Anti-authoritarians in Greece: reflections on violence
During the huge demonstrations in Athens against the Greek government's austerity measures on 5 May, the Marfin bank was set alight, apparently by molotovs thrown from the crowd. Three bank workers died of smoke inhalation. These events provoked a frenzied response from the government, eager to brand all demonstrators as ultra-violent hoodlums, and from the police, who have mounted a series of brutal raids in the ‘anarchist' dominated district of Exarcheia in Athens. The deaths have also had at least a temporary numbing effect on the development of the struggle, with many workers confused about how to go forward, and even considering the need to accept austerity measures in order to ‘save the economy' or avoid a slide into chaos (at least according to recent opinion polls which claim that over 50% of the population would be prepared to accept the draconian EU/IMF package or preferred wage cuts to national bankruptcy).
From the side of the ‘protestors', from those very considerable numbers of proletarians who are convinced that the economic attacks must be resisted actively, there have been various responses. Many statements have with real justification blamed the bullying tactics of the banks' owner, Vgenopoulos, who pressured employees to stay at work on pain of losing their jobs, even though the bank was known to be on the route of the demonstration and bank burnings have been a commonplace on such occasions: what's more, entrances to the bank were locked making it extremely difficult to exit the building. Others (see, for example, the statement by the ‘Anarchist Crouch' on the Occupied London blog) blamed paramilitary gangs for the attack.
This may or may not be the case; but such a response, left at that point, doesn't really help us understand why the bourgeoisie in Greece has made such extensive use of ‘false flag' agents to carry out provocations and ultra-violent acts: the truth is that such activities tend to thrive in the context of a culture of minority violence among a substantial part of the ‘anti-authoritarian' milieu in Greece. An addiction to violence as an end in itself can easily become a positive hindrance to the development of a wider class movement and its efforts to organise and extend the fight against the state's assault on working class living conditions.
The following statements, however, show that within this milieu, the recent tragedy has pushed forward a process of serious self-examination and reflection. The first is another text by comrades contributing to the ‘Occupied London' blog, many of them of Greek origin. While in no way exonerating the bourgeoisie from responsibility for the deaths, or succumbing to pacifism, their statement does seek to go to the roots of the problem: "The time has come for us to talk frankly about violence and to critically examine a specific culture of violence that has been developing in Greece in the past few years. Our movement has not been strengthened because of the dynamic means it sometimes uses but rather, because of its political articulation. December 2008 did not turn historical only because thousands picked up and threw stones and molotovs, but mainly because of its political and social characteristics - and its rich legacies at this level".
The second statement is from a longer text by TPTG ‘The Children of the Gallery', a libertarian communist group in Greece. In the previous issue of this paper we published part of an article written by the same group (although under a different name), a text which lucidly exposed the sabotaging role played by the trade unions and the Greek Communist Party in the current wave of strikes and demonstrations. As our French comrades have pointed out, certain passages in the complete edition of that article did not seem to take into account the danger that some violent actions carried out during the course of wider struggles can have a counter-productive result. The passage published below, by contrast, shows the same critical approach as the Occupied London statement, for example where it writes: "As for the anarchist/anti-authoritarian milieu itself and its dominant insurrectional tendency, the tradition of a fetishised, macho glorification of violence has been too long and consistent to remain indifferent now. Violence as an end in itself in all its variations (including armed struggle proper) has been propagated constantly for years now and especially after the December rebellion a certain degree of nihilistic decomposition has become evident".
We can only encourage this process of reflection and hope that we can take part in the debates it engenders. Both the Occupied London statement and the various articles of the TPTG argue that the real strength of the movement in Greece, and indeed of any proletarian movement, is its capacity for self-organisation, extension, and "political articulation"; and we can add that this is also the real alternative not only to the substitutionist violence of a minority, but also to the stifling of the class movement by the ‘official' forces who claim its leadership - the unions, the CP, and the leftists.WR, 16/5/10.
Occupied London statement: What do we honestly have to say about Wednesday's events?
The text below summarises some initial thoughts on Wednesday's tragic events by some of us here at Occupied London. English and Greek versions follow - please disseminate.
What do we honestly have to say about Wednesday's events?
What do the events of Wednesday (5/5) honestly mean for the anarchist/anti-authoritarian movement? How do we stand in the face of the deaths of these three people - regardless of who caused them? Where do we stand as humans and as people in struggle? Us, who do not accept that there are such things as "isolated incidents" (of police or state brutality) and who point the finger, on a daily basis, at the violence exercised by the state and the capitalist system. Us, who have the courage to call things by their name; us who expose those who torture migrants in police stations or those who play around with our lives from inside glamorous offices and TV studios. So, what do we have to say now?
We could hide behind the statement issued by the Union of Bank Workers (OTOE) or the accusations by employees of the bank branch; or we could keep it at the fact that the deceased had been forced to stay in a building with no fire protection - and locked up, even. We could keep it at what a scum-bag is Vgenopoulos, the owner of the bank; or at how this tragic incident will be used to leash out some unprecedented repression. Whoever (dared to) pass through Exarcheia on Wednesday night already has a clear picture of this. But this is not where the issue lies.
