Posts By Christos Kefalis


Einstein’s Socialism

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Einstein’s progressive views inevitably made him face the fundamental in our times question of socialism. He dealt with it in his extremely important article “Why Socialism?”1, published in the first issue of Monthly Review in 1949. In it Einstein explicitly declares in favor of socialism, recognizing its superiority over the capitalist system.

Einstein came to be interested in socialism through realizing that the present social order does not promote culture and through his understanding of the deep despair and hopelessness experienced by many people. He recounts in the article an enlightening incident from a conversation he had with an acquaintance, who had expressed his indifference about the eventual destruction of humanity after a relevant remark by Einstein. He makes an accurate diagnosis of the social crisis: “Innumerable voices have been asserting for some time now that human society is passing through a crisis, that its stability has been gravely shattered. It is characteristic of such a situation that individuals feel indifferent or even hostile towards the group, small or large, to which they belong”.

From this starting point, Einstein came naturally to the question of the feasibility and the historical need of another, socialist order. And with his usual mental integrity, he replied it in the affirmative when he was convinced that there is no other way to save human civilization.

In “Why Socialism?” Einstein does not only sharply condemn capitalism. Even more significantly, he adopts, to a large extent, the Marxist analysis of the capitalist system, criticizing its exploitative character and its other derivative afflictions, such as the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, crises, unemployment and the manipulation of public opinion. His judgments on the principle of profit and other currently dominant values of wild market capitalism are quite interesting

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Strengthen Ties with the People and Maneuver Cleverly: The Tasks of the Greek Radical Left

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The last few weeks have seen a number of crushing developments in Greece. Especially the Greek referendum and the signing of a new memorandum by the SYRIZA government are historical events which will strongly influence not only the future of the Greek but of the European Left as well. They will also influence the further course of the EU and the Eurozone, which came on the verge of dissolution and showed by the way it dealt with the crisis its true class nature.

SYRIZA’s signing of a new memorandum cannot be called otherwise but a heavy, unacceptable compromise and a capitulation. This is all the more true, since the Greek people, with its decisive “No” had expressed a massive support for a break with the memorandum policies in the Greek referendum just a week ago. The SYRIZA leadership, however, and Alexis Tsipras personally, chose to come in line with the spokesmen of “Yes”, the bankrupt bourgeois Greek political forces that supported the previous memoranda and the corrupt Greek and European elites.

This choice of the SYRIZA leadership does not in the least diminish the importance of the daring “No” raised by the Greek people in the referendum. This was a “No” not only to the EU agreement proposals, but the memorandum and austerity policies as a whole. The Greek people stood up against unbearable pressures by the Greek mass media, the parties of the ruling class and the EU leaders and showed, by their stance and vote, that they are ready and willing to support another road and overthrow the austerity policies. This result, unexpected even to the most optimistic commentators of the Left, is a proof of the possibility and a call for resistance of the European peoples, as the only force capable of producing radical change.

The decision of the SYRIZA leadership to compromise at all cost with the lenders must be criticized by all Left activists and Marxists in particular. However, it is essential to provide a serious criticism, which points exactly and explains its mistakes.

A number of ultra-Left forces here in Greece, and perhaps elsewhere too, respond to SYRIZA’s compromise by shouting “betrayal”, arguing it proves the bankruptcy of reformist tactics and the fact that the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism is the only road. However, this kind of criticism misses the fact that the situation in January, when the SYRIZA-ANEL government was formed, was not revolutionary, and it is neither so now. In such a situation it is necessary to maneuver and arguing that focusing on maneuvers and reforms leads to a deadlock, is the wrong way to argue. While this is true on the long run, it does not rule out the necessity to deal seriously with the phases of the struggle when maneuvering predominates and this cannot be done by calling for the immediate application of revolutionary tactics.

