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On the euro-elections results (2014)

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Feelings are mixed regarding the results of the European elections. So far the center-right coalition, the European People’s Party (EPP) comes first, occupying in total 213 seats, whilst the center-left Social Democrats (PES) stands in opposition (191 seats). In the third place are the Liberal Democrats (ALDE) with 64 seats, followed by the Coalition of the Greens with 53, and the Conservative Reformists (AECR) with 46 (a number expected to increase, if the anti-euro, Alternative For Germany AFD, joins). Finally, the European Left (GUE/NGL) won 42 seats and the right-wing coalition Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) 38, while in total 104 MEPs come from unregistered parties (they are either newly elected members not allied to any of the political groups set up in the outgoing Parliament or even members not affiliated with any current group: from far-right and Nazi parties – such as Golden Dawn, the National Democratic Party of Germany and the British National Party, which has now disappeared from the electoral map – or secessionist/separatist and usually leftist factions, such as the Basque Party, formerly belonging to the European Free Alliance group, also centrist organizations like the Greek River, the Spanish anti-nationalist and pro-European UPyD, the Czech liberal ANO, the Dutch Party for the Animals – PvDD etc).

Although there is a lot of talk regarding the far-righ eurosceptic ‘earthquake’, others emphasize on the low turnout (in some countries like Britain abstention is nearly 60%). The victory of SYRIZA – which leaves behind New Democracy – is also being discussed in the international press, as the triumph of the far-right National Front of Marine Le Pen and Nigel Farage’s right-wing populist United Kingdom Independence party. Meanwhile, right-wing populist majorities also come from Denmark with the Dansk Folkeparti giving 4 MEPs (26%) whilst similar parties in Sweden, Austria, Finland and Belgium increased their percentages. In the Netherlands, nonetheless, Geert Wilders came fourth with 12,2% which is considered a big loss in comparison with 2009, where his party scored second (17%). Le Pen’s NF (just like the Swedish Democrats, the Belgian Nationalists, or its Dutch and Austrians counterparts) might seek a new alliance as it did not come into agreement with the leader of the EFD, Nigel Farage. Right now FN (like the Swedish and Austrian similar groups) remains unregistered; this practically means that the total number of far-right/right-wing MEPs exceeds the 80.

Many consider the rise of the right as a protest-vote, while others attribute it to the large abstention rates. What is, however, the truth? We know that the Euro elections were always a kind of soft vote for many European citizens, an opportunity to express their disagreement with the direction of European Union where all powers are concentrated in oligarchic institutions, while the voices of citizens are systematically ignored; we have seen the vulgar refusal of many Euro leaders to accept the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. We have paid the consequences of their obsession with the unpopular and devastating austerity programmes and their overt intervention in the internal affairs of Greece where George Papandreou – an elected MP – after proposing public referendum for the implementation of austerity measures was replaced overnight by an unelected technocrat – as in the case of the Italian PM, Silvio Berlusconi – aiming to the implementation of heavy austerity budgets. We cannot also ignore that during the pre-election era of 2012 (in Greece) blackmailing – directed from Germany – prevailed in the media, aiming to convince the Greek public to vote in favour of pro-EU parties that will secure the continuance of the same unpopular policies of privitization. Undoubtedly all these events triggered eurosceptic reactions whilst abomination for the derailed european vision has led millions to despair.

Nonetheless, it would sound superficial and frivolous to attribute the far-right tsunami solely on the arbitrariness of eurocrats and the cynical treatment of countries by the forces of the European Central Bank. In fact, most of the far-right eurosceptic (and anti-EU) parties come from regions that have much less been affected by austerity than the exhausted southern countries which insist on supporting pro-European alliances, or instead of investing in the predictable anti-EU rhetoric welcomed soft eurosceptic groups (mainly left-wing parties, which although they sharply criticize EU’s policies, do not embrace the idea for returning to the old Europe of nation-states). In Italy the major protest party (which appears among the non-registered groups) of Pepe Grillo came second; it is big tent party that aims to bring together leftists, disappointed Social Democrats, anarchocommunists, hipsters, conspiracy theorists, conservatives, anarchocapitalists, and even former right-wing supporters of the Northern League whose percentages dropped to 6%. It is a populist force which, unlikely the far-right factions, does not support the withdrawal of Italy form the EU, but rather referendum for the drop of euro.

