147 min read

About the text:

A Chapter of the book: Turning Money into Rebellion. Page 93-181. Kerplebedeb Publishing and PM Press, 2014.
The interview was conducted by Gabriel Kuhn in Copenhagen in the spring of 2013. All footnotes in this interview by the editor. (Some of the footnotes has been supplied with links in the online edition by the online editor. Other footnotes pointing to notes on a specific page in the printed edition are replaced with the actual content.)

If possible the illustrations in the online edition are replaced with colour versions. [Online editors note].

For further information see the link collection of book reviews and articles on the Blekingegade Case: Blekingegade-sagen at Socialistisk Bibliotek (Copenhagen based Socialist Online Library). – Mostly in Danish. See also the section Efterspil (Aftermath) in the menu of snylterstaten.dk.

KAK and the Parasite State Theory

How did you first get involved with KAK?

Jan: I was interested in politics because of my family. Both my mother and my father were in the DKP. Together with other students from my high school, including Holger Jensen, I started going to demonstrations against the Vietnam War. Holger was the first who had connections to KAK. There was also a student who was very interested in political theory. He showed me a series of articles that KAK had published under the name “To linjer” in Kommunistisk Orientering. [1] Reading those articles was a revelation to me. They described convincingly why the class struggle had no perspective in Denmark and why it was necessary to support revolutionary movements in the Third World instead. As a consequence, I went from moral opposition to the war to theoretical study and activism. KAK’s ties to China, which were still intact at the time, weren’t that important to me. I was mainly attracted by the parasite state theory, and in 1968, I joined the Anti-imperialist Action Committee.

Torkil: I first heard about KAK in 1969. I went to a boarding school in Holbæk, about 65 kilometers from Copenhagen. There was a fellow student, Kim, who was a Maoist. He was a KAK sympathizer and explained Marxism, imperialism, and the parasite state theory to me. It all made perfect sense, and I could recognize much of what he said in everyday life. The theories seemed to explain the world very well. It was obvious that the living conditions of European workers were very different from those of workers in the Third World. One day, Kim invited Holger to come and talk to us. Holger arrived on his East German motorcycle with short hair and clean clothes — not the typical appearance of young leftists at the time. I was impressed by his commitment and sincerity. In 1971, I joined KUF.

How did KUF relate to KAK?

Jan: KUF was sort of a recruiting ground for KAK. While KAK focused on theory, KUF was more action-oriented. KUF always had more members, too, and at times there were modest attempts at challenging the dominance of KAK — but Gotfred Appel always kept things in check.

How did the Anti-imperialist Action Committee fit in?

Torkil: It provided an arena for direct action. It was quite open and a testing ground for potential KUF and KAK members.

How much influence did Appel have on KUF’s journal, Ungkommunisten?

Jan: Not that much, actually. The journal was not censored by Gotfred, if that is what you’re asking. However, he made it very clear when something was published that he didn’t like.

And his role in Kommunistisk Orientering, KAK’s journal?

Jan: That was basically his own project. At the same time, one must not underestimate the role of Ulla Hauton, which I think many of us did in the 1970s. She always read and commented on Gotfred’s texts and he took her criticism very seriously. The fact that many of us never fully understood the relationship between Gotfred and Ulla certainly contributed to KAK’s end in 1978.

In 1972, KAK also founded Tøj til Afrika. How did this project relate to KAK, and how many people were active in it?

Torkil: Nationwide, there were between fifty and sixty people active in TTA. Some only wanted to support liberation movements, others moved on to join KAK. We usually referred to TTA members as “sympathizers.”

In a nutshell, what made KAK unique within the left of its time?

Torkil: That certainly was the parasite state theory developed by Gotfred Appel.

What led to the theory?

Torkil: In the 1960s, Gotfred had a Maoist perspective. Many KAK members were sent to work at big companies such as the shipyard Burmeister & Wain, the machine manufacturer FLSmidth, and Tuborg Breweries. The intention was twofold. First, KAK members should study the living conditions of the workers. For example, was it a problem for them when their children needed new shoes or had to go see the dentist? Second, KAK members should try to mobilize the working class on a “nonrevisionist and anti-imperialist” basis. This proved extremely difficult. There was no “single spark that could start a prairie fire” — everything seemed pretty damp.

So, the parasite state theory was a result of KAK’s failure to mobilize the working class?

Jan: No, that would be too simple. It was based on studies as well. KAK members knew how high the living standard of the Danish working class was, and we were familiar with Lenin’s writings on the labor aristocracy. There was both an empirical and a theoretical angle.

Torkil: Marx and Engels also wrote about the relationship between the English and the Irish working class and illustrated how an imperial working class treats a colonial one. The parasite state theory clearly had reference points in classical Marxism. Another important influence were ideas formulated during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Lin Biao, for example, described a revolutionary situation as peasants surrounding towns, which, on a global scale, translated into Third World nations surrounding the imperialist ones …

So, if you knew all this, why were KAK members send to the factories?

Jan: KAK was still a Marxist organization and the industrial proletariat is central to the Marxist concept of revolution. You didn’t want to count out the working class that easily. So, instead of just drawing the obvious conclusions from our analysis, it still needed to be put to test. I would say that the infiltration of the factories was a final attempt to establish a politically productive relationship to the working class. But that didn’t happen. It even proved impossible to get workers involved in the Vietnam solidarity movement. In 1969, KAK got into conflict with the Chinese leadership.

Torkil: That was a matter of analysis. The Peking Review published an article celebrating “gigantic revolutionary mass movements” in Western Europe.[2] In response, KAK wrote a letter to the CPC and to the Chinese ambassador in Denmark, stating that this was a completely inaccurate perception and that we had empirical data to prove it. We basically said, “You use the same language to describe what is happening in Indonesia or Vietnam that you use to describe developments in France or Germany. Why? Those are two very different things.” As a result, the official ties to China were cut.

Cover of the Peking Review no. 18, 1969; the issue was dedicated to the Ninth National Congress of the CPC and contained the cited article by Lin Biao.
Cover of the Peking Review no. 18, 1969; the issue was dedicated to the Ninth National Congress of the CPC and contained the cited article by Lin Biao.
Final paragraph of a letter sent by Gotfred Appel to the Chinese Ambassador to Copenhagen, March 29, 1969. the full text is online at snylterstaten.dk. Another critical letter was sent by Gotfred Appel to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, April 24, 1968 in order to discuss the Chinese media’s coverage of Western Europe and is also online at snylterstaten.dk.
Final paragraph of a letter sent by Gotfred Appel to the Chinese Ambassador to Copenhagen, March 29, 1969. the full text is online here. Another critical letter was sent by Gotfred Appel to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, April 24, 1968 in order to discuss the Chinese media’s coverage of Western Europe. It’s online here.

The Vietnam War seems to have played an important role for KAK. How did your experiences from organizing protests against the war influence your politics?

Torkil: The protests confirmed where the Danish working class stood. Those who came to the demonstrations were young people and students, not workers.

Jan: This wasn’t unique to Denmark of course. In the U.S., antiwar demonstrations were even attacked by trade unionists. Our experiences in the factories were telling. When we handed out flyers about antiwar demonstrations, we got no response at all. The workers were interested in higher wages, not international politics. They were led by the representatives of the labor aristocracy, the DKP and the trade unions.

Torkil: The DKP, for example, controlled the Sømændenes forbund, a seamen’s union. During the Vietnam War, the union was quite happy to ship supplies to the American troops in Saigon, as long as its members had their wages doubled for sailing into high-risk zones.

What was the class background of KAK’s members?

Torkil: Both working class and middle class. My father was a ferry navigator and my mother a nurse. Holger’s father was a carpenter, Niels’s father was a bookkeeper. The standard of living of my family increased enormously at the end of the 1950s — we could afford a house, a car, and holidays in Italy and Spain.

Jan: My father was a firefighter and my mother worked different factory jobs. I have two older brothers, both of whom are craftsmen. I was the first one in my family to get a high school diploma. Quite a few KUF members also held working-class jobs. Peter Døllner was a carpenter, Holger Jensen a firefighter. Gotfred Appel drove a taxi for a few years, before KAK provided a modest salary for him and Ulla.

Let us continue with KAK’s history: once it was clear that the working class of the imperialist countries no longer qualified as a revolutionary subject, you turned to the masses of the Third World. Is that correct?

Jan: Our reasoning can be summed up in four steps:

  1. The capitalists of the imperialist countries made huge profits, superprofits, by exploiting the Third World. Later, we used the theory of unequal exchange to further this analysis.[3]
  2. The superprofits were not freely distributed to the workers of the First World. Capitalism does not distribute anything freely. However, the superprofits created social conditions, in which workers, led by Social Democratic parties, fought for pieces of the pie. At times, it needed long and hard struggles to get those pieces, but during those struggles the labor aristocracy was formed.
  3. Over time, the interests of the capitalist class and the working class in the imperialist countries became more and more alike. The pri-mary interest of the workers was to keep their jobs, and hence a strong capitalist economy, even if that meant fighting imperialist wars.
  4. As a result, the workers of the imperialist countries did not side with the workers and peasants of the Third World, but with those who gave them jobs, namely the Western capitalists. On a psy-chological and social level, the workers never were our enemies, though. Most individuals follow their objective interests.So, how come some don’t? Like, apparently, you?

So, how come some don’t? Like, apparently, you?

Jan: Of course there is always a difference between the situation of an indi-vidual and the situation of a class; or, between psychology and sociology, if you will. There is a possibility for individuals to act against the objective short-term interests of their class. But these individuals will always be a mi-nority and even for them it needs special circumstances.

Torkil: The special circumstances in our case were provided by the unique situation at the end of the 1960s. Social protest movements in the imperialist countries, liberation movements in the colonized countries, and a wide-spread belief in a better world opened a window for us. And then there was KAK right here in Denmark, which provided a concrete possibility for revolutionary organizing. This was a strong cocktail. But to be clear: as an individual you can never completely leave the objective conditions of your life behind. In 1974, we published a book, in which guerrilla fighters from Angola told their stories. It was called “Victory or Death.” [4] That was not our reality. We could always make choices. Your socialization always catches up with you. Today I like to say that I can feel neo-liberalism running in my blood, too …

I’m sure we will get to neoliberalism. But let us stick to the “unique situation” of the late 1960s for a moment. You have mentioned “the belief in a better world” and the “concrete possibility for revolutionary organizing.” What did you expect to happen?

Torkil: Our view of revolutionary development was simple. In 1969–1970 there were about forty liberation movements active in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. The Vietnamese struggle was heading towards victory, and it looked good for many others as well. The rhetoric of most movements was anti-imperialist and socialist. They vowed to put an end to capitalist super-profits. This opened up the prospect for a fundamental crisis of capitalism with huge effects for both the capitalist class and the working class of the imperialist countries, which, in turn, promised to create the necessary conditions for a global uprising. What can I say? We had a very deterministic view of history.

Jan: We basically considered the Marxist analysis of capitalism’s necessary downfall to be a natural law. We were very scientifically oriented. Our positions were based on social study and economic analysis, not on psychology and wishful thinking. Our tools were investigation and reflection. We wanted to identify the laws that would lead the system into a severe crisis. Whether we ever achieved that is a different question.

Torkil: On an organizational level, the goal was to form a group able to understand the historical process and act when it became necessary. That was the purpose of KAK. We did not have a detailed analysis of what would happen in ten or twenty years, but we were convinced that we needed to be prepared for action. We wanted to prepare the future revolutionary party, and supporting liberation movements was a way to speed up the revolutionary process. Essentially, we were pursuing two things at the same time: one, building a strong organization; two, supporting liberation movements. Illegal activities would soon be part of this. But to focus entirely on illegal work was not in the cards for us. To go underground and openly declare war on the state would have been a lost cause. The state would have crushed us within six months.

Jan: To have a legal anti-imperialist practice was also important for recruiting sympathizers. We never looked for mass membership, but we still needed a support network and tried to find the right people.

Torkil: We must add, though, that our support for liberation movements was not only based on ideology. It had a strong practical and economic aspect as well. At the time, socialism was widely considered the economic system that would guarantee the improvement of living conditions in the Third World: better education, better health care, etc. Many experiences confirmed this — one just had to compare the situation in Cuba to the one in Haiti. Furthermore, there was international solidarity. The Cubans, for example, provided enormous material support for African liberation movements. Literally thousands of Cubans went to Angola to support the MPLA. This had a strong impact on world affairs. Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island and the subsequent political changes in South Africa were directly related to the Cuban involvement in the region. A lot can be said about the Cuban regime, but its internationalist orientation was genuine. Cuba did not profit politically or economically from its engagement in Africa. Another example is the relationship between the Soviet Union and China before the Sino-Soviet split. In the 1950s, the Soviet Union provided China with blueprints for the production of everything from toothbrushes to long-range ballistic missiles. They trained thousands of Chinese engineers. This was crucial to China’s economic development. In this case, there were political conditions of course, but the main motivation was still the expansion of socialism. We believed that this was the way forward for all Third World countries. The impact that Lenin’s “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” had on KAK’s analysis of imperialism seems pretty obvious.

Jan: KAK’s reference points were always the classical texts of Marxism-Leninism. As far as imperialism was concerned, everything circled around Lenin’s text. This didn’t even change when our empirical studies in the 1970s showed that its analysis was no longer applicable: Lenin’s theories on monopolization, finance capital, foreign direct investments, etc., could no longer explain the enormous gaps in wealth. But it needed KAK’s demise and the founding of M-KA for us to be able to improve our analysis.

Torkil: It’s actually quite amazing that such a short and somewhat muddled text, written hastily in a Swiss library with limited access to source material, could be regarded as the ne plus ultra in the Marxist analysis of imperialism for over half a century. It really shows the position that Lenin had within the left and the power of Soviet propaganda.

What was life like as a KAK member?

Torkil: We were a very disciplined and hard-working group. Politics came before your personal career or your personal interests, often enough your family. During long periods of time we were “voluntarily unemployed” in order to entirely focus on political work. Those of us who were active in Tøj til Afrika, like myself, collected clothes, sorted and packed them, and drove around to collect things for the flea markets. In the summer holidays, we also organized two-week Tøj til Afrika camps, which introduced new people to the organization. With KAK, we had a study circle once a week to discuss the-oretical problems. Personally, I wrote articles and formulated drafts for position papers. There was also the publishing and printing work, and not least the illegal practice, which was very time-consuming. It was not just about planning and executing different actions, but it also included numerous trite tasks: paying rent, moving cars, organizing equipment, etc. And during all of this you had to make sure that you weren’t under observation. Yet, as stressful as it was, after a few years it became a part of everyday life — although the stress always returned before a bigger action, that was never just routine. All in all, though, I have good memories of the time in KAK. It was satisfying to be engaged in a practice that corresponded to your theory.

Tøj til Afrika sommer-lejr. Tekst: I din sommerferie - Støt Befrielsesbevægelserne. Text in English: Come to the Ragpickers’ Camp during Summer Holidays: Support Liberation Movements in the Third World—Tøj til Afrika project” (ca. 1980).
Tøj til Afrika sommer-lejr. Tekst: I din sommerferie – Støt Befrielsesbevægelserne. Text in English: Come to the Ragpickers’ Camp during Summer Holidays: Support Liberation Movements in the Third World—Tøj til Afrika project” (ca. 1980).

Jan: Commitment was crucial — you were available for the organization around the clock. If your contribution was needed, you didn’t hesitate and went to work. I remember that I once got home after midnight on New Year’s Eve. Understandably, my wife wasn’t happy. She was a Tøj til Afrika member but not part of KAK. She didn’t know about the illegal work, and so I couldn’t explain to her that we had been out for shooting practice. New Year’s Eve was a good night for it because of all the fireworks, but Gotfred Appel got arrested when the police found ammunition in his car during a random check.
We had to take care of the situation, and so I got back late. Such incidents were always difficult to deal with and dividing time between KAK and my family was a constant challenge. On several occasions, my wife knew that something was wrong, but I could never tell her what it was. Once I got stuck in Lebanon during the civil war after visiting the PFLP, because the airport in Beirut had been shut down. Holger visited my wife, told her that I was in Norway suffering from pneumonia, and asked her to call and excuse me at work. I kept a part-time job, which allowed me to make significant financial contributions to KAK during the first few years.

Jan Weimann in the Vridsløselille State Prison, 1994.
Jan Weimann in the Vridsløselille State Prison, 1994.

How did your wife take it when you were arrested in 1989?

Jan: I was together with my second wife then — who didn’t know anything about my illegal activities either. The arrest came as a shock to her, and it was not an easy situation to deal with. But I got another chance, which was very important for me, also because it allowed me to see my daughter regularly while I was in prison.

