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The struggle against Trotskyism in Norway, 1935-1937: a meeting of Soviet and local political culture.

This article sheds light on general aspects characterising the interaction between the centre and periphery within the international Communist movement in the 1930s. In June 1935 Leon Trotsky was granted asylum in Norway. After the first Moscow trial in August 1936, the Norwegian Labour government decided to place Trotsky in police custody, before deporting him to Mexico in December 1936. Trotsky's presence in Norway had an impact on Norwegian politics. As a case study, the so called 'struggle against Trotskyism' in Norway will be used in order to show how elements of Soviet political culture were mediated and expressed in Norwegian politics in these years; not only within the limited circle of the communist party, but how this influenced Norwegian labour as a whole. The article also offers a more in depth exploration of the role of Moscow-educated communist cadres as mediators of Soviet political culture.

In a manner similar to the situation in Denmark, Sweden and Great Britain, the Communist Party of Norway (CPN) had a position on the political margins during the 1930s, both in national politics and in the labour movement. Norwegian labour politics were dominated by the Labour Party, which in 1936 organised 142,000 members and mustered electoral support of forty-two per cent at the national level. In comparison, the 3,000 members of the CPN, with no representation in the parliament, left the Communists on the sideline.

Further complicating the situation for the Communists, the Labour Party was indeed more radical than most of the contemporary social democratic parties in Europe. It had a revolutionary past, being a member of the Communist International (Comintern) from 1919 to 1923, and still stood outside the reformist Labour and Socialist International. Since the foundation of the CPN in 1923 a steady flow of members and some party leaders had left the Communist party and joined the Labour Party. (1) Many of the Labour Party's leading politicians were well experienced with Soviet and Comintern politics from the early 1920s, and a positive view of the Soviet Union was fairly common among party members. At the time in question the Labour Party enjoyed the broad support of the Norwegian working class, which looked upon the new Labour government's anti-crisis politics with great expectation and hope. (2) All this ensured that it was not easy for the Communists to challenge the Labour Party from the left, and helps to explain the political dynamics that we shall see developed during the 'struggle against Trotskyism' in Norway.

Periphery and Centre

The international Communist movement in the 1930s consisted of two interacting parts: a periphery comprising many local 'communisms' operating within a definable social, cultural and historical context in a geographical area of a certain size; and, on the other hand, a universal ideological and organisational framework constructed around the centre in Moscow. Within the movement, periphery and centre were integrated through the hierarchical organisation of the Communist International (Comintern). Decisions made by the Comintern leadership were binding for local communist parties. In the bureaucratic system of the Comintern, relations between periphery and centre were sustained through several actions of a structural character; for instance: internal means of communication, interaction through representatives and instructors, economic support, and--most relevantly in this setting--training in and interpretation of a common ideology. In relation to this perspective, it is crucial to bear in mind the high levels of devotion local Communists held towards the centre: the Russian Bolsheviks and their Communist Party; the party which had successfully accomplished the October Revolution and was now constructing a socialist future in the Soviet workers' state. This devotion helped to reinforce the ideological authority of the centre and generated a high level of voluntary subordination in the local parties for centrally-made decisions.

Complex relations in the international communist movement between centre and periphery and issues like conformity and differentiation, inputs from 'above' or 'below', or proletarian internationalism versus local traditions, have, since the opening of former Soviet archives in 1991, been explored through a school of comparative communist research. This research has focused on individual characteristics regarding local communist parties within the system of the Comintern, but at the same time recognising an overall conformity and dogmatism which dominated the international Communist movement, especially in the 1930s. The following article is inspired by the approach and theoretical orientation of this school as presented in the existing literature. (3)

Political culture

In this article 'political culture' is understood as the attitudes, beliefs, and values which underpin the operation of a particular political system. (4) The social historians Brigitte Studer and Berthold Unfried have previously stated that the international communist movement constituted a meeting place between a western European and a Soviet political culture. During the 1920s and the 1930s western cultural elements deteriorated while elements of Soviet political culture became increasingly dominant. The Comintern developed a political culture, which emulated certain norms of behaviour and relations that originated from Bolshevik traditions as well as the present practice of the Soviet communist party. (5) To strengthen and maintain the unity of the Comintern, the founding of a common conceptual basis or a common framework of interpretation and analysis was crucial. When mediating the political culture from the centre to the periphery, the conceptual framework was communicated to the 'masses'--party members and sympathisers -through the party press and other publications, or communicated orally at rallies and mass meetings, by mediators with special ideological skills who were often educated in the Soviet Union.

In order to mediate a political culture with Soviet origins within local communist parties, the Comintern's ideological education of foreign cadres in the Soviet Union became important field of activity. (6) At the Comintern schools students had to accept the leading role and authority of the Soviet party. As Studer and Unfried have observed, students not only had to learn an accepted attitude towards the party; they had to integrate such attitudes into their own cognitive dispositions. It was necessary to eradicate past experience of political culture, which was gained in local communist work, and to replace it with a new, Bolshevik attitude. (7) In 1926 the CPN joined the Comintern's cadre education project and, by spring 1937, about ninety Norwegian students had visited two institutions in Moscow educating foreign cadres: the Communist University of Western Nationalities and the International Lenin School. (8)

Participation in the educational programme of the Comintern was a voluntary project, limited in time and where a majority of the participants joined in with the greatest enthusiasm. The cadre education can be characterised as a project of collective mobilisation based upon a common understanding and internalisation of Soviet political culture. The actions and discourse of Soviet political culture, expressed through the educational structure of the cadre schools, as well as Soviet society as a whole, were interpreted by the students in accordance with their already positive dispositions. During their years at the Moscow schools, students learned to understand the political and ideological rhetoric of the centre. The outcome became a generation of Moscow-educated party cadres sharing common values and beliefs. Their personal bonds with Comintern and Soviet party officials, their internalisation of Soviet political culture and a feeling of solidarity with the Soviet Union were all developed and became consolidated during the period of their education. Their cognitive pattern had been shaped and, throughout their political carriers, this came to serve as political guideline.