As aforementioned, pro-European centrist forces prevailed massively in Spain and Portugal, whilst the left (in both countries) made significant gains. In Spain the equivalent to SYRIZA La Izquierda Plural won the 10% of the total votes, but at the same time a new promising force appears – the Podemos party -, a coalition of leftist academics, citizens and organizers of the 15M movement which is probably likeliest to join the European Greens or the European United Left, increasing the total GUE/NGL seats from 42 to 47 (and finally the Italian Altra Europa con Tsipras –  a left-wing electoral list in support of Alexis Tsipras – is expected to give 3 additional seats to the leftist coalition). A considerable increase of the left is seen in Ireland, where the Sinn Fein (a party broadly supportive of migrant’s rights and same-sex couples, proposing at the same time a health service along the model of the British NHS, but at certain times has become quasi anti-Semitic, mainly regarding the Palestinian question) comes third with 17% (3 seats in total). Therefore, the claim that right-wing Euroscepticism is a tout court reaction to the arbitrariness of EU institutions is partially inaccurate, since in the countries of the eurozone periphery (which are more severely affected by EU’s arbitrary powers than the affluent north) no sign of far-right victory has been recorded[2]. How can, therefore, this so called «far right tsunami» be explained?

Before we arrive to a concrete conclusion, it would be crucial to take into account two important factors: a) the high percentage of abstention, which makes the interpretation of the results a difficult task (ie does Le Pen’s victory reflect a far-right tendency within the French society, provided the low turnout 42%?). Although a right-turn in many European societies is undeniable, as support for the right-wing populist coalitions (even regarding the parliamentary elections) appears to have been doubled (according to official polling behaviour polls) within the past two years, this high rate of non-participation makes it difficult for us to understand whether these quantitative data can be acknowledged as a real reflection of the social prattein or not. Additionally, we should know that b) voters in many countries – especially in the north and probably the majority of the British public – during the euro-elections choose parties with different criteria than during the national elections. For example: no-one denies the gradual increase of support for UKIP (which promises complete exit from the European Union and strict quotas on the number of immigrants from European countries) in the last municipal election (which for many British is equally a chance for protest vote). But despite its strengthening it failed to win a council whilst for the upcoming national elections (UKIP) polls between 13-15 %, a rate significantly higher than two years ago, but it is still far from making it a leading party. Finally, the proportion of Britons who stand in favor of remaining in the Europen Union has been increased significantly comparing to last year’s polls, which more or less tells us that the so called UKIP ‘earthquake’ does noway represent the views of the whole population.

In fact the rise of the eurosceptic far-right has less to do with rejection of the EU as a whole. It mostly has to do with the expression a) of a generalized xenophobia in most of the rich countries of the north, where the majority demands an end to the right of free movement, especially from the countries of the South where unemployment is soaring (in fact it is an expression of individual privatization and apathy), a measure that could be implemented only if these countries pull out of the EU whose laws allow European citizens to settle in any member state. Also, b) these parties propose an end to financial help for the impoverished South; in fact, during the past four years the populist mass media and the tabloid press have been trying hard to misinform the European public that the bail outs for Spain, Portugal and (essentially) Greece are overwhelmingly spent to fund the easy-going lifestyle of the spoiled, lazy, irresponsible and incompetent southerners who desire to live at the expense of the hard-working tax-payers of the north.

In overall, such parties pose a major threat to fundamental rights, such as free movement – perhaps the most important institution for cooperation between European nations. Although it would be wrong to call them fascist or Nazi parties (this characterization is more appropriate for parties like Golden Dawn, the Hungarian Jobbik and the National Democratic Party of Germany – which also wins a seat) they are reactionary, national conservative populist groups, wishing to remove legislations that protect minorities, and the elimination of anti-racist laws, abolition of maternity leave, holiday and sick pay respectively. This, then, is one of the reasons their supporters despise the European Union, calling it a communist organization, due to their fanaticism with the doctrine of the self-regulating markets and their obsession with the anti-immigrant divisionist rhetoric.

