AKNY–Greece Solidarity Movement -

In “FIRST WE TAKE MANHATTAN” Despina Lalaki talks about the dynamic of forming left alliances in communities on the other side of the Atlantic.

FIRST WE TAKE MANHATTAN…

By Despina Lalaki

 

First We Take Manhattan Greek Left and New York Left groups rallying together

First We Take Manhattan
Greek Left and American Left groups rallying together in New York

Global Cities and Diasporic Networks in the aftermath of Syriza’s Victory

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by Despina Lalaki   March 24, 2015

Since the pressures of international financial capital and its subservient political elites will continue with the same if not greater intensity, it is also certain that a new cycle of social mobilization in Greece and the rest of Europe will begin again. Today, when social movements are “internationalized” mainly through the internet, what role could the communities of the Greek diaspora play in faraway cities, such as New York, cities of great importance for the flow and concentration of financial capital that are registered in our collective imaginary for every possible reason other than their role in the history of social movements?

Since the elections of 2012, the meteoric rise of Syriza has generated a wave of enthusiasm – at home and abroad – expressed by the proliferation of grassroots groups and organizations rallying in Syriza’s support, against the rise of fascism in Greece and Europe at large and the authoritarian practices of the Greek government such as the overnight shutdown of ERT (Greece’s public broadcasting network). In what felt almost like a chain reaction, nearly every European capital appeared that it would get its own Syriza branch while smaller Greek radical left parties such as Antarsya (Front of the Greek Anticapitalist Left) followed suit organizing marches, protests, conferences and open public discussions in universities and other forums.

On the other side of the Atlantic

The  organizing force behind all these rather small groups has been diaspora Greeks who have either lived and worked abroad for decades or migrated recently as a result of the economic pressures back home. The phenomenon has been repeated even across the Atlantic. In February 2012 a gathering at Zuccotti Park in New York City, in response to what was meant to be an international solidarity action under the cry “We Are All Greeks” gave rise to the establishment of three different groups: AKNY (Left Movement NY) – Greece Solidarity Movement, Syriza-NY and Antarsya-US.

The impact these groups, as collective subjects, may have in the broader fight for social change is certainly unclear. Yet, it appears as if they work like small centripetal forces around which various fragments of the European and American Left flock, inspired by the historical possibilities the rise of a Left party in power brings. Similar are the effects of the rise of Podemos which, transcending the local and particular circumstances of Spain, has generated trans-national networks and organizations enabled by the presence of Spaniards abroad. Whether these groups – all rather diverse in their practices, organizational structure, ideological orientation and immediate goals and objectives – will be able to galvanize greater movements back home or abroad remains to be seen. Some facets of their particular conditions, however, beg for more attention: the diasporic aspect, already mentioned, as constitutive force of their organization, and a strong urban element which, on various levels, plays an important role in the emergence of a new global political geography.

In our days, social movements’ actions and radical political changes, thanks to the internet and the social media, rapidly reverberate across large geographical scales. The movement of the squares of 2011, encompassing the indignados in Spain and Greece and Occupy Wall Street in the US, the Egyptian Revolution and the Turkish uprising, the revolts in Tunisia and Syria, the Hong Kong or Sao Paulo protests, the rise of Podemos in Spain and Syriza’s ascendance to power are all closely interconnected in our political imaginary. A global struggle for real democracy is taking place and in the process a global change of consciousness is well under way, extending far beyond the political, geographical and ideological spaces of the cities which first ignited it.

The urban element and the Global Cities according to

S. Sassen

The historically-proven importance of the urban element in constituting social movements once again appears to play a great role. Global cities – a term largely popularized by sociologist Saskia Sassen in her 1991 book The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo – recognized as such primarily for their importance as nodes in the global economic system, constitute also relational conduits where movements connect and develop. Global are the cities where not only financial capital meets and decision-making institutions are located but also sites where new actual physical social relationships are forged and in which potential protesters, activists and radical scholars are implicated. Athens, Cairo, New York, Istanbul or Madrid set a new global political agenda and for that reason alone can be indexed as ‘global cities.’

