Perhaps I should begin by saying that I won’t be offering you my recommendation, only some of the issues raised by the political career of Ole Sohn, chairman of the SF parliamentary group and – so pundits say – likely minister in a future Social Democratic – SF government.
If Sohn were to become a minister, he would be the first high profile member of the now defunct DKP to make it to the State Council – and, given that the party effectively ceased operations in 1991, the last to do so – even if he would not become the first Communist to enter a government in Western Europe after the end of the various post-war coalitions.1
One problem obviously is that Sohn as a DKP activist and later chairman of the party publicly endorsed the non-democratic regimes of the Soviet Union and the former Eastern Bloc – most famously he appeared as an official guest at the celebrations of the 40 year jubilee of the German Democratic Republic. Another that DKP received economic support from the USSR through more or less illegal channels. Even if Sohn has denied participating in the various transfers from the USSR, most observers think that he must have held information about the party’s budget and incomes.
Needless to say, political opponents have seized on Sohn’s past and argued that he is not worthy of holding government office. After all, the USSR was an undemocratic regime and in military terms the enemy of Denmark between 1945/46 and 1989. So, being a DKP activist equals treason.
The public view of DKP and Nazi activists and sympathisers is an obvious point of departure. After all, anybody linked with the various Nazi and extreme nationalist parties were either formally or effectively banned from the political scene after 1945. Why should communists be treated more leniently, we might ask: Even after the excesses of Stalinism were a thing of the past, the USSR and the other Eastern European regimes stayed non-democratic and dissidents were regularly detained right up to 1989.
For one thing, DKP was always a legitimate party in Denmark. Unlike in some other countries – most notably Germany – the Communist Party was never banned or forced underground.2 What happened was that the voters eventually decided the party’s political fate: It first lost its parliamentary representation fair and square in 1960 and after a late blooming in the 1970s (due in part to post-1968 radicalisation, in part to anti-EEC sentiments) again in 1979. After 1979, DKP was effectively irrelevant on the political arena even if it kept some presence in parts of the trade union movement. There were also suspicions that the anti-EC movement and some of the organisations linked with the peace movement around 1980 were DKP front organisations. As the peace movement faded in the mid-1980s, so did the interest in DKP manœuvering. Personally, I found it hard to understand the hype surrounding Ole Sohn as he rose through the ranks of DKP during the 1980s – I felt that the reform wing of DKP was effectively trying to reinvent SF.
If an aspiring young left-wing politician was looking for a career in the 1980s, DKP also appeared as an odd choice. SF, the party that killed off DKP as a parliamentary force in the late 1950s, was in the ascendency, culminating in the 1987 election, while all other left-wing groups were increasingly marginalised. Sohn’s choice of party had to do with another factor: Communists, like Social Democrats, but unlike most socialists, know how to create and run effective organisations. For a trade union activist, DKP was a better alternative if you didn’t want to join the Social Democrats.
Sohn did make a number of truly stupid endorsements during the 1980s with Berlin 1989 as the symbolic culmination, but we could also argue that forces on the Danish right during the past decade have taken to a US style anti-communism strategy in order to mobilise their own supporters, to the degree that even academic research in Cold War history is now thoroughly politicised. DF’s sponsorship of Bent Jensen is an obvious case in point. If Danes (especially on the right) aren’t forever replaying the Second World War, they are replaying the 1980s. The risk that Sohn should suddenly appear as an active undercover KGB-agent does look rather slim, though.
But maybe all of this is a hypothetical discussion. If SF becomes a partner in the next government, it will still need a strong leadership of the parliamentary group and given his record during the party’s term in opposition, Sohn could be the perfect parliamentary leader when Villy Søvndal is bogged down in day-to-day government business. The SF parallel to Per Hækkerup, so to speak.
- The organisational history of DKP post-1989/1991 is complicated, but for all practical purposes the original DKP can be considered defunct. [↩]
- Update 2011-11-22: Yes, the DKP was made illegal between 1941 and 1945 but this had to do with the German occupation and WW2, not national Danish considerations. [↩]