The “Greek December”: a short balance sheet of a betrayed movement

The huge eruption of youth protests in Greece in December have receded. The key element in explaining this was the role played by the leaders of the main workers' parties, who rather than build up the protest and involve the labour movement as a whole, worked to re-establish calm. Here the Greek Marxists explain the background to how this came about, but also stress the generalised mood of protest is simmering below the surface preparing new social explosions.

In December Greek society was shaken by a huge revolt of the youth that erupted after the killing of a young school student by the police. Between December 7 and Christmas almost every 2-3 days there were youth demonstrations and clashes with the police. Now one month later, we can draw up a political balance sheet taking into account all the elements.

Demonstration in Athens organised by SASA - Coordinations Committe of the Fighting Schools of Athens on December 13, 2008 (Photo by endiaferon on flickr)
Demonstration in Athens organised by SASA - Coordinations Committe of the Fighting Schools of Athens on December 13, 2008 (Photo by endiaferon on flickr)

The first question that we must look at is the concrete character of this movement. This is an important issue given that within the Greek Left there is much confusion on this question. For the present right-wing reformist leadership of the PASOK this movement was simply a "blind protest" against an incident of police violence. For the Stalinist leaders of the KKE there was no movement, no uprising, but a "petit bourgeois youth" protest. The SYRIZA leaders gave to the movement the title of "general insurrection of the youth". Some sectarian left groups and the anarchists spoke of a "popular insurrection". Of course all these definitions reflect more the subjective view of these political tendencies rather than the reality of the movement.

Many times in attempting to describe social phenomena it is not possible to find a simple one word definition. This is not a scholastic question but it is also not a question that you can answer with general abstract formulas. The truth is that this movement was a youth uprising with its main basis among the school students. The movement had a semi-insurrectionary element, above all with a very militant and self-sacrificing spirit and also a strong willingness to confront the core of the state, the Greek police forces, physically.

Of course this was not a "petit bourgeois" protest as the Stalinists have tried to portray it. The extreme majority of the young students that participated in the movement were from poor working class families and all these students created their own independent forms of coordination during the struggle.

On the other hand, there is no truth in the characterization of the movement as a "popular insurrection". As usual the sects and the anarchists that use these formulas, once again have demonstrated that for them there are only two "colours", black and white. For them society is either facing "black" reaction or a general "insurrection", with no other shades in between.

In reality the mass of workers showed only their sympathy to the movement but they did not participate actively in it. The exception was the 24-hour general strike of December 10, during the days of the youth movement. However, we also have to remember that the general strike had been programmed before the movement started and although with their massive participation the workers expressed their solidarity towards the students, after this, they did not participate massively in other demonstrations or rallies of the movement. That explains why, except for the massive students demonstrations outside of the police stations all over Greece on December 8 and 9, the main demonstrations of the movement were not so massive, with the biggest demonstration reaching around 40-45,000 people.

Of course those who hold the main responsibility for this are the leaders of both the left parties and the trade unions. Had they built on the general strike in December the potential was there for a much bigger movement involving the working class as a whole. Given this reality, it was clear that the working people did not express actively any "insurrectionary intentions" as the sectarians have been trying to convince themselves and their unfortunate audience. For the moment the workers have let their sons and daughters speak with a dynamic language which they themselves will inevitably take up in the near future. In reality, we cannot even say that we had a general "youth insurrection", as the SYRIZA leaders state, because the main basis of the movement was the school students. The university students did not move decisively and only a small minority of active young workers participated in the demonstrations.

A Betrayed movement

So what we can say is that the December movement had a semi-insurrectionary element to it, but which only partially achieved a mass expression and was of a short duration. The two demonstrations after the Christmas holidays were small, with the participation of 3-4,000 mainly University students mobilised by the ultra-left youth fronts and SYRIZA. The main reason for the early end of the movement was the betrayal of the leaderships of the traditional mass organizations, both political and trade union.

