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David Ritschard’s speech to Kalle Holmqvist

2022-02-06

Daria Bogdanska’s speech to David Ritschard

2022-02-06

Göran Therborn’s speech to Kajsa Ekis Ekman

2022-02-06

Speech to the 2020 Lenin Award laureate, Kajsa Ekis Ekman

This is the twelfth time the prize has been awarded. It has rewarded socially and culturally critical efforts in a wide range of fields of activity, film, music, science, theatre, and literature. But the award has so far been a memorial to a generation of critics and insurgents, the “’68 generation”. They were all defined by the Vietnam War and anti-imperialism, and they all – except the baby Mikael Nyberg, born in 1953 and subsequently the executioner of late capitalist working life, – had their critical breakthrough in the 1960s-1970s. Nine of the first eleven laureates fit that description.

The very first laureate, the historian of religion and expert on Islam Mattias Gardell (born in 1959), was a bit odd. While the rest of us fought against imperialism and its accomplices, Mattias wrestled with God, according to his own account. By all accounts, he was more successful than the rest of us. It was a well-deserved choice, continuing the tradition of the Soviet Lenin Peace Prize, out of respect for cultural and social engagement and creation outside Marxist-Leninist party lines.

“’68”, in symbolic quotes for a decade (at least), was a creative period of transition, so it is natural that the subsequent awards were directed to that generation. After 1980, the world went downhill, finance capital took power, and social divides widened again. The political dreams of the left were crushed, while cultural achievements were partly preserved, sex and gender relations, anti-racism. But around 2000, neoliberal post-1980 capitalism began to crash, in East Asia 1997-98, in Latin America in the early 2000s, in the United States and Europe in 2008. With the stepchildren of failed neoliberalism, a new, international left-wing generation grew up.

In sluggish Sweden, its growth so far has not had the same breaking power as in England or the United States with the large youthful support for radical movements and anti-systemic politicians such as Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders.

But it exists here, and today we celebrate the new left-wing generation’s foremost intellectual representative, Kajsa Ekis Ekman. Kajsa has a combination of empirical overview and intellectual sharpness and depth that I think is unique in Sweden today. The only comparisons I can think of are the slightly older international sisters Naomi Klein and Arundhati Roy. Internationally, one could call the new generation the Jacobin generation, after the wise and challenging radical American left-wing magazine Jacobin. As a former Robespierre prize recipient, Kajsa is a highly qualified representative.

With a quote from Peps Persson, Kajsa herself has called it the “the deceived generation”: “We thought we had all the opportunities… but… we did not get any first-hand contracts and we did not get any permanent jobs. The years go by, and we continue to be loose. Half of all people in Sweden between the ages of 20-27 do not have their own home and half of all employees under the age of 26 have a fixed-term job.” It is the generation of neoliberal exclusion, the one that reintroduced socialism into the political debate in Spain, Greece, England, and the United States.

Kajsa’s most common writing form is the catchy article, also the building block in her books. The articles can be about most things in life and society. Many are fortunately collected in a large volume, Texts 1998-2015, grouped by different genres; debate, essay, literary criticism, economics, foreign affairs, portraits, activism and youthful sins. Such is good advice for stealing from the capital, together with big sister warnings about the risks.

She has also written three brilliant, acclaimed and translated books, Being and Being Bought (2010), Stolen Spring (2013) and the prize posthumous On the Existence of Gender from 2021. All are driven by a fiery personal commitment turned into exhaustive and in-depth critical studies.

Being and Being Bought is Ekis’ examination for the master. A brilliant Marxian – more than Marxist in the traditional sense – analysis of the commodification and reification of the female gender during late capitalism in far-reaching and penetrating studies of the basically similar social ecosystems of sex trafficking and uterus trade, surrogacy. The contemporary sex and uterus industry is analysed from many different points of view on both actual conditions and ideological draperies, and with different methods, with an almost totalitarian reading of all relevant material and with revealing key interviews in several countries. “Our goal is to teach them to become better prostitutes”, said a representative of an EU-funded organization in Amsterdam. The surveys are delivered with a sharp thoroughness that required 456 footnotes, to research reports, testimonies, slimy pimps and to apologetic sayings from both philosophical scatterbrains and slick PR types, as well as to an intellectual framework from Aeschylus’ Oresteia to Marx’ Paris Manuscripts and Sartre’s L’Être et le Néant.

Stolen Spring is a hard-hitting and unbeatable, well-woven combination of versatile report, multicultural diary, national economical information (about the financial crisis) and accurate, devastating critique of the northern European, including right-wing Swedish, myth of the “lazy” and overpaid Greeks.

In the first sentences of the preface, the reader gets the situation in Greece summarized in a flash: “Imagine that one day your salary will stop coming. The months go by. The boss says keep working or you will be fired. At the same time, imagine that everyone you know gets their wages halved or becomes unemployed. That public broadcasting is shut down overnight and that the private radio stations have replaced the employees with a playlist. That DN, SvD, Sydsvenskan and Aftonbladet go bankrupt within six months. That the archipelago is sold to speculators. That the health care is cut down so much that you are encouraged to bring syringes and bandages to the hospital yourself. That one day you will see your friend’s grandmother lying outside the supermarket.”

With its wingspan from domestic and international media coverage and penetrating medical journalism to history of ideas and dialectical materialism and with its 625 footnotes, On the Existence of Gender is a typical, masterful Ekis Ekman work. It dissects the so-called trans issue, a mined field of debate on sex change and the importance of gender, from above all two sides. One is the rapidly emerging market for children’s gender reassignment, mainly among girls just before or just at the beginning of puberty. It is a market that for its profitability is very dependent on taxpayers paying, and Kajsa brings to light the postmodernist ecosystem that has developed, internationally and in Sweden, similar to what she found around prostitution and surrogacy: an ecosystem of very small, articulated personal interest groups, healthcare professionals, idealists, liberal ideologues, specialized media sites, for-profit companies and government money.

Like the target women in Being and Being Bought, the gender insecure young girls, often with other mental problems, are vulnerable and exposed. They are tempted to block their puberty and then move on to hormone treatment and operations, with the risk of severe side effects to an unexplored extent, e.g. sterility. Like prostitution and surrogacy, gender reassignment is presented as increased freedom of choice for children, who should not be hindered by parents’ fears.

The ideological basis for this activity is a new definition of gender, which has gained official status in several countries: a person’s gender is what the person wants it to be. If you feel insecure or uncomfortable with the gender you were born in, you can and should change gender, as early as possible. This is where the market for gender reassignment of children comes from. But freedom of choice of gender also provides another opportunity, more exploited after puberty and by men. You can simply say that from now on I am a woman. Gender is in the head and not in the genitals. That right is now sanctioned in several countries.

What this trans possibility includes is Kajsa’s second perspective. She points to problems with female spaces opened to male trans women, such as locker rooms, women’s classes in elite sports, women’s prisons, and above all to how the logical consequence of gender idealism makes the oppression and discrimination of women invisible and impossible to talk about. The material existence of sex is dissolved. “Avoid the word woman”, it says in the Swedish Care Guide “to describe that bodies look in certain ways.” The book’s critical sharpness ends in a minor chord from a feminist nightmare: “When we try to fight for our rights, we notice that our group no longer exists. The number you have dialled has expired.”

As a reporter, Kajsa has her own distinctive style. She is fearless and both participatory and observant. In Barcelona, she lives in a house where prostitutes live. In Caracas, she lives with a Chavista militant in an “abandoned warehouse occupied by poor people and being converted into housing”. She takes part in the climate demonstrations in Copenhagen and on Ship to Gaza, where a Mossad officer informs her that the Israeli police know which school her son goes to. “Are you not worried that something will happen to him when you are away?”

