Sunday, September 16, 2018

Therapy for the Third Period

I haven't read this old gem for decades, but I tried to refresh my memory by reading an extensive summary of it on the web. “Behöver vänstern gå i terapi?” is a book written by Janne Josefsson, who much later became Sweden's most famous investigative reporter. His co-writer is Mats Zetterberg, a rock musician. Back in 1976, the year of publication, both authors were posited on the far left end of the political spectrum. Today, at least Josefsson sounds more right-wing.

As I remember it, the book is fairly bizarre. It's title means “Does the left need therapy?” The authors answer in the affirmative, and after reading their interviews with various more or less deranged faux revolutionaries, the reader will probably agree. The far left groups described are strongly puritanical and “proletarian”, to the point of condemning commercial chart music. One member of a small Stalinist group had to attend concerts with Ike & Tina Turner in secret! An interest in fashion, poetry or classical art was considered “bourgeois”. Watching or playing soccer was alright, though. Most members of KFML(r) and FK (two of the featured groups) came from middle class backgrounds, but attempted to “proletarianize” themselves by wearing cheaper clothes, consuming snus (a special kind of tobacco popular in Sweden) and taking shabby jobs (the shabbier the better). Politically, the people interviewed sound ultraleft. They call Sweden “fascist”, see Social Democracy as the main enemy, and want to “kill” individual capitalists.

One anecdote is downright comical. During a visit to Enver Hoxha's Albania, members of the Maoist SKP spent their free time on the beach, singing and dancing, which was roundly condemned by the Albanian hosts. By chance, the super-Stalinist KFML(r) had sent its own delegation to the country simultaneously. It naturally backed the puritanical Albanian comrades, who also demanded that women should wear skirts while men must be clean-shaven!

How much of the above is true? Personally, I think the two authors have a skewed sample. Most of their interviewees seem to be current or former members of the Third Period Stalinist KFML(r), a notoriously dysfunctional group. Including more members of the Trotskyist RMF or the Maoist (Hua/Deng) SKP may have led to different results. While their politics may have been “out there”, I never heard similar scare stories about their organizations. Back in the days, I wouldn't have feared for somebody's personal sanity if he or she joined the Trotskyist-controlled “trade union opposition” at Volvo or some Maoist-controlled tenants union, but the KFML(r) was something else again. I can't vouch for the FK, but then, nobody seems to understand what that group was all about anyway.

Josefsson's and Zetterberg's solutions to the psychological problems of the hard left are unclear, but seems to have a broad family likeness with Maurice Brinton's attempted synthesis of Marx and Reich (Brinton's “The Irrational in Politics” is reviewed by me elsewhere). The left must overcome its alienation through progressive psychotherapy and realize that everyday life, too, needs to be liberated. The revolution must be total and affect sex, feelings and the private life of the individual, not just politics in the strict sense. Obsessive full time activism is criticized. Simultaneously, the authors point out that the workers are alienated and oppressed, too, and that this strong oppression explains why the left has not been able to reach out to the broad masses. Somehow, I get the impression that the “oppression” the authors talk about is what everyone else calls “boredom”…

Today, Josefsson's and Zetterberg's book is mostly considered a curiosity, if it's even mentioned at all. It's one of those peculiar seventies books you really don't know what to do with, up there with Jan Myrdal's and Lars Gustafsson's “Den onödiga samtiden” or Björn Ahlander's “Revolutionens anatomi”. I'm not sure how to rate it, but three stars sounds like a reasonable reformist compromise…

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