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The New Significance » Articles, Books, Interviews » Deric Shannon: Interview with Occupied London and Editors of “Revolt and Crisis in Greece”

Deric Shannon: Interview with Occupied London and Editors of “Revolt and Crisis in Greece”

By Deric Shannon:

Occupied London

Occupied London

The people behind Occupied London have been instrumental in bringing news and analysis from the Greek streets and resistance, both in print and on the Web. When I first heard they were putting a book out with AK Press, I ordered a copy immediately (though it’s yet to arrive). Their reporting and analysis has helped me and others put together a better perspective on the situation in Greece and its connections to the wider anarchist milieu globally. Such (international) reports and analyses are increasingly important in the age of austerity and as struggles against domination generalize across various parts of the globe—particularly if we wish to see these struggles target institutions like capitalism and the state instead of negotiate with them. Good reporting can also help dispel the kinds of myths prevalent among anarchists about things happening in other parts of the globe and remind us of the things we might do in our own communities.

I interviewed Dimitris and Antonis, the editors of Revolt and Crisis in Greece: Between a Present Yet to Pass and a Future Still to Come over the course of a few months. The situation in Greece has been tense, with huge street demos, fascist pogroms, and police attacks on anarchist social centers (to name a few relevant happenings) in the intervening weeks. Thanks to both of you for the time and care you spent with this interview, given the situation on the ground.

 

1. First, can you tell me a bit about your book. Who put it together? How did the project come about?

The idea for the book came in response to the various corporate and mainstream tributes to December’s revolt that we saw appearing in its first anniversary, in December 2009. We thought, “if that’s how they portray December one year on, imagine what will happen a few years down the line”. It was as if the revolt was almost apolitical, or at least lacking any contradictions — and not causing any in return.

The original idea, then, was to create a collective book that would read December’s revolt from the viewpoint of those who participated in it, from the ground. But in the course of preparing the book, and as the financial crisis was hitting hard here, we realised we could not read December out of this context either. The financial crisis was instigating a series of other crises in its wake — personal, social, political. This is how “Revolt and Crisis in Greece” was born.

We put the book together as an Occupied London project, which meant it was doomed to be as chaotic as most OL projects tend to be — if it wasn’t for the enduring patience of the folks at AK Press, it would be hard to imagine it coming together at the end! All of us involved closely with the production of the book are involved with Occupied London. We invited contributions from friends we found close to us in the streets in December, and with which we’ve felt an affinity since. But we also invited contributions from friends who have moved away from Greece, or who have never even visited, to try get an outsider perspective on the developments there.

At the end, more than fifty people worked to put this book together. The majority were in Greece, but we had contributions from friends in twelve cities, across six countries — a very international project, something we are very happy about!

2. Can you tell me a bit about Occupied London?

In the past, we have tried to describe Occupied London as an “anarchist collective writing on all things urban”. This is true, but still not entirely accurate. We are not exclusively anarchist, we are not exactly a collective and we do write about other stuff, too! But when we first got together in the Fall of 2007, to start producing a wildly irregular journal, this had been our main aim: We were interested in questions about urban revolts but also about everyday life in cities — and London in particular, as this is where we all found ourselves at the time. We also wanted to ask questions about space and place, about displacement, about the uncertainties of living in late capitalist times. And we wanted to ask these questions on an anarchist platform, one that would host all those who wanted to talk to us.

In December 2008 the scope of the project took a dramatic turn. As the revolt was unfolding in Greece, we realised many of the questions we asked were being answered right where many of us had left from. So the focus shifted to the situation in Greece and the blog “On the Greek Riots” (now “from the Greek Streets”) was born. In a way the book was an evolution of our interest and focus on Greece in the past few years.

3. It seems like the Greek December insurrection has inspired anarchists all over the world. Considering its possible successes and failures and how we might learn from those things living in different contexts is a pre-occupation among large portions of radicals and militants in the US and beyond. What sorts of lessons do you think are imparted in the book? What stories would you like your readers to learn from?

It is true that the Greek December has been an inspiration for many anarchists, ourselves included. Instead of adding to the mythologising of the events —and the anarchist movement here overall— we think this provides us with an excellent opportunity to discuss some of our pitfalls as a global movement, starting with our situation in the Greek territory. So then on the one hand, there would be all the questions of how we go about sustaining a revolt and how we protect ourselves and those who took to the streets with us from the lashing back of the state, as was sure to happen, and as it did: we are talking about the strategies of counter-insurgency that we have seen deployed in the Greek territory in the past two and a half years.