She flows into all environments, in Athens she has friends along the entire social ladder, from the precariat to the upper class. Both in Athens and in 2019 in Caracas, she interviews businessmen and right-wing politicians as well as left-wing activists. Commitment and involvement are regularly joined with gazes far away and deep into documentary sources.

She is a writer with a linguistic ear, who, for example, unravels the concepts of the personal, the private and their relation to politics, and of the new confusing turns between sex and gender, and the conceptual shifts that unite “homophobic traditionalists and ultraliberal progressive postmodernists”.

The fervent commitment that drives Kajsa’s writing is feminist and humanistic. “What worries me,” she writes of surrogacy, “is the commodification of the human, woman and child.” “Isn’t that the very principle of feminism itself – that women should not be tools for others…?” As she is very aware, it is also the basic principle of Marxist humanism and anti-capitalism. That is why she is on the left in a broad and belligerent sense without joining any of the left’s different political variants.

For me, it is an honour and a great joy to, as perhaps the last laureate of the ’68 generation, be involved in presenting the Lenin Award to a brilliant social and cultural critic from a new international generation, of the rebellious stepchildren of neoliberalism. A critic who is always broadly and deeply prepared, with an analytical hawk eye, and a razor in the computer. Therefore, as in Aftonbladet’s left-wing series a couple of years ago, she can see capitalism as a beard.

Kalle Holmqvist’s acceptance speech

2022-02-06

Thanks a lot! It’s always fun when history is noticed. It does not always get noticed. The culture pages are often about, for example, what was on Twitter the other day or something like that. But it can be useful to have a slightly longer perspective sometimes.

To me, Swedish history is a man named Dick. It is very possible that Dick was not his real name, but that was what he was called. Dick was a slave in the Swedish colony of Saint-Barthélemy in the early 1800s. We really only know one thing about him and that is that he tried to escape, or rather – he managed to escape. It says in a notice in the local newspaper. The notice is included in a book called Slave Trade and Slavery Under the Swedish Flag, by Holger Weiss.

There have always been people who resist. When I was writing the War of the Gods, which is a children’s book about slaves in the Viking Age, I did not want to write about slaves that you feel pity for. You could indeed fell pity for the slaves, but I wanted to write about slaves who escape. It’s really one of the few things we truly know about the slaves in the Viking Age – that they escaped sometimes. Among other places, this can be seen in old legal texts.

There have always been people who have accepted to be oppressed. But there have also always been people who refuse. There are those who immediately when they have got the chain around their feet start planning for how they will be able to escape and one day be free. It is those people who have built this country.

As a matter of principle, I have no idols or role models. But there are three people who have meant a lot for my writing:

One is Jan Myrdal. Sometimes people get upset when you mention Jan Myrdal. Maybe not right here, but in other contexts, and then you get the question what you think about what Myrdal has said about different things. It’s not something I reflect on. Jan Myrdal must take responsibility for what he wrote, I only take responsibility for what I write myself. But I stand for the fact that Jan Myrdal has been of great importance. His books were my high school and my university. Above all, the collection volumes Skriftställning 1–19. When he wrote things, whether he was right or wrong, I personally think he was right many times and wrong many times, it was always properly accounted for, so you could form your own opinion. You should investigate the matter and go to the sources. It taught me not to trust authorities, to investigate things myself and not to believe everything people say. And to not believe everything Jan Myrdal says either.

When it comes to language, there is no one who has meant as much as Sven Wernström. Sven Wernström was initially a typographer and the typographers of the time worked hard to proofread and edit the journalists’ texts. This meant that he had a very straightforward, simple, and correct language.

Another author who has influenced me a lot, not least my children’s books, is Maria Sandel, who wrote books in the early 20th century. Especially about working women in the big cities. She wrote about how difficult it was for them, but also about what they did to have a more dignified life in the midst of all the misery. She wrote about people who help their neighbours, who put potted plants in the window – almost all good people in her books have potted plants, they read books instead of drinking and go to union meetings.

So, I have no idols, but if I were to mention any source of inspiration for what I am doing, it is partly the slaves who tried to escape, but also the anti-imperialist movement of the 1970s, which changed Sweden’s foreign policy through grassroot organization. And last but not least, the Swedish organized working class, the labour movement and the other popular movements. I have learned a lot by being a part of it, among other things by having been union active in Kommunal.

The bourgeoisie usually describes the Swedish working class as stupid and undiversified. That is absolutely not true, everyone who has been out in the workplaces knows that. The Swedish working class is much more multifaceted than the editorial writers are, or for that matter than what the cultural writers are. The working class are Sami, Jews, gays, dikes, and transgender people. They are different on the surface but are united by common interests. Everything we have, all rights, including the right to write what we want in the newspapers without the police coming, we have got it because these people have organized and fought together.

I like to write novels sometimes, especially for children. But there are some things that are not as suitable for fiction. The witch trials are one such thing, it really happened but simply seems too unrealistic. The same is true with the heroes of history.

I do not think anyone would have taken me seriously if I had written a novel about two men, two workers in the late 19th century who had a relationship with each other and stood for it and who seem to have been quite accepted by their neighbours and their families. No one would have believed it. But it has really happened, so it was possible to write the documentary book Frans and Lars about them.

Same with the grey coats. It was a religious revival movement in the 1730s on Södermalm in Stockholm. They were people who sat at home and studied and realized that the priests of the state church were wrong. They stood up in the church and told the priests. This has also happened for real and the book The Grey Coats is based on real protocols.

I’m glad if you like my books, but the only thing I’ve tried to do is describe reality as it is, the working people as it is, and history as it is. Thanks!

Nina Björk’s acceptance speech

2022-02-06

Thank you for the Lenin Award! Now I’ll give an acceptance speech! Plus talk about the key issue of our time. But first a quote, which I think works best in a Gothenburg accent, now that we are here on the west coast: “Study Marx and Lenin and unite / Class against class, the battle must stand”. This is what Dan Berglund sings in “The Republic of the Murdered” from 1975. Here I have erred, it should be said right away. I’ve studied Marx, check on that. But I have not studied Lenin, no check there. Therefore, I do not know what a Marxist who has only done half her homework loses. Or what she gains.

I have mainly come across Lenin as a contemporary comrade in the life and struggle of Rosa Luxemburg, about whom I wrote a book a few years ago. From Luxemburg’s letters it appears that her cat liked Lenin a lot – he was apparently generous with caresses. She herself appreciated his intellect; he was a man with whom she could discuss, speak appreciatively about: “What a party is able to summon up of courage, drive and revolutionary understanding in a historically crucial situation, Lenin, Trotsky and their comrades have fully succeeded with” (Zur russichen Revolution, 1918, posthumously published).

But he was also a thinker she could criticize. In Organisationsfragen der russichen Sozialdemokratie (1904), for example, she writes: “The ultra-centralism advocated by Lenin, however, appears in its whole essence to be permeated not by a positive, fruitful spirit but by a spirit of night watchman. His idea is mainly to control the party’s activities, not to fertilize it, to restrict the movement and not to keep it together“.

Lenin was also ambivalent towards Luxemburg. In an article in Pravda, published after Rosa had been murdered, he took his starting point in a Russian fable and wrote that “Eagles can sometimes fly lower than hens, but hens can never rise to the level of eagles”. He thus meant that we should not remember Rosa Luxemburg for what he saw as her mistakes, but because she was and remained an eagle. When I wrote about Rosa, I discovered that another man had likened her to an eagle, namely her father Eliasz in the last letter he wrote to her before he died. He complained that she only talked about visiting him, but then always postponed the visit. “An eagle hovers so high that it completely loses sight of the ground below. You are so preoccupied with social issues that family matters do not even deserve a thought.”

Eagle or hen? The interpreter of the big contexts or the caretaker of the small life? In between, our lives unfold. And it is actually hard to distinguish between the eagle and the hen.

