The Postcolonial Bind of Greece


A Postcolonial Debt Crisis

To call a coun­try in Europe a post-colony could be con­sid­ered an insult. Colo­nial­ism and post­colo­nial des­tiny is for oth­ers – coun­tries, nations, and peo­ples out­side the Euro-North Atlantic world, includ­ing a few hon­orary mem­bers like Japan and Aus­tralia. Europe has given birth to democ­racy and is nat­u­rally demo­c­ra­tic. And if there are peri­ods of author­i­tar­i­an­ism, do not for­get that democ­racy returns, and returns inevitably, in a “dou­ble move­ment” much like that of Karl Polanyi.1 Accord­ing to this dou­ble move­ment, his­tory evolves in cycles – peri­odic dis-embed­ding move­ments, when the mar­ket, because of its spec­u­la­tive and indi­vid­u­al­iz­ing logic, is estranged from its social and polit­i­cal foun­da­tions, fol­lowed by re-embed­ding move­ments, when soci­ety reor­ga­nizes and brings the mar­ket back under the con­sid­er­a­tions of pub­lic good. Thus, the argu­ment of the nat­u­ral incli­na­tion of Europe for democ­racy views finan­cial cri­sis as a pow­er­ful reminder of the inabil­ity of mar­kets to self-reg­u­late, and accord­ingly takes such a cri­sis as a turn­ing point, when again through the effort of soci­ety the mar­ket will be brought back under social con­trol.

Most of the anti-aus­ter­ity social move­ments in Europe prac­tic­ing new demo­c­ra­tic meth­ods, such as occu­pa­tion, ref­er­en­dum, grass­roots elec­tions, local sol­i­dar­ity bod­ies, cap­tur­ing munic­i­pal gov­ern­men­tal power, etc., thus focus on the links between debt and cri­sis in order to make a return to democ­racy pos­si­ble. Polit­i­cal strate­gies are designed and pur­sued accord­ingly, at times with admirable suc­cess. The con­ven­tional com­mu­nist par­ties failed to link debt, cri­sis, and democ­racy in this way, and thus have been mar­gin­al­ized by the evolv­ing polit­i­cal dynam­ics of neolib­er­al­ism, at least for the time being.

There is some truth in this view, and surely the com­mu­nist move­ment will have to learn from it. Yet it con­ceals a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem: it does not link the for­tunes of democ­racy with post­colo­nial des­tiny. There­fore the entire Euro-North Atlantic debate on debt, cri­sis, and democ­racy leaves out the ques­tion of neo-colo­nial dom­i­na­tion, which is not only the nec­es­sary back­ground against which debt, cri­sis, and democ­racy inter­re­late, and democracy’s for­tune is deter­mined, but also an almost invari­able fac­tor shap­ing their inter­re­la­tions. The the­sis of “rad­i­cal inde­ter­mi­nacy”2 is too lazy to take into account the ana­lyt­ics related to colo­nial and post­colo­nial his­to­ries and the law of unequal cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment.

To appre­ci­ate this ques­tion, we must ask: Is Greek debt an excep­tional event? Much of the post­colo­nial world has suf­fered for long from indebt­ed­ness – rang­ing from peas­ant indebt­ed­ness to national indebt­ed­ness – and has expe­ri­enced debt cri­sis. What if we under­stand Greece as only the lat­est to fea­ture in a long list of indebted coun­tries? We will then have to ask if Syriza, the anti-aus­ter­ity Greek party, has stud­ied the global his­tory of debt cri­sis. With graphic and often visual details of its shut­tered banks, pub­lic protests, and the plight of a coun­try brought to its knees by a crip­pling debt bur­den, the account of Greek cri­sis has been grip­ping and tragic. Yet a full-blown sov­er­eign debt cri­sis was already on in much of the post­colo­nial world for the last few decades. Greece’s plight is far from unique. Sev­eral coun­tries in the post­colo­nial world – from Sub-Saha­ran Africa to South­east Asia – lie in a debt dan­ger zone, where an eco­nomic down­turn or a sud­den jump in inter­est rates on world debt mar­kets can lead to dis­as­ter. Investors from the coun­tries with rock-bot­tom inter­est rates have become foot­loose, look­ing for big­ger returns than they can get at home. In many cases, the mobil­ity has lured and prompted post­colo­nial states, com­mer­cial firms, and finan­cial insti­tu­tions to go on fresh bor­row­ing fren­zies. At times these states are com­pelled to bor­row; at times they build for them­selves rosy futures to be real­ized by cheap bor­row­ings. While there are real dif­fer­ences between the cur­rent Greek sce­nario and tra­di­tional national indebt­ed­ness of the ex-colonies, there is at the same time an extra­or­di­nary rel­e­vance of the post­colo­nial expe­ri­ence for the cur­rent phe­nom­e­non of sov­er­eign debt.

While debt loads up, many think that the bor­rowed money can be gain­fully deployed towards a diver­si­fi­ca­tion of the econ­omy and improve­ment of infra­struc­ture. But this does not deter the empty finan­cial­iza­tion of the coun­try, includ­ing pri­va­ti­za­tion of all kinds of assets, accom­pa­nied by the mas­sive cor­rup­tion which this process inevitably brings with it. Ghana, among oth­ers, is a per­fect exam­ple. In many coun­tries, gov­ern­ment debt is about 30% of GDP or higher, with a cur­rent account deficit of over 5% of GDP, and future debt repay­ments worth more than 10% of gov­ern­ment rev­enue. Even the prospect of recov­ery reveals a fun­da­men­tal insta­bil­ity. Tan­za­nia had sev­ere debt cri­sis in the 1990s. It has now man­aged to come out of the cri­sis: repay­ments have fal­len from 27% of gov­ern­ment rev­enue to 2%; child mor­tal­ity has dropped; fees for pri­mary schools have been abol­ished; more chil­dren are com­plet­ing their school­ing. But in Tan­za­nia gov­ern­ment rev­enues are heav­ily depen­dent on exports of gold and pre­cious metal ores. Falling com­mod­ity prices com­bined with a strong dol­lar have endan­gered coun­tries in Africa even more, because bor­row­ing is dol­lar-denom­i­nated there. And, yet bor­row­ing seems to be ris­ing again, in Tan­za­nia as in Ethiopia. Like­wise Mon­go­lia has wel­comed for­eign invest­ment to exploit its huge nat­u­ral resources, includ­ing coal, and plans to bor­row heav­ily to cre­ate infra­struc­ture suit­able for said exploita­tion.

In short, cur­rent lev­els of lend­ing threaten to recre­ate debt crises.  Yet it is not just in the post­colo­nial world that we find that the legacy of the cri­sis deep­ens. The temp­ta­tion to paper over the cracks with bor­rowed money is truly a global phe­nom­e­non, link­ing the demo­c­ra­tic West and the post­colo­nial world in an intri­cate but enig­matic knot. One esti­mate puts world­wide cross-bor­der lia­bil­i­ties (non bank to non-bank, non-bank to bank, bank to non-bank, and bank to bank) increas­ing from 10 tril­lion dol­lars in 1995 to 43 tril­lion US dol­lars in 2012.3 The same source also admits that all this debt is prob­a­bly being accu­mu­lated because other sources of growth are increas­ingly in decline. As Syriza has found, debts appear­ing man­age­able one day could quickly become unsus­tain­able the next, if the con­di­tions in finan­cial mar­kets churl­ishly called “sen­ti­ments” were to shift.

