Interview with Transform! Italia

Click on the faximilie to go to the Transform! Italia website (in italian)

The growth of Rødt (The Red Party) in the latest Norwegian general election has not gone unnoticed internationally. I was recently interviewed by the Italian left magazine Transform! Italia about the party, its strategy of growth and the political situation. As the interview is published in italian, I will present the english version below.

1) In the last general election Rødt greatly increased its votes; this result is not accidental of course. When analyzing the distribution of votes one can see that your party has gained support especially among young people and in urban centers. How have you organized a political and social intervention that has proved to be so fruitful?

The growth of Rødt is no accident. It has been part of a long systematic plan. When there was a change of leadership in 2012, and the current leader Bjørnar Moxnes was first elected along with i.a. deputy Marie Sneve Martinussen and party secretary Mari Eifring, the party laid a systematic plan for building the organization. For many years the party and its predecessor had been laying around or slightly above 1% in polls and elections. Initially in the 2013 elections it did not show any effect, but we dug in, rewrote much of our party program to remove internal coded language, and make it more accessible to ordinary people, and worked similarly with our communication. We managed for the first time to prioritize and to run nationally coordinated campaigns. Previously the party was sometimes jokingly referred to as a collection of local groups with a common foreign policy. But now we became a party that could put issues on the national agenda, notably keeping a firm eye in the economic issues where a large majority of the population has common interests.

Initially the case of the “welfare profiteers” was important. Private corporations making huge profits selling welfare services to state and municipalities, like e.g., kindergarten services, effectively putting taxpayers’ money in their pockets. This and, later on other issues gave the party the opportunity to connect important challenges in people’s everyday life to a broader ideological narrative. This gave an initial breakthrough when we doubled our support in the 2017 elections and Bjørnar Moxnes was elected to parliament with a direct mandate from the Oslo constituency, and then doubled again in 2021 to 4,7 % breaking the national threshold (4%) as the first new party since it was established, and gaining a total of 8 representatives from all over the country.

It is true that we have support from young and urban voters, but as I see it this is not the most interesting thing about Rødt. This has been relatively common in leftist parties the last decades. The most interesting thing about Rødt is that we have had large growth all over the country, including small rural municipalities. Actually, Rødt grew inn all but one of Norway’s 356 municipalities in the last election. Comparing with the similarly positioned Green party we can se a huge difference. They also grew considerably in urban areas, but they lost votes in many more rural parts of the country, just missing the 4% threshold, and getting only 3 directly elected constituency representatives.

I believe an important reason for this, is the conscious and planned gradual building of the party organization over the entire country, and this also influences the party’s policies. When our members come from all over the country, in a lot of different life situations, our policies also will reflect that.

2) We would like to raise the question of the link between mobilization from below and participation in institutions. How would you describe the relation between your party and: the social movements currently active in Norway, on one hand, and the Socialist Left Party and the Labour Party, on the other hand? The SV has not joined the new government that consequently is confronted on its left with a bloc counting on more than 12% votes. However, we wonder: can we talk of a bloc, of an alliance? And what does Rødt expect of the Støres government, in the light of the increasing neoliberal involution of Nordic Social Democracies?

If we go a couple of decades back in time, the Socialist Left Party, and their youth wing dominated many social movements like Attac or the Peace movement, while the Labour party dominated the Labour movement. My impression is that in line with the party’s growth a lot of these movements now feel closer aligned with Rødt than previously. Rødt has not done any forms of “entryism” or such strategies. I would probably say quite the contrary, but I see that a lot of people I got to know that were engaged in social movements but were not in a party or were in other parties some years back, have been joining Rødt more recently. I believe this is simply because they see the party both useful and fitting with their values in a way they perhaps did not do 15 years ago.

The Norwegian Labour party has taken a small left shift after their large right shift from the 80s/90s, but they are still quite a bit to the right if you take a longer historical view. The agrarian based Centre party they are now in government with, have on the other hand taken a small rightward shift in recent years - possibly trying to keep voters they got from the conservative parties during the 8 years of conservative government. This makes the current government more centre-oriented than many had hoped, but they do not have a majority and this gives the hope that they can be pressured.

There has been a huge growth to the left of the current government, and I believe these parties, both Rødt, Socialist Left and the Greens should cooperate to pressure the government, but initially it does not look like this is happening in any large or formalized manner. The Socialist Left party can form a majority with the government and seems content to use this position to pressure the government alone, without involving other parties. Perhaps this can change over time.

3) Norway is not a member state of the EU, although it is associated with it through its membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). In the last period, marked by the pandemic, the UE has adopted a strategy of financial support to the member states, in order to mitigate the disruptive social and economic consequences of Covid-19. These measures, often celebrated as a key to new social and economic models, are in fact imbued with a logic of loan repayment. Furthermore, in the last weeks EU leaders have confirmed their attachment to the austerity paradigm. What is your opinion about the current state of the EU? And how is Rødt going to deal with EU left coalitions, such as GUE/NGL and the Party of the European Left?

