Methodology for a New Politics: Changing the «Operating System» of the Left
The last eight months I am no longer a member of a left party leadership which it was my political identity for more than 10 years.
I currently work for a “funding and development” consulting firm where methodological and managerial questions arise, similar to those I was very much concerned with by the time SYRIZA was approaching government power.
In a corporate environment and driven by the logic of competition and profit people are trying to answer these questions.
In the Left we are under another kind of pressure. We are sensing that our societies are in decline, that humankind approaches a critical point where long-term and short-term tendencies accumulate and novel elements shake our institutional framework and challenge our default cognitive maps.
So, we should be more alert in answering them. We should be more determined in order to be operationally capable to meet the requirements of today’s demands.
But we are not.
My talk today will try to reinforce the determination needed, for the emergence of a Left back in action. These are the sections of the talk and I hope we will have the time go through them all today.
By the time the Soviet Union was falling apart I was becoming a leftist.
It was a choice of deep, personal connection with those humans who fought, fight and will keep fighting for a better world, exemplifying the best qualities of our species.
Additionally, being raised in a poor, working-class family – living together with my illiterate grand-parents – I had from early on a sense of gratitude: the local and global balance of forces that happened to exist when I was a child gave me access to a decent education.
Access which was not available to my grandparents and may again not be there for my grandchildren.
I could see that I owed this precious opportunity to millions of people who devoted their lives, suffered and died in all over the world for equality and freedom.
This sense of gratitude and hence the respective deep respect for them defined my acquired capacities ever since as my own contribution in the collective effort for a better world, mainly through my direct political action.
These capacities do not belong strictly to me; they are not products only of my personal efforts and individual abilities; it’s a combined, collective result centered on me.
I have a major role in this, which gives me enough self-recognition, but also being the bearer of a precious collective investment means that I should treat it with wisdom that balances my narcissistic needs.
So, using the investment in a narrow, selfish way as a means for individual social ascent would be disrespectful towards the previous generations and irresponsible towards present and future generations.
The way I saw it back then was that despite the ominous days that were seemingly ahead of us in the early 90’s, there was only one choice: to take my position in this chain of fighting humans and engage in the battle.
From this moment on, there was no time to whine and be disappointed; when you are in the battlefield all you care about is what is helpful to your cause.
Why I am saying all these? Because the same train of thought is keeping me functional and psychologically stable during the last difficult months after the Greek defeat of last summer.
The respect and gratitude for the past generations is also my personal link with Phyllis Clark.
I had’t heard of her before being invited here, but I am betting that she was one of those marvelous women-fighters of the 20th century.
Like her Greek sisters so to speak. Those who were born around 1924, who in the age of 17 joined the Greek resistance against the Nazis, fought in the civil war and after the defeat by the age of 25 they experienced exile and imprisonment. But at the age of 34 and despite the terror, they managed to make the Left the major opposition party in 1958. In 1967, at 43, the military coup launched a new circle of brutal oppression for them; again exile, prison and torture. From an island in exile they must have heard about the youth revolt of Polytexneio in 1973.
And then again through the ranks of Greek left parties they were there, fighting, entering the last quarter of the 20th century. By the time that Phyllis died, it was my turn to join her and her Greek sisters in this long chain of fighters and after so many years I am here today to speak celebrating her memory. With the opportunity you give me today I would like to say to Phyllis and her sisters that we are all grateful for your devotion and determination. Now it’s our turn and we promise that we will do whatever we can to be your worthy successors. Now, let’s move on to our subject.
1. Rising up from the ruins
The impact of the strategic defeat of last year is still very strongly shaping various reactions within the Greek Left. Some people seem content with superficial explanations of what happened and return to habitual ways of thinking and acting; others sense the strategic depth of the defeat and turn inwards to disappointment and demoralization.
Still others are trying to learn from the “SYRIZA experience” in order to make themselves more useful to people in the future. All of us sense the dangers in front of us but we are far from having a common and feasible strategy.
The “SYRIZA experience” provides us with valuable insights for the deficiencies and the respective upgrade we need to make in order to meet the requirements of today’s antagonisms. It seems that the strategy of building social alliances in terms of representing beliefs and demands at the political level is not enough to stop the neoliberal transformation and pave the way for the restoration of democracy and popular sovereignty.
