Chronology: September 2000-November 2008
2. And now one slogan that unites us all: cops, pigs, murders!
September 2000: Greek anarchists participate in the Black Bloc during the international mobilisation against the International Monetary Fund meeting in Prague, making connections and creating mutual influence with the anarchist movements of other countries, They subsequently played a major role in the protests against the G8 in Genova, Italy in 2001.
May 2002: Anarchists in Iraklion squat a former hospital, Evangelismos, creating one of the biggest squats in all Crete. The squat plays an important role in spreading anarchist ideas throughout the island in the following years.The squat still exists in 2010.
June 2003: Greek anarchists with comrades from abroad play a major role in the mobilisations, protests, and riots against the European Union Summit in Thessaloniki. During the organisation of these protests, the organisation Anti-authoritarian Current (AK) is created, establishing assemblies and social centres in many major cities of Greece. They also attempt to be a nationwide organisation similar to the earlier Anarchist Union.
2004: The Olympic Games come to Athens, and with them the usual accompaniment of urban renewal, ethnic cleansing, heavy policing, and technologies of social control. The first neighbourhood assemblies arise to defend the areas of Akropolis and Exarchia from the results of the Games, and there are also solidarity campaigns with the hyper-exploited immigrant workers doing most of the construction. However these struggles are not so successful.
March 20, 2004: Anarchists in Thessaloniki squat a huge abandoned factory to create the social center Fabrika Yfanet.
May 1, 2005: AK organises a demonstration of dignity and solidarity for the workers at the shipyards of Perama, an area that is hit with many economic problems.
August 22-28, 2005: Anarchists in Bulgaria and Greece organise a No Border Camp on both sides of the border, including an attack on a detention facility that is later closed down. Some immigrants held there are liberated during the attack.
2006-2007: Students across Greece occupy their universities and create a major movement against the restructuring of higher education under the European Union's Plan Bolonya. Despite the strong resistance, the restructuring was passed into law in March 2007, though the politicians had to do it with the smell of tear gas in the air and the sound of fireworks exploding outside the front door of Parliament. However, the students did not give up their struggle and this pressure has prevented the university administrations from implementing the legal changes.
23 April 2007: After imprisoned anarchist bank robber Yiannis Dimitrakis is beaten by prison guards, other prisoners riot in solidarity in Malandrinos prison and subsequently in all major prisons in the country Outside the prisons there are several solidarity actions, including anarchist groups on motorcycles attacking police stations with molotov cocktails.
August 2007: Major forest fires break out across Greece in a coordinated way burning huge swaths of forest and killing dozens of people. Many Greeks realise that these fires are set by developers who want to clear land for construction, as Greek law prohibits construction in forested areas. More than 5,000 people from a diversity of economic classes and cultural backgrounds gather outside Parliament to shout at all the political parties,"kick them all out!"
August 18, 2007: In Thessaloniki, Nigerian immigrant Tony Onoya dies after a run—in with police who had previously beat him up. Officially he died falling off a balcony while trying to escape, but immigrant eyewitnesses say he was pushed. Subsequently hundreds of Nigerians and other immigrants, joined by local anarchists and anti-authoritarians, gather and riot.
Januury 30, 2008: Immigrants along with AK Patras and the Network for the Defence of Immigrants organise a protest that brings together over 1,500 immigrants, mostly Afghans, calling for asylum and respect for their human rights.
February 2, 2008: About sixty members of the Greek neo-nazi group Golden Dawn attempt to march in Athens. They are attacked by 400 anarchists and extreme leftists, but the police move in to protect the fascists and attack the anarchists. During the resulting riot, fascists and riot police work together on the streets to fight against anarchists. The collaboration is caught on video and aired widely, proving to Greek society the link between the police and the fascists. The same day; about ten anarchists on motorbike attack an Athens police station with molotovs, and the next day about twenty hooded anarchists on foot throw molotovs at a group of riot police guarding the Socialist Party offices in Athens.
June 2008: Wealthy Greek industrialist Giorgos Mylonas is kidnapped after he made a comment that Greek workers would simply have to tighten their belts to survive new austerity measures. His wife pays twelve million euros for his release. In their communiqué the kidnappers say that workers are kidnapped and ransomed every day of their lives. It is later learned that the four kidnappers include anarchists Polikarpos Georgiadis and Vaggelis Hrisohoides, along with legendary outlaw Vassilis Palaiokostas, who with his brother Nikos has been carrying out robberies and prison breaks for decades.
August 29-31. 2008: Anti-authoritarians and people from the far Left hold a No Border Camp in Patras, demonstrating in solidarity with the immigrants in the port city, which is a common entry point to Italy and the rest of Europe.
November 2008: Eight thousand prisoners all across Greece participate in a hunger strike, pressing sixteen demands. Anti-authoritarians inside and outside the prison strongly support the struggle. The prisoners win the majority of their demands.
December 5, 2008: Normalcy reigns. No one predicts anything out of the ordinary. Horoscopes call for more of the same.
Exarchia Square and the neighbourhood assemblies
Argiris: A long time anarchist activist from Athens
So it was like this. We were sitting in a house, something like four hundred meters away from Exarchia Square. This was around June, 2003. It was like 2:30 in the afternoon, we were drinking coffee and smoking the first joint of the day. And suddenly they called us on the telephone. Our friend was in the square, she said to us that there were some workers on the square, and some machines, construction machines, and it was looking like they wanted to begin construction on the square, in the general spirit of construction for the Olympic Games. At that period there was gentrification in all the city for the Olympics. So immediately we understood that our time had come to face this problem in the square. The funniest thing I remember is that immediately from the moment we hung up the telephone, though we were just four people in the middle of a big city, we had a natural, powerful feeling that we could stop all the Mayor's construction projects by ourselves. That afternoon i felt this passionate enthusiasm that had no rationality, just this feeling of power and commitment. Because we decided that would never happen, it would never happen for sure. We were sure. There were four of us walking to the square and I felt like I belonged to an army.
It was like we were carrying a monster with us, and this monster was the reputation, the mythology of the anarchist movement in general. We carried with us all the power of all the actions that had come before us. We were not just four people, we were 2,000 people.
And so when we arrived there, we went directly to the workers and we asked, "What are you doing here? Who is responsible for this work?"
They say, "We don't know, we don't know", but they pointed out this fat guy in the café drinking a frappe and overseeing the work. He was in charge. And as we went to speak to this man, we saw that they had already made a hole, 1.5 metres deep, 2 metres wide. So we go to this man and we ask him, "Why are you here? What do you want to do?"
"They've made a plan for big changes to the square", he said. The planning is already decided. He's not responsible for these decisions but he's responsible for finishing the construction. And we ask him very politely, "What is the plan, what will the square look like?"
He said they would throw away the statue, the classical statue in the middle of the square with the ancient god Eros. The statue was symbolic for the punks and it was something like a guardian angel for the junkies who hung out there. They write graffiti on it, sticking up posters or announcements. It is the symbolic centre of the square.
We're surprised, so we ask if he's sure they were going to remove the statue.
He says, "Yes, all the middle of the square will be taken up by a pool, with a fountain."
The benches of the square were old, falling apart, so we asked about the benches, will they put in new benches?
"No, we're going to rip it all out and put in new things."
"What kind of new things?"
"We will put in a cement platform for the people to sit on."
"How is it possible for old people to sit on this cement thing? No one will come to sit."
"It doesn't matter, normal people don't hang out here. I don't care what you say, it's already planned."
So we say to him, "You stay here and wait, just see what happens."
All that afternoon, there were many people like us calling each other and talking about this. And through this, an assembly for Exarchia Square was called. So next afternoon, spreading the word by phone or word of mouth, about 400 people gathered. Half of them were inhabitants of the area, and half were anarchist who hung out at the square. And then we went and we threw all the construction machines in this hole, destroyed them, we told the workers that the people of the square would not allow them to work here, we would not allow them to build a metal barrier around the square to hide the construction from the public view. And we said that whatever construction will happen in the future, the locals will decide the design, and any construction will happen in the public view. Out of this struggle the assembly of the "Initiative of Exarchia residents" was born, and this assembly continues today, playing an important role in resisting the police presence in the neighbourhood.
Because of this organised struggle, the construction stopped for many months, and in the period that followed, the representatives from the assembly of Exarchia went to the construction company and asked about the planning. In the beginning, the company said that because they were a private company they didn't have any obligation to show us the plans. So the assembly decided they didn't have to allow any construction, and that only if the construction company accepts the architectural ideas of the assembly would any construction be allowed to happen. So the assembly prepared plans, which included an expansion of the green area of the square, to add more trees and bushes, keep the statue, not put in the fountain, and they would install new high-quality benches.
In the first months, the mayor of the city sent riot police to guard the construction site. But because of the inhabitants' negation of the plan, the riot police could not save the construction project. They couldn't enforce it themselves. And after one month the riot police left, because every time they went away for a moment, we destroyed the machines and the metal construction barriers. Three times this happened. So the works stopped. And they stopped for almost one year. And it was very funny because during that period, there was no cement, the construction workers had taken away all the paving stones to prepare the construction. Suddenly Exarchia Square was bare earth. So in the meantime we enjoyed this, we put a volleyball net and announced that we now had a beach in the square.
To defend the square, the anarcho-punks stayed there. All around the square all different sorts of people regularly gathered, but in the middle of the square it was the anarcho-punks. This lasted for almost one year, the period of the beach in the park.
Due to all these factors, the construction company realised they had to accept the planning of the inhabitants' assembly, and they announced their concession. As this was the period of the reconstruction around the Acropolis, for the Olympics, this was when the first two neighbourhood assemblies started. Philopapou, around the Acropolis, was the first one, and then the assembly of the inhabitants of Exarchia. Both of these assemblies were successful in stopping construction projects and stopping gentrification. The spirit of these assemblies produced many other neighbourhood assemblies in other parts of Athens and other cities throughout Greece.
This was the beginning of a new period in the anarchist movement, the meeting of the powerful direct action of the anarchists with the interests and the hopes of the inhabitants, their dreams for their own neighbourhood. The inhabitants felt this confluence between their dreams and the power of the direct actions of the insurrectionist anarchists, that it was good.
Do you join the Party to fuck or do you fuck to join the Party?
Iulia: A participant in the queer and anarchist movements
There’s a saying that sums up the gender dynamics on the Left: Do you join the party to fuck or do you fuck to join the party? It’s better with the anarchists but there are still problems. I flirt with the anarchists, I feel much closer to them, but I don’t want to label myself. Mostly I participate in local things, projects that are happening in my immediate area. I do a lot of art.
Generally you could say that in Greece there is quite a conservative logic. The feminist movement in Greece in the ’80s had visibility they had some successes, but then they disappeared or became part of the mainstream political scene, merging with the Socialist Party or others, So I don’t think there is a tradition for gender politics.I think in revolutionary terms it was always quite closed, never open to other issues. The anarchist idea of freedom is very big, very open, and it doesn’t have room for tendencies within it that have a limited focus.
I prefer to say that I’m an anarchist than to say that I’m a feminist. The problem is very philosophical, between the partial and the total. If I protest for my partial freedom, as a woman, I would focus on being able to get a good job, receiving welfare from the State when I have a baby That would be my partial freedom, and it would be completely compatible with capitalism. But I’m against identity politics because it carries a greater danger of entering into mainstream politics. I don’t think that you should rely on the State for partial freedom. This is vain, at the end of the day because you don’t change the social relations.You just say you want a better position within the existing framework.
But when you strive for total freedom, you need to have the whole picture in your head, and then you can’t rely on the State or coexist with capitalism in order to win just a part of that freedom, because by doing so you would negate your total freedom. However, you also have to leave room for all the individual parts within your conception of freedom. Otherwise you become apathetic to women, to workers, you just say I’m an anarchist and that’s that.You have to synthesise and analyse how it would work, understand all the different kinds of oppression so you can understand the totality of freedom. You have to understand how it works. You can’t just have a god of freedom, you can’t believe in freedom generally or abstractly.
