In Greece, longstanding illusions of Europe as a “progressive and democratic” force in the world are being dashed as the neo-liberal and imperialist projects that are European Union and the International Monetary Fund bare their fangs.
Half of Greece’s hospitals are slated to close. While visiting the country, I met doctors who had not received their pay in over 6 months. Free access to healthcare is being replaced by free market chaos in which people must rely on bribes and brokers in order to even secure basic services. The old social contract of the European welfare state has come to an end.
Factories are moving to other countries where production is more profitable. Public agricultural lands are being privatized. With those privatizations, agriculture is being replaced with whatever industries are profitable to foreign imperialist powers. Greece is entering a process of neo-liberal specialization, in which its economy is to be warped to produce whatever is profitable for global capitalism.
Institutions, arrangements and assumptions that once appeared permanent have been thrown into the air. The country is in such a profound crises that many sense revolutionary potential. Communism is re-emerging as an emancipatory possibility. Perhaps instead of breakdown, the people will breakthrough.
December of 2008 was a winter that forever changed Greece, setting it on fire. The global financial crisis was the kindling, but the match was actually the police murder of a young boy, Alexandros Grigoropoulos. Riots spread through the country. The legitimacy of Greece’s ruling parties was called into question. The left was polarized, with the anarchists and creative sections of the communist movement playing an important role. Meanwhile, forces that claimed to be on the side of the people, such as the old Communist Party of Greece (KKE), found themselves exposed and isolated. This KKE declared that any “genuine popular revolt will not smash even a single pane of glass.”
Three years later, after years of turmoil and general strikes, Greece’s equivalent of the Arab Spring emerged suddenly and unexpectedly. This “Movement of the Squares” was organized on Facebook by students with no previous political experiences. “People’s assemblies” were called, declaring themselves to be the real democracy of the people, and challenging the legitimacy and rule of the PASOK dominated government.
Like America, Greece had been dominated by two neo-liberal political parties: one that pretends to be on the side of the people, and another that does not even pretend. All of this was ripped apart. What people believed was possible changed, and what was actually possible changed. The PASOK government came toppling down. The trade unions it bureaucratized were no longer under its control. The people were in the streets, remaining defiant.
The three ruling powers that dominate Greece have been called “the Troika,” alluding to the familiar image of a three-horse carriage – in this case pulled toward disaster. The three horses of this Troika are made up of the European Union, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Central Bank. The global financial crisis (fueled by the Troika’s own robbery, bubbles, loans, speculation) and the toppling of the PASOK government, all led the Troika impose a special “memorandum.” That memorandum was a document demanding extreme austerity and a Greek government overseen by foreign bankers and technocrats.
“The differing ideas and methods of the radical Left will pose themselves sharply in the future. For now, millions in Greece have spoken: they will not go quietly.”
Many Left political forces abstained from this mass rebellion. The anarchist movement split over whether to participate in the Squares Movement, with many arguing it wasn’t radical enough to warrant their participation. Dogmatic sections of the Left even protested against the Square, because it wasn’t a movement that fit inside their preexisting schema.
Meanwhile, participants in SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, stood out in making major contributions to the Movement of the Squares. One organization, the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), a member of SYRIZA, contributed to the development of the movement by creating key initiatives that resolved challenges the movement faced. When doctors lost their jobs because of the austerity, the KOE played a role together with others in organizing doctors to treat people, including undocumented workers, for free in the occupations. When the neo-Nazi’s came to distribute Greek flags in the occupation, the KOE came with the flags of other countries where people are struggling against oppression, including Egypt, Tunisia, and Palestine.
From the very beginning of the Squares occupations, the KOE incorporated the image of a helicopter and the slogan “GET OUT!” – making it clear that all they want from government leaders is for them to get in helicopters and flee into exile. The helicopter image has come to characterize a radical pole of the Squares movement.
Much of the Squares Movement has transformed the landscape of the left itself. Political forces like the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) in particular, have gone from electoral coalitions to become major channels of the resistance, political energy, and engagement of millions.
SYRIZA itself represents a diverse set of radical Left currents and alliances with inevitable disputes between them. Some forces within SYRIZA imagine a Greece liberated from foreign imperialist power and capitalist logic, and see Greece as a possible spark that spreads such liberation to the rest of Europe. They capture their ideas with the slogan “Another Greece in another Europe.” Other forces in SYRIZA imagine a series of reforms that make the European Union into a progressive force in the world. Today these diverse currents are united but that is not likely to always remain the case.
For now, the whole of SYRIZA has taken a righteous stand against the memorandum and the Troika, declaring its intention to shred the memorandum, abolish the technocratic regime, re-negotiate Greece’s position in the European Union, to refuse Greece’s participation in the imperialist wars, and to ultimately expel all foreign military bases from Greece. It is a plan which has captured the aspirations of millions.
The plans of SYRIZA contain many contradictions. A program such as this will not be allowed peacefully, with Greece remaining in the Euro-zone, and without some sort of show down. No doubt the different and opposing poles that exist within SYRIZA will become harder to ignore as the situation evolves.
No revolution is pre-determined or guaranteed. The differing ideas and methods of the radical Left will pose themselves sharply in the future. For now, millions in Greece have spoken: they will not go quietly. Our brothers and sisters in Greece are in the midst of an uprising that mirrors the Occupy movement in many ways. Christos, a young student and revolutionary, said “Your Occupy Wall Street movement is so important to us. We can see that this thing is even happening in America now.” If we are to transform this world, we’ll do it together.