Class struggle without classes? (EN – IT)

The following article was published in the Italian review Senza Censura, July 2012

CLASS STRUGGLE WITHOUT CLASSES? 

Two (and a half) years of defeats for the Greek Movement.

The question we are examining in this article is the Greek movements’ perspectives after more than two years of bitter defeats and disastrous austerity. Although it is difficult, even for us Greeks, to examine and analyze in depth this issue – moving beyond the impressive TV images showing buildings in flames and hundreds of thousands of people filling the streets of Athens – conducting this analysis is absolutely necessary, for two reasons:

a)      First of all, in order to understand the reasons for which the movements opposing austerity in Greece have, until now, failed. This is, indeed, what has happened: The movements did not manage to stop the austerity storm which is striking the Greek society.

b)      And then, it is necessary in order to address a broader question, in order to note which mobilization experiences may be shared, and which lessons one might learn from the Greek case. This point is especially timely for today’s Italy.

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The movements which oppose the austerity measures in Greece are the society’s response to the “salvation maneuvers” imposed on the country by the Greek government and its creditors, i.e. the so-called “Troika” – composed by the IMF, the ECB and the EU.
Their development can be divided in three phases:

1. from May 2010 to May 2011: The traditional mobilization. This phase was characterized by a -sort of- repetition of mobilization forms and means used in the past in Greece: General Strikes, demonstrations, violent clashes with the police, and so on.

2.  from May to August 2011: The “indignados” mobilization: During this period, the Greeks, inspired by the Arab Spring and the Spanish “indignados”, squatted the main Squares in Athens and all the other cities of Greece and held daily, peaceful demonstrations. Although the acampadas held an impressive, positive influence on the Greek society, their main goal, which was to block the voting of yet another package of austerity laws, was not achieved. And the acampadas slowly faded, inside the riot police tear gas fogs and the traditionally hot Greek summer.

3. from October 2011 to May 2012: The “civil disobedience” period. After the dismantlement of the indignados camps, what we witnessed was a diffusion of the contention in fields where movement activity was uncommon. This included personalized attacks against politicians in bars and trattorias, military parades turning into popular protests and chasing away the officials, football hooligans joining forces inside and outside the stadiums in protest, and -perhaps most importantly- the massive unwillingness of various (even non-politicized) parts of the society to conform with the austerity laws. Whilst some formed movements of self-reduction and non-payment of the new taxes, others connected back the electricity cut due to non-payment to the ENI, some invaded the supermarkets and distributed goods, and others cancelled the basic goods mediators, organizing horizontal networks of food distribution, from the producer directly to the consumer.

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It would be unfair to say that the Greeks did not mobilize; they did. In June 2011, for example, more than 20% of the population participated in protests and demonstrations. For Italy, that would make 12 million people. Even the political status quo in Greece has dramatically changed, as the elections of May and June have clearly shown. The formerly governing Social-democratic party (the Greek equivalent of Partito Democratico) has virtually disappeared, losing almost 75% of its votes and 90% of its seats in the parliament. The conservative right-wing party scored an all-time low, and managed to form a government only through a fragile alliance with its former social-democrat adversaries. The leftist and communist forces, spearheaded by the movement-friendly, moderate left-wing party SYRIZA, gathered in sum more than 35% in the last elections. This is an unbelievable score for Greece, where, for the last 40 years, the left had never gathered more than 15%. Finally, the neo-Nazi party “Golden Dawn” entered the parliament with an impressive 7% of the votes.

To sum up, what we witness is an evident polarization towards the extremes of the political spectrum, and the weakening of the traditional political entities.

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Yet, and despite the electoral rise of the left the objective goal of the movements – blocking the austerity measures – was not achieved. And the newly elected government is once again a pro-austerity government.

Three months ago, if we would try to analyze the reasons of this failure, we would commence from the lack of political representation and a clear ideology which could transform a series of protests into viable solutions for the future. This argument is no longer valid. SYRIZA, staging a clever electoral campaign, managed to unite the vast majority of the activists in its ranks. Yet “unity over the ballot box” does not necessarily mean common political ideologies. And a great number of people are afraid that the party they voted for will quickly transform itself into a traditional social-democratic one, forgetting about the claims for a radical transformation of the society and the economy. We have to wait and see, although the early signs are not leaving too much space for optimism.

Returning to the initial question, though, one could identify today three important reasons for the movements’ failure:

1. The lack of flexibility and adaptability: It took one whole year to the movements to realize that what they were dealing with in the past was by no means comparable to the present situation. c) the lack of international co-ordination and mobilizing which could increase pressure in the other EU countries to abolish the neo-liberal measures. The latter were presented as a procedure without alternative, taking place europe-wide, and strengthened incredibly the arguments of the government, the media and their porte-paroles inside the society.

2. The fact that the opponent proved stronger than expected. The Italians, during the Berlusconi days, used to complain about the monolithic propaganda they received from the mainstream media. Yet even the Berlusconian empire cannot compare to the unbelievable, terrorizing, pro-austerity mantra the Greeks have been put up to during the IMF years, from literally all mass media, all TV stations (state and public), all radio stations and all newspapers, national and local. This exceptional resource mobilization on behalf of the elites was not perceived on time, and the movements’ response was both late and weak.

3. The lack of international co-ordination and mobilizing which could increase pressure in the other EU countries to abolish the neo-liberal measures. The latter were presented as a procedure without alternative, taking place Europe-wide, and strengthened incredibly the arguments of the government, the media and their porte-paroles inside the society.

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With regard to the third point: when I’m talking about international co-ordination and co-operation, I ‘m not referring to a charity-like solidarity that should be expressed to the suffering Greek population, perhaps for humanitarian reasons.

Take for example the slogan “We are all Greeks”.

We could not possibly identify with all the Greek, with our politicians, for example, our rich businessmen and all those who partied during the ’90s and now call for austerity whilst checking their bank account in Switzerland.

We identify ourselves with the non-privileged Italians, Spanish, Irish, Portuguese, and Greeks, all those who did not benefit from the explosion of the public and private debt during the last two decades, yet are today asked to pay the bill, to bail out the greedy bankers, corrupt politicians and local mafias.

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The infamous American investor, Warren Buffet, said once: “We have a class war, and my class is winning”. The case of Greece is merely an episode in this warfare. Unfortunately, the “class” variable was largely absent from the Greek movements’ analysis of the crisis. When invoked, it was either in ridiculously old-fashioned terms (such was the case of the Communist Party of Greece, which was literally destroyed by SYRIZA, paying the price for its unwillingness to participate in movements it did not  control), or it was presented in the caricature of the “national unity”, where ultra-nationalists and ultra-leftists would fight the police side by side for the whole day, only to realize -when the tear gas clouds dissolved and peace was again restored- that their political projects were absolutely incompatible.

Although it is impossible to foresee the end of this Greek Tragedy, it is quite clear that what we are witnessing is the beginning of a new chapter. As the European South is going deeper every day into the crisis, and the new political scenery in Greece opens up new opportunities and produces new challenges for its movements, perhaps it is the time to reverse Buffet’s saying:

This is a class war. And it is time for our class to win.

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