I don’t want to generalise and say that the leftists or the anarchists are misogynistic, but I want to say there is a tendency that overshadows the politics of gays and lesbians and their struggles don’t become visible. That’s why I think it’s quite closed. You have this ideology of revolution and freedom, you go out and smash things out of anger, but you don’t actually look for ways to get there.
Lots of anarchists don’t question what is considered to be normal. We have romantic couples that control each other with jealousy or maybe I take on the role of the girlfriend and have very mainstream ideas of how I should behave. Together we fight for revolution but within each of us we sustain norms that are bourgeois. If I go out to participate in the struggle but then I come back and on my couch I’m doing the same things as everyone else, there is no revolution. People carry these norms with them subconsciously and if they don’t work on changing themselves internally they’ll sabotage whatever revolution they make. But if we work on our relationships then we can go beyond simple opposition to the State.
The anarchist movement in Greece is a revolutionary subject group. But this umbrella of the anarchist movement, which is a powerful thing, creates the trap of making people suspicious of anyone who doesn’t wear the label of anarchist. So it’s not easy to get access, and also not easy to introduce new lines of politics. So the subject group can become a bit sexist. And the anarchist movement here excludes aesthetic matters, cultural matters, spiritual matters. There is a very straightforward political identity they want to carry and okay theoretically it’s very libertarian, but practically their personal relations are the same, they’re mainstream and bourgeois. In terms of gender dynamics, in my experience it's common to create relationships that don’t go beyond normality. You don’t risk making it revolutionary, you don’t create any openness. But when you risk it you find out you had been living in a relationship with the same old jealousies and forms of control, without a spirit of friendship or solidarity. I’m not saying the anarchists should be blamed, they just sustain an unconscious function. It’s normality.
But it’s difficult if we don't have anything concrete to propose. It starts on a very small scale, dealing with the relations between us. That’s why I advocate having an inward focus.
I had a friend who wanted to do a belly dance performance at Villa Amalias [an anarcho-punk squat], and they rejected the idea as misogynist. But for her it was an art form, it was spiritual, and it’s strange how they can turn it around and tell you that you can’t do certain things with your body Taking things out of context, that’s queer to me. But the belly dancing wasn’t allowed to be put in a new context.
You can see that the flows are a bit blocked. At the assemblies they’ll talk for three hours about the ideas and the theory and then when it comes to the organisation, everybody splits in groups, and this makes me really angry; because the important thing is the organisation. If everybody is in small groups specialising in what we are going to organise, then what are we doing at the general assemblies, just discussing the idea of freedom? And to me that’s where you see some of these macho dynamics, macho in the sense of having leaders.
If we talk about desire - I’m reading Deleuze now - with desire what’s necessary is that it functions not that it is analysed. So if you go to an assembly and don't discuss how it’s going to function, that’s problematic for me. For three hours everybody says the same thing. In Greece we don’t have a pragmatic culture and for me that reflects the gender relations. You have the same structure, the abstract specialists, after a while it’s like a revolutionary bureaucracy. And yet everything still happened in December so I don't want to dismiss it, but there’s also a problem because everything is being carried out by groups that are quite closed.
The other thing that becomes obvious, because they are not open to spiritual, cultural, or aesthetic matters, the idea of violence is a holy thing for the anarchists. You have to be violent in a way and that excludes a lot of things. I think that's very uncultivated, sometimes it’s not very strategic and leads to people doing stupid things without taking precautions just to prove that they can do it.
If we suppose that the anarchists in Greece are sexist I would say that it has to do with their relationship to violence in a way that excludes other activities that are more feminine in quotation marks. They have to be heroic and if they’re not they’re not important in the movement. It’s this structure of small factions each with their own leader or face, a persona, and I don’t like that. It’s a patriarchal structure. Greek society is quite patriarchal and we carry these structures into our own groups as well.
As for valuing masculine labour over feminine labour, we lack the organisation in which the importance of feminine labour becomes obvious. The heroic acts are more important; that's the Only narrative we have, and so the feminine labour is not valued. I think that's why we don't have may squats in Greece, because it requires organisation. But we're getting more and more squats.
The heroic aspect is consumed in the solidarity as well. I don't like to say this because you have to support the people when they go to prison, but everything else seems to stop after a while. In the years before December, all the focus was going to supporting the heroes and not to the other aspects of the struggle.
The raves and free spaces is where the collective consciousness is coming together
J.: A libertarian freethinker and organiser of underground happenings since the late '80s
Let’s say we have three different phases in the anarchist movement. The first phase was in the ’80s, and it was characterised by Eastern philosophies, Western philosophies, psychedelic views, all combined and non-puritan. It was not differentiated. But this all changed in the mid-90s when the movement Italianised, so to speak. It began to copy the Italian model, to differentiate itself and distance itself from its cultural aspects, saying the only way to be effective was to be militant. It adopted a more objective and materialistic view. The major influences during the ’90s were the Italian autonomia, to a lesser extent things like Green Anarchy from the American movement, and very much so the Situationist International and the new formulation of metropolis, the capitalistic centres as metropolis, the places where the spectacle is more actively formulated. The German underground and punk rock also had an influence, and these were not so tolerant of other approaches. In the ’80s it was easier to speak together about Proudhon or the Doors or the psychedelic communes. In the ’90s there were two currents. The prominent one was very materialistic and rational, based on Western anarchist thinkers. The second one, very much a minority had to do with spirituality and seeking utopias. However this second current has larger reflections in the rest of society There are lots of people moving in this alternative way but they move in small groups, they are not creating big congregations or assemblies like the first current.
The third phase - that led to December - is that there are so many people sharing libertarian ideas, with a majority of militant thinking and a minority with a spiritual and cultural focus. When everyone was trying to do the best from their own view and all of this together brought December.
The second current in the ’90s, based in spirituality arose mainly through the neo-hippy culture that came from abroad in rave parties or Rainbow Gatherings. It was connected with Reclaim the Streets from the UK. In the Greek version thereof, there was unity between the two factions, but it didn’t last for long. Not because of the repression of the State but because of the inner contradictions of this union. One side thought that the other side was just lifestyle anarchists losing themselves in spirituality focusing on meditation rather than changing the system. So there was a break, slowly but surely Because of this, a big part of the Greek anarchist movement is very puritan in its attitude. Even though they are anarchists they can easily remind you of the Communists. They’re very strict, not very flexible. But all these contradictions is what makes the movement so strong, somehow. Because in the times of great social unrest all these people came together and acted together before they broke up again into different pieces.
Spirituality is not important for the revolutionary struggle, spirituality is important for changing how you view the world. If you change that it’s very difficult for you to be repressed. If you are a spiritual person and connect with your inner consciousness, it comes naturally that you want to be there for other people.You feel love for them, you want them to be okay you don’t want them to have to live in a society that is repressing them so much. Spirituality also makes you effective in what you are doing. It gives you a clear mind, unaffected by hatred. A mind that is ready to act without being affected by the poisonous surroundings that necessitate the actions. Spirituality allows you to act freely so that you are no longer a slave, neither from the outside nor from your inner complexities. Since you understand that the great game of existence surpasses any higher ideology you are no longer definable, you are someone who changes all the time.
In the first current hate is sovereign, hatred of the structures of the system. For people who develop their spirituality hatred is not valid at all, it’s poisonous. But this doesn’t mean that they’re passive. This means that they act without hate but they are still there when they need to shout or fight. But they have a clear view. They understand that the real enemy is not the Other, but the ignorance that distorts our relationships.
Most of us in this second current are pacifists. But if the last resort is to fight, here the idea is that we fight. But only if it is the last option, if it is to protect yourself or to save the person beside you who is getting beaten. Only then. We are not ideologising violence, and neither are we ideologising pacifism. That's very important. Because you cannot stay peaceful when someone next to you is being attacked.You fight but the important thing is that you are not feeling hatred.
How do you feel about spirituality accommodating a bourgeois lifestyle?
We hate that! We are completely against that idea, we don’t accept it as real spirituality It’s a way of drugging yourself. Spirituality is about developing strong philosophical systems that work slowly; or sometimes more quickly that bring you to a higher consciousness. It has nothing to do with beads and new age shops and all this bullshit coming from the California ideology. We are against this stuff in the same way that we are against the ideologising of hatred in the libertarian movement. That’s a very important difference you can see between Greece and the Anglo-Saxon world. None of us see spirituality as something you can buy. Most of us really are searchers, free- thinkers. We don’t fit into Murray Bookchin’s ideas of lifestyle anarchism. Actually we don’t like his ideas. He was great in the ’70s but after time he just wanted to make the whole movement adhere to his ideas, eventually he became just an old fart. Anything that was outside of his narrow idea of anarchism had to be placed inside a single term and abolished. We are against Bookchin, and new age, and lifestyle. We are not even post-modern. We can take ideas from Baudrillard and the rest but we use them in our own way. Anyway postmodernism is just another Western idea, it’s not a global idea, It’s part of the myth and ideology of the West.
People outside the movement are very affected by the connection of spirituality and libertarian ideas. Especially the young people are experimenting with new ways of living. Some move out of the cities, some go travelling, some of them find ways to travel inside their own neighbourhoods and societies. This is not centralised, and it doesn’t follow the approach of the main current in the anarchist movement. These people are much more loose and cool. But for example in December all of them were in the streets. They were in the councils, in the streets, in the riots, everywhere. Somehow December surpassed the classical anarchist groups in Greece.
The raves and free spaces form a part of the network where the new collective consciousness is coming together. People are making friendships, using music to express themselves, using psychedelics, or not. Many people don’t use any psychedelics at all, but it’s just one way to get an ecstatic view of the world. The rave culture brought many people back in touch with nature, with free love and free thinking. Of course there were some people inside this subculture who were there for business but that was a minority. Most people were there for the sacred atmosphere that was being developed inside these parties. Two generations came together and they were ready to destroy the apathy. Most of the people at these parties were pacifists, though there was always a strong minority that were into rioting, which is why many of these rave parties ended in riots. People at the parties wanted to keep the cops out, so they would attack them, and you would get riots lasting all night. In Greece the police don't attack the parties of the underground so much because they are afraid of the counter-attack. They prefer to attack the parties of the pacifists. There were many attacks against them and no one fought back. This is how they destroyed the outdoor rave scene in the ’90s. People were organising raves in the forests and the mountains, but they kept getting attacked. This didn’t happen to the parties in the metropolis or the parties organised by anarchists, because these people were ready to fight. And after the riots the parties didn’t stop, they continued the whole time. The party was the source of the riot and something for it to melt back into.
Also in the indie rock scene, there have been massive riots at concerts. It’s very important to note that in the places where these festivals took place there was no asylum, like there is in the universities. The concerts were not held in the universities, but usually in Pedion Areos Park in the centre of Athens. In the last eighteen years in Athens at least eight major riots started from concerts there, and even though they had no asylum, police were only able to break up the concerts three of those times.
In Thessaloniki in 2003 there were seven days of parties organised by Void Network, leading up until the night of the big riots against the European Union summit. There were two different squats inside the campus, one led by the Black Bloc and the other by an anti-authoritarian coalition. The parties took place between these two occupations, and they kept going constantly These were great moments. I think they prepared people for the big demonstrations and the major riots that took place. It was a very unique space for new connections and new ideas. For me this was much more important than the demonstration itself. It was a great union between the neo-hippies and the people who are all about barricades. There were many differences, and much arguing, but in the end they all came together.
There was a party in September 2006 at the Polytechnic. It turned into a massive riot with 7,000 people. There were artists from all over Europe there, playing for free. The riots started around two in the morning and kept going until seven or eight. The police would shoot tear gas and people would scatter but then come back together. This whole time the party never stopped. People would fight the police around the campus and go back to the party. There was one DJ from Germany who said it was a great moment for the rave scene. He put his T-shirt around his face and went back on stage to keep spinning.
In late 2001 there was a major party in Propilea, in front of the University Rectorate in the centre of Athens. Void Network occupied the place for twenty-four hours. All the tribes came together, there were 5,000 people, 6,000 people, blocking the streets, dancing. The riot police surrounded us but they couldn’t do anything, because that plaza is protected by the asylum. This was a very significant event, all these people occupying part of the city, dancing together, writing slogans on the wall. In the morning we had taken over the area of a major metro station, Panepistimio. Workers and other people were coming by and seeing this scene and they couldn't understand how it could happen, it was too far outside their reality. And this is the most important thing, creating holes in reality to show people that we can create anything we desire, surpassing these blocks in the general consciousness of society It was really good. For me this party summarises the whole idea of the multidimensional movement.
