Banners at protests in Madrid made fun of Greek ‘apathy’ in the face of the austerity attacks they have already suffered and those which are to come. In reality strikes and demonstrations have been continuing in Greece, but a new wave of ‘indignant’ protests was soon ignited, in Athens and in towns across the country, explicitly following the Spanish example. At the time of writing this has been going on for more than a week.
The bourgeois press was quick to notice that there was something different in the demonstrations. The Greek daily Kathimerini (27/5/11) observed “the absence of political parties, unions, violence and traditional slogans from the protests”. In a country with very active unions and political parties this is very significant as there has been no absence of ‘official’ protest from the Left against the ‘socialist’ PASOK government of George Papandreou.
What’s also been different has been the character of the protests, which have often taken the form of assemblies where all points of view have been present. On 25 May in Athens’ main Syntagma Square, for example, there was a solid three hours of discussion in which 83 people spoke. Some spoke in terms of democracy and patriotism, but others put forward the importance of the self-organisation of the working class and the need for a revolutionary struggle. There were also few Greek flags on display at the start of this wave of protests, although the number has clearly increased over time.
A difference with the protests in Spain is that in Greece there has been a wide range of ages involved, far more workers and their families, with not such a focus on the young unemployed. This is understandable as the range of attacks on living standards in Greece is so extensive. The mainstream Kathimerini (27/5/11) states the obvious: “Decisions, it seems, are being taken to satisfy the pressing demands of banks, markets and creditors rather than to safeguard the interests of the people. It’s enough to make even the most patient person indignant”.
The Greek Deputy Prime Minister denounced the movement as “a movement without an ideology or organization, which bases itself on only one feeling, that of rage”. Against this view Kathimerini (31/5/11) does distinguish something more than anger as “at these rallies we see a large part of society come together, most of whom will say that they don’t see any of our politicians as being fit to govern in opinion polls and who will opt to abstain from general elections. Their physical presence, even if it is without a statement, is authentically political”.
Opposition to the movement has taken many forms. When, for example, protesters prevented MPs leaving parliament (until extra police detachments arrived) the Speaker of the Greek Parliament warned that “history has shown that a climate of across-the-board rejection of parliamentary democracy has had tragic consequences wherever it has been expressed”. In Greek terms, from a PASOK spokesman, such warnings should be taken as references to the Right-wing dictatorships of Pangalos, Kondyles and Metaxas in the 1920s and 30s, and the Colonels’ regime from 1967-74. The intention is to obscure the role of democracy and PASOK in particular at the heart of the repressive Greek capitalist state.
Other critics of the protests include the main Greek Stalinist party (the KKE) which says (25/5/11) that “a planned people’s struggle is necessary”. In an interview its General Secretary spoke of “certain outbursts which have no organisation, are not rooted in the workplaces, the industries, either in the private or public sector, they have no basic political direction” and that “without wishing to underestimate the intentions of many ordinary people to protest against the continual downgrading of their standard of living, it is more than certain that mobilisations which seek to release a sense of frustration are more easy to manipulate”. She said that the KKE is always sympathetic to “attempts by people to find a way to express themselves” but, in reality, workers’ experience shows that the Stalinists prefer situations which they can manipulate, the one day strike, or the formal demonstration under their slogans.
In Greece the cult of militarist actions which affects a significant part of the anarchist milieu also means that there are those who will criticise anything that doesn’t involve violent attacks on cops or fascists. For them the latest Greek protests are ‘pacifist’ and ‘reactionary’. It’s true that any movement can potentially go in a number of directions. The claims of nationalism and democracy echo throughout all the media of the bourgeoisie. The possibilities of reforming decaying capitalism are still put forward at every opportunity by the Left. The unions pretend that they are the true forms for the advance of workers’ struggles, rather than for their sabotage. And the impotent posturing of the advocates of bombings and shootings still attracts those who can’t see the potential for mass working class struggles.
In Greece many of the assemblies have committed themselves to joining with workers in struggle, and to keeping the movement under their direct control. They are not the only ideas put forward. They might amount to very little. But, following on from the protests in Spain, and all the discussions on the significance of these movements, we have seen another spark of a response to capitalism’s unavoidable austerity.