The big contexts – our economic system, capitalism – the system which, according to Marx and Engels, would “destroy all feudal, patriarchal and idyllic conditions” and leave no other bonds between people than “the naked interest, the cynical ‘cash payment'”.

Today, the system is older, but it is spreading as it always has. Out into the world, it has spread, erased previous means of subsistence, and drawn more and more people into its special profit-making logic. Into our Swedish society today it is spreading and pulling in areas that were previously governed by principles of need – healthcare, school, social care, the pride of the reformatory social democracy – which are now run with profit as their goal. Into man, capitalism spreads and makes goods of wombs, kidneys, blood. It spreads into the plant kingdom and patents genes.

Capitalism colonizes our world, our inner and our outer world. We may perceive it as our friend or our enemy, but in a way it does not matter. Because it affects us regardless – simply because capitalism is the way in which we make our living. Including me. Being a socialist does not make it possible to stand outside our capitalist mode of production. But you can opt out of the defence of this mode of production, you can opt out of the ideology that backs it up – you do not have to be liberal in your thoughts.

But the consequences that capitalism forces us to accept, it does not force us to accept through persuasion or through ideology, but simply by being active. Perhaps the most important thing that we are forced to if not accept, at least realize right now, is that this economic system takes something deeply human from us. Namely: man’s specific way of relating to time.

What do I mean? This is what I mean: Man differs from the other animals partly because his actions are conscious and changes things. Man is the animal that can think what is not and want what could be. That is why man – unlike other animals – has a history. (You know: we can, in a way that cows or dogs cannot, say that “this is what we did before, but now we do this.” If cows or dogs have a different existence today compared to the one they had a hundred years ago it is because we humans have changed their living conditions; no cow would have strapped a milking machine to its udder by herself; no dog would have chosen to compete in agility.)

Man is the animal that is not trapped in the instinct and in the present. She may ask “are we living the right way?” Like no other animal, she can imagine tomorrow as something other than today, and she can plan for this tomorrow. That ability is, in the light of the key issue of our time, the climate threat, absolutely vital right now. Still, we seem to have abjured that very ability!

Just one concrete example of this: The latest IPCC report, which came out in August this year, determined that it is human activities that are behind climate change. Consequently, if we want to keep the earth’s average temperature at a level that enables a decent life on the planet, we must plan for activities that do not involve an increased emission of carbon dioxide.

Thus, we cannot act according to habit, but we must consciously and rationally plan for a future that must not be like the present if we are to escape too extreme temperature rises.

Just a few weeks after the IPCC’s report, the Swedish government presented a proposal for the coming autumn budget. The government wanted to implement tax cuts totalling SEK 10.5 billion. In an article in Dagens Nyheter, Minister of Finance Magdalena Andersson justified the proposal by saying that this is a way “to speed up the economy after the downturn during the pandemic”. Andersson had not discovered any special needs that people have now, but which cannot be satisfied with current tax levels, but the motive for the proposal was simply that “– Households with lower incomes consume more when they have more in their wallet”. The Minister of Finance thus advocated consumption for the sake of consumption. And since consumption requires production, she also advocated production for the sake of production itself.

Magdalena Andersson did this because that is what our current economic system requires so that we do not end up in crises, she is absolutely right about that. Which in itself shows that our current economy can hardly be said to be an economy in the literal sense of the word, namely “management of limited resources”. How could we even try to “manage limited resources” in a society where the goal is growth?

But human life itself on earth requires something else. During the corona pandemic, global carbon dioxide emissions fell for the first time since 2008, when we also had a serious economic crisis. This shows that we live in an economy that is in opposition to the climate. What is good for the economy is bad for the climate and what is bad for the climate is good for the economy.

In that situation, we must act as human beings, and not as squirrels. Squirrels? Well, these animals were subjected to an experiment a few years ago – and I draw this example from the historian of religion Stefan Arvidsson who has written about it in a book – an experiment where researchers filled the squirrels’ nests with nuts, lots of nuts. The researchers wanted to know how the squirrels reacted to filled storages. Would they realize that the purpose of their gathering was already fulfilled and therefore take it easy? But no, their natural instinct for collecting turned out to be greater than their common sense – the squirrels continued to behave as usual and worked on getting more nuts.

It is not our natural instincts that keep us producing more and more goods and services, even though we are already living in a material abundance that, if distributed fairly, would be enough to satisfy all the people of the earth. It is our current economic system that forces us to do this. It is capitalism that prevents us from acting as human beings on a political level: rational and planning, with a consciousness of time unique to our species. While we have this economy, we are unable to deal with the climate threat. We must choose: capitalism or a liveable climate?

At the congress of the German Social Democrats in 1891, chairman August Bebel stood in the podium and said: “I am convinced that the realization of our final goals is so close that only a few in this House will not be able to experience those days.”

I cannot say that from this podium in Varberg in 2021. But what I can say – what we can all say – is that we are still here, August Bebel. We are still here, we socialists. The socialist idea of an expanded democracy that also includes the economic sphere is still alive. The socialist idea of equality and justice lives on. We exist as we have done for many, many years.

In Berlin, Germany, there is a monument to one of the millions of people who throughout history have fought for socialism, namely to Rosa Luxemburg. On the monument it says Die toten manen uns, the dead urge us. We must fulfil the dreams of the dead. One day I will be able to look my sister and my brother in the eye and say: You and I are here on earth at the same time, and I take nothing from you, you take nothing from me. We share. And if it is not me who can say it, then it will be the people of the future. I honestly believe that the dream of the red cannot be erased as long as there are people on earth.

Now the – as he himself claims “half-educated millionaire” Lasse Diding (and in parentheses I actually think you have a little too high thoughts about what fully educated people can if you see yourself as only half-educated) – now he has shared with me. I’m so grateful for this. It means peace and quiet to be able to write lengthier things. And I’m also grateful that there are people who want to read what I write. Without you – no books. So, thank you!

Kajsa Ekis Ekman’s speech to Nina Björk

2022-02-06

Nina

When Albert Camus died, he was described in French newspapers: Un grand moraliste!

That was the best thing you could say about anyone.

Today, moralist is the worst insult in the political debate. You should not moralize over others – just to think something about others is to meddle in things you have nothing to do with, and the one who is called moralist has three seconds to defend himself and throw away the hot potato: I am not a moralist at all, I only defend freedom of speech, Sweden, or human rights.

There is one person in Sweden who dares to do something else, and that is Nina Björk.

Because it takes courage.

She says: wait a minute, why is it an insult, isn’t this a symptom that we only have one value, that of money? she writes in Happily ever after. In the book, she claims the right to be moral, the right to look at politics as something other than a calculation with pluses and minuses.

To shake up the present, which just follows the rails, it is required that one not only pulls the brake but that one uproots the very foundation, the very railway of thought, and asks oneself, what is it really built of? That is what has become Nina Björk’s hallmark. She examines the unspoken consensus of our time. The words, the thoughts, the phrases that people use without thinking, she makes us say many times until they sound unrecognizable. Why is it good to have a job? Why do we want a nice looking home? Why do we think it is so obvious that all cultures are equally good at the same time as we just as obviously believe that foot binding is wrong?

Much can be provocative for both the socialist and the capitalist, who both believe in work. But Nina Björk cannot be contradicted with a factual statement or by googling a crushing answer, you must think.

I remember the first time I heard her speak, at an environmental seminar at Konstfack. She made an analysis of the magazine mama, which claimed it did not want to supply any pointers. Why are pointers wrong, Nina asked, and it was like the whole audience was cracking. They had never thought like that! In our postmodern times, everyone should “just ask questions, not deliver any answers” and “not patronise people”. For some reason you always have the answers, but you must not tell them to anyone else. (The funniest example is question columns in newspapers. Which, in accordance with the spirit of the time, never gives the person any advice, but only: “I understand how you feel, do as you please.”)