Lefteria ston Yiannis Dimitraki!!!
In the afternoon of January 16, 2006, there was an armed attack on the National Bank of Greece in central Athens. After a crossfire with two special unit police officers, one of the participants, Yiannis Dimitrakis, was seriously injured by three shots from the police in different parts of his body. The other four participants escaped with about $50,000, although one of them was also injured. After spending some months in different hospitals during his recovery he was transferred to the Korydallos prison of Athens.
In another self-parody of the Greek justice system he was accused of seven robberies and multiple counts of attempted homicide, with the application of the anti-terrorist law. This was not the first time anarchists in Greece have gotten trumped up charges. Subsequently anarchists all over Greece painted walls with the phrase, “Lefteria ston Yiannis Dimitraki!" Freedom for Yiannis Dimitrakis!
This is the letter that he sent out on June 23, 2007.
This letter is my first attempt to communicate and comment on what happened after the robbery of the Greek National Bank in the centre of Athens on January 16, 2006. Before speaking about the actual events I would like to mention some things in respect to the motivations behind the action and the significance they have for me.
I consider that today society is like a train on a track headed for total dehumanisation. We are the motor that powers the train, its engine, its passengers, and its wheels. The driver has the cruel face of capitalism and the co-pilot is the lazy faceless State. The tracks are not made of rose petals, they are made of blood and corpses, bodies solitary or piled in mounds, of people who wanted to resist or change that frenetic course.
They are many: insubordinates, rebels, leftists, anti-authoritarians and anarchists; their names fill the history of this journey. I place myself between these last two categories. In agreement with my conscience and my vision of the world, what I clearly discern is that this society depends only on violence, exploitation, and oppression. A society whose purpose is the loss of human dignity in all its signs and senses. This is something we all experience every day: forced to act through the state institutions or work under a boss who exploits us.
Employment and work: words that in reality signify enslavement and prostration. Work and the added value are columns of the actual economy while the conditions in which work takes place confirm that people are treated like expendable products, like modern slaves. We see workers rotting from diseases caused by exposure to toxic substances in the workplace; they are dying in one way or another in the temples constructed by the capitalists. They have abandoned their will, their lives and their spontaneity essential characteristics of a free person. They are working long hours for scraps. To cover the majority of their basic necessities a person is obligated to mortgage everything they have to those cold oppressors called banks and under the weight of that financial responsibility they begin to show signs of submission and servitude. If they can’t pay their debts they are driven until they crack; and they end up committing suicide or humbling themselves in public in the worst forms. In order to perpetuate themselves, the State and Capital are today constructing a system that sacrifices human life on the altar of profit. And as was said before, one of the principal partners are the banks, which are nothing more than financial sharks that lend to those who will drop to their knees. The banks are directly or indirectly guilty for the plunder of the population. Taking all this into consideration we can understand Brecht’s character Maki when he asks:"What is a bank robbery in comparison to the establishment of the bank?"
I want to take into consideration my actions of resistance at a personal level and an external level. All the people who know me in person know that I did everything I could to determine the conditions and quality of my life. I rejected work as a unity of mass production, another wheel of the train. I wanted to attack the bank monstrosity knowing that I couldn’t cause it that much damage. Choosing a dignified way of living, I decided to rob a bank. I consider this action, like many others, revolutionary. In all honesty I want to admit that I intended to steal the money for myself. But at the same time, as an anarchist I wanted to show support to the actions and contribute to the necessities of the movement. What I want to say is that not every anarchist has to be a bank robber nor is every worker a slave.
I started to tell my story when I was lying on the ground, injured by police bullets, unable to escape the hot embrace of the State. Despite everything, I imagine it was an impressive image, but at the same time an example for anyone who wants to involve themselves in similar actions: a crowd of blue-uniformed hunters, encircling me, the injured captive, lovingly kicking me and calling out: "We have fucked you! You’re not that big now son of a bitch!" My back was exposed and I couldn’t move nor breathe because of the bullets in my lung, liver, and elbow.
I speak about this without bitterness, I have no lament nor delusion because I didn’t expect any better treatment from my enemies. Lesser criminals than I have received worse treatment.While I was being attended in the general hospital of Athens I experienced the violation of every human right. The first time my parents came to visit me they put an armed policeman between us, denying even one intimate moment with my family and I couldn’t open my mouth because of the drugs they gave me in the ICU. Later, amidst the fog of pain and drugs I realised that without permission from the hospital the police had entered my room to surveil me at all times. But I would like to thank all the hospital staff who took care of me despite their political views, and also for resisting the pressure from the authorities. The boss of the ICU informed me about my rights. He also helped me out when the clever prosecutor Diotis came. He kicked him out of the room saying he couldn’t interrogate me in that condition, and I heard Diotis saying: “Clearly I have respect for the condition this guy is in, otherwise I would have removed his breathing tubes or bumped the pressure up to 50..." At that moment I understood that had the hospital personnel not been protecting me I would have had to face the infamous techniques of Diotis, carried out in many past interrogations.
After that incident the conditions of my detention got worse. I was transferred to another wing where there were always two civil cops in the room with me and two regular cops outside. Every thirty minutes another policeman came to monitor the situation and there were five or six more in the waiting room. Because of that I couldn’t sleep for three or four days. I protested to the director and he responded that since I was a prisoner they could decide how to treat me to prevent a suicide attempt. They falsified the doctor’s report so they could ship me to prison sooner.
Now the prosecutor has tried to charge another person with the same crime as me, just because we are part of the same anarchist scene. It's the classic scenario concocted between the police and journalists. They invented a story about an armed group of ten to fifteen people, all anonymous so they could accuse a lot more people, and then they accuse this mysterious group of six more bank robberies supposedly committed to fund anarchist groups. The end of the story is that I find myself accused of seven bank robberies, attempted homicide, and stealing money; all under the anti-terrorist law. That the state has prefabricated techniques to win convictions and destroy people’s reputations in a mediatic parody is nothing new.
Finally I want to say to all those who are planning our physical, ethical, and political annihilation: it’s not important what dirty techniques you use, it’s not important if you hunt us or beat us down, you will never destroy or domesticate us, because it is honourable to rebel. We will not lower our heads in submission.
I want to thank all of those who are showing solidarity knowing how difficult my case is.
The Permanent Crisis in Education: On Some Recent Struggles in Greece - TPTG
A detailed look at the strikes and occupations by teachers, students and parents in 2006-7 in response to neo-liberal policies being imposed on the Greek educational system.
Capitalist development in Greece during the 60's meant the growth of the secondary sector, namely construction and manufacturing (mainly based on the low cost of labour and not on big investments in fixed capital), the corresponding influx of peasants in the towns and the erosion of local subsistence economies. Gradually, this development created the need for a more skilled and diversified labour power. As a consequence, public education expanded, basic education became obligatory and the population of university students started to rise. Wildcat strikes were on the daily agenda, campaigns on welfare, housing or local issues were organized in almost every neighborhood. This was also the time when struggles for a "free and public education" began.
Reformist class struggles were back on the agenda after the fall of the dictatorship (1974) and education –in particular university education– became the main social climbing "mechanism" since the 70's in Greece, as was the case in the advanced capitalist countries two decades earlier. Students of humble origin, coming from peasant or working class families, could find a permanent post in the public sector or a relatively secure job in the private sector if they possessed a university diploma (and furthermore even acquire a managerial position or set up their own successful small enterprises, especially in the construction sector). Thus, public university has become one of the most important institutions for the integration and satisfaction of "social expectations", with constantly increasing costs for the state budget.
The integration of "popular" demands helped the legitimization of the exploitative capitalist relations, which is the one of the two basic functions of the modern democratic capitalist state –its other function being to provide for the smooth course of capitalist accumulation, through the expanded reproduction of both labour power and capital. But class struggles during the 70's had the consequence that in the beginning of the 80's the state started to have great difficulties in exercising these two complementary but contradictory functions in a satisfactory way. “Social expectations” haven’t been reduced even after the introduction of neoliberal policies in the 90's that aimed to resolve this contradiction through the deepening of divisions inside the working class. This is proved by the constant reappearance of struggles in the education sector.
What follows is the translation of parts of texts we wrote during the last two years. These texts were an attempt at a theoretical analysis of the crisis of the educational system, i.e. the neoliberal restructuring process taking place for years now and the struggles against it. Apart from the university student occupations, another recent struggle that inspired these texts was the six-weeks strike of the primary school teachers in the autumn 2006. Its duration and demands and the fact that some of us participated in this strike urged us to try to analyze it in the general context of the education crisis.
Although primary school teachers in Greece haven’t yet felt the pressure of an alienating, standardized and under constant evaluation labour process –like in the U.K. for example– nonetheless there is a growing tendency to make school courses more and more intensive. Curriculums tend to become stricter, new teaching methods have been introduced and, quite recently, new textbooks were imposed on teachers and students with a lot more and more difficult material than previously. The teachers’ gradual loss of control over the teaching process is accompanied with the slow entry of sponsor companies selling educational programmes. On top of all these, there has been an increasing tendency of cutting down education costs, as a part of a general policy of holding public expenses down.
TEN YEARS AFTER
As we mentioned before, education, as the main capitalist institution that shapes, qualifies and allocates the labour-power commodity in a continuously developing capitalist division of labour, has been expanding in terms of student population since the 60's in Greece. This development has given rise to new "popular" demands, expectations, opportunities of social mobility and individual "successes". It has also led to the accumulation of tensions and contradictions, frustrations and individual "failures" (also called "failures of the schooling system"). Back in 1998, we had participated in the movement against the previous attempt of the state at an education reform that went under the jarring name of "Act 2525". At that time, in the 7th issue of our journal we wrote that:
"The democratization of education that caused a mass production of expectations (and a corresponding temporary rise in civil servant and petit-bourgeois strata in the 70's and the 80's, e.g. in 1982 68.7 % of university graduates worked in the public sector) created an inevitable structural crisis in the hierarchical division of labour and a crisis of discipline and meaning in school; in other words, a crisis of legitimacy that hard hit state education".
Ten years after, we are obliged to say that this crisis …keeps going on. No matter what you call this crisis –a "crisis of legitimacy", a "crisis in the selective-allocating role of education", a "crisis of expectations" or a "crisis in the correspondence of qualifications to career opportunities"– the truth is that education has been seriously crisis ridden and it stands to reason that this situation will be maintained in the next years.
It is precisely the fact that state education is responsible for fulfilling a wide range of functions with great social importance that dooms it to be in a constant state of crisis. To the extent that it has appropriated and integrated functions which historically were performed by other social institutions (the family, the working class community, the workshop, the corporation), all social conflicts and contradictions manifest themselves in its terrain. Socialization is not confined to the family alone, apprenticeship as a means of imparting knowledge has almost ceased to exist as the task of the guild and individual capitalists do not have the right to organize the basic education of their workforce. As the role of state education is expanding, it is transformed inevitably into a terrain of social struggle, a terrain of class demands and mobilizations (and often, at the level of everyday life, of harsh competition among individuals). Furthermore, the fact that all these conflicts are taking place in the sphere of educational institutions makes them appear as aspects of an educational crisis and not of a crisis of class exploitative relations. From this standpoint, even if modern school has lost its monopoly in the impartment and management of knowledge confronting powerful, and perhaps more alluring, competitors such as the mass media and the Internet, none the less it retains entirely its social role (and there is no sign that it can be replaced by any other social institutions). On the one hand it is used by the capitalist state as an instrument for the legitimization and reproduction of class relations, on the other hand it is used by the working class as an instrument for the mitigation of divisions and selection. Both of these two antagonistic objectives aim at the root of the reproduction of capitalist social relations.
