(Presentation at the Predicaments of the Left Conference, organized by the Center for Labour Studies in Zagreb 17-19 October 2013)
1. The Greek Debt Crisis
In late 2009, the Greek government announced that Greece was facing a sovereign debt crisis that needed immediate measures. At that time, the debt/GDP ratio was 129.7% and general government deficit was at 15.6%. It sought assistance from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund. In May 2010 the first bail out agreement was signed with the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank, the so-called ‘Troika’. Since 2010, Greek governments have implemented austerity programmes, under the terms of the ‘Memoranda of Understanding’ with the Troika.
These austerity programs have included budget cuts in health, education and social services; wage reductions for public sector employees; pension reductions and increases in the retirement age; reductions in public sector personnel through reduced hiring, laying off of personnel on limited term contracts, forced retirement and recently redundancies; a complete overhaul of the collective bargaining system, a reduction in the minimum wage and widespread wage reductions in the private sector; labour law reforms that increase labour market flexibility; increased taxation; increased electricity and public transport prices; and a massive privatization program. This strategy aimed at reducing debt levels and restoring competitiveness through a strategy of ‘internal devaluation’. However, despite an extensive programme of debt restructuring in the spring of 2012, debt levels have remained extremely high and even the IMF estimates that in 2020 Greece will still face the burden of a Debt / GDP ratio of 124%.
The economic crisis in Greece should not be viewed as the result of deviant public borrowing and spending, constantly rising salaries undermining the competitiveness of Greek economy, and an unsustainable consumption model. In contrast, it is the combined result of the global economic crisis, the crisis of the Eurozone and the crisis of the Greek ‘developmental paradigm’.
Beginning in 2007 with the eruption of the financial crisis, it became obvious that the global economy was experiencing a structural capitalist crisis, of which the debt crisis was only a manifestation. In Marxist terms, it is a crisis of overaccumulation, along with a crisis of the extensive financialization of contemporary capitalism. At the same time, it is a crisis of neoliberalism as economic and social governance. An important aspect of this crisis is the crisis in public finances, in the form of increased sovereign debt and demands for budget cuts to cope with reduced revenue.
The Greek crisis brought forward the structural contradictions of financial and monetary architecture of the Eurozone. The euro as a single currency accentuated the problems caused by the differences in competitiveness and productivity between European economies. The euro practically meant currency devaluation for higher productivity and competitiveness export countries and a currency overvaluation for lower productivity import countries. In periods of relative growth this structural imbalance could be tolerated or even endorsed because it could act as a pressure for capitalist restructuring, acting like an ‘iron cage’ of capitalist modernization. However, in a period of recession all the contradictions of this strategy have been intensified. The absence of any mechanism of redistribution and compensation in the Eurozone and the reluctance particularly of Germany to consider any such mechanism, meant that the competitive pressure on lower productivity and competitiveness countries could become destabilizing, at the same time intensifying the problem of debt.
The Greek debt crisis reflected the crisis of the ‘developmental paradigm’ of Greek capitalism. This was based upon low labour cost, the exploitation of immigrant labour, precarious forms of employment, the use of European funds, socially useless public works as the ones constructed for the 2004 Olympic Games, increased household consumption fuelled by debt, and widespread tax evasion from the part of big business. The dependence of important sectors of the Greek economy (construction, tourism, and shipping) from the tendencies of the economic cycle and the global economic conjuncture only made things worse. As a result, Greek capitalism, after a period of constant growth entered a prolonged economic downturn.
2. Austerity and social devastation.
The economic crisis along with the austerity programmes imposed since 2010 have brought Greece close to a situation of social devastation. Since 2008, Greece has been constantly in recession and the total contraction of the Greek economy is expected to reach 23.5% for the whole 2008-2013 period in real terms. Such a contraction can only be compared to the consequences of major warfare. Along with increased unemployment all over the Eurozone, which reached a 12.2% average in May 2013, unemployment in Greece has reached levels that can only be compared to the Great Depression: the official unemployment rate during the first quarter of 2013 was 27.4% and youth unemployment reached 60%. In July 2013 seasonally adjusted unemployment reached 27.6%. Average real wages have been reduced by at least 25.6%, there has been a 25% reduction in total demand in the 2010-2012 period along with a 22.8% reduction in the purchasing power of wage earners and the self-employed and a 18.8% reduction in private consumption in the 2009-2012 period. The percentage of the population at risk of poverty in 2011 was 31% well above the EU average of 24.2%. There is also evidence of a deteriorating health situation as a direct result of both the social effects of the economic crisis and prolonged recession, but also of severe cuts in public health spending. Such signs of deteriorating health include an increase in suicide and depression rates, a HIV epidemic amongst injecting drug users (for which government officials tried to scapegoat undocumented immigrants despite scientific evidence to the contrary), malaria and Western Nile virus outbreaks because of cuts in anti-insect spraying, and reduced access to health services.
