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December 31, 2013
December 31, 2013

Greece: The unsolvable equation

Author: Kostas Gardounis Translator: Eleni Nicolaou
Category: On the crisis
This article is also available in: eles
Greece: The unsolvable equation

The crisis in Greece and Europe, the four sociopolitical currents it generated and the ongoing conflict between them

1. The unanswered dilemma

In the late 50s, the anthropologist Gregory Bateson and his colleagues studied a pathological, though common, communicative situation in human relations which they called “double bind”: the person facing it is trapped between two completely contradictory demands, so that it is impossible to comply with one without overriding the other: “You must do the X, otherwise you will suffer the consequences” and at the same time “You must not do the X otherwise you will suffer the consequences”. According to Bateson’s group, the subject, when unable to get out of this unsolvable dilemma, sinks into despair and constant tension that can lead to madness.

The current capitalist crisis has created, for the society in Greece, a situation that is experienced as a “double bind”. On one hand, the bail-outs and the austerity measures have destroyed the social fabric and keep destroying it every single day: the homeless, the sick without health services, families without electricity, water, food. The policies of all the recent governmental cabinets have brought endless misery while promising an exit from the crisis which never comes, and which no one can believe even if one wishes to. But even if this exit from the crisis were to happen someday, society would not return to previous levels of welfare (always very relative). The neoliberal economic development will convert the current misery in a structural and permanent one, for the sake of an economic growth that will have no real impact on the life of the majority of the population: public health will have definitely disappeared, wages will have dropped to €200 per month for 4 hours work per day, older people will be condemned to social exclusion, entire neighbourhoods will become slums.

On the other hand, neither an exit from the austerity policies seems likely to be leading to the end of the current crisis: if a Greek (say left) government refuses to yield to the commands of the European and international power centres, these centres will declare an economic and political war that will cancel any pursuit and any possibility for an independent economic development. Financial markets have a tremendous ability to affect any attempt to go back to a national economy. And everybody, right and left, knows it or feels it.

In short, it is likely that the social suffering will be the same either inside or outside the mandates of the financial capital and the international institutions operating as its allies.

2. The political and social currents that arise in the current crisis

The political forces –namely the sociopolitical trends and not only the political parties– that are present in the public life have failed to propose a solution to this complicated situation (referring to any exit from this condition, regardless of its ethical and political characteristics). Furthermore, none of them has sufficient power to do it. The political scenery resembles an equation whose solution is impossible. This scenery consists of four primary forces:
-The forces supporting the current policies (the conservative “New Democracy”, the Socialist PASOK party) prey on the fear of society and the absence of a convincing alternative policy. They have managed to govern with full media support, which used every possible argument to legitimise the looting imposed by all the recent governments and to defend the neoliberal ideology as the natural language of economics and society.

So far they have won but without convincing. They are counting on the staff that comes from the clientelist and corporatist state of the last decades, indulging now in fierce criticism against… the clientelist and corporatist state, the logic of the “minor effort”, the “low efficiency” of the public sector. The government’s political future, which depends on these forces, is more than uncertain, since everybody feels that at any moment, any fact (a downturn in the economy, a concrete decision, a social event) may have unforeseeable and uncontrollable political and social consequences.

-The “Coalition of the Radical Left” proposes a way out of the capitalist crisis through Keynesian and Social Democratic policies, i.e. through an increase in public spending, with expansionary policies that increase the liquidity and the purchasing power of workers, etc.

The problem with this proposal is that there does not seem to be anyone able to implement it: the International organisations are directly linked to the financial capital, which has grown beyond and against the social democratic policies and logic. The money markets control the vast majority of capital and only a minority of it is channelled into the real economy. Consequently, the renewed social democracy of SYRIZA proposes a return to the past that is perhaps impossible, since the Keynesian policies were applied in a quite different historical moment, when stock markets were underdeveloped and the “real economy” was still the centre of economic life. In conclusion, neither the European and international institutions nor the European governments nor a SYRIZA government can implement such policies.
– The fascists who express the obsession for a national militarised capitalism as resistance to the international financial system. Although the fascist ideology is delirious and inhuman, it has nonetheless an internal cohesion: it proposes the militarisation of the working and living conditions, in order to increase national productivity. In other words, it is a proposal for a more efficient capitalist exploitation.