The Sino-Soviet conflict and the Anti-imperialist Perspective

You have mentioned the Sino-Soviet conflict, which bitterly divided the Marxist left during the 1970s. While KAK embraced the Chinese line in the 1960s, you’ve already mentioned the falling-out with Beijing at the end of the decade. At the same time, you’ve lauded the internationalism of the Soviet Union. Was this the side you were taking?

Torkil: No. What I said before concerned exclusively the Soviet Union’s foreign policy — and even there, we would have wanted the Soviet government to be more radical and stronger in its support of Third World liberation movements. Regarding the country’s political and economic system, we had no sympathies at all. In the so-called “real socialism,” a “democratic economy” meant “nationalization,” which, in turn, meant that the state apparatus owned all the means of production. However, just because the state apparatus owns the means of production, the mode of production doesn’t necessarily change. The mode of production in the Soviet Union was very similar to capitalist ones, and sometimes worse. Look at the Volkseigene Betriebe, the so-called “Publically Owned Companies,” in the former East Germany: people never felt that they were really in charge. It was the state that was in charge, and the people were not the state. The planned economy of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies was not democratic but very hierarchical. That’s why the Soviet Union was never a model for us. However, it was a tactical ally in the support of liberation movements. One must not forget that the simple existence of the Soviet Union as a global superpower was very important for them. It created a space for them to become active. Had it not been for the Soviet Union, the U.S. might have used nuclear weapons to wipe out the Vietnamese resistance. Without the international balance of power guaranteed by the Soviet Union — also with regard to armament — things would have looked very different.

Jan: Ideologically, we found ourselves in a dilemma. We did see the Cultural Revolution in China as a positive attempt to revise communism, but China was no ally in the support of liberation movements. In that respect, the progressive force was the Soviet Union. It had an objective interest in the liberation movements’ success and in the global expansion of socialism. Its leaders also chose their allies wisely. Their criteria were very similar to ours: they were looking for socialist movements with popular support. The Chinese leadership, on the other hand, was so hostile towards the Soviet Union that it basically supported anyone who shared that sentiment. China developed ties to the most obscure political groups, and its foreign policy began to border on the absurd. In Angola, for example, they supported UNITA and worked alongside the CIA.

Torkil: In the late 1970s and early 1980s, China held the position that the Soviet Union was the most dangerous of all imperialist powers, and they encouraged the liberation movements to side with Western European nations and the U.S. As Jan said, it all became pretty grotesque, and it also changed the perception of China among many liberation movements and their allies. KAK was far from the only organization that had a falling-out with the CPC around that time. If you go back to the early 1970s, the PFLP was very pro-Chinese and hugely inspired by Mao’s guerrilla strategies. They were not very close to the Soviet Union. All this changed within the next decade.

Jan: However, as Torkil said, we did not take any side in the Sino-Soviet conflict as such and stayed away from the ideological debates and polemics. Notable African socialists, for example Julius Nyerere, also tried to avoid these debates.

Was this a factor in the relations you developed with African liberation movements?

Jan: I wouldn’t say so. We were primarily concerned with the conditions for the liberation struggle in a specific country, not with ideological subtleties or postrevolution development strategies. Our discussions with liberation movements focused on the analysis of the current political and economic system and the possibilities to attack it. Our approach to the development of socialism in Western Europe was similar. We weren’t very concerned with Denmark’s socialist future, much more with the downfall of Danish capitalism.

Torkil: Strategic questions were very important to us. That’s why we did not want to support the PFLP–Special Operations or other groups that focused on spectacular international actions. We were more interested in a practice rooted in popular mass movements.

Can you tell us more about how you decided to support particular movements? You have made your criteria clear, but how did you get the information required to make the relevant decisions? Did you meet with representatives of all the movements you were interested in supporting?

Jan: Not at first. There were so many liberation movements, it was impossible to have direct contact with them all. We began by looking at what they had written about their theory and practice.

Torkil: Information was spread in different ways at the time. There was no Internet in 1970. However, we had a subscription to the BBC World Service, which allowed us to follow the political developments in many countries on a daily basis. We always tried to have a good understanding of a particular movement before we considered supporting it. Even if we weren’t that concerned with ideological subtleties, common political ground was crucial. Everything else followed from there. Another aspect that was important was the degree of support that a particular movement already had. One of the organizations we supported, the PFLOAG/PFLO in Oman, was small and did not get much outside support, so for them a million Danish crowns really made a difference. That was not necessarily the case for organizations like the ANC in South Africa.

Jan: One could say that we had three different ways of supporting movements: some we supported legally through Tøj til Afrika; some we supported illegally; and some we supported both legally and — to a smaller degree — illegally, but without telling them. The PFLP knew what we were doing, but none of the other movements did. ZANU, for example, got resources that we acquired illegally, but they were unaware of it. Many liberation movements were infiltrated by intelligence services, and we did not want to take any risks.


Out of all the organizations you worked with, you obviously had the closest ties to the PFLP. Why?

Jan: The PFLP had a strong Marxist-Leninist commitment and we were very impressed with their analysis. Slogans like “Our enemies are imperialism, Zionism, and Arab reactionaries” spoke to us. Their outlook was very close to ours. Furthermore, they fought in a strategically important part of the world. Middle Eastern politics are about oil. That’s what makes the region so valuable for imperialism as well as for the fight against it. If no more oil flows from the Middle East to the Western world, then capitalism will have severe problems.

PFLOAG guerillafighter in Oman, early 1970s.
PFLOAG guerillafighter in Oman, early 1970s.

Torkil: The PFLP’s pan-Arab approach was also crucial for us. The primary objective of the PFLP wasn’t the liberation of Palestine — globally speaking, that’s rather irrelevant. The struggle for Palestine has a high symbolic value, but its geopolitical importance is limited. Instead, the PFLP followed the pan-Arab visions of Nasser and others. [5] A socialist future should engulf the entire Arab world from Syria to Morocco. That’s why the PFLP had cells in many countries, including Saudi Arabia. In general, the PFLP had a strong internationalist outlook. It allowed liberation movements from around the world to use its facilities. During my visits, I saw Kurds, Turks, Iranians, South Africans, and Nicaraguans. In other words, supporting the PFLP meant to support many liberation movements. Finally, the PFLP was a well-established organization with a lot of potential. It had a proper army with training camps, it ran clinics and children’s homes, even a pension system.

How did you first get in touch with the PFLP?

Jan: Through Palestinians living in Malmö, Sweden. Eventually, KAK members traveled to the Middle East, and we continued to have regular meetings. Soon after you had established contact with the PFLP, there were several splits within the organization.

How did that affect you?

Torkil: Especially after the so-called Black September, [6] a discussion emerged within the PFLP about popular mass mobilization on the one hand and international operations, that is, high-profile hijackings and the like, on the other. George Habash, the more traditional Marxist, stressed the former, Wadi Haddad the latter. This was probably the most important split that occurred, but it was a friendly one. The two lines existed parallel to one another for several years. We chose to work with Habash. To this day, people associate us with Haddad, but that’s only because we already had contact with him before the split, and so he knew about us. That’s why Carlos, who ended up working closely with Haddad, also knew about us, but we never met Carlos, let alone collaborated with him. All of those rumors are nonsense. We were never interested in anything of that kind, nor were we ever interested in contacts with intelligence services, which Carlos had plenty of. We stayed as far away from them as possible, whether they were Libyan, Lebanese, Syrian, or Iraqi — or the STASI, for that matter. We had no sympathies for the states they worked for, and, sooner or later, intelligence services always betray you. They have their own agenda, and it is usually very different from yours.

But how could the intelligence services not know about your meetings with the PFLP? Where did they take place?

Jan: In the beginning, the meetings took place in Denmark. However, we did not feel comfortable with that, because the PFLP representatives always used local PFLP members as escorts who, in our opinion, presented security issues. For example, they used phones that we knew weren’t safe. Considering that, PET was probably aware of our meetings back then. Later, we traveled to the Middle East, but that was also risky because of international intelligence services, and because the Danish authorities were always suspicious about people traveling to the region. On one occasion, Holger was followed by agents directly from the airport upon returning to Denmark. Finally, we ended up having most of the meetings in Eastern Europe. Both we and the PFLP could travel there easily, while it was a difficult region for PET to operate in — they couldn’t do much even if they had information about the meetings taking place. Usually, we met in Sofia or Budapest, but also in East Berlin. At first, we simply crossed at Checkpoint Charlie, but we always had our documents photocopied there, so we started to take the ferry from Southern Denmark to Rostock. There were plenty of left-wing Danes who went to East Germany for vacation, so it was easy to blend in. We never had any problems at the border and were never approached by STASI agents. They might have had an eye on our meetings, but if there ever were any records they’ve been destroyed — nothing has surfaced since the collapse of the East German state. In general, communication with the PFLP became increasingly professional after we reestablished contact following the KAK split in 1978. From that point on, we had regular and reliable contacts. Before that, we were always met by different people, who did not always have a clear understanding of the work we did and of our security needs. I mean, when you’re met by an iconic aircraft hijacker in a hotel lobby in Sofia, it doesn’t exactly help you to remain unnoticed.

What documents were you traveling with?

Torkil: Our own passports, although we had more than one.Jan: Especially when we held our meetings in the Middle East, we needed to change passports regularly. Once the meetings were held in Eastern Europe, things were considerably easier.

Did you have contacts with DFLP members as well? It seems that their line would have been close to yours, with a strong focus on popular uprisings and reservations towards high-profile actions.

Torkil: In theory, you are right, but in practice they were a small and intellectual group. We perceived them as akin to many left-wing groups in Europe. They did not have the mass base that the PFLP had. So although there was some contact, there was no close collaboration.

Jan: The first two KUF groups that traveled to the Middle East had meetings with both the PFLP and the DFLP. Another important reason for us choosing to work with the PFLP was that it had a much stronger presence in the occupied territories. In Gaza, they were the single biggest organization.

Alleged connections to the RAF

It seems important to you not to be confused with European urban guerrilla movements of the 1970s, like the Red Army Faction in Germany. Can you explain this?

Torkil: We had different politics and a different practice. We also had different backgrounds. The youth rebellions of the late 1960s, which seemed important for the formation of many of the urban guerrilla movements, were of little importance to us. It seems to me that for RAF members, the rebellion on the private level was very central. Politics and private life, including the relationship to your family, your living arrangements, etc., were considered to be closely linked. In KAK, we didn’t see things that way. We were strongly rooted in Marxist-Leninist cadre politics. This was an aspect that Gotfred Appel had brought to the organization from his long experience in communist parties. Discipline was key — and so was patience. Many of the urban guerrilla movements wanted revolutionary change here and now. We pursued a long-term strategy. Furthermore, our practice was “invisible” with regard to Danish society. We were not at war with the Danish state and did not send out communiqués after our actions. We used illegal means that looked like ordinary crime to support Third World liberation movements. That’s very different to the urban guerrilla groups, which attacked European states head-on. We saw that strategy as suicidal, because, according to our analysis, there was no chance of winning. There was no mass base. If we had tried something similar in Denmark, we would have been finished very quickly. Instead, we wanted to be an ally to Third World liberation movements for many years. We managed at least twenty. That also meant that we were still supporting liberation struggles at a time when most urban guerrilla groups had vanished or were entirely on the defensive. They were underground revolutionaries and anti-imperialists, we were undercover ones.

Jan: An example that illustrates our history comes from the protests against the 1970 World Bank congress in Copenhagen. Gotfred and Ulla were in Jordan at the time, meeting with the PFLP. KUF members were meant to participate in the protests, but not to engage in rioting and open confrontation with the police, but instead to do some direct action targeting the venue and the delegates. However, one thing led to another, and suddenly we were caught up in heavy streetfighting, Molotov cocktails were thrown, etc. When Gotfred and Ulla returned to Denmark, they were furious. They called us immature and adventurist. We were summoned to the school bench, so to speak, and told to read Marx’s Capital, Lenin, and so on. It seems to me that many of the people who joined the urban guerrilla movements were very action-driven and never had any such experience. I mean, don’t get me wrong, we were action-driven, too, but we had someone who challenged us when our actions weren’t productive.

Why were you criticized for the rioting during the protests against the World Bank congress, but not during the protests against the screening of The Green Berets?

Jan: We had decided on different strategies. With The Green Berets, the goal was to stop the screening, and anything that contributed to that was fine. With the World Bank congress, fighting the police didn’t seem very productive. We had decided to disrupt the meeting with targeted actions. Therefore, the involvement in the rioting was seen as a lack of discipline. Furthermore, some stupid mistakes were made that attracted the attention of the authorities — like leaving Molotov cocktails laying around the KAK print shop.

Let us quickly return to the urban guerrilla groups: You haven’t met any of them in training camps in the Middle East either?

Torkil: This is one of the rumors that never go away. People seem to find this idea very exciting. We have visited such camps, but we never went through any training there. Why should we? What was it that that we could learn at a camp in Lebanon? We wanted to do illegal work in Denmark. Of course, they can teach you how to dismantle a gun and how to put it back together, but you can learn that in Denmark, too. Most of the other things you could learn in those camps were irrelevant to us. We didn’t need to cross desert borders in the middle of the night, we needed to know how to rent safe apartments, how to protect ourselves against surveillance, how to stake out targets for possible actions, how to do robberies without leaving a trace, and so on.

Undercover work requires a detailed knowledge of the society you operate in. We had to learn these things ourselves.

Besides, we consciously avoided contact with other Europeans when we were in the Middle East, and this included the training camps. We considered contacts to underground movements in Europe, especially those with imprisoned members, a major risk.

Jan: There was also an aspect of principle. We went to the Middle East to offer support to organizations, not to ask for any. The urban guerrilla groups had a different kind of relationship to them.

Where do all the rumors come from that you had contacts with the RAF and with Carlos?

Torkil: I think it’s mainly media hype; it is part of a story that the media tries to sell. I suppose that’s how things work, but I find it disappointing when presumably progressive journalists do the exact same thing. For example, there were two people in Denmark who provided logistic support to the RAF. They organized passports and hid some RAF members, including Andreas Baader, in a summer house on the west coast of Jutland, I believe. [7] To this day, it is unclear who these people were, but it’s been suggested repeatedly that we had something to do with it, which is bunk. It has been suggested that explosives from the Swedish army’s weapons depot in Flen were used in a failed 1988 attack on the NATO base in Rota, Spain, allegedly executed by former RAF members.

Jan: I don’t know if that was the case or not. There were no conditions tied to the support we gave to the PFLP, whether it was money, weapons, or explosives. We had set up a weapons cache in France that the PFLP had access to, and whatever happened with the materials from there, we don’t know. The cache itself was eventually discovered by French police after a tip from an informant.

Our plans to smuggle the weapons we got in Flen to Israel were never realized. We thought about traveling there as surfers, hiding weapons in our boards, but also about shipping bulldozers with weapons concealed inside them. In the end, however, all of those plans seemed too risky. Had we got caught, it would have probably meant the end of our activities and years in Israeli prisons. This was not something we wanted to risk, and not a risk that we wanted to expose anyone else to either. I mean, we couldn’t just ask someone to transport a surfboard with antitank missiles to Israel, could we?

I suppose not. Perhaps especially not since you had thirty-four of them. The surfboard found at the Blekingegade apartment contained two. That would have meant many trips to Israel …

Jan: That’s why we had the idea with the bulldozers. Anyway, we simply were ill-prepared for the weapons situation. When we were in Flen, we basically just grabbed whatever we could. Then most of them ended up at the Blekingegade apartment and were a major headache.

There have also been suggestions that Holger gathered intelligence for the Landshut hijacking in 1977. [8] Peter Øvig Knudsen writes about this extensively in his book.

Torkil: Well, we weren’t Holger’s guardians, so we can’t say what he did and didn’t do, but this is extremely — and I mean extremely — unlikely. The Landshut hijacking did not fit in with KAK’s approach, politically, strategically, or tactically. Holger was a disciplined “party soldier.” It’s very hard to believe that he would have decided to do such a thing on his own, and it would have never been condoned by KAK. Gotfred Appel would have gone berserk. Furthermore, we went through the emotionally very draining anti–gender discrimination campaign in 1977, which eventually led to KAK’s demise. Holger was strongly affected by it. So, even emotionally, he wouldn’t have been able to do this at the time. And if he had nonetheless, I’m sure he would have told us about it at some point. Finally, how is he supposed to have been recruited? At that point, we no longer collaborated with Haddad. We had even lost contact with the PFLP.

Øvig Knudsen suggests that Haddad talked to him during the KAK leadership’s visit to Baghdad in early 1977.