Certainly the rise of both the populist extreme right and neo-Nazism denotes on one hand the failure of the left which invested in the passive attitude that «people deterministically will choose the left way for the overthrow of austerity programs» within a climate of widespread apathy and amoralism, and thus failed to tackle such catastrophic tendencies. On the other hand we cannot ignore the sociological and psychological factors underlying this issue: the fear that the unemployed from the south will invade the north is a par excellence key factor for the domination of social and individual introversion: in the eyes of the squeezed middle classes (which refuse to accept that their days of abundance are finished) the waves of migrants arriving in the north appear symbolically like an onslaught of poverty in their affluent and prosperous ivory tower. Thus, the illusion of living in a society fully secured from the turmoils of the outside world becomes a fragile vessel. Once the de-politicized mass-men see in the face of depersonalized and pauperized foreigners their own possible bleak future (that nobody wants to be reminded), instead of elucidating on the root of problem (that is lack of proper democracy), seeking for answers and solutions collectively, become easily a target of the isolationist propaganda of the right-wing demagogues.

Finally, another important question has to be answered: what chances the far-right has to pursue its own agenda? In a place dominated by pro-European coalitions – such as EPP, PSOE and ALDA (that at least, in regards to the issue of free movement between countries pose neither vetos nor do they radically disagree) – especially if one takes into account the percentages of Greens (who as surprised in Sweden came second) and the increase of the radical left that are overwhelmingly pro-human right groups – it seems a very difficult task for the eurosceptics to pass legislations in favour of their agenda, lesislations that remove fundamental European rights. But there is another possible scenario here: the prevalence of EPP also secures the continuation of austerity policies. These forces persist in the continuation of privatizations and cuts and here the far-right could play a catalytic role; the majority of these parties (with an exception of the Finns) call for zero public spending and the full privatization of the economy. The center-right would not hesitate to collaborate with them (as it happened in Greece after Papandreou was forced to resign, and the appointed technocrat in his position, Loukas Papademos, formed a new temporary coalition with New Democracy – the current ruling party – and the far-right LAOS, whose key members later on joined ND). In addition, their calls for zero tolerance on crime and lawlessness could easily strengthen the crackdown of anti-austerity movements through supporting new «anti-terrorist» laws.

Whatever our conclusions are, one thing is certain: we should avoid excessive pessimism or even optimism after seeing the results of the controversial left-wing victory of SYRIZA. Undeniably the far-right has gained momentum, but the Social Democratic group (which many chose as an antidote to austerity, ignoring that it was the center-left that begun the imposition of neoliberal reforms) recorded a better performance in comparison with the catastrophic outcome of 2009. We should not also ignore the increase of the seats for the non- registered coalitions, within which there are both progressive initiatives (such as the Swedish Feminist Initiative which won a seat), and Nazi monsters on the other hand. What we need to know of course is that austerity, racism and deprivation of rights earned through hard struggles cannot be successfully fought via the ballot box, nor we can place our hopes in centralized institutions such as parliaments and representative bodies, (like political parties that day after day become more and more bureaucratized). Only the spontaneous mobilization of the progressive elements of our societies can bring positive results. If we really aim at the social transformation, to a world of equality, justice and freedom (that is real democracy) if we intend to strengthen emancipatory imperatives instead of seeking for ephemeral solutions to such monstrous problems, then we cannot abandon our fortunes to the hands of such organizations. If we desire a democratic Europe, a Europe of friendship and equality, then we only have to get it in our hands. If our societies today wish to fight for a better future then no other choice exists apart from dynamically reclaim it through positive initiatives… or there will be no future left for us at all.

[1] During the elections in France, 18.49.000 people went to the polls – of which only 4,600,000 chose the National Front – whilst during the parliamentary elections of 2012 the party received 6,421,000 votes.

[2] Although Golden Dawn has increased its electorate support in Greece, the party does not advocate withdrawal from the European Union. Greece in fact is a sui generis case for the study of the European far-right; it would be controversial to associate the rise of GD with EU’s cynical stance, since in Greece traditionally – and for a variety of historical and political reasons – both hard and soft euroscepticisms are elements of the left, whilst the right was always in favour of the EU project.

The erosive effect of the dress code

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First published in our political magazine Democracy Street, Issue I, p.44-49

Humans are renowned for spending their time on trivialities, meaningless or harmful activities or making life difficult for each other by choosing to behave in ways which they regard as utterly important but which are ultimately idiotic and destructive. One of these useless quirks of people is the enforcement of dress code at workplaces (let alone work and the wage system itself, an issue worthy of separate discussion). For the purposes of this text let’s accept that some work still needs to be done, and that the abolition of work – as Bob Black appealingly writes – is not immediately possible. Since we live in a society largely immersed in the work ethic, we should actively bring into question the components of this ideology if we ever want to see it loosing its grip on the minds of the people.

