100 years since Amalthea

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Kattmannen's picture
Joined: 4-04-08
Jul 18 2008 09:15
100 years since Amalthea

It is raining and I had some time to write something for the forum so I translated an article from Direkt Aktion which is the paper of SUF (Syndikalistiska ungdomsförbundet, Syndicalist Youth Federation)

Direkt Aktion #52 pages 11-14 wrote:
Propaganda through action

-The bomb that shook Sweden
The blasting of the ship Amalthea, where english scabs lodged, is one of the Swedish workers movement’s most well known act of violence. The consequences of the action is interesting and gives perspective to the violent socialism of today. How could a deed in one moment be condemned by social democrats and bourgeois alike – and in the next create a gigantic solidarity and support movement?

The beginning of the 20th century was a restless time in Sweden, the hostility between the workers and capital expressed itself in bigger and more spectacular conflicts not seen in Sweden since. Workers councils were emerging in factories, the number of strikes and blockades amounted to 300 a year and on several places in the country riots arose when workers tried to get food. With this in mind LO* and SAF** signed the Saltsjöbad-agreement to guarantee peace on the Swedish labour market, that is, as long as a collective agreement is valid workers are not allowed to use industrial action against the employers in matters dealt with in the agreement. During the first decade of the 20th century hostile struggles were taking place in Swedens different ports. The strikes in Norrköping and Norrbotten are just a few examples but the one most discussed in retrospect is the conflict in Malmö harbour in 1908 that had its origin in the two earlier conflicts. The conflict had arouse after the union and the employers didn’t reach agreements about how work conditions for the workers should be improved, the workers tactic during these days was to just stop all work without giving notice before to get as good an effect as possible. But there were also another aspect as to why the stoppage of work came without any notice.

The employers had under many earlier conflicts employed scabs and it was with them in mind that the workers didn’t notify the employers beforehand in order to put some pressure on the employers during negotiations before scabs could be deployed. The conflict in Malmö harbour became lengthy, police and military were dispatched to disperse the demonstrations being held by, and in support of, the dockers with many injured as a consequence. During this time the employers had also time to ship scabs from England in order to keep the harbour running. The fact that the scabs during a demonstration in support of the dockers fired at the crowd standing in the harbour was of course yet another provocation, and the conflict escalated further.
In Malmö there were also big local clubs of the Youngsocialists*** that were tired of the social democrats talk and had gone through a process of radicalisation where the „propaganda through action“ and general strike got an increasingly bigger part of their outreaching work. In the Malmö clubs people talked about doing something about the conflict and scare the scabs away with violence but mostly this talk was rejected as empty words. Three youngsocialists decided to do something about the matter and show that it was not just empty words.

The bomb
The night between the 11th and the 12th of july 1908 one of them placed a bomb on the hull of the lodging ship Amalthea, where scabs lived, dynamite had been stolen from a quarry outside Malmö and fuse had been bought in Copenhagen. According to witnesses the explosion could be heard as far away as Lund and made windows in Malmö to rattle. The explosion resulted in one scab killed (Walter Close) after being hit with a chain in the head and 23 englishmen were taken to hospital after getting hit by splinter. The day after the deed repudiations and condemnations could be read in most bourgeois and also social democratic papers. The englishmen had just ”…worked for the benefit of our industry and our country” (Skånska Aftonbladet). The bourgeois condemnations got all too clear cut, when the king of Sweden, Gustav V, visited the scabs on the hospital in Malmö. However the employers tactic of using scabs were condemned by many papers "It is over the line in such a struggle to import foreign mercenaries“ (Karlstad-Tidning). Anton Nilson, Alfred Stern and Algot Rosberg where the names of the three youngsocialists that later got convicted for placing the bomb at Amalthea. This in spite of the three trying to ensure the court that the bomb was just planned to scare the scabs back to England. The three meant that the bomb got the impact it did because the Amalthea crew had moved up on deck in order to sleep there during the warm night instead of under deck, as they useually did. This did not mitigate the verdicts against them. Nilson (who placed the bomb at Amalthea) and Rosberg where sentenced to death and Stern to lifetime of labour.

Popular opinion for release
The verdicts did not come without protests, as early as the next month protest meetings for the the release of the Amalthea men were arranged. The first result of the strong opinion was in 1909 when Anton Nilson, after many petitions for mercy, got pardoned from his death sentence by the king who said he saw some special reasons as youth and foolishness for doing so. The strong protests did not diminish, during the decade the three were in prison there were held no less than 1650 meetings with app. half a million participants. Even abroad people took notice to what happened, not in the least by Swedes in the USA who also engaged themsleves in trying to get the Amalthea men released. In the autumn of 1913 Anton Nilson was moved from Långholmen prison in Stockholm to be transported to Härnösand. Anton Nilson writes about the move: "As long as the Amalthea men are imprisoned, the threatening clouds lie thick above Långholmen“. Nevertheless the move didn’t seem to be getting very succesful, especially if it was in order to calm down the protests, instead, they reached its high peak the 1st of May 1917 when a big demonstration marched from Härnösands central parts towards the prison****. The target was clear from the beginning: If Nilson is not released we will release him with force! The Prison chiefs which were well infomred of the demands had dispatched 200 soldiers equipped with 40 machine guns to use against the demonstrators. Even the prime minister (Karl Staff, liberal) had realised the seriousness of the demonstration, if the workers were shot down when trying to release Nilson the reactions would come quick all over the country. It would lead to riots that would soon pass over to be about much more than just the Amalthea men. The prime minister feared a revolution. As many times later in Swedens history, he sent in a mediator to talk to the workers and the situation clamed down eventually. Nevertheless this hurt the bourgeois politicians so bad they realised they could not keep the three men in prison. Later during 1917 the three were pardoned completely from their sentences after strong public opinion and the chairman of the Social democrats Hjalmar Branting who had engaged in a coalition government with the liberals.

What then was the final result of the Amalthea deed? The opening condemnations dispersed into politics. When reason came back after initial hysteria people realised they were not confronted with a wicked deed but a conscious classbased action. Then the usual divide showed; workers and intellectuals took sides with the youngsocialists, the bourgeois against. When the wind was dying down the Amalthea men had found thier place in the history of socialist struggle, thier violence had completely became politics, and furthermore a concrete articulated intelligent proposal on the final consequences of strike action. As so many times before and later their act of violence had been accepted as a political action. When liberals drive us towards violence, should we back down then? Fear leads to class collaboration – understanding leads to class struggle.

The editorial staff

*LO = The big union tied to the Social democratic party.
**SAF = The employers organisation, now renamed to Svenskt Näringsliv
**Youngsocialists = Used to be the Social democrats youth organisation but they drifted towards a more revolutionary socialism, inspired by anarchism they left in 1908 after a long opposition towards the mother party’s reformism. (they were later to be the driving force in founding SAC
****11 000 people were demonstrating for the release of the Amalthea men and Härnösand has at this time only 9 000 inhabitants

SUF and Revolutionära fronten joined forces and held a memorial at Nilsons grave in Stockholm, too bad I couldn't attend though.



Up to 60 people showed up

SUF Stockholm holds a speech

"We remember Amalthea - SUF Stockholm

altemark's picture
Joined: 22-07-07
Aug 3 2008 14:56

Good work translating. This is an important heritage in the class struggle of Sweden, not to be forgotten.