Putting Ideas on Trial: The Greek State’s Laboratory of Repression – An Interview with Nikos Romanos, Imprisoned Anarchist
After several failed attempts across Europe to frame anarchists and other anti-authoritarians with conspiracy and terrorism charges, the Greek state is at the forefront of developing new legal strategies to attack social movements. Article 187A of the Greek legal penal code has existed since 2004, but last year, Greek officials used it in a new way against Nikos Romanos and several other anarchist prisoners, convicting and sentencing them to many years in prison based on a new interpretation of the article. Regardless of whether these verdicts are overturned in higher courts, the trials indicate a major strategic shift in the policing of social movements in Greece. They offer an important warning sign about the new forms that repression may assume around the world as social conflict intensifies.
Today we had people who tried by all of the means available … to injure the Republic, to damage, to destroy, at the risk of killing.
Emmanuel Macron (Le Monde 19/03/2019)
Saturday, we saw extreme violence in Paris. It was almost para-military groups, looters, zadists.
Government official (Le Monde 19/03/2019)
Before, the black blocks frightened everyone, now they are taken as a plus. It is they who make things move forward; we, we were too pacifist.
It’s great that things are vandalised because the bourgeoisie are so sheltered in their bubble that it is necessary that they feel fear physically, for their security, for them to give up.
Voices of Act XVIII yellow vest protesters in Paris (Le Monde 19/03/2019)
Le Monde‘s front page of Tuesday, March 19th, reads “L’Exécutif contraint de répondre aux violence [“The Executive is constrained/obliged to respond to the violence”]”. Yet as the yellow vests movement(s) enters its fourth month, after thousands have been gassed and beaten, after thousands have been arrested, after hundreds have been hurt and dozens crippled or blinded, it is difficult to know how to take the title.
Our own title then is meant to clarify matters.
Act XVIII of the yellow vests was concentrated in Paris, with a confluence with other protests in the city (most notably, against global warming). It brought part of the capital to halt, vandalised symbols and institutions of wealth, and in forcing once again that hand of the government (the president was forced to cut short his skiing vacation), the movement continues to radicalise in a seemingly endless and growing challenge to political and economic authority.
As Macron’s ministers throw responsibility for the violence on “organised radicals”, accuse each other of mismanagement, and then promise even more draconian security measures (with the famed national debate rapidly fading into the background), for those who continue to contest and create, the answer is increasingly to continue to rebel … for what is there to return to?
Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist. Some thirty years ago I recall that the Salvation Army was vigorously practising direct action in the maintenance of the freedom of its members to speak, assemble, and pray. Over and over they were arrested, fined, and imprisoned; but they kept right on singing, praying, and marching, till they finally compelled their persecutors to let them alone. The Industrial Workers are now conducting the same fight, and have, in a number of cases, compelled the officials to let them alone by the same direct tactics.
Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.
Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle, and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist. Examples of such action are strikes and boycotts; many persons will recall the action of the housewives of New York who boycotted the butchers, and lowered the price of meat; at the present moment a butter boycott seems looming up, as a direct reply to the price-makers for butter.
These actions are generally not due to any one’s reasoning overmuch on the respective merits of directness or indirectness, but are the spontaneous retorts of those who feel oppresses by a situation. In other words, all people are, most of the time, believers in the principle of direct action, and practices of it. However, most people are also indirect or political actionists. And they are both these things at the same time, without making much of an analysis of either. There are only a limited number of persons who eschew political action under any and all circumstances; but there is nobody, nobody at all, who has ever been so “impossible” as to eschew direct action altogether.
Voltairine de Cleyre, Direct Action
… self-defence, paradoxically, has no subject – I mean to say that the subject that it defends does not preexist this movement of resistance to the violence of which it has become the target. Understood in this sense, self-defence has to do with what I propose to call “martial ethics of self”.
A shared reflection in the wake of the international feminist strike of March 8 (and for Christophe Dettinger) …
Who has the right to defend themselves? Who by contrast is excluded from this privilege and with what consequences?
