Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Some notes on the anarchist-antiauthoritarian action/movement in Greece

During December 2008, Greece became the center of the international news reports. The murder of a 15 years old student in Exarcheia led thousands of raged people - in an unprecedented number of cities, even villages - to clash with police forces, attack police stations, banks, enterprises-corporate buildings and state buildings, take over university places, municipalities and even the Opera of Athens, thus forming a picture of social insurrection, which however didn’t manage to have decisive impact in working places. From the incident of murder itself up to the gradual decline of the flow of anger, the factor “anarchists” is quite important, not implying of course that they were the explosives rather than just the detonator in these facts. This factor is one of the important points in the effort of rising of a new and strong international anarchist movement. Through an historical reference and an empirical point of view, we will try to light some of the new directions, which we consider that are interesting as means of development of the anarchist-antiauthoritarian discourse and action in the greek society, which is at the same time European, Balkan and Mediterranean, as it’s located at the crossroads of three continents.

In the hellenic space, anarchism did not accomplish to have a parallel blossoming at that time period, at which it constituted an important revolutionary movement in a lot of other countries of Europe. The anarchist ideas passed in Greece, in this southernmost part of the Balkans, during the second half of the 19th century, through the Ionian islands and the harbour of Patras, regions that had an intense relation with Italy. The anarchist ideas of Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin and others were of great influence on the socialist thinking of that period. As is mentioned in a letter by the anarchist group of Pyrgos (a small town near ancient Olympia) “anarchism was already present here in 1892”, while later on in the same letter it is noted that at the end of 19th century and the beginning of the 20th there aren’t any authoritarian socialists (obviously referring to marxists), but rather “conservative, liberal and anarchist” socialists. The weakness of Socialist groups that existed at that time in certain cities to be incorporated into one more department of the International Workingmen's Association (IWA) as well as the conflict that already had burst out within the IWA, combined with the appearance of Marxist ideas c.1912, signaled a shift in Greece from the “utopian” to the scientific socialism, according to the official marxist bibliography. The anarchist ideas begin to recede and to have no essential effect in the labor and rural movement from the ‘20s onwards. Thus, anarchism in its classic form will cease to have any influence in the social struggles within Greece. From this point of view, we cannot claim existence of an anarchist tradition in Greece that would be connected in some way with the modern anarchist movement, through terms of continuity in lived experience, struggle or theory.             
          Anarchist ideas emerge again in 1974, after the fall of the military junta regime. This time they are imported from European countries like Italy, France, England and Germany, mainly from greek students that return to Greece after 1974. Those ideas appear and evolve in parts of the greek youth and mainly in universities and they don’t belong anymore to the Marxist tradition and thought, since their reference is now libertarian. On the other hand, those ideas and the means, tactics and organizational approaches that were used to express them bear little resemblance with the elements of the “classical” anarchist movement. Main infuences come from the Parisian May of '68 and the situationists, the movement of autonomous occupations and armed organizations of Western Germany, as well as the movement of labor autonomy in Italy. The spread of “anarcho – autonomous” (anarchoautonomoi) in the universities, in the late ‘70s will give its place in the epicentre of presence of anarchists and the so-called “wild youth” in the region of Exarcheia in the decade of 1980. During the late ‘80s and the '90s, perhaps the two more basic directions that characterize the antauthoritarian-anarchist action will be the focalisation in the question of insurrectional violence on the one hand, and the growth of practice of occupations on the other. As is cited in a text written during of riots of December, “the basic element of the anarchist movement in Greece, since its new beginning is the question of the state’s legal monopoly of violence”. This and the right to resist, which is also advocated, aside, other elements mentioned in the same text are: “self-organisation of the struggle, questioning of the organization of everyday life, absence of mediation of (either struggling or not) subjects, autonomy by means of collective decision making (through assemblies and direct democratic procedures, the main tactic being consent and refusal of the rule of the majority)”. The strategy/tactics or, to be more precise, the mentality most of the greek anarchists have in common, is not one that complies with the vision of the “great anarchist organisation” (with two exceptions, one in the ‘80s and one in the ‘00s). Anarchists operate and organize through small groups or “cores”, whose basic goal is to contribute in leading the social antagonism/rivalry to a true social rupture caracterised by violent conflict/confrontation. Perceptions/beliefs of the situationists, practices of the Autonomen and everyday struggle of the zapatist communities have influenced (and still do today) the way anarchist groups conceive their action and practice. Those regards are identified with those of the representative figures of the so-called meta-anarchism (e.g. J. Adams), who pay much more attention to the everyday practices of the activist groups than the politic struggle itself as part of a political-ideological whole.
          During the last decade, a great spreading of the anarchist presence can be pointed out, regarding the issues/topics of interest of several groups as well as its geographical allocation.
          A more “persistent” engagement with local-ecological issues and focus on what we could define as “local libertarian action”, mainly through the action of anarchist-libertarian social centres in various neighborhoods of  Athens and other major cities created the conditions necessary to create the “bridges” of self-organised resistance with parts of the local societies/communities. Of course, this was made possible only where libertarian expression was originated by members of the local community itself, although they could be identified as a voice opposed to the general opinion.
          This systematic engagement with local-ecological issues started mainly by small core groups of comrades characterized by a more libertarian- anarcho-communist approach, in their attempt to shape/form broader conditions of self-organised social struggle in a certain “front”, accompanied by fierce critic of the ideology of development. At the same time, the influence of the action of organizations like ALF(Animal Liberation Front) and ELF(Earth Liberation Front) from northern Europe and America, played an important part in the establishment of what we could call eco-anarchist action, as expressed by several groups. The environmental-ecological issues rose as a primary field of anarchist action, especially since the Olympic Games of 2004 and afterwards, and they are always combined with critics of the capitalist system and its state and political partners, while in some occasions the social ecology approach offers useful analytic instruments. 
