Katerina Anastasiou, George Souvlis
The Global Center For Advanced Studies in collaboration with the School of Economics and Political Science of Athens organized the international conference "Democracy Rising", that took place from the 16th to 19th of July at the premises of the Law School of Athens. A cool-headed evaluation would presuppose a greater temporal distance. Yet, this way, we would miss to conceive the dynamics of the conjuncture in which the Congress took place and we believe that the later should be evaluated within it. This is what we aim to do in this article, hoping that will be a thought-provoking feedback for similar future initiatives that we consider necessary.
Primary aim of the conference was to gather as many intellectuals and activists from the broad spectrum of the left as possible, in this particular time and place. Theoretical and political discussions that took place during Democracy Rising, within the contemporary social and political momentum, were both interesting and necessary; especially for those that form the political avant-garde. The congress, through theoretical as well as more practical discussions, focused on what we are all doing, our failures and successes and finally and more importantly how we will collectively move forward from now on.
In what way was Democracy Rising different from related conferences or meetings of the international Left? The answer to this question lies more in the conjuncture per se, rather than the intentions and aspirations of the organizers and the participants. It is the systemic crisis itself that creates new dynamics and political subjects. The emergence of new political parties and defiance movements across the world, that attempt to gain hegemony in the society and the state apparatus, force the left and the movements to produce "particular analysis of the particular situation".
The participants were invited to discuss and exchange views on specific contemporary issues, exposing their limitations and exploring the ways in which these transform in the time continuum. In this light, the conference was a first effort to bridge the gap between theory and practice that has been characterizing the Left after the several defeats of the last decades. These defeats led it to its shrinking and contained left theory in university halls, converting it pretty much to a cultural phenomenon. Now it is called again to work as a political laboratory of hope and change, designing and elaborating a chain of actions that will really make a difference to people’s lives. Therefore, the fact that most of the panels focused on practical aspects of the ongoing struggles and their implications on the everyday life shouldn’t be surprising. For example: What is the role of the police in a left government? What does illegal, illegitimate and odious debt mean? What are the technical aspects of it and how do we demand its abolition? Which role did solidarity initiatives and structures play during the crisis and what should be their future in the ongoing struggles? How we can explain the importance of "commons" to apolitical people?
Amongst the most interesting aspects of Democracy Rising were the transnational content and the diverse political backgrounds of the participants. Its internationalist character contributed substantially in charting the similarities between the problems that the left and the ant capitalist movement, face, worldwide. On the other hand, the discussion process made it clear, that despite the brutal homogenization that neoliberalism imposes, it is exactly the diversity of the national contexts, within which the struggles are taking place, that makes diverse political approaches and action unavoidable. The heterogeneity of the analyses presented at Democracy Rising, was equally important, since it brought together and in a continuous dialog the institutional and extra-institutional left, reducing the phobic stance that exists amongst those two. It contributed, even if only temporally, to the arsis of the mutual exclusions imposed from both sides, deliberately or not, at similar events. It was a first step of unity and understanding of the complementarity that the two sides offer to the movement. This crystallized in the self-organized spontaneous gatherings, that took place at “Steki metanaston“ , the social centre of Tsamadou St, that aimed to organize, coordinate and plan common transnational action.
There were definitely many aspects of this congress that could and should be improved for a future follow up event. First of all, the evident absence of women from the main panels, that is indicative of the general underrepresentation of women in the high ranks of academic left. This annoyed us deeply. There was also a lack of panels on feminist topics and the feminist movement. A future conference should refrain from repeating this mistake.
A second problematic aspect was the absence of Syriza members from the podia. Despite the conjuncture and the political confusion, one would expect that amid the new realities, the people of Syriza would give and share their insights with comrades from abroad. Our international comrades didn't take up the travel to Athens just to network and enjoy the Athenian sun. The expected to get first hand information on the current situation of the left governance in Greece, the problems it is facing and the future planning. Instead, they came across party controversy and disagreements.
Last but not least, we realized during the process that we failed to leave enough space for self-organized panels and workshops, although the conference was characterized by voluntarism. We think that it would be useful in future initiatives to have the space and time for non-formal meetings, during the conference.
Given the lack of funding for the congress and taking into consideration that it contributed substantially to an original and sincere dialog between left-wing internationals that wouldn't have met under other circumstances, we think that the conference was an overall successful initiative. Democracy Rising managed to provide the space to discuss not only our "minor differences", but also the similarities that discern our struggles and aspirations.
Katerina Anastasiou is coordinator of the network and site change4all
Giorgos Souvlis is Ph.D. candidate at the European University Institute, Department History and Civilization
- Translated by: N/A
- The original text was first published on: Written for AnalyzeGreece!