Mass Movements and Popular Radicalization in Greece

2 November 2011 by Spyros Marchetos

Mr. Papandreou has shunned constitutional procedures since May 2010, when the infamous Memorandum authorized austerity to save the bankers. It was imposed by the European Union, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund, but its ratification by the Greek Parliament was constitutionally unsound. Since then the Pasok government, whose legitimacy has plummeted, penalized protest and turned more and more openly towards repression.

The parliamentary Left however failed to tune in with mounting popular disaffection, and remains divided. Practically, Synaspismos never dared to question eurozone austerity, while the Communist Party refuses cooperation with groups beyond its control. Disappointing a new generation of activists, both parties shun the struggle against the repayment of the public debt and the euro. So, while the popularity of the neoliberals implodes, the parliamentary Left attracts few and inspires even fewer. For example, its deputies do not respond when the rank-and-file calls them to participate in the growing tax revolt. Instead of leading the resistance, they dampen it.

Thus, a political space opened up for the appearance of new forms of popular mobilisation, from the bottom up. The nonchalance of the official Left and the example of the December 2008 revolt turned activists towards popular mobilisation. Combative new trade unions sprung up, and also many rank-and-file committees and movements, usually on single issues. In 2009 overcharged utilities bills were the main target; In early 2010 the focus fell also on highway tolls, and a vibrant movement from north to south of Greece was created.

The utility bills issue has by now become explosive. Informal groups, aided by local supporters of the Left, organise clandestine campaigns to reconnect electricity and water to families whose bills have been left unpaid. Since last year, the spontaneous chase of the fewer and fewer politicos who dare to appear publicly has turned into a popular sport, condemned by government and the media alike, but applauded by almost everybody else. «I was the egg-thrower», declared Marina Dimitriadou, a fragile 33-year old unemployed historian. She threw two eggs at the Minister in charge of the police, when he appeared in the picturesque town of Rethymno. «I spent eight hours in prison because of this! While the Minister, who regularly orders the use of globs and forbidden cancerogenic chemicals against protesters, walks free!»

Many Greeks share Share A unit of ownership interest in a corporation or financial asset, representing one part of the total capital stock. Its owner (a shareholder) is entitled to receive an equal distribution of any profits distributed (a dividend) and to attend shareholder meetings. her sentiments, and are keen to imitate her action. But resistance can be much more organised. In Keratea, outside Athens, a real popular revolt of the whole community managed to stop the construction of an illegal landfill, after pitched battles with the police that lasted all winter. Locals, anticapitalists and anarchists, with only marginal help from the official Left, beat the collective might of the oligarchs, the police, and the media. Their victory offered a template of struggle, and slowed significantly the government’s neoliberal attack.

Αll these movements formed the Aganaktismenoi, people from all walks of life gathering since last May in public squares all over Greece, in response to the call of the Spanish Indignados. Their daily meetings at Syntagma, in front of the Parliament, united tens of thousands Greeks and immigrants from all political milieus, most of them mobilizing for the first time in their lives; perhaps one million participated. Repression, especially brutal in June, when they almost toppled the government, sent many of them to hospitals, and more to their homes, but increased the determination of most, as well as their sophistication in resisting police attacks. After a summer break, the Aganaktismenoi seem now to regain their dynamism; their slogan, «We Owe Nothing, We Sell Nothing, We Pay Nothing», resonates with most Greeks, but has yet to be endorsed by the parliamentary Left.

Another mass movement, burgeoning since last September, might prove the detonator of a social explosion. Pupils and students have taken to the streets in their thousands, protesting against the death of public education in the hands of an arrogant Minister. Almost all university schools have been occupied to stop a catastrophic law that destroys universities, subjecting them to neoliberal attrition. A huge pupils’ movement, protesting savage budget cuts that have left schools without books and heating, is right now in progress. Many hundreds of Gymnasia and Lycaea are in the hands of the pupils, and a general occupation of all schools has been announced for October. Thus a whole generation might get radicalised in the coming months. The most critical protests however focus on tax resistance, a historically overcharged issue in Greece.

Arguably, the country has the most unfair tax system in Europe. According to official data, shipowners contribute to the state coffers much less than immigrants; tax evasion costs a fraction of the tax breaks to the powerful (the church first among them). The tax resistance movement was born in this summer, when a host of blatantly unfair and confused tax measures caused general uproar. More and more radical every day, it already connects hundreds of rank-and-file committees from Μacedonia to Crete. The ceremonial burning of tax invoices in public squares, by trade unionists and protesters of every political hue, has taken by surprise the government, but also the official Left.

These single-issue mobilisations, now tending to coalesce into a powerful mass revolt, are important for many reasons. They respond to real needs, that will be more and more pressing as the world financial crisis unfolds; so they will flourish, unless horrible mistakes are made. Uniting people beyond the confines of class, gender, or political affiliation, they create the preconditions for a wide movement against the established order. They radicalize many, and provide spaces for anticapitalist discourse. They form new generations of militants, that might soon tear off the leadership of the Left from the hands of its incompetent current cadres. And last but not least, by creating a crisis of governability they might soon liberate us all from the satraps of the Troika Troika Troika: IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank, which together impose austerity measures through the conditions tied to loans to countries in difficulty.

. Probablythat they, and not the organized Left, will bring down this government.

Published the 19/10/2011 in the section « Culturas » of the Spanish daily La Vanguardia as part of a dossier on Greece in times of the great crisis.

Spyros Marchetos teaches History of Ideas at the Political Sciences School of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Other articles in English by Spyros Marchetos (1)



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