The limits of syndicalism and the institution of popular assemblies

Grigoris Tsilimantos
Translation: Yavor Tarinski

(Το κείμενο στα ελληνικά εδώ)

Syndicalism as a product of the class struggle and as organizational structure of workers came to manage or to reverse labor relations, developed in conditions of competition within the workplaces. The primary grassroots organization of the workers, explicitly emphasizing on the working conditions and remuneration, gave birth to many expectations throughout all of society, insofar as and to the extent that, together with farmers, they formed the vast majority of the population.

But because capitalism based itself on the new subject of exploitation -the worker- it transferred him to its locomotive, enslaved and leader simultaneously, in a direction that, as was demonstrated, had neither logic nor boundaries and barriers. And wherever all these were appearing, they were not spared neither blood nor terror.

However capitalism didn’t rely on brute force but on its ability to incorporate and assimilate its own cracks. The brute force did not show its strength but instead its weakness to integration and assimilation. Behind the curtain of violence is hidden its own imaginary that have loaded two ideological weights on the backs of the workers:

The first weight was the ideology of messianism, with all the religious characteristics and “laws”, historic and economic, and what they entailed. The main mentor of this messianism was Marx and Marxism which replaced metaphysics of religion with earthly scientific “truth” of communism.

The second weight and more durable, since the first one nowadays has went bankrupt, was and still is the ideology of economy. That is, how through it capitalism somehow discovered the BEING of human relationships and human history. The organization of production and the produced product themselves formed values as physical ends of the realization of this BEING. What this means can be seen in the manuscripts of Marx from ’45 where he briefly concludes that the workers, and thus revolutionaries, should not waste time for thinking of better organization of production because this has been discovered by capitalism itself.

The practical realization of this thesis was done by Lenin, who introduced fordism and the production chain in the factories of his newly established dictatorship.

Apart from Marx and the Marxists, what is being situated as a central objective of the class struggle of the workers is the issue of ownership of the means of production and of produced wealth. However the growth of the productive forces was the only way as for capitalism so as for the worker. Let’s not forget the often repeated position of Bakunin who agreed completely with the economic program of Marx but disagreed with his political one. It was the epoch when scientific discoveries and industrial development – the early stage of technoscience – seemed to be the main pillars for the passage from the era of scarcity into the times of abundance. Clothing, communication, transportation, diet with new products along with mechanization were major pillars of capitalist growth and its first wide spread campaign.

In that moment, the revolutionary aspect of syndicalism directly raised the issue of control and ownership of factories and land and the produced wealth to which capitalists predatory aspired.

All uprisings and revolutions led to the gates of the factory. From inside the boss was defending himself and from outside the worker was trying to take it over. The last revolution before the 50s, the Spanish one, having as a battering ram the anarcho-syndicalism, was the final one about labor claims for self-management of production on behalf of the entire society.

After the war, capitalism was faced with the necessity to fix the huge damages that he himself had caused signing a new social contract with real increases, social security, pensions, collective agreements, etc., looking for other ways to address labor demands. What it couldn’t do inside the working place it did outside of it. I.e. whatever it couldn’t achieve with machines in order to reduce the power of the labor force, it did achieve through trade, opening new cycles and jobs to meet the technical needs that capitalism itself created. The worker transforms into a consumer and the intensity of services that is involved with the disposal of goods increases.

The consumer frenzy has three essential consequences. Firstly, it is the integration of the entire population into the logic of the commodity which creates ephemeral and alternate lifestyles. The peculiarity of this logic is that the product ceases to support the needs of human and the human is called upon to support the needs of the commodities. Secondly, it is the over-exploitation of natural resources for the needs of a supposed growth, achieved at huge ecological disasters, energy wastage and accumulation of improbable amounts of garbage. That’s why today we don’t know what to do with the melting of ice caps and the ozone hole, that’s why landfills flood, areas around energy plants turn into deserts and water resources are depleted at an exponential rate. If we add the destruction of agriculture and food nightmare that followed, the picture becomes even more apocalyptic. Thirdly, it is the growing individualization, as necessary and sufficient condition for the proliferation of commodities that in an individual level led to personal nests of things, most of them useless and in a collective level led to a widespread corporatization, degradation of social solidarity and in the workplace to a stagnation of the solidarity of workers between each other.

To say just that responsible for all this, as far as it is concerned, is the sold out bureaucratic leadership of the trade union movement, is a banality, an aphorism without to perceive the great upheavals of the last fifty years.

The two versions of syndicalism (reformist-revolutionary) are based on the same two basic pillars that have to do with the participation of the workers in the production process and in the final product. The reformists negotiate for the minimum, thus reproducing exploitation, while the revolutionaries want everything for everyone, abolishing exploitation.

What both of these tendencies couldn’t understand, and especially the second one, was the fact that the problems within the workplace were being transferred, even stronger, out of it. In other words they couldn’t understand that the problem was not just the working conditions, remuneration, participation and seizure of the means of production, but the problem became, more and more intensively, the work itself, the product of which had enormous social consequences.

Whoever insists on syndicalism must answer to two key questions. What means for the workers to take control of the factories and what means expropriation of the produced wealth? Today we don’t have to do with this. The production and the final product face a strong questioning. The harshest criticism against capitalism does not come from inside the workplace but outside of it, from citizen movements that are not based on work but on the basis of its dubious or destructive consequences. The very “growth” is under criticism along with barricades. The produced wealth is increasingly becoming a produced junk and its corresponding industrial units are not anymore a breath of air for their areas but suffocating stench. So what kind of self-management can be done in fertilizer factories, in combustion plants at landfills, in gold mines in Chalkidiki, in the Acheloos gigantic dam, in nuclear power plants or in coal plants? What kind of wealth are the products of agricultural and livestock production that must be appropriated when food scandals succeed one another? Today the production units and their products are not possessions and usable objects but social consultation objects for their usefulness. And when the decision is negative, there are two commonly and permanently absentees: the bosses and the workers. Is it by chance that in all the movements against the results of work the unions are absent? Or is it by chance that the Movement of the Squares didn’t want the presence of the syndicates at all? For what was happening with the recycling in Tagarades (region south of Thessaloniki, Greece) so many years, the employees of OTA knew better than anyone else, but the protests came out from residents of the surrounding areas, including the collected information, gathered outside the workplace, not through it.

Today the questioning of syndicalism follows the same path, not with the questioning of its obsolescent bureaucrats, but by something much deeper, with the questioning of labor itself. Now is required its redefinition not as a worker-employer relationship, but as an overall social relationship. If the produced wealth is social then the questions can’t be posed nor solved by anyone else except from society itself.

Syndicalism today cannot be the engine of social transformation, not only because it’s dominated by reformism, bureaucracy, corruption and attachment to “positions”, but because it cannot respond and solve on its own, the big issues raised by work and the product itself. For example, in the health, all trade unionists, radical or not, agree for more hospitals, more doctors and nurses for better health services. But especially in the western world the already existing hospitals will appear too many if the quality of food and environment change. This requires a radical change in agriculture, radical change in transportation and radical change in the installation of industrial units. This means transition towards real prevention rather than regular check-ups and diets. We will answer the question of health either as society or we will syndicalize its spiral circle.

The Movement of the Squares paved the road for great social deliberation, which without direct democracy would be just a distasteful repetition of the syndicalist, party and parliamentary farce. We can cross it if we decide to walk it.


Democratic Energy and Climate Change

Thoughts on the book “This changes everything” by Naomi Klein

Yavor Tarinski

Today, man is still, or more than ever, man’s enemy, not only because he continues as much as ever to give himself over to massacres of his fellow kind, but also because he is sawing off the branch on which he is sitting: the environment.
Cornelius Castoriadis[1]

Climate change, caused by human activity, is forcing itself to the center of  public debates. And that shouldn’t surprise us since the crisis it’s about to cause is of much bigger magnitude than any other economic or refugee crisis we have experienced by now. If such a crisis occurs it is possible that it will change the face of the planet entirely, possibly making it uninhabitable for humans as well as for most animal species. This gives new strength and importance to the debate about how we will continue the development of our societies, without endangering our very existence.

The carbon emissions being released into the atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels are amongst the main factors responsible for global warming. And the fact that the energy of our highly technological societies is being delivered mainly through these non-renewable and polluting resources raises further questions about what could replace them and what would it take for such a change to occur.

In her book This Changes Everything Naomi Klein investigates in depth these urgent questions. She demonstrates the limitations and disadvantages of centralized energy sources such as nuclear energy and natural gases, both embedded in the contemporary corporatist, top-down model. She argues for transition towards localized, democratically managed renewables that will prioritize human and environmental needs before profits and autocratic interests – i.e. they will be turned into commons. The proposal of commons-based system beyond the dogma of constant economic growth is being shared by a growing number of thinkers, social movements and communities (see also: The Commons as paradigm beyond state and market).

Business, state and ecologic crisis

However for such a transition to be initiated we can’t rely on the business community, as Klein demonstrates at length in This Changes Everything, reviewing the fruitless, often even harmful to the ecologic cause, collaborations between the big green organizations and the corporate sector[2]. No private company will dedicate its resources to a developementalist model that prioritize human lives and nature before profits. By design these entities are based on growth through profiteering and expanding markets by all means necessary. For example, even when they do engage with renewables they use them in the frames of the capitalist growth doctrine, creating environmentally harmful and community excluding but highly profitable in capitalist terms, gigantic, centralized solar or wind parks etc. Furthermore, the energy sector, she notes, is contemporarily constrained from turning to renewables on larger scale because of the exponential growth it is currently enjoying amidst the shale gas boom[3].

The state, on the other hand, is traditionally seen as the sole alternative to the private sector, thus a potential ally against the polluting multinationals. But statist entities have proven to tend towards centralization, bureaucracy and unacountability, and thus disconnected from local needs and experiences. These very states are deeply embedded in the growth based extractivist imaginary of capitalist globalization, as Naomi Klein points out, state-owned companies, ranging from Scandinavian ‘social democracies’ to ‘pink tide’ governments, like the one of Ecuador[4], that wreck nature by extracting resources to trade in global markets[5]. The top-down socialist states of the past, with their five-year plans, were equally destructive of nature, as well as remote from the societies whom they were supposedly ‘developing’. This is ever more evident from today’s China, whose Communist Party is easily and eagerly adjusting its policies to the extractivist agenda, sacrificing even the air its subjects breathe in the name of economic growth.