In the Euro­zone, periph­eral coun­tries became the sites of fun­nelling loans so as to ben­e­fit from low inter­est rates in the core coun­tries, because in this case shar­ing the same cur­rency as Ger­many made such mobil­ity of credit eas­ier to facil­i­tate. It only delayed the appear­ance of the debt cri­sis, though the effects of a surge of cap­i­tal inflows on real exchange rates should have been clear to all. Domes­tic prices rose faster than those of trad­ing part­ners. Invest­ment increased in non-trad­able sec­tors (such as real estate and con­struc­tion, mostly linked to a logis­ti­cal vision of econ­omy) and finan­cial assets like domes­tic stocks and shares. Every­where this sit­u­a­tion has made exports more expen­sive and imports cheaper, fur­ther aggra­vat­ing the decline. Every­where the emerg­ing mar­kets receiv­ing large cap­i­tal inflows also had real estate and stock mar­ket booms, and then down­turns. What one econ­o­mist terms debt-funded profli­gacy has in the end resulted in cap­i­tal flight and finan­cial cri­sis.4 And then, as if in a pre-scripted drama, the lender coun­tries lev­elled charges of irre­spon­si­bil­ity against the debt-rid­den coun­tries, demand­ing that they adopt more “pru­dent” eco­nomic poli­cies. In other words, what already hap­pened in much of the ex-colo­nial coun­tries has now hap­pened in the Euro­zone itself – much as else­where, now in Europe we have the north and the south.

So Greece will find its expe­ri­ences sim­i­lar to those of Bhutan, Ethiopia, Ghana, Laos, Mon­go­lia, Mozam­bique, Samoa, Sene­gal, Tan­za­nia, Uganda, Belize, Costa Rica, Croa­tia, Cyprus, Domini­can Repub­lic, El Sal­vador, Gam­bia, Grenada, Ire­land, Jamaica, Lebanon, Mace­do­nia, Mon­tene­gro, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Ukraine, Sudan, Zim­babwe, and many oth­ers. Arme­nia and Ukraine entered this list after the annus mirabilis of 1989. Pro-Euro­pean Greeks may find com­fort in the fact that Spain and Por­tu­gal – two ex-colo­nial pow­ers – also suf­fer the same des­tiny sym­bol­ized by the post-colonies.5

Euro­pean excep­tion­al­ism, there­fore, is a myth. Europe’s periph­ery is now play­ing out a script already per­formed many times in the post-colony. What is hap­pen­ing in Europe is not, as lib­er­als por­tray, some fall­out of an attempt at eco­nomic union with­out polit­i­cal com­mit­ment to fis­cal trans­fers. That idea also is a myth and only plays to the neolib­eral tune. The Euro­pean sce­nario is typ­i­cal. The Euro­pean periph­eral coun­tries would do well to exam­ine the ways in which debt cri­sis has been han­dled or averted or post­poned else­where in the post­colo­nial world where coun­tries at times vio­lated global rules, imposed tem­po­rary cap­i­tal con­trols, depre­ci­ated their cur­ren­cies, effec­tively default­ing on debts, and fol­lowed expan­sion­ary fis­cal poli­cies at home. The global man­agers were angry, but could do lit­tle. After all, these coun­tries too had faced aus­ter­ity, which unlike in Europe was not an excep­tional phe­nom­e­non but a gen­eral con­di­tion of life. Yet, at some point pol­i­tics there became incom­pa­ra­bly richer. This is where we have to bring back the ques­tion of democ­racy, the post­colo­nial impact on demo­c­ra­tic the­ory, and the reper­toire of demo­c­ra­tic expe­ri­ences.

Debt, Crisis, and the Democratic Closure

The Greek cri­sis may be seen as a con­flict between national democ­racy and EU gov­er­nance, par­tic­u­larly after the Greek pub­lic rejected in con­tin­ued aus­ter­ity in the July 5 ref­er­en­dum. Nev­er­the­less, some think that the clue to a polit­i­cal solu­tion to the con­flict is in more EU democ­racy. Polit­i­cal par­ties, not only in Greece, have noticed the demo­c­ra­tic dys­func­tion of Europe. It is one of the rea­sons why many in Europe are advo­cat­ing an exit from the Euro, and more broadly a return of com­pe­ten­cies from the Euro­pean to the national level. Once again the clas­sic ques­tion has come back to the agenda: What is the locus of sov­er­eignty? Where does the demo­c­ra­tic will, the gen­eral will of the peo­ple, reside? If the model of national par­lia­ments is no more to be the true source of legit­i­macy and the best venue for demo­c­ra­tic deci­sion-mak­ing, then where is it now, and where should it be? All these ques­tions now vex democ­racy, par­tic­u­larly Euro­pean demo­c­ra­tic pol­i­tics – whether prac­ticed by the pro-Euro­pean lib­er­als or the pro-Euro­pean Left.
The point is that we still do not have any wor­thy exam­ple of con­ti­nen­tal democ­racy. We still have no blue­print of democ­racy delinked from the nation and the nation-form. The nation-form never meant in the first place an absence of inter­na­tion­al­ism, inter­na­tional dia­logues, and inter­na­tional dia­logic arrange­ments, and inter­na­tional sol­i­dar­ity of the work­ing class and work­ing peo­ples.

Look care­fully at what has hap­pened recently in Europe: the Greek vot­ers rejected aus­ter­ity poli­cies imposed by the Euro­zone, which over the past five years have caused a GDP fall of 25% and a mas­sive rise in unem­ploy­ment. They responded demo­c­ra­t­i­cally. It was also demo­c­ra­tic to put the choice for more aus­ter­ity before the peo­ple. Yet other coun­tries and elec­torates in Europe may say No to the Euro, or No to a com­mon con­sti­tu­tion for Europe, or No to the mas­sive loan that Greece requires. If the vic­tory of Alexis Tsipras, the Greek Prime Min­is­ter, in the ref­er­en­dum renewed his legit­i­macy at home, then by the same mea­sure French and Dutch vot­ers rejected the EU con­sti­tu­tional treaty, and may even opt for xeno­pho­bia against migrants as an over­ar­ch­ing pol­icy. This is thus only to some extent a bat­tle between democ­racy and Europe. The Euro­pean vision may be col­ored by a demo­c­ra­tic hue, but demo­c­ra­tic com­pro­mise will involve a sub­stan­tial tech­no­cratic process of iden­ti­fy­ing Europe’s con­flict­ing wills. The answer is sadly but surely not in democ­racy as many would like to think.

Once again, a deal is again on the table, and will prob­a­bly be con­cluded with all the usual demo­c­ra­tic require­ments, thus escap­ing the stand­off. Strin­gent reforms, harsh aus­ter­ity, mas­sive pri­va­ti­za­tion, along with debt-restruc­tur­ing at some stage, may sta­bi­lize the Greek pres­ence in the Euro­zone. The ref­er­en­dum may have been an effec­tive ploy of Syriza’s right wing, which after gain­ing new legit­i­macy can now use it to imple­ment a neo-lib­eral agenda. We shall have to ask: Why did anti-aus­ter­ity pol­i­tics have to be framed in terms of stay­ing within or going out of the Euro­zone? Was this not a clas­sic case of what Michel Fou­cault would have called the enlight­en­ment black­mail? Let us recall Alexis Tsipras: “We are con­fronted with cru­cial deci­sions. We got a man­date to bring a bet­ter deal than the ulti­ma­tum that the Euro group gave us, but cer­tainly not given a man­date to take Greece out of the euro­zone.” And then the appeal for party unity: “We are all in this together.”6 One has to ask, did not the Syriza and the Euro­pean Left drive itself into a bind by fram­ing the ques­tion as for it or against it? And why again the fram­ing, if the Euro fails Europe fails? How could a ques­tion of pure tac­tics become one of strat­egy marked by the­o­log­i­cal belief? This is how the specter of Grexit was cre­ated, scar­ing and threat­en­ing the Euro­pean and Greek Left into sub­mis­sion. The neolib­eral dis­course of respon­si­bil­ity rode on the demo­c­ra­tic dis­course of anti-aus­ter­ity, turn­ing the lat­ter into its other, and what had orig­i­nated as the risk of cor­po­rate Europe trans­formed into a respon­si­bil­ity of the com­mon peo­ple. Every­one says – from Prime Min­is­ter Tsipras to Chan­cel­lor Merkel – that a cri­sis has been averted.7 Every demo­c­ra­tic politi­cian says Grexit would have been a dis­as­ter and a chaos! To avoid this chaos, Syriza will now stream­line the party, mar­gin­al­ize the mil­i­tant sec­tions, and con­sti­tute itself as a demo­c­ra­tic par­lia­men­tary power. We shall truly see a new form of pas­sive rev­o­lu­tion whereby cap­i­tal­ism in Greece will develop. This is the link between neo-colo­nial form of power and the inter­re­la­tions between debt, cri­sis, and democ­racy.