Jan: What Øvig Knudsen didn’t know was that I was also in Baghdad at the time. He assumed it was only Gotfred, Ulla, and Holger. It is true that we met Haddad on two occasions when we were there, but both times all four of us were present. During the entire visit, we stayed in the same house on the outskirts of Baghdad and couldn’t travel into the city because we had no proper papers. Hence, it would have been impossible for Holger to arrange a separate meeting. Besides, you must not underestimate how disciplined an organization KAK was. We are talking about a strong internalization of principles. Nobody even dreamed about going behind the back of the leadership, Holger included.

Okay, one more theory that has been thrown around: you were linked to Danmarks Socialistiske Befrielseshær, or “Denmark’s Socialist Liberation Army,” a group that claimed responsibility for a series of arson attacks against corporate targets around Århus in the early 1980s.

Torkil: That’s also nonsense. No one has ever found out who those people were, and we don’t know who they were either. The name alone tells you that they had nothing to do with us. “Denmark’s Socialist Liberation Army”? What did they want to liberate Denmark from? We were staunchly antinationalistic and rejected all forms of left-wing national romanticism. Already in 1972, KAK was the only left-wing organization in Denmark that didn’t protest the country becoming a member of the European Community, the European Union’s predecessor. Why should it be more likely that the working class in a small country like Denmark made revolution than a united European working class? The baggage of nationalist romanticism in the European left is heavy. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so ironic that we were accused of romanticizing national liberation struggles — even if it is true that we underestimated the nationalist element in them.

There were also militant groups in Western Europe whose members did not live underground, for example Germany’s Revolutionary Cells. Did you see more similarities to them? Did you follow their activities at all?

Jan: Not really. Although there were perhaps similarities in strategy, the political outlook, the objective of the struggle, and, perhaps most importantly, the context were too different. Yes, both Denmark and Germany were parasite states, but the differences were considerable. Germany had to come to terms with the history of the Nazi regime and the Holocaust in very different ways than Denmark, which was occupied by the Nazis during the war. That German state and the Danish state were very different and acted in different ways. The manner in which they reacted to the protests of the late 1960s illustrates this. In Germany, the security forces were much more brutal. The images from the Shah’s visit in 1967 were shocking to most Danes. [9] This also called for a different political response. It was not up to us to decide what the response should look like in Germany. We were focused on Denmark.

It is important to note that we in no way want to condemn or discredit the German comrades, even if we might have seen certain things differently. They fought under specific conditions and did what they considered right. And some of their actions we could get behind fully, such as the attacks on U.S. army bases during the Vietnam War. This was a concrete interference with the imperialist war machine. We might have considered similar things — however, there were no U.S. army bases in Denmark.

Torkil: Another important difference is that due to our “invisible strategy” we lacked the fairly wide circles of sympathizers and supporters the German groups had. We were small and weren’t able to engage in high-profile actions. Hence, our impact was smaller, too.

Jan: Well, it depends on what you mean by “impact.” As far as an impact on the state or on European society is concerned, yes, our impact doesn’t compare to theirs — I still remember the “Wanted” posters at every German gas station I stopped at in the 1970s. The German groups were looking for a confrontation with the state, and the state responded accordingly. In that sense, their impact was very strong. But in terms of supporting liberation movements, I think ours was stronger. We provided quite a few of them with significant resources.

In 1982, the RAF published a text entitled “The Guerrilla, the Resistance, and the Anti-Imperialist Front,” suggesting the formation of an anti-imperialist front in Western Europe. [10] Did that debate interest you at all?

Jan: Not really. We still considered such ideas unrealistic. Besides, it had no practical relevance for us. As we have already noted, any kind of collaboration with the RAF or similar groups would have been a major security risk. Not for them, they were already underground—but for us, since we had chosen a different strategy.

How about relationships to legal Marxist organizations in Germany?

Torkil: We didn’t find much common ground there either. In 1974, four KAK members moved to Frankfurt, where they lived and worked in a factory for a year. Their aim was to study the social and economic conditions in Germany and the state of the working class. When they returned, they wrote a critical piece about the German Marxist-Leninist groups, particularly the KBW. [11]

You have stressed in your writings that you weren’t completely isolated within the Western European left. In particular, you’ve mentioned collaboration with groups in Sweden and Norway. Can you tell us about these groups?

Jan: We had fairly close contact to an internationalist group in Sweden called Aurora. They mainly did propaganda work for liberation movements and also translated some KAK articles into Swedish. Furthermore, they were active in the Swedish Emmaus movement, which, like Tøj til Afrika, supported liberation movements with money, clothes, shoes, and medicine. [12] In Norway, we were in contact with a small group that did some publishing work.

Other than that, there weren’t many groups in Europe that shared our perspective, only individuals here and there. I wouldn’t say that we were isolated within the European left, but we certainly didn’t share the outlook of most left-wing organizations at the time. We saw most of them fighting for higher wages for European workers; something we considered reactionary. In Denmark, the further you went to the left, the higher the demands became: the DKP wanted two extra crowns per hour, the KFML ten, and so on. We didn’t want to have anything to do with that. For us, such an approach only fastened the ties between Danish workers and the capitalists, at the cost of the exploited people of the Third World. We were clear about this, so it’s probably not surprising that many on the left turned against us. Well, we might have asked for it, too. We weren’t very shy in our criticism, we were very antagonistic. Which probably comes naturally if you’re convinced that you alone are right …

Which you were?

Jan: Yes, KAK was very elitist.

Torkil: We were used to Leninist rhetoric, pure and simple. We were no Kautskys or Bernsteins. Calling other leftists “idiots” and “traitors” came easily. With this in mind, the hostile reactions probably really weren’t that much of a surprise.

The Liberation Support Movement, the Black Panthers, and the Weather Underground

It seems that the strongest collaboration you had with any Western political group was with the Liberation Support Movement in North America. How did you first get in touch with them?

Jan: I’m actually not sure. I think it was simply through reading some of their texts, liking them, and getting in touch. Then, in 1970, Peter Døllner spent half a year in Canada, establishing close ties to them. I also met Don Barnett, the LSM founder, in Tanzania in 1972. Then we had very regular contact throughout the 1970s, before the LSM dissolved in 1982. Barnett himself died in 1975.

Torkil: I don’t recall the details either, but the connection dates back to the early 1970s. We had a very similar background: Maoism, the resistance against the war in Vietnam, and the support of liberation movements. There were also similarities on the organizational level: we were both small, professional, and disciplined groups with a strong, charismatic leader. In the case of the LSM, this was the aforementioned Don Barnett, an anthropologist who had written the books Mau Mau from Within, telling the story of the Kenyan resistance movement against British imperialism, and With the Guerrillas in Angola, an account of the MPLA. Both organizations also had the same practical focus, namely the material support of liberation movements. The LSM made a huge contribution to spreading information about liberation movements in North America, especially by publishing Life Histories from the struggle, which opened the eyes of many North Americans. [13]

Jan: It was encouraging to see an organization in North America whose approach was so similar to ours, and it also helped us prove to other European leftists that our analysis wasn’t unique for an organization from the imperialist world.

Did you have any disagreements with the LSM?

Jan: They were much more critical of the Black Panthers than we were. We had many sympathies with the Panthers’ struggle and published a number of articles about them. But these differences didn’t have much of an impact on our collaboration. We simply avoided the most sensitive issues.

What were the differences in your respective perceptions of the Black Panthers?

Jan: The LSM saw them as swashbuckling coffee shop socialists. I guess, they also saw no progressive potential in what was often considered “black isolationism.” Of course, the LSM had much better conditions for studying the Black Panthers than we did, but we hoped that they would weaken the military engagement of the U.S. in the Third World. Admittedly, though, in this case our view was based more on hope than scientific analysis.

In False Nationalism, False Internationalism, the authors E. Tani and Kaé Sera criticize the LSM for tying their support for liberation movements to certain conditions. [14] Tani and Sera mention examples of white LSM members visiting FRELIMO camps in Mozambique and evaluating them politically, which was considered a neocolonial gesture. What do you make of this critique?

Jan: I’m not sure what LSM members did during their visits to Africa, so I can’t say much about that. However, I do understand that you want to learn as much as you can about a movement you support. If you only have limited support to give, of course you want it to go to the right place; you want it to be a positive contribution and to make a difference. If you have several movements to choose from, you need to make the right decision.

Torkil: I think it’s also important to differentiate between learning something about movements and demanding something from movements. We always tried to learn about them, but we never made demands. Once we gave them a million crowns, it was entirely up to them to decide what to do with the money. They knew best what they needed it for. Whether it went to medicine, plane tickets, or machine guns was none of our concern.

Jan: The impression I got from the LSM was that they worked on similar principles. We also wrote reports about the refugee camps we visited and collected as much information as we could. What I can say with certainty about the LSM is that its members were very committed and that they provided much-needed support. They had plenty of technological equipment and related knowhow, especially when it came to printing facilities and radio communication systems.

When you chose the movements you supported, how important was the strategic factor? You have said that you were particularly interested in struggles that were of strategic significance for the overall fight against imperialism. One could argue that this easily leads to an instrumentalization of movements: it is not so much their struggle per se that is of interest, but whether it fits in with the revolutionary master plan of Western vanguardists.

Torkil: To a certain degree, you are right. In this respect, our deterministic world view didn’t help much. We were know-it-alls who thought we could make very general assessments. After 1978, things changed, however. Our personal connections to people active in the liberation movements and our knowledge about their situation and the conditions of their struggle also increased. We became less abstract in our understanding of the world and overall more humble.

In the North American context, it has often been argued that colonialism and imperialism also have an internal dimension. People speak of “oppressed nations” in the U.S. and Canada, something that doesn’t really happen in the European context. Did you ever discuss this with LSM members?

Jan: I don’t remember any extended discussions about this. Of course we were aware that the conditions in North America were different from those in Denmark and the rest of Europe. Racism and the oppression and exploitation of the indigenous population played a different role. That’s why we saw revolutionary potential in the struggle of the Black Panthers. We hadn’t really researched the status and support they had in the black community, but they were certainly more interesting to us than white movements competing in revolutionary phraseology.

Ungkommunisten 1970, nr. 4.
Ungkommunisten 1970, nr. 4.

At the same time, we didn’t have the impression that the revolutionary potential of the North American movements were on par with the struggle in Angola or Mozambique. That was also true for the indigenous resistance. It seemed unlikely to us that the American Indian Movement would be able to start a revolution. It had very little support from the American working class. Of course we were in solidarity with their struggle, but we mainly saw it as a tragic one. It seemed similar to the situation in Greenland, which we also analyzed. We published articles about Greenland in Ungkommunisten, but we didn’t see much revolutionary potential there either. In the U.S., the brutal state repression of both the American Indian Movement and the Panthers seemed to confirm our analysis. Both movements were crushed by the authorities, also because they simply didn’t have the support that would have been needed to withstand the attacks.

Can you tell us more about Greenland? What was your analysis?

Jan: The analysis of Greenland wasn’t a high priority, because the territory had no real significance on the global level. But there was in particular one KUF member who addressed the question in a few articles in Ungkommunisten, mainly to draw attention to the fact that Denmark was a colonial power, too.

The Weather Underground also had a clearly anti-imperialist program. In their book Prairie Fire: The Politics of Revolutionary Anti-Imperialism they stated that “Third World Liberation is leading the struggle against imperialism.” [15] Yet it seems you shared the critique formulated by the LSM member Carroll Ishee in his “Critical Remarks on Prairie Fire.” [16]

Torkil: Carroll Ishee’s critique is comradely and expresses respect for the Weather Underground’s internationalist perspective and practice. He sees the LSM and the WU agreeing in the central revolutionary force of the time being the oppressed nations and liberation movements. His critique focuses on the Weather Underground having illusions about the possible support of Third World liberation struggles by the U.S. working class. He did not share the idea of the Weather Underground that militant actions could have a radicalizing effect on the working class. The LSM did in no way reject armed struggle in the metropole, but such a struggle had to be coordinated with the anti-imperialist struggle in the Third World. For example, some Weather Underground actions such as the bombing of the Pentagon in May 1972 or of Gulf Oil in June 1974 had positive effects in putting the focus on the struggle in the Third World, but they could have been far more effective had they been linked directly and concretely to Third World struggles, rather than mainly remaining on a symbolic level. As an exemplary action, Ishee mentions the attack on the army headquarters in Lisbon by the Portuguese Revolutionary Brigades in April 1973: the brigades took many valuable documents with them and sent copies to the liberation movements in Portugal’s African colonies. [17]

In many ways, the LSM’s critique of the WU resembles our critique of the RAF. We also saw them as comrades and supported their actions against imperialism and its institutions. But we felt they had a wrong analysis of the political and economic conditions and therefore a wrong revolutionary perspective.

Jan: However, one has to say that the activities of the Weather Underground certainly made the imperialist war in Southeast Asia more difficult to fight, and that already means a lot.

Carroll Ishee, the LSM member penning the “Critical Remarks on Prairie Fire,” died in 1981, when he was fighting with the FMLN in El Salvador. Did you ever consider joining a liberation movement?

Jan: There were discussions about that in Denmark in the late 1960s. Some folks were quite serious about it. There was a group called “Volunteers for Vietnam.” [18] Holger was somewhat involved with them. They were ready to go fight with the Viet Cong and traveled to the Vietnamese embassy in Prague to present themselves. However, the ambassador basically asked them, very politely, to go home. Some of them took that hard. But of course the ambassador was right. How are ten youths from Denmark going to help the Viet Cong in the jungle? They don’t know the environment, they are unfamiliar with the culture, they can’t speak the language. When they’re finally down with malaria, they are nothing but a burden. For us, it was more important to build a strong organization in the metropole, where we were based, in order to provide useful support. We discussed many forms of support, but the conclusion always was that providing money and other material supplies was most useful.

Torkil: When you are twenty years old, it is easy to see yourself as a heroic freedom fighter in the Third World. But those glorious images quickly fade once you really see the reality of the liberation struggle. Besides, the more we got to know about liberation movements, the more we also got to understand that there was no lack of manpower. In the 1970s, millions of people were ready to die for socialism. There were many Europeans ready to join the PFLP. That’s why providing money seemed more useful to us. And I’m sure for the liberation movements, too. They wanted ten million crowns more than a few extra fighters. The only exceptions were people with special skills. Marc Rudin, for example, played an important role for the PFLP because he knew a lot about graphics and radio communication.

As for Carroll Ishee and the FMLN, I don’t know the details of that story. According to the rebel radio Venceremos, his final words were: “Tell my wife, my daughter, and my American people that I have died fulfilling my duties.” He obviously had strong convictions.

PFLP Bulletin, september 1981, No. 54, Cover art by Marc Rudin.
PFLP Bulletin, september 1981, No. 54, Cover art by Marc Rudin.

The following quote is from the article “Can White Workers Radicals Be Radicalized?” written in the late 1960s by Ted Allen, [19] who later got widespread recognition for his two-volume work The Invention of the White Race. [20] It’s a critique of a position that sounds close to yours. Allen says that the “Artful-dodge No. 5” is one of the common strategies to defend the position. How would you respond to the critique?

Artful-dodge No. 5:

(The most “radical” sounding) “Don’t waste time on the United States white workers. For the time being, forget them. The privileges of these workers are paid for by the super-profits wrung out of the super-exploited black, yellow and brown labor of colonial peoples (including the special case of the oppressed Negro in the United States). The victorious national liberation struggles of these peoples will, sooner or later, chop off these sources of white-skin privilege funds. Then, though not before, the white workers will ‘get the message’. Meantime, the role of white radicals is simply to ‘support’ the colonial liberation struggles.”

This is 1) wrong; 2) dishonest; 3) cowardly.

Wrong, because it confuses the white-skin privilege in general, which is the prerogative of every white person living in the United States, with the special form of that privilege, the payment (direct or indirect) to the “aristocracy” of labor above what would be necessary according to the laws of normal competition, and which enables those few workers to escape in all but a formal sense from the proletarian to the petit-bourgeois life… .

Dishonest, because it promises to “support” the black struggle, but refuses to give the most meaningful “support” of all, i.e., to challenge the ideology and practice of white supremacy among
the white workers.

Cowardly, because it chooses the role of “supply troops” rather than that of “front-line fighters” against the vile racist theory and practice of white supremacy.

Torkil: Allen presents the position he is criticizing in very moralistic and voluntaristic terms. This was not our approach. We were much more structural. Well, maybe in the late 1960s we held positions close to the one criticized here. At that time, we did use terms like “bribery” to describe the relationship between the capitalist class and the working class. But from a Marxist perspective, that was the wrong approach. The problem is not that anyone is consciously led astray, the problem is that the material conditions create specific economic interests and forms of consciousness, which in turn lead to specific forms of social relationships and institutions. So, white workers were not “evil” or “guilty,” it was simply not in their interest to radically change the global economic order.

