SYRIZA, Greece & the American radical left

Interview with Michael Albert by Tom Vouloumanos
Michael Albert is a founder and current member of the staff of Z Magazine as well as staff of Z Magazine`s web system: ZCom (www.zmag.org). He is also a co-founder of South End Press.  Albert is the author of 21 books. Most recently these include: Fanfare for the Future (ZBooks), Remembering Tomorrow (Seven Stories Press), Realizing Hope (Zed Press) and Parecon: Life After Capitalism (Verso).
Tom Vouloumanos is a Montreal based lawyer, a long-time member, activist and former candidate with the New Democratic Party of Canada. He is also the co-author ofPour une économie démocratique (TR: For a democratic economy) with NDP politician and activist Pierre Ducasse.  Tom Vouloumanos is also a member of the International Solidarity Campaign for SYRIZA.
1) Can you provide some background regarding Z Communications and your role within Z and involvement with Telesur English?

Z Communications borrowed its name from the Costa Gavras film Z. We meant by it, the Revolution Lives. ZCom was begun to spread ideas, information, vision, and analysis to assist activists seeking gains in the present and a new world in the future. We began with Z Magazine but diversified over the years to include web operations, books, summer school sessions, and, starting very soon, an online school project as well.I helped found Z, with Lydia Sargent, and have for a long time worked mostly on the online part, called ZNet, as well as on various related projects. For the past six months or so, I have been working for Telesur English, too, generating the content of their Opinion Section. For that, I deliver 60 articles a month, two a day, from a group of writers I signed up for the task.2) SYRIZA funds a radio station that has outlets in several Greek cities called Sto Kokkino (At the Red), and also provides a web page and Web TV. Do you see any type of formal cooperation possibly arising between your efforts with Z, Telesur, and Sto Kokkino?Cooperation has nice implications in general, of course, and even more so with regard to media. For example, imagine many media projects working together to sometimes share a focus thereby propelling it into international visibility, or to aid each other’s outreach, or to share content, operating lessons, and even resources.

It is hard to accomplish such mutual support because media organizations typically each have their own priorities and focuses and often operate with little room to maneuver due to low budgets. Alternative media often implicitly even compete for audience and donor support, due to a perverse incentive to not give credit or help to other operations.

This is market allocation dynamics reducing what ought to be ties of solidarity. But, that said, I think the kind of solidarity and mutual aid you indicate can exist if folks can find sufficient time, and sense of solidarity and shared purpose to make it happen.

3) Syriza won a major victory on January 25, 2014. It fell short of a majority and has now formed a government with the conservative but anti-austerity bail out party, Independent Greeks. What was your reaction to this election? Alexis Tsipras, at 40 years old, is the youngest Prime Minister in Greek history, and also the first one to undertake a civil swearing in rather than a religious one. Do you have any comments? Finally, the new cabinet has been nominated, what is your reaction?

Of course I am excited and inspired by the victory. Anyone with a half a heart, much less mind, ought to be. My main thought at the moment of reading about the victory – lying in bed, late at night – was, what lessons can we learn from how they built Syriza, how they held it together, and how they conducted their campaigns, that can aid others, elsewhere?

When I saw that they did a bit less well than hoped, and even expected, in Athens and Thessaloniki, I also wondered why that was.

I don’t know enough to judge the coalition – I can only hope it has no lasting meaning regarding Syriza’s views on social issues like immigration, etc. Perhaps the logic is, these guys are so reactionary they are obviously not going to have any effect at all on Syriza’s views or choices – whereas an alliance with a group that was less reactionary might be misread in that way.

Similarly, I don’t know anything about Greek swearing in. Breaking precedents, however, pretty much every way Syriza can, seems positive to me.

The new cabinet? I can’t assess specific people. However, to hear that the new Finance Minister has called austerity programs ‘fiscal waterboarding,” suggests he is a very good choice!

I was, in contrast, quite upset to see a first message listing 18 of the most important new government appointments, of which only two were women – and they did not have top level positions as best I could see. A follow-up post indicated there were 39 officials named, all together, with only 6 women.

This likely reveals that in Greece women’s organizing and feminism are relatively weak compared to many other places, in turn meaning more virulent sexism, etc. That is likely a historical legacy, if it is true, and not only sad for Greeks directly via Greek social relations, but also in the case of the new government because it means female input into the coming struggles may lag what is needed for those struggles to be as successful and intelligent, as possible. And the same is true internationally.