In the Norwegian party a group of Moscow-educated cadres rose into leading positions from 1930 onwards. During the decade, they occupied leading positions in the central party apparatus and the Communist youth organisation, edited the most important party newspapers and served as secretaries and political supervisors in the revolutionary trade union opposition and party branches. A nucleus of this generation of educated party functionaries survived the German occupation in the Second World War and, other than the period 1945 to 1949, came to dominate the party leadership until the mid 1960s. (9) With these factors in mind, we will now explore the cultural mediation that took shape in Norwegian politics during the Communists' struggle against Trotskyism, and the role of Moscow-educated cadres in the Norwegian party in this struggle.

The refugee

In June 1935 the exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky applied for asylum in Norway. (10) Already in 1929, Trotsky had tried to settle in the country, but a Conservative government refused his entry. Six years later Norway was governed by the Labour Party, which had formed a minority government supported by the Farmers' Party. Already in 1929 the Labour Party had supported Trotsky's appeal for asylum and he also had political friends in Norway. One of them, Olav Scheflo, had been a prominent figure in the CPN. In the 1920s, the two men had become friends during Scheflo's many visits to Moscow, when he was a Norwegian delegate to the Executive Committee of the Comintern (ECCI). However, Scheflo rejected the Comintern's so-called ultra-left political line in 1928, and joined the Labour Party the following year. At the time of Trotsky's renewed application for asylum in Norway, the now staunchly anti-Stalinist Scheflo was editor-in-chief of the Labour newspaper in the town of Kristiansand. There were also some other Labour Party politicians who were sympathetic towards Trotsky, although there was no organised Trotskyist group in the country. Only a handful of individuals, among them refugees from Nazi Germany, were ideologically committed Trotskyists. (11)

Trotsky was granted asylum. But the decision was not reached without dispute in the government. Giving asylum to this 'infamous' revolutionary, the Labour government risked facing criticism from the bourgeois parties. Some argued that the nation's bilateral relations with the Soviet Union could be placed under stress. In the end the humanitarian issues, pressure from Scheflo and other Labour politicians and, most importantly, the fact that Trotsky himself stated his readiness to stay away from all form of political activities during his stay in the country, persuaded the government to grant asylum. (12)

Trotsky's arrival in Norway presented an open challenge to the Norwegian Communists. At this time the main Communist newspaper Arbeideren (The Worker) characterised Trotsky as a leader of counterrevolutionary activities directed against the Soviet Union and the Labour government was criticised for its decision to grant him asylum. Indeed, this was seen as proof of the Labour Party's 'hostility towards the Soviet Union'. But, in general, the treatment of Trotsky in the communist press was relatively sober and focused mainly on his many alleged political mistakes during and after the Russian revolution. (13)

Following Trotsky's arrival, the CPN charged the party functionary Lars Nordbo with responsibility for the ideological elucidation of the Soviet Union' accusations of 'Trotskyite crimes'. A graduate from the Lenin School in 1933, Nordbo was one of few workers who had become a party intellectual and now fronted up ideological campaigns in the party press. In autumn 1935 he wrote several commentaries in Arbeideren on the Trotsky case. (14) In his pamphlet Who is Trotsky Nordbo presented a relatively mild description of Trotsky and his activities since 1917; but, nevertheless, he concluded that Trotsky was an enemy of socialism who provided moral support for terrorism against the Soviet Union. (15) When, in December 1935, Trotsky published a Norwegian version of his autobiography, the CPN responded with fierce criticism. According to the communist press Trotsky and his followers aimed to assassinate Stalin and that he was both 'indirectly and directly' supporting fascist attacks on the Soviet Union. (16) Norwegian Communists did not hide their contempt for Trotsky's political standpoint, but at the same time the CPN stressed that it did not want to deprive Trotsky his legal right of asylum in Norway. (17)

A fascist break-in

In spring 1936 matters concerning Trotsky went quiet. The Communists were busy preparing and arranging their national congress, where the CPN's political line was about to undergo a radical change: the Comintern's 'Popular Front' tactics was to be adopted and implemented. In Moscow, the Comintern leadership outlined an ambitious strategy involving the Norwegian Labour Party. The Communists were to aim for the establishment of a Marxist united party in Norway comprising the CPN and the Labour Party; but this was only to take place after the right wing of the Labour Party had been politically isolated. (18) The strategy was delusional and did not in any way reflect the actual political situation in the Norwegian labour movement. But a side-effect was that all of the Communists' criticisms of the Labour government were ended, including Trotsky's asylum. The low level of domestic interest in Trotsky corresponded with the international situation and neither the Soviet government nor the Comintern launched any significant attacks on Trotsky at this point. The Soviet foreign services appeared not to care about Trotsky's asylum in Norway. When the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Halfdan Koht, went on an official visit to Moscow in April 1936, Trotsky's presence in Norway was not mentioned at all by his Soviet hosts. (19) But the situation was soon to change.

