Blockupy Goes Athens
1. From Blackmail to Coup
The alternative of Grexit or a third Memorandum is not the same as reform or revolution; it is only a matter of the lack of alternatives dictated by the creditors. It corresponds to the relation of forces within Europe, which can at the moment only produce defeats.
The blackmailing of Greece by the creditors leaves open two paths, both of which would be defeats. This is unavoidable. First, Grexit: It means: ‘We'll take from you the possibility of carrying out Europe's class conflict within European political space. If you want to keep fighting, then fight for your survival at home and let the world watch the hopelessness of your struggle. If you want to keep on fighting in the name of your population, then your population is going to suffer the consequences.’ A Grexit makes the problem of inner-European politics into one of developmental and humanitarian aid. It isolates the political conflict in Europe, limiting it to Greek territory.
Second, a new Memorandum: This means staying with the EU structures as they are, although at the cost of complete subjugation and now, in addition, the political oversight that is being insisted on. The Eurogroup's and IMF's programme amounts not only to an administration of debt and insolvency but also the attempt at nation building from outside – trusteeship as a shadow government. Its goal is a new Greek body politic in the economic-technocratic sense: deregulation, privatization, capitalism with “Asiatic values” (Žižek).
Apparently, the Syriza government has decided, on strategic grounds, to end the policy of negotiations with a symbolic defeat in order to ‘pacify’ the fiscal and economic situation. It changes nothing in terms of social devastation.
The events of recent days catapulted Syriza into a new decision-making arena in a completely contradictory situation: The emphatic liberatory act of the popular ‘Oxi’ (No) occurred simultaneously with the intensified vulnerability to fiscal blackmail of the state (bank closures, state bankruptcy). Complete collapse would occur in a matter of days. Money was running out. In the last days, the preliminary outer limits of this institutional national uprising against the European ‘Institutions’ were reached. The negotiations were at an end, and the economic war against the Greek government reached its preliminary high point. Tsipras hoped a new aid package would ease the dramatic situation. And there are not a few that are hoping now for time to prepare a Grexit for real.
It is questionable whether this strategy can work. Syriza hoped a Memorandum would give it breathing space and the possibility of preparing a new political offensive. The creditors, therefore, have set themselves the goal of moving from fiscal blackmail to direct political control – in the event it cannot manage, despite all, to bring down the Syriza government. They are formulating not only the contractual framework of Greek politics but now want to tie the next disbursements to the government's political obedience and oversee it permanently. They will try to prevent Greece getting even an atom of manoeuvring space for a new offensive. From now on Brussels is no longer interested merely in economic subjugation under a third Memorandum; the creditors are forcing Tsipras to prove his ‘credibility’ by doing everything they ask of him: to stand up to the population, to the ‘dissenters’, to the party. This is blackmail whose conditions are now the public-image destruction of political unity. It leaves no room for strategic retreat, no possible future offensive. The submission achieved so far can and must be criticised. However, those who see this as a break with a political project and the death of reformism should hold their fire. Because what is now in the air – the Eurogroup's ‘No’ to the current level of Greece's submission – will not only decide Syriza's future but also the future configuration of Europe. Whether there is Grexit or a Memorandum, on Monday we will all know that there is most probably no possibility of even the slightest improvement of Greece's situation if this is done in concert with the creditors. And since the referendum a break has become an option for society. Starting Monday there will be a new political process in Greece, which will put the left and the party to the test.
3. Government and Collective Process
The government is taking on an identity distinct from the party and the movement. The negotiation process hampers the democratic process and concentrates power in the hands of a few, whom people have to trust. It is precisely the popular aspect of the referendum that has paradoxically reinforced this concentration: The masses of young and poor people, who are not activists and not organized, have tied themselves directly to the government and to Alexis Tsipras as a person.
Through its campaign in the urban peripheries and poor neighbourhoods, Syriza reached all those who yearned for ‘life with dignity’; but the population did not want this to occur in the form of a permanent general assembly of the people, which required them to make permanent decisions affecting precisely the one person whom they consciously empowered for this purpose through their ‘No’: Alexis Tsipras. They not only said ‘No’ but also placed their trust in Tsipras so that he could end their suffering. This reinforced his possibilities of acting unilaterally.
At the same time, this highlighted a vacuum in the movement of the streets. The democracy of the squares consciously rejected centralist politics and, in so doing, the figure of a charismatic leadership. How do movements speak to those who are not a movement and don't want to be one? How do we deal with the possible difference between the plebiscite of the assemblies and the supposed common will of all? The societal factor of the non-represented and the ‘invisible’ does not necessarily seek happiness through grassroots movements and engaged self-organization. How do movements act if real majorities are not only possible under conditions of contemporary post-representation but are also decisive? The Syriza experiment has freshly put the open question of societal and popular collectivism on the table. And that's a good thing!