The lack of women’s voices will likely and understandably affect support from outside. My reaction, then, is to hope that Syriza realizes the problem and acts quickly to redress the situation. After all, they announced these appointments in one day. Presumably in the next week they can refine them, add new posts, etc.

4)  As an activist in the United States, what would be the benefits in the U.S. of creating greater solidarity between activists in the US and SYRIZA? 

Leftists in the U.S. would learn from Syriza’s experiences and insights. I think perhaps the most important lessons would have to do with the complexities of developing organization and of dealing with elections while retaining a radical and even revolutionary agenda. Perhaps Syriza, once in office, could even provide some material aid to movements in the U.S. and elsewhere.

5) What lessons and experiences in the US can SYRIZA activists and supporters learn from? What are the views of American leftists and radicals regarding SYRIZA and what do they hope to see? 

Few in the U.S. know much about actual daily conditions in Greece beyond very general awareness. I am myself ignorant of details. So it is hard to know what in the U.S. experience might prove instructive for Syriza.

However, if there is something in U.S. left constituencies that can benefit Syriza, I would guess it is likely knowledge about the U.S. itself and of course aid against U.S. incursion.

There are likely also insights from the U.S. women’s movement and social movements more generally that might have bearing. And I guess I like to think some U.S. insights about economic and social vision might be relevant, as well.
As to U.S. leftist impressions of Syriza, I think so far they mostly rest on hopes or fears but not on hard information carefully assessed.

Thus, U.S. activists  who completely reject electoral involvement in turn reflexively reject that Syriza can do anything but become part of the existing relations of domination. In contrast, U.S. activists who think electoral involvement is essential to creating room for grass roots radicalism as well as to win important immediate gains tend to be reflexively very positive. In between, views are more nuanced, but also more tentative.

6) And what is your own view of Syriza?
I recognize the dangers of having to deliver services and benefits for the population while the only institutional vehicles you have for doing that are those of the past. In such situations your actions, no matter how incredibly well motivated, can nonetheless get sidetracked into accepting that past. I think this has been central, for example, to the trajectory of the PT in Brazil. This scenario would have Syriza steadily back track, slowly but steadily capitulating to rather than confronting resistance from elites.

But I also recognize the paramount need to attend to the immediate pain and suffering of the Greek population and the efficacy, if possible, of doing so in part by way of having electoral power. So I side far more with those who are positive and hopeful about Syriza, than with those who are dismissive.

How positive? How hopeful?

It depends, I think, on how Syriza responds when it is told by emissaries from the Greek ruling class, from Europe, and from the U.S. – “okay, we get that the election was fun for you, but now it is time for you to grow up and play nice with us. Do so and we will aid Greece. Don’t play nice, and you risk annihilation.”

I sat in a small room listening to Hugo Chavez and Noam Chomsky privately dialogue, some years back. At one point Chavez told of getting into office and coming up against just that kind of threat. One example was a U.S. emissary who said to play with the U.S., nicely, and in return the U.S. would make Venezuela as wealthy as any country in Europe.

Chavez said he then asked, yes, and what about Haiti, what about Guatemala – and the emissary, getting annoyed, said, what do you care – and Chavez simply walked out. Chavez’s confrontational attitude led to struggle, but also to dignity and great potential. Caving in to threats or grabbing at bribes, leads to some immediate benefits, sometimes, but to nothing world historic.

Will Syriza play nice with Europe’s, America’s, and Greece’s elites in hopes of alleviating suffering in Greece, or even just seeking Syriza’s own self-preservation, at the cost of sacrificing long term Greek potentials as well as well benefits for others elsewhere? If so, then my sense of hope will be modest, basically hoping against the odds, for a reversal.

Or will Syriza say, “hey, wait a minute, we weren’t kidding. We didn’t run for office like you do, based on lies. We really do mean to deliver better conditions to the poor and the weak. You want to impede popular benefits? You want to serve the rich and powerful, fine? Do your worst. We expect it. We will not be deterred.” Then I think my sense of hope will be very great.

Will having solidarity with others and a sense of long run possibilities guarantee success? No. But it will have way more chance of succeeding than will selling out. A famous Canadian Hockey player, perhaps the best to ever play, Wayne Gretzky, once said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Sometimes the most obvious observation is hardest but also most important to recognize and act on.