Can we escape the bind of debt and cri­sis through the inter­na­tion­al­iza­tion of the strike move­ment? One recent attempt frames the agenda in this way:

Aus­ter­ity is now the new nor­mal­ity in Europe. In these years mon­e­tary poli­cies have been used to enforce neo-lib­eral labour reforms, pri­va­ti­za­tion of the com­mons, cuts in wel­fare ben­e­fits, and less civil rights. Euro­pean gov­ern­ments and finan­cial insti­tu­tions use debt and tech­ni­cal para­me­ters as a polit­i­cal tool to play work­ers and pop­u­la­tions against each other, as the black­mail against Greece has shown… Through out­sourcing and sub­con­tract­ing the strength and the power of strike action is chal­lenged. The many exist­ing strug­gles through­out Europe on wages, hous­ing, wel­fare and free­dom of move­ment are con­fronting, from dif­fer­ent sides the cur­rent attack on life and work­ing con­di­tions. Faced with the transna­tional dimen­sion of these attack, it becomes appar­ent the need to over­come their iso­la­tion and to find com­mon pri­or­i­ties… The new forms of mutu­al­ism and local self-orga­ni­za­tion which have devel­oped since the cri­sis are con­fronted with the prob­lem of enlarge­ment and inabil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with other strug­gles on wage and working/living con­di­tions. The cap­i­tal­ist divi­sions between per­ma­nent work­ers, temps and unem­ployed, migrants and locals, for­mal and infor­mal sec­tors cre­ate obsta­cles to the orga­ni­za­tion of suc­cess­ful strug­gles inside and out­side the work­places, through­out all of soci­ety. While Trade Unions, asso­ci­a­tions and move­ments cen­tre their activ­ity within a national con­text, the transna­tional dimen­sion of the Euro­pean gov­ern­ment of mobil­ity and labour requires the capac­ity to build a power on the same scale of the attacks deployed. In front of this sit­u­a­tion, we want to build up a process for a transna­tional social strike that could cre­ate con­nec­tions, orga­ni­za­tion, transna­tional com­mu­ni­ca­tion and strengthen com­mon bonds between social and labour strug­gles. The transna­tional social strike starts from the lim­its of tra­di­tional forms of social and labour strug­gles and the form of trade union orga­ni­za­tion, from the loss of power that the strike, even when gen­eral, has expe­ri­enced due to pre­cariza­tion and the transna­tional dimen­sion of pro­duc­tion. The strike is the name of a prac­tice and of a process of orga­ni­za­tion that entails the need to bring labour (in all its cur­rent forms) back in the agenda of the social move­ments… How do we strike where the bor­ders between the inside and the out­side of the work­places are blur­ring? Are the claims on Euro­pean min­i­mum wage, income, wel­fare and min­i­mum res­i­dency per­mit for migrants able to work as tools of transna­tional orga­ni­za­tion and of con­nec­tion between the already exist­ing strug­gles in dif­fer­ent cities and coun­tries of Europe and beyond?… Every­one who is inter­ested in build­ing this process and in con­tribut­ing to its orga­ni­za­tion is very wel­come to par­tic­i­pate in the meet­ing.8

Even though in this man­i­festo the word democ­racy is miss­ing in this man­i­festo, clearly the idea is to broaden the base of local strug­gles, over­come divi­sions among the work­ing peo­ple imposed by cap­i­tal­ism, and take the social form of protest to a higher, sup­pos­edly (more) polit­i­cal level. Although cer­tainly wor­thy of sup­port, these attempts still miss the speci­ficity of the polit­i­cal – the pol­i­tics of democ­racy. The social is the polit­i­cal to the Euro­pean Left – the non-com­mu­nist Left – and they are not aware that their social dream stands against two ghosts: democ­racy and the nation form. A lit­tle aware­ness of the global his­tory of neo-colo­nial dom­i­na­tion might have encour­aged the Left to address these two issues in its fight against neo-lib­er­al­ism. Regard­ing the first, that is, the demo­c­ra­tic ques­tion, the Left thought that democ­racy con­tin­u­ously prac­ticed would develop end­lessly and some­how trans­form into social­ism. As for the sec­ond, the national ques­tion, it thought the issue would sim­ply van­ish with the unfold­ing of democ­racy, and in any case was even­tu­ally ren­dered irrel­e­vant with glob­al­iza­tion.

  1. To put it briefly, there are four rea­sons for the inno­cence of the Euro­pean Left about the machi­na­tions of democ­racy:
    The social pol­i­tics of the Euro­pean Left has de-linked the fight against neolib­er­al­ism from the fun­da­men­tal strug­gle against cap­i­tal­ism (inas­much as the old Left, that is the Com­mu­nist Par­ties, delinked their strug­gle against cap­i­tal­ism from the strug­gle against the new phe­nom­e­non of neolib­er­al­ism), and thus the Euro­pean Left focused solely on pre­car­i­ous­ness, debt, finan­cial cri­sis, and aus­ter­ity to the neglect of every­thing related to strate­gic pol­i­tics
  2. As a con­se­quence they have delinked the two issues – democ­racy and the nation-form
  3. Thus, they threw away the sword (in form) of the nation in the absence of which the bour­geoisie has been able to turn the “global” (that is Euro­pean) against them
  4. Still more as a con­se­quence they now depend on par­lia­men­tary reform mea­sures while agree­ing to swal­low the bit­ter pills of cap­i­tal­ism – a polit­i­cal strat­egy as old as the one advo­cated by Bern­stein.

In other words, with this socially obsessed vision, the Euro­pean Left will miss the pol­i­tics of democ­racy. It is all the more ironic for the Greek Left and Syriza in par­tic­u­lar, because they for­got that for cen­turies some Greek cities had mobi­lized intense pop­u­lar par­tic­i­pa­tion in pol­i­tics and war, com­bin­ing this with mon­u­men­tal pub­lic archi­tec­ture and urban wealth man­age­ment, giv­ing the whole thing a name, democ­racy, man­age­ment of the polis. Free­dom in pub­lic life encour­aged the Hel­lenic thinkers to develop sec­u­lar, ratio­nal, argu­men­ta­tive, and com­plex meth­ods of delib­er­a­tion. Democ­racy was a prag­matic thing and not an ide­ol­ogy. Free­dom meant con­tribut­ing to that prag­ma­tism. Neo-lib­er­al­ism in par­tic­u­lar and lib­eral thought in gen­eral have turned the prag­matic into the ide­o­log­i­cal – mak­ing it per­fect for bour­geois rule to func­tion and suc­ceed. It has become a reli­gion. This is the rea­son why the demo­c­ra­tic route can­not trans­form the anti-aus­ter­ity strug­gle into a higher form of resis­tance. Indeed the anti-aus­ter­ity strug­gle relapses into con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism. That is also the rea­son why, when delinked from the nation-form, pop­u­lar democ­racy loses its teeth. Is it acci­den­tal that democ­racy and the Euro­peanism of our time have gone ahead hand in hand and have been part­ners in crime against the peo­ple?

Reflec­tions on all these con­cerns will help us to real­ize why in place of author­i­tar­i­an­ism, democ­racy became the gen­eral route to pas­sive rev­o­lu­tion – more so in the neolib­eral age. Not with­out rea­son Karl Marx cas­ti­gated repub­li­can par­lia­men­tar­i­an­ism as the most sophis­ti­cated form of bour­geois rule, and V.I. Lenin saw through the insti­tu­tion of democ­racy and found only evi­dence of the most effec­tive form of class rule. Also not with­out rea­son, Syriza, by broadly fol­low­ing the par­lia­men­tary demo­c­ra­tic path, could reach only this far, and to save its rule it now has to push through the throat of par­lia­ment a neolib­eral agenda – thus con­sti­tut­ing itself as a party of order.


