Sunday, June 10, 2012

Greece, the historical bloc, and populism

By far the most sophisticated explanation of Antarsya's position in the Greek struggles is this article by Panagiotis Sotiris, which attempts to ground a revolutionary strategy in Gramsci's concept of the 'historical bloc'.  I think the article is interesting for a number of reasons.  First of all, I appreciate its discussion of the way in which a 'left government' can potentially be a moment in a revolutionary sequence, in which the class struggle can be carried on for a time within the state apparatus.  The idea, which I take to be implicit here, that the apparatuses of the executive and legislature can be temporarily occupied in the manner of resistances, that a left government can potentially act as a resistant force within and to some extent against the state, is light years ahead of the view that any such government would immediately and simply be an instrument of capitalist rule.  This shows that, even if Antarsya (mistakenly in my view) decline to give Syriza critical support in this upcoming election, there is nothing in their general theoretical purview which excludes such a position.

Secondly, the most interesting aspect of the article was the attempt to recover the Gramscian notion of 'national-popular' from the sort of compromises with nationalist politics that it has been associated with:

"Also useful to this is Gramsci’s concept of the ‘national – popular’. I do not suggest a return to traditional left-wing flirting with a ‘national’ rhetoric that can blur class antagonism, but to the complex process, political, ideological and social, through which the people can re-emerge in a situation of struggle, not as the abstract subject of the bourgeois polity, but as the potentially anti-capitalist alliance of all those social strata that one way or the other depend upon their labour power in order to make ends meet. This also means a new form of popular unity, especially against the dividing results of racism, an urgent task in a country also facing the rise of the neo-fascists." [link added]

As far as I'm concerned, this would be worth an article by itself.  The problem is clearly one of how to link together forces from different classes (the workers, the petty bourgeois and the peasants) into a system of alliances that can contest the bourgeoisie's power.  That is, a conjunction of social forces that one would call an 'historical bloc'.  

For, the problem is that for Greece to enter a revolutionary situation, one of the conditions is not only the development of a generalised breakdown of state capacity, and a generalised situation of dual power, but also simultaneously a rising new form of legitimacy.  This requires the consolidation of a popular power coextensive with bourgeois power, a national political collectivity through which workers learn by means of their own experience that they can organise the society, and that the ruling class must be compelled to cede its power.  Part of the problem at the moment is that large sectors of society, including of the working class, believe that Greece's problems ultimately derive from a corrupt establishment, from supine politicians, and so on - certainly, this is a crisis of legitimacy for the political elite, but it doesn't involve fundamentally questioning the capitalist state or bourgeois democracy as such.  I think we can say this for most of the third of the electorate who voted for the anti-austerity Right, and for the third who voted for the pro-austerity parties.  So, there are large numbers of people who will have to be won to a revolutionary alliance but who are at the moment gravitating to the dissident Right.  How to bind together such an alliance in a way that isn't merely electoral?

The answer proposed, of an anticapitalist populism, strikes me as a very useful mediator between social-democratic and outright revolutionary subjectivity.  There is, after all, no iron wall between populism and communism; populism tends to be proto-communist to the extent that the popular-democratic interpellations which summon 'the people' into conflict with the 'power bloc' are susceptible to anticapitalist articulations.  Historically, it is rare to find a serious anticapitalist movement that has not been preceded by, or suffused by, some form of populism.

Of course, there can be more than one mediating form.  I would suggest that one such for millions of workers will probably be Syriza's own type of left-populism, which I gather is successfully assembling that linkage between workers, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and even some agrarian workers.  And bridging the gap between one type of populist interpellation and another is a delicate operation, one that would seem to involve a certain amount of stealthy appropriation as much as outright criticism.  What I mean by 'appropriation' can be illustrated with an example: if Syriza says, 'we intend to abrogate the laws implementing the Memorandum', one can either respond to this by dismissing it, or glossing over it; or one can embrace it, affirm it, and say that if anything they should go further: the logic of Syriza's position is that they should begin to prepare workers for a break with the EU, and for a confrontation with capital, etc etc.

Of course, those of us who live outside Greece will not face exactly similar scenarios (we should be so fortunate), but the broad strategic questions addressed in Sotiris's article will come to us in one form or another.  And that's why it matters what we think about Syriza, and Greece, the crisis of Europe.