Tag Archives: democracy

Radical left strategies in the era of the collapse of ‘Actually Existing Liberalism’

*Published on OpenDemocracy.net

A few decades after the fall of ‘actually existing socialism’, we are experiencing the fall of ‘actually existing liberalism’, so to speak. How should the left approach this historical moment?

In Europe, democracy – understood as the access of people without economic power to crucial decisions regarding the course oftheir societies – is successfully limited today. The institutional design and the prevailing political mentality shape the ground for the elites to openly exclude popular needs from decision making.

A few decades after the fall of ‘actually existing socialism,’ we are experiencing the fall of ‘actually existing liberalism,’ so to speak. From a historical perspective, the two falls are simultaneous and mark the beginning of a hard clash between the elites and the people. The neoliberal project signifies an open, ambitious and brutal strategy to radically change the basic coordinates of human societies and modes of subjectivity.

The elites – under the pressure of the ongoing capitalist crisis – have launched an offensive for the eradication of the emancipatory dynamic of modern societies: multi-dimensional exclusion of people in terms of access to crucial decisions and satisfaction of vital needs, deterioration of civility, multi-dimensional processes of enclosure (resources, spaces, knowledge, information) etc.

Similarly, the traditional way of doing politics is not working anymore. Supporting and organizing movements – i.e. expressing/pushing demands to the state – and participating in elections in order to change the balance of forces within the state cannot deliver the change that the majority of the people need today.

The premise that made the traditional methodology of doing politics so well-established was that the elites – persons and other legal entities with economic power – are committed to accept the democratic ‘game,’ i.e. to include people’s demands in shaping the strategic coordinates of societies. Instead of an inclusive approach that characterized both centre-right and centre-left parties in the past, today there is a growing trend towards multi-dimensional social exclusion and a democratic ritual unresponsive to people’s needs.

Especially in Greece, the institutionalization of the 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 conjuncture.

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, seemingly 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 implications that further erode the function of political representation. We could say that before the establishment of a neoliberal consensus in the 90s there was a quasi-democratic political functioning, subject to military coups, whenever a radical readjustment of balance of forces was needed.

Then, the right-wing and social-democratic parties adopted neoliberalism as their political program, decisively downgrading their function as agents 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 has become explicitly incoherent, amplifying confusion and feelings of despair within Greek society. Moreover, the ‘Squeeze Effect’ further alienates the political personnel from the real-life conditions of the population, making it entirely impenetrable to the people’s impasses and anxieties.

The negative social consequences and psychological implications caused by austerity and social decline can no longer 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 psychological wounds – in the form of negative and (self-) destructive dispositions – are spread across all social networks of interpersonal relations, disturbing social cohesion in a deeper way.

The basic coordinates of the political system are changing profoundly. The politicians and the political parties are no longer accountable to the people through the mechanisms of representative democracy. Rather, they are accountable to market mechanisms and respective institutions in order to draw the necessary funds for the continuation of vital economic and social functions.

In this context, the criteria for political success are significantly modified: being a successful politician no longer means that you are responsive to people’s demands and needs, but rather it amounts to being able to increase the competitiveness of the economy according to the profit analysis and investment assessment of capital owners.

In other words, the biggest service that a politician can provide to his/her society is the optimal compliance with the objectives of financial entities that can ensure the smooth running of the society. We are thus witnessing a different codification of power relations in terms of accountability: the accountability towards citizens through democratic means is replaced by the accountability towards the capital-owners through market mechanisms.

There is an additional reason that forces us to drastically change the way we organize and act. Apart from the fact that we are living in a period in which the neoliberal transformation threatens democracy, establishing a social/institutional configuration that blends the logic of profit and competition with authoritarian modes of governance, we have also entered an era in which long-term tendencies approach a critical point threatening humanity with severe regression: depletion of natural resources, environmental instability, food crisis, deep erosion of social cohesion and collapse of national and regional systems of administration and performance of basic social functions. Moreover, we are facing major authoritarian threats due to new waves of technological advances and the accumulation of massive digital data (‘surveillance capitalism’).

At the same time, we have never been so close to an evolutionary/emancipatory step. Literally every day, human activity – both intellectual and practical – is producing experiences, know-how, criteria, methods and innovations that inherently contradict the parasitic logic of profit and competition. For the first time in our evolutionary history humans have a common fate and so many embodied capacities and values from different cultures within our reach.

The current institutional design, the narrow-minded strategies of the elites and the prevailing neoliberal mentality are fundamentally unable to provide the proper conceptual and operational framework that we need in order to deal with these challenges. Real solutions must be based on sustainability, solidarity and openness in order to counter the long-term tendencies of reaching a crucial bio-social limit, the rise of inequality and barbarism (that gradually takes the form of an extermination process of the poor), and the threat of digital/military/financial authoritarianism.

The neoliberal framework is toxic towards these preconditions. That’s why it is vital to explore ways of conceptualizing and administering complex societies based on values like democratic and decentralized decision making and running of basic social functions which are going to replace neoliberalism in terms of governmentality. This is a broader responsibility that can unify people with different political and ideological origins.

How are we going to modify and enrich our methodology of political and social mobilization and organization in order to respond to these profound challenges? How are we going to cope with growing social exclusion and reassert people’s participation in crucial decision-making? What kind of methodology of politics will allow us to be more efficient, without presupposing the democratic rules we used to take for granted? What kind of methodology of politics will allow us to restore democracy by newly transforming it?

First of all, we must shift priorities from increasing political representation to building popular power. 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) – an ecosystem of resilient, dynamic, and interrelated circuits of co-operative productive units, alternative financial tools, and local cells of self-governance with 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 elites’ despotic control over society. In other words, 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 people’s control. And 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 and organizing people’s activities in our methodology.

Furthermore, the role of an innovative political organization of the twenty first century should be to contribute to the alignment and mobilization of the creative social forces in order to elaborate sustainable and resilient survival strategies towards the serious challenges we have to face.

