Jan 30 2009

The Icelandic Government has Collapsed… and then what? – A Letter from Icelandic Anarchists

A letter from Icelandic anarchists who have taken part in the revolt against the recently collapsed government. The article originally appeared on Aftaka.org, an Icelandic anarchist website.

The Icelandic Government has collapsed and some people talk about a revolution. In a way it is true. Ordinary people overthrew this neoliberal government by writing articles, holding speeches, noise demonstrations, bonfires, car horns, direct action, civil disobedience and minor sabotage. A nation that before had hardly put up any resistance to abuse of power for a long time, finally stood up and said: “No thanks! No more shit!”

But what will follow? Have we reached the ultimate goal? Is the minority government of the Left Greens (Vinstri Grænir) and the Social Democratic Alliance (Samfylkingin) enough? Are we just going to settle for new elections this spring?

From the beginning of the economic crisis, following the collapse and nationalization of the three major Icelandic business banks, loud voices have been heard, demanding that the government would resign and elections would take place as soon as possible. The same voices have as well demanded that the boards of the financial institutions would step down; in the Central Bank, Financial Supervisory Authority (FME) and the three recent state owned banks. Hörður Torfason and his fellows from the organization ‘The People’s Voices’ (Raddir Fólksins) took the first step by organizing weekly demonstrations where fiery speeches were held, followed by the public’s jubilation and increasing radicalization.

At the same time more militant actions have taken place. Anarchists and other radicals have used direct actions, tried to stop the government from having meetings, stopped formal parliament meetings, attacked the police station and disrupted work in the banks and the Financial Supervisory Authority. These two formations than came together on Tuesday last week, January 20th, when thousands of people gathered by the parliament with the aim to disrupt and hopefully cut the first parliamentary session of the new year – and did so. During the next seven days bonfires, industrial samba-bands and noise demonstrations became daily events.

The pre-event of this collaboration of radicals and the “ordinary” citizens was by Hotel Borg on the last day of the year, where protesters cut a live broadcast of an annual party political TV show where the heads of the political parties discuss the recent political year over champagne and spicy herring. The original plan of the protest was to disrupt the broadcast with noise and torches, but soon it became clear that that it would not happen without people taking a further step. So people climbed over gates and when trying to enter the hotel were enagaged in scuffles with cops which sprayed them with pepper-spray. Finally they managed to pull apart and burn the transmission cables and cut off the broadcast. It was a good start and set the tone for the new year’s protests.

There was an prominent common slogan during the demonstrations over the last weeks that resounded over the city for a whole week: “Disqualified government!” But this slogan says nothing about what was about to come, what people want else than just getting the government away. The main demands were that the government step down, that the board of the Central Bank resign, that the FME resign, that election would held as soon as possible and that corruption and abuse of power be stopped.

Tuesday 20 January saw major clashes, and liberal pepper sprayings and baton usage by cops, outside the Parliament when thousands turned up to disrupt the first session of Parliament in the new year. These protests continued throughout the night and into the following Wednesday night. Early Thursday morning, after the police had shot numerous teargas bombs into groups of protesters, the crowd moved to the nearby Government’s offices. Once again people lit a bonfire and protested against the government. When the police turned up some people started throwing bricks at the cops like before that same evening. At one point an angry man walked up to the police, who was well armed with shields, helmets, clubs and pepper spray, and threw a stone at them while shouting: “Just give us a chance to vote, then these protests will stop.”

These words came as a surprise to a lot of people. “Just give us the chance to vote!” Is that really the main demand? And does it make one so angry not to be allowed to vote, that throwing stones becomes the tactic to propel elections?

Of course, there are different opinions and ideas about what the planned elections this spring will lead to. Some people believe it is enough to vote for the Left Greens, that it will lead to positive changes. Others believe that it is possible to change the system from inside, want to push forward new political parties in the upcoming elections, which will than hopefully draw the lines of changes in the constitution and the system. Even others want to discontinue the tiranny of the party-system and encourage individuals’ candidatures, direct democracy and major changes to the constitution.

These ideas have one thing in common, they are all based on the idea that reforms inside the current system are steps in the right directions, steps towards a more just society. They do not demand radical changes – revolution. Therefore it is strange to see people standing on Austurvöllur (the square in front of the parliament) shouting slogans like “Long live the revolution!” – no revolution has taken place apart from the fact that the government has collapsed.

