Greece and the Insurrections to Come

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From December 6, when police murdered 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in downtown Athens, to the time of this writing, Greece has seen unprecedented rioting. Anarchists and students, supported and often joined by significant swaths of the population, have clashed with police, destroyed corporate and government property, and occupied government buildings, trade union offices, and media outlets, not to mention the usual universities. By December 12, police had used  over 4600 capsules of tear gas, and were seeking more from Israel and Germany—an ominous pair of nations, when it comes to repression.

What’s going on in Greece? Is it simply a matter of disenfranchised youth protesting a discouraging job market, or is there something more afoot?



What’s It All About?

The corporate media has ignored the banners decrying police brutality and unaccountable authority, seizing instead on the idea that the unrest is the result of widespread unemployment and poor economic prospects for young Greeks. Thus prompted, many people—including some radicals—have focused on these issues as well.

At such a distance, we are not equipped to speak on the causes of the riots or the motivations of the participants, but we know better than to trust the media. Some corporate outlets have gone so far as to announce—in language that might be less surprising in a magazine like Rolling Thunder—that the events in Greece may presage the second coming of the anti-globalization movement thought to be vanquished after September 11, 2001. Though this might be true, we should hesitate to let the corporate media provide us with our narrative, lest it prove to be a Trojan horse.

If the riots are not about Alexandros after all, are we to believe that—were the economy more stable—it would be acceptable to shoot down 15-year-olds? After all, police kill people all the time in the United States without anyone smashing a single store window over it. Is this simply because we have a lower unemployment rate?

Should we accept that the rage being vented in Greece is economic in origin, the implication is that it could be dispelled by economic solutions—and there are capitalist solutions for the crisis in no shorter supply than socialist ones. Perhaps the exploitation, misery, and unemployment currently rampant in Greece could be exported to some meeker nation, or else enough credit could be extended to the disaffected stone-throwers that they could come to identify as middle class themselves. These approaches have worked before; one might even argue that they have driven the process of capitalist globalization.

If Greece could somehow be transformed into Sweden—if every nation could be Sweden, without any having to be Nigeria—would it be OK to shoot teenagers then? They shoot anarchists in Sweden too, you know.

To the extent to which the resistance in Greece is simply an expression of frustration at dim financial prospects, then, it is possible that it can ultimately be defused or co-opted. But there are other forces at work here, which the corporate account de-emphasizes.

These riots are not coming out of nowhere. Masked anarchists setting fires and fighting the police have been common in Greece since before the turn of the century. In 1999, shortly before the Seattle WTO protests, there were major riots when Bill Clinton visited. At the time, the economy was livelier—and the socialists were in power, which seems to contradict the theory that the current unrest is simply a result of dissatisfaction with the conservative government.

Corporate media generally ignore anarchists, trivializing them with qualifiers such as “self-styled” when they refer to them at all. That corporate outlets have been forced to detail the anarchist involvement in these and other struggles in Greece attests to the depth and seriousness of anarchist activity. Leftists may attempt to portray the events in Greece as a general uprising of “the people,” and certainly countless “normal” people have participated, but it is clear even from this vantage point that anarchists started the rioting and have remained the most influential element within it.

We hypothesize that the rioting in Greece is not simply an inevitable result of economic recession, but a proactive radical initiative that speaks to the general public.

Though the rioting was provoked by the murder of Alexandros, it is only possible because of preexisting infrastructures and social currents—otherwise, such murders would catalyze uprisings in the US as well. Such an immediate and resolute response would not have occurred if anarchists in Greece had not developed a culture conducive to it. Thanks to a network of social centers, a deep-seated sense that neighborhoods such as the one in which Alexandros was killed are liberated zones off-limits to police, and a tradition of resistance extending back through generations, Greek anarchists feel entitled to their rage and capable of acting upon it. In recent years, a series of struggles against the prison system, the mistreatment of immigrants, and the privatization of schools have given innumerable young people experience in militant action. As soon as the text messages circulated announcing the police killing, Greek anarchists knew exactly how to respond, because they had done so time and again before.

The general public in Greece is already sympathetic to resistance movements, owing to the heritage of struggle against the US-supported dictatorship. In this regard, Greece is similar to Chile, another nation noted for the intensity of its street conflicts and class warfare. With the murder of Alexandros, anarchists finally had a narrative that was compelling to a great number of people. In another political context, liberals or other opportunists might have been able to exploit this tragedy to their own ends, but the Greek anarchists forestalled this possibility by immediately seizing the initiative and framing the terms of the conflict.