Diasporic communities and social movements

Global cities occupy a central position in the transnational social, cultural and political networks, networks which are made up of nomadic social actors, various kinds of diasporas – small-minded nationals as well as internationally-minded professionals, workers, scholars, researchers, activists and so forth. Transnational social movements, as well, are enabled by electronic networks and weak-tie connections which facilitate the transmission of information but are enacted by social actors on the ground, individuals in direct contact forging actual relationships and strong ties while connecting and coordinating their actions. Individuals and groups moving within and between large urban centers form nodes in relational networks that can connect struggles over distant lands.

AKNY, Antarsya-US, and Syriza-NY, organizations with which I am most familiar, are diaspora-based organizations working not only to popularize the struggles of the Greek people back home but to build connections and solidarity with organizations, groups and individuals that fight similar fights in New York City and the US. New York, home to a large Greek diaspora, is also home to various forces of the American radical Left which have been closely following the recent political developments across the Atlantic. Greece has ignited the Left’s political imagination around the world, often to the astonishment of the people of the Greek Left who may be more reserved or more cautious in their optimism at the moment. From New York City, the epicenter of world capitalism and source of tremendous symbolic power, modest diasporic networks can capitalize on the prestige that the city emanates, increasing the visibility of their struggles, expanding their influence and potentially building strong counter-hegemonic organizational structures. If nothing else, the results of the recent negotiations between the Greek government and the Troika suggest that international solidarity and mobilization may be key to not only avoiding further capitulation but to developing a strong front against the continuous onslaughts of finance capital in Greece and beyond.

New York, for instance, thousands of miles away from any European city, for a long time loomed large in European’s imagination, mostly as a hub of high lifestyle, high culture and conspicuous consumption. Yet, the several hundred people who, in 2011, gathered, rather spontaneously, at the small ‘privately owned public square’ of Zuccotti – formerly called Liberty Plaza Park – reminded us at whose expense that lifestyle was forged and specified exactly how few people it concerned. Symbols, along with changing consciousness, or probably because of it, are subject to change as well. On January 22nd, when Pablo Iglesias, the General Secretary of Podemos addressed Syriza’s supporters at the party’s preelection rally at Omonia Square by opening his speech with Leonard Cohen’s: “First We Take Manhattan, Then We Take Berlin…” might have had in mind something along these lines.

 

Note: This article was previously published in Greek in Ενθέματα Αυγής, https://enthemata.wordpress.com, March 15, 2015.

Despina Lalaki is a Sociologist and Visiting Research Fellow at The Center for the Study of Culture, Technology and Work, CUNY, The Graduate Center.

 

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ΜΙΑ ΞΕΧΑΣΜΕΝΗ ΤΡΑΓΙΚΗ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑ…

ΜΙΑ ΞΕΧΑΣΜΕΝΗ ΤΡΑΓΙΚΗ ΙΣΤΟΡΙΑ
….μαθηματα μνημης απο Αφρικη

 

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum: One of the art pieces in the museum

International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum: One of the art pieces in the museum

 