Instead, a new approach is needed for such a crisis to be tackled efficiently. It cannot be resolved by mere reforms – as we saw, the capitalist economic model and the statist top-down decision-making processes are essentially predisposed towards enforcing, not preventing the ecologic crisis. This poses the need of a holistic systemic alternative, compelling us to think outside the dominant institutions and come up with new ones that already exist in the margins of society.

Towards a new energy paradigm

One such proposal is the creation of democratically managed utilities, like energy cooperatives or commons, that are managed by the communities that use them. Such a model strives at local sustainability and satisfaction of human needs (reflected by its participatory character) instead at profiteering and growth. This will enable communities to have control over their energy sources, in contrast with other ones managed privately or by the state, thus directing them away from dirty fossil fuels and towards much needed renewables. Naomi Klein notes that such types of commons-based renewables can be cheaper than dirtier alternatives. One of the reasons is they can be a source of income for their communities when unused power is being fed back to the grid[6].

Decentralization and communal participation are of great importance for the successful acceptance of renewables by society. Klein speaks[7] of many reasons why communities would rebel against large-scale, privately or state owned ones – from the noise of densely positioned wind turbines to the threat of inflicting damage to wild life and ecosystems posed by gigantic solar parks. In contrast, communally owned, locally based renewables are hugely accepted by local residents due to their smaller, human and environmentally friendly scale, the energetic autarchy they provide for their communities, revenues from selling back to the grid and so on.

Germany’s energy sector has long been examplary for the establishment of many such utilities[8]. Nearly half of its renewable energy is coming from such sources in the hands of farmers and citizen groups. Amongst them are many energy cooperatives, which amount close to a staggering nine hundred. These utilities play a dual role: simultaneously they produce clean power and generate revenue for their communities by selling back to the grid.

Germany’s predecessor in this field however is Denmark[9]. In the 1970s and 1980s, more than 40% of the country’s electricity was coming from renewables – mostly wind. And roughly 85% of them were owned by farmers and cooperatives. As in Germany, Denmark’s most commited actors to sustainable energy were not statist entities or privately owned companies but local communities. In the last few years many multinationals have entered the energy sector of the country, creating difficulties for the communal renewable utilities.

Transitional strategy

As we observed above we can’t overcome the ecologic crisis through the private sector and the nation-state. Dimitrios Roussopoulos, coming from the tradition of social ecology, emphasises firmly that the overcoming of the ecological crisis can be done in a stateless and directly-democratic manner[10]. In a way Naomi Klein’s thought intersects this logic by emphasizing the potential grassroots social movements and communities have to resist and initiate bottom-up solutions to the climate crisis[11].

History shows us that the main enforcer of emancipatory social changes was not artificial managerial mechanisms like the nation-states but society itself. The abolition of slavery, the introduction of universal suffrage rights, the eight hour work day and many more were all product of struggles waged and won by social movements over governments and authorities. The environmental cause is no different; however, as Klein and Roussopoulos also suggest, it has to be understood as part of a wider emancipatory struggle in order to overcome the weaknesses that it currently suffers from, such as the messianism it often embraces, the neglecting of other causes and the elitist attitude it sometimes has.

One way to approach these and many more weaknesses is for the ecological movements to be radically democratized. Thus professional “negotiators” will be replaced by assemblies of rank-and-file activists and concerned citizens, creating healthy human relationships and linking these movements with society – i.e. emphasizing the public squares rather than the luxurious corporate or government offices and dimming the separation between “activists” and “ordinary people”. With no top-down “professional” leadership to collaborate with political and economic elites, the messianism and elitism couldn’t easily find fertile soil to grow. And since the environmental matters are interlinked, the social movements that deal with them should have an intertwined character. This would imply the establishment of networks of groups, each leading its fight, but collaborating on a global level with other ones.

The interaction of the ecological movements with other social movements is of crucial importance. One of the reasons is that all spheres of human life are interconnected, and this includes humanity’s relationship with nature. As we have seen above capitalist economics, mixed with top-down bureaucracy, influences our health as well as that of the planet and so on. Thus anti-capitalists, ecologists and direct democracy movements should all collaborate with one another, transfusing from one struggle into another.

Such collaboration could prove very fertile especially for the ecological movements. For example the growing number of municipal platforms participating in local elections, like the recently established in Spain Network of Cities for the Common Good[12], could provide friendlier environment for communally owned and managed renewable co-ops. The Olympia for All municipal platform in Olympia, Washington (USA), for instance, has made environmental commitments in its platform[13], showing an ecologically friendly face. In a globalized system, hostile towards grassroots initiatives, as we saw from the Denmark’s experience where the liberalization of the market gave hard a time to energy co-ops, the radicalization of municipalities could provide much needed breathing space for collaborative experiments.


The climate crisis is quickly unfolding and we hear about it more all the time from scientists, journalists and even Hollywood blockbusters. We see its signs in the form of natural disasters that appear with greater frequency and destructiveness. But the dominant institutions are unable to tackle it successfully. It’s not without reason to suggest that it is not because of lack of political will, but a consequence of the growth-based top-down politico-economic system which nowadays squeezes all of the Earth. The resistance takes a global shape: activists from the US, experienced in the anti-shale gas struggle, share their experience with Canadian communities resisting fracking, who on their part share their know-how with French movements struggling against shale gas extraction and so on[14], leading to some major victories in the form of bans on fracking in municipalities across Canada and USA and in all of France.

However, for the effective tackling of the climate crisis, a more holistic approach is needed. This struggle has to be integrated into a political, direct-democratic project, one that goes beyond “ecology” alone. Otherwise, as Cornelius Castoriadis warns us, a focus on ecology alone can potentially give rise to neo-fascist, messianic ideologies and the establishment of authoritarian regimes, who then impose draconian restrictions on a panic-stricken and apathetic population[15].


[1] Castoriadis, Cornelius. The Rising Tide of Insignificancy (The Big Sleep). (2003). p.122

[2] Klein, Naomi. Magical Thinking. In This Changes Everything (pp. 191-290). Penguin Books 2015

[3] Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything. Penguin Books 2015. p130

[4] See also:

[5] Ibid, pp.176-182

[6] Ibid, p.133

[7] Ibid, p.132

[8] Ibid, p.131

[9] Ibid, p.131


[11] Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything. Penguin Books 2015. p.459



[14] Klein, Naomi. This Changes Everything. Penguin Books 2015. pp.303-304

[15] Castoriadis, Cornelius. The Rising Tide of Insignificancy (The Big Sleep). (2003). p.116.

Who Oppose Self-Management and Why?

Costas Haritakis
Translation: Marietta Simegiatou

The venture of the self-managed VIOME has come face to face not only with the enemies of self-management “by nature and by stance”, i.e. the masters and the state, but also with the communist and anti-capitalist forces of the left, including the anarchist movement. Despite their differences, these forces seem to agree to the fact that within capitalism, self-management can be no other than a way of employees’ “self-exploitation”, a form of a “collective capitalist”. Thus, let alone the fact that it has nothing to offer in the direction of social emancipation, self-management –what is worse– “releases” capitalism of its obligation to find jobs and nourish all workers. According to a different version of these views, although the “good intentions” of such ventures are acknowledged, they are doomed to merely manage their misery and ultimately reproduce capitalism, so long as there is no “central” change by conquering state power.

In this discussion that has many times taken the size of an open hostile polemic facing any effort of self-management, valuable theoretic slogans have been fished out of dusty libraries, mainly Marxist-Leninist ones, which attempt to “scientifically” prove the lack of a revolutionary character and/or the open counter-revolutionary character of these ventures. This attack has two pivotal aspects: a) self-management diverts workers from the key work of an “organised workers’ movement”, which is to insist on demands facing the state and the governments; and b) self-management negates or at least undermines the necessity of the role of a “working class party” that could per se “liberate” society through its struggle for the organisation of the order and the conquest of power.

This short description evidently shows that this has nothing to do with mere political or theoretical differences, but with a whole cultural gap in the world vision that separates these views from the essence and spirit of self-management ventures. In fact, this contraction is very interesting as it lucidly and concisely expresses the difference between the defeated world of ideology and all kinds of “-isms” breathing hard to catch up with the new reality of (closed self-referential systems) on the one hand and the living and outward world of the action that strives here and now to disengage from the dominant relations and to self-institute on the other. In other words, this contradiction is placed between an old-type party-centric and state-focused politics that stems from above and a new-type politics emerging from the grassroots through anxieties, processes and struggles that concern the question “how we will live” and not just “under whom we will live”.

Certainly, theoretic discourse has its history and reviewing it is important, today however old questions are raised on different terms and old answers, proven to be inadequate in the past, cannot claim their adequacy today… Either seen through the lens of the so-called “objective conditions” or through the lens of “subjective conditions” (a distinction that in the name of materialism has ended up in being a metaphysic one), all concepts of traditional ideologies have liquefied, blown by the double loss of a “subject” (working class, as we knew it) and an “object” (capitalism, as we knew it). Of course, both continue to exist, but now words do not exactly correspond to certain things. In addition to the dominant power re-sketching the map of their own domination’s concepts and symbolism, the antagonistic anti-capitalist movement too redefines the concepts and means of emancipation using its own multi-fold practice.

Therefore, self-management as a living trend of today’s (“grassroots”) world does not need to claim its revolutionary credentials based on the blood-shed pages of the Collected Works of any great teacher, or the heroism of unfulfilled efforts of the past.  It is enough, it should be enough that self-management manages to involve today, right here right now, a whole set of subjects integrated in a potential plan for the reorganisation of life based on terms of autonomy, equality and freedom. What page in the writings of a thinker, which narrative of a certain age can claim to be more potent than the vibrating synchronised act to try to unhook from hetero-determination and heteronomy, domination, inequality and exploitation by those that for all revolutionaries allegedly represent the “chosen people” for the social liberation? This “act” comes after thinking; it contains both theoretic background and historic experience, yet does not create some kind of an “ideological identity”. This is perhaps what strikes theoretic “commissars” as awkward, because they are used to first thinking in terms of “identity” revolving around of the question of “where you belong”, instead of “what you do”.

