A Strategy of Ruptures: Ten Theses on the Greek Future

aleksandr-vesnin-proposal-for-a-monument-to-the-third-international
Alek­san­dr Ves­nin, Pro­pos­al for a Mon­u­ment to the Third Inter­na­tion­al, 1921

I

Jan­u­ary 25th marks a his­toric turn­ing point in recent Greek his­to­ry. After five years of dev­as­tat­ing aus­ter­i­ty, a social cri­sis with­out prece­dent in Europe, and a series of strug­gles that at some points, espe­cial­ly in 2010-2012, took an almost insur­rec­tionary form, there has been a major polit­i­cal break. The par­ties that were respon­si­ble for putting Greek soci­ety under the dis­ci­pli­nary super­vi­sion of the so-called Troika (EU-ECB-IMF) suf­fered a humil­i­at­ing defeat. PASOK, which in 2009 won almost 44% of the vote, now received only 4.68%; and the splin­ter par­ty of Gior­gos Papan­dreou, the PASOK Prime Min­is­ter who ini­ti­at­ed the aus­ter­i­ty pro­grams, got 2.46%. New Democ­ra­cy came in at 27.81%, almost 9% below SYRIZA. The elec­toral rise of the fas­cists of Gold­en Dawn has been halt­ed, although they still main­tain a wor­ry­ing 6% of the vote. Anoth­er pro-aus­ter­i­ty par­ty, the RIVER, rep­re­sent­ing the neolib­er­al agen­da (although nom­i­nal­ly com­ing from the cen­ter-left) took only 6.05%, despite inten­sive media hype.

In a cer­tain man­ner this has been the elec­toral revenge of a soci­ety that has suf­fered, and strug­gled again­st those respon­si­ble for this suf­fer­ing. We should not for­get that Greece saw offi­cial unem­ploy­ment ris­ing up to 27% – and youth unem­ploy­ment up to 50% – suf­fered a cumu­la­tive con­trac­tion of almost 25%, saw a mas­sive reduc­tion in wages and pen­sions, and wit­nessed the pas­sage of mas­sive leg­is­la­tion ori­ent­ed towards pri­va­ti­za­tions, labor mar­ket lib­er­al­iza­tion, and neolib­er­al uni­ver­si­ty reform.

II

SYRIZA won an impor­tant elec­toral vic­to­ry, with 36.34% of the vote and 149 deputies (it need­ed only two more to have an absolute par­lia­men­tary major­i­ty). Sym­bol­i­cal­ly, this is a his­toric vic­to­ry. For the first time in mod­ern Euro­pean his­to­ry, a par­ty of the non-social-demo­c­ra­t­ic Left will form a gov­ern­ment. In a coun­try where the Left suf­fered per­se­cu­tion for a great part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the image of a Prime Min­is­ter whose first act after tak­ing the oath of office was to vis­it the place where 200 com­mu­nists were exe­cut­ed on May 1, 1944 seems like the sym­bol­ic vin­di­ca­tion of a whole his­to­ry of strug­gles. This polit­i­cal turn to the Left is the result of the tec­ton­ic changes in polit­i­cal and elec­toral rela­tions of rep­re­sen­ta­tion induced not only by the eco­nom­ic and social cri­sis, but also the long cycle of strug­gles again­st aus­ter­i­ty that act­ed as a cat­a­lyst for new rad­i­cal polit­i­cal iden­ti­ties and new forms of belong­ing. As such, it sends an impor­tant mes­sage of change and resis­tance to the whole of Europe and has already become a source of inspi­ra­tion, some­thing evi­dent in the enthu­si­as­tic reac­tion from the rest of the Euro­pean Left.