What is the rel­e­vance of post­colo­nial­ism to all this – to the for­tunes of the Euro­pean South?

It is impor­tant to recall that the post-colony also sym­bol­izes the rich and com­pli­cated expe­ri­ences of pop­ulism which have left their heavy imprint on the demo­c­ra­tic ques­tion. And this is where we must con­nect the two des­tinies – the Euro­pean and the post­colo­nial. I am refer­ring here to the enor­mous expe­ri­ences of pop­ulist pol­i­tics with which the post­colo­nial coun­tries have resisted the bour­geoisie and a very author­i­tar­ian insti­tu­tion­al­ist straight­jacket of democ­racy. In the age of neolib­eral glob­al­iza­tion, if democ­racy is the path of pas­sive rev­o­lu­tion and cap­i­tal­ist devel­op­ment, pop­ulism remains one of the prin­ci­pal weapons in the hands of the lower classes to defend their exis­tence from ruth­less cor­po­rate inter­ests. Pop­ulism evokes the links between the classes and masses, between petty pro­duc­ers and work­ers. It is the other scene, the dis­placed site, of what the com­mu­nists fol­low­ing Mao Zedong used to call once upon a time the united front.9 It rep­re­sents a his­toric bloc in the time of neolib­eral cri­sis. It is a response to cri­sis. Since pre­car­i­ous life is the gen­eral post­colo­nial con­di­tion, pop­ulism retains an abid­ing ref­er­ence to it. In the absence or weak pres­ence of com­mu­nist move­ments, pop­ulism is the weapon of the weak. Pop­ulism enables pop­u­lar forces to artic­u­late the people’s demands  against indebt­ed­ness, pre­car­i­ous­ness, and gov­ern­men­tal aus­ter­ity mea­sures; to raise the dis­course of rights to a new con­tentious level;and to heighten the aware­ness that in the time of cri­sis peo­ple need their gov­ern­ment, which can pro­tect them at least to some extent, and for that it can throw away bour­geois insti­tu­tional respectabil­ity, con­ser­v­a­tive dis­courses of respon­si­bil­ity, and make a case for defend­ing a soci­ety under attack. If the social move­ments in Europe aim to con­jure up a form of pol­i­tics on the basis of social assem­blies and assem­blages, pop­ulist move­ments in the post­colo­nial world aim to con­jure up a soci­ety on the basis of pop­ulist pol­i­tics – a soci­ety frac­tured into classes, groups, frac­tions, strata, castes, eth­nic­i­ties, gen­ders, and many other iden­ti­ties to be united on the foun­da­tions of some pop­u­lar per­cep­tions of claims and jus­tice. It has a healthy dis­re­spect for the insti­tu­tion­al­ist-author­i­tar­ian ver­sion of democ­racy. It can to that end become per­son­al­ity-cen­tric, assim­ila­tive, coali­tional, tac­ti­cal, and issue-ori­ented.10

Unsur­pris­ingly, repeated crises in Europe have pro­duced many pop­ulist move­ments (much like in the post­colo­nial world, which is marked by pre­car­i­ous­ness and aus­ter­ity as a gen­eral con­di­tion), both of the right and left vari­ety. In 2010, a good five years before a left-pop­u­lar coali­tion gov­ern­ment would be formed in Greece, then EU Pres­i­dent Her­man van Rompuy called pop­ulism “the great­est dan­ger for Europe.” Since then many estab­lish­ment voices have done the same, warn­ing against pop­ulism, while remain­ing vague on the exact mean­ing of the word. Don­ald Tusk, the Euro­pean Coun­cil pres­i­dent, has warned that the Greek cri­sis is help­ing to fuel a “pre-rev­o­lu­tion­ary atmos­phere” in Europe. Tusk, who bro­kered the Greek bailout deal, is reported to have said, “For me, the atmos­phere is a lit­tle sim­i­lar to the time after 1968 in Europe. I can feel, maybe not a rev­o­lu­tion­ary mood, but some­thing like wide­spread impa­tience. When impa­tience becomes not an indi­vid­ual but a social expe­ri­ence of feel­ing, this is the intro­duc­tion for rev­o­lu­tions.It is this ide­o­log­i­cal and polit­i­cal con­ta­gion that really wor­ries the Euro­pean polit­i­cal class, not just the finan­cial con­ta­gion that the Greek cri­sis may cause.

We have to note that those who have voiced this warn­ing against the sup­posed omnipres­ence of pop­ulism are mostly the par­ties and per­sons in power. In the neolib­eral dis­course pop­ulism is a pejo­ra­tive word. It is to be denounced because it is a form of pol­i­tics that com­bi­nes dem­a­gogy, charis­matic lead­er­ship, rhetoric, and lower cul­ture.

While the neolib­eral denounce­ment is based on false read­ing of a par­tic­u­lar form of pol­i­tics, it is true that pop­ulism sees soci­ety as com­posed of two sep­a­rate enti­ties: the peo­ple and the cor­rupt anti-pop­u­lar elite. Thus, a larger polit­i­cal agenda, such as an alter­na­tive vision of econ­omy or pol­i­tics, is not the con­cern of pop­ulist pol­i­tics. Pop­ulism is thus nei­ther inher­ently the true con­tent of democ­racy nor its nega­tion. All that we can say is that to a great extent it is anti-lib­eral democ­racy. It can be illib­eral, but in many other cases it can be plu­ral­ist. It is thus nei­ther to the right nor to the left; or can be both. Per­haps it is more on the left in the Euro­pean South while more to the right in the Euro­pean North. In East­ern Europe, agrar­ian pop­ulism had a remark­able his­tory. Racist and anti-immi­grant par­ties later embraced pop­ulist pol­i­tics and lan­guage. The pop­ulist Right in the 1980s, begin­ning with Bel­gium and France, spread to Aus­tria, Den­mark, Poland, Italy, Fin­land, Nether­lands, and some other coun­tries. It will be safe to say that pop­ulism has marked the entire Euro­pean scene, and has been suc­cess­ful elec­torally on a num­ber of occa­sions. In many East Euro­pean coun­tries such par­ties exer­cise gov­ern­men­tal power.11

One can also say that the path Syriza has taken may only facil­i­tate fur­ther advance of pop­ulism in Greece as peo­ple will be inclined to base their pol­i­tics even more on the belief that impor­tant issues, such as life and life con­di­tions of com­mon peo­ple, are not addressed by polit­i­cal elites. This may fur­ther relate to issues such as  inte­gra­tion, immi­gra­tion, unem­ploy­ment, and wel­fare poli­cies.  One can see how pop­ulism has grown in strength fol­low­ing changes in labor struc­ture, in Europe and has focused on what can be loosely called “socio-eco­nomic issues.”  If the first way is neolib­eral and the sec­ond is the old left pol­i­tics, then this is the third way, the way of the cen­ter-left.  Over­whelmed by the power of the media in the neolib­eral struc­tur­ing of pol­i­tics, peo­ple think they are pow­er­less before the neolib­eral mono­lith. Feel­ings of help­less­ness exac­er­bate the pop­ulist mode of pol­i­tics. This is pre­cisely the milieu in which the Syriza-led gov­ern­ment has worked and has allowed its nose to be smoth­ered to dust. We can­not for­get that dur­ing Spain’s mas­sive anti-aus­ter­ity protests and encamp­ments of sum­mer 2011, one of the prin­ci­pal slo­gans was the quin­tes­sen­tially pop­ulist: “We are nei­ther right nor left, we are com­ing from the bot­tom and going for the top.”12