Instead, what we are doing is “more an example of transition, rather than a model of society, where we would gradually build up our practices and make decisions that distance us from our starting point within the system to move towards a world we want to live in” (Enric Duran – interview about CIC, the integrated cooperative in Cataluña, available online at Traditional ideologies would mainly focus on describing the principles and structures of the new society (in terms of articles of faith to the ideal society that will someday be attained), transition was left to the “auto pilot” of a state-controlled, guided revolutionary process. The “new human” (the cleaning lady in Lenin’s “The State and Revolution”, who could take charge of governance) would emerge after many ordeals and much toilsome education by the party and the state. Until then, the entire structure of the capitalist allocation of work and directorship would be necessary and unquestionable. Factory councils and self-management were considered “disorganisation”, whereas state planning and single-person direction was “organisation”. Well, this “new human” never managed to emerge eventually as we all know today, because although they tried to take factories and lives in their hands, people have eventually succumbed to the educational function of the party and the state.

As shown by dramatic historic experience but mainly by today’s totalitarian capitalist conditions, the question raised in theory and practice to social emancipation movements is “how can one establish, in the intervals of servitude, the new time of liberation: not the insurrection of slaves, but the advent of a new sociability between individuals who already have, each on his own, thrown off the servile passions that are indefinitely reproduced by the rhythm of work hours?” (Jacques Ranciere – “The nights of labour: The workers’ dream in nineteenth century», cited in “Sisyphus and the Labour of Imagination”, Stevphen Shukaitis, This would require the creation of “material foundations” to disengage our lives from the capital and the state. If we wish to move from the level of propaganda and academic/political lessons to the level of life, we must find or create a territory where we can take roots and evolve on our own independent means. We must be able to create solutions ourselves for ourselves, instead of just seeking solutions from the capital and the state, thereby perpetuating our dependency on the chains of exploitation and domination. Self-management can provide us the means for our survival on terms of dignity and freedom, establishing at the same time those solidarity and horizontal direct-democracy networks that will become the actual territory for social emancipation actions and the creation of our own commons.

Again, as Ranciere says, “the absence of the master from the time and space of productive work turns this exploited work into something more: not just a bargain promising the master a better return in exchange for the freedom of the workers’ movement but the formation of a type of worker’s movement belonging to a different history than that of mastery”. This is exactly the point: create our own history; or, in other words, our own self-education about …not being workers; not just being the other pole of capital, ready to die from suffocation as soon as our ties (or rather our bonds) are broken. For traditional ideology and workers’ policy there are only masters and servants. Thus, workers opting for self-organisation cannot be classified any other way but as new masters. There is no space to allow workers move beyond this relationship, thus remove themselves from confirming the capital. This is the path that self-management attempts to open up, with immense difficulties and numerous contradictions. This is above all what its enemies cannot forgive…

Original source in Greek:

The Commons as paradigm beyond state and market

Yavor Tarinski

People called commons those parts of the environment for which customary law exacted specific forms of community respect.  People called commons that part of the environment which lay beyond their own thresholds and outside of their own possessions, to which, however, they had recognized claims of usage, not to produce commodities but to provide for the subsistence of their households. 

Ivan Illich [1]


In their book The Economic Order & Religion (1945) Frank H. Knight and Thomas H. Merriam argue that social life in a large group with thoroughgoing ownership in common is impossible.[2] William F. Lloyd and later Garret Hardin, in the same spirit, promoted the neo-malthusian[3] term “Tragedy of the commons”[4] arguing that individuals acting independently and rationally according to their self-interest behave contrary to the best interests of the whole group by depleting some common-pool resource. Since then, the thesis that people are incapable of managing collectively, without control and supervision by institutions and authorities separated from the society, have succesfuly infiltrated the social imaginary.

Even for big sections of the Left the resource management in common is being viewed as utopian and therefore they prefer to leave it for the distant future, lingering instead today between variations of private and statist forms of property[5]. Thus is being maintained the dilemma private-state management of common-pool resources which leads to the marginalization of other alternative forms.

But great many voices, trying to break with this dipole, were always present and currently growing in numbers. For the autonomists Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri this is a false dilemma. According to them[6] the seemingly exclusive alternative between the private and the public corresponds to an equally pernicious political alternative between capitalism and socialism. It is often assumed that the only cure for the ills of capitalist society is public regulation and Keynesian and/or socialist economic management; and, conversely, socialist maladies are presumed to be treatable only by private property and capitalist control. Socialism and capitalism, however, even though they have at times been mingled together and at others occasioned bitter conflicts, are both regimes of property that excluded the common. The political project of instituting the common … cuts diagonally across these false alternatives.

The falsity of the dilemma state-private can also be seen from the symbiotic-like relationship between the two supposedly “alternatives”. Author and activist David Bollier points at the historic partnership between the two[7]. According to him, the markets have benefited from state’s provisioning of infrastructure and oversight of investment and market activity, as well as state’s providing of free and discounted access to public forests, minerals, airwaves, research and other public resources. On the other hand, the state depends upon markets as a vital source of tax revenue and jobs for people – and as a way to avoid dealing with inequalities of wealth and social opportunity, two politically explosive challenges.

At first sight it seems like we are left without an real option, since the two “alternatives” we are being told “from above” that are possible, are pretty much leading to the same degree of enclosure as we saw earlier, from which beneficiaries are tiny elites. But during the last years the paradigm of the “commons” emerged from the grassroots as a powerful and practicle solution to the contemporary crisis and a step beyond the dominant dilemma. This alternative is emerging as a third way, since it goes beyond the state and the “free” market and has been tested in practice by communities from the past and the present.

The logic of the commons

The logic of the commons goes beyond the ontology of the nation-state and the “free” market. In a sense it presupposes that we live in a common world that can be shared by all of society without some bureaucratic or market mechanisms to enclose it. Thus, with no enclosure exercised by external managers (competing with society and between each other), the resources stop being scarce since there is no more interest in their quick depletion. Ivan Illich notes that when people spoke about commons, iriai, they designated an aspect of the environment that was limited, that was necessary for the community’s survival, that was necessary for different groups in different ways, but which, in a strictly economic sense, was not perceived as scarce.[8] The logic of the commons is ever evolving and rejects the bureaucratization of rights and essences, though it includes forms of communal self-control and individual self-limitation. Because of this it manages to synthesize the social with the individual.

The commons can be found all around the world in different forms: from indigenous communities resisting the cutting of rainforests and Indian farmers fighting GMO crops to open source software and movements for digital rights over the internet. Main characteristics that are being found in each one of them are the direct-democratic procedures of their management, the open design and manufacturing, accessibility, constant evolvement etc.

The commons have their roots deep in the antiquity but through constant renewal are exploding nowadays, adding to the indigenous communal agricultural practices new ‘solidarity economic’ forms as well as high-tech FabLabs, alternative currencies and many more. The absence of strict ideological frame enhances this constant evolvement.

The logic of the commons is deeply rooted in the experience of Ancient Athens. The greek-french philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis describes it as a period, during which a free public space appeared[9]. Castoriadis depicts it as a political domain which ‘belongs to all’ (τα κοιναthe commons in Greek). The ‘public’ ceased to be a ‘private’ affair – i.e. an affair of the king, the priests, the bureaucracy, the politicians, or/and the experts. Instead decisions on common affairs had to be made by the community.

The logic of the commons, according to the anthropologist Harry Walker[10], could also be found in the communities of Peruvian-Amazonia, for whom the most desirable goods were not viewed as rival goods in contrast with modern economics which assume that if goods are enjoyed by one person can’t be enjoyed by another. The Peruvian-amazonian culture was focused on sharing, on the enjoyment of what can be shared rather than privately consumed.

The swiss villages are a classic example for sustainable commoning. Light on this is being shed by Elinor Ostrom and her field research in one of them[11]. In the swiss village in question local farmers tend private plots for crops but share a communal meadow for herd grazing. Ostrom discovered that in this case an eventual tragedy of the commons (hypothetical overgrazing) is being prevented by villagers reaching to a common agreement that one is allowed to graze as much cattle as they can take care for during the winter. And this practice dates back to 1517. Other practicle and sustainable examples of effective communal management of commons Ostrom discovered in the US, Guatemala, Kenya, Turkey, Nepal and elsewhere.

Elinor Ostrom visited Nepal in 1988 to research the many farmer-governed irrigation systems[12]. The management of these systems was done through annual assemblies between local farmers and informally on a regular basis. Thus agreements for using the system, its monitoring and sanctions for transgression were all done on grassroots level. Ostrom noticed that farmer-governed irrigation systems were more likely to produce not in favor of markets, but for the needs of local communities: they grow more rice and distribute water more equitably. She concluded that althou the systems in question vary in performance, few of them perform as poorly as the ones provided and managed by the state.

One of the brightest contemporary examples for reclaiming the commons is the Zapatista movement. It revolted in 1994 against the NAFTA agreement that was seeking the complete enclosure of common-pool resources and goods, vital for the livelihood of indigenous communities. Through the Zapatista uprising the locals reclaimed back their land and resources, and successfully manage them through participatory system based on direct democracy for more than 20 years.

The digital commons, on the other hand, include wikis, such as Wikipedia, open licensing organizations, such as the Creative Commons and many others. The social movement researcher Mayo Fuster Morell defines them as “information and knowledge resources that are collectively created and owned or shared between or among a community and that tend to be non-exclusivedible, that is, be (generally freely) available to third parties. Thus, they are oriented to favor use and reuse, rather than to exchange as a commodity. Additionally, the community of people building them can intervene in the governing of their interaction processes and of their shared resources.[13]

In other words, the logic of the commons is the strive towards inclusiveness and collective access to resources, knowledge and other sources of collective wealth, which necessarily requires the creation of anthropological type of socially active and devoted stewards of these commons. This means radical break with the dominant nowadays imaginary of economism, which views all human beings simply as rational materialists, always striving at maximizing their utilitarian self-interest. Instead it implies radical self-instituting of society which to allow its citizens directly to manage their own commons.

The commons as model for the future

A main characteristic shared between the different cases of commons is the grassroots interactivity. The broad acessability of such resources and their ownership being held in common by society, presupposes that their management is done by society itself. Thus a state involvement is incompatible with such a broad popular self-management, since statist forms are implaying the establishment of bureaucratic managerial layers separated from society. That is, the commons go beyond (and often even detrimential to) the various projects for nationalization.

