Iceland: There are no peaceful revolutions (a reply to Jessica Ward)

memes such as this distort the realities on the ground

memes such as this distort the realities on the ground

This article, by Fightback member Ian Anderson, is a reply to Jessica Ward’s article Iceland: Become Part of the Heard (here).

This article is not a criticism of the people of Iceland, it’s a criticism of the way their story has been told. Globally circulated articles and memes have made extraordinary and only partially true claims; that Iceland’s constitution was rewritten by the people, that they have deposed their government, that they’re undergoing a total economic revolution.

For example, Jessica’s article claims that “members of parliament as well as the bank directors are being tried for their crimes against the people.” While it is true that some bankers have been jailed, members of parliament were cleared of charges.

In his speaking tour, Hordur Torfason conceded that parliamentary capitalist order had largely been restored in Iceland. However, he said that the movement had raised “awareness.” While awareness is important, critical thought is necessary to developing revolutionary consciousness and activity.

While the people have won concessions, the capitalist government of Iceland remains intact. As explained in an earlier Fightback article, (Iceland’s “peaceful revolution” – myth and reality, parliament was restored to power and is now directing the constitutional process. The right-wing parties have regained influence and may win in 2013, according to supporters of the constitutional process (

Narratives of a “peaceful revolution” prevail. Torfason underlines that movement leaders intervened to stop protestors from clashing with police. However, police have inflicted violence on protestors. There is no such thing as a peaceful revolution.

The capitalist state in Iceland retains a monopoly on violence. The police, and the army, hold the arms and enforce capitalist domination. When previous revolutions have not addressed the capitalist state’s monopoly on violence, they have been drowned in blood.

In Chile 1971, Salvador Allende was the first Marxist to be elected to national presidency in a capitalist state. Chile saw sweeping nationalisations and social programs, under the slogan “The Chilean way to socialism.”

In Chile 1973 however, a military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, and backed by the West, restored full state power to the capitalist class. Over the following years Pinochet’s government killed and disappeared thousands of dissidents. This is why Venezuela’s Chavez said of the Chilean revolution: “Like Allende, we’re pacifists and democrats. Unlike Allende, we’re armed.”

Right now throughout most of the Western world, non-violent civil disobedience makes tactical sense. In Aotearoa/NZ, we are nowhere near seizing power for the people; the Icelandic people may have come closer to this goal, but they have not achieved it. We must not lie to ourselves. If there is any chance of the masses holding democratic socialist power, this will mean overthrowing the capitalist state.


  1. bazzaroo says:

    ‘Peaceful’ and ‘Revolution’ are two separate words with two distinct meanings. Put them both together, and they become a total contradiction in terms!

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