Now, Nina did not stay there. She went on to say that mama was full of pointers, what a mother should consume, what she should enjoy, what she should do in her own time, but it was apparently not called pointers.

That advertising is not seen as propaganda, while people still pretend to be traumatized that the National Board of Health and Welfare once wanted us to eat six to eight slices of bread a day, is symptomatic of the gap that Nina describes, between what we say and what we do. Incidentally, the said advertising was paid for by the bakers’ trade association and designed by LRF, which only used the National Board of Health and Welfare as an argument for selling its products, but that has been forgotten.

In Nina Björk’s thinking, one can discern two lines, the feminist and the socialist.

With Under the Pink Blanket in 1996, she got large parts of Sweden to become feminists, even PM Nilsson after reading it on a mountain trip. She was called the Feminist with a capital F in interviews and became an idol for the young non-parliamentary left movement and the most prominent of the wave of Swedish feminist writers who debuted in the early nineties, with Carin Holmberg’s It’s called Man Hatred and Pia Laskar’s Anarchafeminism.

What Nina Björk did so well was that she wrote about difficult things in a simple way. She distinguished between sex and gender so that everyone could understand. She explained why affirmative action was a good thing, and why you so naturally go into the bathroom with the symbol skirt even though you are not wearing a skirt.

Already then, she had adopted her special style, which has no equivalent in Swedish criticism: the isolation of the argument, the refinement of thinking. Nina Björk does not associate forward by thinking what someone else thinks and taking a position based on that. Nor does she use ad hominem. The persons are completely uninteresting, what their background is, and how they came to their conclusion. Nor does she use empiricism. Facts, percentages, sums are missing in her texts. This means that the text does not stand and fall with facts. The only thing that exists is the argument. She does not seek to take opponents apart, and therefore never uses their worst arguments when they have messed up. She does not come from behind, she says, choose your weapons, and then we will see what they say about you. She always uses the opponent’s best, most archetypal arguments and tries to draw them to her own conclusion.

That is precisely why she is completely unique in the Swedish public: she is truly a democratic thinker. She does not use jargon, which makes her texts eternal. It is also precisely because she takes the words seriously, as she said in Sommar i P1 in 2001.

How far it has gone since then, you think about when you hear her example. Nina Björk always uses a concrete example when she wants to present a thought.

The example was that Expressen’s sports columnist Mats Olsson had refused to write about women’s soccer. “Women’s soccer, women’s soccer, women’s soccer. So, now I have done my duty.” Expressen used the quote in its advertising, where Olsson was praised for “not leaving anyone untouched.” To touch has become more important than to argue.

“You have to shape up. I no longer have time to listen to someone who wants to touch just for the sake of touching. Herewith I declare provocation to be an out-of-date stylistic technique in cultural life. You can quit now,” said Nina.

There would only be more provocations, but Mats Olsson now writes about women’s soccer, in words like “a completely amazingly good match.”

Today, Under the Pink Blanket appears almost like a queer feminist manifesto with its idea of gender as performance. One must then understand the time it was written in. In 1996, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus was on the bestseller list, and a Jungian backlash threatened to reverse women’s progress with thoughts that mothers should be at home and that woman represent chaos and man order.

Had Nina not written Under the Pink Blanket, and had it not made such an impact, we might still have had it as in Norway where these thoughts are still considered completely normal.

But then her analysis became universal! Everyone thought like that! Queer became close to official policy, and it could have been easy for Nina to ride it and become one of Sweden’s many Ulrikas who still advocate what was edgy in their youth.

She could also have leaned back as a literary critic, where she had delivered both analyses of gender and modernity worthy of Ebba Witt Brattström in Song of Sirens, and one liners in DN Kultur, as when she wrote in 1998 about Bridget Jones’ Diary that no one should read it because you “have already read it. And seen it. But hopefully not lived it”.

But it is up to good writers to know when their critique of society becomes hegemonic.

And then Nina put in a new gear.

In 2007, the text Shit Dreams makes its entrance.

That text is a good example of how Nina works. It begins with a universal reflection, which could be taken from anyone:

“Our home is starting to get pretty broken. The floor lamp has tears in the shade. The coffee table stands on rickety legs and the dining room chairs are odd. Therefore, I have made a list: “To buy when we get money.”

Today I tore up that list. I’ve changed my mind.”

The text ends:

“We have built a society where we must be dissatisfied with old kitchen tables and inherited cousin clothes for the children. We have built a society where we must dream of refrigerators and dressing rooms. We have built a society of shit dreams. It’s time to realize that. The earth has already realized that. It reacts with heat. How we react to that heat determines the future.”

The text struck like a bomb.

But why then, really? Had not people criticized capitalism all along? What was new about it? Well, Nina aimed straight into the most sensitive, our homes. She did not talk about the need for capital to accumulate, she showed how it manifests itself directly in our dreams. That is why it had such an effect. “Shit dreams is 2007’s most unpleasant concept,” wrote Expressen’s editorial columnist. Rarely have so many widely differing debaters been seen attacking such a short text for such different reasons. One time Nina was an angry adolescent rebel, the second time she was an elite who looked down on others because she herself had inherited things. They could not decide why they were angry.

Few left-wing intellectuals can dream of such an impact.

When many have children, they become bourgeois, but for Nina it was the opposite. When she had children, she became anti-capitalist.

The following year, 2008, her dissertation Free Souls is published, also written with a popular address, and it begins:

“That was how it began. I had got my second child and thought I was discovering something: that we live in a culture that basically denies what it is to be human.”

In the naked infant, she sees a biological body that needs sleep, food, and clothing, but also a relational being, a dependent being, who needs to be taken care of and who cannot pay. She sees how the whole modern identity in the bourgeois novel is created by denying this dependence. Human nature as a dependent being, a human being born without being able to walk, not like a turtle, they need no socialism. But we humans do. Nina finds the raison d’être of socialism in human nature, where in the past so many have only found inequality, precisely because she does not start from the grown man, but from the small child.

And in this, the new Nina Björk is also born, who will increasingly criticize capitalism.

In 2012, Happily ever after came out, which became the then left-wing leader Jonas Sjöstedt’s book tip, and in 2016 The Dream of the Red – which I thought should be called Under Rosa’s blanket, the book about Rosa Luxemburg, which explains the basic principles of Marxism in a simple way. How cool it was that the country’s foremost feminist gets involved with Marxism, I probably did not understand until later.

If Nina Björk, who had been a feminist, had been seen as a radical, she as a socialist would often be mentioned as a conservative, perhaps because she took her starting point in human biology. We have had the opposite treatment there, I think – Nina was embraced as a feminist and taken apart as a socialist and for me it has been the other way around. If you have forgotten what one of Nina’s latest books is about, you cannot read the reviews because they don’t say anything about it. It’s sad to see her standing in the arena, asking her opponents, the country’s liberals and right-wing thinkers to choose weapons, but they do not heed the call but shout “fire” and evacuate the stands.

But also, maybe because she does something you absolutely should not – she interferes. She really believes in the choice – not the choice of electricity company, but the choice in Sartre’s sense. That whoever chooses, chooses for all. There are no private choices, all choices concern us all and politics is about interfering. How people take care of their children, how they live, what they hold up as desirable. She is like Elin Wägner in that, in looking at caregiving and motherhood as something that we humans should have as an ideal, not something that we should reject.

By the way, it was through Elin Wägner that we got to know each other. In 2007, I had written an article about Wägner in bang, and Nina wrote about it in DN. Then we met at a freelance meeting, and she said, it was brave to write about Wägner but you may not know it, that it is out of date?

