Anarchism in Iceland
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Anarchism is a small minority political movement in Iceland, defined by its relationship with other progressive social movements, and its involvement in primarily ideological work. The AFTAKA collective was involved in direct actions in relation to the collapse of the Icelandic government. Andspyrna, a small library and bookstore collective also exists.
Interest among anarchist writers
Anarchist historians and philosophers have looked to the Icelandic Commonwealth with interest since the 19th century. The Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin first noted in his book Mutual Aid that Norse society, from which the settlers in Iceland came, had various "mutual aid" institutions, including communal land ownership (based around what he called "the village community") and a form of social self-administration, the "Thing" – both local and Iceland-wide – which can be considered a "primitive" form of the anarchist communal assembly. Anarchist geographer Elisée Reclus also noted that in Iceland they "succeeded completely in maintaining their dignity as free man, without kings, feudal principles, hierarchy or any military establishment." They governed themselves through a process in which "the common interest was discussed in the open air by all inhabitants, who were dressed in armor, the symbol of the absolute right of personal self-defense belonging to each individual."
More recently, some anarcho-capitalists have claimed it to be a possible model anarcho-capitalist society, where police and justice were guaranteed through a free market. Author Jared Diamond has written
Medieval Iceland had no bureaucrats, no taxes, no police, and no army. … Of the normal functions of governments elsewhere, some did not exist in Iceland, and others were privatized, including fire-fighting, criminal prosecutions and executions, and care of the poor.
Medieval Icelandic institutions have several peculiar and interesting characteristics; they might almost have been invented by a mad economist to test the lengths to which market systems could supplant government in its most fundamental functions. Killing was a civil offense resulting in a fine paid to the survivors of the victim. Laws were made by a "parliament," seats in which were a marketable commodity. Enforcement of law was entirely a private affair. And yet these extraordinary institutions survived for over three hundred years, and the society in which they survived appears to have been in many ways an attractive one. Its citizens were, by medieval standards, free; differences in status based on rank or sex were relatively small; and its literary, output in relation to its size has been compared, with some justice, to that of Athens.
This "Thing system" survived for several centuries. It was eventually destroyed by the Christian church, which bought up all the godards (defense agencies) creating a state monopoly. For market anarchist scholar Roderick Long, this illustrates a flaw in the thing system which differentiates it from pure anarcho-capitalism - new "startup" mutual defense units were not allowed.
The social anarchist authors of An Anarchist FAQ took issue with Friedman's portrayal of the period, arguing that the Icelandic system was pre-capitalist in nature with numerous communal institutions. Friedman accused them of misconstruing his position and not caring whether what they published was true. The authors of the FAQ admitted to making mistakes, but rejected the notion that they were uninterested in the truth, and maintained their analysis that Iceland was a communal system.
Medieval Iceland was an example of a successful anarchist state, although it was considered by some to be anarcho-capitalist. The Vikings left Norway with the intent to avoid the serfdom in Norway. No military was necessary in Iceland due to the geographic isolation, and as such there was less demand for centralized government. As such, no property was owned by the government, all property being owned privately and there were local lawmakers responsible for the keeping of laws, as well as private courts. The government was kept decentralized because no godi had allegiance based on the geographical area in which he resided, instead leading people who chose to support him.
In the medieval Icelandic justice system, criminals were not incarcerated. The Icelandish anarchists instead fined criminals, with reparations going to the victim of the crime instead of the government. When the victim of the crime was uncertain, the court would decide who the fine was paid to. If the criminal was unable to pay the fine, she would be able to pay off her sentence with slavery. If she refused to pay and work, she was outlawed. Even those who killed during war had to pay fines, and as such wars were limited to family feuds or battles, usually lasting only a few days.
Icelandic anarchists recurred in the 1950s in force. However, several prominent anarchist leaders have recently been arrested for “attacking parliament”. Many people view this as infringement on their right to protest. The anarchist movement today in Iceland is much smaller and is met with greater hostility. However, several anarchists publish magazines, and while the movement remains small, it is more in the public eye. Anarchists are involved also in music and other pop-culture movements. Some anarchists view themselves to be part of a slow moving revolution. The anarchist movement in Iceland has several international connections, especially with eco-activists.
Much of neo-anarchism in Iceland was caused by a recent credit crisis. For already anarchists, it was a solidifying factor, and for non-anarchists, it was a cause to learn about anarchism. Another factor was the recent energy boom, which started the anarchist and environmentalist movement “Saving Iceland”. The goal of this movement is to spark eco-activism, and prevent the economically wise but environmentally disastrous energy projects happening in Iceland. Icelandic anarchism is also practiced with civil disobedience and direct actions, including protests, camp-outs, and blockades. Many of these forms of protest were new to Icelanders, and the police had to create a word for lock-ons to use in their reports. Even the protests themselves were anarchist in nature, being sporadic and random, and having no clear leader.
Most anarchist protests in recent years have been against banks, energy companies, and parliament. Noise protests were particularly popular when targeting parliament. Attempts to derail meetings or harass government employees were also common, and protesters would show up dressed in all black. Word of these protests was spread anonymously, and all were welcome to participate. Protests took a variety forms, including distribution of propaganda, breaking through police lines, and providing medical attention to those who had been injured by police officers trying to fend off the protesters.
- AFTAKA report of direct action in Iceland
- A-Infos circulation of AFTAKA report on the Icelandic state, January 2009
- Andspyrna bookstore and library
- John P Clark and Camille Martin Anarchy, Geography, Modernity, p. 70]
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