A number of laws and regulations exists regarding the clothing and appearance bosses can enforce upon employees; colars, ties, skirts, hair-length, grooming restrictions, and even the seemingly lax custom of dress-down Friday consist a strict framework imposed on the human body and behaviour. Theoretically, employers are liable for sex, gender and religious discrimination but they can appear to be on the right by claiming that their policy is to treat all employees «equally strict». There is the case of Miss S. who was not allowed to wear trousers at work. The British Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) decided in favour of the employer because they had maintained an «even-handed approach between men and women» by imposing a different but equally strict dress code for both sexes. The bosses, therefore, have secured the «right» to use their power on the employee’s body so long as they distribute the pressure evenly.

«But I don’t feel this way,» some would argue, proudly. «I am a valued member of a company and I enjoy my work. I like to dress appropriately even if it isn’t officially required.» This statement is an alarming indication of how deep is the encroachment of the workplace into the spontaneity and imagination of man, who is turning, or has turned for that matter, into homo economicus, not a person any more but primarily an employee.

What’s wrong with the dress code?

«Clothing is a very powerful way in which social regulation is enacted: it turns bodies into readable signs, making the observer recognise patterns of docility and transgression, and social positioning» (213), writes Ines Dussel and in this remark she is generally right. Clothing is a language of sorts which has a transforming capacity; one is regarded by others not as a body but as a body charged with an added meaning. This meaning is mainly two-fold: it either shows obedience to social expectations and behaviours considered desirable and normal, or it suggests a divergence from the norm, an inclination to a freer attitude. As an example, it is highly improbable to see a squatter wearing a tie and suit, or a boss dressed like a punk. Although aspects of various sub-cultures have been incorporated by capitalism and are often appealing to the masses (piercings, tatoos, drug use, certain types of non-conventional clothes or hairstyles), the duality of the social message of clothing remains the same: formality and informality are largely expressed by the choice of clothing.

The business suit may not necessarily be as strict as the military suit but it still is a type of suit, even in its more relaxed variations. These variations exist, as Colin Ward explains, because there has been a «relaxation of dress codes, pioneered all through the 20th century by the radical nonconformists’ rejection of fashion» (2004). Ward here refers to the dress code which distinguishes social classes but his observation is significant for the business dress code as well. Despite these changes, which were brought about by the encouragement of class mobility, and despite that the non-comformist opinion seems to have penetrated social norms (hence the relaxation of the dress code), the worship of «decency» has not been eradicated from the work place.

What I want to focus on is the effect of the dress code on the body, and subsequently on the mental framework and behaviour of the wearer. «No matter what sort of uniform it is […] to put on such livery is to give up one’s right to act as an individual», writes Alison Lurie (1983). This statement will be confronted by those who claim to see a logical pattern in the dress code or by those who might say that any combination of clothes ultimately refers to a dress code. My point of disagreement is that the behaviour of people in every day life strongly testifies in favour of Lurie’s observation: the effect of the uniform/suit is detrimental for the human mentality.

The uniformed body, rather than resembling a living being, tends to resemble an object. Holding a job is like acting a role (in fact, the word role is often used instead of the word job), and what the employee wears is the costume appropriate for the role. The employee, as an actor, is not supposed to use his/her own words, express his/her own feelings, be him-/herself. He/she has a function to fulfill, a performance (another theatrical-register word) to carry out. The dress code is the sine qua non of the performance; at all times the subject must put on the right appearance, must conform to instructions and standards. Without the uniform the employee is no more fit to perform, is not allowed on the stage of the workplace. Putting on the uniform, the subject is expected to put on an attitude and a character which often is very different from the character of the every day man or woman. Consequently, as the subject spends a great deal of his/her life at work, elements of this character start permeating the mind.

A long-term familirisation with the uniform is effective in order to make humans accept it as normal. It is important to instill the dress-code logic into the minds of children from their early years in school, before they start developing their critical thinking abilities. Sameness and discipline, thus, restrict the natural drive for individuality, self expression, and imaginative thinking. The school uniform is an effective way to make «students adhere to the dress code and use proper manners as a way to provide them with social skills, including those needed for future employment»¹. This dehumanization of the self and the disconnection from others can deeply affect the state of mind of pupils. The individuals may say that their choices are theirs and that their body and mind belongs to them; they would not admit otherwise. But their behaviour and choices tell a different story: they take the world around them for granted and do not question authority and social norms. This is not to say that the transformation is absolute and irreversible; in this case we would entirely cease to behave like humans and would become mere automatons, which cannot be true for any of us. Anyone is capable of moments of revelation or deep thought. The problem is that these moments become fewer and rarer, while the moments of apathy and obedience take more and more space and time, saturating the mind and eroding its qualities.