– No, I probably do not know.
– No, you do not know.

Then we became acquainted, and as a friend she is an ordinary friend. It’s unusual in this world, in this trade. Many people you get to know through writing are sensitive to where the wind is blowing. If they suddenly disagree with you about something then they are gone, and your secrets are out online. Nina is not like that. She’s like anyone, someone you could have gotten to know in high school.

She’s actually genuinely kind.

And that also characterizes her role in the debate, where she is not at all interested in winning. She wants to sort things out. That made Expressen’s reviewer Karin Olsson flabbergasted in the review of Nina’s latest book If you love freedom. “Nina Björk is generous to her debate opponents”, Olsson wrote, “you almost get a little amazed, used to being at no mercy in the cultural debate.” Nina does not want to humble, she wants us to think together, and this coupled with the fact that she is not afraid of the big words: nature, existence, gender, and talks about them in a way that we can understand, regardless of age or background, makes her a truly popular thinker.

As Lenin said: if you throw nature out the door, it will come back through the window.
And I think that is a good justification for why Nina should have this award. Congratulations my fine friend!

Kajsa Ekis Ekman’s acceptance speech

2022-02-06

When I was five, I wanted to be an inventor. I took a plank and then I wrote on it: “My fine plank, this will be the beginning of a great invention.” Then I nailed in some nails and tied threads around the nails, and it looked like a machine, but I just: “How do you get it to move?” So, I did not become an inventor. When I was 15, I wanted to be a guitarist. I liked Jimi Hendrix and so I thought it cannot be that difficult? So, I pictured myself standing there playing and so on, but how do you get from where I was now, where I knew nothing, to there? Then I said to Dad, who is sitting over there: “Can I go to guitar lessons?” “Yes, you can.” And then after a few times the teacher said: “But hey, how many hours a day do you actually practice? You know nothing.” “No, but what do you mean hours? I only practice for fifteen minutes before I come here.”

Then Dad said, “You will not be a Jimi Hendrix, because those who become guitarists they cannot stay away from the guitar. They just sit there and play all the time. But I see you’re not really interested in this. All you do is sit down and write everything. You write down all the conversations we have in the family. You write letters to a lot of people.” (I probably had 50 pen pals then all over Sweden.) “You write different stories, diaries and so on, so that’s probably what you should do.” And that’s how it went. So, I want to thank my dad for that, and I also want to thank him for showing me the world. He gave me an interest in politics, music, and culture beyond Europe, took me to so many places and taught me that it is important to be forward in life and practical and not complain if you want to get anything done.

The international issues are something that unites most of the ones who have received this award before me, and it makes me very proud to be part of that group. Because sometimes you feel a little lonely when dealing with international issues. Today in Sweden, it feels a bit like other countries are either awful or completely uninteresting. I think the most meaningless question, and perhaps very typical of our time, that one always gets is: “What will happen now?” You can never know what’s going to happen. No one can know what will happen.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, few could have imagined that the revolution would come in the undeveloped Russia instead of the industrialized Germany where the working class was organized. Who could have guessed it? Who would have thought that it was Venezuela, home to the philistines of Latin America, the country that became known for a phrase: Es barato, dame dos! – It’s cheap, give me two! when they flew to the United States to shop, an oil country, that it was that country that would start the left-wing wave that then spread across the continent and has now fought itself back after a couple of years of coup d’états and lawfare.

Who would have thought that history would repeat itself, but as a negation? Who would have thought that the futurists would reappear on the stage 60 years later as punkers under the slogan “No future”? At the beginning of the last century, the Social Democrats discussed whether revolution or reformism was the best way. Who could then believe that in the countries where socialism was introduced by revolution it would be abolished by counter-revolution and that in the countries where it was introduced by reforms it would be abolished by counter-reforms? And who would have thought that it was not capitalism that would lead to communism but, on the contrary, it was communism that laid the foundation for capitalism in countries like China, by meeting the need for an educated population, infrastructure, and electricity? And who would have thought that it was precisely when socialism was declared dead in Europe that it was reborn in Latin America?

That is why you cannot choose the right side. There is no right side of history and that is why if you are a dialectician, you are always optimistic. Because then you know that all situations carry the seed of their own opposite. That all oppression breeds resistance. I am disappointed every year when the Nobel Prize is awarded, and it does not go to the Albanian author Ismail Kadare. Because he is my absolute favourite author living today. In his book The Great Winter, he depicts an apartment building during the break with the Soviet Union. Albania broke with the Soviet Union, you who are sitting here probably know that. Partisans live in this apartment building, secretaries, people whom communism has lifted from poverty. But on the bottom floor lives an old landowner’s wife.

She who once ruled over huge estates and hundreds of people is now declassed. So, she knits sweaters for her former servants, and she waits anxiously at the radio for every tremble in Hoxha’s regime. From her small room is constantly heard, writes Kadare, words in French, words in Italian, lamenting over the prices, over the volunteer work, over the neighbourhood councils, contemptuous jokes about the adjective comrade – especially when used to a woman, scornful statements and above all fear. This novel, I think it is the best dialectical novel because it shows that by sucking out the poor, this landowner’s wife sowed the seed to her own fall in social status. But in her desire for revenge also lies the seed for the fall of communism, where this class would regain what they had lost.

No one can know what it will be like because man creates history. This also applies to a writer. When I started writing, I thought that the most controversial thing one could say was “Crush capitalism”. “Now I say it. Crush capitalism!” No one cares! It’s like saying “Bingo tickets, bingo tickets!” Nobody hears me at all. Who could have guessed then that the most controversial thing would be to say that “yes, I think there are men and women, but I do not think it is related to male and female”? Who would have thought that this classic foundational principle of feminism would suddenly become explosive? Who could have imagined that you would have the church, RFSL and Göteborgs-Posten against you?

It is like a bourgeois view of life that is spreading. Everything should be so appropriate now; you should not question anything because everything should be pleasant and good. Though one uses other words that sound contemporary, inclusion and so on. But really, it is this typical bourgeois idea that one should not butt in and that which is private is private and no one else should in any way have anything to do with it. We pretend to talk about feelings and the self in some way, but it is fake feelings that people think they have, but that they do not have.

I can therefore not describe how incredibly grateful I am to you Lasse, for being there and helping writers like me to work and live. Because I have written my last two books, the one about Greece and the one about gender, partly at Hotell Havanna. So, I really want to thank you for giving me peace of mind. I am single with two children, and I have been allowed to come here, I have been able to sit down and write all day and then eat and bathe. The entire history chapter about Greece was written here, where I could sit down and just concentrate and write. Without you, I probably would not have been able to write these last two books.

I would also like to thank you for the award and for the old award I received ten years ago. Then it was a bit like the Nobel Prize to Obama, I had like not done anything yet. But now I have written some books and we’ll see, there may be a few more. And now I will give you an advice if you meet an author, never ask this: “Are you working on something new?” We hate it! That’s the worst thing there is. If we are writing something new, we absolutely do not want to tell people. If you go around and tell everyone, what happens then? Then they say after five years: “I heard you were writing about that.” Then nothing came of it. It’s very embarrassing, so never ask that. Finally, I would like to thank all the people who, despite the bourgeois’ attempts to make us uneducated, continue to read books.

The 2021 award ceremony

2021-11-25

A minute’s silence for Jan Myrdal, Sven Lindqvist, Maj Sjöwall and Sven Wollter. Photo: Olle Asp

On Saturday, October 23, 2021, it was finally time for the Lenin Award ceremony again, after the covid-19 pandemic that had been standing in its way for a year and a half. As a result of the pandemic, the 2020 award ceremony was postponed, postponed again, and merged with the 2021 award ceremony, and finally this double award ceremony was again moved forward. When the award ceremony now finally could come off, the 2021 Lenin Award laureate Nina Björk and the Robespierre Prize laureate Kalle Holmqvist were of course in place, but also the 2020 laureates Kajsa Ekis Ekman and David Ritschard would now finally receive their awards.

