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!