The dire circumstances in Greece compel the social movements to reposition themselves in front of the SYRIZA government.
first published at Periodico Diagonal
It is commonplace to affirm that the election victory of Syriza is in large measure based on the mobilisation of the social movements of the last five years in Greece. However, this affirmation may help obfuscate the diversity of ideas and demands in Greek society, as well as possibly reinforcing a simplistic conception of a struggle between pro and anti-austerity forces. Although it is a fact that Syriza has been present in the mass mobilisations of the last years, the fundamental factor in the consolidation of its hegemony was its capacity to mobilise the vote of the middle class, convincing the latter that it could reverse the injustices produced by indiscriminate cuts, stop the downward mobility of many and take up again the path towards the material prosperity of the years previous to the crisis.
Within the social movements, however, there are two distinct social imaginaries, complementary and at the same time antagonistic. On the one hand are the movements of citizens affected by the antisocial attacks of the troika, who demand the restitution of the welfare state as an instrument of redistribution, the reinforcement of the state as mediator of social antagonisms and the return of economic growth with the aim of alleviating the poverty and desperation that mass unemployment has provoked. On the other hand, there is a multitude of movements that propose going beyond the state and the capitalist economy as organising principles of social life; movements that have begun to construct radical alternatives here and now based on proximity, solidarity and participation.
Of course, the two imaginaries coexist at the heart of many movements and are in permanent friction. Interminable debates have occurred, for example, in the assemblies of the dozens of Self-managed Solidarity Clinics in Greece: is their objective to fill the gaps produced by the dismantling of the public health care system or, on the contrary, to produce an alternative model for the management of health that goes beyond the state?
The groups dominated by the first imaginary celebrated the arrival of Syriza to power as their own victory. One month later, however, the limitations of this idea in the present conjuncture are becoming obvious. The power of the national government reveals itself to be insufficient to confront established powers at both the national and international level. Despite the determined negotiations, the new government has returned from Brussels with a new austerity plan that will make it very difficult to implement its “social salvation plan”, as announced during the electoral campaign. Even if this outcome represents an improvement over earlier bail-out programmes, and even if this is but the first step in a long negotiation, it becomes obvious that in a Europe dominated by a neoliberal hard core that demands human sacrifices to placate the markets, there is very little room for manoeuvre for a progressive government. Furthermore, with an empty public purse recand the permanent blackmail of servicing the sovereign debt, an economic recovery based on Keynesian-inspired politics seems equally unattainable.
On the other side, the movements inspired by the second imaginary, after the social effervescence of the years 2011-2012, went through a progressive demobilisation, in part due to the strategy of attrition and repression of the previous government, but also because of the electoral dynamics of Syriza, which managed to channel the desire for social change towards the electoral avenue. Nevertheless, their legacy persists: self-managed companies, initiatives of management of the commons, ecovillages, production and consumption cooperatives, neighbourhood assemblies, and a large variety of grassroots initiatives that prefigure an alternative organisation of society in terms of radical democracy and an economy constructed according to human needs.
In this context, at the end of February a forum of thinkers and activists of grass roots movements took place in Athens, with hundreds of participants, under the title “Prosperity without growth”, with the explicit goal of translating their activities into concrete proposals, addressed as much to the political powers, as well as to society. Starting from the premise that economic growth is already incompatible with social wellbeing and environmental sustainability, the grassroots movements seek to complement the creative resistance to neoliberal politics and the construction of viable alternatives from below with the demand for radical reforms: from the introduction of a basic universal income, to the institution of new regimes of management of the commons, to the creation of a legal framework that permits the operation of recuperated factories, like Vio.Me in Thessaloniki. In this way, an effort is made to make use of the opportunities afforded by a government that explicitly recognises social and solidarity economy as part of its political program.
The relation between state power and the social movements, however, is never free of friction and contradictions. Historically, left-wing governments present the threat of cooptation and demobilisation of the movements. In the present conjuncture, it is important that the initiatives from below maintain their autonomy of thought and action, to avoid becoming diluted within Syriza’s hegemonic project. For this reason, one of the most relevant initiatives that emerged from the forum was the effort to connect and integrate antagonistic projects in defence of the commons into a political agent capable of playing a protagonistic role in a postconsumerist society, helping thereby to overcome the artificial dilemma between austerity and growth.