I have high hopes that a confrontational rather than capitulation attitude and practice will emerge and grow – an attitude that says we want gains, now, of course, to ameliorate the grave pain being suffered by our fellow Greeks, but we want these gains not just as ends in themselves but as part of a path to a better world. We don’t want gains as a gift for us selling out other people, elsewhere. We don’t want gains as a gift for selling out our own long term future. We want gains now, for Greece, but also for Spain, Ireland, Italy – and others elsewhere. And we want those gains, now, in a manner that makes us even more committed and better able to win still more gains, later. We are going to take our shots. We are going to make them. And then we are going to take more shots.

I have hopes this future-oriented and internationalist attitude and practice that is already visible to some degree, will intensify, for Greece, and, given the speed of developments in Greece, and I hope shortly in Spain too, and spurred by those examples, that it will spread far more widely as well.

7) You have been involved with an organization called IOPS (International Organization for a Participatory Society). Can you provide us with some background regarding IOPS and its mission?

We felt that there are many people around the world who are currently disparate from one another, but also eager for massive changes in underlying social relations, and who indeed share a good many beliefs about what those changes should be. So we wondered, could there be an international membership organization with national branches and local chapters, based on that existing level of agreement?

Could it collectively pursue a shared vision of a new society and work hard on strategies to attain it? Could this occur in a manner that planted the seeds of the future in the present? Could it occur in a way true to self-management and structurally smartly designed to ward off tendencies to elitism and sectarianism?

Of course it could. Indeed, it must. So why not now?
We did some polling of users of ZNet – the web site – and enlisted various folks to help formulate many ideas that were encapsulated in a set of commitments for such an effort, which quickly gained some support, but not enough that generated visibility in alternative media say, and thereby gained momentum. Was the conception flawed? Or was it just not time yet? I hope the latter, or actually, the former is okay too, if we can correct the flaws.

Good ideas about aims, policies, and structures, such as those of IOPS, are not really the most difficult aspect of making progress. The hardest part is developing and sustaining wide support and involvement. Lots of energy for bad ideas isn’t useful. But so too, great ideas without lots of energy isn’t useful. So far, we haven’t had enough energy. I am hoping Syriza has both ideas and energy!

8) Can you give us the broad definition of what you mean by a Participatory Society? 

The conception of a participatory society started with the ideas that became known as participatory economics.

This is a vision of a new type economy – beyond capitalism, but also beyond what has been called twentieth century socialism. The cornerstone institutions of this vision are workers and consumers self-managing councils, remuneration for duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor, what we call balanced job complexes which means jobs that apportion empowering tasks and responsibilities to foster participation by all rather than dominance by a relative few, and, finally, for allocation, not markets and not central planning, but instead what we call participatory planning, which is a cooperative way to negotiate economic activity consistent with self-management by those affected.

As participatory economics, or parecon, picked up adherents, there were forays into conceiving, as well, features of Other sides of life. For example, writings appeared on participatory polity (featuring people’s assemblies and participatory democracy), participatory culture (sometimes called inter communalism with community relations that don’t homogenize culture but respect and protect diversity), and participatory kinship (which jettisons patriarchy and carefully finds modes of household life, sexuality, and family consistent with liberation for all. All these components, still flexibly developing together, have together been labelled participatory society.

9) Do you see any role for SYRIZA within IOPS? 

IOPS wasn’t conceived to be a list of organizations working together to some degree – though that can certainly be a good thing. IOPS was intended, instead, to be an organization of members. People from all over would join as individuals – though of course many organizations might urge their own members to join.
So, for example, one could imagine, thousands or  tens of thousands, or even more Greeks joining a new international organization. And there being a Greek national branch. And Greek city chapters. And so on. In this scenario, Syriza would still exist as a specifically Greek political party, but lots and maybe even most of its members would also be in Greek IOPS, assuming they liked it.

Alternatively, a different model might be that Syriza and Podemos and various other organizations together create a kind of Internationale with organizations as its members. Or you could have a mix, allowing for both organizations being members, but also individuals. But for me what matters most is not this choice of membership approach, but that some new international vehicle comes into existence at all, with shared constantly developing vision addressing all key aspects of life, with mutual aid across borders, and with some shared international campaigns as well as autonomy for actions by branches and chapters within countries.

10)  One of the four pillars of SYRIZA’s electoral program is to begin an institutional and democratic reconstruction of the Greek state in order to empower the institutions of representative democracy and also introduce new institutions of direct democracy. Do you think that is a feasible and worthy priority?

