Last weekend came the crescendo of a damning exposé: Europe’s capitalist institutions are openly uninterested in the democratic expression of member states and their electorates. This week, the Greek socialist writer Giannakopoulos Georgios described Syriza’s ‘argument’ as ‘phrased in the language of democracy’. This is as it should be.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rejected what he referred to as an ‘absurd’ debt repayment proposal last Friday. It qualified as absurd by democratic standards, because this cash-for-reform offered insufficient liquidity, (€15.5bn), and demanded that the Syriza-led government renege on central campaign pledges, such as their refusals to hike taxes, increase privatisation, or cut benefits for poor pensioners. The creditors in turn spurned an attempt from Greece to compromise on the aid package, and the ECB cut off emergency funding.
In dignified desperation, Tsipras has transferred executive decision to the Greek people, arranging a referendum on the deal for the 15th of July and urging voters to defy these further acts of blackmail. He has asked the heads of the ECB, the Eurogroup and the IMF to extend the bailout package long enough for the referendum to take place, so that the will of the people whom the deal concerns is represented. They have refused.
Now, amongst a quagmire of closed banks and existential threats to the Greek Euro, Tsipras is asking for composed defiance, appropriately reviving Franklin D. Roosevelt from the depths of the Great Depression: ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’.
Though Greece has endured various ultimatums and sustained financial purgatory, it is the Syriza government which has forced the Eurogroup and the IMF to a decision: whether to reduce their power, or to openly pursue their interests. They chose to confess: they are a technocracy looking to preserve the economic status quo in which Greece is suffering. It is a neat and powerful historical circularity, that the departure of European capitalism from democracy is taking place in the land of Cleisthenes.
In a recent piece, the liberal conservative writer Ambrose Evans-Pritchard correctly observes that, in democratic terms, the ‘Greek debt crisis is the Iraq War of finance’. He makes the point that this is an ideological ultimatum which displays economic ‘petulance and bad judgement’ towards the entire Eurozone economy. Pritchard adds that if, ‘we want to date the moment when the Atlantic liberal order lost its authority – and when the European Project ceased to be a motivating historic force – this may well be it’. This welcome proposition demands a new and tremendous project from the European Left. An alternative critique must confront the insanity of a new and brutal bureaucracy in Europe, not least to avoid the triumphalism of right-wing nationalist groups like UKIP and France’s Front National.
In the poem ‘The Isles of Greece’, from his Epic Satire Don Juan, Byron laments the enslavement of Greece to the Ottoman Empire, (the poet died whilst on a military campaign with Greek rebels, against Ottoman rule):
‘Tis something, in the dearth of fame,
Though link’d among a fetter’d race,
To feel at least a patriot’s shame,
Even as I sing, suffuse my face;
For what is left the poet here?
For Greeks a blush—for Greece a tear
Today, the final line stands in precise reverse. As this newest Greek tragedy plays out, blame can be clearly cast upon a renewed Northern European imperialism, in which Britain is indirectly complicit. Taking example from Byron’s own commitment, we can share in an international ‘patriot’s shame’ with Greek workers, and recognise their struggle as our own.
Superficial narratives of the movement (‘lazy, sponging Greece resists paying its debts’), invite instant interrogation: how many British and German tourists spewed into the Aegean during the last two decades, luring Greece’s economy to a reliance on tourism? Is it correct to offer Greece isolated responsibility, given that the country struggles amongst the debris of a global financial catastrophe? And, who is to blame for 2008, is it Athenian students, farmers in the olive belt and pensioners from Thessaloniki?
The roots of these modern ironies have a far deeper historical lineage, and can be traced through Nina Christou’s urgent contextualisation of the debt crisis. Nonetheless, these basic contradictions reflect the duplicity of technocrats in Brussels, and of aspects of popular opinion in Northern Europe.
Many have come to accept a dislocated, phenomenological narrative of Greece’s current ‘crisis’. Quite suddenly, it is no longer a product of 2008, because we are required to forget that year, and what it implied for the future and virtuosity of capitalism. We are now also encouraged to pity Greece, as if this disaster emerged supernaturally from Thera or Olympus. (See Varoufakis’ The Global Minotaur, for an allegory worth having.)
