by Jay Monaco
Call me soft if you want, but I feel no shame in admitting to being profoundly moved by the people of Greece. Hell, for all their flaws, I’m moved and inspired by Alexis Tsipras and Syriza. These are real, flesh and blood politicians exhibiting tremendous courage and even exuding the faintest whiff of morality and justice; while we pontificate at our computer screens, they’re playing a game with stakes likely to change the world. They understand this. They take the responsibility seriously. They’re not posturing for jobs at Covington & Burling. This is very real for them – and for us.
But back to the people. In last Sunday’s referendum on continued dictatorial austerity imposed by bankers and capital-E Europe, the Greek people essentially faced rather chilling threats about not merely the future of their country but any hope they might harbor about comfort and security in their own lives. They were warned to take their damn medicine, accept the bitter pill even if continued austerity promised economic depression and, plainly, want for the next two or three generations, or face annihilation. The Germans, in particular, have demonstrated a raw sadism in their desire to crush the Greeks, seemingly whether they accept austerity or reject it. But reject it they did, and overwhelmingly so. It isn’t just the 60%+ showing that made the vote of OXI – NO – so resounding, but perhaps most shocking to Americans used to deep regional polar divisions, every single region of Greece voted with similar margins in unison.
With their backs against the wall, facing down the barrels of the whole world’s guns, they stood up. They pushed back. They said no to slow suicide – and yes to a future. Voting no was a yes for self-determination, for democracy, for basic human decency. This is an extraordinary event, and I’m grateful for it. I’m moved, I’m inspired – and frankly, anyone with a heart should be, too.
Speaking from a more practical place, however, the way forward is very much unclear, success and victory far from guaranteed. We watch this story continue to unfold with critical hope – and solidarity. Indeed, whatever one’s criticisms of Syriza or fears for their capitulation, or principled analyses of what the correct strategy needs to be, it’s worth calling out positive developments we can already claim as victories, as political lessons and assets we didn’t have before, regardless of whatever happens in the months and years to come.
International socialism is a thing
When Syriza was elected to head Greek government way back in January, it represented the rare emergence of a new radical socialist country on the world scene. It seems, perhaps, that Sunday’s referendum, coupled with the relentless assault on the Tsipras and his ministers by, well, everyone, proved the de facto initiation of Greece into the exclusive Leftist Countries Club. Accordingly, it is heartening to see the leaders – often quite embattled themselves – of the socialist nations of Latin America showing unqualified solidarity and support for Tsipras, Syriza, and the Greek people.
Cuba’s (retired) Fidel Castro wrote a warm letter to Tsipras. Translated into English by Granma, here’s some highlights:
I warmly congratulate you for your brilliant political victory, details of which I followed closely through the channel TeleSur.
Greece is very familiar among Cubans. She taught us Philosophy, Art and Sciences of antiquity when we studied at school and, with them, the most complex of all human activities: the art and science of politics.
Your country, especially your courage in the current situation, arouses admiration among the Latin American and Caribbean peoples of this hemisphere on witnessing how Greece, against external aggression, defends its identity and culture.
In the current political situation of the world, where peace and the survival of our species hangs by a thread, every decision, more than ever, must be carefully thought-out and applied, so that no one may doubt the honesty and seriousness with which many of the most responsible and serious leaders struggle today to confront the calamities that threaten the world.
We wish you, esteemed compañero Alexis Tsipras, the greatest of success.
I love all of it.
Similarly, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro issued this impassioned statement of support during Venezuela’s Independence Day celebrations:
That is where we should be headed! Today, Greece gave a lesson to the world, today Greece said to the financial terrorists… to the elites of Europe, they told them that the Greek people will not bow down on bended knees, the Greek people has a right to live, and it will win and build its own path and economy, health to the people of Greece!
We can only hope we are indeed headed toward an expanded global confrontation. That’s one of the things we’re waiting for, isn’t it? Can the “Grexit crisis” lead to new world alliances of leftists and others willing to stand up against the tyranny of Global Finance? That remains to be seen – but hope for such a thing just became a whole lot less unreasonable.
“What would’ve been called survival programs in the era of the Black Panther Party”
While the debate over Syriza’s past and present strategy taxes our dialectical materialist dogma muscles, there’s much that is simpler, more tangible, and more easily learned from happening on the ground in Greece. It’s been happening, in fact, since well before the fireworks of the last month. As Gawker described last week,
A variety of what would’ve been called survival programs in the era of the Black Panther Party have been carried out through such assemblies across Athens: food and clothing distribution, supplementary education programs for children, basic health services, mental health support, eviction defense – all administered via face-to-face, direct democracy.
When a tax increase folded into electricity bills resulted in cutoffs for people unable to pay, lists were made and local electricians were dispatched to illegally restore services, with priority afforded to those most vulnerable (the elderly, new parents). A former military installation seized by residents and converted into a community park and cultural center boasted sizeable gardens, tended by locals of varying ages.
The Guardian reported back in January the ways in which the people have stepped up to cope with the fact that the years of austerity have led to a third of the population bereft of medical insurance:
So, along with a dozen other medics including a GP, a brace of pharmacists, a paediatrician, a psychologist, an orthopaedic surgeon, a gynaecologist, a cardiologist and a dentist or two, Kesidou, an ear, nose and throat specialist, spends a day a week at this busy but cheerful clinic half an hour’s drive from central Athens, treating patients who otherwise would not get to see a doctor. Others in the group accept uninsured patients in their private surgeries.
“Because in the end, you know,” said Christos Giovanopoulos in the scruffy, poster-strewn seventh-floor central Athens offices of Solidarity for All, which provides logistical and administrative support to the movement, “politics comes down to individual people’s stories. Does this family have enough to eat? Has this child got the right book he needs for school? Are this couple about to be evicted?”
As well as helping people in difficulty, Giovanopoulos said, Greece’s solidarity movement was fostering “almost a different sense of what politics should be – a politics from the bottom up, that starts with real people’s needs. It’s a practical critique of the empty, top-down, representational politics our traditional parties practise. It’s kind of a whole new model, actually. And it’s working.”
It also looks set to play a more formalised role in Greece’s future under what polls predict will be a Syriza-led government from next week. When they were first elected in 2012 the radical left party’s 72 MPs voted to give 20% of their monthly salary to a solidarity fund that would help finance Solidarity for All. (Many help further; several have transferred their entitlement to free telephone calls to a local project.) The party says the movement can serve as an example and a platform for the social change it wants to bring about.
Referendum aside, few aspects of Syriza’s platform and performance deserve as much praise as their support for popular mobilization in general and the grassroots solidarity movement in particular.
I’m not suggesting we have to go hard anarchist or anything like that, but here’s a thought: suppose we on the left could figure out how to do these things. Suppose we could organize free clinics, free food, free stores. It’s been done before, not just in Greece but here in the US, as pointed out in the Gawker pull-quote above. Suppose we could show people we are capable of handling these practical affairs – delivering on real needs of real people – in our own local cities and towns. Suppose we don’t wait for official sanction or funding, suppose we just do these things.
Suppose that’s what people see. Seems to me, that’s how we win.