Regarding the statement being “wrong”: in a formal sense, the labor aristocracy has nothing to do with skin color but with wages and living standards. At the same time, racism of course played a crucial role in the U.S. in the 1960s, when the civil rights movement was at its height. In our analysis, poor Americans were not considered part of the labor aristocracy as a whole. But most white workers were.

Regarding the statement being “dishonest”: I don’t think that applied to us. Over a twenty-year period, we were very open about our ideas and experienced strong rejection from other leftist organizations because of it. We were very clear about challenging the ideology of the labor aristocracy.

Regarding the statement being “cowardly”: All people have limits in terms of how far they can go, and I think these limits need to be respected. This was always the guideline within our organization.

Jan: Discussions about white supremacy weren’t prevalent in Europe at the time. The quote strongly reflects an American context, and, as we stated before, there were some significant differences. I do, however, recall discussions about settler culture, which were relevant for most liberation movements, as they were all facing similar patterns: settlers had arrived as self-appointed carriers of civilization with a supposedly higher culture and superior means of production, treating indigenous people as subhuman. This was the case in Algeria as much as in South Africa and elsewhere. Now, in the context of the U.S., with the oppression of the indigenous population and the slave trade, the history of European settlement left a strong legacy with long-term negative effects for American culture, including working-class culture. I understand that the questions raised in Allen’s quote had a particular relevance in that context.

Anti-imperialist Practice and M-KA

You have already mentioned a common critique of the First World anti-imperialist movements of the 1970s and 1980s, namely that they romanticized Third World liberation struggles. How do you respond to this?

Torkil: Well, if there was a problem with leftist romanticization at the time, it was the romanticization of the Western working class. I don’t think that we can be accused of romanticizing anything. I think we were very realistic. Once you were in close contact with liberation movements, there was little space for romanticization. The cynicism of realpolitik was very tangible, and you were constantly forced to compromise. We certainly did not live under the illusion that we were working with saints.

What were some of the compromises you had to make?

Jan: The most obvious was that we couldn’t stand behind every single action of the movements we supported. If we take the PFLP, for example, there were many actions that we found problematic. Without taking any moral high ground, we really weren’t happy about their collaboration with the Japanese Red Army [21] or with the relations they had to the governments that protected them. Of course there are “good” and “bad” anti-imperialist actions, even if the boundaries aren’t always that clear.

Torkil: One problem is that it is easy to be idealistic and principled in theory and very easy to judge the actions of others. But once you act yourself, it is very hard not to make your hands dirty.

Jan: We must also remember that spectacular actions were important for organizations to raise attention and attract members. Various Palestinian groups were vying for supporters at the time and there was fierce competition. This led some to engage in actions that did not necessarily fit their political line. That was not only the case for the PFLP, but also for the DFLP. On the one hand, they tried to establish a broad grassroots movement, including sections of the Israeli left. On the other hand, they engaged in actions that got them attention but didn’t necessarily correspond to their political goals.

You regularly used the slogan, “Solidarity is something you can hold in your hands.” Where did it originate from?

Torkil: We used the slogan with regard to the majority of anti-imperialist groups in Europe. There was a strong focus on solidarity demonstrations and petitions and the like. They called it “political solidarity.” We just wanted to make it clear that this wasn’t enough. What really counted was material support. And I think the message is still important. Just recently, I read a new PhD thesis on international solidarity work in Denmark in the 1970s, and Tøj til Afrika and Ulandskluserne aren’t even mentioned. I think this is very telling.

Jan: Expressing solidarity is nice. But if it never translates into anything concrete, its powers are limited. For us, the expression of solidarity was nothing but a first step. As Torkil says, the decisive thing was to provide actual, tangible support.

At the same time I read that you, Jan, never saw your activities as an “alternative to the Red Cross” — what did you mean by that?

Jan: The Red Cross relieves pain and suffering. Our intention was to help change the political and economic structures that cause pain and suffering.

A former member of your group has suggested that you might have been able to provide more support if you had stuck to legal activities. What do you make of that?

Jan: Well, the facts are very clear. The maximum amount of money we were able to raise legally in a year was about half a million crowns — and this required the very dedicated and time-consuming work of dozens of people. This didn’t even compare to what we could make illegally. I really can’t see how we could have secured the funds we did with legal means.

There has been much speculation about whether Gotfred Appel knew about the illegal activities of KAK members during the 1970s. Can you comment on that?

Jan: Did he know about them? He planned everything! KAK was a very hierarchical organization. Everything, down to the tiniest detail, was decided by the leadership. At the time the illegal practice began, the leadership consisted of Gotfred, Ulla, and Holger — with Gotfred being at the center of it all.

Did the money you made in the 1970s go exclusively to liberation movements, or was some used for KAK’s infrastructure?

Jan: For the most part, the money went to liberation movements. After all, that was the motivation behind the illegal activities. KAK could be maintained by legal means, not least because all members donated 10 to 30 percent of their income. In M-KA, a small part of the money acquired illegally was used for rent, travels, etc. But most of the organization’s costs were covered by member contributions.

You have already stressed that KAK was a very disciplined organization. Did that help with the criminal activities? You ended up becoming Denmark’s most successful twentieth-century robbers.

Jan: Discipline is important for building a strong organization, and it is important for effective illegal work. We learned early on from practical experience that a lack of discipline could mean less money, to put it bluntly. So, in that sense, there was a connection. At the same time, I would say that other factors were at least as important. For me personally, two things were crucial. First, a strong commitment to the organization: we had promised each other to make a difference, and I wanted to do my part. Second, an acknowledgment of the faith that the organization put into you: you were selected for a certain task and you didn’t want to let the organization down. It was the shared political goal that was decisive. Outside coercion or pressure were not needed. At least not in my case. Others might have felt differently.

Among the robberies you have been accused of one stands out, as the methods don’t fit in with the others ascribed to you. In 1980, some men tricked their way into the home of a bank manager in the Copenhagen suburb of Glostrup and held family members hostage while forcing the manager to accompany them to the bank in order to open the safe. Can you comment on this?

Jan: After we had been arrested, the police included this unresolved case in the list of crimes they wanted to charge us for. Since there was no evidence at all, the charges were dropped. It speaks to Øvig Knudsen’s fondness for conspiracy theories that he included the story in his book nonetheless. However, we had nothing to do with it; it ain’t more complicated than that.

KAK was dissolved in 1978 after the so-called anti–gender discrimination campaign. The organization split into three groups …

Jan: Well, but that took two steps. First, Gotfred and Ulla basically removed themselves by not acknowledging their mistakes and by trying to use their authority to keep KAK under their control. Then, there was the split between M-KA and MAG. The most important difference between M-KA and MAG was that the folks involved in MAG questioned everything: our political line, our organizational structure, our practice, both the legal and the illegal part, and so on. They suggested exclusively focusing on studies for some time in order to find a new direction. We in M-KA agreed that changes were necessary, but we wanted to resume our activities as quickly as possible and make adjustments along the way. We just saw our activities as too important to put them on hold.

Did the decision to continue the illegal work come easily?

Torkil: Yes. We felt that we had an obligation towards the movements we collaborated with. We couldn’t justify being idle. That was the main reason for M-KA choosing a different path than other former KAK members.

Why did the PFLP trust you after the KAK split and not Gotfred Appel?

Jan: The PFLP understood quickly that our group was the only one that could continue the illegal practice. We had the experience and the means. Our relationship with Gotfred and Ulla was complicated after KAK’s breakup. They were living in a house that was in Holger’s name. We gave them three months’ notice to move out, but they refused. We also weren’t sure whether they would mention our activities to others. Since it was clearly in the PFLP’s interest that the illegal practice continued, they were happy to send someone to talk to Gotfred and Ulla when we asked them. Gotfred and Ulla were told that Holger had become a PFLP member and that he was under the direct protection of the organization from then on. That wasn’t true, but it was a tactical move to ensure that Gotfred and Ulla wouldn’t make things difficult for us. It worked. They moved out of the house and we never heard from them again.

How would you summarize the biggest differences between KAK and M-KA?

Torkil: Gotfred Appel was a charismatic and bright theorist and Ulla Hauton a rigid leader. One of the problems of KAK was that there was no room for individual initiative. People only acted upon orders; anything else would have been “undisciplined.” This meant that a lot of potential, based on individual knowledge, skill, and motivation, remained unused. Once Gotfred and Ulla were out of the picture, there was a possibility for a horizontal organizational structure and a division of labor and tasks. That’s what characterized M-KA, even if informal leadership existed.

Another important factor was that M-KA offered the possibility for theoretical development. In KAK, the theoretical body was limited to Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, and Gotfred Appel himself. In my eyes, the theory hadn’t developed at all since it was first formulated in the late 1960s.

Jan: I agree that the changes were overall positive. We became less dogmatic and prejudiced, and we enriched our theory by adding Arghiri Emmanuel’s analysis of unequal exchange. But we also encountered some challenges that we had no proper answers to. Perhaps most significantly, our circle of supporters and sympathizers decreased steadily. Partly, this might have been a consequence of general political developments, that is, of anti-imperialism becoming weaker. But we also had ourselves to blame.

Torkil: That is true. We had difficulties mobilizing sympathizers. However, I think the problem dates back all the way to 1972, when KAK developed the illegal practice. Security was ever more important and it became difficult to integrate new members. Plus, it was clear that we would never gain mass support with our political ideas — they simply weren’t very popular in our part of the world.

In “It Is All About Politics” you write that for Gotfred Appel “support for Third World liberation movements had a clear Danish perspective,” while for M-KA “supporting liberation movements was a revolutionary end in itself.” At the same time, you still claimed in the 1980s that “the emancipation of the proletariat in the exploited countries is a precondition for the destruction of the imperialist system and the introduction of socialism in Denmark.” [22] This doesn’t sound so different from Appel’s position.

Jan: We aren’t talking about a complete shift in our politics. But M-KA definitely focused less on the development of socialism in Denmark than KAK did. We still believed that successful socialist movements in the Third World would strengthen socialism in the imperialist countries, but we didn’t believe that this would happen anytime soon. It was nothing that we could influence in the here and now. So the focus on the support of the liberation movements became even stronger than it had been in KAK. That’s what we mean when we say that it was an end in itself — it was more than just an instrument for introducing socialism in Denmark. Perhaps the differences with KAK’s position were gradual, but they clearly existed.

You write in “It Is All About Politics” that M-KA had a “democratically elected leadership.” What exactly did that mean?

Torkil: The leadership of M-KA consisted of three to four people who were appointed in an informal process based on consensus. They coordinated everything, so that different activities wouldn’t clash with one another: the legal and illegal practice, theoretical studies, the publishing work, etc. They also called for meetings, paid the bills, and took care of other administrative tasks. About every other month, the whole group — about fifteen people — had a full-day meeting, where important decisions were made, also based on consensus.

You mentioned Arghiri Emmanuel: I read that in the 1970s he calculated that if the world’s wealth was distributed equally, everyone could afford the living standard of an average Portuguese. Apparently, you took this as a guideline for how to live your own lives. Is that true?

Jan: No. In KAK, the political and the private were clearly divided. No one had a moral investment in how others lived their lives. This was also true for M-KA, although the political and the private overlapped a bit more. There was overall a stronger social dimension in M-KA.

Torkil: In general, members lived simple but normal lives. Some, like myself, chose to be unemployed for years. If you were unemployed long-term, you received 80 percent of the minimum wage. That was enough for a comfortable life.

In the documentary film Blekingegadebanden, a former PET agent recalls listening to a bugged telephone conversation between Torkil and Lisa. Torkil said that he needed some dental work done but couldn’t afford it. This was a few weeks after the Købmagergade robbery. Did you never use any of the funds from your robberies for personal matters?

Jan: The money we got through the illegal practice was one thing. Our personal finances were another. In certain cases, there might have been an overlap. For example, it was necessary for each of us to have a car; mainly for security reasons, since we often were under observation. One time, Niels needed a new car but had no money, so he got a few thousand crowns to buy an old used one. But in general, personal finances were kept completely separate from the group’s. At times, we had bags with thousands of crowns in cash, since we always kept some for upcoming actions. Whenever someone took money from the bag, he left a note with the amount and what it was needed for. This might sound pedantic, but such routines were very important for the kind of work we did.

What was the relationship between Tøj til Afrika and M-KA like? Was it different to the one between TTA and KAK?

Jan: I don’t think there was a big difference. The main one was that in M-KA, TTA members were more integrated into the political discussions. In KAK, they mainly were subjects of what we called “political schooling.”

Torkil: Between KAK and TTA members, there had been a clear hierarchy. This was not as pronounced in M-KA. But in general, TTA remained a doorway into the political organization. That was the same in relation to both KAK and M-KA.

What was the TTA membership like in the 1980s compared to the 1970s?

Torkil: Numbers dropped perhaps a little, but not much. I would say there were about twenty folks in Copenhagen and ten each in Odense and Århus.

Why did TTA disband in 1986?

Jan: There were several reasons. First of all, TTA focused on sending clothes, shoes, and tents to refugee camps administered by African liberation movements. During the 1980s, these camps disappeared. A SWAPO-administered camp in Angola was the last big one we supported. In general, new means of support were needed. Simultaneously, it became more difficult to collect things in Denmark. During the 1980s, a whole new culture of selling used things developed and people now often tried to make money off of them rather than giving them away. Finally, we had been doing this for a long time and were simply looking for something new.

That’s why you opened Café Liberation in 1987. I was wondering what the clientele was like, especially since you weren’t that popular among the Danish left.

Torkil: The clients were just regular folks. It wasn’t a particularly political crowd, although we organized some political events in the café.

How did it go financially?

Jan: Unfortunately, we didn’t make much money. I think we were just a bit ahead of our time, to be honest. These days, places like Café Liberation — what we call “café latte places” in Denmark — have become very popular. Back then, this was a new concept. Hip urban coffee shop culture wasn’t born yet. We would have made more money with a traditional pub.

Once you were arrested, the café was forced to close down, is that right?

Torkil: Yes, under the circumstances it was impossible to keep it open. But the remaining volunteers closed it down in a very responsible manner. All of the remaining funds went to different social movements.

From folder for Café Liberation at Islands Brygge, Cobenhagen, c. 1987.
Folder for Café Liberation på Islands Brygge, København ca. 1987.
Cover of Manifest, No 12/13, July 25 1980.
Cover of Manifest, No 12/13, July 25 1980.

In the press, Jan has often been called the “leader” of the Blekingegade Group and Torkil the “chief ideologue.” Is there any truth to these characterizations?

Torkil: I would put it this way: Jan had been involved for a long time and he was the most experienced of us. So, naturally, his opinion was respected. As for my role as a “chief ideologue,” I wrote the drafts for many position papers and articles, but I always got feedback from the entire group before finishing them.

Jan: I think these labels mainly exist to satisfy the needs of categorization that the police and the media have. The police probably also thought that there was truth to them, because they relied on Gotfred Appel’s outdated knowledge about us. [23] They knew that I had been part of KAK’s leadership and drew their conclusions. Torkil was very engaged in theoretical studies and, as he says, drafted many of our texts. In that sense, he was probably more of a “chief ideologue” than I was a “leader.”

During your trial it became known that you had been under PET observation for a long time. Were you surprised that you hadn’t been arrested earlier?

Jan: We knew that we had been under on-and-off surveillance for many years. I always figured that PET simply tried to gather as much information about our group as possible. When we were observed, we never engaged in anything illegal. Then, when the observation ended, normality returned, and we continued with our practice.

One can wonder, of course, why PET never even tried to give us a fright. They could have arrested us or called us in for questioning at any time. This might not have gotten us convicted, but would we have had the spirit to continue with the illegal practice afterward? I’m not sure.

Especially after the Lyngby robbery, when two PFLP members were arrested in Paris with six million Danish crowns, it was strange that PET wasn’t more active. This would have been a perfect opportunity to put us in a bad spot. I don’t know why this didn’t happen.

To this day, I wonder what PET really thought of us. They clearly suspected us of something, but how much did they really know? There are only two possibilities, and neither sheds a good light on PET: the first one is that we were indeed the main suspects in some robberies, but that PET didn’t have much interest in that and was more interested in catching bigger fish, namely PFLP members, perhaps also considering their collaboration with the Mossad; the other possibility is that, despite the frequent observation and other efforts, they simply didn’t have a clue.

The Danish government has summoned several investigative commissions to shed light on the role that PET played over the years, albeit with few relevant findings. This has not ended the controversy. In 2009, the chief investigator in the criminal case against you, Jørn Moos, criticized PET harshly in the book Politiets hemmeligheder. [24] Not least because of this, another investigative commission was convened in 2010, with a report expected for 2014. [25] Do you think anything will come of it this time?

