If elections could change things, they’d be illegal

The Greek elite have new scapegoats – society’s wretched and defenceless: immigrants, prostitutes and the poor.

Greek fascist groups have begun to target the country's 'wretched and defenceless' [AFP]

New York, NY – Were one to write a pre-election analysis in the glorious days of Greece’s ancien regime, one would most probably have to present and analyse the political positions of the main competing parties. Yet, this is one of the most outdated things one might want to do if one intends to say anything useful about Greece today. In fact, no-one expects to learn anything new from the traditionally televised debates among politicians (no doubt that this disillusionment should be regarded as one positive outcome of the “crisis”). Alas, there are still many hopes regarding the outcome of the elections.

The old anarchist slogan that inspired this article’s title has gained urgent actuality in Greece. Spray-painted with black and red letters on random walls throughout the urban landscape, its bold message stands in alarming contrast to the empty utterances by the talking heads now standing for election.

For a long time, the most insightful and inspiring quotes about the political situation in Greece have totally eclipsed the manifestos of technocrats and the reports of journalists. Hope and insights, endurance and critique, are more likely to be expressed through red and black graffiti than in the speeches made by experts.

The “Greek crisis” has had at least two side effects so far: it demonstrated that official politics has no vision whatsoever, and that mainstream journalism has no shame.

Counting the Cost:
Who are the winners and losers in Greece?

It is doubtful whether there has been another moment in the country’s tumultuous post-WWII history in which the carefully manufactured (and brutally defended) consensus – which apologists of capitalism euphemistically call democracy – has suffered so much a loss of face at the hands of internal and external ruling elites.

In an ironic twist of history, “democracy” collapses day after day in its cradle, only to reveal itself as a bloodthirsty cacophony of exploitation, suppression and inhumanity.

This is what democracy looks like in the place of its birth today:
Criminal neo-Nazi groups launch murderous pogroms against immigrants – driven away from their homes from imperialist wars in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa – thereby sharpening their fighting skills on the bodies upon the most vulnerable, and effectively preparing themselves for the upcoming assault on the homegrown resistance movement.

Crypto-racist and violence-prone armed gangs – aka dias and delta motorcycled police teams – roam the streets of major cities, beating up journalists and harassing and arresting those who appear “suspicious” or “rebellious”.

Guilty politicians from both major parties (the conservative/neoliberal New Democracy and the social-democratic/neoliberal PASOK) hide from an enraged people behind the walls of guarded palaces, evoking doomsday scenarios in case the citizenry dare not vote them back into office.

Unelected bankers and EU-technocrats effectively run the show, deciding for the generations to come to sell out the country’s most vital assets, and to sink the population into unprecedented levels of poverty and misery.

Unsavoury journalists hide behind ludicrous televised lies and unqualified threats, lamenting as psychiatric cases those schoolteachers who, imitating Mohamed Bouazizi, were willing to take their lives in political protest.

Amid this atmosphere of omnipresent physical and structural violence, fear and hopelessness, inflicted by the elites and their proxies, the old anarchist slogan not only represents the most accurate description of the situation in the place formerly known as the Greek republic, but also the only way forward: the struggle against austerity and hypocrisy should be fought not only on election day, but on every day.

Weimar reloaded: The ‘two extremes’ scare

And, indeed, many people do exactly that: organising themselves on a daily basis to fighting against racism and austerity. The “crisis” has revealed a creative potential among a large part of the population in Greece. There is no doubt that Greece is today at the forefront of global resistance against capitalism. Creativity and steadfastness of the resistance movement inspire people’s fights across the continent. But it also scares the elites – worldwide. 

The elite’s strategy … after the failure of racist arguments on culture and corruption, a new shibboleth has appeared – the society’s wretched and defenceless: immigrants, prostitutes and the poor.

The politics in Greece has superseded both the boundaries of the country as well as the temporality of our time. In today’s Greece, one can see the future of tomorrow’s Europe. The arguments about lazy Greeks and corrupt state employees have already begun to look anachronistic vis-a-vis the spreading of the crisis into hitherto model cases such as Portugal, Italy, Spain and France.

Now, those who really seek to see the entire picture know well that the problem lies with capitalism and not with the nation’s culture.

