Father and daughter: the Maoist Michelets

Jon Michelet

When Jon Michelet died on April 14 at the age of 73, it made the front page of the major Norwegian newspapers and led off the TV news reports. Michelet published books in a wide range of genres, but was perhaps most famous for his bestselling crime novels. His death, the media told us, was mourned by Norway’s entire literary community – and, in fact, by the Norwegian reading public. The obituaries were full of praise for his work and his collegiality. His death was called “a great loss for Norwegian literature.”

Michelet at a 2014 book-signing

What wasn’t mentioned prominently – or at all – in the reports of his death was Michelet’s politics. He was, as it happens, a key figure in Norway’s Marxist-Leninist movement. From 1972 to 1976, he worked at the Oktober publishing house, which was run by a Maoist party called the Arbeidernes kommunistparti (AKP). During his last couple of years at Oktober, he ran the place. Later, police surveillance would result in the conclusion that he was, in fact, one of the leaders of AKP.

Stalin

Later, for a time, Michelet was also on the board of the Rød Valgallianse, another Norwegian Communist party which would subsequently merge with AKP and another Communist party to form the current Communist party, Rødt, or Red. (The history of Communist parties in postwar Norway is a field of study in itself.)

In 1987, he told Aftenposten that he wished that Norway, during his lifetime, would admit a million immigrants. (Norway has a population of five million.) This, he explained, would result in “total social upheaval” of a kind that Rødt Valgallianse would welcome.

It gives something of an idea of Michelet’s personality that after leaving Oktober, in an effort at “self-proletarianization,” he got a job at a brewery.

In recent years, Michelet made millions on a series of books about Norwegian naval heroes. But although he was rich, he told a reporter in 2014 that “I still consider myself a Communist. Money can change people, but not me!” Indeed, after his death, Ingeri Engelstad, the current editor-in-chief at Oktober, praised him for his “solidarity” and “political engagement.”

Jon and Marte

In addition to his shelfful of books, Michelet bequeathed another gift to Norway: a daughter, Marte Michelet. The other day, in a memorial article about her father, she wrote: “Thank you for everything you gave us, everything you fought for, everything you taught us and inspired us to do.”

What did he give her, what did he teach her, what did he fight for? The answer is simple: Mao, Stalin, Communist totalitarianism. And Marte learned it all. She shares her father’s far-left politics to the hilt. After being a leader of the Communist youth group Rød Ungdom, she went on to become a newspaper columnist. In that role, she has used every dirty Stalinist trick in the book against her ideological opponents – routinely misrepresenting their views and calling them liars and racists. That’s what Daddy taught her: in the struggle for Communist utopia, no instrument is too low.  

Marte Michelet

So it is that Marte is routinely quick to describe ideological opponents as liars and racists. Instead of replying to logical arguments with her own logical arguments, she coins words like “burkaphobia.” As Human Rights Service put it in 2008, Marte seems to do her best “to destroy any possibility of factual debate about immigration.” In 2009, Hege Storhaug reported on Marte’s efforts at “character assassination” in response to writers whose politics she disagreed with. When writer Steinar Lem questioned Norway’s immigration policies, Marte didn’t engage with his actual assertions; instead, she charged that he “viewed Muslim children as foreign weeds.” As Rita Karlsen wrote in response to this reprehensible mudslinging: “Quite simply, Marte Michelet should be sent to a course in manners.” Alas, good manners and devout Communism make a really, really bad fit. 

Red star over Norway – all over

We’ve been toting up the names of some of the high-profile Norwegian Labor Party politicians who were – or are likely to have been – KGB operatives. But not all of the Cold War-era useful stooges in the land of the fjords were secret spies. Nor were all of them members of the Labor Party, or even politicians. Many of them were cultural figures who belonged to more extreme parties – and who were proud to publicly identify themselves as friends and supporters of the USSR.

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Bård Larsen

In 2011, historian Bård Larsen catalogued some of these eminentos in a book entitled Idealistene (The Idealists). What might be surprising to a non-Norwegian is that these people’s open embrace of Communism didn’t keep them from becoming influential, successful, in some cases even beloved. On the contrary, Larsen notes, apropos of the small Workers’ Communist Party (AKP), founded in 1973 and disbanded in 2007, that in all of Europe, scarely any extreme political group of its size has so many members who’ve had such successful public careers.

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Inger Hagerup

One of Larsen’s subjects, poet Inger Hagerup (1905-85), was a member not of AKP but of the Norwegian Communist Party (NKP), founded in 1923. Hagerup’s oeuvre consists largely of crudely polemical verse calling for a workers’ revolution. In one famous work, “Be Impatient!”, she wrote: “Dreams and utopias, say the wise men, / Those who are cold in heart. / Don’t listen to them any more!” Despite – or because? – of her devotion to Stalin and her penchant for pro-Kremlin propaganda, she’s considered a major Norwegian poet.

We consulted two standard anthologies of Norwegian verse and one history of Norwegian literature. Neither anthology mentions Hagerup’s Communism. One of them (Den store lyrikkboken) praises her “awareness of oppression and injustice in the world around her” – never mind that she was utterly indifferent to oppression and injustice in the USSR. The other anthology (Norske dikt i 1000 år) tactfully describes her as having been “involved on the political left,” identifies her poems as being marked by a “clear antifascist tendency,” and says that “Be Impatient!” is “mostly about the dream of a world free of violence and the use of power.” Only the literary history, Per Thomas Andersen’s Norsk Litteraturhistorie, acknowledges Hagerup’s party identification: “She was a communist, but unlike [fellow lefty poet Arnulf] Øverland she clung firmly to her Soviet-friendly attitude after the war.” Andersen makes no judgment, one way or another, about her party affiliation.

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Sigurd Allern

Mainstream journalism in Norway is riddled with Communists. Take Sigurd Allern. Born in 1946, he’s served over the years as head of the Socialist Youth League, editor-in-chief of the Communist daily Klassekampen, and leader of the AKP and another Communist party, Rød Valgallianse (RV). All of which, apparently, in the eyes of University of Oslo officials, made him the perfect candidate for the country’s first-ever position as Professor of Journalism – a job he accepted in 2003, and still holds to this day.

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Hilde Haugsgjerd with former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg

Another example: Hilde Haugsgjerd. She was active in AKP, head of RV, and editor of Red Youth’s journal Red Guard – so when Aftenposten, the nation’s purportedly conservative newspaper of record, was looking for an editor-in-chief in 2008, who was hired? Haugsgjerd, natch. Though she claims to have left radicalism behind, she says her time in AKP taught her to esteem reason and question authority – a rather bemusing thing to say about one’s membership in a gang of supremely irrational utopists under strict orders not to question anything.

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Helge Øgrim

Then there’s Helge Øgrim. A former leader of AKP and of Red Youth, he’s been editor-in-chief of Journalisten, the professional journal for Norwegian journalists, since 2007. (Even a confession of plagiarism didn’t bring him down.)  

Needless to say, the idea that Communists – devoted by definition not to objective reporting but to ideological propaganda – should hold these kinds of positions in a democratic country is ridiculous. In Norway, however, questioning the appropriateness of such hires would be considered to be outrageously offensive.

More tomorrow.