Anarchy in Athens


Greece had been in the news since its financial crisis began, then it return to news when the far left party Syriza won the elections. Syriza provoked mixed feelings, some American conservatives were supporters and some Greek anarchists were enemies. The government of Alexis Tsipras put Yanis Varoufakis in the key position of Minister of Finance. Varoufakis is a self-described libertarian Marxist and a Professor of Economics in the University of Athens. His works on game theory had made him known in the international academic community.

The mandate of Tsipras was twofold because it implied maintaining membership in European Union without implementing austerity measures. Both Tsipras and Varoufakis have tried to deal with the pressure from the Troika but there were some differences. After the referendum that was a victory for SYRIZA, Tsipras call that a victory for democracy but Varoufakis resigned. There were several speculations over what was the real reason for Varoufakis to resign, the most interesting is that the libertarian-Marxist had developed an emergency strategy that will use bitcoin as the Greek currency, which sound more an anarcho-capitalist idea to deal with the crisis. The SYRIZA government had generated discontent among its members because under the pressure of Germany and the Eurozone, it announced the austerity measures. Obviously, anarchists are telling I told you so.

Now even Bernie Sanders is talking about Greece and Ron Paul too. The radical left, the populist right and hardcore libertarians agree that the large international organizations like IMF or the World Bank that supposedly promote “free markets,” actually promote crony capitalism which is why the benefits of a corporate global hegemony mostly go to the rich and well connected. One could accuse these institutions of the problems in Greece but the question remains of what to do. As someone who studied philosophy as a major, I remember hearing a lot that the origin of democracy was in Greece. It was a land of great philosophers, writers, artists and athletes which bring democracy to Western Civilization. But one have to wonder by the realities of the present, when we say “democracy”, if we are speaking of the same Greeks.

Left-libertarian philosopher Roderick Long had a wonderful text about it called Libertarian Athens in which he argued that democracy in the Greek sense was a form of direct democracy closer to what the New Left called participatory democracy than to elections which is what most people thinks when we talk about democracy. The reason is that Athenian democracy wasn’t based in majority rule (electoral democracy) or minority rule (oligarchy) but in debate between free men of Athens. Direct democracy sometimes is called anarchism. In the anti-globalization protests in Seattle in 1999, when there were people chanting “This what is what democracy looks like”, they were right. Democracy isn’t the oligarchy by the corporate and political elite that we see today.

aBack to Greece, when a lot people speak about the country going in an anarchist direction they confuse the chaos and the masked protesters with I think a much deeper concept of anarchy. Bitcoin despite not becoming the official Greek currency is popular in Greece, generally crypto-currencies are associated with anarchism and to a large extent, they are right this is some form of anarcho-capitalism. For another thing, there are now worker-controlled TV stations now, which is some form anarcho-communism. I wouldn’t be surprised if some workers of the collectivized TV use bitcoin because in the end, anarchism is more than capitalism or communism.

I’m not predicting an end of the Greek state, but I think in the long run not only Greece but several countries around the world where governments push authoritarian practices against is citizens will face a backlash. Crypto-currencies are one way, but also black markets, which for example are very popular in Latin America. Anarchism seem to me as a noble idea that could well represented by a teenage girl in High School in West Virginia protesting against the American foreign policy or a scholar in political science from Yale fighting his social democratic colleagues. If we think that the limits for a state in the concept of Aristotle should be the city, one have to wonder where is the legitimacy of the modern Greece. Maybe Greek anarchists need to start reading their own history with other eyes, maybe us too.