Yesterday three workers in Athens died of smoke inhalation on the second floor of Marfin Bank. It had been firebombed during violent protests by anarchists who had hijacked a peaceful demonstration of workers just as had been the case a decade or so when the Black Bloc was in its heyday. An open letter by one of their co-workers has been circulating widely on the Internet. It blames the government rather than the anarchists for the tragedy and even points to a police conspiracy:
No member of security has any knowledge of first aid or fire extinguishing, even though they are every time practically charged with securing the building. The bank employees have to turn into firemen or security staff according to the appetite of Mr Vgenopoulos [owner of Marfin Bank].
The management of the bank strictly bared the employees from leaving today, even though they had persistently asked so themselves from very early this morning – while they also forced the employees to lock up the doors and repeatedly confirmed that the building remained locked up throughout the day, over the phone. They even blocked off their internet access so as to prevent the employees from communicating with the outside world.
While it is important first of all to recognize the high level of class consciousness that would allow such a worker to put the blame on the government, we still have not heard that much from the anarchists themselves. They are in something of a quandary it would appear. While they certainly would not want to be blamed for the death of innocent workers, they have trumpeted such tactics in the past. Infoshop, a key website for the anarchist movement, carried one of their proclamations:
We stand opposed to all authoritarian mechanisms and to all snitches that assist their task and we directly take the counter-offensive for now and forever. On the night of 25th of April in Thessaloníki we attacked with fire a news agency delivery truck of “Evropi (Europe)” company in the area of Evosmos and a branch of OTE (National Telecommunications Organization) in Stavroupoli. We continued the next night again with an arson attack on a Eurobank branch in Kalamaria.
While an arson attack on a bank at night might indicate Weatherman-type solicitude to avoid casualties, one must wonder how they could be sure that security guards and janitors were not inside the building. I suppose that they would be sorry for the collateral damage to someone slinging a mop, but perhaps the security guards would be regarded as a pig. This anarchist communiqué on the OccupiedLondon blog reveals their attitude toward such lowly bank employees, written as a justification for a bank robbery in 2006. The security guard apparently deserved to be shot because he was “overzealous” and a “pig” in their eyes, who “thought he must run and stop the evil doers”. The fact that they could describe this as a “terror-crazed thriller of epic proportions” with zero hint of introspection illustrates how detached from reality these people are:
On January 16th 2006, a group of four people rob a branch of the National Bank, on Solonos St. in the center of Athens. A completely calm robbery, as all eye witnesses there that day confirm, was in the end turned into a record breaking, terror-crazed thriller of epic proportions, a breach in time that dramatically overturned the lives of tens of people, a critical point in the history of an entire political milieu. And that, thanks to the unique “heroics” of that bank’s security guard, who thought that he must run and stop the doers at all costs, because in his code of values the insured money of a bank is more important than anything. Even human life… or otherwise, as Einstein had said, two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the first.
The result of the overzealousness of that guard and a few other pigs who rushed to help in his “pious” cause was the midday transformation of Panepistimiou St. into a shooting range for cops on live targets, in contrast with those being pursued who didn’t use their weaponry… A nearly dead street vendor and a blood soaked, dying bank robber on the ground receiving kick after kick, close the curtains on act one.
Today the anarchists have released a statement about the death of the three bank workers that appears on OccupiedLondon. This dodgy phrase sticks out: “No anarchists would ever purposefully endanger other peoples’ lives.” So if a firebomb accidentally kills three workers, it’s okay? What a bunch of assholes.
Given such a stupid and adventurist orientation, we can certainly expect the cops to infiltrate the anarchist movement in order to propose ever more “bold” tactics that will result in the injuries or deaths of innocent bystanders. The bourgeoisie does not give a shit about such “collateral damage” as long as the provocation results in the further isolation of the ultralefts. An article in today’s NY Times illustrates the line of attack that will be mounted both in Greece and internationally:
The deaths shocked many in Greece, where demonstrations have been a way of life for decades and played a pivotal role in the overthrow of the military regime in 1974. In December 2008, thousands of rioters across Greece clashed with security forces for weeks over the fatal shooting by the police of a 15-year-old boy, without any further deaths.
“A demonstration is one thing and murder is quite another,” Mr. Papandreou told Parliament in an emotional session on the proposed cuts that was suddenly overshadowed.