I think it is not only feasible and worthy, but essential and it is one of the reasons I am so hopeful about Syriza. I mentioned earlier that a problem with having responsibility to deliver better conditions for many suffering citizens in the present is that the institutional vehicles now available for undertaking that task are all imbued with the values and logic of the past.

Working within these old relations tends to be incredibly corrupting of future-oriented innovation. So to prioritize changing the institutional vehicles that are available, particularly those that Syriza would be enmeshed in, is hugely important.

Imagine, one party says “we want to banish the pain people are now suffering due to austerity, the crisis, and so on.”

But, on taking power, they work entirely in the straitjacket of past institutions. A second party says the same thing, but, on taking power, they immediately begin altering and augmenting past structures while making perfectly clear that they are not only not wedded to the institutions they have been bequeathed, but, quite the contrary, they intend to replace them, albeit at a workable pace.

The first of these parties may be composed of the most admirable and courageous souls. Nonetheless, it is very likely doomed to internal decay of its agenda to the point of not even winning its immediate goals, much less long term transformation. The second of these parties could conceivably have less admirable and less courageous souls (unlikely, but it could), but it wouldn’t matter.

It would nevertheless be far more likely to achieve its immediate goals in a lasting way, and to then also persist in its agendas and win long term transformation.

The point is – values matter, courage matters, commitment matters, of course – but structures can trump it all, so they matter too, and structures must be addressed, which is why it is excellent that Syriza intends to do so. The trick is to keep that commitment alive and operative when pressures to jettison it in the name of immediate progress arise from all sides.

11) Syriza has talked about enhancing economic autonomy of the municipalities and regions and empowering citizens with new institutions of democratic participation such as people’s legislative initiatives, people’s veto and people’s initiative to call a referendum. Would these initiatives fit into the vision of what you termed a Participatory Society? What other new institutions of democratic participation would you suggest based somewhat on experiences elsewhere within the representative parliamentary system? 

I am not sure what “economic autonomy of the municipalities” means. If it means removing coercive dictates imposed on workplaces or neighborhoods from above, of course that is excellent. But if the phrase means that separate areas should act independently of other areas having a say in what they are doing, I wouldn’t see anything good about that.

Economies are entwined. What is done in any one place has implications throughout. That is an undeniable fact.

The trick of good economics is to understand the interconnectivity and find institutional means whereby people can influence the decisions that affect them proportionately to the scale of effects they will feel.

That is self-management, and that is what participatory planning is about.
I think referendums are a relatively simple step that can have profound impact.

It is possible for referendums to become problematic if there are so many that everyone is only paying attention to them, or if the issues addressed aren’t the important ones – but the idea of directly polling the public and implementing its will makes great sense both to enhance democracy and also to engage the public and keep up the process of consciousness raising and growing involvement. That said, however, additionally to having referenda, why not also begin the process of creating new geographic political entities – people’s assemblies and even agglomerations of those assemblies into what might be called people’s communes – that can themselves together become, in time, the infrastructure of a new type of participatory political system?

This kind of future oriented thinking is, I think, necessary for any party, or movement, or even individual, to escape being fixated on only short term aims and sucked into utilizing only system-reproducing steps toward those aims. Couple future-oriented thinking to widely sharing vision and complete transparency, and you have the makings of a movement that will have absolutely unshakeable support as well as profound creativity. Skimp on any aspect, however, and the whole thing risks unravelling.

12) Greece has seen an explosion of social movements in the last years due to the extreme cuts, including solidarity health clinics, solidarity schools, and neighborhood assemblies, all prominently featured in articles on ZNet. Many of these initiatives are independent projects.   In your opinion and, what would be the role of these institutions in the building of a more participatory society, would you suggest more coordinated initiatives or institutions? 

What does their being “independent projects” mean? Independent of elite control? Okay, that is excellent. Independent of each other?

That is not excellent.
I think efforts at grass roots construction of new relations have a fundamental role to play. Let’s call them planting the seeds of the future in the present. Perhaps some people create a health clinic or school. If they imbue their project with the characteristics sought for a better future they are planting the seeds of the future in the present. If they do a good job of that, their clinic or school or other project will improve peoples’ lives immediately with worthy health care, education, or whatever other provision. But more, done well the project will also serve as an experiment and model to inspire lasting innovation and lessons. It will eventually melt into the features of a whole new social system.