The nationalist-fascist ideology promises a social peace based on the alliance between national capital and native workers against foreign “invaders”: the financial capital and the migrants. This proposal gains support among the most conservative groups of the population because it ensures a false breakup within a continuity: any flow (capital and labour) that “contaminates” the country is denied but all the “normal” cannibalistic values and behaviours are maintained; hatred towards the others, obedience to the laws and the state, love for the Master (Leader). For this proposal to be applied, a civil war must, previously, be provoked and won.

-The extra-parliamentary social movements consisting of a variety of trends. Here, we are interested in them as an element that either opposes or overcomes the other three socio-political trends. We refer to social movements (of students, workers, local, movements of solidarity, anti-authoritarian etc.) that oppose to the dictates of international centres and government policies, who are anti-fascist and are not confined by the logic “we need a governmental change to put an end to the dictatorship of the markets over society”.

These movements include significant initiatives that attempt to restructure the social fabric from the bottom up (social soup-kitchens, neighbourhood hangouts, self-managed courses, free medical services by volunteers without institutional support). Their discourse is anti-neoliberal or anti-capitalist, internationalist, sometimes patriotic and always unclear as to their alternative socio-political proposal. Of course, the above description is very vague and generalising.
The four social-political forces mentioned above maintain different distances and relationships between them.

The forces supporting the current imposed policies obviously seek to limit the influence of SYRIZA and limit the power of social movements, while simultaneously maintaining ambiguous relationships with the fascists: before they were tolerating them and now they are trying to limit their power. For a long time, the fascists have been police allies, now they are prosecuted (to some extent…) so that the regime of austerity and institutionalised racism can show, among other expediencies, a democratic mask.

On the other side, SYRIZA opposes the government and the fascists. It sees the social movements as a power from which it can draw strength and, at the same time, as a power that can override it through their anti-capitalist discourse and their actions out in the streets. We must always bear in mind that the Coalition’s base and voters are way more radical than the party’s mechanism and leadership. The party needs these movements and, at the same time, it needs to limit their power.
The fascists oppose SYRIZA, collide with popular and social movements and have an ambiguous relationship with the government. It is well known that parts of the State and its institutions would favour a possible collaboration between the conservative party and Golden Dawn. The fascists retain important connections with the police, army and secret services. The social unrest nourishes them and, at the same time, SYRIZA and the social movements. The question is whether a general socio-political destabilisation will further strengthen Golden Dawn, SYRIZA or the anti-capitalist social movements.

These anti-capitalist social movements fail to articulate an independent, political proposal. They move between the (mostly critical) support of SYRIZA and self-organisation and direct democracy positions. Their most active nuclei come from extra-parliamentary left-wing collectives and anarchist groups. They seek to promote social change that go beyond a mere governmental change and are inspired by the traditions of the labour and revolutionary movements of the past centuries. However, although they have done important things, there is still much to be done, since, though present in the streets and public places, they fail to define the agenda of current social debates. To put it simply, any anti-capitalist reference is virtually absent from this agenda.

3. The ongoing conflict

It could be said that the four socio-political trends represent four social proposals: a) Globalised capitalism governed by financial flows, b) Keynesian capitalism based on the national economy, c) militarised capitalism also based on the national economy and d) rupture with the capitalist economy and construction of a new social model. The first three proposals can produce hybrids or monsters.

However, these four proposals are not a result of the crisis in Greece. They are rather the options emerging through the structures and rivalries of society in which we live. These trends have been present in all capitalist crises and also throughout the evolution of the capitalist system. What is at stake in Greece, Europe and around the world is not only the crisis and the way out of it, but also how much freedom societies will win or lose during this process. And their hopes for a better world.

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Greece: The unsolvable equation by Kostas Gardounis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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