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In the realm of violence: The State and law

Overlapping analyses of State violence, with Greece as the laboratory …

Originally published by Autonomies.

… anarchy is order, whereas government is civil war.

When my intellect looks past the wretched details underpinning the day to day dialectic, I discover that the intestinal strifes which, throughout the ages, have decimated humankind, are bound up with a single cause, to wit: the destruction or preservation of government.

In the realm of politics, sacrifice of self for the purpose of the maintenance or installation of a government has always meant having one’s throat cut and one’s entrails torn out. Point me to a place where men openly slaughter one another and I will show you a government behind all the carnage. If you try to explain civil war away as other than the manner of a government’s trying to ensconce itself or agovernment’s refusal to quit the stage, you are wasting your time; you will not be able to come up with anything.

And the reason is simple.

A government is set up. In the very instant of its creation, it has its servants and, as a result, its supporters; and the moment that it has its supporters it has its adversaries too. That very fact alone quickens the seed of civil war, because the government, resplendent in its authority, cannot possibly act with regard to its adversaries the way it does with regard to its supporters. There is no possibility of the former’s not feeling its favour, nor of the latter’s not being persecuted. From which it follows that there is likewise no possibility of conflict between the favoured faction and the oppressed faction not arising from this disparity, sooner or later. In other words, once the government is in place, the favouritism that is the basis of privilege and which provokes division, spawns antagonism and civil strife becomes inevitable.

From which it follows that government is civil war.

There need only be a government supporter on the one hand and an adversary of the government on the other for strife to erupt among the citizenry: it is plain that, outside of the love or hatred borne towards the government, civil war has no raison d’etre, which means to say that for peace to be established, the citizenry need merely refrain from being, on the one hand, supporters and, on the other, adversaries of the government.

But refraining from attacking or defending the government so as to render civil war impossible is nothing short of paying it no heed, tossing it on to the dung heap and dispensing with it in order to lay the foundations of social order.

Now, if dispensing with government is, on the one hand, the establishment of order, and, on the other, the enshrinement of anarchy, then order and anarchy go hand in hand

From which it follows that anarchy is order.

Anselme Bellegarrigue, The Anarchist Manifesto

The principle according to which sovereignty belongs to law, which today seems inseparable from our conception of democracy and the legal State, does not at all eliminate the paradox of sovereignty; indeed it even brings it to the most extreme point of its development. Since the most ancient recorded formulation of this principle, Pindar’s fragment 169, the sovereignty of law has been situated in a dimension so dark and ambiguous that it has prompted scholars to speak quite rightly of an “enigma” (Ehrenberg, Rechtsidee, p. 119). Here is the text of the fragment reconstructed by Boeck:

Nomos ho panton basileus te kai athanat?n agei dikai?n to Biaiotaton hypertatai cheiri: tekmairomai ergonomics Herakleos.

The nomos, sovereign of all, Of mortals and immortals, Leads with the strongest hand, Justifying the most violent. I judge this from the works of Hercules.

The enigma consists in more than the fact that there are many possible interpretations of the fragment. What is decisive is that the poet – as the reference to Hercules’ theft clarifies beyond the shadow of a doubt – defines the sovereignty of the nomos by means of a justification of violence. The fragment’s meaning becomes clear only when one understands that at its center lies a scandalous unification of the two essentially antithetical principles that the Greeks called Bia and Dik?, violence and justice. Nomos is the power that, “with the strongest hand,” achieves the paradoxical union of these opposites (in this sense, if one understands an enigma in the Aristotelian sense, as a “conjunction of opposites,” the fragment truly does contain an enigma).

If in Solon’s fragment 24 one should read (as most scholars maintain) kratei nomou, then already in the sixth century the specific “force” of law was identified precisely in a “connection” of violence and justice (kratei/nomou bian te kai dik?n synarmosas, “with the force of the nomos I have connected violence and justice”; but even if one reads homou instead of nomou, the central idea remains the same once Solon speaks of his activity as legislator [see De Romilly, La hi, p. 15]). A passage from Hesiod’s Works and Days, which Pindar may have had in mind, also assigns a decisive position to the relation between violence and law:

O Perseus, keep these things in mind and forget violence [Biaia] when you attend to justice [Dik?]. To men, Zeus gave this nomos: what is proper to the fish, the wild beasts, and the winged birds is to devour each other, since there is no Dik? between them. But to men Zeus gave Dik?, which is much better,

While in Hesiod the nomos is still the power that divides violence from law and, with it, the world of beasts from the world of men, and while in Solon the “connection” of Bia and Dik? contains neither ambiguity nor irony, in Pindar – and this is the knot that he bequeaths to Western political thought and that makes him, in a certain sense, the first great thinker of sovereignty – the sovereign nomos is the principle that, joining law and violence, threatens them with indistinction. In this sense, Pindar’s fragment on the nomos basileus contains the hidden paradigm guiding every successive definition of sovereignty: the sovereign is the point of indistinction between violence and law, the threshold on which violence passes over into law and law passes over into violence.

Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer

After spending five years behind bars as a political prisoner, Greek anarchist communist Tasos Theofilou reflects on life in prison and prison’s role in society.

Anarchist-communist Tasos Theofilou was arrested by the Greek Anti-Terrorist Unit on August 19, 2012. At the Court of First Instance (2013-14), Theofilou was sentenced to twenty-five years of imprisonment for the charges of common complicity to homicide and the armed robbery of an Alpha Bank branch in Paros on August 10, 2012. He was acquitted of direct perpetration of homicide, joint constitution of and participation in the Conspiracy Cells of Fire (CCoF), and possession of explosives and “war material.” At the Court of Appeal (2016-17), Theofilou was acquitted of all charges.

In 2018, Theofilou faced the danger of going back to prison due to an appeal lodged before the Supreme Civil and Penal Court of Greece by one of its deputy prosecutors against the decision of his acquittal. The court rejected the appeal, and Theofilou was, definitively and irrevocably, acquitted of all charges.

Theofilou spent five years in the prisons of Domokos and Korydallos. He was a member of the Network of Imprisoned Fighters and took part in a hunger strike (March 2 to April 10, 2015) with a series of demands against the most recent punitive turn of the Greek penal system. A wide solidarity movement supported Theofilou all these years.

In the letter below, which is included in Writings from a Greek Prison: 32 steps, or correspondence from the house of the dead (Common Notions, 2019), Theofilou contextualizes his trial and highlights to social and political importance of his arrest, detention and initial conviction. According to him, they are “manifestation of how a ruthless police state attempts to solidify the most extremist doctrines of judicial repression.”

Writings from a Greek Prison is a literary work of biting realism. Theofilou gives testimony on the brutality of prison life, and its centrality in contemporary capitalism, through a blur of memoir, social commentary and free verse. His work centers on exposing the conditions of widespread exploitation and social struggle that persist in Greece as a result of the debt crisis — in prisons as well as in mainstream society.


November 2, 2016

On November 21, after a nine-month postponement, my trial commences at the Court of Appeal. It’s been two years since the completion of my trial at the Court of First Instance, when I was sentenced to twenty-five years imprisonment for the charges of common complicity to homicide and robbery in connection with the events on Paros Island on August 10, 2012. I was acquitted of participation in the Conspiracy of Cells of Fire as well as of direct perpetration of homicide by a majority opinion.

It was a political (not judicial) compromise, resulting from a conflict between the manipulation of the case by the police in cooperation with the mainstream media during the first days after my arrest, the lack of any evidence, the solidarity expressed by the community, and the reaction of independent media.

From this emerged the temporary Solomonic solution of my partial acquittal of the charges, deferring the prospect of a conclusive decision until a trial at the Court of Appeal. There was an appeal initiated by myself, in which I upheld a full acquittal of all charges. There was also an appeal initiated by a gentleman called Dragon — a public prosecutor whose surname obviously adds further symbolism to the witch-hunt orchestrated by the Anti-Terrorist Unit. Eventually, the division of opinion between the presiding judge, Mr. Hatziathanasiou — who voted for conviction on all charges — and the two other members of the court — who chose the more moderate option that eventually prevailed — made room for further manipulation. Mr. ??????, it would seem, felt that twenty-five years of imprisonment based on no evidence is not enough and went on to turn my trial at the Court of Appeal into a repetition of the initial trial. His appeal opened up the possibility of me not being fully acquitted or even facing a sentence harsher than life imprisonment. I believe that the event of my arrest, its manipulation by the mainstream media, my detention and initial conviction high-lighted certain issues that do not have to do with me personally.

Rather, they bear a wider social and political importance. It is a manifestation of how a ruthless police state attempts to solidify the most extremist doctrines of judicial repression: from the medieval nature of my public castigation and the attempt to squeeze premodern criminal stereotypes into a fabricated pro-file; to the criminalization of friendship, comradeship or social relationships; as well as the use of supernatural or pseudoscientific evidence such as the notorious DNA on a hat, which forms the basis of this otherwise tragic story.


My arrest is part of a crusade against the anarchist movement, launched and orchestrated by the law-and-order milieu: journalists, the Anti-Terrorist Unit, prosecution investigators, and wannabe Supreme Court judges. It is a crusade that dates back to 2009, when the dismantling of Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire was put forward as a pretext. A “vacancy” arose from the case of Nea Smyrni back in 2010. A vacancy that the Anti-Terrorist Unit thought I “rightfully deserved,” when in August 2012 a citizen was fatally injured in his attempt to prevent the escape of the robbers of Alpha Bank in Naousa of Paros Island. They based my “informed appointment” on an actual meeting I’d had back then [in 2010] with my friend and comrade Kostas Sakkas at an eatery in the neighborhood of Kallithea, as well as on an imaginary meeting with the then [in 2010] unknown to me but now comrade, friend and co-prisoner, Giorgos Karagiannides. It was a golden opportunity to slander the anarchist movement by profiling it as a mob of ruthless and bloodthirsty individuals.