It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

That is to say, it’s always the economy. But it’s not just the economic hardships accompanying times of recession—the resistance in Greece is also a revolt against the exploitation, alienation, and hierarchy inherent in the capitalist system, that set the stage for police to murder teenagers whether or not a significant percentage of the population is unemployed.

To repeat, if alienation and hierarchy were themselves sufficient to inspire effective resistance, we’d see a lot more of it in the United States. The decisive factor in Greece is not the economy, but the cumulative efforts that have built a vibrant anarchist movement. There is no shortcut around developing an analogous movement in the US if we want to be capable of similar responses to oppression and injustice. Militant actions, such as some of the solidarity actions that have occurred in the US thus far, can provide some experience and momentum, but the creation of enduring cultural spaces is probably more essential.

Anarchists in the United States face a much different context than their Greek colleagues. Greece is a peripheral participant in the European Union, while the US remains the epicenter of global capitalism, with a correspondingly more powerful repressive apparatus. The legal consequences of participating in confrontations with the police are potentially more severe in the US, at least in proportion to the support for arrestees. Much of the population is more conservative, and both radical and oppressed communities are more fragmented, owing to the tremendous numbers of people in prison and the transience enforced by the job market. There is little continuity in traditions of resistance—in most communities, the collective anarchist memory does not stretch back beyond a decade at the most. The events in Greece are inspiring, but US anarchists can probably learn more from the infrastructures behind them than from the superficial aspects of the clashes.

Likewise, radicals in the US can draw inspiration from Greek anarchists without forgetting what is worthwhile in local anarchist communities. Though Greek anarchists clearly excel at confrontation, this does not guarantee that they are equally equipped to contest internal hierarchies and forms of oppression. The capacity to work out conflicts and maintain horizontal distributions of power is as essential to the anarchist project as any kind of offense or defense. It would be unfortunate if a fascination with the Greeks led US anarchists to deprioritize discussions about consent, consensus-based decision-making, and privilege.


The Insurrections to Come?

The events of the past two weeks may help reframe the global context for struggle, as the Zapatista revolt did in 1994. The rioting in Greece is not the only major unrest in the world right now, but it is perhaps the most promising, because it is explicitly directed against hierarchical power.

Most current hostilities, even those not organized by governments, are not as promising. Not everyone who takes up arms outside the state’s monopoly on violence is fighting for the abolition of hierarchy. Nationalist campaigns, fundamentalist crusades, religious conflicts, ethnic strife, and the gang warfare of illegal capitalism pit people against each other without any hope of liberation. We have to set visible precedents for liberation struggles if we hope future conflicts will pit the oppressed against their oppressors rather than against each other. Greece may be one such precedent. We can create similar precedents on smaller scales in the US, by taking the initiative to determine the character of confrontations with authority. The anarchist mobilization at last summer’s Republican National Convention was arguably an example of this, though certainly not the only format for it.

Today, party communism is largely discredited, and most influential resistance movements do not see seizing state power as feasible or desirable. This leaves two roads for critics of the current world order. One is to support reformist heads of state such as Obama, Lula, and Chavez, who cash in on dissent to re-legitimize the state form and, as if incidentally, their own power. On the other hand, there is the possibility of a struggle against power itself—whether waged consciously, as it currently is in Greece, or as a result of complete social and economic marginalization, as in France in 2005. The latter path offers a long struggle with no victory in sight, but it may be the first step towards a new world.

Resources

Our friends at the Center for Strategic Anarchy are following events in Greece closely as they unfold, and their website is an excellent resource for news and updates. We also recommend this collection of stirring photos from the conflict.

If something scares us, it is the return to normality. For in the destroyed and pillaged streets of our cities of light we see not only the obvious results of our rage, but the possibility of starting to live. We no longer have anything to do, other than to install ourselves in this possibility and transform it into a living experience: by grounding on the field of everyday life, our creativity, our power to materialize our desires, our power not to contemplate but to construct the real. This is our vital space. All the rest is death.

-from a statement from the occupation of the Athens School of Economics and Business


Appendix: Questions for the Greeks

In order to provide more informed coverage of the events in Greece on this website and in the forthcoming issue of Rolling Thunder, we are soliciting participants in the uprising to answer the following questions. If you or anyone you know can help us with this, please email us at rollingthunder@crimethinc.com.

How have the actions been coordinated within cities? How about between cities?

What kinds of organizing structures appeared?

Were there any structures already in existence that people used to organize?

What different kinds of people have participated in the actions?

What different forms have the actions taken?

How many of the participants had been involved in similar actions before December 6? For how many participants do you think this is their “first time”?