Yet there was perhaps an element of hubris from the current government, in their former confidence that a mutually just and beneficial deal could be reached with the EU creditors, and in their conviction that European capitalism can be ‘saved’.
In March this year, I spoke with Greek activists and writers Nina and Stella Christou. Based in London, Nina and Stella are members of Syriza’s Communist Platform, an affiliate of the International Marxist Tendency. We spoke about European populism, the anatomy of Syriza, its shortcomings, and the options available to Greece in the face of a unified and ruthless troika. Nina and Stella discuss the roots of the crisis, and explain how the Communist Platform believes Syriza should proceed.
It should be noted that having defied the blackmail through referendum, the majority in Syriza has come closer to the position of the speakers below.
‘Populism is basically what is most easy to digest, and it’s addressed to people’s superficial experiences and feelings’.
In a recent interview, Marine Le Pen said that the dividing line is no longer between the Left and Right, but between the nationalists and the globalists.
I’m concerned that in some way she is correct. It’s uncertain whether the appeal of UKIP, and of other right-wing elements in Europe, is so easily distinguishable from the left-wing populism which drives Syriza and Podemos.
Given this populist surge, do you think that it is authentic leftism within Greece which drove Syriza to power, or did they simply capture fear?
Stellla: But you must ask yourself: fear of what? Of the crisis of capitalism. Revolutionary processes are not kick-started when people read Marx and Lenin and recognise the contradiction between the relations and forces of production – revolutions happen because ordinary people feel, through their own daily experience and through big political and economic events, that there is something deeply wrong in society; that in order for progress to occur, something radical has to change. This is what radicalises them. It is not a linear process. We will experience ups and downs as the working classes test different political options.
In Greece we had to go through the hard school of the Social Democratic Government of Papandreou, the technocratic administration of Papademos, and the different coalitions of New Democracy. This set the conditions for the rise of Syriza. It is true that some people, often from particularly brutalised and marginalised social layers, turned to Golden Dawn, but even that has been proved to be reversible: when the Syriza government took power and went on the offensive with very bold and aggressive statements, it had an approval rate of 80 per cent among Golden Dawn voters.
We had Golden Dawn, and for years they were building clinics for blood transfusion. They named these centres ‘Blood for Greeks’; only ‘Greek people’ could donate blood, and the donations would be given exclusively to Greek people. So that’s another form of populism, with a nationalist platform rather than a leftist one. And it experienced limited success.
You find the same paradox with far-right Islamist groups. It’s literally what Susan Sontag called ‘fascism with a human face’, (though her target was twentieth-century communism).
Stella: It was precisely that. With Golden Dawn, it even extended to ‘Greek-only’ food banks, where you had to provide I.D. before getting the pasta.
So you have elements of populism everywhere you look. Populism is basically what is most easy to digest, and it’s addressed to people’s superficial experiences and feelings, which are not necessarily wrong. For example, all this hard-core technocratic, supposedly more serious, rhetoric from Brussels is used as a prop to reinforce non-populist measures. Yet it’s completely disengaged from people’s needs and desires.
So the technocrats say, ‘whenever you have deaths, poverty, and whatever else, we need to focus on this very isolated target that we have’ – which is unachievable, and also unhelpful in solving these crises.
Absolutely, but take Podemos, for example. Their leftist narrative is organising public anger, but it is doing so largely without clear socioeconomic objectives, and without a viable programme for how they can effect change.
An analogy comes from Slavoj Žižek, where he refers to Charlie Chaplin’s film, The Great Dictator. Here, famously, the Jewish barber poses as the fascist dictator, and delivers a speech about universal human solidarity, and some other stuff that gets fascists upset.
He looks uneasy when his speech is met with roaring and unanimous support. This anxiety is perhaps explained by the symmetry between the crowd’s response to him, and the previous applause for the fascist leader’s speeches. In other words, the message is radically different, but the credulity and hysteria remains. Demagoguery, therefore, is the mechanism for gaining support.
Does this describe the concerns surrounding modern European populism?