I first got a sense of the problems of the Greek ultraleft in a talk given by Stathis Gourgouris at the 2009 Left Forum. He was part of a panel discussing the youth revolt that took place before the wheels came off the Greek economy. I wrote:
Stathis Gourgouris introduced a cautionary note, drawing attention to the fact that for the rioters rage played more of a role than politics. Sparked by the cop murder of a high school student in a “bohemian” neighborhood sounding like Athens’s East Village, they moved against the 3 C’s: corruption, cops and commodification.
Gourgouris warned that there was a nihilist streak in the uprising that could not be ignored. It was fueled by a sense that all politics was rotten, including that of the left. He said that it was possible that under certain conditions the movement could shift to the right. But for the time being, it was shaped by three equally important factors: nihilism, spontaneism, and anarchism. During the discussion period, I commented that it sounded like the Argentine piqueteros who also had a fetish against politics. Considering the fact that Greece has powerful anarchist traditions, this outcome might be expected to some extent.
I confess to being something of a hard-liner when it comes to Black Bloc adventurism. At the age of 65, I saw firsthand the bitter fruits of ultraleftism in the 1960s and 70s. While there was not much of an anarchist movement back then, I saw the consequences of “off the pig” rhetoric and “exemplary” actions. American workers who had begun to develop the first signs of class consciousness would not identify with a left that seemed to have walked out of a Godard movie. I also saw how the cops infiltrated ultraleft groups with the same intention as they have today in Greece, namely to encourage tactics that will only backfire and isolate the left as a whole.
I thought I had seen the end of such stupidity as the 80s trod its weary way into the 90s. But as the “oughts” began, you saw a new spasm of anarchism. In 1999, the black bloc showed up at Seattle and set a precedent for “anti-globalization” protests that would be repeated over and over. During a massive peaceful demonstration, the black bloc and its friends would stage an assault on some stupid fence or building in order to demonstrate how rrrrevolutionary they really were. If the cops used this action as a pretext to tear gas or beat the other demonstrators, that was no big deal to them. Hearkening back to Bakunin, they believe that the bold action of a dedicated minority could bring communism or who knows what. I know that sounds stupid but that’s what they believed. Essentially that is what we are dealing with in Greece but on a much larger scale.
Apparently I am not the only person concerned about these developments. This morning I learned from a comrade on the Marxism mailing list that other voices are being heard:
Regardless of who is responsible for the fire in the bank, there’s discussion on what one contributor calls the Greek anarchist scene’s “macho-militarism” on Libcom.org:
The comment by JH on macho militarism hits exactly to the point. The truth is that, even if the left wing press like Eleftherotypia are right in pointing out that the tragedy might have been a result of parastate or fascist groups that were seen to have penetrated the mass rally, the possibility of it happening today or tomorrow as a result of the rising militarism and nihilism of anarchists in greece has always been very high.
I do not want to exploit my position as a contributor to articles here, but the situation is very serious and no one can keep silent any longer: since December the anarchist scene has been characterised by a mass quantitative increase and a critical qualitative leveling. As a result it is verging on the dangerous limits of what one could call “an unprincipled struggle” where violence has acquired an almost totemic dimension. That is not to say that there are no groups which have engaged critically with the issue of violence in the last year or so, but these efforts have been brushed aside as either too academic or too pacifist or whatever, and marginalised.
The only thing that can save the anarchist scene in the eyes of the much wider social and labour movement in greece is at last some trace of self-criticism. Anarchists should develop a sense of public responsibility and realise the consequences of “playing war” on the backs of others. If the anarchist believe they are the vanguard of society that need give word to no one because they embody some historical necessity, they are no better than the Stalinists in the KKE.
I want to conclude by stating what I think a truly “exemplary” action would be. In 2003 a coup was organized against Hugo Chavez of the same kind that had occurred so many times in Latin America. This time, however, the working people and those on the margins of the capitalist economy rose up en masse and confronted the coup organizers with their bodies and their hearts. Their force was irresistible even though they were unarmed. This is the kind of mass action that the left should be emulating, not the temper tantrums of the infantile left. Fortunately we can see what took place in Venezuela now that “The Revolution will not be Televised” is online. This is must viewing for anybody seeking to understand how revolutions take place.