Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 13, 2013

Greek anarchists and Greek politics

Filed under: anarchism,Greece — louisproyect @ 8:19 pm

Last night I went out to Brooklyn to hear 3 Greek activists who are on tour in the USA talking about the resistance to Golden Dawn. I was anxious to hear what they had to say even if the email I got from the group hosting the meeting struck me as a bit dubious:

Again, how to articulate an anti-capitalist and anti-state politics as not just abstract ideology but material reality, how to promote new forms of life between us, to create new spaces and territories which can demonstrate a social force, which reveal a collective strength, to overcome all those counterrevolutionary tendencies working against us. Or, how to live communism, while spreading anarchy.

I should start off by saying that I am by no means opposed to anarchists and even hailed their audacity in the Occupy Movement as crucial to its success, even if I found the black bloc wing of the movement toxic.

Vangelis Nanos, the first speaker, gave a very interesting overview on the Greek ultraright going back to the Ioannis Metaxas dictatorship from 1936-1941. He made the case that Golden Dawn’s roots are in the original fascist movement that continues to exercise behind the scenes power whether there is formal democracy or not. I made a mental note to look for a history of modern Greece written from a Marxist or radical perspective.

After tracing the history of the ultraright through 1981, he switched gears and began talking about the contemporary situation. I had hoped that he would elaborate on the tactics being used by anarchists, including the use of motorcycle brigades numbering hundreds of machines, but mostly he was content to just allude to various confrontations such as breaking up Golden Dawn rallies, etc.

His main emphasis was instead on the need to build up “horizontalist“ alternatives to capitalism such as recovered factories, fairs, squats, neighborhood markets, clinics, etc. He claimed that the movement to build such institutions was undermined by the 2012 elections in which the masses’ attention was diverted to discussions about the IMF, the Euro versus the Drachma, etc.

Sofia Papagiannaki, the next speaker, was heard on video since she had to return to Greece for her job. Her talk focused on the failure of the Greek left to root out the “deep state” institutions that Nanos identified but was not exactly clear on what that entailed.

Thanasis Xirotsopanos, the final speaker, took up where Nanos left off and went on at length about the “horizontal and solidarity economy” that the new Greece would be based on. He described the trade union movement as worse than useless and called for the need to break with “hedonistic growth”. All in all, I could not escape the feeling that such a message would be lost on most working class Greeks.

But what really made me sit up and take notice was Xirotsopanos’s statement that social democracy was dead. I imagined that this was probably a more acceptable formulation than “socialism was dead” even though I am sure he would have defended that as well. I honestly did not come out to Brooklyn for a confrontation so I did not challenge him in a polemical fashion during the Q&A.

I did, however, raise the question of SYRIZA and whether their objection to it was tactical—in the sense that its participation in the election undermined their horizontal kitchens, etc.—or whether it was based on principle, namely that state power was always corrupting.

They answered that nothing would have been gained by SYRIZA winning the election and pointed to PASOK’s electoral victories that accomplished nothing even though there were high hopes at the time. Back in 1977 there were different expectations, as this New Left Review article by Nicos Mouzelis would indicate:

The Greek general election of November 1977 has not only brought profound changes in the political map of Greece, it has also resulted in a configuration of political forces which is unique in the context of European politics. For Greece itself, the exceptional significance of the elections lies in the fact that the ‘liberal versus conservative’ cleavage within the bourgeoisie, which has dominated most of the country’s parliamentary history, has finally given way to a more profound class polarization. For the first time since the Civil War, one can now speak of class divisions having a real reflection in the composition of parliamentary blocs. For Andreas Papandreou’s Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK), the major victor (in relative terms), has by its partial mobilization of the rural population and the urban petty bourgeoisie seriously challenged the traditional political formations of the Greek ruling class with their inter-class support.

Indeed, during its earlier phases running the government, PASOK carried out some reforms that were nothing to be sneered at, including some that addressed the “deep state” concerns raised by the speakers. From Wikipedia:

In 1986, the PA.SO.K. government amended the Greek constitution to remove most powers from the President and give wider authority to the Prime Minister and the Executive Government. Civil marriages, not consecrated by religious ceremony, were recognized as equally valid with religious weddings. The left-wing Resistance movement against the Axis in World War II was recognized after, and leftist resistance fighters were given state pensions, while political refugees of the Greek Civil War were finally given permission to return to Greece. The National Health System was created and various repressive laws of the anti-communist postwar establishment were abolished, wages were boosted, an independent and multidimensional foreign policy was pursued, many reforms in Family Law to strengthened the rights of women and the Greek Gendarmerie was abolished in 1984.