III

Dur­ing the cam­paign the “real­ist” and right-wing turn of the lead­er­ship of SYRIZA became much more evi­dent. The SYRIZA lead­er­ship has aban­doned the demand for an imme­di­ate abro­ga­tion of the mem­o­ran­dum (the con­di­tions attached to the loan agree­ments), which was the main thrust of the 2012 cam­paign. It has moved away from the “no sac­ri­fice for the euro” posi­tion. The nation­al­iza­tion of the bank­ing sys­tem is no longer one of the imme­di­ate demands. The main pro­gram­mat­ic posi­tion of SYRIZA is an attempt to put an end to aus­ter­i­ty while remain­ing with­in the insti­tu­tion­al, mon­e­tary, and finan­cial frame­work of the Euro­zone and the EU. They have insist­ed on their abil­i­ty to nego­ti­ate a restruc­tur­ing and pos­si­ble reduc­tion of the Greek debt with our cred­i­tors, name­ly the EU and the IMF. At the same time, they have point­ed towards using again­st aus­ter­i­ty the Euro­pean ver­sion of “quan­ti­ta­tive eas­ing” that the ECB has just ini­ti­at­ed. More­over, they have insist­ed on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a change in the direc­tion of the EU based upon the rise of left­ist move­ments in South­ern Europe or in Ire­land, and the diver­gences between the Ger­man gov­ern­ment and the ECB or between Ange­la Merkel and Mat­teo Ren­zi. The main thrust of SYRIZA’s poli­cies, once in office, will be, accord­ing to their pre-elec­tion dec­la­ra­tions, the cre­ation of some­thing like a social safe­ty net by rais­ing the min­i­mum wage back to 751 euros, rein­stat­ing basic rights to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, revers­ing sus­pen­sions of pub­lic sec­tor employ­ees, offer­ing imme­di­ate assis­tance to 300,000 fam­i­lies below the pover­ty thresh­old, cre­at­ing jobs, and increas­ing pen­sions. There is no deny­ing that the­se are urgent­ly need­ed mea­sures.

How­ev­er, in the cur­rent bal­ance of forces in the EU, even such a mild loos­en­ing of aus­ter­i­ty might not be pos­si­ble. It is not that such a break with aus­ter­i­ty is not finan­cial­ly pos­si­ble; rather, the rea­son is that the deep cri­sis of the Euro­zone, as a result main­ly of the embed­ded and insti­tu­tion­al­ized neolib­er­al­ism of “Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion,” caus­es the Euro­pean rul­ing class to be fear­ful of any­thing that might seem like a “par­a­digm change.” This is espe­cial­ly true if we take the debt cri­sis in Italy and the increased French deficits into con­sid­er­a­tion. So it is more prob­a­ble that dur­ing nego­ti­a­tions the EU side will try to push for the con­tin­u­a­tion of some form of aus­ter­i­ty poli­cies, so as to send the mes­sage that no one can escape the norm. We should not for­get that Greece is still depen­dent upon EU fund­ing and ECB liq­uid­i­ty, and the new gov­ern­ment will face a sit­u­a­tion of emp­ty state cof­fers and press­ing spend­ing needs. Deal­ing with the­se urgent needs, while at the same time fac­ing the pres­sures from the EU, is going to be one of the first chal­lenges the new gov­ern­ment will have to deal with. More­over, we should not for­get that as part of the aus­ter­i­ty pro­grams, the finan­cial life­line offered to Greece was depen­dent not only upon fis­cal tar­gets, such as pri­ma­ry bud­get sur­plus­es (them­selves a form of aus­ter­i­ty), but also upon imple­ment­ing neolib­er­al leg­is­la­tion and reforms. And they will try to apply the same pres­sure again­st some lim­it­ed form of debt relief. In the words of the Finan­cial Times, “none of Mr Tsipras’s pro­pos­als for debt relief will get a sym­pa­thet­ic hear­ing unless he promis­es to con­tin­ue deep-seat­ed reforms of Greece’s econ­o­my and the pub­lic admin­is­tra­tion.”

IV

In light of the above chal­lenges, the neces­si­ty of a break with debt, the euro, and the EU treaties acquires a new urgen­cy. It is obvi­ous that only a stop­page or mora­to­ri­um on debt pay­ments and a process of debt write-off can offer the Greek gov­ern­ment the abil­i­ty to increase pub­lic spend­ing in order to start revers­ing the con­se­quences of aus­ter­i­ty. It is also obvi­ous that only through repeal­ing the bulk of neolib­er­al reforms imposed upon Greece in the past years will it be pos­si­ble to have some more pro­gres­sive poli­cies. Such a process will inevitably lead to the con­fronta­tion with the whole super­vi­so­ry mech­a­nism of the EU and the pro­vi­sions inscribed in the Euro­zone frame­work. In this sense, the break with the euro, and thus a return to mon­e­tary sov­er­eign­ty, remains an urgent neces­si­ty – the start­ing point for any tru­ly pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics.

