The Validity of the Social Question

Industrialization and capitalism brought profound changes to European society in the 19th century, not however to forms of government. Since the revolution of 1830, workers had been the vanguard on the barricades. Nevertheless, it was only the upper middle classes which benefited from their struggle. The proletariat began to see itself as a social class. Workers’ associations and parties were formed at the initiative of men like Ferdinand Lassalle and Karl Marx. Exploitation, illness-inducing working and living conditions, and high infant mortality motivated many Jews, such as Leon Trotsky, Eduard Bernstein, Rosa Luxemburg, Roosje Vos, Hilda Monte, and Mire Gola, to actively involve themselves in the social democratic and communist parties—as did the Bulgarian-Greek journalist and strike leader Avraam Benaroya (1886–1979). He played a leading role in the founding of the mainly Jewish Socialist Workers Federation or, in Ladino, “Federacion” in Thessaloniki, in which Jews, Bulgarians, Greeks, and Turks were represented. It was only during the constant changes in more recent Greek history that his achievements in the struggle for the welfare state were recognized, albeit belatedly.

Avraam Benaroya, no date given, © E. Benaroya,

Macedonia, May 12th, 1936. Photographs of the bloody suppression of the worker’s strikes in May 1936, © Digital Archive Parliament Athens

Greek health care employees are protesting financial cuts, 2015, © Yannis Kolesidis /EPA/

In 2010, Greece had to ask the EU for help to avert financial collapse. The Troika, a consortium comprising the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission, granted aid with stipulations which involved radical social cuts: The wage level in Greece is now lower than in 2010, pensions are less than half of what they were then, and hospital budgets were cut by more than 40 percent. In most EU countries, especially during the Corona crisis, the strengths of the welfare state could be seen; in Greece, however, the dismantling of the health care system resulted in an increase in police operations and the re-equipping of the police force. Cutbacks in the health care system have not yet come to an end as further economic-liberal reforms and privatization measures are supposed to be implemented. The community clinic at Helliniki, for example, where not only asylum seekers but above all destitute Greek citizens were cared for, fell victim to these measures. The greed of a real estate holding company carried more weight.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, in conversation with Hanno Loewy, on 
“A European Social Union? Learning from Greece”