The repulsive Lenin Award
By 2015, the Lenin Award had been given out for the seventh time, and for Lasse Diding it was time to summarize the discussion and debate that the award had given rise to so far. Read his thoughts below.
Jan Myrdal’s big prize – the Lenin Award has now been awarded seven times and for every year the discussion about this award has surged ever higher. The fact that intellectually admired cultural personalities like, in turn, Mattias Gardell, Roy Andersson, Maj Wechselmann, Sven Lindqvist, Maj Sjöwall, Jan Guillou and Mikael Wiehe, now have received this award have naturally provoked the right that for long believed to have secured the framework for what may be thought and said in the Swedish public arena. The award has shown that there are cracks in the wall and that it to some extent has proved possible to break the consensus of the inflated power.
When I, during a forest walk with Jan Myrdal in the forests around Skinnskatteberg in spring 2008, presented my ideas about a literary society in his name and a grand annually recurring award in his and Lenin’s name, it was in order to try once again to put on the agenda the major questions about whether a fair world is possible, as the whole of Jan’s authorship has had as a starting point. In any case, that was what I thought. That Jan and these issues had disappeared from the centre of social debate was something I wanted to try to change. For me, the Russian Revolution was also a symbol of the struggle of the labour movement, which dominated the history of the 20th century. It had undeniably failed in many ways, but was it a necessary failure? It seemed to me that Lenin was always at the heart of this movement and this battle of ideas and I considered the combination of Myrdal and Lenin to be an unsurpassed crowbar against the liberal hegemony of the Swedish idea debate, which at this time considered to have buried these revolutionary ghosts and issues for all eternity.
Jan was immediately on board and was not even intimidated by my background as a market player but explained that throughout his over 60 years as a writer he has worked towards a market that has chosen to publish or refuse his texts all according to the political situation. That’s how it is in a society like our late capitalist Sweden. After the go-ahead signal from Jan it was just to get started. At Jan’s wedding with Andrea Gaytán Vega on his 81st birthday on 19th July 2008, the birth of the society as well as the award was proclaimed to all the over 200 wedding guests and more than half of them immediately announced their interest in membership in this anachronistic society. At the time, there were probably not many who realized the impact the award would have and what strong forces the award would come to challenge and provoke.
The Lenin Award saw the light of day at Jan Myrdal’s wedding, which was also his 81st birthday, on July 19, 2008.
When the first laureate, Mattias Gardell, was appointed and brave enough to accept, things immediately started moving at all levels among left haters of various shades. Expressen struck it up big with a, from the point of view of content, very weak full-page article by a victim of Communism, an angle of incidence that would be exploited diligently in the future. The fact that people have suffered from the battles that started immediately after Lenin seized power and then continued through the 20th century’s bloody history is irrefutable and demand respect for their suffering. To argue against these storms of emotion is rarely rewarding, regardless of the content and credibility of what they are saying. Nor from other detractors, was the intellectual level of any more remarkable kind. On the Internet, the usual undergrowth thrived and the only remarkable thing here was that the soon incoming permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy, Peter Englund, immediately instituted a “Pol Pot Prize” which would be awarded to the hateful Mattias Gardell for eternal time. That this sardonic joke wasn’t really appropriate for a fine Academy member, this adaptable climbing mouse immediately learned, and he quickly retired from the discussion and returned to the seclusion of Olympic Heights. Among the usual intellectual B team that populate the newspapers’ editorial pages, there were oh so predictable condemnations of the most primitive kind and very rarely with reasoning that would fit on any cultural page. They scolded, admonished and determined, usually without even elementary historical knowledge or other weighty intellectual baggage. The only heavier voice that immediately spoke out against the award was the author Lars Gustafsson, Jan Myrdal’s conversation partner in Den onödiga samtiden (The Unnecessary Present Time) from 1974 but also a truly significant Swedish poet and novelist. Maybe it wasn´t entirely unexpected that this as a social debater completely black-and-white observer, who had gone from devotional Mao homages in the 1970s to undisguised right-wing whiner, nor would he reason intellectually. He was now horrified, but any Gustafsson arguments were not presented. Among the more famous and high-ranking opponents of the award I should of course mention Carl Bildt, Gunnar Hökmark and Birgitta Ohlsson, who on several occasions have tweeted about and in primarily Expressen have expressed their shock over the general horror of the award. In these history revisionist circles, there are constant efforts trying, like the state propaganda institute Forum för levande historia, to equate the Communist historical practice with the Nazi, something that fails again and again. Another recurrent and persistent critic of this very politically correct type is Peter Fröberg Idling, who continued to rage on the web as well as in various paper forums.