“The struggle to impose the discipline of labour upon our activity is a struggle fought by capital each and every day: what else do managers, teachers, social workers, police and so on do?» (2010) John Holloway writes. These professional categories are not mentioned in random. They are all required to wear uniforms and their position is closely connected to discipline. They represent a top-down structure and their function is to impose and be imposed. Without the right uniform they would not have been able or allowed to be part of the structure. Consumers/customers expect this structure. They do not trust a company when the stuff do not behave and look in a specific way. Without the right shoes, hair, or tone of voice an employee is not to be trusted. Thus, people themselves, those who are under the yoke of capital, perpetuate and impose the logic of the boss.

Is casual a dress code?

Some might argue that casual clothing is still a dress code, that no matter how free we believe we are when we dress «as we like», we are still dressed according to what is generally acceptable by society. For example, we don’t go about dressed as aboriginals, or like people used to dress a hundred years ago. I want to support that this lingering post-modern logic of homogenisation, of elimination of criteria and difference in attitudes, is irrational and self-indulgent. It would have some validity if all types of clothes had the same appearance and significance, and therefore we would have been right to criticise them equally. It is plain to see that sports shoes are very different from formal shoes, or that a jumper is not a shirt. There is a reason why we use different words to express different things. The dictionary entry for casual is: «subject to or produced by chance.» The word casual comes from the Latin word casus, which means «chance, occasion, opportunity; accident, event.» Given than the dress code is identified with restriction, casual dress by definition cannot be a type of dress code.

Words speak for themselves: chance, opportunity. If you do not have the chance to be yourself, you will find yourself transformed into someone you are not, a person without a chance to be free in the movements of the body and the workings of the mind. The encroachment of the mind takes place in all different ways; the supermarket, the spectacle, the factory, the office, the strict dress code turn the spontaneous into calculated vacuum. Where this vacuum predominates there is little or no space for the spontaneous, the casual.

Is anything an option?

Liberation from the dress code is one of the things that needs to be done if we want to take steps towards human emancipation. However, the major problem in which the dress-code issue is entailed, is the work ethic and work itself. A dress-what-you-like attitude that would not be complemented with a radical change of opinion towards work, would not be a solution. On the other hand, freedom of choice does not mean that minimum rules should not apply. What is constrictive is not the existence of rules in themselves but the fact that decision-making is either restricted to the elect few or that social norms which come from above are widely and passively accepted as effective and superior. It is of utmost importance that rules be made by members of a society who can think and decide as equals among equals. So long as there is a deficiency of (political and economic) equality in society, rules will keep being imposed vertically.

What would these new rules be? It is not politically mature to give ready-made, individual answers to issues that should be handled collectively, but a few suggestions can be made. Going naked or semi-naked for example would not be an option, unless you live with an indigenous tribe in the Amazonia. And if you decide to go out the door wearing different shoes and your clothes inside out, you will soon find that this is neither aesthetically desirable nor practical, as the pockets will be on the wrong side and the texture of the cloth will be rough on your skin. What is most important is not to make exaggerated comments about clothing trying to disprove the necessity of rules, but to dismantle the existing logic of servility and to promote freedom of behaviour and mind.

What about hospital workers, construction workers, garbage collectors…

The list can go on to include others such as the police, judges, fire fighters, cooks etc. First of all we need to consider what occupations among these are necessary and why. For example, we don’t really need the police, as their job is to protect the upper classes and not to prevent crime. This can be the subject of a separate article but suffice it here to say that the levels of crime are not reduced despite the existence of police. Peter Kropotkin gives a substantial solution to crime in Law And Authority: “it is well-known that two-thirds, and often as many as three-fourths, of such “crimes” are instigated by the desire to obtain possession of someone’s wealth. […] Moreover, it is also a well-known fact that the fear of punishment has never stopped a single murderer. He who kills his neighbour from revenge or misery does not reason much about consequence; and there have been few murderers who were not firmly convinced that they should escape prosecution. This immense class of so-called ‘crimes and misdemeanours’ will disappear on the day on which private property ceases to exist.”
We need to re-evaluate the necessity of all occupations and the amount of time we spend at work. This might include fewer working hours and collective solutions to neighbourhood problems which could eliminate the need for professionals (cleaners, construction workers, child minders etc). A more relaxed stance towards work would lead to more work-free time, the minimisation of the dress code, and the abolition of phony decency. Re-think the real meaning of the human essence: imagination and creativity. Shed the rigid hierarchical suit.