The point is, project and institution building can have short and long term benefits as well as helping to generate hope and inspire commitment in people, all aimed toward winning more gains. Of course this is valuable!

And yes, I think separate projects undertaken by some creative folks are good, but even better is the development of networks of such innovations.

13) In your opinion how should a Left government approach grass roots initiatives?  
Syriza and the government it leads should see grass roots initiatives as a source of leadership to learn from, respect, and aid, even when grass roots initiatives are critical of some policies Syriza may prefer.

It would not see such initiatives as a place to recruit from and to silence when they take a contrary stand.

This doesn’t mean everything anyone who says they are grass roots does is wonderful. It does mean, however, there ought to be a presumption that what does really arise from the will and desires of the populace in communities and workplaces will most often be warranted, worthy, and quite often even exemplary. Rather than dismiss or try to co-opt such endeavors, I believe Syriza’s priority should be to listen to them, learn from them, and support them.

14) But shouldn’t a left government seek to create broader more national based programs and institutions? If so, wouldn’t such institutions remove the need for local independent projects? Should these institutions simply disband or do you see them as being necessary for the building of broader based institutions?

Yes, left government, or, more to the point, left projects and movements and organizations of all kinds, should want to transform society – and not just little corners of society. So let’s say six months from now there are grass roots clinics thriving in lots of towns, and the Syriza lead government rightly wants a health program that addresses the needs of the whole population and not just of people who happen to live in the vicinity of a new clinic.

So what happens?
Well, my guess would be, if the government says, “okay, you medical folks and your clinics were great for a while, but now it is time to go big, to go comprehensive, so you need to close up shop and support our path,” then the government’s preferred path is unlikely to be desirable. It will, instead, have most and maybe even all of the old familiar features of health care and health institutions – just subordinated to a different government.

There would be some gains, but the gains would have serious limits. On the other hand, suppose the government says “it is time to develop a new health program and plan for all of society” and goes to the clinics and says, “okay, what do you think this new medical system ought to embody? How can we move from what you have been doing locally, to an entwined and encompassing system which retains and enlarges all the participatory and self-managing and other innovative features you have initiated, and even adds more?” In that case, I think the result will be vastly better.

This risk of initiatives from the government trumping rather than advancing initiatives from the grass roots will come up from sphere to sphere and from issue to issue. Local endeavors can certainly become narrow minded, short sighted, insular, defensive. And maybe some weren’t perfectly conceived, for that matter, in the first place. So that is a possible problem. But the government can become tied to past institutions, self-aggrandizing, and even authoritarian. So that is another possible problem. And the grass roots activists and government can each claim to be – and in many respects actually be – serious about serving the public interest.
What follows is that the solution is not either or, but both. More important even than that obvious point is the observation that in any specific case, if there is going to be an error due to bias, that error should be toward participation, toward the grass roots, not toward imposition.

In the transition from Syriza being in opposition to Syriza taking up tasks of building a better society, it is certainly necessary to get beyond only creating small local clinics or schools or other projects to address at plans and projects for the whole country which respect interconnections, but it is also necessary to do this while respecting and enlarging the gains at the grass roots, rather than trumping and trashing them.

15) SYRIZA is the Greek acronym for Coalition of the Radical Left. The term Radical is in opposition to the traditional left namely bureaucratic State “socialism” or western style reformist social democracy that did not challenge concentrated private power over production. SYRIZA’s Leader Alexis Tsipras has stated in interviews that “we are not with the state, we are with society”. How do you react to that?

For anyone at all, pledging allegiance to good values is nice, but what really matters is institutional choices. So the reason I like the phrase you quote from Tsipras is the additional talk of referendums, and of eliminating austerity, and of rebuilding the polity, and the will to do all that.

On the last point in your question, in my view the problem with what was called twentieth century socialism wasn’t confined to its political institutions. There was cultural homogenization – which was horrible. There was persistent patriarchy – which was horrible.

There was horrendously authoritarian political structure and practice – which was horrible. But, there was also a terrible problem with the economy. This was the presence of central planning or markets or a combination, as well as a continuation of what we might call the corporate division of labor in which about 20% of the workforce does all the empowering tasks, and 80% is left with only disempowering tasks.

The group monopolizing empowering tasks is, in my view, in capitalism- including now in Greece – a class above workers and beneath owners. But in the 20th century socialist economies, instead of their attaining classlessness, the coordinators remained and became the ruling class. So this problem too must be transcended to attain a really desirable society.