In July, while Trotsky was on holiday visiting his friend Scheflo, a gang of local fascists broke into his home. They were searching for proof of Trotsky performing hidden revolutionary activities, thus breaking the terms of his asylum, in order to have him expelled from Norway. The burglars were caught, and the incident aroused a lot of publicity and political debate. Representatives of the bourgeois parties were convinced that the material the burglars had found showed that Trotsky had broken his promise and had continued his political activities. The Labour government now faced renewed criticism for its decision to grant Trotsky asylum. Obviously, these critics wanted to weaken the Labour Party before the forthcoming parliamentary elections. (20) Yet, still standing by its potential 'Popular Front' partners, the Communists supported the Labour government. They characterised the burglary as a fascist provocation which aimed to weaken the government and, consequently, demanded a ban on the Norwegian fascist party. Trotsky's activities were not highlighted. (21)

The Moscow trials

On 14 August 1936 TASS, the Soviet news agency, announced the disclosure of a terrorist conspiracy of Trotskyites and Zinovievites in the Soviet Union. It marked the beginning of the first Moscow trial in a series of public show trails arranged by Stalin to strike against those he defined as his internal enemies. Those who stood accused included several former Soviet top leaders as well as ordinary party members. Confessions were forced by means of torture, both physical and psychological. Fabricated accusations included sabotage and terrorism against the Soviet Union, murder and attempted assassinations on the Soviet leadership, as well as cooperation with the German and Japanese secret services with an intention to overthrow the Bolshevik regime. Trotsky was designated as the main villain and leader of the conspiracy. From his exile abroad, helped by an international network of sympathisers, Trotsky was said to have organised the terrorist activities. He was held personally responsible for the murder of Leningrad party boss Sergei Kirov in December 1934. The trials got huge international attention. Many were given to doubts, not least as the charges they were accused of often lacked logic. Some interpreted the trials as an expression of fractional struggle in the Soviet party and a personal vendetta on behalf of Stalin against his potential rivals. On the other hand, the international Communist movement stood firm in its defence of the trials and denounced the accused.

The Norwegian Communists was no exception. In striking contrast to their stand only a week earlier, the party changed its view on Trotsky's right to asylum. While the CPN's interpretation of and reaction to the fascists' break-in had been related to actual domestic politics, the recent news from Moscow led to another approach. As far as CPN was concerned, official Soviet allegations represented the truth. No further questions needed to be asked about the objective guilt of Trotsky. The loyalty of the Norwegian Communists towards the Soviet Union overruled any earlier political considerations which had been developed in the context of local, i.e. Norwegian, political culture. Another consequence of these developments was a change in rhetoric that went beyond the ordinary norms of political debate in Norway at the time. The Soviets' construction of an 'enemy image' around Trotsky and his alleged co-conspirators was immediately adopted by Norwegian Communists. The party stated that, those accused in the Moscow trial had: 'no right to merciful and human treatment: in the name of humanity, freedom and peace, this garbage has to be obliterated forever'. (22) Trotsky himself was dehumanised and condemned, as were the other accused: 'Even death and annihilation', the party stated, 'is a too modest destiny for such a rabble'. Regardless of the 'Popular Front', the CPN again attacked the Labour Party for supporting Trotsky's stay in Norway. His asylum must be overturned and Trotsky had to be expelled immediately, the Communists claimed. (23)

Initially, the Labour Party rejected Soviet accusations against Trotsky. Through an interview in the main Labour newspaper Arbeiderbladet (The Labour Paper), Trotsky was given an opportunity to confront the accusations made against him in Moscow. (24) But before long the mood changed. New complications were looming. Trotsky's asylum now became a major theme in the forthcoming parliamentary election campaign; and Trotsky's many harsh statements about Stalin and the Soviet leadership in response to the accusations presented against him in Moscow gained international attention. As this could strain the relationship between Norway and the Soviet Union, the Labour government took action. A white paper stated that Trotsky had broken the terms of his right to stay in Norway; and Trotsky and his wife were placed in house arrest. (25) Now the Labour press loyally supported the decision of the government and ceased to defence Trotsky.

At the same time, the Soviet authorities intensified their campaign against Trotsky. According to Pravda, Trotsky was the 'leader of the Gestapo's band of agents and the organiser of counterrevolutionary murders'. The Soviet newspaper also criticised the Norwegian government for providing 'the rabid fascist dog Trotsky' with an opportunity to use Norway as a base for his terrorist activities. A new explanation for the fascists' burglary of Trotsky's home was now also introduced: the Gestapo had organised it as an act of diversion. (26) The next day, the Soviet envoy in Oslo communicated a formal note of protest to the Norwegian government. It became absolutely clear that Trotsky's asylum was about to damage relations between the two countries. Finally, after deciding to intern Trotsky, the Norwegian government replied, saying that its decision to place Trotsky in confinement had left him with no possibility to conduct any act of aggression against the Soviet Union. The Soviet authorities were still not satisfied; however, after their somewhat hostile reply, no more diplomatic contact occurred in the case. (27) Trotsky remained isolated in police custody until his deportation to Mexico on 19 December 1936.

