A Strategy of Ruptures: Ten Theses on the Greek Future

Alek­sandr Ves­nin, Pro­posal for a Mon­u­ment to the Third Inter­na­tional, 1921


Jan­u­ary 25th marks a his­toric turn­ing point in recent Greek his­tory. After five years of dev­as­tat­ing aus­ter­ity, a social cri­sis with­out prece­dent in Europe, and a series of strug­gles that at some points, espe­cially in 2010-2012, took an almost insur­rec­tionary form, there has been a major polit­i­cal break. The par­ties that were respon­si­ble for putting Greek soci­ety under the dis­ci­pli­nary super­vi­sion of the so-called Troika (EU-ECB-IMF) suf­fered a humil­i­at­ing defeat. PASOK, which in 2009 won almost 44% of the vote, now received only 4.68%; and the splin­ter party of Gior­gos Papan­dreou, the PASOK Prime Min­is­ter who ini­ti­ated the aus­ter­ity pro­grams, got 2.46%. New Democ­racy came in at 27.81%, almost 9% below SYRIZA. The elec­toral rise of the fas­cists of Golden Dawn has been halted, although they still main­tain a wor­ry­ing 6% of the vote. Another pro-aus­ter­ity party, the RIVER, rep­re­sent­ing the neolib­eral agenda (although nom­i­nally com­ing from the cen­ter-left) took only 6.05%, despite inten­sive media hype.

In a cer­tain man­ner this has been the elec­toral revenge of a soci­ety that has suf­fered, and strug­gled against those respon­si­ble for this suf­fer­ing. We should not for­get that Greece saw offi­cial unem­ploy­ment ris­ing up to 27% – and youth unem­ploy­ment up to 50% – suf­fered a cumu­la­tive con­trac­tion of almost 25%, saw a mas­sive reduc­tion in wages and pen­sions, and wit­nessed the pas­sage of mas­sive leg­is­la­tion ori­ented towards pri­va­ti­za­tions, labor mar­ket lib­er­al­iza­tion, and neolib­eral uni­ver­sity reform.


SYRIZA won an impor­tant elec­toral vic­tory, with 36.34% of the vote and 149 deputies (it needed only two more to have an absolute par­lia­men­tary major­ity). Sym­bol­i­cally, this is a his­toric vic­tory. For the first time in mod­ern Euro­pean his­tory, a party of the non-social-demo­c­ra­tic Left will form a gov­ern­ment. In a coun­try where the Left suf­fered per­se­cu­tion for a great part of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury, the image of a Prime Min­is­ter whose first act after tak­ing the oath of office was to visit the place where 200 com­mu­nists were exe­cuted on May 1, 1944 seems like the sym­bolic vin­di­ca­tion of a whole his­tory of strug­gles. This polit­i­cal turn to the Left is the result of the tec­tonic changes in polit­i­cal and elec­toral rela­tions of rep­re­sen­ta­tion induced not only by the eco­nomic and social cri­sis, but also the long cycle of strug­gles against aus­ter­ity that acted as a cat­a­lyst for new rad­i­cal polit­i­cal iden­ti­ties and new forms of belong­ing. As such, it sends an impor­tant mes­sage of change and resis­tance to the whole of Europe and has already become a source of inspi­ra­tion, some­thing evi­dent in the enthu­si­as­tic reac­tion from the rest of the Euro­pean Left.


