[P2P-F] Fwd: [NetworkedLabour] Renton on Greece: What is Thinking LIke a Revolutionary?
michel at p2pfoundation.net
Wed Mar 4 06:51:05 CET 2015
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From: peter waterman <peterwaterman1936 at gmail.com>
By *David Renton *
February 23, 2015 -- *Lives; running*
posted at* Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal
<http://links.org.au/node/4310>* <http://links.org.au/node/4310>with the
author's permission -- When I was young, I used to believe that I knew what
a revolution would look like.
It would begin with a bitterly unpopular government and a political system
which allowed no space for dissent to be expressed. Anger with the
government would rise and, with it, popular organisation, until the will of
the people would be like a great wave of water overwhelming every wall put
up by the enemy. An alternative revolutionary government would be formed;
it would derive its support from the workers, winning other classes to
their side because of the wholly principled way in which it would deal with
every social question.
It would be opposed by the wealthiest people in society and everyone
willing to ally with them. Some kind of civil war would follow between
these two powers. And then, when the triumph of the revolutionaries was
complete within that first, fortunate nation, next they would face, and
hopefully, but without any guarantee of success, defeat the hostility of
the most powerful states of the rest of the world.
The coalition between SYRIZA and ANEL is not a revolutionary government;
and yet the mere fact that its representatives are prepared to state
clearly that austerity is not in the interests of the Greek people has
brought about already a greater challenge for orthodox politics than
anything Europe has seen for years. In the shadow of SYRIZA it is possible
to think as to what a revolutionary crisis would be like here – if we had a
force with equal support and as eager to see the end of capitalism as SYRIZA
is to halt our present epoch of austerity.
Much of what I used to imagine about a socialist revolution, I find myself
questioning. I no longer think that it would begin within a political
system which had succeeded in closing down any possibilities for tolerated
dissent. The point about neoliberal capitalism is rather that it allows a
certain, limited space to every possible idea, every desire, even the
phantasm of its own destruction.
Therefore, especially in those countries that have seen a permanent shift
towards a form of (albeit limited, capitalist) political democracy, I find
it increasingly difficult to conclude that popular resistance will be
expressed solely in society and not to some extent also in the state, that
is, in part through the emergence of anti-system parties which stand for
office and are part of a revolutionary alliance.
I do still believe that in a revolutionary crisis people’s anger against
the system can be renewed, and grow, overcoming every obstacle in its path.
Indeed just four years ago, the world saw something like that with a
revolution in Egypt whose supporters stormed police stations, defeated a
president, conquered everything, until eventually after many months they
reached barriers they could not overpass.
The idea that two governmental forms can exist simultaneously for a time
without either triumphing – and that this stasis can be reached in a single
society, cut off from the rest of the world – seems to me to be an
assumption specific to past decades when politics was limited to the nation
state, where it was possible for revolutionaries in America (to whom the
name of Trotsky was unfamiliar) to believe the local fable that he was a
poor tailor of New York origins who had found himself by sheer fluke at the
head of the Red Army. Such is the speed of communication these days that I
no longer believe it is possible for a revolutionary force to emerge in one
society without it already facing antagonists of international as well as
Indeed the ascendancy of SYRIZA forces those of us who wish the Greek left
well to think through unfamiliar questions about what the traditional goal
of a revolution (i.e. the smashing of a state) means, in circumstances
where a serious left-wing party finds itself temporarily, seemingly,
without domestic opponents and faced with an enemy that appears to exist
only several hundred miles away.
It is a part of the answer to respond that SYRIZA’s enemies are not solely
overseas. As I write, SYRIZA’s economists are drawing up – with many
refinements, and under the shadow a troika veto – proposals to increase the
income of the Greek state and reduce its expenditure. To do this, while at
the same time raising pensions and the minimum wage and halting the
previous government’s privatisation program, they inevitably will have to
promise that SYRIZA will suddenly clamp down of tax avoidance to an extent
previously unthinkable in Greece.
SYRIZA’s new idea, that if it cannot be a government that gives to the poor
it may at least be one that takes from the rich, might fit entirely within
the formal limits of the politics of austerity (although I have my doubts
that the Eurozone will tolerate even this negative process of
redistribution), but if SYRIZA was to do this seriously, and properly tax
Greece’s shipping magnates – they of course will respond by funding, to an
even greater extent than they do already, any party at all that promises to
bring about SYRIZA’s immediate defeat.
At this point, SYRIZA’s present ascendancy, its “Greek spring” where the
leadership can claim the support of 80% of their population in opinion
polls and can promise to govern in everyone’s interests without offending
anybody, will inevitably begin to face much more sustained domestic
opposition. The innocence of SYRIZA – in which it attempts to rule at first
without domestic and then without international opposition – is therefore
ultimately unsustainable. As is any theory which says that SYRIZA enemies
can be reduced to the phantom, distant, figure of “Germany”. The longer it
lasts, the more conscious the SYRIZA government will be of its enemies at
The repressive power of the state has, under conditions of neoliberalism,
been dispersed a little across different kinds of institutions and
relocated to some extent from the national to the international and from
the political to the economic sphere. It follows that what is needed is a
successful struggle against *all* the institutions of the rich, Canary
Wharf as well as New Scotland Yard, the European Central Bank in Frankfurt
as much as the parliament in Athens.
So what should we do, those of us for whom Syriza’s success seems to offer
the chance of a defeat to our own local rulers?
I do not accept that our function is to formulate better negotiating feints
and bluffs than the present SYRIZA leadership. One of the rules of this
new, interconnected left in which we all live is that our successes and
failures are widely shared, they are no longer the property of any one
group but are visited on everyone else.
It follows that you should always start if you can by assuming good faith
in your fellow socialists. They are linked to you and you are linked to
them, and they are entitled to a sympathetic hearing. The mistake of Yanis
Varoufakis is not that he has spent too little time studying game theory.
The problem with Alexis Tsipras is not that power has been thrust on him
unexpectedly; rather he and his allies have spent three years preparing in
their minds of this moment, and they have thought already as best they
could the problems of every eventuality. If, for example, they do not
believe that voluntary policies of Eurozone exit are a panacea, then we do
not need to invoke bad faith or the simple label of “reformism” to explain
their failure (especially not those of us who have long been sceptical of
the politics of capitalism within one country which underpin the Grexit
We do have a duty to supporting them – if your union or party is not
already an affiliate of a Greek Solidarity Campaign
<http://greecesolidarity.org/>, it should be. SYRIZA cannot be made
responsible for organising giant protests against austerity in Berlin or
London. That is the task for all the rest of us.
Learning to think like a revolutionary is not about creating a monument of
political purity capable of dismissing every new force according to its
failure to get beyond political categories written down on paper before our
grandparents were born.
There *are* new ideas, new people; not without grievous setbacks, the
international left is at long last renewing itself.
[David Renton blogs at *Lives; running*
and is a member of the RS21 group in Britain.]
- David Renton <http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/907>
- Europe <http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/210>
- Greece <http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/140>
- revolutionary organisation <http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/647>
- RS21 (Britain) <http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/817>
- SYRIZA <http://links.org.au/taxonomy/term/328>
- Add new comment <http://links.org.au/comment/reply/4310#comment-form>
1. 2015/1987. The Old Internationalism and the New: On Labour, Social
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