Stathis Gourgouris: Left governmentality in reality

Kyriakos Katzourakis, “Yakinthi”, from the collection “The road to the West”, 2001 Kyriakos Katzourakis, “Yakinthi”, from the collection “The road to the West”, 2001
Stathis Gourgouris

No one can doubt any longer that with the elections of January 25th, Greece finds itself in the most critical crossroads of its recent history. At a time when the country is economically bankrupt, the citizens seem poised to elect a government that will take up the responsibility to terminate the totality of bankrupt values and practices that have brought the country to this dead-end. In an era of globalized economic blackmail that holds in chains all democratic sovereignty, the project of the coming SYRIZA government is both political and ethical. Because, beyond the enormous financial problem it is called upon to confront, the new government’s main responsibility is found elsewhere and this is why, in the last instance, it is being elected by the majority of the citizenry.

Beyond the international negotiation over sovereign debt and the overturning of the disastrous politics of austerity, chief concern of the new government on the very next day after the elections is the radical reconfiguration of the institutional framework and operation of state mechanisms and the internal social-political space in general. Basically, this involves the following:

First: Confrontation, without compromise, with the enthroned status quo of clientelist corruption in both public and private sectors, the vast workings of which were fueled and preserved for decades by previous governments, admittedly with the silent support of ‘bribed’ voters.

Second: Confrontation, without compromise, with the enthroned status quo of illegality that reigns for decades in almost all state institutions, including certainly the taxation office but even in the ranks of law and justice, as well as the police.

Third: Reinstitution of elementary values of social justice in basic domains (mainly in labor, health, and education), which had sustained capital punishment under force of the Memorandum, and at the same time, establishment of criteria of meritocracy for the necessary reforms in such domains.

Fourth: Promotion of radical changes in institutional frameworks that affect basic social rights and solidarity networks, mainly in the politics of gender and sexuality, minority rights and the rights of immigrant populations, cultural differences, etc.

One of the basic advantages of SYRIZA is precisely that the political space it represents has been categorically excluded from the games of power that annihilated the value system of Greek society in the last decades. It is for this reason that it is now called upon to take up, almost from a zero point, not only the unburdening of the country from the (financial) crisis, but the liberation of the country from those practices that brought it to a crisis point.

In this new calling, a crucial role was played by movements of resistance against long established practices, as they were manifested (even internationally) by mass assemblies in public spaces, as well as actions of public rage (starting already in December of 2008) from a youth that saw its future sold down the river by the ruthless interests of a local (but internationally connected) oligarchy.

These movements provided an example and a push toward the Left politics that now brings SYRIZA to power. But they don’t account for the number of voters, which is by far greater and touches upon the entire range of the social body. For this reason, the coming SYRIZA government carries a huge responsibility, which is different from the usual ideological credibility of the Left, strictly speaking. The first line of responsibility is to the voters who elect you, but the second and greater line of responsibility is even to those who have not elected you, because the Left, for the first time in history, is called upon to govern in the name of the entire Greek people, in the name of democracy itself.

Here, as Aristeidis Baltas insightfully pointed out in a recent Avgi column, a new condition is formed that differentiates a government of the Left from a leftist movement. A government that bears the people’s command cannot but operate instrumentally – make clear and timely decisions in particular historico-political conditions and limitations it inherits. The movement, however, remains in the hands of the people who created it by themselves and, regardless of the specific gestures of a government, owes it to itself to continue to operate in its local own spaces (the neighborhood, the workplace, the school, etc.), with the same practices of solidarity, critique, and democratic creativity. The movement does not operate instrumentally; it operates on the basis of an auto-organizational and autonomous critical imagination. It is not bound by governmental practices, but at the same time it must be situated toward the government that emerges from its ranks with critical solidarity. It must analyze governmental practices realistically and to act as a link to the broader social strata outside the movement. What I have named “governmentality of the Left” consists precisely of this coordination between government and movement.

Concerning finally the negotiation of the economic debt with the external powers that control it, and on the basis of my analysis so far, it is crucial to underline two points:

First, the only real resistance to this newfangled global power of financial capitalism is the people’s democratic will. No economist, bank director, or hedge fund manager can predict, control, or resist the political powers of a society. This is the formidable weapon of negotiation of a government that has come to power because the majority of the society refuses finally to submit to the tyranny of austerity.

Second, SYRIZA’s negotiating prowess grows remarkably as its capacity for radical reform is actualized. Because the overall climate in the EU is already tending against the catastrophic economic policies of the Memoranda, since the Eurozone itself is in jeopardy by the deflation that austerity in an era of economic crisis has created, the new government will have even the little bit of time it needs to demonstrate that it is the only real power that can alter the long term practices that brought the country to this point. All purveyors of Realpolitik in Europe recognize this, hence the terrorized confrontation of the SYRIZA prospect is no longer found on the international front pages.

On the contrary, a government of the Left that ruptures the politics of servitude to capital by the local oligarchy is now welcome as a breath of hope across the continent, and Greece is found again at the forefront of Europe, only this time so as to save, if nothing else, the most valuable principle of modern European culture: democratic autonomy.

Stathis Gourgouris is a Professor of Classics, English, and Comparative Literature and Director of the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society at Columbia University.
The article was published in Greek on the online magazine "Chronos"