Exarcheia is a small neighborhood in Athens, Greece that is for the most part unknown to foreigners. It’s dilapidated buildings and abundance of graffiti don’t characterize a welcoming environment, especially to those unfamiliar with the area. This area however isn’t an impoverished neighborhood or an abandoned suburb but is an entire space of ideological opposition in the form of an anarcho-communist movement. Home to a thriving community of far-left intellectuals, artists, and counter-cultural leaders, this neighborhood is contains several anarchist “squats” or abandoned government buildings that now house refugees, the poor, and victims of the Greek economic collapse. These set-ups fill in the need for social services and provisions where the Greek government has failed but before we examine this further, its important to recall what happened to Greece and where it is now.
In 1999, the European Union adopted the Euro as its official currency. During this time, Greece was forced to continue to use the Drachma as they didn’t meet the standards outlined in the Maastricht Treaty, including sub-1.5% inflation and a debt-to-GDP ratio below 60%. Two years later, Greece adopted the Euro, having met the standards to join the Eurozone. It is later discovered however that Greece misrepresented their fiscal deficit, in order to obtain use of the Euro. Three years later, Athens hosts the Summer Olympics. The net cost of the games ends up exceeding 11 billion USD thereby raising the deficit to 6.1% of the GDP. By 2007, the U.S. Housing Bubble begins to burst, triggering a world-wide economic collapse. It is at this point that Greece begins to lose control of their debt problem. Not long after, Standard and Poor’s downgrades Greece’s long-term sovereign debt status to junk, causing the Dow Jones to drop 1.9%. Three years later, the IMF and EU give Greece their first bailout, to the sum of 146 billion USD under the condition that they make over 30 billion USD in spending cuts and increase taxes. 2012 sees the second bailout take place with by EU in conjunction with the IMF. The total package is worth 172 billion USD and requires Greece to reduce its debt-to-GDP ratio further. During this time, more austerity measures take place, largely in the form of wage cuts, reduction of public -sector jobs, and tax reform. At this point, the Greek unemployment rate hovers around the 22% rate, with the youth being most heavily impacted.
The heavy social spending cuts, job losses, and overall loss of well-being of the Greek populace generated unrest and distrust of the government, all while refugees are flooding began coast. This social unrest manifests itself both in the form of violent protest as well as the rise of far-left political movements. Occurring adjacent to this political activism was the resurgence of the anarchy movement.
The movement wasn’t necessarily occurring as part of Civil Society but was rather occurring within an exclusionary zone of the sovereign. In other words, this movement was not oppositional to the state but was denying of its legitimacy all together. With everything lost from the state i.e. healthcare, education, and other services, these refugee settlements sprung up around the country, largely centered in Athens, as a solution to state-caused poverty and as a way to house and care for the influx of refugees. There is no official ruling body of the movements and camps, there is no money currency, and no private property rights. The camps are a microcosm of a successful anarcho-communist society, filled with services typically provided by the state but which the state has been unable to provide. Anarchists state that these camps are a better alternative to state-run refugee camps, which the European Commission criticized an “untenable” and the UNHCR stated were not safe for occupation. They have a point. Statistically speaking, the camps have been able to allocate social services and care for refugees far more successfully than the state, representing an economic paradox. The conventional characteristics of free markets are missing all together in this microcosmic society. There is no private property, no money, no firms, and consumers are not acting in self-interest. How then can these societies be successful?
In this scenario, the answer is collective management of public property, or in anarchist terms, collectivist anarchism. This economic doctrine dictates that humans, being social creatures, ought to center economic activity around working together for the common good rather than working towards self-interested goals. In other words, typical economic conventions of the self-interested rational actor work against economic growth, as our interests push us to exploit rather than manage, when considering our own goals. It is this self-interest that generates institutions such as private property and money, as they are necessary to control one’s personal possessions. A successful economic system can be mutually advantageous for all if collective effort is put into economic activity, whereby economic actors gain utility from hedonic compassion through supporting the goals of a functioning society i.e. providing social services. This isn’t to say that individual liberties are vanquished all together but rather are secondary social solidarity. Though it shares similar traits with communism, the key recognizable difference is that there is no highly-institutionalized state and thus no central planning. In a sense, market forces still determine what goods and services must be produced but they do so without the incentive of monetary profit.
While they have proven successful, can the Greek system flourish on a macro-level? With a lack of monetary incentive to produce utility, the anarcho-collectivist economy thrives off of the hedonic utility produced by being part of a whole and the intrinsic value of helping others. In Exarcheia, the squat camps are a small, enclosed systems that are able to manage themselves without a hierarchal system. Magnify this system to a city or nationwide level and the synergistic component that is so key to its success dies off. By its nature, the anarcho-collectivist system is non-exclusionary and thus the system could be plagued by free-riders, as the will of good deeds is sullied further and further.
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