The same goes for the constant neoliberal efforts of enclosing what’s still not privatized, against which during the last couple of years social movements across the globe rose up, and their alternative proposals included in one form or another a wide project of direct democracy. It inevitably includes every sphere of social life, and that goes for the commons as well.

A holistic alternative to the contemporary system, that incorporates the project of direct democracy and the commons, can be drawn from the writings of great libertarian theorists like Cornelius Castoriadis and Murray Bookchin. The proposals developed by the two thinkers offer indispensible glimps at how society can directly manage itself without and against external managerial mechanisms.

As we saw in the cases presented above, the commons require coordination between the commoners so eventual “tragedies” could be avoided. But for many, Knight and Merriam alike, this could possibly work only in small scale cases. This have led many leftists to support different forms of state bureaucracy instead, which to manage the commons in the name of society, as the lesser, but possible, evil.

In his writings Castoriadis repeatedly repudiated this hypothesis, claiming instead that large scale collective decision-making is possible with suitable set of tools and procedures. Rejecting the idea of one “correct” model, his ideas were heavily influenced by the experience of Ancient Athens. Drawing upon the Athenian polis, he claimed that direct citizen participation was possible in communities up to 40.000 people[14]. On this level communities can decide on matters that directly affect them on face-to-face meetings (general assemblies). For other ones, that affect other communities as well, revocable, short term, delegates are being elected by the local assemblies, to join regional councils. Through such horizontal flow of collective power common agreements and legal frameworks could be drawn to regulate and control the usage of commons.

Similar is the proposal, made by Murray Bookchin. Also influenced by the ancient Athenian experience, he proposes the establishment of municipal face-to-face assemblies, connected together in democratic confederations, making the state apparatus obsolete. According to Bookchin, in such case the control of the economy is not in the hands of the state, but under the custudy of “confederal councils”, and thus, neither collectivized nor privatized, it is common. [15]

Such a “nestednes” does not necessarily translate into hierarchy, as suggested by Elinor Ostrom and David Harvey. [16] At least if certain requirements are being met. As is the case in many of the practicle examples of direct democracy around the world, the role of the delegates is of vital importance, but often is being neglected. Thus their subordination to the assemblies (as main source of power) has to be asserted through various mechanisms, such as: short term mandates, rotation, choosing by lot etc. All of these mechanisms have been tested in different times and contexts and have proven to be effective antidote to oligarchization of the political system.

Through such networking and self-instituting can be done the establishment and direct control of commons by many communities that depend on them. Another element that could supplement the propositions, described above, is the so called “solidarity economy”. Spreading as mushrooms, different collective entities in different forms are rapidly spreading across Europe and other crisis striken areas (like South America) allowing communities to directly manage their economic activities in their favour.

One such merging will allow society to collectively draw the set of rules which to regulate the usage of commons, while solidarity economic entities, such as cooperatives and collectives, will deal with commons’s direct management. These entities are being managed direct democratically by the people working in them, who will be rewarded in dignified manner for their services by the attended communities. On the other hand, the public deliberative institutions should have mechanisms for supervision and control over the solidarity economic entities, responsible for the management of commons, in order to prevent them from enclosing them.

One example for such merging has occured in the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz, where the water management is organized in the form of consumer cooperative[17]. It has been functioning for more than 20 years, and continues to enjoy reputation as one of the best-managed utilities in Latin America. It is being governed by a General Delegate Assembly, elected by the users. The assembly appoints senior management, over whom the users have veto rights, thus perpetuating stability. This model has drastically reduced corruption, making the water system working for the consumers.

The emergence of such a merger between the commons and the co-operative production of value, as Michel Bauwens and Vasilis Kostakis suggests[18], integrate externalities, practice economic democracy, produce commons for the common good, and socialize its knowledge. The circulation of the commons would be combined with the process of co-operative accumulation, on behalf of the commons and its contributors. In such a model the logic of free contribution and universal use for everyone would co-exist with a direct-democratic networking and co-operative mode of physical production, based on reciprocity.


The need of recreating the commons is an urgent one. With global instability still on the horizon and deepening, the question of how we will share our common world is the thin line separating, on the one side, the dichotomous world of market barbarity and bureaucratic heteronomy, and on the other, a possible world, based on collective and individual autonomy. As Hannah Arendt suggests[19]:

The public realm, as the common world, gathers us together and yet prevents our falling over each other, so to speak. What makes mass society so difficult to bear is not the number of people involved, or at least not primarily, but the fact that the world between them has lost its power to gather them together, to relate and to separate them. The weirdness of this situation resembles a spiritualistic séance where a number of people gathered around a table might suddenly, through some magic trick, see the table vanish from their midst, so that two persons sitting opposite each other were no longer separated but also would be entirely un­related to each other by anything tangible.

The paradigm of the commons, as part of the wider project of direct democracy, could play the role of the trick that manages to vanish the table, separating us, but simultaneously creating strong human relationships, based on solidarity and participation. And for this to happen, social movements and communities have to reclaim, through the establishment of networks and the strengthening of already existing ones, the public space and the commons, thus constituting coherent counterpower and creating real possibilities of instituting in practice new forms of social organization beyond state and market.


[1] Ivan Illich. Silence is a Commons, first published in CoEvolution Quarterly, 1983
[2] Deirdre N. McCloskey. The Bourgeois Virtues, The University of Chicago Press, 2006. p. 465
[3] Malthusianism originates from Thomas Malthus, a nineteenth-century clergyman, for whom the poor would always tend to use up their resources and remain in misery because of their fertility. (Derek Wall. Economics After Capitalism, Pluto Press, 2015. p.125)
[4] The concept was based upon an essay written in 1833 by Lloyd, the Victorian economist, on the effects of unregulated grazing on common land and made widely-known by an article written by Hardin in 1968.
[5] As Theodoros Karyotis demonstrates in his article Chronicles of a Defeat Foretold, published in ROAR magazine, Issue #0 (2015), pp 32-63
[6] Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri. Commonwealth, The Bleknap Press of Harvard University press, 2011. p. ix
[7] David Bollier & Silke Helfrich. The Wealth of the Commons, The Commons Strategy Group, 2012. In Introduction: The Commons as a Transformative Vision
[8] Ivan Illich. Silence is a Commons, first published in CoEvolution Quarterly, 1983
[9] Cornelius Castoriadis in “The Greek Polis and the Creation of Democracy” (1983), The Castoriadis Reader (1997), Ed. David A. Curtis. p. 280
[12] Elinor Ostrom in Nobel Prize lecture Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems (2009)
[14] Cornelius Castoriadis in “Democracy and Relativism”, 2013. p.41
[15] Cengiz Gunes and Welat Zeydanlioglu in “The Kurdish Question in Turkey”, Routledge, 2014. p.191
[16] For example Ostrom in Beyond Markets and States: Polycentric Governance of Complex Economic Systems (2009) and Harvey in Rebel Cities (2012. p.69)
[19] Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition, The University of Chicago, second edition, 1998, p.53.

Free Social Spaces: Small autonomous communities in the urban space

Grigoris Tsilimandos
Translation: Yavor Tarinski

Within the current context, the free social spaces can be the core cellular example of a small autonomous community. They offer great potential for the creation of new formations on the material basis of the reproduction of the social fabric, in the direction of a radical liberatory transformation. To enable such a community to be a point of reference and a hub of resistance and new ideas, certain conditions must be met.

First: There must be a territory, a place and a radius of action for the development of the community’s operations. Free social spaces in fact meet these three requirements. Their territory can be occupied or rented. This is neither a question of value nor a contradiction, because what matters today is the liberating effect of the expropriation of buildings (usually unused buildings) that establishes the conditions for the radical transformation of social relations dovetailed in them.

Second: The community must guarantee the stability of the means (structures) and its reproductive relations. In order the free social spaces to be able to reproduce as a community, they must overcome the political and cultural weight that has created them, not of course by strangling or eliminating it, but spreading it over the areas of production, availability of products and services, including labor relations arising through this activity.

Guaranteeing the stable reproduction of the community requires that free spaces embody structures of production and distribution of products/services. Depending on the size of the building, these structures may be located inside or outside or both inside and outside the confines of a building.

Labor relations, closely intertwined with horizontality, equality and solidarity can grow proportionally, synthetically and simultaneously, in three possible ways (combined or each separately):

a) payment with money;
b) product exchange;
c) donations.

Money can be in the form of alternative currency, time bank credits or euro. The fee should be between a minimum and a maximum threshold, the same for everybody each time. This is to assure that structures are not deprived of their key purpose on the one hand and to prevent money becoming the only incentive for participation in the community’s structures on the other. The red line, beyond which accumulation begins that can dissolve the essence of the autonomous community, must be assessed and auto-regulated whenever necessary.

Free social spaces, as the place where community structures meet, discuss and exist, have opened up new ways to address the matters that concern them. Their grouping together, on a horizontal and direct democratic basis, produces a comprehensive dialogue on many different issues and creates the terms and conditions for more comprehensive solutions than what we knew collectives could do so far. As these spaces fill with new structures, new projects are led to leaving the boundaries of the territory of the buildings, covering more needs and creating a larger context for networking and security. This does not mean that people participating in these structures will make more money, but that they will have broader and free access to goods and services.

Finally, the free social space as a community needs at least one product/service to start with and a respective structure. Could any kind of work/product/service be the basis for engagement in the structure in question, as long as the necessary conditions on labor equality, horizontality and solidarity are met? Certainly no. If it were so, what would prevent us from creating a structure for bouncers or one that would produce pesticides?

These start-up structures that will boost the community must respond to actual social needs, setting the limits between true and false, between what is socially beneficial and what is socially harmful. Some products can be directly integrated into the production plan for liberation and some require a transition plan (e.g. traditional seeds and toxic soil).

Therefore, if an autonomous community wishes to preserve its purpose, it must not address how the products will competitively penetrate the market, but how the community will respond to actual human needs. These have a name: back to basics, not as a form of punishment but as a choice to live an austere life in dignity, one that would be worth living.

