Papandreou Co-Opted “Revolution” – Now, the Greek People Must Reclaim It

Papandreou Co-Opted Revolution - Now the Greek People Must Reclaim It

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou. (Photo: Prime Minister of Greece / Flickr)

Little did the Greek people know when “socialist” prime minister George Papandreou, back in June 2010, in one of his notorious speeches proclaimed the “revolution of the self-evident,”[1] that he was creating a new semantic field both for what is considered “revolutionary” and for “self-evidence.”

Fifteen months later, Greek society and the entire world witness a tour de force in the theater of the political absurd, where the only “self-evidence” is that Greece plays the leading role in an unprecedented financial and political experiment. But there's a spoiler: the lead role hero dies at the end of the play. In the Greek prime minister's dictionary, “revolution of the self-evident” means impunity for politicians, former ministers and other high-power public figures who have been involved in economic scandals and public money squandering, ongoing political corruption, increasing militarization of the country, total repression of dissent and criminalization of public space, welfare and protection for the rich, despair and “sacrifice” – as it is euphemistically called – for Greek working people, privatization of public services, the selling off of natural resources, and the “revolutionary” list goes on.

The tool for this new “revolution” is the politics of submission: Greece's submission to international markets, speculators and money sharks, Greeks' submission to new austerity measures in the name of progress, media submission to the official government line, the prime minister's cabinet's submission to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the European Central Bank (ECB), people's minds' submission to the “self-evident.”

Re-appropriating and distorting the word “revolution,” the government set the stage for the most neoliberal, antisocial and authoritarian policies the country has ever witnessed in its history (and Greece was under a colonels' dictatorship between 1967 and 1974). There is something to be said when the word “revolution” is used to signify the overthrow of democracy and the abolition of the constitution and of any justice principle.

Discursively, the “revolution of the self-evident” ushered in a new era. Antonio Gramsci would raise his eyebrows at such a glorious implementation of his “common sense” concept. The Greek government‘s regime of truth and its discourses are redefining what is “common good,” “public,” “country,” “progress,” and “sacrifice.”

How else can one explain that it is considered self-evident to make sacrifices and mortgage our people's future for the sake of optimizing capital accumulation and facilitating business interests? The language of common sense (or self-evidence, if you want) appears to be natural and works to justify policies, political decisions and practices that are largely designed to oppress, debase, stupidify and block dissent. The goal is for people to not only embrace this commonsensical, self-evident language, but, at the same time, to recreate and reproduce it along the same lines.

Beyond the discursive level, it has been a long, tormenting year of IMF/ECB occupation that emerged last May as the only solution for fiscal sustainability and “rescue” from national bankruptcy. Τhe government has not questioned the illegal and usurious debt that scourges the country and is largely the result of international financial gambling in the casino economy. In only one year, under the guidance of IMF officials, the ECB and the European Union – and adhering to unprecedented loan terms – the Greek social and welfare state has been collapsing through draconian cuts in wages and pensions, massive layoffs and the violation of vested rights, of labor laws and of collective bargaining rights.

The war on the public good has resulted in rampant unemployment, a hostage situation for many employees who have no alternative but to become “flexible labor,” enjoy the reduction of their income and the loss of their benefits, court national depression, and, of course, stagnation of any type of real economic growth and development, since the solutions imposed to satisfy creditors will not ever balance the budget or induce growth. IMF and ECB officials did not hesitate to dictate “changes” that directly violate the Greek constitution. International finance capital has an insider in Greece: the current “socialist” (in name only) government and a willing prime minister.

