Antonis Broumas, from Greece, is an investigative lawyer and activist who works mainly on building bridges between law, technology and society. He participates in social organisations in Greece which promote autonomy and the commons. Broumas was in Quito between the 24th and 28th of August, invited by the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation. Pressenza had the possibility for an interview and we share with our readers his reflections and point of view about the situation in Greece.
Pressenza: Let’s go back to the night of the referendum and the days following it. With such huge support for a no vote, why do you think Tsipras decided to ignore the will of the people who voted no?
Antonis Broumas: Tsipras and the Greek government faced a blackmail which lasted for 6 months, since the election of the government in January until the night that he succumbed to his debtors. Actually the negotiations weren’t negotiations at all but rather a take-it-or-leave it ultimatum and the final result was the result of blackmail.
Therefore I wouldn’t in any case use the word “ignore”, to say that Tsipras “ignored” the will of the people. Actually he was pressed to take the opposite decision and we have to understand why.
We are living in times where capital has acquired a kind of power that is better defined as structural power. Market institutions and transnational institutions that are created in favour of the interests of capital do not need to bring gunboats to put pressure on governments. They use other kinds of tools that are mainly financial.
So, if governments today decide to do politics according to the will of the people, and the interests of the oppressed classes then they run the risks of either facing other problems such as severe unemployment or a pressure through public debt from financial institutions or from the capitalists. This is a case where, due to neoliberal globalisation, the freedom of governments and nation states to act has been severely reduced in comparison to previous periods.
But in the case of Greece, this kind of structural power is even more absolute.
AB: Greece is a member of the EU and has given a lot of its national powers to the EU, it has conferred these powers to the transnational institutions of the EU. And the most important of these powers is the sovereignty around its currency and also, in the case of Greece, sovereignty in terms of debt.
One last point. Debt does not coincide with this structural power. This structural power already exists but debt is one of the tools, maybe the most powerful one, for exerting pressure on national governments. In recent years, the last decades, the condition of over-indebtedness has been aggravated because nation states cannot collect taxes from capital as they used to do, so they have to collect taxes from the lower classes which have lost a lot of their economic power. So the states try to solve this economic problem with debt.
PZ: Why can’t governments collect taxes from big capital?
AB: The obstacle is the process of neoliberal globalisation which has opened markets and given the ability to capital to move around the world much more easily. So states compete with each other to provide the best environment for capital in order to attract investment. So they compete to remove any kind of obstacle to capital accumulation.
PZ: One of the alternatives is to get out of the Eurozone, all the media repeat that grexit would be a disaster, but we don’t really know why it would be such a disaster. We don’t know and we don’t know if the Greek people are aware of the reasons either?
AB: There are 2 strategies that a subversive, popular block of power can choose in terms of the current situation.
The first one is more moderate. We stay in the Eurozone, or we leave the Eurozone but stay in the EU and we try to change the correlations of power at the transnational level of the EU. Experience from the past 6 months and for the past 2 years has shown that the straightjacket of the EU is a framework that is inherently neoliberal. This institutionalised neoliberalism doesn’t leave significant space for progressive, leftist, transformative politics, but there is an advantage to this strategy: it’s easier and less risky for the people and for the leader.
I don’t believe that there is a middle choice – leaving the euro and staying in the EU – because it will combine the negative results of both worlds. You would have your national currency, which is very weak, but again with the neoliberal restructuring programmes.
The second option of the popular block of power is to leave the Euro, leave the EU and regain national sovereignty. If a leftist government is in power, this has the advantage that it corresponds to the will of the people and corresponds to certain transformative aims for society and to democracy.
The main problem of this strategy is that the negative correlations of power that exist in the EU don’t change when you’re out of the EU. They remain more or less the same. So you have more freedom to implement national policies but you somehow have to solve issues such as national integrity and the avoidance of a war with Turkey, in this case, which is ready to take advantage of the whole situation.
The second problem is the problem of debt restructuring because you will have to clash with your external debtors and demand a big haircut of your debt.
The third problem is that you will have to find a way to support your national currency and your national financial system will be nationalised. It won’t be under the control of the EU but still it would need support somehow.
And the fourth problem is that you lose, at least from a first, superficial, glance. You lose the opportunity to change the correlation of power at the transnational level which is the level at which power politics today are being played. It’s not at the level of the nation state.
In any case, the second choice is a radical choice and if you choose to follow the second choice and if you are a leftist government you would really have to implement radical policies.
PZ: Is this debate really taking place among ordinary people in Greece or its taking place among experts?
