Minoritarian attempts at insurrection in Greece

Mouvement Communiste on the insurrectionary scenes which followed the killing of 15 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos in December 2008.

Submitted by Django on May 31, 2011

It is not in the tradition of our group to polemicise with other groups close to us. We will not give in to that. Also, what follows does not refer directly to the texts of the comrades of TPTG because, apart from criticisms addressed to them, this is more about the limits of the movement of December 2008, the texts found in the pamphlet 1 representing the best written expression of that movement.

The unleashing

The long season of struggles of proletarians in schools in Greece saw an unexpected acceleration on 6 December 2008, with the killing by the police of a 15 year old boy in Exarchia Square in Athens, which is located in a very lively central district particularly frequented by young people. Shortly afterwards during the night, the first confrontations broke out between 10,000 spontaneously gathered demonstrators and the forces of repression who had quickly arrived in large numbers. This was immediately followed by the occupation of the famous2 National Technical University and the Faculties of Economics and Law. Repeated incidents, attempted or successful destruction of sites taken for symbols of capitalism and the State, plundering and occupations - often carried out by small groups - continued until the great demonstration of December 18, milestone of the movement, which coincided with a 5 hour strike called by the public sector trade unions 3 , which counted 20,000 participants. There were similar agitations and riots in several other Greek cities.

No spontaneous strike was recorded in workplaces other than those of state education, culture and a press company which was making workers redundant. Two strikes called by the trade unions followed quickly: the general strike of December 10, which had been decided more than one month before and aimed at the budget policy of the right-wing government; the other for 5 hours, on December 18, of the workers of the public sector. An attempt to occupy the central seat of the trade unions failed at the end of a few hours in spite of an assembly of 800 people outside.

Neighbourhood assemblies organised themselves around the area of Exarchia. They fell apart rather quickly, oscillating between a generic solidarity with the rioters and the attempt to work out a plan for local struggles. The episode which was probably richest in terms of class content, that of the assembly of cleaning workers created after the attempted murder of a rank and file trade unionist4 , certainly nourished a climate of rebellion at the end of December 2008 in Athens but should not be purely and simply assimilated with the rebellion. The bases of this attempt at autonomous organization of the cleaning workers had been in place well before the street battles of December and maintained itself on the basis of the demand for the end of a precarious work contract. This is the summary of events required for a synthesis.

A healthy reaction to police aggression

No matter what anyone says, the wave of violent reactions, massive or minoritary, against police violence in Greece is fully justified. It has nothing in common with the actions generally carried out against other proletarians in French working class districts in November-December 2005, for example. Here, the objectives were well targeted and no worker suffered from illegal initiatives taken by other members of his class. If the limit of the violent action fighting against the symbols of wealth and power is obvious - because capital is a social relationship of production and not a big pile of buildings, goods and men to protect them -this had the undeniable merit of breaking the official monopoly of the exercise of force. When the period is difficult, proletarians who choose to accept confrontation must, initially, avoid sending a message in their action which is contradictory or, worse, opposed to the chosen objectives. The focusing of the offensive of the rioters against the repression forces did not leave room for doubt and gained, as it should do, the sympathy of broad sectors of the proletariat. In this regard, the condemnation of the individual conspiratorial actions which followed the minority insurrectionary movement is not so justified. If they did not, certainly, reinforce the struggle, this had already declined on its own before these attacks which, moreover, showed areal continuity with the trajectory of the movement. Isn’t it necessary to terrorise the police? Rather, it is the dynamics and the raison d'être of the wave of riots which must be subjected to criticism - a criticism without concessions of the limits of the attempted insurrection, without taking anything away from the profound reasons for it.

A class composition which needs to be defined more clearly

It is stated that the large majority of the rioters was made up of proletarians in schools of which a significant fraction were young people from the second generation of Albanian immigrants. Nothing more is said, and this is too superficial. Including in the area of education, there are various stratifications. There can be a world of difference between the student who takes a master’s degree in economics and the high-school pupil of the technical institute… and strong differences in class conditions. Also, it is probable that here as elsewhere these proletarians parked at the school have another "social reason" than being students, that of being intermittent workers, precarious, in the most marginal sectors of capital accumulation. No analysis of this aspect, however central, of the class composition of the rioters has appeared up to now. On the contrary, we can read sociological considerations on the hooligans, the young “Albanians”5 , the junkies - elements interesting enough in themselves but which, if they are not supported by a snapshot of the class composition taken from the point of view of the social production of value, are very likely to hide the real material nature of the need for collective revolt which was expressed in December 2008.