Yet the prob­lem is that a party like Syriza will never admit that its fas­ci­na­tion with Europe and the Euro – uttered in the same breath – is more due to its pop­ulist moor­ings than to any sci­en­tific analy­sis. More­over, the scary prospect of anar­chy were Greece to exit from the Euro­zone is essen­tially a con­se­quence of that pop­ulist con­cep­tion of what a Left or Marx­ist pol­i­tics should be, because this kind of left­ism has its origin in the now for­got­ten story of Euro­com­mu­nism. That story essen­tially cen­tered round the idea that Europe was excep­tional, it was instinc­tively demo­c­ra­tic, and all that the Left needed given the lofty Euro­pean ide­als was to incre­men­tally increase its par­lia­men­tary fol­low­ing, win gov­ern­men­tal power, and reform the state. Europe did not need com­mu­nist par­ties; it needed more democ­racy for soci­ety. There­fore it allowed itself to be pushed to a bind, its repeated pop­u­lar man­dates at var­i­ous lev­els and times through con­sti­tu­tional means only deep­ened its illu­sion, and belit­tled the power of the enemy. The lack of polit­i­cal audac­ity stemmed from an almost reli­gious con­vic­tion that Syriza, as a respon­si­ble party, could not back out; it had the onus of sav­ing Greece from anar­chy. Iron­i­cally, one may say, it capit­u­lated before the Euro­pean oli­garchs not because it was pop­ulist, but because it was not pop­ulist enough to play the game. Its seri­ous­ness at con­duct­ing nego­ti­a­tions with­out cre­at­ing other options mocked its own pop­ulist origin.

Here is the rel­e­vance of the post­colo­nial expe­ri­ences of pop­ulism. Its rela­tion to democ­racy, par­tic­u­larly with par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, is much more com­plex and con­tentious. Even though it abides by the rules of demo­c­ra­tic gov­er­nance, it is cyn­i­cal about these rules, almost bor­der­ing on a healthy dis­re­spect. At heart it knows that there is no democ­racy that does not have a pop­ulist dimen­sion to it (pre­cisely what Aris­totle had taught us). Thus under pop­ulist pol­i­tics in post­colo­nial coun­tries, allu­sions to the peo­ple have pro­lif­er­ated, if news­pa­pers are to be believed; although to be his­tor­i­cally faith­ful, democ­racy was always in some respects a busi­ness of putting the demos on stage. Filthy talk char­ac­ter­is­tic of daily life, its coarse­ness and mas­culin­ity, threats, words of coax­ing and cajol­ing, beat­ing into sub­mis­sion – all that we assoc­iate with the daily life of the lower ranks has made its mark in pop­ulist pol­i­tics.

The lan­guage of pol­i­tics changes with the entry of lower classes into mass par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics. The polit­i­cal stakes become higher. Civil­ity can wait. Inas­much as the ear­lier civil­ity of lan­guage had no ref­er­ence or equiv­a­lence to the admin­is­tra­tive meth­ods of law and order, today also the bar­bar­ity of lan­guage has lit­tle rela­tion with the amount of actual admin­is­tra­tive coer­cion. What­ever dooms­day prophets may say, life in the post­colo­nial world is not nec­es­sar­ily nasty, brutish, and short, though the post­colo­nial world’s share of global vio­lence can­not be denied. Cities, small towns, and vil­lages are not burn­ing in the post­colo­nial world, where the coarse lan­guage of pop­ulism sig­ni­fies some­thing else. Power is now exer­cised in a dif­fer­ent way, on a  dif­fer­ent scale, and at a dif­fer­ent speed. This is where the demos comes into play. Pre­vi­ously power was exer­cised in the name of birth, lin­eage, edu­ca­tion, sta­tus, caste, pat­ri­mony, etc. Now with par­lia­men­tary democ­racy and reg­u­lar votes, power must be exer­cised finally in the name of demos.

Yet pop­ulism is a dou­ble-edged sword. There is no such thing as good or bad pop­ulism. Its nature has to be under­stood in the speci­fic his­tor­i­cal con­text in which it emerges. Pop­ulism is not fas­cism, which the con­sci­en­tious, respon­si­ble, and the­o­log­i­cal left­ists tend to for­get, although it may indeed slide into lat­ter. There will be grounds to fight pop­ulism in defense of the rights of the peo­ple, lower classes of peo­ple in par­tic­u­lar, when a pop­ulist gov­ern­ment becomes xeno­pho­bic, sub­servient to auto­cratic forces and cor­po­rate inter­ests. To the same extent, if and when a pop­ulist gov­ern­ment helps the peo­ple with pop­ulist mea­sures, how­ever lim­ited these mea­sures may be, the Left, which claims to be the leader of the peo­ple, must sup­port them. We there­fore need a more dis­cern­ing view. In the age of post­colo­nial glob­al­iza­tion, lib­eral democ­racy may come and go. Pop­ulism as a dis­tinct form of pol­i­tics marked by the pres­ence of the lower classes will remain. That will be the biggest chal­lenge for the Left in com­ing years in shap­ing anti-cap­i­tal­ist strat­egy.

Pop­ulism in the Greek case meant that  Syriza lead­ers under­es­ti­mated the strength of cap­i­tal­ism and thought that cham­ber nego­ti­a­tions would carry the day. It also meant that while they allowed them­selves to be pushed into a cor­ner, they them­selves had not thought of any alter­na­tives should the nego­ti­a­tions fail. The black­mail­ing of Greece by the cred­i­tors left open two paths: Grexit, which meant that Greece would have to decide if it was ready to fight for the  people’s sur­vival; or an agree­ment with the Troika, which would mean sub­ject­ing the neces­sity to fight for the people’s sur­vival to the hope that the golden day would arrive sooner or later, when Greece’s sal­va­tion would be deliv­ered by Euro­pean-wide class strug­gle and the good­will of other Euro­pean coun­tries. We all know what Syriza decided: to agree to a new mem­o­ran­dum, which means stay­ing within the EU struc­tures at the cost of com­plete sub­ju­ga­tion. Even the Syriza lead­er­ship agrees that the Eurogroup’s and IMF’s pro­gram amounts not only to global admin­is­tra­tion of Greece’s debt and insol­vency but also the attempt at nation-build­ing in Greece from out­side – as one com­men­ta­tor put it, “trustee­ship as a shadow gov­ern­ment.”  Yet the deci­sion could come only because Syriza had the illu­sion that Greece was Euro­pean, inde­pen­dent, and an equal and hon­ourable mem­ber in the com­mit­tee of Euro­pean nations. There­fore the autonomous act of the pop­u­lar “Oxi” (No) hap­pened simul­ta­ne­ously with the inten­si­fied vul­ner­a­bil­ity to fis­cal black­mail of the state (bank clo­sures, state bank­ruptcy). Thus, while the democ­racy of the squares con­sciously rejected cen­tral­ist pol­i­tics, after the ver­dict Syriza Prime Min­is­ter Tsipras could ignore the mas­sive pop­u­lar man­date and opt for the agree­ment with the Troika against which the pop­u­lar ver­dict had been declared. Democ­racy in the square was help­less. The sit­u­a­tion only sig­nalled a vac­uum in the move­ment of the streets.  And there­fore, while in the words of one wit­ness, “in the fever­ish week of mobil­i­sa­tion, the ‘Oxi’ cam­paign drew strength not from the Syriza lead­er­ship but from the courage of the innu­mer­able activists who cre­ated, mul­ti­plied, and con­se­quently also socialised their own Oxi on the streets,”13 the lead­er­ship ques­tion came up again and again. The much maligned van­guard issue brought back the phan­tom of Lenin which the Euro­pean Left had all these years des­per­ately wanted to avoid.14 It had all along thought that the con­flict was between Key­ne­sian­ism and mon­e­tarism, and the mem­ory of Lenin had to be put aside and con­fined to polite dis­cus­sions in Left­ist aca­d­e­mic cir­cles.  Indeed, Lenin dis­turbed the neat binary of Key­ne­sian­ism and mon­e­tarism, lib­eral cap­i­tal­ist wel­farism and neolib­er­al­ism.

