Originally published in Cuarto Poder, Monday 18th June, in the aftermath of the Greek elections.
Juan Carlos Monedero is Professor of Political Sciences and Administration at the Complutense University of Madrid.
In Smiley’s People, the third part of the trilogy about the emblematic British master-spy, Le Carré narrates the final defeat of the head of the Eastern secret services, the dreaded Karla, the communist and public enemy number one of the Western world. Le Carré thus predicted what would be the end of the Soviet Union and the consequent destructuring of the world born out of the agreements at Yalta, Potsdam and Tehran (where Greece ended up on the capitalist side and Hungary on the socialist side). By 1979, globalisation was already underway and Hayek and Milton Friedman had each received a Nobel prize in economics for saying that the neoliberal prescription was the cure for all ills (including those of capitalism). Greece had just come out of a military dictatorship and was beginning to learn about the economic dictatorship that corresponds to the South of the North. When you are the periphery, you move peripherally along the paths traced by the centres. Gorbachev would end up making impeccable fast food orders in Pizza Hut ads and Greece would set about amassing absurdities through a bipartite and family-dominated structure that would rot politics in the place where democracy lit up.
Once the USSR had sunk in the 1980s, the US remained as the hegemonic power. Fukuyama announced the ‘end of history’, social democracy embraced the ‘third way’ and the right wing ended up handing over any trace of social commitment to the neutrality of economic success and technological development. Without the USSR, the welfare state became surplus to requirements. Poor people gave way to ‘losers’ and economic logic, defined a priori, allocated membership cards to the first world and the failures of the planet. But Marx, who had not been able to read John Le Carre, insisted on coming back every now and again in the manner of a stubborn old man. Class struggle became a kind of safeguard against this, if only as a means of being able to say “no, not convinced”. And the South of the North found reasons not to be convinced by the inevitability of what was inevitable. Bipartisanism was never conclusively consolidated in Greece, or in Portugal or in Spain. And it’s not as if they didn’t try.
With so much forgetting, we don’t remember that the agreements between the USSR and the US at the end of the Second World War left Greece in the western camp, despite having a huge population ready for socialism. A civil war, armed by beloved Europe, scarcely solved the problem (that same Europe that abandoned the Second Spanish Republic and welcomed the Franco regime). So weak was the solution that later on the regime of the colonels had to come along to keep convincing the Greeks through blows from rifle butts. Until 1974. But to no avail. Persistent memory. How could the Greeks forget their history? France with Giscard D’Estaing and Germany with Helmut Schmidt decided to take care of the cradle of civilisation. The USSR still aroused fear. But memory would not leave. The years passed, the left reinvented itself and the right perservered. At the moment the euro crisis sought to hide Europe’s crisis, Syriza hung enormous banners in Athens that said: ¡No pasarán! As though time had stopped. When memory has not been usurped, it returns under a radical guise to stir up consciences. And this happened in the elections of the euro crisis, when Syriza nearly won. Afterwards, Merkel and Rajoy, having safely pocketed the result, flew off to the G20 summit feeling calmer. As if the risk premium were a problem of goodwill. These are the people who rule us. Ignoramuses. And we who vote for them…
In 2009, Syriza won scarcely 4% of the votes. In the June 2012 elections it went up to 26.89%. And this when up against the world’s leading propaganda outfit. The same outfit that, with the same arguments, brought down the No to Nato in Spain in 1986, brought down the Sandinistas in 1990, and repeated referenda in Ireland until they got the result they were looking for. The outfit that threatens with each and every catastrophe should democracy dare to choose between real alternatives. A significant number of Greeks have said yes. But an even more significant number have said: I’m holding out. And Syriza has been voted for by young people and urban areas. Once again, old people who live deep in the countryside have prevented the advancement of Mediterranean countries. This is a to-do for the party of the coherent left.
The triumph of the right in Greece is similar to the bailout of Spain; it sounds so false, and is so clearly tailored for the consumption of those who have already been won over, that it is not credible. Nearly four out of ten voters abstained. Therefore they are holding out. Out of 10 million votes, it is only through the absurd electoral law -which gifts 50 seats to the winning party- that the right-wing New Democracy and the disoriented PASOK can organise a government that calms European banks and their subordinates in EU governments. But they do not have a citizenry behind them prepared to lift a finger for them. They voted for them the way someone throws feed to the cows: in the hope that they will give milk. And if they don’t, and soon, they will be sacrificed and sold off like meat in the slaughterhouse. Out of 10 million voters, the parties in favour of the Troika memorandum barely reach three million. Despite the hasty declaration from Schäuble celebrating the result, the “markets” are more realistic.
Was Syriza defeated? If we realise that the winning coalition has lost the essential element that elections provide in liberal democracies -political authorisation- the answer is not so simple. In Greece, after the June elections, the Government does not have carte blanche to take decisions that do harm to the majority. Have we forgotten the presidents of Ecuador, Argentina and Bolivia taking to their heels -or their helicopter- from the government palaces after having won elections ‘cleanly’? When the social pact is at stake, elections are not enough to reinvent coexistence.
