Part of Mouvement Communiste Letter number 32
The May Days
The May days
After the demonstrations of 1 May, after the measures were voted through, the participation in strikes and demonstrations was important in terms of knowing if, since March, the movement against austerity measures could start up again.
The number of demonstrators was certainly impressive1 , not only in Athens (30,000 with the KKE/PAME, 120,000 with the unions) and Thessaloniki (30,000), but also in many medium-sized provincial towns. The strike reached the same level of participation as in March, notably in transport2 . But always without any trace of self-organisation in workplaces or any autonomous activity.
It is difficult to estimate the participation of students and secondary school pupils in the demonstration on 5 May, because they were not in separate marches. All that can be said is that there were a lot of young people. This does not apply to PAME where the Communist students formed their own march.
In Athens, the violent actions carried out on the fringes of the marches had an irregular intensity, going as far as Syntagma, in front of Parliament. Isolated from the others as usual, the KKE/PAME march arrived on the scene first. The demonstrators waited for the columns of GSEE/ADEDY, which allowed the workers to come out and try to attack — without success — the police protecting Parliament, and then those gathered around the monument to the unknown soldier.
All along the roads leading to Syntagma (Panepistimiou street, Syngrou avenue, Stadiou avenue), the banks (most of them shuttered), the administrative buildings (a tax office, the Athens prefecture), luxury cars, etc. suffered greatly from the anger of the “autonomes” without the demonstrators opposing them. In many places the police seemed incapable of reacting because their repressive operation was so dysfunctional. The whole thing lasted around three hours3 . On the other hand, in other places the police were firmly in control and pushed back the initiatives of the demonstrators.
Then the news came out about a branch of Marfin bank on Stadiou street having been burnt down by the demonstrators and that three non-striking employees had perished in the fire. The next day, 6 May, the demonstrations were far less well attended. The digestion of the event and its consequences by the workers was difficult. Thanks to this major error, the state was able to profit from the occasion and gain the upper hand.
It is not certain, despite everything, that the accident at the bank has tarnished the image of the social movement. The denunciation was unanimous, and the various anarchist collectives were not the last to denounce what they called, certainly, a murder4 . Everyone knows very well the difference between a general and justified movement of the workers against the state measures (the associations of shopkeepers of the large towns are rather favourable to the workers), and the acts of individuals with sometimes suspect objectives (in the case of Marfin Bank, all the accounts confirm that the presence of employees and customers inside was perfectly visible, which gives a criminal aspect to this “accident”).
This terrible event should remind us that the exercise of force is only a tool (and not a neutral one) which, in certain circumstances, the movement can or must seize. In itself, violent action does not have any political value. It can, as was the case for the episode of Marfin bank, be transformed into an extremely harmful instrument. Used as it was here, it is only the expression of a terrible vacuity of thought and in no way an expression of collective strength. The use of this tool must therefore always be carefully weighed up. If proletarian organisation is never a luxury but a permanent necessity of the class struggle, concerted and well-prepared collective action is the condition sine qua non of any initiative involving force.
The exercise of force is a constant characteristic of any independent proletarian expression, from a simple assembly, to a strike, an occupation, a demonstration and much more. The recognition of this state of affairs must not hide, or make us underestimate, the dangers involved in its use. One thing amongst others which we must beware of is the constitution of a separate and specialised corps.
The eventual targets of the movement must be pursued with the maximum of rigor and organisation so as to avoid at any cost “accidents” of the type which happened here. The exaltation of spontaneity and destruction, in this domain or elsewhere, is in itself pernicious. The avalanche of daft explanations about who’s responsible (fascist or police provocation) and who’s guilty (the boss for sure, non-striking employees) only demonstrate the lack of political intelligence of the milieus who claim to be so revolutionary. These are the same milieus who made themselves the noble heroes of the revolt of December 2008.
As for the confrontations in Syntagma, whatever was the will to fight on the part of the demonstrators coming out of the KKE march, or the other rebels who were present, they represented a spectacular image, although much less harmful on the political plane, of the murderous attack on the bank. Their uselessness was glaring. These uncoordinated assaults were pushed back without the slightest difficulty by the forces of repression. Worse, 200 metres behind at the corner of the street, the KKE-PAME procession remained completely indifferent, proof of the effective political control of the KKE over its troops.
Brussels, London, Paris, 20 May 2010
Testimony of a demonstrator5
1. The attack happened towards 14.00 (according to the newspapers). The bloc of protesters that I was in arrived about 50 metres from the burning bank towards 14.15. The path was then affected, on one side because we couldn’t advance, on the other so as to let the fire engines pass (2 vehicles came to add to the fire brigade vehicles already in place). I did not witness the attack. This bank was the only one open at that time and there were no cops nearby... The first firemen arrived very quickly.
2. The “smashers” broke the windows at the front of the building, threw in a flammable liquid and hurled Molotov cocktails. All the witnesses present confirm that the presence of employees and customers in the bank branches was perfectly visible. The demonstrators, including some immigrants (as the TV reports showed), immediately went to help the people trapped in the building (a neoclassical house transformed into an office). Unfortunately, the imposing door was securely locked and they couldn’t force it. Some employees were able to leave by the broken flaming window before the flames got too high.
3. Given the impossibility of leaving by the front of the building, because the fire was already raging, the remaining employees climbed to the higher floors where they were victims of fumes produced by the fire. Three people suffocated and died. The others sought refuge on the balconies before being rescued by the firemen who had put up their ladder.
4. The boss came along in the afternoon, between 17.00 and 18.00, and was booed by the people still present (around 200). The demonstration had ended. It’s not really important who the boss is. He’s a bit like a Greek Berlusconi, he’s bought Olympic Airways, owns the Marfin bank, and various media interests. He is a successful businessman who has political ambitions.
5. The "smashers" who operate on the margins of the demos habitually hide themselves in the ranks of the anarchist “blocs”. They never show up close to the ranks of the Greek Communist Party, the KKE, which possesses a solid “order service” which immediately chases them, and prefer to hide themselves away in the middle of people who they know won’t chase them away. The saintliness of some plays the game of others, with more or less clear intentions.
6. There exists a plethora of little extreme left and anarchist groups in Greece, so-called autonomous groups, including a certain number who practice expropriation of banks and organise bombings and shootings ("attentats"). The present situation allows those who call for violence against the cops and the state to feel like a fish in water in the demonstrations. I’m worried that their intervention will cloud the issues.
- 1On the face of it, the number of demonstrators was greater than was recorded in 2001, for the demonstrations which prevented the reform of the retirement regime.
- 2In the private sector, according to the GSEE, the rate of participation was 30% in the factories of the north and around 100% for electricians, postmen and council workers. In the public sector, the participation was only 30% with only 1% for primary school teachers.
- 3According to TPTG, many “normal” demonstrators participated in the skirmishes.
- 4See http://athens.indymedia.org
- 5A French comrade, who was 50m from the bank as it burned. See: http://www.mondialisme.org/spip.php?article1494