December is a result of social and political processes going back many years (part 1)

Alkis: An anarchist, squatter, publisher, and worker.

First, I want to say that I am not a historian. I’m an activist, a fighter on the front lines in the anarchist struggle since the end of the ’70s. I don't know how precise my knowledge of anarchist history is, as it is a product of my memory and the things I heard and learned from other comrades during the years of my participation in this struggle.

As far as I know, concerning the post-war period, the first anarchists appeared early in the ’70s and the last years of the dictatorship, as a result of the influence of the revolt of May ’68 which mainly had an impact on the Greeks living abroad, but also on those living here. By saying the influence of May ’68 I also mean what came before that, the Situationists and other radical positions. In that sense the birth of anarchy in Greece, as a movement, does not refer so much to traditional anarchism - with its most significant moment being the Spanish Revolution and its main expressions the anarchist federations and the anarcho-syndicalist organisations - but mainly to the anti-authoritarian, radical political waves of the ’60s.

As I said before, in Greece anarchists appeared in the beginning of the ’70s and that is when they made their first publications and analysis about the Greek reality from an anti-authoritarian point of view.

The presence and participation of anarchist comrades in the events of the revolt of November 1973 was very significant, not in terms of numbers but rather in terms of their particular, remarkable political contribution, as they did not limit themselves to slogans against the dictatorship, but instead adopted broader political characteristics, which were anti-capitalist and anti-state. They were also among the few who started this revolt together with militants from the extreme Left. And they were so visible that representatives of the formal Left condemned their presence in the events, claiming that the anarchists were provocateurs hired by the dictatorship, while they also condemned their slogans, characterising them as foreign and unrelated with the popular demands. In reality the formal Left was hostile to the revolt itself because they were supporting the so-called democratisation, a peaceful transition from dictatorship to democracy. And since they could not stop the spontaneous revolt of ’73 in which youth and workers participated, they came with the intent to manipulate it and then, after the fall of the dictatorship, to exploit it politically.

During the revolt of ’73 there were two tendencies: those who wanted it to be controlled and manipulated,in the context of fighting against the dictatorship, in favour of democracy and against American influence; and those, of whom anarchists formed an important part, who saw the revolt in a broader way against authority and capitalism. These two tendencies continued to clash, also after the dictatorship, in the era we call metapolitefsi, which means after the colonels gave the power to the politicians. It was a conflict between those who supported civil democracy and those who were against it. The first tendency considered the events of the Polytechnic as a revolt for democracy while those who were against the regime of civil democracy saw the events of the Polytechnic as a revolt for social liberation. The echo of this conflict lasts until today in a way.

So, this is how anarchists appeared, and this was their contribution...

After the colonels handed over power to the politicians, two major forces appeared in Greece. From the one side, there were radical political and social forces disputing the existing political, social, and economic order, and this was expressed by parts of the youth and workers as well. And on the other side there were the political forces of domination-from the conservative right wing that was in government, to their allies on the formal Left that became incorporated in the political system after the fall of the dictatorship. The right wing government was trying to repress and terrorise the radical political and social forces we mentioned before, and so did the institutional Left, with its own means, when it couldn’t control and manipulate them. Among these radical political and social forces were the anarchists, who were in conflict with even the most radical traditional concepts of the Left, such as the central role of the working class, the hierarchical organisation in political parties, the idea of the vanguard, the vision of taking power, and the socialist transformation of society from above.

An important moment of the social struggle during the first years of metapolitefsi, at the end of the ’70s, was the struggle in the universities, sparked by the efforts of the right wing government to institute educational reform. In this struggle anarchists also had a significant presence, as well as other groups and individuals with an anti-authoritarian and libertarian perspective. To a large degree, this struggle surpassed the boundaries of the university and university students as a subject, assuming wider radical characteristics and attracting the presence and participation of many more people. Not strictly students, but youth generally like high schoolers, and workers as well. It was an important moment in which the anarchists spread their influence among wide social sectors that were fighting.

A little while after this struggle against the educational reform, anarchists, almost alone, carried out another struggle - solidarity with the prisoners’ struggles. There, they demonstrated another characteristic of their radicalism: they didn’t hesitate to engage in questions that were seen as taboo for society; like the question of prisons and prisoners, and they expressed their solidarity with them, fighting together with them for their demands - the abolition of disciplinary penalties, denunciation of tortures, and granting prisoners with life sentences the right to have their cases examined by appeals courts - while always maintaining their vision of a society without any prisons at all.