Confusion on this crucial point weighed heavily on the consciousness that the rebels had of their own action. Indeed, the rioters did not attempt to transpose the force acquired in the street to their workplaces to loosen the command of capital there, or on the places where they lived. The working class neighbourhoods which the Greek capital is full of, including in the centre, were the scene of street battles but at no time were they taken over by the revolt. However, the cost of rent, transport, access to infrastructure, etc. are subjects which deserved more attention from the insurrectionists. Not so they could demand fair rents, transport at affordable prices, moderate electricity bills… but to organize, with the other proletarians who live there, the occupations of residences and direct action for non-payment of service bills. The refusal of any “political programme” and even of any political dimension, as was proclaimed by certain components of the movement, acted against the possible extension of it.

It remained the case then, that to the other proletarians, rioting was the only way to take part in it. However, a movement which becomes extensive should never reduce itself to only one dimension of the total fight. This is a question of its very survival. The same reasoning applies even more to places of exploitation. If it is true that the ability of the movement to widen and put down roots does not depend on the formulation of a beautiful list of demands, trade-union preferably, its incapacity to overflow in to the factories and the offices should not be explained just by the hostility of the trade unions and the left and extreme-left parties to any form of collective illegality. The social compost was favourable to this overflow but the obsessive focus on street battles did not make it possible to carry the word of the revolt directly to the doors of the workplaces. The themes for a process of unification were not lacking. The increasing impoverishment of whole fractions of the working class is a subject which several components of the movement expressed very well.

But the will, implicit or not, to describe the proletariat as divided into two segments, one “traditional” with employment and overall guaranteed wages, natural prerogative of the trade unions and the left, and the other, precarious, always unsubdued and ready to rebel, does not help in any way with the antagonistic political recomposition of the class. And nor does the rejection of “politics” and the emergence in the fight of demands aiming at the improvement of the material condition of proletarians, assimilated to the office, and to compromise and submission. It is not by chance that, here and there, one can read long verses on the incapacity of the working class of the factories and the offices to break with social peace while, unfortunately, the trade unions and the left parties succeeded in mobilizing relatively large sectors of them to force the crisis of the right-wing government and to facilitate, not without success, the electoral victory of the left. The hegemony of the trade unions and the statist left within the workers is not synonymous with corruption of the class but of an absence of autonomy.

An extremism which runs the risk of rapidly losing its proletarian contours

Fertile with hatred of the cops, the state and wealth but low in class consciousness, the rebellion dissolved, as it developed, the social reasons for its eruption. Worse, it ended up reinforcing a kind of existentialist ideology punctuated by the assertion of an egalitarianism, generic as it was a-classist. The illusion of creating, through the violent confrontations with the representatives of the state, a kind of community of struggle against capital was expressed in many texts resulting from organized fractions of rioters. However, the collective exercise of class strength does not build new social relations because it results, although it is directly expressed in an antagonistic way, from a society divided into opposing classes.

Moreover, though absolutely necessary, armed combat by the masses or by small detachments is an arid ground in itself, a mirror image of the domination of capital. No more than the insurrectionary general strike, the military struggle is not a panacea in itself. The belief that it would be enough for “urban rebellions” to go beyond atomisation and isolation by living “a common life against separation and outside the places of production” indicates a deep incomprehension of the fundamental weakness of these types of class actions, incapable of having a durable impact on the capitalist relations of production.

In the case of that of December 2008, this statement is even more clear-cut because it did not have any kind of impact, even a small one, on the relations between workers and bosses in Greece. The externality, a really extreme one, of the riots in relation to the daily fight of the class was, on the contrary, presented as a feature of modernity and, worse, as a manifestation of the refusal of wage labour by a conscious minority of proletarians. The inversion of the subject - the fight of the workers against the machine and the command of the company - and of the predicate - insurrectionary eruptions in the street - is complete and irreversible here. It marks a theoretical point of no-return towards the concrete and conflicted life of the exploited class. The richness of an independent workers’ movement is rather measured in its capacity to build, notwithstanding the pressing requirement to beat the enemy on all fronts, relations between proletarians which anticipate the liberation from wage labour and the supersession of the state.