In sum, what has been going on in Greece can be described as a violent change of economic and social paradigm. It is as if Greece has turned into the testing ground for the ability to impose such a violent disruption of social norms, though a perpetual “shock therapy”. Changes that in other countries took many years and required dictatorial governments (such as Chile under the bloody rule of Augusto Pinochet) have been implemented through the open and declared blackmail of the international creditors. Greece has been a huge example in neoliberal social engineering and at the same time of the new version of European Economic Governance, the EU version of IMF’s ‘structural adjustment programs’, which includes the imposition of a condition of limited sovereignty and the disciplinary transformation of the social fabric of a country along neoliberal lines. Although, this strategy has been orchestrated by the mechanism of international supervision through the constant presence of ‘Troika’ (EU-IMF-ECB) representatives, at the same time it expresses the will of Greek capitalists to violently change the balance of forces in favour of capital and to the detriment of labour. One might say that Greek capitalists seem to be willing to pay the price of prolonged recession if this will also mean drastic reduction of wage cost and a full dismantling of the legislative framework guarantying union representation and employment protection.
At the same time, also under the pressure to answer the demands of the creditors and create fiscal surpluses in order to repay the debt, a pillage of public assets is underway which includes publicly owned enterprises, publicly owned real estate, and natural resources. One might say that the conjuncture of the economic crisis has been used as a way to force a drastic redistribution of wealth in favour of capital. This is also part of the logic of turning Greece into a Special Economic Zone. According to this Greece should “revamp” itself as a cheap labour, no environmental protection, no labour rights zone eager to attract investment. Attracting “foreign investment” has been one of the battle cries of the Greek government, along with accusing unions and the Left that they are undermining the ability of the country to attract investors through strikes and mass protests.
3. Mass protest and political crisis.
Such an open and deep economic and social crisis also led to a profound political crisis. The catalyst for this deep political crisis was a series of mass protests, rioting and other forms of contentious practices, of an almost insurrectionary character. First, there was an impressive series of general strikes, beginning in May 2010. Then, there was the “Movement in the Squares”, in May – June 2011, which coincided with the Indignados 15M movement in Spain, which was a massive display of protest and which for the first time united people already militant in social movements with people with no experience of collective action. This protest sequence was followed by the strikes in autumn 2011 and the disruption of military parades on 28 October 2011, and the mass rioting on 12 February 2012.
We have also had the prolonged struggle of civil servants against redundancies and mass lay-offs. This has taken the form of mass strikes in the fall of 2012 and in September of 2013. Of particular importance has been the struggle against the mass closure of hospital units in order to reduce costs in the health system. These struggles have also been community struggles, in the sense of local communities also protesting their potential lack of access to medical services. Also of particular importance has been the ongoing struggle in education. On the one hand, we have the ongoing struggles in Higher Education, struggles against the full implementation of the strategy of “entrepreneurial university” and the “Bologna process”. This has been combined with extreme austerity measures that include forced closures and merges of Departments and Schools, redundancies and lay-offs of administrative personnel, slashing funding for adjunct lecturers, and slashing budgets. There is currently a heroic struggle at major Universities against forced redundancies and lay-offs of administrative personnel that will totally cripple their ability to function properly.
