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Jan Myrdal’s speech 2016

A great tradition in a constantly changing now

This year’s laureates are typical. Not as in any officially accepted sense that they would be average but by being distinct. One should look closer at this, concerning both awards.

In its justification for the grand prize, the Lenin Award, the board expressed itself correctly when it wrote about Mikael Nyberg that “he is one of our country’s sharpest critics of the capitalist system” which has provided “unique new knowledge and inspiration in the necessary struggle for a new and better world” and that he accomplished this task “perseveringly and persistently in Lenin’s spirit”. I agree with this but want to add another dimension, a crucial one.

Mikael Nyberg continues to work in a tradition of sensible positions. This tradition does not only contain the high theories. Look at, for example, his “The Great Train Robbery”. It has obstructed the attempts by the rulers to continue breaking up and selling SJ.

He was formed in and by the FNL movement. This entailed a sensible – and at the same time emotionally strong – position and thus also work against a then prevailing “public opinion”. However, this very contradiction between an active and deeply felt own position governed by reason and a prevailing opinion shaped by the interests of the ruling class is not exclusive and special for his generation. The FNL movement is not isolated but typical. That is how it has been and so it will remain at various stages throughout this era. If he goes up to the newspaper files on the fourth floor of the Jan Myrdal Library, he will recognize himself in different generations and nations/continents in our long now.

I want to make this clear. On TV, in radio and magazines, everything constantly seems to be flickering new. But that is an illusion. The swells are long. And divergencies that necessitate taking a position will – as Mao pointed out – also exist in ten thousand years, although they will not have the class character they have had for us since the rise of the class community in the two-river country, by the Nile, the Yellow River and in what is now Mexico or Peru.

This allows us to enter, recognize and take a stand in divergencies of distant times far beyond our current ideological conceptions. The great Roman slave rebellion led by Spartacus between 74 and 71 before our era inspired Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht to form the Spartacus group that fought in Germany against the First Imperialistic War. That despite the fact that the slave masses Spartacus led did not constitute a class in the sense that they if they had won, were considered by Luxembourg and Liebknecht to have been able to implement a new mode of production. Thomas Münzer of the farmer’s war is a pioneer and predecessor for us, but he was a firm believer. Which hasn’t changed his political character for us. I could bring out many examples. From the anti-imperialist freedom struggle of recent decades, not least.

The names of these awards have been characterized by our own epoch. Robespierre with the revolution against remnant feudalism in France and the dominion of the Mountain in 1793 has shaped the current French, German and even Swedish so-called “welfare societies” which have been enforced by the class struggles of recent decades. Lenin, it is the view of imperialism and thus the revolution, the victorious anti-colonial freedom movements. In all these processes, we can see how they are driven by large popular (populist, the bourgeois calls them) movements whose goals and direction are constantly shaped by a handful of writers; such Lenin called professional revolutionaries. It is no divergence; it is a necessary symbiosis.

This digression is important as the prevailing notion deliberately underestimates the importance of the sensible intellectual work that persistently, drop by drop, hollows out the established disorder. It is therefore often carried out in the periphery, and from time to time openly against the current intellectual and academic stratification.

It is with such insistent work governed by reason, often in small journals like Clarté and Folket i Bild/Kulturfront, Mikael Nyberg operates. It is for this he should be praised.

Sápmi Sisters, Maxida and Mimi Märak are not here. But as we traditionally say: Invited are delighted. Theirs, the second award does not only carry a different charge. It is the traditionally opposed way of working. Of course, they too use consciousness in words and arguments, but they do so as entertainers. Not only do they work with calculated words in song and speech, they use the voice in tone and yoik and the body in movements and rhythmic with jewellery and make-up in a traditionally designed attire in order to, in front of a deliberately entranced audience, bring it to their own conscious vision. A political one, that is, one about ownership, ethnic oppression and the right to life and personality. Mikael Nyberg’s reading audience does not usually rise from reading his texts, stretching their arms in the air, rocking and shouting. In the same way, the sisters Märak’s audience does not settle for just pensive nodding and humming when the sisters present themselves on stage. But all three work traditionally consciousness-raising.

What is typical of the Märak sisters is not just the seemingly present-day appearance; the lighting, the microphone technique, the makeup, the body adornment, the arrangement, the way they perform the rapping. Typically, they do this in a way that, as far as I understand, consciously relates to a popular (“under class” the ones above have always said), rebellious and musically entertaining tradition.

I could choose examples from France as well as India and Latin America. But I choose one from the United States that came to directly influence the Swedish during the decades from the seventies. I, who got it in my late childhood, early youth in New York during the last years of the thirties, helped to spread it in Bromma in the forties and then in SKU. Blues, that is, and what was called “folk”. (Anyone who has old issues of “Sing Out” knows what I mean.)

The school, “Lincoln School” was both elitist and progressive and the teachers read “New Masses”. Thus, it was father and son Lomax who gave direction for music education. Huddie Leadbetter, Leadbelly, came to the lesson. They talked about Bessie Smith, her singing that was not only emotion and sexuality but also had socially rebellious lyrics. And strongly about her death. She was bleeding to death from white racial prejudice. I brought her with me on 78 rpm records when I was brought to Sweden. Was completely influenced by her voice. I say this because you have to be able to understand the traditions within which this year’s Robespierre Prize recipients operate and raise consciousness.

I also want to explain something that can be misunderstood. I wanted these awards to be renamed from Jan Myrdal’s prizes to the Jan Myrdal Library’s prizes because they are not my awards in the way that Ivar Lo’s award is his. His prize comes from his royalties and his own art collection. That prize has now rested for two years, pending an influx. I have nothing to give. Gun and I gave our collections to various institutions and our entire library to the Jan Myrdal Society, in accordance with our opinion of cultural right of public access. It is Lasse Diding who gives the prize money. He should receive proper honour for that.

The library as such is now a LIBRIS library under the National Library of Sweden. It has about 50,000 volumes of which 30% is not found in other Swedish Libris libraries. Here, in accordance with Guns and my fundamentalist basic view on freedom of the press, no regard is shown for older or current Swedish or foreign political, ideological and moral criminality or appropriateness. In this way, it should be able to provide interested and active opportunities to broaden their horizons and thereby work efforts far beyond the rather provincially restricted Swedish academic.

This was made possible by donating it all since my children shared Guns and my and my parents’ view of the cultural right of public access. As well as substantial capital contributions from Henning Mankell and Lasse Diding and constant contributions from friends of the library. 179 contributions of 103,479.90 SEK year 2013. 220 contributions of 107,756.11 SEK year 2014. 72,850.00 SEK in 2015. Added to this are the efforts of all those, from librarians and archive workers to bookbinders, who worked voluntarily and unpaid in older Swedish popular movement tradition week after week to enable this research library open for all (except book thieves).