This is a time of great confusion, fear and political disarray. People around the world, including Americans afflicted by a Trump presidency, are looking for new types of democratic strategies for social justice and basic effectiveness. The imploding neoliberal system with its veneer of democratic values is clearly inadequate in an age of globalized capital.
Fortunately, one important historical episode illuminates the political challenges we face quite vividly: the protracted struggle by the Greek left coalition party SYRIZA to renegotiate its debt with European creditors and allied governments. SYRIZA’s goal was to reconstruct a society decimated by years of austerity policies, investor looting of public assets, and social disintegration. The Troika won that epic struggle, of course, and SYRIZA, the democratically elected Greek government, accepted the draconian non-solution imposed by creditors. Creditors and European neoliberals sent a clear signal: financial capital will brutally override the democratic will of a nation.
Since the Greek experience with neoliberal coercion is arguably a taste of what is in store for the rest of the world, including the United States, it is worth looking more closely at the SYRIZA experience and what it may mean for transformational politics more generally. What is the significance of SYRIZA’s failure? What does that suggest about the deficiencies of progressive politics? What new types of approaches may be needed?
Below, I excerpt a number of passages from an excellent but lengthy interview with Andreas Karitzis, a former SYRIZA spokesman and member of its Central Committee. In his talk with freelance writer George Souvlis published in LeftEast, a political website, Karitzis offers some extremely astute insights into the Greek left’s struggles to throw off the yoke of neoliberal capitalism and debt peonage. Karitzis makes a persuasive case for building new types of social practices, political identities and institutions for “doing politics."
Karitzis nicely summarizes the basic problem:
We are now entering a transitional phase in which a new kind of despotism is emerging, combining the logic of financial competition and profit with pre-modern modes of brutal governance alongside pure, lethal violence and wars. On the other hand, for the first time in our evolutionary history we have huge reserves of embodied capacities, a vast array of rapidly developing technologies, and values from different cultures within our immediate reach. We are living in extreme times of unprecedented potentialities as well as dangers. We have a duty which is broader and bolder than we let ourselves realize.
But, we haven’t yet found the ways to reconfigure the “we” to really include everyone we need to fight this battle. The “we” we need cannot be squeezed into identities taken from the past – from the “end of history” era of naivety and laziness in which the only thing individuals were willing to give were singular moments of participation. Neither can the range of our duty be fully captured anymore by the traditional framing of various “anti-capitalisms”, since what we have to confront today touches existential depths regarding the construction of human societies. We must reframe who “we” are – and hence our individual political identities – in a way that coincides both with the today’s challenges and the potentialities to transcend the logic of capital. I prefer to explore a new “life-form” that will take on the responsibility of facing the deadlocks of our species, instead of reproducing political identities, mentalities and structural deadlocks that intensify them.