Talk delivered at GCAS Conference in Athens on the 18th of July 2015
First of all, I would like to apologize to you for not being prepared appropriately. The recent defeat of democracy at the negotiation process created political turmoil inside SYRIZA and the government that prevented me from focusing with the necessary attention on today’s presentation.
So, I am going to present some thoughts based on my recent experience from the political and social process here in Greece, keeping at the same time a global view.
The general idea is that the traditional political imagination and methodology prevent the existing social and political collective agents fighting for emancipation and liberation from being truly effective or at least well-adapted to the new social and political conditions in order to be able to respond adequately to the current level of aggresiveness of the elites and to the tremendous challenges humankind faces today.
- First point: we need to believe again, we must restore our faith.
For the first time in our evolutionary history, humankind as a whole has a common history and, hence, a common fate. And yet, human societies seem indifferent; humans keep doing things as usual, even though we have become sensitive in strange ways to the emergency that lies around us.
Why is this happening? We have been somehow convinced that the logic of competition and profit is actually efficient and effective. That somehow deadlocks and challenges will be resolved by letting the invisible hand, the markets, to do their thing. Even more, we are somehow convinced that the logic of capital that rules our culture and societies is the cause for everything good we are having today.
And I wonder, when are we going to stop admiring the perverted logic of competition and profit? It is as if the most successful colonization of the logic of capital took place in our imagination. Even marxists and people on the left are secretly fascinated by capital through the admiration of Marx’s work. When are we going to overcome the syndrome of inferiority, to escape from the seduction of our imagination?
Humans do things through many different logics. Humans are amazingly complex. Our societies achieved remarkable things not because of capital but despite the fact that this perverted logic was, and still is, dominant in our culture. And because of its dominance what we have achieved came at the cost of tremendous human pain and severe damages in our planet. We need to embrace deeply the fact that today, neoliberalism – the new and most ferocious manifestation of the logic of capital – is totally naked. Neither effective, nor desirable.
So, let’s put ourselves together. Let’s deeply appreciate the fact that manifesting the various logics of cooperation and democracy we are far stronger than we think, and that for the first time in our evolutionary history we have so many embodied capacities from different cultures within our reach. We must truly believe that our logic is profoundly better not only desirable, but better than the logic of capital, of the competition and profit, the logic of the markets.
- Second point: forget about post-war, political, social and institutional configuration and ways of doing politics.
It is true that in the current global context, things are pretty tight when it comes to the implementation of non-neoliberal policies. Especially in Europe, today’s neoliberal configuration is even more harsh towards other political orientations. It is designed in such a way that it discards without the need for political argumentation any attempt to follow an alternative economical and social path. I am talking about a vast network of regulations, norms and directives, a huge bureaucratic apparatus of processes and mechanisms that blocks implicitly any alternative. We are talking about the institutional instantiation of the famous phrase “TINA”.
So, is there any room for emancipatory politics? It depends. No, if we seek quick and easy ways to implement alternative policies. Ways that presuppose the respect of the democratic will of the people by the elites. Ways that will not disturb the naïve and comforting conception that we – as people – do not really need to engage profoundly into collective practices. Today, the only thing we – as people – are willing to give is singular moments of participation. The idea is that through demonstrating and voting we can somehow solve the urgent problems of our societies with orthodox means, through the state and governments that are sensitive to our demands.
I do not mean that representative democracy has no value. On the contrary I think that it is a crucial dimension of a mature society. But we often ask too much from it and its failure to deliver on our expectations generates a misguided devaluation. Neither do I mean that governments sensitive to people’s needs are not crucial factors in this battle. I am just stressing the fact that we must have a broader view of the agents and the processes needed if we want to change things.
Yes, if we are determined and systematic enough to work under the radars of the neoliberal configuration, inventive enough to formally coincide with it while at the same time we empower people against it and decisive enough not to give in to threats and blackmail.
In order to respond adequately in these suffocating conditions, new organizational
standards and methods are needed for the engagement of thousands of people in this day-to-day and multi-level fight. Negatively put, without the people with the knowledge needed, aligned into groups of collaboration and embedded in a vast network of democratic decision-making that produces policies of our own logic no government will be in a position to wage this battle.
But in order to engage in such a shift we must abandon the tendency that things will change easily and quick through the revival of the previous institutional and political configuration of post war liberal capitalism. We must finally confront the reality that neoliberals are “burning” the bridges with the past behind them.
- Third point: we are not fighting for our ideas. We are fighting for our survival. We do not choose where to fight. We are fighting everywhere.
Transforming the state and social practices beyond it are two crucial aspects of emancipatory politics. Although they are autonomous in the sense that they have their own temporalities, different organizational and methodological requirements etc they stand or fall together in the end.
There is no way to transform the state in a meaningful and durable way without strong interrelation with processes of expansion of alternative social practices, democratically organized productive units, respective non-commodified circuits of distribution, a different civic mentality etc. And alternatively, there is no way to promote seriously and in a non-marginal way alternative social practices – which are feeble and hard to sustain in a hostile environment – without the support, the protection or at least the concession by the state of free space in order to develop roots and size that allows a quasi-sustainable reproduction and expansion.