In the face of this development, the elite’s strategy to maintain the consensus has been re-adjusted. After the failure of racist arguments over culture and corruption, a new shibboleth has appeared – the society’s wretched and defenseless: immigrants, prostitutes and the poor. The strategy is well conceived. At first, the “other” is defined as a controversy and a threat, and then those who take radical positions around it are branded as collateral threats. Both those willing to defend the “other” as well as those seeking to exterminate it, are labelled “extremists”.

“Socialist” ministers of the coalition government label refugees and prostitutes as “hygienic ticking bombs”, freely borrowing from racist Western pseudo-scientific discourses about non-Western threats. Then, after having produced a machinery of propaganda against the immigrants throughout the past years, they are shocked to see the far-right gain influence in the election polls. Perfect bigots as they are, though, they warn about the rise of both “extremes”.

undefined The homeless in Greece have become one of the far-right’s new targets, and scapegoats for the economic crisis [GALLO/GETTY]

However, the rise of the far-right in the polls plays in the hands of the ruling political elites, who can now point at them with the finger and shout: “Beware of the extremes.” Yet it is a false alarm. A criminal gang that can run for election only due to constant police protection does not constitute a real threat to the system. The far-right in Greece is mainly used as a scare against the radical left and the prospects of a popular rebellion. The war of the elites is not against fascism – or racism, for that matter. After all, the latter has been their bread and butter since the beginnings of the 1990s.

The existential threat to their regime comes principally from the prospect of a popular uprising, which if the left was really up to the task would have been long underway.

¡Callate o despertaras la izquierda!

The urban myth has it that a slogan by the Spanish protesters in Puerta del Sol fuelled the spark for the Greek Tahrir – the Syntagma square – in spring 2011: ¡Callate o despertaras a Grecia! [“Be silent or you will wake up Greece”].

The slogan was said to have awakened the pride of Greeks in protesting and in civil disobedience. Whether the slogan truly existed or not is rather trivial. What is true and important, however, is that the Spanish protests caused a domino effect in Greece, just like the Tunisian protests did in Egypt.

However, similar forms of protest (strikes, marches, public assemblies, occupied public spaces) have not – yet – re-appeared in the same magnitude this spring. Excessive state repression, widespread insecurity about the future and a vague hope of change through the upcoming elections seem to have taken the air from the sails of popular forms of resistance.

Yet, if the Greeks woke up last spring, it is the official left in the country that is still sleeping.

No-one seems to believe more in the prospect of change through elections than the two major parties of the anti-capitalist left today: the Communist party (KKE) and Syriza, a leftist alliance of radical parties and previous Euro-Communists.

While most of the protesting people in the country have long lost faith to the system of rule, euphemistically called “democracy”, both parties reiterate their faith in the ballot box at every given opportunity.

While hundreds of thousands surround the parliament to protest what they see as a constitutional coup d’etat by the ruling elite, both parties keep their MPs inside, effectively contributing to the redressing of a regime of open violence as “political dialogue”.

While workers and pensioners throughout the country are deprived of basic means for survival, both parties ask them to be patient and make sure they do not die until May 6.

While fascist groups chase defenceless immigrants in open daylight, both parties mobilise their supporters mostly – if not solely – towards their respective election campaigns.

For both parties, the elections have acquired an almost millenarian outlook, something like a second coming: what if election polls show the neo-Nazi party of Greece (Golden Dawn) as high as five or six per cent? The left is busy celebrating its double-digit score in the same polls.

Once again, one feels the need to reiterate: if elections could change things, they would have been made illegal. In fact, this might well happen in one way or another: members of the political elite have shamelessly suggested the indefinite postponement of elections, while European officials have clearly indicated that unless voters choose one of the two major parties, the country would be plunged into chaos, prompting the leader of Syriza to file a complaint with the European Commission over foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs.

In the face of all this, it appears essential to ask whether:

  • Instead of drafting an electoral program, it would be more useful to craft everyday programs of population mobilisation against elite-driven violence and misery
  • Instead of debating with those who massacre “democracy” in the parliament, it would be more effective to join the ranks of those who surround the building
  • Instead of waiting for the election results to empower the party, it would be more crucial to strengthen local committees of immigrants and Greeks together in the fight against extreme right-wing groups

Instead of cultivating illusions about change through elections, it would be more sincere to move quickly towards a post-representational system of Direct Democracy.

Nikolas Kosmatopoulos received his PhD in anthropology from the University of Zurich. He has conducted fieldwork on peace expertise in Lebanon and Geneva and is now visiting scholar at Columbia University and at CUNY.