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    Sotiris : Perspectives politiques après l’expérience grecque

    Grèce Sotiris

    Brève publiée le 20 juillet 2016

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    Les brèves publiées dans cette rubrique « Informations et analyses » le sont à titre d'information et n'engagent pas la Tendance CLAIRE.


    How to rebuild the potential for hope: Rethinking radical left politics after the Greek experience

    The experience of the participation of SYRIZA to government is something that has to be studied very carefully. As the first confrontation of a non-social-democratic left-wing party with the exercise of governmental power, it represents a case-study of the strategic deficits and limits of the Europeanist left and its inability to stand up to the pressures and blackmails by capital and international capitalist organisations.

    Our starting point is very simple: Greece was not doomed to see an entire sequence of struggles and collective aspirations end up in defeat and despair as a government led by a supposedly left-wing party implements the same aggressively neoliberal policies dictated by the Troika. In contrast, Greece still offers a way to rethink the possibility of a renewal of left-wing strategy provided that we actually attempt to think the possibility of ruptures.

    In order to understand that, we must, above all, think of the extent and depth of the political and ideological transformations in Greece in the entire Memoranda period. First, the Greek crisis was not just a local manifestation of the global economic crisis. In reality, it was the combination of the global crisis, the crisis of the monetary, financial and institutional architecture of the Eurozone and the crisis of the particular Greek ‘developmental paradigm’ that was based upon cheap credit, EU funding, tourism and useless pharaonic public works such as the stadiums for the 2004 Olympiad. As such, it brought forward all the contradictions of both Greek society and ‘European Integration’ and made obvious that there was no turning back.

    For the dominant social forces and Greek capital but also for the dominant forces inside the EU, this seemed like an opportunity for a ‘paradigm change’ in Greek society and a way to get rid of all the compromises that had been previously made in favour of the subaltern classes. However, this effort led to a sequence of protest and contestation without precedent in recent Greek history, especially in 2010-12 but also afterwards, expressed in major battles such as the struggle over public television (ERT) and of course the July 5 referendum and tremendous vote in favour of the NO. These struggles were not just the expression of anger and protest; they were also the catalyst for a broader process of convergence between different segments of the popular classes. This was particularly evident in the 2011 Movement of the Squares which brought together working class strata, youths, new and traditional petty-bourgeois strata, intellectuals etc. If we were to put it in Gramscian terms we could say that we were witnessing the emergence of a potential new ‘historic bloc’ of the forces of labour, the forces of culture and the forces of knowledge. Moreover, this process of abrupt negative social change and mass participation in an almost insurrectionary sequence of struggles also had a ‘cathartic’ ideological aspect in the sense of radicalisation and quest for radical alternatives. People were willing to rethink anything that was taken for granted and to question all the central tenets of the dominant discourse, from neoliberalism to Greece’s attachments to the European integration project.

    It is obvious that this particular conjuncture called for a profound rethinking of left-wing strategy. For the first time since the 1970s the forces of the radical left were facing the prospect of governmental power and in general of political power and hegemony. This came after a long period when the radical left would only think of resistances and movements and not of questions of power. However, the confrontation with such questions requires the re-opening of the debate of socialist strategy and how to combine immediately needed measures to end social devastation with deep social and political transformation.

    Moreover, the question of political power opened up the question of the general direction. As mentioned already the Greek crisis was also the crisis of the ‘grand strategy’ of the Greek bourgeoisie, namely the participation of Greece in the broader process of European Integration and in particular of the Eurozone. Τhe participation in the EU and the Eurozone had exposed the Greek economy to competitive pressures that led to the erosion of the productive base of the country. Αt the same time, this has also been a class strategy from the part of the Greek bourgeoisie in order to promote capitalist restructuring and to change the balance of forces in favour of capital. This means that there could be no other way for a progressive and democratic solution to the Greek crisis other than the necessary rupture with the Eurozone and the embedded neoliberalism of the EU and its treaties. This has also to do with a question of democracy. The institutional architecture of the EU, with its consitutionalised neoliberalism, its disregard for democratic process and distrust of popular will, in sum its logic of reduced sovereignty and the transfer of authority to the unelected bureaucracy of the EU, which is insulated from the movements and collective demands of the subaltern classes, means that reclaiming democracy today also means reclaiming sovereignty in confrontation with the Eurozone and the EU. The Euro in particular, it is now more obvious than ever that it is not just a currency; it is a class strategy from the part of internationalized capital and the dominant forces inside the EU. And things could only get worse with the further implementation of the logic of ‘European Economic Governance’, that is the logic of supervision of budgets by EU authorities, the putting in place of ‘automatic breaks’ and the penalisation of budget deficits. In this sense, what is happening in Greece with the Memoranda as extreme forms of disciplinary and authoritarian supervision of the Greek economy is not the exception but like a preview of the ‘new normal’ in Europe, the full evolution of the logic of European Integration.