Stella: Yes, partly, but I don’t agree with this idea that people are completely whimsical. Of course there is this proven psychology of the masses, but it’s important to consider that different ideas are absorbed at different historical times, depending on the particular material conditions and concrete experiences of ordinary people. Demagoguery is fine and well, but as soon as these options approach positions of power, their ideas are tested, and their utopianism or insincerity is revealed. If people are angry and no one else is providing an alternative, if the left is confused and unable to explain the crisis of capitalism, then a right-wing demagogue can build a movement upon racism and xenophobia. Even so, if they come to power, how can they feed people, how can they end the crisis of capitalism: with reactionary and savage politics? The answer is no, and this will become self-evident.
You could of course have someone who is on the authoritarian far-left, a Stalinist for example, who invokes the same appeal as the nationalists; namely power, strength, etc.
And I guess Stalinism is a form of national socialism, in that it elevates social policy for one country against others.
Stella: Exactly. And this is attractive because in a tragic situation, people look to cater for their immediate needs.
Of course it’s an easier solution if you have no presentable political alternative, or if you just have destructive rivalries. Of course it’s easier to say, it’s the black people, or it’s the people coming in boats, or the gay people.
There’s often an eagerness to blame those with no political capital or economic power, but a general unwillingness, or powerlessness, when it comes to challenging those with real influence. As you say, fear often finds and constructs highly visible targets like race and sexuality – it’s more difficult, conceptually, to blame faceless structures.
Is this impulse changing in Greece, or does it remain a problem?
Stella: Well, in Greece these superficial tactics were used so much, even by the Left. Take, for example, the divisions which were manufactured between public and private sector workers. They said, you workers, you’re the ones that are abusing the public sector, stealing tax payers’ money and so on. It was about creating these false collusions, and it was from a left-wing rhetoric, organised by both public and private sector unions.
Another example of populism in the Greek context, was a statement by Yanis Varoufakis (the Greek Finance Minister, under Syriza), concerning the 20th of February Agreement. Varoufakis drafted the agreement, and he didn’t even mention the crackdown Syriza had promised on tax evasion, which even the more sceptical among us had thought, ‘at least they’ll do that’. Instead, he narrowed the pledge to ‘tax avoidance’.
In even more vulgarly populist terms, Varoufakis declared that the troika – the European Central Bank, (ECB), the International Monetary Fund, (IMF), and the European Commission, (Eurogroup) – had been dissolved. He said that, with Syriza’s victory, those institutions no longer run Greek affairs. But you can’t just call the same people a different name, or worse, no name at all. This is completely unfounded, populist rhetoric, and it’s dangerous.
Syriza: An Anatomy
‘… the old days were so bad that we may as well suffer with dignity, against the interests of those causing the suffering‘.
The Greek wing of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), to which you belong, has formed the Communist faction within Syriza – how do these different sections operate within the party’s structure?
Stella: Since the last congress, there are only three sections within Syriza. There’s the majority group, which doesn’t have its own tradition, and formed heterogeneously. Then there’s the Left platform, and this current was organised as an umbrella for all the various left-wing factions, (the Maoists, Trotskyists, and everyone). We refused to dissolve ourselves into the Left platform, and so we formed the separate Communist platform.
We’re the smallest platform, and we have two members in the committee out of 150 – but we remain distinct.
Manolis Glezos, the politician and writer, (and celebrated Greek hero who pulled the swastika flag from the acropolis in 1941), joined the Left platform. It seems to be radical and heterodox.
Why did you decide to remain apart?
Stella: Initially I was hoping to join the Left Platform, as many of us were. But they have several old fixations which seem irrelevant. For example, there is this fetishism with the drachma currency; they say, we first need to redevelop our own currency outside the Eurozone. I think this is the wrong policy to start with. It frames the confrontation in the wrong way and it proves their poor politics in the long-run, because they’re thinking too provincially, too short-sightedly.
The Communist Tendency calls above all for socialist policies: the problem is not the currency itself, in or out the euro, but [one] of capitalist or socialist measures. The Left platform line still revolves around breaking with the troika and leaving the euro – but they tend not to explain what they propose after the ‘Grexit’. Some in fact overtly talk of having a ‘progressive’ national capitalism, by devaluating the currency and becoming more competitive exporters.
The Left platform, particularly its most left-wing figureheads, have correctly pointed out that the negotiations with the troika were fruitless. This worked to counterbalance the wavering of the right-wing sectors of Syriza. Ultimately however, their campaigning against the euro and the negotiations should be given substance through a comprehensive socialist programme for a rupture with capitalism.
