This past Monday, November 17, marked the 41st anniversary of the Athens Polytechnic Uprising, which pitted young Greeks against the oppressive regime of a military junta.
Fast forward 41 years, and once again young Greeks are up in arms, not against a military junta, but against a technocratic junta, which has imposed severe austerity measures and liberalization policies across the board. 41 years ago, the protesters were met with the bone-cracking force of the military. On Monday, the protests were met with a similarly lethal force; but this time it was disguised under the mantle of so-called ‘responsible’ economic management.
The revolutions of the 1970s brought about the downfall of dictatorships, such as those of Salazar and Franco in the Iberian Peninsula, and of military juntas, such as those in Greece and Cyprus. This marked the start of the velvet revolutions. The term velvet revolution is usually used for the Eastern European uprisings of November 1989, but it can also be used for the Southern European revolutions of the 1970s.
As seen through the lens of official historiography the velvet revolutions signified the overthrowing of antiquated socioeconomic structures; By which, we are to understand an amalgamation of Communist regimes, fascistoïd dictatorships, and military juntas openly supported by the ‘free world.’ History has re-framed these revolutions, and portrayed them as the vindication of economic laisser-faire and liberal democracy. Thus the bells of have history rung, the curtains fell. The play was over chaps!
What a brutal awakening it must have been for those who have said, time after time, that no matter how bad the dictatorial measures of austerity might be, that “we’re still better off”, that “we’ve got freedom now”, when they saw the images of the central campus of Athens Polytechnic under a cloud of tear gas. A subliminal image, almost as if it were looped. In 41 years we had traveled only to wind-up back at square one. It was a bone-chilling reminder for those who want to impose their neoliberal model, that the shadows of the unfulfilled revolutionary aspirations will not be quenched so effortlessly.
The velvet revolutions were the amalgamations of various dissident movements ranging from liberal movements, to left-wing socialist and communist movements. However, the official discourse is that that liberals and conservatives were the ones that caused the velvet revolutions. We must not forget that the instigator of the velvet revolutions in Eastern Europe was a libertarian socialist trade union named Solidarność (Solidarity). Similarly, the bulk of the opposition against military juntas and dictatorships alike was made up of militant left-wing movements, which had no intention of trading the direct dictatorship of the few, for an invisible dictatorship of the few.
From the Iberian Peninsula, through Eastern Europe, and thence to Greece and Cyprus these velvet revolutions had the objective of creating new structures, in which economic and social rights were guaranteed. Adequate housing, social housing and land reform were the central objectives of the Portuguese, Spanish and Greek velvet revolutions. New forms of direct democracy were put in place during a brief period of time in many Eastern European countries during the post-velvet revolution period — a heritage of the anti-authoritarian Budapest and Prague uprisings.
The clergy of austerity and neoliberal policies has claimed that its ideology was vindicated by such velvet revolutions, and that such velvet revolutions were produced by the fact that the oppressed peoples of Eastern and Southern Europe ‘wanted in’ on Western capitalism. This clergy argues that these people wanted complete market liberalization, mass privatizations, and now massive unemployment; and that they wanted to ‘liberate’ the job market and their stock exchanges.
In the wake of the velvet revolutions, the peoples of the newly ‘liberated’ Europe said that they were in awe of another form of liberation. They wanted liberation from hunger, liberation from homelessness, liberation from poverty, liberation from precarity, and liberation from the brutality of state sanctioned violence. And they set these demands in stone, by putting them in their new constitutions.
Today, as millions of young Greeks, Portuguese, Hungarians, Czechs, Cypriots, and Italians are protesting, they carry the revolutionary flame of the past generations of 1973, 1974, 1975, and 1989. Austerity in this case is a strategy. It is a strategy to remove from these states all of their social aspirations; a strategy to transfer the public wealth, amassed through the struggle of many generations to build a social structure that would provide for everyone, into the hands of an elite. Austerity is thus a form of ‘new’ primitive accumulation, as Marx would call it, and the transfer common capital into the private sphere. Austerity is a direct assault on the established social rights that are the heritage of such velvet revolutions.
Austerity is nothing more, and nothing less, than rhetorical prowess capable of legitimizing systemic robbery. Austerity is thus a synonym for kleptocracy!
A luta continua!