The meaning of the Greek mobilizations: the emergence of peaceful popular insurrections

On the squares of Greek cities we are witnessing a unique experiment in democracy. The mass assemblies, with their very strict rules of equal voicing and collective decision that leave no room for traditional demagogy, offer an alternative paradigm of the collective processing of political demands and strategies. At the same time, they are also a new paradigm of collective self-organization and solidarity. If the forms of a potential ‘dual power’ must always be the result of a process of collective inventiveness, then we are experiencing the beginning of such a process.

Excerpted from by Panagiotis Sotiris, who concludes:

What we are experiencing is history in the making. Let’s hope that the outcome will be the reversal of the policies of neoliberal social destruction and the opening up of the possibility of radical social and political alternatives.

“The only way to describe recent developments is Greece is to refer to a peaceful popular insurrection. The mass gatherings at city squares at the centres of all major Greek cities continue to gather momentum. On Sunday 5 June, Athens and most Greek cities experienced some of the biggest mass rallies in recent history. Hundreds of thousands of protesters in Constitution square in Athens, tens of thousands in Thessaloniki and many more thousands in most Greek cities. It is a unique experience of social mobilization and an original form of popular protest that combines the mass rally with a democratic process of discussion through mass popular assemblies.

What is more important is that these mass rallies and assemblies act as a point of convergence not only for people who have taken part in mass rallies, strikes, and social movements in the past months, in the big wave of social protest that followed the austerity program, but also for people that up to now refrained from mass action.

This movement is based on the collective experiences of struggle in the past year, such as the December 2008 youth explosion, the massive general strikes in the Spring of 2010, the big strikes in public transport in the Winter 2010-2011, the heroic struggle of the people of Keratea, a small town in the greater Attica region that for months fought with riot police, successfully opposing plans for an environmentally disastrous landfill in their vicinity. At same time people with no prior experience of struggle come forward in these protests, which are not simple imitations of the 15-M protests in Spain, but a much more widespread form of protest with deeper roots in Greek society.

This composition of the movement is an important change with past struggles because it makes even more evident the open crisis of representation and legitimacy that not only the PASOK government but also the whole political scene is facing. The social crisis, which the austerity program has brought along, is now turning into a political crisis. We have reached a point of rupture in what concerns the balance of forces. The successive waves of austerity measures that totally undermine decent living standards, the rise of unemployment and especially youth unemployment, the announcement of a complete pillage of state assets through a massive privatization program, and the general apprehension that there is no way out of the vicious circle of debt, austerity and deep recession, have alienated the vast majority of the population from PASOK and the political system in general. These mass rallies, with their openness and the fact that they look different than traditional union or party meetings, have functioned as an outlet for this anger and frustration. The people refuse to be governed in such a manner and the government is unable to govern them. This textbook definition of political crisis is fully manifest in Greece.

The youth has played an important role in the development of this movement, but it is not a youth movement. Youths have been instrumental in organizing the assemblies, in using social media such as facebook, in spreading the word, in volunteering for the organization of the rallies, but the rallies and the assemblies are a meeting point of all generations.

Although not very articulate in terms of traditional political programs, these protests are deeply democratic, radical and profoundly anti-systemic. They represent a strong desire for political change, the demand for safe employment, dignity for labour, authentic democracy, and popular sovereignty against the attempt to implement measures dictated by the EU, the IMF and the ECB. They reject the current attempt for an extreme case of neoliberal social engineering that the Greek government and the EU-IMF-ECB ‘Troika’ has been trying to implement, perhaps the most aggressive case of attack on social rights that a European country has experienced since the ‘shock therapies’ in Eastern Europe in the early 1990s. Even the mass use of Greek flags in the rallies, a practice that some segments of the Left misread as ‘nationalism’, is an expression of the need for popular sovereignty, social cohesion and collective social dignity.”