V

More­over, it is obvi­ous that what peo­ple strug­gled for in the past years was much more than a “social safe­ty net.” Rever­sal of the social dis­as­ter caused by aus­ter­i­ty is, of course, the first and nec­es­sary step. How­ev­er, the deep social and polit­i­cal cri­sis in Greece, as a “cathar­tic” moment, also offers the pos­si­bil­i­ty for a dif­fer­ent social and polit­i­cal road away from neolib­er­al­ism and debt-dri­ven con­sumerism. This means that the exit from aus­ter­i­ty should not be seen sim­ply as a return to “growth” but as the begin­ning of a process of exper­i­men­ta­tion with an alter­na­tive devel­op­men­tal par­a­digm, based upon self-man­age­ment, new forms of demo­c­ra­t­ic par­tic­i­pa­to­ry plan­ning, and the ben­e­fit of the col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence and inge­nu­ity of the peo­ple in strug­gle.

VI

Lack­ing the nec­es­sary par­lia­men­tary major­i­ty, SYRIZA has formed a gov­ern­ment with the Inde­pen­dent Greeks par­ty (ANEL). The Inde­pen­dent Greeks are a pecu­liar hybrid of pop­ulism and tra­di­tion­al right-wing val­ues, with ties to seg­ments of the Greek busi­ness class and the Greek Church. They have been anti-aus­ter­i­ty ever since they split away from New Democ­ra­cy. The SYRIZA lead­er­ship had indi­cat­ed that they might form a gov­ern­ment with the Inde­pen­dent Greeks rather ear­ly, even though they would have pre­ferred a full major­i­ty. This was part of a change in polit­i­cal rhetoric from the “left gov­ern­ment” posi­tion, to that of an anti-aus­ter­i­ty “gov­ern­ment of social res­cue around SYRIZA.” More­over, Panos Kam­menos, the lead­er of the Inde­pen­dent Greeks, and the new Min­is­ter of Defense, cam­paigned to with the slo­gan: “put me into par­lia­ment so that I can con­trol SYRIZA from becom­ing too left­ist.”

At the same time, it should be stressed that there was nev­er a dis­cus­sion of an alliance with the Com­mu­nist Par­ty (KKE), because such an alliance would have meant the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a rad­i­cal anti-EU coali­tion. This is some­thing that both SYRIZA and KKE do not want: SYRIZA because of their pro-EU, pro-euro posi­tion; KKE because of their sec­tar­i­an defeatism and their refusal to see any pos­si­bil­i­ty of change. In terms of eco­nom­ics, it will be pos­si­ble to strike a bal­ance with­in the new gov­ern­ment. In fact, one might say that in cer­tain aspects the Inde­pen­dent Greeks are more “pop­ulist” than the SYRIZA lead­er­ship. Inde­pen­dent Greeks are not anti-EU or anti-euro; con­se­quent­ly, there will be no diver­gences on that front either. Regard­ing rights (for exam­ple, LGBTQ rights), rela­tion to the Church, immi­gra­tion pol­i­cy, etc., there might be some ten­sions, but over­all – and tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the “real­ist” turn of the SYRIZA lead­er­ship – it seems as if the coali­tion will work, at least at first. It also helps the attempt of the SYRIZA lead­er­ship to present the new gov­ern­ment, both domes­ti­cal­ly and inter­na­tion­al­ly, as a nation­al anti-aus­ter­i­ty coali­tion, not just as a gov­ern­ment of the Left.

VII

Regard­ing oth­er ten­den­cies of the Left, it should be stressed that the Com­mu­nist Par­ty had a small increase in votes (5.47% up from 4.5% in June 2012). Dur­ing the cam­paign it main­tained a rather sec­tar­i­an tone, depict­ing SYRIZA as a sys­temic alter­na­tive and pre­sent­ing the strength­en­ing of the Par­ty as the only way out. How­ev­er, the char­ac­ter­is­tic trait of the KKE’s polit­i­cal line has been its insis­tence that unless “oppor­tunism” is defeat­ed there can be no process of social change. This rather defeatist posi­tion is the basis of the party’s sec­tar­i­an tac­tics. The rad­i­cal anti-EU Left, rep­re­sent­ed by ANTARSYA-MARS, did bet­ter than in 2012 (0.64% up from 0.33% in June 2012), but came under heavy pres­sure with­in a heav­i­ly polar­ized elec­tion. Despite its attempt to cam­paign as the nec­es­sary non-sec­tar­i­an Left oppo­si­tion to the right-wing turn of SYRIZA, it did not man­age to have an elec­toral result that could match its appeal with­in the social move­ments.