If this is our current predicament, then the urgent question is to set up a new conceptual framework of doing politics both within the state and outside of it which is relevant to the current situation.
In a situation like ours, political priorities change and ‘novel’ tasks emerge.
For example, people far beyond those affiliated with the traditional left are scattered and in disarray, but also full of energy, determination and skills.
What should they do given the fact that they are sensing that traditional political action is not enough?
Another urgent task is to transmit the ‘SYRIZA experience’ abroad, facilitating the Left in other countries to initiate timely a process of systematic preparation and adaptation.
But, we should be aware that ‘novel’ tasks require a different mentality and qualities from the ones we used to deploying through traditional political action.
2. The clock is ticking
I will begin by outlining
one of the premises that shaped the strategy of SYRIZA, the major shifts of power assemblies in Europe and their political implications in the case of Greece, the current mode of functioning of the Greek political system after the agreement and the implications of SYRIZA’s choice for our thinking.
The major conclusion is that the traditional Left methodology and practice is not sufficient to meet the requirements of today’s antagonisms.
2.1. The time lag of the Left
The “SYRIZA experience” reveals several crucial structural weaknesses of the Left due to a time lag, or inability of adaptation to the new conditions of doing politics in the institutionalized neoliberal framework of the EU and the Eurozone.
The Left in western societies of a robust democratic constitution has been trained to do politics under the assumption that the elites are committed to accept the democratically shaped mandate of an elected government.
If they do not like the policies that it promotes, they have to engage in a political fight; opposition parties must convince the people that the policies are not desirable nor successful and use the democratic processes for a new government of their preference to be elected. This is democracy 101.
Of course there was always the possibility of a military coup in the cases where a radical readjustment of the balance of power was necessary.
The post-war global balance of forces inscribed in the state institutions a considerable amount of popular power, rendering them quasi-democratic.
This consists simply in tolerating a situation where people without considerable economic power have access to crucial decisions.
Of course, the quality and the range of this access was a central issue of class struggle.
The elites were obliged to fight according to the rules (or at least to appear to do so) and at the same time they were working deliberately to diffuse this kind of institutional configuration that was contaminated by popular power.
In the last decades (non-accidentally after the fall of Soviet Union) they made decisive steps towards diffusing this power and hence limiting the ability of the popular classes to influence crucial decisions.
The elites are no longer committed to the post-war democratic rules of political and social fight.
Today the elites feel confident enough to openly defy democracy. Democracy is not taboo anymore.
SYRIZA’s strategic premise was that the institutionalized (in the past) popular power was not exhausted.
By winning the elections, the remaining institutional power would be enough and it would be used to stop austerity.
Based on the premise that the framework in which politics is being performed hasn’t changed significantly, SYRIZA did what the traditional way of doing politics dictates: supported social movements, built alliances, won a majority in the parliament, formed a government.
We all know the results of such a strategy now. The real outcome was totally different. There was virtually no change of policy.
2.2. Forget it people!
During the last three decades, crucial transformations have been taking place in the power assembly at a global and European scale.
The state – by being the institution of power par excellence – was the site of fundamental changes, modifications and developments towards the institutionalization of the neoliberal order.
Due to the emergence of the neoliberal structure of the EU and the Eurozone, a bundle of important policies and powers that once belonged to the state has been transferred either to external authorities or directly to the elites – in both cases out of the reach of the people.
At the same time, a vast array of neoliberal regulations and norms govern the function of the state.
In the EU and the Eurozone today, people’s democratic will has been successfully limited.
The elected government is no longer the major bearer of political power, but a minor one.
In the case of Greece, democratically electing a government is like electing a (very) junior partner in a wider government in which the lenders are the major partners.
The junior partner is not allowed to intervene and disturb the decisions and the policies implemented on crucial economic and social issues (fiscal policy, banks, privatizations, pensions etc).
If it does intervene and demand a say on these issues then the people who appointed it are going to suffer the consequences of daring to defy the elites’ privilege of exclusive access to these kinds of decisions.
The elites – by extracting important powers and decisions on crucial issues from the democratically structured institutions of the bourgeois state – have managed to gain total and unchecked control over the basic functions of the society.
