[Marxism] Jacobin interview with Stathis Kouvelakis

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat Jan 24 15:23:47 MST 2015

This is a sixty page (!) interview 
(https://www.jacobinmag.com/2015/01/phase-one/) conducted by Sebastian 
Budgen. Kouvelakis is a member of the Left Platform in Syriza and a 
co-editor with Budgen of "Lenin Reloaded".

If you don't have time to read the interview (but surely you should make 
time for that), this is the most important part.

Budgen: So let’s imagine that the elections have happened and that 
Syriza has obtained an overall majority without having to rely on an 
unreliable ally. A landslide victory. As you know, Paul Mason wrote a 
piece about what the dangers would be for Syriza in the first few weeks 
after such an event, and the kinds of enormous pressure it would come 
under, both from markets and from the EU.

At the moment, the line by Tsipras is to call the EU’s bluff and to 
wager that this will be sufficient; that the crisis that Greece would 
cause in the eurozone would be sufficient to calm things down. What is 
your perception of this strategy, and how prepared is Syriza for that 
kind of pressure?

Kouvelaiks: First, it is not appreciated how violent the overall 
political climate and the electoral campaigns are in Greece. And this 
was the case in 2012. Honestly, it’s much closer to an electoral 
campaign in a Latin American country than a European country.

The whole approach, and types of rhetoric and discourse, developed both 
by the current government and the media are to paint Syriza as a 
fundamentally illegitimate force. This is the deeper meaning: to say 
that, when Syriza comes to power, it will be a totally apocalyptic 
scenario — that Greece will be expelled from the eurozone, the shelves 
of the supermarkets will be empty. They are even making photomontages 
with empty, or supposedly empty, shelves in Venezuela or Argentina, with 
the message, “This is what will happen in Greece.”

In a way, this intimidation has very much helped, especially with the 
many statements made by EU officials in the recent period. All of them 
were very hostile to Syriza, all of them were acting out a form of 
intimidation. Syriza has to face up to that; it has to confront this 
situation. The current approach is that we will not reconsider our 
demands, we will not water them down.

On the other hand, Syriza wants to reassure the electorate that there 
are people and forces in Europe that are more open to negotiation and to 
some forms of concession. Tsipras for example wrote a very unfortunate 
article suggesting that the Italian and the French governments were 
taking some distance vis-à-vis austerity politics.

Now they are highlighting statements made by the German Social Democrats 
or an article in Bloomberg, claiming that there is no possibility of 
“Grexit” — this is not a feasible scenario, that no one is considering 
it. But the crux of the matter is that it is the case that the way 
Syriza is presented by dominant European media has changed in the very 
last weeks or days.

What is the meaning of this change? Before, the line was, “These are 
hard leftists, and they are a threat, and we should counter them and 
smash them and so forth.” Outright hostility. Now, the tone is, 
“Actually, they are more reasonable than they seem, and, in any case, 
not much will change.”

So, the bottom line is that, whatever you do, you will have to remain 
within the existing framework, and some people are playing the good cop 
version of this and others are playing the bad cop version. But, the 
reality is that the iron cage is still there and the room to move you 
will have is actually nonexistent.

I think that the moderate position within the party is understandable up 
to a certain point — as some kind of a more defensive discourse might be 
perhaps necessary in certain circumstances — but the problem is that it 
doesn’t prepare the people in society for what will inevitably come in 
the case of a victory for Syriza, namely that decisions to implement 
completely its program will turn out to be very confrontational, both 
internally and with the rest of the European Union.

Once again, I think that even during the campaign the left of Syriza has 
a role to play by, in a very loyal way, remaining faithful to the 
program and so on, but emphasizing the fact that things will not be 
easy, that we should be prepared for a serious battle, and we have to 
emphasize this depending on the moments and the types of weaknesses of 
the majority positions.

But Tsipras is also playing that card sometimes, so there is a constant 
game to balance these various contradictions. If you consider things 
from a certain distance, the contradictions lie within the situation 
itself in the sense that it would have been difficult not to have these 
type of contradictions within the existing situation.

We are talking about a situation where the level of social mobilization 
has been very low for a quite significant period, and the context is an 
electoral context, not an insurrectional one. The balance of forces 
internationally is at Syriza’s disadvantage, despite the recent 
developments in Spain. Overall, in Europe, it’s quite clear that a 
Syriza government will be quite isolated.

Therefore, these hesitations, ambiguities, and oscillations, are partly 
inevitable, provided that we are lucid about the fact that what is ahead 
of us is a choice between going ahead towards confrontation or giving up 
and surrendering. I think there are no intermediate options between 
surrender and confrontation.

Budgen: Let’s tackle the question of the debt and the euro, which are 
the main cleavages and essential questions on the radical left. They 
are, in part, taken up both by the Left Platform within Syriza, and by 

They are key questions that they claim the majority doesn’t address 
adequately, avoids, or tries to fudge. Can you say something about both 
the symbolic importance and more concretely, the strategic importance, 
in light of a possible victory for Syriza?

Kouvelakis: There are many questions in one here. Let’s start with the 
symbolic level: I think that, in terms of ideological hegemony, there is 
no doubt that the ideological hegemony of the dominant class in Greece 
has been based on the European project — the idea that, by joining the 
process of European integration, Greece would become a “modern” country, 
a “developed Western European” country, and would definitely and 
irreversibly move into the club of the most developed and advanced 
Western European society.

So that’s a kind of longue durée fantasy, I think, of the Greek nation 
since independence, to become a fully accepted part of the Western 
European world, as it were. And it seemed, in the first decade after 
joining the Euro, that this fantasy had become a reality.

Of course, one shouldn’t underestimate the symbolic strength of the 
euro: we can think here of Marx’s analysis of the role of money and 
currency, and all the symbolic value attached to that. And it worked. 
Everyone knows that, before the crisis, before the memorandums, Greece — 
as well as the other countries of the European periphery — had the 
highest levels of approval, both for the European project and for the 
common currency.

I think this is a typical mentality of a subaltern country. Of course 
these levels of support have dramatically declined during the crisis, 
however the reality is actually much more ambivalent than this: on the 
one hand, there is distrust of the EU, because they imposed the 
memorandums and the troika rule.

On the other side, it seems that in a state of despair, the people cling 
to the last remnants of their former symbolic status. So they’re even 
more desperate sometimes about losing their status or their supposed 
status as full members of the “club” of the most advanced European 
countries. Things are thus quite complex on the level of common sense.

Now, concerning political strategies: the currents within Syriza, and 
more particularly the currents coming from a certain Eurocommunist 
background (and, to a lesser extent, the currents coming from a more 
movementist background), display a strong sense of support of the 
European project as such.

On the contrary, the currents coming from the left of the KKE (which is 
the case of the Left Current, essentially) are traditionally much more 
hostile to European integration and have maintained from the outset of 
the crisis a much more negative attitude vis-à-vis the euro and the 
whole strategy, and the EU as an institution or as a set of institutions.

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