Why Iceland’s Revolution Failed

reykjavik rising

Reykjavik Rising

Directed Danny Mitchell (2015)

Film Review

Reykjavik Rising casts the cold light of reality on Iceland’s 2009 so-called “revolution.” Although the “pots and pans” revolution made a few meaningful reforms, in Iceland, as everywhere else, people are no closer to genuine democracy than they were before the 2008 economic meltdown.

This documentary profiles the three months of daily protests and direct action that brought down Iceland’s right wing government in early 2009. The new left wing government elected in April 2009 brought charges against the key bankers responsible for the country’s financial collapse. Although most were found guilty, none served sentences.

The People Write a New Constitution – Which Parliament Ignores

The new government also called a national assembly to rewrite the constitution, a key demand of the protests. The assembly was made up of 1,000 individuals drawn randomly from the National Register. It was their role to decide, by consensus, the core values the new constitution would embrace. They also elected 30 people to draft it.

Despite being ratified by 70% of Icelandic voters in an October 2012 referendum, state television (which was still controlled the right wing) ignored the outcome and the Icelandic parliament refused to ratify it.

Six months later, new elections restored to power the original right wing parties responsible for the financial crisis.

Why the Revolution Failed

The filmmakers interview activists with a variety of viewpoints on why Iceland’s revolution failed. Most agree that no single protest anywhere is going to achieve real social change. Years of preparation is required for ordinary people to successfully seize power from the global elite that controls our governments.

At the same time the “pots and pans” revolution led to a profound shift in popular attitudes. A majority of Icelanders now recognize that their so-called representative democracy is just a façade – that real power rests with banks and corporations. This corresponds with a proliferation of grassroots organizations and think tanks dedicated to the development of direct democracy.

There also seems to be strong agreement that activists must be prepared to push rapidly for change when the next crisis arrives. They must be prepared to actually take power and defend themselves against those who seek to usurp them.

For a month during the “pots and pans” revolution, ships with 1,000 Danish commandos were waiting offshore to retake Parliament if the protesters managed to take control.

25 thoughts on “Why Iceland’s Revolution Failed

    • Futeret, I note the perpetrators are labeled as “Muslims.” How do we know they are “Muslims”? This type of violence is contrary to the Islamic religion. All we can tell from the 20 second video is that they are foreign thugs with dark skin. With the label of “Muslim,” it starts to look like a deliberate effort to stir up Islamophobia.


  1. Did I get this book from one of your posts? I can’t remember.

    Click to access state-and-revolution.pdf

    This is what Marx meant by “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Until this takeover by the proletariat happens, and the elitist class is conquered, and the bureaucracy/military taken over and “crushed” as well, there can be no “withering away of the class system,” there can be no change, or at least this is what Marx was suggesting.

    It makes sense to me, but how to get it done on a worldwide scale?


    • I made the same connection and I’m increasingly coming around to the same conviction. Mass protests and even the winning of elections cannot bring about the desired change. Attempting to quietly withdraw from the system won’t work either, viz., think about what happens even to nations, let alone communities, that try to stand outside the reach and influence of globalized capital (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yugoslavia, and so on). Therefore, there is a ‘lesson’ to be learned and promulgated: ‘organization’ and ‘discipline’ (i.e., the state) must be met with ‘organization’ and ‘discipline.’

      That will take time to ‘sink in,’ so to speak, if it ever does, and then to set about actually undertaking the task, if it is ever undertaken. And furthermore, it will have to happen more or less simultaneously around the world.

      And then to top it all off, there is a very real danger inherent to the strategy itself:

      “But, though class instinct impels them to break their chains, the masses of the people lack education and consciousness. And as they surge with redoubtable energy, but clumsily and blindly, towards freedom, bumping into privileged, astute, expert, organized and experienced social classes, they can only triumph over the resistance they encounter if they successfully acquire, in the heat of battle, the consciousness, expertise, organization and experience in which they are deficient. But the very act of forging the weapons just listed, which are the only ones that can ensure that they get the better of their adversary, carries with it an enormous danger: that it might kill the spontaneity which is the heart of the revolution, that it might compromise freedom inside the organization, or allow the movement to be taken over by a minority elite of more expert, more aware, more experienced militants who, to start with put themselves forward as guides, only to end up imposing themselves as leaders and subjecting the masses to some new form of man’s exploitation of his fellow men.”

      URL: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/library/daniel-guerin-three-problems-of-the-revolution

      It is, to say the least, a perplexing quandary.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sad but true. That is why you burn it down …….. then groove in the rubble. In all revolutions there are always those who only have there own interests in mind ………. but until it’s done you don’t know the outcome!


      • This quote says it all. I want permanent, positive change more than anything else, but how?

        This is like the theory of evolution, in this sense: “This species evolved with this technique/apparatus, over millions of years, in order to eat and survive.” What happened to its ancestors who had yet to evolve this way? Did they just do without food until they evolved?

        (A poor example, I agree, but it’s close to what is troubling me about Marx’s solution.)

        I see the same with this model of overthrowing the state. How can the overthrow be accomplished, “in successive approximations towards the desired goal” of no more class struggle, when we know how how strong those in power can be, and how easily manipulated and led are the masses: anyone recognized as having power, no matter how beneficial to all, is in jeopardy of turning into the same kind of elitist monster who would have just been overthrown.

        I sense the logic in what Marx believes, but I don’t know how it could ever work. And it didn’t work in Russia for this very reason.

        Anarchism, by the way, is continually attacked in this text. Of course, I don’t know how anarchy would work either, not for everyone.

