A Road to Revolution?
Many weeks after the unprovoked police murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens on December 6, the riots engulfing Greece showed no sign of abating. Student occupations of the capital’s three universities (Economics, Polytechnic, and Law), a major student demonstration, street clashes, and seizures of television and radio continued in full force.
A Greek blogger reflected the general mood of the protesters: "We have a duty to move here, there, anywhere, but back to our couches as mere viewers of history, back home to the warmth that freezes our conscience."
International ripples are also tangible. Solidarity demonstrations and attacks on Greek embassies have taken place around the globe, from Moscow to New York and Copenhagen to Mexico City. Declarations and manifestos issued by student assemblies at Greek schools were almost immediately translated and posted online in English, French, Italian, Turkish, and Serbian.
In the first few days of the revolt, bloggers tried to put together a list of all the solidarity actions taking place, but the task proved impossible as there were hundreds of them as thousands of people took to the streets and a global day of action against police violence saw raucous demonstrations in over 30 cities worldwide.
The corporate press trotted out various theories to explain the cause of the unrest—frustration with a corrupt government, the global financial crisis, and discontent among Greece’s youth who face meager prospects of secure employment or welfare rights. A declaration by the students occupying the Athens School of Economics was quite clear about how they saw the issue: "The democratic regime in its peaceful facade doesn’t kill an Alex every day, precisely because it kills thousands of Ahmets, Fatimas, Jorjes, Jin Tiaos, and Benajirs: because it assassinates systematically, structurally, and without remorse the entirety of the third world…."
Another declaration, this one anonymous, had this to say: "What do we seek? Equality—political, economic, social. Between all people. Our possibility of convincing the servile consumers to refuse being commodities and subjects is rather limited. What can we do? Ravage and plunder the market, distribute the goods to everybody, dissolve the myths that support inequality."
These were not single-issue protests or vague grievances. This was full-blooded revolutionary anarchism. The mainstream media simply couldn’t stomach the notion that what was happening in Greece was by now a proactive social revolt against the capitalist system and the state institutions that reinforce it. The Greek anarchist movement successfully seized the initiative after the killing of one of its own, framing the issues in a way that appealed to a larger—mostly young—public.
Few people realize that the Greek anarchist movement is appreciably the largest in the world, in proportion to its country’s population. It also enjoys wide social support due to its legacy of resistance to the military dictatorship from 1967 to 1974. Highly confrontational demonstrations are practically a bimonthly occurrence, with anarchists and police engaging in fiery street battles in Thessaloniki or Athens. The current events were only marked by their breadth and duration, not by their level of militancy.
Another rarely appreciated factor is that Greece is a country in which the security apparatus is normally kept on a relatively tight leash. For example, Privacy International’s 2007 assessment of leading surveillance societies found Greece to be the only country in the world with "adequate safeguards" against the abuse of government power to spy on its citizenry. The legacy of the dictatorship has created a lasting image of the police as inherently oppressive, even among the middle class.
Will the riots in Greece lead to an anti-capitalist revolution? Only if the opening they tore in the social fabric widens and deepens, involving ever-growing sections of society and creating new grass-roots institutions alongside the destruction of the old. This seems unlikely in the short term, as bureaucratic labor unions and the Communist Party have attempted to domesticate the revolt and cut their own political coupon.
But there is no doubt that a new benchmark has been set for what can be expected in Western countries during the coming era of economic depression and environmental decay. European governments will no doubt ratchet up their policies of surveillance and repression in anticipation of growing civil unrest. But that may not be enough to keep the population subdued, as crisis after crisis calls the existing arrangement of power and privilege into question.