As usual, there was a lot of people and full commerce in the foyer of Varberg Theatre well before the award ceremony started. The visitors mingled and flocked around the various book stands, where of course the sales and signing of Kajsa Ekis Ekman’s and Nina Björk’s books were at the centre. Many wanted a dedicated copy of the laureates’ latest work On the existence of gender and If you love freedom.

The theatre was crowded of course, and an extra excited atmosphere settled in the room when the spectators took their seats for this double award ceremony. Most things on stage were as usual, with Lasse Diding as master of ceremonies and Lenin wearing a headscarf, but this time also in the company of one of the garden elves known from the film Waiting for Jan Myrdal’s death and the Karl Marx statuette Lasse Diding brought with him during the autumn launch tour for the just mentioned film.

Professor Göran Therborn. Photo: Olle Asp

Lasse Diding began the award ceremony with a minute’s silence for those who have left us since the last award ceremony in the spring of 2019: Jan Myrdal, Sven Lindqvist, Maj Sjöwall and Sven Wollter. Afterwards, previous laureates who were present and very much alive were given an extra warm welcome. Former Lenin Award laureates Mikel Wiehe, Mikael Nyberg and Göran Therborn as well as former Robespierre Prize winners Daria Bogdanska and, in fact, Kajsa Ekis Ekman who was the first to be awarded the Robespierre Prize in 2010. After complete information from Lasse about the weekend’s extensive program, the house band Jonsereds Proggorkester with Bosse Stenholm in the lead kicked off the actual award ceremony with the obvious signature melody The Lenin song by Ernst Busch. The band, which in addition to Bosse consisted of Stefan Engberg, Magnus Ekman and Stefan Abelsson, then played a song between each award and this year they had an Irish theme which in addition to two Irish tunes included Fred Åkerström’s The Thirtieth of January Seventy-two.

After Lasse Diding read out the justification for the 2020 Robespierre Prize to David Ritschard, the 2019 laureate Daria Bogdanska gave a speech in which she praised David’s ability to portray everyday life, emotions, romance, solidarity, hope and dreams in his lyrics. Daria also thanked David for filling a void after the sometimes overused progg songs from the 70’s, after which David Ritschard received his award.

Then it was time for Kajsa Ekis Ekman to finally receive her Lenin Award for 2020 and here too Lasse Diding read out the justification, before the 2019 laureate Professor Göran Therborn took the stage. In his speech, Therborn talked about a new international left-wing generation that sprang from the failed neoliberalism and highlighted Kajsa Ekis Ekman as its foremost intellectual representative.

Kajsa Ekis Ekman gives an acceptance speech. Photo: Håkan Johansson / HN

In her acceptance speech, Ekis took her starting point in childhood and thanked first and foremost her father, who was also present at the theatre. She also talked about how it is impossible to predict the future because it is people who create history, that all situations carry the seed to their own opposite and that all oppression breeds resistance. Linked to this, she also mentioned how impossible it was to predict how controversial classical feminist positions would be today. In her thanks for the Lenin Award, Ekis also extended an extra thank you to Lasse Diding for the quiet workplace Hotell Havanna constituted, without which she could not have written her last two books.

After a musical interlude, it was time for the 2021 laureates. Lasse Diding read out the justification for the Robespierre Prize to Kalle Holmqvist, after which David Ritschard gave a speech in which he emphasized the kinship between himself and Kalle Holmqvist when it comes to focusing on the common man. He also highlighted the breadth of Holmqvist’s work. Kalle Holmqvist then gave an acceptance speech in which he mentioned three people who have been particularly important to his writing: Jan Myrdal, Sven Wernström and Maria Sandel.

Lasse Diding read out the justification for the 2021 Lenin Award to Nina Björk and then it was time for Kajsa Ekis Ekman to speak again. Ekis highlighted, among other things, Nina Björk’s courage, her ability to write about difficult things in a simple way, her pioneering thinking, and her ambition to reach an in-depth understanding rather than win a debate.

Nina Björk’s acceptance speech. Photo: Olle Asp

Deeply moved by Ekis’ speech, Nina Björk then received her Lenin Award and gave an acceptance speech in which she focused on the key issue of our time, the climate threat and its connection to human activity and our capitalist system, but also in a more positive spirit described her belief that the socialist dream of real equality “cannot be obliterated as long as there are people on earth”.

The end of the award ceremony was the traditional sing-along with the Internationale and all present laureates on stage. In summary, it can be said that this double award ceremony was a very memorable ceremony where the many speeches had an intellectual weight of a rarely seen kind. Quite simply, an award ceremony well worth the wait.

After the award ceremony was over, it was time for an open member meeting for the Jan Myrdal Society at the theatre and at 5 pm there was a well-attended world premiere of the film Myrdal 92 in the same premises. Alexander Larsson’s documentary delves into Jan Myrdal’s last year working as a 92-year-old writer and allows Myrdal to finish speaking.

In the evening, there was a traditional Lenin Award party at Gästis Kafé & Matsalar, which was packed to the last seat. David Ritschard and the seven-member band Krokodiltårarna treated the party guests to a fantastic show where they mixed the Ritschard compositions from their two latest albums with well-chosen covers for the occasion such as Wiehe’s Huddinge, Huddinge and Knutna nävar’s Lär av historien.

The weekend’s events ended on Sunday morning with a screening of the cinema version of Waiting for Jan Myrdal’s death at Gästis Kafé & Matsalar and about fifty who had not yet seen the film attended.

Henrik Bromander’s speech to Daria Bogdanska

2019-05-09

The cheap Malmö is quite a well-known phenomenon. A city where it is both cheap to reside and live, where you can get a falafel for thirty crowns and cut your hair for a fifty crowns bill. And it is quite romanticized in some circles, the life around Möllan has been called “Little Berlin” by some. But this reality is based on a shadow society and a black economy, which is the very premise for that cheap falafel and that cheap haircut. And it is based on low wages and bad, or even miserable, terms of employment for those who do these jobs.

Some politicians have wanted to stretch it as far as that those who consume these services even contribute to the growing gang criminality. I myself do not really want to stretch it that far, but I have in any case gained a lot of insights into Malmö’s black economy. Especially during the work on the play Blue Dreams that I wrote the script for. It was a theater play set in a car that drove around in the Malmö night, where two actors sat in the front seat and the audience in the back seat. And it was a story about a restaurant manager who is looking for his paperless dishwasher who has disappeared and it becomes more and more dramatic the longer the time goes.

As part of the research for this play, we in the team talked to people who had experience of both the white and the black part of the restaurant industry. Among others we talked with Daria Bogdanska, who has a rather special history and quite an in-depth knowledge of Malmö’s black restaurant world. Daria came to Sweden in 2013 to start studying at the Comic Art School that is located in Malmö. To be able to support herself, she started working as a waitress at several of these Indian restaurants around Möllan, which are known for their cheap beer and cheap food.

Quite quickly she discovered that the wages were low and the conditions poor, but there were also very unequal conditions. Swedish employees received one salary and she as a Pole received one salary and the very lowest salary went to the employees from Bangladesh who were countrymen to the boss and owner of the place. So, Daria soon decided to try to do what workers of all times have done to correct injustices in their workplaces: to join forces with their colleagues and organize. The problem is, of course, that the unions we have in Sweden today, especially within the LO collective, find it hard to handle the situation with paperless and black economy employees and it was only when they talked to the syndicalists of SAC that things started to happen.