Up until Trotsky's deportation, the CPN reproduced Moscow's accusation against him. The party claimed that the burglary was in fact evidence of Trotsky's alliance with the Gestapo; the aim was to support the claims made at the trail in Moscow about his alleged cooperation with Nazi Germany. (28) Furthermore, the party press printed highly personalised attacks on Trotsky, which--like the Soviet press--aimed to dehumanise him. According to these attacks, Trotsky was a 'terrorist and Gestapo agent' and 'counterrevolutionary murderer' who symbolised the 'lowest of the low'. (29) In Norway condemnation of Trotsky extended beyond CPN circles. Jakob Friis, a former Moscow-trained Communist, and present member of the left wing of the Labour Party, took Stalin's part in these events. After Trotsky's internment, he wrote that, 'we have a prisoner [in Norway] who should have been shot in Moscow'. This, Friis stated, reflected a 'lack of objective loyalty towards the Soviet state' in the Norwegian labour movement. (30) He also published a pamphlet devoted to attacking Trotskyism. (31)

By chance Trotsky's most uncompromising adversary as well his most resolute supporters in the Labour Party, Friis and Scheflo, lived in the same provincial town, Kristiansand. Not surprisingly, a struggle soon occurred in the local party branch between the two dominant personalities; as we noted above, Scheflo was the editor of the party newspaper while Friis was chairman of the party branch. An agitated Friis accused Scheflo of being a Trotskyite conducting factional-based subversion. At a public meeting in December 1936, which was attended by Trygve Lie, the then Minister of Justice and subsequent General Secretary of the United Nations, the accusations made by Friis led to him being forced to step down as chairman. (32)

'A plague in the Norwegian labour movement'

During the autumn of 1936, the CPN had claimed that supporters of Trotsky in the Labour Party were ideologically convinced Trotskyites. For example, Scheflo was accused of forming a Trotskyite opposition within the Labour Party. (33) Following the deportation of Trotsky from Norway, running parallel to the second Moscow trial in January 1937, a renewed offensive against Norwegian Trotskyism was launched by the CPN. An energetic struggle had to be fought against 'any Trotskyite contamination [...] in Norway'. (34) That Trotsky had been deported was not enough. What was now prioritised was to 'eradicate the poison of Trotskyism in the Norwegian working class and its press'. (35) And having granted Trotsky asylum was seen as a matter of 'eternal shame'. (36) No matter the factual situation, the CPN claimed that a group of Trotskyites existed in Norway, which maintained close connections to him after his deportation. This group, the so-called 'Trotskyite plague', was allegedly active within the Labour Party. (37)

Already in August 1936 the Comintern had criticised the CPN's fight against Trotskyism. Moscow sent a secret telegram to both the Norwegian and the Swedish parties, which were instructed to express their brotherly solidarity with Stalin and the Soviet workers. The disclosures of the first Moscow trial had produced little resonance in Scandinavia, the Comintern complained. (38) It is not known if new instructions from Moscow initiated the reinvigorated CPN campaign which began in January 1937. According to internal documents, the party leadership believed that a systematic battle had to be fought against Trotskyism in order to prevent the 'Trotskyite peril' penetrating the Norwegian labour movement. Among the actions taken in the campaign were mass meetings and intensified ideological schooling. (39) The party's representative in the Comintern, the Lenin school educated Jens Galaen, was ordered to return home to agitate and speak about the Moscow trials and Trotskyism. In February 1937 he went on a tour visiting several Norwegian towns. (40) Other Lenin School graduates--and former teachers--spoke at mass meetings condemning Trotskyism and defending the Moscow trials. (41)

As far as CPN was concerned, supporting Trotsky's right to asylum was enough proof to be characterised as a Trotskyite. For this reason, Scheflo was a prime target and Hakon Meyer another. Meyer was a high-profile party intellectual on the left wing of the Labour Party, and a fierce critic of the Labour governments internment and deportation of Trotsky. He was actively very involved in the radical cultural movement as one of the leaders in the organisation 'Socialist Cultural Front' and as edit of the organisation's journal Kunst og Kultur (Art and Culture). The 'Socialist Cultural Front' soon became estranged from the Labour leadership. Not only did it support Trotsky's continued asylum, but the Front also criticised many aspects of Labour policy in the cultural sphere. According to the CPN during its offensive against 'Trotskyism' in February 1937, Scheflo and Meyer were masterminding 'subversive activities' in the Labour Party. Trotskyism was compared to a mortal disease and the CPN called on to the Labour Party to cut off the 'Trotskyite ulcers on the party body' as soon as possible. (42) But neither Scheflo nor Meyer were Trotskyists in ideological terms. Even if they both agreed with Trotsky's criticism of the Stalinist dictatorship in the Soviet Union, above all they sympathise with Trotsky out of humanitarian reasons. (43)

Paranoia at the Centre

In March 1937 the demonization of Trotskyism reached a level so far unseen in Moscow. Stalin's address to the central committee of the Soviet Party made it clear that the fight against the Trotskyites, or what he characterised as 'a gang of wreckers, diversionists, spies and killers without any principals or ideas', had to be intensified. He appealed to every party member to keep up the pace of this uncompromised struggle. Discussions had become useless and new methods needed to be introduced, he insisted. Trotskyites had to be 'exterminated and pulverised'. (44) Stalin's speech set the scene for the CPN, with its explicit references to an alleged Trotskyite group in Norway led by the 'scoundrel Scheflo', who had helped the 'spy Trotsky'. As this group would continue its support of 'Trotskyite spies and vermin', (45) the struggle against Trotskyism had to be a matter of top priority for the CPN.

