Tears starting building up in my eyes when I read those words last Thursday. But I quickly wiped them away; I was in public. I had just finished reading Upton Sinclair ‘s The Jungle — a story about a Lithuanian family that immigrates to the United States and lives in the meat packing district of Chicago where they try to get along under the brutal reign of Capitalism. At some point earlier in the book, the entire family decide to unionize, but it does not last long as they start loosing their jobs and generally life is too uncertain for them to old on to the union for very long. Just about all family members end up either dying due to serious accidents that would have been completely preventable if they had had money, or going into prostitution, or both. The only one who survives through it all, after going through periods of hoboing, working under various brutal conditions, and acting as a strike breaker, is the family father Jurgis. And it is only in the end that he discovers the socialist cause and starts to organize with the socialists.
The socialists are the most driven people around, and they are all described in terms like the Swede Nicholas Schliemann:

About the first of July he would leave Chicago for his vacation, on foot; and when he struck the harvest-fields he would set to work for two dollars and a half a day, and come home when he had another year’s supply — a hundred and twenty-five dollars That was the nearest approach to independence a man could make “under capitalism,” he explained; he would never marry, for no sane man would allow himself to fall in love until after the revolution. (p.396-397)

At the very end, the socialists have just won a huge election victory, but they have not surpassed the Democrats and Republicans yet. But the final victory and socialism is closeand that’s why they’re sure that “Chicago will be ours!”

Upton Sinclair wrote The Jungle in 1905/06.

I wiped the tears from my eyesand looked around me. No-one seemed to have noticed anything. I was sitting in a cafe at the student center Kvarteret, or at least it had been a cafe when I first sat down there. Now it was getting close to 8 PM though, and people started going from coffee to beer. Why was I here again? it was the Norwegian Student Union’s (NSU) conference which I was to attend. However, it really didn’t start before the next day and I had only come two days earlier in order to speak to the socialist student party from Bergen so we could coordinate our initiatives a bit. However, for now I had nothing to do, and so I only waited my buddy who had come with me to Bergen to get through with his duties. Tat night we ended up drinking with some of his friends from school, trying out the newest Marxist approaches we had discussed on our trip to Bergen concerning whether one can really count one country as being one “society,” if it produced only a tiny fraction of the products it consumes itself and exports most of its own produce.

The next day we were to be politicians (again). Now as it is the case with all annual conference for major organizations, you basically do two things: a) you elect a new national leadership on sunday b) you spend the other two days discussing various programs and platforms and you propose changes to those. So also here. The two of us had already looked at the papers that had been distributed on beforehand, and started proposing various changes to it which we would then present during the conference. The other three delegates we had for our Left Alliance came Friday morning and so we all sat together proposing various things all day Friday and Saturday…. and changes would be things like “remove the word ‘flight’ at line 432” if we wanted to remove from the program that the organization should try to get airfares for students sponsored by the government…. boring boring!

But it really was not only boring, much of it was also highly undemocratic and bordering to mafia-alike deals. Let me show you some examples, mostly related to the election of the new leadership (I send these out in Norwegian to a friend of mine as a sort of status report of how the weekend had been):

NSU was pretty OK in concerns of formalities — and flirting definitely not a very common experience [both of these compared to another organization that we both know]. Only the social democrats seemed to think we were the coolest people to hang with, for some reason or other. In addition it was a wholelot easier for me to go up to the microphone exactly because there was so much less formalism connected to it [I’ve had the problem of not daring to go up there until recently especially because Norwegians tend to not understand me without showing any signs thereof, so I never know when I need to repeat things]. I actually got the entire meeting to reinterpret a decision we had made earlier that day about how to handle resolutions. we had earlier decided that we’d only be discussing three resolutions, and the committee responsible for such things claimed that we had also decided to not even vote on the other resolutions, if we didn’t get at least 2/3 to vote for including any resolution back into the voting process (there were 15 resolutions, of which 5 were written by members of our 5 Left Alliance delegates — out of 93 delegates altogether). We managed to get the required 10 delegates to ask for the recording of every single delegates vote, and so they did not dare to go against us in the fear that we might use it against them later on. We won 46 to 40!
But in concerns of the political contents it was pretty horrible. it is true that we got through one of our proposals to enhance the possibilities for women n academia and we got a solidarity statement parsed with the striking students in France, but the whole thing was all such a hefty mafia-alike game like you wouldn’t believe.The thing was that there were two candidates as leader — Jens from Trondheim and Tormund from Oslo, both members of the Social democratic party (AP), but the latter somewhat more radical. For the leadership there were 4 candidates for 4 seats — amongst them Kim Størksen from Bergen (SV – the Socialist Left Party) and Susanne from the Faculty Lists from Oslo (a party with no political program, that wins votes on acting like they have more connection to their local faculty then we others have). we had on beforehand said that we’d support Tormund as leader, against that the social democrats would vote for Kim in the leadership race. Although this might seem like somewhat of a deal, it was based on common ideology. but on Saturday does MG (the student party of the conservative party) make it clear that they’d have another potential candidate for the leadership, and they use that as a threat. That is when they get the Faculty Lists to sell some of their votes in the leader-election against that MG does not present yet another candidate and that they’ll vote for Susanne in the case of other last-minute candidates. The Faculty lists announce that to Tormund, and a hug of one of their leaders makes it all clear to the rest of those close by what has just happened.

Another cause is that those from the pseudo-universities in Ås and Stavanger do not have political parties (or at least none with contact to us others) and it got quite clear pretty early on that the Jens-wing bought those votes pretty early on.

On Sunday, we from the Left Alliance are then to ask a number of “critical question” — although the race is over already. Everybody knew that the Left Alliance was going to do this, cause we were the major hell raisers around there. That is why an anonymous informant came over to us that day and tipped us to ask for how the two leadership candidates had paid for their campaign. It was quite interesting to hear that while Tormund had paid for the campaign himself, Jens had received support from the studentparliament in Trondheim and had received an additional 3000 NOK from the principal/headmaster/Head of the university in Trondheim!

Another thing that we almost managed to make something out of was the statement on PPU [a year of teacher’s education those budget has been cut substantially recently]. We were pretty certain that all others were to vote against it, so when it came to the vote only us five from the Left alliance, and some social democrats voted for it (even the Left Alliance people from Bergen voted against it). That’s when we asked for the votes to be counted. But the others understood our plans, so when they were to count the votes, suddenly all those from Oslo voted for the statement, but it still did not get a majority because the delegates from Trondheim voted against it.

In other words: almost real politics… 🙂

[Disclaimer: quite a bit of the above is second hand information, so you should treat it as rumors and not as the truth]

Now can you see what I mean? During the meeting we were surfing the net a bit, and one of the things we came across were the news on the strikes in France. “What are we doing here?,” I asked one of our delegates besides me rhetorically. How will Chicago ever get to be ours if sit around in those kinds of meetings playing mini-mafia? Oh I sure feel the need to go back and get my hands dirty again on the task of getting us all there.Now you might think that is almost religious. Indeed, I wondered about that myself when I noticed my reaction to the end of The Jungle. But I pretty certain that it is not — simply because I’m never totally sure how everything should be run, and I change my mind whenever I hear a reasonable argument… or at least i think I do.
And the fact that it has been a hundred years since Jurgis/Sinclair yearned for a socialist Chicago is something I do not just ignore, and so I will not wait for the revolution before I accept falling in love with any female… just as an example 😉 .
Anyways, have a good night everybody! I’m about to fall asleep while sitting here…

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