On the Greek Revolt

The grave of Alexandros Grigoropoulos.

The On the Greek Riots blog is a good source of news for this. A lot of people on the left are following these (now four) days of rioting in every major Greek city. And unlike the European political commentators of the center (who are equally obsessed with the events), the left are beginning to ask the question: Is this (still, just) rioting? Or is it a revolution of some sort.

The press talking heads, previously content with dramatic pictures and “those nutty Greeks” commentary, are now wringing their hands furiously over the spiraling violence. That the rioting is so widespread, and has gone on for so long, is clearly an indication — visible even to newspaper editors — that this is not merely a reaction by the community of this 15 year old Athens boy murdered by the police. This is “a revolt of a whole generation of young people”, and perhaps a revolution.

Maybe. But if a revolution, it’s probably not the one young Anarchist Alexandros Grigoropoulos would have wanted.

Greece’s conservative government, with a one vote majority in parliament, is what is teetering on the brink of collapse here, not capitalism. And the opposition, led by the nepotistic Social -Democratic PASOK, who ruled the nation for decades prior to the 2004 conservative victory, is itching to break the government. While the revolutionary left and the trade union movement would surely love to see the end of the current government, the re-introduction of the Papandreou clan back into power is likely not what they have in mind. But that may be one reason this violence continues. PASOK, while artfully condemning violence, has come out on the streets and is stoking the anger, with demonstrations, parliamentary maneuvering, and press hysteria, at this despicable (and all too common) police murder.

In reaction, the rest of the European press has been forced to admit that this is something large: almost 1968 large. There is in Greece today a generation of overeducated young people who reject the current authorities and have a lessened prospect of being lured back into mainstream culture by the promise of future career opportunities. But remember, 1968 failed. It failed, in part, because it never made the jump out of universities to regular working people. Student revolts can be suppressed, and students won’t be students forever. Maybe they won’t be integrated into the mainstream in the same numbers as previous generations, but their community is dismantled every four years and subsumed in the rest of us, who are hardly — even in Athens — on the brink of taking to the streets. Subcultures, like the Hippies in the sixties or the Back Bloc Anarchists so powerful in urban Greece today, can keep up that community consciousness. But if the rejection of capitalism never makes the jump from a subculture, this starts and ends in riots.

It takes everyone to make a revolution, and unless “normal” folks get on board, this will go nowhere. MAYBE that jump is happening, as a wide swath of the left (not just urban young Anarchists, despite what their comrades here tell you) is taking to the streets. If young working people are enough taken with the liberation and power of these moments of struggle, maybe they can start a contagion in unions and neighborhoods. But that is a long process, and no one should assume that the burning barricades in Greek cities were put there by the families that live and work in those neighborhoods. When those are the people building barricades, then this is not only a revolution, then the revolution has already happened.

Meanwhile, Anarchists in New York and elsewhere play up the current violence and revolutionary nature of some of those taking it to the police in Greece. I think we on the left have to be awfully clear eyed as to who this really helps. If this is a revolutionary moment — and I think that in one sense it is — it is the moment of PASOK and the institutionalised trades Unions to jimmy their way back into government. It is a parliamentary revolution of one faction of the centrist governing class against another, more ideologically neo-liberal, faction. PASOK and its allies will likely get new elections out of this, and they will likely win them. At which point the violence will be suppressed and the patronage system of the Papandreous will return to previous programming.

In my opinion that is not something worth dying for.

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