‘The Communist Movement in Iceland’ by Gunnlaugur Bjornson from The Daily Worker Saturday Magazine Supplement. Vol. 3 No. 264. November 20, 1926.

May Day in Reykjavík, 1923.
‘The Communist Movement in Iceland’ by Gunnlaugur Bjornson from The Daily Worker Saturday Magazine Supplement. Vol. 3 No. 264. November 20, 1926.

In order to throw some light on the prospects of the Communist Party in Iceland, It would be desirable to note the historic development of the country and its relationship to the outside world. This, however, is no mean task; justice to it could not be accomplished in a short article of this kind. But there are some main factors we mast touch upon if there is to be any comparison drawn between the Communist movement in Iceland and the rest of the world. One might say that this is “much ado” about an insignificant, country. The answer is that nothing is too small for a Communist point of view If it widens our knowledge.

In Iceland there is no industrial proletariat to speak of. Industries are few and have no possibilities of development beyond a certain amount of home production, excepting the fishing industry and dairy farming, which form the principal exports of the country. The population of approximately 100,000 is scattered over an area larger than that of Scotland or Ireland, an area of which probably four-fifths in uninhabitable.

Transportation is mainly by horseback riding, automobiles and small coastal steamers, under municipal or government ownership. Roads are good, but costly of building and upkeep.

Gunnlaugur Bjornson.

Since 1906 a network of telephone line connects the remotest villages in the country, and about the same time a cable communication between the Shetland Islands and Iceland brought it in daily contact with the whole world.

As already mentioned, the majority of the population is engaged in the fishing industry and dairy farming, the farmers comprising as a whole straggling, hard-to-meet-both-ends, weather-beaten and frost-bitten individuals, with here and there an “aristocrat” who gets enough to eat without working for it himself—usually the municipal representative of the community. Not so with the sea man. He is the big brother of the “land crab”’ wage worker, and, like him, is organised into one of the strongest unions. These union men have a score or two marked on the butt of their arms, indicating victories over the bosses. The building trades, common laborers and harbor workers form another main section of the working class, part of which is comprised of boating wage laborers, shifting according to seasons from the towns to the agricultural districts in the summers, and back again to the towns in the fall and winters.

Common education in the island permits of any comparison. The language is one. And illiteracy is unknown.

Ólafur Friðriksson.

Early in the year 1916 the workers of Iceland created their own political party for the first time in history. This is now a mass party, capable of a real opposition to the old parties and, in fact, the only adversary to be reckoned with by the conservative party in power. Unlike other labor parties, or perhaps it is the only one of a kind that serves the double purpose of a federation of labor and a political party at the same time. The unions are members by affiliation, and are the backbone of the party.

An auxiliary committee to the general party apparatus heads the affiliated unions in a capacity of a federation executives which has the power to call and terminate strikes, formulate the general policy, etc. At the present time one-third of the votes on this committee are Communist.

The general executive committee of the labor party is dominated by the social democrats. There is only one Communist on the C.E C., Comrade Olafur Fririkason, one of the foremost Communist leaders in Iceland. He was Iceland’s representative in Moscow, 1922.

Some time after his return from Russia his home was stormed by the entire police force of the capital. Fridriksson and some other comrades wore taken prisoners, with arms in their hands defending the place. Special citizens’ militia was established and guards were thrown around the state prison. For months the papers gave their front pages to anti-Communist propaganda.

‘his home was stormed by the entire police force of the capital. Fridriksson and some other comrades wore taken prisoners.’ Raid on Communists in Iceland.

The labor union “Dawn” in Reykiavik is the oldest union in the land. It is over 20 years old. It has a membership of about 700 to 800, of mostly unskilled laborers. In the beginning his onion was not what the name implied, having in its ranks many contractors and employers, who in later years have gradually been weeded out of it. The union published a weekly called “Dawn,” which at the foundation of the labor party was taken over by it. In 1919 the name of the paper was changed to “Workers News.” It is a dally.

Everything went smoothly with the party policy until 1921, when differences between the Communists and the social democrats took a sharp turn, and in the fall of 1922, when Comrade Fridriksson, editor of the Workers News, was to be sent to Russia, the general executive committee immediately threatened him with the loss of the editorship, and while he was away in Moscow a new editor was appointed. But in spite of all this there has always existed a unity of action in election campaigns, and in strikes.

The labor party holds bi-annual conventions, to which are elected one delegate from each affiliated organization, and one delegate for every 100 members or a major fraction thereof. The convention elects a general executive committee of nine members for a tern of two years.

Communists outside Reykjavík in the summer of 1932.

The party is sprinkled with bourgeois intellectuals, professionals and misfits of the trading classes. These elements, with the social democrats, have the upper hand in the leadership. But on real issues the Communists lead the rank and file workers. The policy of the social democrats is and has been to look for an opportunity to force a split in the party and try to isolate the Communists from all contact with the movement, but all signs indicate that they will fail in their aims.

The Communist movement in Iceland is older than it is in the United States. On a miniature scale (compared with the great nations), this Communist group is going thru the same internal struggles that seem to be a necessary process in cleansing and steeling all Communist parties for the great struggles ahead. The problems facing the Icelandic Communist Party are in a measure the same as in all the others—there is a division on the line of policy and tactics within a mass movement—there are opportunist tendencies forming a minority faction, willing to make political deals with the social democrats for a few crumbs in the leadership, who have lost faith in their own ability to fight and to lead. And on the other hand, the group that fights on policy and believes it will win the masses for that policy in the end.

Young communists in Áhugalíðir alðíðinn in 1921. From the left are in the back row: Kristmann Guðmundsson, Ásgeir Guðjónsson, Friðrik Arason Hólm, Hjalti Gunnlaugsson, Sveinn Sveinsson, Markús Jónsson, Ólafur Friðriksson, Sveinn Guðmundsson, Jónas Magnússon, Jafet Ottósson, Friðrik Jóhannsson and Pálmi H. Jónsson. In the front row are: Jón Brynjólfsson, Lárus Jóelsson, Einar Jórmann Jónsson, unknown and Hendrik Ottósson. Jafet and Hendrik were the sons of Ottós N. Þorláksson and Carolíne Siemsen.

The Saturday Supplement, later changed to a Sunday Supplement, of the Daily Worker was a place for longer articles with debate, international focus, literature, and documents presented. The Daily Worker began in 1924 and was published in New York City by the Communist Party US and its predecessor organizations. Among the most long-lasting and important left publications in US history, it had a circulation of 35,000 at its peak. The Daily Worker came from The Ohio Socialist, published by the Left Wing-dominated Socialist Party of Ohio in Cleveland from 1917 to November 1919, when it became became The Toiler, paper of the Communist Labor Party. In December 1921 the above-ground Workers Party of America merged the Toiler with the paper Workers Council to found The Worker, which became The Daily Worker beginning January 13, 1924.

PDF of full issue: https://www.marxists.org/history/usa/pubs/dailyworker/dw-hr-1926/v3n264-nov-20-1926-TDW.pdf

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