Notes:
1. The quotation is from the study “Tuck in that shirt! Race, class, gender, and discipline in the urban school” by Edward W. Morris. Morris spent two years studying Matthews Middle School in Texas, USA.

References
Black, Bob. The Abolition of Work. Loompanics Unlimited, 1986.
Dussel, Ines. School Uniforms and the Disciplining of Appearances. Published in Cultural History and Education: Critical Essays on Knowledge and Schooling, Routledge, 2013.
Holloway, John. Cracks and the Crisis of Abstract Labour. Antipode, 2010.
Kropotkin, Peter. Law and Autority. International, 1986.
Lurie, Alison. The Language of Clothes. Henry Holt and Company, 1981
Morris, Edward. Tuck that Shirt! Published in Schools and Society: A sociological approach to Education. Pine Forge Press, 2008.
Ward, Colin. Anarchism: a very short introduction. Oxford University Press, 2004.

Political apathy as a symptom

First published in our political magazine Democracy Street, Issue I, p.19-23

The article in Greek here

Political apathy is a phenomenon that preoccupied (and still preoccupies) many intellectuals and social scientists. It is a pathological symptom of a society that loses its creativity and sets the foundations of its decay. If we attempt to give a definition of political apathy, we would say that it is the condition where human beings cease to function as active political animals, they cease to consider themselves able to take responsibility for making decisions that determine their lives, finally cease to become exponents of a different social institution, ignoring any sense of autonomy [1]. Instead they adopt a passive stance characterized by mass behaviour, conformity, introversion and excessive individualism or as Cornelius Castoriadis (2001) says, they prefer privatization to freedom.

The phenomenon of political apathy cannot explained solely according to economic and political terms but has mainly psychological basis. As seen from the very root of the word, «apathy» is derived from the privative a- and the noun πάθος-pathos (passion). The word pathos, from the verb πάσχω-pascho (suffer), acquires a negative meaning in philosophy, indicating the emotional attachment to an object, inasmuch as the command of reasoning is lost (and this naturally leads to mental weakness and dependency). Positivist philosophies and religious metaphysics consider passions as defects that we must eliminate in order to be in charge of ourselves. On the contrary, in poetry, literature and art passion is connected with boundless enthusiasm, perseverance for the achievement of high goals, a mental disposition that leads to the transgression of the self.

Paschein (suffering) has a tragic substance and causes awe to the audience and respect for the hero who sacrifices and is sacrificed in order to reach his/her goal. It is not a selfish goal, as it has a social and worldly dimension. Therefore, new forms emerge from the dialectic of passion; while it destroys the old, it creates new values and gives new meaning to the world. The realm, however, where passion positively emphasizes its creativity is the realm of politics, politics as the creation of new institutions and not as self-interest, geopolitical control, management of wealth resources or economic administration. Passion in politics, when it expresses destructiveness is associated with the overthrow of an incumbent status. It cancels the existing structure of a society and challenges the dominant power, it is in agreement with the project of freedom and lays the foundation of revolutionary consciousness.

The term αστυνόμους οργάς – astynomous orgas (instituting passions), as expressed by the ancient Athenians – denotes this enthusiastic momentum for the institution of the laws of the city, or more simply the passionate participation of citizens in public affairs. Nonetheless, the collective «political passion» has been expressed only in few moments in history. We see it in the Athenian polis of the 5th century, in the beginnings of the French revolution, in the workers’ uprisings of 1848, the Paris Commune of 1871, in the great strike of 1905 in Petersburg, Russia, in the 1917 Soviets of anti-tzarist Russia (before the Bolshevik take-over), in the Spanish Civil War of 1936, in May 1968 and of course its seeds exist in many autonomous and anti-authoritarian movements today.