Facing these challenges, we must be able to realize our structural weaknesses in terms of political imagination, methodology of mobilization and organizational principles. We must overcome patterns like the gradual disconnection of left government officials from their party and the popular classes when in power. We must work systematically on problematic features like this, based on the everyday outcomes, ideas, innovations and achievements of the powerful collective intelligence which is accessible today.

A lot of people nowadays move towards new ways of doing things; they build new kinds of institutions and form hybrid types of organizing and acting. Most of these people have different life trajectories from those affiliated with the traditional political left and they followed their own paths that lead them in this global fight. If we expand our horizon and include them, then we will realize that we may be much stronger than we think.

A series of social, political and geopolitical antagonisms are unfolding as we speak. History moves on fast. Is the left going to be part of this historic movement that we trace everywhere around us? History doesn’t owe us the leading role just because we tend to think of ourselves as the bearers of change and progress. We have to earn the right to be relevant, present and able to influence the course of our societies by transcending outdated methodologies and organizational inertia.

I strongly believe that if the traditional left modifies its operating system, then it can be an essential component in this historic moment. Together with other forces, it can significantly contribute to the evolutionary step which is of vital importance today.

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This article draws on a round-table discussion that took place at the Workshop ‘Europe’s new radical Left in times of crisis,’ hosted by the School of Political Sciences at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and supported by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (Athens Office) in November 26-27, 2016.

Interview: The Left in power. What can we learn from the case of SYRIZA?

*Interview by George Souvlis – LeftEast (part 1part 2)

** For shorter presentations of the interview, see the selected excerpts made by D. Bollier and M. Bauwens

Note from the LeftEast editors: In this long interview with George Souvlis, Andreas Karitzis reflects on his experience as part of the Syriza leadership during the crucial years 2012-2015, on its underpreparedness for the historic project it embarked on, on the odds stacked against it, and on the configurations of power in today’s world. While Syriza’s fight for a fair deal for Greece and a socially just Europe has suffered (a temporary or permanent–we don’t know) defeat, Karizis’s reflections need to be heeded next time the Left comes to power.

1) Would you like to present yourself by focusing on the formative experiences – both academic and political?

By the time the Soviet Union was falling apart I was becoming a leftist. Having nothing else but the aftermath of a historical defeat around me (even knowing what Soviet Union really was), being a leftist was primarily a choice of deep, personal connection with those humans who fought, and will fighting for a better world, exemplifying the best qualities of our species. 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 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. The same train of thought is what is keeping me active and creative during these last difficult months after the Greek defeat of last summer.

Additionally, being raised in a poor, working-class family 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. I could “see” that I owed this precious opportunity to millions of people who devoted their lives, suffered and died all over the world for equality and freedom. This sense of gratitude and the deep respect for those fighters of the past, helped me to define who I am, the capacities that I have acquired, as being directly involved in political action. Using these capacities 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. I think that this – universal in kind – disposition is one of the strongest influences on me.

Regarding my political experiences, I joined Synaspismos in 1997 and then SYRIZA. I was a member of their Central Committee from 2004 till 2015 as one of Tsipras’ generation of political cadres, so to speak. I have been a member of Political Secretariat (2007-10 spokesman of the party and 2013-14 co-chairing Programme and Political Planning Committees). I also served as campaign manager at the municipality elections of Athens in 2006 (with Tsipras as candidate) and the Regional Government elections in Attica (candidate Dourou, the present governor) in 2014. I was also engaged in media and communication campaigns of SYRIZA in 2007 (national elections) and 2009 (european elections). Finally, among many other things, I have been a member of the managing board of Nicos Poulantzas Institute for the past 8 years.

I studied mechanical engineering, then philosophy and history of science and technology and I did a PhD in contemporary analytic philosophy. My studies were disconnected in content from my active political participation, but they  heavily shaped my political behavior in a rigorous and efficiency-driven direction. Theoretical work on Marxian and left literature was a crucial part of my political engagement, instead of being an academic and abstract kind of work. My traditional influences come mainly from Althusser and Poulantzas among others, like most of the people in the Greek Left of my generation. Gradually, I was immersed in less traditional left literature, that in my case, mainly included Foulcault, and the theoretical debate that was initiated during the last decades by Laclau.

However, being gradually aware of the gravity of the current predicament of humankind, my influences  have been increasingly eclectic, drawing from entirely different resources. My current focus is on methodology of emancipatory politics. This is mainly concerned with organizational issues of building hybrid (from a traditional left point of view) institutions, as well as managerial/methodological issues of building popular power and interacting with state institutions, in the new environment of the radical restructuring of institutions due to the influence of digital technologies in the broader neoliberal framework.

2) How you would describe yourself in political terms?

It’s hard to tell anymore. The traditional terms we use to describe our political identities point to a totally different political and social environment. We need to radically modify these if we want to be relevant to today’s demanding tasks and antagonisms.

Let’s be frank; despite all the subtleties and the complexities of our situation the truth is that we, the people, are facing a brutal attack by the elites that would affect the fate of all humans across the planet. 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.

We often tend to believe that removing our opponents from power means that, somehow, the problems caused by them, and the new challenges we are facing, will disappear. In fact, it is the other way around: by developing ways to administer populations and run basic social functions with decentralized, democratic modes of governance based on the liberation of people’s capacities we will gradually acquire the necessary self-confidence to really challenge the elites’ hegemony and dominance. If we start really believing that we can administer societies differently (in a way that can cope with present day challenges), then the fall of neoliberalism will only be a matter of time. I strongly believe that this is the most crucial part.

It is up to us to make a solid and decisive step towards a new personal/interpersonal and social/institutional configuration that will bury once and for all the concentration of power in the hands of a few as the only way of administering human societies. But we must perform a “paradigm shift” in order to acquire the leverage needed to overcome the elites’ power and the position of capital as the only mediator between people’s activities.