Shortly after Stalin's speech a delegation of Norwegian Communists travelled to Moscow for consultations with the Comintern. Documentation from these consultations includes an internal report intended for the top level Comintern officials. In the report, the CPN faced strong criticism for its poor performance in the struggle against Trotskyism. At the same time, the report reflects the view of the centre in Moscow regarding Trotskyism in Norway and, as such, it is an interesting source shedding light on Soviet political culture. It alleged that the CPN had underestimated the danger of Trotskyism: it had been unable able to disclose Trotsky's true counterrevolutionary character throughout his stay in Norway; and it had also failed to communicate to the public how Trotsky had organised the murder of Kirov. A Trotskyite centre, the allegations continued, existed in Norway, and its agents worked within the Labour Party (e.g. Scheflo and Meyer) and in the CPN, as well as among intellectuals--and the CPN had been unable even to detect it. (46)

Throughout these consultations, there was continued criticism of the Norwegian party. The German Communist, Wilhelm Florin, was charged with dealing with Scandinavian issues in the Comintern leadership. The version of the situation presented by Florin was greatly distorted, including a falsified record of alleged political errors made by the party in its confrontation with Trotskyism. However, Florin's analysis must be understood in the light of the ongoing terror in the Soviet Union. In spring 1937, amid escalating arrests, everyone employed in the central apparatus of the Comintern was forced to demonstrate vigilance and to conform more strictly than ever to the excepted norms of rhetoric and behaviour. (47) Thus Florin alleged that Trotskyites had an extensive history of working inside the CPN. Notably, he claimed that the party had been in the hands of Scheflo and Meyer for a long period of time before their expulsion, and that they had not been branded as the Trotskyite they were. (48) Of course, all of this was sheer nonsense. As we have seen, Scheflo left the party on his own initiative in 1928 as a protest against the Comintern's 'left turn', and Meyer had never been a party member.

The Comintern leadership concluded that the Norwegian Labour Party was in danger of developing into a 'semi-Trotskyite' party; therefore, the CPN should start to cooperate with the Labour leadership in order to get rid of persons like Scheflo and Meyer. (49) In the hope of correcting the CPN's 'severe underestimation' of the dangers of Trotskyism in Norway, the Comintern produced a detailed resolution with instructions to the party. Of course, struggle against Trotskyism was a priority task and Scheflo and Meyer were accused of upholding a 'despicable conspiracy of factional activity' in the 'interests of fascism', which aimed to destroy the unity of the Norwegian working class. Thus the CPN was tasked with cooperating with the Labour leadership in order to eradicate any 'Trotskyite infection' in that party, as well being on guard against Trotskyite infiltration of the CPN itself. (50)

'A poisonous plant'

In the spring of 1937, an organised circle of Trotskyists did emerge for the first time in Norway. The minuscule group included some writers and intellectuals as well as German refugees. A former leader of the women's organisation of the CPN, Jeanette Olsen, edited the group's journal Oktober. Olsen had originally left the CPN in 1928, but had returned to the party in June 1936, only to be expelled a few weeks later because of her support for Trotsky. (51) In the May issue of the Oktober, there were several deliberate attacks on the Labour Party and Labour government. (52) The influential editor-in-chief of the main Labour newspaper, Martin TranmM, immediately retaliated. According to him, international Trotskyism was 'a poisonous plant'. TranmM rejected any possibility of a serious Trotskyist movement developing in Norway; but he did point an accusatory finger towards two Labour members who were at the risk of 'backsliding'. Scheflo, he stated, had to have second thoughts before being led astray;

Hakon Meyer, however, was described as the 'political helmsman' in an intellectual circle of supporters of Trotsky. Indeed, according to TranmM he had 'gorged on attacks' on the Labour Party and Labour government. (53) During the following debate, TranmM pointed towards Meyer's alleged misuse of the 'Socialist Cultural Front' and its journal, characterising Meyer as a 'masked Trotskyite'--a person capable of doing the most serious damage to the Labour Party and who had to be kept under thorough surveillance. (54)

The Labour leadership's confrontation with Trotskyism was trigged by several motives. Any sign of a Trotskyist party forming in Norway needed to be crushed, however tiny and political insignificant it may be. (55) But as so-called 'open Trotskyism' was a phenomena of minimal influence, which could easily be silenced by the Labour leadership, it is reasonable to believe that this accusation was used as a disciplinary measure directed towards troublesome party members. It was also convenient to use the term 'masked Trotskyism' to brand persons like Hakon Meyer. Meyer's endless statements criticising the government and the Labour leadership was regarded as an irritant. At the same time, the confrontation symbolised support for the government's foreign policy and clearly signalled to the Soviets that the Labour leadership in no way tolerated Trotskyism. A further motive may have been to offer a gesture of courtesy towards the CPN, which at this time had intensified its offer of cooperation with the Labour Party as part of its efforts to form a 'Popular Front' in Norway. The Labour leadership did not have any sincere interest in working together with the Communists, but for rank-and-file members of the Labour Party such a signal may have been of importance.

