Saturday, 3 January 2009
Greek riots: lawlessness or social change?
Thanks to Stavros over at My Greek Odyssey for pointing out that the esteemed academics of the Modern Greek Studies Association deigned to use my little post Anarchists, immigrants, hooligans, gypsies, the mad, the curious and the unbalanced to have a little discussion on the Greek riots. They didn't like my assertions that the violence of non-citizens, demi-citizens and ‘other flotsam of society’ is not a legitimate or meaningful response to Greece's social ills but a symptom of Greece's crisis and that the most striking (and shocking) aspect of the disorder has been the failure of the Greek state to stand up for itself and assert the law.
One MGSA commenter, Anna K said this: '[Anarchists, immigrants, students, pupils, leftists, hooligans, gypsies, the mad, the curious, the unbalanced] are precisely the groups that need to challenge the state and make it more accountable for its abuses, corruption, violence… because it is through state and other social policies that people are marginalized and form the groups they form. Neither God nor nature creates these, only men (and women also these days) in power. So yes, demi-citizens and “other flotsam of society” do have the right to challenge the Greek state. It is not those who are doing well, for whom the rules/laws/institutions are working that will challenge things now, is it?'
Anna K goes on to claim that she is a 'reflecting individual', and boasts of basing her understanding of the 'uprisings in Greece’ (her words, my emphasis) on having taken 'Introduction to Sociology'.
Now, here's the thing: only the crudest of crude leftists daydreaming about the Paris communes or the Potemkin rebellion (and certainly not a reflecting individual) can arrive at the conclusion that blatant thuggery, looting and teenagers playacting in the streets amounts to an 'uprising' or a vital response to the ills of Greek society. The rioters and their apologists are not offering an alternative vision of Greek society or a superior morality, but are taking advantage of the state's bewildering passivity and failure to assert itself to live out, as I have previously said, their destructive fantasies and enjoy for a short while a primitive state of freedom. Thus, as a result of the riots and Karamanlis' surrender, Greece is not on the brink of progressive social change but toying with lawlessness.
(And if you want proof above and beyond the recent wanton destruction of what lawlessness means, then look at the video above from last Sunday's MEGA news, in which trade unionists ‘protesting’ Sunday shopping are harassing and haranguing citizens and workers, telling them to close their shops, stop working, go home and spend time with their families. The silver-haired trade unionist – or mafia bully, depending on your point of view – shrieking at shoppers and shopworkers (and who ought to take his own advice and go home and spend time with his family) is declaring that he represents the law and that he has taken it on himself to uphold the law. And maybe, in the current climate in Greece, he has a point).
Finally, what emerges from the Greek riots is not only Karamanlis' desperate and complete failure to fulfill his government's self-declared task of transforming Greece into a modern, liberal society based on free enterprise; but also the crisis affecting the Greek left, which still thinks radical social change means 'bloodshed and gunfighting', whereas in fact it should mean 'radical change in the institutions of society' (Castoriadis). Now, radically changing the institutions of society would involve effort, commitment, patience, organisation, selflessness, a belief in the common good and, above all, innovative thinking – none of which are on display anywhere in Greek society at the moment; nor, Anna K, will you find these qualities in ‘Introductions to Sociology’.