Political representation as a form of subordination

The question that emerges is why the passion for political and social life remains the exception rather than the rule? Why do people constantly withdraw in the private realm, allowing public matters to be managed by representatives, “experts” and technocrats? What makes people not fight for emancipation when their most fundamental and vital interests are threatened? Even worse they applaud and consent to authoritarian rules imposed on them. What motivates Wilhelm Reich (1983, p.53) to write that «what has to be explained is not the fact that the man who is hungry steals or the fact that the man who is exploited strikes, but why the majority or those who are hungry don’t steal and why the majority of those who are hungry don’t strike”? This leads to the following conclusion: the main issue is not to give the citizen consciousness of social responsibility – this is understood. The question is what inhibits the realization of such responsibility. What drives millions of people to consider insane leaders as the only ones able to solve their problems and overcome the socio-economic crisis?

The French thinker Etienne de la Boetie (1530-1563), one of the first that dealt with this issue, in his Discourse on Voluntary Servitude (1548) is unable to understand this phenomenon. He vividly and derisively describes how people allow themselves to be governed by kings and princes despite their inner desire to reject such subordination. He also mentions that human beings, choosing to live in authoritarian structures, are neither men – as freedom is the natural state of the species – nor animals, because even animals when their freedom is limited or when they are in captivity resist so strongly to the point of self-harm.

Therefore, the lack of passion for politics or otherwise the perversion of passion with its negative meaning as the inability to control ourselves and as an unconscious desire that must be satisfied at all costs, is dominant in all capitalist authoritarian societies. It is fed by them and easily becomes attached in most of its institutions, expressed through excessive consumerism, religion (here in particular we see an irrational passion so intense and widespread that surpasses all forms of creative imagination), adherence to political parties, lifestyle and commercial sports (soccer, etc). It would not be unreasonable to say that the whole economy and its institution is based on this kind of negative passions. The whole process of production with its alienating impact is consumed directly by the absurd gratification of these pseudo-needs. It seems that the passion of economism kills the passion for freedom. It is not difficult, therefore, to understand that these passions are cultivated by the society that they inevitably create and the corresponding structures, hierarchy, relationships of competition and authority, for the sake of which people are forced to sacrifice any sense of political empowerment and autonomy. At the same time, the current institutionalized power by exploiting this situation cultivates through education, family, religion and the media, the individual super-ego, that is the unconscious representations (which are tautological with coercion) and is overwhelmingly identified with the capitalist imaginary significations, aiming to reproduce them at any stage.

Marxists never paid attention to the sociology of apathy. They never recognized this phenomenon, although there existed conditions that allowed them to recognize how apathy, to some extent, is the result of the alienation that derives from productive relations. Marxists were more concerned with the dominance of the vanguard of the Party rather than with the thoughts and feelings of the masses which would lead them more quickly to the revolution. They saw the revolution as a social practice that would deterministically arrive some day. On the other hand, Cornelius Castoriadis – such as Hannah Arendt (1998, p.10) – although he rejects the idea that human nature is something that could be easily defined and described in the sense of an unchanged substance, in his mature works believed that humans are basically idle, that by their natural tendencies incline to passiveness and indifference. Obviously the great thinker of autonomy had come to this conclusion during the late 80s after seeing the Occidental world becoming entirely swamped by consumerism and spectacle instead of pursuing social struggles that would not only improve wages and working conditions but, above all, will enhance and expand participation in the remodelling of society, which at this very moment is exclusively performed by a group of ultra-selfish rulers.

Consequently, the question of political apathy remains open. It should, nonetheless, concern all those who desire to seriously become engaged with the issue of collective and individual emancipation, with the notion of social revolution which should cease to be viewed as a predestined gleam of hope but an institutional process, as a fact of daily life that occurs with boundless energy, creativity, imagination and of course passion for life and freedom.

[1] For the Greek-French thinker Cornelius Castoriadis, autonomy calls for rejection of every a-priori thinking and continuous questioning of institutions through the use of logos and imagination. Autonomy has a two-fold meaning: it stands for autos, “oneself” and nomos, “the law” (Castoriadis 2007, p.94). An autonomous person “is someone who gives herself her own laws,” in contrast with the state of heteronomy where norms, values and principles are acknowledged as a totally rigid system often guaranteed “by the instituted representation of an extrasocial source, foundation, and guarantee of law. The significance of the project of autonomy in the re-institution based on norms and values that will contribute to economic equality is of crucial significance. Without self-institution or conscious action – “we make the laws, we know it” (Castoriadis 1997, p.18) – the functioning of a society is not determined by its members.

