Monday, June 21, 2010

focus on greece

Across Europe, the governing technocrats of parties in power have responded to the new phase of meltdown (the so-called sovereign debt crisis) with neoliberal reflexes conditioned by three decades of there-is-no-alternative orthodoxy. Fortify the banks of reified consciousness and re-launch the New Enclosures: no matter that orthodoxy is bankrupt, administration is incapable of proposing anything else. Capital punishment, aka “austerity measures,” will now begin to bite; the product of the process, spiking social misery, won’t be long in coming.

So this winter and fall, struggles will intensify in those places where the power of labor and traditions of resistance are strongest – certainly in Greece and Spain, probably in France and some other countries as well. What will follow remains to be seen.

Greece has already been rocked by a series of general strikes this spring. The strike and protest demo of 5 May, the first undeniably massive rejection of the misery plan, bringing two-hundred thousand angry people to the streets, was a warning ignored. The confederated unions of the GSEE and the public sector ADEDY have called for another genral strike on 29 June. Meanwhile, the Spanish unions, now stirred, have planned a general strike for 29 September, which may turn out to be a day of resistance across the Eurozone.

The Greek conjuncture looks most explosive:  there, economic insolvency, social neglect and weaknesses in the state combine with relatively robust and militant unions, the remnants of an organized radical Left and a vibrant anarcho-autonomist counter-culture – all in a social force field that continues to activate material legacies and cultural memory traces of Nazi occupation (1941-4), imperialist intervention (military, by the British, in December 1944; thereafter by overt and covert American “aid”), a civil war (1946-9) and seven years under a military Junta (1967-74).

We’ve just been ten days in Athens, hearing from friends and comrades, discussing over meals, coffees, beers, tsipoura and ouzos; in an old mageireio on Praxitelous Street; in an alley bar in Monasteraki, where the local rembetes stop by to jam in the afternoons; in numerous joints in Exarheia, where the assassination of Alexis Grigoropoulos in December 2008 triggered an uprising (the complex character and resonations of which are still being debated); and on a poly-union demo, from Propylea and Klafthmonos Square to Syntagma, where walls of robocops blocked the approaches to Parliament, and drifting back along Panepistemiou before veering off, up Emmanouil Benaki.

We’re full of impressions and relayed insights, and it will take some time to process them. The news is not all good. Synaspismos, the largest party within SYRIZA (the radical Left coalition) and heir to hopes for a non-Stalinist alternative to the KKE (CP of Greece), has been distracted by a series of crippling splits and rancorous departures.

So far it has been the unions that have given form and tempo to popular resistance, choosing the days for major strike actions. Will the struggle pass beyond those forms, if the ruling parties remain intransigent over fall and winter? In theory, the parties to the left of the governing pseudo-socialist PASOK – the KKE on the one hand and the parties and groupings bundled in SYRIZA on the other – should now have their chance.

But up to this point this Left has shown more disarray and indecision than readiness for the coming test. The complex relations between parties, unions, classes, constituencies and counter-cultures – the constraining scars of history – have long tended to block the formation of a united or popular front against neoliberal rollback and plunder. Will the terrors of austerity finally break through these inherited impasses and produce effective defensive alliances?

Behind the Greek state, the EU (on economic matters long ago integrated into the Washington consensus, occasional spats aside) is armed with some formidable powers of enforcement. These impose a structural constraint: Greece cannot realistically hope to leap out of the austerity zone all by itself.

The critique of the Euro has been compellingly argued by a group of Greek academics teaching in the UK – namely, Costas Lapavitsas, Stathis Kouvelakis and their associates. But any viable exit from the Eurozone would need to be part of a new counter-bloc and project organized across the most affected and dissenting peripheries of Europe, through shared interests, alliances and strategies that have yet to be seriously proposed and debated. And it would need to be supported by new alliances outside Europe – a major diplomatic challenge.

