#oxi2015 – Greek Lessons


At this moment it certainly appears, it certainly feels, that everything hangs on what happens in Greece. But it is almost impossible to tell from this distance what is actually going on. Those of us who have never been to Greece, who can’t speak Greek don’t have a clue. Even those of us who are reading obsessively are seeing some things but we are missing most things. The fractured nature of the Left (for a lack of a better term) means that there is a tendency to try to seek out those in Greece who fit with our already existing ideological proclivities and amplify what they say. There is also the constant problem, one I don’t think I can escape, that our already existing biases means that we see what we want to see and learn lessons that we already know. And nothing is more foolish or full of hubris than those non-Greek Left organisations issuing statements, judgements and handing down the correct line from a distance – especially because these groups often have no to marginal influence in the places they actually exist.

But that all said something is happening and it behoves us to look at the struggle as it unfolds in all its complexity and see if there are lessons to be learnt.

1. Overcoming capitalism is really really difficult

It seems that revolution is much harder than we had hoped. Capitalism is much harder to defeat than we wanted. And this is because capitalism isn’t simply a thing out there or a class to defeat but it is a set of social relationships that structures our lives and over-determines our realities. The Greeks like us are deep in capitalism. The crisis has plunged people into misery but that has not loosened its bonds. Capitalism constitutes so much of our connection with each other and the world. People are obviously pretty attached to capitalism because it is inseparable from their lives. Overcoming capitalism means creating totally other ways of living. That is really hard. And this difficulty makes everything more difficult.

Not only that capitalism moves to its own dynamics and its own logics that shape what we can do. It forms an integrated system – fucking with one bit ripples out and unsettles others. Trying to change capitalism can make our experience of it worse.

This means increased struggle not only confronts the state, and capitalists proper and the various apparatus of control but creates real splits in the population on a whole– which opens the possibility to civil war and defeat, repression and hopelessness.

2. Nobody really knows what to do

There seems to be two approaches unfolding in Greece: the first focused on reinventing participatory democracy in the Squares; the latter a radical social democratic electoral approach. Both have hit limits that they are struggling to overcome. Of course there are a grab-bag of other ideas and theoretical anticapitalist traditions but their relevance isn’t so obvious. There isn’t a viable model of how we can address our condition and get out of it.

3. The nation-state isn’t that powerful

What Syriza is experiencing is that the nation-state is caught in a much larger web – made up of other states, supranational institutes and capital markets. As the primary organisation for the reproduction of capitalist society it is subordinated to this web and an integrated part of it.

4. Misery immiserates

The old fable that worsening conditions produce increased social struggle needs to be balanced by the  sober reality that the experience of misery works to destroy people’s hopes, to lower expectations and normalise feelings of defeat. The transformation of society is premised on the ability of people to imagine a better life as viable and possible.

5. Producing use-values in common is probably a good idea

The attempts to develop ‘solidarity economies’ are of vital importance to sustain people’s lives. These can’t be dismissed as simple utopian or lifestylist. Rather as the mechanisms of capital go into cardiac arrest such practical experiments in the common are more important than ever in helping people get through and also function as a model of alternative possibilities.

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