The relentless search for something more than one enraged and legitimate reaction to police violence in the rebellion of December 2008 is the reason for the twists and turns of the comrades who attached themselves to it. Above all they imagined that the street battles are the ripe product of a “permanent” crisis of the reproduction of capitalist relations. A crisis which covers a whole period of “over-accumulation of capital”, no less. The disregard for the mechanisms of social production of value is such that it prevents the originators of these ideas from proving them, by a series of abstract as well as arbitrary postulates which do not need to be checked.

It would be easy, one year after the revolts, to recall that the relationship of capital and the state which incarnates it, are still there whereas the insurrection is over. It would be easy also to refer the ideologists of the perpetual crisis of capitalism to the available figures of accumulation. The financial crisis of these last two years is on the way to being overcome, including in Greece, at the heavy price of a long tax crisis of the state, a crisis whose burden will be entirely carried, for a long time, by the subordinated classes6

This was a crisis which was used by the capitalists of the whole world to reduce the cost of labour power and to push back the power of workers to condition, and even, under certain conditions, to break the accumulation of capital. The identification of the major reason for the riots of December 2008 with the supposedly permanent crisis of the reproduction of capitalist relations and with its attribute, the crisis of the education system, serves in reality to indirectly hurl opprobrium on the workers who didn’t know how to do anything other than express “solidarity”.

The divergence of behaviours exalted and often caricatured by certain organized sections of rioters between the presumed passivity of “traditional” workers, supposedly the “better assured” in the preservation of their jobs and subjected to the soporific politics of the trade unions and the left of the state, and the offensive actions of the angry young people, considered to be outside the influence of waged work and who fully understand capital and the state, objectively reinforces division within the exploited class. De facto, the scornful refusal of any material demand and - why not? - defensive ones, pushed apart the two units described above by solidifying them in improbable roles which do not correspond to the reality of exploitation and class struggle across all its innumerable episodes. Sometimes, the aristocratic-smelling criticism of the autonomous collective initiatives of proletarians who modestly fight for better work contracts and those who try to practise a class trade unionism, seems grotesque.

This is testified to by the contempt by which certain organized groups of rebels treated the demand for state hiring of the cleaning workers who are today massively employed by subcontractors. By very curtly opposing “the question of the abolition of wage labour” to this objective (judged to be social democratic), they show a contempt for the defence of working conditions which the owners would rightly be delighted with. It is obvious that the demand includes a great ambiguity because it can imply that the state is impartial and fair with its employees. But another reading is possible, and we must insist on it: the growing unification of working conditions between workers of different sectors, in different companies, reinforces the objective base of the struggle.

Yes, criticising the state as an owner by comparing it to the “private” owners and, simultaneously, requiring by an independent fight to have only one work contract, only one wage scale, closer working conditions, are not contradictory. What’s more, this dialectic which links struggles independent from the political and trade-union bodies of capital and the state to the demands inspired by the one material interest of the workers is the only policy appropriate to determine broad, durable and effective offensive fights against the class enemy. But especially, this makes it possible for combative proletarians to organize themselves for the development, in and by the struggle, of a general plan of revolution and going beyond the current class relationships - a plan whose contents are immediately social because it speaks about real communism, that which gushes with practical criticism extending to all the forms of exploitation and oppression, and whose form is inevitably still political, not within the meaning of the planned exercise of the art of the mediation but that of the organized and centralised collective experience of rupture and going beyond the present state of things.

  • 1Everyone To The Streets: Texts and Communiques from the Greek uprising, [email protected] ; TPTG (Ta Paida Tis Galarias – “Les enfants du paradis”) : P.O BOX 76149 17110, N. Smirni, Athens, Greece; Blaumachen: https://www.blaumachen.gr
  • 2In 1973 the occupation of the college by young students and workers signalled the beginning of the end for the dictatorship of the colonels established in 1967.
  • 3The Greek union federations are: GSEE (unions of the private sector) and ADEDY (unions of the public sector).
  • 4Konstantina Kuneva was attacked with acid by the bosses’ thugs.
  • 5The inverted commas are ours.
  • 6Let’s remember that for Marx there existed, apart from the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, semi-classes, incomplete classes and therefore subaltern classes.