[Marxism] Days of Rage in Greece

Greg McDonald sabocat59 at mac.com
Fri Dec 19 08:45:33 MST 2008

December 18, 2008
The Rightwing Government is Headed for Its Downfall
Days of Rage in Greece


On the night of December 6, a special police squad in Athens murdered  
a 15-year-old student in cold blood in Exarchia, a neighborhood with  
a long tradition of activism among young people, the left and  

This was only the latest instance of police brutality against  
immigrants, and left-wing and anarchist activists--especially youth,  
in the wake of a major youth resistance movement against  
privatization of education that rattled the right-wing government of  
Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis.

The next day, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA),  
revolutionary left organizations and anarchist activists called a  
demonstration at police headquarters in Athens.

This was the first shock. Although the demonstration wasn't well  
organized, and in spite of the climate of fear cultivated by the  
government and the big media, tens of thousands of people came out in  
the streets. At the same time, demonstrations were organized  
spontaneously in smaller cities around the country.

The police attacked the demonstration, using chemical sprays and tear  
gas. The demonstrators resisted by building barricades and bonfires  
all night long in the center of Athens.

However, the real earthquake happened the next day. On December 8,  
DEA members visited schools, proposing occupations and  
demonstrations. We found out that the idea was already on the minds  
of a majority of students. All schools in the country closed, and  
thousands of students poured into the streets.

The students occupied the centers of cities all over Greece, and in  
many cases, they besieged the police departments. The sizes of the  
protests were huge, especially in Athens, Thessaloniki and Patras.  
Hundreds of demonstrations took place in smaller towns, and even in  

It was already obvious within a matter of days that this would be a  
generalized explosion of youth after years of oppression, poverty and  
deep cuts in the government's social spending.

The demonstrators made their objectives known: By targeting the  
police department, they were attacking the government's authoritarian  
policy of repression. By targeting the banks, they were attacking the  
symbols of capitalism to show their anger with neoliberal policy.

That afternoon, SYRIZA called a demonstration for the center of  
Athens. Despite the police presence and the use of tear gas, tens of  
thousands of people participated. The police again used violence to  
disperse the demonstrators.

What followed was a wild night of confrontations. More than 30 banks  
and many big stores and public buildings were set on fire. The same  
thing took place in other cities around the country.

In addition to students, the poor and immigrants came out to the  
demonstrations. The hatred of police repression and the country's  
rich was everywhere.

* * *

THE NEXT day, Tuesday morning, dawned on a terrified government.  
Rumors circulated that Prime Minister Karamanlis intended to declare  
a state of emergency in Athens and Thessaloniki, which would mean a  
"temporary" suspension of all democratic and political freedoms.

But any such plans were withdrawn after the government realized the  
strength of the demonstrations would cancel out the strength of any  
"extraordinary measures."

Karamanlis called together the leaders of the political parties in  
successive meetings, demanding their consent for stopping the crisis  
with threats of brutal police intervention. It was obvious that  
pressure was being was directed at the radical left coalition SYRIZA.

But the leadership of SYRIZA withstood it. The head of SYRIZA's  
parliamentary group, Alekos Alavanos, came out of a meeting with  
Karamanlis and called on the workers and students to continue their  
struggle to topple the Karamanlis government. Alavanos also demanded  
a "real apology" toward the youth--which would mean disarming the  
police, the end of all privatization measures in education and a  
policy to strengthen employment for young people.

Though pressed hard by the media, he made it clear that SYRIZA wasn't  
participating in the riots, but he refused to condemn the "violence"  
of the demonstrators, insisting that the point was the fight against  
police violence.

One disappointing response was that of the Communist Party of Greece.  
After meeting with Karamanlis, the party's secretary, Aleka Papariga,  
denounced SYRIZA and demanded that it stop pandering to the  
anarchists. The same line was taken by the leader of the right wing,  
Georgios Karatzaferis, who also targeted SYRIZA and accused it of  
being the "political wing" of the rioters.

The real problem, however, is the attitude taken by the large social  
democratic party, PASOK, led by Georgios Papandreou. In order to  
oppose Karamanlis' center-right New Democracy party, Papandreou  
denounced the murder and police oppression. But at the same time, he  
denounces the demonstrations, proposing instead silent candlelight  
vigils to "mourn" the young student who was killed.

The murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos came as the economic crisis  
reached a new level. Greece's trade unions had already called for a  
24-hour general strike on December 12. But the social democratic  
leadership of the Confederation of Greek Workers--terrified by the  
wave of demonstrations and complying with Karamanlis' request-- 
canceled a labor rally planned for that day.

The rally did take place after a mobilization by SYRIZA and  
organizations of the revolutionary left. It was massive, very  
militant and peaceful. Participation in the strike call was almost  
total. This broke through the climate of fear and scaremongering  
promoted by the government.

As this article is being written, the movement is continuing, and no  
one really knows what the future holds for Karamanlis.

The right-wing government is headed toward its downfall. Every  
opinion poll shows that it has already suffered a huge loss of  
support after the outbreak of big corruption scandals revolving  
around illegal sales of public land in collaboration with the church.  
The media in Greece think that Karamanlis won't be prime minister by  
the summer of 2009.

DEA is participating enthusiastically in the resistance movement. We  
support the unity of the young demonstrators fighting against  
repression and the workers and their unions fighting against  

To achieve unity, we need a left that is massive and effective, but  
also a left that is radical--that can inspire all the people now in  
struggle with the belief that this society, capitalism, should be  
overthrown, and that an alternative that meets our needs, socialism,  
is a feasible solution.

This is the potential presented clearly in front of us during the  
days of struggle that have shaken Greece.

Panos Petrou is a member of Workers Internationalist Left (DEA, by  
its initials in Greek) and part of the editorial board of DEA's  
newspaper Workers' Left.

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