The 3 Rs: Reform, revolution, and “resistance”: The problematic forms of “anti-capitalism” today
Costas Gousis, Thodoris Kariotis, Nikolas Sevastakis, and Aris Tsioumas
Platypus Review 53 | February 2013
The following are excerpts from the transcript of a moderated panel discussion and audience Q&A on the problematic forms of anti-capitalism today, organized by the Platypus Affiliated Society in Thessaloniki. The panelists were Nikolas Sevastakis, associate professor at the School of Political Science of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki; Thodoris Kariotis, who participates in direct democracy and cooperative movements; Aris Tsioumas, a member of Movement for Labor Emancipation and Self-Organisation; and Kostas Gousis, member of NAR, a component of the anti-capitalist coalition ANTARSYA. The panel discussion was moderated by Giorgos Stefanidis of Platypus. The event took place in the Lodge of the Student Unions, Faculty of Philosophy, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, on May 30, 2012.
Nikolas Sevastakis: The appeal to resistance—and I am talking about the multiple appeals to democracy that have appeared in the last few decades—often reflects a puzzlement concerning the founding aspirations of the radical movement. Not only puzzlement, but also an actual avoidance of the target of transcending capitalism. Let me put it a little differently: The aim of radical systemic change is substituted by practices of stalling or blocking the most extreme and negative aspects of a state of domination, or of a governmental decision. At this point, resistance, accompanied by “radical” and “subversive” terms, evokes the idea that the movement is everything, the final goal is nothing, an idea formulated by Bernstein in the reformist tradition.
Despite the limits of the logic of resistance (and the appeal to resistance), i.e. despite the fact that it actually “carries with it” the experience of the losses and the multiple defeats of earlier emancipatory movements, I consider it politically and ethically problematic to “repress” this experience of loss or failure for the sake of some new truth as affirmation, by which we are “exempted with a leap” from the burden of a sad or guilty consciousness. I believe that the experience of loss as a starting point for the daring recognition of the ethical and political evil that has risen within the radical tradition (mainly, but not exclusively, within communism) is preferable to the charm exercised today by certain dogmatic trends. The necessary distance from older “disorienting” moments of postmodern mourning for the loss of meaning, or the liberal postmortem on the darkest aspects of the revolutionary movements of the 20th century, should not lead to a kind of “ethical insensitivity” disguised under the veil of radical praxis—a combination of Carl Schmitt and Lenin that attracts many radicals of our era.
I think, firstly, that we can all agree here with the assumption that the present framework of neoliberal crises and the collapse of the welfare state significantly alters the conditions for social and political antagonism. From the perspective of the structure, or the dominant tendency of political systems and economic architectonics, reformism appears blocked, at least in its evolutionary and institutional version. This old, venerable form of reformism, which was bound up with the idea of rational consent, actually belongs in the period of great social compromises and social democratic contracts. But if we seriously consider the collective ethos and the social representations of the working classes, at least in European societies, even the idea of revolution has no credibility. To a large extent, it is something invisible and alien. For many reasons, the revolutionary project, as it was formed during the period from 1789 to 1968, is not recognized any more as historically alive or, to be honest, even as ethically and politically desirable. This is the case not only for intellectuals or the academics but for the large majority of the popular classes. What we can do then is to restore the link between reform and structural rupture, with effective concrete breaches in the present state of fixation on the belief that there is no alternative. In this case, a possibility can appear again: “reformist breaches” of this kind will allow people from below to hope, to desire something better. It is thus possible for the dynamic of contestation to be reintroduced. To my mind, this is extremely important. If we don’t want radical politics to be commemorative, we should insist henceforth on the idea of democracy, and to rearticulate it with the social question, the question of the distribution of social power.
Working on this junction between democracy and the question of social power we could, perhaps, reasonably expect the reemergence of plural sources of anti-capitalism. Because anti-capitalism remains the concern of an extreme minority, despite the popular discontent with the rich, the corruption of the new oligarchies, and diffuse anti-plutocratic dispositions that lead to disillusionment, the notion of anti-capitalism seems more outlandish than the idea of colonizing Mars. It could nevertheless exist again as a serious prospect, as a possibility, only through an experience of democracy in which critical elements, even of this liberal democracy, would be incorporated. It goes without saying, of course, that the transition from the idea of democracy to anti-capitalism presupposes transcending the current state of social depression. Combatting social atrophy and cachexia, stopping the further degradation of the lives of a broader stratum, and halting the most aggressive core of austerity programs, are not insignificant aims. When conditions are such that the substantive elements of liberal and social democracy are inhibited, the demand for real democracy and the symbolic constitution of values of social solidarity and dignity may be the most effective approach.
