Our contemporary impotence

Dossier: The Greek Symptom: Debt, Crisis and the Crisis of the Left

RP 181 () / Article, Dossier, The Greek Symptom

We have, in this conference, discussed all of the crucial aspects of the situation in Europe and especially in Greece. We have, of course, analysed the great historical structures at stake: the particularly aggressive global politics of contemporary capitalism, the complicit weakness of the various states, and the reactive role played by Europe as it now stands, but also the law of subjective forms that illuminates the contemporary dialectic of submission and insurrection. We have also taken stock of the urgency of militant demands – those that issue from the ordeals that increasing poverty and the destruction of social forms have imposed on the people, and others issuing from the increasingly arrogant actions of fascist gangs, who play on absolutely cruel nationalist themes and absolutely intolerable racist realities. To this end, we have all tried to assess the ongoing acts of resistance.

I have nothing to add to all of this, so far as the immediate characteristics of the situation in Greece is concerned. One of my great teachers or masters [maîtres] in the domain of communist politics [Mao Zedong] used to say ‘No investigation, no right to speak!’ Unlike other contributors to our colloquium, our Greek friends in particular, I have not, after all, undertaken a political or militant investigation into the situation that serves as our point of reference here. I know that the experience of a new political situation can be understood only from within its own process, that ordinary information and opinions do not suffice. And this is for a very simple reason: political novelty, which is subjective, does not allow itself to be grasped from the outside while it is in the process of constituting itself. This is, moreover, what the master I cited a moment ago meant when he added: ‘to investigate a problem is to solve it’. And I have neither the capacity nor the intention of solving any of the problems that currently beset the Greek people.

My subjectivity here is therefore broadly external to the sequence in question. I will accept the limits of this position, and begin with a feeling, an affect, which is perhaps personal, perhaps unjustified, but which I nevertheless feel, given the information at my disposal: a feeling of general political impotence. What is currently happening in Greece is something like a concentrate of this feeling.

I certainly admire the eloquence of my friend and comrade Costas Douzinas, who has buttressed his avowed optimism with precise references to what he takes to be the political novelties of the people’s resistance in Greece, where he has even discerned the emergence of a new political subject.1 But I am not convinced. Of course, the courage and tactical inventiveness of progressive and anti-fascist demonstrators that Costas has evoked is cause for enthusiasm. Such things, moreover, are thoroughly necessary. But novel? No, not at all. They are the invariant features of every real mass movement: egalitarianism, mass democracy, the invention of slogans, bravery, the speed of reactions… We saw all of these same things, undertaken with the same energy – joyful and always a little anxious – in May ’68, in France. We have seen them more recently in Tahrir Square in Egypt. Indeed, truth be told, these things must have already been at work in the times of Spartacus or Thomas Münzer. Some forty years ago, I suggested calling these determinations ‘the communist invariants’, and today I would say, more precisely: the invariant characteristics of movement communism. Properly political novelties, and a new political subject, are something else: their vitality demands movement, but can never be confounded with it.

And so let us set out, provisionally, from another point of departure.

Greece is a country with a very long history, one of universal significance. It is a country whose resistance to successive oppressions and occupations has a particular historical density. It’s a country where the communist movement, including the form of armed struggle, has been very powerful. A country where, even today, the youth set an example by sustaining massive and tenacious revolts. A country where, without a doubt, the classic reactionary forces are very well organized, but where there is also the courageous and ample resource of the …