Του Σωτήρη Βλάχου

Λευκωσια 4/2015

Τον Ιανουάριο του 1990, ο Νέλσον Μαντέλα έστειλε από την φυλακή ένα σημείωμα στους συντρόφους του: «Η εθνικοποίηση των ορυχείων, των τραπεζών και των μονοπωλιακών βιομηχανιών είναι η πολιτική του Αφρικανικού Εθνικού Κογκρέσου και η αλλαγή ή τροποποίηση των απόψεων μας είναι αδιανόητη…» («Το ΔΟΓΜΑ ΤΟΥ ΣΟΚ, η άνοδος του καπιταλισμού της καταστροφής», Ναόμι Κλέιν, σελ. 266).
Μετά από 27 χρόνια φυλάκισης και λίγες μόνο μέρες πριν αποφυλακιστεί, ο Μαντέλα διαβεβαίωνε ότι τίποτε δεν είχε αλλάξει, δεν είχε συμβιβαστεί.
Για τριάντα πέντε χρόνια το αίτημα της εθνικοποίησης των ορυχείων, των τραπεζών και των μονοπωλιακών βιομηχανιών, αποτέλεσε πυρήνα των αιτημάτων του Χάρτη της Ελευθερίας των αγωνιστών του Αφρικάνικου Εθνικού Κογκρέσου.
«Η διαδικασία σύνταξης του ξεκίνησε το 1955, όταν το κόμμα έστειλε 50 χιλιάδες εθελοντές στις πόλεις και στην ύπαιθρο για να συγκεντρώσουν τα ‘αιτήματα για ελευθερία’ του λαού, συνθέτοντας το όραμα για ένα κόσμο μετά το απαρτχάιντ…» (Το ίδιο, σελ. 266)
Τα αιτήματα του λαού υιοθετήθηκαν επίσημα, «στις 26 Ιουνίου του 1955 στο κογκρέσο του λαού… Το πρώτο και πιο προκλητικό αίτημα… ήταν: ‘Ο λαός θα κυβερνήσει’… η συγκέντρωση διαλύθηκε βίαια από την αστυνομία…». (Το ίδιο, σελ. 267)
Από τότε μέχρι την «απελευθέρωση», χιλιάδες αγωνιστές, στελέχη του Αφρικάνικου Εθνικού Κογκρέσου, εξοντώθηκαν από μια από τις πιο βάρβαρες δυνάμεις καταστολής στον πλανήτη. Μόνο και μόνο για να αντικατασταθούν από άλλους. Σπάνια συναντάται πορεία αυταπάρνησης και ηρωισμού σαν αυτή του νέγρικου προλεταριάτου στην πορεία υλοποίησης των στόχων του κόμματος του.
«Στις 11 Φεβρουαρίου του 1990, δυο εβδομάδες αφότου έγραψε το σημείωμα, ο Μαντέλα αποφυλακίστηκε, όντας ότι πιο κοντινό σε ένα εν ζωή Άγιο υπήρχε σε ολόκληρο τον πλανήτη.» (Το ίδιο, σελ. 269)
Την χρονιά όμως του 1990 που αποφυλακίστηκε, «Ο κόσμος ήταν εντελώς διαφορετικός από ότι είκοσι εφτά χρόνια πριν… Ενόσω ο Μαντέλα βρισκόταν στην φυλακή, είχαν πραγματοποιηθεί και είχαν καταπνιγεί σοσιαλιστικές επαναστάσεις σε ολόκληρο τον κόσμο… Στα τέλη της δεκαετίας του 1980 και στις αρχές της δεκαετίας του 1990 έπεσε το τείχος του Βερολίνου, έγινε η σφαγή στην πλατεία Τιανανμεν, και κατάρρευσε ο κομμουνισμός…» (Το ίδιο, σελ. 269-270)
Η χρονιά του 1990 σημάδευε πια μια εποχή όπου ο νεοφιλελευθερισμός επικρατούσε απόλυτα και μια χούφτα ευρωαμερικάνικες τράπεζες έλεγχαν τις οικονομίες του κόσμου.
«Όταν η κυβέρνηση προσπάθησε να υλοποιήσει τα Οράματα του χάρτη της Ελευθερίας, ανακάλυψε ότι η εξουσία βρισκόταν στα χέρια άλλων… (Το ίδιο, σελ. 282).
Σε κάθε κίνηση για άνοιγμα δουλειών, κρατική βοήθεια, κοινωνικές παροχές, σε κάθε τι που δεν άρεσε ή «κάθε φορά που ένας κορυφαίος αξιωματούχος του κόμματος υπονοούσε ότι ίσως να εφαρμοζόταν ο Χάρτης της Ελευθερίας, οι αγορές αντιδρούσαν με ένα σοκ, προκαλώντας την ελεύθερη πτώση του ραντ (του νομίσματος της χώρας)». (Το ίδιο, σελ. 282).
«Ο Μαντέλα αναγνώρισε την ύπαρξη της παγίδας το 1997…» (Το ίδιο, σελ. 283).
«Στην πρώτη του μετεκλογική ομιλία σαν Προέδρου, ο Μαντέλα πήρε προσεκτικά αποστάσεις από τις προηγούμενες δηλώσεις του υπέρ των εθνικοποιήσεων. ‘Στην οικονομική πολιτική μας… δεν υπάρχει ούτε μια αναφορά για εθνικοποιήσεις, και αυτό δεν είναι τυχαίο… Δεν έχουμε ούτε ένα σύνθημα που να μας συνδέει με την μαρξιστική ιδεολογία’». (Το ίδιο, σελ. 284).
Το Αφρικάνικο Εθνικό Κογκρέσο πήρε την πολιτική εξουσία και είχε το δικό του νόμισμα. Δεν έλεγχε όμως οτιδήποτε άλλο σε επίπεδο οικονομίας. Και έχοντας διανύσει μια εθνική πορεία αντίστασης απομονωμένη από άλλα κινήματα, σε μια εποχή γενικής ήττας, ήταν καταδικασμένο.
Το Αφρικάνικο Εθνικό Κογκρέσο με την απίστευτη πορεία ηρωισμού και αυταπάρνησης, κατέληξε να κυβερνά εκ μέρους των συμφερόντων των διεθνών τραπεζών και των μονοπωλίων της χώρας, καταδικάζοντας τα οράματα, τις ελπίδες και τις ζωές εκατοmμυρίων ανθρώπων.