Of course, if one con­sid­ers the pos­si­bil­ity of rebel­lious actions in the future, Oxi may remain the cen­tral polit­i­cal antag­o­nism of the years to come, and at the same time miles ahead of other protest move­ments in Europe in cre­at­ing a sin­gu­lar will – the will to revolt. To lead the revolt, Syriza did not have to leave the gov­ern­ment. All it had to do was learn the post­colo­nial lesson – the pos­si­bil­ity of dual power exist­ing in Europe, first artic­u­lated in strate­gic terms by Lenin in when he the­o­rized the expe­ri­ence of the work­ers’ sovi­ets within Tsarist Rus­sia, and later framed by  Mao in the by now famous words, “Why is it that red polit­i­cal power can exist in China?”15

With­out this polit­i­cal under­stand­ing, the capac­i­ties for sol­i­dar­ity, orga­ni­za­tion, and inno­va­tion will be stymied in face of the neolib­eral real­ity of the Euro­zone. No won­der all pseudo-left com­men­taries focus on how anar­chy would come down on Greece fol­low­ing its expul­sion from the Euro­zone. These are typ­i­cally model-build­ing exer­cises for the proph­e­sied dooms­day. (One may refer to some pages from his­tory: China was not in the United Nations for long, it gained recog­ni­tion through strug­gle and self-respect. Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Rus­sia was not in League of Nations. But the USSR became a co-founder of the United Nations on the basis of strength and self-dig­nity.) It’s clear that the options open to the Syriza gov­ern­ment are even more struc­tured by the way the new mem­o­ran­dum aims to dis­ci­pline Greece’s inte­gra­tion into neolib­eral Europe. The way out of the bind does not reside in com­par­a­tive exer­cises on two pos­si­ble eco­nomic poli­cies, but in the field of polit­i­cal strat­egy: how to unfold and develop rev­o­lu­tion­ary ini­tia­tive fur­ther? How to lead the demo­c­ra­tic inspi­ra­tion towards fur­ther rad­i­cal­iza­tion? The post­colo­nial expe­ri­ence is impor­tant because it is in the post-colony that the real­ity of the clo­sures and the his­tory of the strug­gle for the exit from the clo­sures are to be found.

To learn from the post­colo­nial reg­is­ter of lessons means to first under­stand how pop­ulism has func­tioned, suc­ceeded, and failed in the strug­gle against neo-colo­nial­ism, impe­ri­al­ism, and cor­po­rate bour­geois rule in the neolib­eral age.

The Postcolonial Predicament and the Limits of the New European Left

The Greek cri­sis has put an end to a belief that held the Euro­pean Left in its grip for long: that there was a dis­tinct Euro­pean vari­ety of cap­i­tal­ism which could be pos­i­tively con­trasted with the “free mar­ket” Amer­i­can vari­ety, as well as the more unde­vel­oped “stag­nant,” cri­sis-rid­den post­colo­nial vari­ety. The labor move­ments of Europe were con­sid­ered the deci­sive force behind greater state eco­nomic involve­ment and greater social wel­fare mea­sures. With the con­struc­tion of the Euro­pean Union and the devel­op­ment of a cur­rency union, it was con­sid­ered regres­sive to even think of exit­ing neolib­eral Europe at each phase of its devel­op­ment. The Euro­pean Left thought either that par­tic­i­pa­tion in neolib­eral insti­tu­tions was essen­tial, or that Euro­peanism under the garb of inter­na­tion­al­ism was the order of the day. They did not ques­tion the prin­ci­ples of free trade and free cap­i­tal flows across Europe under­writ­ten in the neolib­eral char­ac­ter of the Treaty of Rome (for exam­ple, the Euro­pean Sta­bil­ity pact, Euro­pean Com­mon Mar­ket, Cen­tral Euro­pean bank, etc.).  It for­got Marx, who had said that free trade was only free­dom to col­o­nize. To escape from that illu­sion, the Euro­pean Left should have looked to the expe­ri­ences of the vast post­colo­nial world. Now, of course, the hyper-aus­ter­ity poli­cies pur­sued in Europe since 2009 in the wake of the sec­ond great global cap­i­tal­ist cri­sis after the Sec­ond World War should end the Left’s illu­sions about Europe. The col­lapse of Syriza’s strat­egy in Greece should be a deci­sive moment in the dec­i­ma­tion of those illu­sions.

Indeed, why look only for the post­colo­nial expe­ri­ences? There is a for­got­ten his­tory of another rad­i­cal tra­di­tion in Europe. Recall, for instance, when in the mid-1970s Tony Benn and oth­ers in the British Left opposed the ref­er­en­dum to enter the Com­mon Mar­ket, because they rec­og­nized the lim­its that join­ing Europe would impose on their Alter­na­tive Eco­nomic Strat­egy.16 The oppo­si­tion to join­ing Europe on the Left of the Swedish labor move­ment, which advanced the rad­i­cal wage earn­ers fund pro­pos­als, was rooted in the same recog­ni­tion.17 Like­wise, those who sub­se­quently looked to  plac­ing a Social Char­ter at the core of the process of Eco­nomic and Mon­e­tary Union were con­sis­tently dis­ap­pointed by the quick march towards the estab­lish­ment of the com­mon cur­rency regime. This recent his­tory was for­got­ten, even when it became clear that the core of the Syriza lead­er­ship would not cross the bound­aries the EU had set for them, and that Syriza had never believed that in the course of devel­op­ing the strug­gle they may have exit of the neolib­eral EU. To think along those lines would not have been nar­row nation­al­ism, as  the Euro­peanists would have us believe.  Hav­ing pushed itself into a sit­u­a­tion where they  would be damned if they talked of Grexit and damned if they didn’t, Left pop­ulism in Greece could now only flip-flop along its route to dis­cover rad­i­cal democ­racy. The search for the weakest link was over as soon as Wolf­gang Schäuble threat­ened Greece with Grexit. The focus was thus clev­erly shifted from the pro­posed harsh mea­sures to the pos­si­bil­ity and desir­abil­ity of expelling Greece from the Euro­zone. French Pres­i­dent François Hol­lande was cru­cial in this neolib­eral strat­egy. Every­one sighed in relief when expul­sion was stayed. Nobody said small mercy! No one said that steps like nation­al­iz­ing the banks, reor­ga­niz­ing them around a new cur­rency, and tak­ing into account the large grey econ­omy were now required. Inge­nu­ity and resource­ful­ness were clearly not the resources of the Syriza move­ment.

What is astound­ing is that since Syriza failed in nego­ti­at­ing the crit­i­cal moment, Euro­pean Left­ist thinkers from the ex-Finance Min­is­ter of Greece, Varo­ufakis, to the met­ro­pol­i­tan Left­ist intel­lec­tual Slavoj Žižek  are say­ing that the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion sug­gests no pos­si­bil­ity of alter­na­tive. It is strange that intel­lec­tu­als like Žižek refuse to think ahead. He said:

The really cat­a­strophic thing about the Greek cri­sis is that the moment the choice appeared as the choice between Grexit and the capit­u­la­tion to Brus­sels, the bat­tle was already lost. Both terms of this choice move within the pre­dom­i­nant Euro­cratic vision (remem­ber that the Ger­man anti-Greek hard­lin­ers like Wolf­gang Schäuble also prefer Grexit!)… The key ques­tion is: how will our engage­ment in it… affect other strug­gles? The gen­eral rule is that, when a revolt begins against an oppres­sive half-demo­c­ra­tic regime, as was the case in the Mid­dle East in 2011, it is easy to mobi­lize large crowds with slo­gans which one can­not but char­ac­terise as crowd pleasers – for democ­racy, against cor­rup­tion, etc. But then we grad­u­ally approach more dif­fi­cult choices: when our revolt suc­ceeds in its direct goal, we come to realise that what really both­ered us (our un-free­dom, humil­i­a­tion, social cor­rup­tion, lack of prospect of a decent life) goes on in a new guise. In Egypt, pro­test­ers suc­ceeded in get­ting rid of the oppres­sive Mubarak regime, but cor­rup­tion remained, and the prospect of a decent life moved even fur­ther away. After the over­throw of an author­i­tar­ian regime, the last ves­tiges of patri­ar­chal care for the poor can fall away, so that the newly gained free­dom is de facto reduced to the free­dom to choose the pre­ferred form of one’s mis­ery – the major­ity not only remains poor, but, to add insult to injury, it is being told that, since they are now free, poverty is their own respon­si­bil­ity.18