“It is an unprecedented adjustment, but it is feasible, and the government is committed to getting the job done,” reads the first memorandum of understanding, which clearly indicates that we have a government on a mission. The wholesale abdication of ideologies, politics and national assets to global capital is not only a symptom of a deep crisis of the political system, but a manifestation of a structural crisis of global capitalism. The unprecedented and extremely austere stipulations and regulations of the loan agreement and the memorandum of understanding essentially sell Greek national sovereignty to a foreign economic oligarchy, since, according to it, Greece “irrevocably and unconditionally waives all immunity to which it is or may become entitled, in respect of itself or its assets, from legal proceedings in relation to this Agreement, including, without limitation, immunity from suit, judgment or other order, from attachment, arrest or injunction prior to judgment, and from execution and enforcement against its assets to the extent not prohibited by mandatory law.”[2]

The state switches from a state of social welfare to become a garrison state and guarantor of private – and largely, foreign – interests. This is a reduced state in terms of the civilizing and welfare functions and social provisions, a largely antisocial state that functions as crisis manager, provides symptomatic “solutions” only, has no long-term social vision and exercises ephemeral politics. In this sense, the state asserts its role as “the hand-maiden for the global economy”[3] only. Accordingly, “society is no longer adequately protected by the state; it is now exposed to the rapacity of forces the state does not control and no longer hopes or intends to recapture and subdue- not singly, not even in combination with several other similarly hapless states”[4] where states have, more and more, acquiesced power to global corporations within the designs of neoliberalism.

What we have in place is another example of what Henry Giroux calls “proto-fascism.”[5] In his account, fascism as a mass movement that emerges out of a failed democracy and as a social order, “resides in the lived relations of a given social order and the ways in which such relations exacerbate the material conditions of inequality, undercut a sense of individual and social agency, hijack democratic values, and promote a deep sense of hopelessness and cynicism.” Giroux opts for the term “proto-fascism” not only because it provides a more nuanced account of the phenomenon, but also because, “in many cases it reveals a deliberate attempt to make fascism relevant in new conditions.”[6] Characteristic features of the proto-fascist state can be easily identified in the Greek case, and I will discuss them in detail below.

Disappearing public space is a central feature of Greek proto-fascism. For global capital and finance, the beast that needs to be gutted is called “public.” Everything public. Public space here is understood both materially and discursively. It includes places, resources and services that historically belong to the people, but also the immaterial and symbolic space where alternative voices can emerge, where democracy can be direct, where debate can blossom. The privatization program of a neocolonial type currently under implementation has converted Greece into a marketable commodity for sale, from public utilities (water, electricity), to transportation (ports, airports, trains), to public education and research, to national land, coastline and assets, including monuments. Large areas are now sold off to private capital, with no stipulations or restrictions as to how their exploitation could return some revenue or benefit to the Greek people.

On the contrary, successful profit-making public companies such as OTE, the Greek telecommunications giant, are priced at the very minimum and sold for nothing to foreign companies. At the same time, public space disappears through criminalization of dissent and protest. The concept of the city as a public site is redefined. Through police force, the government is reclaiming the major squares from the protest movements, while labeling protesters as low-life criminals, junkies and troublemakers, stripping them from their political agenda. Squares around Greece, which, early this spring, became new agoras for debate, dialogue and direct democracy, are primary targets of the “revolution of the self-evident.” It is self-evident that the government's “revolution” wants no resistance from the people.

This takes us to another characteristic of proto-fascism: militarization. The repressive state apparatus is exhausting its force and unleashing its brutality on youth, women, pensioners and working people protesting in the streets of Athens and other cities. The presence of police forces in the streets of Athens on a daily basis brings to mind dark times of Greek history when the country was under cruel dictatorship. Amid daily new scenarios involving default, restructuring the debt, exiting the eurozone, return to the national currency and general speculation about the future that makes Greeks more and more insecure and desperate, material and symbolic violence are taken to a new level.

Alongside symbolic violence manifested in economic, political and discursive form, there are very real human consequences, but also an intensified move towards militarization and authoritarianism. In an unprecedented show of state violence and power, the Greek police brutally attacked protesters demonstrating on general strike days in May. In the course of only one day, they used over 3,000 tear gas bombs. Many protesters ended up in hospitals with respiratory problems or other severe injuries caused by police. The repressive apparatuses took central stage on an ideological and material level again – reminding us that fascism never really dies as long as peaceful protest is criminalized. Under the auspices of neoliberal ideology that divests the state of any responsibility for social provisions (as evidenced in the degradation of the welfare state and cutbacks for working people), the weakened social and welfare state resorts more and more to material and symbolic violence, including increased militarization, exponential increases in the police forces and the omnipresence of police.
New “rampant nationalism and a selective populism bolstered by the relationship between the construction of an ongoing culture of fear and a form of patriotic correctness”[7] is another characteristic of Greek proto-fascism. In these dark times, we witness more and more incidents of racist violence against immigrants in Athens and other Greek cities. At the same time, ultraright nationalist parties gain new ground, and pseudopopulist discourse is taken to new heights as immigrants are blamed for the economic situation.