When we will get closer to the upcoming elections we can expect the same thing as usual. The political parties will lounge their image campaigns, compete in advertising, which has the best designers and computer technique. That’s how it is always. And then there is one thing that matters: Money. Those who have the most money or the political party that has the best access to money is going to be the most visible force in the election campaign. And the same story will continue if the elections will be between individuals instead of parties. While we stay inside the system, that we have lived in until now, individuals’ results will be based only on who has the most money to spend.

The reasons for the collapse of the government and the debate about it show very well what today’s politics are about. Sjálfstæðisflokkurin (The Independence Party, neoliberal conservatives) refused to fire Davíð Oddsson from the board of the Central Bank, because of his fearsome hold on society and individuals in the party. (He is widely believed to wield a ‘Black book’ with records over the corruption of a huge number of people.) Even though he is hidden in the Central Bank, he still sits on the top – or at least sat there before the collapse – of the Icelandic power base. Fearing the impact of firing Oddsson from the Central Bank, the Independence Party found themselves in a cul-de-sac. Therefore it is going to be extremely interesting to see if a new government will dare to fire Oddsson and what impact it will have on the Icelandic society, since it is clear the Oddsson has a serious capacity of literally blackmailing seizable segments of Icelandic society.

The two parties – The Independence Party and the Social Democratic Alliance – were locked in arguments about which of them should get the prime ministry. This was enough to split the coalition. The collapse of the government is a result of endless power mongering that has nothing to do with creating a society based on justice and equality, freedom and co-operation. It is not about trying to create a healthy society, but first and only about gaining power to further the interests and accumulation of wealth by different parts of the corporate structures.

This power mongering exposes the politics and shows even better what its about: A competition about popularity and power; untruth and treachery against those who have no power; those who are oppressed from the beginning of their lives through the education system and other systems of the society. Politics is a game of lies.

We have to resist this game and this corrupt system. This resistance is the premise for changes. If we want new changes we have to turn our backs on the past and use our imagination. It does not mean we have to forget history, but rather learn from it, both mistakes and victories. We have to envigorate our imagination and not only demand the impossible but first of all do the impossible.

The changes we want to get through have to be built on ideas about international resistance and solidarity. We are not alone on this island; we are only a tiny part of a global struggle of those who have no power against those who have all the power, struggle for a world without authority. Everywhere in the world – in Mexico, Greece, Palestine, Iraq, Japan, Belarus, the USA – everywhere does this struggle continue. Of course it is on different levels and the same can be said about authorities’ reactions against it and repression.

What unites all of us is the fact that we are powerless and we stand against those who have the powers, in a struggle against them and against the system which allows few individuals to wield this power. We fight for people to take control of their own lives and the organization of the society, and destroy all power structures that oppress and kill. And though the situation often looks bad and way too many people are blinded by the authorities’ propaganda about the necessity of the power to remain in their own hands, the fact is that our united struggle against them is real and the solidarity as well.

Last Saturday, fliers were distributed during the weekly demonstration by the parliament, encouraging people to show more concern for each other, during radical actions as well as in daily life. It also said that people should not even dare to think that it is more necessary to break down the government than to destroy patriarchy and fight against all injustice towards those who have another skin colour and those who do not identify themselves as heterosexual.

Society is full of class divisions and injustice, based on ideas stating that some people are superior to others. Machismo, white color of skin and heterosexuality are the highest values of this society and all individuals that do not fall under these categories are automatically deemed inferior and are made targets of prejudices, intolerance and violence. These ideas have been incorporated into society as the inherent nature of the entire system and will not be defeated by mere reformism. Hence we need to destroy the roots of this system.

Let’s not celebrate when a woman (and even more: a homosexual woman) will now become a prime minister for the first time in history here in Iceland. Let’s not celebrate when women get into high positions of power. Let’s not celebrate when a black man becomes the president of the USA for the first time. Let’s not celebrate these reforms that help the system to renew its hold on power. Let’s not celebrate when women, homo- or bisexual and non-white individuals manage to work themselves up to the role of the average white straight man. No!

Let’s instead fight against this system, a system which segments society into hierarchical structures and oppresses those who are situated in the lower positions. Let’s fight against a system that allows few individuals to oppress others. Let’s fight against all power pyramids and abuse of power. Let’s fight against unequal distribution of wealth and natural resources. Let’s fight against all ideologies that have turned life necessities into luxury products for the privileged.

When we have revolted against all these oppressive structures we can finally talk about real justice and equality and can start talking about real changes. Then finally the word ‘revolution’ will sound true in our mouths.

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More detailed information about the last weeks actions will be put up on Aftaka.org in a few days. Until then you can read more about the protests and direct actions in Iceland since the economic collapse:

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