Review of a proletarian balance sheet of the Greek revolt
The struggles in Greece in December 2008 after the shooting dead of a 15-year-old showed the capacity of proletarianised students and some workers to organise their struggles. Hundreds of schools and a number of universities were occupied. Protesters took over part of one of the state-owned TV stations. There was an occupation of the building of the main trade union federation (as well as some Athenian university buildings) where there was an attempt to use the buildings for general assemblies for wage earners, students and the unemployed.
Ta Paida Tis Galarias (TPTG, The Children of the Gallery) is a Greek group that's been around since the early 1990s. It has had contacts with groups and publications in a number of other countries, but despite the relative longevity of the group it is not easy to sum it up in a simple phrase. They participated in last December's struggles and published a provisional balance sheet of events in February this year. A further analysis entitled "The rebellious passage of a proletarian minority through a brief period of time" (dated 30/6/9) appeared on libcom.org in early September. While its language can be occasionally obscure it brings out some important points about last year's movement.
A proletarian movement
The first thing to establish is that "The rebellion was a clear expression of proletarian anger against a life that is getting more and more devaluated, surveilled and alienated." While Marxists are not sociologists "As far as the class composition of the rebellion is concerned, it ranged from high school students and university students to young, mostly precarious, workers from various sectors like education, construction, tourist and entertainment services, transportation, even media." As for the participation of workers in less ‘precarious' situations "From our empirical knowledge, those workers who can be described either as ‘workers with a stable job' or non-precarious had a very limited participation in the rebellion, if any. For those of them who actually took part in the rebellion, to try to extend it to their workplaces would mean to engage in wildcat strikes outside and against trade unions, since most strikes are called and controlled by them."
This is an important acknowledgement of the role that the unions have in holding back workers' struggles. Although there have been struggles in Greece over the past 20 years, particularly in the public sector, these "past struggles have revealed that the workers were not able to create autonomous forms of organization and let new contents emerge beyond the trade unionist demands."
TPTG see that those in more ‘stable' employment had more limited participation in the struggles, and there have not been struggles beyond the limitations of trade union demands, they do claim that the "proletarian communities of struggle" were characterised "by a complete negation of politics and trade unionism". They go as far as to say that "it was impossible to be represented, co-opted or manipulated by political mechanism that would make bargains with the state". Although there is an admission that this was only temporary, this is quite a claim. Yes, the organisation of the struggle was not in the hands of the unions or leftists, but of the participants. And certainly the desire to call general assemblies to discuss, control and spread the struggle showed an absolutely healthy impulse. But while it was a fundamental step in the right direction it was hardly "a complete negation of politics and trade unionism."
There will indeed come a time when we see "a violent eruption of delegitimization of capitalist institutions of control" but as TPTG recognise "this was just the rebellious passage of a proletarian minority through a brief period of time and not a revolution." TPTG say "the feeling that there lay ‘something deeper' in all that, the idea that the issues raised by the rebels concerned everybody, was so dominant that it alone explains the helplessness of the parties of the opposition, leftist organizations, even some anarchists as mentioned before." If there was any ‘helplessness' from any of these forces it was very short-lived. The ideologies of unionism and leftism are very resilient, and in Greece there are also illusions in the military actions of the ‘armed vanguard'
Against terrorist militarism
For thirty years the terrorist attacks of November 17 and the ELA were a feature of life in Greece. And while a number of trials and convictions seem to have curtailed their activities, other groups continue in this tradition. In the run-up to the latest Greek general election, for example, you can read "Counterterrorism officers are investigating evidence gathered from suspected members of Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire for possible links with the more brutal urban guerrilla group Sect of Revolutionaries" (Kathimerini 28/9/9). One of the strengths of TPTG is their rejection of the ‘armed vanguard.'
Writing about armed attacks in December 2008 and January 2009 "From a proletarian point of view, even if these attacks were not organized by the state itself, the fact that after a month all of us became spectators of those ‘exemplary acts', that had not at all been part of our collective practice, was a defeat in itself." They are direct in their critique: "It's not important for us now to doubt about the real identity of these hitmen with the ridiculous but revealing name ‘Revolutionary Sect'; what causes us some concern is the political tolerance of some quarters towards them, given the fact that it's the first time that in a Greek ‘armed vanguard's' text there's not one grain of even the good old leninist ‘for the people' ideology but instead an antisocial, nihilistic bloodthirst."
Union and reformist ideas did not disappear
The occupation of the union headquarters was one of the high points of the movement, TPTG saw two tendencies there. "During the occupation it became obvious that even the rank'n'file version of unionism could not relate to the rebellion. There were two, although not clear-cut, tendencies even at the preparation assembly: a unionist-workerist one and a proletarian one. For those in the first one the occupation should have had a distinct ‘worker' character as opposed to the so-called youth or ‘metropolitan' character of the rebellion while those in the second one saw it as only one moment of the rebellion, as an opportunity to attack one more institution of capitalist control and as a meeting point of high-school students, university students, unemployed, waged workers and immigrants, that is as one more community of struggle in the context of the general unrest. In fact, the unionist-workerist tendency tried to use the occupation rather as an instrument in the service of the above mentioned union and the idea of an independent of political influences base unionism in general." The ‘unionist tendency' might have failed to use the occupation in this particular instance, but the ideas of rank and file unionism remain among the most pernicious that workers face, not only now, but in the struggles to come.
Similarly, TPTG saw other ideas that are dangerous for workers to have illusions in. "By equating subcontracting or precariousness in general with ‘slavery', the majority of this solidarity movement, mainly comprised of leftist union activists, is trying to equate certain struggles against precariousness - one of the main forms of the capitalist restructuring in this historical moment - with general political demands of a social-democratic content regarding the state as a ‘reliable' and preferable employer to private subcontractors and thus putting the question of the abolition of wage labour per se aside."
Elsewhere there is a certain triumphalism in some of what TPTG say. But when the text finishes in talking about "the fears of the planetary bosses about the December rebellion as a prelude to a generalized proletarian explosion in the course of the global crisis of reproduction" it poses what's at stake in the current situation. The struggles of today are not in themselves a threat to capitalist rule, but any movement that points to solidarity and self-organisation in the extension of the movement, to a generalised struggle, shows what potential there is for future struggles.