The Washington Post splashes a story about “anarchists” in Greece across the front page today. The print headline is “Into the arms of anarchy,” and a photo‐essay online is titled “In Greece, austerity kindles the flames of anarchy.” And what do these anarchists demand? Well, reporter Anthony Faiola doesn’t find out much about what they’re for, but they seem to be against, you know, what the establishment is doing, man:
The protests are an emblem of social discontent spreading across Europe in response to a new age of austerity. At a time when the United States is just beginning to consider deep spending cuts, countries such as Greece are coping with a fallout that has extended well beyond ordinary civil disobedience.
Perhaps most alarming, analysts here say, has been the resurgence of an anarchist movement, one with a long history in Europe. While militants have been disrupting life in Greece for years, authorities say that anger against the government has now given rise to dozens of new “amateur anarchist” groups.
Faiola does acknowledge that the term is used pretty loosely:
The anarchist movement in Europe has a long, storied past, embracing an anti‐establishment universe influenced by a broad range of thinkers from French politician and philosopher Pierre‐Joseph Proudhon to Karl Marx to Oscar Wilde.
So that’s, let’s see, a self‐styled anarchist who was anti‐state and anti‐private property, the father of totalitarianism, and a witty playwright jailed for his homosexuality.
Defined narrowly, the movement includes groups of urban guerillas, radical youths and militant unionists. More broadly, it encompasses everything from punk rock to WikiLeaks.
And what are these various disgruntled groups opposed to?
The rolling back of social safety nets in Europe began more than a year ago, as countries from Britain to France to Greece moved to cut social benefits and slash public payrolls, to address mounting public debt. At least in the short term, the cuts have held back economic growth and job creation, exacerbating the social pain.
And Greece is not the only place in which segments of society are pushing back.
So these “anarchists” object that the state might cut back on its income transfers and payrolls. That is, they object to the state reducing its size, scope, and power. Odd anarchists, as George Will told the crowd at the 2010 Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty dinner:
It leads to the streets of Athens, where we had what the media described as “anti‐government mobs.” Anti‐government mobs composed almost entirely of government employees going berserk about threats to their entitlements!
Lots of talk in the Post article about anarchists:
“They are taking everything away from us,” [19‐year‐old law student Nikolas] Ganiaris said. “What will happen when I finish law school? Will I only find a job making copies in a shop? Will I then need to work until I’m 70 before I retire? Will I only get a few hundred euros as pension? What future have I got now?”
A radical minority is energizing the anarchist movement, a loose network of anti‐establishment groups.…
Since then, experts say, the economic crisis has helped the movement thrive, with anarchists positioning themselves as society’s new avengers. Long a den of anarchists, the graffiti‐blanketed Exarchia neighborhood is alive anew with dissent. Nihilist youths are patrolling the local park, preventing police from entering and blocking authorities from building a parking lot on the site. On one evening at a local cafe, an anarchist group was broadcasting anti‐government messages via a clandestine radio station using a laptop and a few young recruits.
The last vignette in the story is about 20‐year‐old Nikos Galanos, who has joined the anarchist movement in anger over his mother’s losing her government job and his father’s being the victim of a 15 percent salary cut in his own government job.
“I don’t support violence for violence’s sake, but violence is a response to the violence the government is committing against society,” Galanos said. He later added, “It is now hard for any of us to see a future here. I feel it’s my duty to fight against the system.”
In fact, the government has been committing violence against society for decades, by taxing people, overregulating business, and spending money it didn’t have. No wonder youth unemployment is 35 percent. And what is the actual “system” that Mr. Galanos wants to fight? Greek journalist Takis Michas described it at a Cato Forum:
In Greece, the fundamental principle that has been dictating economic and political development since the creation of the Greek state in the 19th century is political clientelism.
This is a system in which political support is provided in exchange for benefits.
In this situation, rent‐seeking — the attempt by various groups and individuals to influence the location of political benefits — becomes paramount. The origins of political clientelism can be traced back to the origins of the Greek state in the 1830s. As a left‐wing political historian puts it, “The fundamental structure of Greece has never been civil society. Ever since the middle of the 19th century, nothing could be done in Greece without its necessarily passing through the machinery of the state.”…
The largest part of public expenditure was directed, not to public works or infrastructure, but to the wages of public service workers and civil servants.…
What makes the case of Greece interesting is that Greece can be said, in a certain sense, to provide the perfect realization of the left’s vision of putting people above markets.
Greek politicians have always placed people (their clients) above markets, with results we can all see today.
Real anarchists, of either the anarcho‐capitalist or mutualist variety, might have something useful to say to Greeks in their current predicament. But disgruntled young people, lashing out at the end of an unsustainable welfare state, are not anarchists in any serious sense. They’re just angry children not ready to deal with reality. But reality has a way of happening whether you’re ready to deal with it or not.