I sense that we need a political identity that embraces the critical situation we are in  and that will allows us to get over the profound problems we face. We must push ourselves to think differently. We must push our collectivities to see differently and spot the potentialities and materials we had never thought of as being useful to us. I strongly believe that we are far stronger than we think. Based on these thoughts, I would prefer not to describe myself in terms that belong to the past.

3) On Syriza’s strategy after the defeat of the new memorandum agreement: can we perhaps historicize this defeat by separating it in two different moments? The first one is between two electoral periods, 2012 and January of 2015. Which were the main pitfalls of the party during this period?

As you can imagine, there are various levels of analysis for this question. I will focus on examples of internal party functioning that reveal the underlying conditions in terms of political imagination, methodology and organizational principles that shaped the range of our preparation, rhetoric, decisions and the eventual strategy.

In the summer of 2012 – in the midst of a joyful atmosphere that comes with being the major opposition party – there was a fundamental issue, at least to my mind, we had to address: the allocation of human and financial resources. We had the opportunity to employ several hundred people, mainly due to having a larger parliamentary group than before. The allocation of human and financial resources is not a secondary issue but the material basis of one’s political strategy. However, instead of engaging in a serious assessment of the present and future needs of the party and an operational distribution of resources (for social organizing, the growth of neo-Nazi groups, trade-union organising, preparation for being in government and for the negotiation process, and so on), there was instead an attitude of “business as usual”. The traditional political imagery, methodology and priorities prevented SYRIZA from assessing the importance of the “material” conditions for its political strategy of countering austerity and neoliberalism. SYRIZA didn’t focus on this crucial issue of preparing for government, and instead reproduced outdated organizational modes and habits.

The outcome was that it maintained the traditional priorities and party functions, as if this were a normal time of social and political activity. The inertia that came with seeing parliamentary work as the most important duty of the party, mainly under the influence of the MPs who tend to prioritize their work in political planning together with the fact that the MPs were the ones who employ all these people, created a framework that ended up with only small changes. That is, a bit more collective work within the parliamentary group, the solidarity4all institution and a minimal increase in various aspects of party functioning. Instead of having a radical rearrangement of forces, SYRIZA just improved the traditional ways of party functioning which were becoming outdated and insufficient to back up its political strategy.

Another example is the exponential deterioration of collective internal functioning. The problem I would like to underline is not the obviously negative fact of the marginalization of democratic decision-making and accountability. The problem was even deeper. During this period, the implicit premise that rapidly transformed the political behavior in the party was that the competing views within SYRIZA should be promoted via the occupation of key-positions in the parliamentary group, the government and the state, after a victorious electoral result. This premise led to marginalization of collective planning, competition between groups and individuals and the fragmentation of SYRIZA. Fragmentation deprived the political organs of the ability to collect information, assess it and deploy a complex strategy. Eventually, enormous amount of time was consumed in the efforts of the political personnel to take the lead regarding future positions in the parliamentary group and the government. Of course there was always a political reasoning justifying this move to ever increasing competition among various groups and individuals.

The interesting thing was that the decline of internal collective functioning was predicated on an implicit common premise. That is, that what is needed to stop austerity and neoliberal transformation was an electoral victory along with people supporting the government through demonstrations. Apart from that, the only thing that seemed to matter was who and what group would have more influence and hold the key-positions in the government and the state.

There was an ignorance and indifference towards issues such as the subtleties and the complexities of the implementation process when in government, the operational demands of the negotiation process (multi-level, multi-personal, highly coordinated processes etc), and the methodology and the expertise needed to mobilize people in order to develop alternative ways of running basic social functions. Let me add here that it is necessary to gain some degrees of autonomy in terms of performing basic social functions in order to stop the strategies of the elite (in any way one may think is the right one), since the latter have unchecked control over those functions and can easily inflict collective punishment on a society that dares to defy its power. Issues like these necessarily promote a collective/democratic functioning instead of fragmentation and competition and a focus on people’s capacities and methods of “extracting” them effectively in order to upgrade people’s leverage.

The underestimation of similar issues was even more striking at the Programme Committee and its working groups. It was extremely difficult (if not impossible) to restructure the forms of work from the usual articulation of lists of demands towards managerial/organizational issues regarding steps and methods to implement our policies. Instead, they were sites of political argumentation in the most general and abstract terms.

The ignorance and indifference towards questions of how you implement power was supported by the dominant rhetoric within SYRIZA: that the crucial issues are political and not technical. So all we have to do is decide what we want to do, rather than explore the ways in which we can implement them. The implicit premise here was that the crucial point was to be in the government taking political decisions and then, somehow, these decisions would be implemented by some purely technical 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 complexities of being in the EU and the Eurozone, the major problem was that a mentality like this ignores the obvious fact that the range of one’s political potential in 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 was considered to be the political essence, namely the general, strategic discussion and decision is just the tip of the iceberg of state-politics. Instead of just being a “technicality”, the implementation of political decision is the biggest part of state politics. Actually, it’s where the political struggle within the state becomes hard, and the class adversaries battle to shape reality. The tip is not going to move the iceberg by itself as long as it is not supported by multi-level implementational processes with a clear orientation, function and high-levels of 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 power.

Being at the leadership of SYRIZA during the period of preparation for power, I came to the conclusion that one major failure of the Left is that it lacks a form of governmentality which matches up with its own logic and values. We miss a form of administration that could run basic social functions in a democratic, participatory and cooperative way. 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 these governmental processes (among other equally worrying weaknesses) 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.

4) A second period would be between the electoral victory of Syriza and the signing of the third MOU past August. What about this period? Were there mistakes and miscalculations made by the party’s leadership during this time?

I think that the mistakes made during this period reveal crucial structural weaknesses of SYRIZA – and of the political left more broadly – due to the inability to adapt to the new way you must do politics in the institutionalised neoliberal framework of the EU and the Eurozone.