VIII

The peri­od ahead of us presents impor­tant chal­lenges, espe­cial­ly for the rad­i­cal Left. The first chal­lenge is to rebuild the move­ment in the deep­est sense. The polit­i­cal change and the new sense of opti­mism of the sub­al­tern class­es must also be trans­formed into a new surge of strug­gles. This is required to put the nec­es­sary pres­sure upon the SYRIZA gov­ern­ment to hon­or its promis­es and to actu­al­ly improve the social sit­u­a­tion – from mak­ing sure that laid-off pub­lic sec­tor employ­ees get their jobs back and ERT (the pub­lic broad­cast net­work) is reopened, to the strug­gle for the repeal of neolib­er­al reforms, strong social move­ments and mobi­liza­tions are more than nec­es­sary. This will restore the con­fi­dence of peo­ple in their abil­i­ty to change their lives and thus demand more rad­i­cal poli­cies, a nec­es­sary coun­ter­weight to pres­sure and black­mail from inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions.

With­out a soci­ety engaged in strug­gle, that is, a soci­ety engaged in col­lec­tive prac­tices of resis­tance and trans­for­ma­tion, no process of social change can be ini­ti­at­ed. This impres­sive cycle of strug­gles in the past years was the cat­a­lyst for the elec­toral shifts and the turn of the elec­torate to the Left. In a cer­tain sense, the elec­toral results have also been polit­i­cal trans­la­tions of dynam­ics of protest and con­tes­ta­tion. In the cur­rent con­junc­ture, we need a resur­gence of the move­ment, a resur­gence in terms of strug­gle but also aspi­ra­tion – a nec­es­sary sur­plus of social force both as pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment, as coun­ter­weight to the black­mail from the EU, but also as the cat­a­lyst for new forms of rad­i­cal­iza­tion.

IX

Final­ly, the debate on strat­e­gy must con­tin­ue. The chal­lenge ahead of us is not sim­ply to have some form of pro­gres­sive gov­er­nance with­in the for­bid­ding con­straints imposed by the EU and the Euro­zone. The chal­lenge is to artic­u­late a new dialec­tic of imme­di­ate demands and rad­i­cal changes, not only in the sense of the nec­es­sary break with the debt bur­den and the euro, but also – and main­ly – of the ways to exper­i­ment with new social con­fig­u­ra­tions. For ANTARSYA and the broad­er Greek rad­i­cal anti-EU Left, the chal­lenge is not sim­ply – and not main­ly – to be a “Left oppo­si­tion” to SYRIZA, how­ev­er use­ful this might be in a polit­i­cal land­scape where all oppo­si­tion to SYRIZA will come from the Right. The chal­lenge is how to elab­o­rate a left alter­na­tive, a strat­e­gy of rup­tures and breaks (with the embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism of the euro, debt, etc); this is exact­ly the kind of alter­na­tive that will be urgent­ly need­ed when the strat­e­gy of SYRIZA hits the wall of EU black­mail and the coun­ter-attacks of the forces of cap­i­tal.

X

We have entered a new his­tor­i­cal phase. We have the pos­si­bil­i­ty of col­lec­tive­ly writ­ing a new page in his­to­ry. Greece has been the test­ing ground for the most aggres­sive neolib­er­al exper­i­ment since Pinochet’s Chile. We still have the poten­tial to trans­form it into a lab­o­ra­to­ry of hope! This demands con­fi­dence in the poten­tial inscribed in pop­u­lar strug­gles and an abil­i­ty to think beyond the dom­i­nant frames of think­ing. But isn’t this the essence of rad­i­cal pol­i­tics? The real chal­lenge now is for the peo­ple to sus­tain their hope – the hope of peo­ple actu­al­ly chang­ing their lives.

Author of the article

has taught social and political philosophy as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Crete, Panteion University, the University of the Aegean, and the University of Athens. His research interests include Marxist philosophy, the work of Louis Althusser, and social and political movements in Greece.