Third: The structures of the community have to set the rules and terms for participation in its reproduction. Together with the direct-democratic context, horizontality, equality, solidarity, rotation, and the participation of all in making the decisions and implementing them, the first and foremost question raised is who the one to make the decisions is. That is, who is a member to be more exact, a part of the structures (a term that would best express what we call a collective being), who is not a part of it or who ceases to be part of it. This cannot be formalized, considering that relationships in an autonomous community are not static but dynamic. At the same time, not anybody can be a part of the community. Free social spaces create a reality that the community relies on. In other words, the parts of the community can be no other that the ones who participate in the free social space. This, as we know, is reflected in the common obligations regarding the space, the activities, shifts, caretaking, in respecting the framework (racism, parties, sexism, theft, violence, etc.) and of course in the assemblies. Thus, free social spaces define the mark of who will be, who will not be and who is no longer a part of the community’s structures.

Fourth: The autonomous community has to set the boundaries of its growth. Free social spaces must always take into account the boundaries of their growth or, as said in the beginning, the limits of their radius of action. The danger of strangling and restricting the structures is equal if not greater than the risk of its atrophy or lack of participation. The autonomous community has to be small in size in order to be able to function, which means that as its structures grow in terms of participation, the question arises regarding setting examples that will be reproduced. That is, the question of creating another small autonomous community in new territory with new or similar structures, especially with other people. The boundaries of the development of one free social space as a community are set by the space itself, summed up in two versions. Either too many participants are involved disproportionately in the structures for the production or supply of products, or there are disproportionately too many users interested in the structure’s products. The first case entails the risk of the collapse of the structures and the second, the danger of concentration.

Fifth: The community must constantly create inside of it, but also primarily outside of it, federal networks of interdependence and reciprocity. Networking and federal relations make the role of the redundant and this is one of the main reasons for its existence. Otherwise, it will transform into an island, incarcerating the idea of the community, which sooner or later will shrink and die.

Considering that we are taking about structures for the reproduction of the community, networking can only entail specific products or services, to guarantee consistency, durability and stability. Federal relations among the structures cannot rely on abstract promises of friendship and solidarity. This is clearly seen in the structures that dealing with nutrition and offering products of the primary sector. Depending on the distance between free social spaces, networking can be expressed through specific structures and choices for their complementary interdependence and support, i.e. one can produce flour, the other – the bread.

This opens a new dimension of networking, which arises from the stages, the composition and the horizontality of the relations of the production and distribution of products. Major drive in this process is the food, from “the farm” to the table. The quality, price, mode of production, redistribution, the working relations that regulate the whole cycle of production and consumption of the product, the direct connection between producers and users, all these matters are at the heart of the community. It is an endeavor for liberation of land that starts from the field and ends in the free social spaces. Urban gardening can be one of the steps towards the connection of the occupied land with the urban fabric, to which usually the free social spaces belong. The same can be done on a larger scale, through cooperatives and small producers, who are entering in this transition plan step-by-step, for the liberation of land from destroying the soil and the products in the name of increasing profit and maximizing performance in terms of money at the lowest possible cost, including state funding.

Sixth: Free social spaces as a community must intervene in the public sphere both as a hub of resistance and as a potential for exit. Therefore, there should be an organizational institution for the coordination and mutual support between structures of free social spaces. At the same time, as cells for radical social transformation, they can link their structures with the building and the neighborhood as core examples of cracks of subversion within the urban fabric, in which basic needs are being monopolized, corrupted and alienated by business chains.

Original source in Greek:

Reclaiming the urban space

Yavor Tarinski

Change life! Change Society! These ideas lose completely their meaning without producing an appropriate space.
Henri Lefebvre [1]

The importance of the city nowadays is increasing since, for first time in history, the bigger part of the human population lives in urban spaces and the city’s economic role is at its peak. As Antonio Negri suggests: “the city is itself a source of production: the organized, inhabited, and traversed territory has become a productive element just as worked land once was.  Increasingly, the inhabitant of a metropolis is the true center of the world…” [2]. That’s why it has been referred to over and over again in debates over political, economic, social and other strategies for the future.

Modern urban landscape is often being depicted as “dark” place [3]: as a place of alienation, of gray and repetitive architecture, with high suicide rates, expanding psychological disorders and widespread metropolitan violence. It is being presented as prison and its inhabitants as prisoners, deprived by the state and capital from the right to intervene in its creation and development. This is actually true for most contemporary cities. Reshaping of urban landscape is taking place, which sometimes leads to the violent displacement of people from areas, whose value has risen, to others with lower one (such as the infamous slums)[4]. And this “game” with real human lives is being played in favor of capital and power accumulation – in the “cleared” lands are being erected shopping malls, office spaces etc. in the name of economic growth. Henri Lefebvre calls this type of city an oligarchy, managed for its inhabitants by an elite few state experts and corporate managers, thus ceasing to be a public space [5].

The common people, who become victims in these “schemes”, on their part, are powerless to resist these processes, at least through the officially recognized legal procedures – neither through the judicial system, nor through the so-called political representatives, all of whom in position of authority and thus intertwined with capital. So amongst the grassroots are appearing different forms of resisting, reclaiming and recreating the urban public space. A colourful palette ranging from urban rioting to self-organized market spaces for product exchange without intermediates and neighborhood deliberative institutions (assemblies, committees etc.).

The loss of “meaning”

Big obstacle for people taking back their cities is the contemporary societal imaginary, viewing, as Richard Sennett suggests, the public space as ‘meaningless’ [6]. Sennett points at the nineteenth-century, a period of rapid urbanization and economic growth, during which the outcome of the crisis of public culture was that people lost a sense of themselves as an active force, as a “public” (Sennett, 1992:261). Sennett suggests that during this period an important role in the process of depriving the public space from meaning was the adoption of more uniform dress and behavior codes, more passive demeanor and less sociability, all of which can be seen as byproducts of the emerging consumerist culture and logic of representativity of that period. As Peter G. Goheen says: “The street became the place for illusion rather than exposure to the truth[7]. In a sense, the public man was supplanted by the spectator who did not so much participate in the public life of the city as he observed it.

In order to overcome this point of view we are in need of new significations, which to give back meaning to the public space. And such can emerge only through practices of collectivities of citizens (i.e. the public), that would have positive and practical effect in the everyday life of society. Such processes already are taking place in the countryside and the village. Because of the crisis many are leaving the city life behind, returning to the villages, that once their parents and grandparents fled [8]. In the countryside the city youth rediscovers communal ways of life, sharing of common resources, traditional and ecological agricultural practices etc. But for the majority of those, who undertake such steps, the village is an escape route from the uncertainty of the city, a form of escapism rather than part of political project for social change.

As for those who remain in the cities, living under conditions of growing precarity, unemployment and stress, the future does not seem so bright, with harsh austerity measures still on the horizon. This discontent is producing uprisings and mass mobilizations in urban areas, ranging from the Istanbul’s Gezi Park, Ferguson’s uprisings against police brutality, the anti-World Cup riots in the Brazilian cities and the Occupy and Indignados movements in the squares of every major city around the World. In all of these cases, in one way or another, the question with urban planning is being posed: can the city square obtain the role of main cell of public deliberation, i.e. simultaneously agora (meeting and exchange point) and basic decision-making body; should a global festival of consumerism, such as the World Cup, have the right to reshape urban landscape, regardless of the ‘human’ cost; and who should decide if an urban green space (such as Gezi Park) is to be covered with concrete and transformed completely.

For cities of interaction

We can detect a direct link between these attempts of citizens at intervening in the urban landscape and the broader project of direct democracy (i.e. broad public self-management beyond state and capital). Actually in many of these uprisings and movements, the demands for participating in city planning and for participating in political decision-making in general were highly intertwined, because of the broad mistrust of authority, so typical for our times, and the rising interest in authentic democratic practices. According to Henri Lefebvre:

Revolution was long defined […] in terms of a political change at the level of the state [and] the collective or state ownership of the means of production […]. Today such limited definitions will no longer suffice. The transformation of society presupposes a collective ownership and management of space founded on the permanent participation of ‘the interested parties’ [the inhabitants or users of space] [9].

The demand for broad public intervention in the creation and recreation of the urban landscape can easily be positioned at the heart of the project of direct democracy, since as David Harvey describes it: “The right to the city is […] a collective rather than an individual right, since reinventing the city inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power over the processes of urbanization.” [10]

Already social movements are engaging in endeavors aiming at intervening in the reshaping of urban landscape. In the center of the city of Athens (Greece), on Notara Street [11], different individuals decided not just to propose, but to practically initiate alternative solution to the refugee crisis. For years now arriving migrants were forced to seek shelter in open spaces such as parks and squares, exposed to police and fascist violence, rain, cold, etc.[12] What this group of activists decided to do was to reclaim their right to the city. They occupied an abandoned office building, previously used by state bureaucracy, and turn it into housing space for migrants. And they did that through democratic procedures: the building is being managed through general assembly, open for both Greek activists, maintaining the space, and migrants, living in it, and through various working groups, subordinated to it. And this very project is being designed as exemplary for the possibility of reshaping urban landscape according to human needs and desires.

Something similar is taking place in the city of Manchester, where an empty office building was occupied by activists for housing rights and redesigned for being able to accommodate homeless people[13].This is their answer to the contemporary housing crisis in England, which left on the street 280 000 people so far [14].

Another example is the so called Guerilla Gardening [15].This is the act of people reclaiming unutilized urban space and turning it into botanical gardens in which they grow food. The term guerilla gardening was used for first time in the case of the Liz Chirsty Garden [16] but as practice can be traced back to the Diggers [17]. Nowadays such gardens exist in many cities around the world (London, New York etc.). Usually the produced food is being distributed equally amongst the gardeners and their families and the gardens are being managed democratically. It is another case of people directly transforming urban landscape for the satisfaction of real human needs, beyond and often detrimental to state bureaucracy and market profiteering.

The right to the city is the right of citizens directly to manage their urban environment in ways that differ in scale and manner: from general assemblies being held on public squares to switches on the street lamps, so lighting could be placed under direct public control [18]. However, it is not just the right to place the city in service of physical human needs but to make it reflect the very mindset of its inhabitants, i.e. the citizen’s interaction to penetrate every sphere of urban space: such as the architecture, as was the case in the free city-states of medieval Italy where the citizens were participating in the urban planning through deliberative committees [19].