It is up to their anti-democratic institutions to decide whether a society will have a functional banking system and sufficient liquidity to run basic services or not.
It is evident today that the EU is an openly anti-democratic institutional structure. The Left must embrace the traumatic reality: In Europe a new kind of despotism is fast emerging, combining the logic of competition and profit with pre-modern types of institutions.
2.3. The “Squeeze Effect”
The institutionalization of neoliberal order, i.e.
– the successful excision of key funding and liquidity functions from the state,
– the respective concentration of power into anti-democratic institutions and
– the subsequent control over vital functions of Greek society,
– have created a perplexing and hazardous socio-political conjecture.
The political system has crossed a critical threshold, entering a mode of functioning which could be described as the “Squeeze Effect”: the national political spectrum has been squeezed and forced to function within the nearly non-existent space of freedom that the agreement allows.
The political spectrum has been pushed in a tiny space, it seems irrelevant to the crucial economic and social issues, struggling to fit its different poles into a space so tiny that these poles eventually overlap and poke through each other.
The “Squeeze Effect” has highly deforming and tampering implications that further erode the function of political representation.
We could say that before the neoliberal consensus of the 90’s there was a quasi-democratic political functioning subject to military coups.
Then, the right-wing and social-democratic parties adopted neoliberalism as political programme, decisively downgrading the function of political representation.
And now we are in the phase of institutionalized neoliberalism in which a new circle of political deformation has been launched; a circle that reflects the advanced degree of institutionalization of the anti-democratic neoliberal mode of governmentality in Europe.
Because of the “Squeeze Effect”, the political system is explicitly incoherent, amplifying the confusion and the feeling of despair within Greek society.
Moreover, the “Squeeze Effect” renders the political personnel sterile regarding the real life conditions of the population and entirely impenetrable to the people’s deadlocks and anxiety.
The negative social consequences and psychic implications caused by austerity and social decline cannot anymore be reflected at the political level, they cannot be represented, democratically expressed, and hopefully positively transformed in such a way that contributes to social stability and cohesion.
Without a minimally proper function of political representation in place, these social and psychic wounds – in the form of negative and (self-) destructive dispositions – are spread across all social networks of interpersonal relations shaking social cohesion in a deeper way.
If we add the waves of refugees that will be trapped in Greece – especially the complex and contradictory ways in which their drama is reflected on the abused psychic economy of the Greek population – and add also the fear of increased geopolitical instability in the region, then suffocating conditions that can – following a random incident – lead to an explosion will prevail in Greek society, reaching crucial existential depths.
2.4. Mind the gap
SYRIZA was the last gatekeeper of the political functioning through its non-compliance with the financial despotism that the Troika represents.
That was SYRIZA’s most precious role over the previous years that contained the Greek society from a deep decline. The implosion of the political system – via SYRIZA’S choice to remain in power – is the key factor in shaking social cohesion in a deeper way today.
However, focusing on SYRIZA’s choice, there is a danger of underestimating the strategic defeat that we all suffered in 2015, hiding from ourselves the extent of our current impotence as regards any serious challenge to financial despotism.
We must dare to perform an extensive reassessment of our methodology and tools if we want to be relevant in these new conditions.
And to do so, we should not preoccupy ourselves with what SYRIZA did and comfort ourselves that this is the source of our problems.
The choice SYRIZA made is, among other things, a symptom of the deeper, structural weaknesses of the Left.
3. Prepare for landing
I am going now to present two claims that lay the ground for what I call “redesigning the “OS” of the Left:
a) in order to meet the requirements of today’s antagonisms we need to obtain a degree of autonomy in terms of performing basic social functions under the people’s control, and
b) in order to create the popular power needed for the required degree of autonomy we must shift the balance between representing people’s demands and facilitating/organizing people’s activities in the profile of the Left.
3.1. Flawed design
We saw that the popular power once inscribed in the traditional institutional configuration is seriously depleted, if not exhausted.
We do not have enough power to make the elites accept and tolerate our participation in crucial decisions.
The amount of power we can reach through the traditional political practice is not enough to pave the way for the restoration of democracy and popular sovereignty in Europe.
But in order to overcome our impotence to challenge financial despotism in Europe, we must avoid an unproductive oscillation: every time a state-oriented Left strategy fails, a movement-oriented strategy will prevail and vice versa.
