After Ilias Kasidiari, the Golden Dawn MP, hit her in the face during a live TV debate last week, Liana Kanelli told a BBC radio journalist: “It’s the first time in front of so many witnesses that you see the snake coming out of the egg.” We might leave aside for a moment Kanelli’s own reptilian credentials – she’s an MP for the Stalinist Greek Communist Party; and there’s no point in wondering why an MP being slapped in the face on TV is more internationally newsworthy than the many preceding racist attacks against immigrants in Greece, by Golden Dawn and others, with police collusion. The point remains that the snake is well and truly out of the egg.
If fascism is the snake, then the egg is obviously the austerity programme imposed on Greece by the EU/ECB/IMF troika in its flailing attempts to save the EU and the euro. Working-class people are being driven to poverty, desperation and suicide by the programme, and while some have also apparently been driven into the arms of the Golden Dawn, many more are expected to vote in this weekend’s elections for Syriza, which has gained support by promising to reject austerity and tell the troika where to get off. Syriza claims that by promising to keep Greece in the euro – which is what the troika itself wants, because it fears that a “Grexit” will have a domino effect in Italy, Portugal and elsewhere – it will be able to overturn the troika’s austerity programme. But even if Syriza comes to power and is able to persuade the troika to alter the terms of Greece’s debt repayment, that will certainly not mean an end to the Greek national debt, or to the suffering of the working-class people who will still be forced to repay it. Indeed, Alexis Tsipras has been quick to reassure the international press not only that he wants to help save the euro, but that he opposes the austerity programme precisely because he wants to make sure that Greece repays its debts nicely:
Yes, we do want Europe’s support and funding, but we don’t want the money of European taxpayers to be wasted. […] We want to make use of Europe’s solidarity and funding to create the basis for our long-term reforms. But we need to know that in two-three years we’ll have escaped this downward vortex, we will have growth, and we’ll be able to pay back the money they gave us.
In other words, we can only presume that those who do vote for Syriza on Sunday will get their reward in heaven, because they certainly won’t get it in Europe. If the troika rejects Syriza’s terms and Greece is forced out of the euro, the Greek economy is likely to go into terminal convulsions, and there are already plans in place for the Greek state to deploy the military to suppress the civil unrest that will follow. Even if the troika does accept Syriza’s proposals, the European ruling class will still get its money, and guess who is going to be paying it. It’s no doubt as a wise precaution that Syriza is already making friendly overtures to both the military and the police – the same police force of which 50% reportedly voted for the Golden Dawn in the last elections, and which has blatantly been protecting him since his live TV assault. Whether Greece does or does not stay in the euro, it’s bad news for working-class people either way, and we can probably expect more teargas on the streets before long.
But of course it’s not only in Greece that the snakes of state repression are swarming. In Egypt the Supreme Constitutional Court has just overturned the results of the presidential elections, to the advantage of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. In Quebec the provincial government has responded to protests against student fee rises by introducing Law 78, which forbids demonstrations of more than 50 people without prior police approval. Putin’s Russia appears to be well on the way back to authoritarianism. A global repression news roundup would make for a long and depressing read.
Here in the UK at the moment it’s a case of the laughing policeman’s truncheon. On the one hand we’re undergoing an astonishing ideological assault from the consumer-nationalist Big Berthas of the London Olympics and the Queen’s diamond jubilee (the latter with a side-order of comforting punk nostalgia). It seems unlikely that many people are really being fooled by any of this state- and corporate-sponsored jollification, but everything has been so shit for so long that they’ll grab all the jelly and ice cream they can while it lasts. Well, if we think it’s shit now, let’s just wait another year. The ConDem government’s plan (or at any rate its hope) was that 2012’s “summer to remember” would mark the culmination of a period of relative economic recovery – a recovery that never materialised, but was supposed to cushion the vicious welfare cuts that will be implemented from 2013 onwards. On the other hand, we’re simultaneously undergoing a not-so-hidden retooling of the apparatus of repression. The Olympics have furnished a perfect excuse not just for an increasingly heavy police presence and a step-up of stop-and-search in London’s tube stations, but for a wider revamp of the UK’s security infrastructure, including the privatisation of the police and the militarisation of areas around the Olympic sites. At the same time, not coincidentally, the judicial assault against those who took part in last year’s “summer to remember” is unabated: harsh sentences for rioting continue to be handed down, with hundreds more cases still to be heard. The liberal howls of dismay that were heard last year when young people received lengthy jail terms for stealing ice creams and posting messages on Facebook have died down now that the sentences are being handed down for less “cute” – and more politically direct – activities such as firebombing police stations and shooting at police helicopters. But ultimately, when the snake comes out of the Olympic-jubilee-austerity egg, it’s going to be all about police violence and retaliation against it.
The thing to remember in all this is that repression arises in response to resistance, not (just) the other way around. If police forces and state apparatuses worldwide are reaching for their helmets, it’s because they feel they’re on the way to total economic chaos and a showdown with working-class people who cannot and will not take much more of it. Friends in Greece tell me that one of the effects of the political turmoil is people are “rediscovering the meaning of politics” and seriously debating not just which political “team” they support but how they want to live their lives and organise their society. The current focus on electoral politics may have distracted some people from genuine revolutionary struggle, but it may equally have provided a breathing space in which everyone, not just the usual revolutionary suspects, can reflect deeply and in new ways on old social questions. Perhaps this “Great British Summer”, which as a friend remarked to me at the weekend feels like nothing so much as a phoney war, can also be taken as a brief moment to pause and think about what comes next. There’s every chance that in the end anti-capitalist sentiment in Greece will be crushed under the weight of state repression and popular exhaustion; there’s every chance that spirit of revolt in the UK will be snuffed out before it is even fully alight. Somehow we have to ensure that the ruling class – capitalists and state – really do find themselves with a fight on their hands.