This series of mass protest also took other forms, such as the impressive struggle of the inhabitants of Keratea in 2010-11. It is a town in the greater Attica region that successfully resisted, despite military-style attacks by special police forces, the construction of a landfill in their vicinity. In Chalkidiki, in the North of Greece, local communities are still waging a heroic struggle against environmentally disastrous Gold mines, despite being treated as terrorists by the police and the justice system. There have also been examples of self-management. At BIOME, a factory near Salonika we are already witnessing the first successful example of a self-managed factory. In many cities, local citizen initiatives and popular assemblies are working with the farmer’s cooperatives in order for cheap quality agricultural products to be available to working people. Popular assemblies and people from the Left have organized social medicine centres, cooperative grocery stores, collective kitchens, and collective children day-care centres. Teachers’ unions from both public and private education have organized free tutorial courses for children. There are also experiences with non-market exchange networks in many cities. At the same time, there has been a flourishing of anti-fascist initiatives and demonstrations, along with struggles against the exploitation of immigrant workers. Some weeks ago, in the strawberry plantations in Manolada, in West Peloponnese owners shot at immigrant workers who were demanding their wages. The reaction was not only impressive demonstrations that united Greek and immigrant workers, but also an impressive organization drive towards the first such union of agricultural labourers in Greece. The decision of the Greek government to shut down the entire Greek Public Television and Radio Network (ERT) was met with mass demonstrations and occupations of ERT headquarters and local stations, making it an impressive example of workers’ control and self-management.
This impressive protest cycle from 2010 to 2012 not only intensified the political crisis, but also created the material conditions for impressive shifts in relations of political representation. The crisis of traditional political representation materialized in alternative forms of political belonging, within the temporality of the protests but also in a deeper way. The basis of these tectonic shifts was the shift in social alliances. The crisis led to new forms of polarization and alignment On the one hand, one could see large segments of the subaltern classes, of workers, peasants, intellectuals, self-employed members of the ‘professional classes’, small businessmen turning their back on mainstream parties, taking part in various protests, voting to the Left. One might say that this represented a potential alliance in favour of radical politics, or even a new “historic bloc” to use Gramsci’s terminology. On the other hand, one could see the forces of capital, the top echelons of state apparatuses and the corporate media, plus people turning more conservative out of fear (segments of pensioners, or people living in rural areas). This polarization was evident in the electoral results of the May – June 2012 and it one still sees it in opinion polls. The Left is the leading political force in the voters that belong to the productive ages (18-55), in wage earners, in people from working class and lower middle class strata, in people in urban areas. The Right is the leading force in the voters that belong to higher age groups (older than 55), to bourgeois and upper middle class strata and rural areas. It is obvious that people that are facing social disaster and insecurity and are reacting more in terms of anger and collective struggle tended to vote for the Left. On the other hand, people who were reacting to the deterioration of living prospects in more phobic terms, or were in fear of losing whatever real or imaginary social gains they had, tended to vote more for the Right.
This kind of polarization, a result of the social crisis, led to the political crisis. The rapid erosion of relations of political representation, the crisis of the party system, and the emergence of anti-systemic political forces attest to this. The forms of protest that have been predominant in Greece, especially the mass gatherings in city squares, with their openness and the fact that they looked different from traditional union or party meetings, functioned as an outlet for anger and frustration. The people refused to be governed in the same manner as before and Greek governments seemed unable to govern them, bringing forward the dynamics of political crisis. In many aspects Greece reached Antonio Gramsci’s definition of an organic crisis or a crisis of hegemony, with social classes detached from their parties, increased political mobilization and a crisis of parliamentary representation, that can also account for the authoritarian turn towards governments of ‘national unity’ which is facilitated by the EU’s willingness to impose a condition of limited sovereignty. Apart from open forms of political crisis such as the one experienced in Greece, there are signs of a growing distance between citizens and both the EU and national governments all over Europe. To make matters worse European political elites are acting in complete ignorance of the fact that politics cannot be some form of ‘auto-pilot’ of dictating measures out of neoliberal textbooks and of simply attempting to impose ‘consensus’ regardless of the actual balance of forces. This tactic can only exacerbate a crisis of legitimacy. This ‘post-democratic’ and ‘post-hegemonic’ form of neo-liberal governance might seem as the best conduit for neoliberal ‘social engineering’, but in reality opens the way for social explosions and open political crisis.