Nina: Exactly. They’re relegating this struggle to a matter of currency. It’s like, there are two basic approaches that you hear regarding the EU question: one is obviously let’s get out immediately, let’s remove ourselves from the hegemony of Brussels and cut and run right now; the other idea is espoused by Varoufakis, who’s saying that it’s the task of any left-wing person, even any Marxist, to revive the Euro and the EU economy.
Both of these statements fail to appreciate how the EU has come to be this way in the first place. Neither policy asks the question – what are the historical and economic implications of this institution; what are its interests; what does it mean?
So although a ‘Grexit’ might be necessary, the Left platform are phrasing it as a move of almost nationalist liberation, rather than an outcome of socialist resistance?
Nina: Yes, which allows the majority greater confidence in their compromises. My concern is that this compromising tendency of Syriza is itself forming, or propping up, a technocratic committee.
So for example, the Secretary of Syriza, Tasos Koronakis, was asked, how will this be different from before, when you had technocrats running the country? He responded by saying that the difference is that now we talk in the Eurogroup meetings; we decide which measures are correct, so that the technocrats merely apply these policies. But then you have to ask, do you really decide anything in the Eurogroup, or do they decide it for you?
So far we have to assume that the latter is true because Syriza has not yet been able to make any decisions; so far we’ve achieved almost nothing.
Varoufakis, in his popular essay ‘Confessions of an Erratic Marxist’, (taken from a speech), proposes that, based on Marx’s conception of history, the bourgeois revolution is not yet complete, and simultaneously, that the Left is not yet prepared for a proletarian revolution. In other words, a workers’ revolution today would lead to barbarism.
Ignoring the case that capitalism has probably already outlasted Marx’s expectations, you’re left with the questions, how long do you wait, and how much do you give? Does he want the political system to continue as it is, but with some liberal, cosmetic countermeasures and the promise that one day we’ll be socialists?
Nina: As you say, he justifies this by arguing that the Left is not ready. But he is a leader of the organised Left in Greece; he is able to work and make it ready, and instead he is effectively saying that the ends justify the means. In Marxism, the means are the end.
If you read the opinion polls, people in Greece are really very radical right now. Something like 80 per cent of people supported the government when they first came into office, but since, it’s dropped to around 60 per cent. And Syriza were at their most radical before the election.
Stella: Varoufakis even said recently that if Syriza were to hold a referendum, asking the people whether they would prefer a return to the austerity measures or, face alienation from Brussels for the sake of dignity, then they would choose dignity. He said that. And he is right, because the old days were so bad that we may as well suffer with dignity, against the interests of those causing the suffering.
It’s not that we did not expect this impotency. Although we support the government’s effort and sentiment, absent a broad and truly radical alternative, Syriza will remain incapable of delivering their promises. The Left platform in turn cannot present themselves as the avant-garde of the party because they’re not offering a substantial second way. It’s easy to call yourself radical when you have no alternative.
In any case, the events of recent months and weeks have shown that it is impossible to reform capitalism. In the context of the organic crisis of capitalism, any attempt to wrest reforms from the system will face ruthless opposition from the ruling class. Even the ‘bourgeois tasks’ of the revolution which remain unaccomplished in underdeveloped countries like Greece, (such as having an efficient and transparent state; ending corruption; ending patronage, etc.), now face the opposition of the middle classes themselves.
The Western bourgeoisie has become enmeshed with these supposedly ‘pre-capitalist’ social formations, which will be used against the working classes in order to preserve position.
As a result of this collusion, the democratic task of revolution nowadays must be achieved by the working class, in a process where the socialist-proletarian tasks cannot be detached from the bourgeois-democratic ones. This is as true now as it was eighty years ago, when the Stalinists were making the same argument that Varoufakis made.
What is to be done?
‘… we are fighting for socialism … we would like to begin by transferring the management of the fundamental pillars of the economy across to the Greek people‘.
With respect to the Euro, you’ve both effectively said that you don’t think it’s the question worth asking. However, an independent currency would bring Greece a degree of fiscal sovereignty and control over the money supply, enabling Syriza to attempt to realise its anti-austerity mandate. What’s the third option?
