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Vilhelm Moberg and politics

The totalitarian state

Share on FacebookShare on WhatsAppShare on TelegramShare on TwitterNow that Sweden's political and media authorities are once again gathered in Almedalen and presenting their visions for how they want to help us all collectively reach the promised land, I thought it might be interesting to hear [...]

Now that Sweden's political and media authorities are once again gathered in Almedalen and presenting their visions for how they want to help us all collectively reach the promised land, I thought it might be interesting to hear what Vilhelm Moberg thought about politics.

Vilhelm Moberg was not loyal to any particular ideology, nor did he belong to any political party in the latter part of his life. He believed that as a writer and social critic one should be impartial and true only to oneself and one's principles.

But he still felt that politics was too important to be left to politicians. As we shall see in the quotes below, he believed that citizens themselves must get more involved and get involved in their own affairs. This is the basis of his enormous campaign for individual liberty, a campaign that I've seen through Allmogen intend to continue and pass on to future generations.

"But the development of the world is frightening: the individual is being wiped out," Moberg said in a 1965 interview. Johan Norberg describes in his book "Vilhelm Moberg the Resistance Man" that the only thing Moberg consistently defended "was freedom and the individual. And he did it in his own interest - because he wanted to raise his voice in defence of what he believed in. He liked to quote from Strindberg's Mäster Olof:"

Master Olof

For Moberg, freedom was "the very condition of man's well-being on earth". And it was not enough, he said, to go and vote every four years. Otherwise, the gap between "the rulers" and "the ruled" would be far too wide. As he said in a radio interview in Dagens Eko on 12 October 1947:

"If the citizen's political input is limited to the electoral act itself every two or four years, and all public debate is reserved for professional politicians, then the political interest of the people is killed. It is an unfortunate development in a democracy if politics is to become like a science, practised by specialists, while the public is left out. In this way the ground is prepared for the totalitarian state. A politically indifferent people is the easiest victim of dictatorship."

Vilhelm Moberg was one of Sweden's most vocal opponents of the totalitarian forces of the Second World War, Nazism and Communism. As Johan Norberg tells us, after the end of the war, the struggle went on, "against the communism that remained in the East, and against the intellectuals in Sweden who went along with it." He spoke of "unfree Sweden", which after the war never had the same chance to purge Nazis and even more so Communists from its own ranks as its neighbours did. But an almost more serious threat to freedom was the totalitarian tendencies that existed in the democratic countries. The concept of freedom was distorted and there was a risk of sacrificing freedom for freedom's sake.

Vilhelm Moberg mentioned several times in speeches and texts that what he saw as the greatest threat to Swedish freedom came not from foreign power, but from the domestic state autocracy, from the growing power of the collective over the individual, from the social democracy of which he himself was a part in his youth. In a compilation published in 1959, "My View of Social Democracy", he writes:

"In place of the former, personal, patriarchal oppression, they have thus introduced a state apparatus which exercises an impersonal, anonymous, mechanically functioning oppression. They have laid a solid foundation for a state-capitalist society in which the gates are slowly being opened by the back door to the authoritarian state, in which the individual is wiped out by the collective and transformed into an object of state benefit."

But already 12 years earlier, on 12 October 1947, in a radio interview in Dagens Eko, he warned of the totalitarian state:

"The totalitarian state can take us by surprise from within, by stealthy means we never think of, one step at a time. I believe that this danger is becoming a reality for us.[...] Freedom under responsibility is an old, sympathetic slogan. Now it seems that we will have instead freedom under control, and with such freedom, it is not very well known. At least it's not our old Swedish."

"Those who have the power of the word must fight against those who have the power," he said. It is a fight we are taking - for the freedom and right of individuals and families to decide their lives, and for the democratic right of the local community to shape and decide its future beyond the iron fist of Swedish central power and the EU's ruling power.

This country is ours, and we want and intend to keep it. But we want to continue our work here on the basis of freedom. - Vilhelm Moberg, Norrtälje 12 October 1947

According to Moberg, Swedish democracy and, above all, freedom of speech were the best guarantee of individual freedom. But democracy could never mean that "51 percent of the population in Sweden rules and decides over the remaining 49 percent". This was rather to be regarded as a dictatorship, or, as he continued to call it, a "democracy" (Sweden - a democracy in Göteborgs-Posten 2 August 1970).

On the contrary, he considered the main idea of democracy to be "that everyone may live his life as he thinks best as long as he does not infringe on the right of anyone else to live as he thinks best."

Vilhelm Moberg and freedom

And here we come to the heart of the question of freedom, something that Moberg returned to again and again in his texts and speeches:

"The great problem of our time, which we experience every day in a very concrete and tangible way, is the contradiction between the citizen and society, between the individual and the collective, between organisations and the unorganised, the struggle between man and his own creations. In every area of our daily lives we encounter the tentacles of the state, a creeping influence, a more or less perceptible control over our actions. The state tries to bring us under its sway - like Amman putting the straitjacket on the master of the horse in the final scene of Strindberg's The Father."

In the speech on Swedish Flag Day, in Gävle on 6 June 1944, Moberg argued that the state machine does not primarily take into account the living human being but itself, and then asked whether the citizen was meant to exist primarily as an object of state benefit.

"If the development that has begun continues, life in this country will become unbearable for all who value their individual freedom, their self-evident human rights. Our people have fought a hard and tenacious battle to acquire this freedom, these rights. They are dearly paid values.

I stand in solidarity with all the forces in the country that want to help preserve them, whatever party they belong to. In the struggle between man and the state, I am entirely on the side of man."

So do we.

As a popular poet, Vilhelm Moberg was loved by everyone, but as a social critic he was hated by the powers that be. He saw it as his and other poets' task to be the "stinging salt" that "preserves the body of society from decay". He explains:

There is a kind of writing that is a form of reaction against the author's environment, against the pressures of the world in which he lives, a reaction against the ills and conventions of society - ultimately against those in power.

We are the reaction. We are the stinging salt. We stand against evil.

We are the general public.

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4 thoughts on “Vilhelm Moberg och politiken

    • Daniel Sjöberg says:

      Hi Karl, thanks for your comment. I have written a lot about Moberg, and have highlighted the very quote you mention several times. You can't include everything in every article.

  1. Roy Solino-Moreno says:

    Admirable initiative to publish Moberg's thoughts on Sweden which become more and more probable every day, even if it is done in the obvious hope of selling gadgets. The market's largely total lack of morals and ethics and the highly contagious disease of unabashed greed do not, at least, seem to have affected you and this site. Well done.

    • Daniel Sjöberg says:

      Hi Roy, I'm glad to hear that you appreciate Moberg's thoughts as much as I do. He was a man ahead of his time. As you point out, over the years a shop has grown up in connection with this popular education project, where those who want to support Allmogens's work can find something nice to buy. From the very beginning, I never even considered the idea of applying for and depending on any kind of government subsidy, which is the norm in the so-called "free" and "independent" cultural sector. Instead, I have relied on voluntary donations and offering a growing range of relevant goods to fund and develop the project. I understand that it may look like I'm publishing Moberg's thoughts to sell gadgets, but I can assure you that it's just the opposite - I'm selling gadgets in order to devote more time and resources to publishing more articles like this one.

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