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26 November 2007

Reds under Danish beds

Right-wing rhetoric about socialism in modern Denmark has curious parallels with paranoia about the

By Tabish Khair

Hans Hauge, associate professor and newspaper columnist, is very angry. In a recent article in the conservative paper, Jyllands Posten, he writes that people act “insulted” when he calls them “Marxists, Leninists, communists and socialists” even though that is what they are.

Instead, these hidden “Marxists, Leninists, communists and socialists” parade as “humanists” and infest the humanities departments of Danish universities. In less quixotic terms, he ends the article by expressing the hope that a new ‘research minister’ will ride up on a white charger and rid Danish universities of the red plague.

The article came out just after the conservative-liberalist coalition headed by Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen was voted back into power for the third time. This means that for almost a decade Denmark has been run by an alliance of conservatives and liberalists, supported by a nationalist party with xenophobic tendencies. Socialists were never farther from power.

Danish educational institutions – ranging from universities to kindergartens – are being vigorously restructured along neo-liberalist lines, despite opposition.

Various kinds of protests have been banned by law or will be soon enough – things such as wearing a hood during a demonstration. Danish intellectuals, as Hauge correctly notes, squirm when they are called socialists, and run for safety when they are called Marxists.

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Publications often speak of Lenin and Stalin in one breath. I recently attended a ‘debate’ in which one speaker dismissed Trotsky and Stalin, as being “all the same”, and no one objected that this was as apt as putting Churchill and Hitler together.

The discourse about the ‘left’ in Denmark resembles what took place in England during the early Thatcher period. It is sometimes rooted in legitimate points of criticism, but it usually becomes one-sided and ideological.

The club of Stalinism is wielded to batter down any talk of socialism. Even intellectuals and academics speak with little objectivity and glibly conflate, as Hauge does, Marxism, Leninism, Socialism and Communism. They even throw in the ‘humanities’, if there is anyone left in your Department who still reads Marx, Adorno, Althusser, Fanon. Weed them out – the call seems to be shaping up!

Scandinavia was a polite battleground during the Cold War years. This meant that both the KGB and the CIA had strong interests in Denmark, a fact perhaps reflected by the rise of Scandinavian crime fiction in the 20th century and the tendency of Scandinavian critics to take crime fiction more seriously than British ones.

But something else has happened over the past 12 years or more: it started under the previous ‘Social Democratic’ government, which strove to turn from ‘faded red’ to ‘welfare pink’. Now, there is a growing tendency to focus on the evils of the USSR-led communist empire, and trace the complicity of some Danes in the matter, but to overlook the role of the CIA and US-interests, or Danish complicity on the right, during the same Cold War years. The discussion is not just slanted, as it is in much of Europe; it is often lop-sided.

Despite the rhetoric of the right and Hauge, Danish universities are far less politically active in any ‘left-leaning’ cause than many British or even American universities. Anti-war protests, EU-protests, immigration-issues etc almost never impact on Danish campuses. Actually, high school students are more politically active on the streets than university students: something happens to them when they join universities.

Areas like gender studies and postcolonial studies – which are usually sympathetic to left-leaning thinkers – are weaker in Denmark, and less funded, than in many neighbouring countries.

There are at least three chairs in postcolonial studies in Germany, but I cannot imagine a chair in postcolonial studies coming up in any Danish university. A year ago, I looked for books by Marx in three Danish university bookshops and found only one title. Recently, I asked the most (and only) ‘reddish’ member of my Department – he has retired – what he thought of Terry Eagleton, and I was told that Eagleton is “too radical”.

It is somehow fashionable not to be really left. This is nothing new: it has been fashionable in most Danish intellectual circles at least from the 1980s. But, unlike in some other countries, it seems to be getting worse.

This is convenient in a rich state almost closed to non-European immigration. Because it prevents Danes from facing up to a central contradiction of Capitalism (but, of course, the ‘correct’ term these days is ‘globalisation’): that labour is still not as free as capital. And hence, the world has only two options: democratic international socialism, or ‘real Capitalism’ which will allow Third World labour to move about as freely as First World capital.

I am not a Danish intellectual, like Hans Hauge: I prefer the socialist option.

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