Nina: This is what our comrades in the Communist tendency are trying to develop. They have composed a programme which describes the necessary steps that must be taken for the Greek economy to survive, and for the Greek people to progress towards a decent living standard.
Stella: It confronts the roots of the problem, not just the epiphenomena.
Nina: Precisely. What we are expecting, and saying, is that the implementation of the measures we propose will most likely lead to an exit from the Euro. We are not under any illusions, and we are not giving them to people either. But the distinction is that if you tell the Greek people, as the Left platform does, that our slogan is ‘out of the EU’, then you will be blamed for the inevitable problems which occur after such an exit, because you have offered it as a solution.
We instead are saying that we are fighting for socialism, which might necessitate an exit. But in this way we are still presenting a realisable dream that Greece can continue striving towards.
Stella: It concerns the creation and future of the EU itself. This federation of countries developed throughout the years, as a result of this globalised or Europeanised economy which already exists. So you cannot defy it even if, constitutionally, you lay outside of it; you’re going to have to face the dramatic consequences of this reality either way. But it is blinding, and too easy to say that the EU is the source of all our troubles: no, it is just another symptom of a generalised crisis.
And it’s also a question of internationalism. If you identify the roots of the problem, as Nina mentioned, and you conceptualise measures to combat them, then even if you are pushed out of the union, you at least create an alternative. This in turn can inspire other movements such as Podemos in Spain and so on.
Ultimately, the EU is empty without the countries from which it is composed. It is not in fact some great monster which rules over us, it is empty institutions in Brussels.
Nina: The reality remains that if Greece was to cut and run from the Eurozone, there would be no immediate way of socialising the economy, and you run the risk of ending up with a workforce similar to somewhere like China.
Stella: Precisely. When I was speaking to Greek people immediately after Syriza came into power, they were attending daily demonstrations in support of Syriza, with slogans such as ‘No Step Back’; ‘No Compromise’; ‘Don’t Live Your Life as a Slave’, and so forth. Which was great, but I asked them if they were conscious of what that might mean, most notably, that we might be forced to leave the Euro.
The answer I received was paradoxical to some extent. People would say, I don’t want any compromises, but if Syriza chooses to leave the Eurozone, then that’s different, because the currency will be feeble, petrol will be scarce, and agriculture will take time to rebuild. So there is a massive contradiction in feeling too, but this is because we are confronted with a dilemma. The dilemma will not be resolved by simply shutting the door and ignoring the problems. At least if you follow a programme which has tangible aims in helping Greek workers, then you can expose these contradictions by way of example.
Nina: Again, to illustrate this dilemma of options and of opinion, 40 per cent of Syriza voters have agreed that negotiations are a good thing, but at the same time they have said that these talks must conclude with a total break from old institutions and austerity.
So, given this enforced limbo, what are the next steps Syriza can, and should take?
Stella: The Communist Platform has drafted a transitional programme for Greece. In fact, it’s the best programme that the IMT has seen in years. The suggestions include clear steps such as the nationalisation of the economy, retaining all the resources currently under the control of the remaining large capitalists, and thereby neutralising tax evasion. What we find is that this very radical programme finds a great degree of support, even from amongst the middle classes who say that we have no pension to count on, no savings to invest, so private capital might as well be reclaimed in order to build a better future for their children.
We’ve also proposed massive cuts from the military budget, which is currently justified on the basis of fighting Turkey, but in fact it’s spent on disused or dysfunctional equipment from Northern Europe and the United States.
Importantly, this programme is still transitional. It’s not that we’re suggesting the enforcement of communism overnight, because it needs an international basis in any case. Even so, we would like to begin by transferring the management of the fundamental pillars of the economy across to the Greek people, alongside measures which would allow people freer manipulation of the land and resources.
Is Syriza enough?
‘… the problem reminds me of the conceptions of the early Russian Marxists … whose central ambition was to assassinate the Tsar. They spent their lives planning and dying over this vision, forgetting that once the Tsar died, he had a son waiting to take over‘.
Why did you not join the Communist Party of Greece, (KKE)?
Stella: It’s one of those cases where the answer is, ‘it’s complicated’. The IMT attempted to join, but was rejected. It’s a very strict party, and is very opposed to groups which come from the Trotskyist tradition, as we do.
Nina: It’s a typical, Stalinist sectarian party, which is even disavowed by other communist parties of the same ideological leaning at the moment.
