthesiologist and politician (for Rødt, a Communist party) who’s been praised by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, named Man of the Year (in 2014) by the newspaper VG, been decorated (in 2013) by King Harald V, and won a long list of prizes. Why? For his “humanitarian work” in the Palestinian territories. Never mind his less-than-humanitarian support for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, about which he said that “the oppressed have a moral right to attack the U.S.”

(By the way, another much-heralded Communist M.D. and “humanitarian,” Hans Husum, also vigorously defended 9/11, as did prolific crime novelist and Rødt politician Gert Nygårdshaug, who after the terror attacks wrote an op-ed explaining his refusal to take part in a minute of silence outside the U.S. Embassy. In fact, Nygårdshaug was so delighted by 9/11 that he put up a plaque in his garden commemorating it.)

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Anders Heger

Publishing? Anders Heger, a columnist for the daily Dagsavisen who has also been head of Cappelen, one of Norway’s three major book publishers, since 1991, is a Communist who has expressed support for jihad; born with a silver spoon in his mouth in the richest part of Oslo, he’s rejected charges of hypocrisy, saying that despite his wealth “I have a right to be radical….One can’t turn one’s convictions into a question about private income.”

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Henrik Ormåsen

Then there’s a group called SOS Rasisme. For many years, it was one of the most high-profile organizations in Norway, collecting massive amounts of government support for pointing the finger at supposed racists. Although many of these “racists” were people whose only offense was failing to toe the socialist line, SOS Rasisme’s charges were invariably taken seriously, and the group was regarded throughout the Norwegian cultural establishment as a legitimate and respectable anti-racist voice.

Then, a few years ago, it was revealed that SOS Rasisme (a) had been systematically lying about membership numbers in order to rake in more taxpayer cash, and (b) was essentially a front for Tjen Folket, an extremely radical Maoist faction whose leader, Henrik Ormåsen, had declared Stalin the greatest man of the 20th century. In 2013, the group finally went bankrupt; last year, Ormåsen and seven other men were indicted for fraud. 

More tomorrow.

Shirley MacLaine: a fool’s paradise

Back in 1975, as we saw yesterday, Shirley MacLaine released The Other Side of the Sky, a staggering whitewash of a documentary about China, which she’d visited a couple of years earlier.

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Shirley MacLaine

Before going to China, she’d told reporters that sexual equality was “an official fact” in China and that America hadn’t achieved it yet; in China, far from waking up to the fact that she was a guest of a totalitarian terror state, where interviewees had to parrot the party line or else, MacLaine believed everything she was told. China, she insisted, was without social friction; everyone there shared a feeling of “brotherhood” and a “commitment to working for the common good”; during her visit, she later wrote, “it slowly dawned on me that perhaps human beings could be taught anything.”

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Deng Xiaoping at the White House

All nonsense, of course. But guess what? The documentary was taken seriously. It was nominated for an Oscar. Yes, for an Oscar. At a time when China was still a great unknown, it helped sell many Americans on a massive lie about the reality of life there.

In 1979, the Cultural Revolution finally having ended, China’s new leader, Deng Xiaoping, visited the United States at the invitation of President Carter. At a state dinner, Deng was seated near Shirley MacLaine, who, according to one report, 

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Buddhist statues being burned during the Cultural Revolution

gushed that she had visited China during the Cultural Revolution and that everything had been wonderful. She was particularly struck by a professor who told her how grateful he was that the party had decided to send him and his fellow academics to the countryside. Deng looked at her scornfully and said that “he was lying.” Professors should be teaching university classes not planting vegetables.

Deng, eager to put China on the road to prosperity, had no interest in preserving the disastrous fabrications and delusions of the Cultural Revolution. Meanwhile the starry-eyed Shirley, ignoring all reports to the contrary about the terrors of the Cultural Revolution, had remained in her fool’s paradise.

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Cultural treasures being burned during the Cultural Revolution

This is, needless to say, a woman who in interview after interview over the decades has presented herself as a proudly independent artist and intellectual, a thoroughgoing and defiant individualist, answerable to no person and no institution. But she had no trouble whatsoever wholeheartedly embracing the idea of a government with the power to force people out of their own beloved occupations and ship them out of the city to work on collective farms. A government that burned books and films – and executed countless artists, actors, authors, and other creative people like herself.

