unions and left parties let down greek youth uprising

The Commune has published two articles on the recent events on Greece: a detailed and sympathetic account by two Greek libertarian communist groups, TPTG and Blaumachen, who participated in the movement, and a critical piece by Dan Jakopovich. In this article, Valia Kaimaki, whose previous article on the subject has been widely reproduced, asks what lessons we can learn from the December uprising.

If anyone has managed to understand the causes and analyze the results of the uprising by Greek youth last December, it is surely not Greek society itself. After writing an article exclusively for foreigners trying to explain what exactly happened here I was amazed to realise how many Greeks, friends, neighbours and colleagues complimented me on opening a debate on the subject. Any analysis, social, political or economical remained marginal and incomplete. There are a number of questions that should have been addressed by political groups, journalists and the public and at least some answers should have been formulated. The reason why nothing of the sort happened is that nobody was ready to open Pandora’s box.

On Saturday December 6th, a 15 year old school boy, Alexandros Grigoropoulos was killed by a police Special Guard in the centre of Athens. It has not yet been proven that this Greek Rambo targeted the boy directly, but for anyone who has seen the video it is more than clear. The reason why this is not expressed officially is obvious. The boy supposedly “verbally abused” the policeman and that provoked his anger. Let us keep in mind that Exarchia is regarded as a “hot” area. Situated next to the Polytechnic University, where the mass student uprising in 1973 became one of the most significant events in the fight against the 1967-74 dictatorship, the neighbourhood attracts youth from all over Athens (a city of 5 million). It is not infrequent that the Exarchia police station is attacked by rebel youth, with stones or even Molotov cocktails. Most Athenian youth can remember an incident or two in Exarcheia, as a sort of rite of passage. The same police force is said to be doing excellent business with drug dealers, who also find refuge in the area. In general, the Greek police excel in fighting demonstrators rather than organized crime, but in Exarchia there is a kind of vendetta between police and youth.

The first discussion that opened was about the role of the police. We learnt that police officers are supposed to pass psychological tests at regular intervals, but they don’t, as there are not enough doctors. We learnt that when a policeman ‘loses control’, the internal “omerta” (code of silence) is well kept. We learnt a number of things… and then discussion was closed down as abruptly as it opened.

Just after the murder, youth, mostly from far-left and anarchist organisations, demonstrated in the Exarchia area. They burnt cars, broke shop windows and destroyed ATMs. On the other side, police constantly lobbed tear gas at them. By the Sunday, all Greece was on fire. Numerous protest marches were organized in almost every town. School boys and girls, who have never had any contact with any political or workers’ organization, were out in the streets.

Side by side with school kids, students, young workers and the unemployed also protested. But social problems need political solutions and the kids out in the streets did not propose any. The only adult movement that stood by them was the migrant movement, but we all understand that it has no real strength. Why didn’t the workers’ movement stand by them? Because the youth were not organized, because they were violent and because they were spontaneous: things that organized trade unionism is afraid of. Of course the main union federation participated in some of the protest marches, but it didn’t exercise any real pressure on the government. Without allies their protest was doomed not to go very far.

It is true that the right wing New Democracy government is facing a multitude of problems and the youth revolt was not the least among them. Major economic scandals have led to the resignation of two ministers, both of them close to the Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis. But the government is not facing serious opposition. The leader of the Socialist Party (PASOK), George Papandreou is following the same tactics as Karamanlis five years ago: he’s biding time. It will eventually be his turn, as in many European countries: the centre-left Socialists succeed centre-right conservatives, and vice versa. The other three parties of the opposition followed usual tactics as well. The far right LAOS was only worried about broken shop windows and burnt cars, and the Communist Party (KKE) didn’t recognize the movement as ‘orthodox’ enough. Both of these parties attacked the third one, SYRIZA for defending violent actions. SYRIZA is a peculiar case. Part of it comes from KKE, another part represents what is left of the ‘revisionist’ KKE-Interior split. And the rest of it consists of various small radical groups. Its biggest component, SYNASPISMOS, comes from the KKE and although sometimes what they say is innovative and modern-sounding, most of the time we can clearly see their wish to prove themselves “truer” than the Communist Party. It is the only party, though, that stood next to the youth movement and actively participated to it. And it now seems they had more to lose than to gain. The arrows of the KKE found their target and people really did withdraw their sympathy from a party that ‘supported violence’ (which was not, however, true).

The youth movement could not go any further because it was not political. It expressed no real programme, just the growing anger of a youth without future. Perhaps it is difficult to understand that such a massive movement did not have any organised political support at all. A deeper social movement is needed, not just youth, but workers and anti-capitalists too; this alliance could be a force for change.