In conclusion, we can say that the urban issue is really becoming a central question today and the qualities of urban life are moving to the forefront of what contemporary protests are about. But in order the city to acquire again meaning as public space, it have to be linked with the project of direct democracy, since in it there is a real public, i.e. society consisted of active citizens. The greek-french philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis points at two stages in the pre-history of modern society in which such a public space was created: the Athenian polis and the medieval city-states [20]. We can also see the seeds of it in the Paris Commune, Barcelona of 1936-39, the New England Town Meetings and many more. Only by linking,  both in theory and in practice, struggles for the right to the city with the broader project of direct democracy, the modern city can acquire a truly public meaning, instead of the one it has today as temple of economic growth, consumerism, alienation and oligarchy.


[1] Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space, Blackwell, 1991. p. 59.
[2] Negri, Antonio. Goodbye Mr. Socialism, Seven Stories Press, 2006. p. 35.
[3] For example in Bifo’s book Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (Verso, 2015) and Proyas’s movie Dark City (1998)
[4] See Mike Davis. Planet of Slums, Verso, 2006.
[5] Mark Purcell on Deleuze, Guattari and Lefebvre
[6] Sennett, Richard. The fall of public man, 1976
[7] Goheen, Peter G. Public space and the geography of the modern city. p. 482.
[8] Spain is good example for this “Neo-ruralisation”
[9] Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space, Blackwell, 1991. p. 422.
[10] Harvey, David. Rebel Cities, Verso, 2012. p.4
[11] New occupations in solidarity with the refugees
[12] The Battle For Attica Square – Greece
[13] Homeless rights activists occupy empty city centre office block
[14] The homelessness minority: England 2015, p.vii
[15] Guerrilla gardening, examples
[16] The Liz Christy Garden is a community garden in New York, USA, started on 1973.
[17] The Diggers were protestant radicals in England, often viewed as predecessors of modern anarchism (see Nicolas Walter. Anarchism and Religion, 1991. p.3). They were aiming at social change through the creation of small egalitarian rural communities.
[18] Simon Sadler. The Situationist City, The MIT Press 1999 p.110
[19] During his service in the Florentine Committee, Dante participated in the preparation and planning of the widening of the street San Procolo (Christopher Alexander, The Oregon Experiment , Oxford University Press, 1975. pp.45, 46).
[20] See for example The Greek Polis and the creation of Democracy (1983) and Complexity, Magmas, History: The Example of the Medieval Town (1993)

Towards Autonomy: The Social Experiment in Rojava

Michalis Koulouthros, Yavor Tarinski

The autonomous region of Rojava, as it exists today, is one of few bright spots – albeit a very bright one – to emerge from the tragedy of the Syrian revolution.
David Graeber[1] 

In the last decades the Kurdish struggle for freedom was not only a firm voice of resistance against the dominant social and political order, but also managed to formulate and initiate practical steps towards the realization of a liberated society. After many years of oppression, the Kurdish forces began to regroup, forming armed units of self-defense. During the period in which the leftist Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) was quickly turning into a regional political power, a new antagonistic example appeared in the midst of the Kurdish liberation movement, based on the values of democratic confederalism and autonomy.

Already before the beginning of the uprising in Syria, residents of Rojava had created the first self-organized councils and committees, and hence had begun to establish a radical democratic organization for the majority of the population in the region. Since June 19th, 2012 the cities Kobane, Afrin, Derik and many other places were liberated from the control of the Syrian regime, revealing the power and the influence of the Kurdish struggle. Military bases were occupied and the overwhelmed government troops chose to surrender.

Nowadays this new paradigm of autonomy and self-organization is being threatened both by the Turkish army from the North and by fundamentalist theological forces from the South, like ISIS and al-Nusra – organizations who traditionally are aiming at imposing heteronomy, centralization,  patriarchy, theological violence and exploitation. Principles which the communities in Rojava strongly and actively oppose. In one of the most difficult geopolitical environments, they are laying the foundations of a new world based on democratic confederalism, gender and ethnic equality and community economy.

Democratic confederalism

In Rojava, we believe, genuinely democratic structures have indeed been established. Not only is the system of government accountable to the people, but it springs out of new structures that make direct democracy possible: popular assemblies and democratic councils.
Joint statement of the academic delegation to Rojava [2]

Despite the widespread belief that the contemporary social conditions are too complex and self-organized forms of social organization are doomed to work only on a small and embryonic level, the radical political organization of the communities in Rojava gives a modern example of autonomous self-institutionalizing and direct democracy. This is being achieved through the processes of the democratic confederalism.

The core of this system are the communes [3]. The communes, established in each province of 300 people, are general assemblies, allowing broad public participation. In the communes are being discussed issues concerning all aspects of social life, starting from the technical and administrative issues up to the political ones. Issues such as energy, food distribution, patriarchic violence and family tensions are being tested at the table of the political debate. Each commune set up local single-issue committees with the task to discuss more specific topics in order to avoid bureaucracy and ease the operation of the general meetings. It is important to note that it is required each commune to be consisted at least of 40% women.

Each commune elects 2 revocable delegates to participate in the regional councils, in which is done the coordination between different communes which make up each region. There again are being elected delegates to take part in the city council, and then according to population criteria are being established the cantons. The cantons are the broadest and most central form of political organization in Rojava and basically they function as coordinating body between the different cities.

Gender Equality

Before the revolution women had no ability to speak or make a decision. Now we have such an ability. We are active in every sphere. 
Jina Zekioğlu [4]

One of the most interesting parts of the social experiment that is currently taking place in Rojava is the role of women and the goals set up by local communities to achieve isomeric relations between the sexes. In a region such as the Middle East, which we are used to identify with the fundamentalist oppression of women and sexuality, the self-organized communities of Rojava provide a pioneering example of equality. The conscious political effort to equalize the relationship between men and women is reflected both institutionally, and socially. In the midst of an ongoing military conflict, usually favoring social automation, militarism and patriarchal imposition, the communities of Rojava are real proof that the political will and choice can overcome that which seems as necessity.

One characteristic example for this political goal are the women councils, formed by the communes. These are councils, within which no decisions on general issues are done, but are dedicated to the discussion of issues related to gender relations, violence against women and in general all questions concerning the relationship between the sexes. Of course this did not happen overnight. Already in 2003 was established the Free Democratic Women’s Movement (DÖΚΗ) [5], a grassroots organization fighting from back then sexism and patriarchy, but also more generally nationalism, militarism, environmental destruction, economic exploitation etc.

rozava-women-democracyInternationalist character of the struggle

The fundamental basis of this “Social Contract” is the equality and 
rights of all ethnic, racial and religious groups in Syrian Kurdistan, direct democracy and the rejection of the concept of the nation-state.
Evangelos Aretaios [6]

A common misunderstanding is that when discussing the issue of Rojava it is usually being identified purely as national liberation struggle. In contrast however with the traditional national liberation movements, which usually are targeting the creation of nation-states and national consciousness, the communities of Rozava are aiming at self-institutionalization from below, promoting a new paradigm of territorial claim [7]. The core of the social organization ceases to be the national identity of each person, and its place is being taken by the form of politicized citizen participating in social affairs. It’s not by chance that in these communes participate people from all ethnic and religious groups of the area (Kurds, Syrians, Yazidis, Christians, Muslims etc.) with the only condition to respect the political principles of equality and horizontality.

Furthermore, in support with the resistance of Rojava have been established political forms of solidarity such as the Lions of Rojava [8], formed by volunteers from all around the world, fighting alongside the YPJ / YPG, reminding us for forms of solidarity, that we can see from the days of the Spanish Civil War. It should be added also that international missions of academics [9] are visiting Rojava in order to come in contact with the social experiment there and learn from the actual forms of enlarged self-institutioning.

Community economy

Though only just beginning, this economic model has, with great  determination and in spite of the war, been realised in praxis by many in Rojava.
Michael Knapp [10]

Another main characteristic of the struggle of Rojava, completing and deepening the above mentioned elements, is the alternative economic management it practically proposes. The economic organization of Rojava is a reflection of its political project. The communities themselves call it “community economy” [11] and all parts of the population participate in it through production and trade cooperatives. The main goal of its economic activity is not growth, but the creation of local autarchy. Except necessity (since Rojava is being isolated and surrounded by hostile environment), this is a political choice in the direction of social ecology and liberation from capitalist exploitation.

For couple of years now they are trying to develop these forms of community economy through the establishment of academies, promoting the cooperative spirit and organizing seminars and discussions on the benefits of collaborative production.

Through these economic structures they are trying to meet the needs of their communities and simultaneously to keep the “war economy” going, which they need since the constant military conflict.


In nature, living organisms such as roses with thorns develop their systems of self-defense not to attack, but to protect life.
Dilar Dirik [12]

The defense forces in Rojava resemble the principles of direct democracy and equality, embraced by the Kurdish communities. Men and women fight as equals since YPG (People’s Defense Units) and YPJ (Women’s Protection Units) military structures and battalions are separated, but there is no hierarchical relationship between them and the main barracks and the work systems are the same. Also military commanders are being elected by the battalion soldiers [13], based on their experience, commitment, and willingness to take responsibility.  Dedicated to enlightenment and political consciousness, the Rojavan defense forces have established academies which to provide ethical-political education to the fighters of the various units (YPG, YPJ, Asayish etc.). The provided education is mainly focused on gender equality, anti-militarism, dialectic resolving of disputes, the values of democratic confederalism etc.


We are not fortunetellers; we can’t possibly know what will happen in Rojava a month or a year from now. But we […] can’t just sit aside, watch what’s happening and comment…
DAF [14]

Because of these characteristics the struggle of the communities in Rojava can be viewed as integral part of the grassroots projects and radical endeavors, starting with the Zapatistas in Mexico, spreading to every corner of the Earth and culminating in global effort for social liberation, against both statist and capitalist management, theological obscurantism, exploitation, patriarchy and every form of oppression.

The positive aspects of the social experiment, taking place nowadays in Rojava, shouldn’t be neglected in the name of ideological/dogmatic “purity”, as we saw different libertarian organizations [15] taking stance against the events going on there, because of the historical background of some of the main characters in the Kurdish resistance movement (Öcalan, PKK etc.). Surely we have to keep in mind its authoritarian background but our attention should also be focused on the willingness of the Rojavan communities to open spaces of emancipation and participation, and how we could help them strengthen their democratic structures, become more self-sustainable and antagonistic to the dominant statist and capitalist forms, thus providing us with one more contemporary practical example for another society.