The confusion between revolutionary euphoria in words and radicalism is, to my mind, a residue of a static conception of the relation between reform and revolution. This enchantment with revolutionary phraseology retains a value, of course. It can remind us of the conflictual foundations of any normative order, of any rational consensus, of any political mediation in a competitive and deeply unequal society. But the value of this reminder often turns to self-deception about the clear-cut sides, to denial of political nuances, and to contempt for complex transitions and mixed moments.
Thodoris Kariotis: Let’s try to reverse what seems to be a common thesis in libertarian thought, that the state and the market are “non-social institutions.” It is indeed hard, nowadays, to find some sort of pure and untainted society, in which the basic networks that reproduce social life are not structured through the state and the market. The coercive mechanisms of both, such as the state’s monopoly on legitimate violence and the market’s debt apparatus, stand as a last resort for these institutions, which impose their own logic. Throughout our lifetime we internalize these mechanisms which reproduce themselves, for instance, through the principle of representation/entrusting, or through the profit maximization principle, etc.
Following Foucault, let’s call this field of reproduction of social relations “biopolitical.” The subject is the product of exercised authority: the commodity relations, the class relation, and the relations of domination have determined us to such a degree that we are doomed to reproduce them. Each one of us is an agent of capitalist reproduction. The state and the market therefore do not dominate parasitically from without, but rather from within the very heart of social life.
Of course, the biopolitical field is not enough for capitalist reproduction; there is also a “political” field required, political in the traditional sense of the term: the state, the system of representative government, state laws, economical institutions, mechanisms of suppression and integration, anything that has to do with the administration of capitalist totality.
From this perspective, the strategies of social emancipation that focus on the change of the “political” without taking account of the “biopolitical” can only result at best in fragmentary and temporary victories: We are programmed to reproduce capitalism.
It is certainly an exaggeration to say that social relations, on the whole, are being determined by the state and the market. There are communal, collective, cooperative relations in society that still survive and keep themselves out of the logic of individualization and profit maximization, of abstract labor and accumulation.
The present economic crisis provoked an outburst of social creativity in that direction. The withdrawal of the welfare state and the expansion of the market in new fields of social life had as a side effect the disengagement of large segments of society from state custody and the rise of forces of cooperation and solidarity of society itself.
It would certainly be naive to claim that all these new projects are openly antagonistic against capitalism, or that they form a clear and homogenous proposition of transcending capitalism with its specific characteristics. It is more about the emergence of “multitude” as Hardt and Negri conceptualize it, rather than the emergence of a new revolutionary subject in the Marxist sense of the term.
Therefore, we are the ones who constitute capitalism. We need to stop making capitalism possible and do something else. Within this framework we can understand the emergence of a plethora of these new projects based on the principle of equality, horizontality, and participation, examples of which include social centers, consumers’ and producers’ cooperatives, urban agriculture, eco-village communities, experiments of social and solidarity economy, exchange trading networks, give-away shops, neighborhood assemblies, defending public goods movements, and structures of social solidarity.
Despite the contradictions and ambiguities that characterize all these social movements as attempts at transcending the present state of affairs, these projects have created within themselves social relationships that oppose the dynamics of the market and the state-centered hierarchy.
It is about experiments of social emancipation from below that do not impose changes throughout the whole social nexus. They do formulate clear propositions but they do not have a plan of a total social transformation from above. They do not wish to impose their vision; perhaps that would seem to them to be contradictory. Their very diversity is an evidence of freedom in action. We do not have a single model that needs to be applied but a plethora of models based on similar values, principles and practices.
These projects are both a solution to immediate practical needs, and also socially experimental; they are attempts for social change here and now, since they do not wait for the uncertain, magical moment of revolution. But even when the time comes, they will have a proper sense of what can or cannot function in post-revolutionary society.
To see them as movements of resistance would signify a poor understanding of them. It is about small experiments of “autonomy”—or rather of “autonomizing,” in order to emphasize not the situation, but the process of passing to the prefigurative formation of different social relations and structures through the denunciation of the existing order. They are not confined to the “biopolitical” field, even though it is par excellence their field of action; they just take it as a point of departure with the intent to create a new civilization, a new anthropological type, that will consciously abjure the values of capitalism.