No proto-fascist state could work without the special services of the mass media through “government regulation, consolidated corporate ownership, or sympathetic media moguls and spokespersons.” The Greek government has been particularly successful in this endeavor. All mainstream media are docile servants and beneficiaries of the government.

Finally, there is an interesting “rise of the language of eternal fascism that diminishes people's capacity to think critically.” Through the adoption of an “economese” discourse, markets are now faceless entities that nonetheless have claims, requirements, demands, insight and say in our national politics. They “restore” or “gain confidence.” There is a “deterioration of market sentiment” (who knew markets had feelings!). However, as development economist Colin Leys states, “contrary to the impression given by neoliberal ideology and neoclassical economics textbooks, markets are not impersonal or impartial, but highly political.”[8]

Markets are systems of rules and regulations that are linked in complex ways to other markets, and they are embedded, directly or indirectly, in a vast range of other social relations that are inherently unstable. More important here is to make the linkages between economic events and human consequences because there is a clear dichotomy in neoliberal ideologies between economics and policies. In other words, neoliberalism presents itself as an economic doctrine that professes free markets, deregulation, and freedom from government restrictions and trade controls, but elides the social costs of implementing such an economic order. This neglect has given rise to alarming poverty indices, a pandemic of financial crises and the erasure of the social state. How do markets “feel” about social costs? French sociologist-philosopher Pierre Bourdieu notes that, “All the critical forces in society need to insist on the inclusion of the social costs of economic decisions in economic calculations. What will this or that policy cost in the long term in lost jobs, suffering, sickness, suicide, alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, etc., all things which cost a great deal, in money, but also in misery?”[9] Clearly, “neoliberalism provides a unique set of conditions for both producing and legitimating the central tendencies of proto-fascism.”[10]

The elements of proto-fascism discussed above create the mosaic of a state that, instead of mitigating fears, agonies and diffuse anxieties, increasingly removes power from politics and invests it in transnational capital movement, a militarized economy and repressive apparatuses (army, police, prisons). We live in revolutionary times, however, not in the way the Greek prime minister has implied. This is not how Greeks had imagined revolutionary times – that is, dragging the country to a “helping” or “support” mechanism (note the euphemism here), often called an “adjustment program for the economy” that aims only at ceding our national sovereignty.

Opposing the prime minister's proposition (imposition) for the “revolution of the self-evident,” it is about time that we articulate the self-evidence of the revolution. We cannot negotiate with the rationality of the irrational, and the clock is ticking. The ongoing mobilization of the Greek people shows that, in terms of organization, resolve, consistency and insistence, a popular movement – a movement that sees no other way but the self-evidence of the revolution – is growing stronger and stronger.

Notes

1. George Papandreou’s speech in the Conference of the World Council of Cretans, Agios Nikolaos Creta, 7/30/2010.

2. Loan Facility Agreement, Governing and Jurisdiction, 14 (5), 5/3/2010

3. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Fear. (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2006), p.134.

4. Ibid, p. 147.

5. Henry Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism Politics Beyond the Age of Greed. (Boulder, Colo.: Paradigm Publishers, 2008). pp. 21–22, 24

6. Ibid, p. 19

7. Ibid, pp. 21-22

8. Colin Leys, Market driven politics: neoliberal democracy and the public interest, (London: Verso, 2001), p. 3

9. Pierre Bourdieu, Acts of resistance: against the tyranny of the market, (The New Press, New York, 1999), p. 40

10. Giroux 2008, p. 21