Iceland’s “peaceful revolution” – Myth and reality

Hordur Torfason, soon to tour Aotearoa/NZ

Hordur Torfason, soon to tour Aotearoa/NZ

Writers for Fightback

Those following Occupy circuits, and other forums concerned with economic justice, may have heard notions of an “Icelandic revolution.” In this narrative, the Icelandic government refused IMF conditions, nationalised the banks, gave debt relief to its citizens, and ‘crowdsourced’ a constitution. With Icelandic activist Hordur Torfason soon to tour Aotearoa/NZ, this narrative is worth investigating.

There are elements of truth to this story, elements of mystification, and some lies. In reality, the Icelandic government has always accepted the terms of the IMF. However, a dispute over Icesave – a dodgy “savings” scheme that frittered away billions of dollars – caused an internal crisis over the terms of repayment. The British government demanded that the Iceland government pay back the debt in full. When the people of Iceland rebelled, the conservative president refused to sign the agreement, forcing a referendum. As Icelandic blogger Baldur Bjarnson notes:

The Icelandic governments have always accepted the terms of the Dutch and the British… The voters disagree and only get a say because the president is keen on making everybody forget that he is a bankster collaborator (

The referendum concerned the terms of repayment, particularly interest, not the fact of repayment. Although Iceland’s internal political crisis has forced negotiation, it is not true that the government has blanket refused IMF conditions; as in Greece, Spain and elsewhere, they are negotiating. Bjarnson also notes that while the government wrote off the banks’ debts, debt relief for the people of Iceland has been more tiered and less accessible.

It’s also said that Iceland ‘crowdsourced’ a new constitution. An article entitled ‘A Deconstruction of “Iceland’s On-going Revolution,”’ on free alternative magazine the Reykyavik Grapevine, notes that the reality is more complex. Iceland held a non-binding referendum to elect a Constituent Assembly of 25 people, to write a new constitution – however when this process collapsed, 25 were ‘appointed’ to draft a new constitution.

Although the government is seeking submissions via social media, the constitution is now being written and amended by politicians and government bureaucrats. It has not been co-written by the masses, as is often implied. The Reykyavik Grapevine notes how this myth inspires those fighting austerity, dictatorship and capitalism worldwide:

As a publication we strive to practice good journalism, though we have to say that a part of us is reluctant to correct these kinds of articles, as it is nice to see citizens of other nations, like Spain and Portugal, being inspired by our story. Hope has to come from somewhere (

Although we certainly need inspiration, simplifying (or lying to ourselves) can be dangerous. No “peaceful revolution” has taken place in Iceland; no benevolent government foregoing debt to relieve its people; rather, the people of Iceland have forced the government to give some concessions, in a contradictory political crisis that could present opportunities for revolutionaries.

See also
Iceland: Become Part of the Heard, Jessica Ward
Iceland: There are no peaceful revolutions (a reply to Jessica Ward), Ian Anderson

Fighting back in Europe

The Spark December 2010 – January 2011

General Strike Portugal 24 Nov 2010

In the aftermath of the Greek bailout there was a lot of talk about the other vulnerable European economies that could have followed the collapse into bankruptcy of the Greek economy. Top of the list of vulnerable Euro zone economies were Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain. Of these, the three Mediterranean economies had been controversial additions to the Euro zone, as their economies were seen as weak and problematic, bringing vulnerability to the entire Euro project. Ireland on the other hand was a small economy with a well educated English-speaking population, and of little concern to planners. Most recently though, some of the largest and most militant demonstrations have occurred in Britain, where the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition has implemented a harsh round of austerity measures, described as the most severe since the end of the Second World War. A common thread of the anti-government actions throughout Europe has been the demand the workers should not be forced to pay for a crisis that they did not cause. [Read more…]

Britain under the “Con-Dems”

Mike Kay caught up with Daniel Randall, an activist with the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty based in London for his thoughts on the political situation since the formation of the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat coalition government dubbed the “Con-Dems”

Dan R

MK: What was your initial reaction to the election result?
DR: I was surprised by a number of things. For one thing, I thought that there was a serious danger of the British National Party taking control of Barking & Dagenham council. Instead they got annihilated in that area.
How did that happen?
There was a group called Barking, Dagenham and Havering Together that I’ve been involved with. It is quite broad and open, mostly run by local trade unionists. The local Labour Party had about 50 people out canvassing. They ran a popular campaign to save the local Accident & Emergency Department, which was totally disingenuous as [Local Labour MP] Margret Hodge had voted for the cuts!
Now that the Tories are in power nationally and Labour locally, it’s essential that the campaign keeps going.
Also quite surprising was the high turnout, bucking the trend of recent elections. [Read more…]

Unaccused war criminals

– Alastair Reith

In the weeks leading up to the recent conflict in South Ossetia and Georgia, the big news was that the Serbian general Radovan Karadzic had been captured. The capitalist media was spitting with fury at the heinous crimes this officer had committed. The most heavily denounced of these was his use of artillery strikes against the civilian areas of Sarajevo. The actions of Karadzic were carried out in the name of preserving Yugoslavia’s territorial integrity against ethnic separatists.

On 7 August 2008, Georgian forces invaded South Ossetia. As part of their attack, they launched artillery strikes against civilian areas of the South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. This has killed somewhere between 200 and 2000 people (depending on whose account you believe), and forced 30,000 South Ossetians to flee for their lives, out of a total population of 70,000. The Georgians carried out this attack in the name of preserving their territorial integrity against ethnic separatists.

[Read more…]