Κορνήλιος Καστοριάδης (συνέντευξη,1984) | Cornelius Castoriadis – (Interview, 1984)

Συνέντευξη του Κορνήλιου Καστοριάδη στην ΕΤ1, για την εκπομπή “Παρασκήνιο”, 1984. Το ντοκιμαντέρ περιγράφει τη ζωή και το έργο του φιλοσόφου, καθώς και το πέρασμά του απ΄τον μαρξισμό στο πρόταγμα της αυτονομίας.

Interview with Cornelius Castoriadis for the Greek television network ET1, for the show “Paraskinio,” 1984 (with English-language subtitles). This documentary describes the life and the work of Cornelius Castoriadis and his turning from Marxism to the ideas of autonomy.

Beyond Ideology: Rethinking contextuality

Yavor Tarinski

We are indeed conditioned by the contexts in which we live, but we are also the creators of our political and social constructions and we can change them if we are so determined. [1]
Mary Dietz

In the debate [2] between Simon Springer and David Harvey on what ideological frame the radical geography should adopt, Harvey’s proposal for letting radical geography free of any particular “ism” seems to make a lot of sense. And although their polemical texts discuss, at first sight, the matter of radical geography, in my opinion, they have also a wider importance for the whole question of the role of ideology in the project for social liberation and emancipation. With small exceptions, the proposal of freeing ourselves from ideology seems highly neglected from the movements for social emancipation, and I think this is a big mistake if we want to actually involve more people in them and act constructively.

We see activists and thinkers being busy with trying to keep their ideological/identical “purity”, often engaging in endless discussions on what is “anarchist”, “marxist” or whatever. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to abandon theory as such in the name of direct action. On the contrary, I think that theoretical research and critical thinking are essential for effective action. But Ideology must not be mistaken with theory.

Ideology and non-contextuality

The Situationist International defined Ideology as a doctrine of interpretation of existing facts [3], which can be understood as thinking in a non-contextual way. What this means is that the ideologue creates a certain type of analysis, influenced by his local context (social environment, economic development, culture etc.) and constantly tries to fit in it realities, born in different contexts, which often leads to non-understanding. We can see this clearly, for example, in the reactions of certain anarchists and marxists (having purist class analysis based solely on realities of 19th-century industrial Europe), which are judging the events in Rojava, searching there for “proletariat”, that does not exist in the classical Western sense [4].

In this line of thought, Ideology castrates the ideas one has, turning them into sterile/mummified dogmas that cannot exist beyond their initial form. The “ideologized” ideas become incompatible with realities/contexts that differ from the ones that have given them birth, and in a way, they become useless. The ideological non-contextuality obstructs both the theoretical research and the subsequent from it activity. Ideology creates the dogmatic notion of utopia and excludes everything that does not fit in it, even if there are some common principles (as we saw above in the case of Rojava), creating a sort of self-alienating elitist subculture.

Thus Ideology becomes more self-expressive than instrumental. It morphs into specific identity, often serving as an excuse for abdicating from broad social affairs. Instead, it creates its own circle of self-interest, open mainly to like-minded (sharing same Ideology) individuals who remove themselves voluntarily from the institutions and social networks of the society which they potentially could influence [5]. As Jonathan Matthew Smucker points out:

[…] when we do not contest the cultures, beliefs, symbols, narratives, etc. of the existing institutions and social networks that we are part of, we also walk away from the resources and power embedded within them. In exchange for a shabby little activist clubhouse, we give away the whole farm. We let our opponents have everything.

Because of its non-contextual character, Ideology can be viewed as part of the dominant nowadays imaginary, based on bureaucratic logic, which needs to frame everything into “comfortable” fixed boxes, i.e. strict social and political roles, thus creating and strengthening identity, rather than ideas. In her book The Emergence of social space, Kristin Ross describes how during the Paris Commune, Catulle Mendès (representing the pre-commune order) is not really mourning the drop in production but rather his anxiety stems from the attack on identity, since the shoemakers stopped making shoes, but barricades [6]. She traces this bureaucratic logic of narrow identity back to Plato, for whom in a well-constituted state a unique task is being attributed to each person; a shoemaker is first of all someone who cannot also be a warrior [7].

One characteristic of the bureaucratic logic is its inherent predisposition towards hierarchy, since some tasks and roles are more important than others. David Graeber, in an interview for the Greek political magazine Babylonia, defines Ideology as the idea that one needs to establish a global analysis before taking action, which presupposes that the role of intellectual vanguard (narrow ideologues-experts), have to play a leadership role in any popular political movement [8].

Beyond Ideology: Context is all

In order for modern social movements to really challenge the existing order, they will have to overpass the limits of the contemporary imaginary, based on bureaucratic logic and fixed political roles. In practice this means moving beyond ideology, i.e. locating desirable principles and results, and simultaneously making efforts at adjusting them to the local context. This does not mean to leave aside our ideals and to “go with the flow”, but on the contrary, to try to share them with as more people as possible, who most probably don’t share the same (or any at all) Ideology/dogma/political lifestyle. In so doing questions such as “is EZLN anarchist or not” [9] will become obsolete and replaced by “what do they propose, on what basis and principles, how and do we agree with what they do” and so on.

In the end, it depends on the goals we target with our struggles. If we strive towards social emancipation and direct democratic participation, we cannot but try to link various struggles, movements and as many people as possible and for this to happen, we have to change the way we express our ideas according to the interlocutor we have before us. As Aki Orr suggests: A society can be run by Direct Democracy only if most of its citizens want to decide policies themselvessince no minority, however positive its intentions, can impose it on society [10].

Steps towards this direction were made by Larry Giddings, who replaced the ideological label “anarchist” with the broader “anti-authoritarian” [11]. He did so after acknowledging that whether he recognizes non-anarchist struggles or not, they still exist, and by ignoring them because they don’t reflect his own notion of a “non-nation-state future”, he ignores his own desire for such. He reached the conclusion that de-centralized social and economic systems, organized in democratic, non-statist manner, will only come through common struggles by various movements and broad social involvement.

So instead of constantly trying to define what “true” anarchism is, he decided to try another approach: to locate the anti-authoritarian characteristics of various already existing social movements and to identify their common enemies (oppressors) and thus to connect them. And in order such connections to be made, narrow ideological narratives had to be abandoned and replaced by general anti-authoritarian culture, which can simultaneously be determined and itself to determine the context in which it was created.


Moving beyond Ideology does not mean abdicating from our ideas and principles but their constant reevaluation and development. To the fears that without ideological identities we will be absorbed by the dominant culture of political apathy and mindless consumerism we can answer with the creation of a broad citizen culture of autonomous individuals who are, before all, speakers of words and doers of deeds [12]. Such a broad concept, based, as proposed by Mary Dietz, on the virtue of mutual respect and the principle of “positive liberty” of self-governance (and not simply the “negative liberty” of non-interference), will keep the anti-authoritarian spirit while allowing for interaction with large sections of the society and the implementation in practice of our ideas in different contexts. Only one such approach will help us escape the “sectarianism” (with all the separatism and lifestylishness that stems from it) of the political movements haunting them from the beginning of 20th century until nowadays.


[1] Mary Dietz, Context is All: Feminism and Theories of Citizenship. in Dimensions of Radical Democracy. edited by Chantall Mouffe.1992. Verso Books. p79
[2] “Listen, Anarchist!” by David Harvey
[3] “There is no such thing as situationis, which would mean a doctrine of interpretation of existing facts.” (Situationist International) from Internationale Situationniste #1, Knabb, p45
[4] Mr. Anarchist, we need to have a chat about colonialism, by Petar Stanchev.
[5] Why We Can’t Depend On Activists To Create Change, by Jonathan Matthew Smucker.
[6] Ross, Kristin. The Emergence of social space. Verso 2008 p14
[7] Ibid. p13
[8] Crimethinc: Against Ideology?
[9] Back in 2002, the US journal Green Anarchy published a critical article of the Zapatista movement, named “The EZLN are not anarchist!”
[10] Abolish Power: Politics Without Politicians
[11] “Why Anti-Authoritarian?” an essay by Larry Giddings
[12] Mary Dietz, Context is All: Feminism and Theories of Citizenship. in Dimensions of Radical Democracy. edited by Chantall Mouffe. Verso Books. 1992. p75

Golden Dawn’s consolidation and its reluctant prosecution

Marietta Simegiatou

With its leaders in prison, Golden Dawn still managed to consolidate its electoral base. Where did the party come from and what are the latest developments?

Golden Dawn traces its roots back to the 1980s, though it was much less popular at the time, counting just a few members. It was first introduced as a magazine on nationalist issues and Nazi propaganda in December 1980. Its founder, Nikos Michaloliakos, inspired by his mentor, the dictator Papadopoulos, wanted to create an extremist closed-type organization that he would be able to control better. Although the group was initially opposed to any meddling in politics, purporting to be “much too pure for this dirty business” — unlike its peers of the time, such as National Political Union (EPEN) — its leader had been planning to put the group’s power to the test by running in elections as early as 1983. It was not until the 1990s that Golden Dawn became a political party. Its popular base remained minimal, however.

Then came the new millennium and Greece’s full integration into the Eurozone, with the adoption of the common currency and the gradual concession of external border control to supranational authorities. The start of the decade was marked by the war on terror and two consecutive wars in the Middle East — hence, billions of displaced persons and refugees. The lack of any planning to host the large migrant flows and the prevailing logic that immigrants were to be ‘pushed back’, whether it would be pushing them back to Greece under Dublin regulations or back to their countries of origin, generated feelings of ‘unwantedness’ and hostility against foreigners.

As a typical extreme-right party, Golden Dawn effectively parallels the nation with the state and ethnicity with citizenship. The establishment of an ethnically pure state, more than being a goal in itself, will also save the nation from national decadence. In this context, there has been a coordinated effort to highlight our ‘sense of patriotism’, our sense of being different to other cultures, with the pretext of safeguarding our ‘national identity’ — by asserting our ‘whiteness’, as opposed to Africa, or the Middle East, for instance. Xenophobia became a tool to prevent Greeks from losing their identity. This is an imposed fear considering that Greek people, rather than being xenophobic, have always been open and the first to assimilate imported lifestyles and — needless to say — were pioneers in spreading out their own culture and ethics.