It seems that the weaknesses of SYRIZA in power resulted from the failed preparations in the previous period that I mentioned above. The appointment of government officials was dictated by the outcome of the internal power games during the previous period, and their mandate was to do whatever they could do in vague terms without having concrete action plans that would support a broader government plan.

In the same vein, there weren’t any organisational “links” that would align the government actions with the party functioning and the social agents willing to support and play a crucial role in a very difficult and complex conjecture. The lack of connecting processes was mainly – among other things –  the outcome of a widely shared traditional political mentality that reduces, firstly, the party from a network for the massive coordination of people’s action, deliberation and production of popular power into a speech making device that supports the government, and, secondly, peoples’ mobilization from a generator of real popular power and leverage against the elites’ hostility into traditional forms of demonstration.

The government was gradually isolated and the pressure on it from various domestic and international agents initiated a process of adjustment of the new government to the existing neoliberal norms and regulations. Deprived of any real tool for reshaping the battlefield, the government and the party gradually moved from fighting against financial despotism towards merely a pool of political personnel with a good reputation that could reinvigorate the neoliberal project. In an era with a complex network of political antagonisms and class struggles, SYRIZA, as a collective agent, couldn’t even realise the form of the fight it had been involved in. This is still true for plenty of people in the Greek Left today, but things are changing and the difficulties force us to adapt.

The negotiation process and especially the way it had been understood and experienced within SYRIZA is indicative of the sloppy and cursory way that preparation for power took place, and of the inability of the party to adapt. But it also reveals the underlying premises that supported those qualities. Starting with the agreement of the 20th of February until the day that the lenders announced that the only real possibility was the continuation of the neoliberal project (1st of June), a pattern emerged regarding the way in which the government and party officials assessed what was occurring. Although the negative indications were overwhelming compared with the hopeful ones, they were focusing on the latter, distorting reality. Or better, they were replacing reality with what they hoped for; what they would have liked to be reality. I am not saying that the problem was that government and party officials were being dishonest; although some of them might be; individual dishonesty cannot explain a collective pattern.

The non-existent reality they were clinging onto was the only one in which the traditional political left knows how to do politics. And since people and collectives are determined not by what they say but by what they know how to do (a material dictum that has been forgotten in political left), it is impossible to become relevant with the real reality without a modification of methodologies, organizational principles and political imageries related to a practice that reflects reality. The problem was that collectively we hadn’t adapted sufficiently into how to do politics in reality. In the case of lack of adaptation of this kind, reality will be imposed on people and collective bodies the hard way…

This non-existent reality that government and party officials were clinging on to was built on the assumption that the elites were committed to accepting the democratic mandate of an elected government. If they do not like the policies that it promotes, they would have to engage in a political fight; opposition parties must convince the people that the policies are not desirable or successful and use the democratic process for a new government of their preference to be elected.

Supposedly, 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 – on behalf of the elites – a situation where people without considerable economic power have access to crucial decisions. SYRIZA knew how to do politics based on the premise that the institutionalised (in the past) popular power was not exhausted. By winning the elections, the remaining institutional power – mainly in the form of state power and international respect of national sovereignty – would be enough and it would be used to stop austerity (in all versions of how that would happen, within eurozone, leaving eurozone etc). Based on the premise that the framework within which politics is being conducted 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 doing politics only in this way today.

During that summer, the gap between the kind of politics we collectively knew how to do and the new reality grew massively, producing both hilarious and tragic events. The referendum and its aftermath was definitely the peak of this. From the “traditional way of doing politics” point of view, we were using all democratic means available. It was obvious to me and others that we were engaged in an escalation that was not supported by anything that would make the lenders accept a compromise. The traditional, democratic means are simply outdated for doing politics in the new European despotism (although, if embedded in a different methodology of politics, they can still be very useful). But it was a way for the people to step in at a historic moment and give a global message that transcends the SYRIZA government and its short-term plots.

During the week of the referendum a massive biopolitical experiment took place: the closure of the banks; the extreme propaganda by the media, the threats by the domestic, European and international political and financial establishment; the terrorism in workplaces; the hostility and threats towards “no” supporters on interpersonal level and so on, created an environment we have never encountered before. Our opponents used all their resources and they lost! Greek people refused to voluntarily declare that they embrace a life without dignity in order to avoid a sudden death. We are talking about an extremely hopeful and important event for the battle against neoliberalism. Greek people proved that the biopolitical control and influence over people is not so powerful as we might think it is. The message was crystal-clear and gave courage to plenty of us despite the ominous predictions for the immediate future: the battle is not over yet; human societies will not surrender easily.

On the side of SYRIZA, the transformation of government and party officials had already occurred.  The Greek government didn’t negotiate strictly speaking. There wasn’t a coherent negotiation strategy, no improvement of our position in time, no gaining of some leverage, etc. There was only a desperate act of postponing a decision it had to make. By the time that the referendum took place, things had changed. The leadership had shifted the central features of its assessment regarding how best to serve peoples’ needs: from “non-compliance with financial despotism” to “stay in power”. What happened after the agreement is just the natural outcome of this process of adjustment.

5) After the negotiations between the Greek government and the institutions, the transformation of the European Union into an authoritarian neoliberal apparatus became obvious. Are political and economic interests a tautology in today’s European Union? Which were the main political stakes of this battle?

In the last decades (not accidentally, since fall of Soviet Union) the elites made decisive steps towards limiting the ability of the people to influence key decisions. 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 control has been successfully limited. The elites are no longer committed to the post-war democratic rules. Today the elites feel confident enough to openly defy democracy. Democracy is not taboo anymore.

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 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  control over the basic functions of society. It is up to their anti-democratic institutions to decide whether a country will have a functional banking system and sufficient liquidity to run basic services or not. 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 institutions and forms of power.