A very important event of that period that shows the political and social dynamics of the subjects of resistance and, at the same time, the ferocity of political power, was a demonstration that took place on the 17th of November, 1980, on the seventh anniversary of the Polytechnic revolt, an event which actually defined the political developments of those times. (Every year there was and still is a demonstration on the anniversary). That particular year the government had forbidden the demonstration from going to the US Embassy The youth organisations, as well as the student organisations controlled by the Communist and the Socialist Parties, obeyed the prohibition; however, political organisations of the extreme Left, which were strong in that period of time, decided to attempt to continue the demonstration to the American Embassy defying the prohibition laid down by the government and the police.

So, on the night of the 17th of November, 1980, next to the Parliament building, in the street leading to the embassy thousands of demonstrators were confronted by a very strong force of police. The effort of the first lines of demonstrators, who were members of the extreme Left, to push forward to the American Embassy was followed by a massive attack by the police forces in order to disperse the crowd. But despite the police attacks there was a strong and lasting resistance by several thousand people, youth and workers, members of the extreme Left, anarchists and autonomists, who set up barricades in central Athens-barricades that the police used armoured vehicles to dismantle. During these clashes two demonstrators were murdered by the police, Iakovos Koumis and Stamatina Kanelopoulou, both members of extreme Left organisations, and hundreds were injured, some seriously. Among the ones injured, two were wounded by live ammunition, one of them in the chest, shot by police outside the Polytechnic.

During these clashes many capitalist targets were attacked and looted, like department stores, jewellery shops, and the like. This type of attack, which was one of the first expressions of metropolitan violence not strictly limited to targeting the police, but also expressions and symbols of wealth, was condemned even by the extreme Left, whose political culture recognised only the police as a legitimate target. But a new phenomenon of metropolitan violence was emerging. Besides engaging in confrontations with the police, demonstrators were also destroying and looting capitalist targets, and that is exactly what was condemned by the Left.

Those events of November 1980 were, as we mentioned, an expression of the political and social dynamics of the first years of metapolitefsi, but also the culmination and the end of the hegemony of the extreme Left on these dynamics. The Left didn’t manage to explain, in their own terms, the extent and the form of the events to their followers. However, these same events were a catalyst for the fall of the right wing government, one year later.

In the beginning of the ’80s, as a result of a major effort by a part of the political system to control and manipulate the social, political, and class resistances and demands, a new political change occurred and the Socialist Party PASOK, came to power (October '81). In that period this seemed to be a huge, historical change. It created a lot of illusions, it incorporated and neutralised old militants in the institutions and marked the end of these first years of metapolitefsi, the end of a variety of spontaneous social and class struggles which had appeared in the first years after the fall of the dictatorship.

So, after this political change, anarchists who were hostile to any kind of mediation and incorporation into the institutions were in a sense alone against this new authority which had many controlled and manipulated supporters, many adherents full of illusions.

PASOK came to power in order to modernise Greek society They repealed laws that were products of the civil war era - when the Right had crushed the Left in an armed conflict - and the post-civil war era, and satisfied a series of demands coming from the Left; demands that did not at all undermine the authoritarian and class organisation of society but, on the contrary that modernised and strengthened it by making it come closer to the model of the Western European societies.

This political change meant that a large part of the Left was weakened and absorbed into the system, it also meant that the anarchists together with autonomists and anti-authoritarians in general manifested a single effort to intervene socially. Organising amongst the youth, they organised the first squats in Greece, influenced by similar projects in Western Europe.

The first squat, in Exarchia, became the epicentre of anarchist and anti-authoritarian mobilisations, and led to other occupations in Athens and Thessaloniki. Eventually it was attacked and evicted, a victim of government repression, in the beginning of 1982. The same happened with the other squats as well.

(On that point, we could also mention that from the end of the ’70s and especially in the beginning of the ’80s a repressive operation by the State was conducted in order to corrupt and destroy the resistance movement by spreading heroin in the social spaces of the youth. This operation was very new then, unprecedented in Greece, and anarchists came in face-to-face conflict with that, lighting against it in the social spaces, in the places of the youth, and also inside the squats.)