Stella: Sadly, It’s even become a Stalinist apologist party in some cases. But they’re highly organised, they have excellent links with the trade unions, and their more traditional stance would’ve meant that there would have been great benefits of working with them. Also, importantly, there is a fascinating disparity between the leadership of the KKE and its base.
This is a problem you often find with old Trade Unions and leftist parties in Britain; their bureaucracy and traditions mean that they’re actually often stagnant and conservative. Is this the same with the KKE?
Stella: Yes very much so. It’s actually a significant factor in the rise of Syriza. But they do still command large sections of Greece’s youth on the radical left. The hierarchy, unfortunately, is very insular and sectarian.
Nina: But that does not mean that it can’t change, especially given, as Stella says, the strong presence of young people within the party’s base. Their policies are essentially good: nationalise resources, oppose austerity, etcetera. It’s their tactics, and the stubborn and extreme anti-Syriza propaganda which is alienating them.
We do need to bridge this gap though, because the leadership of the KKE may be corrupt, but it’s membership includes some of the most militant people in Greece.
Although strategically Syriza is teetering between various new catastrophes, do they still at least represent a progressive event, or have they been discredited?
Stella: No it still hasn’t been discredited at all, and that’s at once very interesting, and also very good, because if Syriza had been discredited at this early stage, then the situation would be far worse. Immediate and dramatic failure would expose Greece to right-wing forces, and would frustrate a more radical transition.
So, how would you describe the ‘morning after’ reaction to Syriza?
Nina: Sceptical. Though of course, it depends which demographic we’re speaking about. The youth, as we said, tends towards more radical agitation. The older generations are still broadly invested in Syriza, but are beginning to grow sceptical of its potential.
Stella: During the first weeks, we were seeing regular pro-government rallies in the streets, with many thousands in attendance …
Which is a symbol in itself. I’ve never seen a major pro-government protest in Britain; our own governments rarely take oppositional positions, except against their own electorate.
Stella: It was very impressive, but now many of those demonstrators no longer attend. And it is not because they are tired. It is because they are beginning to feel disappointed. Many won’t yet oppose the government openly because they still hold on to the initial optimism, that if we give Syriza enough time, they will deliver.
Nina: Greek people already feel attacked on many fronts. Syriza for them was a safe space, and even now that the criticism is starting, it remains largely constructive. For example, many still say, my job now is to defend the government, not to oppose them when they’re already besieged. But you’ll notice, it’s a far more pragmatic tone.
There’s a solution available to the problem of revolution or reform: significant, yet isolated improvements help to expand the collective imagination of what is possible. In other words, inadequate reforms are sometimes embryonic of revolution.
Is this true for Greece, regardless of whether Syriza can deliver a solid socialist victory?
Stella: Very true, this is how class consciousness is built. But it is only true insofar as Syriza delivers something.
But yes, so imagine (if you can), that Labour were to come to power in Britain and do something to strengthen the NHS, or renationalise the railways, or raise the minimum wage. Now, they could not prevent future financial crises or provide security from private corporations. Even so, these simple reforms would make clear the benefits of moving towards a better society.
Nina: And it’s with this lack of implementation, or even a plausible blueprint for implementation, that Syriza invites scepticism. They promise to provide free electricity for 30,000 families; they will ‘tackle the humanitarian crisis’; they’ve declared that they will control offshore companies. But unless they have control of the economy, it remains unclear how they will make these manoeuvres.
The omission of a clear programme, I think, has come about because they themselves have delved into these illusions. They’re not trying to fool people, because they – when I say ‘they’ I refer to the reformist majority – are unsure of how to achieve their own aims, even if the aims are sincere. It’s not as simple as the government saying that these things will happen and meaning it, unfortunately. There are the real obstacles of powerful interests and institutions, and there is private capital.
This is why the first step, the first deliverance as it were, must be the full cancellation of the debt. The continued signing of these contracts, which enforce unwelcome measures upon the Greek people, is necessary so long as we rely upon this pumping in of money, (which is totally bureaucratic, because the same money is simply rerouted to bail out the banks and pay back the debt).
