Sunday, December 13, 2009

Little has been heard about street protests in Greece the past few days. That's because there actually has been little happening. The Greek rebellion, like last year, is quick to rise and just as quick to subside. At least this time the youths protesting and occupying buildings called it off before the holidays. The protests in Greece partake of an admirable spontaneity, but they also suffer from a truly stupendous lack of focus, and, consequently, an inability to go beyond repetition of tried and true tactics. If you don't know where you want to go you will certainly never form a plan to get there.

While the streets are now quiet, if more than a little messy, the same can't be said of the financial situation that Greece faces. The fiscal crisis of the Greek state is actually a far more serious long term threat to the stability of Greece's rulers, both political and financial, than the street riots ever could be. In the face of the downgrading of the country's credit rating and the game of "chicken" being played out between the Greek government and the EU the present "socialist" rulers will have to walk on a delicate tightrope in the foreseeable future. They have to tighten the screws on the population so as to reassure investors. On the other hand they can't risk antagonizing the population too much for fear that other social sectors who might have clearer ideas of what they want than the students do might imitate the students. It's going to take a lot of seamanship to steer the boat through these waters. Here's an article from the Financial Times about the fiscal problems that the government faces.

Investor suspicions grow as Greece tries to end turbulence:
By Kerin Hope in Athens
After only eight weeks in office the credibility of Greece's socialist government is under threat.

The battering taken by Greek bonds, this week's ratings downgrade by Fitch and a sharp fall on the Athens stock exchange have all heightened a mood of crisis in the eurozone's weakest economy.

George Papaconstantinou, finance minister, has been struggling to convince foreign creditors that Greece can reduce the budget deficit from 12.7 per cent to 9.1 per cent of gross domestic product next year without drastic cuts in spending, and that its economy is not heading into freefall.

"We are not a new Iceland, just as we are not the new Dubai," Mr Papaconstantinou said yesterday. "It's clear that the situation is difficult . . . but it's also clear we will not let things get out of hand."

At the same time he admitted that markets could stay turbulent for several months.

In a sign of continuing suspicion among foreign investors, spreads on Greek bonds widened again yesterday, to 250 basis points above their German equivalents - their highest level in seven months. Share prices fell 3.4 per cent - led by Greek banks, also downgraded by Fitch - bringing losses for the week to more than 13.5 per cent.

Greek two-year bond yields, which have an inverse relationship with prices, have risen 1.25 percentage points to 3.123 per cent so far this week. Movement of this scale has not been seen before in a eurozone bond market, according to analysts.

Greece's recent record of missed budget targets and failed promises of structural reform makes analysts sceptical the socialists can turn the economy round.

Pressure started mounting after the government on Monday shrugged off without comment a warning by Standard & Poor's of a possible downgrade. A day later Fitch decided to downgrade Greece's debt to triple B+, the first time in 10 years a leading ratings agency had given Greece a rating of below A grade.

Mr Papaconstantinou changed tack after the Fitch move, vowing to do "whatever's required" to meet medium-term fiscal targets, including, if necessary, presenting a supplementary budget in 2010.

Axel Weber, president of Germany's Bundesbank and a leading European Central Bank policymaker, said Athens had a year to bring its public finances under control or risk having its bonds disqualified for use as collateral by banks borrowing ECB liquidity .

The market turmoil has an indirect impact on Greek domestic affairs. Most bonds are bought by local banks and foreign institutional investors and, until this week's sell-off, foreign investors held more than 50 per cent of shares listed on the bourse.

Newspaper headlines and television debates over whether Greece "faces bankruptcy" are fuelling the sense of insecurity.

"The business climate is about the most negative in memory," says Constantine Michalos, chairman of the Athens chamber of commerce and industry. "There is a strong belief that things have to get worse before they'll get better."

Greece has fallen further and faster in the past three months than other eurozone member states.

A consumer boom that drove GDP growth rates to average 4.2 per cent annually between 2002 and 2007 - twice the European Union average - ended abruptly this year.

The economy is expected to shrink by about 1.3 per cent this year and a further 0.3 per cent in 2010, according to finance ministry projections.

The unemployment rate has also been dramatically revised upwards, to 18 per cent, almost twice the official rate reported for September, after the suspension of an EU-funded jobs programme.

