25 May 2016 | Reading 5 mins.

Douzinas: On the Crisis and Resistance

Protesting high school students hurled rocks and bottles during a rally to mark the third anniversary of the fatal police shooting of a teenager in central Athens. Thessaloniki, Greece, December 6, 2011. Source: Nikolas Giakoumidis.

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Boštjan Videmšek
Journalist, ultra-marathoner, Ambassador of the European Climate Pact, and author of Plan B.

Boštjan Videmšek, Journalist, ultra-marathoner, Ambassador of the European Climate Pact, and author of Plan B.

Excerpts from an interview by Slovenian journalist, Boštjan Videmšek, about the European crisis and popular resistance, with Greek philosopher, Costas Douzinas, professor of Law at Birkbeck University of London, director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, and author of the influential book: Philosophy and Resistance in the Crisis: Greece and the Future of Europe (Polity, 2013).
[…] The ‘structural adjustment’ of Africa and the ‘Washington consensus’ of Latin America have been imported into the heart of Europe. The need of the periphery to unite is important. Those who now suffer the most can lead Europe in a new direction which will benefit the whole Union. This is the central plank of the Syriza agenda which finds resonance all over southern Europe. Only recently, the Italian journalist and author, Barbara Spinelli, suggested that the Italian Left should unite under Tsipras and run in the European elections with a program of refounding Europe. If Europe does not go back to its founding ideas, it will wither away or become just a small club of the rich North seen by everyone else as a new holy alliance against the interests of the working people in the rest of Europe.

The EU has become a highly bureaucratic institution defined geographically rather

than through its guiding ideas and principles. There is a geographical place called Europe but it does no longer embody the ‘idea’ of Europe as dreamt by Hegel, Husserl or Derrida. A key component of that ideal was redistribution from the rich to the poor, a modicum of ‘transfer union’, which would close the gap between North and South. The social democratic leadership of the 1970s and 1980s achieved some convergence and integration and promoted anti-discrimination legislation and minimum social and economic rights. Thatcher’s great victory was to undermine the project of political integration and social convergence by continuously expanding the membership and turning the EU into just a free market. She prepared the ground for the neo-liberal turn for which the common currency means just fiscal stability. This is more important than social cohesion and, as a result, the common currency has become the means of transferring resources from the poor to the rich. This is the madness of the current situation. All transfers are from the South to the North either through imports of German cars and goods or through the repayment of loans given to the South so that the Northern banks can get their earlier loans back.

Did you expect the rise of neo-Nazism?

We could see it coming, even though many turned a blind eye hoping that it was just a bad dream: it was the murder of the rapper, Pavlos Fyssas, in September 2013 that aroused the historical memory of the Greek people. But why wasn’t there the same response when the far Right was attacking migrants and small traders or when they were committing all kinds of crimes against immigrants, Roma, gays, and leftists?

All States use two types of violence. The first is legal, covered by law and giving the State the “monopoly of violence”. The second is formally illegal and uses parastate methods which operate secretly underground. There is evidence in Greece, of the spread of the formally illegal type of violence. When State legitimacy – encapsulated in the phrase ‘the State is doing its job well’ – disappears, then the State resorts to these ancillary methods of legitimation, increasing violence use both openly and in secret. I think it is at this stage that we find ourselves now. Golden Dawn is a symptom of a wider malaise of the ruling classes and the state system that was built to guarantee their permanent dominance. […]

What’s the future of resistance?

Let me answer by means of three theses that I have developed as a result of my participation in various resistances and my theoretical work:

  1. Resistance is a process or experience of subjectivization. We become new subjects when we realize a split in identity, because my particular existence has failed and my identity is split and cannot be completed. The failure of our daily routine identity opens the road to the universality of resistance; it involves risk and perseverance; resistance is the courage of freedom.
  2. Resistance is first a fact not an obligation. It is not the idea or the theory of justice or Communism that leads to resistance but the sense of injustice, the bodily reaction to hurt, hunger, despair. The idea of justice and equality are maintained or lost as a result of the existence and extent of resistance.
  3. Local and regional resistances can become political and succeed in radically changing the balance of forces if they turn collective and condense, temporarily or permanently, a number of causes, a multiplicity of struggles and local and regional grievances bringing them all together in a common central place and time. At this point, resistance becomes a hegemonic force. […]

Do you believe that Syriza can change things?

Throughout history, revolutions succeed when a power system has run its course and has become obsolete and harmful. This is the case in Greece. Historical necessity can be recognized only retrospectively of course; we no longer believe in the inevitable march of progress. Three elements are required to turn contingency into necessity: 1) strong popular desire, 2) a political agent prepared to take power, and 3) a catalyst which combines the other elements into a combustible whole. All three elements have converged in Greece: popular will in civil resistance, Syriza as political agent, and austerity as the catalyst that will lead to the first radical Left government in Europe. […]

Critics of Syriza say that the biggest problem of the party is a lack of a sustainable economical program?

This is wrong. The Syriza economists are some of the best economists in Greece and Europe with wide international recognition. You will hear many criticisms such as “they don’t have developed policies” or “they don’t have an economic program.” From the Left, these criticisms are typical examples of what Walter Benjamin called the ‘Left melancholy’: the commitment to defeat and its introspection which refuses or even attacks all prospects of victory. […]