In fact, the SYRIZA leadership must be criticized not for maneuvering in general, but for maneuvering badly. It must be criticized for the vacillations and lack of planning it showed during this phase of maneuvers, leading it to a position where it was forced to accept an intolerable compromise. In particular the following points should be noted:

  • SYRIZA lost too much time in meaningless negotiations for months. The dragging on of these negotiations was just a means for the ruling circles of the EU to drive the Greek economy to the present financial suffocation, after exhausting its reserves. The supposed progresses during these negotiations, like the Greek 47 pages proposal, were all sham, a plot intended by the German ruling circles to bring about the present situation.
  • The election of Prokopis Pavlopoulos as President of the Greek Democracy was also an unnecessary concession. It indicated SYRIZA’s leadership readiness for further moves to the Right, when the situation called for cautious moves to the Left.
  • The payment of roughly €8 billion in February-June from the Greek reserves to the EMF was also a step leading to direct capitulation. If the SYRIZA government wanted to base itself on the people, it should have led things to a referendum in February or March, when it had still the means to resist for some time the economic sabotage from the EU. Obviously, if the Greek government had some billions € in reserves this might not suffice to support a break with the EU, but it could help endure for some months a situation with closed banks, etc, and this would put the EU ruling elites under pressure, as the consequences of the protracted instability would begin to be strongly felt by their economies too.
  • Apart from these Right mistakes, the SYRIZA leadership made, in our opinion, a “Left” mistake when it rejected the conciliatory proposal made by Merkel just before the decision for the referendum. This proposal for an extension of the present memorandum for 5 months would have provided the Greek state €15.5 billion for this five month period. It would have been a harsh compromise, including an “evaluation” by the “institutions”. However it would last for only 5 months leaving further options open, while not including the devastating, enslaving conditions of the new memorandum, like the sell-off of public property. During that time the Greek government would build up some monetary reserves from various sources (EU inputs, tourism, taxation etc). Moreover, the end of this five month period would coincide with the parliamentary elections in Spain. A Greek referendum at that time, together with a possible victory of the Left forces in Spain (especially if they are able to unite), would have given a strong thrust to popular movements across Europe.

All this comes to show that, despite all negative aspects, this would have been an acceptable compromise. The reason the SYRIZA leadership failed to take advantage of that opportunity is its fear of the people, together with its illusions about the real intentions of the EU leading circles. As a result it never considered seriously the prospect of a rupture at a suitable moment and of preparing the people for it, but chose to reach a “final” agreement at all costs, falsely hoping it would not be so harsh.

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Grexit or Compromise: Which Way for the Greek Left?

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The last 10 days, from February 11th to February 20th, saw some critical developments in Greece. After a number of clashes in the Eurogroups of 11th, 16th and 20th February, an agreement was reached extending the “current arrangement” with the Troika for 4 months. This agreement, as is generally agreed, was a heavy compromise on the part of the Greek SYRIZA-ANEL government, putting into doubt the possibility to carry out its program, i.e. SYRIZA’s Thessaloniki program. There was another serious compromise too, when, on February 18th, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a representative of the conservative camp and leading figure of the ND party, was elected President of the Republic.

The same period witnessed, on the other hand, some big demonstrations in Greece and other European countries too, centered round the task of cancelling debt. Although not as massive as those in the 2011-2012 period, they show some real hope of a new rise of the movements and their possible intervention in the scene. Significantly, these demonstrations, which begun as acts of spontaneous support to the Greek government, seem likely to continue after the compromise made – a new one was announced for February 26th in various facebook pages.

Taken together these developments pose some serious questions. Does SYRIZA relinquish its promises of a substantial change with regard to the previous austerity ND-PASOK regime? Is such a change feasible within the EU through an acceptable compromise reached after a negotiation? Or is it impossible and Greece should head instead for a payment default and exit the EU – the prospect broadly known as “Grexit?”

In this article we will discuss these questions, with an eye to the coming solution of the Greek drama when the four month prolongation of the Memorandum ends.

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Celebrating the election of Syriza

Syriza’s Historic Victory and the Prospects of the Left

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The Greek elections of January 25th have given a decisive victory to SYRIZA. It is a victory not only of the Greek but also of the European Left, which can prove of historical consequences for the further course of Europe.