Torkil: You never know, but I don’t expect much. As you say, there have already been several investigations, and PET always managed to disclose very little. I can’t see why it would be different this time around.

Jan, there have been claims that you had access to police files because of your work at Regnecentralen, the IT company.

Jan: This has been exaggerated. I didn’t have access to police files. But it is true that our company installed a search engine for a computer system used by the police, which gave me — and also my brother Bo, who worked at the same company — insight into some of their data. I can see the irony in that, but the data we had access to never proved very useful.

On two occasions, members of your group were arrested by the police: Peter Døllner in 1981 because of using a fake ID at a post office, and Niels Jørgensen in 1986 after a failed car theft. Did that cause great concern for you?

Torkil: Of course we were aware that these incidents could cause problems for us, but both passed without any bigger consequences. Peter used a fake ID to collect some money for a car we had sold. He was detained for a few days, but nothing much came of it.

The case with Niels was a little trickier. In general, car theft wasn’t a big deal, cars were stolen all the time in Copenhagen. The bigger problem was that Niels carried a bunch of things that a regular car thief wouldn’t carry, such as a walkie-talkie, a professional tool set, stuff like that. Still, he was released after just one day and the whole thing was treated as an ordinary affair and settled with a fine. Niels was never asked any questions that could have compromised us. A year and a half later, though, he was called in for questioning. He went to his lawyer, who talked to the police and explained to them that the case had been closed for six months. Niels never heard anything again. The only possible explanation is that PET got to know about the incident half a year too late and clumsily tried to revive the case.

In the beginning, we also were nervous when we were under observation. We didn’t know whether this meant that we’d be arrested soon. But once you’ve experienced this several times, you become more relaxed. Whenever more of us were observed at the same time, we made sure that at least one of us disappeared and hid in a secret apartment, until the danger was over. This was to prevent all of us being arrested at once. We should have followed this routine in April 1989, but we had become tired over the years and negligent with security. I guess we assumed that, as usual, the observation would eventually just end.

In “It Is All About Politics” you write that it was a series of small mistakes that eventually led to your arrest. What kind of mistakes?

Torkil: Mainly careless communication with liberation movements — even if their European representatives were to blame in many ways. Their security standards often differed from ours. But there were other mistakes, too. For example, we regularly used the same methods for stealing cars, the same types of fake documents, etc. We were aware of the problem and tried to use as many variations as possible, and we also planted false evidence to deter the police. But in the end, the way we operated tied our robberies together. Still, it took the police nearly twenty years to connect the dots.

I assume it was no coincidence that your arrest finally came after a policeman was killed.

Torkil: We knew that the search would be particularly intense. But we hadn’t left any traces and felt safe — probably a bit too safe.

Jan: When I read that the Copenhagen police department, the federal police, and PET had created a joint investigative team, I got worried. I figured that this could only mean that we were the main suspects. Why else would PET be involved? We did, in fact, discuss improving security, but, as Torkil has said, we were all a bit tired and extra security measures would have meant compromises for both our political and private life. Apparently, we weren’t willing to make those. But the single biggest mistake was not even following our usual security standards.

An obvious question is why so many incriminating notes regarding the Købmagergade robbery were left at the Blekingegade apartment.

Jan: Yes, that is an obvious question. We knew that we were under observation for some time after the robbery, so we didn’t want to clean out the apartment then. And afterward, things just got delayed. Having said that, we probably wouldn’t have gotten rid of all the incriminating material anyway. The truck we robbed hadn’t just carried cash but also other valuables, for example a precious stamp collection. I assume we would have kept those things in order to turn them into money later. To be honest, under the circumstances it might have been an advantage for us that the evidence regarding the Købmagergade robbery was so strong. Having such clear evidence on one action meant that it became the focus of the prosecution. It is not surprising that we got acquitted on most other counts.

Do you think you might have never gone to prison had the police not found the keys?

Jan: Yes, that’s a reality we have to live with. Without the keys, I don’t think there would have been a trial. Before the apartment was found, the police had no solid evidence at all — none. Furthermore, if they hadn’t found the keys on us, we could have reacted differently to our arrest. We could have complained about the “unjustified persecution of left-wing activists” and so on. But since we had to avoid any questions regarding the keys, we could only keep our mouths shut and wait.

If the apartment hadn’t been found and you had been released, what would have happened?

Jan: One or two men would have gone underground and cleared out the apartment. Going underground for a week or two wouldn’t have been a problem. We knew places in Copenhagen where you could shake off anyone following you within a few seconds, you just needed to be a few steps ahead. After clearing out the apartment, we would have had two options: finding a new apartment or ending the illegal practice. But we never got to that point.

The Z-File

A particularly controversial aspect of your work was the so-called “Z-file,” the “Z” standing for “Zionism.” Can you explain the background?

Jan: In principle, we were offering liberation movements the support they needed. Usually, it came down to material support, but we had experiences with other activities, too, including the collection of data, observation, and so forth. So, at one point we were approached by the PFLP who wanted us to help uncover Israeli agents in Denmark. The PFLP leadership had become increasingly worried about the high number of “leftist European tourists” passing through the Middle East, who often got a good idea of the PFLP’s infrastructure.

Torkil: One also has to consider the Danish context. PET had been observing the Palestinian community in Denmark since the early 1970s and it collaborated closely with the Mossad. This is not a vague suspicion, there is plenty of documentation for it. It became obvious during our trial that information resulting from the observation of Palestinians in Denmark landed on the Mossad’s desk — in English. Ole Stig Andersen, the chief of PET from 1975 to 1984, also writes extensively about the collaboration in his memoirs. [26] And then there was the Wejra scandal, which disclosed connections between the Danish weapons industry and Israel. [27] In short, Denmark was very important for the Mossad in the 1970s and ’ 80s. The PFLP asking us to help with uncovering Israeli agents was related to this.

How did you proceed?

Jan: At first, we were skeptical, because it was work that required much time and energy, while we wanted to focus on our own actions. But Bo had recently joined M-KA, and he had the skills, the time, and the will to do it — and so he went to work. Torkil and I took on the role of advisers, based on our own experiences: people who get involved in illegal political activities have often been very public about their beliefs but then they suddenly disappear. Of course it is possible that they simply lost interest in politics, but it is also possible that they started doing things they don’t want the public to know about. So, based on this assumption, we were looking for pro-Israeli activists who had suddenly disappeared. Bo created two categories, one for companies, organizations, and journals supporting Israel, and one for individuals. In the end, the file contained many Jews, also because we thought that it’d be most likely for the Mossad to recruit in the Jewish community. But it was never a “Jew file,” as reported by several media outlets.

Was the information ever put to use?

Jan: Not really. There was one person we considered a possible agent, but confirming that would have required time and effort — round-the-clock observation, wiretapping, etc. — that we weren’t able to commit to this, even though we had the equipment. In the end, there wasn’t much more than the file itself, with copies going to the PFLP. If those copies ever were of any use to them, I don’t know. It’s not very likely, though. To be honest, the whole thing wasn’t very professional and it had never been a priority for us. I mean, let’s say we had really succeeded in uncovering an Israeli agent — then what? We certainly didn’t want to end up in a clinch with the Mossad. But we never even thought that far when we started compiling the information. We just wanted to do the PFLP a favor. Their desire to keep spies disguised as left-wing tourists away from their infrastructure was very easonable.

From what I understand, the public reaction was very strong when the file was discovered in the Blekingegade apartment.

Jan: Yes, the press dubbed it the “Jew file” and we were accused of being anti-Semites. The police also informed everyone who was named in it, which caused much distress; people were wondering whether they were on a hit list.

So, in the end, the file did little more than instill fear in people?

Jan: The file was foolish, we don’t have to discuss this. I mean, there was nothing wrong with looking at the Mossad’s activities in Denmark, but listing individuals in that manner made no sense. As I said, the whole thing wasn’t very well thought through; it was ill-prepared.

Torkil: Especially in light of today’s growing racism and anti-Semitism, we very much regret the way the file was put together. It is very discomforting to know that some people believed they had landed on a blacklist because of their religious or ethnic background. That was never the intention.

Did the Z-file also cause strong reactions within the Danish left?

Jan: No, that wasn’t my impression. It was mainly the mainstream media that picked up on it.

Torkil: The Danish left strongly distinguishes between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. In the late 1960s, this was still different. Back then, the Danish left was very supportive of Israel and we were accused of being anti-Semites when handing out leaflets in support of the Palestinian struggle. Things started to change after the 1973 war, and then there was a very strong shift in perspective after the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982. [28] There was strong coverage of the events in the Danish media, which had a big impact on the country. The Intifada and the pictures of Israeli soldiers mistreating Palestinian children also played an important role.

Jan: A big problem is that the boundaries between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism have often been blurred. This usually happens to discredit the Palestinian resistance, but certain actions of Palestinian groups have also contributed to this. If we take the example of the Achille Lauro hijacking in 1985, when the commando executed an elderly, wheelchair-bound Jew, we have a perfect example. [29] Such actions are simply disastrous. Given the circumstances of the conflict, there have always been anti-Semitic sentiments in Palestinian organizations, including in the PFLP’s rank and file. But the official line of the PFLP was very clear on the issue and there was absolutely no room for anti-Semitism.

However, especially in the German-speaking left, many would argue that the Z-file and the impact it had on Denmark’s Jewish community was but a logical consequence of anti-Zionist and anti-imperialist politics, proving that, at their core, they are anti-Semitic ideologies.

Jan: I understand that, but of course I can’t agree with it.

Torkil: It is also very difficult for us to relate to these arguments on a personal level. Jan’s parents were active in the resistance against the Nazis, and my wife’s Jewish family had to flee to Sweden during the war in order to avoid deportation to a German concentration camp. We abhor anti-Semitism. Besides, fighting anti-Semitism is an important part of the anti-Zionist struggle; after all, anti-Semitism is the root cause of the Israeli settler state.

In Prison

After your arrest, you refused to be labeled as “political prisoners.” Why?

Torkil: Basically, because there was nothing political about our actions themselves, especially not in the context of Danish society. We didn’t attack the Danish state or any of it institutions or representatives. We used criminal methods to acquire material means for Third World liberation movements. So, within the Danish context, we were nothing but common criminals. We never sent out communiqués to explain our actions. That wasn’t our strategy, and we didn’t pretend anything different once we were arrested. For twenty years, we did everything we could to make our actions look like common crimes. If you do that, then you can’t just stand there and yell, “But it was all political, let me to go free!” once you face time in prison. That would be ridiculous. Of course, our intentions were political, but that’s a different thing. If anyone needs a label, I guess we were “politically motivated criminals.”

Jan: You become a political prisoner in the context of a political struggle. We weren’t involved in any political struggle in Denmark. Had we been caught in Israel or in Lebanon, things might have been different. It also made perfect sense that the urban guerrilla comrades in Germany claimed the status of political prisoners. They were engaged in an open conflict with the German state. We were just robbing cash-in-transit trucks.

At the same time, in “It Is All About Politics,” you justify your methods by claiming that you were part of an international struggle. Did you consider this morally relevant, but not legally?

Torkil: The boundaries here aren’t clear. You can see things in a national context and in an international one. Which perspective you prioritize depends on the situation. Morally, the international perspective was very important to us, because we were internationalists and our criminal activities were motivated by the desire to support liberation movements in the Third World. Legally, we had to relate to the Danish context, because that was where we lived, where we were active, and where we were arrested and sentenced. But even that depends on the situation. At the time, the fact that our robberies were motivated by wanting to support the PFLP and other organizations was legally irrelevant. It was not possible to indict us for terrorism, because the Danish laws weren’t written that way. Today, this has changed. Recently, Anton Nielsen, the seventy-two-year-old chairman of the Horserød-Stutthof Foreningen, an antifascist organization founded by Danes who fought against the fascist European regimes in the 1930s and ’40s, was sentenced to two months in prison because his organization had collected money for the PFLP. A couple of weeks ago, he began serving his time in the Horserød State Prison — the same prison his father was at in 1941 before being transferred to the Stutthof Concentration Camp. Now, if we had been in a similar position and gotten extra prison time because of our support for liberation movements, we might have very well called ourselves political prisoners. All of this really depends on the circumstances.

Jan: The basic moral questions remain the same, of course. We have tried to discuss them from various angles in “It Is All About Politics” and there is no need to repeat ourselves here. But I can illustrate the key difficulties with a couple of questions: Was it right that the Danish resistance movement executed alleged informants during World War II? If you answer that question positively, you have to understand that things can go wrong and that innocent people might get hurt. If you answer it negatively, you might retain your moral purity, but you also have to accept that some people will be tortured and killed because informants weren’t stopped. Was it right for the Wollweber League to blow up ships that Franco’s troops would have used to fight the republican forces? [30] If you say yes, you have to live with the fact that the bombs can hurt or even kill civilians. If you say no, then what about the people who would have been killed with the help of these ships?

The problems in the world aren’t black and white. If you get involved in conflict, it is hard to keep your hands clean, even if you fight on the side of the oppressed. Today, certain forms of civil disobedience and extraparliamentary action are morally accepted. The criminal means we used are not. It is up to each and any individual to judge them. Personally, I sleep well at night knowing what I have done.

I understand that you were also politically active as prisoners. Can you tell us about that? Were all imprisoned members of the Blekingegade Group politically active in prison?

Torkil: Yes, more or less. Niels and I were spokespeople for the prisoners in our respective wards, and Jan was the editor of the prisoners’ magazine.

Jan: If you were a political prisoner — as, for example the comrades in Germany were — your political struggle continued in prison. We, on the other hand, went into prison under the same conditions as anybody else. This was the basis we could organize on: not as a separate group, but as a part of the overall prison population. We approached this as communists. We tried to prove to other prisoners that they could achieve more if they were united. Prison culture often builds on individual acts of violence and intimidation. That’s the usual way of achieving things. We tried to demonstrate that collective action was more effective. It wasn’t easy, but we had some success.

For example?

Torkil: One fairly successful campaign concerned the heroin trade in prison, which caused many conflicts among the inmates. We were not against the dealing of soft drugs or against bringing heroin into prison for personal use. But we regarded the heroin trade as very damaging to the prisoners’ community, and so did many others, which is why we managed to get a lot of support and reduce the trade significantly. We also had success with campaigns against special units for what you call “negative” prisoners in Denmark: prisoners who do not cooperate with the authorities and are considered a bad influence on other inmates. Furthermore, we started a campaign against the particularly harsh treatment of Marc Rudin in Horsens State Prison. He was held in isolation almost the entire time and always had to deal with special restrictions. The argument was that he was a particular flight risk.

Prisoners’ journal Brasen (Danish slang for “prison”), editor Jan Weimann, cover art Marc Rudin.
Prisoners’ journal Brasen (Danish slang for “prison”), editor Jan Weimann, cover art Marc Rudin.

Jan: It was important to find issues that many prisoners could rally around. For example, we got plenty of support when we brought attention to the situation of Palle Sørensen, a convicted police murderer. Palle had killed four policemen in 1965, and he was still in prison when we got there twenty-five years later. In Denmark, that’s a very long time. So in 1990, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his sentencing, we started a “Free Palle” campaign. Other prisoners knew that if you killed four children you got out after sixteen years, so why should you be locked up forever for killing four cops? There was a widely shared sentiment among the prison population that this was unjust.

Another example concerned a vendor who had a monopoly on selling foodstuffs and other necessities in prison. He charged very high prices. We organized a boycott and he was replaced by a vendor whose prices were much lower. It was a simple but effective means of collective action.

Torkil: Resistance is crucial in the prison environment. We are talking about an extremely controlled space. The authorities try to break prisoners in order to make their incarceration easier. The ideal prisoner is quiet and passive and detaches himself from society. If you don’t want to be broken, you must remain active — physically, psychologically, intellectually, and socially. You need to engage with your surroundings, inside prison and, as much as possible, outside of it. However, if you do this, you will inevitably come into conflict with the prison system. Being active in prison is synonymous with resisting in prison. It is the only way to retain your identity, dignity, and self-respect.

Extremely important during my imprisonment was the discovery of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish. [31] I was in isolation when I read the book and it was a true revelation. It made me understand why prison is the way it is and why it functions the way it does. I also could relate Foucault’s analysis of power and counterpower on the micro level directly to my prison experiences. The book helped me deal with the situation I was in. I turned from prisoner to researcher, doing a field study behind bars. In the end, the study had 2,400 pages and I was able to turn it both into a Master’s thesis in Politics and a prisoners’ survival manual. [32]

Since the authorities try to take control over your space and your time, you have to try to reclaim your space and your time. I managed to maintain relationships with my family, my friends, and the outside world, I did my studies, and when I was released I was in better physical shape than ever. I managed to turn the theft of space and time into something positive. That’s why I don’t look back at my time in prison with bitterness. It was not a traumatic experience, but an extreme one that allowed me a very close insight into the functioning of state power.