What happened to the Norwegian Trotskyists? In 1938 the journal Oktober ceased to be published. Never more than a marginal circle, the Trotskyists dissipated and became silent. Trotsky's high-profile supporters, Scheflo and Meyer, faced a different fate. Scheflo declared his loyalty to the Labour Party and continued his editorial work. Meyer, however, lost most of his positions in the labour movement. The 'Socialist Cultural Front', which he headed, failed to receive any economic support. A new organisation of socialist intellectuals soon emerged, which was loyal to the Labour Party. (56) Nevertheless, Meyer upheld his opposition to mainstream Labour policy. After April 1940 his specific political view gradually led him to collaboration with the German occupiers and the Norwegian marionette fascist regime of Vidkun Quisling. In 1945 Meyer was convicted of treason.

Soviet versus local political culture

The struggle against Trotskyism in Norway went through several phases. During the period from Trotsky's arrival in the country in June 1935 until August 1936, it is reasonable to say that the Norwegian Communists' approach to Trotsky was rooted in Norwegian political culture. Of course, Trotskyism was condemned at all levels in the CPN. But even if the party was against the decision of the Labour government to grant Trotsky asylum and Soviet descriptions of Trotsky's political carrier and his so called counterrevolutionary activities were mediated by the CPN, the actual political analysis of the party regarding Trotsky's stay in Norway was taken, and reactions formed, within a framework of contemporary Norwegian politics. After its initial protest, the CPN seemed to accept the legal right of Trotsky to receive asylum in Norway. In the party press characterisation of Trotsky was of a relative moderate nature and did not attempt to dehumanise him. As we noted above, the break-in at Trotsky's home was explained as a fascist provocation which aimed to weaken the Labour government--and the subsequent allegation about Trotsky's own 'fascist' political activities deriving from the Moscow trials remained as yet unsaid.

The first Moscow trial in August 1936, however, was a turning point. From now on elements of Soviet political culture began to dominate the CPN's approach to Trotsky and Trotskyism. The CPN launched a campaign of personal attacks against Trotsky which were copied from Soviet statements, and these included his dehumanisation. Trotsky's right to asylum was denounced and the analysis of the CPN went beyond Norwegian political culture in its incorporation of Soviet conspiracy theories. The break-in was now explained as part of a plot undertaken by the Gestapo and Norwegian fascists in order to disguise the alleged connections between Trotsky and German secret services.

After Trotsky's deportation, and parallel to the second Moscow trial, the CPN stepped up its struggle against Trotskyism in Norway in a way that did not correspond with the actual strength and influence of this movement. The campaign was part of a Soviet initiated international offensive and the discrepancy between local and Soviet political culture became obvious when CPN representatives met the Comintern leadership in April 1937. The Comintern presented a distorted view of the dangers of Trotskyism and its alleged history in Norway, clearly mirroring the contemporaneous situation in Soviet politics, as the Comintern and the Soviet Party experienced the lethal consequences of escalating Stalinist terror.

When it came to the task of mediating and explaining the struggle against Trotskyism to Norwegian workers and rank-and-file Communist party members, only those in the CPN who had ideological schooling and experience of political activities in the Soviet Union were chosen to participate. Since the Trotsky case was strongly embedded in Soviet political culture, there is reason to believe that the CPN leadership felt it had to muster the most ideologically 'advanced' personnel possible. For instance, we have seen that the party's representative in the Comintern, the Lenin School-educated Jens Galaen, was ordered back home from Moscow to participate in the anti-Trotsky activities of the CPN. During the struggle against Trotskyism the crucial role and function of Moscow-educated party cadres in the CPN's everlasting balancing act between a local Norwegian and an international Soviet political culture became visible.

With regard to the mediation and expression of Soviet political culture in the Norwegian context, it is worth noting that not only Communists but also the Labour Party adopted elements of this in order to achieve a specific political goal. Of course their motives differed: the CPN was permeated by loyalty and ideological identification with the Soviet Union; while for the leadership of the Labour Party it was an act of political opportunism and the desire to silence a troublesome internal party opposition. When Labour leaders used expressions like 'poisonous' and 'masked Trotskyites', it gave a resonance to the accusations which were based in and communicated from the Moscow trials; and this may have led to a strengthened effect of condemnation through a kind of synergy. The 'struggle against Trotskyism' in Norway can be understood as a dynamic result of a meeting between different political cultures. Furthermore, it shows how common propaganda images can be constructed by political antagonists on the basis of different motives and their use in achieving different aims.


(1) In 1924 the CPN had 14,000 members and an electoral support of 6.1%, with six representatives in the Parliament. In comparision the Labour Party the same year had 40,000 members and an electoral support of 18.4 percent, with 24 representatives in the Parliament,see E. Lorenz, Det er ingen sak a fa partiet lite. NKP 1923-1931, Oslo, 1983, pp49, 180.

(2) T. Pryser, Klassen og nasjonen (1935-1946), vol. 4, in A. Kokkvoll and J. Sverdrup (eds.), Arbeiderbevegelsens historie i Norge, Oslo, 1988, p37.