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Panel Discussion at CUNY: The European Working Class in Revolt Against Austerity

Sutarday on April 4 @ The Graduate Center - CUNY

Saturday on April 4 @  – CUNY

The European Working Class in Revolt Against Austerity

Saturday, April 4 – 6:00pmThe Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, CUNY25 W 43rd St, 19th Floor, Rooms 18A – 18DNew York, New York 10036

The big banks and world powers are trying to make working people, youth and the poor pay for a crisis that they didn’t create. “Austerity” means attacks on jobs, living conditions and social programs. Millions of people in Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland have been thrown into perpetual joblessness and social crises.

In this context, new political formations of the left have arisen. Syriza has come to power in Greece and has faced immense challenges. Podemos, only a year old, is the highest-polling party in Spain. The Anti-Austerity Alliance in Ireland has come to the forefront of mass direct action against unfair taxation one of their Members of Parliament, Paul Murphy, being jailed for his leadership of the movement. There will be speakers at this meeting who have been involved in all three of these new political organizations.

This discussion will attempt to deal with the following questions: How can austerity be stopped? What role do elections have to play? What about strikes and demonstrations? What is the socialist and internationalist strategy?

Speakers from Greece’s Syriza, Spain’s Podemos and Ireland’s Anti-Austerity Alliance

Natassa Romanou
Research Professor at Columbia University in Climate Studies; a founding member of SYRIZA-NY and AKNY-Greece Solidarity Movement.

Elma Relihan
has been a community organizer and member of the Socialist Party in Ireland. She is campaigning for social justice issues and has been active in the campaign against austerity policies in Ireland. Elma will report on the recent struggles against water charges that threaten to bring down the Irish government

Seraphim Seferiades
Member of Xekinima – Socialist Internationalist Organization/CWI in Greece. Professor of History and Political Science at Panteion University in Athens as well as Life Member at Cambridge University.

Sean Sweeney
Director, International Program on Labor, Climate & Environment at the Murphy Institute; Trade Unions for Energy Democracy.

Cora Bergantinos
is active in PODEMOS EEUU, a member of New York Socialist Alternative and will speak about the crisis in Spain

Alan Akrivos
is a member of New York Socialist Alternative,a founding member of SYRIZA-NY and AKNY-Greece Solidarity Movement.

Hosted by Socialist Alternative New York

 

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Greek Parliament: Konstantopoulou Calls Debt Audit Commission

Why Should the Greek Debt Be Audited?

Zoe Konstantopoulou (centre) with Eric Toussaint (right).

Zoe Konstantopoulou (centre) with Eric Toussaint (right).