          While the ecological issue is established in the collective conscience of anarchists as an important and inseparable part of the social issue, autonomous labour/working/workers’ action starts to make some new importants steps. Undoubtedly the efforts of some autonomous workers to combine the direct action syndicalism with the sectoral assertive syndicalism through horizontal forms of organization in the courier/delivery profession is an important point of reference. This effort has shown a way of forming primary unions, where anarchists and members of the so-called “extreme left” play an important part, following though the example of sectoral syndicalism, while the notion of direct action syndicalism plays a much smaller part. The presence of such movements in some laboral sectors shattered the image of the labor movement completely controlled by the members of formal syndicalism, as expressed by members of PASOK and the greek communist party.
          These two directions that have been developing the last five to ten years are mentioned because they are related with the December uprising/insurrection in two ways: they pushed further the insurrection and they were pushed further by the insurrection. One of the conclusions deducted by last December’s insurrection is that the libertarian vision of direct democracy and self-governing in a communal scale stood as a direction of course and action, which was not spread quickly in the event of elections, but through the conditions of that temporary community of insurrected people. The insurrection brought up these ideas and they were spread through the society by means of the insurrection, in a very similar way this kind of mutual relationship was established in Argentina and Oaxaca five and three years ago respectively.
          At December 11, the occupation of the Aghios Dimitrios town hall and the subsequent call to an open popular assembly gave the chance to more than 300 people to discuss what was going on at the time, thus opening a broader public space of discussion and collaboration. It must be noted of course that there is a libertarian social centre, whose local action already has a decade of history in this specific municipality. In this assembly several opportunities, either in a realistic or in an imaginary level, where presented: gathering and meeting of many people was possible through the procedure of the assembly held in a town hall occupied by anarchists – these people either participated in street clashes with the police forces or expressed their anger for the murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos but couldn’t be on the streets because of their age – some were just interested in the procedure, or pretended to be for their own reasons. During the assembly anyone could express his/her opinion (even the vice mayor), but this didn’t mean that this procedure ceased to be characterized as a meeting of people who struggle. In these assemblies the social anti-violence, the destruction of banks, state and corporate buildings and the clashes with the police that took place those days was advocated openly, in public and by name (since we are talking of a local society town hall). There was also an acting of sabotage in the ticket machines of the subway authorized by decision of the popular assembly. For a few days the city council was denied access to the town hall. Before this occupation, nearly all occupations took place in university buildings, where the police cannot easily enter, due to legal reasons. This time the responsibility to decide a violent evacuation laid in the hands of the city council, which meant that they had to turn against many inhabitants of the region/municipality. Discussions were held among the occupiers and the people who work in the municipality services about the possibility of running the truly social services, proving that community control and workers control can be combined. Through this experience, anarchist and libertarian practices, as well as the presence of the comrades in this area, were strengthened, thus pointing that continuity of action in a certain social field and persistence in promoting self – organization and resistance can help the anarchist ideas to be established in a certain local level.
          The idea of occupying town halls and other municipality buildings and running open assemblies spread in other regions of Athens and Salonica in December 2008, initially by initiatives held mainly by anarchists, but soon enough followed by members of organizations and parties of the left.
          Alongside the direction of libertarian intervention at a municipality level through occupations and assemblies, workers action besides and against bureaucratic syndicalism found a way of expression in the occupation of the central offices of the General Confederation of Greece’s Workers in December 17. There members of primary unions mentioned before and people participating in independent groups of workers formed the General Assembly of Insurrected Workers, aiming to empower the message of the insurrection in the field of work. Parties and bureaucrat syndicalists found themselves in an obviously unpleasant situation, where political forces that they categorized as “marginal” for years had now achieved to bring forward the notion of self - oranization in terms of constant rupture with the dominant institutions, either in a municipality or independent class action level. This occupation triggered a series of other occupations of formal workers’ centers in other greek cities, especially after the attempted murder of the immigrant trade unionist Konstantina Kuneva.
It is certain that all these movements were limited de facto, since normality and regularity return to the everyday social life. Still, there are some “cores” of resistance that try to find the right direction through constant questioning and action.
The incidents/events of the last December, and the period after it, “revealed” a relatively big number of people that are interested in anarchist ideas or participate in practices that anarchists develop, yet doesn’t participate in any form of self – organized groups or centres, because they are afraid or not willing to take on responsibilities or simply they can’t be convinced by what they see. On the other hand, elements of anti – authoritarian discourse can be identified in a large number of news or written texts concerning occupations, social centres, anarchist groups, local movements, arson attacks and even armed attacks. This variety of things, actions and discourse does not constitute one solid entity, but does not imply on the other hand a “war” between different approaches or realities. What is missing is a coherent political conversation, not aiming of course to replace activism, but to empower it by offering a more substantial content, in order to avoid confusion and help the directions mentioned before take a more illuminated path to social liberation. 

The comrades of “Eutopia”
[review for the libertarian municipalism]
Athens, September 2009

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