I saw a wonderful play at Εμπρός, an occupied theatre in the Psiri area of Athens last week. In contrast to much of the radical art emerging from the crisis, “2050 Flashback: The System Changes” explored the utopia which people created after the 2015 global revolution,which rid the world of capitalism as well as looking back at the revolutionary events which had led to that utopia being possible. Violence was a theme of the play during the revolution, from the state violence seeking to disrupt the protest, to the fightback generated by ordinary people.
With that in mind, a lively discussion started on the role of violence within the movement, and what that meant for us as activists. While several lamented the level of violence which is a feature of the radical Greek left, others pointed out the violence of the state and its repressive apparatus and the need for people to defend themselves by whatever means necessary. In the light of recent events it is worth taking a look at the role of violence in revolutionary activity and forms of protest.
No effective protest is ever peaceful. Even the fluffiest sit-in fuelled by organic hummus and flower power is designed to disrupt. Keeping the peace is, by definition, accepting what is demanded of you. The Scottish charge of “Breach of the Peace“, frequently used against political activists, is a nod to that demand. You are not expected to disrupt, but to go about your business in the manner in which you have been instructed. Protest is specifically designed to disrupt that order, to demand change by doing what is unexpected.
While no effective protest is ever peaceful, that is not to say that all protests are violent, for there is a difference between peaceful and non-violent. Although Claudette Colvin‘s refusal to give up her seat on a bus to a white man disrupted the racist peace and tranquility of Montgomery, her actions – unlike the police officers who kicked her and dragged her off that bus – were not violent. They did no harm to anyone else, but merely enforced the rights to which she was entitled. Related to that – not all violence is non-peaceful. The benefit “reforms” currently being implemented in the UK are literally killing people, a fatal form of state structural violence imposed on its weakest members. This is a largely peaceful violence. People are quietly denied the means by which they can survive and are left to die alone – of cold, of hunger or even just despair – in peace. Where overt violence does arise it is from the victims and turned inwards, towards suicide and self-harm.
The recent bombings of Gaza have highlighted the role of violence in resistance. While Israel uses just a fraction of its military might to murder civilians, the Western press picks up on the vastly inferior rocket attacks that Hamas launched in defence. While I have no issues with violent resistance to illegal occupations, as a tactic it must be carefully considered, for the state will always have bigger guns. In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, Gonzo Times argues that Marxists should oppose gun control, quoting Marx approvingly, the article asserts that the state should not have a monopoly on arms. What the article ignores however is that under a capitalist system, guns are still restricted. Guns and ammunition are expensive. Only those willing to divert resources towards their purchase are able to have them. Moreover, the idea that semi-automatic assault rifles are going to protect the population should the American military ever turn on its own are simply laughable.
To all of you John Wayne wannabe douchewagons who think you need guns to protect us all from tyranny:
I would love to see any one of you have a go at the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, CIA, FBI, ATF, Border Patrol et al with their tanks, unmanned aerial drone, Hellfire missiles, Apache helicopters, F18s, B2 bombers and armored Hummers with 50 caliber roof-mounted fully automatic machine guns etc. with whatever you have in your gun cabinets. That is a stupid, antiquated argument that makes as much sense as trying to put out a fucking firestorm with a thimble full of water, you delusional lunatics.
In Greece, the question of violent resistance is not an academic one. Over the past four years, since the shooting of Alexis Gringropolis, a catalyst which provoked several weeks of rioting across Greece, spurred on by the rising economic crisis and a growing awareness of the corruption of the Greek state, there has been no shortage of active resistance to the austerity measures which have been imposed on the Greek people. Violent clashes between the state and the people have taken place here almost every month since 2010, yet still the austerity grows.
Since May, a new threat is gripping Greece. Immigrants are being rounded up on the streets of Athens, the police and the fascists are in open collusion, journalistic freedoms are being suppressed, detainees are being tortured in police custody, the Golden Dawn and its poisonous ideology are penetrating Greek civil society, and ultimately the question now is not what should be done if fascism returns to Europe, but what are we going to do now that it has.
Violence is being unleashed in Greece. Both physical violence by police who routinely beat and teargas protesters, torture those arrested and detain people on false pretenses, andthe structural violence through the removal of social support, healthcare and education. The violence of molatovs on the streets aimed at heavily protected officers has a ritualism about it. The arson attack and bombing of the Golden Dawn offices has all the reminicences of a small Palestinian child throwing a stone at an Israeli tank in a country where fascist MPs punch female Communist party MPs live on television with impunity, where the regulations have been relaxed for them to take firearms into the parliament, where they face no consequences for pulling guns on protesters and where an assassination attempt on a Syriza MP by party members is followed by a lawsuit for defamation.