By Eric Toussaint, translated by Christine Pagnoulle and Vicki Briault
Committee for the Abolition of Third World Debt (CADTM)

March 21, 2015 — The president of the Greek parliament, Zoe Konstantopoulou, has set up a commission to audit the Greek debt and has asked me to play an active part in it. I have accepted the role to assume its scientific coordination.

This commission was launched on March 17, 2015, in Athens. |1| Recently the Athens correspondent for Le Monde wrote,

The Speaker of the parliament promised she would set up a commission to audit the Greek debt in the coming weeks, aimed at finding out whether part of the Greek public debt is odious, illegal or illegitimate. She declared, “People have a right to demand that the portion of the debt that the commission finds to be illegal be cancelled”. |2|

Such is the intricate context in which I write.

Without claiming to be exhaustive, we can propose the following definitions:

Illegitimate public debt: debt that was contracted by a government without considering the public interest or undermining the general interest.

Illegal debt: debt contracted in violation of the current legal or constitutional system.

Odious public debt: loans to authoritarian regimes or granted on conditions that violate the social, economic, cultural, civic, and political rights of the people concerned.

Unsustainable public debt: debt that can only be paid back with dire consequences for the people such as a dramatic degradation of its living conditions, of health care and education, an increase in unemployment. In short, debt that undermines basic human rights. In other words, debt whose repayment makes it impossible for governments to provide basic human rights.

Paragraph 9 of Article 7 of Regulation No 472/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 May 2013 (which strongly undermines the sovereignty of the member States that have to implement adjustment policies) maintains that States subject to structural adjustment should carry out a complete audit of public debt in order to explain why indebtedness increased so sharply and to identify any irregularities. Here is the text in full:

A Member State subject to a macroeconomic adjustment programme shall carry out a comprehensive audit of its public finances in order, inter alia, to assess the reasons that led to the building up of excessive levels of debt as well as to track any possible irregularity. |3|

The Greek government under Antonis Samaras refrained from applying this regulation so as to hide from the Greek population, the real reasons for the increase in debt and the irregularities linked to it. In all, about 30 Greek and International experts will take part in the commission and a preliminary report is expected in June. Citizen participation is fundamental to a rigorous and independent audit process.

Here are some key points that could be revealed by carrying out an audit:

Greek debt, which was at 113% of GDP in 2009 before the onset of the Greek crisis and the intervention by the Troika, which now holds 4/5 of total debt, reached 175% of GDP in 2014. We therefore see that the Troika intervention was followed by a very considerable increase in Greek debt.

Between 2010 and 2012, the loans that the Troika granted to Greece were very largely used to repay its most important creditors at that time, mainly the private banks of the principal European economies, starting with the French and German banks. |4| In 2009, some 80% of Greek public debt was held by the private banks of seven EU countries. Fifty percent was held by French and German banks alone. In a recent ARTE documentary |5| Paulo Nogueira Batista, one of the IMF’s executive directors, claims that all IMF board members knew that the loan was actually intended to save the French and German banks not Greece. |6|

Philippe Legrain, advisor to the president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso in 2010 when the Troika granted its loan, specifies that “IMF decision makers were overruled by the IMF managing director of the time, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who was then running for the French presidency and consequently wanted to prevent French banks from facing losses. Similarly German banks had persuaded Angela Merkel that it would be terrible if ever they should lose money. So the Eurozone governments decided to pretend that Greece was only facing temporary problems.” They had to bypass “an essential principle in the Maastricht Treaty, namely the no-bail out clause. The loans to Athens were not intended to save Greece but the French and German banks that had been foolish enough to grant loans to an insolvent State.”

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Peter Bratsis. Syriza and Its Discontents — Truthout-OpEd

Alexis Tsipras, leader of the Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), speaks in Palai de sport, Thessaloniki, Greece, a few days before the national elections of 2015. (Photo: Arvnick / Shutterstock.com)

 

One of the key talking points for Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the Syriza leadership for the last few years has been that political power is not “won” in elections; that power must be created; that it comes from below. Tsipras often noted that without people on the streets, making demands, pushing the government, demonstrating popular will, a Syriza regime would not be able to achieve its promises and goals.

