In the last days of December, a new aspect of the continuing insurrection began to appear more frequently: urban guerilla groups expanding their presence and activity. Some of these groups existed long before December and came from the extreme Left, following the tradition of 17 November and ELA. But after December, new groups appeared and began carrying out bold attacks, and the communiques they inevitably released were often laden with an anti-authoritarian analysis. Clandestine anarchist groups carrying out night time fire bombings against police vehicles or government buildings had been active for years, but the new manifestations of this tactic after December were calling for urban guerilla warfare as a decisive strategic course.
This development was the subject of strong, and anonymous, debate. There are multiple conflicting opinions. Some people feel that escalating to guerilla attacks is going too far too fast, that most people will not be able to make that tactical leap or even understand it, and the anarchists will be isolated and vulnerable to heavy repression that the authorities will justify on the basis of those guerilla activities. The suggestion was even published that the shooting attacks against the police were acts of provocation orchestrated by the State itself. This sounds too much like the habitual response that fearfully denounces any attack considered too extreme as the work of a government conspiracy: the assumption is that people within the struggle are always victims, always defensive, they never take the initiative to attack and they never make a mistake and go too far. Although the theory itself seems invalid, it does reflect that many people considered the guerilla attacks to be illegitimate or dangerous for the struggle as a whole.
A more nuanced critique is that Greek society has historical references for specialised Left guerilla groups, such as 17 November, which enjoyed a good deal of success and popular support, but there is little tradition in Greece of the anarchist model of diffuse guerilla groups-non-vanguardist groups that intend to encourage a diffusion or spreading of their tactics and that exist as amorphous or flexible entities rather than professional guerilla organisations. Lacking this set of historical references and traditions, the argument goes, the new strategy will not be successful at getting a broader portion of the population to engage in guerilla actions. Some years back, 17 November itself made a criticism of an anti-authoritarian group attempting to utilise guerilla tactics against a broader array of targets. 17 November had a populist analysis and they tended to attack targets that the vast majority of the population hated, such as CIA agents or the US Embassy It is also worth noting that their greater specialisation allowed them to touch targets that would be too difficult for less professional groups to even approach, In their critique, they said that choosing more commonplace targets, which the anti-authoritarians did to accompany their deeper analysis, would generate fear rather than appreciation in the society because people would not know why the target was attacked. In this way the diffuse guerrillas are more demanding of the people, both because they require a deeper critique of capitalism and the State in order to be understood, and because their strategy requires that more and more people make similar attacks.
A third critique aims at clandestinity itself, The argument is that a strategy of clandestine guerilla warfare is inherently specialising and spectacular. In other words, it takes such a high degree of specialisation and expertise that the vast majority of a society cannot and will not participate, contrary to an insurrection in which everyone can participate in their own way as long as they can go out on the streets. Given the numerical inferiority of the participants, hence the scarcity of the actions, combined with their higher level of preparation and impact, the guerilla actions are by nature spectacular. Their primary audience, whether intended or not, is virtual reality. The major way an urban riot communicates itself, at least within the city in which it takes place, is to be seen directly. Clandestine attacks, however, are witnessed primarily through the lens of the media, as people rarely happen to be around to see them occur. Hence, people become spectators of the struggle rather than its protagonists, as when they are in the streets, participating in public illegal actions.
As the leading edge of the struggle gets further away from people’s lived realities, they are transformed even more permanently into spectators; meanwhile the State and the media themselves spectacularise the attacks and make the attacks the symbol for the entire struggle. Popular participation in the decreasingly significant public struggle decreases, and eventually the State can simply turn off the struggle by directing the media to stop publicising attacks, thus erasing what had become in the popular consciousness the leading edge and primary manifestation of the struggle. Thus decapitated, what remains of the struggle can be bullied and bribed into collaboration with the institutional Left. According to proponents of this critique, that is what happened in Germany and Italy in the ’70s and ’80s.
The guerilla strategy also finds many proponents. Some say that attacks should not be denounced, and denouncing attacks carried out by other comrades in the struggle is doing the divisive work of the State. Furthermore, the guerilla attacks are just another manifestation of the rage of the people, and a larger portion of society can participate in them if they are legitimised and supported by all the comrades. After all, for an insurrection to grow to a revolution it will have to win an armed conflict with the State and it cannot do this if it is unarmed.
Others counter the argument that a guerilla strategy spectacularises the struggle or leads to an unintentional vanguard, pointing out that before December, the anarchists were the only ones fire-bombing the police and attacking banks, and one could have accused them of being vanguardists, except that their tactics were generalised, adopted by society and taken out of their control, which is exactly what they wanted. Currently guerilla attacks are the most extreme and violent manifestation of the struggle but in a certain moment they could become generalised. During the civil war in Greece, a huge portion of the population supported and participated in the clandestine struggle, and revolution at one point or another entails civil war.