The neoliberal attempts to restructure education that took place a decade ago in Greece had been opposed by students’, pupils’ and teachers’ movements. In the aforementioned article, we had tried to give a theoretical account of this (multiple and, more or less, contradictory) response. One of our faults was that we took for granted that the capitalist state would be capable of weathering its crisis. By that time, the plan of the state to weather the crisis was visible; none the less it remained just a plan. Probing into its details, we referred to the various “educational programs that relate the EC educational directives to a postfordist organization of labour and align job qualifications with educational qualifications in order to train the future multifunctional worker-collaborator, who sees herself as a user/consumer of technological products and services...” We also mentioned the role of
"decentralization that is aiming not only at the fragmentation of resistance and social demands but also at the transfer of the education costs to the local communities, as well as at the strengthening of the "autonomy" of the school unit, as a unit of "self-evaluating, collaborating" teaching staff that self-manages the school (maybe with the help of financial sponsors) –possibly in competition to other units". Finally, we referred to the transformation of the teacher’s identity from that of a state "functionary" –"a word that is rarely used today, while a few years before it indicated a prestigious identity and an obsolete social-democratic, "humanitarian" self-perception" –to that of a "professional".
In the case of the tertiary education, we had thought that the attempt to deepen the separation between workers with low qualifications and graduates of universities, as well as between graduates with low and average qualifications and graduates with high qualifications would have been successful. But one shouldn’t take at face value the neoliberal propaganda in its attempt to come through the contradictions inherited from the period of social-democracy. It’s true that in the beginning, our adversaries gained several victories and, what’s more, quite material ones, when they passed Act 2525 in 1997: the abolition of the teachers’ list of seniority meant that there began an era when "lifelong training" and precarity would be enforced through the ideology of "meritocracy" and competition, replacing a status quo of formal equality in labour relations; in the case of the secondary education, selection became more intensive with the creation of the new Comprehensive High School on the one hand and the "TEE" (technical institutes) on the other; in the case of the universities the state attempted to establish "lifelong training" through new training programmes (called "PSE") imposing tuition fees.
However, there followed a series of open struggles: the movement of the unemployed teachers and the riots outside examination centers against the abolition of the above mentioned list of seniority; the occupations of secondary schools and universities by pupils and students later that year. There were, also, several invisible reactions and refusals expressed by students, teachers and parents that whittled away the examinational monstrosity of the Comprehensive High School. The result was a relative relaxation of the selective process and a bridging of the separation between the "elite" entering the tertiary education and the "trash" graduating from the technical institutes. Furthermore, the "PSE" university programs were never really implemented and the initial plan for the abolition of the teachers’ list of seniority was modified through the creation of a complex appointment system that was constituted of various lists that bypassed the provisions of the 1997 Act.
Due to class struggles, the use of EC money for setting up new university departments in the small towns in order to strengthen local revenues, and the formation and state management of a pool of reserve, complex and cheap labour power for the tertiary sector, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of students in higher education. In 1993, only 26.7 percent of greek citizens in an age between 18 and 21 years followed higher education. In 2004, this number had risen to 60.3 percent.
In order to avoid a fiscal crisis, state expenditure on education as a proportion of the GNP remained at the same levels in the last 15 years (fluctuating between 3.5 and 4 percent).
But in order to diminish “social expectations”, the state had to do something more. So it changed its education strategy towards a purer neoliberal agenda. The first signs of this change of direction have appeared since the beginning of this decade. Generally, this reorientation consists of two simple formulas: changes in the running of the education system (or at least a gradual movement to that direction) and inadequate state funding of education. The implementation of the first formula is visible for the time being in primary and secondary education only in the planned cooperation between the public and the private sector in the construction and joint running of the new school buildings. It will probably be manifested in the future in the appearance of companies sponsoring primary and secondary schools, asserting this way their right to participate in the training of their future labour force. The revision of article 16 of the Greek constitution (more on this later) is also part of the same process, with regard to the universities. The reduction of public spending for the education sector is a constant characteristic of neoliberal policies. Nevertheless, it is a contradictory one condemned to create more problems than those it is supposed to solve. On the one hand, it helps the state to hold down its expenses and accelerate the process of education restructuring, claiming that it is a "social demand". On the other hand, individual capitalists (whether we refer to future sponsors of primary education or owners of private universities) rightfully have the bad reputation of being unable to go beyond their individual interests and place themselves at the disposal of the general interests of capitalist accumulation. In other words, because of their priorities an enterprise or even a sector cannot substitute the functions that historically have been assumed by the state.
In addition, neoliberals can hardly hide their vulgarity at the ideological level. "Meritocracy" has been stripped of the mystification of the social-liberal ideology which made claims to a supposed social utility. For neoliberals, the individual right to act as if one was a private enterpreuner leads to a historical diminution of the idea of social justice while "society" is perceived as a mere aggregate of individuals (or families-households, as Thatcher used to say) who are supposed to be in a state of constant competition. The problem for neoliberals is that such ideas undermine the basis of their political legitimacy, which in turn brings back the necessity to reinforce the state (and therefore the state provisions for education). It’s a vicious circle.
At all levels of education the attempt to transform it into a capitalist enterprise is contradictory but constant. This attempt is visible in nursery schools with the new proposals about intensification of the curriculum and thus the earlier insertion of children in the world of evaluation, quantification and, therefore, labour; in secondary education with the proposal –once again– of the National Education Council for a stricter selection of the students of the Comprehensive High Schools and the chanelling of a part of the student population to early training through the "new" technical schools; in the new law for the universities that intensifies work in the partially and silently entrepreneurialized environment of higher public education since the 90's, threatening the unproductive (and thus surplus) intellectual proletariat with expulsion.
Visible and invisible struggles in the previous years have put limits to the capitalist valorization of public education and continue to do so nowadays. The movement of university occupations that broke out in May 2006 and lasted for almost a year is a perfect example of a (spectacularly) visible struggle. In the second case, there belong latent processes that sabotage and undermine the imposed "innovations". E.g., the attempts to transform primary education teachers into "professionals" –executing orders from the Ministry of Education, carrying out "programmes" and projects in order to find sponsors– were faced with rejection. A programme called "Flexible Zone", which was supposed to connect schools to local commercial activities and was presented by the state intellectuals as an attempt to put into practice the old principles of radical and integral education, was never really implemented. Neither the talk about the "connection of school with everyday life", nor the babbling about the "abolition of the teacher-centered model" and the "development of collaboration among students" had any effect. In simple terms, most of the teachers could see that such programmes would deepen the inequalities among pupils since they were connected with new evaluation systems and, after all, they would impose more unpaid labour on them. In the course of events, it became plain for all to see that the implementation of the aforementioned programme was an issue of immense importance for the Ministry of Education, to the extent that it incorporated the basic lines of its policy: combination of central, bureaucratic control with decentralization, reduction of state funding and internalization of capital’s logic while at the same time the participation of sponsors is encouraged in order to find resources for the realization of the projects.
WHEN THE LAW BREAKS
In this second part, we will try to summarize the actions of resistance against capital's attempts to restructure education in the last few years. As we have already mentioned, the main weapons used by the state are the intensification of student and teacher labour, the inadequate funding of the education sector and the stricter selection. In this manner, the state tries to respond to the crisis of the hierarchical allocation of the labour force that first manifested itself in the mid 80's while at the same time it strives for the continuing legitimization of capitalist social relations –a combination that, let's say it once more, constantly tends to create new crises and contradictions.
The new bill for higher education, that was initially presented in the middle of 2006 (and was finally voted in the midst of the second round of the student movement in March 2007) attempted to legally institutionalize and bolster the existing enterpreneurialization and privatization tendencies in the universities. A series of provisions in this bill promoted the intensification of studies (for example, through setting an upper limit in the allowable years of study) and imposed underpaid or even unpaid student labour (for example, through the granting of student loans and reciprocal scholarships in exchange of part-time employment inside the university). Furthermore, university funding is getting connected with an evaluation process. Also, the attempt to revise article 16 of the greek constitution, in order to permit the establishment of private universities, is intended to win the same end, i.e. to restructure public universities so that they are run more and more like private enterprises. Using the weapon of underfunding and selective funding, the state inserts universities in a competitive environment. This has the consequence that universities are obliged to transform their activities into profit making ones wherever this is possible. The basic criteria of their "good" operation and adequate state funding will be the size of their investments, the kind of research they undertake and their ability to impose the new disciplinary rules and regulations and encourage their students to individually invest in human capital.
Last but not least, the new bill changes the definition of the academic sanctuary. Academic sanctuary was the legal product of an earlier cycle of class struggles in Greece. It was introduced in the beginning of the 80's by the "socialist" government as an acknowledgement of the role of the "student" insurrection in 1973 in overthrowing the dictatorship and was one of the measures that intended to recuperate not only the militant student movement but the whole class movement of the 70's. Thanks to the right of sanctuary there have been constant occupations of universities for political campaigns and, to a certain extent, other social uses of university buildings (for example, university rooms in the centre of Athens are used for political presentations, non-commercial parties and so on without permit from the university authorities). The new bill restricts academic sanctuary to the protection of "the right to work" and makes provision for specific penalties. From now on, strikes of the teaching or clerical staff, student occupations etc can be considered as actions that violate the law on academic sanctuary and as such could be repressed by the police.
The university occupations movement broke out in May 2006. Schools and departments entered into the struggle one after the other, and in a very short time almost all universities were occupied. The first round of the student movement managed to postpone the passing of the bill. The occupations started again in January 2007, when the government attempted to revise the article 16 of the constitution and lasted till the end of March. The movement managed to postpone the revision of the constitution for the next two or three years (at all events, the revision process is slow and it requires a large majority backing in the parliament). Nevertheless, the bill became a law in the 8th of March, while outside the parliament a fierce riot which lasted for many hours took place. The movement gained some concessions (not essential ones), but the new law has not been fully enforced yet. There are signs that a new movement may appear when the real enforcement of the law will commence. As far as the qualitative characteristics of the movement are concerned, it is true that occupations were more vivid in terms of student participation, organization of presentations, workshops and so on, during the first round of the movement and not so much in the second one. There were only a few minority actions that tried to spread the movement into other arenas (like for example blockades or interventions in workplaces like call centers where some students work) but the participation in demonstrations was really massive all over Greece (in the 8th of March it is estimated that forty to fifty thousand people participated in the demo).
But in order to understand the reasons why this movement got so massive dimensions, it’s not enough to refer only to the changes in the legislation because some of the changes affected mostly future students. It is possible to understand this movement only if we see it as an expression of the accumulated dissatisfaction a whole generation of working class youth has been experiencing since the previous reforms, ten years ago. These reforms were instrumental in imposing intensified work rates in the school and in the realm of proper wage labour. It is not accidental that the mobilizations broke out in the midst of an examination period. Even if the official spokesmen of the movement never stopped babbling that the academic year "will not be lost" and the examinations will be taken after the movement, the occupations had also the character of an "examination strike", especially during May and June 2006, since a lot of students, both active and "passive" participants in the movement, didn’t want to take the exams before the summer vacations, asserting thus their denial of intensified work rates. Furthermore, the mobilized students raised the question of the "free" reproduction of their labour power (even if an contradictory way) through the demand for a "public and free education". This demand was expressed more explicitly by the minority tendencies inside the movement that made the demands for "free board and lodging" as well as for "free transport for all" which were promoted with a few blockades of roads and train stations and some interventions in the metro stations.
Although, the 1997 reform in the secondary education had managed to discipline a generation of students for some years, this was a temporary victory. This generation could not be stopped from expressing its discontent for a life that is increasingly characterized by insecurity and fear. A great part of the students realized that the promises for a "successful career" will be true only for a minority of them. At the same time, they revolted against an everyday activity that looks similar to any other kind of work. This revolt against student labour was given a boost by a significant number of students who already experience directly exploitation and alienation as proper wage laborers. In this context, there were interventions for better working conditions in call centres where students work. Nevertheless, this was not a dominant tendency in the movement, since most of the students depend on their parents while many others still hope that in one way or another they will become "professionals". Thus, "workers" were mostly considered as external supporters and it was mainly their parents. Of course, connection with other parts of the working class is directly dependent on the existence of struggles outside the university. For example, when a local struggle for better working and service conditions broke out at a state health centre in a village near Thessaloniki, solidarity was expressed by the students of the Medicine School that were on strike.