Daria also began to document all the fraud that the manager at these restaurants was doing and also came in contact with a journalist who was doing a story about Malmö’s black economy workforce. Then a lot of other things happened, some of those Daria tried to organize with, dared not go all the way for fear of threats and reprisals from the boss and his friends. Daria ended up in a meeting with this manager and won her conflict and got all the salary he had withheld. She was not content only with winning this labor conflict, but she also decided to tell about all her experiences, also to inspire others to fight and win.

The result was this book that Lasse showed us before, Wage Slaves, which is a graphic novel that is not just about work and struggle at the workplace. It is also an autobiographical account of being a newcomer in Sweden and not being able to speak much Swedish at the beginning and friendship and love. It is also a depiction of the punk scene around Norra Grängesbergsgatan in Malmö. It is an extremely well-told and inspirational book that, in my view, holds a high international standard and the book has also been translated into a number of languages: French, Spanish, English and soon also German. I also know that Daria has several graphic novels in progress. Among other things, she is working on an autobiographical story about the increasingly segregated housing market. And then she has a project later on that I personally look forward very much to: A biographical depiction of her grandmother’s life. A woman who has experienced much of Poland’s very dramatic 20th century.

But Daria has also continued to commit to the union work and recently she was involved in helping to organize a group of Eastern European migrant workers working in the salad industry in Skåne. They took the fight with the staffing company that had paid them very low wages and won. A victory like this is proof that we who want a more equal world must never give up but continue to fight and we will also win from time to time. So, congratulations to the 2019 Robespierre Prize laureate Daria Bogdanska.

Göran Therborn’s acceptance speech

2019-05-09

From one revolutionary era to another

The Lenin Award is, by its name, an intentional provocation, not only against the bourgeoisie and the good stock market prices, but also against the silent, the cautious and timid, who sit still and patiently wait for what the government will come up with, such as for instance the January agreement this year, about which gaps to expand and what social rights should be cut back.

It is an honour for an academic sociology researcher to receive this year’s edition of this award together with the major critical cultural creators who received it before me. And to be introduced – embraced as a brother – by the country’s greatest actor. I would like to warmly thank Lasse Diding and his advisors for the award. Lasse reminds us of the words of the Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.”

I would also like to thank Jan Myrdal, who was the second founder of the award, one of Northern Europe’s great intellectuals in our time. Like many others, I have often disagreed with him, but I have never been so close to him that we have become enemies.

No Nobel laureate is usually asked about what she thinks about Nobel and about dynamite. But a Lenin Award Laureate can’t avoid questions about Lenin, often excited. Lenin was not a drawing room Bolshevik, but a devoted and ruthless revolutionary who mercilessly defended the revolution in a civil war on life and death and against simultaneous invasions by a number of foreign powers. We, who Brecht called Die Nachgeborenen, the descendants, should consider that time with reflection, without romance, without blinkers and without gullibility before the tales of the victors. Lenin was one of the few active political opponents of the First World War and its meaningless human slaughter. He cannot be equated with persons such as Harry Truman, who with the stroke of a pen eradicated the lives of 230,000 civilians, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Lenin’s criticism of Stalin is well-known, but it is still being discussed in what extent in the monstrous Stalinization of communism there were genes from Lenin. In any case, it is clear that in the communist tradition there was so much more than Stalinism that the movement after Stalin’s death produced a whole array of democratic socialists as leaders, Enrico Berlinguer, Luís Corvalán, Alexander Dubcek, Mikhail Gorbachev, Chris Hani, CH Hermansson, EMS Namboodiripad et al. Then there is another thing, that Lenin as a thinker and politician too often can remind contemporary readers about Hans Rosling, “I am right, you are wrong”.

Revolution as emancipation and dialectics

Lenin was undeniably a central figure in a revolutionary era that began with the American and French revolutions, which continued in the 20th century with the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions, and which ended approximately at the turn of the millennium. The epoch had a central pair of concepts for the societal change sought, emancipation, liberation, concepts with roots in the Enlightenment’s goal of human authority, autonomy, liberation from cages of rightlessness. The concepts were used for religious minorities – the emancipation of Jews, Catholics (e.g. in England) – the liberation or emancipation of slaves, nations, working class, women. The emancipation/liberation did not necessarily have to be violent or even subversive, but it should be revolutionary, a clear break with previous states of oppression.

The concepts retained their centrality in progressive thinking in the 1960s, 1970s, Women’s emancipation/liberation, Black liberation, national liberation movements, liberation theology. One could also, in the Anglo-Saxon world, encounter the Gay Liberation Front. But the liberation of the working class did already not sound very convincing, and towards the end of the century the other liberations also silenced.

Why? Most likely because the sharp boundary between now and the future expressed by the image of breaking out of a cage no longer seems convincing as a realistic picture, either of the present or of a more unclear future. Positive changes had been conquered, which meant that the concept of the cage and minority could not really be recognized.

The twentieth-century revolutions and social upheavals were driven by two major dialectical processes, where the development of the system carried and strengthened its opponent. One was industrial capitalism, whose development created the industrial working class, concentrated and exploited in Petrograd. The Russian Revolution was the major revolutionary outbreak of industrial capitalist dialectics, but the same dialectic could also flow slower and wider. In Western Europe, the industrial working class reached its largest extent, its strongest position on the labour market and in workplaces and politics in the years around 1970.

The second great dialectic of the 20th century was that of modern colonialism. It stopped economic development in countries like India and China, but it also provided an educated layer of the population with insight into ideas of nation, democracy and emancipation. National liberation movements arose that came to carry out a worldwide decolonization.

Lenin’s greatest political significance was that he came to explicitly and effectively link the revolutionary part of European labour movement with the anti-colonial movements. That link eventually led to the Great Revolution in China.

Both dialectics of the 20th century are now history. The successful decolonization has ended the colonial, and in Zionist settler colonialism there is no inherent social dialectic. Indeed, capitalism does persist, but the industry is outflanked by financial capitalism, which hardly creates any antagonistic finance working class. The European industrial society will not be recreated in the Global South. Industrial employment has already begun to decline in India, China and Latin America, at a level of 12-15 per cent of those active.

The 21st century’s upcoming revolutions

A revolutionary era may have ended, but a second begins. No signs suggest that the world as a whole is becoming silent and content, even less that it should have any reason for that. On the contrary, one can say. Successful urban rebellions have returned, a century after Friedrich Engels, the General of the 1848 barricades, declared them outdated. There are examples from Manila and Bangkok to Khartoum, Alger and Tunis. It can be objected that the social meaning of the rebellions, despite their regime overthrows, is unclear, ambiguous, and at least not so far socialist or anti-imperialist. Our century’s revolutions have no developmental logic, and no predetermined main actors, no secure victors, even in the long run.

But three ongoing and increasingly interconnected processes will bring about social revolutions as pervasive as the industrial revolution and will generate conflicts of power and political upheaval. Where these will lead cannot be predicted.

The clearest of the three processes is the accelerating inequality in the world, which is becoming increasingly visible, as it becomes more concentrated in the near, within the country, and more globally exposed. In the post-industrial world, these gaps will not be tackled in negotiations between capital and strong unions and in coalitions between reform parties engaged in “the social issue”. Such actors are dying, or weak from old age. The fight against the hoarding of resources and opportunities by the privileged will likely be more like the more violent campaigns of the Yellow Vests and the Global South’s IMF riots against the neo-liberal adjustment programs of the 1980s.

The second major revolutionary process is the reshaping of the entire working life with artificial intelligence, robotization and machine learning. This digital revolution has the ability to transform work, livelihood, social relations as extensively and radically as the historical agricultural and industrial revolutions. The fearsome thing is that it is driven and dominated by a handful of capitalist giant companies that control the entire world economy. Who should decide on who should get employment and who shouldn’t in the new economy? And on what terms?