20 years after the fall of the “actually existing socialism” we are experiencing the fall of the “actually existing liberalism,” so to speak. In historical time, the two processes are simultaneous and mark the beginning of a hard clash between the elites and the people. The neoliberal project signifies an open, ambitious and brutal strategy to radically change the basic coordinates of human societies and modes of subjectivity towards the most horrific form of authoritarianism we could envision few years ago.

Having that in mind, I would say that the political stakes of the clash between Greek people and financial despotism were broader than we usually think. Modern societies are just waking up from the “end of history” illusion. The new political movements (square movements, Occupy movements, etc) are the first glimpses of such an awakening. They are also making use of whatever exists around them, like SYRIZA, Corbyn, Sanders etc. But, we must upgrade our forms of organization and action significantly and modify radically the mentality and methodology of mobilisation. So, we are in the beginning and we must proceed decisively and effectively towards new and better adapted ways of organizing and fighting.

From the Greek front so far, we have had major losses and some gains. Some of the gains are the result of the referendum, the forced choice of the elites to come out of the closet and declare openly that institutional bourgeois democracy is not accepted anymore and the awareness of what kind of politics no longer works. On the other hand, we faced a brutal defeat; we didn’t succeed in checking neoliberal transformation. We also lost a massive political organisation. It could be better, it could be worst. As I said in the beginning, there is no time to be despondent. We learn, we adapt and we move forward. The first goal is to be more relevant next time by creating updated, collective agencies – hybrid and unclassified from a traditional point of view – able to influence the course of our society in a period of time that is unpredictable and full of danger. It’s neither easy nor certain. It’s the question of a new beginning; it’s the creative leap from 0 to 1.

6) Do you believe that there was an alternative management of the negotiations on behalf of Syriza or was Tsirpas right that there wasn’t actually an alternative available?

According to my understanding, what some people decided and imposed on the rest of us – namely that SYRIZA should remain in power after the defeat – to be considered a left alternative is wrong. We know from the decline of social-democratic parties that there is no middle ground between financial despotism and democracy; if you try to reach such a ground, gradually you are converted into a component of the biopolitical machine that seeks to dehumanize our societies. Implementing the agreement – hoping for a neoliberal revival of the economy – is not a counter-strategy that belongs in the left. Arguing that the implementation of the agreement is the only way out of the present situation is just a reformulation of the neoliberal dictum that there is no alternative. So, how is it the only alternative for the left when it does not even belong to the logical space of left possibilities?

But it is getting even worse. Let me present you with various highly dangerous consequences of SYRIZA’s choice to remain in the government under the obligation to continue the neoliberal project. The political system has crossed a critical threshold, entering a mode of functioning which could be described as the “squeeze effect”: it has been squeezed and forced to function within the nearly non-existent space of freedom that the agreement allows. It 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.

This effect has highly deforming implications; implications that further erode the function of political representation. We could say that before the neoliberal consensus of the 90’s, in various countries there was a quasi-democratic political system (subject to military coups and the like). Then, the right-wing and social-democratic parties adopted neoliberalism as the 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 amplifying the confusion and the feeling of despair within Greek society. Moreover, the “squeeze effect” renders the political personnel sterile in regards to the real life conditions of the population and entirely impenetrable to the peoples’ anxieties and demands. The negative social consequences and psychic implications caused by austerity and social decline cannot  be reflected at the political level, they cannot be represented, democratically expressed, and 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.

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 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.

SYRIZA failed to stop austerity and neoliberal transformation in Greece. This is surely a defeat. And when you face a defeat you are going to bear the cost. The quality and the allocation of the costs you might have is a serious and crucial political decision. The primary aim is to contain the damage in order to survive the collective organism. In the case of a left political party that means to safeguard the connections with the fighting part of the population and popular classes. Only in this case can you be useful to the people in the future. So the failure can be endured by allocating the costs wisely. But in order to be able to perform systematic collective processes and take decisions of this kind you must have qualities like the ones that we lacked during the preparation period. In other words, the highly problematic way of approaching government power deprived SYRIZA of a serious and organized way to handle the difficulties after the defeat properly and manage a sustainable retreat.

So, failing is one thing, what SYRIZA did after the failure is another. In this vein, one could argue that SYRIZA didn’t just fail strictly speaking but also wrecked the hopes and the aspirations of the popular classes and those fighting against financial despotism. It chose to remain in power, normalising the coup we witnessed last summer and accepting the neoliberal coordinates that shape governmentality today in Europe.

SYRIZA’s choice deprived the popular classes of a crucial tool after a painful defeat: the political representation of non-compliance with financial despotism. SYRIZA eliminated the chance of a tactical withdrawal, a collective process of reassembling our forces properly that could take into account the escalation of the fight provoked by elites – and forming a more effective and resilient ‘popular front’ that would build its resources to challenge neoliberal orthodoxy in the future.

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 in regards to 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 become really useful to the people. 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.

7) Syriza’s defeat, part from the split of the party, caused a marginalisation of left forces and social movements in Greece. Currently it looks like there is no solid articulation of an anti-hegemonic left force. The majority of voices that joined to oppose Syriza from the left expressed the need of leaving the euro and the European Union. Is this the answer? Or is it possible for the EU to change from inside?

The major problem is not that we are missing the right answer, but the proper agent to address these questions. And moreover, we do not even seem to notice it, although things are changing in this respect.

The impact of the strategic defeat of last year is still shaping various reactions within the Greek Left. Some people seem content with superficial explanations of what happened and want to 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.

Unfortunately, the inadequacies spotted above regarding the operational mentality and political methodology within SYRIZA apply to the traditional left more broadly. We usually think and talk like somehow we have already consolidated our capacity to influence the course of things. We  focus on moves, like the one about the currency, as if we are in a position to administer a well-organised popular mobilisation able to perform this or that choice. And we do not really work on creating the conditions of possibility in order to be in a position from which such questions really matter. Let me give you an example.

