Courtesy Reuters

Communism in Iceland

COMMUNIST efforts to penetrate Iceland have existed for nearly 40 years. Popular support of Communism reached a high point in the 1940s when nearly 20 percent of the electorate supported the Communist Party. Today the Communists are again represented in the Icelandic cabinet, and to the established methods of political penetration has been added a Soviet economic thrust by means of increased trade and, according to reports, by substantial offers of credits and loans from the Bloc. In view of the strategic location of Iceland, its membership in NATO, and its importance as a NATO air base, we may reasonably inquire how and why the Communist movement became a significant factor in Icelandic politics.

Communist ideology was introduced into Iceland about the time of World War I. This was a period of rapid change when Iceland achieved sovereignty, emerged from centuries of economic distress, came into closer contact with the outside world, and established the domestic political patterns which, in essence, still prevail. Until 1918, Iceland was under the domination of Denmark, and domestic politics followed the traditional colonial pattern; the earliest parties were concerned solely with independence, differing only about tactics. After home rule was won and when independence could be foreseen, political parties began to form along economic lines. The Labor Party,[i] which shortly became a Communist target, was founded in 1916 to represent the Federation of Icelandic Labor Unions, established earlier that year. The Progressive Party (Framsoknarflokkur), also founded in 1916, represented the farmers and coöperatives. Two other parties, which merged to form the Independence Party,[ii] represented the fishing interests and business.

Communism was apparently introduced to Iceland by students who had studied at European universities. Within a few years after the war a Young Communist League with a membership of 70 was reported to exist in Iceland. Certainly the Communist International recognized the existence of a Communist group in Iceland at an early date. At the Second Congress, in 1921, the Icelandic Communists were not affiliated with the Comintern, but the Icelandic representative [iii] The Third Congress assigned the Icelandic body a consultative vote and the Fourth Congress reported that a fraction of the 450 Icelandic Communists had been admitted to the Comintern. It was the Fifth Congress, however, which gave careful consideration to the development of Communism in Iceland and indicated its wish to bolshevize the Icelandic group as it was then striving to bolshevize the continental Communist Parties. A resolution, "On the Icelandic Question,"[iv] referred to the Presidium by the Icelandic Commission, opened with a Marxist analysis of the political and economic situation in Iceland. The Labor Party was described as having two wings, the Social Democratic and the Communist, the latter characterized as "semi-Communist." The resolution called upon the Communists "to engage in an energetic campaign against the reformist, semi-bourgeois, and social democratic leaders" in order to establish a single revolutionary leadership of the labor movement and to establish a Communist Party. The Communist fraction was instructed to form cells in all the principal enterprises and to establish groups in the trade unions and coöperatives, and to collaborate closely with the Scandinavian Communist Federation.

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