Greece: new wave of student protests against privatisation of universities

The right-wing ND government is now pressing ahead once more with its plans to privatise university education. This has reawakened the student movement which has mobilised on a massive scale. Conveniently for the right-wing, last week there was a missile attack on the US embassy, which is now being used to justify greater state repression.

An extreme sharpening of class polarisation is taking place in Greek society. After seven general strikes in three years and big mobilisations of many different sections of the working class and youth, Greece is once again experiencing a massive movement against the privatisation of the Greek universities. At the same time we see the re-emergence of left-wing individual terrorism, with a spectacular attack against the American embassy in Athens last Thursday, January 11. These facts serve to underline the fact that Greece has entered a new and violent historical period, one that places it in the front line of the class struggle in Europe.

The youth in a permanent process of radicalisation

Last year in Greece we saw the massive mobilisation of the Greek youth, both in the universities and the high schools. The Greek ruling class is determined to cut spending on education and part of their strategy is to privatise university education. Greek capitalism has launched a generalised attack on the workers and youth, and this is particularly evident in the education sector.

For two months (May and June of last year) the university students organised massive occupations and demonstrations that forced the right-wing ND government to partially retreat. It was forced to delay the introduction of a new law which would prepare the ground for transforming the Universities de facto into private companies.

Last October thousands of school students occupied over one thousand schools all over Greece for a period of there weeks, to express their solidarity with the massive strike of the primary school teachers and also to protest at the tightening of criteria for entry into the state Universities, especially for the youth from the poorer families.

These struggles on the part of the youth have had the effect of changing the consciousness of the Greek youth who have turned massively towards politics and radical ideas to fight against the present social system.

The New Year also started with youth mobilisations. The opening of the parliamentary debate on a proposal to abolish article 16 of the Greek constitution that bans the setting up of Private Universities has sparked off a new wave of occupations in the Universities schools, together with big demonstrations.

On Wednesday, January 10, 30,000 students, together with the teachers, demonstrated outside the Parliament in Syndagma Square, protesting at the joint proposal of the ND and the PASOK leadership to abolish "article 16". Parallel to this we had an "explosion" of occupations and the number of the occupied faculties has reached 235. The mood among the students on the demonstration was very militant and we saw the same level of radicalisation as last June. 

Political effects

A very important element in this situation is the political effect of this movement. The ND, after its clear defeat in the recent local elections, has now become even more unpopular. The only reason why this unpopular government still has life in is the bankruptcy of the Papandreou leadership of the PASOK. All the opinion polls reveal that Papandreou is very unpopular, much more unpopular even than the government that has been attacking the workers for three years now! Papandreou's support for the government on "article 16" has led to the first symptoms of political opposition inside the PASOK - still weak at the moment but with the clear indication that it can grow in the future - both in the leadership and in the rank and file of the party.

For the moment four of the PASOK's members of parliament have declared that they will vote against the abolition of article 16. But much more important is the fact that hundreds of PASOK members in Athens have organised a campaign to support article 16. They have organised open rallies with hundreds of participants. The basic force behind this campaign are members of PASP (the PASOK University students' organisation) who are also opposed to the decision of the party leadership to dissolve officially the PASOK Youth 18 months ago before.

As could be expected, the other two workers' parties, the KKE and the Synaspismos are benefiting from the movement and the right-wing policy of the PASOK leadership. The KNE (Communist Youth of Greece) has increase its influence in the universities and in the schools, and it has now become the strongest youth organisation and is accepted as the natural leadership of the movement. At the same time, the Synaspismos leadership, by calling officially on the PASOK MPs and leaders to vote against the privatisation of the universities, has gained the sympathy of the left PASOK rank and file. As a result of this, for the first time the Synaspismos has gained a certain influence among the university and school students.