The strike of the teachers in primary education was called by the teachers’ union during the first round of the student movement after a proposal made by the leftist trade unionists. It must be noted that there was no offensive from the state before the call of the strike. The list of official demands included both wage demands and demands about working conditions. It was a rather huge list of demands but although it came "from above", and in particular from the leftist group that took the initiative, it nonetheless gave voice to the needs of teachers in an indirect way.
The strike began on the 18th of September 2006 as a 5-day action and lasted for six weeks. The union had no intention to continue the strike after the end of the first week, and this was proved by the attitude of the trade unionists in the general assemblies that took place after the first week of the strike. However, the fact that participation in the strike was very high, especially in Athens and some other urban areas (about 70-80%), as well as the fact that the ministry did not make any concessions, made it very difficult for the union to step back. At this point it may be helpful to note that some teachers in rural areas didn’t participate, maybe because they have other jobs as a sideline, e.g. farming.
So, although the strike was called by the union leadership, in the process it became more of a rank-and-file action. Participation remained rather high in some urban areas for the whole period of 6 weeks and during this period massive demonstrations took place at the centre of Athens. On the other hand, participation in the assemblies was not high with the exception of some local union departments. Strike committees were organised right from the start. These committees were mainly executives of the decisions taken in the local assemblies and there was no coordination amongst them. As usual, the assemblies were an arena of various conflicts. The struggle remained under the control of the union and this is partially due to the fact that the leftist group that somehow represents and brings together many radical elements in this sector took over the administration of the union during the strike.
Now, let’s turn our attention to the real reasons of the strike and its militancy.
Firstly, we have to stress that teachers cannot be considered a privileged sector of the working class: the entry wage of a teacher is about 900 euros while the minimum wage in Greece is about 700 euros. But the wage demands did not take precedence over all others.
The basic demands that were really made by the rank-and-file were mainly two:
Higher state expenses for public education;
and second, an end to the ongoing "marketization of school".
The first demand expresses an outright opposition to the transfer of the costs of reproduction of labour power to the working class. In a way, teachers made a demand on behalf of the whole working class. The straitened conditions and the economic misery of the school is identified in the eyes of the teachers with the misery of the lack of meaning in their work. The traditional, positive self-perception of the teacher collapses under the weight of economic neglect and alienation. The fact that all this was not expressed explicitly in the demands while it was evident in a lot of meetings between teachers and parents, in some texts, in discussions and in the streets is indicative of the weakness of the rank-and-file to express itself substantially as well as of its weakness to get rid of the official union spokesmen.
The protests against the "marketization of school" was the second main characteristic of the strike. The coming of the financial sponsors accumulated all the fury of the strikers mystifying the fact that public education is already connected with capital and that this relation cannot be only identified with sponsors. If teachers could manage to overcome this narrow point of view, they could say much about their everyday alienation. Apart from loose words, this feeling against work wasn't articulated into a discourse and it was expressed only through the large duration of the strike. Slogans like "we will strike till the year 3000" and "we give up the next monthly wage, too" express the desire not to return to the daily alienation of the classroom. Or else it is very difficult to explain the gap separating the large duration of the strike and its militancy and the more or less predictable union demands. Our interpretation of the events is further backed by the fact that this was an offensive strike: without a visible attack from the state and with a list of demands which only indirectly expressed the needs of the strikers, it would otherwise be difficult to understand why many teachers didn’t want to go back to work even after six weeks on strike.
Following this line of explanation, we can understand better the wage demands. The demand for a 500 euros wage rise was a demand for compensation for the increasing deterioration of working conditions. As such it was more teacher-centered and sectoral and less a working class demand: slogans around wages appear to say that "work has become impersonal, alienating and intensified – at least it shouldn’t be so much underpaid".
Nevertheless, the need to come together with other parts of the working class (mainly parents but also other workers who supported the strike) on a common ground could not be expressed through the demand for a good wage for the teachers (which also implies that intellectual labour is superior to manual). This common ground could only be common needs, that’s why the initial demand was transformed into a demand for "1400 euros for everyone" in the middle of the strike and was accepted by the majority of teachers then. However, real communication with the "others" was confined to common demos with a minority of students and some meetings with parents organized by the strikers.
As we said, the strike ended after six weeks. Facing the intransigence of the state and not being able to transcend the limits posed by their social role and the union representation, the strikers did not manage to make the extra step that was necessary. But, of course this was not easy: a collective challenge and critique of the alienating and selective nature of education accompanied by a critique of the union would amount to something much more than a strike; it would amount to an insurrection.
The strike didn’t win any material concessions, but were there any interesting aspects in it? Our answer will be positive in two aspects.
First, the strike delegitimized to some extent a neoliberal state that claims to guarantee a "qualitative" and "public and free" education system.
Second, at a more educational level, a strike of one and a half months annulled the image of a "smoothly" functioning school system. And what's more, it crashed the image of the teacher as a professional, an organ of the state for the enforcement of its ideological control and a "petit bourgeois" that, supposedly, enjoys his/her privileged position.
Nevertheless, the way that the strike ended with no perspective for the future and no material gains, had negative consequences and clearly shows that a part of the working class cannot gain much if it remains isolated, however militant it is.
This became obvious early this year when the government introduced a new law which was an attack on welfare benefits and pensions. According to this new law on social security, there will be an increase of the retirement age even for mothers with under age kids, a decrease in pension earnings and an increase in the number of stamps needed for medical and sickness insurance, something that hits hard mainly young, part-time and precarious workers. Despite the slashing attack on all workers (students included) the resistance of teachers and students was very weak.
TA PAIDIA TIS GALARIAS (TPTG)
P.O. BOX 76149
Email: [email protected]
The supermarket expropriations were very successful
Nikos: An anarchist from Athens, active for about ten years
One action that started happening more frequently in the year before December were expropriations in the supermarkets. We would gather with a group of at least thirty people, mask up, run into a major supermarket and fill carts with food. The timing was very important. Inside the store everyone knew what they had to do, everyone stayed in a group and didn’t go down any aisle alone, and we were all out of there in a minute. Sometimes people would calm the workers, saying that it was an expropriation and that all the food would be distributed for free, we were against property but we didn’t want to hurt anybody And we always made sure to get out of there very quickly It all took just a few seconds.
In Athens we usually did these expropriations close to open air markets, when lots of people were outside shopping. That way we would not have to go far to find a place where lots of people were gathered to leave the food. After we did this a few times, when the people saw us, they would cry out excitedly "It’s them! It’s them!" and they would cheer us and they were very happy to take our food. It was a nice feeling, to include all these people in our illegality. Also, they learned not to be afraid of the koukoulofori. The people who were masked up, dressed in black, and doing outrageous things were on their side. That was very important.
The prisoners' hunger strike
On the 3rd of November, the Greek prisoners launched a major struggle that quickly spread to all twenty-one prisons in the country Prisoners released sixteen principal demands and announced their struggle would take three stages: first, the refusal of prison food; second, full hunger strike; and third, if the authorities had still not agreed to the demands, a general uprising.
Their demands were:
1. Abolition of cumulative disciplinary charges.
2. Reduction of the sentence limit (the proportion of the sentence the prisoner had to serve, as a minimum) from 3/5 to 3/7 and abolition of the 4/5 limit for drug related crimes.
3. A 3-year reduction of all sentences to relieve overcrowding, and rejection of the new panopticon prisons that isolate the prisoners from the urban social body.
4. Abolition of all juvenile prisons, and their replacement with open structures meant to take care of youth.
5. Reduction of the sentence limit that allows 25 years of continuous detention. Reduction of the minimum detention time for conditional release from 16 to 12 years.
6. Reduction of mandatory minimums, more days of furlough.
7. Limited use of pretrial detention and shortened maximum pretrial detention to 12 months from 18.
8. Against the use of vengeful sentencing meant to kill prisoners with long sentences. Shorter sentences and greater use of suspended sentences and conditional release.
9. 24-hour full medical service and psychiatric service, improved hygiene in baths and toilets, transportation to hospitals in ambulances, not in police cars.
10. The right to paid work, classes, technical training, and access to education outside the prisons.
11 Free access to the prisons for social and political institutions, lawyers, doctors, human rights organisations and international organisations, free circulation of political and educational press with no exceptions.
12. Alternative forms of detention such as agricultural prisons and partial liberty as well as community service.
13. Increase of free visits with privacy.
14, Work and access to creative activities for all, and sentence reduction for work.
15. Right to serve their sentence in the country of origin for people from other countries, if they choose.
16. Humane and faster transportation between prisons.
In the first stage, 8,000 of Greece’s 12,300 prisoners participated in the first stage. Starting November 7, 1,000 prisoners went on hunger strike, though the number soon grew to 7,000, with seventeen having sewn their mouths shut. Thousands of non-participating prisoners supported the strike and helped fellow prisoners who were in a weakened condition due to fasting. Many anarchist prisoners participated in the hunger strike, while others wrote and circulated texts in support, while criticising the tactics of hunger striking and the making of demands. Many solidarity actions were realised outside the prisons, including concerts, huge protest marches, and attacks.
On November 20, the government caved to most of the demands, agreeing to reduce Greece’s prison population to 6,800 by April, releasing all prisoners who had served 1/5 of their sentence, if under two years, and 1/3 of their sentence, if longer, without exceptions. The government announced that additionally; the law would be changed so that for all sentences under five years, the convicted person could pay a fine proportionate to the sentence instead of going to prison; pretrial detention would be limited at twelve months for many offences; furloughs would increase slightly; accumulative disciplinary penalties would be limited but not abolished; and more people with serious health problems such as AIDS would be granted conditional release. It is worth noting that juvenile prisons, a key component in the disciplinary transformation of society under neoliberalism, were not abolished, and most of the reforms affected those with shorter sentences, thus dividing them from the long-term, non-reformable prisoners, those considered to be hardened criminals.
The Prisoners' Committee responded by calling off their hunger strike, but announcing that:
We the prisoners treat this amendment as a first step, a result of our struggle and of the solidarity shown by society. Yet it fails to cover us, it fails to solve our problems. With our struggle, we have first of all fought for our dignity. And this dignity we cannot offer as a present to any minister nor any screw. We shall tolerate no arbitrary acts, no vengeful relocations, no terrorising disciplinary act. We are standing and we shall stay standing... Finally, we offer our thanks to the solidarity movement, to every component, party medium, and militant who stood by us with all and any means of his or her choice, and we declare that our struggle against these human refuse dumps and for the victory of all our demands continues.
The prisoners gained a new ability to coordinate their actions
N. & Mi: Two anarchists from Exarchia engaged in solidarity for the prisoners, among other things.
The most important conclusion of this struggle was that prisoners gained a new ability to coordinate their actions inside the prisons of all Greece, they gained a common platform of solidarity and they gained dignity There also appeared this feeling, this consciousness. Vaggelis Palis and Yiannis Dimitrakis wrote a letter that explained this feeling from the terrace of their prison during the 2007 prison revolt, there they explained the amazing feeling of solidarity they gained that day when they experienced the end of all the differences and all the internal fights, the elimination of all the different nationalities, the end of ghettos inside the prison, the liberating feeling of the struggle in the terrace of your jail when all the prisoners come together as one.
To not idealise the prisoners, the important thing is that year after year thousands of people in the prisons understand that they have to fight against the drugs, the snitching, the separation and alienation, and the egotism. The prisoners have to realise that all these are basic elements of the creation of the society of prisons, and they have to fight against this.
It was not important for the anarchists how they carried out the struggle. For all of us it was important how the prisoners themselves realised the struggle. Because it was a struggle for demands, the important thing was how many of their demands they succeeded in winning, and the anarchist movement was ready to struggle in solidarity with the prisoners so they could gain more. The anarchists believed they had to go further, to not relax after the announcement that the government would grant some of their demands. That they could gain much greater victories if they continued. We have to say that during the days of the hunger strike the government announced that they would release almost half the prisoners of Greece. But it became apparent at the end of the hunger strike that this will be through a long procedure that takes place drop by drop. But this still shows the power of the struggle.