Once again we find that the intel­lec­tual refuses to exam­ine thor­oughly the phe­nom­e­non of pop­ulism, and there­fore thinks that the way ahead can­not be thought through on the basis of the expe­ri­ences of strug­gles, and that the Left must rec­on­cile itself to the defeat, which it has actu­ally brought upon itself to a large degree. Even a lib­eral econ­o­mist like Paul Krug­man pointed out that exit from the Euro­zone is an uncharted path, and there is no sci­en­tific basis to think that it will be nec­es­sar­ily worse than agree­ing in a servile man­ner to the dik­tats of the Euro­zone. He could have strength­ened his argu­ments with ref­er­ences to the vast post­colo­nial expe­ri­ences of China, India, pre-dev­as­tated Iraq, and sev­eral other coun­tries.19

Make no mis­take: Syriza has acted as,what Marx called in a dif­fer­ent con­text, “the uncon­scious tool of his­tory.” By cap­tur­ing gov­ern­men­tal power on the basis of fight­ing aus­ter­ity in neolib­eral Europe, call­ing and win­ning the ref­er­en­dum, build­ing up an orga­ni­za­tion on the basis of a net­work of about 400 sol­i­dar­ity asso­ci­a­tions, stick­ing to nego­ti­a­tions to the point of exas­per­a­tion, rous­ing pride among the peo­ple and the nation against impe­ri­al­ist onslaught, and uphold­ing street-level democ­racy, it has bro­ken new ground in democ­ra­tiz­ing and advanc­ing the strug­gle. It has also shown how to build unity between pro­le­tar­ian and the vast semi-pro­le­tar­ian masses. It has indi­cated ways of escap­ing from the bind that gripped the old com­mu­nist move­ment. These are pos­i­tive lessons for all of us. And yet, to the same extent, by reject­ing the pop­u­lar ver­dict, mar­gin­al­iz­ing the advanced Left ele­ments in the orga­ni­za­tion, capit­u­lat­ing to the neolib­eral dik­tats of Europe, and refus­ing to dare to think of alter­na­tives, Syriza has done immense harm to the cause of global social­ism, com­mu­nism, and rev­o­lu­tion­ary democ­racy. Many who thought that Syriza epit­o­mized the pro­found­ness of the Gram­s­cian strat­egy of hege­mony in place of the Lenin­ist idea of strik­ing at the weakest link in the impe­ri­al­ist chain have been made to lick the dust. They have under­stood nei­ther Lenin nor Gram­sci.

Indeed, future his­to­ri­ans may say that this was the moment that pas­sive rev­o­lu­tion began in Greece. This was the tip­ping point. From now on insti­tu­tion­alised democ­racy will increas­ingly be  the route through which pas­sive rev­o­lu­tion and the restora­tion of cap­i­tal­ist rule will begin. Varo­ufakis speaks of the coup against Greece and Europe. Who will speak of the coup that hap­pened on July 7 in Athens – against the Left, against the peo­ple, and against Syriza itself by the Euro­peanized and glob­al­ized intel­lec­tual class of Greece that had no faith in the capac­ity of the peo­ple of Greece, or any alter­na­tive vision? We can note in pass­ing that these events also marked the denoue­ment of Anto­nio Negri’s notion of imma­te­rial labor (teach­ers, archi­tects, soft­ware mechan­ics, com­posers, etc.) as all those who were to lead Europe to social­ism, as well as Ernesto Laclau’s the­sis of rad­i­cal democ­racy (which does not need rev­o­lu­tion).

There is no doubt that the tac­tics pur­sued by com­mu­nist and work­ers’ par­ties in dif­fer­ent coun­tries before the Sec­ond World War and in the fol­low­ing period of global Key­ne­sian­ism (roughly from the 1950s to the 1980s) can­not be copied today. The era of mon­e­tarism and neolib­er­al­ism has given birth to new real­i­ties and there­fore new strate­gies and tac­tics of the Left and the work­ing masses. The focus on the social, the net­works, the habi­tus, street democ­racy, auton­omy, finance, debt, insti­tu­tions – these and sev­eral oth­ers fea­tures have given rise to new social move­ments that partly look for­ward to a new non-cap­i­tal­ist form of soci­ety, but also secretly har­bor a dream of return­ing to the good old lib­eral age of social pro­tec­tion of the poor by the cap­i­tal­ist order. Thus Syriza never under­stood why poorer Euro­pean nations within the EU cur­rency zone never sup­ported Greece, which they saw as demand­ing from Europe priv­i­leges that they lacked – such as  decent pen­sions or facil­i­ties for chil­dren. The cat­e­gory of the social was thus found to be lim­ited in build­ing coali­tions, to a greater extent than the old cat­e­gory of the polit­i­cal – even though coali­tion-build­ing had been held up as the raison d’être of the social.  The world may see dif­fer­ent ways of com­bin­ing old and new strate­gies and tac­tics of strug­gle for social­ism. It would be wrong to write off the com­mu­nists just as it would be to to belit­tle the expe­ri­ences of the Syriza. This is pre­cisely why the dia­logue between the com­mu­nist move­ments, with their pol­i­tics of class strug­gle, on one hand, and the social move­ments, strug­gling against pre­car­i­ous life, on the other, has to resume. This calls for, among other things, a respect for and atten­tion to the vast anti-colo­nial and post­colo­nial expe­ri­ences that have always learned from this dia­logue how to extri­cate them­selves from the binds of mon­e­tarism, cre­atively deploy pop­ulism as a strat­egy,  and com­bine the polit­i­cal and the social, which is to say, com­bine classes, masses, and the nation. It also means rec­og­niz­ing that the new inter­na­tion­al­ism that these social move­ments (typ­i­cally illus­trated in world social sum­mits, Seat­tle-type demon­stra­tions, and occupy move­ments) are jus­ti­fi­ably proud of actu­ally has strong lim­its. The legacy of the three Inter­na­tion­als has not died. That legacy can still show how to value the national-pop­u­lar, peo­ples of var­i­ous nations, and their spirit of coop­er­a­tion.

There should be no doubt that what had hap­pened in Greece is not the last chap­ter in the cur­rent epoch of Left move­ments. The unsus­tain­able debt ser­vic­ing and loan return pro­gram Europe has forced upon the Greek peo­ple will give rise to even more strug­gles against aus­ter­ity, debt, and pre­car­ity.  It will not only pose with greater clar­ity the old ques­tion of the nation form, but also harden the deter­mi­na­tion of sim­i­lar move­ments else­where.  From this, the search for an answer to the press­ing ques­tion of our time – how to com­bine the old tac­tics and the new – will spread world­wide – and there is no doubt that the answer will be found in dif­fer­ent com­bi­na­tions.

But one thing has to be made clear: We are not going to pur­sue the dream of a return to the cycli­cal tran­si­tion to Key­ne­sian­ism from the hard mon­e­tarism of neolib­er­al­ism. The cycli­cal the­ory of Polyani referred to ear­lier in this com­men­tary will have to be put aside as we  develop a new vision of a non-cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety.

