Elevate Difference

We Are an Image from the Future: The Greek Revolt of December 2008

Consider what it might feel like if July 4th in the United States were celebrated not with fireworks and barbecue but with demonstrations and occupations to achieve a further social revolution. That's what November 17th is in Greece since a student revolt on that date in 1973 triggered the end of the dictatorship. In fact, because of the role of the students in achieving this, a law was passed by the socialist government in 1981 to establish academic asylum. Although the law has since been weakened, police are restricted from entering university campuses.

I learned these facts from reading We Are an Image from the Future: The Greek Revolt of December 2008, a collage of interviews, oral history, chronologies, personal essays, manifestos, and political essays, edited by A.G. Schwarz, Tasos Sagris, and Void Network. The format is similar to that used in the INCITE! collective's The Revolution Will Not Be Funded, which tells its story in a range of contradictory voices. In both books, the format results in repetition and a difficult-to-track sequence of events, but allows DIY interpretation and wide range of views, some of them way, way beyond the political discourse permitted in the United States, even in so-called progressive media.

Here is as good a point as any to complain about how the physical book under review—a wide ten inches on a six-inch spine—was difficult to read in bed. Perhaps this is in keeping with the direct action message of We Are an Image from the Future: get up and out and do something.

For those undeterred by these difficulties, there are rewards. The editors argue that their book is not a history, but is as close to a true account as can be achieved for the unexpected and multifaceted events sparked by the police murder of fifteen-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos on December 6, 2008 in the Exarchia section of Athens—a neighborhood known for countercultural and anarchist activity. A witness entertaining a guest in his apartment above the square (who calls the Athenian equivalent of 9/11), activists who admit to being frightened by the violence of the ensuing riots, radicals who experience the realization that a revolutionary moment can occur in unpredictable ways that don't match a theoretical scheme, and a veteran of the overthrow of the dictatorship who chastises contemporary revolutionaries for smashing shops all have their say.

We're definitely not in Kansas anymore—or even in New York. Greece, which experienced occupation during World War II but actually liberated itself and endured a civil war in living memory, has some far-from-tame political confrontations. In the United States, we are more likely to criticize Washington and Jefferson as hypocritical slaveholders than recapitulate their revolution with a little political rumble of our own.

We Are an Image from the Future provides an honest and unforeclosed discussion of political violence. There is room for differentiation among property destruction, self-defense, expropriation, and deliberate attacks on the authority of the state, without distinctions being lost in the mire of the ever-expanding catch-all of "domestic terrorism." After all, Washington and his comrades were insurrectionists to the British.

Written by: Frances Chapman, August 8th 2010