Recent attempts to invent a cross-border politics and culture of solidarity under more or less radical new-left umbrellas such as Transform! and the European Social Forum processes have so far not counted much in the balance of forces but certainly point in the needed direction. Such aims in any case open quickly onto the democracy-deficit of the governing Euro-technocracy and the problem of effectively confronting it from below.

Of course, it matters how alliances, coalitions and fronts are put together – what balances are struck in the organization of practical force, which principles are never compromised and which are bent or sometimes allowed to bend. There are good reasons why Synaspismos and the KKE are divided by a wall of distrust: their organizational forms and principles diverge drastically.

The KKE's refusal to critically process its Stalinist past is notorious. No one doubts that the KKE’s rigidly centralized, top-down party-model amounts to a form of technocracy aimed leftward. In the current crisis, however, real alternatives will be driven from below, by demands for radical democratization, rather than by diktat from another technocracy, albeit one more disciplined than the status quo.

Meanwhile, the anarchists and autonomists, organized in affinity groups, are the ones practicing everyday democracy: focusing on their neighbourhoods and workplaces, discussing, writing, initiating micro-projects. While they are riven no less than others by sharp divisions and debates (notably, over the perennial problem of violence), the anarchists have been the staunchest supporters of immigrants and the most consistent critics of nationalism in Greece. Their general rejection of the party-organized Left, along with the state, leaves them isolated, however. What will they offer to this struggle, when it reaches the point of demanding the remaking of the state and the requisite diplomacy with other states? And – the burning question – where do they stand on the Euro?

Out of these blocked potentials, a new constellation will presumably have to emerge, before the rage of the base can be translated into adequate counter-proposals and programs. If this struggle is to prevail, new aims and the power blocs to realize them need to be organized from the legacies that still constrain it. There’s still time, and things can move quickly, but alternatives to the ruling logic aren’t plucked at will out of thin air. Or, to put it differently: if the Greek people are expected to decathexize from “Europe” and transfer their politicized libido investments to a new counter-hegemonic project, then that project needs to be envisioned with compelling clarity and appeal. Who will – or can – organize that?

Meanwhile, rumors are flying. We’ve heard that default will come next week, or else in August, when many Athenians are out of the city. We’ve heard that night after night on the docks of Piraeus, ships from Canada have been secretly offloading the rolls of paper needed for printing drachmas, and also that PASOK has already started to print them in secret, also by night!

Yannis, our Lacanian friend, thinks these rumors are a clear case of people “enjoying” their own ruin. More optimistically, maybe, they suggest that unconsciously people are preparing for default and a possible exit from the Eurozone.

Resistance has opened a real political moment in Greece. Reified normality has begun to fissure, exposing naked relations and interests. For the moment, in the lethargy of a mid-June heat-wave, normality is still holding. But come autumn?

As this key struggle unfolds, there are many risks – including, if the Left fails to project a clear alternative to restoration, a swing to the Right. But in this risky mix is also a real chance for a re-alignment toward radical democracy and away from the terror of capital: possible steps toward a different Greece and a different Europe.

In this context, we’ve invited Greek friends and comrades to share their thoughts, and to send us texts in their own voices, with images of their own choosing. We’ve also asked some artists and critics to share their work and insights. We hope this ongoing thread of posts on Greece, the opening front in the Eurozone struggle, can supplement other sources of critical news and reflection, and in that way modestly help to disseminate resistance and foster needed solidarities.



  1. The Euro definitely has some problems associated with it, and is presently controlled by a bunch of neo-liberal US-sycophants, but does this means Greece should opt out of it? The logic isn't compelling. The Euro is an economic measures and if in the right political hands, it could be effectively used. The left shouldn't let a resurgent Germany, with it barbed insults, offend them too much. I may be wrong, but opting out smells a little too much like resentment.

  2. In the current crisis, however, real alternatives will be driven from below, by demands for radical democratization, rather than by diktat from another technocracy, albeit one more disciplined than the status quo.

    Thanks, fratello, a subtle account of the Greek impasse. Let's see how it develops.