It is certain that these projects of autonomy are not enough on their own. The political framework within which they move poses limitations and creative ways to overcome them remain to be found. There is also always an underlying danger of anchoritism and of isolation from social and political reality.
In my opinion, this movement towards autonomy passes necessarily through the creation of mediators by society itself in order to establish networks between communities, manage common affairs, and resolve differences. It is necessary to create institutions that will unite the biopolitical field with the political one and will constitute a new pole from below in political life.
Some of the characteristics of these new institutions should be: (i) to allow a division of labor that does not favor specialization and entrusting through selection by lot, as far as positions of accountability are concerned; (ii) to allow a mild degree of delegation without however ever reaching the level of representation; (iii) to set boundaries to the obligations and the rights of the collectives that constitute them; and (iv) to institutionalize mechanisms of collective decision-making, of synthesizing opinions, and of resolving any differences.
Aris Tsioumas: In my introduction I will take 1933 as a starting point, when the New Deal regulation and the new management introduced by it were not yet a universal model. The alternative ways of managing capitalism at a global level would become yet another reason leading to a world war.
The day after the war would find Europe in the middle of two superpowers, hoping for an extended development process achievable only on the ruins of a total war. In the period between 1950 and 1970, Europe would experience the full growth of the social democratic model. This turned the social democratic economic base into a new biopolitical management of capitalism, mainly through state intervention.
The modus operandi of the social democratic system was relatively simple. A state net was put in place by way of the ownership of the means of production and labor power. At the same time, public goods were vulgarly defined as state products. This meant the beginning of a process by which public goods were introduced into the market, becoming commercial products.
The main objectives of this process were to maintain the capitalist mode of production and allow the bourgeois elite to continue managing power, by leaving the control of the state in the hands of the political staff.
Using the promises of prosperity as a theoretical framework and the institutions of mass incorporation (i.e., political parties and trade unions as part of the state apparatus) as a practical tool, a process was initiated by which the working class was closely tied to the plan of capitalist development.
This was an effort to stifle the working class by depoliticizing it, as the very position of the working class, which is the class that reproduces capitalism, makes it potentially revolutionary. This observation brings us to the heart of today’s event.
For the New Left that sprung out of and at the same time gave rise to May 1968, the new social movements became one of the basic elements of its structure. The cohesion of those social movements was not based on the ground of class, but on cross-class patterns, through the notion of the active citizen, in terms of identities worked out on the basis of one’s membership in civil society. The political objective of such a position is either legislative reform for the protection of individual rights or the establishment of new collective behaviors.
By dismissing the opposition between capital and labor as the basic opposition underlying capitalist society, these movements moved away from class confrontation into issues pertaining to the superstructure (gender, minorities, immigration, institutionalization, imprisonment, and so on). This process shifted the emphasis away from the revolution as a means of emancipation and toward reforms in political and administrative structures based on behavioristic assumptions of the mass individual. Such reforms sought legal protection of human rights conducted by the very power framework that the reform movements opposed.
In Greece, because of a strong Leninist tradition, this movement was almost exclusively represented by the neo-libertarian current, and from 1990 onwards by the post-anarchists (that is, postmodern anarchism). This actually involved a process of transforming social reformism into political reformism through cross-class citizen initiatives within capitalism that seek to intervene only at the level of legislation. It is a process that speaks of revolution but bears only the name of reform.
In a completely imaginary antithesis, part of the post-Stalinist left would prefer to nurture its own resistance movement after 1990 and the collapse of at least the official socialist project. Based on a superficial approach to the Marxian tradition, this part of the Left would impose its own interpretation of the social on the basis of an imaginary political institution. Interpreting the world in terms of a setback in emancipatory movements, this trend would retain its references to the class struggle, which was a supposedly more realistic approach, though it had only led to trade unionism.
The claim of the resistance movement—which is represented in Greece by all the left-wing organizations without elected representatives in parliament—that the workers, with whom they will never have a real connection, are on the defense, has turned the very notion of resistance into a fragmented, senseless and empty shell, into a vicious circle that violently breaks the dialectical relation of resistance as a preamble to revolution. This process is glorified as eternal resistance, but is actually little more than the transformation of political reformism into social reformism.