The Central Committee of SYRIZA was repeatedly dealing with this question (exit from the Eurozone or stay in with a degree of autonomy) and similar ones such as percentage of the Greek debt to erase. These debates were taking place under the assumption that we have (or will have) the power needed to really implement the choice we are going to make. In reality, we were powerless to implement any of these choices. We were functioning as if it was already given – without us working deliberately on them – a properly aligned and assembled popular front and the state mechanisms able to initiate a complex and multi-level transformation.

It seems that the traditional political means of building social alliances, in terms of representing beliefs and demands at the political level, is not enough to stop neoliberal transformation. 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. If this is our current predicament, then the urgent question is not find a “right answer” but 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. But, we should be aware that this path requires a different mentality and qualities from the ones we used to deploying through traditional political action.

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.

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 last few years. We need to reshape the ground. One way to do it 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.

8) Where would an effort for the reconstruction of a sustainable movement start and what are the mistakes that shouldn’t be repeated?

Let’s begin with building popular 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.

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 initiate a process for identifying the 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 also vital to upgrade our organisational 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.

The constitution and expansion of a dynamic and resilient network of production of economic and social power under people’s control requires creative qualities relevant to the current, highly diversified and rapidly changing social field. To be able to offer alternative patterns and ways of performing vital functions that society requires, necessitates integrated circuits, a high degree of coordination and many other qualities. So, constituting and expanding such a network includes the need for building relevant institutions and organisations.

Broadly speaking, one of the advantage of multinational and large corporations in general, in comparison to others consists in that they possess 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.

Secondly, 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.

Thirdly, we must think again what a transformation strategy and methodology look like. 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 towards the same direction.

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.

9) The revival of the far-right is not just a Greek phenomenon. From the “defenders of the occident” like Marie Le Penn and Wilders, to the governments of Poland and Hungary and the burning of refugees homes in Germany, we can see it growing dangerously strong throughout Europe. Would you like to provide a brief history of the phenomenon? Do you believe that we can observe something similar with the developments that took place during the interwar period, a politically dominant far-right? 

Today in Greece, a left government is implementing austerity, the people of the left are puzzled and the left will gradually be registered as a pro-memorandum political force in people’s minds. The nationalists and the fascists have remained the only “natural hosts” of popular rage and resentment, the expected emotional outcomes of the burial of hope we witnessed last summer. Greeks are sensing that the future of their society is severely compromised.  The majority of Greeks have been sentenced to misery and despair through the imposition of harsh austerity measures without any real hope for the future. If we add to the economic and social disaster that austerity is inflicting on us the waves of refugees that are trapped in Greece – especially the complex and contradictory ways in which their drama impacts on the abused psychic economy of the Greek population – and add also the fear of increased geopolitical instability in the region, then it seems certain that prosperity, stability and peace has left Greece for the forseeable future.

Despite the incredible resilience of the Greek population so far towards the fascists and the nationalists – the last incident was the way the majority of the population acted supporting and helping in any means available the refugees the last months – the psychic and social balance is extremely fragile. It is highly probable that an extreme right wing political formation (it is doubtful that Golden Dawn can play this role) will emerge and absorb those disappointed  by SYRIZA. In any case, a new circle of harsh restrictions of political and civil rights will be launched sooner or later; we have already incidents of this, and moves down this path.

The worrying thing is that we are not talking about a regression specifically located in Greece. This path coincides with the escalation of autocratic governments in the region (e.g. Turkey) and the authoritarian trajectory of the EU, both in terms of European institutions (anti-democratic financial governmentality) and in terms of nationalist gains within individual countries (Poland, France, Hungary, Aurstia etc).

The financial despotism that European institutions promote is not going to stop Europe’s decline. Inflicting the European people with a brutal policy of austerity, and dismantling democracy, together with the fact that Europe consists of many different nations, the most probable outcome will be the rise of neo-fascism and extreme right-wing nationalism. The European countries – under geopolitical and financial pressure – will develop a national strategy to counteract these pressures and in reality will compete with each other. The domination of extreme right-wing forces in Europe will be the end-product of neoliberalism and austerity. It will be their nastiest consequence, the endgame of the decline of Europe. European countries will fight each other, not over who is going to rule the rest of the world, as in the past, but over who is going to be less miserable in a declining region.

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.

10) In geopolitical terms we observe a chaos inside and outside Europe. A clear indication of this the situation in Ukraine, a civil war for the first time in postwar history. Which is your take on current geopolitical developments in Europe? And, do you believe that the European Union at this moment has any rational long-term plan for its survival?

Instead of focusing on neoliberalism as a problem, let’s think of it as an answer to a problem. The world is changing, new global powers emerge creating their own spheres of influence challenging the geopolitcal dominance of the West around the planet. In Europe, the story goes, we used to have an expanding middle class, societies with high standards of living because we were in a position to exploit other parts of the planet. We don’t have this luxury anymore.

So, Europe has to change. We have to become more competitive i.e. we must import into Europe the areas and practices of crude exploitation. We must reduce the rights of the majority of the population, its standard of living and drastically reshape our societies ending the “disturbing habit” of democratic governance. Access to crucial decisions must be an exclusive privilege of the economic elites, and so on.

The neoliberal strategy appears to be the only possible solution to the gradual geopolitical retreat of Europe. It seems to be the only solution due to a conservative cliché, which is widespread and deep-rooted: we are entering difficult times, hard choices must be made to overcome these difficulties. Only the ruling elite know what must be done. Only they are bold enough, only they are willing to do the dirty work. No one agrees with austerity, no one likes it, but it is necessary. No one agrees with  camps for immigrants and refugees, but it is something that must be done.