16) You have written several books on an economic vision called Participatory Economics or Parecon, can you please provide a brief description of parecon and its basic institutions and how it differs from East bloc state socialism or the social democratic variant of capitalism. 

Parecon proposes just a few institutions for having an equitable economy without classes: Workers and consumers self-managing counsels. Income for the duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued labor. Balanced job complexes. And participatory planning.

These basic structures, flexibly developed and installed with variations as required by different historical settings, would eliminate the class division between owners and non-owners of means of production, but also the class division between people who monopolize empowering work and others who are left overwhelmingly with disempowering work. How? By simply eliminating the situation. No one owns, no one monopolizes empowering work – or, put differently, we all own and we all do a fair share of empowering work.

Parecon differs from past visions/models/systems in that each of parecon’s core institutions is dramatically different from those of the past.
There is no more private ownership of the means of production, but, beyond that, there is no more state ownership, either.
There is no more remuneration for property, power, or even output per say.
There is no more corporate division of labor.
There are no more markets or central planning.

Of course in a participatory society much else in other domains of life would change dramatically, as well, but in the economy these are the key changes parecon brings.

But why reject an institution? It must be because you believe it imposed on people conditions and behaviors that should not exist. This is the logic, for example, of getting rid of slavery or dictatorship. They make people act in ways that are horrible in their overall effects on society. And the same reasoning applies to the four structures I mentioned.

The new ones replace old ones that enforce class division and hierarchy, alienation, vast inequality, waste and corruption.

When I say the old institutions have those effects I mean regardless of how much people might prefer more equitable and more just and caring relations, the institutions make these anti-social outcomes inevitable. To function with markets and corporate divisions of labor, and so on, to even just survive you have no choice but to act in ways that generate and perpetuate the horrible effects. Good people are made to behave in harmful ways. The parecon alternative is to have institutions which instead create and perpetuate solidarity, equity, diversity, and self-management.

Obviously a quick summary answer like this isn’t a full argument, but at least the underlying logic is laid bare. We aim to transcend institutions that compel injustice and to adopt in their place institutions that permit and even foster mutual aid and self-management.

17) Are there any indications, around the world, that there is popular inclination toward participatory economic ideas and practices?
Yes, a  good many. First, there is the way normal folks regard one another in their spontaneous relations when they escape most social pressures. It is typically quite equitable, respectful of self-management, etc.

There are also all kinds of experiments in occupied factories in many places around the world which almost always move in pareconish directions regarding income, and sometimes even regarding allocation – though not always regarding the division of labor, which last flaw often subverts other gains. In Venezuela in particular there are many efforts to try to overcome old structures and institute new ones, and save where the coordinator class obstructs, these typically reflect pareconish values and even features. Indeed, here in Greece, the new local projects you mentioned earlier, clinics, schools, etc., often have similar features, I am told.

18) Leftists are often blamed for simply opposing rather than proposing. SYRIZA wanted to be a left party in government and not in opposition. Yet, the discussion at this time is not about replacing capitalism with socialism, it’s about dealing with the immediate humanitarian crisis facing Greeks. Many leftists criticize this approach. Can you explain why?  

No one should ever criticize trying to deal with immediate humanitarian crisis. Of course that must be done. It is only very strange folks who purport to be leftist, who say they care about disenfranchised and poor constituencies and about humanity more broadly, but who then reject addressing, immediately, people’s current suffering. Such a stance is morally callous and strategically idiotic.

What can sometimes be reasonably criticized, however, is the widespread tendency to focus on present issues with no shared conception of future directions and no feeling that one is needed. That too is a recipe for disaster.

Assuming one seeks a better world, gains made today are valuable, not least, and in some sense even primarily, for how they translate into further gains later. If you have no idea what those further gains need to be be, you can’t orient properly toward getting to them later. You can’t plant the seeds of the future in the present unless you have pretty good idea about what the main structural contours of the future ought to be.

You can’t avoid the pitfalls of wrong choices along the way, avoid choices that would compromise possibilities, if you can’t distinguish between desirable future relations and relations that may appear worthy, that may be rhetorically worthy, but which would in fact be harmful.