SYRIZA gained 149 seats in the Greek parliament, just falling short of the required majority of 151 to form a government of its own. However, it achieved a clear preponderance, with an 8.5% margin, against the hitherto ruling conservative party of ND, and was able to form a government with the support of ANEL, a small Right party.

The result of the elections was hailed by the Greek laboring people with relief as opening a prospect of escape from their sufferings, the austerity measures, unemployment and poverty, deriving from the Memoranda imposed by the Troika after 2010. It was these laboring people who gave victory to SYRIZA against the ruling parties of the establishment. These parties, PASOK and ND, had followed faithfully all directions of the Troika, resulting in an unprecedented fall of wages by almost 30% (and even more in some categories of workers) and record unemployment of about 25-30% (more than 50% in the youth). There is now broad expectation within the people that at least some of the burdens and misfortunes they suffered during the last years will be raised and that they will achieve a betterment of their condition. At the same time, besides a willingness to fight for their interests, there is also some anxiety and uncertainty about the next day. SYRIZA’s result has given hope to the people but has not completely eliminated fear, as everyone here in Greece knows that, in view of strong pressures and blackmail from the EU, it will not be easy for the new government to effect the promised changes.

SYRIZA’s victory and the formation of the new government have aroused great interest in the rest of Europe as well, provoking reactions from all sides. Conservative forces have hastened to “remind” that Greece must implement the obligations ensuing form the Memoranda – German chancellor Merkel, minister of Finance Schaeuble and French president Francois Hollande have already made such statements. On the other hand, Left parties, activists and intellectuals all over the world hailed the result as a great opportunity and spur to the fight to end austerity policies.

The elections have shown some other significant, even if secondary, trends too with regard to all other parties and the rest of the Greek Left. They witnessed the smashing up of intermediate “center-Left” parties, the formerly mighty PASOK and DIMAR, being replaced by the colorless Potami (the Greek word for “The River”), the firmness of the Golden Dawn Nazis coming out as the third party, a mediocre rise of the Anti-capitalist Left formation ANTARSYA and the relative stability of the neo-Stalinist KKE[1].

All these aspects have received extensive commentary in Greece from analysts on the Left and the broader political spectrum. In the present article we will commend on the result and the course taken, hoping to throw some light on the issues involved – issues that are crucial not only for the Greek but for the European Left as well.

 1. The result of the elections

Seven months ago, commenting on the result of the Greek EU elections in an article in this site, the present writer had called it “a clear, historical, but still not decisive SYRIZA victory”. The same thing may be said in an even stronger sense about the result of the present parliamentary elections. It was a still more imposing and great victory for SYRIZA but yet still not decisive.

Throughout the election campaign, SYRIZA’s leadership persistently called the electorate to give SYRIZA a parliamentary majority (i.e., at least 151 seats) in order to be able to fulfill unhindered its program. During the last days before the vote, polls showed this to be a realistic possibility. Yet, after a thriller lasting almost all the elections night, SYRIZA failed to acquire the majority needed by the narrowest margin.

The fact that there was something lacking in SIRIZA’s result in both contests cannot be considered purely an accident and some explanations have been offered.

SYRIZA’s momentous rise in the 2012 elections was due chiefly to the big social movements of “Aganaktismenoi” that developed in Greece during 2011-12. However, after ND won the 2012 elections and was able to form a coalition government with PASOK (and, initially, with DIMAR too) the movements subsided. Despite occasional outbursts, there was a general mood of weariness within the people, who saw their previous big struggles being defeated and, in an immediate sense, remain ineffective.

To this natural reaction may be added the fact that SYRIZA adopted, to a bigger or lesser extent, a tactic of waiting, expecting power to fall in its hands like a ripe fruit after the inevitable decline of the ND-PASOK rule. This does not mean, as a number of Leftists imply in their criticisms, that SYRIZA should be regarded directly responsible for the decline of the movements, or that it acted as a barrier to their revival. The retreat of the movements was to a certain extent inevitable and SYRIZA could not have reversed it at will. The point is however that during the last two years its stance was somewhat passive and inactive, consisting of excessive “realist” adjustments and failing to strengthen its ties with the people in the new situation.