Dur­ing the cam­paign the “real­ist” and right-wing turn of the lead­er­ship of SYRIZA became much more evi­dent. The SYRIZA lead­er­ship has aban­doned the demand for an imme­di­ate abro­ga­tion of the mem­o­ran­dum (the con­di­tions attached to the loan agree­ments), which was the main thrust of the 2012 cam­paign. It has moved away from the “no sac­ri­fice for the euro” posi­tion. The nation­al­iza­tion of the bank­ing sys­tem is no longer one of the imme­di­ate demands. The main pro­gram­matic posi­tion of SYRIZA is an attempt to put an end to aus­ter­ity while remain­ing within the insti­tu­tional, mon­e­tary, and finan­cial frame­work of the Euro­zone and the EU. They have insisted on their abil­ity to nego­ti­ate a restruc­tur­ing and pos­si­ble reduc­tion of the Greek debt with our cred­i­tors, namely the EU and the IMF. At the same time, they have pointed towards using against aus­ter­ity the Euro­pean ver­sion of “quan­ti­ta­tive eas­ing” that the ECB has just ini­ti­ated. More­over, they have insisted on the pos­si­bil­ity of a change in the direc­tion of the EU based upon the rise of left­ist move­ments in South­ern Europe or in Ire­land, and the diver­gences between the Ger­man gov­ern­ment and the ECB or between Angela Merkel and Mat­teo Renzi. The main thrust of SYRIZA’s poli­cies, once in office, will be, accord­ing to their pre-elec­tion dec­la­ra­tions, the cre­ation of some­thing like a social safety net by rais­ing the min­i­mum wage back to 751 euros, rein­stat­ing basic rights to col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing, revers­ing sus­pen­sions of pub­lic sec­tor employ­ees, offer­ing imme­di­ate assis­tance to 300,000 fam­i­lies below the poverty thresh­old, cre­at­ing jobs, and increas­ing pen­sions. There is no deny­ing that these are urgently needed mea­sures.

How­ever, in the cur­rent bal­ance of forces in the EU, even such a mild loos­en­ing of aus­ter­ity might not be pos­si­ble. It is not that such a break with aus­ter­ity is not finan­cially pos­si­ble; rather, the rea­son is that the deep cri­sis of the Euro­zone, as a result mainly of the embed­ded and insti­tu­tion­al­ized neolib­er­al­ism of “Euro­pean Inte­gra­tion,” causes the Euro­pean rul­ing class to be fear­ful of any­thing that might seem like a “par­a­digm change.” This is espe­cially true if we take the debt cri­sis in Italy and the increased French deficits into con­sid­er­a­tion. So it is more prob­a­ble that dur­ing nego­ti­a­tions the EU side will try to push for the con­tin­u­a­tion of some form of aus­ter­ity poli­cies, so as to send the mes­sage that no one can escape the norm. We should not for­get that Greece is still depen­dent upon EU fund­ing and ECB liq­uid­ity, and the new gov­ern­ment will face a sit­u­a­tion of empty state cof­fers and press­ing spend­ing needs. Deal­ing with these urgent needs, while at the same time fac­ing the pres­sures from the EU, is going to be one of the first chal­lenges the new gov­ern­ment will have to deal with. More­over, we should not for­get that as part of the aus­ter­ity pro­grams, the finan­cial life­line offered to Greece was depen­dent not only upon fis­cal tar­gets, such as pri­mary bud­get sur­pluses (them­selves a form of aus­ter­ity), but also upon imple­ment­ing neolib­eral leg­is­la­tion and reforms. And they will try to apply the same pres­sure against some lim­ited form of debt relief. In the words of the Finan­cial Times, “none of Mr Tsipras’s pro­pos­als for debt relief will get a sym­pa­thetic hear­ing unless he promises to con­tinue deep-seated reforms of Greece’s econ­omy and the pub­lic admin­is­tra­tion.”


In light of the above chal­lenges, the neces­sity of a break with debt, the euro, and the EU treaties acquires a new urgency. It is obvi­ous that only a stop­page or mora­to­rium on debt pay­ments and a process of debt write-off can offer the Greek gov­ern­ment the abil­ity to increase pub­lic spend­ing in order to start revers­ing the con­se­quences of aus­ter­ity. It is also obvi­ous that only through repeal­ing the bulk of neolib­eral reforms imposed upon Greece in the past years will it be pos­si­ble to have some more pro­gres­sive poli­cies. Such a process will inevitably lead to the con­fronta­tion with the whole super­vi­sory mech­a­nism of the EU and the pro­vi­sions inscribed in the Euro­zone frame­work. In this sense, the break with the euro, and thus a return to mon­e­tary sov­er­eignty, remains an urgent neces­sity – the start­ing point for any truly pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics.