We can always blame for our impotence either the choice of intervening in the state institutions or the choice of abstaining from it.
Our strategies implicitly presuppose that doing politics in both cases is given. But here in lies a deeper issue that needs to be addressed: our know-how of doing politics is seriously outdated, undermining all our strategies from the very beginning.
In other words, there is the danger of constant oscillation between strategies that have no chance of succeeding because of flaws in their design.
Instead, what we need is a dauntless process to set up a new conceptual and organizational framework of doing politics both within the state and outside of it, which is relevant to the current situation.
If we look at the horizon of the political practice of the Left we will see that it contains movement-oriented and state-oriented approaches: organizing movements, demonstrating and fighting in the streets pushing demands to the state and voting, trying to change the balance of forces at the parliamentary level and hopefully form a government of the state.
If we look closely we will notice that both of these approaches – and, thus, the entire horizon of our political practice – are mostly shaped around the traditional institutional framework of representative democracy that situates the state at the center of political power.
But we know that the elites have already shifted the center of gravity of political power towards anti-democratic institutions and repositioned the state within the institutional neoliberal European order.
The elites have managed to gain total and unchecked control over the basic functions of society.
In order to be in a position to pursue or implement any kind of policy one may consider as being the right one we need to create a degree of autonomy in terms of performing basic social functions. Without it we will not be able to confront the hostile actions of the elites and their willingness to inflict pain on a society that dares to defy their privilege over crucial decisions.
3.2. Expand the solution space
If the ground of the battle has shifted, undermining our strategy, then it’s not enough to be more competent on the shaky battleground; actually SYRIZA did quite well in this respect over the previous years. We need to reshape the ground.
And to do that we have to expand the solution space.
One way to expand the solution space is by shifting priorities: from political representation to building popular power.
We must modify the balance between representing people’s beliefs and demands and coordinating, facilitating, connecting, supporting and nurturing people’s actions in the profile of the Left.
Instead of being mainly the political representative of the popular classes in a European framework designed to be intolerant to people’s needs, we must set up an autonomous Network of production of Economic and Social Power (NESP).
A network of resilient, dynamic and interrelated circuits of co-operative productive units, alternative financial tools, local cells of self-governance, community control over infrastructure facilities, digital data, energy systems, distribution networks etc. These are ways of gaining a degree of autonomy necessary to defy the despotic control of the elites over society.
Is this feasible? My hypothesis is that literally every day the human activity – both intellectual and practical – is producing experiences, know-how, criteria and methods, innovations etc. that inherently contradict the parasitic logic of profit and financial competition. Moreover, for the first time in our evolutionary history we have so many embodied capacities and values from different cultures within our reach.
Of course we are talking about elements that may not be developed sufficiently yet.
Elements that may have been nurtured in mainstream contexts and that are often functionally connected to the standard economic circuit.
However, the support of their further development, their gradual absorption in an alternative, coherent paradigm governed by a different logic and values, and finally their functional articulation in alternative patterns of performing the basic functions of our societies is just a short description of the duty of a Left that has a clear, systematic and strategically wide orientation.
In the worst case, we will achieve some degree of resilience; people will be more empowered to defend themselves and hold their ground. In the best case, we will be able to regain the hegemony needed: people could mobilize positively, creatively and massively, decidedly reclaiming their autonomy.
Here I would like to take a few minutes to present an example of why I think we should modify many of our implicitly inherited collective qualities.
Our collective political imagination prevents us from examining recent developments in many areas with a positive attitude.
A capitalist society is a society in which the logic of capital is dominant. However, this claim does not imply that there is nothing more than the logic of capital in everything humans are doing.
But our collective imagination makes this slip. Our organizations are indifferent and even hostile to what humans achieve in a capitalist society, misinterpreting their efforts as stemming solely from the logic of capital.
If we look closely we will realize that human activity is amazingly complex, humans deploy – especially today – many different logics trying to solve plenty of problems exploring innovative ways, tools and methods.
The level of our evolution in all areas of human activity is the current state of the art and the existing ground for any future society. It is utterly self-defeating to fight for social change ignoring the state of the art – the best results of human activity – of the very same society we want to change.
I would like to end this section by highlighting the fact that the signs of collapse of the standard economic circuit are obvious in Greece but not only there.