This question of the production of power has become all the more pressing given recent events. Many have voiced their opposition to the conditions that the Greek government accepted in its recent agreement with its creditors in extending “bailout” loans for the next four months. Notable Syriza members such as Manolis Glezos and Stathis Kouvelakis, as well as supporters such as Tariq Ali (among many others), have been very vocal in denouncing the agreement as an overwhelming defeat and a retreat from Syriza’s campaign promises, these promises having proven to be no more than “an illusion” in the words of Glezos.

There is a call for the mobilization of left forces inside and outside of Syriza to demand that the government follow through on its mandate of ending austerity and not capitulate to fear and threats. Concurrently there is the demand that the Syriza leadership change its tactics or risk further demobilizing Greek social forces and losing the political momentum it has had held since the elections; Kouvelakis noted that thanks to the failure of the negotiations we have come to the end, for now at least, of “the climate of mobilization and rediscovered confidence that we saw in the first weeks after the election.”

The mantra that power comes from below is contradicted by the idea that it is the subjectivity of those at the top that gives coherence and direction to state power.

Leaving aside for the moment the details of the agreement and of whether it is or is not a retreat for Syriza, there is a key fundamental assumption present in the arguments of the Syriza leadership, as well as those of its internal critics: that the subjectivity and will of those at the top are what gives shape and direction to political power and that mobilizations that push these leaders may be necessary for achieving desired political goals. For example, like Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship, Syriza leaders ask for social movements and protests to bind them to their original program lest the siren song of public office and the practical considerations and anxieties of running a government overwhelm and overtake their radical intentions. Indeed, Yanis Varoufakis has gone as far as to suggest that he should be shot should he start acting like a politician.

Popular mobilizations in the form of marches, general strikes, demonstrations, pot banging and a plethora of other possibilities are manifestations of political power and are crucial to any attempt to reshape policies and to counter pressure from competing political forces.

For the Syriza leadership, as well as for their chorus of critics, the “power” that stems from the streets is fundamentally a capacity for shaping the calculations, discipline and political will of those who hold the reins of power. The levers of state power are just that, and the role of the streets and protest movements is to compel those who control these levers to take notice and account of popular sentiment and act accordingly.

Protest and resistance that does not disrupt the everyday does not destroy the existing circuits of power and certainly does not create new ones.

Thus, the mantra that power comes from below is contradicted by the idea that it is the subjectivity of those at the top that gives coherence and direction to state power. When protesters make demands, they are assuming that power is contained in the state institutions and that if enough pressure is brought to bear, we can influence the will of those who hold the commanding positions within these institutions and exercise state power. Is this political power being produced from below?

Where Does Political Power Come From?

Both sides of the coin of the current debates within Syriza are, thus, stuck within a fundamentally undialectial understanding of political power as a property of institutions and that the exercise of power is a matter of will (power as the capacity to impose your will); the strategic dilemma of the day being to create a “strong” will among the party leaders and/or the social classes and movements that support the party. If we take the more Marxist standpoint, however, that power is produced, not immanent to the institution or actor, the strategic dilemmas and debates within Syriza take on new dimensions. Nicos Poulantzas famously defined state institutions as condensations of class struggle, of social activity and relations. The daily struggles, activities and conflicts from the shop floor to the classroom and household are the matter from which even the most grand of state institutions are created.

A new political power, thus, presumes new forms of living, new struggles and new rhythms. Political change is a change of the everyday, or it is not change at all. To say that power comes from ‘below,’ that our own practices are the generators of political power, thus puts the primacy on action and not will.

There is no doubt that the vast majority of Greeks were and are opposed to the many austerity measures adopted in the last few years. So what? To the degree that their daily routines and activities stayed constant, the production of political power continued unabated and the Greek state was able to implement austerity with little difficulty. The minds and will of the Greeks may have been opposed to austerity, but their bodies were fully in support.

