How Norway Avoided Becoming a Fascist State: Lessons from History

by Vins
Published: Updated:

President Donald J. Trump’s affection for authoritarians is prompting worried comparisons of our polarized country to the fascism that arose in Germany in the 1920s and ’30s. However, consider the Norwegians, who also experienced extreme polarization, yet managed to remain a social democracy. In some ways Norway and Germany were similar: predominantly Christian, racially homogeneous, and suffering hugely in the Great Depression. Social change scholar, George Lakey, credits Norway’s democratic success with two primary social actions: (1) developing a well-defined, collaborative vision and (2) nonviolent direct action campaigns.

In Norway, the economic elite organized against striking laborers creating a polarized country with an aggressive Nazi party that provoked violent clashes with leftist students. Meanwhile, Norwegian communists agitated to overthrow capitalism. But progressive movements of farmers and workers, joined by students and middle-class allies, launched massive nonviolent direct action campaigns that made the country increasingly ungovernable by the economic elite. This nonviolent majority forced the economic elite to take a back seat and Norway broke through to a social democracy—with equality, freedom and shared abundance.

German society on the other-hand, lacked a unified cultural vision on the left. Germany’s workers’ movement failed to make common cause with family farmers, and the German left was terribly split within itself: Communist vs. Social Democratic. They were unwilling to compromise, and armed rebellion and bloody repression followed. This dangerous chaos led the middle classes to accept the elite’s choice of Hitler to bring “law and order.”  Lakey points to movements like Black Lives Matter, the Women’s March, Standing Rock, and Bernie Sanders’ economic equality movement that pulled people from the right and the left.  “Polarization is nothing to despair over. It’s just a signal that it’s time for progressives to start organizing,” he writes.

Source:  George Lakey, “How Norway Avoided Becoming a Fascist State, ” YES! Magazine. February 16, 2017,

Student Researcher: Bethany Surface (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)