One of the main rebuttals to Chris Hedges’s attack on the black bloc centers on his support of the riots in Greece against the austerity drive. For example, “Nihilo Zero” (love those made-up anarchist names!) wrote an article for Anarchist News that stated:
Such a stance also often belies a hypocritical stance in regard to revolutionary self-defense and aggression when it occurs in their own backyards. For example… Chris Hedges in an earlier article about Greece wrote:
Here’s to the Greeks. They know what to do when corporations pillage and loot their country. They know what to do when Goldman Sachs and international bankers collude with their power elite to falsify economic data and then make billions betting that the Greek economy will collapse. They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.
So somehow the reader is invited to make a comparison between hundreds of thousands of Greeks, if not millions, pouring into the streets to fight the cops and destroy property with a couple of dozen people in Oakland spray-painting a Whole Foods window? At the risk of sounding like an instructor in Dialectical Materialism 101 at the University of Leningrad in 1954, I have to raise the question of quantity/quality. The quantitative difference between millions and a couple of dozen becomes qualitative. For example, there are neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. who occasionally hold a White Power rally somewhere. But for Pete’s sake, this is not Germany 1928 (even though some very otherwise reasonable people like Noam Chomsky make this mistake.)
There will very likely come a time in the future in which the attack on the working class in the U.S. will be as draconian as that taking place in Greece. And, as a result, there will be massive violent confrontations with the police. However, one thing is for sure. If we want to achieve victory, it will take a lot more than street fighting as a review of the situation in Greece would indicate. Despite over two years of massive confrontations, at times taking on the character of a civil war, the Greek government continues to make the workers pay for bankster chicanery and exploitation. Today’s N.Y Times reports:
After days of dramatic talks, Greek political leaders reached a deal on Thursday to support a package of harsh austerity measures demanded by Greece’s financial backers in return for the country’s latest bailout.
The deal is expected to unlock the 130 billion euros, or $172 billion, in new loans and save Greece from potentially disastrous default.
Talks between Prime Minister Lucas D. Papademos and the three leaders backing his coalition had stalled overnight over proposed cuts to pensions, but on Thursday leaders said they had found a way of plugging the 300 million euro shortfall by cutting defense spending and other expenditures.
“We have a deal,” a government official said Thursday afternoon. A statement by the prime minister was expected shortly.
At a news conference in Frankfurt, the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, said Mr. Papademos had called him with word that “an agreement has been reached and has been endorsed by the major parties” in Greece.
After more than seven hours, talks had stalled early Thursday between Mr. Papademos and the three political leaders in his government, who agreed on a range of steep wage cuts and public sector layoffs. But the politically unpopular pension cuts had proven most thorny.
Once again turning to the question of quantity and quality, it is significant that this pending victory of a united bourgeoisie takes place against a backdrop of one general strike after another. Unlike the Oakland general strike, whose impact should not be minimized, those that take place in Greece are like something out of the 1930s—including being led by a Communist Party. Alas, that partially explains why the bosses have been successful.
You have to keep in mind that this is a Communist Party that is far to the left of many others, as this polemic with the CPUSA would bear out. While on record as favoring socialism, the KKE (Greek initials for the CP) has functioned far too long as an electoral party to switch gears and mount a challenge for power. It is hard to break with bad habits, particularly parliamentary cretinism. For example, at a rally in November, the party leader set his horizons low:
Down with the government and the parties which serve the plutocracy, as well as those parties which intentionally foster illusions amongst the people that another government with participation of these parties will solve the problem.
We do not conceal from anyone the fact that the class struggle must be directed towards one single goal, the acquisition of working class power, a power which serves the working class and the other popular strata.
They are lying that the timeline imposes the voting of the loan agreement before the election. We demand a caretaker government and elections in 20 days so that the people will be able to express their will with their vote. The controlled bankruptcy has already been agreed while there exists a serious possibility of an uncontrolled bankruptcy, it has not been cancelled out by the packages agreed with the EU, nor by centre-left or centre-right cooperation.