In the 1990s PASOK took a “modernization” turn in keeping with what Tony Blair was up to in Britain, which led to working class discontent and the victory of New Democracy, a Tory-like party that won a narrow victory over SYRIZA in the last election.

I have noticed since the SYRIZA’s leaders tour to the USA a few months ago that sections of the left have escalated their attacks on the Eurocommunist formation. It does not seem important to them that SYRIZA maintains a big tent structure that allows the far left to make contact with the masses in a way that a small propaganda group cannot. Nor do they see the importance of regroupment process through SYRIZA that might eventually encourage Maoist and Trotskyist groups to think past their own limitations. One such malcontent posted this peevish comment on my blog around the time that the SYRIZA leaders were speaking at Bard College’s Jerome Levy Institute:

This is Lenin Reloaded from Greece. I was wondering, given your support for SYRIZA, what your feelings are about the fact that SYRIZA advertises Bard College as an emblem of progressive political thought, is promoting it through its party newspaper, reflects the rhetoric of the Levy Institute to the last detail, is promoted by Dimitris Papademitriou politically, and will be visiting the Institute in a couple of days officially to crown the partnership.

The following post is in Greek (as most of them are in my blog), but it links to several of your articles on Bard College’s relations to big corporate capital, right-wing Zionism, the persecution of academic freedom, anti-labor practices, and its attacks on the Occupy Movement, which SYRIZA was supposed to be supportive of.

Here’s the link: http://leninreloaded.blogspot.com/2013/01/blog-post_21.html

After reading this once more, I wonder if I am now required to divorce my wife who has been invited to participate in a conference on Hyman Minsky hosted by the Jerome Levy Institute this summer. Maybe I should also denounce myself publicly since I looked forward to going up to Bard with her to hang out with my friend John Halle who teaches at my alma mater.

In some ways, the Levy Institute is the perfect place for SYRIZA to visit since think tank has employed Anwar Shaikh in the past, arguably one of the preeminent Marxist economists in the world. Michael Hudson, the author of “Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire” is another Levy Scholar as well as a frequent contributor to Counterpunch.

Whether or not the leaders of SYRIZA are to the right of Shaikh and Hudson does not matter that much to me. My take on SYRIZA is quite a bit different than most people on the left.

To reprise my views, I see SYRIZA as a throwback to the parties of the Second International in which left and right wings vied with each other. That includes the Russian Social Democratic Party that was home to a Bolshevik and Menshevik faction. It was a huge mistake for the Comintern to create a new kind of party that was purged of the reformist elements since the net result was division in the working class. Marxist parties have to engage with different levels of consciousness in the working class. When you amputate your right arm because it offends you, you lose contact with the masses who have not reached revolutionary conclusions. I should add that in Russia that condition was not met until the summer of 1917.

7 Comments »

  1. “His main emphasis was instead on the need to build up “horizontalist“ alternatives to capitalism such as recovered factories, fairs, squats, neighborhood markets, clinics, etc. He claimed that the movement to build such institutions was undermined by the 2012 elections in which the masses’ attention was diverted to discussions about the IMF, the Euro versus the Drachma, etc.”

    This makes no sense to me as I assume, from what I have heard about Greece, that these “horizontalist” alternatives are driven by economic necessity and social marginalization, both factors separate from the electoral process.

    “They answered that nothing would have been gained by SYRIZA winning the election and pointed to PASOK’s electoral victories that accomplished nothing even though there were high hopes at the time.”

    I’m surprised that you didn’t point out that the current rightist government has been engaging in a crackdown on strikes as well as upon immigrants and squats in Exarchia. It is fairly certain that SYRIZA would not have done anything like this. As for the speakers, I guess when you write off trade unions entirely, you might not consider this so politically important, although the harassment of immigrants and squatters should still matter.

    Comment by Richard Estes — March 14, 2013 @ 12:00 am

  2. I wonder what Markos Vafiadis would have said?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Markos_Vafiadis

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — March 14, 2013 @ 2:39 am

  3. No shame in being attracted to the hallowed halls of bourgeois academia Louis, since those are your origins. Be a proud petty bourgeois dilettante! It helps worker-militants avoid the trap of middle class reformism wrapped in a red flag and should encourage them to become trolls like me living in their parents’ basement, masturbating with Playboy pin-up pictures when they aren’t playing keyboard proletarian revolutionaries.