Greeks are bracing for hard times. Consumer lending has stagnated as households cut back and banks tighten loan criteria, says Ersi Athanassiou at KEPE, an economic think-tank. "Household savings have been negative since 2000, but it's possible we'll see an increase this year."

Only a handful of shoppers were browsing yesterday at Golden Hall, a suburban mall.
The situation of the Greek ruling class hasn't gone unnoticed by their more intelligent opponents. Over at the LibCom site there is a regular correspondent from Greece, one 'Taxikipali', who contributes what is perhaps the best ongoing commentary on events in that country. The following commentary describes how the Greek government may be facing a much more serious challenge than could be provided by students rioting.
The day after the riots: reforms and crisis in Greece:
Submitted by taxikipali on Dec 13 2009 14:32
Reforms and fears about the explosive economic crisis mark the days after the latest riots in Greece.

The day after the latest riots, which erupted as a response to mass preventive repression against the commemoration of Alexandros Grigoropoulos murder, is characterized by the launching of an array of reforms by the Greek state struggling with an explosive economic crisis.

On the educational front, the Minister of Education and Religion Ms Diamantopoulou held a conference with the rectors of the Greek universities in a secluded area in Lavrion (fearing popular mobilisations against it). During the conference it was decided that the government will not challenge the anti-constitutional law introduced in March 2007 amidst, a year long mass mobilisation and periodic riots against it, by the right-wing government.

The Giannatou-law as it is known in effect breaches article 16 of the constitution by ruling that university asylum can be lifted if a state attorney gets the approval of the rector due to crimes being committed. The constitution rules that the asylum can be lifted only by a unanimous agreement of the rectorial-lecturers-students council. Moreover, the educational conference decided to demarcate which area are included in the asylum and which not, without of course any agreement by the students who were not even invited in the talks. Finally the conferees have decreed to oust permanent building or room occupations within university premises, referring to anarchist antiauthoritarian and autonomous social centres operating within universities since the 1980s. The reforms enjoy the support and aggressive promotion by bourgeois press and media interests.

On the repression front, the Napoleonic-delirious Minister of Public Order has once again attacked the left as "hypocrites and professional sensitives" covering "nazis that planned a Crystal Night", insisting on the validity of preventive arrests (illegal according to the constitution), and pointing out most ominously that leftist and anarchist violence will lead "in the immediate future to extreme-right terrorism by yet unknown groups".

The declaration, reading more like a threat than like a prediction in the light of the two armed attacks against premises of the antagonistic movement during 2009, came after two bombs were diffused by the police pyrotechnic corps after warning phone calls on Saturday 13. The bombs which did not go off because of some technical problem were targeted at the social security bureau of the media. The ministry has repeated its promises of abolishing tear gas and replacing it with water cannon tanks, as well as of abolishing the anti-hood law after Christmas.

The reform suggestions come amidst greatest economic crisis since 1974 with the
Greek government juggling with austerity measures that stretch from a three year freeze of public sector salaries, to coupons for meat milk and bread for the unemployed, to the abolition of the Easter half salary bonus. Fearing mass reaction to the measures, the PM has played cold and hot, taking back proposed measures hours after proposing them, and calling a conference of "national unity" for Monday. It must be noted that a mass strike has been called for Tuesday including an array of labour sectors, while a shoe factory (Elite) has come under workers' occupation in Athens.
I have found it impossible to verify Taxikipali's story about the occupied shoe factory by any other source in English, French or Spanish, but I see little reason to doubt his claims given the general realistic nature of his previous reports. In the interum, here is a report from the Associated Press about what the "socialist" government is threatening if the workers of Greece do not knuckle under to their plans. Very nasty threats actually.
Greek PM to announce economic reform measures:

Associated Press 2009-12-14 07:21 PM
Greece's prime minister is to outline Monday how he plans to reform his debt-riddled country's economy, as a delegation from Moody's credit rating arrived in Athens to review the economic situation.

George Papandreou, whose Socialist party came to power in October, has said he is prepared to make major changes, which may mean tax hikes and heavy spending cuts. He has called on the country's main opposition leaders to hold rare joint talks on the issue.

Greece has come under intense pressure from other European Union countries to reform its economy, and Papandreou has acknowledged the country suffers from endemic corruption.

The country's deficit is projected to have swollen to more than 12 percent of economic output this year four times the European Union limit and twice the previous official projection while its debt stands at a staggering (EURO)300 billion ($442 billion).