Stella: That is not to say that the cancellation of the debt will not lead to crisis. It will probably lead to a return to the drachma, to a valueless currency, which means more crisis. But if all the social measures are implemented and negotiations continue, then at least it will be a crisis from which Greece can rise. If you continue to compromise in limbo with this debt, or if you make your sole policy a return to a nonexistent currency, then there is no real progress. You simply rephrase the same problem.
And even with the nationalisation of resources and a more democratic, socialist economy you still have to compete with a semi-functional, capitalist, European economy. But it is a case of ‘what are the real alternatives?’ If we remain as we are, the economy will continue to shrink.
Most importantly, the ultimate ambition of the bailout and austerity measures, even in the long run, is the strengthening of the status quo and of the European ruling class; these measures will not serve, and do not even aim to serve at any point, the emancipation of the Greek people.
Nina: In any case, say that we were to be ‘the good guys’ and behave well for the European creditors, we would still run the risk of being pushed out of the Euro, because Greece only holds a tiny portion of European debt, and ultimately, our debt is non-viable.
Does it seem that a class-based analysis is essential here, where a few technocrats are holding one country to financial ultimatum, without any clear democratic mandate from European workers? (A class narrative might transcend inaccurate, national associations of blame in terms of speaking of the PIIGS and Greece as a burden on Europe, or even of German hypocrisy over cancelled war debts.)
Stella: Absolutely, and it is important to identify, as you say, who it is that is waging this economic oppression. A recent poll said that around a third of the German working class believes that capitalism is the cause of the current crisis. A Reuters opinion poll in February, reported that 60 per cent of Germans think that capitalism and democracy are mutually exclusive. They actually identified it as a systemic problem, and this is why a principled, internationalist stance is the only optimistic route available to a Greek Government.
We require international support from the peoples of other countries, in order to remake Europe in a way which does not favour this mode of economic crisis and disparity. This is how deep and systemic Greece’s plight is at the moment. And this is encouraging in some respects because the mythologies used to describe the crisis in countries like Britain and Germany, you know: ‘lazy Mediterranean countries’; ‘you are paying for southern Europe to do nothing’; ‘they are a burden on our hard-working tax payers’ – this ideology is breaking down in the face of reality.
The fatalism surrounding Syriza is in the utopian vein of Francis Fukuyama. He’s now laughed at even by liberals, but he did capture a very modern zeitgeist, which assumes that liberal democratic capitalism is the last stop in history, and the best and final solution to human society.
Is it therefore the elevation of the collective imagination, in addition to economic relief, that must become central to these movements if they’re to survive?
Stella: Certainly, and it says something that the most famous proponent of this idea is so terrible. I read a paper of Fukuyama’s in which he argues that there is this innate human nature, and that therefore we should not indulge in technological advancement and the socialisation of technology, because it goes against this nature. He is totally conservative and fearful.
Nina: There is another subtle materialisation of this, even from amongst the left and especially within Syriza. It appears in the way that people avoid saying that the source of routine economic crisis is capitalism. Instead they call it neo-liberalism. The way that they explain it is effectively conspiratorial, because it suggests that politicians since the Cold War have been consciously imposing a new ideology upon people.
Syriza falls into this trap, discriminating between ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’ in Europe, and between themselves and Golden Dawn in Greece, which is fine, but it’s as if these problems are moral phenomena. They’re not. They are the probable, and frequent conclusions of a flawed political economy.
Conspiracy is definitely a conservative current on the Left. Problems appear far less immense when cast on a few individuals’ careers. If it were as simple as George Bush, Tony Blair and some bankers sitting in a room and putting the world to wrongs, then the solution would be quite straightforward. (The guillotine can only do so much.) A more radical response is required in order to escape the injustices present within the nature of global capitalism.
Stella: Indeed, the plight of Greece is a highly connected issue, and for the reasons you have mentioned, even reducing it to epiphenomena such as Golden Dawn is unhelpful. They are a terrible symptom, but the idea is to break the phenomenon altogether, at the root.
This reduction of the problem reminds me of the conceptions of the early Russian Marxists, from before the formation of the Bolshevik Party. Russia was very backward and industrial socialism was not really developed at the time. Most Russian Marxists were effectively anarchists whose central ambition was to assassinate the Tsar. They spent their lives planning and dying over this vision, forgetting that once the Tsar died, he had a son waiting to take over.