Somehow “down with the government” does not quite jibe with a demand for a “caretaker government”. Understandably, the counterpart of the American black bloc in Greece will have none of this. And once again, quantity becomes quality. In Greece the people who carry out black bloc tactics number in the tens of thousands not the hundreds. Moreover, they are much more violent than the American counterparts and willing to take on those on the left who stand in their way. One trade unionist in Oakland tackled a black-clad militant in front of a Whole Foods store, but that is like a drop of water in the ocean compared to Greece where the black bloc has declared war on the KKE and PAME, the trade union it leads.
On October 19, 2011 the KKE/PAME organized a rally in front of the parliament building that was attacked by black bloc activists. Two days later the KKE issued a statement:
On this occasion organized groups with specific orders and anarcho-fascists unleashed an attack with Molotov cocktails, teargas, stun grenades and stones, in attempt to disperse the majestic rally of workers and people in Syntagma Square and especially in the area where PAME was concentrated. A result of this attack is the death of the trade unionist of PAME, Dimitris Kotzaridis, 53 years old, secretary of the Viron branch of the Construction Workers’ Union. Dozens more PAME demonstrators were injured.
The hatred of the hooded ones against the labour and popular movement and PAME expresses the fury of the forces which serve the system and bourgeois power. The government has massive responsibilities for this. The operation to intimidate, slander and suppress the labour and people’s movement is rooted in state structures, centres and services. History demonstrates this, today’s barbaric and murderous assault also proves this. The hooded ones, anarcho-autonomists, fascists or whatever they call themselves tried to achieve what the forces of repression, the blackmail and threats failed to do: to intimidate the people so that they submit. It objectively arises that the very same centres executed the provocateur murderous burning down of Marfin the day the Memorandum was voted on, 5 May 2010.
Anarchists have a totally different take on what happened that day. A website called Anarchist Theft wrote:
We all experienced the nightmare that the Greek stalinists in co-operation with other leftist trade unionists and the cops created during the 48-hour strike in Greece on October 19 and 20 and some comrades in the anti-authoritarian milieu are badly wounded. We refer to the policing role of the KKE members: they were stationed in military formation in the area around the parliament, armed with helmets and sticks, facing the demonstrators with the riot squads behind them, preventing anyone from approaching, even asking for reporters’ identities and attacking fiercely later those in the crowd who defied their cordons.
As the clashes started, the riot squads came for their protection attacking people with chemicals and flash-bang grenades evacuating the area. It was revealed later that the stalinists had made an agreement with the police so as to be allowed to police the demo themselves. According to our information, similar agreements were made between the KKE and other left parties’ or groupuscules’ unionists so that each was alloted a special place near the parliament accepting KKE’s hegemony. They later supported fully KKE in its denunciation of the ‘anarcho-fascists’, ‘parastatals’ etc, namely all those who were not part of the deal, not willing to accept it and tried to break their cordons.
Here’s a Youtube clip of what was happening that day, although it is difficult to make much sense out of it as to who is to blame:
You can get some inkling, however, of the dynamics from a report that showed up on the leftcom.org website:
Then blocks of anti-authoritarians arrived, as well as the Anarchists’ Assembly for Social Self-determination. Clashes erupted as protesters tried to reach the Parliament. An anarchist block attacked Stalinist lines. [emphasis added]
The Kasama Project, a group that is openly sympathetic to the Occupy movement and even far more open to black block tactics than me, is hostile to the KKE, describing it as “physically protecting the parliament building” and “openly defending the state within a growing crisis that seems pregnant with the possibility of revolution” in October. It also conveyed the analysis of a group called the Communist Organization of Greece that shares its hostility to the KKE:
PAME (the KKE organization within the trade union movement) came under to a murderous attack by groups that have nothing to do with any militant ideology and perception. We saw stones, slingshot ammo and Molotov cocktails hurled into the bodies and heads of strikers and protesters.
These actions are characteristic of para-military rightists and fascists. The KKE leadership has been guilty of politically unacceptable stands — defending the parliament building, keeping radical protesters away from union forces and excluding them from political spaces — but such actions do not justify fascist-inspired assassination attempts. The day before this, teachers were also sent to the hospital with their heads split open from this kind of violent attack…
Mass political confrontation is an approach tied to a particular class outlook. Murderous attack and apolitical hooliganism is a quite different class outlook. These groups and their actions receive the support of the government counterinsurgency because they help the government’s counterinsurgency.