More­over, it is obvi­ous that what peo­ple strug­gled for in the past years was much more than a “social safety net.” Rever­sal of the social dis­as­ter caused by aus­ter­ity is, of course, the first and nec­es­sary step. How­ever, the deep social and polit­i­cal cri­sis in Greece, as a “cathar­tic” moment, also offers the pos­si­bil­ity for a dif­fer­ent social and polit­i­cal road away from neolib­er­al­ism and debt-dri­ven con­sumerism. This means that the exit from aus­ter­ity should not be seen sim­ply as a return to “growth” but as the begin­ning of a process of exper­i­men­ta­tion with an alter­na­tive devel­op­men­tal par­a­digm, based upon self-man­age­ment, new forms of demo­c­ra­tic par­tic­i­pa­tory plan­ning, and the ben­e­fit of the col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence and inge­nu­ity of the peo­ple in strug­gle.


Lack­ing the nec­es­sary par­lia­men­tary major­ity, SYRIZA has formed a gov­ern­ment with the Inde­pen­dent Greeks party (ANEL). The Inde­pen­dent Greeks are a pecu­liar hybrid of pop­ulism and tra­di­tional right-wing val­ues, with ties to seg­ments of the Greek busi­ness class and the Greek Church. They have been anti-aus­ter­ity ever since they split away from New Democ­racy. The SYRIZA lead­er­ship had indi­cated that they might form a gov­ern­ment with the Inde­pen­dent Greeks rather early, even though they would have pre­ferred a full major­ity. This was part of a change in polit­i­cal rhetoric from the “left gov­ern­ment” posi­tion, to that of an anti-aus­ter­ity “gov­ern­ment of social res­cue around SYRIZA.” More­over, Panos Kam­menos, the leader of the Inde­pen­dent Greeks, and the new Min­is­ter of Defense, cam­paigned to with the slo­gan: “put me into par­lia­ment so that I can con­trol SYRIZA from becom­ing too left­ist.”

At the same time, it should be stressed that there was never a dis­cus­sion of an alliance with the Com­mu­nist Party (KKE), because such an alliance would have meant the pos­si­bil­ity of a rad­i­cal anti-EU coali­tion. This is some­thing that both SYRIZA and KKE do not want: SYRIZA because of their pro-EU, pro-euro posi­tion; KKE because of their sec­tar­ian defeatism and their refusal to see any pos­si­bil­ity of change. In terms of eco­nom­ics, it will be pos­si­ble to strike a bal­ance within the new gov­ern­ment. In fact, one might say that in cer­tain aspects the Inde­pen­dent Greeks are more “pop­ulist” than the SYRIZA lead­er­ship. Inde­pen­dent Greeks are not anti-EU or anti-euro; con­se­quently, there will be no diver­gences on that front either. Regard­ing rights (for exam­ple, LGBTQ rights), rela­tion to the Church, immi­gra­tion pol­icy, etc., there might be some ten­sions, but over­all – and tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the “real­ist” turn of the SYRIZA lead­er­ship – it seems as if the coali­tion will work, at least at first. It also helps the attempt of the SYRIZA lead­er­ship to present the new gov­ern­ment, both domes­ti­cally and inter­na­tion­ally, as a national anti-aus­ter­ity coali­tion, not just as a gov­ern­ment of the Left.


Regard­ing other ten­den­cies of the Left, it should be stressed that the Com­mu­nist Party had a small increase in votes (5.47% up from 4.5% in June 2012). Dur­ing the cam­paign it main­tained a rather sec­tar­ian tone, depict­ing SYRIZA as a sys­temic alter­na­tive and pre­sent­ing the strength­en­ing of the Party as the only way out. How­ever, the char­ac­ter­is­tic trait of the KKE’s polit­i­cal line has been its insis­tence that unless “oppor­tunism” is defeated there can be no process of social change. This rather defeatist posi­tion is the basis of the party’s sec­tar­ian tac­tics. The rad­i­cal anti-EU Left, rep­re­sented by ANTARSYA-MARS, did bet­ter than in 2012 (0.64% up from 0.33% in June 2012), but came under heavy pres­sure within a heav­ily polar­ized elec­tion. Despite its attempt to cam­paign as the nec­es­sary non-sec­tar­ian Left oppo­si­tion to the right-wing turn of SYRIZA, it did not man­age to have an elec­toral result that could match its appeal within the social move­ments.


