[Marxism] Stieg Larsson

John E. Norem jnorem at cox.net
Sun Sep 13 10:12:13 MDT 2009

  Read Stieg Larsson, the bestselling socialist militant

There was nothing false about the Swedish writer's belief in women's 
rights or anti-fascist campaigning

Graeme Atkinson provides an essential political service as the foreign 
editor of the anti-fascist magazine /Searchlight/. However necessary his 
work is, he never expected that he or any of his colleagues who dedicate 
their lives to the painstaking and occasionally dangerous task of 
exposing neo-Nazism would become celebrities. The global fame of 
/Searchlight/'s former Stockholm correspondent is thus filling him with 
an unexpected delight.

In the next fortnight, he will hear the name of his old friend Stieg 
Larsson everywhere. The bookshops are preparing to receive 320,000 
hardback copies of /The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest/, the last 
volume of the extraordinarily popular Millennium trilogy. As the hype 
builds again, only three thoughts will make Atkinson wince: the memory 
of Larsson's death in 2004 at the miserably early age of 50; the 
knowledge that Sweden <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/sweden>'s sexist 
inheritance laws denied Larsson's partner, Eva Gabrielsson, a share of 
his posthumous royalties; and the irritation which always overcomes him 
whenever he hears the media describe his old comrade as a "liberal 

Larsson was not a liberal or anything like one. He was a revolutionary 
socialist, but of a remarkably generous and democratic sort, from a 
radical tradition that is all but dead in Europe. The notion that the 
work of a writer who had once been the editor of /Fjärde 
Internationalen/, the journal of the Swedish section of the Trotskyist 
Fourth International, could move to every airport bookstall in the world 
would have once seemed absurd. At the very least, you might have assumed 
that there would be few connections between the two sides of his life. 
But I don't believe you can understand the appeal of Larsson without 
grasping an almost nostalgic yearning for the best of the half-forgotten 
politics he represented.

Before going any further, I must pepper this piece with caveats. No 
writer of fiction <http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/fiction> can be 
judged solely by political standards, not even the writer of political 
thrillers. After other British publishers had turned Larsson down, 
Christopher MacLehose bought the novels for the small London house 
Quercus, simply because he couldn't put them down. "I spend my life 
looking at books," he told me. "And when I find one that takes me over, 
I think that the best thing is to put it in the bookshops."

Writing in /El País/ last week, Mario Vargas Llosa explained the 
Millennium trilogy's success by saying that Larsson had produced one of 
the great stories of "just avengers" in popular literature. He had read 
the 2,100 pages of the trilogy with "the same happiness and feverish 
excitement" with which he had read Dumas, Dickens and Hugo as a boy, 
"wondering as I turned each page, 'And now what's going to happen next?'"

Yet when you have agreed that Larsson was a master storyteller, I think 
you still have to accept that his ability to generate tension came from 
the political knowledge that he gained as a socialist militant.

Larsson had none of the characteristic difficulties of contemporary 
writers in conveying fear or acknowledging the existence of evil, which 
afflict even John le Carré. His activism meant he never shared the safe 
lives of the standard western author and a part of the attraction of his 
books for foreign readers is they show that Sweden is not and was not 
always the prosperous but dull social democratic haven we imagined. 
Larsson knew very well that Swedish "neutrality" in the Second World War 
was a fiction and that his country helped Hitler until the war turned 
against the Germans. His knowledge allowed him to create a realistic 
picture of the members of the Vanger family who move down the 
generations in /The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo/ from supporting Nazism 
to abusing and murdering women.

As Larsson again knew from hard-won experience, far-right extremism did 
not disappear from Sweden after the war. His reports for /Searchlight/ 
included gruesome accounts of Swedish neo-Nazis raiding banks for funds 
and executing the anti-fascist trade unionist Björn Söderberg. Every 
time he opened the door to walk out into the street, he had to overcome 
the dread that there were men out there who would assassinate him too 
for his exposés. Eva Gabrielsson told me that they had never married 
because in Sweden married couples had to make details of their address 
publicly available. A wedding ceremony would have been a security risk. 
Their caution was wise at the time but meant that Larsson's brother and 
father could pocket the royalties when he died because, as an unmarried 
widow, Eva was entitled to nothing under Swedish law.

The black comedy of the men making off with the money from the 
Millennium trilogy is almost too sharp to bear. For Larsson was a rare 
example of a male feminist and Lisbeth Salander is an even rarer example 
of a popular feminist heroine, who doesn't hate men, "just men who hate 

Eva says that his feminism <http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/feminism> 
was entirely genuine. He was not one of the 1970s leftists who said the 
rights of women should take second place to the class struggle. More to 
the point, as he aged he didn't turn into a postmodern multiculturalist. 
He would never tone down criticisms of racism or misogyny if prejudice 
came from a different culture or a poor world regime or movement. 
Alongside his denunciations of white skinheads, he produced 
condemnations of "honour" killings. "It was the same thing to him," Eva 
told me. "If it was neo-Nazis or some Islamic group, it was the same 
violence, the same hatred."

To put it as mildly as I can, you have to stare very hard at today's 
Britain to find such a principled consistency. A political culture that 
allows the authorities to deport women asylum seekers to misogynist 
tyrannies and the Archbishop of Canterbury and lord chief justice to 
endorse sharia is not one where Larsson's views are welcome. But however 
unfashionable they are in politics, they gave Larsson's fiction power 
and drive. As a just avenger, Lisbeth Salander is a worthy successor to 
Edmond Dantès in /The Count of Monte Cristo/, because Larsson was 
certain of the righteousness of her cause. To the huge pride and slight 
surprise of all who worked with him in the dusty offices of obscure 
anti-fascist journals, tens of millions of readers all over the world agree.


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