Today, the role of emancipatory movements, of those who actually talk about and support the revolutionary process, is to constantly remind the class and the society of the repressed that there can be no revolutionary politics without the self-management of society by those who produce wealth and without overcoming the separation of power between the economic and the political. There can be no emancipatory politics from above, no popular movement can succeed on the basis of the dominance of the political over the social, and direct democracy as a political form of communism is an indispensable element in the endeavor for human emancipation. There can be no left and no anarchy, unless the task is changing the mode of production, unless we are talking about abolishing private ownership, abolishing the power of man over man at all levels. What remains is to remember this and act on the basis of the dictum, “What we said holds true.”
Kostas Gousis: When the battle breaks out, it is indulgent, and sometimes even cowardly, to remain inactive on the grounds of immature conditions, inclement international circumstances, and so on. Besides, the Leninist breakthrough of October 1917 consists in revolutionary political intervention that realizes the possibilities for social upheavals, despite taking the risk of hostile circumstances. At the same time, the Leninist lesson reminds us of the need to recognize the insufficiencies, the deficits, and the difficulties confronting revolutionary politics, given the actual state of things in a broader sense, without making a virtue of necessity.
The present situation highlights the emergency of communist strategy and the overall evolutionary tendencies of humankind over the tactical choices of the period. According to an apt formulation of Lukács, quite the opposite was the center of Stalin’s method, as essence of the ontology of social being. Consequently, revolutionary Marxism degenerates as theory is asked to sanctify a posteriori the tactical choice and make it seem like a necessary result of the Marxist and Leninist method.
A serious risk that threatens to fix Marxism at this point of stagnation even as we live in a period when everything moves and changes, can be found in the following hypothetical conception of things: Theory is concerned with communism as an abstract idea; the movement is limited to social resistance without any further prospect for or expectation of struggles; revolutionary organizations and the left-wing tendencies of big parties propagandize revolution as an ideological supplement to the ruling strategy that consists in reforms geared toward progressive governmental administration and new historic compromise as a way out of crisis.
Obviously, the resemblance of the aforementioned hypothesis to real persons and conditions of current social and political conjuncture, and the new stakes of crisis, is by no means accidental. In order to understand how the programmatic discussion about reform, revolution, tactics, and strategy has reemerged recently, we must take into account the shock of collapse versus the power of the revanchist and arrogant declaration of “the end of history” in the 1990s.
The revolutionary attempts of the uprisings that began with May ’68, which have never occupied a hegemonic position, collapsed along with long-standing historic compromises and illusions about achieving a democratic, parliamentary, and peaceful transformation of the capitalist state. In the 1990s, various autonomous and anarchist trends, such as the Zapatistas, based on the first round of radicalization in Latin America and the new experiences of the movement against capitalist globalization, developed a radical theoretical apparatus, but this was disproportionate to their actual political practices.
At the same time, among the numerous anarchist currents prevailed a post-hegemonical and anti-political dimension that finds characteristic expression in Richard Day’s book, Gramsci is Dead, where the same question “reform or revolution” is considered obsolete because it depends upon traditions of fundamental social change that pertained to classical Marxism as well as classical anarchism. Post-anarchism shares with Laclau’s and Mouffe’s post-Marxist approaches the influence of Lacan and a withdrawal from the vision of a society without state, power, and exploitation.
From different starting points, a number of approaches through diverse theoretical paths have reached the same conclusion: The goal is, in the words of John Holloway, “to change the world without taking power.” These autonomous islets’ self-imposed exemption from struggles for power resulted both in their “autonomy” from every general political project and in the development of an anti-political perspective toward present conditions and unfolding events. In contrast, an idealization of the logic of left-wing progressive governments was invented, based on the example of Latin American radicalization, which emphasized the grassroots-level of struggles as the determinant of all sociopolitical developments, while severely underestimating the dynamic of incorporation and the structural limits of reforms from above—two defining features of contemporary, totalitarian capitalism.
The outbreak of the capitalist crisis, its quality of newness and unfathomable depth, has changed the facts dramatically. The anarchists seem to be strategically puzzled by the problems that the crisis has put forward, while the proposals for progressive administration of what Badiou once called “capital-parliamentarism” have established a relationship among the currents of social resistance that have led a new wave of politicization. To put it succinctly, we might therefore characterize the dynamic of the current period as pushing objectively towards either anti-capitalist, revolutionary solutions or towards a dangerous, radical regression. This is the case, not only in terms of the historical unfolding of actual contradictions, but also in relation to immediate solutions, here and now, for the survival and alleviation of the people.
In this sense we need a policy of the oppressed that will constitute itself as a transitional program paving the way for fundamental social transformation. The rationale of the transitional program is that of continuous contact and politicization of social resistance with the aim of developing new avant-gardes and reinforcing revolutionary processes through the masses own experience. NAR (the New Left Current) and ANTARSYA (the Front of the Greek Anticapitalist Left) have suggested such a program for mass mobilization. Its main points involve increase of salaries and pensions; abolition of memoranda and their measures; termination of payments and remission; exiting the eurozone and the EU on the basis of an internationalist perspective; nationalization of banks; the organization of strategic units without compensation, under workers’ control, and dedicated to the people’s benefit; prohibition of employment termination; social security for the unemployed and the poor; removal of the Troika; and emancipation from the modern dictatorship of the EU and capital.
A plan that aims at hegemony and transformation of social resistance into revolution doesn’t depend only on a direct anti-capitalist program for struggle, but also on the reestablishment of a new communist perspective, a communism with, in the words of Daniel Bensaid, a regulative strategic hypothesis (“hypothèse stratégique régulatrice”). A strategic hypothesis is necessary to orient our everyday action and to stave off opportunism and degeneration of principles, toward which incorporated politics otherwise tends. A renewed campaign of communist ideas doesn’t create revolutionary facts or conditions by itself, but can create the most radical current to function as a pole of attraction and as a point of orientation in the lead up to the next turning point, when social resistance will either catapult forward or else leap into the void.
I listened to this debate for talk of the withering away of the state, communism, the nationalization of banks and all that, but I wonder if we have realized that we are not discussing the state anymore, but rather the complex of states that constitutes the E.U. Have come to the de facto realization that at this moment the most probable scenario for Greece is not a government leaning in a leftist or a socialist direction, but towards fascism?
KG: Nowadays, because we are in the middle of a deep capitalist crisis, we do face the danger that a fascist current will prevail, to the extent that an anti-capitalist emancipatory current is defeated. That is why I described the problem as a dipole. I believe that things will either objectively shift toward an overarching anti-capitalist and revolutionary situation, or will continue to regress into reformism, over which a fascist threat looms. Who will take the lead depends upon the struggle in the social field. In that sense, as is already evident, an administration that will be tapped out trying to handle its relations with imperialist organizations could pave the way for, instead of preventing, fascism.
I had the sense that, despite the different claims, all of the panelists articulated an anxiety about defining the revolutionary subject in class terms, and I also detected a distrust concerning identity movements, especially of the sort seen since the ’90s. My question is simple: Are we ready, at this moment, to conceive radically the difference between oppression and exploitation? That is, can we realize that a general anti-capitalist discourse is not adequate to formulate or even to desire the revolutionary subject today?
AT: I will try to answer as tersely as possible: If we had won the Spanish revolution, if the revolutionary party had won, if the CNT (National Confederation of Labor), FAI (Iberian Anarchist Federation), etc., had prevailed, today we would be able to talk about these matters more easily. Knowing that economic equality is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the complete emancipation of men and women, we would be able to start talking about political equality.
I have been harsh on identity movements, in part, because—whether we like it or not—capitalism is obviously the main thing we still have to deal with. If the Soviet Union had won, we would have been forced to fight capitalism in a new biopolitical context—for instance, confronting issues of bureaucratization and “the power of command” rather than the issue of ownership. Under present conditions, I would argue that identity movements are a symptom of earlier forms of the struggle for social democracy. The fact that we stand today, 40 years since their appearance, at some distance should allow us to draw some conclusions as to the question, What was the outcome of May ’68? We are not talking about contributions of identity movements, but about their relation to “resistance, reform, and revolution.” Wallerstein, for instance, said in 1989 that there were two global explosions that changed the world but did not dominate politically: the springtime of the peoples in 1848, with its impulse toward democratization followed by the victory of the bourgeoisie, and 1968, which changed the world, but not through revolution. Rather, 1968 changed the world in a more diffuse way, but changed the world nonetheless—it altered what was on the agenda when it comes to social issues. Today, when we see that the postmodern movements have not realized this, when Holloway and others come up over and over again with the same view about changing the world without taking over power, one has to ask, How do we understand power? It is clearly linked to what Bakunin famously said in the middle of the 19th century: “Liberty without socialism is privilege and injustice, and socialism without liberty is slavery and brutality.”