The period ahead of us presents impor­tant chal­lenges, espe­cially for the rad­i­cal Left. The first chal­lenge is to rebuild the move­ment in the deep­est sense. The polit­i­cal change and the new sense of opti­mism of the sub­al­tern classes must also be trans­formed into a new surge of strug­gles. This is required to put the nec­es­sary pres­sure upon the SYRIZA gov­ern­ment to honor its promises and to actu­ally improve the social sit­u­a­tion – from mak­ing sure that laid-off pub­lic sec­tor employ­ees get their jobs back and ERT (the pub­lic broad­cast net­work) is reopened, to the strug­gle for the repeal of neolib­eral reforms, strong social move­ments and mobi­liza­tions are more than nec­es­sary. This will restore the con­fi­dence of peo­ple in their abil­ity to change their lives and thus demand more rad­i­cal poli­cies, a nec­es­sary coun­ter­weight to pres­sure and black­mail from inter­na­tional orga­ni­za­tions.

With­out a soci­ety engaged in strug­gle, that is, a soci­ety engaged in col­lec­tive prac­tices of resis­tance and trans­for­ma­tion, no process of social change can be ini­ti­ated. This impres­sive cycle of strug­gles in the past years was the cat­a­lyst for the elec­toral shifts and the turn of the elec­torate to the Left. In a cer­tain sense, the elec­toral results have also been polit­i­cal trans­la­tions of dynam­ics of protest and con­tes­ta­tion. In the cur­rent con­junc­ture, we need a resur­gence of the move­ment, a resur­gence in terms of strug­gle but also aspi­ra­tion – a nec­es­sary sur­plus of social force both as pres­sure on the gov­ern­ment, as coun­ter­weight to the black­mail from the EU, but also as the cat­a­lyst for new forms of rad­i­cal­iza­tion.


Finally, the debate on strat­egy must con­tinue. The chal­lenge ahead of us is not sim­ply to have some form of pro­gres­sive gov­er­nance within the for­bid­ding con­straints imposed by the EU and the Euro­zone. The chal­lenge is to artic­u­late a new dialec­tic of imme­di­ate demands and rad­i­cal changes, not only in the sense of the nec­es­sary break with the debt bur­den and the euro, but also – and mainly – of the ways to exper­i­ment with new social con­fig­u­ra­tions. For ANTARSYA and the broader Greek rad­i­cal anti-EU Left, the chal­lenge is not sim­ply – and not mainly – to be a “Left oppo­si­tion” to SYRIZA, how­ever use­ful this might be in a polit­i­cal land­scape where all oppo­si­tion to SYRIZA will come from the Right. The chal­lenge is how to elab­o­rate a left alter­na­tive, a strat­egy of rup­tures and breaks (with the embed­ded neolib­er­al­ism of the euro, debt, etc); this is exactly the kind of alter­na­tive that will be urgently needed when the strat­egy of SYRIZA hits the wall of EU black­mail and the coun­ter-attacks of the forces of cap­i­tal.


We have entered a new his­tor­i­cal phase. We have the pos­si­bil­ity of col­lec­tively writ­ing a new page in his­tory. Greece has been the test­ing ground for the most aggres­sive neolib­eral exper­i­ment since Pinochet’s Chile. We still have the poten­tial to trans­form it into a lab­o­ra­tory of hope! This demands con­fi­dence in the poten­tial inscribed in pop­u­lar strug­gles and an abil­ity to think beyond the dom­i­nant frames of think­ing. But isn’t this the essence of rad­i­cal pol­i­tics? The real chal­lenge now is for the peo­ple to sus­tain their hope – the hope of peo­ple actu­ally chang­ing their lives.

Author of the article

has taught social and political philosophy as an adjunct lecturer at the University of Crete, Panteion University, the University of the Aegean, and the University of Athens. His research interests include Marxist philosophy, the work of Louis Althusser, and social and political movements in Greece.