Which of the tactics used in the actions have been used before in Greece? Did they spread in the course of this rebellion? If they did, how did it happen?

Have any conflicts emerged between participants in the actions?

What is the opinion of the “general public” about the actions?

How important to the context of these events is the legacy of the dictatorship in Greece? How does it influence popular opinions and actions in this case?

Do you think troubles in the economy are as important in these events as the corporate media is saying?

What other motivations, besides anger against the police and the economy, do you think are driving people to participate?

Are political parties succeeding in co-opting energy from the uprising?

What has been the role of anarchists in starting and continuing the actions? How clearly is their participation seen by the rest of society?

How much visibility do anarchists have in Greece in general? How seriously is anarchism taken by the majority of Greek people?

What role have subcultural groups—like punk, squatting, etc.—played in making the uprising possible?

What things have made the anarchist movement healthy in Greece?

In what ways do you think the anarchist movement in Greece could be better or stronger?

How effective has police repression been in shutting down the anarchist movement? How have people resisted it?

What do you think the final result of the events of December will be?

12 thoughts on “Greece and the Insurrections to Come

  1. while I agree with the points made, am I the only who finds it ironic that an anarchist publication is taking issue with the mainstream media for ascribing an economic basis to working-class rioting?

    who’s the real marxists now?

  2. i find it exceptionally ridiculous that in an article about greece, where militant action is the backbone to the “cultural space” lauded in this article, you would diminish militant actions in the united states (pointing out the militant march in nyc on December 18th) and paint them as less essential.

    the reason those beautiful squatted social centers are around and neighborhoods exist where cops don’t show their face in greece is because there are CONSEQUENCES for those in authority to come into liberated territory. if those spaces weren’t vigorously defended, and ultimately used as a base to expand the liberated zones further (through more militant action), none of that space would be there.

    in new york (and the rest of united states i daresay), to create space that is unmediated by capitalist relations means facing the billyclub of the police (almost) immediately. finding the courage and the mettle that IS NEEDED to create liberated territory in the united states, REQUIRES MILITANT ACTION.

    also, it bears mentioning that the march in nyc was headed to support the student occupation at the new school, and indeed many regrouped there later. i would think this fits your definition of “cultural space” no?

  3. Greece’s most recent economic data was released today, further taking the wind out of the sails of the whole economic desperation narrative pushed by the corporate media: “Unemployment in the third trimester of 2008 fell to 7.2 percent, down from 7.9 percent in the same period in 2007, the Greek national statistics service said on Thursday. This is the lowest level of unemployment on record in the 3rd trimester of any year since records began in 1998.”

    http://www.ana-mpa.gr/anaweb/user/showplain?maindoc=7144738&maindocimg=6631871&service=96

  4. Jane Mumford–Since you have simply reposted your comment from infoshop.org to this webpage, I fear I will do the same:

    It’s too bad you misunderstood the reference to the NYC solidarity march as “diminishing.” Perhaps you are the sort of person who only mentions something to diminish it, but if we’d wanted to diminish it, it would have been easier to have simply ignored it. Perhaps you’ve been spending too much time on the internet and are interpreting things in the wrong tone?

    On the contrary, out of the dozen or more solidarity actions we could have referenced in composing this analysis, we picked NYC because it was the most exciting. That doesn’t mean it’s more essential than the cultural spaces in which events like that can germinate, however, which was the point of the sentence–though you’re right that it’s often a sort of chicken-and-egg conundrum.

    One thing seems clear to me, though, reading your comment. If the spaces in which we are to start the process of fostering radical communities always involve immediately being attacked with billy clubs, it’s going to be hard to get anywhere. That’s why the insurrectionist analysis is not always the most strategic one–we need to put down roots quietly sometimes in order to build up to the serious confrontations we desire. Let’s be frank–we’re not nearly as far along in constructing radical communities as we need to be in the US. There are times to charge the billy clubs, and times it’s better to find each other so next time we can charge them with 500 people rather than 50.

    But in the meantime, the action in NYC sounded great, including (as you point out) its connection to the New School occupation. It’s unfortunate you misconstrued our shout out as an attack. Perhaps you have more friends than you give yourself credit for?

