Workers' defence

For self-defence and against anarchistic violence

A less encouraging aspect of last week’s Greek general strike was the violence on an accompanying demonstration, which eventually saw three people die of smoke inhalation after a bank was firebombed in Athens. The incident has largely been blamed on radical ‘youth’ elements of the protests, although we should not necessarily take that accusation as good coin.

Whoever threw the fateful petrol bomb may not have known that the bank was occupied, or that the building had only a handful of fire extinguishers to fight a conflagration (as opposed to enormous amounts of flammable material), or that nobody on site had been trained to manage such an emergency. Many would not have expected people to be working in the bank, as such attacks are not uncommon on recent large demonstrations in Greece, and it is more usual for banks to bring down the shutters if they are on the route. All these things are the responsibility of the bank’s owners, who apparently have a bad health and safety reputation even among their competitors.

As we have noted, meanwhile, the identity of the individuals responsible, and their political affiliations, is not certain at this point. A worrying phenomenon in recent Greek history - but the oldest trick in the book where capitalism, in however limited a way, is on the defensive - is for state agencies or far-right groups to execute these kinds of attack. For the far right they are ostensibly carried out as part of their own political programme (the old equation of high finance with Jewry, among other things), but in reality they are directed against the left. Far-rightists certainly were present on the protest, and were getting unruly in the immediate vicinity of the crime. This seems to be the interpretation of the KKE, which refers to the deaths consistently as a “provocation”.

That this argument arises at all, however - whether this outrage is a ‘sincere’ act of anti-capitalist protest or a sinister provocation - indicates the effects of such events on the movement as a whole. They are severely damaging, giving the right wing an excuse to excoriate protestors and stake a claim to the moral high ground (given the role of the police, an utterly hypocritical claim). It makes it easier for the state to claim ‘extraordinary’ repressive powers (as Papandreou currently intends to, in order to fight the strike wave).

Workers engaged in this level of struggle need their own defence corps, to steward protests and pickets, and to defend them from attacks by police and fascist goons. Yet we need also to defend ourselves from indiscipline and dangerous stunts. The strength of the working class lies not in its ability to generate random bomb attacks, but in its organisation - that is the difference between ourselves as a class capable of imposing an agenda on society and ourselves as a set of individuals in possession only of our ability to toil.

These aimless firebomb ‘spectaculars’ - not so much anarchistic as nihilistic in character - stem from a disaffection with mass organisation, which is thoroughly understandable, given the state of the working class movement over the last few decades; an unappetising choice between the crippled ‘official’ parties and myriad dogmatic sects. It is a dissatisfaction which manifests itself equally in the fetishism of ‘non-violent direct action’ and its more sinister guerrilla-fantasist cousin. The former is summed up in Douglas Adams’s verdict of the human race - “mostly harmless.” At worst, the latter’s contribution to the movement is indistinguishable from the activity of state or fascist provocateurs. Only serious political organisation can give meaning to ‘direct actions’ or violent confrontation (in a violent world, sadly necessary).

Needless to say, any authoritarian inroads into the rights of self-organisation in Greece arising from this outrage should be vociferously opposed - equally, however, the argument for self-defence and against anarchistic violence must be won within the movement itself.