Many of my friends in Germany are surprised about the seemingly low sentences you got — not to even mention friends in the U.S.

Jan: Well, in this case, many Danes were surprised, too. There was a big public outcry over us not receiving higher sentences. Interestingly enough, the fact that we didn’t commit the robberies for personal gain but for the support of Third World liberation movements was seen as an aggravating circumstance, not a mitigating one. We were even called “traitors to the nation.” I find that rather curious.

Torkil: Prison sentences in Denmark are generally lower than in Germany or the U.S. I can’t see someone in those countries who was involved in a robbery during which a policeman died receive the sentences we did. However, the police and the prosecution demanded higher sentences, they just didn’t do a very good job. The original indictment contained twenty-two points, and in the end we were charged with less than a handful. It was probably good for us that we spent about a hundred days in the courtroom. They jurors saw and heard us day after day, and it became difficult for the police and the prosecution to maintain the image of us as “terrorists and cold-blooded murderers.” In the end, the jurors decided to give us relatively mild sentences, which the police, the prosecution, and even the judges, were not happy with. It was particularly interesting to observe the police officers when the verdict was announced and one “not guilty” followed the other. They were very frustrated.

“Blekingegade Folks Behind Prisoners’ Action.” The box in the center reads: “The prisoners’ four main demands: 1. Release Palle Sørensen. … 2. Close the Special Unit B3 in Vridsløselille State Prison. … 3. Let Greenlanders serve time in Greenland. … 4. Grant Marc Rudin his prisoners’ rights.”
“Blekingegade Folks Behind Prisoners’ Action.” The box in the center reads: “The prisoners’ four main demands: 1. Release Palle Sørensen. … 2. Close the Special Unit B3 in Vridsløselille State Prison. … 3. Let Greenlanders serve time in Greenland. … 4. Grant Marc Rudin his prisoners’ rights.”
Ekstra Bladet headline after the Blekingegade Group members acquitted of murder. “Acquitted: The Police’s Big Case against the Blekingegade Gang Blew Up like a Bag of Hot Air.”
Ekstra Bladet headline after the Blekingegade Group members acquitted of murder. “Acquitted: The Police’s Big Case against the Blekingegade Gang Blew Up like a Bag of Hot Air.”

Jan: It was a tough battle, though, between the prosecution and the defense. Decisive for us was that we weren’t convicted in the Rausing case because the jurors decided that we had voluntarily given up on the kidnapping plan — which was true. Had they found us guilty of this charge, we would have probably gotten eighteen years instead of ten.

Øvig Knudsen makes the abandonment of the kidnapping plan sound very dramatic: there was a meeting in the woods outside of Lund just hours before Rausing should be taken from his home. Is that an accurate description?

Jan: Let’s just say that there was a late decision to call off the plan. The reasons were both of a personal and technical nature. It was all rather complex, but the bottom line was that we simply weren’t able to do it.

Was it possible for you to coordinate your defense before the trial?

Jan: No, we were in isolation the whole time. But some of our lawyers were friends and in regular contact. We didn’t all choose the same strategy. Torkil and Carsten decided to plead guilty to the Købmagergade robbery, while we others didn’t plead anything. This ended up working well. I think it confused people, and the fact that two of us did give statements in court made us appear more human. It also made the case less dramatic. I think neither side had an interest in a politically charged trial. This was also different from the situation in Germany and the trials of the urban guerrilla members. In our case, the state wanted to keep the trial as “normal” as possible. It had no interest in creating martyrs. We were mistreated by a few individual cops, but, all in all, we were treated fairly. Our lawyers also did a very good job.

Torkil, why did you decide to plead guilty to the Købmagergade robbery?

Torkil: The evidence against me was overwhelming. Among the papers found at the Blekingegade apartment was a paper in my handwriting and with my fingerprints that outlined the dialogue I had with the guard at the post office yard just before the robbery. I would have been convicted either way. Pleading guilty simply allowed me to explain a few things, for example that the shot that was fired was not intended to harm anyone but to allow us to get away. I only described the sequence of events, not the roles that individuals played in them. This provided a counternarrative to the one presented by the police and the prosecution. The forensic evidence later confirmed my statement.

You have mentioned that you sat in isolation.

Torkil: That is true. For fifteen months. That was quite a long time.

What exactly does isolation mean in a Danish prison?

Torkil: You only have contact with your lawyer, the wardens, and perhaps the priest. You sit in a cell of twenty square feet for twenty-three hours a day. You have one hour in the yard, where you can move around in a small cage of sixty square feet. You can write and receive letters, but all of the communication is censored. You can listen to the radio and watch TV and loan books. I read a lot, mainly travel accounts and books on astrophysics — they helped me expand the small physical space I was in. You are allowed your own clothes, but not much else.

Jan: You have no one to talk to but yourself, the flies, and the spiders. In the beginning, we weren’t allowed any visitors. Later, we got permission to receive a one-hour visit every other week. Eventually, we were allowed a one-hour visit each week. All visits were supervised; there were always two policemen present.

I also spend a year and a half in semi-isolation in different jails in and around Copenhagen. This was right after the sentencing, when the police requested to transfer me to Horsens State Prison, far away from my family. I filed a complaint. As a consequence, I found myself in jails where conditions were halfway between isolation and the normal Danish prison routine.

Was there public awareness about the isolation? In Germany, “isolation torture” was a big issue.

Jan: Yes, isolation in prisons was an issue in Denmark. But the debate didn’t concern just us, Denmark got a lot of criticism for isolating prisoners in general. Amnesty International mentioned this several times in their reports.

Cell in Vridsløselille State Prison, 1992.
Cell in Vridsløselille State Prison, 1992.

How did the authorities justify the measure?

Torkil: We were considered dangerous and did not cooperate with the police. The only statements any of us ever made were in court.

Jan: Well, and we were criminals. There wasn’t much need to justify anything. Criminals get orders, not explanations. A few years after our release, however, new laws were implemented that make it harder to keep people in isolation for a long time.

How did the Danish left react to the trial and the sentences? Did you get much support?

Torkil: The majority of the Danish left distanced itself from us, while the Danish right tried to present us as a part of the left in order to discredit it. Some on the left also said that we had provided the intelligence service with an excuse for the repression of the left throughout the years. One has to remember that our case coincided with the fall of the “iron curtain” and the beginning of the “war on terror.” For many, we symbolized the absolute worst: we were communists and terrorists. But we got support from parts of the radical left, people in the squatters’ movement and the autonomous movement, and from friends and comrades. All in all, this amounted to a few hundred people. They demonstrated in front of the court building, sent letters, and supported us and our families financially. The support never ceased during our imprisonment. It is very important to know that you have support. Each letter makes you happy. I made many new friends while I was in prison.

Vridsløselille State Prison photo sent by Torkil Lauesen to his wife Lisa, indicating his cell with the words “I live here.”
Vridsløselille State Prison photo sent by Torkil Lauesen to his wife Lisa, indicating his cell with the words “I live here.”

You mentioned how the time in prison allowed you to observe state power from a unique perspective. How did you feel about the trial?

Torkil: There is a lot of ritual involved. It’s all very theatrical: the judge sits on an elevated podium, the lawyers dress in special clothes, all that. There is also a special language being used. And not any language is accepted. The judge got very angry when we referred to our activities as “work.” At one point, he yelled that he does not want to hear the term “work” one more time, since that was something that “honorable people” did in order to “make a living.”

The whole security thing was a circus. We all sat in different jails, up to one hundred kilometers away from Copenhagen. Every single day we went to court, each one of us was picked up at six in the morning and rushed to the courthouse in supposedly inconspicuous passenger cars with several armed officers. Another car filled with armed officers was following us. The route changed every day. But this also had its entertaining moments. One time, the officers in my car got really nervous because another passenger car started following us — it turned out to be an unmarked police car that wanted to book us for speeding. Around the courthouse there were plenty of officers with Heckler & Koch machine guns.

All of this stood in strong contrast to the conduct of the state prosecutor Hans Christian Abildtrup, one of Denmark’s most prominent, who smiled and nodded at us every morning. Once the trial was all over, he came up to me, patted me on the back, and said, “Thanks for the fight, Lauesen!” — as if the whole thing had been a sports competition. Some months later he was sentenced for DUI and lost his job.

The Parasite State Theory in Retrospect

Let us fast-forward to the present: the revolutionary promises of Third World liberation movements have largely vanished. Not many such movements are left, and only a fraction of them embrace socialism. World revolution hasn’t come. What went wrong? Was capitalism too strong? Did you misjudge global economic developments? Did you have a wrong perception of the liberation movements?

Torkil: All of the above, I suppose. First, I think that Marxism in general has underestimated capitalism’s ability to adapt and transform. Since the days of Marx, capitalism’s “final crisis” has been announced many times. It was no different during the 1970s.

Second, I think the imperialist powers have learned a lot from the wars of the era. The U.S. has changed its tactics since Vietnam and has confronted liberation movements much more effectively since. The cases of Nicaragua and El Salvador are good examples, and so are the U.S. interventions in the Middle East.

Third, I think we overestimated the socialist element in the liberation movements, especially in its relation to the national element. Many of the movements were deeply nationalistic, but wore socialist colors. Not to be misunderstood: they weren’t consciously deceiving, and the socialist attire wasn’t fake; the socialist convictions just didn’t run very deep. Socialism promised a better life and it gave people hope. But it wasn’t at the core of the struggle, and national liberation rarely led to social liberation.

Fourth, I think we believed too strongly in the possibility of “delinking,” [33] that is, of a nation being able to detach itself from the global economic system and introducing a socialist economy within the framework of a liberated nation state. This is a much more daunting task than we thought. The pressure of the global market is enormous, and today, with neoliberalism and the ever-growing power of transnational companies, it is becoming even stronger.

Fifth, whatever one’s opinion of the Soviet Union, its demise also meant the disappearance of the strategically most important counterpower to the U.S. No matter how you want to look at it, this was a strong blow to socialism.

Jan: Sadly, the model of the Soviet Union did not bring us closer to socialism. Successful liberation movements happily copied the political elements, like the one-party system, but very rarely was there a fundamental social transformation, a land reform, or expropriations.

Torkil: Many liberation movements with a socialist agenda gave up their principles once they seized power. The ANC in South Africa is perhaps the most prominent example. What is left of its socialist promises? Economically, South African society is more segregated today than it was under apartheid.

Jan: In fact, we never saw the ANC as particularly socialist. That was one of the reasons we didn’t support it. The PAC had a very strong socialist rhetoric, but we didn’t think it would ever have much influence. Therefore, we focused on a small group, the IRE, which we hoped would grow.

In a 2012 article about Samir Amin, Torkil wrote that anti-imperialism is nowadays considered “as 1970s as orange lamps and coffee tables in teak.” [34] Is anti-imperialism really that outdated?

Torkil: Anti-imperialism itself is not outdated, it’s just that the term has disappeared from political debate. At least in Denmark. There are remnants of anti-imperialist politics in organizations like the Internationalt Forum or Fighters and Lovers, but even there you hardly hear the term. [35]

Why not? Obviously, the relations between the “metropole” and the “periphery” — or, in more contemporary terms, between the “Global North” and the “Global South” — are still characterized by enormous economic injustice.

Torkil: Of course the questions are still relevant, but the anti-imperialist movement, at least its socialist version, has practically disappeared as a political force. The empire still exists and unequal exchange still exists, but the social movement that organized against it under the banner of anti-imperialism does not. I suppose it has lost its historical moment. What’s left is anti-imperialism under the banner of religion and reactionary politics.

Ahmadinejad is no anti-imperialist ally?

Torkil: For us, there has never been any valid anti-imperialism without a socialist base. We have always been primarily socialists. Anti-imperialism is important as a means to strengthen socialism, and if it doesn’t serve that purpose, it is not relevant for us. The principle of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” is way too simple — and dangerous.

Jan: This is not to say that we haven’t made mistakes in our analysis. If we use the Iranian Revolution as an example, we were very supportive in the beginning. We believed that the socialist forces would come out strongest. Obviously, we were wrong, and if we had the chance to rewrite some of the articles we published in Manifest, we’d gladly take it. Of course, regimes like the one in Iran can weaken U.S. imperialism economically, but that in it-self is not the point. As Torkil says, imperialism needs to be fought in order to make socialism possible. So if you don’t do anything to introduce socialism — and, in fact, establish deeply reactionary regimes instead — then what kind of a contribution are you making? The religious regimes that claim anti-imperialist values have not liberated anyone. They are characterized by surveillance, repression, censorship, and so forth. None of the social problems have been solved.

I guess, today, discussions within the left that come closest to the old anti-imperialist topics are found in critiques of “neoliberalism” or “corporate globalization.”

Torkil: That is true. Obviously, Empire by Hardt and Negri was a very widely read book. [36]

What did you think of it?

Torkil: I thought it was inspiring. The description of the decreasing significance of the nation state and the arrival of an “empire” consisting of transnational corporations, transnational institutions like the World Trade Organization, and the leading imperialist countries’ political and military apparatuses is convincing. I do not deplore the nation state losing significance. Nationalism has always been a problem for socialism and anti-imperialism. You can also see this in the terminology. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, imperialism played an important role in the creation of the “nation” and a “national people.” Colonial racism set the “civilized” peoples of Europe against the “uncivilized,” “savage” peoples of Africa, Latin America, and Asia. The terms “nation,” “people,” and “race” are all closely connected. Then, during the second half of the nineteenth century, nationalist sentiments grew rapidly within the European workers’ movement.

Communism’s original internationalism was weakened. Imperialism had an enormous success in dividing the world’s proletariat into different, competing factions. Many workers in the imperialist countries identified so strongly with their nation that they were ready to fight in imperialist — and “inter-imperialist” — wars. Think of Rosa Luxemburg’s passionate but ineffective appeals to internationalism during World War I.

In anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles, however, nationalism has also played a progressive role as a bulwark against the most powerful nations’ global domination. In the form of national liberation movements, nationalism was able to defeat colonial and imperialist rule. But once nationalist sentiments were no longer used to protect communities against enemies from the outside, in other words, once they turned inwards, the notions of national identity, security, and unity became tools of oppression. Protection and oppression are often hard to distinguish. It seems that many successful national liberation movements got stuck in this dilemma: they found themselves either embracing an oppressive and isolated nationalism or adapting to the global neoliberal market, as in the South African case.

By addressing these questions, Empire opens up perspectives for renewed global resistance—in a way, the book takes us back to the internationalism of Marx and Lenin. At the same time, I don’t think that Hardt and Negri offer any concrete answers to the question of what to do. They have no suggestions for concrete steps in the here and now, and no long-term strategies either. At this point, they prefer to take on the role of academics, leaving it to the “activists” to figure these things out. But a political theory that offers no concrete suggestions for political practice is a weak theory. There are still too many philosophers interpreting the world, while the real challenge remains to change it.

What’s left of the parasite state theory?

Torkil: A lot. We are not talking about an obscure idea from the 1970s. The core of the parasite state theory remains highly relevant. Even recent academic work proves this, for example John Smith’s Imperialism and the Globalisation of Production, Timothy Kerswell’s The Global Division of Labour and the Division in Global Labour, and Zak Cope’s Divided World Divided Class — all studies that have been published within the last few years. [37]

I think there is still strong empirical evidence for the connection between imperialism and the labor aristocracy. Plenty of data confirms the increasing gap between the living standards in our part of the world and the ones in the Third World. About half of the world’s population lives on less than two U.S. dollars a day. The average wage difference between the OECD countries [38] and the rest of the world is about 11 to 1. Today, 80 percent of the world’s industrial workers are located in the Third World, generating superprofits for transnational corporations and cheap goods for the labor aristocracy in the imperialist countries. Zak Cope has calculated that in 2009, the value transferred to the OECD countries from the rest of the world amounted to 6,500 billion U.S. dollars. As citizens of one of the world’s richest countries, we have been privileged enough to travel and see the results of such inequality with our own eyes.

In the 1970s, the Third World mainly had significance as an exporter of raw materials: metals, minerals, and agricultural products such as coffee, tea, fruits, etc. Industrial production was weak and limited to low-technology products such as clothes and shoes. But over the last twenty-five years, this has changed. The Third World has experienced a massive industrialization, with production reaching from heavy industry to advanced electronics. Productivity is at least as high as in the old industrial metropole. This, inevitably, changes the global balance of power. Today, the Third World plays a much more important economic and political role than it did in the 1970s. Africa is lagging behind, but if you look at China or India, their voices become more important with each big international meeting.

