A self-proclaimed conservative Christian who rants and raves obsessively about immigration, Islam and Marxism goes on a murderous rampage at a summer camp where young social democrats gather to sing, dance and talk about building a more just, sustainable and peaceful world.
So what does Glenn Beck find “disturbing”?
Well, we all know where this is headed.
After describing the shooting spree by Norwegian right-winger Anders Behring Breivik, which killed at least sixty-eight people at a socialist youth camp near Oslo, the radio host said the camp “sounds a little like the Hitler Youth. I mean, who does a camp for kids that’s all about politics? Disturbing.”
Actually, it’s Beck’s statement that is disturbing—and completely wrong.
The young people who gathered at the camp on the Norwegian island of Utoya were the opposite of Hitler Youth. In fact, they were the direct descendants, individually and ideologically, of the courageous young socialists who played such a vital role in the Norwegian resistance to the Nazis.
The campers who were attacked were members of the Norway’s Arbeidernes Ungdomsfylking (AUF), the Workers’ Youth League that is the youth wing of the country’s social democratic Labour Party. In the aftermath of World War II, the Oslo Trade Union Confederation purchased the island and given as a gift to the AUF in recognition of the sacrifices that young socialists had made in the struggle against fascism.
When Hitler’s Nazi armies invaded and occupied Norway in 1940, they banned the AUF and imprisoned its leader, Gunnar Sand. His successor as head of the AUF, Trygve Bratteli, led the Labour Party’s crisis committee following the Nazi invasion of Norway before his arrest by the Germans in 1942. Imprisoned in a series of concentration camps, he was liberated in April, 1945, Bratteli returned to Norway as a hero who led the AUF in the postwar years and eventually became Norway’s prime minister.
So Beck has got things exactly wrong with his reference to “Hitler Youth.”
But what he really got wrong was the notion that there is something wrong, something “disturbing,” something foreign, about young socialists gathering to listen to music, to dance, to swim and play sports and to imagine a better world.
This is an international tradition. And it is an American tradition.
America’s Socialist Party—which once elected members of Congress, big-city mayors and state legislators, while mounting presidential campaigns that regularly secured close to a million votes—was organizing youth camps a century ago. Indeed, the Milwaukee Socialists organized year-round programs where young people learned theater, dance and song, discussed the books of active Socialist authors such as Carl Sandburg and Jack London and talked politics. The Communist Party would develop similar cultural programs and camps, featuring the likes of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, in the 1930s and 1940s
Members and allies of the Young People’s Socialist League (known as “Yipsels”) would go on to become some of the most successful and politically vital American union leaders of the twentieth century. Walter Reuther built and led the United Auto Workers. Jerry Wurf led the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees during its period of great expansion in the 1970s.
In Europe, young socialist groups continue to produce not just labor leaders but political leaders. Norway’s current prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, is a former AUF leader. Indeed, when Breivik bombed downtown Olso neighborhood where the prime minister’s office is located, Stoltenberg was at his home preparing a speech that he had planned to deliver a few hours later to the 600 AUF members gathered on Utoya.
After the killings in Norway, socialist youth groups around the world rallied in solidarity with the AUF. “Our hearts go out to those who lost their lives, to those who were injured, and those that lost loved ones due to the attacks. The fact that the shooting was committed at a youth event is utterly despicable. These attacks are very personal for our organization, as the assaulted socialist youth organization, AUF, is the sister organization of YDS in Norway,” declared the Young Democratic Socialists, the youth section of Democratic Socialists of America. “A right-wing Christian fanatic seems to have perpetuated these crimes against humanity and we hope the assassins are brought to justice. The immediate accusations against Muslims as the terrorists remind Americans of our last large-scale domestic terrorist attack: the Federal building bombing in Oklahoma in 1995. There, too, Muslims were the first suspects in what ultimately proved to be another shining example of rising reactionary and nationalistic politics of a small segment of white America. We hope this begins the rejection of the hate politics of the new Right in Europe by the voters. Whatever the results, we stand in solidarity with you in the wake of this tragedy.”
The Glenn Becks of the world, with their anger at groups that even mention the word “social justice,” warp history and the present to create a false impression of socialist and social democratic groups in the United States and abroad. Whether it is ignorance or purposeful denial of the facts, they imagine young people who understand and extend the principle of international solidarity as somehow threatening or “disturbing.”
The truth is entirely opposite what Beck says. The young people who gathered on Utoya did so as champions of ideals that inspired young Americans a century ago, that inspired those who opposed Hitler seven decades ago and that inspire those who challenge the bigotry and violence of modern-day neo-Nazis, fascists and extreme-right fanatics.
Norwegian Prime Minister Stoltenberg quoted from a response to the attacks by a Utoya camper, and AUF member. “If one man can create that much hate, you can only imagine how much love we as a togetherness can create.”
That is the language of international solidarity that offers the best antidote to the violence that has struck Norway, and to the ignorance of American commentators who cannot distinguish between evil and those who fight against evil.
(John Nichols’s book The “S” Word: A Short History of an American Tradition (Verso) is described by author Naomi Klein as: “a chilling reminder of how much rich American history has been erased by shallow messaging. A crucial book.” The Washington Post hails it as a history that reveals “the legacy of our homegrown radicals.”)