The most insistent critic of the award and at the same time the most emotionally excited has undoubtedly been the old radio man Kjell Albin Abrahamson. He has raged at us in Expressen, online, on television and has even written a book where the award appeared to be one of the great plagues of his life. This classic warrior of the cold war hates everything that smells like left and ’68 and a special place in his heart and pain has been assigned to the Lenin Award. I myself met this loudly angry debater in SVT’s Debate and it was a surprisingly ill prepared debater, who seemed to be best used to appearing before like-minded people. His commitment is truly genuine, but when emotion gets the upper hand, he tends to vouch for anything that can be blamed on communism. His reputation is probably not the very best in historical circles in Sweden after having put himself as a guarantor to the truth in the later exposed The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz.
Kjell Albin Abrahamson, 1945-2016, was one of the most energetic critics of the Lenin Award.
A serious attempt at discussion and criticism came a few years ago in a major article in Göteborgs-Posten by the important professor of political science Bo Rothstein. His crucial criticism was based on quotes from Lenin during the Civil War, when he often gave murderous directives in tub-thumping terms. As Stefan Lindgren showed in a reply, it is not by the words but by the actions one should judge a historical person, and behind the current quote there was a reality that was far less dramatic. With regard to Lenin’s world-historical effort as a peace maker and defender of the self-determination of small nations and other issues that lead past various possible character flaws, neither did Bo Rothstein have anything to offer. Discussions of this more fundamental kind have only taken place on the cultural page of Aftonbladet, and it’s been mainly up to the newspapers head of culture Åsa Linderborg to put Lenin’s efforts into their historical context. The pressure and persecution from politically orthodox anti-communists such as Kristian Gerner and Clas-Göran Karlsson and the whole pack of followers have then become well-organized and massive.
To this unison choir of scolding rather empty on thought, suddenly came from the same side just as many declarations of love to writer Susanna Alakoski, when Dagens Nyheter revealed that she had refused to accept the award for the reason that she did not want to be associated with totalitarian regimes. This has since been repeated with contentment in most contexts where the award has been presented and the question is whether Susanna Alakoski herself has been so pleased with this love from circles that in other contexts hardly have embraced what she has actually written.
Since Jan Myrdal’s small prize – the Robespierre Prize was later presented, this has been met with similar tones, but reinforced with a cautionary and slightly patronizing finger pointed at these imprudent youths, who in this way consorted with the detestable old Myrdal-followers.
The unambiguously positive reactions to the award have primarily come from the part of the left with its roots in the ’68 movement. The Communist Party’s newspaper Proletären (The Proletarian) has reported in a versatile and honourable manner, and in Folket i Bild and Clarté one has also been able to read positive comments and reactions. However, as the years have passed, the award despite the resistance and scolding or possibly thanks to it has become increasingly institutionalized and the announcement of the latest award winner was followed not only by an expected spinal cord reflex in Expressen from Gunnar Hökmark, but also by a rather cute feel-good report in TV’s cultural news. This tendency has become even more evident at the local level. The award is regularly given a serious and ample coverage in the local press followed by a dutiful dressing-down on the editorial page. Over the years, the award has also generated a string of letters to the editor of varying quality, both for and against this award. As an old teacher, I think that we in this way have contributed to popular education, albeit with the geographical constraints that arise from the distribution area of Hallands Nyheter. The provincialism when retired grocers then appear as historical authorities probably play a lesser role than the role they play in making the award what it really is today, and what it was originally meant to be, an unpleasantly itching boil in the ass of the potentates of bourgeois history writing.