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Greek EU Elections: A Clear, Historical, But Still Not Decisive SYRIZA Victory

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The Greek EU elections have produced what is clearly a historical result, not only for Greece but for the European Union as well. SYRIZA won by a clear margin of almost 4% (3.8% to be more precise), scoring 26.5% against 22.7% of ND, the governing right party. Moreover, in the municipal and regional elections SYRIZA gained an impressive victory in Attica district with Rena Dourou, though it failed to elect Sakellaridis in Athens, who lost by a small margin to Kaminis.

SYRIZA’s victory is widely discussed by the European mass media, together with Marine Le Pen’s impressive first place in France, as the two most striking and weighty EU elections results. But while important on a general level, SYRIZA’s success is even more important for the European Left. It is the first time in recent history of Western Europe that a party of the Left gains first place since 1984, when the Italian Communist Party had achieved the same, just after Enrico Berlinguer’s death. However, SYRIZA’s victory comes at a much graver occasion, when the specter of fascism, racism and reaction hangs heavily over the continent. In this connection, it is crucial in showing that there is another road for Europe apart from the turn to the ultra Right, observed not only in France but in several other EU countries (Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary, etc.) as well.

Yet, precisely because it is historical, SYRIZA’s victory must be analyzed in a serious way and not be idealized or overestimated. This is not only because it was accompanied by a new rise of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, but also because, if closely viewed, it points to some weaknesses of SYRIZA, without which it could have been even larger. Moreover, the Greek EU election results show some interesting tendencies with regard to the other parties as well, reflecting underground social trends which may be relevant for other EU countries too.

We will proceed therefore to a commentary of the Greek EU elections, hoping to highlight some of these aspects. But first of all let us give the results themselves (we also cite the May and June 2012 parliamentary elections results for the sake of comparison).




May 2012

June 2012











Golden Dawn



























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Greek Elections Update: A Small Step for SYRIZA, a Medium Step for Golden Dawn

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The first round of the Greek municipal and regional elections is over. The results, while indecisive, present a number interesting aspects, which give some idea about what may be expected in the second round as well in the European Parliament elections next Sunday. We shall summarize and comment them here.

First of all, abstention was quite high, though not higher than that in the previous, 2010 municipal and regional elections. It ranged between 53% in the city of Athens (it was 57% in 2010) to 35% in smaller provincial cities. This fact shows that the crisis of the political system still continues, without however SYRIZA or any other party clearly benefiting from it.

There was an interesting incident with the exit polls at 7 p.m. Sunday afternoon showing that SYRIZA was heading for a spectacular win in the biggest municipality and district, respectively Athens and Attica. They forecasted a win for Dourou, SYRIZA’s candidate for the Attica district, with a margin of 6-7% against the center-left “independent” Sgouros, and also a small precedence of Sakellaridis, SYRIZA’s candidate in Athens, against the equally “independent” center-left Kaminis. This created euphoria in SYRIZA with its leader, Alexis Tsipras, making some enthusiastic comments. However, these forecasts, which would indeed mean not only an overturn of all polls, but also a triumph for SYRIZA in the decisive battles, failed to materialize. As results began to roll in, it became clear that Dourou’s margin was much lower, of the order of 2%, while Sakellaridis was second after Kaminis, even if marginally. Still, the final result was a very descent one for Dourou and Sakellaridis. Meanwhile, it turned out the neonazi Golden Dawn scored better than in forecasts, achieving two quite positive results: 16,12% of the well known Kasidiaris in Athens and 11,11% of Panagiotaros in Attica district. Both in Athens and Attica the ruling party’s ND candidates failed to make it to the second round.

Had the picture in the rest of Greece been the same, with regard to SYRIZA and ND, than even that result would be a clear victory for SYRIZA. However, this was not the case. In most districts and in the other big municipalities (Thessaloniki, Piraeus, Patra) SYRIZA’s candidates scored well below that, roughly at 15%. The governmental district candidates, on the other hand, apart from the disastrous Attica result (where the ND candidate, Koumoutsakos, took just 14.13%) averaged somewhere between 25-30% (or even more in some cases).