It is difficult to figure out whether the perpetrators of this attack were ultrarightists or ultraleftists, since they were all masked, but that points out to a serious problem with political activity of this sort. Relying almost exclusively on nihilistic violence by masked militants, it can be used for malignant ends despite the best intentions of some of the young people who carry it out.
Unfortunately, the anarchist movement in Greece (I use this term advisedly since there is so much of an affinity for black bloc adventurism in its ranks) has had big problems reflecting on its role in the class struggle.
In May 2010 I wrote an article titled “Is firebombing a bank an acceptable tactic?” that considered the consequences of an anarchist fire-bombing of a bank that left three bank workers dead (supposedly the building was empty at the time.) Infoshop.org, one of the primary dispensers of black bloc nonsense in the U.S., published a communiqué just before the tragedy:
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. [emphasis added]
Not long afterwards calmer heads in the anarchist movement did some soul-searching on this kind of nihilistic violence and issued this statement:
What the greek anarchist movement is experiencing at the moment is some total numbness. Because there are pressurising conditions for some tough self-criticism that is going to hurt. Beyond the horror of the fact that people have died who were on “our side”, the side of the workers – workers under extremely difficult conditions who would have quite possibly chosen to march by our side if things were different in their workplace – beyond this, we are hereby also confronted with demonstrator/s who put the lives of people in danger. Even if (and this goes without question) there was no intention to kill, this is a matter of essence that can hold much discussion – some discussion regarding the aims that we set and the means that we chose.
The incident did not happen at night, at some sabotage action. It happened during the largest demonstration in contemporary greek history. And here is where a series of painful questions emerge: Overall, in a demonstration of 150-200,000, unprecedented in the last few years, is there really a need for some “upgraded” violence? When you see thousands shouting “burn, burn Parliament” and swear at the cops, does another burnt bank really have anything more to offer to the movement?
This is the kind of anarchism I embrace, a movement that is capable of self-criticism and growth. One can only hope that it will prevail in Greece and have some influence on its American co-thinkers who in the name of “diversity of tactics” allow vandalistas to run wild and split the movement.
On a concluding note, a word has to be said about the somewhat depressing character of the clash between reformism and ultraleftism in Greece, personified by the KKE and the widespread anarchist movement. Anarchism prides itself on its detachment from state power and from politics, particularly electoral politics. Radical youth might have a natural prejudice against the KKE and PAME because it is so compromised with class-collaborationist coalition building. But instead of trying to figure out a way to win the ranks of the CP to the revolutionary cause, it sees its membership as part of the problem and not part of the solution.
In a very real sense, in countries undergoing a social political crisis of the sort that Greece is experiencing today or Argentina experienced a decade ago, you have massive workers parties that are obstacles to socialist revolution and ultraleft youth who reject building revolutionary parties as a kind of principle whether they are anarchists or autonomists, as was the case in the leadership of Argentina’s piqueteros.
So what you end up with is a bourgeoisie that can continue to push through austerity drives in the absence of a serious revolutionary opposition. What is needed now is the same thing that was needed during the last great period of social and economic crisis in the 20th century—the time of the Great Depression—is a battle-tested leadership that can move the struggle forward to a successful seizure of state power.
Despite the rather dogmatic sound of all this, echoing I suppose something that Trotsky wrote in the mid-30s, I still believe it is true. What I reject, however, is the claim that some “Leninist” groups have to the mantle of this leadership because they have some kind of “continuity” with Marx and Engels through Lenin as if a pedigree dog competing in a Westminster show. Leadership is achieved by actions that produce results, such as the Occupy movement that demonstrated just how ossified the traditional Marxist movement was. One can only hope that these good comrades, whatever their ideology, figure out a way to sustain the momentum of last autumn and draw new forces into the movement. I strongly urge them to put as much distance between themselves and the black bloc as possible since the greater its presence, the smaller and weaker the movement will become.