The left, and progressives in general – the cliché goes – are soft, sensitive, naive people, incapable of leading society in the difficult times when hard decisions must be made. They are whining about poverty, the violation of rights, the weakening of democracy, the loss of social security, etc. They mourn for the loss of things from better times. This cliché – reinforced incessantly and not accidentally by the adventure movies of Hollywood and various other dominant cultural “products” – is the  assumption that fuels the appeal that neoliberal strategy has today. It’s hard but necessary – it is the only game in town if we want Europe to survive.

But neoliberalism and austerity are failing to reverse the decline of Europe. In fact they accelerate the decline, and, as I said, the most probable outcome will be the rise of neo-fascism and extreme right-wing nationalism.

In geopolitics, regions of the planet are assessed by their productive capacity, their military power, their control over trading routes, their population, their resources etc. The European countries are relatively small in size and taken separately, their geopolitical power is not considered to be important. The unity of the European countries is a necessary condition if we want some degree of autonomy, geopolitically speaking. It is a necessary condition if we want to maintain the capacity to co-determine our future.

But, unity can only be achieved through co-operation. The neoliberal dogma that we are going to build unity through competition – not by combining our forces but by using them against one another – is a contradiction in terms. Additionally, the interdependence of the European economies, the unprecedented power of the “markets”, the banks and other financial agents makes it reasonable to assume that the European people will either stand or fall together. In other words, it does not seem plausible that one European nation will be “saved” while the others are dragged down into darkness. European people today more than ever share a common fate. We need a strategy based on cooperation and democracy, as the  one that can reverse the decline of Europe by unlocking the huge capacities of the European people. The geopolitical assessment of a region that seems to be in decline according to conventional standards can be altered drastically if we take into account the capacities of the people. Capacities that can be fully activated if we think of the people as autonomous, pro-active agents of democratic decision-making and productive units that allow them to fully manifest and cultivate even further their capacities, instead of rendering them just as obedient, silent labor place-holders under the control of others.

If we really want to challenge neoliberal hegemony and austerity we need an approach that seems appealing to the majority of Europeans. Situating our strategy in the proposed framework, it appears to be a pragmatic, reasonable and better solution, rather than just a fair but unrealistic list of demands. This is a crucial step if we really want to fight back effectively, to change the course of things, to seriously question the hegemony of an inhuman transformation of our society. Needless to say that at the geopolitical level, a mature Europe which is constantly transforimg its productive matrix following a different path of development will be a force capable of stabilizing the global competition (which is now accelerated alarmingly threatening peace at a global scale) and it would support immensely similar efforts in other regions of the planet.

Methodology for a new politics: changing the ‘operating system’ of the left after the Greek experience of 2015

The “SYRIZA experience” provides valuable insights into the inadequacies of the traditional Left methodology to engage effectively with the state and the government within the neoliberal framework. The political imagination and methodology of the Left need to be modified, and I argue that we need a new conceptual and organizational framework of doing politics—both within the state and outside of it—that is relevant to the current situation.

*The article is based on 2016 Phyllis Clarke Memorial Lecture

*Published November 2016, Studies in Political Economy

Technologies and institutions for democracy in the 21st century

*Talk delivered in Madrid, May 2016, Democracy Lab/D-CENT International conference: Democratic Cities – Commons technology and the right to a democratic city 

I was asked to contribute to this session presenting various thoughts regarding a feasible political strategy and methodology based on lessons from the recent political experience in Greece.

My core assumption is that the political imagination, the methodology of mobilization and the organizational principles of the traditional political left and movements do not meet the requirements of the today’s political and social antagonisms. There is a time lag or inability of adaptation to the emerging authoritarian environment that the neoliberal project is imposing to societies.

Another aspect of the necessary update is the need to transform methodologies, organizational schemes and the respective imagination and mentality of fighting taking into consideration technological advances that swift the battleground and the rules of the political and social struggles. This is not just a matter of incorporating new technology in the traditional paradigm of doing politics; what we need is a paradigm change.

The current level of performance of what we could call “forces of emancipation” is not sufficient. The political left and the movements seem outdated as social organizers of building popular power in a productive sense, instead they continue to express and represent demands in a toxic political environment designed to be intolerant to people’s needs.

On the other hand, the thousands of alternative initiatives seem marginal, feeble, lacking a “critical mass”, they are not integrated into larger operational frameworks, it is difficult to upscale, they end up isolated and fragmented destined to face the same difficulties again and again.

We need a new organizational/operational DNA capable to replicate in various social levels and sectors creating cells of collective, productive activity governed by a different logic. Cells that can be combined in such a way that a new paradigm of emancipatory social change can emerge.
Τhe ominous battlefield of the 21st century

but before I begin I would like to highlight that it is vital to have in mind that the development of technologies and the building of institutions that promote democracy will take place in a context of brutal political and social struggles.

Let’s be frank to ourselves; despite all the subtleties and the complexities of our predicament the truth is that we are facing an extermination process and a danger of severe regression of what we could called modern societies that would affect the fate of humans in the entire planet. We are entering a transition phase in which a new kind of despotism is fast emerging, combining the logic of financial competition and profit with technological advances and pre-modern modes of brutal governance: multi-dimensional exclusion of people in terms of access to crucial decisions and satisfaction of vital needs multi-dimensional process of enclosure (resources, spaces, knowledge, information etc) and of course pure, lethal violence and wars.

At the same time long-term tendencies approach a critical point threatening humankind with severe regression: depletion of natural resources, environmental instability, food crisis and collapse of national and regional systems of administration and performance of basic social functions.

The elites today care only how are they going to accumulate more power, and by doing so they push humankind in decline. Neoliberalism is not only unfair for the people without economic power; it represents a future that reduces the emancipatory dimension of modernity into an unstable and feeble outcry within the dark ages. at the same time it fundamentally cannot provide the proper conceptual and operational framework for real solutions to the today’s global threats of humankind

These solutions must be based on sustainability, solidarity and openness in order to check the long-term tendencies of reaching a crucial bio-social limit, the rise of inequallity and barbarism that gradually takes the form of an extermination process of the poor and the threat of digital/military/financial authoritarianism.