TK: As far as the issue of the identity movements is concerned, this is exactly what I was referring to when talking about the complexity of the subject. What we have been taught by all these movements is that that there is no one central conflict. Domination is multiple, which means that we should abandon this separation between base and superstructure, or perhaps even reverse it. It is not the base that determines culture. We are the ones who determine the world, who reproduce it; society requires an act of instituting but society is also the result of such acts. In particular, I am referring here to the conflict between capital and labor, which is a paradox on its own. We need to overcome the very concept of labor if we really want to build a different civilization, if we want to start thinking seriously about how we could give labor a new concept in the context of community and start making serious decisions about who produces in a democratic way, and how.
Let’s say, as has been suggested many times, that we do manage to turn our back on the state, capital, and the bosses. Can actual direct democracy stand, if workers are terrorized? Can my boss and I, as worker, under the threat of being fired, of being unemployed, join forces for the sake of humanity? He’s a very nice person, indeed, but he’s also a very good businessman.
TK: First of all, I would like to say that I did not use that term direct democracy in my speech. I am not trying to say that this ideal situation will be attained peacefully, or that everything can be worked out between people or that we will be a happy society with no oppositions whatsoever. On the contrary, autonomy is a process of multiple conflicts and fights in many and diverse fields, where the aspect of direct democracy—political control exercised by the entirety of the people who are affected by it—is always present. Now, that does not obviate the fight against the class aspect. That does not mean that we should convince our boss to concede. This fight has many aspects. As we said before, the fight carries on within, against, and beyond the state, labor, and the market. This means that within labor we should initially fight for some reform, but always while pointing beyond labor, trying to transcend labor, and not by merely striving to integrate ourselves successfully in labor’s logic. Again, this process of autonomizing goes through many conflicts, in many different fields, not in one single field.
NS: Why is it necessary to present an absolute disjunction between this kind of social reformism within movements and its actual political mediation? An autocratic structure, let’s say, is not the same as a less autocratic one. These can appear to you as quantitative nuances, but historically they are very significant. I mean, the New Deal was not identical with fascism, right?
TK: First of all, I cannot accept the term social reformism, because reformism in all its manifestations has to do with a change throughout all social relationships. However, in all its manifestations that I have witnessed, it always amounts to change from the top.
NS: But the unions of mutual aid and the experimentation with cooperatives were structures included in the history of the workers’ movement and they were not always “from above.” In fact, they started “from below.”
TK: Exactly, it would begin from below, but the welfare state was about integrating these mechanisms into the logic of state and capital, which is when it became reformism. But it had always been a small, limited revolution, a small island in which totally different conditions were being held. That is, it was an island of autonomy. The state integrates them and turns them virtually into heteronomous mechanisms. That is the reason why I cannot accept the concept of reformism. On the other hand, I cannot accept the notion of the state as an integration of social will or as a privileged field of competition, or as the field towards which all the requests are being directed. The state is intertwined with capitalism; it is capitalism or at least capitalism’s tool. Of course that does not mean that we just turn our back on it—that we cannot use it for our own purposes.
All of you hastened, so to speak, to define the idea of resistance in a negative way, to determine it quite negatively compared to reform and revolution, while in our days the idea of resistance is considered to have a positive meaning. Resistance prevails and we are a part of it—does this positive meaning, in your view, already indicate a deviation from a revolutionary perspective?
AT: I don’t think we defined resistance negatively. At least, on my part, no such thing happened. Given that resistance exists anyway, the issue is whether one supports resistance as such, breaking the dialectical relation of resistance as a preamble to revolution. This is the first issue: Might resistance promote only reform? At a political level and at a social level, as is often said, one basic condition of change is questioning the status quo. I am not sure what use there is in presenting this questioning in a positive or negative light, because it already exists anyway. I stress which forms could lead to a revolutionary condition and which would not. When, for example, we came into contact with the steel workers in Athens, of course you will support the demand to call off the dismissals, or the collective agreements, and a thousand other issues. What really strikes us, as KEXA—the Movement for Workers’ Emancipation and Self-Organization—is that workers should have the issue of self-management as a priority. Maybe not for today, due to the trusts, but at the level of consciousness, this should be discussed. You can’t always promote resistance. When 100 workers are fired today, you try to take them back, but then tomorrow you discover unemployment is at 38 percent and so, in negotiating for labor power, you end up being on the defense once again.
