Communist League founded in Iceland

By Ólöf Andra Proppé and Sigurlaug Gunnlaugsdóttir, Militant, Vol.66 no.30, 12 August 2002

REYKJAVIK, Iceland—Several generations of revolutionary workers and youth voted to form a Communist League during a convention held here over the last weekend in June. The meeting registered the successful work the founding members had been carrying out together within the working class in Iceland over the previous months.

In addition, a public meeting held over the weekend celebrated the publication in Icelandic of the first issue of Nýtt Alþjóðlegt, the Icelandic edition of New International. The issue contains a translation of the 1990 resolution of the Socialist Workers Party, U.S. Imperialism Has Lost the Cold War. Having the magazine available for the convention also registered the conquests of the new organization in gaining agreement on a world communist program, as well as its members' determination to bring a Marxist explanation of the central issues of the international class struggle to workers, farmers, and youth in Iceland.

The public meeting was held on the Saturday under the banner, Working-class Resistance to Capitalism's World Disorder: Join the Communist League and the Young Socialists.

In his report to the founding convention Ögmundur Jónsson said the central task of the new Communist League is to establish a regular, weekly rhythm of activity connected to the resistance of working people. This includes regular sales of Pathfinder books, the Militant, and Perspectiva Mundial in working-class communities, the regular staffing of the Pathfinder bookstore, and the organization of a weekly forum series connected to the Militant.

Jónsson said that CL members will begin regular sales of socialist periodicals and revolutionary books at the plant gates of factories where members of the Communist League and the Young Socialists work. This will help make the activity of these communists more political, he stated, and give the League a better feel for the dynamics of the class struggle. This perspective was tested with initial success in the days immediately following the convention.

League members also plan to continue regular study and discussion of key works of the communist movement, along the lines of the current socialist summer school, which has focused on the soon-to-be released new edition of Their Trotsky and Ours, by Jack Barnes, and the History of American Trotskyism, 1928–38—Report of a Participant by James P. Cannon.

Builds on earlier work

The decision to found the Communist League, Jónsson explained, builds on important experiences over the past seven months of the Organizing Committee for a Communist League.

Established at the end of November 2001, this committee grew out of the work of the members of the YS and other communist cadres in Iceland over the preceding years. Through relating and responding to political developments in Iceland and internationally, working with the communist movement, and studying Pathfinder books, a layer of revolutionary-minded youth attracted to the YS was able to develop in a proletarian direction.

In the latter part of the 1990s a sea change in working-class politics in Iceland reinforced this trajectory, as sections of the working class, farmers, and other exploited layers in society showed their determination to resist the employers' attacks and to fight to defend their unions.

YS members built and participated in the anti-imperialist World Festival of Youth and Students in August 2001 in Algiers. They then turned to fighting against the imperialists' war in Afghanistan and their domestic war against terrorism in Iceland and elsewhere.

Through these experiences members of the YS became convinced that the next step along the road to building a leadership capable of leading working people to make a socialist revolution in Iceland was to form a Communist League. As they stepped up their involvement in the struggles of workers in the country, a majority of organizing committee members decided to get hired in key industrial plants in order to build fractions and carry out communist work on the job among their co-workers.

In a report entitled How the organizing committee has responded to what is happening in Iceland and the world, Sigurlaug Gunnlaugsdóttir said that in pursuing their war drive the governments in imperialist countries have also sought to expand police powers and curb workers' rights, in an attempt to intimidate working people and limit their political space. But the rulers cannot simply declare a new relationship of forces, she said, and workers will continue to resist erosion of their rights in many countries in the world.

In Iceland, the capitalist economic crisis has deeply affected workers and farmers. The country's currency has dropped drastically in relation to the U.S. dollar over the past year. Although the impact of this has eased somewhat lately owing to the dollar's decline against many major currencies, there are stirrings of demands by working people for protection of their wages and living conditions.

Officials of the Federation of Labor in Iceland have taken the offensive against store owners and importers around the prices of necessities, in order not to have to reopen contract negotiations with the bosses. The most recent general labor contracts include red lines, meaning that if the cost of living increases above an agreed-on level, negotiations over union contracts can be reopened. The red lines have not been seen since the early 1980s, Gunnlaugsdóttir said, noting that the pressure to reinstate them comes from the unfaltering demands of working people that the buying power of their wages be defended. Contesting on political questions

Over the past several months the organizing committee has joined in protests, as well as political debate, over world events as they are reflected in Iceland. For example, members of the CL have participated in actions in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, where they have been able to sell papers, books, and pamphlets.

As well, a protest involving various forces was organized during a high-level NATO leadership meeting in the spring.

At each of these events, the members of the organizing committee have contested political questions with social democratic and other currents that claim to speak in the interests of working people, and have gained a hearing from young people who are becoming interested in revolutionary politics.