    Comment by Learned it from Marx — March 14, 2013 @ 10:26 am

  4. I comment on comment #3 here: http://trotskyschildren.blogspot.com/2013/03/petty-bourgeois.html .

    Comment by Dan King — March 18, 2013 @ 1:24 am

  5. To reprise my views, I see SYRIZA as a throwback to the parties of the Second International in which left and right wings vied with each other. That includes the Russian Social Democratic Party that was home to a Bolshevik and Menshevik faction. It was a huge mistake for the Comintern to create a new kind of party that was purged of the reformist elements since the net result was division in the working class. Marxist parties have to engage with different levels of consciousness in the working class. When you amputate your right arm because it offends you, you lose contact with the masses who have not reached revolutionary conclusions. I should add that in Russia that condition was not met until the summer of 1917.

    I used to see things more or less along these lines. The idea that revolutionaries are seriously contending as part of a larger left bloc is attractive. But the more I see things developing the less sure I am that this is what’s going on.

    The most damning evidence? https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2013/01/26/tsip-j26.html

    The noises coming out of Tsipras make me think that SYRIZA’s direction is toward bourgeois “Seriousness”, i.e. towards fulfilling the desires of the international bourgeoisie under a veneer of “radicalism”. If this is the case, if SYRIZA assumes power and continues with the Troika’s agenda, then Greek workers better be on guard because it might very well mean that the “radical left” becomes thoroughly discredited while fascist swine like GD are given a boost.

    SYRIZA will have one chance to get things right, one chance to forge a new path, and if they’re more interested in getting a “seat at the table” than making revolution then they may well end up as a sad footnote to a resurgent European fascism.

    Comment by RF — March 19, 2013 @ 2:19 am

  6. ‘Greek’ terrorists – sorry, anarchists – have very little (an understatement) support in Greece, and are hated with a passion by practically the entire population. Your Terror not succeed.

    Comment by Alexander — March 29, 2013 @ 3:25 am

  7. just found your blog – via an article on Cockburn of yours. I’ll bookmark it and will keep checking.

    Now about Greece, my homeland. Don’t really know the way you see things but I must say, although your assesment on the anarchists is pretty mush correct – e.g. they are vastly marginalised in Greece’s working population;their alternative kitchens and all, attract not many people and what’s worse not really people in need: any “alternative” sweet girl or boy , not in need really but bored to cook , goes and buys – incredibly cheap, that’s true – dishes; there’s not a “movument” of recovered factories, there’s actually only one such case, which is a bit eyebrow raising, as the trade union leaders of this one and particular factory base their thought on the assumption that they will get a state lown, out of some programme of encouraging new business endeavours; in all greek anarchists tend to make a great fuss, but both they’re actions and their appeal is actually very little.
    SYRIZA on the other hand used to be dominated by the “eurocommunist” faction. I don’t really adhere to this tendency (at all actually, I’m downright against it) of the communist movement – which in my opinion it hardly is a part of – , but nonetheless all that is now old news, for some 3 or 4 years now. Actually the original former eurocommunists in syriza broke up with that party , and formed the Democratic (or is it Republican?) Left party, which as you might know participated up until recently to the current government. Then, Syriza, although ferociously claimed that would erase “Mnimonio” – the pact signed by Greek government and its loaners, and through which all major and desperately needed by the greek bourgouisie capitalist reforms are underheld – , and all that during the electoral months of May and June 2012 , truth is day by day they have abandoned all that and , actually have sidelined with an Obama like idea of social guarantees. They actually and vocally acknowledged that. Unfortunately for them, PM Samaras also made the same claims together with Obama a few weeks ago.
    So,to the bottom line: is “the left” another form of capitalist ruling? I think it is. The French Communist Party, the Cypriot AKEL party, Italy’s (former) Democratic Left Party, etc. etc. all have ruled their countries all have implemented policies for the benefit of capitalists.
    In my opinion the working class of Greece – a significant part of which gives a determined and political struggle – should wait no longer for the “apocalypse”. No one from above will save us. We must fight, and fight till the system is brought down. That’s the political question that concerns me , and that’s the one that I think must concern every single working family in Greece – and everywhere else for that matter.

    yeah, I think Lenin is right.

    Comment by CantoPopolare — September 6, 2013 @ 8:11 am


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,963 other followers

%d bloggers like this: