Potato wars

Here’s a story of a citizens’ initiative in Greece that intended to fight high prices and the politics that rose around it. It’s a promising initiative but the politics gave me a pessimistic feeling and reminded me that we can’t wait much from our political parties. They remain so disconnected from society, caring only about their small political gains rather than the well being of the citizens.

Potato Wars: May the spud be with you

Some weeks ago a volunteer group from the northern town of Katerini decided to bypass the middlemen and the big super market chains in order to get lower prices for a basic good. The potato. In a normal country you would expect capitalism, competition or the state (sic) to work in the benefit of the consumers. In Greece, with its middlemen and cartels, this is not happening. So the Volunteers’ Action Group decided to contact potato producers from Nevrokopi, Drama, in order to ask for a lower price. The citizens from Katerini declared on the group’s website what quantities they needed and the group informed the producers from Drama. The latter hired a couple of trucks and the drove all the way to Katerini to distribute their products in 10 kg sacks. Until then, the citizens of Katerini were buying the same sack for 7 euros but the volunteers’ group initiative they bought them for 2,5! According to the group, a local supermarket responded to the initiative by lowering the price of potato to 0.35 euros (i.e. 3,5 euros for a 10 kg sack).

The success of the initiative was followed by many other citizens’ groups all around Greece who ordered several tons of potatoes. The potato movement reached big cities like Athens and Thessaloniki too. The story was shown by several mainstream media, in a fashion that praised the citizens’ initiative. I was so surprised to see this happening, especially since big super market chains are some of the top advertisers on tv, that I even got a bit suspicious. But before I understand what was happening, there came politics to fuck up the story.

Firstly, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) issued a statement with which it accused the state and the multinationals’ monopolies and cartels for trying to disorientate the people. According to KKE the problem of poverty is not going to be solved by such initiatives and the mainstream media promoted the “potato movement” in order not to let them identify with the labour movement. The real reason behind that statement of course was that KKE did not organize or control the initiative and thus felt the need to criticize it in attempt to limit its success. For the newbies in Greek politics, it’s enough to say here that KKE hates everything it doesn’t control as it believes that only itself is the true leftist and revolutionary party and that only they can and are going to bring the socialist change. Something like a copyright to revolution.

As one can imagine there was an uproar with this statement and some saw this situation as an opportunity to serve their own interests. For example, another leftist party and longtime opponent of KKE, SYRIZA praised the potato movement in an attempt to approach them in view of the coming elections. So did a third leftist party, the Democratic Left. Even the extreme right LAOS issued the following statement:

“Some people are bothered by the potato movement for one reason: They can not control and check it. We believe in these initiatives that can be overcome  the fears and inhibitions of the government towards its customers, the middlemen and wholesalers”.

Someone must remind LAOS that they were part of this government for some months and did nothing about its customers.

Finally KKE issued a second statement on the issue and said that they have been misunderstood. Few people were convinced and thus we ended up talking more about the parties’ statements and less about the power of such initiatives, since the state is absent, to make daily life a bit easier.

The initiative is now taking place in at least ten different cities all around Greece and is spreading to other goods as well. Olive oil, beans and rice are among the next in the Greek price wars.

4 responses to “Potato wars

  1. “In a normal country you would expect capitalism, competition or the state (sic) to work in the benefit of the consumers. In Greece, with its middlemen and cartels, this is not happening.”

    This small sentence exemplifies your illusions and the true reason that you cannot compehend KKE’s position:
    1. In any “normal” capitalist country, the market or the capitalist state DO NOT work for the benefit of the “consumers”, but for the benefit of monopoly corporations.
    2. Middlemen and cartels have characterized EVERY developed capitalist country since the 19th century. They characterize Greece today, as they do Germany or the USA.

    The state in Greece “is not absent” as you say. It is very much present in lowering our standard of living for the benefit of monopoly corporations. The onslaught on the lives of working people (and not of “consumers” in general – a banker is also a consumer) cannot be solved by purchasing potatoes for a few cents less. This can provide only a temporary relief and if you engage in something like this in an isolated fashion (and most of those taking the lead in these activities are doing exactly that), WITHOUT struggling against the government policy as a whole, you are spreading illusions at best.

    Doesn’t it worry you that the main media in the country that are suppporting 1000% the government policies, are also offering extensive POSITIVE coverage to your activities. If these activities were eally threatening to the business interests they serve, do you think that they would promote you from morning till night?

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    • Thanks for your comment georgiou. Basically I agree with many of your points even though I don’t support the KKE (if you read more posts on this blog you can see that, or at least you can see that I am not some sort of neo-conservative). Anyway, the phrase that you quoted is used more ironically than literally. I agree that isolated activities won’t have other results but isolated ones. When you are on the verge of starvation you have one basic isolated need, food. And, thus, KKE has no legitimacy to criticize people for taking an initiative to by pass the middlemen’s cartel even if the purchase of a cheap potato doesn’t lead to the revolution. That was the point of the post.

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  2. kosta,

    I am not saying that someone does not have the right to critisize KKE. But KKE also has the right (the “legitimacy”) to politically critisize any initiative based on its content and its scope. And the criticism of KKE on this issue did not stem from its “inability to control” (as you imply), but from the fact that solving the sharpening food/price problem in Greece cannot be effected through some alternative MARKET mechanisms. Something more profound is required, and I think that honest people that are invloved in such activities should have a clear picture of who is with them and who is against them (including those that pose as friends – government ministers, media, etc).

    Unfortunately, it appears from what I am reading (for example, a “response” to KKE by some of the people involved) that the motives and the outlook of some of the major forces behind these initiatives are far from progressive.

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  3. the whole idea of the potato movement was simply to make better profits. someone thought up this ‘new’ idea of selling their produce off the internet in an organised manner.
    Hello, welcome to the real world of 2012 – this should have started earlier, as it has already in ‘normlal’ countries, but it didn’t: better late than never, with a little luck…

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