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Beijing rally during the Cultural Revolution

There’s no record of how MacLaine replied to Deng that evening. One thing’s for sure, however: his answer sure didn’t teach her a lesson. In the more than three decades since that state dinner, she’s continued to be a useful stooge for tyrannical regimes, promulgating cockamamie theories about international events and comparing the U.S. unfavorably to any number of unfree nations. As recently as 2011, she told an interviewer that, after World War II, the U.S. government, in cahoots with Nazi scientists, pushed a fear of Communism onto the American public in order to “keep control” over them. In other words, it’s not Communist governments that “keep control” over their subjects through terror; it’s the U.S. government that does so, by inculcating a (presumably unwarranted) terror of Communism.

She’s a useful stooge of the first water. And yet she still reaps applause everywhere she goes. Which is also the case with another star we might mention – her younger brother, Warren Beatty. How could two such ridiculous tools of totalitarianism have been born into a single family? We’ll continue pondering that question next time, when we move on to him. 

Shirley MacLaine, publicist for the Cultural Revolution

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Shirley MacLaine

Shirley MacLaine has been a movie star for sixty years. She’s appeared in dozens of films, won all the major awards in the business, and received a Kennedy Center Honor. At age 81, she’s still active, with one movie recently released, another in production, and a third identified on her IMDB page as “announced.”

Of course, she’s not just known as an actress. She’s also been very outspoken about her New Age beliefs, including her conviction that she’s lived several previous lives. She’s written several bestselling books about these matters. According to her, she’s been “a medieval warrior, an orphan raised by elephants, a Japanese geisha and a model for post-impressionist painter Toulouse-Lautrec.” When she dated Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, she “realized” that they’d hooked up over a thousand years ago, when he was Charlemagne and she was a peasant girl. She’s also said that her pet dog was “a reincarnation of the jackal-headed Egyptian god Anubis.”

A Conversation with Shirley MacLaine and Leonard Maltin at Club TCM in the Roosevelt Hotel on Sunday 2015 TCM Classic Film Festival In Hollywood, California.  3/29/15 PH: Tyler GoldenThere are apparently people who view themselves as having learned spiritual lessons from her; there are many more who think of her as a very talented woman who also happens to be something of a harmless kook.

But in fact MacLaine’s non-acting activities haven’t all been harmless. Case in point: her 1975 documentary The Other Half of the Sky, about a trip she and a group of other women made to China in 1973.

As of 1973, it will be remembered, Mao’s so-called Cultural Revolution had been going on since 1966. It involved the often random and utterly unwarranted harassment, persecution, forcible displacement, torture, imprisonment, and murder of millions of people. During these years, the population of China lived in terror – fearful of losing their homes, their jobs, their families, their lives. During this period, few Westerners were welcome into what was then called (as North Korea is now) a “hermit kingdom.”

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A Cultural Revolution poster

Enter Shirley MacLaine, her film crew (including director Claudia Weill), and her entourage, composed of “regular American women” such as a Texas housewife, a Navajo woman, a California psychologist, and a Puerto Rican sociologist. Invited to China by Mao Zedong’s government, the group traveled from city to city – Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Hangzhou – where they filmed the sights and talked to people. The result: a movie, written and produced by MacLaine, that the New York Times described as a “generally eye-catching spectrum of happy people in such places as homes, farms, day-care centers, city communes, schools, hospitals, the Great Wall, the ballet and Peking’s May Day celebration.”

Destroy_the_old_world_Cultural_Revolution_posterBut The Other Side of the Sky wasn’t just a travelogue. MacLaine wanted to make a point: namely, that women in China had attained a degree of liberation that their American counterparts had yet to match, and from which they could learn. As the Times put it, MacLaine’s documentary depicted the women of China (and the men, too) as “uniformly contented.” The film provided not a single glimpse of “crime, poverty, deprivation or unhappiness among China’s 800 million people.” There was hardly a hint of recognition on MacLaine’s part that the land she was visiting was not a free country, and that the people to whom she posed questions were not free to answer them honestly. Although some of the Chinese people interviewed by MacLaine did “gently point out that artistic, musical and literary creativity must conform to Maoist principles,” MacLaine herself showed no inclination to probe or ponder this fact.

More tomorrow.