Greek PoliceFor the first time at the last 20 years we saw how the youth movement came up against huge hostility of the leadership of the two main workers' parties. The PASOK leadership openly called on the students "to return to their classes", while the KKE leaders identified the movement with the petit bourgeois adventurist actions of the anarchists and refused not only to participate in the movement but also to recognize that there was any real movement. Also, the SYRIZA leadership ‑ although it supported and participated in the movement ‑ after the attacks of the bourgeois adopted pathetic tactics and refused to support actively the need to escalate the movement and to better coordinate it with the struggle of the workers. All this reflects the complete bankruptcy of the Social Democratic and the Stalinists leaders which will be more obvious to the masses once the class struggle heats up.

As a result of this betrayal on the part of the traditional leaderships, during the few days of the movement the vacuum of leadership was filled by the anarchists and the ultra-left sects. Under their usual abstract and chaotic slogans, such as "Beauty is in the streets" or "Let's occupy every square" and so on, and without proposing any clear political aims or demands, the anarchists and their loyal followers, the sectarians, guided the movement into an impasse and pushed the mass of students very quickly into confusion and disappointment. On top of the hostility of the leadership of workers' party, this was the second reason for why the movement was so short-lived.

A third factor, and not the least important, was the role of state terror. As we write this article, 68 young people are in prison. Most of them did not participate at all at conflicts with the police and they have been arrested simply because they have long hair or are immigrants. The tragedy is that these young people are facing the accusation of carrying out acts of terrorism and some of them face the prospect of 5 to 8-year prison sentences!

The action of the individual terrorist organization "Revolutionary Struggle" came in very useful to the state in carrying its campaign of terror towards the students. On January 6 they seriously wounded a policemen, and this was used to whip up feelings of sympathy for the police among the wider population, and was used as an alibi for more police brutality, thus instilling more fear among the youth and stopping them from participating in the demonstrations.

The explosive social situation and perspectives

The December movement was only the prelude for big class battles in the immediate future. The crisis of Greek capitalism is deepening and the mood in society continues to be explosive. Shortly after the December youth movement, between January 18 and 28 we witnessed massive mobilisations of the poor peasants all over Greece. Twenty-two thousand tractors blockaded the national roads in a very militant struggle against the low prices offered to the peasants for their products by the major food companies and the insensibility of the right-wing government to the plight of the small peasants as they succumb under the pressure of the present crisis. The struggle of the peasants saw a massive participation and the weak ND government was forced to come up with 500 million Euros in subsidies as the only way of avoiding a new big round of social explosion.

Blockade of a national road on January 20 (Photo by kke_pictures on flickr)
Blockade of a national road on January 20 (Photo by kke_pictures on flickr)

This mobilisation of the peasants marks three years in which most sections of society have mobilised against the government and the attacks of the capitalists on living standards. We have seen the workers participate in one general strike after the other, the university and the school students mobilising repeatedly, the shop keepers, and even professional people and now the peasants. Here we have a clear example of the revolutionary potential which exists at every level of society. With the right-wing government in a deep and permanent crisis and the two bourgeois parties ("New Democracy" and the small "Popular Orthodox Alert" or LAOS as it is known) standing at less than 33% it the opinion polls, if the workers' parties had a revolutionary socialist policy, the taking of power in Greece could - without any exaggeration - be a question of some months.

However, the absence of the revolutionary subjective factor complicates the situation. Inevitably, in the immediate coming period the ND government will pass into history under the hammer blows of the serious economic crisis and the growing class struggle. The pressure on the leadership of the Greek Confederation of Workers (GSEE) to organise one more general strike is mounting, this time against the wave of sackings in industry. The workers will inevitably pass through the experience of much bigger struggles and of one more reformist government of the PASOK, or possibly of a PASOK-SYRIZA coalition.

Their class instinct will inevitably guide them in the coming period towards the most revolutionary and effective ideas, the ideas of Marxism. That is why the only real political solution is to be found in the patient day-to-day struggle for the building of a massive Marxist tendency with deep roots within the Greek labour movement and youth as the necessary tool for the decisive victory of the working class against the reactionary Greek bourgeoisie and the building of a genuine socialist society with no exploitation. To this task is dedicated the Greek section of the IMT which produces the paper "Marxistiki Foni".

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