But, in politics choosing so to speak between the two is often a real question: in practice, we have limited resources at our disposal and we must allocate them according to the criterion of efficiency. Then the question is not whether we should work within the spheres of state power or not but what is the optimal allocation of resources and time between working within it and outside it. And secondly, in practice we are engaged in a brutal war and sometimes you must focus on seizing state power or other forms of power just to wrest them from the hands of your opponents. For example, in Greece, we couldn’t afford leaving state power to the neoliberals.
On the other hand, the present-day situation of the state and the intensity of the neoliberal attack on societies attribute an existential twist to the theoretical claim that we must work both within the state and outside it. A bundle of important policies and powers once belonged to the state has been tranfered either to external (european or domestic but “independent”) authorities or directly to the elites – in both cases out of the reach of the people. At the same time, a vast number of neoliberal regulations and norms governs the function of the state and sections of social life. These two conditions combined, render the governmental and state power not the political power but just one of the poles of such a power, shaping a hostile environment in which considerable effort is needed just to open some space for the implementation of different policy.
In other words, as I mentioned previously, state power – as it is traditionally conceived in isolation from the social movement and bureaucratic in nature – is not enough to wage the battle we are engaged in. We, more than ever, need the expansion of democracy and cooperation in social practices and new social institutions. We need social innovation for the empowerment of the people in new ways. The fate of a left government depends on our ability to build new social and institutional structures that it will empower the people. And the duty of a left government is not just to exercise the diminished power it has, but to function as facilitator for such an empowerment of the people to take place.
But such a duty requires a new political imagination that transcends the established view of being in the government. The traditional methodology dictates that people through demonstrating and voting express their demands and will and then the governemnt uses the state to respond to them. This is no longer viable even if we wanted to do it. Instead, we need a different conception of the state and a new model of leadership as well. Being in the government is a way to use the remaining resources of the state (by transforming them accordingly) to facilitate (by organizing efficient democratic decision making and productive processes) social agents to decide, plan, implement and monitor policies and projects of an alternative political orientation. And this is not a path that our ideology forces us to follow; there is no other way to implement a different policy today than to liberate and use the embodied capacities of the people.
- Fourth point: Spoiled teenagers cannot save humankind
We need to engage efficiently and profoundly in transforming the way of thinking ourselves and our lives. In the last decades in the western world at least, people were raised believing that a good life is essentially an individual achievement. Society and nature is just a background, a wallpaper for our egos, the contingent context in which our solitary selves will evolve pursuing individual goals. The individual owes nothing to no one, she lacks a sense of respect and responsibility to the previous or the next generations, and indifference is the proper attitude regarding the present social problems and conditions. There is no way to achieve our goals, saving the planet, transforming the economy, coping with social problems and modern challenges etc without transforming the spoiled teenager-like modern subjectivity into a mature grown-up subjectivity ready to bear the responsibility and duty of taking on the difficult and demanding task that history dictate.
- Fifth point: Don’t try to change the people; give people the means to change the world
People don’t like being the passive objects of change. They possess the human need to be the agents of change. People do not have to be trained in democracy because they should, or because that’s the goal and the belief of a political power. People should not be viewed as the raw material that must be transformed according to some plan. Instead, we need a narrative that frames our current situation and a goal that will inspire people to make it their own. Through the struggle to achieve this goal people will be transformed and developed fully. The expansion of a democratic mentality and culture will be a side effect of this process. In the same way exploitation and repression is not the explicit goal but it is always the unquestioned way of achieving a goal. Democracy must be the self-evident choice of doing things, a means of generating real social value and quality of life; not merely an ideological persuasion.
- Sixth point: Make our logic trendy and individual preference.
Humans tend to identify with what they know best. It is a way of self-determination, a way to think of ourselves in a favourable light. Generative Democracy – a democracy that engages and enhances people’s capacities through co-operation is preferable because it respects and liberates people’s capacities – the same capacities that people tend to be proud of. It is of vital importance to reclaim the sense of self-esteem and personal fulfillment from the corporate fantasy that now rules our culture. A democracy that is seen and promoted along these lines can have a transformative impact at this fundamental level.
- Seventh point: By focusing on our opponents and their doings we reinforce their dominance.
We are analyzing, monitoring, explaining etc of what the opponents are doing, what is their strategy, what kind of techniques they use etc and that’s something extremely useful. However, we need to think how are we going to face today’s challenges and problems according to our logic. The modern world is declining fast and at the same time we have never before been in a position with so many potentials. It’s not only a matter of seizing the power, it’s a matter of identifying the deep reasons for such a decline and engage in a process of transformation based on the existing potentials.
We must develop a conception of ruling the world differently, of actually situating the every day activities in a different framework. We often tend to believe that getting rid of the opponents means that somehow the problems caused by them and the new challenges we are facing will be disappeared. It is true that it is extremely important to get rid of these guys, the neoloberals; however, neolibealism is deeply entrenched in social practices and the state, things are moving this way by themselves so to speak.
We must put them in different tracks, we must develop ideas and ways of connecting existing social components in a different way. And in order to do it, we must think without our opponents on sight. And actually, there are lots of good practices, social innovations etc that actually point towards a mature society. If we think this way we will realize that we are actually more stronger than we think. We must combine the existing elements effectively, incorporate them in a unified – but not one-dimensional – conceptual and organizational framework. If we launch such a project then we will gradually acquire the necessary self-confidence to rule the world, and I strongly believe that this is the most crucial part in actually doing it. If we start really believing that we can do it then the fall of neoliberalism would be a matter of time.