4. First get food, then go for the big challenge
The biggest problem with the major submission to the European status quo is not the betrayal of a decrepit concept of revolution espoused by the KKE or other radical ‘revolutionaries’. The biggest problem is that Greece and its poorest citizens find themselves in a situation of immediate urgency. The social catastrophe cannot be resolved with a five-year plan.
In this sense, in the coming months, what will show us whether Syriza has really capitulated is the policies of the government, not a piece of paper. In this process, the required measures can also take place in a legal grey area, or they can produce the next public arena of struggle. What's important is that this arena is defined and opened up. ‘Absurd’, ‘capitulation’, ‘traders in hope’ – all those who are now basing their own radicalism on Syriza's ‘failure’ should think hard about what they would have done if it were up them. Almost all ‘radical leftists’ within Syriza have approved this Memorandum, precisely because they are against it. For the moment it appears to be the only option for keeping the other options open. It was a strategic mistake to not have contemplated other options earlier on. But in order to be able to take the leap into the unknown – a controlled Grexit and the options of nationalising production and the banks – it is not only time and real majorities that are needed but also ‘breathing space’ right now. Syriza was not prepared for this step. Nobody was.
5. Grexit as the Solution?
The discussion of Grexit in the German left is romantic. In great part it adheres to an old party-communist political conception: A process of rupture is not to occur socially, as social transformation and political movement; rather, it is to be enacted through a decree and according to a technical discussion of social models undertaken by the government. What is more, the demand is irresponsible because – and this is what is most important – it does not correspond to the actual political process.
With their ‘No’, people voted not for exit but to reject the ‘liberal’ politics of fear; in their readiness for battle they went a good distance in the direction of a real break, but they did not formulate the momentum of a revolutionary wish – whether or not we would have wanted them to. A Grexit at this moment would also be irresponsible because it has not been prepared – either by Syriza as a government or a party, or by municipal and local social councils, not to mention by assemblies and movements. And so questions of further strategy and the next steps are on the table. But for now we have to understand that a break with Europe's fiscal regime would aggravate the social disaster, and the plebiscitary moment of the ‘Oxi’ vote would be transformed into a guided democracy and then into the authoritarianism of a left government, which would govern the social catastrophe in an increasingly authoritarian way and would have to reorganize the state and economy against the social majority. Those who argue for a revolutionary Grexit are doing so at a comfortable distance and are, in the last analysis, ignoring those who have fought, starved, suffered, and hoped in the last six years. All of these people deserve time to breathe. They, and not Syriza's Central Committee or a distant revolutionary romanticism, need to decide on the right point in time.
6. Necessary Failure?
Whatever the ideologies and false conceptions of the possibility of reforms might have been at work in Syriza, its line in the last months corresponded to the tendency of the will of the majority. The hope for a solution within the framework of the European treaties has been the point of departure of Syriza's political strategy. In acting on this basis it has managed to radicalise society.
The government has the people behind it and has absorbed this wish and, together with the public throughout Europe, learned from experience that this wish is just as unrealistic as the neoliberal order is obdurate. If they had chosen to make this insight possessed by a revolutionary minority into the point of departure of their politics they would have failed spectacularly. The last months have made it possible for the whole world to experience the real concrete existence of this antagonism, to see it, to feel it. Syriza has not stoked reformist desires but destroyed them in a series of practical object-lessons – whether they wanted to or not. In so doing, the real possibility of a break, about which people throughout the whole of society are now talking seriously for the first time, has become an option. Nobody could have presupposed the experience that has by now been gained without alienating the population and the party. Syriza did not take its own truths as a point of departure; instead it looked to the level of consciousness of the population and radicalised it. In this sense, they initiated a revolutionary process – something that those who always knew better and what was coming are not in a position to do. The question now is whether the government will be in sync with this process.
7. Movement and Government
After almost six months Syriza has come up against the limits of being a protest government. Now the party has to actually take ‘governmental responsibility’. It cannot fall back on programmatic positions but has to face the real dilemma for which there is no pragmatic solution. This also necessarily entails political alienation of the movements from the government.
But this is a good and far from being a bad thing. Movements, in the best sense of the concept, also act for themselves; they have to do so in their immediate struggles and radical demands, which do not always incorporate social majorities – for example, solidarity with refugees in Greece, the struggle against special prisons, police violence, the fascist danger, and against ruinous extractivism (gold mining). Left parties that do not enter government based solely on their own strength, but also because the political caste of an austerity regime has imploded, should try to develop left politics for majorities, and they need to concretely improve the daily conditions of life of many people. Especially under conditions of the nightmarish impoverishment and plunge into the void caused by the Troika's two Memoranda.
In its feverish week of permanent mobilisation, the ‘Oxi’ campaign, too, lived not from a central leadership but from the free self-empowerment of innumerable activists who created, multiplied, and consequently also socialised their own Oxi via social media and in the streets.