There is a growing exclusion of people from the economic circuit—having a job or a bank account, having a “normal life”. Modern society in general is in decline and from history we know that societies in decline tend to react in order to survive.
It is up to us to grasp this and start building networks that can perform basic social functions in a different way—one that is democratic, decentralized and based on the liberation of people’s capacities.
This would allow society to survive, especially people who are being excluded today and could also kickstart a transition towards a better and more mature society.
And since there are no empty spaces in history, if we do not do this, nationalists, religious fanatics and fascists – with their own inhuman and militarized ways of performing these basic functions – may step in to conclude the decline.
4. Redesigning the “Operating System” of the Left
I argued above that today we need a different balance between representing demands and building popular power (in terms of controlling basic social functions), if we want to seriously face our current impotence to counter financial despotism.
However, a better balance in favor of the – often neglected and taken for granted – aspect of building popular power is a necessary but not a sufficient condition.
We do not just need more resources and time spent on building popular power.
Political parties, supposedly, are the collective organisms that play major role in performing a set of fundamental functions: building popular power (as a social organizer), condensing it into political power (through political representation) and exercising power (as an agent of transformation).
But, the current performance of the Left regarding all these functions is very low and it does not meet the requirements of today’s political and social antagonisms.
So, changing the balance in favor of the function of building popular power is just a crucial starting point that must lead to radical modifications of our ways of doing politics.
We need to upgrade all aspects of our political practice by modifying our political imagination, methodologies and organizational principles.
In other words, we must redesign the “Operating System” of the Left.
4.1. Building power
It is clear that we must create new popular power if we want to bring substantial change or become resilient instead of just handling the remaining – seriously depleted if not already exhausted – popular power inscribed in the traditional institutions.
The question is what it means to do politics in order to produce popular power without presupposing the traditional democratic functioning and in order to restore it by newly transforming it?
From my experience, when people in the Left contemplate and talk about what are we doing, how are we aligning our forces, how are we functioning etc., they tend to agree with the claim that we need to be more innovative, better adapted and more efficient.
But when the very same people actually do politics they reproduce priorities, mental images, methods and organizational habits that they already know are not sufficient or adequate anymore.
This means that there are implicit, deep-rooted norms that shape crucially the range of our collective actions, rhetoric, decisions and eventually strategy.
It’s not important what we think, it’s what we know how to do that matters.
And the latter is a product of our collective imagination, methodology and organizational principles.
The constitution and expansion of a dynamic and resilient network of production of economic and social power under people’s control requires creative and managerial qualities relevant to the current, highly diversified and rapidly changing social field. Moreover, the functional articulation of elements of the network in alternative patterns of performing vital functions of society requires integrated circuits, a high degree of coordination and many other qualities.
Constituting and expanding such a network includes the need for building relevant institutions and organizations.
Our opponents have already spotted the shifting nature of the battlefield and they have already moved to new unclassified ways of organizing and acting.
They develop new kinds of institutions that mostly incorporate values and methods of our own logic and are compatible with the new emerging environment of fast flows of information, digital frameworks of action and production etc.
They also explore new methods and models; for example, “open innovation” models – here you can see several diagrams and visualizations of these models – emerged the last few years to facilitate the R&D departments of big multinational companies to cope with the current distributed nature of knowledge and expertise that exceeds their past ways of control and usurpation of the human intellectual creativity and innovation.
It is evident that the organizational forms and models that we need in order to create and expand the NESP will be unclassified and hybrid from a traditional point of view.
Moreover, we often tend to underestimate and neglect problems of internal functioning.
We believe in and fight for the promotion of the logic of cooperation and democracy against the logic of competition but in practice our organizations suffer severely in terms of cooperation and democracy on the operational/organizational level.
Ten people tend to be less effective when they work together, interpersonal dynamics tend to deteriorate our processes and our decision-making processes in larger groups tend to be time-consuming, incoherent and dysfunctional.
We must and set up a process of identifying best practices, methods and regulations – both from the experience of our collectivities and from the scientific production regarding issues such as management, leadership, organizational, complexity and network systems theories, psychology etc. – in order to upgrade our forces.
Our actions and initiatives are currently not connected properly with each other, they are fragmented and isolated, destined to face the same difficulties again and again.