  5. yes, you diminished the nyc solidarity march, because you have put it into the ‘less essential’ category, along with other ‘militant actions.’

    i feel you have ignored the importance militant actions play in creating cultural spaces that are capable of resistance. by ignoring in your piece the fact the march was also in solidarity with the student occupation, you reinforce the idea that militancy in the united states is simply done for militancy’s sake, and is not part of a broader goal of creating a REAL culture of resistance.

    militant action is ESSENTIAL in creating revolutionary spaces, or rather, spaces capable of revolutionary situations. for instance, if it weren’t for a militant few, the occupation at the new school would never have happened. and in the end, the students, eschewing militancy and their stated goals, chose a bullshit compromise that seriously squandered the real transformational/revolutionary situation created by the occupation.

    i feel that the conclusion you came to in your piece does an incredible disservice, and that it belies the real efforts needed to create our own unique (insurrectionary) situations in the united states.

    as i stated on infoshop, it is not either/or. it is not essentializing space over militant action, it is both, it is all, it everything at once.

    seriously, we must no longer be quiet!!!

  6. JM–There are definitely forms of radical community that cannot be created without struggle. But many in the US don’t seem to understand how things work in Greece–for example, that there are a wide variety of struggles on a number of levels that enable them to hold the universities as autonomous spaces. It isn’t just the people throwing rocks that make that possible. The force of insurrection is social, not military, right?

    Your example of the New School occupation seems to suggest different conclusions than the ones you are emphasizing. If you are correct to argue that the occupation would never have happened without a militant few, and it ended because not enough people were willing to take it in a militant direction, then it would seem that one of the most determinant factors is how much support the militant few receive from others. So while militant action is essential in creating revolutionary spaces, other things are also essential, and perhaps require enough long-term effort that it’s worth emphasizing their importance even more than emphasizing how sexy it is to throw things and get arrested (not that I’m against that!). It takes a day to run around throwing rocks, but it takes years to build up a social context in which you can do that with 1000 people rather than 10… and throwing rocks alone is not enough to help you find those other comrades. Perhaps I’m making a straw man, as I’m sure you’d agree with me about that at least.

    In contrast to your example of the New School occupation, let me offer an example of what I consider to be a successful combination of militant action and the creation of social spaces conducive to widening the struggle. Elsewhere on this site, you can read the story of a certain small town in which anarchists organized a regular Really Really Free Market on the town commons. At first they paid the reservation fee, but as soon as a sizable social body was attending the RRFMs, they ceased paying the fees and engaged in a showdown with the local government that involved threats of force from both sides. Because the RRFMs had begun without explicit confrontation with the authorities, once there was a confrontation, many people who would not normally be attracted to confrontation were invested in them and were willing to stand up to the government. In the end, the government backed down on every demand, because it was clear they were taking on too wide a swath of the population, and the experience was empowering and radicalizing for a range of people.

    That’s not the only model for how things can work, but it is one that builds to militant confrontation rather than starting from it. It’s also a story in which the anarchists and opponents of the state won, hands down. Too many of us are used to losing, and though it can sometimes be strategic to fight a battle you will lose there’s a lot to be said for getting experience doing things that consolidate gains rather than squandering energy. We need more militance in the US, for sure, but we can’t expect to increase the scope of militant action here unless we increase the social base from which it springs.

    By the way, it’s true that the piece above doesn’t flesh out all the details of the NYC solidarity march, but it’s absurd for you to complain about that: it’s only referenced obliquely in a link, and then only because it’s an example (in some aspects, whatever other aspects it may possess) of one of many solidarity actions. As I said earlier, it’s a better example than most, but the above text is not a critique of it in the first place, so it’s a moot point. My impression from our interactions here is that you are so quick to take offense that anyone referencing anything you’re excited about would be hard pressed not to “do it an incredible disservice” in your eyes.

    Those who have been quiet should cease being quiet, yes. Some of us have not been quiet for the last ten years either, however. When we do raise our voices, let’s do so in order to build bridges and find companions in struggle, not to seek opportunities for dissension.

  7. speaking of absurdity, i wasn’t asking for a dissertation on the nyc march, but if it was going to be used by you as an example of “militant action” as opposed to your all-important “building of cultural space,” i think it was unfair to place it into a single category, rather than acknowledging it had more than one dimension.

    i can’t even begin to describe how much i completely fucking disagree with you, so i will retire to my insurrectionary lair, where i lay down the welcome mat for “dissension” as opposed to the false consensus of the big happy anarcho community.

  8. Jane–it’s interesting to me that you speak about “militancy” as if it only applies to aggressive, violent actions. can it not also refer to a dedication that is lacking across the board in most of our circles, both violent and non?