We have to clarify that the political analysis and the efforts of the anarchist movement in Greece focuses their solidarity on the anarchist prisoners of course, but a big difference between them and the anarchist movements of other countries is that the anarchist movement of Greece campaigns through the publication of thousands of pamphlets and protests for the elimination of prison itself. It attacks the entire prison system. Because of this the influence of anarchist ideas appears inside the prisons, and the prisoners show solidarity to the anarchist prisoners. From the dictatorship until today there was never even a month without anarchist prisoners in the prison. The anarchist movement organised solidarity for their prisoners, the anarchist prisoners influenced the other prisoners, and the prisoners influenced the anarchist movement, without differentiating between social and political prisoners. Because when the anarchists are prisoners they fight for all people on the inside.
The Left organisations in Greece, when they speak about the prisoners they speak about improving the conditions and for the human rights of the prisoners. On the other hand, when the anarchists speak about the prisoners, even if it is a poster or pamphlet that talks about solidarity with a specific prisoner, they include mention of the liberation of all prisoners and the destruction of the prison system, so even if it has the goal of expressing solidarity with one person, it opens the way towards the anarchist proposition of society without imprisonment.
But the importance is the strategy, the way of expressing your ideas to society Of course the prisoners agree the conditions have to improve, but when we speak to the society the anarchists are explicit about their highest, authentic goal and message. A society without prisons. In this way it becomes another anarchist struggle.
You talk about material damages, we speak about human life
Panagiotis Papadimitropoulos: from Void Network
Perhaps the best manifestation of human agency especially as far as the formation of the modern world is concerned, is that which accompanies the ideas and practices of social movements. During the course of the 20th century different groups of people have struggled for diverse political ends using different political means with the aim to transform the social order. Everywhere around us we experience the product of past and present collective attempts to bring about social change, that is to replace old meanings and forms with new ones according to the ideas, dreams, and aspirations of social groups.
Social anthropology being particularly interested in the meanings and symbols that structure and guide social practice, has always been sensitive to the viewpoint of the weak and the oppressed because of its understanding of the workings of culture and the differential positions of power that are created within it. Especially after the mid-seventies through a series of ethnographies, such as those by James Scott, Jean Comarrof, Eric Wolf (Samuel Popkin), it approached resistance as ameans of facing and critically negotiating the power that was imposed on local societies by world structures of domination and inequality. From the ’70s onwards Marxist social theory detached itself from the model of "basis and superstructure" in which the emphasis was laid on the economic sphere. This change contributed to the promotion of anti-essentialist perspectives and thought with many different branches. The diverse readings of Gramsci, Foucault, French post-structuralism, and the multifarious feminist theory during the ’80s engendered a new field of exploration of culture through the study of subjectivity and power. As a primary consequence, a shift occurred in the conception of culture as a social totality whose meanings are shared by all of its members. The turn was to “culture" as a field of continuous change, opposition, and negotiation of meanings.
The focus has turned on the social context and conditions in which different meanings and perceptions of social reality appear. But since this is conceived in the plural as “contexts," the conditions, the practices, and the "places" in which particular phenomena manifest themselves are not reduced to a unified structural coherence that derives from the economy the values or some functional needs of the social system. The basic change that this theoretical move brought about has been the questioning of naturalised categories or conceptual tools, such as those of class, gender, or for that matter of society as an "objective" reality toward their dynamic conception as categories that develop historically through dominant discourses.
Thus, a central position in non-reductionist approaches is given to discourse analysis as a methodology that imprints and reveals with greater clarity the conceptual universe of subjects and its relation to particular institutions and social practices that construct collective or individual identities. (Scott Joan Wallash, 1988, Gender and the Politics of History). The understanding that identity is not something static but in constant flux is now common place. Much theoretical work has gone into deconstructing essentialist notions of identity based on sameness, replacing them with a conception of identity as multiple, plural or hybrid, and based on difference. In the context of talking about social reproduction and change in a discussion about social movements, we should follow Sherry Ortner in asking how exactly and in which conditions individuals or social groups perceive themselves in a particular way which, on the one hand, excludes alternative perceptions while, on the other, constructs acting subjects who select particular ways of action and reject others.
Perhaps a useful methodological and theoretical route comes from a creative match between discourse analysis and the theory of symbolic meaning in a perspective that views every social action and cultural form - and thus both power and the resistance to it - as constituting cultural constructs. That is, relations that are arranged through the human capacity to construct meaning, to interpret reality and communicate through the use of symbols, ones with a “life" of their own.
What I mean by this is that culture is perceived as inherently a historical process. For Ortner and Dirks the "place" where the cultural order meets with history in a creative combination is the discourse about power. Hence, they speak about “culture as emergent from relations of power and domination, culture as a form of power and domination, culture as a medium in which power is both constituted and resisted." The focus on phenomena of resistance and domination does not imply some essentialist view of culture. Power is not considered“some universal‘drive’ lodged in individuals nor some elementary force transcending society and history" (Ortner). On the contrary; power is interlinked with freedom or resistance in a way that the one defines the field of diffusion of the other. It always appears in an historically specific cultural context in which man as a socio-historical being composes an entire matrix of meanings and conceptions that include a wide range of desires and emotions but also of inequalities that every time are formulated and expressed in the idiom of existent cultural meanings.
Anthropological approaches to social movements and resistance have focused on the culturally specific expression of these movements. Taking culture as a central component of movements, these approaches move beyond debates about resistance and rebellion as "irrational" outbursts by subordinate peoples or carefully calculated strategic expressions of dissent, to ones that talk about movements as cultural struggles over meaning. Generally speaking, social movements and collective action have emerged in close connection with the development of structural inequalities, marginalisation, and exclusion on the one hand, and the ideas of rights, social justice, and entitlements on the other. Different groups and organisations have built platforms of solidarity and mobilisation to make claims and express their grievances targeting either the state or capital or international institutions. If in the past social movements or collective action have emerged and concentrated protest within nation-states or colonial states, with the increasing interconnectedness of different locations and social spaces, currently social movements have attained global dimensions and created transnational communities.
In a context of global flows of identities, researchers like Marianne Maeckelbergh have focused on the decision making practices within the anti-globaliation movement and on the ways democratic values are practised on a global scale through network structures that support and diffuse social movements. Very interestingly Maeckelbergh sees prefigurative practices as a strategic movement practice from which local action becomes part of global action. Eeva Berglund, looking at groups of environmentalists in Germany and Fin- land, has focused on the ideas about citizenship, independent knowledge and political practice that are generated through activism, and has argued that "environmentalist sensibilities that lead to activism arise out of shared experiences of loss of trust in ‘official’ sources of knowledge as well as unsatisfactory environmental conditions.” Activism in this context has been approached as a field of social practice that contests the legitimacy of state-produced scientific knowledge, and creates transnational ideas of independence from and opposition to state or corporate power which is seen by people as hostile to the concept of a civil society. This is not to say that we can talk about universalising models of political transformation since investigations of "civil society" discourses have exposed how such concepts as "citizenship" and “democracy" are deployed in varied forms by different actors (Gal and Kligman, 2000/Hann and Dunn, 1995, about postsocialist countries). We should therefore agree with Berglund that "we must attend to the ways in which activists make sense of local political cultures even as they attempt to transform them and effect social change."
Closer to what I will talk about today Jeffrey Juris has had an interest in studying activist and transnational networking in the context of the anti-globalisation movement in what he calls “militant ethnography” Militant ethnography according to Juris, involves "practice-based and politically committed research that is carried out in horizontal collaboration with social movements." Juris rightly remarks that "diverse activist networks physically express their contrasting political visions and identities through alternative forms of direct action" (2007). This action becomes visible through the communication of powerful and emotive images of protest that are diffused both by activist networks and mainstream media with different interpretations. Furthermore, Juris has also focused on the Black Bloc, that is the anarchist groups that have be- come particularly violent during counter summit protests (Seattle, Prague, Genova, Thessaloniki, etc.), He approaches their violence as performative violence, which he defines as “a form of meaningful interaction through which actors construct social reality based on available cultural templates." His argument, with which I agree, is that Black Bloc performative violence tends to be neither random nor senseless.
On the one hand, performative violence of anarchist groups operates on an instrumental level, that of the attempt to directly transform the social environment. On the other, we may use "performative violence" to "refer to symbolic ritual enactments of violent interaction with a predominant emphasis on communication and cultural expression." In fact, the two are interlinked. In a context of political action, and following a particular perception of social reality activists seek to effect social transformation by staging symbolic confrontation based on "the representation of antagonistic relationships and the enactment of prototypical images of violence" (Schrober and Schmidt, 2001). Very importantly the ritualistic element seems to be ever-present, especially as far as clashes with the police are concerned. A riot takes place (and in Athens riots occur almost every week), anarchists (if they participate) decide to attack particular targets that represent the State and capitalism, they move first, the police respond, activists set up barricades, and a small scale street confrontation begins with anarchists throwing rocks or Molotov cocktails and the police responding with tear gas and, when possible, with arrests.
As Kertzer has pointed out ritual is important in all political systems and there are many ways that ritual is employed in politics. Ritual, defined broadly as symbolic behaviour that is socially standardised and repetitive, is used to create reality for the people around it, while at the same time channels emotion, guides cognition, and organises social groups. In addition, ritual does not only legitimise authority since it is also used by those who want to overthrow it. That is, there are rites that legitimise authority and rites that delegitimise it. Ritual characterises conservation or continuity as well as change, transformation, or revolution. At the same time as all human conduct and perception of reality are symbolically organised, that is they represent not an essence of things but rather a relation between them, it follows that politics arises as a sphere of symbolic meanings, a sphere that on the one hand rests on existent habitus, while, on the other, creates particular discourses about power, ideal forms of social relations, the role of man, and the "nature of things" at large.
Symbols are means, indeed the primary means, by which we give meaning to the world around us. They allow us to interpret what we see, and of course they allow us to see ourselves in certain ways while excluding others. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this symbolic process is, as Kertzer remarks,“its taken-for-granted quality.” People are not generally aware that they themselves and their culture endow the world with their own symbolically constructed version of reality. On the contrary people believe the world simply presents itself in the form it is perceived. "But what else could you call a hippopotamus" Geertz remarks, and this, fortunately or unfortunately, is also true for anthropologists - at least in their non-academic activities. We could not get out of bed in the morning (at least for those who want to get out of bed) if we did not subscribe to this view, for if we fully recognised the extent to which our notions of reality are the product of an artificially constructed symbol system, it would be, as Kenneth Burke pointed out, "like peering over the edge of things into an ultimate abyss."
Through symbols we confront the experiential chaos that surrounds us, and create order. By objectifying our symbolic categories, rather than recognising them as products of human creation, we see them as somehow the products of nature, “things” that we simply perceive and recognise. Indeed, l as many (e.g. Cassirer and Bauman) have remarked, the very distinction we make between the objective world and the subjective world is itself a product of humanly created symbols that divide the world of fact from the world of opinion.
However, this is not to say that people or cultures can freely create any symbolic system imaginable, or that all such constructs are potentially equally tenacious in the material world. There is a continuous interaction between the ways people have for dealing with the physical and social universe and the actual contours of that universe. As Sahlins has emphasised, when symbolic systems collide with refractory social or physical forces, the potential for change in the symbolic system is ever present. Moreover, symbols do not simply arise spontaneously nor is the continuing process of redefinition of the symbolic universe a matter of chance. Both are heavily influenced by the distribution of resources found in the society and the relationships that exist with other societies. The key is two-fold: no meanings appear outside the existent tank of cultural materials, but at the same time it is human creativity that produces change and alternative understandings by situated individuals. Though symbols provide people a way of understanding the world, it is people who produce new symbols and transform the old. This seems to be especially true for societies like our own in which, due to their complexity; everyday practices depend on a higher degree of abstraction.