This is a process that we did not foresee in the 1970s; the logistical obstacles seemed too big: communication, transport, cultural differences, etc. We also thought that the working classes of the metropole would fight hard to prevent the relocation of production. We were wrong, and now we are facing very different economic conditions. This also has a huge impact on the possibilities of revolutionary politics. The colonialism of old is gone. Modern imperialism is not international but transnational.

Jan: I agree that many things have changed, but the basic global structure remains the same. It is evident that the hopes we had for a global revolutionary transformation sparked by Third World liberation movements remained unfulfilled, but global economic inequality is still the most striking of capitalism’s contradictions. Production might have moved to the Third World, but profits are still moving to the metropole.

Torkil: If we take the purchasing power of Copenhagen with its one million inhabitants, then it equals the purchasing power of Tanzania with forty-six million people. Neoliberalism allows you to move production to where wages are low and then ship the products to where purchasing power is high. That way you profit on both ends. You can send a design for a Nike sneaker as a PDF to Vietnam, where you get the sneakers produced for next to nothing before moving them in modern containers to the U.S., where you can sell them for a multiple of the production costs. Making profit has never been easier. Once you have functioning logistics, modern technology, and safe transport, you are set. In the metropole, production is no longer key — what counts is design and marketing. The technologies are very different to the 1970s, but they perpetuate, and even strengthen, the same patterns of exploitation. At the time, we spoke of “parasite states.” Today, we might want to speak of “producer states” and “consumer states.”

Revolutionary Perspectives Then and Now

During the 1970s, you criticized most leftist organizations very harshly. Do you still have the same criticism?

Torkil: In terms of focusing on the relative privileges of the working class in Western Europe, I don’t think much has changed. The agenda of the main left-wing parties and trade unions remains the same. Today, they are focused on the defense of the welfare state within a national and capitalist framework. This is not a struggle that aids or supplements the struggle in the Third World. It is not a struggle for socialism. Even the old communist parties have lost any internationalist perspective. If workers vote for them it is not because they want socialism, but because they believe that these parties are better able to secure their wages than the Social Democrats. The whole political spectrum has moved to the right, and the interests of the Western working class are still tied to the interests of capital.

In today’s Europe, we are witnessing three major strategies to gain the political support of the working class:

  1. Neoliberal Social Democracy: The old workers’ parties have become almost indistinguishable from other neoliberal parties. They stress the need to train a national labor force in order to occupy key functions within the new international division of labor. This shall guarantee the protection of the labor force’s privileges. The Social Democrats and other social-liberal parties also try to create the best possible framework for this: the right infrastructure, taxation, etc. There is no class perspective left, and the focus lies exclusively on national interests. All nations are doing the same, which leads to a neoliberal rat race, in which national working classes are trying to avoid ending up at the bottom.
  2. Right-wing nationalism: Forces on the right end of the political pectrum use nationalism as a tool to fight globalization, which they portray as the main threat to the Western working class’s privileges. The right promises to defend jobs by implementing strict immigration laws and militarizing national borders. Today, right-wing nationalist parties are often the biggest workers’ parties. The left explains this as a result of “false consciousness” and “political naiveté.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The right-wing parties profit from very conscious class politics. Their success has to be understood in the context of the global class structure created by imperialism.
  3. The defense of the social welfare state: This is the strategy that the old communist parties have inherited from the Social Democrats. It indicates a clear goodbye to any radical approach and the final compromise with reformist parliamentarianism. To speak of revolution or the abolition of private property always leads left-wing parliamentarians to argue that this will “scare away the voters.” In the 1970s, some of these parties might have still seen themselves as the parliamentarian voice of the extraparliamentary left. Today, all they are interested in are sociological studies helping them to optimize their votes and to win over disgruntled Social Democrats.

It is easy to point out that the right-wing arguments are false. They claim that we have to protect our riches because we have created them with our own sweat and tears, while poverty in the Third World is the result of cultural backwardness and laziness. Of course the opposite is true: it is the Third World that has created our riches. It was Europeans who plundered South America, who transported millions of slaves to North America, and who colonized Africa and Asia.

However, the approach of the left-wing parties is also wrong, or, in any case, short-sighted. If the Western working classes do not want to compete with the workers of China or Brazil (a competition they might very well lose), then they must develop a global perspective and fight the racial and cultural hierarchy of nations as well as the enormous gaps in living standards. The way forward, the way towards socialism, lies in a struggle against global inequality, not in narrow nationalism. Let me quote something from an address prepared by Marx for the 1867 congress of the First International. Speaking about the situation in England, he stated: “In order to oppose their workers, the employers either bring in workers from abroad or else transfer manufacture to countries where there is a cheap labor force. Given this state of affairs, if the working class wishes to continue its struggle with some chance of success, the national organizations must become international.” [39] Marx knew how important wage differences were — and, at the time, they were significantly smaller than they are today.

Marx’s quote still holds true. What socialist politics demand today is an uncompromising global perspective. I understand that this might not bring many votes. That, however, can’t be the measure of socialist politics. Sometimes, I miss the radicalism and the global perspective that were part of the left in the 1970s. Not because of nostalgia, but because these aspects seem more necessary than ever if we want another world.

As you’ve stated, the revolutionary hopes of the 1970s remained largely unfulfilled. Where does revolutionary hope come from today?

Torkil: One has to understand what a revolutionary situation is. This has always been the key question. The collaboration between KAK and China ended in 1969, because China saw a revolutionary situation in Western Europe and we didn’t.

For a revolutionary situation, it is not enough that the masses want a different society. The ruling class must also be unable to maintain and defend the status quo. The masses must no longer want to follow the same path, and the ruling class must no longer be able to.

Jan: During the October Revolution, the masses didn’t want “socialism,” they wanted bread. They were in the middle of an imperialist war and famine. They were destitute. The revolution became a question of survival. It succeeded because the old regime could no longer defend itself.

In Germany, the situation was similar, but the ruling class managed to hand power to the Social Democrats, who crushed the radical currents under the banner of socialist development. That was a brilliant move on the part of the ruling class and it prevented a true revolution. [40]

Torkil: Others on the left have accused us of propagating the “immiseration thesis.” However, this needs a bit of historical context. The term “immiseration thesis” was introduced by Eduard Bernstein, the father of reformist socialism, in the late nineteenth century. Bernstein rejected Marx’s claim that capitalism led to increasing wealth for the few and increasing poverty for the many. According to Bernstein, the struggles for higher wages and social reforms had increased the living standard of the German working class significantly, which proved that Marx was wrong and that reformism was the way forward. However, Bernstein acknowledged neither the growing gap between the bourgeoisie and the working class nor the pauperization of those on the periphery of capitalist development, mainly the people in the colonies, but also in Russia. By focusing exclusively on the relative increase of living standards among German workers, Bernstein failed to see the essential truth in Marx’s analysis.

When we insisted that Marx was right, we didn’t simply mean that “things have to get worse in order to get better.” This is nothing that Marx or Engels ever meant. The point is therefore not to argue that things have to get worse. The point is to define moments of possibility for radical change. In an 1885 article about the situation in England, Engels wrote that socialism will return when the country’s industrial monopoly ends and the English working class finds itself on equal terms with the working classes of other nations. [41] We are talking about classical Marxist questions: What are the objective conditions for social change? Who has an objective interest in social change? What is the state of capitalism? Will capitalism be able to solve its crisis, or will the crisis escalate?

Jan: The basis of your theory has to be material reality. This hasn’t changed. If your theory is not based on material reality, you become a dreamer, and fantasy replaces theory. As a dreamer, you can proclaim whatever you want. But transforming society has nothing to do with wishful thinking. Useful theory must be based on the analysis of the actual material conditions.

Torkil: I believe that the key aspect in the current situation is the industrialization of the Third World and the emergence of a new working class, a new industrial proletariat. Just as the European working class did in the nineteenth century, the new working classes of China, India, Vietnam, Brazil, and Mexico will demand social justice. There will be new social conflicts, and they will be framed in economic terms, not in the cultural and national terms of the 1970s. The first round of anti-imperialist struggles was mainly nationalist. The next round will be mainly anti-capitalist.

Why are you so certain that the struggles will no longer be framed in nationalist terms? Because the role of the nation state has been weakened? That doesn’t necessarily weaken nationalistic sentiments, does it? Sometimes, the opposite seems true.

Jan: It’s a complex issue. The nation state will continue to be evoked as a bulwark of defense against “foreign influence” of all sorts. But I think there are two strong indications that the national aspect will be weaker in upcoming struggles. One is indeed the shift in global politics and the global economy. The role of the nation state has, in fact, been weakened. This also means that the front lines of social struggles have shifted. The other indication is that many new independent countries have emerged over the last decades. These include former colonies in the Third World as well as former Soviet and Yugoslav republics, and others. The process has made the “national question” less urgent overall — even if some struggles, for example the Palestinian one, are still very much framed in such terms.

Torkil: As I’ve said before, I don’t think there is any reason to bemoan the fact that the nation state has lost significance. This development opens up new possibilities. But in order to seize them, we must really think beyond the national framework and develop a global consciousness. I believe we are heading the right way. In the 1970s, the oil crisis already made it very clear how dependent we have become on one another, and in recent decades, the environmental movement has contributed in many ways to widening this understanding. Meanwhile, activists have been organizing World Social Forums, and migration has become one of the most important political issues globally. The changes are also expressed on the legal level. Take the International Court of Justice in The Hague, for example. Nation states refusing to subject themselves to such institutions meet with increasingly strong criticism. Even the USA is not exempt — the Guantánamo prison camp, for example, is condemned almost universally. This is encouraging, even if the true “pariah states” are still those in opposition to Western interests.

The consequence of these developments is not necessarily stronger global solidarity, but the developments are a precondition for stronger global solidarity — as well as for more democracy in global affairs.

Yes, there will be nationalistic backlashes. For many, nationalism remains an easy answer to complex problems. It is therefore crucial for the left not to fall into the trap of using nationalist sentiments to oppose global capital and its institutions. Otherwise, our resistance won’t differ much from that of the right.

When defining a revolutionary situation, a capitalist crisis still seems very central to you. But isn’t capitalism going through a crisis right now?

Torkil: The recent crisis was a financial one, mainly concerning the real estate market. In Europe, only Greece and perhaps Spain have been significantly affected.

Jan: When we say “crisis” we mean a development that significantly affects the living conditions of the workers. What we have seen in recent years is more of a “recession.” Even a crisis like the one in the 1930s did not lead to major uprisings, although the unemployment rate was very high and people relied on handouts, free meals, etc.

So where can a “real” global crisis of capitalism come from today? From a crisis in Third World countries instigated by new revolutionary working class movements?

Jan: Well, if there is a crisis in Vietnam, and you can go produce the same thing under the same conditions in Malaysia, then capitalism won’t be affected. But if we look at significant global powers, such as China, then a crisis there will inevitably affect us all. Once our profits and living standards are affected, that is, once we can no longer buy goods as cheaply as we have become used to, we will no longer be able to ignore this and things will start moving. Plus, there are other factors to consider: global warming, overpopulation, migration, etc. It is even possible that production in the Third World will collapse. That would be a huge problem for capitalism. Look at what seemingly small things can do: a simple real estate crisis can cause serious unemployment.

But crises do not necessarily lead to progressive change. Often, reactionary forces benefit. How can that be avoided?

Torkil: Socialism has to be seen as an attractive and realistic solution to people’s problems. Considering the historical track record of real socialism, that is not a given. To say that some mistakes have been made and that we should just try the same experiment again, won’t help. I don’t think that’s possible, and I believe very few people do. It is mandatory to formulate new and concrete ideas of what a socialist economy should look like. These ideas have to be based on people’s experiences. Again, the organization of democratic socialism must appear both attractive and realistic.

Things aren’t entirely hopeless. At least people are talking about socialism again, even if it is often in the form of a “lifeboat socialism,” that is, a safety buoy in times of ecological and economic disasters.

Do you see anyone contributing to a new socialist vision?

Torkil: I think the Zapatistas provide an example. They are expressing socialist ideas in a new language. They are also anti-imperialists, although this might be anti-imperialism 2.0. In any case, the perspective of their struggle is global, not national.

We can see similar tendencies in many struggles, addressing everything from privatization to copyright issues to the “discursive struggles” that Foucault has written about. Of course there are important struggles happening on the governmental and institutional level, but there are many small struggles in everyday life that concern very basic questions about what is good and bad, right and wrong, and so forth. All of them include the potential to strengthen socialist ideals. Here, too, the Zapatistas are a good example. They have a Foucauldian understanding of power: the micro level is very important; they don’t see power concentrated in institutions.

The socialist movements that have recently experienced success in the Third World seem to be mainly peasant-based Maoist movements, for example in Nepal and in parts of India. How does this fit in with your focus on the new Third World proletariat?

Torkil: It is natural that regions with a strong peasant base have strong peasant movements. Peasants are arguably the most exploited sector in the Third World today, and land reform is still a major issue. However, I am not sure how much of a model they can be. It is also clear that their Maoism has very little to do with today’s China. It seems more like a Maoism of the 1970s.

Jan: Of course peasants will remain an important factor, but the new proletariat is expanding fast and includes a strong rural proletariat. In China, you have poor migrant workers who travel thousands of kilometers to find work.

Let us take a concrete example of recent unrest in the midst of an economic crisis, the so-called Arab Spring. The way things are looking now, this has not strengthened progressive forces.

Torkil: One thing that the Arab Spring has demonstrated is the importance of organized political movements. The Islamists have come out strong because they were well organized. They currently have the organizational skills that the socialists had in the 1970s, and also the same strong ideological foundation. Websites, SMS chains, and tent cities are not enough for radical social change. Some of the experiences from the disciplined and vanguardist organizations from the 1970s might still be useful here, even if they must not be copied uncritically, of course.

Jan: I think you have to look at the specific circumstances of the Arab Spring. While economic conditions might have triggered the uprisings, the main agenda was democratization. People rallied against authoritarian rule and seemed convinced that democracy, in the sense of the Western parliamentarian model, would make things better. That the protests were fueled by new communication technologies fits the picture: the Internet and mobile phones have an aura of democracy that spills over into politics. So far, so good. But no one formulated any social programs. And the belief that life will be the same as in France or Germany once you get rid of an authoritarian ruler is an illusion. If we take Egypt as an example, hardly anyone demanded more than Mubarak’s resignation. There were no demands for a land reform or other substantial political and economic changes. Under such circumstances, it is not surprising if you end up with new people driving the old apparatus. People do not rise up because they want democracy or any other abstraction. They rise up because they want a better life. Democracy only becomes an abstract image they can project their hopes into, but that’s not the same as having your hopes fulfilled.

Why would it be different in China?

Torkil: China has a tradition of working-class organizing, a communist party, and radical collective action. I think that people in China know that you can’t change the system with a Facebook account and a sleeping bag on Tiananmen Square. There is a deeper understanding of social change.

Jan: I cannot promise that it will be different, but there is a strong sense of pragmatism in China. This is also true for the Communist Party. If there is a problem, no one consults the Marxist dictionary. People develop practical solutions instead. China’s current economic system is a case in point. It’s not the kind of free market system that we have in Europe. It’s a system that integrates a free market into a tightly controlled state apparatus. It’s very unique. This also means that the tensions that will arise between those defending the status quo and those demanding social change will have far-reaching effects.

You talk about far-reaching effects, globalization, and the importance of political organizing. What does this mean for global forms of resistance? Aren’t they necessary in light of the current political and economic developments?

Jan: We need new forms of revolutionary organizing, that is true. Back in the day, we believed in the revolution spreading from the Third World to the metropole with the Russian Revolution as a shining example. We had a very simple and linear idea of socialist development. Today, we realize that things are more complicated than that. Our views are far less deterministic. I think that many different forms of solidarity can arise globally — around labor issues, but also around climate issues and others. We are already witnessing developments that no one would have thought possible ten years ago. Numerous Latin American governments espouse a language that is reminiscent of the anti-imperialism of the 1970s. They criticize unequal exchange. And we are talking about governments that were voted in by parliamentary elections. And they cooperate, for example in ALBA. [42]

Migration is another important issue. In Denmark and in other European countries, most migrants are quickly integrated into the labor market, but in the U.S., for example, you have millions of illegal immigrants who work for very low wages and whose living standards can’t be compared to those of the old U.S. working class. This creates tensions that will inevitably lead to widespread social conflict.

Torkil: Neoliberalism leads to strong economic polarization everywhere, both in the metropole and in the Third World. As much as you have a new middle class, and even billionaires, in China and India, you have new poverty in North America and Western Europe, particularly affecting illegal immigrants and undocumented workers.