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Greece on the Eve of Municipal and European Parliament Elections: a Riddle Waiting to be Solved

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The double Greek elections of May 18th and 25th –municipal and regional on 18th and the European Parliament elections together with the second round of municipal and regional ones where necessary on 25th– will undoubtedly influence decisively the course of the country. They will reflect the evident as well as underground trends in Greek social and political life developed in the period after the elections of May and June 2012.

Given the specificity of the situation in Greece, which became during the last few years the workshop and test field for the most brutal neoliberal policies, forged by the Brussels European Union directory and applied by the conservative Greek government of New Democracy and PASOK, Greek elections are perhaps more critical than the respective ones in other European countries. The elections will be a crucial test for the two major political parties, the ruling conservative New Democracy (ND) party and the left opposition, SYRIZA, but they will also be critical for all other Greek political forces. The main issue, which is of great importance not only for the Greek but for the European Left as well, is whether SYRIZA, the stronger left formation presently in Europe, will be able to achieve a clear electoral victory, or if the ruling ND party will achieve a satisfactory result, such as a defeat –let alone a victory– on points. There are, of course, a series of other questions, less critical but not negligible, to be answered in these two evenings, regarding the results of the other parties.

However, with just about a week separating us from the first Sunday, most commentators agree on only one thing: that everything is completely vague and the election night will certainly present us with some big surprises. This impression is further strengthened by recent developments, shortly before and during the election period, which did not give a clear lead or superiority to any party: on the one hand, the Baltakos case undoubtedly cost the government a lot; on the other, some retractions by SYRIZA on the selection of candidates and also on the issue of the Turkish speaking minority in Thrace did not make a good impression. The situation reveals a similarly confusing picture in relation to the other political forces. While some trends do emerge, it is not at all certain how they will crystallize. The prevailing big uncertainty is reflected in most polls so far, which often produce greatly conflicting results for all parties.

In the following, we will consider first the general political scene and its tendencies in recent years. Then we will examine the developments and contrasts in the main formations of the Left, SYRIZA, KKE and ANTARSYA, and the problems of strategy and tactics that have been raised mainly in connection with the country’s relations with the EU, which are also a key dimension of the ongoing political controversy.

 1. The General Political Picture

What impresses one, even at first glance, is the fragmentation and liquidity of the Greek political scene today. This is a feature of the new political system that emerged in the May 2012 elections, replacing the ND and PASOK two-party system which had been dominant since 1977. However, given the partial polarization in the elections of June 2012, one would expect a relative domination of the two major parties, albeit not to the extent of the ND and PASOK before the onset of the crisis. Quite the opposite is true, with a number of 46 parties taking part in these European elections, a great record compared with the 27 of the previous ones.

Certainly, most of these “parties” do not claim a serious political role. They include 4 or 5 far Left groups, which usually elicit a few votes from the elderly and illiterate voters of the KKE, who confuse their ballot with that of the Communist Party. One will find even some fans of John Kapodistrias (the first governor of Greece after the 1821 revolution), two parties with the word “Hope” in their title, a party called “Drachma” (the old national currency before the country’s accession to the euro), the “Rural Livestock Party of Greece”, the “Party of Greek Hunters” (which however usually receives a decent 1%) and so on.

There’s even a party whose title may contain more words than the number of votes it will get in the elections. It is called “Independent Left Renewal, Right Renewal, PASOK Renewal, ND Renewal, No to War, Party of the I Donate Land Business, I Annul Debts, I Save Lives, I’m Saving the Riches of the Greeks, Greek All Workers Labor Movement”. Its completely unknown leader, Miltiadis Tsalazidis, may not be a good politician, but seems to be at least a good humorist…

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01-05-2014 23-07-43

Marxists and the National Question

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The recent sharpening of national rivalries between Russia and Ukraine brings to the forefront the national question. This is certainly only an episode in the chain of national rivalries the capitalist globalization stimulates, by widening inequalities between nations and within each nation. It was preceded by national crises in Yugoslavia, in regions of the former USSR and also in many other parts of the globe.