At the same moment, for the first time in our evolutionary history we have so huge reserves of embodied capacities, a vast array of rapidly developing technologies of connection and data collection, and values and life philosophies from different cultures within our reach. Apart from the dangers, We are living in extreme times of unprecedented potentialities.

So, the context of developing technologies and institutions for democracy will be a very brutal battlefield; my experience from greece shows that we are forced to evolve and become more efficient while at the same time we -as people – are suffering huge losses, we retreat bleeding and every day we are pushed into greater misery and despair.

Why do democracy and the relevant technologies matter

But if this is the case then are we loosing our time with democracy, relevant technologies and other luxuries instead of focusing on survival strategies? Are we disillusioned and miss the overall picture? It depends on how we frame this kind of work in this broader picture. The crucial question is: Does democracy matter in terms of survival? The answer is yes; democracy is not a luxury as the mainstream narrative suggests but the most powerful weapon of the popular classes if properly treated. In order to respond adequately in these suffocating conditions, new organizational standards and methods are needed for the engagememnt of thousands of people in this day-to-day and multi-level fight. Here the role of technologies and institutions that promote democracy is crucial. Democracy is the most powerful tool we have at our disposal in order to deploy a survival strategy. We must unleash all the embodied capacitites that people have and throw them into this battle.

By transferring the decisions to the people, by giving them the space, the tools and the freedom to realize and mobilize their capacities, we can unlock crucial reserves of creative power. Unlocking these reserves will change substantially the balance of forces between the popular classes and the elites. If we elaborate effective ways and means of democratic functioning we will realize that we are actually much stronger than we think. This is the lesson of the syrian Kurdish: democracy is not mainly an ideological preference; it’s what the people need in order to make full use of their embodied capacities in order to upgrade their power and survive.

That’s why the work on developing technologies that enhance participation and democratic decision making is an essential dimension of the battle that has been intensified the last years between the popular classes and the elites. It’s the answer on the how question; how we – movements and organizations/institutions fighting for emancipation and societies running a severe risk – are going to mobilize the human reserves of creative power which are the only form of power we can have at our disposal in this struggle.

In the remaining time I am going to present some thoughts based on my experience of being at the leadership of Syriza for 12 years, of doing politics from that position under the regime of troika the last 6 years till my resignation last summer, and from the perspective of what happened in 2015.

In EU and Eurozone today, people’s democratic will has been successfully limited. In the case of Greece, democratically electing a government is like electing a 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 appoint it are going to suffer the consequences of daring to defy the elites’ privilege of exclusive access to these kinds of decisions. The European elites have managed to gain 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 functions or not.

So, in order to be in a position to pursue or implement any kind of policy one may consider as being the right one on the governmental level 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 to a society that dares to defy their privilege over crucial decisions.

Based on people’s capacities, proper alignment, connection and coordination it is possible to acquire the necessary power to at least be in a position to assume the basic functions if needed. 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.

Based on a strategy of this sort we can launch a process of redesigning the operating system of the Left so to speak. If we look at the horizon of the political practice of the Left we will see that it mainly contains demonstrating, that is organizing movements, pushing demands to the state; and voting, trying to change the balance of forces at the parliamentary level and hopefully form a government. But we know that moving and fighting within this framework is not sufficient. 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.

When one wants to solve a particular problem, expanding one’s solution space increases one’s potential to find that solution. If the ground of the battle has shifted, undermining your strategy, then it’s not enough to be more competent on the shaky battleground; you need to reshape the ground. And to do that you have to go beyond it, expand the solution space and find ways to change it favorably in order to continue fighting from a better position. One way to expand the solution space is by shifting priorities: from political representation to setting up an autonomous Network of production of Economic and Social Power (NESP).

Which means that we must modify the balance between representing people’s beliefs and demands and coordinating, facilitating, connecting, supporting and nurturing people’s actions at the profiling of the Left. Instead of being mainly the political representative of the popular classes in a toxic anti-democratic european political environment designed to be intolerable to people’s needs, we must contribute heavily to the formation of a strong “backbone” for resilient and dynamic networks of social economy and co-operative productive activities, alternative financial tools, local cells of self-governance, democratically functioning digital communities, communities control over functions such as infrastructure facilities, energy systems, digital data and distribution networks. These are ways of gaining a degree of autonomy necessary to defy the control of the elites over basic functions of our 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.

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.

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. 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. Since there are no empty spaces in history, if we do not do this, the nationalists and the fascists – with their own militarized ways of performing these basic functions – may step in to conclude the decline.

The formation of a “backbone” or better of the necessary “nodes” for the NESP poses the challenge for new forms of “organization”. We are living in a period of profound and structural changes and the traditional ways of organizing seem to be inadequate to seriously challenge the financial despotism that is emerging rapidly the last decades. Our opponents have already spotted the shifting nature of the battlefield and they have already moved to new, unclassified ways of organizing and acting. I am talking about building new kinds of institutions and promoting new methods that are compatible with the new emerging environment of fast flows of information, distributed knowledge and expertise, digital frameworks of action and production etc. It is evident that the forms of organization that we need in order to create and expand the NESP will be unclassified and hybrid from a traditional point of view.

We must and set up institutions that focus on 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 provide them to our agencies. It is also 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.

Let me conclude with the question of 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. Moreover, the administration of the state poses questions and tasks that we cannot avoid. There is no way to transcend the dominance of the logic of profit and competition and deal with today’s challenges 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 the Left is missing 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 indifference towards issues that are related with the implementation process. The prevailing rhetoric was that the problems 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” 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.

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.

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 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 strategy 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 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.

2016 Phyllis Clarke Memorial Lecture (video)

Methodology for a New Politics: Changing the «Operating System» of the Left

*Lecture delivered in Toronto, March 2016 

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.