So what happened to all those Communists, anyway?
January 15th, 1941
Inevitably, it was raining, an insidious Bergen drizzle straight off the North Sea that crept up sleeves and under hoods, making clammy what wasn’t cold. The battalion bore it with stolid patience, not singing now as they had done at dawn when the cobblestoned streets had rung to the tramping of their boots – rousting honest citizens out of their well-earned beds, Nils thought ironically – but standing in their ranks while the color-party worked its way up the gangplank. The banners showed sable, a wolf’s head or, the blazon of the Varanger Regiment, differenced with a rifle or, which indicated the number of the battalion if you were the sort of person who memorised minutiae of the two-toned heraldry of Norway. Nils wasn’t; the streets of Bergen tended to educate a man in more practical concerns. To him, the rifle merely indicated that the battalion’s soldiers weren’t long-service regulars; cadre NCOs, reserve officers, a banner pulled out of peacetime storage – and enlisted men, offering opportunity for the Movement.
Such as it is, he thought resentfully, watching the slight disturbance in the ranks as his kjua boys moved among them with pamphlets, concealed from the officers by small stature and speed. In 1912 the Movement had put a hundred thousand men in the streets and fought house-to-house with the Army; in 1935 they had seized Copenhagen and been recognised for the better part of a year as the de facto sovereign government of the North Sea Empire… and in this year 1941, Nils was reduced to furtively handing out pamphlets among soldiers bound for Africa, and watching over his shoulder to see if anyone was wondering why a healthy man of fighting age wasn’t in uniform.
In the dark of a January morning, and with his heavy coat making him a shapeless bundle that could have been any age or sex, that wasn’t likely. Nonetheless Nils felt some warning instinct prodding him, and gave the sharp whistle that was the agreed signal. There was an art to these things; it didn’t do to get greedy and hang about for too long. His boys, strong on Party discipline if not doctrine, quickly extracted themselves from the battalion’s ranks and moved towards the warren of wooden houses that was Bryggen; when he was sure they were all out, Nils followed.
Erna had coffee waiting for them – there were naval battles south of the equator, but the Atlantic supply lines to the Americas remained open – and a wood fire crackled cheerfully, pleasant heat after the chill morning; but Nils’s mood remained sour as the North Sea breeze.
“Pamphlets!” he snarled, as soon as he had a revivifying scald of coffee down his throat. “What’s the use of them? Even if we convince those damn sheep, what are they going to do about it, shoot their officers? Much good that’ll do them, stuck in the middle of Africa. Or us.”
Erna shrugged, sitting down with her own coffee; the lowest grade, well mixed with chicory and harsh on the tongue, but sugar was still coming in from Cuba, and cheap enough that she’d put three heaping spoonfuls in hers. “What else are we going to do? You know what happened when we tried to take power without convincing the army. We have to break through their mystification somehow. As long as the army will shoot, the MacRaghnalls can’t be gotten out of power without dynamite.” She stopped, perhaps thinking about the house-to-house fighting of 1912, and corrected herself. “Or even with dynamite.”
“Yes, yes.” Nils slumped into his chair, brooding and warming his hands on the coffee mug. “We have to demystify them… but Satan take it, if being shipped off by the tens of thousands to conquer Africa for the third bloody time won’t do it, what are we going to accomplish with some cheap pamphlets?”
“I know.” Erna looked down, pensive. “It’s victory, isn’t it? Most people think we’re winning. They see Stuttgart fallen, Hentzau dead or fled, all of Bavaria under our boot, Italy out of it… Heck, how hard can it be to take Africa from the Indians? We’ve done it before. And this time the Spanish are even on our side. You can’t make an undefeated army rise up in rebellion. Not even in Revolution.” The capital R in her voice made the distinction clear, as it always was when they spoke of The Day of the people’s victory.
“No. At least, it’s never been done. So… to bring the Revolution, we would have to… make sure the army is defeated.” Nils looked away, not wanting to meet Erna’s eyes; he might be a Socialist agitator and a draft dodger, but he did not quite care for the thought of adding ‘traitor’ to his titles. Patriotism, yet? he thought, mocking himself; but there it was, he actually did have scruples about outright aiding the enemies of his nation.
“I don’t quite see how,” Erna said. “What are we going to do, throw dynamite bombs at troop columns?”
Nils couldn’t help himself; his mind immediately went to work, and came up with three more effective schemes, starting with arranging access for the German Resistance to the caches of old rifles still hidden here and there in the mountains, in readiness for The Day. But he managed to clamp his mouth shut before he could blurt them out; if there was no workable plan, then he didn’t have to come out and admit that there was a line he would not cross even in the service of the Revolution. Perhaps Erna felt the same; she wasn’t stupid, and the dynamite-bombs suggestion was particularly uninspired as effective means of treason went. Surely she was capable of better, if her heart had really been in it. But he didn’t feel like testing the theory; let them bury the subject without bringing the matter out into the open. What if she was gung-ho for the Cause at all costs, and had just had a bad idea for once? She might despise him if he told her he wouldn’t go so far as treason; and that was not to be borne.
“No,” he sighed instead. “Perhaps – a change of emphasis? What if we concentrate on organising the munition workers? They’re needed, now; a strike could be deadly, quite literally, for the McRaghnalls in Africa.”
“Gradualism?” Erna’s mouth twisted; the word was an insult, in their branch of the Movement. But then she shook her head, correcting herself. “No – rebuilding. We need cadre; we won’t win the world Revolution with the two of us and half a dozen kjua boys.” It was at least possible that there were other cells of Landsorganisasjonen operating in Bergen; but the purges had been very thorough. For all Nils knew, he and Erna might be the only ones left working for armed revolution.
“Better than these damn pamphlets,” he sighed. He couldn’t say he was wildly enthusiastic about raising the wages of the munition workers, or getting more rest breaks for them, or whatever their union would end up arguing about; but at least it would be something where he could actually see some results, day to day. Members added to the organisation; negotations with bosses. Work where he could see the difference he was making. Work that wasn’t actively illegal, and liable to get him hung. As he thought about it, he could feel himself warming to the idea.
“Seiren vet vi at vi får,” Erna quoted, trying to cheer him up; remarkably, it worked. He smiled at her.
“Well, yes. This” – his hand-wave indicated the purges, the war, the whole of Norwegian society moving away from the ideals of Gjest Baardsen – “is just a temporary setback; the victory of the proletariat is inevitable. It’s right there in the dialectic.”
He finished his coffee, feeling energised and motivated to go out and organise some workers right away. It was true that “better working conditions” was a bit of a comedown, as a goal, compared to “armed world revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat”; but then again, it was also rather more achievable. And it was such a relief, to finally admit that what he’d been trying to do was impossible; if Landsorganisasjonen couldn’t force through the Revolution even when it actually shot the King-Emperor and gave orders in Copenhagen chancelleries, what were he and Erna going to accomplish from a garret in Bergen?
Whatever we can. World revolution or improved working conditions, the Movement remained; and Nils was its servant. He retrieved his hat and coat and strode out the door; there was the work of the day to be done.