Political crisis in Greece has taken many forms. The collapse of the Papandreou government in the autumn of 2011, when a proposed referendum on the austerity measures was practically forbidden by the European Union, which led to the formation of a coalition government under L. Papademos, a former European Central Banker, was an expression the political crisis. The dynamics of a deep political crisis, which was close to a crisis of hegemony, were also evident in the May 2012 election when total vote of pro-austerity parties plummeted and there was an impressive rise of the Left, and also in intense polarization of the June 2012 election which led to the coalition government under A. Samaras, the current Prime Minister. June 2013 marked another phase in the evolving political crisis. The decision of Samaras to shut down the entire Greek Public Television and Radio network (ERT) was met with mass demonstrations and occupations of ERT headquarters. The widespread feeling that this was an extremely authoritarian move, reminiscent of fascist attacks on freedom of press, led to an open government crisis. Initially both PASOK and Democratic Left, the two partners of Samaras’ New Democracy party, opposed the decision and the fate of the government was unsure. In the end the Democratic Left, left the coalition thus making the current New Democracy and PASOK coalition government inherently unsafe.
4. The rise of neo-fascism.
However, apart from the protest sequence and the rise of SYRIZA and the Left in general there was also another important political shift. The open crisis of systemic parties, mainly PASOK, but also New Democracy, also led to the rise of the Far Right and especially neo-nazi Golden Dawn that managed to gain more than 6% of the vote, enter parliament for the first time and come under the spotlight no longer as a marginal political force. Golden Dawn is also an expression of the depth of the political crisis. It has managed to attract both the historical electorate of the Far Right (with roots in the undemocratic authoritarian regime imposed in Greece after the defeat of the Left in 1946-49 Civil War) and segments of working class, unemployed and petty-bourgeois strata.
The brutal murder of Pavlos Fyssa on 18 September, which was not Golden Dawn’s first attack, the neo-Nazi having a long tradition of violent attacks, brought forward the violence of Golden Dawn. This realization along with strong antifascist demonstrations forced the government to arrest the leadership of Golden Dawn and charge it with being a “criminal organization”, though the government has tried to use this process as an attempt also to attack the Left through the so-called “theory of the two extremes”.
Golden Dawn adopted a populist anti-memoranda and anti-austerity discourse, accusing governments of betrayal, treating politicians as traitors and demanding national sovereignty. We must also stress the appeal not only of their discourse but also of their aggressive public style. The emphasis of verbal and physical aggression (including the attack by a Golden Dawn member of Parliament against two other leftwing members of parliament during a live morning news TV show), was combined with the adoption of an openly sexist – militarist aesthetic exemplified the parades of athletic males in military fatigues. This was enhanced by the cynical choice by a segment of the Mass Media to promote them. This mixture of sexism, racism and bravado was similar to certain aspects of the spontaneous ideology of certain segments of the subaltern classes, especially those segments that did not participate in collective practices of struggle and solidarity. More generally, we should note that social crisis and especially a certain form of individualized despair of people with no participation in collective struggle creates a fertile ground for neo-fascist ideology.
At the same time, the authoritarian and racist turn of mainstream politics and Mass Media in Greece and the prevailing ‘law and order rhetoric also helped the rise of Golden Dawn. Mainstream parties and pro-austerity governments have endorsed the disregard of parliamentary procedure, the excessive police violence, the dismantling of legislation guarantying basic rights such as collective bargaining and employment protection, and the anti-immigrant legislation. Moreover, mainstream pro-austerity parties have openly endorsed racist xenophobic policies. In 2011 PASOK and New Democracy demonized the heroic hunger strike by 300 immigrants. In 2012 Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, at the time a member of PASOK, cynically accused HIV-positive sex workers as the cause of an HIV epidemic that was in fact the result of health cuts he had orchestrated.
The authoritarian turn reflects a more general trend especially within the EU, where limited sovereignty and democracy is becoming the norm, in the sense of important decisions being taken without any form of democratic control and of imposing a condition of limited sovereignty to those countries that seem to be unable to fulfil the norms of neoliberal “economic correctness”. In this sense, Golden Dawn, instead of being anti-systemic, in reality it has been acting as an extreme and perverse version of exactly a crucial aspect of contemporary systemic politics.