What then should a “mobilized” society entail? How can grassroots activity help transform the balance of forces and produce a new political power? The idea that popular mobilization involves taking to the streets to give voice to grievances and demands would seem to contradict the idea that changing practices is the goal of action. Protest and resistance that does not disrupt the everyday does not destroy the existing circuits of power and certainly does not create new ones. Let us remind ourselves of the great failure of 32 days of general strikes and many more days of protests and demonstrations to make any impact on the austerity governments of the last few years. To the degree that such protests and strikes were not new forms of practice but merely a moment of expressing demands and opinions or, much worse, integrated within the existing routines of contemporary Greece, the physics of political power remained unchanged. As such, the relevance of the”‘street”‘ is not as a venue through which people can express their political preferences and demands but as a site of activity.

Retreat or Disaster Averted?

The necessity for Greece to achieve an agreement with the Eurogroup for a loan extension is all the more clear and obvious from this standpoint. The move to crash the Greek banking system by eliminating access to liquidity was a gun to the head of Greek society. Even though the current regime enjoys very high levels of popular support (76 percent in the latest poll), the sudden closing of banks would have resulted in dramatic changes within the everyday practices of Greeks. The production of political power as it is presently constituted would have stopped. Political order would break down; a collapse of the government would be fast and ugly.

That Tsipras and Vaourfakis presented the agreement as a victory should not be taken as simply trying to put a positive spin on what is a capitulation to the demands of the European Union. It is certainly true that the new agreement is not far removed from previous ones in terms of the mandated oversight by the EU, ECB, and IMF, and it is also true that most of the previous austerity measures will continue for the time being, namely the many cuts to pensions and salaries.

It cannot be denied, however, that today we are in a very different climate than before the elections. Whereas the discussions before were in terms of what further cuts would be necessary (increase in VAT and further pension cuts were to be approved by the previous government), the new agreement takes it as a given that the agenda is now the reverse, undoing austerity, and the question is which reversals will be able to be funded and, thus, allowed. Most of all, however, without an agreement, the Greek government’s days would have been very numbered, and there is no question that this would have been a definitive defeat of the left in Greece and Europe more broadly.

The uproar that the presumed “retreat” or “defeat” has created within Syriza is diverting attention from key problems that need to be addressed. The four months of time that this new agreement has given Syriza, not much time at all, is the new window of opportunity for the Greek government to begin the transformation of society and the creation of new circuits of power.

Regardless of the new agreement, it was already a given that any new spending could only be accomplished if new revenues were found. Further loans for the purpose of increasing public spending were not possible; this is not a new development. The expectation is that if indeed Syriza is able to follow through on being able to collect more unpaid taxes and decrease tax evasion, those additional resources could be used to fund its social programs. This is certainly a daunting task but speed here is key, and the sooner that the government can begin its attempts to collect more taxes, the better. But, what has been forgotten and ignored in the frenzy of the last few weeks is the project of creating new forms of political power and to transform Greece into an ever more democratic and capable society.

Lost in these discussions is any attention to all the political and cultural transformations that need to take place for Greece to produce new circuits of power and become rewired so that new institutions of politics and new cultural sensibilities come into existence.

If the temporary deal with the Eurogroup is going to lead to disaster it is not because the Greek people will lose faith in the Syriza government and withdraw support, nor is it because it will demobilize social movements and keep them from actively asserting their preferences and interests in support of Syriza initiatives. We have already seen that public opinion is of no consequence, actions matter, and that protests and strikes are of similarly little consequence today if they do not transform the everyday. The real risk, in my opinion, is that the fear of the Syriza government in alienating segments of the Greek public, combined with a obsession with economic questions and implementing the Thessaloniki program without any delays or changes, will take away all attention from making the changes to political practice and everyday life that are necessary for new a political power to emerge and replace the old.

The Limits to Economic Reason

The question of austerity has overwhelmed all political discussions inside and outside Syriza. This is not surprising. However, it has set up a set of false divisions between those who disagree on how best to undo austerity in Greece. Must the efforts be Europeanist in character or can a more traditional patriotic and nationalist effort be more effective? Must banks be nationalized or can economic growth be furthered through private control? At what price does it make sense to privatize public assets? And, most centrally, can Greece stay in the eurozone and end austerity or must a return to a national currency occur so that Greece can regain the political sovereignty necessary for imposing a new set of policies. One side presents itself as the more “left” option, but the differences are fundamentally ones of tactics and not of values or principles.