Marxists became intensely interested in the national question in the late 19th and early 20th century, when capitalism was passing to its imperialist stage. Particularly Kautsky, Bauer, Luxemburg, Lenin and Trotsky dealt extensively with it. Their analyses, which we will briefly summarize here, are quite interesting with regard to contemporary problems.

Kautsky, Bauer, Luxemburg, Trotsky

Kautsky, in a series of articles and in his work Nationality and Transnationality (Nationalität and Internationalität, 1908) analyzed in particular the establishment of European nation states after 1848. While Bauer was emphasizing the common traditions (language, national identity, customs, etc.) to explain ethnogenesis and support his idea of ??national – cultural autonomy, Kautsky stressed that the formation of modern nations and nation states had mainly economic reasons: the need to develop a unified capitalist market, which was certainly facilitated by the existence of common traditions. So the nation state was the norm in the period of free competition, while multi-ethnic states were remnants of feudalism or exceptions. This meant that the creation of new states that characterized European history during this period, through the wars for national independence and self-determination (the national revolutions of 1848, the struggles for national unification of Italy, national revolutions and wars in the Balkans, etc.) had a progressive and historically necessary character.

From this starting point, Kautsky developed a valid polemic against Bauer’s positions, held also by a number of other Austrian Marxists (Adler, Renner, et al). The latter envisioned a peaceful, reformist regulation of national contradictions within existing transnational feudal states such as the Ottoman Empire and the Habsburg Empire, through the central power granting a genuine national autonomy (teaching of national language, freedom of national culture) to their constituent nationalities. In a letter to Victor Adler Kautsky declared such a prospect to be utopian:

“In Austria of all places, a gradual approach to some solution or other is unthinkable. The only cure lies in complete collapse. That Austria still exists is to me not proof of its viability, nor yet evidence that we now have the political basis for a slow and peaceful development; all it proves is that bourgeois society is no longer capable of doing away with even the most rotten structures: the Sultan, Tsarism, Austria”.

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Costas Gavras, “Le Capital”: An Anti-Capitalist Masterpiece

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1. Motivation and history of the movie

Marxist theorists, beginning with Marx himself, did much to illuminate how capitalism moves, to reveal its laws and demonstrate the necessity of its replacement by socialism, when it becomes a hindrance to historical progress. This criticism was always applied “from outside”, starting from the class position and perspective of the proletariat, the class destined to overthrow the capitalist system, and aimed at orienting the actions of that class towards the directions dictated by the broader social conflicts of each period. In his latest film, “Le Capital” (“Capital”), Costas Gavras –Karim Boukercha and Jean-Claude Grumberg also contributed to the screenplay– proceeds to give a catalytic criticism of capitalist globalization from within, a criticism which, though not focusing directly on the social and class struggles of our time, is still, in its way, highly penetrating and effective.

“From within” in no way implies that Gavras contents himself to show the decay and corruption of the world of capital, to write the record of its decline and to highlight its manifestations in the lives of its representatives. All these things certainly abound in his film. Yet had he limited himself to that, it could result to an improved version of soap operas like Dynasty, even making the representatives of capital likable within their degradation. The film is mostly an anatomy of capitalism’s general objective motion, taking an X-ray of the banking and finance system, whose impunity triggered and impels the current global economic crisis. But if Marx had presented the inexorable logic and inevitable results of this movement using the objective language of science, here its reality is refracted through the artistic prism in a realistic representation of the world of its actors, the leaders of modern capitalism.

Gavras is undoubtedly not only an extremely gifted, but, in the best sense of the word, a militant filmmaker whose entire work contributes positively to the understanding of the conflicts and meaning of our times. In “Le Capital” we can see though the climax of his creativity. Having started from uncovering authoritarianism, anti-democratic aberrations and conspiracies of the holders of power, the engagement of the state with para-state apparatuses, etc. in films like “Z” and “Missing”, he ends up here capturing and reconstructing the molecular processes of capitalism which inevitably generate these results. A look at the occasion and history of the film, as recounted recently by the director himself in an interview he gave to the Greek newspaper Vima, will better clarify his intentions and motives.

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