Having always been on the crossroads of three continents, Greece would also have to assert its European identity, by presenting more similarities with its European or world partners than its neighboring Arab or African countries. Golden Dawn was given fertile ground to promote its anti-human ideology for the sake of ‘belonging’ and ‘identifying’ with the vision of a united Europe, with a consistent policy against external and internal threats.

Powered by the growing indignation against austerity and impoverishment, as well as by the hostility against the growing number of ‘strangers’, the Nazi party was able to turn its pariah status into an emblem of political purity and a desire for radical transformation of Greek politics. In the municipal elections of 2010, Golden Dawn managed to win 5% of the vote and one seat in the municipal council, while in the 2012 parliamentary elections, the party jumped to almost 7% and 18 seats in parliament. Surprises in the electoral result also included the villages of Distomo and Kalavryta (burnt to ashes by the Nazis), where the party doubled its votes from 2010 to 2012, evidencing the success of the shift in their propaganda from the image of Hitler to that of ‘true patriots’.

Rising street power

Golden Dawn’s covert agenda has always been domination over the streets by holding pogroms. In this context, the Nazi group spread its local offices in many low-income and heavily populated neighborhoods. It was free to launch organized and planned attacks against immigrants, homosexuals and ideological opponents, as though unilaterally ‘legitimized’ to do so, to ‘keep our race pure‘. Actions included open-air fresh markets and distribution of food for Greeks only, as well as other discriminatory street events. All of this was tolerated, if not backed, by the state, the police and the mainstream media.

Electoral results reflect the support the Nazi party enjoys among the police and the armed forces, considering that half the police and the army voted for Golden Dawn. Infiltration into soccer clubs to attract new members has also been standard practice. Furthermore, recent allegations about sponsorship by V. Marinakis, a shipping magnate, director of the soccer team Olympiakos and now a member of the Piraeus city council, appear to be well-founded.

In the general turmoil of the crisis, Golden Dawn’s street apparatus was called into action to virtually eliminate the “enemy.” On January 17, 2013, 29-year-old Christos Stergiopoulos and 25-year-old Dionysis Liakopoulos, riding a motorcycle and armed with butterfly knifes, attacked and killed the Pakistani Sahzat Lukman in cold blood as he was riding his bike. He was not the first. At the time, the Network for Registering Incidents of Racist Violence had recordedmore than 200 attacks against immigrants and had highlighted the need to take steps against organized groups of racist violence. The two perpetrators confessed immediately after their arrest, and the search of their houses revealed Golden Dawn election material and weaponry that would suit an ‘assault squadron’. Despite these facts, the police did not investigate the defenders’ links to Golden Dawn or any racist motive behind the killing, reducing the incident to a mere fight.

In July 2013, a Golden Dawn squadron of 100 people — most of them members of the offices in Piraeus and Nikaia — riding on 50 motorcycles attacked the free social space ‘Synergeio’ (Garage) in Ilioupolis, Athens, while an English class was being given to minors. After wrecking up the space, they heavily beat up the one person they could get their hands on, dragging him to the street in front of the eyes of witnesses. It was a sustained attack against a social space, whose very core is anti-fascism and anti-authoritarianism, launched by motorcyclists wearing Golden Dawn insignia, flying the flag of Golden Dawn and screaming nationalist slogans. The stormtroopers were led by Members of Parliament I. Lagos and N. Michos, as revealed by cell phone communications and by the presence of Lagos’ car (which was provided to him by Parliament) at the attack. Police motorcycles were seen next to the Nazis, watching over the attack.

The assassination of Pavlos Fyssas

On September 18, 2013, the ultra-nationalist party’s assault squadrons went too far: they chased down and stabbed activist, rapper and anti-fascist Pavlos Fyssas, a.k.a. Killah P, who was left to bleed to death on the pavement. They did this in the middle of a central street in one of the southern working-class districts of Athens, Keratsini, allegedly over remarks made by the rapper and his friends in a cafeteria that were overheard by Golden Dawn members, who then called in their thugs in a matter of minutes. Police was once again present and did nothing to prevent the assassination, but arrested the murderer, G. Roupakias, after pressure from passers-by and after he was recognized by the victim himself before he died.

The anti-fascist response was immediate: various demonstrations in Athens, Thessaloniki, Lesbos, Patras, Larissa and Komotini were called on the next day — all with a very high turnout — which were faced with the usual police repression and involved numerous arrests. Two days later, the anti-authoritarians’ and anarchists’ call for a common assembly in the Polytechnic School was attended by left-wingers, autonomous anti-fascists and local groups alike. Overcoming differences in beliefs and ways of action, a series of common assemblies were held among these varying forces that culminated in a big demonstration to close down the offices of the Nazi organization on September 25, 2013. Twenty thousand people marched in the streets of Athens to the offices of Golden Dawn and back, undaunted by the stun grenades and teargas of the police, who were waiting just in front of the Nazi headquarters. A few days later, the government would arrest Golden Dawn leader Nikos Michaloliakos and MPs Kasidiaris, Lagos, Panagiotaros and Michos in an operation that had — unsurprisingly — been kept secret from the press for days.

It is worth noting that the anti-fascist response was not organized from scratch. To the contrary, the anti-fascist movement had the impetus necessary to unleash all the forces of anti-authoritarians, anarchists, autonomists and other anti-fascists that throughout every phase in Greek history have been strong in their actions to eradicate any shred of fascism. That is why the anti-fascist movement never stopped. The assemblies following the events of Pavlos Fyssas’ assassination led to numerous other direct actions and a European Anti-fascist Meeting that was held in Athens at the School of Fine Arts in April 2014. The three-day meeting gathered over 30 different anti-fascist groups from 20 European countries, very keen to share their experience and exchange modes of action in the various open workshops and assemblies held.

Moreover, the Athens area of Agios Panteleimonas, once a lair of Golden Dawn, has now been enriched with a new anti-fascist, anti-authoritarian, anarchist free social space called Distomo to commemorate the massacres by the Nazis during WWII.  The anti-fascist counter-demonstration against the Nazi gathering on the day of Imia on January 31, 2015 drew hundreds of people and numerous organizations from the entire anarchist and left spectrum.

The trial in context

Golden Dawn members were arrested with the charge of having set up a criminal organization, with the charges extending also to manslaughter, blackmail and money laundering. After investigating more than one hundred cases, magistrates have now completed case files for 78 defendants, 30 of whom are detained, including 8 out of the 16 members of Golden Dawn’s parliamentary group. The case file includes the murder of Pavlos Fyssas, the attack against PAME billposters, the raid against Egyptian fishermen, the attacks against the Antipnoia social center, the attack against the Synergeio social center (which had previously been filed under unknown perpetrators, despite the links established with Golden Dawn MPs), an attack against a student in P. Faliro and foreign workers in Crete, and the assassination of Pakistani cyclist Shehzad Luqman.

Moreover, the treatment of Golden Dawn members in jail seems to be different from that of other prisoners. Their transfer to the women’s prison in Korydallos raised complaints by other prisoners for, among other things, racist and sexist remarks and lack of space, considering that one wing that would fit 100 female prisoners has been reserved for Golden Dawn members. It is not a coincidence that more than one year after their arrest the trial has not begun yet and detained MPs were recently given leave to vote — fully retaining their parliamentary status — in the elections for a President of the Republic, causing turmoil in Parliament.

Even the trial itself gives the impression of a staged performance, orchestrated by the deep state itself that led to the emergence of the extreme-right group. The Nazi organization will be prosecuted under the non-revised version of article 187 of the Criminal Code on criminal organizations. This article has since been extended with article 187a on terrorist acts and will apply to Nikos Romanos and other anarchists arrested after the Velvendo bank robbery. In the eyes of young aspiring lawyers, as we recently witnessed during the occupation of the Law School to defend his hunger strike, anarchist Nikos Romanos is already deemed a ‘terrorist’. In the name of security and the climate of fear injected into society, an autonomous action is to be penalized on stricter terms than the concerted and repeated violence of a political party.

However, going into too much detail about the basis for the conviction would run the risk of comparing the pros and cons of two institutional arrangements — non-revised article 187 or revised article 187a on terrorist organizations creating special conditions for non-compliant subjects — that give fertile ground to convictions based on ‘thought crimes’. The movement fights strongly against this. Criminal responsibility should be individualized and linked with certain motives. Therefore, the dispersion of criminal responsibility from the top to the bottom is not recommended from both a political and a legal point of view, as it would open a dangerous path. Thus, the most appropriate way to act is from the bottom to the top. Rather than being punished for their ideas, a sounder base in terms of justice would be to punish Golden Dawn members for their actions.

Concluding remarks

A year and a half after their arrest and after two elections while in jail, the national elections of January 2015 still confirmed Golden Dawn’s relatively strong electoral base, with the party obtaining 6.28% of the vote and 17 seats in Parliament, becoming the third biggest political force in the country. This good showing could be the result of people voting for an extreme-right party to rival the left, or it could be just another example of how prison produces ‘heroes’ in the eyes of some people. It also confirms that a long-term solution is not likely to be found solely by addressing the legal aspect of the Golden Dawn issue, as such an approach will not achieve more than to sweep the beast of right-wing extremism under the rug.

Banning the party would be misleading, because it could reappear under a different name and we would constantly be faced with the same situation. We already witnessed this back in 2005, when — after an anarchist attack against Golden Dawn offices — the Nazis were provisionally forced to change their nameto ‘Patriotic Alliance’ and relocate. Beyond this, no form of thinking should be banned, let alone by a court ruling. Errors in the system are the ones that drive it. However, when a system’s foundation is unsound, it will have to be rebooted — and the very core of Nazi thinking shows how unsound the system has become. By its very nature, Nazi philosophy goes against the survival of humankind.

Violence against difference means violence against our co-inhabitants of this planet. This contradicts every notion of the human as a social being, tending to present man as an isolated, self-centered individual who is only concerned about its own needs, showing total disrespect for the collective well-being. Against all odds and fatalistic attitudes, a sound part of Greek and European society still fights for a different kind of organization, through social emancipation, consistent struggles for the preservation of nature, collective pharmacies and medical centers, solidarity structures, free social centers and the adoption of fairer practices for a better world.

Marietta Simegiatou is a translator with a Master’s degree in International Law and Diplomacy from Panteion University in Athens and an activist with the Athens Anti-Authoritarian Movement, particularly concerned with matters of antifascist action. She writes and translates for Babylonia magazine.