(3) K. McDermott and J. Agnew, The Comintern. A History of International Communism from Lenin to Stalin, Basingstoke, 1996; M. Narinsky and J. Rojahn (eds.), Centre and Periphery. The History of the Comintern in the Light of New Documents, Amsterdam, 1996; T. Saarela and K. Rentola (eds.), Communism. National and International, Helsinki, 1998; T. Rees and A. Thorpe (eds.), International Communism and the Communist International 1919-43, Manchester, 1998; N. LaPorte, K. Morgan and M. Worley, Bolshevism, Stalinism and the Comintern. Perspectives on Stalinization, 1917-53, Basingstoke, 2008; Twentieth Century Communism. A Journal of International History, Issue 5, Local communisms, London 2013; A. Egge and S. Rybner (eds.), Red Star in the North. Communism in the Nordic Countries, Stamsund, 2015.

(4) I. McLean and A. McMillan, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Politics (3. eds.): 001.0001/acref-9780199207800-e-1032?rskey=44eoSk&result=1108 (accessed 28.9.2015)

(5) B. Studer and B. Unfried, Der stalinistische Parteikader: Identitatsstiftende Praktiken und Diskurse in der Sowjetunion der dreissiger Jahre, Cologne, 2001, p17.

(6) B. Herleman, 'Der deutschsprachige Bereich an den Kaderschulen der Kommunistischen Internationale', in Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung (IWK), 2, 1982, pp205-229; L. G. Babitschenko, 'Die Kaderschulung der Komintern', in Jahrbuch fur Historische Kommunismusforschung [henceforth: JHK], Berlin, 1993, pp37-59; W. McCellan, 'Africans and Black Americans in the Comintern Schools, 1925-1934', in International Journal of African Historical Studies, 26, 2, 1993, pp371-390; H. Schafranek, Osterreichische Kommunisten an der "Internationalen Lenin-Schule" 1926-1938', in B. McLoughlin, H. Schafranek , A. Campbell and J. Halestead, AufbruchHoffnung-Endstation. Osterreicherinnen und Osterreicher in der Sowjetunion 1925-1945, Wien, 1994, pp435-465; B. McLoughlin, 'Proletarian Academics Or Party Functionaries? Irish Communists At The International Lenin School, Moscow, 1927-37', in Saothar 22 (Journal Of The Irish Labour History Society), 1997, pp63-79; I. Filatova, 'Indoctrination or Scholarship? Education of Africans at the Communist University of the Toilers of the East in the Soviet Union, 1923-1937', in Paedagogica Historica, 35, 1, 1999, pp41-66; J. Olafsson: Karu felagar. Islenskir sosialistar og Sovetrikin 1920-1960, Reykjavik, 1999, pp50-83; J. Kostenberger, 'Die Geschichte der "Kommunistischen Universitat der nationalen Minderheiten des Westens" (KUNMZ) in Moskau 1921-1936', in JHK, Berlin, 2000/2001, pp248-303; J. McIlroy and A. Campbell, 'The Scots at the Lenin School: An Essay in Collective Biography', in Scottish Labour History, 37, 2002, pp50-71; G. Cohen and K. Morgan, 'Stalin's Sausage Machine. British Students at the International Lenin School, 1926-37', in Twentieth Century British History, 13, 4, 2002, pp327-355; B. McLoughlin, 'Stalinistische Rituale von Kritik und Selbstkritik in der internationalen Lenin-Schule, Moskau, 1926-1937', in JHK, Berlin 2003; B. Unfried, 'Foregin Communists and the Mechanisms of Soviet Cadre Formation in the USSR', in B. McLoughlin and Kevin McDermott, Stalin's Terror. High Politics and Mass Repression in the Soviet-Union, Basingstoke, 2003; A. Campbell, J. McIlroy, B. McLoughlin and J. Halstead, 'Forging the Faithful: The British at the International Lenin School', in Labour History Review, 68, 1, 2003, 99-128; A. Campbell, J. McIlroy, B. McLoughlin and J. Halstead, 'The International Lenin School: A Response to Cohen and Morgan', in Twentieth Century British History, 15, 1, 2004, pp 51-76; G. Cohen and K. Morgan, 'British Students at the International Lenin School, 1926-37: A Reaffirmation of Methods, Results, and Conclusions', in Twentieth Century British History, 15, 1, 2004, pp77-107; A. Campbell et. al, 'British Students at the International Lenin School: The Vindication of a Critique', in Twentieth Century British History, 16, 4, 2005, pp471-488; J. Krekola, 'The Finnish Sector at the International Lenin School', in K. Morgan, G. Cohen & A. Flinn (eds), Agents of the Revolution. New Biographical Approaches to the History og International Communism in the Age of Lenin and Stalin, Oxford, 2005, pp289-308; J. Krekola: Stalinismin lyhytkurssi. Suomalaiset Moskovan Lenin-koulussa 1926-1938, Helsinki, 2006 (English summary pp431-437; see also A. Kan's review of Krekola's work in Jahrbuch fur Forschungen zur Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung, 3, 2009, pp184-188); G. Cohen & K. Morgan. 'The International Lenin School: A Final Comment', in Twentieth Century British History, 18, 1, 2007, pp129-133; J. Kostenberger, 'Die Internationale Lenin-Schule (1926-1938)', in M. Buckmiller and K. Meschkat, Biographisches Handbuch zur Geschichte der Kommunistischen Internationale, Berlin, 2007: pp287-309; J. Krekola and O.M. Ronning, 'International cadre education of Nordic communists', in Egge and Rybner (eds.), Red Star in the North, pp292-302..