    In light of the above, it is obvious that it was high time for the radical Left to get rid of left Europeanism which in many aspects was leading to an inability to actually think of radical politics. The endless repetition of the references to the need to ‘change Europe from within’ and the fantasies about ‘another Euro and another ECB’, when in reality everything points to the opposite direction, has been the ‘royal road’ for the full incorporation of the left to the dominant logic of capital. Left Europeanism is at the same time the condensation of and the catalyst for the strategic crisis of the European left.

    At the same time, the question of political power is also the question of the state. The capitalist state is not a class-neutral institution and it is not an instrument to be used at will. The capitalist state is the material condensation of class strategies and of capitalist hegemony. Consequently, it cannot be simply used by the subaltern classes. Moreover, the dominant neoliberal strategy of capitalist restructuring and the imperatives of European Integration is inscribed in the very materiality of its institutional arrangements. Moreover, the question of the state also brings forward the question of how to counter the increasingly authoritarian and undemocratic logic inscribed in the neoliberal state but also in the functioning of European Institutions. This meant that any radical left confrontation with the question of power should not limit itself to governmental power and the limits of the existing neoliberal ‘legality’ but it should also base itself upon the force of autonomous social movements and their demands and forms of power from below. Otherwise, it will be defeated and forced to capitulate.

    All these mean that there were two important necessities in any attempt to deal with the question of radical left governance:

    (a) to rethink the transition program, both in the sense of the necessary ruptures with the Eurozone, the EU and the mechanism of debt, but also in the sense of a process of profound social transformation in a socialist direction, and

    (b) to rethink political power in the form of a modern version of a ‘dual power’ strategy that would combine governmental power with strong autonomous movements ‘from below’.

    However, despite these necessities, which were more than evident from the beginning, the leadership of SYRIZA chose the opposite way. On the one hand, regarding the general political direction, instead of a strategy of ruptures and the preparation for the exit from the Eurozone and the reclaiming of monetary sovereignty, the leadership aimed for renegotiation within the contours of the dominant strategy of the EU and the logic of the Memoranda, aiming, at best, at ‘austerity with a human face’ as it was made evident by the timid goals of the 2014 ‘Thessaloniki Program’. Moreover, it had precluded from the beginning any thought of rupture with the Eurozone and was aiming at ‘persuading’ Greece’s creditors for a loosening of austerity and some form of debt restructuring. Faced with the open blackmail of the EU-IMF-ECB Troika, it started making concessions such as the February 20 2015 agreement and paved the way for the full surrender and capitulation of July 2015, despite the tremendous display of defiance from the part of the subaltern classes in the July 5 referendum. Step by step, it accepted the logic of austerity, of privatisations, and of pension reform, it backtracked in questions such as educational policy and avoided repealing the labour reforms already in place. Moreover, when the SYRIZA-led government faced the open blackmail of the EU and ECB, before and after the referendum, at a moment when immediate exit from the Eurozone was indeed not only urgent but also politically possible after the result of the referendum, the leading group of SYRIZA reached the conclusion that any strategy of break is impossible and dangerous. Consequently, it opted for full capitulation to the Troika demands and accepted an even more aggressive third Memorandum. The result has been the full transformation of SYRIZA to a pro-austerity, pro-Memoranda, and pro-EU party that is implementing aggressive neoliberal policies as dictated by the Troika. The proposals for a neoliberal labour-law reform, the continuous aggressive fiscal austerity, the technocratic proposals for education reform, the acceleration of privatisations, the dismantling of public education and public health attest to this. The same can be said by the cynical acceptance of the EU-Turkey deal where the Greek government fully succumbed to the pressure to implement authoritarian anti-refugee measures (forced deportations, detention centres etc.) in return for a vague promise to see some minimal loosening of austerity.

    At the same time, the SYRIZA-led government has continued in the same direction regarding the functioning of the state as the previous governments. From resorting to police violence against protestors to avoiding any real changes in the functioning of justice or public administration, there are no signs of a different practice. Moreover, the acceptance of the logic of ‘Fortress Europe’ regarding the refugee crisis has also meant an authoritarian turn. At the same time, declarations about ‘fighting corruption’ have not led to any serious confrontation with big capital but just to a rearrangement of relations with big business and big Media. In this sense, there is little difference between the practice of the SYRIZA government and the previous governments, which conforms to a broader tendency, namely the hollowing out of sovereignty and decision making because of the surveillance and monitoring of the Greek economy and legislative process from the part of the EU, the IMF and the ECB.