        My hope is, in a nutshell, there are people out there who can figure this out, become leaders, and not turn into monsters.

        “It is, to say the least, a perplexing quandary.” Absolutely it is!


  2. Pingback: Reykjavik Rising | Taking Sides

  3. Tube,

    You wrote,

    “Yes, it’s risky. But the choice is more of what we already have or, making the gamble, breaking on through to the other side. I’m all for gambling.”

    I don’t think he was suggesting not trying at all. We need to keep trying, as you point out.

    But old Einstein said it best, “Doing the same thing over and over with no change = insanity.” I know it’s an overused quote, but it is still accurate.

    For me, a step in the right direction would be an agreement between all involved, the largest portion of humanity, that this entire ancient system/order must be destroyed and never allowed to exist again, and that means anywhere on the face of the planet. But as Marx suggests, we cannot tear it all down, in the beginning, because we need it to have time to effect the changes needed and survive. I also agree with Marx, that as this take over happens, and time passes, the the state/cast system will “wither away,” and be of no value to us anymore.

    If we could just get this set in all of our minds and hearts, this would be a huge change from all revolutions before, or at least this is how I see it.

    There are some, even those awake and aware, who still believe this system/order can be fixed. And to me, this is the definition of insanity!


  4. I must admit to feeling at a loss how to respond to this high level discussion. I feel a bit like the rabbi in the Yiddish hast recht joke, but I do feel like there’s a kernel of truth in everyone’s comments.

    I guess the main problem I have with “classical” Marxist-Leninists texts is they totally omit the role of women (half the population) in the revolution. In the current experiments with direct democracy – in Greece, Spain, Italy (and surprisingly here in New Zealand) – women seem to play a leading role in starting self-governing groups run by consensus decision making.

    If women are going to be included in the revolution, I think they’re going to demand that the new system be run by direct democracy, along the lines of Bakunin’s vision of collective anarchism.

    This is why I tend to favor self-organization, rather than relying on a vanguard which I believe will preserve the current patriarchal hierarchy.


  5. Marxism and the family:


    The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the state (Engels) ( http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1884/origin-family/index.htm )

    [n particular, in Englels, see the chapter titled, ‘The Family,’ ; and if you are short on time, read the sub-chapter titled, ‘The Monogamous Family.’

    Then there is this interesting set of theses for anyone who might be interested:

    Marxism and Women’s’ Liberation (LRCI) ( http://www.fifthinternational.org/node/961 )


    Can Marxism explain the existence of women’s’ oppression? Does the oppression of women pose a problem that cannot be answered by historical materialism, with its stress on social relations of production and class antagonism? Explain the origins and social roots of the oppression of women, youth and sexual minorities. Why does Engels identify the origins of both the state and the patriarchal family in the break-up of the primitive commune? Does subsequent anthropological work confirm or undermine Engels’ position? Why did the Communist International insist that there is no distinct ‘woman question’ separate from the class struggle as a whole? Do working class men benefit from the oppression of women? Should we support the demand for wages for housework? What are the programmatic errors of the feminists and the ‘economists’ and how can a revolutionary programme against women’s’ oppression be developed today?

    The second link takes you to the website where I’m pilfering the suggested readings and series of questions on the issue of women in “classical” Marxist literature, with which Lenin was intimately familiar.


    • Thanks, Norman. The Origin of the Family is a great place to start in understanding the oppression of women. I would also highly recommend the work of British radical feminists Sheila Rowbotham, particularly Women, Resistance and Revolution and Woman’s Consciousness, Man’s World, as well as Juliet Mitchell’s Women’s Estate.


      • While exploring the issue of feminism in Marxism, I stumbled upon this penetrating and insightful essay by Martha E. Gimenez, titled, “”Marxist Feminism / Materialist Feminism.”

        Of particular interest to me, apart from the critique being directed toward other currents of feminism, is the manner in which Gimenez shines light on Marx’s “materialist” conception of history, i.e., the ‘fact’ that the movement of history — that is to say, the evolution of cultures, ideologies, institutions, social relations, material modes of production, etc., — is very much a ‘force of nature’ over which we possess very little agency, that is, until we become critically aware of the manner in which these ‘material forces’ impel us to live as we do.

        To offer merely a short quote as a sample of the flavor of what Gimenez writes:

        “Cultural materialism, as developed in Raymond William’s work, is presented as a remedy or supplement to Marx’s historical materialism. There is, according to Williams, an “indissoluble connection between material production, political and cultural institutions and activity, and consciousness … Language is practical consciousness, a way of thinking and acting in the world that has material consequences (ibid, p. 5). Williams, they point out, “strives to put human subjects as agents of culture back into materialist debate” (ibid, p. 5).

        The implications of these statements is that “humans as agents of culture” are not present in historical materialism and that Marx’s views on the relationship between material conditions, language, and consciousness are insufficient. But anyone familiar with Marx’s work knows that this is not the case. In fact, it is Marx who wrote that “language is practical consciousness” and posited language as the matter that burdens “spirit” from the very start, for consciousness is always and from the very first a social product (Marx, [1845-46] 1994, p.117).”

        source: http://www.cddc.vt.edu/feminism/mar.html

        I thought you might like to read it.


  6. Reblogged this on Poli.V and commented:
    We are all being held against our will by malevolent governments who seek to farm us like cattle they own…we do really need to be better organised and ready don’t we?


    • And I think we’re getting there. Poli.V. Reportedly the TPP will be signed in Auckland on Feb 4 (provided the US Congress approves it). we’re planning a major direct action to shut them down like the WTO was shut down in Seattle to join us. Why not come on over and join us?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.