Among the questions discussed at the founding convention was the communist approach to the work of the organization Iceland-Palestine, which is mobilizing young people to travel to Palestine to act as human shields and to provide moral witness to the struggle of the Palestinian people.

Convention delegates discussed the fact that far from being the suffering people portrayed by social-democratic forces and petty-bourgeois leftist outfits in Iceland and elsewhere in Europe, the Palestinians have set an example to working people around the world through their tenacious struggle against Israeli repression. Their ongoing resistance and refusal to be dispersed as a people have divided the Israeli ruling class and made the conflict and its consequences—including the mounting death toll—less one-sided.

Convention delegates stated that the CL can offer those young people who want to join the battle on the side of the Palestinians a revolutionary perspective in the struggle for a democratic, secular Palestine. Instead of becoming witnesses, they can become part of a fighting, working-class movement that is out to change the world. The formation of the CL in Iceland is one more crucial step in charting such a road forward for humanity. Taking on anti-China campaign

An anti-China campaign organized during the recent visit to the country by Jiang Zemin, the president of the workers state, was another political development that the organizing committee responded to. Icelandic government institutes and companies have trade and business relations with China, ranging from the construction of ships to water projects in areas prone to water shortages.

Members of the organizing committee exposed and answered the two reactionary sides of this campaign. One involved a push by the Icelandic authorities to undermine workers' rights and to expand their ability to make arbitrary decisions on who is banned from the country and who can be arrested. The other involved an effort by left-wing parties and right-wing politicians alike to smear the image of China (see the July 8 issue of the Militant).

During these events members of the Communist League who work in the fishing industry, in which a big component of the workers are immigrants, learned that Chinese co-workers and others were taking off work in order to greet the Chinese president, standing along the route of his vehicle to bid him welcome. These actions, a sign of Chinese national pride, countered the reactionary anti-China demonstrations.

Having a fraction in this industry gave the organizing committee a completely different view of the class forces involved, the response by a layer of the working class to the reactionary probes, as well as a way to respond that would have otherwise not been possible.

A few weeks before the founding convention, members of the organizing committee and the YS visited farmers in the northwest of the country. Convention delegate Hildur Magnusdottir described the three farms visited by the team and explained what she had learned about the different classes in the countryside and the conditions farmers face.

In recent years a growing number of farmers have been forced off the land. Those who remain are frequently forced to take a job outside the farm in order to make ends meet. One farmer who runs a medium-sized sheep farm told members of the team that more families would have to abandon their land as a result of new quality control regulations that have more impact on working farmers than on larger operations. One team member found a ready interest from the farmer's spouse when she described conditions at her workplace and the political discussions on the job.

The convention and public meeting also featured the participation of leaders of the communist movement from several other countries. Norton Sandler of the Socialist Workers Party in the United States described Washington's new preemptive strike doctrine against countries deemed part of the axis of evil.

The U.S. rulers' war at home, including pre-crime detentions, the extension of the powers of the FBI, and the establishment for the first time of a domestic military command, runs parallel to this doctrine. But the U.S. rulers are not having a easy time convincing working people that they must give up their rights, he said. How far they can progress along these lines will be decided in struggle, he added.

Other guests at the convention represented Communist Leagues in Canada, United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Sweden. Peter Clifford of the CL in the United Kingdom said the political work of communists employed in the fishing industry in Iceland is important for the world movement, since it involves questions like quotas, the social conditions of independent fishermen, overfishing by big corporations, and interimperialist competition.

Gylfi Páll Hersir, a delegate at the convention, pointed out that the Icelandic rulers are attempting to diversify the economy. Fish products have dropped from about 75 percent of total exports a decade ago to around two-thirds today. Aluminum is a growing industry, making up about 20 percent of exports. Given the growing centrality of this industry, the Communist League has built a fraction there, working alongside new generations of workers in the big plants.

Using Nýtt Alþjóðlegt

At the public meeting Ögmundur Jónsson said the publication of Nýtt Alþjóðlegt has already made a difference in the new CL's political work. In answering the recent anti-China campaign, we were able to use it to increase our understanding of the nature of the workers states and the stakes tied up in defending them, and to explain this to others, he said.

Leaders of the CLs in Sweden, United Kingdom, and New Zealand also addressed the meeting. Annalucia Vermunt from New Zealand described the opportunities to work with other revolutionary-minded fighters internationally and to bring the program of the communist movement to them. Following up on initial political discussions at the Algiers event and other such gatherings, communists in New Zealand have been invited to visit Kanaky (New Caledonia), a country in the South Pacific under the boot of French imperialism. There they will meet workers and youth who are interested in deepening ties and collaboration with the communist movement.