Within in the revolutionary camp, there is the archetypical “Proudhonist” strain that takes capitalism to be “evil,” something we must resist through precapitalist, community forms. We are familiar with movements like the Zapatistas, which resists the advance of capital as part of an anti-capitalist model based in community. There is also the ideal-typical “Marxist” strain that claims that all of modern life exists on the ground of capitalism and that capitalism isn’t “evil” in itself. So, as our discussion comes to a close, I would like you to comment on this dilemma: What is your view on capitalism? Do you consider yourselves outsiders who resist capitalism outwardly? Or do you try to intensify, to sharpen, the contradictions of capitalism?
NS: Can I say something about this? If we consider the horizon of the Communist Manifesto, we would see not just praise, but an almost ecstasic language about capitalism’s dynamic nature, about how it has a destructive dynamic in relation to all traditional systems of beliefs, to all the phantasmagoria of antiquity. Paradoxically, Marx seems to be enchanted by the universalizing and global dynamic of capital. This view was also evident in theSecond International—the productive forces were praised as the source of progress and innovation, and of the destruction of the village and the community. On the other hand, there was also a defensive, anti-modern, communitarian, more conservative element when it came to their sense of the workers’ identity, a fact highlighted by Orwell and other writers who claimed that the progressive identity of socialism was closer to conservatism. This involved an aspiration to save identities and to rescue modes of life against modernization from above. Both of these traditions, or “wombs,” have demonstrated teratogenic results and problematic aspects. There is the opposition that conceives of capitalism as liberation from the ground, from the roots, as an abstract freedom, which can be valid if the means of production are socialized, but also the other side, the one upholding communitarianism, in the broader sense, which demonstrated other kinds of limits in the 20th century.
AT: The issue of the ownership of the means of production, as I said before, is something necessary, but not sufficient in itself. Therefore I think that up to a point it is futile to compare late Adorno, the Marxist, with—let’s say—Traven, the individualist-anarchist. We need a new culture of non-exploitation. But what does that mean? Naturally we need the means for the reproduction of capitalism, so that we won’t starve, but we also need our community heritage so that we can all feed ourselves, right? I think this is what it’s about. Hopefully, we can achieve this with the right sense of the necessary anthropological type—that is, with an anthropological type who would deny the previous framework and shape a different one. But this is the thing about revolution. As long as we live, we can never know what the revolution might bring. It might bring a tragedy.
TK: Capitalism has created a paradox, which consists in the fact that we have never been so individualized yet, at the same time, so dependent on each other. We have never been so close in terms of geography, yet so distant in terms of our social bonds. Even a communalistic view, similar to that of Proudhon, should serve as an inspiration for the anti-capitalist movement today. We are definitely not talking about going back to precapitalist forms of life, but we should take care to preserve the sort of non-capitalist social forms that have survived, in particular a cooperative spirit and relationships not based on maximizing profit and benefit. We can use these values to build this new anthropological type.
KG: First, postmodernism, as the cultural crisis of capitalism, has already produced a certain anthropological type of late modernity, which limits the collective political program of Marxist as well as anarchist-autonomous milieux. Following Nikolas’s apt description, it is an anthropological type without collective orientation towards the future; therefore, when the crisis broke out, in the beginning, this type dealt with changes like a primitive, without any means to analyze them. Second, the dynamics of modern capitalism have been an enormous disaster, creating the conditions for an ecological meltdown. Nevertheless, the dynamics of modern capitalism are at the same time the starting point for the possibility of communist emancipation. As I alluded to in my earlier comments, the communist perspective must be proved scientifically, which necessitates asking, What is the present social basis? How are social classes structured? What are the modern productive forces? How have they developed thus far? What are their results? While today revolution can hardly be grasped as a process, communist emancipation is much easier to envision as a dynamic constitution, which will allow us to instantiate a social revolution. |P
Transcribed and translated from Greek by Efi Avgita, Dora Vetta, Giorgos Stefanidis, and Thodoris Velissaris
. Exactly the same base as the one described above would be the source of the lifestyle movements (according to Bookchin) coming to life in the period immediately after this.
. See Georg Lukács, The Process of Democratization (New York: SUNY Press, 1991).
. Richard J. F. Day, Gramsci is Dead: Anarchist Currents in the Newest Social Movements (London: Pluto Press, 2005).
. John Holloway, Change the World Without Taking Power: The Meaning of Revolution Today (London: Pluto Press, 2002).
. Daniel Bensaid, The Powers of Communism, available online at <http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article1799>.