  9. Some folks seem intent on discrediting the insurrectionary analysis by associating it with bombastic, ill-formed rhetoric and pointless, incoherent dogmatism, as others have done for primitivism. Such impulses are especially lame in this case because there’s plenty of room for reasonable, intelligent disagreement with this piece, and, given the author’s willingness to engage in thoughtful dialogue, such an approach could have yielded a new understanding of these events and their implications for anarchists in the U.S. Here’s hoping that still happens.

  10. This just in from Greek comrades:

    “In http://voidnetwork.blogspot.com, and also the announcements from
    http://voidmirror.blogspot.com, all the 3 essays are original material from the moments of the insurrection (and even if they are poetical and fast-written they express deeply the feelings of the revolt in Athens).

    Also you have to take a look in these blogs that are the blogs from the biggest central squats of the revolt and in all of them (if you search all of them good) you will find many original answers in English:
    General Assembly of the Squated Athens School of Economics (800 people assembly+many others) http://katalipsiasoee.blogspot.com/

    Assembly of Insurrected workers from the building of General Confederation of Workers (syndicalist official socialist, reformist and communist that from 1918 until now is the biggest obstacle for all workers of Greece and this is the first time that some people dare to squat their building… and they freaked out!)
    http://gseefreezone.blogspot.com/

    …and of course the blog and the radio from the center of the struggle, the Athens Polytechnic School, also with many announcmenets in English
    http://katalipsipolytexneiou.blogspot.com

    Use also our blog… that has very very big influence to the blending of the chaotic (non-ideological) youngsters with the anarchists:
    http://voidnetwork.blogspot.com

  11. Alexandros Grigoropoulos was 15 years old. He was shot dead by police, under circumstances that I think irrelevant, since nothing can justify the murder of a child at the hands of folk given license to end the lives (metaphorically and unfortunately[?] otherwise) of those that live contrary to the dictates of the prevailing government. Since the pigs (the Greek word for which escapes me, but my sentiments apply to fascist storm troopers the world over) are endowed with such power, I think it only “right” for them to recognize their status as dim-witted demigods and, accordingly, turn the other cheek before the risk of “innocent” (or, better still, ANY) life loss. Instead, the Greek police, in this instance, acted their true roles and posed questions post slaughter. Thus, youthful Greek upstarts (at least according to the USA-filtered media that eventually comes to me) responded with molotov-fueled protests of several weeks’ duration against a penetant, passive government. These “anarchists” take for granted their privilege, undermine their own intentions and, ultimately, make the rest of us radicals look bad!
    I live in New York City, where intoxicated, undercover police zealously put down one Sean Bell with enough bullets to bring cessation to a mad elephant mid-rampage. This they did the night before the man’s wedding, outside of a strip club, at the behest of a jittery oinker who thought he heard someone say the word “gun.” As I just typed the word “gun,” I genuinely expect to be fed many a bullet myself in but a moment. Until then, let me tell you: Here, the police are NOT sorry for the several, ostensible murders they have committed (note the verdicts in reference to this incident, and the subsequent consequences of such). They ARE, also, allowed to enter University property, which I know from drunken personal experience…
    I say to these Greek “radicals” what I said to Canadian (sorry, Quebec-ian) Anarchists at the annual bookfair in ’05 upon hearing of their viciousness toward po-po: YOU ARE LUCKY THAT YOU ARE NOT IN NEW YORK! Here, the police won’t restrain their natural propensity to beat and even kill those that threaten the oligarchy they die to protect. They won’t sit by as you play anarchist. The community that should have brought street justice to the doorstep of the most trigger-happy of the Sean Bell murderers refrained from doing so, because they knew what would happen were they to even think hard about taking up arms against 5-0… I would love for our mad-as-Hell Greeks to try their hands here, where we desperately need anarchism (and not the violent chaos that the average Fox News acolyte thinks of when hearing said word, but autonomous “choice” to abandon government in favor of the deceptively more orderly institutions of free association and mutual aid). Actually, I would hate for it. There would be many dead “anarchists.”
    True revolutionaries are either dead or imprisoned (ask BPP / BLA members… seriously. Write to them, as they need support behind the walls!). Everyone else either masturbates (metaphorically), plays pretend or sits atop an increasingly uncomfortable fence. Without government complicity, all violent dissent is quickly silenced or, in the case of strong, aforementioned enemies, engaged.
    My two cents, on a topic growing increasingly cold…

  12. The general public in Greece is already sympathetic to resistance movements, owing to the heritage of struggle against the US-supported dictatorship.

    Hopefully everybody reading this realizes that Greek police are legally barred from entering university campuses unless a crime has beenn committed; this is another legacy of military rule. The riots might have been considerably less successful without this space that the Greek state has basically ceded control over.

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