Papandreou will outline his plans in a speech to business and union leaders as part of a public debate on reforming Greece's economy.

Last week, the credit agency Fitch Ratings downgraded Greece from A- to BBB+ the worst of the 16 nations that use the euro. A delegation from Moody's met on Monday morning with Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou, who outlined the government's plans on how to remedy the situation, his office said.

"The public deficit is clearly very worrying," Papaconstantinou said in an interview with the Associated Press and one other reporter. "Of course we have an economic crisis in all the European Union countries. What distinguishes Greece is the gap between the public deficit published by the previous government, and the true numbers that we have at the moment. The deficit is double what we expected, and it requires a much stronger effort" to bring the economy under control, with the government aiming to reduce the deficit to below 3 percent in the next three to four years.

Greek officials, however, have insisted there is no question of Greece defaulting on its debt. Concern about government finances in general had been heightened by news last month that Dubai World, an investment company owned by the city-state that has $59 billion worth of debt, was looking to postpone forthcoming debt payments until May.

"There is no question of default," Papaconstantinou said. "We obviously have very serious problems. We are not the only country to have this kind of problem. What distinguishes us is a loss of confidence; a loss of confidence in our statistics, in our numbers; a loss of confidence that Greek governments are capable of doing what must be done."

The minister said Greece was trying to regain that confidence by reducing the deficit by 4 percentage points in a year, reducing public sector costs, tackling tax evasion and stimulating growth. The government has said it will freeze hiring in the severely bloated public sector next year, and hire just one person for every five who retire or quit in 2011.

Papandreou has pledged that his government will take all measures necessary, but has insisted he will protect salaried workers and pensioners _ possibly fearful of mass protests that often have a tendency of turning violent in Greece. Instead, he has promised to crack down hard on the country's famously prolific tax evasion.

"We have systemic corruption," Papandreou said in Brussels last week. "We experience it so frequently that we think it is normal. But it isn't normal."

The prime minister insisted Greece was not yet at the point where it must freeze or slash public sector salaries.

"Look, if we were on the edge of the cliff and the only solution was to freeze (salaries), then we would cut salaries in half," he said in Brussels. "But we are not there. And we are fighting so that we do not reach that point."
One should not expect the strike called for December 15th to amount to much. As the following article from Google News makes plain there are divisions not only within the "socialist" PASOK party of Greece (where some members "think" that the party should be at least a tiny little itsy bit "socialist" as opposed to catering to international finance but also amongst the unions). The public sector unions have given more or less official support to the government by delaying any "serious" industrial action to next February. One should not expect any opposition from the Communists, being as they are desperately trying to avoid being overtaken on the left by the dog's dinner leftist coalition of Syriza (The Coalition of the Radical Left). Any "disorder" opens the way for their opponents on the left and leaves little opportunity for them to make gains at the expense of PASOK. The Communists are especially strong in a large number of unions. Expect nothing from this. The great threat to both the commies and Syriza is that the workers will actually "wake up" and demand self management beyond that which any leftist party would be capable of granting. As focused on violence and symbolic actions as the Greek anarchists are, their general message of "self-management" has penetrated into large sectors of the Greek population, sectors who are much more capable of effective action than students or play-actors at terrorism are. The idea that ordinary Greeks might take these ideas seriously and go beyond both the political parties and the illusions of insurrection of the "anarchists" terrifies the aparatchiks of Greek leftism.
Greece readies debt measures, unions threaten action:
By John Hadoulis (AFP) – 8 hours ago
ATHENS — The beleaguered Greek government is later Monday to outline measures to combat the worst debt crisis in the country's modern history but its plans are threatening to spark fierce union resistance.

Government vice president Theodore Pangalos told the newspaper Ta Nea that "at this moment, loans are a matter of life and death for the Greek economy."

"Our debt must be stabilised before it can begin to retreat," Pangalos said, adding: "I've never seen such a situation in my 29 years in parliament."

He was speaking ahead of a scheduled speech by Prime Minister George Papandreou on the country's crippling 300-billion-euro (442-billion-dollar) debt.

The crisis has split the recently-elected Socialists. Some cadres fear a whirlwind of social unrest from the country's influential unions.

"There are currently two parallel lines, those who want to follow the European Commission's demands (for debt action) and those mindful of social needs," a government official told AFP.
One of the prime minister's main tasks will be to convince Greece's powerful unions, who hit back with general strikes the last time a major reform -- an overhaul of the pensions system in 2008 -- was attempted.