5. Social dynamics and strategic challenges for the Left.
Coming now to the question of the movement, I would like to stress an important point: treating these tectonic political shifts as the simple result of social crisis and the deterioration of social conditions is far from providing a full image of the situation in Greece. Without this unprecedented sequence of struggles and collective practices of resistance and solidarity, without a strong movement, which has been close to a modern version of a “protracted people’s war”, we would not have experienced these political earthquakes. It was exactly through these collective experiences of struggle, this feeling of anger turned into hope, this feeling of confidence and of being part of a people in struggle, expressed in concrete practices such as a demonstration, a clash with the police or a popular assembly, that people were again re-politicized, re-radicalized, moved to the Left. Were it not for the mass strikes, for the continuing struggles in many sectors, for the hundreds of solidarity initiatives, and for the many forms of resistance and disobedience, the political landscape would have been much more different. And at the same time, the current problems in the full development of the movement, exemplified in the halted strike of secondary education strike against redundancies, are also problems in the development of a political strategy for the Left. The Left needs the full force of a movement and not just an electoral swift. This will offer to the Left the force to actually implement a series of radical breaks. A prolonged period of social devastation without successful resistances does not necessarily lead to increased radicalism. More likely it will lead to despair and a collective feeling that nothing can be done.
I am stressing this because in many instances the Greek Left acts as if political power and consequently an end to austerity and a beginning of social transformation will simply come as the ‘ripe fruit’ of worsening social conditions. Nothing is further from the truth. Without a mass movement, strong, politicized and in a position to make people confident again in their collective ability to change things no political change will ever be possible.
It is obvious that Greece has entered what one might describe as a post-democratic condition. The traditional forms of political pressure that could force a government to step back from introducing reactionary measures through a calculation of the political cost, do not apply to Greece anymore. On the contrary, we have entered a condition of limited sovereignty, with the EU-IMF-ECB ‘Troika’ dictating measures regardless of their social cost and with Greek governments simple capitulating to these demands, under the pressure of the dominant fractions of Greek capital. Without a political breakthrough, without a sharp change in the political balance of forces in favour of the forces of labour and other popular classes, there can be no end in sight in the politics of austerity. We need such a broad popular alliance under the hegemony of the force of labour that will take governmental and political power and open up a political sequence of social transformation in a socialist direction. In sum what we need is to actually try and think how today’s dynamics of anger, contention and protest can be turned into a highly original revolutionary process, revolutionary in the sense that it must challenge fundamental aspects of capitalist social relations and highly original because we cannot think about it in terms of ready-made conceptions.
6. The open questions for left-wing strategy.
Can we answer this challenge by struggling for a left-wing government, a possibility that has dominated discussions within the Left in Europe, especially after the election of June 2012 when SYRIZA came close to power? First of all, this possibility represents the depth and the extent of the political crisis in Greece, the tectonic shifts in relations of political representation, as a result of the social crisis but also of the impressive series of struggles and collective practices of resistance, protest, disobedience and solidarity. At the same time, it brings forward the centrality of the question of political power in the current conjuncture in Greece. However, although the whole question of a possibility of a left wing government opens up the question of political power, this does not mean that SYRIZA, at least in its current policies and strategic proposals is the answer. That is why it is important to rethink questions of political and governmental power.
The first question arising when discussing such matters refers to the question of the program of any attempt to fight for political power. For many people questions of political program might seem like a luxury. For them what we need is to unite forces around simple demands, around this necessary ‘no to austerity’, instead of endless discussions on the program. However, there are aspects of the political program that do not represent ideological obsessions but attempts to come in terms with important material constraints for any potential left-wing politics. To put in simple terms: there can be no left-wing governance without a left-wing program.