Jan: In addition, the old struggles haven’t disappeared. Of course it’s easy to point out the failures of the liberation movements. The PFLP does not hold power in Palestine. But if you always look at things from the most negative angle, you might as well stop doing anything. Even if Mugabe has “betrayed” the revolution in Zimbabwe, it was still a step forward when the country got rid of the white colonialists’ regime. The same is true for FRELIMO taking power in Mozambique and for many similar cases. The struggle in Palestine continues as well, even if socialist ideas have taken a backseat.

I guess my question is: how can the many sites of resistance be connected in order to respond to the global force of capital? Can unions play a role here, especially when one puts a focus on workers in the Third World?

Jan: I am skeptical with respect to the global union movement. The interests of the national unions are too different. A union’s primary duty is to defend the interests of its members. But the interests of the Danish working class are still very different from the interests of the Ethiopian working class. In the metropole, unions mainly fight to defend privileges, they don’t fight for global social justice. A Danish union can’t demand lower wages for its members and higher wages for African workers. It just doesn’t work that way.

Torkil: In general, I do believe that union politics will be important, because they will play a role in the process of Third World workers organizing. But the international union movement is still largely dominated by unions from the imperialist countries, so I don’t think there is much potential there — even if there have been some progressive trends since the International Trade Union Confederation has tried to leave the shadows of the Cold War behind. [43] Of course, Third World unions are making themselves heard more and more, but I think it will still be a long time before they have a strong global impact. Unequal exchange is still not a central issue for international trade unionism. People are rightfully outraged over differences between men’s and women’s pay, but at the same time no one seems to bother about the enormous differences between First World and Third World wages. If unions can’t move beyond a nationalist perspective, it will be very hard for them to play a decisive role in the global struggle for socialism.

In the book Unequal Exchange and the Prospects of Socialism, which was first published by M-KA in Danish in 1983, you had a chapter entitled “What Can Communists in the Imperialist Countries Do?” [44] It was five pages long. How would you respond to that question today?

Torkil: Well, there you can see the Leninist influence. Whenever there was a problem, Lenin made an analysis and presented five “What to Do” pages. Mao Zedong did the same. They were fairly successful. Others who tried this, like Jose Maria Sison in the Philippines, were not. [45] Perhaps we weren’t so good at it either.

Does this mean that you won’t answer the question?

Jan: You are talking to two individuals and not to a political organization. We have no organizational unity or strategy, only personal opinions. Torkil might have read many books, but we still don’t have any answers. I agree that global connections are necessary, but I would also say that every time someone acts in the spirit of solidarity a step in the right direction is made. There are many initiatives that are not necessarily revolutionary, but still contribute to social conditions that make positive development easier. The more actions we see headed in that direction, the better things will become in the long run, even if the establishment of socialism seems far away and will require bigger efforts than single-issue campaigns.

I still like the slogan, “Solidarity is something you can hold in your hands.” This can always be a guiding principle for political action, even when you lack answers to the big questions. Solidarity is always needed, and there are always possibilities to express it in concrete ways. However, analysis, theory, and propaganda are also needed to encourage solidarity, so this aspect of political activism doesn’t lose its importance.

Do you have any concrete examples for how to express solidarity today? Or for which movements to support?

Torkil: In China, I think it’s important to support left-wing currents within the Communist Party, independent working-class movements, and all initiatives that fight for a global instead of a national perspective in union politics. In the Middle East and in North Africa it is crucial to support the progressive forces that remain. I hope that the Islamist wave will subside, but liberal democracy will not help the poor farmers and the unemployed in the region either. If the left manages to reorganize itself and to formulate ideas for fundamental changes in property relations, I think that socialist politics can be revived. The situation is very fragile and seemingly small things can have a great effect. Finally, I think we must support what is left of the movements from the 1970s in Palestine, in the Western Sahara, in Colombia, and certainly in Mexico. Some other questions need more investigation: Is it, for example, possible to connect the struggle in Greece with anti-imperialist politics and a broad global perspective? In any case, none of these struggles can be fought successfully without an understanding of global capitalism’s class structures and a commitment to a global equality in living standards.

Jan: I think it is also important to experiment with new forms of collaboration; collaboration between groups that aren’t used to working together: environmental organizations with trade unions, consumer cooperatives with producer alliances, etc. In Europe, I think the struggle against racism has a high priority. Different ethnic groups are turned into scapegoats for the current social problems. Whenever a population is divided, right-wing forces benefit and the situation will become even more difficult for progressive and socialist movements.

Maybe we are in a phase that needs another Cultural Revolution. Mao wanted all ideas to be expressed in order to filter out the best for the future. A day will come — and perhaps many days — when socialism will be a relevant political force again, able to limit capitalism’s power. It would be nice if one could point out a single way to get us there — but that’s an impossible thing to do.

You have repeatedly stressed that you see things in a more complex manner today than forty years ago. Yet, sometimes, it seems hard not to envy people who have clear political ideas, visions, and strategies. It seems very rare today. Isn’t that also a problem?

Torkil: I’m not going to lie: it was great to have an all-encompassing theory and practice that you believed in. You had a complete worldview, which was wonderful. However, that was modernity. Today, we live in postmodern times…Seriously speaking, I don’t think there is any way for us to return to a world that existed forty years ago. I understand the envy, but believe me, if you got the chance, you wouldn’t feel comfortable with the clear-cut answers we felt we had. I think hardly anyone would these days. We have entered new times, and new times require new forms of politics.

The following quote is from David Gilbert’s book Love and Struggle, which came out in 2012 — “It seems to me that the central problem/tension is still between imperialism and the conditions of life throughout the Third World, even if it won’t necessarily be fought out in the form of national liberation struggles” [46] — do you agree?

Torkil: Yes, that’s a nice quote. I would agree. Despite the anti-imperialist liberation struggles disappearing during the 1980s, the main contradiction in the world remains the one between the rich capitalist countries in the North and the exploited countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Future anti-imperialist struggles are inevitable.


  1. “To linjer” [Two Lines] 1–6 were published as inserts in Kommunistisk Orientering from no. 18, 1968, to no. 2, 1969. [Online at snylterstaten.dk in Danish][]
  2. The Peking Review (since 1979, Beijing Review) is the official English-language publication of the government of the People’s Republic of China. In the April 30, 1969, issue, which documented the Ninth National Congress of the CPC, Lin Biao wrote: “An unprecedentedly gigantic revolutionary mass movement has broken out in Japan, Western Europe and North America, the ‘heartlands’ of capitalism” (31). [Online at www.massline.org in pdf.][]
  3. See “It Is All About Politics” in this volume. [Online at snylterstaten.dk in English][Online at snylterstaten.dk på dansk][]
  4. Sejre eller dø: 4 angolesere beretter om deres vej til revolution [Victory or Death: Four Angolans Tell about Their Way to the Revolution] (Copenhagen: Futura, 1974) was based on stories from the book The Revolution in Angola: MPLA Life Histories and Documents, edited by the LSM founder Don Barnett and Roy Harvey (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1972). For Barnett and the LSM, see later sections of the interview and the appendix.[]
  5. Gamel Abdal Nasser served as Egypt’s president from 1956 until his death in 1970. He was one of most prominent proponents of pan-Arab ideas.[]
  6. “Black September” refers to the armed conflicts between the Jordanian government and Palestinian organizations in Jordan in September 1970, causing the death of over three thousand Palestinians. See also “It Is All About Politics” in this volume. [Online at snylterstaten.dk in English] [Online på snylterstaten.dk på dansk][Se also: PFLP Forklarer… online at snylterstaten.dk in Danish][]
  7. Jutland is the mainland part of Denmark, bordering Germany.[]
  8. See “It Is All About Politics,” page 46 in this volume.[Online at snylterstaten.dk in English] [Online på snylterstaten.dk på dansk][]
  9. In June 1967, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, visited Germany. German and Iranian security forces violently attacked anti-Shah demonstrations. On June 2, the student Benno Ohnesorg was shot dead by a policeman — the name of the urban guerrilla group Movement Second of June (Bewegung 2. Juni) refers to this incident.[]
  10. The text is included in J. Smith and André Moncourt (eds.), The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History. Volume 2: Dancing with Imperialism (Oakland: PM Press, 2013), and available online at http://www.germanguerilla.com. The German original was published in 1982 as “Guerilla, Widerstand und anti-imperialistische Front.” [Online in German, english and French at Social History Portal.][]
  11. “Intet kan bygges på illusioner” [Nothing Can Be Built on Illusions] in Kommunistisk Orientering no. 4, 1975. [Online at snylterstaten.dk in Danish][]
  12. Emmaus is an international solidarity organization providing material aid to the poor and homeless. Founded in France in 1949, local groups have a high degree of independence. There are several Emmaus groups active in Sweden today.[]
  13. The series Life Histories from the Revolution, published by the LSM Information Center in the 1970s, included autobiographical accounts of revolutionaries from Angola, South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. [A collection of documents and posters from LSM can be seen online at African Activist Archive.][]
  14. E. Tani and Kaé Sera, False Nationalism False Internationalism: Class Contradictions in the Armed Struggle (Chicago: Seeds Beneath the Snow, 1985). [Available in PDF-format here; New print edition (2021) at Kersplebedeb Publishing; Reviewed by Gabriel Kuhn at his site LeftTwoTree.][]
  15. Prairie Fire was originally “printed underground in the U.S. for the people” in 1974 and distributed by the “Prairie Fire Distributing Committee.” [See more about Weather Underground at Socialistisk Bibliotek (Copenhagen based Socialist Online Library)][]
  16. LSM News 1, no. 2, Summer 1975. [Critical Remarks on “Prairie Fire”by. Carroll Ishee was actually published in LSM News Issue 2, no. 2, Summer 1975, page 35, which is online at African Activist Archive.][]
  17. The Portuguese Brigadas Revolucionárias were a militant left-wing group active in the early 1970s.[]
  18. In Danish, Forening af Vietnamfrivillige.[]
  19. The article was included in the pamphlet White Blindspot & Can White Workers Radicals Be Radicalized? (1969), authored by Noel Ignatin [Ignatiev] and Ted Allen, and published by the SDS’s Radical Education Project. [The pamplet is online at marxist.org.][]
  20. Theodore W. Allen, The Invention of the White Race, 2 vols. (New York: Verso, 1994/1997). [Online at Online University of the Left: Volume 1 and Volume. 2][]
  21. The Japanese Red Army was founded as a militant Marxist and anti-imperialist group in 1971. It was most notorious for a 1971 attack at Tel Aviv’s airport that left twenty-eight people dead, the majority Christian pilgrims from Puerto Rico.[]
  22. From the chapter “What Can Communists in the Imperialist Countries Do?” in the M-KA book Unequal Exchange and the Prospects of Socialism, published in 1986 (Danish original, Imperialismen idag: Det ulige bytte og mulighederne för socialisme i en delt verden [Imperialism Today: Unequal Exchange and the Possibilities for Socialism in a Divided World], 1983). [Online at snylterstaten.dk – in English and på dansk].[]
  23. After the arrest of the Blekingegade Group members in April 1989, Gotfred Appel was questioned by the police about the group’s background.[]
  24. For publications regarding Jørn Moos, see the introduction. [The chapter: Aftermath][]
  25. The official website of the commission is http://www.blekingegadekommissionen.dk (in Danish). [The official site has been deleted, but the material – all 15 volumes – are available online at Way Back Machine archive.org – See an overview at Socialistisk Bibliotek’s linkcollection on Blekingegade-sagen (The Blekingegade Case)][]
  26. Ole Stig Andersen, En PET-Chefs erindringer [The Memoirs of a PET Chief ] (Copenhagen: Sohn, 2012).[]
  27. See p. 73 n. 47. [The note says: Wejra was a Danish weapons manufacturer that was accused in the 1980s of secret relations with Israel involving financial irregularities, illegal arms trade, andespionage. The company closed in 1990. —Ed.][]
  28. See p. 68 n. 45. [The note says: In September 1982, at least eight hundred Palestinians were killed during a three-day period by Christian Phalangist militias in the Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila; the Israeli army, which controlled the area at the time, was accused of not interfering and even of providing logistical support. —Ed.][]
  29. In October 1985, the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked off the Egyptian shore by a commando of the Palestine Liberation Front (PFL), a splinter group of the PFLP-GC (see the appendix). The seventy-nine-year-old Leon Klinghoffer was shot dead after the ship was refused permission to enter the Syrian port of Tartus. Being promised safe conduct, the PFL commando later surrendered in Egypt with-out its demands of having fifty Palestinian prisoners released from Israeli prisons being met.[]
  30. Regarding the Wollweber League, see “It Is All About Politics.” [Online at snylterstaten.dk in Englishpå dansk][]
  31. Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (London: Allen Lane, 1977); French original: Surveiller et punir. Naissance de la prison (Paris: Gallimard, 1975).[]
  32. Torkil Lauesen, Fra forbedringshus til parkeringshus — magt og modmagt i Vridsløselille Statsfængsel [From Rehabilitation Space to Storage Room: Power and Counterpower in the Vridsløselille State Prison] (Copenhagen: Hans Reitzel, 1998) and the prisoners’ manual Att leva i fängelse — en överlevnadshandbok för fångar [Life in Prison: A Survival Manual for Prisoners] (Copenhagen: Andra chansen, 2000).[]
  33. The term “delinking” was popularized among the anti-imperialist left by the Marxist economist Samir Amin and his book Delinking: Toward a Polycentric World (London: Zed, 1990); French original: La déconnexion (Paris: La Découverte, 1986).[]
  34. Torkil Lauesen, “Tiden er ikke til sociale kompromisser” [It Is Not the Time for Social Compromises], Gaia no. 72, Spring 2012. [Online in Danish pdf at Internationaltforum.dk scroll to p. 14][]
  35. The Internationalt Forum is a network of Danish solidarity groups working against “oppression and exploitation worldwide” as well as “the capitalist world order” (http://www.internationaltforum.dk); it publishes the journal Gaia — Tidskrift för international solidaritet [Gaia: Journal for International Solidarity], to which Torkil Lauesen has contributed many articles. Fighters and Lovers is a Copenhagen-based group that has supported the PFLP and the FARC in Colombia by selling clothing, records, and perfume; in 2007, seven members of Fighters and Lovers were tried under the Danish anti-terrorism law and sentenced to suspended prison terms.[]
  36. Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000).[]
  37. John Smith, Imperialism and the Globalisation of Production (PhD thesis, University of Sheffield, 2010); Timothy Kerswell, The Global Division of Labour and the Division in Global Labour (PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology, 2011); Zak Cope, Divided World Divided Class (Montreal: Kersplebedeb, 2012).[]
  38. See p. 61 n. 41. [The note says: The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) was founded in 1961 by industrialized nations committed to a market economy. In 2012, it consisted of 34 member states. —Ed.][]
  39. Torkil Lauesen refers to an address prepared for the Congress of the International Workingmen’s Association in Lausanne 1867. The address was written by a committee appointed by the General Council. Karl Marx was one of four committee members. For the entire text and background information, see marxists.org.[]
  40. For a history of the German Revolution from a radical perspective, see Gabriel Kuhn (ed.), All Power to the Councils! A Documentary History of the German Revolution of 1918–1919 (Oakland: PM Press, 2012).[]
  41. Friedrich Engels, “England 1845 und 1885” [England 1845 and 1885], Die neue Zeit no. 6, June 1885. [See Marx and Engels: On Colonies, Industrial Monopoly and Working Class Movement, Futura, 1972, 57 p., p. 45-50. Online at snylterstaten.dk – for Danish version: Marx og Engels: Om kolonier, industrimonopol og arbejderbevægelse. Forlaget Futura 1972, 66 s., s. 52-57. Online at snylterstaten.dk][]
  42. The Alianza Bolivariana para los Pueblos de Nuestra América (ALBA) was founded upon the initiative of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez in 2004. In 2013, ALBA consisted of the following member states: Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Saint Lucia, and Venezuela.[]
  43. The International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC), the world’s largest trade union federation, was founded in 2006 as a merger of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the World Confederation of Labour (WCL). According to its website (https://www.ituc-csi.org), the ITUC “represents 175 million workers in 156 countries and territories and has 315 national affiliates” in April 2013.[]
  44. The chapter is included in this volume in the “Documents” section. [Online at snylterstaten.dk in English and på dansk].[]
  45. Jose Maria Sison founded the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, in 1968–1969. Since 1987 he has been living in exile in the Netherlands.[]
  46. David Gilbert was a longtime member of the Weather Underground. He is serving a sentence of seventy-five years to life in New York for his involvement in the so-called Brink’s Robbery of 1981, a joint action of the Black Liberation Army and former Weather Underground members. His autobiographical account Love and Struggle: My Life in SDS, the Weather Underground, and Beyond was published in 2012 by PM Press.[]