It is vital to upgrade our operational capacities through appropriate processes and nodes of connection, facilitating smooth flows of know-how, best practices and information, building databases and accumulating knowledge and expertise in an easily retrievable and useful way etc.
Actually, this is the advantage of multinational and large corporations in general, in comparison to others: they have a vast social network and powerful databases that give them the necessary tools to plan and pursue their goals while at the same time their smaller competitors seem blind and disarrayed in a global environment of rapid changes.
We need these qualities if we want really to be relevant and useful to the people from now on.
4.2. Political representation
There is another crucial aspect of redesigning the “operating system” of the Left: what it means to embed the function of political representation within the operational coordinates of NESP?
The function of political representation is a fundamental one in complex societies.
It’s the function that political parties mostly perform and that shapes the everyday conception regarding what “politics” is about. Of course, building popular power will invigorate and possibly transform the institutional framework, giving back substantial meaning to political representation and the political practice we are acquainted with.
But, the expansion of a network of the sort we are discussing here could and should be reflected on the function of political representation itself. We may be in front of new ways of political representation and new types of political parties.
The task here is not to revive “neglected” aspects of politics – like building popular power – or to reinvent relevant collective and individual qualities; the aim is to explore novel ways of performing the function of political representation in order to restructure existing ones and upgrade significantly the political leverage of the popular classes.
For example, putting forward a project of shaping political representation as “commons” could give us valuable insights towards new ways of performing political representation transcending the traditional framework of representative democracy.
4.3. Transformation Strategy
The Left talks too much about the democratic transformation of the state. In practice, the driving concept is the restoration of state functions as they were before the neoliberal transformation.
The expansion of a network of economic and social power under people’s control can unlock our imagination towards targeted reforms of state institutions that are needed in order to connect them with the NESP.
In theory this is an old idea: the transformation of the state is a complementary move to the self-organized collectivities of the people outside of it, driven by these forms of self-governance.
Actually, this is exactly what our opponents did consistently and persistently during the last decades: they were designing and implementing reforms in various levels of the state institutions based on the methods, the criteria and the functioning of their own “social agents”, namely the corporations and their own understanding of the nature of public space, namely the market.
This is exactly the mechanics of transformation that various intellectuals and leaders of the Left were describing already a long time ago.
By shifting our priorities we may be able to revive old but useful ideas that have been forgotten in practice.
5. It’s the implementation stupid!
Mr. Schauble used this phrase in a public discussion with the Greek PM for his own reasons.
Seen differently, this phrase indicates why we ended up in a situation in which the neoliberals are the true “revolutionaries”, changing dramatically the basic coordinates of modern societies whereas the Left seems unstable and feeble.
Going back to the question regarding whether the Left must engage with the state or not, I would suggest that the question should be reformulated.
What kind of Left we need in order to engage with the state in such a way that will promote even further the people’s leverage against the elites’ hostility?
The level of the state has its own modalities, but there is nothing there that in principle excludes the Left.
However, when the Left approaches government power structural inadequacies can be disastrous.
Our difficulties in handling governmental power reflect in a magnified way structural weaknesses that affect all aspects of our action.
Moreover, the administration of the state poses questions and tasks that we cannot avoid.
There is no way to transcend capitalism if we do not address large-scale questions of organizing, planning, managing and administering societies.
Being at the leadership of SYRIZA during the period of preparation of assuming governmental power, I have come to the conclusion that one major lack of the Left is that it misses a mode of governmentality stemming from its own logic and values.
We miss a modality of administrating populations and run basic social functions in a democratic, participatory and cooperative way.
One aspect of this lack in the case of SYRIZA was the total ignorance and mainly the indifference towards issues that are related with the implementation process.
The prevailing rhetoric within SYRIZA was that the issues are political and not technical.
So, all we have to do was to decide what we want to do, not to explore the ways in order to be able to implement them.
The implicit premise was that the crucial point was to be in the government and the ministries taking political decisions, and then, somehow these decisions would be implemented by some “technical” in nature state mechanisms.
Apart from the fact that this attitude contradicted with what we were saying regarding the corrosive effect of the neoliberal transformation of the state and the complexity of being in the EU and the Eurozone in this respect, it also shows the prevailing superficial understanding of the notion “transformation of the state” in the traditional political Left.
