|Written by Marcos Margarido|
|Monday, 25 March 2013 23:09|
Lenin summed up the description of a revolutionary situation by stating that “those on top can no longer continue living as they did before and those on the bottom are no longer willing to live as they have lived until now”. This is the feeling when you come to Athens, Greece.
At the hotel I askthe clerk if the tourist spots would be open to visitors since the Ministry of Culture employees were on strike. His response was an “I do not know” followed by several protests against politicians, “who had seized the country’s money”, while the people starve. And this is not just a way of expressing himself, it is a reality. It can be said that Greece is the most Latin American country in Europe. On Athens downtown streets the population coexists with poverty typical of large Brazilian cities like Sao Paulo or Rio de Janeiro. Women and men, old and young, some of them with their children beg in every corner, peddlers approach passersby to sell a bit of everything; street dwellers under marquees, wrapped in blankets to endure the cold weather. This is a small sample of what capitalism can do to the population of a country to protect its profits.
The Elefsis must live
And, whilethe profits rate does not return to what it was before so that new investments with “guaranteed returns” are made, most sectors of the population will be added to this state of misery. Even traditional sectors of the working class, such as the shipyards workers, which was once one of the most dynamic of Greek industry, are under the same pressure. To these workers, it remains to fight to prevent it from happening. This is what I witnessed on the second day of my stay there. In the morning of the 14th of March I observe people concentrating on the Klafthmonos Square, some carrying banners still wrapped while another held up a megaphone. I approach and ask if they would make some protest. I found out that they will march up to the Ministry of Economy. They are shipyard workers of Elefsis Shipyards and are have been living without any pay for 18 months now. They live as they can, with the help of relatives and eating in churches.
As we talked,a rally approaches. They are also shipyard workers who come from another point. All of them join together and take the Stadium Avenue, towards the Ministry, which we reached after a few blocks. The Ministry is located at Syntagma Square, the stage of the major demonstrations against the government, opposite from theGreek Parliament building, easily recognizable, so many were the times I’ve seen it on TV.
The Ministryis set in an office building and its entrance – already guarded by several members of the riot police – has walls stained and several glass windows of lower floors broken. Hundreds of workers are occupying the street in the main square of the city, but despite the chaotic traffic, protest honking is not heard due to the avenue blockage. Everyone seems to understand what is happening, because, probably, they have already been there before in some protest. Reasons abound. According to the government, the unemployment rate was of 26% in the fourth quarter of 2012. A year ago, it was of 20.7%. The youth is the most affected sector with 57.8% of unemployment in the 15-24 year-old age bracket, and especially young women, whose rate is of 65% in this same age group. Currently there are more than 1.2 million unemployed workers, and workers like those of Elefsis, even without receiving any pay for 18 months, are not considered unemployed people and neither, probably, the precarious and informal workers.
Workerslisten to fast speeches and await negotiations of union leaders with government representatives. Their extended banners in front of the Ministry says, “The struggle is our duty,” “The Elefsis must live.” They are there to demand that the government keeps the orders of ships for the Navy, one of the ways to keep “alive” the shipyard, which is totally stopped due to the lack of orders. In the return of the leaders after about an hour, new speeches, some of them are exalted ones, which I do not understand, are made. But Ican notice, by the workers’ faces, that news is not good. Occasionally one of them complains and, after a few minutes, the concentration is broken and everyone returns to their homes.
The trafficis back to its normal status and I take the opportunity to visit the famous Acropolis. On the way back, I decide to go through Syntagma Square, even not being the way back to the hotel. I find several streets blocked by the police and a group of five people holding a large banner in front of Parliament. They explain to me that they are students who are protesting against cuts and closures of new courses in the Universities, imposed by the government through a new university reform, the Law Athena. The streets blocked foreshadowed another protest, this time of students.
Theycome by the thousands, through the same avenue that in the morning had been occupied by the shipyards workers. Among the banners, several posters with the word OXI (NO) inform what the students think of the new law.
They stopin front of the Ministry of Economy for a few minutes and a “ritual” is started. More daring students start throwing fruits – oranges, bananas – on the walls and windows of the building. The broken windows and stains are explained. Sometimes their throwing accuracy is “bad” and some fruits eventually reach the cops who wait impassively at the inner courtyard of the Ministry.
Therally continues around the Square until the Parliament, the main target of the protest, all surrounded with fences. More police officers are on standby. On a lateral street a troop waits. Many slogans and chants enliven the demonstration, which is organized in columns and occupies the entire front of the Parliament. A few minutes of tension occur when students drop part of the bars. All of them are prepared for the confrontation. Police officers position themselves to move forward, the students start to protect themselves with scarves against tear gas, some are wearing masks. Many photographers, who stand between the two groups, are also wearing masks. However, the protest is peaceful, there is no willingness for confrontation and gradually things return to “normal.”
After a while, they come back in a rally up to the Polytechnic Institute – a college education institution worst affected by the reform – carrying Karolos Papoulias’coffin, the country’s president.
This is the”normality of living” experienced by the Greek people facing the attack promoted by the government, in alliance with the Troika, since the beginning of the economic crisis deepening in Europe: a revolutionary “normality”. However, this is not an everlasting situation. Latin America has already lived it in the 80s, with the foreign debt crisis and in the beginning of the 2000s, with theneoliberalism crisis of. In all the cases the situation has reversed and bourgeois governments of popular front or nationalist stabilized the situation or at least have kept them under control. Today, we live abourgeois democratic “normality” in most Latin American countries. It took time, whichthe bourgeoisie wisely took advantage of, and the complicity of the reformist leaderships of the working class.
In Greeceit can be seen the samescene repeated, mainly the “second part”. It does not take much for a final offensive against the government. The directions of the mass movement – reformist unions, mainly, and political parties, including the powerful Communist Party – need only to unify the struggles, to set up a common schedule, create a national coordination pointing to the purpose of defeating the government’s plans and the Troika with an indefinite general strike. There are all the objective conditions and the willingness of the masses towards this, but not of the leaderships. They prefer to build separate demonstrations and agendas, making that after every fight the workers, the youth and the people come back home empty-handed, giving the time that the bourgeoisie needs to transform this “normality” in other “normality” favorable to it. Trotsky’s diagnosis is perfectly applicable around here: the crisis of humankind is the revolutionary leadership’s crisis.