Can this kind of mobilisation still be called upon? It probably can. The disillusion is palpable. Does it have to stay that way? Does the tremendously arid game of parliamentary reformism versus radical movements that want more have to start again? Maybe, but there is something else. The relationship between broad parts of the movement and the government still exists; it has been humiliated but not broken. What will be decisive is how Syriza not only explains its decision in this situation but makes it into a point of departure for further mobilisation. Only at this point could a possible capitulation be spelled out. However, what is also decisive is whether the movements continue to exert pressure on their government; whether they are actually in a position not only to think through the question of socialising the break with the existing fiscal regime, embodied in part by the euro, but also to organize around it as a social process involving many people. We have no specific advice on how to do this and are consciously refraining from giving any. However, two things seem equally clear to us: it is possible under present conditions to govern unpragmatically, and, at the same time, the movements must not subordinate themselves or be subordinate to the logic of governing.
8. A Reorganizing of the Political
Whatever happens, the referendum has re-measured political space not only in Greece but also in Europe. In almost every conceivable way, it has politicised the crisis and European governance. The technocratic veils are falling away and the brute force of politics is becoming apparent. Their natural laws determine the laws of their policies, but their laws can be called into question. ‘There is no alternative’ is now being confronted by social democracy.
The parties of the old ‘left’, whether in France, Spain, Italy, England – or especially Germany (the SPD) – are by now nothing more than ‘managers of global capitalism’ (Badiou). Their ‘Yes’ against Syriza and the Greek population extinguished from their memory the last vestiges of Keynesianism and the last elements of social-democratic solidarity. They marshalled all means at their disposal to repel the first powerful counter-offensive to neoliberalism and its austerity. It was a declaration of war against the new and any attempt to burst the bounds of the current order. Many were able to understand this, and many were outraged at how openly democratic self-empowerment was subjected to intimidation and manipulation through ‘fiscal structural reform’. Europe is no longer what it was. It is now only a question of time before the demand for a European referendum on TTIP will come into focus and before other excluded groups demand their rights. For decades now, the crisis of representation has only seen a right-wing response: Hungary, Le Pen, Denmark, Pegida. Now it has a left response, which can no longer disappear in the medium term, whatever concrete form it takes. It positioned itself as a political force way before the 34 per cent of the January election. And even in the parliamentary systems there is – at least in the long run – the possibility of rebellious actions. OXI remains the central political antagonism of the years to come and is at the same time ten years ahead of the rest of the movements in Europe.
9. The empire is being destroyed from inside, not from outside.
Those who say that the European empire cannot be reformed should not conclude that one should leave it. Of course, there is nothing to be expected from Merkel. She is a real warrior for her class. But it is just as self-evident that one has to be and stay precisely where the enemy is, where one's own enmity can be brought to bear.
Ultimately, we fight in the factory and in the city neighbourhood and not in a place where the relations of domination are absent. In any case, there is and will be no such place, even in Greece after a Grexit. Whether inside or outside the euro and the EU, the European reality forms the objective boundaries of the Greek breakthrough. This is where the responsibility of the European movements begins, especially in Germany. Crossing borders is now in our hands. This involves all social movements and political struggles for a Europe of rights for all and true democracy. It involves anchors of transnational protest like Blockupy, as well as other cross-border connections of the radical left. And, of course, it involves the Party of the European Left around Die LINKE. Everyone has to change something; everyone has to reassess their policies and ask: How can we internationalise the Greek cause and Europeanise the OXI vote? Together, separately, united, in each place, in each form. We have to modernise our practice – within this constellation.
And one more thing: Syriza doesn't need a fan club. We should appreciate the great value of a left government, without being ‘faithful to Moscow’. ‘Unfortunately, small steps forward still require big sacrifices’, is what a Diktio comrade texted us from deep inside the government during the Friday in which the momentous decision was made. Yes, it's a lot of rubbish. Just carry on. What else?
PS: As a team we are now ending our report and going back into action. Whatever happens from now on we have already been changed by the recent events. In Athens we fought to the point of exhaustion along with others, but also spoke with far-sighted comrades and courageous common people who told us the reasons for their OXI. We saw how much we desired more Greek friendship against Germany's order. It was exciting and historic, and we learned a lot.
PPS: All our basic assessments still stand up, though many things could turn out differently in the next hours and days. ‘There is no alternative’ is supposed to win – shock and awe, nothing is to survive. If the enormous level of submission is insufficient then Greek society will have to risk the great leap into the unknown. Either they remain in a repeatedly produced void or they are to go under. Then for the moment something will again have occurred. But that will be decided not by the government alone; then all the stakes will really be in the streets. •
Blockupy goes Athens, 12 July 2015 (12.00, Berlin).
This text first appeared in German in the blog Blockupy goes Athens.
Translation by Eric Canepa.