It took the mobilization of all the mainstream media outlets broadcasting my arrest exclusively, striving to make the scenario appear plausible for a few days. For an entire week they presented me as a ruthless murderer. Photos of me went viral on the Internet while my commission to the courts on Loukareos and Evelpidon Streets, respectively, were broadcast live on all TV channels. In the name of law and order, judges, the media, and the police violated my rights and disgraced the famed presumption of innocence in every possible way. The media-cannibalism I was subjected to breached the aesthetic limits of the postmodern Dark Age we now find ourselves in.

Of course, it was not just the authority of the media that pursued my conviction by means of abusing even my written works and my private life, cramming criminal stereotypes into my fabricated profile (especially that of the paranoid murderer); jurisdiction followed suit as well. It’s precisely the enforcement of media authority, after all, that made the lack of any evidence appear insignificant. Even the provocative statement at court: “Who knows, perhaps this man was not at the robbery,” which came from the then-commissioner of the Anti-Terrorist Unit, Mr. Hardalias, was thought of as less of a scandal and more of a statement that shouldn’t be noted in the minutes. It is a scandal because it was not just a statement that came out of his mouth spontaneously. It was a display of the power of a man and the service he represents in the space and time of a public trial.

It is a scandal because he chose this arrogant way to manifest the absolute power that his service enjoys. He actually implied with cynicism: “I don’t care if he was or wasn’t at the robbery. I don’t care about minor issues like evidence. I have my reasons to want him in prison. And he shall be in prison.” This development came as no surprise given that the suppression of the anarchist movement had been assigned to the Anti-Terrorist Unit as its sole and exclusive responsibility.

The Anti-Terrorist Unit is a police service that enjoys provocatively preferential treatment by the media, to the degree that crime news informs case files and is considered valid evidence of guilt. Of course, we shouldn’t have expected much more from the presiding judge, Mr. Hatziathanasiou, whose argument for my conviction on all charges went as far as to include the fact that I tend to use an electric razor — not a blade — during the freezing winter in Korydallos prison (meaning that, since one perpetrator appears to have no facial hair on the pictures taken by CCTV cameras and since he’s disguised, then it must certainly be me!). He also felt the need to include that I haven’t served in the Army and that I haven’t read Genet’s books.

Needless to say he concurred with the draftsman of my criminal indictment, that my collection of fiction stories, Paranoir, as well as the crime reportage found in tabloid press of the poorest quality, such as Proto Thema, should be considered valid documents substantiating my guilt. Likewise, we shouldn’t be taken aback by the prosecutor, Mrs. Oikonomou’s, attitude. She simply thought it was . . . appropriate or even in line with her responsibilities perhaps, to nap during most of the proceedings. It came as no surprise that she ended up reciting the document of my indictment when she was called to declaim her proposal.

These were, more or less, the conditions of my trial at the Court of First Instance. The political circumstances had placed the anti-terrorism witch-hunt at the top of the previous far-right government’s agenda. The Minister of Justice and former public prosecutor, Mr. Athanasiou, announced his intentions to introduce high-security prisons for terrorists within the first one hundred days of his appointment. The Anti-Terrorist Unit arrested Kostas Sakkas every other day with silly pretenses, forcing him to become a fugitive.


I see my legal battle against all charges at the Court of Appeal as part of a wider battle against a ruthless police state, against judicial repression and its extremist doctrines. It is a bizarre existential battle in which adjudicators and prosecutors are parts of a single body — that of jurisdiction.

As I did at the Court of First Instance, I would like to highlight yet again that I don’t pledge innocence and I will not plead with any judge to believe me. I am not innocent. In the class war, I’ve chosen a side. I stand with the underprivileged and the suppressed, the marginalized and the prosecuted, the transgressors and the accursed. I decided to take political action in the anarchist movement with the admittedly ambitious goal to strike down the social, political, and economic foundations of capitalism and its state. However, I denied, I deny and will deny again all the accusations of the actions they’ve charged me with. I never was a member of the Conspiracy of the Cells of Fire, I didn’t participate in this robbery and, above all, I never killed and wouldn’t have ever been capable of killing an unarmed citizen for any reason or under any circumstances.

For anarchy, for communism,

Tasos Theofilou

Korydallos prison

Tasos Theofilou, “I am not innocent”: writings from a Greek prison, April 29, 2019 (Roarmag)

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