One of the sad­dest moments in a socialist’s life is when one sees work­ers thinks they are equal to cap­i­tal­ists, peas­ants thinks they are like land­lords, the weaker nations pla­cate the mighty for a seat around the same table, and the periph­ery has the illu­sion that it is the cen­ter, for­get­ting the cruel real­ity of dom­i­na­tion, the harsh real­i­ties of power. Greece was always less about eco­nom­ics than pol­i­tics, which, as Lenin was never tired of repeat­ing, was the con­gealed form of eco­nom­ics. The mumbo-jumbo of social vision, social mobi­liza­tion, social sol­i­dar­i­ties, social sum­mits – all that had pro­lif­er­ated in this world fol­low­ing the break­down of the global Key­ne­sian order and the tri­umph of neolib­er­al­ism – has shown its weak­ness in face of the ruth­less real­ity of the dom­i­na­tion of cap­i­tal. Pre­cisely this weak­ness has also been respon­si­ble for ignor­ing the rad­i­cal protest of the orga­nized work­ing class all these years, as in the Greek steel indus­try.20 In this way, the weak­ness has con­tributed to the wob­bly char­ac­ter of the social. One can­not for­get what Marx said long back, “It is only in an order of things in which there are no more classes and class antag­o­nisms that social evo­lu­tions will cease to be polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tions. Till then, on the eve of every gen­eral reshuf­fling of soci­ety, the last word of social sci­ence will always be: “Le com­bat ou la mort; la lutte san­guinaire ou le neant. C’est ainsi que la qués­tion est invin­ci­ble­ment posée” [From the novel Jean Siska by George Sand: “Com­bat or Death: bloody strug­gle or extinc­tion. It is thus that the ques­tion is inex­orably put.”]21

Yet we must not for­get that Europe through this cri­sis has shown that it too has periph­eries. It too has the South. It too has its neo-colonies, and it too depends on neo-colo­nial dom­i­na­tion. Echo­ing Mao, one can say that Europe’s periph­eries (the coun­tryside) are sur­round­ing the core (the cities) in a pro­tracted war. In this war, the stakes on the both sides are high.

What we require then is not provin­cial­iza­tion of Euro­pean expe­ri­ences, but glob­al­iza­tion of the post­colo­nial predica­ment.

  1. Karl Polanyi, The Great Trans­for­ma­tion: The Polit­i­cal and Eco­nomic Ori­gins of Our Time (Boston: Bea­con Press, 1957); on the reflec­tion of Polanyi’s the­sis in the cur­rent impasse, Mar­tijn Kon­ings, “Pro­gres­sives, Neo-lib­er­al­ism, and Aus­ter­ity: Beyond the Polanyian  Impasse,” The Bul­let no. 1141, July 14, 2015. 

  2. Phrase ascribed to Karl Marx by Yanis Varo­ufakis, “Con­fes­sions of an Erratic Marx­ist,” Yan­nis Varo­ufakis: Thoughts for the post-2008 World, Decem­ber 10, 2013. 

  3. Valentina Bruno and Hyun Song Shin, “Cross Bor­der Bank­ing and Global Liq­uid­ity,” p. 5, fig­ure 1, August 2014; esti­mates how­ever vary. Another analy­sis sug­gests: “The past two decades have wit­nessed a remark­able increase in cross-bor­der bank lend­ing activ­ity. Between 1995 and 2012, total cross-bor­der loan claims almost tripled to reach 20 tril­lion U.S. dol­lars.” Euge­nio Cerutti, Galina Hale, and Camelia Minoiu, “Finan­cial Crises and the Com­po­si­tion of Cross-Bor­der Lend­ing,” 2014, IMF Work­ing Paper, WP/14/85, p. 6; in the first instance the fig­ure is of total lia­bil­i­ties. 

  4. Edmund S. Phelps, “Greece Debt Cri­sis: Greece Never Had Aus­ter­ity, Profli­gacy was the Prob­lem,” Finan­cial Review, August 11, 2015. 

  5. On the sim­i­lar­ity between third world debt cri­sis, see Heather Stew­art, “Beyond Greece: The World  is Filled with Debt Cri­sis,” The Guardian, July 11, 2015; also, the analy­sis by Jubilee Debt Cam­paign, “The New Debt Trap: How the Response to the Last Global Cri­sis has Laid the Ground for the Next,” Jubilee Debt Cam­paign, July 2015; and Jay­ati Ghosh, “The Euro­zone can Learn from the Finan­cial Crises in the Devel­op­ing World,” The Guardian, 29 July 29, 2012. 

  6. Alexis Tsipras, “Alexis Tsipras: bailout a bad deal but the best Greece could get,” The Guardian, July 14, 2015. 

  7. Derek Scally, “Greece cri­sis: Merkel accused of ‘destroy­ing Europe,’” The Irish Times, July 17, 2015. 

  8. One step beyond. Block­upy from block­ades to the transna­tional strike,” con­nes­sioni pre­carie, May 24, 2015; see also “Towards a Social and Transna­tional Strike? Invi­ta­tion to a Work­ing Meet­ing on 19.03.2015 in Frank­furt,” Block­upy: Resis­tance in the Heart of the Euro­pean Cri­sis Regime, March 11, 2015. 

  9. Mao Zedong, “The Ques­tion of Inde­pen­dence and Ini­tia­tive within the United Front,” Novem­ber 5, 1938. 

  10. On this my read­ing of pop­ulist move­ments and pol­i­tics in the post­colo­nial world veers away from Ernesto Laclau’s read­ing in On Pop­ulist Rea­son (Lon­don: Verso, 2005) as well as his and Chan­tal Mouffe’s the­sis on rad­i­cal democ­racy, Hege­mony and Social­ist Strat­egy: Towards a Rad­i­cal Demo­c­ra­tic Pol­i­tics (Lon­don: Verso, 1985). See Dan Han­cox, “Why Ernesto Laclau is the Intel­lec­tual Fig­ure­head for Syriza and Podemos,” The Guardian, Feb­ru­ary 9, 2015. 

  11. Cas Mudde, “Pop­ulism in Europe: A Primer,” Open Democ­racy, May 12, 2015. 

  12. Dan Han­cox, “Why Ernesto Laclau is the Intel­lec­tual Fig­ure­head for Syriza and Podemos.” 

  13. Block­upy Goes Athens, “Under­stand­ing the Defeat Means Prepar­ing a Vic­tory: The Greek Dilemma and UsThe Bul­let no. 114, July 16, 2015. 

  14. Typ­i­cal of such views, Leo Pan­itch, “The Denoue­ment,” The Bul­let no. 1143, July 15, 2015. 

  15. V.I. Lenin, “The Dual Power,”  April 9, 2017; Mao Tse Tung, “Why is it that Red Polit­i­cal Power can Exist in China,” Octo­ber 5, 1928. 

  16. Tony Benn’s alter­na­tive strat­egy of a “real Labour pol­icy of sav­ing jobs, a vig­or­ous micro-invest­ment pro­gramme, import con­trol, con­trol of the banks and insur­ance com­pa­nies, con­trol of export, of cap­i­tal, higher tax­a­tion of the rich, and Britain leav­ing the Com­mon Mar­ket”; see Tony Benn, Against the Tide: Diaries, 1973-76 (Lon­don: Hutchin­son, 1989), 302; see also, Sam Aaronovitch, The Road from Thatch­erism: The Alter­na­tive Eco­nomic Strat­egy (Lon­don: Lawrence and Wishart,  1981). 

  17. On this, J. Mag­nus Ryner, Cap­i­tal­ist Restruc­tur­ing, Glob­al­i­sa­tion and the Third Way (Lon­don: Rout­ledge, 2002), chap­ter 7, “Why Social Democ­rats Become Neo-Lib­er­als - The Swedish Case,”  166-170. 

  18. Slavoj Žižek, “The Courage of Hope­less­ness,” New States­man, July 20, 2015. 

  19. Paul Krug­man, “Dis­as­ter in Europe,” The New York Times, July 12, 2015. 

  20. Nikos Loun­tos, “Under­stand­ing the Greek Com­mu­nists,”Jacobin Mag­a­zine, Jan­u­ary 21, 2015. 

  21. Karl Marx, “Strikes and Com­bi­na­tion of Work­ers,” The Poverty of Phi­los­o­phy, Chap­ter 2. 

Author of the article

is the Director of the Calcutta Research Group. His particular researches have been on migration and refugee studies, the theory and practices of dialogue, nationalism and post-colonial statehood in South Asia, and new regimes of technological restructuring and labour control.