On the unrest in Greece

Commentary on the situation in Greece published by the Anarchist Federation. It was written on the 15th of December, before the extension of the town hall occupations and the occupation of the offices of the General Confederation of Greek Workers on the 17th of December.

Submitted by Django on December 20, 2008

The unrest in Greece following the killing of 16 year old Alexandros Grigoropoulos has held the attention of the world and electrified the anarchist movement internationally. In the UK, solidarity actions and demonstrations have taken place in London, Leeds, Brighton, Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow and Edinburgh. The Greek embassy in London was blockaded, and there were tussles with police during a demonstration in Dalston. Internationally, solidarity actions and demos took place in Mexico, the US, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, France, Germany, Belgium, Poland, Russia, Turkey, Bulgaria, Italy, Ireland, Croatia, Finland and Canada. The ruling class is vocal about the threat of the conditions in Greece spreading throughout Europe, and unsurprisingly anarchists are being presented as “dark forces” stirring discontent behind the scenes. But the widespread sympathy for the anarchists amongst youth in Greece has thrust the ideas into the spotlight, and represents the possibility of advancing ideas about creating real freedom and community as viable, current and living ideas

The unrest in Greece isn’t a product of the anarchist movement, though their efforts have been instrumental in spreading and mobilising demonstrations, and in raising the level of militancy. The first protests begun immediately after the killing of Alexandros, with 10,000 people on the streets firebombing police stations and battling riot police only two hours after the murder. The central buildings of the national technical university was occupied that night, along with the faculty of economics a kilometer away. An attack on the exclusive Ermou street that night drew in city centre crowds, and the designer boutiques were quickly demolished. Thanks to the internet and mobile phones, the unrest spread instantly to other cities and towns, snowballing as school students attacked police stations and occupied their schools. Teachers and other education workers struck on Tuesday the 9th, and marched in central Athens. Riots, occupations, demonstrations and attacks on police stations have continued with sustained intensity until now.

The greatest risk to the developing movement in Greece is recuperation. As has been the case innumerable times, and the events of May ’68 are perhaps foremost in the minds of anti-capitalists, general outbursts of class rage and discontent which contain the potential to develop into insurrectionary situations can be diverted into new elections, union campaigning, and a change of colour scheme in the chambers of government. The despair and disaffection which the winding-down of the movement creates, as the world of possibilities which seemed available shrinks down in the return to normality, can result in the forces of reaction becoming more entrenched – France in 1968 is again a pertinent example.

Comrades in Greece are certainly aware of the designs of the left parties to close down the situation, so as better to take charge of it. In a ‘Short presentation of the recent events in Athens through the eyes of some proletarian participants’, the anarcho/council-communists of the group Ta Paida Tis Galarias (the Children of the Gallery) write,

“The so-called Communist Party (KKE), scared by the prospect of a generalized riot, showed once more its counter-revolutionary, reactionary nature. They declared the rioters and looters as secret agents of ‘foreign dark forces’ and called for the ‘people’s movement’ - an imaginary subject of which they are supposedly the rightful representatives - to stay away from the fight. History repeats itself: this party for the last 35 years has been chanting the same monotonous and dangerous mantra about ‘provocateurs’; in 1973 they had done the same against the students and workers who had occupied the National Technical University; a riot that had led to the overthrow of the dictatorship. Once again, they are trying to save the state and restore public order.”

This was undoubtedly also at the forefront of the minds of union leaders during the general strike on Wednesday the 10th, who pontificated against the violence of the rioters and lauded the ‘quiet demonstrators’ who respect the due process of bourgeois politics. Still, the riots continued. The strike was called a month before, as part of a leftist response to the neo-liberal ‘reforms’ on the part of the government (which were begun by the ‘socialist’ party), and was meant to be a propagandistic action rather than a weapon. The current circumstances were unforeseen. Though the General Labour Confederation of Greece and the Civil Servants Confederation attempted to contain their members in static and uneventful rallies, the efforts of school students and anarchists to involve them in the street confrontations succeeded, and a joint march proceeded in Thessaloniki to the Ministry of Macedonia and Thrace, which ended in clashes and the blockade of a city center street.

The strike against the budget and the cuts represented an expression of the discontent which flows through Greek society. The government’s reforms represent a general attack on the working class, and on its share of the social wealth. In a move that will surprise no-one, the crisis is being being used as the rationale for workers tightening their belts. The situation for the working class in Greece is bad enough, but for the young it is even worse. Unemployment is high, and this has been used to attack conditions through widespread casualisation of work and the expansion of a ‘black market’ of undeclared labour. It isn’t unusual for the media there to talk of the 700 euro generation, referring to their monthly income, but for many it is much worse. In a situation which has parallels here, a generalisation of further education has accompanied widespread deskilling, casualisation and unemployment, resulting in a highly educated but low-paid sector of the workforce, with degrees but no work. It is this section of the working class, the young and futureless, who have been at the forefront of events.

This situation is not just about the violence of the police centered here on the outrageous killing of a teenager. It is a manifestation of the class struggle. The efforts of the anarchists, already in a high state of mobilisation as a result of the recent struggles on the part of prisoners and immigrants fell on fertile ground – a generation whose proletarianisation is absolute no matter how many degrees they have, and whose working conditions offer them little stability or security.

So how to move forward? The occupations continue, and have intensified, with a TV station seized and broadcasting anarchist propaganda, and a town hall used to host popular assemblies. But in order to take the struggle forward its class nature must be foregrounded. We can burn innumerable banks and police stations, but the social relation which they represent – capitalism – cannot die by fire. It must be snuffed out by workers removing its lifeblood, the private ownership of the economy, and this can only come about as a result of the struggle of the working class as a whole. This movement is already winning victories in its radicalisation of an entire generation. The schoolkids have required no instruction from the anarchists, and are carrying out occupations, demonstrations and attacks on police stations completely under their own steam. The unrest has extended to cities with no previous radical presence. But how can the movement be generalised beyond generational lines, into a wider struggle of the proletariat? The French youth in their struggles against their conditions in the form of the CPE laws sought to turn the fight into one of class against class, and bring the wider working class into the struggle. They didn’t succeed as they sought to, but they had the correct idea. By the same token, the Greek rioters must take forward their struggle, and seek to build links with the wider working class at every opportunity. A riot of enraged youth against the state has very real limits, and there is the very real possibility that the police are allowing this movement to (literally) burn itself out. On the other hand, a generalised struggle has no limits, and poses the possibility of posing a real challenge to capital. Comrades in Greece are aware of this. The town hall of Agios Dimitrios in the Athenian suburbs has been occupied by anarchists and popular assemblies called, and anarchists are focusing on taking the fight out into the working class districts around the city. This kind of activity has to be pursued. Neither the burning of luxury cars or the politicking of union leaders can take the situation further and deeper. But a broadening of the class struggle can pose a real threat to capital.

Originally published on the blog of the Anarchist Federation