Greece rises in rebellion

January 5, 2009

The Greek socialist newspaper Workers' Left looks in this editorial at the roots of the revolt that began with the killing of a teenage student by police in Athens--and what the protests mean for the future.

THE WAVE of struggle that has burst out after the police murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos has been justly characterized as a social rebellion by youth in Greece.

Thousands upon thousands of young people--high school and university students, and young workers--have taken over the streets of all the important cities in the country, sending a loud message: "We are not going to take it no more!"

By targeting the police, they made clear their decision to confront the suffocating repression used against them. By the targeting the banks--the symbol of capitalist greed--they showed their intention to fight against the exploitation that crushes the whole of the working class.

The movement has withstood a repressive counterattack by the conservative government of Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis, using tear gas, unrestrained violence by club-waving riot police, and gunfire against high school students.

It has also stood up against a slander campaign organized by the government, with the support of the media and, unfortunately, the Communist Party, and the silence of PASOK, the main social democratic party. The propaganda about "blind violence" was designed to divert attention from the actual activities of the movement and to force the youth into retreat.

A mass protest against the Karamanlis government winds its way through the streets of Athens
A mass protest against the Karamanlis government winds its way through the streets of Athens

Two weeks later, the movement is still in the streets. The combination of mass demonstrations and occupations of high school and university campuses threatens to go on, pushing the Karamanlis government beyond what it can endure.

The resilience of this movement can only be understood as a result of the solidarity that the demonstrators have enjoyed among the majority of people in Greece.

The explosion of anger that followed Alexis' murder brought together all sorts of pressures that people have been subjected to for years: Rising prices and continuous austerity that have slashed workers' income. The spread of flexible labor relations that have filled up workplaces with "part-timers" and " temps." Systematic cuts in social spending that have driven hospitals, schools and retirement funds to the threshold of collapse.

To this already severe reality has been added the nightmare of financial crisis. At the same time as the capitalists and their government are spending 28 billion euros ($35 billion) to "save" the banks, they are asking us willingly to accept even harsher sacrifices to save the system from the crisis they created.

At the same time, the explosion that followed Alexis' murder brought together all of the major and minor struggles of the previous period: The great movement of the last year against privatization of education and proposed changes to Article 16 of the constitution, which protects the rights of youth to free education. The teachers' strike in autumn 2006. The flood of protest against plans to change the pension system. The hundreds of strikes that didn't quite win and even those that went down in defeat.

These popular struggles have kept resistance alive with the demand for an end to neoliberalism--and that "bill" is today being presented to Karamanlis.

THE RESISTANCE is international in character.

Throughout Europe, after 20 years of neoliberal attacks, with the economic crisis growing worse, the question is being raised: What kind of struggles can really provide an alternative? It is because of this that Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi and Gordon Brown are in a panic, fearing the consequences of the "Greek example."

We do not have any trace of national self-importance. A few years back, inspired by the student uprising in the streets of Paris, we demonstrated with the slogan: "Here will become like France."

Today, we are elated not only because of the international shows of solidarity for our struggle, but because the wave of protests that followed Alexis' murder is being understood by millions of people all across Europe as an invitation to a more generalized uprising--for a new May '68, to be our answer to the crisis.

After two weeks in the streets, our duties are the politicization and broadening of the movement. To the voices that demand de-escalation and a return to "normalcy," we must put forward the need for resilience and continuing the struggle.

The slogan "Down with the government of murderers" is absolutely central. The Karamanlis government is falling apart, and it must be overthrown from below by the actions of the movement.

This means not only removing from power the discredited personnel of Karamanlis' New Democracy, but also overturning the policies dictated for years by the industrialists and the bankers--policies that the experience of the preceding Simitis government shows could be continued by a social neoliberal government of PASOK.

It is because of this experience that we have no reason to wait for the certain electoral defeat of New Democracy. We should not allow Karamanlis any more time to go on with his anti-labor, anti-social policies. But even more importantly, with our struggle today to overturn the government, we are setting political limits on any successor government to stop any "two-party" transition (and even more so the idea of a coalition government of PASOK and New Democracy).

We are opening up the prospect of victories and real gains for workers and youth. With respect to that perspective, actions in the streets are not sufficient by themselves anymore. While not abandoning demonstrations, we need to turn our efforts to actions inside the schools, with student strikes, occupations and mass general assembly meetings.

At the same time, the movement needs to broaden further in society. The right cannot withstand the pressure of a fighting front of students and workers.

At the present time, the labor movement is facing the challenge of the newly passed budget. It is clear that the trade unions aren't doing even the most basic things to mobilize opposition.

During the December 10 general strike, the unions retreated in terror, initially canceling a strike rally in the center of Athens. Eventually, the demonstration did take place, and the large turnout and its fighting spirit gave union leaders the most proper answer. But in the few days before the budget vote in parliament, the unions avoided any calls for serious actions to escalate the struggle.

That duty now falls on the shoulders of activists inside the unions at the grassroots level. Now is the time for strike actions--and coordination between sections of workers already in struggle--to generalize our demands and fight for victories.

IN A time of crisis, the real politics of each party have become clear.

PASOK limited its activities to organizing peaceful, silent and small candlelight marches, to show that it was " in mourning" for Alexis. PASOK let it be known to one and all that in this critical time for Karamanlis, it wouldn't "pour oil on the fire," and it was willing to wait peacefully until elections for changes.

This isn't just a tactic chosen for electoral purposes. It is a clear warning sign that a PASOK government will follow the same policies that Karamanlis did.

The real surprise and disappointment was the actions of the Communist Party. Not only did it not make any effort to organize and further politicize the protests, but it brought out of its Stalinist closet slanders about "provocateurs," and it placed itself among the parties demanding that priority be given to restoring "peace and order."

Once more, the Communist Party has proven that the left character of any party should be judged not by its program on paper, but by its concrete political position on questions posed by real struggles.

The leadership of the radical reformist party Synaspismos, the largest organization in the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA, by its Greek initials), withstood the political pressure and refused to go along with condemning the protests under the pretext of denouncing the "violence of the black bloc"--though not without some vacillation, such as the retreat from the original call for the strike rally on December 10.

Overall, SYRIZA emerged as a valuable network of political support for the movement (as was shown by the organizing of protests in smaller cities).

We are now entering a critical phase. The international crisis is going to sharpen the confrontations. In such a period, what is needed politically is a really radical left--a political force willing and capable of making the case for the replacement of capitalism with socialism, and of connecting this aim with the great struggles that will inevitably break out against the intensification of exploitation and oppression.

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