Having said this,I consider the social practices that I will refer to as fundamentally symbolic action that is organised around a particular understanding and categorisation of the social world, largely subversive. Although a lot has been said about anti-globalisation movements in the context of a reaction to processes of globalisation, my interest here is mostly on the violence performed by anarchist groups in Athens, and thus it is not necessarily or directly linked with the anti-globalisation movement. Their discourse producing a particular perception of major political institutions and their function, such as the State, as well as of basic social relations and forms such as ideas around wage-labour or the commodity form have been around long before popular discourse about globalisation begins. So I am more concerned with an agonistic rhetoric that characterises anarchist discourse in Athens and that in my view both constructs identities and opens the way to the performance of violent acts, mainly in the public space, by creating a certain perception of antagonists that the individual not only has to encounter but also to win.
December has been quite unique in Athens and to some extent in the whole country The murder of a young boy by a police officer in the area of Exarchia, well known to the whole country for its anarchist activity, led to what many saw as a spontaneous insurrection that lasted for about two weeks. Thousands of people went out to the streets, demonstrating and fighting against the police. Riots became very violent, and hundreds of banks, luxury shops, and cars were smashed and burned, as well as whole buildings. Extensive looting was taking place, while in the square outside the Parliament the burning of the city's Christmas tree, symbol of the city’s prosperity order, and normality was reported by the media as proof that the country had surrendered itself to chaos and to the destructive intentions of mindless individuals who did not know how to protest. In the first four days the riot police launched more than four tons of tear gas in Athens alone, and had to import more from Israel because they had run out of it! Barricades were set up in major avenues of the cities especially outside the squatted universities that people used as their base of operations (in Greece the universities have a constitutionally guaranteed asylum in recognition of the events of November ’73, so according to the law the police cannot enter). In the context of political processes run mainly by anarchist groups, open assemblies were taking place every day in the universities to discuss means for the continuation of the upheaval. Many texts were being printed and distributed in different areas of the city.
Although it is difficult to interpret what exactly has happened there are a few certain things that I could mention. Firstly that the death of the child was only the spark. The causes are certainly deeper and are related to specific ideas of particular people about Greek society and capitalist society as a whole, as well as to specific underprivileged statuses (e.g. a lot of immigrants participated, feeling that they were striking back in some way). Secondly, the people (people from different age groups, social classes and ethnic groups) who participated were a minority. Most people could not understand where this thing was coming from. Finally being to a large extent a destructive force, the insurrection did not express any specific demands - besides the rage against police brutality - that made many people wonder even more about its character. It seems to me that some people (especially anarchist groups with ideological discourse and orientations) knew quite well what they were doing whereas others responded more spontaneously. But for the anarchists too the major question - an ideological one - has been what the next step would be, what this situation could leave behind as a seed. Clearly for some this was resistance against the State. The antagonist was the State represented both in the places where commodities were being destroyed and in the riot police that were being attacked.
The crucial factor here is a powerful discursive formation, that of anarchist ideology that, largely based on Marxism, is characterised both by a specific revolutionary narrative about the social world and a specific conception of the individual. It begins with the presupposition that a better and more just society in which social and economic equality can be attained, is possible. A belief in the self-determination of the individual and the autonomy or self-management of his community considers that hierarchically structured social relations produce societies of inequality and exploitation in which people are divided into the oppressors, those who have power, and the oppressed, those who are subjected to the control and the power of the former. From this perspective a polarised conception of the social world creates a dichotomous view of society as constituted by subjects categorised on the basis of their access to material resources that is thus equated to the power to control. In this manner, the majority of people are presented, to a large extent, as lacking agency, not being able to determine the conditions of their own existence, but being subjected to the will of individuals and institutions that manipulate them in order to further their utilitarian needs and interests.
In this context, anarchist ideology and discourse aspire to a general ideal of "human freedom" which is defined as a condition wherein the individual lives and creates according to his/her desires that, in turn, spring from a reference to the concept of self. The self should be the creator of both the community and its institutions that are presented in direct opposition to the existent ones as consolidated on the basis of man’s "real" needs, that is not following economic interest which only supports a class society. Interestingly the utopian society of anarchists is not one of absolute harmony, but one where conflict appears when people themselves decide so. This is why the nation-state is considered an artificial construct that homogenises and unites people by force for the promotion of class and power interests of the elite. The abolition of the State comes as the answer to the issue of ideal political organisation that, according to this view, must aim to the autonomy of a smaller community.
The vehicle of this fundamental social change is considered to be the mass mobilisation of people, the movement to revolution which can bring "human freedom" when people realise the fetters of the State and its mechanisms, but also their own power to act shaping their conditions of life. From this point of view, representative democracy is viewed as an oppressive system of governance that maintains the distinction between rulers and ruled, and perpetuates in a sly way human heteronomy.
At the same time, especially among the groups I am focusing on, wage-labour is considered perhaps the most oppressive condition in modern societies and it is thus often referred to as "wage-slavery" mainly because of the restrictions it is thought to pose to “human desire," but also because according to the Marxist point of view, it reifies what is in fact a social relation. Indeed, the notion of "desire" is a fundamental one -and for the researcher a crucial factor - because it implies an essential self that differs from the so cial self in its will to live in ways that are not related and are contrary to the restrictions put by dominant culture. And as I said, perhaps the most important such restriction is considered to be wage-labour. Labor is identified with economic interest, which is ethically inferior in the hierarchy of values. But more importantly; wage-labour is considered to be the greatest compromise of an individual’s personal freedom. From here springs the disrespect for the workplace (a place that is by definition presented as oppressive) and the will for one to physically attack it, especially when it reflects the interests of capital. In this manner, what is the workplace of some becomes the target of violent attacks by others, since these are perceived not only as spaces of exploitation and alienation but also of promotion of material-capitalist interest.
These observations concerning the anarchist ideal and discourse cannot be of much help in understanding performative violence if they are not contextualised within Greek political history, a history of intense political violence. Towards the end of the sixties anarchist ideas began to appear in Greece as a further radicalisation of the already existent social struggle and the wider left social movement that fought through severe strikes, demonstrations, and clashes with the police for social and labour rights in a society in which the civil war of 1946-49, between the national government and the communists, had cost the lives of about 70,000 people, with tens of thousands of leftists exiled to small inhospitable Greek islands. In contrast to other countries, like Spain, anarchism in Greece appears, mainly as an urban political culture embraced by - but not limited to - the young (although its influence is also present in rural mobilisations at the beginning of the 20th century). The initial ideological influences came from the French May of ’68 but also from the legacy of the American counter-culture, and blended with the Greek left tradition of disrespect for a state that from the beginning of the 20th century was characterised by its nationalistic orientation, policies, and discourse and that until 1974 - and especially during the years of the dictatorship 1967-1974 - was fighting against what it perceived as the communist threat. Very importantly, in 1974 the Greek Communist Party was recognised as a legal political party and officially became a member party of the Parliament. At the level of ideology this change meant an important withdrawal since the Communist Party could no longer evangelise the possibility of a revolution.
Thus, towards the end of the seventies anarchists (that part of the libertarians who found the Left to be conservative both in lifestyles and in their political agenda) began to perceive the use of violence as an authentic expression of the old political and social dream of revolution and themselves as continuing and persisting with the conditions of the civil war, a war that had ended with the communists’ defeat and surrendering of arms. Violence, in this context, performed not as terroristic acts by groups like November 17th, which planted bombs and assassinated people, but in the open public space during riots, or today as small scale hits on targets such as police stations or specific companies and banks by a number of people with a “teaching them a lesson" logic. Violence of this sort began to express the authenticity of intentions/the most honest way" as an informant said, to preserve the flame of revolution. It is in this sense that violence during riots represents those who see themselves as keeping alive the dream of revolution. And as Pratt has demonstrated about anarchism in Andalusia, the moral vision of anarchists for a new social order without class divisions has given rise to a revolutionary narrative in which revolution is associated with destruction.
In the early eighties came the influence of the German movement of autonomen-chaoten and its symbols. Anarchists in Greece, now operating independently from the numerous leftist groups, began to identify themselves as "anarchist" and to use the now well-known circled "A." Most importantly they borrow from the German movement the use of the hood/mask, as a symbol of an unexpected attack by an invisible and fearful aggressor (today most would argue that the primary reason for one wearing a mask is not to be traced by the surveillance systems of the police, thus downplaying its powerful symbolic value).
From the early nineties onwards, anarchist groups started to have an interest in influencing society more than they did in the past - they became more social and less marginal, in a sense - not necessarily with the aim of forming a movement, but more in the sense of their attempt to be politically visible during times of important social problems. A basic idea begins to take root that of the transformation of everyday life brought about both by Situationists like Debord and Vaneigem and the German and Italian Autonomia. So, in riots for instance, they begin to respond to specific central decisions and plans that came with neoliberalism after the fall of the Soviet Union, such as privatisations. But most importantly through a public discourse that manifested itself in thousands of printed pamphlets and street posters distributed in the whole country they further cultivated the idea of "an anarchist attack."
Now, the whole idea of the attack has great significance, it appears a lot in anarchist discourse and can enlighten us on perceptions of violence. I am referring to a widespread view that anarchists hold for themselves, according to which it is they who attack. In this manner, they are self- identified not so much as a movement of resistance - since this characterisation is followed by connotations of a weak position - but as a movement of offence/attack/assault. Practically this means that the police (which are perceived as a class mechanism that stands as a barrier between the people and capital) should not be the ones, strategically speaking, to make the first move, that is they should not be the ones who attack first. On the contrary it is the anarchists who retain the momentum, that is they select the occasion, exact place/spot and the exact time of the performance of a violent act. As a consequence, they do not perceive themselves as victims of police brutality. Being the aggressor prevents one from victimising oneself. Not victimising oneself means that even if you "lose" there is reference to the category of an agonistic dignity - as indeed occurs - which thus increases. So, accordingly the struggle is always offensive, thus the slogans with such strong imagery: "clashing opens passages" or "think revolutionary, act aggressively".
This is why the discourse in brochures and street posters presents themselves as the aggressors with the use of an eager rhetoric of continuous war, self-sacrifice but also open conspiratory activity aiming at the subversion of the existent social order. An example of this comes from the text that followed the attack by twenty people on a police station, burning the parked police cars and motorbikes in July 2008. To explain their position they stated: "And if some (people) continue to spin round on a roulette wheel waiting to end up on a lucky number, if some leave their lives to chance, there are others who ambush, thinking that they only live once and owe it to hemselves to draw a course of dignity in the everyday life that surrounds them choosing the role of its denier. And we are some of these people, and we organise our desires with rage and consciousness and not with blank justifications for inaction and passivity We are the carriers of hatred for your world. Disgusted by everything that provides the sense of order and security, your police stations are always our target."
What we have to emphasise is that in this militarised anarchist discourse we find implicit the conception of the perpetuation of attack to the capitalist order and the State that leads to the idea of an ethical legitimisation and higher responsibility. What is more, this legitimisation of violence is, in the anarchist imagination, to be sanctioned not by present society but from history that is by the society of the future. Anarchist discourse does not negotiate, does not converse about the value of violent activity with those who find violence senseless or useless. This is why during riots, whenever people from the Left attempt to persuade and prevent them from carrying out acts of destruction they fail. Indeed, holding a view of modern society as bankrupted and resembling a "desert" (a now commonly used metaphor), I would argue, creates a conviction that today’s violent acts will be validated by people in a distant future, that is by future generations. In this way there is a displacement of the dialogue for recognition of violence from present society to that of the future. So, a belief that an act of revolution is an act of destruction and that nothing else from society as presently constituted is to be carried forward, creates a dialogue with the future, thus the powerful slogan that we saw during December: "we are an image from the future" in which one traces the idea that a certain violence performed against what is perceived as political targets will only be understood in the years to come. In this context, decisions about the performance of violence are beyond dispute since they represent a higher goal that cannot converse with or be compromised by present conditions, considerations or ideas. In this way; the culturally accepted idiom that could set the terms of a dialogue breaks down, or is being transcended. Hence, there is no discussion about whether it is right or wrong to burn down a store ("if in the society of the future private property will not have the same content it has today we can, today, attack it"). Such a categorisation armours individuals since it legitimises violent activity by considering that this will only be understood in the future.
