Greece: Road to Revolution?

While the blog was down for maintenance, my article on the riots in Greece appeared in Haaretz. Since then, it has been translated into French, Spanish, Turkish, Serbian and Finnish.

Here’s the original text.

A road to revolution?
By Uri Gordon

Three weeks have passed since the unprovoked police murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens, and the riots engulfing Greece show no sign of abating.

While the student occupations of the capital’s three universities (Economics, Polytechnic and the law faculty) are expected to end soon, a major student demonstration has been called for January 9, and the protests, street clashes and seizures of television and radio stations are set to continue in full force.

A Greek blogger wrote this week: “We have a duty to move here, there, anywhere but back to our couches as mere viewers of history, back home to the warmth that freezes our conscience.”
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The international ripples are also tangible. Solidarity demonstrations and attacks on Greek embassies have taken place around the globe, from Moscow to New York and Copenhagen to Mexico City. Declarations and manifestos issued by student assemblies at Greek schools are almost immediately translated and posted online in English, French, Italian, Turkish and Serbian.

In the first few days of the revolt, bloggers were trying to put together a list of all the solidarity actions taking place, but the task proved impossible: There have been literally hundreds of them; thousands of people have taken to the streets. Last Saturday, a global day of action against police violence saw raucous demonstrations in over 30 cities worldwide.

The corporate press has trotted out various theories to explain the cause of the unrest – frustration with a corrupt government, the global financial crisis, and discontent among Greece’s youth, who face meager prospects of secure employment or welfare rights – the riots being a blind reaction to objective conditions.

But all these explanations are in fact decoys intended to silence and ignore the rebels’ own declared motivations.

A declaration by the students occupying the Athens School of Economics was quite clear about how they see the issue: “The democratic regime in its peaceful facade doesn’t kill an Alex every day, precisely because it kills thousands of Ahmets, Fatimas, Jorjes, Jin Tiaos and Benajirs: because it assassinates systematically, structurally and without remorse the entirety of the third world ….

“The cardinals of normality weep for the law that was violated from the bullet of the pig Korkoneas [the policeman who shot Grigoropoulos]. But who doesn’t know that the force of the law is merely the force of the powerful? That it is law itself that allows for the exercise of violence on violence? The law is void from end to bitter end; it contains no meaning, no target other than the coded power of imposition.”

Or, in another declaration, this one anonymous: “What do we seek? Equality. Political, economic, social. Between all people. Our possibility of convincing the servile consumers to refuse being commodities and subjects is rather limited. What can we do? Ravage and plunder the market, distribute the goods to everybody, dissolve the myths that support inequality.”

These are no single-issue protests or vague grievances. This is full-blooded revolutionary anarchism.

The mainstream media simply cannot stomach the notion that what is happening in Greece is by now a proactive social revolt against the capitalist system itself and the state institutions that reinforce it. It is time to acknowledge that the Greek anarchist movement has successfully seized the initiative after the killing of one of its own, framing the issues in a way that appeals to a larger – albeit mostly young – public.

Few people realize that the Greek anarchist movement is appreciably the largest in the world, in proportion to its country’s population. It also enjoys wide social support due to its legacy of resistance to the military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974. Highly confrontational demonstrations are a matter of regularity in Greece. It is practically a bimonthly occurrence for anarchists and police to engage in fiery street battles in Thessaloniki or Athens. The current events are only marked by their breadth and duration, not by their level of militancy.

Another rarely appreciated factor is that Greece is a country in which the security apparatus is normally kept on a relatively tight leash. For example, Privacy International’s 2007 assessment of leading surveillance societies found Greece to be the only country in the world with “adequate safeguards” against the abuse of government power to spy on its citizenry. The legacy of the dictatorship has created a lasting image of the police as inherently oppressive, even among the middle class.

Will the riots in Greece lead to an anti-capitalist revolution? Only if the opening they have torn in the social fabric widens and deepens, involving ever-growing sections of society and creating new grass-roots institutions alongside the destruction of the old. This seems unlikely in the short term, as bureaucratic labor unions and the Communist Party attempt to domesticate the revolt and cut their own political coupon with their demand to disarm the police.

But there is no doubt that a new benchmark has been set for what can be expected in Western countries during the coming era of economic depression and environmental decay. European governments will no doubt ratchet up their policies of surveillance and repression in anticipation of growing civil unrest. But that may not be enough to keep the population subdued, as crisis after crisis calls the existing arrangement of power and privilege into question.

Uri Gordon is the author of “Anarchy Alive!: Anti-Authoritarian Politics from Practice to Theory” (Pluto Press); www.anarchyalive.com.

2 thoughts on “Greece: Road to Revolution?

  1. emmi

    What is going on now? I admit that I haven’t been keeping up, but It seems that the monolith of corporate press has done its job: explain away entire social movements and their rebellions as disparate reactions against unfavorable social or political phenomenons, until the world forgets.

    I wonder, yeah? One of my biggest questions and critiques (as an anarchist half way around the world) is how far can the tactics of insurrection take social movements? Can political violence actually equate into tangible political, social, and cultural empowerment and power, considerable qualitative and quantitative change in society? I know that this question is largely contextual, that a simple transcendent phrase like, “violence is the absence of power and can only lead to reform” (words in the spirit of Hannah Arendt), are not quite accurate in every single historical moment. But I do think it is important to discuss these matters.

    Which is why I wonder what is going on right now on the ground in Athens.

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