Sunday, July 24, 2011

Preliminary notes towards an account of the “movement of popular assemblies”

The movement of the assemblies in the squares started completely unexpectedly on the 25th of May in Athens. It’s unclear which was the initial group of people that took the initiative to post a call for a rally in Syntagma square on Facebook to express their “indignation” and anger at the government’s austerity measures. It seems though that some people around a political group influenced by the later Castoriadis’ democratic ideology were involved among others in that initiative. The call was publicized favourably by the mass media and during the first days there was a reference in the media to a banner that allegedly appeared in the Spanish mobilizations: “Shhh, do not shout, we will wake up the Greeks” or something like that. Of course, no one could expect what would follow.

The initial call was a declaration of independence and separation from political parties, representation and ideologies. It also declared the will to protest peacefully against the state management of the debt crisis and “all those who led us here”. Furthermore, a main slogan was the call for a “real democracy”. The slogan of “real democracy” was quickly replaced after a couple of days by the slogan of “direct democracy”. The initial effort of the organizers to set a body of specific democratic rules for the assembly was rejected by the participants. However, certain regulations were established after some days concerning the time-limit of the speeches (90 sec), the way that someone can propose a subject for the discussion (in written form, two hours before the beggining of the assembly) and the way that speakers are being chosen (through a lottery)… We should also mention that around the core of the general assembly there are always plenty of discussions, events or even confrontations among the participants.

In the beginning there was a communal spirit in the first efforts at self-organizing the occupation of the square and officially political parties were not tolerated. However, the leftists and especially those coming from SYRIZA (Coalition of Radical Left) got quickly involved in the Syntagma assembly and took over important positions in the groups that were formed in order to run the occupation of Syntagma square, and, more specifically, in the group for “secretarial support” and the one responsible for “communication”. These two groups are the most important ones because they organize the agenda of the assemblies as well as the flow of the discussion. It must be noted that these people do not openly declare their political allegiance and appear as ‘individuals’. However, these politicos are unable to completely manipulate such a volatile and heterogeneous assembly since the delegitimization of the political parties is prevalent. It is very difficult to participate as an individual in these specific groups though, since you have to confront the shadow party mechanisms of the leftists.

The rallies organized on a daily basis gradually became very massive and expressed the complete delegitimization of the government and of the political system in general. In the most massive rally maybe 500.000 people participated (on Sunday 5/6).
The social composition of the mixed crowd that rallies everyday ranges from workers, unemployed, pensioners and students to small entrepreneurs or former small bosses hard hit by the crisis. In these rallies in the Syntagma square, a divide was formed from the first days between those who are “above” (near the Parliament) and those who are “below” (in the square proper). In the first category, some nationalist and extreme right-wing groups have been active from the beginning influencing the more conservative and/or less politicized people who participate in the demonstrations (being either proletarians or proletarianized former small entrepreneurs). It is quite common for most of them gathering outside the Parliament to wave Greek flags, make the open palm gesture against the MPs, cry out populist and nationalist slogans like “Traitors!” or “Thieves!” or even sing the national anthem. However, the fact that these people are more politically conservative does not necessarily mean that they are more controllable when the conflicts with the police escalate or that they can be counted to the lines of the organized extreme right-wing groups. On the other hand, the second group which forms the constituency of the assembly is much more oriented to the democratic left (patriotic, antifascist, anti-imperialist) as it can be seen by the voted communiqués (see 
Real Democracy Website) and is also proletarian in composition (unemployed workers, civil servants, university students, workers from the private sector, etc.)







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