These questions are at the heart of Elsa Dorlin’s essay, Se Défendre: Une Philosophie de la violence [To defend oneself: A Philosophy of violence] (Éditions La Découverte, Paris, 2017). The aim of the work is not to trace the long history of the “right” to self-defence, but to narrate a genealogy of modern power in which self-defence constitutes beneath or above the law a politics of subjectification.
If the right to self-defence is the basis for the elaboration of social contract political theory, the source and norm for establishing the limits of legitimate political authority, its role in defining the modern subject points beyond such legal-normative concerns, towards practices of subjectification.
Dorlin’s essay tells a story in which self-defence appears as a repertoire of practices and strategies for confronting-escaping the apparatuses of State control, in its many and overlapping modern guises. While States endeavour to define who can and who cannot defend themselves – thereby excluding from any legal and/or institutional protection those who cannot (the indefensible) -, practices of self-defence have sought to create tactics and strategies of escape-response to State power; not however through demands for inclusive recognition (new “citizenship”), but through acts of excluding-destructive sabotage (rebellious subjects).
If modern States have been obliged to respond to the first through the attribution of rights, they have done so at the cost of exposure of subjects to surveillance and control.
Rebellious subjectivities have always been susceptible to legal and institutional domestication, or worse, become complicit with reactionary social relations. But it is among the rebellious that insurrection and revolution is born.
The story of the British suffragettes, as told by Dorlin, is paradigmatic in this sense; a story that continues to proffer lessons for those who wish to imagine and create a feminism beyond “women’s rights”.
(What follows is a translation of the final section of the second chapter of Se Défendre. We have not included the end notes from the original text.)
The calls for an international feminist general strike found an echo in many countries, but again, as in 2018, nowhere more than in spain. At the height of the strike, supported by the “majority” labour unions, as well as the “minority” anarchist unions, 6 million women and men ceased to work, and in the evening, millions took to the streets to protest, to demonstrate, to demand; to mark their presence and declare that enough is enough: enough of sexist inequality and violence, of patriarchal discrimination and exploitation. (El Pais 08/03/2019)
The reasons for this level of participation, in this particular country, would merit a reflection beyond what we are capable of. What interests us, though, in addition, is the question of how should the event be interpreted, understood? Without pretending to exhaust the subject, it is worth stating, negatively, that the strike risks becoming just one more moment in a predictable “protest” calendar, an annual moment of self-affirmation, no more threatening than an annual May Day or Pride celebration.
Our conviction is that this is not what animates the protests in spain, that it has a great deal more to do with a recent history of social struggle, that it is sustained by a great deal of “grass roots”, everyday militancy, that creates a dense fabric of political rebelliousness, that it goes beyond simple demands for woman’s “rights”.
But talk of a general strike, of a feminist general strike, begs reflection, and we share below selections from an essay on George Sorel’s concept of a general strike, which by analogy and affinity helps to shed some critical light on the virtues and limits of the current practice of a feminist general strike.
If we may anticipate our reader’s conclusions, our conviction is that a truly radical or revolutionary feminist general strike is one which brings capitalist social production and reproduction to a halt, which unmasks representational politics for an illusion, which rejects negotiation with any established economic or political authority (because intrinsically patriarchal), which understands that modern forms of patriarchy cannot be defeated without destroying capitalism (and vice versa) and that this is to be accomplished through direct action and mutual aid, the very “school” for any future free and equal society.
Utopian? It is our conviction that those who believe that the present is sustainable are the utopians. And as was militantly defended at the Puerta del Sol occupation in May of 2011, the revolution will be feminist, or it will not be.
This year, the calls for an international feminist strike come from many quarters. And though our solidarity reaches out to all of them, our affinity lies with those who understand a feminist strike as a revolutionary strike against patriarchy, capital, the state; as a strike that does not last only a day, but extends itself indefinitely; that instead of appealing to political and economic representatives to improve the lot of women, takes matters into its own hands, through direct action and mutual aid.
We share below the call to strike from chilean anarchist women.
And we also share Voltairine de Cleyre’s defense of direct action.