No party can go ahead of the consciousness of its people. If there had been greater consciousness in Greece, Syriza would have won. If it has not done so, it is because circumstances are not ripe. Syriza is clear on this and it moved quickly to recognise the result so that there would be no loose ends. There is nothing more absurd than to win in elections without enjoying a popular support prepared to take to the streets and defend the decisions of the Government at the barricades. In order for the people to work, study, enjoy good health, the main governments of Europe have to be confronted. This cannot be done unless the people are on a war footing.
From now on, each day that passes is one day less for the ‘coalition of the Troika’ and, nonetheless, is one day more for Syriza. It is others who now carry the contradictions, including including PASOK, who, by wanting to be everywhere, will end up nowhere. In the last month, Greece has made a giant leap, and without firing a single shot.
In the long term, there are numerous lessons for the entire continent that have begun tonight.
One. We now know that elections only happen when there are truly different options available. Choosing between Coca-Cola and Pepsi Cola does not generate real problems. We now know that when one of the options is a party with a different flavour, the false defenders of democracy are willing to flip the chessboard.
Two. As with Nicaragua in 1990, there are people who might vote for the enemy, because of threats from bullies, but who might also be willing to redouble their efforts alongside friends afterwards (until they reach victory). Elections are no longer the independent variable of politics that determines everything else.
Three. There are themes that are no longer taboo in the European Union. The neo-imperialist role of Germany; the linking of politicians to big business; political, business, media and banking corruption; and the swindle of a crisis that takes money from the poor to give to the rich, have all started to form part of a normalised critique.
Four. The parties of ‘order’ might win, but the citizens now know why they have achieved victory. And that knowledge does not exactly win friends.
Five. As we have pointed out, elections no longer provide political authorisation, such that the prohibition on revoking the mandate, which is at the heart of liberal democracy (see article 67.2 of the Spanish Constitution) has been dynamited.
Six. Syriza’s defeat sounds like a “for now” defeat (calling to mind Chávez’s words after the military uprising he led in 1994 and which boosted him to electoral victory five years later). If Latin America needed more than a decade from the start of its crisis to rise up, amid far greater economic deterioration than that suffered by Greece, we cannot envisage a radical change in half the time, as long as economic conditions still have room for deterioration.
Seven. Syriza has been a catalyst for the Spanish left -Izquierda Unida to be precise- to realise that its historical cycle has come to an end and for it to begin a genuine auto-critique.
Eight. We have learned where Greece is (now we only need to know where Portugal is, where Ireland is, where Italy is…)
Nine. We have seen that the left can be led without the wearing of a tie, provided that one also displays new, radical and sensible ideas, with the conviction and the ability to explain them.
Ten. All the parties of the world’s left have gone to Greece on a political pilgrimage -for the first time since the Carnation Revolution, to Europe, not to Latin America- and they will return to their countries a little wiser and a little braver.
Eleven. Syriza has helped to be unafraid of either Germany or Angela Merkel, by making clear that just as the business elites of that country shared out the GDR and Yugoslavia like a booty, it intends to do the same with any country that allows itself to be dispossessed.
Twelve. The ‘threat’ from Syriza has forced even the bosses’ organisations to recognise that austerity policies are driving the continent to ruin.
Thirteen. Hollande’s threats to Greece, in case Syriza were to win, have served as a reminder that social democracy is as worn out as its soap operas full of aristocratic family privileges, private histories of no collective interest, and expired ideology trussed up as opportunism.
Fourteen. To speak of Venezuela is no longer the unnameable stigma that it was, and a process of normalisation of references to Latin America among the European left has begun.
Fifteen. We have been reminded once again that capitalism in crisis always generates a rise in fascism, which should raise the alarm in every country.
Sixteen. Perhaps point sixteen should be an invitation to stop writing about other countries, in this case Greece, and set about elaborating our own alternative.
With the defeat of the ‘superspy’ in East Germany, the end came for the fight that Le Carré had been narrating through Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Honourable Schoolboy. In reality, there is no political event in the past 70 years that has no connection to the Cold War. With honesty, Le Carré recounts that the demise of the Eastern counterpart to Western espionage was only possible when the same dirty weapons -the ones that according to official discourse, were the preserve of authoritarian countries- were used against the enemy. In the end, there were not so many differences between the US and the USSR. Liberalism has always had a practice far removed from its discourse, something that the fall of the Berlin Wall made people forget.
Greece was always in an uncomfortable place. Perhaps this is why they have never allowed it to go back to being itself. Did they not, through the Dublin II regulation, turn it into an ‘enormous concentration camp’ for immigrants rejected by the rest of the European Union? Has it not been obliged to buy weapons from the French, Germans and North Americans on account of the irrational maintenance, by the gendarmes of the world, of a false conflict between Greece and Turkey? Did it not amass up to €50bn in debt on account of that hub of corruption and ruin of peoples known as the Olympic Games? Was it not obliged to shoulder the onerous conditions of the bailout without any popular consultation? Was it not forced to abandon a referendum as well as a manager put there by the powers who are ransacking the country?
The sweet defeat of Syriza makes us realise that each day that passes from the 17th of June is a day less for the “victorious” coalition and one day more for the building of an alternative. At a moment when the maintenance of neoliberalism entails the deconstitutionalisation of Europe, it fell to Greece to invite us to recover government of the people, by the people, for the people. Syriza has been stigmatized precisely because it could become a reference point. And that is precisely what it has become after these elections.
Richard Wolff interview – published 22nd June on Greek and French Parliamentary elections