For example, imagine you are waging a battle for improved pay in some workplace. If you do it by strengthening management, then even as you win an immediate gain, you lose by having created conditions which block further gains.
Similarly, if you win today by establishing an organization that will atrophy or devolve later due to internal flaws, again, even as you win today, you lose chances for more gains later.

Suppose you set up a new project, perhaps a clinic or some other workplace, and you are highly attuned to the need for fair distribution of rewards and democratic voting about policies, and so on, but you are blind to the implications of retaining the old division of labor. For that reason, out of habit, or erroneous belief in its necessity, you retain that old division of labor.

Doing so solidifies relations that later subvert all your other short run gains, Instead of being prepared by your experiences to win still more gains, you become mired in a pattern that brings back all the old crap.

19) But wouldn’t someone working on an electoral campaign respond that taking about socialism now is meaningless to people when they are hungry, jobless, homeless and lack basic care. We need to have immediate proposals for solving problems now, not visions for the future society. Don’t you think they have a point, especially during a short election?

It may be worse than meaningless to talk about socialism now – if, for example, no one knows what the word means, or if the people you are talking to believe it means something other than you are trying to convey. But it is not meaningless to seek food, jobs, housing, and basic care in ways that elevate working people and not managers or any elite, or in ways that open the doors to workers wanting more than just enough, and wanting more than can be won now.

The reason we need vision is to have proposals for solving immediate problems that will get us on a road to solving additional problems later. Yes, in a short election, with the media paramount, etc., it is immediate demands, immediate policy proposals, I suppose, that garners most attention. But it is also important to ask, why do people believe a candidate?

Why do they believe a party? I think it has a lot to do with thinking this person, this organization, really is about winning change that I care about and not just winning it, but preserving the victory and then winning more. And why do people who vote later become part of a struggle to actually get what was sought? Same answer, I think.

You may pay an immediate price in attacks that pick on anything you make clear – indeed this is part of why politicians are often vague. But the price for being vague, you will pay later – is having soft support, ignorant support that isn’t plugged in to participating, that isn’t committed and isn’t contributing. The price later is continued habits of following or ordering, rather than participating. And this price can be, and indeed I think is almost always deadly.

So again it isn’t either or. One has to develop a capacity for addressing the present while also incorporating one’s constituency ever more fully and actively into the longer run conception of where things are meant to go – to spread insight and vision that produces and preserves hope and inspiration as well as guidance along the way.

20) What role would you like to see SYRIZA play in building a global left movement and vision for a world after capitalism? What role can SYRIZA play on an international level in building a global movement to transcend capitalism and build a new economic vision

I would like to see anyone – Syriza, Podemos, Die Linke, various parties and movements in other parts of the world – you and I – put forth, discuss, and debate vision. Generate widespread support for vision, and deduce from shared vision associated strategic principles and plans. And, at the same time, inspire and attract others into doing likewise, and into giving one another mutual aid, preferably even being in a shared organization. This can be the foundation of lasting and victorious change.

I think Syriza can take the lead and contribute mightily to that type scenario. But I also think contrary pressures on Syriza are going to be enormous. Threats from Europe. Threats from domestic elites. Old habits. Different opinions. Feelings that we must take care of ourselves today, that we must ward off dissent. All of that should be transcended. And if it is, I think Syriza can bring the world something profoundly important.

1 comment

  1. avatar
    subcomandante Felix January 28, 2015 4:00 pm 

    I am deeply troubled by the left independent media’s embracing a narrative that focuses on the importance of the so-called “victory” in the representative shamocracy elections. The importance of Western representative “democracy” elections is a staple of the main stream media narrative, the foundation of its propaganda that meaningful change can only come through participation in the system. Unfortunately, the message that many will take home, is that elections can be the cause of significant societal transformation. And more important, that participation in the representative electoral process can lead to meaningful social transformation in other countries, perhaps even the “reform” of global capitalism. In this regard, the left would be well advised to understand the difference between causation and correlation. Apart from the humanitarian program, the election victory is nothing more than an opportunity. In itself, the election and participation in representative democracy scams mean little. Too many will get the message that you can change the world by taking power. They will fail to appreciate that the driving force behind transformational change is cultural not political, constructive not obstructive programs. It is the movements, the solidarity networks, and those creating alternative horizontal economic, governance, and cultural structures that will be the causal force behind transformational change. It is interesting that the other non-election victory in Rojava has received scant attention. Just as Rojava’s non-electoral, non-nation state approach to societal transformation has received so little attention by comparison.

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