The issue is for us to see what share of the responsibilities falls on us, on all of us. We are all jointly responsible. Yes, we are right to fight with all our powers against the unjust measures imposed upon us; we are right to dedicate all our strength and our creativity toward a better world. But as political beings, we are equally responsible for every single one of our political choices, for the means we have impropriated and for our silence every time that we did not admit to our weaknesses and our mistakes. Us, who do not suck up to the people in order to gain in votes, us who have no interest in exploiting anyone, have the capacity, under these tragic circumstances, to be honest with ourselves and with those around us.
What the Greek anarchist movement is experiencing at the moment is some total numbness. Because there are pressurising conditions for some tough self-criticism that is going to hurt. Beyond the horror of the fact that people have died who were on "our side", the side of the workers - workers under extremely difficult conditions who would have quite possibly chosen to march by our side if things were different in their workplace - beyond this, we are hereby also confronted with demonstrator/s who put the lives of people in danger. Even if (and this goes without question) there was no intention to kill, this is a matter of essence that can hold much discussion - some discussion regarding the aims that we set and the means that we chose.
The incident did not happen at night, at some sabotage action. It happened during the largest demonstration in contemporary Greek history. And here is where a series of painful questions emerge: Overall, in a demonstration of 150-200,000, unprecedented in the last few years, is there really a need for some "upgraded" violence? When you see thousands shouting "burn, burn Parliament" and swear at the cops, does another burnt bank really have anything more to offer to the movement?
When the movement itself turns massive - say like in December 2008 - what can an action offer, if this action exceeds the limits of what a society can take (at least at a present moment), or if this action puts human lives at danger?
When we take to the streets we are one with the people around us; we are next to them, by their side, with them - this is, at the end of the day, why we work our arses off writing texts and posters - and our own clauses are a single parameter in the many that converge. The time has come for us to talk frankly about violence and to critically examine a specific culture of violence that has been developing in Greece in the past few years. Our movement has not been strengthened because of the dynamic means it sometimes uses but rather, because of its political articulation. December 2008 did not turn historical only because thousands picked up and threw stones and molotovs, but mainly because of its political and social characteristics - and its rich legacies at this level. Of course we respond to the violence exercised upon us, and yet we are called in turn to talk about our political choices as well as the means we have appropriated, recognising our - and their - limits.
When we speak of freedom, it means that at every single moment we doubt what yesterday we took for granted. That we dare to go all the way and, avoiding some cliché political wordings, to look at things straight into the eye, as they are. It is clear that since we do not consider violence to be an end to itself, we should not allow it to cast shadows to the political dimension of our actions. We are neither murderers nor saints. We are part of a social movement, with our weaknesses and our mistakes. Today, instead of feeling stronger after such an enormous demonstration we feel numb, to say the least. This in itself speaks volumes. We must turn this tragic experience into soul-searching and inspire one another since at the end of the day, we all act based on our consciousness. And the cultivation of such a collective consciousness is what is at stake.
Extract from TPTG article ‘In critical and suffocating times'
It is more than clear that the sickening game of turning the dominant fear/guilt for the debt into a fear/guilt for the resistance and the (violent) uprising against the terrorism of debt has already started. If class struggle escalates, the conditions may look more and more like the ones in a proper civil war. The question of violence has already become central. In the same way we assess the state's management of violence, we are obliged to assess proletarian violence, too: the movement has to deal with the legitimation of rebellious violence and its content in practical terms. As for the anarchist-antiauthoritarian milieu itself and its dominant insurrectional tendency the tradition of a fetishised, macho glorification of violence has been too long and consistent to remain indifferent now. Violence as an end in itself in all its variations (including armed struggle proper) has been propagated constantly for years now and especially after the December rebellion a certain degree of nihilistic decomposition has become evident (there were some references to it in our text ‘The Rebellious Passage'), extending over the milieu itself. In the periphery of this milieu, in its margins, a growing number of very young people has become visible promoting nihilistic limitless violence (dressed up as "December's nihilism") and "destruction" even if this also includes variable capital (in the form of scabs, "petit-bourgeois elements", "law-abiding citizens"). Such a degeneration coming out of the rebellion and its limits as well as out of the crisis itself is clearly evident. Certain condemnations of these behaviours and a self-critique to some extent have already started in the milieu (some anarchist groups have even called the perpetrators "para-statal thugs") and it is quite possible that organised anarchists and anti-authoritarians (groups or squats) will try to isolate both politically and operationally such tendencies. However, the situation is more complicated and it is surpassing the theoretical and practical (self)critical abilities of this milieu. In hindsight, such tragic incidents with all their consequences might have happened in the December rebellion itself: what prevented them was not only chance (a petrol station that did not explode next to buildings set on fire on Sunday the 7th of December, the fact that the most violent riots took place at night with most buildings empty), but also the creation of a (though limited) proletarian public sphere and of communities of struggle which found their way not only through violence but also through their own content, discourse and other means of communication. It was these pre-existing communities (of students, football hooligans, immigrants, anarchists) that turned into communities of struggle by the subjects of the rebellion themselves that gave to violence a meaningful place. Will there be such communities again now that not only a proletarian minority is involved? Will there be a practical way of self-organisation in the workplaces, in the neighborhoods or in the streets to determine the form and the content of the struggle and thus place violence in a liberating perspective?
Uneasy questions in pressing times but we will have to find the answers struggling.
TPTG 9th of May
1 See in particular a statement by an employee of the Marfin bank, published on the Occupied London blog: http://www.occupiedlondon.org/blog/2010/05/05/an-employee-of-marfin-bank-speaks-on-tonights-tragic-deaths-in-athens