(7) Studer and Unfried, Der stalinistische Parteikader, pp215, 218.

(8) See O.M. Ronning, Stalins elever. Kominterns kaderskoler og Norges Kommunistiske Parti 1926-1949, PhD, University of Oslo, 2010, p107.

(9) Ronning, Stalins elever, p363.

(10) For Trotsky's stay in Norway, see: R. Strandberg, 'Fra gjest til fange. Leo Trotskijs opphold i Norge 1935-36', MA thesis, Oslo, 1970; Y. Ustvedt, Da verdensrevolusjonen kom til Honefoss. En beretning om Leo Trotskijs opphold i Norge, Oslo, 1974; T. Pryser, Klassen og nasjonen (1935-1946), vol. 4 in Arbeiderbevegelsens historie i Norge, Oslo, 1988; O. Hoidal, Trotskij i Norge. Et sar som aldri gror, Oslo, 2009; idem, Trotsky in Norway. Exile 1935-1937, Illinois, 2013.

(11) T. Skaufjord, 'Venstreopposisjon i Det norske Arbeiderparti 1933-1940', MA thesis, Oslo, 1977, pp161-164; Pryser, Arbeiderbevegelsens historie i Norge, p203.

(12) Hoidal, Trotsky in Norway, pp29-30.

(13) Arbeideren, 21.6. and 28.6.1935.

(14) Arbeideren, 28.6.1935 and 6.12.1935.

(15) L. Nordbo, Hvem er Trotski?, Oslo, 1935, p31.

(16) Arbeideren, 6.12. and 13.12.1935.

(17) Arbeideren, 24.2.1936.

(18) O.M. Ronning, 'NKP, Komintern og folkefrontpolitikken', in Arbeiderhistorie, Oslo 2004, pp141-155.

(19) O.-B. Fure, Mellomkrigstid 1920-1940, in Norsk utenrikspolitikks historie, vol.3, Oslo 1996, p270.

(20) Hoidal, Trotsky in Norway, pp123-124.

(21) Arbeideren 10.08.1936.

(22) Arbeideren 17.8.1936.

(23) Ibid.

(24) Arbeiderbladet 21.8 and 22.8.1936.

(25) Hoidal: Trotsky in Norway, p142.

(26) Ibid, pp168-169.

(27) Ibid, pp173-175.

(28) Arbeideren 31.8.1937.

(29) Arbeideren 4.9. og 28.10.1936.

(30) Veien frem, 6, September 1936. "Fangen i Hurum".

(31) J. Friis, Trotskismen. En giftplante, Oslo, 1937.

(32) Skaufjord, 'Venstreopposisjon i Det norske Arbeiderparti 1933-1940', p55.

(33) Arbeideren, 25.9.1936.

(34) Ibid, 26.1.1937.

(35) Ibid, 29.1.1937.

(36) Ibid, 5.2.1937.

(37) Ibid, 19.2.1937.

(38) National Archives, London, 'HW 17/31. Telegrams to Stockholm 1936, No. 472-473', 25.8.1936.

(39) 'Protocol, Politbureau of the CPN, 29.01.1937', in Russian State Archive of Social and Political History [henceforth: RGASPI], Moscow, 495-178-174, 25-28.

(40) Arbeideren 19.2.1937. He visited Oslo, Rena, Tonsberg, Bergen, Hoyanger, Haugesund, Stavanger, Egersund, Kristiansand.

(41) Arbeideren 5.2.1937. Henry W. Kristiansen spoke in Drammen, Christian Hilt in Bergen, Martin Brendberg in Mjondalen and Just Lippe in Sarpsborg.

(42) Arbeideren 26.2.1937.

(43) Skaufjord, 'Venstreopposisjon i Det norske Arbeiderparti 1933-1940', 1977, pp174-177.

(44) For Stalin's speech to the plenary meeting of the central committee on 3.3.1937, see Kommunistische Internationale, 4, 1937, Strasbourg, 1937, p309.

(45) Ibid, p313.

(46) T. Titlestad, 'NKP--Sett fra Moskva--1937', in Arbeiderhistorie, Oslo, 1996, pp188-190. The text is a Norwegian translation of an original Russian document in RGASPI, 495-74-386, 166-179 dated 22.-23.4.1937.

(47) W.J. Chase, Enemies Within the Gates. The Comintern and the Stalinist Repression, 1934-1939, Yale 2001, p221.

(48) 'Protocol, The Norwegian Commission 27.4.1937', in RGASPI, 495-20448, 107-110,

(49) 'Protocol. Politbureau of the CPN, 25.5.1937', in RGASPI, 495-178-174, 118.

(50) 'Protocol no.144, ECCI's secretariat, 2 & 3.6.1937', in RGASPI: 495-18-1200, 104.

(51) Arbeideren, 14.9.1936.

(52) Oktober, 2, Mai 1937, see in particular the editorial '1ste mai--17de mai' and the article 'Fascistdiktaturet forberedes'.

(53) Arbeiderbladet, 12.5.1937.

(54) Ibid, 13.5.1937.

(55) Hoidal, Trotsky in Norway, p294.

(56) Ibid, p303.

Ole Martin Ronning
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