The present movement is destined to grow and escalate in the build up to when the proposed bill will be finally voted in parliament at the end of February. Although the political balance of forces in parliament is weighted against the students - due to the PASOK leaders supporting prime minister Karamanlis's privatisation plans - the movement has a very big dynamic and the pressure on the leaders of the GSEE (General Confederation of Greek Trade Unions) to actively support the student protest is big. If the trade unions give backing to the student struggle, the position of the government will become very difficult and the prospect of a victory will become a real one.

The "revolt of the towns" returns

Several years after the arrest of the members of the "17th November" terrorist organization, a new organization has appeared under the name "Revolutionary Struggle" (RS), which uses ideas and methods that are very similar to the old famous Greek individual terrorism. The previous attack carried out by this organization was an attempt to kill the ex-Minister of the Interior last June. The latest and most spectacular attack of this new organisation was against the American embassy last Thursday, January 11. It revealed that the "RS" has fully replaced the "17th November" and also proved that the standard statement of the state officials in Greece that "we have finished with the terrorists" was simply nonsense.

There are two very interesting things that need to be underlined about this attack against the American embassy. Firstly, this was the first time that an American Embassy has been made a target in a European country. Secondly, this attack, using a Chinese rocket like those of "Hezbollah" was carried out in the most heavily guarded area of Athens!

These two facts are very damaging for the prestige of the Greek state which had spent millions and millions of euros before the Olympics on strengthening "public security" measures. Now we have the humiliating spectacle of the representatives of American imperialism - who only yesterday were "congratulating" the Greek state security officers - publicly expressing their disappointment at their inability to provide adequate security!

Immediately after the attack, the government tried to exploit the situation by raising the need for "new measures against terrorism" and they are proposing the generalised use of methods of street surveillance of the public and phone tapping. They are trying to create an atmosphere of hysteria to justify an increase in repressive measures and to launch a new witch-hunt against the youth and the Left in general. Thus, once again we see how acts of individual terrorism are used against the workers and youth. Far from combating terrorism, which they have abysmally failed to do, their real intention is to step up repression in general. The attack comes at a very convenient moment for the right-wing government.

In the front line of this campaign is an extreme right-winger of the Karamanlis government, the Minister of the Interior Vyron Polydoras. Just two months ago he openly attacked the Synaspismos, accusing it of supporting the young people who attacked the police in the demonstrations and also. He also demanded the complete destruction of the "anarchist nucleus" which acts against the "praetor urbanis" (the Greek police). Now, after this recent attack, Polydoras has reiterated his old demand that the Greek Judiciary give the police officially the right to use traffic cameras, that already exist, for "security purposes". Everyone knows what this means, especially in a period in which every week the roads of Athens are full of young people protesting against the government and who very often are forced to actively defend their demonstrations against the violent attacks of the police. The aim is clearly to criminalise protest.

This proves once again the reactionary nature of these terrorist attacks. They play right into the hands of reaction. Having said that, it is also clear that a significant layer of the workers and youth in Greek felt some sympathy for the attack, because of the colossal anti-imperialist feeling that the Greek population has traditionally expressed. All the opinion polls show that over 90% of the people are against the actions and the policies of the American government in the world.

In spite of this, the Marxists do not support in any way these acts of individual terrorism. They believe that the only effective way to fight US imperialism and capitalism is through mass struggle, through the mobilisation of the workers and youth. Individual terrorism simply provides the excuse the bourgeois state is looking for to escalate repression against the mass movement and the Left in general and it also helps to push certain layers among the petit bourgeois further to the right, all in the name of "security".

Throughout history individual terrorism everywhere in the world has shown beyond the shadow of a doubt that it does not weaken the state and imperialism, but on the contrary, it strengthens them. This lesson of history is particularly important for the Greek youth. Over the years the compromising stance of the Stalinists and the social democracy has pushed many young fighters to join many anarchist or ultra-left groups who support the individual terror as a necessary method against the state, with tragic results. Therefore it is necessary to learn the lessons of history and understand that individual terrorism is a blind alley.

What is necessary is to build up and strengthen the present movement of Greek youth, put pressure on the unions to support them and thus focus attention on the mass movement and it ability to defeat this hated right-wing government.

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