The climate crisis and the continual warming of the Earth is the third transformational world process of our time, the most serious. Between apocalypse and technocratic sunshine optimism lies, mostly undiscussed, the new social issues: How much must change? How fast? Who will be doing the adaptation? Who will bear the costs? Who should be able to continue their lifestyle as before? It is around these issues that the third social revolution of our century will unfold.

We who are present are committed to the freedom, equality and opportunity for all people to live and develop on earth. We can no longer invoke the dialectics of history on our side. We are no longer sure what humanity’s liberation would mean.

What we know and feel is the inequality, insecurity, injustice and evil in today’s world. Lenin’s policy belongs to another era. But his thinking power, boldness and courage will be needed in the social upheavals of our century.

Göran Therborn’s acceptance speech

2019-05-09

From one revolutionary era to another

The Lenin Award is, by its name, an intentional provocation, not only against the bourgeoisie and the good stock market prices, but also against the silent, the cautious and timid, who sit still and patiently wait for what the government will come up with, such as for instance the January agreement this year, about which gaps to expand and what social rights should be cut back.

It is an honour for an academic sociology researcher to receive this year’s edition of this award together with the major critical cultural creators who received it before me. And to be introduced – embraced as a brother – by the country’s greatest actor. I would like to warmly thank Lasse Diding and his advisors for the award. Lasse reminds us of the words of the Manifesto: “The bourgeoisie, historically, has played a most revolutionary part.”

I would also like to thank Jan Myrdal, who was the second founder of the award, one of Northern Europe’s great intellectuals in our time. Like many others, I have often disagreed with him, but I have never been so close to him that we have become enemies.

No Nobel laureate is usually asked about what she thinks about Nobel and about dynamite. But a Lenin Award Laureate can’t avoid questions about Lenin, often excited. Lenin was not a drawing room Bolshevik, but a devoted and ruthless revolutionary who mercilessly defended the revolution in a civil war on life and death and against simultaneous invasions by a number of foreign powers. We, who Brecht called Die Nachgeborenen, the descendants, should consider that time with reflection, without romance, without blinkers and without gullibility before the tales of the victors. Lenin was one of the few active political opponents of the First World War and its meaningless human slaughter. He cannot be equated with persons such as Harry Truman, who with the stroke of a pen eradicated the lives of 230,000 civilians, in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Lenin’s criticism of Stalin is well-known, but it is still being discussed in what extent in the monstrous Stalinization of communism there were genes from Lenin. In any case, it is clear that in the communist tradition there was so much more than Stalinism that the movement after Stalin’s death produced a whole array of democratic socialists as leaders, Enrico Berlinguer, Luís Corvalán, Alexander Dubcek, Mikhail Gorbachev, Chris Hani, CH Hermansson, EMS Namboodiripad et al. Then there is another thing, that Lenin as a thinker and politician too often can remind contemporary readers about Hans Rosling, “I am right, you are wrong”.

Revolution as emancipation and dialectics

Lenin was undeniably a central figure in a revolutionary era that began with the American and French revolutions, which continued in the 20th century with the Russian, Chinese and Cuban revolutions, and which ended approximately at the turn of the millennium. The epoch had a central pair of concepts for the societal change sought, emancipation, liberation, concepts with roots in the Enlightenment’s goal of human authority, autonomy, liberation from cages of rightlessness. The concepts were used for religious minorities – the emancipation of Jews, Catholics (e.g. in England) – the liberation or emancipation of slaves, nations, working class, women. The emancipation/liberation did not necessarily have to be violent or even subversive, but it should be revolutionary, a clear break with previous states of oppression.

The concepts retained their centrality in progressive thinking in the 1960s, 1970s, Women’s emancipation/liberation, Black liberation, national liberation movements, liberation theology. One could also, in the Anglo-Saxon world, encounter the Gay Liberation Front. But the liberation of the working class did already not sound very convincing, and towards the end of the century the other liberations also silenced.

Why? Most likely because the sharp boundary between now and the future expressed by the image of breaking out of a cage no longer seems convincing as a realistic picture, either of the present or of a more unclear future. Positive changes had been conquered, which meant that the concept of the cage and minority could not really be recognized.

The twentieth-century revolutions and social upheavals were driven by two major dialectical processes, where the development of the system carried and strengthened its opponent. One was industrial capitalism, whose development created the industrial working class, concentrated and exploited in Petrograd. The Russian Revolution was the major revolutionary outbreak of industrial capitalist dialectics, but the same dialectic could also flow slower and wider. In Western Europe, the industrial working class reached its largest extent, its strongest position on the labour market and in workplaces and politics in the years around 1970.

The second great dialectic of the 20th century was that of modern colonialism. It stopped economic development in countries like India and China, but it also provided an educated layer of the population with insight into ideas of nation, democracy and emancipation. National liberation movements arose that came to carry out a worldwide decolonization.

Lenin’s greatest political significance was that he came to explicitly and effectively link the revolutionary part of European labour movement with the anti-colonial movements. That link eventually led to the Great Revolution in China.

Both dialectics of the 20th century are now history. The successful decolonization has ended the colonial, and in Zionist settler colonialism there is no inherent social dialectic. Indeed, capitalism does persist, but the industry is outflanked by financial capitalism, which hardly creates any antagonistic finance working class. The European industrial society will not be recreated in the Global South. Industrial employment has already begun to decline in India, China and Latin America, at a level of 12-15 per cent of those active.

The 21st century’s upcoming revolutions

A revolutionary era may have ended, but a second begins. No signs suggest that the world as a whole is becoming silent and content, even less that it should have any reason for that. On the contrary, one can say. Successful urban rebellions have returned, a century after Friedrich Engels, the General of the 1848 barricades, declared them outdated. There are examples from Manila and Bangkok to Khartoum, Alger and Tunis. It can be objected that the social meaning of the rebellions, despite their regime overthrows, is unclear, ambiguous, and at least not so far socialist or anti-imperialist. Our century’s revolutions have no developmental logic, and no predetermined main actors, no secure victors, even in the long run.

But three ongoing and increasingly interconnected processes will bring about social revolutions as pervasive as the industrial revolution and will generate conflicts of power and political upheaval. Where these will lead cannot be predicted.

The clearest of the three processes is the accelerating inequality in the world, which is becoming increasingly visible, as it becomes more concentrated in the near, within the country, and more globally exposed. In the post-industrial world, these gaps will not be tackled in negotiations between capital and strong unions and in coalitions between reform parties engaged in “the social issue”. Such actors are dying, or weak from old age. The fight against the hoarding of resources and opportunities by the privileged will likely be more like the more violent campaigns of the Yellow Vests and the Global South’s IMF riots against the neo-liberal adjustment programs of the 1980s.

The second major revolutionary process is the reshaping of the entire working life with artificial intelligence, robotization and machine learning. This digital revolution has the ability to transform work, livelihood, social relations as extensively and radically as the historical agricultural and industrial revolutions. The fearsome thing is that it is driven and dominated by a handful of capitalist giant companies that control the entire world economy. Who should decide on who should get employment and who shouldn’t in the new economy? And on what terms?

The climate crisis and the continual warming of the Earth is the third transformational world process of our time, the most serious. Between apocalypse and technocratic sunshine optimism lies, mostly undiscussed, the new social issues: How much must change? How fast? Who will be doing the adaptation? Who will bear the costs? Who should be able to continue their lifestyle as before? It is around these issues that the third social revolution of our century will unfold.

We who are present are committed to the freedom, equality and opportunity for all people to live and develop on earth. We can no longer invoke the dialectics of history on our side. We are no longer sure what humanity’s liberation would mean.

What we know and feel is the inequality, insecurity, injustice and evil in today’s world. Lenin’s policy belongs to another era. But his thinking power, boldness and courage will be needed in the social upheavals of our century.