By bomb and by bullet, Anders Behring Breivik delivered mass murder upon Norway. The ‘motive’ for his rampage, which resulted in the deaths of at least 76 people, is not the stuff of a psychological thriller. The truth of his ‘motive’ – or what we know of the truth so far – is much worse. Breivik’s actions were based upon a cool, considered and in their own terms ‘rational’ political calculation. For political ends he took innocent lives and he is now set to use the Norwegian courts as a stage to justify himself. A more macabre pantomime it would be hard to imagine.
What do we know of Breivik and the Norway he savaged? On the afternoon of Friday 22nd July, a car bomb exploded in the governmental heart of Oslo. Positioned near the office of the Labour prime minister and the offices of the Norwegian Labour Party, the bomb caused considerable damage: shattered glass, internal collapse, destruction and death. A short time later, reports emerged of gunfire on the island of Utoeya, the site of a Labour Party youth camp.
Dressed as a policeman, Breivik calmly hunted down and murdered scores of people on the island. He did so meticulously, selecting a type of ammunition designed to explode inside the human body and putting bullets through the heads of those ‘playing dead’ in the hope of avoiding murder. His selection of a police uniform enabled him to pose as his victims’ rescuer: he rounded them up and opened fire.
Breivik was well prepared in other ways. As the massacre commenced, he posted a fifteen hundred page ‘manifesto’ on the internet. This document helps to trace Breivik’s evolution from a socially conservative Christian to the radical right-wing murderer he became.
Norway is a modern, Western liberal democracy. It has an extensive welfare state with free universal health care, heavily subsidised higher education and a robust social security system. In 2010, the country had the highest human development index in the world. The country has an estimated GDP per capita of $53,269 and a 3.6% unemployment rate, compared to $35,289 and 7.6% respectively in the UK.
Historically dominated by the Labour and Conservative parties, the present government is a ‘Red-Green’ coalition between Labour Party, the Socialist Left Party and Centre Party. As with other Scandinavian – and in fact most European – countries, Norway has an organised extreme right-wing and fascist political scene. Unlike its neighbours, they are tiny manifestations with no public presence.
Of Norway’s estimated population of 4.9 million, there are 500,000 immigrants. Of these 500,000, Pakistanis are the largest non-European minority. It is the Pakistani, along with Somali and Iraqi, immigrants that held Breivik’s attention.
What concerned Breivik and motivated his right-wing politics was not the state of the Norwegian economy, not standards of living. He and other extreme right-wingers could not point to a divided and obviously corrupt government. They could not and cannot pose themselves as substitute leaders and national saviours of a wrecked and decaying social order. Like any other capitalist country, Norway is not without its problems but it is neither socially nor economically on its knees.
In the place of appeals to traditional extreme right-wing and fascist dogma, has grown a fixation on the preservation of ‘national identity’. These spurious appeals aren’t set against the threat of immanent societal destruction but against what is portrayed as a creeping, institutional undermining of the ‘foundational structures’ of this ‘identity’. The basis for this ‘undermining’ is specifically Muslim immigration, although more ‘sophisticated’ adherents to this viewpoint trace the problem back much further.
Aided and abetted by “multiculturalists” and “cultural Marxists” in government – sometimes deliberately, but occasionally as unwitting dupes – Muslims (ie. anyone from Middle Eastern or Asian backgrounds) and their “Islamic” faith are slowly but surely taking over. This belief motivated Breivik’s attack on the ruling Labour Party. In this world-view there is a highly organised conspiracy with hazy motivations from the top to the bottom of society. The reality of the bombing of the World Trade Centre, the lives murderously stolen and the destruction wrought upon New York breathed life into the idea. The existence of small but highly organised Islamist clerical-fascist organisations – Al Qaida being the most obvious – and the barbaric atrocities they commit are the foundational stone, the ‘winner takes all, we told you so’ justification for this anti-Muslim racism.
In the UK, both the British National Party and English Defence League have used such ideas to mobilise considerable support. In ‘oh-so-liberal’ Holland, Gurt Wilders’ Freedom Party was delivered into coalition government. In equally ‘liberal’ Denmark – where the national flag is joyously waved at all opportunities, including children’s birthday celebrations – a significant political group, the Danish People’s Party has 25 seats in parliament. In Norway, the 'Progress Party' came second in the 2009 parliamentary elections. This party calls for greater restrictions on immigration but is essentially a social conservative grouping. As such, it doesn't offer a political home for the likes Breivik.
So what did Breivik do? What do you do if you’re convinced that Muslims are attempting to “colonise” Europe? What do you do if you believe that this “colonisation” heralds “catastrophic consequences” for non-Muslims? What course of action to take if you are politically marginalised and ignored? What to do if you adhere – as Breivik clearly does – to John Stuart Mill’s dictum that “[o]ne person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests”?
There is only one course of action open to you: political terror. But this was not political terror as martyrdom. Breivik has not ascended to heaven to be welcomed with open arms for his actions. His life was not taken for the ‘good of the cause’. His actions and the preservation of his life seem deliberate. According to his manifesto, the murders of 22 July were a “preparation phase” for “armed struggle” to come. He is clear that such a struggle will not appear as from nowhere, that it takes time and preparation. The “armed struggle” he envisions will be a race war. A war of the “West” against Muslims. A war to ethnically cleanse Europe. A war of national and racial preservation.
Breivik’s race war is the ‘rational’ conclusion of the logic operating at the heart of wide-spread anti-Muslim racism. This same logic operates in the politics of both the BNP and EDL. Breivik’s individual act is the ‘rational’ conclusion of the isolated and the marginal political extremist hoping to spark a movement into life.
Whether we can short-circuit this logic (in either its micro or macro forms) will be a test of independent working class politics both in Britain and further afield. The fragmentation of the BNP and the ever-rightward moving trajectory of the EDL – its fractures, splits and disputes included – pose fundamental challenges. Breivik’s admiration for and tentative links with the EDL stand as a warning.
Against the Breiviks, the Wilders, the Griffins and the Robinsons we pose the real and necessary prospect of working-class anti-racism and anti-fascism. Against those who buy even a little of the anti-Muslim racism these characters thrive upon we pose the real history of the world and the real history of our class. Against the conspiracies and racial hatred, we pose the material realities and contradictions that govern and form reality. Against those who demand race war, we say “unite as a class and fight exploitation and oppression in whatever manifestation”.