Ohly?s communist admission causes Left Party rumpus

He’s an unreconstructed communist, who would choose Fidel Castro over George Bush and who once wrote that restrictions on democracy could be used in the interests of the working class. That was the picture that critics were painting of Left Party leader Lars Ohly this week, prompting a crisis of confidence among ‘modernisers’ in the party.

The row broke out on Tuesday after Uppdrag Granskning, a Swedish television documentary, exposed doubts about Ohly’s commitment to democracy. The producers were certainly able to bring out quite a few skeletons from his cupboard to prove the point. They cited an interview with a British paper in 1999 where he called himself a Leninist, a point that seemed to contrast with his insistence in the programme that “few people could question my commitment to democracy.”

The Left Party’s views on Cuba also came under close scrutiny. SVT had revealed that a submission to an international policy document had praised the Castro regime, and that the offending paper had been available on the party’s website.

When questioned by Expressen, Ohly said he still called himself a communist, but said that the Left Party was not itself a communist party. He admitted that Cuba was a dictatorship and that Fidel Castro was a dictator. He criticised the Castro-praising document on the website, saying that it “lacked feminist analysis and is unclear on questions of democracy: it is lousy.”

To add to Ohly’s woes, it also emerged that in 2000, when he was on the board of the party, he had blocked an apology from leading party members to Swedes who had ended up in Stalin’s labour camps in the 1930s.

Many had been encouraged to go to work for the Soviet Union by the Swedish Communist Party, as the Left Party used to be known. The council in Kiruna even paid for unemployed residents to get to Russia. Many of the labourers were murdered by the NKVD, the predecessor of the KGB, and those that made it back to Sweden were often shunned or abused. On Wednesday, after the documentary, the party issued an apology to relatives.

“We admit our mistake, loud and clear,” an embattled Ohly told Expressen, adding “We should have apologised four years ago.”

What the revelations will mean for the future of the Left Party’s partnership with the ruling Social Democrats is unclear, although Prime Minister Göran Persson didn’t seem too impressed. Sydsvenska Dagbladet reported that he challenged Ohly to deal with his past:

“He has a chance now. If he doesn’t take it then his credibility will be destroyed, not only in my eyes but in the eyes of Swedish voters,” said Persson, adding that if the problems weren’t tackled, “the Left Party and Lars Ohly will be very isolated.”

The threat from inside the party was even more serious. Leftist MP Karin Svensson Smith told Svenska Dagbladet that “tolerance is being stretched,” and questioned how those members of the party who were “true democrats in their souls,” would feel going into an election “where we have to explain why Lars Ohly is a communist.”