To give perhaps the most important example, the question of the relation of Greece to Eurozone and the European Integration project in general is not an ideological obsession from the part of some tendencies of the Greek radical Left. Rather, it is a crucial question, which any attempt at left wing governance will face. The European Union today is not simply turning more neo-liberal (especially if we consider the embedded neoliberalism of the European Integration project since the Single European Act of 1986). It is also turning into a highly undemocratic process, openly calling for limited sovereignty for countries in the European South, creating conditions of a “race to the bottom” of austerity, recession and unemployment, using in many instances an openly neo-colonial rhetoric on the need to “reform those lazy Southerners”. The euro is not simply a currency, but represents a whole set of institutional restraints and obstacles to any progressive policies. At the same time, it is an imperialist strategy. The euro as common currency in an economic area marked by sharp differences in productivity and competitiveness acted as an extra “comparative advantage” for the capitals of the hegemonic European social formations, such as Germany and as an “Iron Cage” of capitalist modernization for peripheral social formations. In a period of economic crisis, it also enhances structural imbalances, inequalities and divergences, thus contributing to debt and in general the general economic crisis of countries such as Greece. The Euro also forms the material ground of all forms of blackmail that any leftwing or progressive government will face in Greece. To put simply it is not possible to negotiate or take a firm stand against the austerity measures imposed upon Greece when the Eurogroup controls monetary policy, when the European Central Bank controls the liquidity of banks, when a country remains depended upon loans from the ECB and the IMF. Regaining monetary sovereignty, as a form of democratic social control of an important aspect of the economy is a necessary precondition for any potential progressive solution to the Greek problem.
I know that the counterargument is that a left-wing government, armed with the support and aspiration of the electorate will be in a position to take a firm stand against the EU-IMF-ECB Troika renegotiate successfully, obtain important concessions and put an end to austerity. However, I think that this as close to a fantasy that we could get! That is why Cyprus offers an important example and a warning that we cannot avoid taking into account. What happened in Cyprus? The EU-IMF-ECB Troika imposed a very aggressive austerity program. The Cypriot Parliament rejected this program, under the pressure of the people who were demonstrating in the streets. The Cypriot government went to Brussels to renegotiate, taking a firm stand and demanding a better deal. However, it was also determined to stay within the monetary and institutional framework of the Eurozone. The result was that it got an even worse deal than the original in terms of recession, austerity and unemployment. How can we be certain that a SYRIZA government determined to get rid of austerity while remaining within the Eurozone, will not get the same treatment and succumb to the same kind of blackmail? The argument that Greece is ‘too big to fail’ does not hold, since by now it is obvious that most countries, central banks and international organizations are by now in a position to stand the bankruptcy of a country like Greece.
In contrast, the unwillingness of the leadership of SYRIZA to even consider the possibility of a rupture with the European Integration process and the mechanism of debt-ridden austerity, leads it to make proposals that are not only out of touch with the reality of power relations in the international plane, such the proposal for a “New Marshal Plan” for Europe, but could also lead to an even greater dependence of the Greek economy on funding from international organizations.
I would like to stress here that there is nothing nationalist or chauvinist in opting for the exit of Greece from the Eurozone and fighting for a rupture with the violence of neoliberalism and the imperialist character of the monetary and fiscal architecture of the Eurozone. As for the argument that it is better to wait for a pan-European movement to get rid of austerity, I believe that this argument misses an important aspect of social struggles in the Europe, namely the uneven character of their development. Not all movements are equally radicalized and politicized and adopting such a strategy of waiting for a Pan-European movement will mean that the people in Greece will endure many more years of austerity and social devastation. Some comrades that have suggested that opting for a return to monetary sovereignty will be equal to entering into an antagonism of competitive devaluations with Spanish or Portuguese workers. I also think that this is far from the truth. Getting Greece out of the Eurozone is not about competitive devaluations but about protecting large segments of the popular classes against the systemic social violence of the free movement of capitals and commodities across the European Union. It is about regaining democratic social control of the monetary policy and the economy in general, and about attempting to rely on the collective effort of working people to build an alternative future instead of being prey to the embedded neoliberalism of the European Integration Project. Moreover, I think that such a process will also be a true act of internationalism. Wouldn’t this be a message of hope and a proof that social change is possible if social movements in a country of the European South managed to break away from the Eurozone and begun a process of social transformation? Wouldn’t this be a first step in getting rid of the euro and all the neoliberal and undemocratic framework of the European Union? Wouldn’t this open up the way for new forms of cooperation based on respect for democracy, popular sovereignty and common effort for a better future?