The first years of government by PASOK were full of artificially cultivated aspirations for changes, ones that were of course neither essential nor subversive. They were years of a broad social consent to political power, against which anarchists stood alone, to a large degree. But very soon this political authority showed its true face and its profound class character against the lower social classes, as well as its repressive ambitions with regards to those resisting-anarchists, leftists, and insubordinate youth. The turning point, the end of the illusions, was in 1985, a year scarred by the police murder of fifteen-year-old Michalis Kaltezas who was shot in the back of the head outside the Polytechnic during riots between anarchists and insubordinate youth on one side and the police on the other, after the end of the 17th of November demonstration that year.

This murder triggered a series of insurrectionary events whose major moments were the occupation of the Chemistry University and the Polytechnic. Moreover, it caused a deeper uprising of consciousness and hostile dispositions against the police and authority that gave birth to numerous events of resistance in the following years, since it was not something that was expressed and exhausted in one moment, but be- came a precedent of many violent and combative moments of resistance in the following years. It formed a "tradition” of similar events; these events burst forth either as reactions to state murders, or as expressions of solidarity with the struggles of oppressed people, such as the prisoners. It is also within these conditions that a new wave of squats, mainly by anarchists and anti-authoritarian groups, appeared and rooted socially thus broadening the fronts as much as the influence of the struggle.

For example we can mention the clashes with the police and the occupation of the Polytechnic for seventeen days in 1990, after the acquittal of the cop who murdered Kaltezas.

The extensive social clashes in the streets of Athens in 1991, lasting a full two days, after the murder of the teacher and Left fighter, Nikos Temponeras, by para-state thugs in a student-occupied school in the city of Patras.

The uprising of anarchists and youth in November, 1995, during the anniversary of the ’73 revolt, in which they occupied the Polytechnic in solidarity with the revolt of the prisoners which was going on at the same time. This revolt in the prisons was under fire from the whole propaganda mechanism of the State and by the media, and it was facing the immediate threat of a police invasion in the prison facilities.

ln an effort to suppress the ’95 Polytechnic revolt and attack the anarchists and the youth - not only for the resistance they were engaged in at that specific moment but also for all the events that they had created during the previous years, and the events which they were threatening to continue - the State made use of the major propaganda assault by the media, which had been waged to extract social consent for the plans of repression. The police invaded the occupied Polytechnic on the morning of the 17th of November, 1995 and arrested more than 500 occupants, but the entire repressive operation was a failure: they wanted to present the anarchists as very few and isolated, as small gangs of rioters - the stereotype presented by the State is of “50 known unknowns" - but they turned out to have great influence on youths. They also failed to terrorise anarchists with the arrests and the prosecutions in the courts, because the majority of defendants remained insubordinate, turning the trials that followed into another point of strong conflict with the State.

In the following years, this phenomenon of refusal and resistance by anarchists, anti-authoritarians, and insubordinate youth spread socially leading to a variety of political initiatives, social interventions, counter-information projects, events of resistance, and the creation of new self-organised spaces. No strategy of domination was left unchallenged, neither the policies against the immigrants, nor the 2004 Olympics, the international political and economic summits, the participation of Greece in military plans and operations of the West against the countries of the East.

Based simultaneously on the political and organisational values of social solidarity direct action, equality anti-hierarchy and self-organisation, anarchists didn’t hesitate and didn’t fail to answer, at least to the extent they could, any attack by the State against society, and its most marginalised parts. They always stood side by side with the oppressed people and with those of them who fought back, refusing the dilemmas and defying the blackmails that the State utilises in order to extract consent. And they did that clearly and regardless of the cost they would have to pay. They consistently stayed outside and against all institutions, outside and against the political system. At a time when others, no matter how radical they appeared, were adopting the mentality of the State, the anarchists stood alone against such proposals. The result was that the Left lost its influence among the most radical parts of society while for the anarchists, the same thing that was said to be a weakness that would lead to their social isolation, was and still is exactly their strength: the fact that they stayed outside the political system and all institutions. Because when the people revolt they surpass the institutions and their restrictions, and communicate very well with the anarchists.

We hardly have any money; we work unselfishly in small, fluid affinity groups, but this is our strength...

This interview continues in chapter 5