AB: This is the essence of the debate that takes place in Greece, however maybe not as I have expressed it, maybe not in so much detail.
But, I come from the Greek grassroots movements and our point of view is the view of the popular needs and of radical democracy and this is where our red-line is and our way to do politics is and the protection of nature and the environment.
So we will never accept the plan of the enemy and we will always elaborate our own plans to get out of the crisis and this is our view of social autonomy and how to do local politics.
So no matter how difficult the situation is, we will have to stick to these values in order to get out of the crisis. We don’t need to circulate the crisis and internalise the current structures of domination in our politics. We have to do transformative politics.
One last thing. This is exactly the legacy of the 62% no-vote of the Greek people in the referendum. This was the very first time since the Greek civil war that you had 2 distinct blocks of power in conflict: the bourgeois block and our block.
Our case is very difficult because Greece is the weak link of the EU but because of this it has to find the courage to take the decision to change the EU either by staying and making radical politics inside, or by breaking with the EU and leading to its dismantling.
PZ: A new breakaway party, Popular Unity, now hopes to capitalise on the disaffection with Alexis Tsipras. Is Greece ready to vote in significant numbers for a party that openly promotes grexit?
AB: I wouldn’t bet on electoral politics in Greece, I believe that the promise for the future is the Greek grassroots movements. We enter into a new cycle of struggles in Greece where social movements that lost their strength when their people went into representative politics and Syriza will now return to the forefront of Greek politics.
Nevertheless, some key points about Popular Unity.
Popular Unity is currently under transformation. It hasn’t yet acquired its character. But in any case, Popular Unity and the extra-parliamentary left which will belong to this electoral block – in favour of breaking with the Eurozone and the EU – belong to the old left. This means that they do not work with the movements, they do not represent the movements, they are a classic kind of political vanguard which represents top down plans for society.
This creates two problems. The first is that their proposal for how to transform society is not a proposal that takes into account the dynamics of the new social movements. Syriza used to be more attached to the social movements. Syriza doesn’t exist anymore in the sense that it had activists from social movements within its structure; not that they could significantly influence the party.
The second problem is that their perseverance with top-down plans for society detaches them from the basic social needs and interests of society and from transformative politics, so they end up with proposals that have as their centre the State, the State, the State. The State will solve everything.
Instead of giving to the people a utopian vision of a future for a better society, they go to the elections with false dilemmas that do not have any meaning for the everyday lives of the oppressed classes like: Euro or drachma, memorandums or no-memorandums, we’re against the memorandums, we’re in favour of the drachma. And this orientation will give them an upper maximum of 5% in the ballots.
PZ: So it’s not the states, it’s not the government, it’s the social movement. What gives you the certainty to affirm that there lies the transformative possibility? What makes them so powerful? What do they have?
AB: I think that experience shows that electoral politics is a reflection of what’s happening at the social base. So if we have more just politics or transformative, progressive politics in Greece implemented, it will be because of the power of the social movements.
But this future is not certain. Greek social movements, during the crisis, have developed new forms of struggle. These were of two kinds: the first kind was a defence of society, including movements such as the labour movement. We had more than 30 general strikes over the last 5 years and more than 20 massive demonstrations of more than 100,000 people.
This also includes no-pay movements: civil disobedience to not pay taxes or tolls on the highways, popular committees in the neighbourhoods that reconnected families to electricity where it had been cut off for non-payment, horizontal solidarity networks based on food to cover the needs of food for really poor people.
But the second form that the Greek movements acquired was a transformative one. This included movements for the provision of health and education through horizontal self-organised institutions. This also included movements for the common-ification for public services such as the Greek public broadcaster and the public water company of Thessaloniki.
This included solidarity, economic projects and projects to smash intermediaries in the exchange of basic goods, and movements for the defence and the promotion of the commons: common goods, including nature.
PZ: Do these Greek social movement, have within their strategies something that connects them to other similar movements in other countries of the EU or elsewhere? Do they see themselves as internationalist?
AB: You have reached a very important point here. It is not only capital that faces a crisis in Europe, solved through austerity. The movements also face a crisis and this is a crisis of being consolidated at a European level.
So, historically subversive politics, movements were in favour of the project of the EU having in mind that a pan-European labour movement would be created that would contest with capital at a European level. This is a logic of euro-communism.
But until now we have failed to correspond to this expectation. But we are working on it. Let me give an example. Last week we organised a pan-European camp against extractivism in Chalkidiki where a goldmine activity is taking place.
And we had hundreds of comrades coming from all over Europe to support the struggle. We have a long way to go to see movements consolidated at a European level. But we can say that important processes are taking place in this direction.