I do not want to suggest that what the question of an alternative policy for Greece is limited to questions of monetary policy. Nor am I criticizing SYRIZA in the name of some abstract ‘anti-capitalism’ like the one offered by the Greek Communist Party who talks about socialism but only in an another time, since today “conditions are not ripe”. What I am trying to suggest is that any possibility of an end to austerity must start with a set of urgent measures that are immediately needed in order to avoid social disaster and at the same time open up the way for a radical transformation of Greek society in a non-capitalist direction. These measures should include apart from the immediate exit from the Eurozone and potentially the EU, the annulment of debt, the nationalization of banks and strategic enterprises and redistribution income in favour of the forces of labour including a re-establishment of full trade union rights to organize and collectively bargain. Institutionally, this process should not be conceived in terms of remaining within the contours of existing legality (both national and European). On the contrary, it will require a new ‘Constituent Process’ and deep changes that should include limitation to capitalist ownership, the right to occupy and self-manage abandoned or closed enterprises, and new and extended forms of social and workers’ control. On the basis of such measures, we can really start thinking about radical changes in a socialist direction, in the sense of extended self-management, alternative forms of non-market distribution, new forms of democratic social planning, socialization of knowledge and expertise, new forms of democratic participation at all levels of decision-making.
Implementing such measures will not be easy and it will require a new collective ethics and a strong sense of common effort and participation. That is why it is necessary to think of this challenge not in terms of governance but of a movement, of a collective process of transformation. Only a strong movement from below, in the sense of extended forms of trade union action, of forms of popular democracy from below, of networks of solidarity, of forms of self-defence, can mount a successful resistance to all forms of formal and informal sabotage and counter-attacks from the part of the forces of capital, the justice system or the repressive apparatuses of the State.
All these bring forward an important question. It is not possible to deal with questions of left-wing government and its relation to the movement without opening up the question of a revolutionary strategy in the 21st century. Contrary to the position held by both SYRIZA and the Communist Party that today there is no point in talking about revolutionary changes (in the case of SYRIZA in the name of the immediate need to avoid social disaster and in the case of KKE of the situation not being ripe enough), I want to stress that what has been happening in Greece in the past three years in terms of social protest and contention, of open political crisis, of people abandoning mainstream parties and politics and being ready to accept radical solutions, of a demand of profound social and political change, of an acceptance of the need for new social and political configuration beyond ‘actually existing neoliberalism’, is the closest we could get to potentially pre-revolutionary situation. However unripe and immature the situation is, hasn’t this been the case with all sequences of major social and political transformation?
This need for a new – and necessarily original – revolutionary strategy should not lead us to a dogmatic reproduction of either the ‘democratic road to socialism’ position or the traditional insurrectionary conception of the revolutionary process. On the one hand, we need to take into consideration that in advanced capitalist societies with developed forms of civil society institutions and extended apparatuses of hegemony it is necessary to conduct a modern version of ‘war of position’, a complex attempt at creating forms and institutions of counter-power and counter-hegemony from below in a new and original version of a ‘dual power’ strategy. On the other hand, we need to find ways to accelerate and intensify processes of political and potentially hegemonic crisis and take advantage of any opportunity to bring reactionary governments down under the pressure of the movement and use the window of opportunity opened by the possibility of a left-wing government along with an escalation of struggles and confrontations with the logic of capital on all levels.
What we need is an attempt to transform contemporary dynamics within Greek society into something close to an “historical block” to use Gramsci’s term, not simply an electoral alliance, but the encounter between an alliance of the subaltern classes, a radical anti-capitalist program, in the sense of an alternative narrative, and new collective forms of organization and experimentation. Devising such a contemporary revolutionary strategy should also be seen as a learning process, through experimentation with current experiences of self-management, non-commodity prevision of services, on direct democracy from below.
However, most tendencies of the European Left do not even attempt to open up this debate, remaining entangled either in “realist” proposals for a progressive governance that will not challenge the power of capital or the current architecture of globalized capitalism, or in revolutionary fantasies about “storming the Winter Palace”.
This is the problem with SYRIZA leadership’s strategy. They treat the question of governmental power as a means to bring forward progressive reforms and gradually put an end to austerity. To this end, they take for granted all the institutional constraints of the Eurozone and the bail-out loan agreements. That is why they moved from a position of complete renunciation of the loan agreements to a position of “renegotiation”. That is why they have been trying to develop a better understanding with representatives of big business, including media barons. That is why there have been references from the part of SYRIZA to sound entrepreneurship and socially responsible ‘investments’. I do not wish the deny the radicalism and the good will of many comrades in SYRIZA and their commitment to socialist politics, but the truth is that the current strategy by SYRIZA is far from answering these challenges.