Lost in these discussions is any attention to all the political and cultural transformations that need to take place for Greece to produce new circuits of power and become rewired so that new institutions of politics and new cultural sensibilities come into existence.

Marxism has produced a sizable and quite distinguished literature on the limitations and undemocratic nature of the capitalist state. One would expect a Marxist government in Greece to have an agenda of transforming the state in ways that further popular participation of citizens and that transform its functions to those in line with democratic desire. One would expect plans to counter the suburbanization of Athens and renew the cultural and political vibrancy of urban life. One would expect measures to reduce mechanisms of representation and reverse the centralization of political authority. One would expect rapid and decisive transformations of the ideological state apparatus of schooling.

Instead of intense discussions on the foregoing, what we find, in the best-case scenario, is great dedication to combat corruption and eliminate clientelism. In other words, rather than being critical of the state-form as such and thinking of ways that we could try to reconstitute Greece, we are stuck in the liberal fantasy that an objective and impersonal organization of state authority would, finally, provide the conditions for prosperity and justice. Were Cornelius Castoriadis alive today, he would be rolling in his grave.

Raising more money by combating tax evasion is necessary, but it will never be sufficient for changing Greek society. If we indeed understand power to be produced from the bottom up, we need to act like it. If the daily routines and social relations of Greek society continue as they were yesterday and the day before, the possibilities of change are zero. Where will a new political power come from?

The Greek government seems too fearful of endangering public opinion and too obsessed with eliminating austerity to think about the broader political project and tasks that need to be addressed.

The dangers that the current debates within and about Syriza present us with are two-fold. On the one hand, the forces within Syriza risk polarizing themselves over tactical differences rather than fundamental divisions of goals and values. On the other hand, it is precisely these common goals that have limited the discussion to how to undo austerity and have kept us from exploring ways to transform the political and cultural routines of Greek society so as to create new modalities of political power.

If the next four months are focused on questions of economics with no attention to other matters, we lose the chance to begin the work of transforming the society and for creating new power relations. Paradoxically, the Marxists will have conformed to the liberal viewpoint of homo economicus; “humanitarian” programs will have reduced the residents of Greece to “bare life”; our capacity to found our own cultural and political life will have been abandoned to market forces and unthinking repetition.

In this moment of crisis, when so much could be done in changing the rhythms of life in Greece, the Greek government seems too fearful of endangering public opinion and too obsessed with eliminating austerity to think about the broader political project and tasks that need to be addressed.

Etienne Balibar and Sandro Mezzadra are completely correct to point to the importance of the time and space that this temporary agreement between Greece and its creditors has won. This time needs to be used to focus on the materiality of the class struggle and the concrete social activity that political power is founded upon, and we must abandon the idealist fixation on political will.

The real possibility of Greece leaving the eurozone should indeed be prepared for, and we should be planning and thinking about how to minimize the disruptions to everyday life in such an event. At the same time we need to be working on the purposeful transformation of that same everyday life so as to create a new political reality in Greece and finally overcome the limits of liberalism and the nation-state.

 

Peter Bratsis

Peter Bratsis is associate director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Technology and Work at the Graduate Center and assistant professor of political science at Borough of Manhattan Community College of the City University of New York.  He is the author of Everyday Life and the State, editor (with Stanley Aronowitz) of Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered, and edits of the journal Situations: Project of the Radical Imagination.

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Michael Roberts on Syriza, the Troika and Grexit

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Socialist Report:

“This is just like ‘Third World’ aid that used to be distributed by the World Bank and other international agencies back in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of this ‘aid’ ended up in corrupt dictators’ pockets or in repaying previous debt. The people never saw it. And the debt levels stayed where they were, as they do for Greece now.  Back then, eventually the international agencies agreed what was called a Brady debt swap that wrote off a portion of the debt that could never be repaid. No such plan is available to Greece, although Syriza asked for it in their negotiations with the Eurogroup.”

 

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