Some anarchists who favour the guerilla strategy believe that non-vanguardist guerilla groups need nonetheless to have a strong structure and a certain professionalism in order to prevent immature or unprepared people from taking up the guns or doing something reckless that could not be justified. The idea is that if one escalates to tactics that could easily cause the loss of life, they also need to escalate their level of organisation and preparedness to be sure that no one is killed needlessly or accidentally. There is also the fact that carelessness leads to people getting caught needlessly which gives the State the appearance of more power and efficiency than it actually possesses, and discourages others from participating in these attacks.
Below is one of the few criticisms of the guerilla strategy to be openly published within the Greek anti-authoritarian movement, authored by the autonomist group TPTG. Elsewhere in the book, We have published communiques released by guerilla groups after specific attacks.
Extract from "The rebellious passage of a proletarian minority through a brief period of time" by TPTG
The spectacular separation of armed "struggle."
The need to mediate proletarian anger politically even if it is to mediate it with an armed mediation, was not something that stemmed from the struggle itself but it was something that was being imposed on the struggle from the outside and afterwards. In the beginning, there were two attacks by the so-called "armed vanguard," one on the 23rd of December after the peak of the rebellion and one on the 5th of January when the resurgence of the rebellion was at stake. From a proletarian point of view, even if these attacks were not organised by the state itself, the fact that after a month all of us became spectators of those "exemplary acts" that had not at all been part of our collective practice, was a defeat in itself. The "armed vanguard" avoids admitting not only that they were not the first ones to target the police but also that no "armed vanguard" anywhere, has forced the police from the streets, or frightened individual cops from carrying their official identities with them for a few days. They can’t admit that they were surpassed by the movement. Claiming that there is "a need to upgrade" violence, the so-called "armed vanguard" essentially tries to downgrade the socially and geographically diffused proletarian violence and violation of the law; the latter are the true opponents of the "armed vanguard" within the movement and as long as such practices go on no interventionism of "upgrading" things can find a fertile soil. It is on that basis that the armed struggle allies with the State: both are challenged by the proletarian subversive activity the continuation of which constitutes a threat to the existence of both of them.
The proletarian subversive activity in the rebellion gained a temporary but not so superficial victory: an insubordination that weakened the security-surveillance state for a month and proved that we can change the power relations. This became possible since the rebels targeted the social relations in which they are forced to live, something that no "armed vanguard" has ever managed to do.
Considering the range and the intensity of all the December events, the state repressive apparatus proved practically weak. Since they had to deal with a de-legitimisation of the institutions of control and not just bullets and grenades, the infamous zero tolerance became a simple tolerance towards the rebels’ activities. The state counter-attack could actually become successful in January only by making use of the “armed vanguard" operations: first, on an ideological level, by equating the state murder with the wounding of a riot police cop, thus re-legitimising the police and the security-surveillance state in general. Secondly on an operational level intensifying its repression. They even exploited the place of the attack (Exarchia), presenting the rebellion as a spectacular vendetta between cops and "anarchists,” as a grotesque and banal performance staged in a political ghetto.
As the rebellion was dying away there was a notable proliferation of attacks against banks and state buildings by several groups, which cannot be placed in the same category with the “armed vanguard" "deeds," since most of them do not claim to be ahead of the actual movement (although they do not necessarily lack a voluntaristic, arrogant posture).
However, the return of the "armed vanguard" proper with the execution of an anti-terrorist-squad cop in early June, when even the memory of the rebellion had weakened, has given militarism and the escalation of pure violence a pretext to present themselves as an attractive alternative to a (small?) part of those who participated in the rebellion, if we are to judge by the political tolerance of the anti-authoritarian milieu towards this action. The limited class composition of the rebellion, its restricted extension beyond the level of the de-legitimisation of the security-surveillance state and the gradual weakening of several communal projects in the centre and the neighbourhoods - mostly in Athens - led to the flourishing of a separated kind of blind violence as a dangerous caricature of “struggle," or rather a substitute. As certain important subjects of the rebellion were gradually leaving the stage (the high school students, the university students, the immigrants), its social content got weaker and weaker and political identities became again strengthened as was the norm before. The "armed vanguard" violence is just one of these political identities, even in its naive and nihilistic form, appearing in an era of a generalised crisis of reproduction where the State and capital are unable to offer any social democratic type of "remedies" to heal the wounds of the rebellion. It’s not important for us now to doubt about the real identity of these hit men with the ridiculous but revealing name "Revolutionary Sect"; what causes us some concern is the political tolerance of some quarters toward them, given the fact that it’s the first time that in a Greek "armed vanguard’s" text there’s not one grain of even the good old Leninist, "for the people" ideology but instead an antisocial, nihilistic bloodlust. The crisis of neoliberalism, as a certain phase of capitalist accumulation and legitimisation, seems to lead to a deeper crisis (even to serious signs of social decomposition) and not to any signs of revival of reformism. Even the recent electoral failure of the governing party combined with the high percentage of election abstention (the highest ever in an excessively politicised country like Greece), which was an indirect result of the legitimisation crisis that the rebellion expressed and deepened, have not led to any concessions on the part of the State. With all its own limits, the rebellion made the limits of capitalist integration even more visible than before. The slogan "communism or capitalist civilisation" seems more timely than ever.