7. What is to be done?
Greek society is at a crossroads. Although there are important movements, the current conjuncture does not have the particular insurrectionary quality of the 2010-12 protest sequence. At the same time, the social situation deteriorates, the political crisis remains deep and it seems impossible for the current government to manage to gather any form of consent to its politics. One might say that the dominant social and political forces cannot offer a way out of the crisis but, to use Gramsci’s words, “the only power they have is the power to prolong the crisis”. This means that the possibility of a political rupture is here and this makes it imperative to think more strategically.
First, we still need a strong movement; we need to reach a point where a parallel society of struggle, resistance and solidarity emerges. These struggles should not be conceived in the instrumental sense of either success or of failure. As I have already mentioned, traditional calculations of movement pressure do not apply to Greece. We need to think in terms of a protracted peoples’ war. The crucial point is not whether there is ‘victory’, in the sense of an austerity bill not passing because of a mass strike. The crucial aspect is to have a constant attrition of the government and the Troika, delays or blockages in aspects of the austerity measures, and a growing collective confidence within the movement that in the end we can win. We also need to think of these struggles as collective learning processes, as attempts not only to articulate demands but also to experiment with alternative forms of self-management and democratic collective decision-making.
Secondly, we must insist on creating networks of solidarity and forms of popular power “from below”. Solidarity is important in the sense we need people be confident that through collective practices they will avoid having their electricity cut-off, their home auctioned, that they will be able to cater for basic needs from food, to medicine to tutorial courses for their children. This will bring back confidence to collective struggle and the ability to build a better future. Such collective practices can also represent the emergence of forms of popular power from below, as forms of an emerging contemporary form of dual power, as forms of self-defence against the aggressiveness of the government and the forces of capital. Underestimating the importance of a strong movement and prolonged struggles means underestimating the dynamics of the class balance of forces. Only this way can we fight despair and “collective depression” and avoid the turn towards an individual struggle for survival.
Thirdly, we must insist on projecting the transitional program not as a technocratic alternative but as “another road” out of the crisis. In a conjuncture such as Greece’s, radical ruptures such as the exit from the Eurozone, debt annulment and nationalization of banks and strategic enterprises, represent and the same time urgently needed measures to avoid the current social disaster and crucial steps towards a new socialist strategy. We need to articulate this dialectic and offer a new alternative narrative for Greek society, not simply a “set of measures”, nor simply some “catch-phrases”.
Fourthly, this means that we actually attempt to re-invent left-wing strategy, by opening up the debate on strategic questions and on how to combine current struggles with a socialist perspective for the 21st century. This also calls for a new balance of forces within the Greek Left. In light of this, the attempt by ANTARSYA, the Front of the Greek Anti-capitalist Left, to work towards a pole of the radical anti-EU Left, is not an attempt to create some sort of “left opposition” to SYRIZA. It is an attempt towards working upon the strategic, ideological, programmatic conditions that are necessary to turn current dynamics into a radical alternative, an attempt to think the organizational forms this requires, to contribute towards the broader debate on the future of the movement and the Left in Greece. What we need is not a critique of “reformism”, but an actual attempt to think in concrete terms a politics of social transformation that goes beyond both “pragmatism” and “anticapitalist verbalism”.
Finally, this also calls for re-inventing left-wing political organizations and fronts. It is not enough to think of them as electoral apparatuses or simple forms of coordination of different movements and aspirations. Nor will it help us to think of them as bearers of political truth ideological correctness. What we need is to think of them, following Gramsci, as laboratories for mass critical political intellectuality, as collective learning processes, as open political processes that will produce theory, knowledge of the conjuncture and alternative narratives. Democracy within left-wing organizations thus becomes not an instrumental necessity in order to guaranty the political rights of militants, but a strategic condition for the collective elaboration of these alternatives.
Therefore, we are far from the end of the movement. Despite the aggression and cynicism from the part of the government, the Troika, the forces of capital to suppress collective practices, Greece is still the most advanced laboratory of struggle and radical alternatives in Europe, and I hope that it will soon send a message of hope to working people all over Europe.