Professor Hannes H. Gissurarson, RNH Academic director, gave a lecture on the Soviet influence of the Icelandic communist movement at a University of Tartu seminar 28 April 2015. The seminar was organised by the Department of Politics, and before it, Professor Gissurarson met with the Department Chair, Professor Vello Pettai who sent his greetings to Icelandic friends, having in 2011 attended a conference in Iceland. In the lecture Professor Gissurarson provided an outline of the most important chapters in the history of the radical left in Iceland: the preparations in 1918–1930 for forming a communist party; the operations in 1930–1938 of the communist party, a branch of Comintern, the Communist International; the split of the Labour Party in 1938 and the subsequent formation of the Socialist Unity Party and its operations in 1938–1956; the split of the Labour Party in 1956 and the subsequent formation of the People’s Alliance and its operations after that, first as an electoral alliance in 1956–1968 and then as a political party in 1968–1998.
In his lecture, which formed a part of the joint project of RNH and AECR on “Europe of the Victims”, Professor Gissurarson pointed out that the traditional difference between communists and social democrats had been that the communists were not prepared to work solely within the framework of parliamentary democracy: they did not rule out violence in the political struggle, if needed. Indeed, the Icelandic communist party supported violence both in theory and practice during its lifetime, for example in labour disputes. Later, the socialists also used violence, for example when they laid a siege to the headquarters of the Independence Party in 1946 and when they attacked Parliament House in 1949. The socialists also fiercely defended the regimes of the communist bloc, all of which were established and maintained by violence. They accepted funds from those regimes, and followed instructions from Moscow, with few exceptions. The connections between the Icelandic socialists and the masters in Kremlin only ended with the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. However, after that the People’s Alliance maintained connections with the communist parties of Romania and Cuba, and the last thing the leadership of the People’s Alliance did, before the dissolution of the party, was in 1998 to accept an invitation from the communist party of Cuba for a delegation to visit.
Professor Gissurarson gave an account of disputes between himself and historians Thor Whitehead and Snorri G. Bergsson on the one hand and leftwing intellectuals such as philosopher Jon Olafsson on the other hand, on the interpretation of the historical evidence. For example, Jon Olafsson asserted that the many young Icelanders who attended the Comintern schools in Moscow in 1929–1938, had not received any military training there, whereas this was contrary to the available evidence, both from the young revolutionaries themselves and from numerous other sources. Jon Olafsson also suggested that Comintern had been opposed to the 1938 foundation of the Socialist Unity Party, on the basis of an internal memorandum which a Comintern official had composed; this was however implausible, Professor Gissurarson said, as the relationship between the leadership of the Socialist Unity Party and the Kremlin had been excellent in the following years, and as the new Party had received congratulations from several communist parties at the foundation ceremony. Professor Gissurarson said that in his 2011 book on the Icelandic communist movement he had emphasised, citing many examples, that from the very beginning sufficient knowledge was available in Iceland about the tyranny and squalor in the communist countries. Morgunbladid had for example never tired of printing accounts by victims of communism in those countries, and those accounts had turned out to be more or less accurate, even if they had been contemptuously rejected by the Icelandic socialists.