    However, just monitoring the capitulation, surrender and neoliberal mutation of SYRIZA is not enough. What is important is also to draw some lessons for the forces of the radical left in Europe. But to do so, we must begin with some misapprehensions of the Greek situation.

    First, of all it is obvious that there is nothing progressive in the direction and politics of SYRIZA and the SYRIZA-ANEL government. Therefore, treating it as an example of progressive governance, as the leadership of the Party of European Left insists on doing along with the leaderships of the many Left parties in Europe, leads only to confusion and the identification of the Left with neoliberal authoritarian policies. The increasing ties between SYRIZA and the Party of European Socialists and in general the turn towards the openly neoliberal ‘social-democratic’ governments and parties attest to this.

    Secondly, it would be equally erroneous to draw the conclusion that the capitulation of SYRIZA is proof that it is impossible to have a radical form of governance in a country such as Greece, or that any attempt towards governmental power will lead to defeat and surrender, because of the lack of a ‘revolutionary situation’. This is a classical leftist position, championed in Greece by both the Communist Party of Greece and segments of the anticapitalist Left and is in reality a very conservative position, because it disregards the depth of the political crisis in Greece and the explosive dynamics of the social movements in the demand for radical change. Moreover, by making the possibility of change dependent upon an ‘ideal type’ of revolutionary situation and revolutionary party, it is as if they just looking for an excuse not to think the dynamics of the conjuncture.

    Consequently, it would be wrong to say that the only possible outcome of the dynamics of the Greek situation would have been something like the events that we witnessed in Greece, or that the politics of SYRIZA are the only possible historical horizon.

    However, any possibility to actually confront the question of power and hegemony has certain prerequisites.

    First, of all it is necessary to rethink the dialectical relation between political movement and social movements. If we want to avoid thinking simply in electoral terms –that is, in terms of representing electorally the discontent of society– we need to realize that a strong movement, with extended forms of self-organisation, solidarity, self-management and coordination from below, is more than necessary. Recent forms of protest from the Spanish Indignados and the Greek movement of the Squares to, most recently, the French ‘Nuit Debut’ movement, offer exactly such examples, this experimentation with forms of power and democracy from below. The same goes for the new forms of democracy from below and coordination that emerge in the movements and also the new principles of political deliberation and decision-making such as equal-voicing and attempting to find new syntheses. Moreover, the new forms of solidarity practices in the movement have also to be taken into consideration not only as expressions of the demand to get rid of commodified and exploitative social relations but also as learning sites for new forms of social organization.

    Secondly, we need political fronts that move beyond the model of traditional electoral process. Rather, we need new ‘constituent process’ for refounding the left, meeting points for different experiences, forms of militancy, sensitivities, traditions of struggle, and laboratories of new programs, new alternatives and new form of mass political intellectualities. This requires a break with traditional parliamentary and bureaucratic forms of thinking, a new practice of politics, a move away from traditional forms of campaigning and ‘political communication’.

    Thirdly, we need to rethink the transition program as a strategy of reclaiming sovereignty and democratic control against the Eurozone, the EU and in general the systemic violence of internationalized capital, and at the same time as initiating a profound process of social transformation, based upon public ownership, self-management and democratic and participatory planning, as a process of experimentation, based upon the collective ingenuity of a people of struggle, in a radical and socialist horizon. Exiting the Euro and the EU should not be considered just a step towards a more favourable macro-economic condition; the pervasive effects of European Integration and their devastating results upon the productive base of society make socialist orientation a necessity and not a luxury, in contrast to the traditional reformism and economism of the Left. In this sense, it is also imperative to rethink socialism beyond both social-democracy and bureaucratic state socialism, that is to rethink it as a transition process, full of conflicts and struggles in order to expand the ‘traces of communism’ already emerging in collective aspirations and demands for a social organization freed of the rule of capital.

    Fourthly, we need to go beyond any conception of the State as a neutral instrument. Contemporary capitalist states, especially within processes of integration such as the EU that are based upon ceding aspects of sovereignty, bear the marks of the most aggressive neoliberal strategies. A new form of radical left governance must begin with profound transformations of the state, by means of a Constituent Process, in order to facilitate new forms of democracy, worker’s control and restrictions upon the activities of capital. At the same time, it has to be based upon the strength of the autonomous movements that have to be independent of the State and always pressing for more radical changes. Otherwise, the neoliberal and capitalist logic already inscribed in the material configuration of the state and the institutional networks and decision processes inside it will take precedent.

    In sum, the basic lesson to be learned from the Greek experience is that we have entered a period where social and political crisis and the emergence of big movements can indeed open up the way for radical social and political change. This requires a new encounter between radical left forces, social movements and radical theory, in order to facilitate a process of refoundation and not just realignment of the left.