In this sense, violence is necessary for the message it sends to future generations. Since past experience informs the understanding of the present and marks possible routes of action, it is certain that the frequent performance of violence creates specific conceptions in society about the tolerable and normal limits of it, not in the sense of its acceptance but in the sense of the consolidation of an expected degree of violence, a degree that is manageable both by society and the State. Especially as far as the police are concerned, they (the police) seem to operate within a specific set of meanings that define the relation of the antagonists on the basis of a past experience of violence, an experience that is guided by and at the same time recognises a particular ritualistic sequence in a confrontation that usually does not allow for this violence to become murderous. There is in a way; an implicit and mutual understanding between the antagonists - between anarchist groups and the police - that violence during riots must not lead to the loss of human life, which is appreciated more than material loss in the whole system of cultural meanings. This, on the other hand, could be regarded as an antithesis since a discourse of war does not account only for material damage but for human loss as well. But as we remarked, violence does not only have practical - instrumental aspects, but also symbolic - expressive ones (Riches). Going back to December, the confrontations in the streets and the heavy material dam- ages all over Greece were followed by an attack on a riot police bus with machine guns by the terrorist group Revolutionary Struggle that aimed at the assassination of police officers as a response to the assassination of the young boy Most of the people I talked to said that they were not sure if this was a proper reaction, since it was taking the conflict to a different level, that is taking away the legitimation of violence that had taken place in the streets. From this point of view, violence was useful and successful, that is serving the interests of a social movement that wants to gain popular support, only as long as it does not become murderous. However, those who believe in an open and continuous confrontation with the State and "its guards," those who engage in a discourse of perpetual war thought that the identity of the revolutionary is defined by him negating that the State should have the monopoly of violence. As one person told me: "why is it normal for the police to walk around with guns, while I am taken for a crazy and dangerous person if I do so? They killed a young boy in cold blood. Aren’t they dangerous?"
The State employs discourses of law, order, and good citizenship and uses symbols to legitimise its authority. A different set of symbols (the violent confrontation and its targets) are used by anarchist groups to mobilise opposition and communicate a negation of what is perceived as a coercive institution and mechanism that according to a Marxist and anarchist perspective collaborates with the other major force of human exploitation that historically helped in its creation and development, namely capital or the capitalist establishment, which is identified with the State and its ordering of human life.
So far the anarchist argument follows a well known leftist or libertarian logic familiar to all of us: capital accumulates social wealth and at the same time creates and supports the State to safeguard its interests. The State does not represent or promote the needs of society but those of the capital that produce social inequality and exploitation. So, the argument goes, the State lies in its self-image and pseudo-identification with society. The problem, certainly not a social one, arises when some people believe this is so more than others and decide to act in a more, we could say direct manner, one that is considered by most, at least in our societies, as less “civilised," Indeed, for most people, although political protest is a legitimate means for advancing certain demands and interests - social, economic, political and so forth - this must be performed within certain limits of legality established by the laws of the State, And by no means do most of us know enough or feel comfortable enough to become violent during a demonstration (to burn a few cars, to smash some banks or throw Molotov cocktails at the police or luxury shops). All the more so since this usually involves some preparation that is mostly a matter of interpretation which is linked to the multivocality of symbols (the same symbol may be understood by different people in different ways). You either feel that a Ferrari should or could be burned or you don’t, you either consider it a manifestation of social inequality or a proof of higher technology and beauty or a little bit of both, but more one than the other. Of course, what is at stake here is a basic organisational principle of our societies: that of private property and its sacredness.“No one has the right to touch what I have gained through hard labour." The anarchist understanding is slightly different: if you own a lot it means that you have been subjecting others to some sort of exploitation since someone has to be poor if someone else becomes rich. At the same time, there is a powerful idea that surrounds behaviour towards objects, that of the nature of the commodity form. According to a Marxist and Debordian perspective commodities being the product of alienating social relations are themselves alienating, supporting a reified picture of the world, that is a world comprised by “things" and not social relations.
Commodities are being produced by people who sell their product to those who own the means of production, thus giving up what belongs to them. What is left to them from the produced product is the paid labour, while capital is produced through the unpaid labour, known as surplus value. Alienation, here, is conceived as a process by which the paid worker experiences a sense of loss that the giving away of his product creates, and the simultaneous implicit misconception that what you buy is not yours. The products that an individual has produced with his labour return to him through consumption in which he is called to buy what he himself has produced. As Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle) has argued, especially after the explosion of the advertising industry; the commodity form is being diffused to all levels of society; falsifying all social activities and relations through the strong imagery it creates. In a society where everything can be sold, it is thought that reality is transformed into an economic transaction. Social relations are mediated by commodities as when status is acquired through the consumption of particular products. The commodity form, being diffused, is transformed into images mediated by it so that it can be sold. This, according to the particular perspective, creates the various lifestyles that the advertising industry promotes, thus constructing identities based on consumption. In this manner, the argument goes, the commodity is being internalised, that is it exists as a mediated image that guides human behaviour and consumerist culture. In a world where image dominates, we begin to relate not to real individuals but with the images of the commodity If human relations are mediated by their images, and images are mediated by commodity then, in the final analysis, social relations are mediated by commodities.
In anarchist discourse then, it is this perception of commodities as falsifying elements of human interaction that provides legitimisation to the acts of destroying commodities (and the shops which sell them) and allows individuals to imagine looting as an act by which products are being taken by those who "really" own them.
This is precisely what anarchist discourse does: it provides individuals with particular knowledge that helps in ordering the world and providing necessary material for action. And action is indeed their speciality. Without getting into detail I would say that anarchist groups appear in at least seven cities around Greece. Influenced by a different range of theoretical stances such as the situationists, classical anarchism, the German and Italian autonomia, and more recently but less so, the so-called insurrectionists like the Italian Bonanno and the French “illegalists," they develop a discourse that conceptualises major institutions in the way I have described.
Now, when I am talking about anarchist groups I am referring to organised ones, that is groups that can range from five to forty people (from diverse social backgrounds. Aya has remarked on the fact that the anarchist movement in Spain constituted an alliance of different economic actors, and has seen this as one of the reasons for its weakness) with specific political activity. This includes three main practices. The first is the printing and distribution of street posters and brochures. The second is regular horizontally-structured, closed meetings in which various topics and routes of action are discussed and analysed. The third involves participation in larger open anarchist assemblies in which a great deal of networking activity and common organising takes place on a local or national level. All three practices seem to be crucial and their coexistence is important for a sense of collective identity.
Regarding the first, with the printed material groups present their political views and criticisms in a written text that, through its distribution, is announced and communicated to society. As far as the second is concerned, the closed meeting comprises a proof that the group indeed exists and is operative through a process of dialogue between equals who see each other as "comrades." To a large extent it is the main decision-making mechanism of small collectivities, and it being closed means that certain people not only have attained a certain degree of friendship and personal contact, but also a particular way of thinking and vocabulary that excludes others-anarchists and non-anarchists alike. Coming to the third, participation in large anarchist assemblies (often held in universities) indicates participation in political processes that extend from those of one's own group and facilitates wider decision-making by people with similar outlooks and common interests. In such assemblies, which can last from two to five hours, anyone can present his views and decisions are taken through consensus, not a majority vote. This is seen by many as an intrinsic feature and a central element that distinguishes “us" from “them," that is from non-anarchist decision-making practices that are hierarchically or vertically structured. Such assemblies might be open to everyone - as when possible participation in protests is being discussed - or closed, that is by invitation to particular people and groups - as when decisions regarding risky and violent acts are about to take place.
In relation to these, they can include a wide range of targets and different practices. Banks may be smashed or burned (with molotov cocktails), as well as luxury shops and cars, supermarkets might be looted, also sabotage of surveillance cameras may take place - especially during riots - but most importantly state buildings are attacked, and finally what is a relatively recent practice, from the last two to three years, police stations are attacked by groups of thirty to fifty people with sledge hammers and molotov cocktails, burning police cars, and smashing the building.
Mainstream media and a lot of people who find this violence meaningless and posing a danger for democracy wonder why the police cannot arrest these people. The answer is very interesting, but also very simple, and quite far from the experience of most people in modern cities. The answer is that if thirty people, and thirty is a lot of people, decide to perform a violent act against someone or something, they will most probably succeed in doing so.
What we have to keep in mind is that we are talking about small groups, both men and women, who come together in order to plan and perform unexpected attacks. But the most important element is not the accuracy of a plan - though this is definitely important - but the fact that small hits of this sort are based on close, long-lasting interpersonal relationships of friendship and intimacy What is more, the most fundamental element appears to be that of trust. You cannot carry out a violent act with people you do not know. On the contrary people who cooperate have done so in the past and know that they can rely on each other. And there are certain criteria and characteristics that are appreciated and valued for creating this sense of trust. A person must be courageous (i.e. bold but always sticking to the plan), must not set himself or the group to additional risk, must be able to move fast, to perform certain tasks, and also to show an ability to improvise in case something goes wrong.
What is more, setting oneself into frequent danger and risk of arrest and imprisonment, as well as the fact that experience of this sort transmits a sense of certainty about success, create a different perception of one’s own position towards state repression, and most importantly a different perception of normality It is not only that notions of “citizenship" are being challenged here. Performative violence constructs subjects with a different relation towards the emotion of fear. In this context, what is normality for some becomes a passive state of being for those informed by an agonistic discourse that guides them into social practices that most of us would consider life-threatening. From this perspective, I would argue, that since what prevents some people from such acts is the internalisation of the fear of arrest and punishment that flows from the dominant discourse of an ever present and powerful state, what we find in groups like these is precisely a better management of this fear constituted through experience. This involves a powerful notion that relates to the different expectations of the people concerned: the notion that "anything is possible," that increased empowerment constructs a strong sense of agency in people who conceptualise the State as a major force of restraint of human agency and initiative. This, then, becomes a crucial factor of contestation of State power by groups that perceive it not only as coercive but also as defeatable.
It is through personal initiative for violence that individuals construct an identity of an active subject that resists perceived conditions of general passivity and apathy. The insurrectionist, the term most commonly used, is identified with the person who resists the determination of his life by an antagonistic State. In a country with a long history of intercommunal political violence, the insurrectionist constructs himself the field of conflict and steps into it by becoming either an urban guerrilla or an activist.
In one of his papers, Jeffrey Juris remarks that anti-corporate globalisation activists face the challenge or having to develop new approaches in the face of their mass direct actions becoming stagnant. He sees the need for sustainable organisation - even if decentralised and network based - that can survive the flows of mass mobilisation. On the other hand, anarchist groups in Greece do not face, in my view, a similar challenge. Their discourse and a long history of violence provide the necessary material to continue with a solid perception of the State as their main antagonist. It is this perception that being internally uncontested generates performative violence as a basic means to articulate identities that will reproduce it.
It has been said that the impact of a particular ritual is a product of its past performances. Memories associated with earlier experiences guide new enactments of rites. This is why rites have both a conservative bias and an innovative potential. This is also why December reinforced the pre-existing view among these groups that this specific sort of violence, with its spectacular characteristics, can operate as a successful political and subversive technique. To the extent that the whole country watched in awe what a few thousand people can do when they coordinate reinforces this truism.
The so-called "chaos” that anarchists create, the absence of specific - read “logical" - demands, and their rituals (violent confrontation and assemblies) - to the extent that they do not represent a particular political program-operate as crucial elements in the creation of an alternative structure. While not devoid of organisation, their non-hierarchical, non-authoritarian modes as well as the fact that they do not stand for - like the organisations of other radicals - a counter-structure helps in retaining characteristics of anti-structure that are not easily contested. Acts of destruction communicate in an explicit way their utopian vision for a change that is perceived not as political but as cultural, therefore generating even stronger moral judgements and passions. At the same time, they themselves comprise an important example of the multiplicity of cultural discourses that can lead to a multiplicity of cultural experience and subjectivity within the same society.
In the cultural invention of the frequent use of violence we see not only an attempt to retain agency but also the ways dominant discourse and power are contested. We see not a burst that reaffirms the value of maintaining the social order but a claim for its transformation. This is why performative violence might be a subversive process that challenges the preservation of existent meanings and not an element that reinforces them.