Rødt is cooperating with parties within the EU, notably the Scandinavian parties in the GUE/NGL (Vänsterpartiet and Enhedslisten), but we are staunch opponents of Norwegian EU membership, as the Nordic left traditionally has been. We do not see a fundamental shift in the EUs policies, and we see that our membership in the EEA at times forces privatization and marketization of what was traditionally public services, like mail or public transportation, and also a trade and economic model that creates increased economic inequalities and increased carbon emissions (all though they may not always end up on the EU countries carbon budgets).

We of course follow the debate in the EU and in the left with interest, and will welcome any transformation of the union, but for Rødt to change its view on Norwegian membership such a shift would have to be fundamental. As the situation is now, I believe the Norwegian left could accomplish a lot more for Europe by adopting progressive solutions in Norway that would be impossible within the EU due to the constrictions of the treaties, and show that other solutions indeed are possible, than by joining and attempting to “change from within”. I do not see the current development in the EU as any decisive break from the neoliberal model the union has been built on.

4) Rødt has been criticized by climate activists due to its position on wind power and, more generally, its “industrialist culture”. How do you combine in your program protection for employment and economic radical restructuring? And how can climate mobilization be carried on in the country that is Europe's largest petroleum liquids producer and one of the world's top natural gas exporters? We guess that, in addition to lobbying power, the Norwegian climate movement has to face cultural resistances even stronger than in other countries.

This is interesting, and I believe where one of the strengths of having a party based in all parts of the country comes to use. To start with the point of an “industrialist culture”, I believe that if we want to get popular support for stopping climate change, we have to present a program where we can do that while at the same time securing people’s jobs and welfare. This means we will need to build other forms of industry while phasing out oil production so all the engineers, construction workers etc. now employed by the oil and supporting industries can get other jobs. This means i.a. using Norwegian hydropower internally to built climate friendly industries in stead of exporting it. Rødt was early in making such plans. Already in 2009, two years after the party was founded, our first “plan for a fossil free future” was published, and this work has been updated and expanded on many times since then.

On the question of wind power this is a typical case of competing considerations. Along with climate change loss of natural habitat is the great global threat to life on this planet. Wind farms asphalt and destroy large areas of Norwegian nature, and this is not a question that should be taken lightly. Norway’s largest environmental organization (Naturvernforbundet) is e.g. also opposed to these wind farms. There are also conflicts with the rights of Norway’s indigenous Sami population, where Norways supreme court recently deemed one established wind farm as illegal as it was built on traditional reindeer grazing grounds and came in conflict with indigenous rights. All in all, I thus believe the critique of resistance against wind power is a bit simplistic. It always has to be compared to the alternatives, like spending similar resources on upgrading existing hydropower plants or simply reducing energy consumption.

5) Keeping with oil… scholars have coined the category of “petrol populism”, to point out to a strategy, in countries such as Norway and Venezuela among others, intended to get popular support by using resource revenues. The Progress Party, that has largely impacted Norwegian political agenda, lost the last general election. Do you think that this is the end of an era or in Norway, too, regardless of electoral results is right-wing populism by now mainstream? How is Rødt counteracting the populist campaign among workers?

Over years Norway has put money from our petroleum production into what is now the world’s largest sovereign wealth fund, and in Norway the discussion more often goes along the lines of “fiscal responsibility”. There is a general agreement amongst the major parties of not using mot than 4 % of the dividend of this fund into the annual government budgets.

The Red party does not subscribe to this principle. We believe what the money is being spent on is more important than how much is spent. Notably we believe it is reasonable that some of the money made creating the climate crises, should be spent transforming our society to a fairer, greener one.

The Progress Party’s problems I believe are mainly twofold. Firstly their 7 years in government with huge tax cuts for the rich, and welfare cuts and increases in public fees for the rest has definitely damaged their populist credibility. At the same time, we have seen over decades a gradual positive development in the Norwegian populations attitude towards minorities. Attacking minorities and trying to create a moral panic has traditionally been the Progress Party’s go to-strategy when they slump in the polls. The potential of this strategy is now diminished.

Rødt’s strategy is one of keeping our eyes on the economic issues where the large majority of the population have common interests, and building solidarity across statuses differences in ethnicity, gender, sexuality etc. on this basis. At the same time, we reject the rights attempts of creating moral panics creating spectra’s of “political correctness” or the more recent “wokeness” with no basis in quantitative data, with the clear ambition of dividing people that have common interests.
So far, the strategy seems to be working well.

Skriv ny kommentar

Innholdet i dette feltet blir ikke vist for andre.
  • E-postadresser og URLer vises automatisk som linker.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd>
  • Linjer og paragrafer brytes automatisk.

Mer informasjon om formatering