The fact that we are talking about a current inside the Left which includes governmental power within its strategy, the low level of awareness regarding the importance of implementation processes reflects the degree of obsolescence of the Left organizations and justifies fully the need for a radical redesign of the “Operating System” of the Left.
The major problem is that a mentality like this ignores the obvious fact that the range of one’s political potential in being in the government is determined by what one knows how to do with the state.
The implementation process is not a “technicality” but the material basis of the political strategy.
What the traditional Left takes to be the political essence, namely the general, strategic discussion and decision (what to do with the debt, privatizations etc) is just the tip of the iceberg of state-politics.
The implementation process is the “iceberg” of state-politics beneath the surface.
Instead of just being a “technicality” it is the biggest portion of state-politics.
Actually, it’s where the political struggle within the state becomes hard and the class adversaries battle to prevail over implementation, that is over shaping reality.
The tip is not going to move the iceberg by itself as long as it is not supported by a multi-level and multi-personal implementation process with clear orientation, functional methods and high-level coordination.
This is the integrated concept of state-politics that we have forgotten in practice and by doing so we tend to fail miserably whenever we approach the tip of the iceberg.
So, the question is not whether we should fight for the tip or not, but whether we have any clue what to do with the iceberg beneath it or not.
One of the results in the case of SYRIZA was that the Programme Committee, the highest political organs and the departments of the Central Committee instead of working deliberately on managerial issues regarding steps, methods and difficulties of implementing our own policies and organizational issues like restructuring processes in the various state institutions we would have access to, they were sites of political argumentation in the most general and abstract terms.
The quality of governmentality and the capacity of transforming the state-politics of the SYRIZA government is just the natural outcome of this kind of preparation.
It is a matter of discussion and research whether the SYRIZA experience in this respect is generalizable or not for the Left today at a global scale.
But, as long as we haven’t make use of important achievements of human activity and creativity yet, we can be optimistic that we may discover powerful “weapons” that could make us be more confident for our operational capacities in the future.
Especially when we have to confront powerful institutions like the IMF, the ECB etc.
6. Stay in orbit
We are entering an era in which our societies will face tremendous challenges (environmental instability, global geopolitical antagonisms, a new wave of technological advances etc.), while at the same time the socio-economic and institutional configuration is undergoing constant neoliberal transformation.
Our societies need a new survival strategy that will provide efficient organizational tools and methodology of mobilization.
I argued for the need to prioritize differently the function of building popular power and the implementation process in our way of doing politics and outlined aspects of relevant modifications.
Redesigning the “operating system” of the Left could contribute to the new survival strategy we need to deploy today.
It seems like we need to build a bridge to cross a river in order to survive.
But, we know how to build huts by the river; huts on ground that is being eroded by the river itself.
The “pragmatic Left” argues that all we can do is to continue building huts and engage in a process of doing it which is irrelevant to our survival and eventually harmful.
The “utopian Left” argues that we must stick to the need to build a bridge, but it only retreats from building huts, which is also irrelevant to our survival.
What we need is to embrace the emergency of our condition and push ourselves to get over our common problem which is that all we know how to do is building huts.
We must push ourselves to think differently and spot what prevents us from building a bridge.
We must push our collectivities to see differently what lies around and spot potentialities and “materials” we had never thought of being useful to us.
Maybe we are closer than we think in building bridges and eventually deploying a strategy that actually could actually work.
In the same vain, the “SYRIZA experience” will be worthless if we do not resist decidedly the temptation to replace one mistake with another.
The failure of SYRIZA – the failure of focusing solely on traditional electoral politics to radically change the dominant neoliberal framework – creates favorable conditions for mentalities like “self-referential alternativism” and “vanguard isolationism” to emerge and preoccupy the minds and hearts of those who are willing to continue fighting.
But choices like these are just symmetric to what SYRIZA did fully justifying our opponents: either you will be marginal or you will become like us!
The existential threats and the crucial questions regarding their future that our societies are facing today have nothing to do with a strategy of building “arcs” that aim to safeguard the “Left” or any other identity.
Entering the ominous battlefield of the 21st century, the Left will either be relevant and useful for the defense and survival of human societies or it will be obsolete.