The Golden Dawn have spoken openly about the prospect for civil war and it is not inconceivable that things may reach that stage. War is never something to be glorified but the alternative, here in a land with mass detention camps, a population on the brink of homelessness and hunger and a fascist takeover of state functions, is too awful to be contemplated.
Talk of a military coup in November last year was dismissed as fantasy, yet in February it was reported that the Greek Military had been to asked to prepare to take over the running of the country from the then transitional government, a move which would see it exit the Eurozone. In May, an Australian economist turned that on its head suggesting that any default and consequent exit from the Eurozone would see the military intervene in a collapsing society Last month the government moved to deny that it was contemplating demands by the Troika to end compulsory military service.
The dynamics of the Greek Military and the role that it may play in any armed uprising is worth consideration. Greece has at least nine months compulsory military service for all males between the ages of 18 and 45, most usually to be served when turning 18. Unpaid, but with food and lodgings provided, it means that almost all Greek males know how to handle firearms – albeit with only basic training and most of it rusty. It also means that the military has within it young men drawn from the communities which are suffering – only those with money can buy their way out – and who fear for their future once they leave the service.
The coup of ’67 which saw the military take over Greece, detaining and torturing mass numbers of citizens, has until now brought forward revulsion. But now, at a time when society is collapsing, that time of order is being looked back on with the kind of rose tinted glasses that only the distance of time can bring. The Golden Dawn, founded by a prominent member of the regime has taken to celebrating the time of the Junta, while the last surviving member of the Junta’s leadership declares it Greece’s only hope. I cannot pretend to know enough about the Greek military to determine how solid it would be in complying with a rerun of the coup, however should such a military coup be attempted, the relationship between the military and Greek society will be key. Not only will it determine whether there are those willing to join an armed resistance to confront fascism, but also the resources that may be available to it.
In the meantime, although molatovs, arson and bomb attacks may give the illusion of armed resistance, these are no match for the violence that the state and the fascists are currently promoting. The aim in the preparatory phase should be to disrupt the peace in whatever way possible. To refuse to comply with orders to turn away immigrants from hospitals, organise protection of vulnerable populations against police and fascist harassment, the refusal of public servants to implement the austerity measures and the redoubled efforts of others to trace and make accountable tax avoiders.
In these conditions of conflict, the oligarchy breaks its own contracts, its own mask of “democracy,” and attacks the people, though it will always try to use the superstructure it has formed for oppression. We are faced once again with a dilemma: What must be done? Our reply is: Violence is not the monopoly of the exploiters and as such the exploited can use it too and, moreover, ought to use it when the moment arrives.
Civil war may be inevitable in Greece. It is not something to be celebrated or hastened, but it may become necessary. If a civil war erupts, it will be fought ideologically as well as on the streets. It is consequently essential that ideology of fascism is robustly challenged, to deny it support should it seek to use its muscle and to demonstrate to people that there is an alternative. The fish need the sea to swim and it is critical that that the waters are prepared. Isolated bombings and arson attacks on fascists and their apparatus,are not an effective means of fightback but they do operate as a spectacular demonstration that there are people willing to fight.
The shift to the rural living that Greece has been experiencing, with increased levels of self-sustainance brought on through necessity during the crisis, expands the potential for a guerrilla army to operate within. With less reliance on established supply routes, access to essentials such as food and transport is enhanced. The expansion in communications technology and the willingness of people to open wifi connection so that people can communicate during protests greatly increases the potential for organisation across different regions.
The Greek state is already violent – the denial of basic needs and the structural violence of lack of hope permeates the situation that the country finds itself in, as beatings and chemical weapons are unleashed on protesters,. The rise of fascism and the willingness of fascists to use violent means to perpetuate an ideology of victim blaming for the crisis to distract from the oligarchs who steal from the Greek people in the name of capital is a very real and present ideological danger. The Greek state demands peace – that you do not protest, that you do not disrupt; the fascists try to enforce that peace through violence – that you comply with power and attack those weaker than yourself.
The history of twentieth century Greece is peppered with armed resistance to occupation, it is to be hoped that the situation in Greece can be resolved without such recourse, but with armed fascists both in the parliament and on the streets the prospect of that coming to pass appears to be diminishing by the day.
When non-violent resistance ceases to be an option, violent resistance may well become the only alternative to tyranny.