Dimitris Christopoulos: The future will be determined by the management of defeat

Pantelis Dionysios, "Untitled" Pantelis Dionysios, "Untitled"
Dimitris Christopoulos
Throughout its uphill course through history, the Left has been credited with many more mistakes than its opponents. This is largely because of its innate political aspiration to tip the balance of power from the position of the weaker, and thus from the position of least leverage. Adherence to the prevalent trend in the name of political pragmatism and the consequent consent to the rule of the stronger, allows for mistakes to be contained; subordination and unquestioning consent minimise risks while the will to overturn the status quo of necessity exacerbates them. Nevertheless, the politically honourable intention to overturn the status quo cannot provide ready source of absolution for political sins.

Though democracies face no impasses, societies do
My starting point is an unpopular one: my belief that the referendum of 5 July has already registered as one of the most devastating mistakes in the history of the Left. It promised and bore a "No" which was quickly converted into a "Yes" the following day. It shut down banks, the consequences of which have already been felt and will likely continue to be experienced for a long time, and it drove creditors to an even more punitive and vengeful stance towards Greece, all of which resulted in the following week’s onerous agreement. The fact that the Left in Greece and abroad saw in the referendum an awakening of democratic national dignity does nothing to neutralize the consequences mentioned above. Colin Crouch, one of the most prominent political theorist of our time, actually spelled it out: "you have become our heroes! Now you should not turn into martyrs." (Efimerida ton Syntakton, 7 July 2015).

Thus, the referendum bore much damage. Its positive consequences – the resignation of New Democracy’s Leader, Antonis Samaras, the emerging climate of democratic solidarity in support of Greece, and the global stigmatization of German brutality –, are not enough to counter the damage. The referendum forced the desperate national vehicle into a head-on collision with the wall of intransigence erected by Greece’s creditors. While recognizing that this collision was almost unavoidable from the offset given the creditors' real objective was to politically liquidate the Left-wing government, I would suggest that anyone invested in the public good, would have done well to try to minimise the drastic impact of such a crash. There remains a notable difference between a high-speed crash and a cruising-speed collision.

Here, I will dwell for a moment on the personal. I came to this conclusion about the referendum as soon as it was called, and resigned from my position as special advisor to the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Restructuring as a result. I did so before the referendum was held and, of course, irrespective of its outcome. Though I submitted my resignation on the Friday before the referendum, I decided not to go public with it at that stage – my objective was of course far from letting it be used by the Government's and SYRIZA’s opponents. However in my resignation letter I stressed that we had to acknowledge the fact that our strategy failed because we trapped ourselves between two disastrous options – the likely result of which would bear civic chaos. And I added: "while we (rightly) demonise the creditors and the EU's criminal stance that drove Greek people to despair, we should know ourselves better: the weak will never win by simply parading its just and honourable cause. On the contrary, he typically squanders the cause in so doing. And despair is never a good advisor. Had we been even minimally materialist in our reading of the situation, we would have known this and might have been able to prevent the disaster that ensued."
What Now?
I believed then and continue to hold that SYRIZA’s strategy failed. This is the chapter heading. The "anti-MoU within the EU" narrative was blown apart. And, which is more, there was nothing to fall back on – making the crash all the more spectacular and the transformation all the more painful. In Antonio Gramsci's words, the dusk of an old world and the dawn of a new is the twilight of monsters. Until now, the bourgeois world, addicted to power, bore its own monsters. The Left could not escape the rule and it has now entered the phase of its own teratogenesis. Unfortunately, this has been a recurring theme in its painful history of splits and divisions.

The realization cannot be softened; it calls for serious soul-searching. The advocates of the bluffing theory – the blind belief that the institutions would come around at the eleventh hour –, and the professionals who, with reliable complacency, offered hollow reassurance with the, "don't worry, we’ve got them" argument, have much to answer for. They simply got it all wrong. They were sincerely astonished to find themselves fallen from that state that Mao Zedong's described as a “great disorder under Heaven; an excellent situation” into a state akin to that of the people of Milos described by Thucydides in his fifth book of "History": the Athenians lectured the Milosians that, "the powerful do whatever their power allows and the weak simply give in and accept it”.

Little does it matter that some were tricked. In the case of public figures, the fact that they themselves deceived others is more important. And this has to be acknowledged in all honesty. Honesty is a political virtue, akin to prudence. All of us who have been involved in government work – regardless of our views and intentions – have a share in responsibility, albeit of varying degrees.

I stress the term 'prudence' in light of the danger of the situation. It is safe to assume that after the plight of the Greek economy, severe damage to its public institutions will be quick to follow. The main issue now is how to avoid the total dismantling of the state apparatus. It is this impending danger that should determine where we go from here. “Yes” or “No” to the Euro is not a question of political or economic aesthetics. It is a question posed under specific historical terms to a ravaged society and to a shattered economy. To those who have fetishized the currency, the real issue is the historic and social, i.e. the real and material terms of the dilemma and not the dilemma itself – often presented in the realm of the abstract or ideational. And today these odds are pitted devastatingly against Greece, and particularly against the weakest strata of its society.

A disorderly Grexit without a plan in hand, with no banks, with the rich having already rescued their deposits by transferring them abroad, will yield only a new UNRRA. It is impossible to think that one can, in good conscience, disregard this, regardless of how disgusted we may be with Europe, of how suffocating the Memorandum dead-end may be.

Τhis new agreement and the legal processes surrounding it are not simply a fiscal prison held in place by the Memorandum. This is an isolation cell designed for prisoners who attempted to escape. Despite the relief brought about by Monday's white smoke from Brussels, there is no room for optimism as regards the sustainability of the debt or of the deal itself. This punitive agreement cannot be honoured. The creditors, too, are aware of this. In simple terms: this agreement is by no means a settlement of the Greek issue. Barring some radical change, especially abroad, the country will soon find itself faced once again with the same painful dilemma. At this stage, the agreement's only comparative advantage is that it buys Greece political time to generate some form of positive development on an international level, capitalizing and expanding on the atmosphere generated around Greece's case over the past few weeks.

"The future last a long time", but time is not at all forgiving. Time reaps its revenge -- particularly on history’s key figures. However, everyone, in Greece and abroad, must acknowledge that the ship cannot, at this stage, be steered by another captain; those who feel they cannot support him for reasons of conscience, would do well not to undermine him.

The threat to the political community
From the first introduction of the Memoranda to this day, their biggest "success" has been their impeachment of Greece's political elites through summary procedures. The Memoranda’s major success was the destruction of sovereign purpose, i.e the political body's self-determination through the decision of its leaders. Presented with a society lacking consensus from the offset, and marred with memories of historical splits, the Memoranda shattered the country's ability to be orderly governed and de-regulated the relationship between the political body and its nominal leadership. I strongly believe that this has been their most long-term criminal exploit. This was the reason why the Memoranda failed in Greece even as they managed to impose their iron discipline elsewhere. This is by no means the end of the process; following the new agreement, the Memoranda will continue to shatter the country's political capital.

Without leadership, the political body runs aimlessly around like a headless chicken – prey to teratogeneses from all sides; and this is the worst part. In the immensely difficult path in which the country found itself, a critical objective is to safeguard the right to express disagreement in an orderly fashion within the political community.
Only self-criticism, the honest and prudent management of defeat can keep some hope alive for a better chapter heading for the future of Greece and, perhaps, even, for the future of Europe.

Dimitris Christopoulos is the Vice President of the International Federation for Human Rights, an Associate Professor of Political Science, Panteion University, Athens.

Translated by Despina Biri