Part of the government cost-cutting drive will again target the pensions system as the state seeks to avoid paying over four billion euros next year to support ailing state funds.

The main union representing civil servants, Adedy, on Monday told the government to clarify its policies and warned of coming industrial action.

"The escalation of our strike activity will be immediate and will be declared by early February," the union said.

Markets worldwide were roiled last week after Fitch Ratings hit Greece with a credit downgrade, which also sparked fears that other troubled eurozone members could suffer the same fate.

The Greek stock exchange was rocked by uncertainty, shedding nearly 10 percent of its value in cumulative losses early last week, then briefly rebounding before closing with a fresh 2.41-percent loss on Friday.

The Athens bourse on Monday opened with a gain of 1.95-percent.

Standard & Poor's has placed Greece's long-term sovereign credit rating on "negative" watch, warning that it could be downgraded in the next two months if the government failed to rein in its growing deficit.

A third ratings agency, Moody's, in October also warned Greece of a possible rating cut. A team of Moody analysts arrived in Athens on Monday on a previously scheduled visit for talks with the finance minister and the Greek public debt management agency (PDMA).

A member of the European Central Bank executive board, Lorenzo Bini-Smaghi, meanwhile told the Italian newspaper La Stampa that Greece now had to take measures to raise its credit rating.

"From our point of view, Greece must implement measures by the end of the 2010 allowing public debt bonds to retrieve an A rating, which will again become the minimum level for our market operations," Bini-Smaghi said.

Fitch Ratings downgraded Greece's long-term debt ratings to BBB-plus from A-minus last week.

The ECB has eased its rating requirements for government bonds in the wake of the global financial crisis but is expected to restore the minimum A-minus level in 2011.

Bini-Smaghi was referring implicitly to a risk that Greek bonds, at their current rating level, might no longer meet ECB requirements at the end of next year when the central bank reverts to pre-crisis credit rating standards.

The concern for Greece, financial markets and the ECB is that if Greek bonds no longer met the ECB's minimum requirements, Greek banks that hold large quantities of Greek sovereign bonds would no longer be able to offer them as collateral to participate in regular ECB refinancing arrangements.

This in turn would raise the risk that Greek banks would not be able to access the cheapest source of short-term funding, and would be a big blow to the standing of the Greek banking sector.

Greece's public deficit is expected to surge to 12.7 percent of output this year -- well beyond the 3.0 percent limit imposed by the eurozone.

The Greek finance ministry has described the debt crisis as the worst in the country's modern history.

Papandreou has in addition called an all-party meeting on Tuesday on fighting corruption that eats up billions of euros annually.

The prime minister has ruled out going to the International Monetary Fund for aid or freezing wages, talking instead of trimming Greece's overblown bureaucracy.

He has also vowed to go after tax evaders, not workers. The government is now planning to enlist hackers in an emergency "tax police squad," press reports said.

As Papandreou attempts to calm the waters at home, Finance Minister George Papaconstantinou will visit his counterparts in Britain, France and Germany in a bid to convince them that the new Socialist government can handle the crisis.

A crucial part of his tour will be a meeting Wednesday in London with institutional investors.
While we, the anarchists, await both the determination of our Greek comrades to present a plausible way in which ordinary people can transform society and the impatience of ordinary people with the "solutions" offered by the political parties we are thrown back on solidarity with our own comrades in Greece. Prior to the latest round of riots and occupations the "socialist" government ordered a preemptive raid on the Resalto anarchist social centre in Athens. Molly actually visted this centre when she was last in Greece, and she found little evidence that they were any imminant threat whatsoever of any criminal action, let alone a threat to the Greek state. The following, from the Occupied London Blog, a source for the latest news from Greece in English, is the original call for financial support for the bail of thiose arrested at Resalto. Pay attention to it, and give what you can.
Urgent financial appeal by the Resalto Solidarity Fund:
Friday, December 11, 2009
“Resalto” is the anarchist space in Western Athens that was raided by police on the evening of December 5th (background info on the case is here). The 22 comrades arrested during the brutal break-in of the space were released by the Piraeus Court at the dawn of Tuesday, December, 8th. However, the court imposed strict bail conditions on them all, which included very high amounts of bail money: The total amount of this bail money equals 51,000 euros. More specifically, for one of those arrested bail was set at 15.000 euros, for three of them at 5,000 euros each and for the remaining seven, bail was 3,000 euros.