But perhaps more importantly, rather than chasing about that single magical moment of revolt, trying to safeguard or even revive it, the much more important question for us is — how do we start forming conditions, and eventually a reality that is antagonistic to the present reality, to the present social and material conditions? In the face of the capitalist crisis and its repercussions on the ground here in Greece, this is no abstract theoretical exercise — it is a vital and urgent question.

4. One of the inspiring things to me about contemporary anti-capitalists is that they seem to borrow from a lot of different ideas and perspectives. Most have a pastiche, of sorts, rather than a single ready-made theory of revolution in a way to account for complexity in social life and the struggles that grow out of it. What sorts of ideas, movements, moments, and theories shape the content of the book and the struggles it grew out of?

Yes, exactly, we absolutely agree. The last few years’ anti-capitalist discourses and practices are more open to each other and various trends of thought that in the past would be unthinkable. This is not to say that we are not anarchists and anti-authoritarians, we definitely are, but at the same time the meaning of being anarchist has evolved over time. On the one hand, this is due to practical reasons, namely late capitalism is one of the most evolved and effective versions of this exploitative system, so the older ready-made theories have been proved inadequate, but on the other hand our movements themselves seem to mature in various ways and one of these signs of maturity is our better strategies, one of these better strategies is exactly the merge of different perspectives, approaches and practices—or to phrase it better, the acknowledgement of our diversity and pastiche as anarchists, a diversity that was not recognised by more ready-made theoretical schemes in the past. However, this situation has a difficulty, it is almost impossible to simply enumerate in a few words the ideas that are shaping Occupied London projects and our political subjectivities. To make it even worse, the book itself involves more than 50 people, while way more than one hundred people have been involved in OL projects since 2007, so it is too complex to just enumerate our commonalities and our differences. Perhaps the best way to phrase it is that we are all linked through our involvement in the antagonist movements in the places where we are politically active. Some of us share common theoretical references, you can easily spot them in our texts and in our bibliography. So perhaps what links us more than theories is practice and being part of a common struggle against domination. It is pretty physical as it would not be an exaggeration to suggest that everyone of the people involved in this book has been together with several other contributors during events and struggles in Greece, Britain or elsewhere over the last ten years or so. Although we have a diversity of individual politics, we have met on the streets, in squares, assemblies, discussions, international days of actions, anti-globalization demonstrations, international or local solidarity actions, Maydays etc. materializing our common anti-capitalism spatially or temporally together. Our purpose in this book was just to materialize this gathering in a paper version as well. Writing, and especially writing together for a collective project, is a very valuable exercise for putting together thoughts, reflecting and discussing our relationships, our diversity and commonalities and experiences, is valuable for our future collective struggles and the many Decembers that this crisis will see.

5. How have generational gaps played out in the struggles in Greece? In the US, it seems like the anarchist milieu is mostly young, yet we also seem to be making greater connections between people of all ages. Has your experience been similar?

First of all there are people who would tell you that there is no generational gap in the anarchist movement in Greece or to phrase it better: they will say that it is just an imagined division and that there are much more things that link the anarchists of the various ages than divide them. This is partly true, not least, because the movement itself is relatively new, starting in the 1970s and developing particularly in the 1980s. Moreover, there are quite a few differences amongst the various tendencies of the anarchist milieu, but often quite a few of the various tendencies include people from all the age groups that comprise the anarchist milieu.

However, there are several events and historical developments which had a crucial impact on the formation of what you called the anarchist milieu and it is difficult to ignore that some people grew up under very different circumstances and with different reference points. For example, the Polytechnic occupation of 1995 or the assassination of Kaltezas by the police back in 1985 are two such events. Furthermore, one of the more structural historical developments is the political-economic transformations since early 1990s: the so-called modernization of the state and the economy. This ‘modernization’ implies a movement towards neo-liberalism, with flexible labour relationships, lowered value of labour, privatization of public services, decreases to social policy expenses and so on. Moreover, the modernization of the state implied the modernization of repression and surveillance etc. These structural changes had a vast and diverse impact on the young people who were school-age or were just born after the 1990s, these people grew up and were politicized within a different context in comparison to the people who were born in the 1970s or early 1980s and have direct experience of the pre-1990 circumstances. However, the last few years and since December 2008 in particular these two groups are mixing much more on the streets or during other activities, echoing the people who claim that generational differences are little in comparison to the common worldview that our political affinity provides us with.

