Tobias Drevland Lund, an MP for Norway’s radical left party Rødt (Red Party), spoke to Green Left’s Federico Fuentes about the party's rise and its response to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Lund represents the electoral district of Telemark in the Storting (parliament) and sits on the Nordic Council, an advisory body for Nordic inter-parliamentary cooperation.
Could you tell us a bit about the rise of the Red Party?
The Red Party was founded in 2007. It was formed out of a merger of the Workers’ Communist Party, a traditionally Maoist party, and the Red Electoral Alliance, a left-wing populist party.
The Red Party was established with the goal of building a modern, radical and socialist movement for change in Norwegian politics. We took inspiration from European left-wing populist and socialist forces, like Podemos and Syriza, and in particular the Danish Red-Green Alliance.
We first entered parliament in the 2017 elections, with our party leader winning a seat. In the 2021 parliamentary elections, we passed the national 4% threshold to obtain proportional representation — becoming the first new party to surpass the threshold since its introduction in 1989 — and as a result won 8 seats.
The Red Party has also experienced an important growth in membership: we have gone from something like 1500 members when I joined the party in 2010 to about 14,000 members today.
The rise of the Red Party can in part be explained by the decline of the social democratic Labour Party. We have been able to reach out to disappointed social democratic voters and unionists who have seen their party move to the right, just like Labour parties in Britain and Australia.
These voters want an alternative. Our aim is to build a strong, grassroots socialist alternative.
Could you outline to us the Red Party's stance on Russia’s war against Ukraine, particularly as it has evolved since the invasion to the new position statement adopted at your recent congress in April?
Russia's aggression against Ukraine shocked the left in Europe and across the world. Grappling with Russia’s invasion has been quite difficult and something we have had to collectively think through as a party.
For example, the Red Party was initially against delivering weapons to Ukraine because we thought it would make us a co-participant in the war. However, after a year of discussions within the party — and in light of how the Ukraine war has developed — we saw it necessary to support Norway supplying weapons so that Ukrainians can fight back against the invaders.
To be clear, we never opposed Ukraine getting weapons, but we thought Norway could play another role, a diplomatic role in the conflict given our relationship with Russia. This position, however, has proven to be wrong.
Of course, all of this was a very big discussion within the Red Party. This is understandable as, historically, we have been very anti-United States and anti-NATO. For some members, taking the stance we did was difficult to accept.
But, in the end, we got an agreement based on an understanding that we want peace — but a just peace for Ukraine. This means providing Ukrainian people with weapons they need to defend themselves against the war crimes and indiscriminate bombings being carried out by Russia.
At the same time, the Red Party continues to believe Norway can play an important role in diplomatic peace efforts? Why is this the case?
We believe that we can take diplomatic actions while simultaneously providing Ukranians with the weapons they need to defend themselves. We can do both; it is what other countries like France and Spain are doing.
Moreover, we believe Norway can play a special role in this conflict as a neighbouring country that has not been at war with Russia for more than a thousand years. Even during the Cold War, Norway had quite a good relationship with Russia.
Today, Norway has, on the one hand, taken a strong stance against [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s authoritarian leadership but, on the other hand, had a balanced relationship with Russia. It is not only in Russia’s but also in Norway's interest to ensure that the Nordic region is not militarised and peace is kept in our part of the world.
We believe Norway should be playing a more proactive role when it comes to bringing about diplomatic solutions. Unfortunately, Norway has not been proactive enough in advocating for peace; it has been too passive, relying too much on the European Union, which has not been moving quickly enough. We need to push harder for peace.
We have taken action together with Finland’s Left Alliance, Sweden’s Left Party and the Danish Red-Green Alliance. As members of the Nordic Green Left Alliance, our MPs on the Nordic Council sought to pass a resolution ensuring that Nordic countries remain nuclear free. Sweden and Finland joining NATO cannot be used as an excuse to store nuclear weapons in the Nordic region. Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected.
But we will continue to push for actions to promote peace rather than further escalate the war — which is critical given the very real fear of a nuclear war outbreak. We will continue to work with left parties in Europe and in the Nordic countries to push for more actions that help ease tensions
Putin's invasion has clearly been exploited by Western powers to strengthen NATO and boost defence spending. What is the Red Party’s view on NATO and its role in the current conflict?
NATO's role in the Ukraine conflict is obvious: they have a self-interest in Ukraine winning and seeing Russia weakened as a result of the war. And before the war, I think NATO should have taken a different stance towards Russia. So it is not the case that NATO did nothing wrong before the outbreak of war.
But it is Russia and Putin's fault alone that the war happened; it was Putin that ordered the invasion and killing of civilians. Fault for this war lies solely on Putin and Russia's side: no security interests, no spheres of interest or other pretexts can justify a war of aggression.
In terms of the Red Party’s position on NATO, while leaving NATO remains our goal, we are not in a position to push to leave NATO now, given the current situation. Until we have a strong enough defence force to stand on our own, we do not think Norway can leave NATO.
I still believe leaving NATO is the right position. We don't have any expectations of changing NATO, given it is an imperialistic tool of the US. But leaving NATO is not something we can do right now.
In place of NATO, we have promoted the idea of forming a Nordic Defence Alliance. We believe this is the best solution for Nordic countries: to stand together, as a neutral bloc, stake out a third position between Russia and the US.
Unfortunately, the possibility of a Nordic Defence Alliance is more unlikely than ever due to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Instead, as a result of the invasion, Sweden and Finland have joined NATO.
In terms of military spending, the Red Party agrees with Norway spending more money on its own military, because we need a stronger defence force if we want to leave NATO. If we are going to have a reliable defence policy that people in Norway can believe in, then we need to have a strong defence force, given our location on Russia’s border.
Together with the other Nordic countries, we believe we can forge a Nordic Defence Alliance that works internationally for disarmament. But until then, leaving NATO will not be possible unless we have a stronger defence force — that's just the reality of the situation we face.
[A much longer version of this interview is available at links.org.au.]