The total financial amount of bail-money must be deposited by Thursday, December 17th but it is advisable, for the purpose of avoiding bureaucratic deadlocks, that the money is deposited before Tuesday, December 15th.

For this purpose a solidarity fund has been established – for the financial support of the 22 arrested of Resalto, but also for the prompt payment of their bail money. It is very important that we all contribute in gathering this unusually high total amount of bail money.

In order for this amount of money to be securely raised you are all greatly encouraged, and kindly asked to establish direct contact at the following telephone number: +30 6973657960 or via e-mail at in order to obtain the bank account number where this money may be deposited. Publicly advertising a bank account for fund-raising is illegal under Greek law (for tax purposes).
Solidarity is our weapon.
All that I have said above is reinforced by what I said last summer in the pages of Linchpin, the journal of the Ontario platformist organization Common Cause. To say the least subsequent events have done little to change my opinions. They have only reinforced them. Whatever the heroism of the Greek rebels, despite the acclamation of certain North American "anarchists" who don't understand the situation and who laud the worst amongst the Greeks, the situation in Greece is very far rom the idea of "revolution" if that is to be taken in terms of a transformation of social relations. Thre is still a long and hard road of "realism" tgo be walked upon before anarchism can be a realistic prospect in Greece, as in anywhere else. Here's what I said previosly.
Patrick Murtagh
On December 6, 2008 it was not a dark and stormy night when the shot rang out, but it soon became so as a police bullet killed 15 year old Alexis Grigoropoulos. Not that such incidents are unusual. According to a spokesman for the anarchosyndicalist Greek ESE “dozens of Greeks have been killed by the police” since the end of the military dictatorship in 1973.

What was unique was the response, perhaps indicative of the harder times that we have entered. Within minutes the news spread across the country via cell phone, and informal groups of friends had gathered to protest the murder.

Protest turned to riot, and for some weeks the conservative government of Greece teetered on the brink of defeat. Dozens of universities and high schools were occupied. Working class demonstrations and a one day general strike coincided with the student revolt. The government was saved, not by its own efforts but rather by a loss of nerve on the part of the socialist PASOK and the communist KKE who ended up criticising the insurgent students and the left-socialist Syriza more than they did the government.

The events didn’t occur in a vacuum. Decades of student militancy have garnered widespread public sympathy since 1973. Tactics such as university occupations are almost routine. Then there is the general state of the Greek economy and society. Youth unemployment and underemployment are endemic and growing. The government has come to be widely seen as both corrupt and incompetent. While recklessly accumulating public debt (foreign debt was estimated to total 93.9% of GDP in 2008) the state has been demonstrably generous to its corporate friends. In various social conflicts over the past decade the state has sometimes emerged victorious, but often has been forced to back down in the face of popular movements.

Few of the factors that underlay the revolt in Greece are unique to that country, aside from the existence of a relatively large and militant anarchist movement. It is no wonder that European governments openly worried about the spread of such revolts to other countries. The Greek insurgents attempted to spread the insurrection internationally, using media events and the same cell phone tactics that had proven successful locally. The response was widespread – perhaps hundreds of sympathy actions worldwide – but distinctly poorly attended.

Then, incredibly anticlimactically, the Revolution was called off for Christmas. When the New Year arrived the usual militant Greek demonstrations resumed, but without the mass participation and occupations of December. An opportunity had been lost.

What happened shows that mass rebellion is possible in a modern state and, given economic conditions, it is almost inevitable. It also showed that modern technology can amplify small scale initiatives into mass movements. It also showed that such movements can be, at best, inspired, never directed. The Leninist dream is over.It was also demonstrated that such rebellions have to go beyond mere street fighting if they are to lead to anything permanent. The Greeks began this process with their occupations of educational institutions and brief takeovers of media outlets. They were unable to go further, however, because of a lack of response from Greek workers who generally remained passive outside of young workers in the streets. Without such participation, “revolts” will remain limited and inevitably fizzle out with little gained.

Finally, while rebellions are inevitably spontaneous, in the absence of organization and vision they cannot go further to actually change society. This may have been the main reason for the passivity of the Greek working class. Without such a vision and clear ideas on how to achieve it, one cannot depend on any vanguard, whether it is a party or whether it is those most willing to fight in the streets.
Patrick edits Molly’s Blog:

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