6. When I visited Athens and met with anarchists there last summer, it seemed as if space–and particularly social centers–were very important to various projects there. Can you describe the role of space and the centers in anarchist struggles?

Let us move a little away from Greece in order to respond to this question. During our trip in North America, we participated in 12 presentations-gatherings in various cities and we had the chance to talk with a lot of comrades from North America about their experiences with anarchist spaces in all these places. The oppositional spaces are the material infrastructure of the milieu, it is within and through those cells of anti-capitalist, anti-commercial and anti-authoritarian everyday existence where we build our collective self in towns and cities. They provide visibility and the actual infrastructure for the anarchist movement to evolve as an antagonist social organization, antagonist both in terms of existing in a parallel social structure but also as places within which political actions can be organized. At the same time they are vulnerable to the attacks of the authorities. Any given moment cops may try to raid them, the city councils may come up with fines because of noise or with random health and safety checks or anything else they may think up. In Greece we had several examples of such places raided by cops. For example Resalto, an anarchist space in Athens, was raided on December 5, 2009 in order to repress the preparations for the first anniversary of the December revolt. However, without them we cannot form and grow as much as we want, we think that there are a lot of people who like or sympathize with anarchist objectives and practices but they literally do not know where to find a place to start from and this is something which is provided by such spaces. Moreover, within the cities the spaces where somebody can just spend some time without having to spend money decrease dramatically, so we think that all the struggles for appropriation of spaces in order to turn them into social-political spaces is another important thing. For example, something that happens a lot in Greece is the appropriation of university spaces, anarchist student groups in collaboration with non-student groups often use university facilities for events, assemblies etc. or another such thing ismikrofoniki, namely dozens of people gathering in a square with loudspeakers reading communiques and playing music for several hours in order to inform passersby about a particular struggle, event or action. Also, sabotage of ticket machines in train or underground stations are other examples of activities for the appropriation of urban space that have great potentialities for political impact. Appropriating and politicizing ‘neutral’ or ‘hostile’ spaces temporarily or on a more fixed basis is one of the most powerful tools in our hands, both the state and the anarchists know about it, so it is a continuing struggle.
7. One thing I’ve often wondered about in terms of praxis among Greek anarchists and anti-authoritarians are their relationships with other anti-capitalists. Greece has a history of various anti-capitalist forces, from authoritarian communists to anti-authoritarian Marxists and anarchists. How do the different political tendencies among anti-capitalists relate to one another?

This is a very long story: The current anarchist tendencies in Greece emerged during the 1970s and particularly during the 1980s. That was a period when quite a few of the so-called anti-capitalist forces or forces which had adopted anti-capitalist rhetoric were institutionalised becoming part of the establishment. For example the Communist Party (KKE) became part of the parliamentary regime physically attacking university occupations or co-policing demonstrations together with riot police against anarchists or far-left groups. By the end of the 1980s the only actual political opposition was the non-parliamentary anti-capitalist groups, the so-called “opposition of the streets”, while the entire spectrum of institutional political forces was collaborating in order to proceed with the harmonious functions of the state. That collaboration was materialised perfectly at the end of the 1980s when the Communist Party and the Right-wing Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy, which had in its ranks various extreme right MPs) formed together a coalition emergency government in order to clean up Greek governance from scandals and so capitalism and the state could function again ‘properly’. This leaves quite a few groups which have come together to the streets, occupations, assemblies or other actions. However, the boundaries are very clear, in other words each group works on its own things, using its own tactics and strategies and having their own aims. This applies also to the various anarchist groups which may be located just a few streets away from each other but do not work together, leading sometimes to ridiculous situations where we may have an absolute political emergency where several groups do not join because a group they do not want to work together (reasonably or not) got involved first, but this situation changes we think, or perhaps we want to think so.

However, we should not forget that there are initiatives in the last few years which concentrate people who may identify with different groups, but they come together to form something new, for example the base unions is such an example. A last comment to make on that question is that in the last few years in Greece we see a newly emerging mass of people who identify with the political discourses and praxes of anarchist and far left groups, yet they have little or no affiliation with them. One could see many of these social radicals during the December 2008 events. So we guess that an open question is how as anarchists, anti-authoritarians and anti-capitalists we connect with these new political subjects and if these new agents can help in any way to overcome some of the old divisions amongst anarchist and anti-capitalist groups in order to try and work together against the state and capitalism in more effective ways.

 

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