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‘Look, do you see the the smoke from Athens?’

May 10, 2009


On December 6 2008, 15 year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos was fatally shot by a policeman in Athens. As the Greek community reacted, large protests and demonstrations escalated into riots. Solidarity demonstrations against state murders also took place in over 40 cities around the world throughout December. The reaction below is from a longtime anti-poverty activist and author living in Vancouver, Canada.

There. It’s happened again. Revolt of near insurrectionary proportions.

Unbeknownst to the rest of us. Waiting with baited breath as we do. Hoping to see smoke on the horizon. ‘Look, do you see the smoke from Athens?’ asks the banner hung in Istanbul, at the bridge closest to the sight of Greece. We strain to see the smoke from here. We search the internet for wafts of smoke, images of smoke rising. And we see a massive Christmas tree on fire. Thousands in black reaching into the smoke and throwing back canisters of teargas. Back to the charging cops who are the last to lose control in riotshield economies.

Is this then what the end of the economy looks like? Is this then what the end of our collective movement looks like? Revolt without warning. Without postings. Wildcat uprisings?!

Athens has had it comin’ for some time now. I was there a few (bunch?) years ago and there was civil war. Anarchists were real. And so were fascists (who are less-real elsewhere). Tit-for-tat street fights of pipe bombs and drive-by moped attacks. Squats were occupied fortresses made into urban bunkers. What if this preparation made revolt more exact when declared on the State whole? What type of preparation can we point too?

This then is what happens. Fire and smoke, for days, (weeks?), (months?). We are not there. None of us it seems. We cannot google ‘leader’ and hit any results. The pre-planned general strike went ahead and added smoke to the air and did not put out the fires or remove the barricades. If allowed to choose our dreams we dream of
‘68. What we see here is a vulgar ‘68. One with masks and black. Not in bloc’s, not in retreat, but everywhere.

What could be the relationship to the revolt and the proletarian? In the country that produced the concept of history, its history is relevant here. I think I once heard that Greece has had more governments in power since WW2 than any other country. I don’t really know what that might mean. But when the reporter made the obvious remark that the birthplace of democracy has turned into anarchy, I feel that to be so.

Having been there I know nothing about it. Having spent time with Greek anarchists in their squats in Athens, I know nothing about them. I got the feeling politics means something more to them: something extreme. And something with a working class feel. I felt this on a Greek island of exiled communists. I felt this laying beside a Greek terrorist in a military hospital in Genoa. I remember hearing cheers within the smoke somewhere, “the Greeks are coming, the Greeks are coming!’ and feeling reassured.

So far, hundreds of buildings have been destroyed, dozens of cops have received retribution, copshops and prisons set alight, as well as at least one (above mentioned) Christmas tree (out front of parliament!). The stats of our side don’t matter. Let’s not make this an equation. Let’s take what we can get. And is this all we get? To sit and surf-solidarity? Of course in Berlin the anarchists are out and there was smoke for a night. But what of here?

Here’s a comparison between here and there… Remember when the teachers went on strike? No, you’ve forgotten. That’s because nothing happened. When the teachers went on strike in Athens in ‘98, the people went with them. Escalating into full-blown insurrection, students and teachers and workers threw-down together against the Greek police. At first were the contradictions and dynamics that turn us lazy organizers away, but ‘the teachers’ had a chance to meet the ‘trouble makers,’ familiarize themselves with masked people and mask up themselves … many of the teachers who discredited the stone throwing on Friday helped make molotov cocktails and covered those who threw them on Sunday.

The ‘well-known proletarians’ who reported the above also described the overall solidarity that’s conditions we here too can strive to create: ‘the flying pickets (striking workers) did not break up regardless of the tear gas; they covered the ones in the frontlines with their size and determination. Equally moving was the support of the people who lived in the area. They provided us with food, lemons for the tear gas, water, medicines and moral support, and made us feel we were not alone. Similar worker solidarity was expressed throughout the days by the railway workers who provided with stones and iron bars from the railway…’

Don’t blame the teachers for us not getting a chance to get political. And don’t wait for the cops to kill someone for the people to rise spontaneous-like. (Because the cops keep killing people {but maybe just not the right ones?}) Insurrections are not spontaneous, and regardless of the hopes of Insurrectionists, are not created from desperation. It seems if our gaze is currently held by Athens, we should investigate, (the what has become cliché) role of workers in a working-class revolt. Because surely it can’t be just the anarchists that continue to hold the line in Greece.

The smoke that chokes Athens has filled the city for longer then the last how-many-ever summits that have taken place. And still our friends in black fight and fight. Even without help from without. In Europe all those squat fights over the years were fought by Europeans. By the trainload they would get there overnight in time to set the next day on fire. But in Athens it seems different. They’re holding their own without excuses or reservations to the customs of an imported global-left. They look to their next door neighbors who stand beside them at the burning barricades.

But lets not fantasize. Fantasy is what’s brought us to our current weakness. A politic of hope offers no hope at all. This revolt in Greece is high drama (remember that bit bout the birthplace of democracy? It seems as obvious to point out the assumption that Greece is the birthplace of theater). Heroes and villains are enshrined within a history of class antagonisms. Our friends are well stocked. Because they organize without a hope for the big-one. Fuck, the big-one is such an obsession here on the fault line, so close to Seattle.

It helps that the country has always been at war. And how that practically helps is, that by running-out the last military dictatorship, the Regime of Colonials in ‘74, the movement then left some victories behind, such as no cops allowed on the universities.

These universities are currently being used as stages to plan war. As catapults to fling war. As hospitals and sanctuaries to protect from war. You can find pictures in the media about journalists being expelled from these sites. Guards in black keep the perimeter and the going-on’ within seem self-explanatory.

These places have been long used for war. When I toured the University of Athens, much of which is squatted, I saw in the sectarian conflict between buildings, a readiness to take the struggle from the walls of cultural revolutionary murals – to the people. What would our universities look like if we captured just a little piece? How would we be able to use them?

From the smoke in Athens it seems clear here, that we (i) have no fuckin idea what is to be done. Some sit and wait for the next big one on our sling-shot calendar, and others organize in the quagmire of community, others for the identity integrity of others, some wait for the day to be tourists at an Indian blockade and be given the chance to seize the opportunity to wash the camp’s dishes, and still others (the most self-gratifying) in writing about what needs to be done.

This is not a collective statement made by some committee. It is collective in no way. It’s alone in writing when it wants to be with others destroying the Greek embassy, brick by brick. But I don’t know enough people to do something like that on the fly. And it’s not something that can be organized. So it is written alone with half-hearted justifications to its isolation.

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