Bibliography
Arendt, H., and Canovan, M., 1998. The human condition. 2nd ed. Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press.
Castoriadis, C., and Curtis, D. A., 1997. World in fragments: Writings on politics, society, psychoanalysis, and the imagination. California: Stanford University Press.
Castoriadis, C., 2007. Figures of the Thinkable. 2nd ed. California: Stratford University Press.
De La Boétie, E., 2013 (first published in 1548). Discourse on Voluntary Servitude. [e-book]. Available through: The University of Adelaide
Reich, W., 1983. The Mass Psychology of Fascism. Middlesex: Penguin Books.

Find more about the first issue of Democracy Street here

A message for unity and friendship: nothing to divide us anymore…

Exarcheia, Athens: the photo of Berkin Elvan in the hot-spot where Alexis Grigoropoulos was shot dead by police fire-arms

The article in Greek (link) in Turkish (link)

The news of the death of 15-year-old Berkin Elvan after after 269 days in a coma due to head injury in the demonstrations for park Gezi last June in Istanbul, came not as a surprise to us. This undeniably remind us of the murder of 15-year-old Alexandros Grigoropoulos in Athens five years ago, which led to the December uprising. Today his image appears on placards next to that of Berkin.

Just as Greece, Spain, Portugal and the rest of Europe, Turkey is similarly experiencing the consequences of state brutality accompanied with large scale attacks on democratic freedoms. It is evident that the state and all the mechanisms of repression are gradually becoming more authoritarian across the globe as political power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a minority, resulting at the same time in the dramatic expansion of brutality, exclusion, inequality and injustice. The arbitrariness of the oligarchic governments against our fundamental rights is not anymore an illusion or a fantasy but an obvious reality. Peaceful demonstrations are constantly attacked by heavily armed police forces; Greece and Turkey are only two examples, as we have witnessed brutal repression in Spain, Britain, Brazil. Almost all across the world where people are fighting aiming to maintain their hard-earned freedoms, the current institutions that exercise arbitrary power respond with force and coercion. At the same time, the world of media remains largely indifferent, dismissive or one-sided. Therefore:

  • the moment where we have to understand that the situation is solely in our hands and that the grassroots struggle of ordinary citizens must emerge, has arrived. How nonetheless can we keep organizing towards a meaningful and vital political change? How can we genuinely transform the political landscape? No substantial transformation could take place without acknowledging the positive impacts of international solidarity in such critical moments, without overcoming national barriers and spread the message of friendship and brotherhood.
  • Today a great percentage of Greeks who suffer a similar attack feel overwhelmingly compelled to express their compassion, calling at the same time for the unconditional end of all historical and cultural cleavages. Whilst the barricades in Taksim and in the major cities of Turkey are emerging again, whilst hundreds of thousands of young men and women are filling the streets expressing their indignation, the vast majority of democratic Greek citizens are morally indebted to send the message of unity. The powerful images of Berkin and Grigoropoulos placed close to one another remind us this oppression and suffering are not caused by national differences. On the contrary it derives from the current institutionalized power-relations, designed to perpetuate privilege, bribery, elitism and all kinds of injustices, elements we can achieve to eliminate only through unity of struggle.

It is undeniable that hysterical nationalistic populism and geopolitical rivalry between us has fed hatred and tensions for centuries. We know that speculative arms dealers motivated by self-interest will continue to cultivate and breed hatred between the two peoples (Turks and Greeks) that have so much in common. We acknowledge that demagogues, hate preachers, historians of parody and propagandists have for years attempted to convince us we are nothing but enemies, having nothing in common except the sword. That we should be always available to give our lives in the “upcoming war against our bad neighbours” looking for the revival of past glories. Our judgement is not driven anymore by friendliness but by ignorance. Hatred against each other has conquered our minds. It is time, nonetheless, for all democratic citizens of both countries who reject every form of hubristic nationalism or religious isolationism to combat these challenges. All of us who aim to eliminate the use of structural violence and instead create autonomous and democratic societies need to go down on the offensive and thoroughly expose the vulgarity of national populistic ideologies in such a critical moment where the ordinary citizen – either Turkish or Greek – experiences the same intimidation, impoverishment and humiliation.

In order to counter this bleak situation we must engage in collective action, through a joint internationalist revolutionary network. It’s time to hold decisive actions together. In the squares and streets real democracy, human creation, and communication may be reborn.

Manifesto 2014 (English version)

Read the Greek version here

The collective of Eagainst.com started its operation in December 2010, as an initiative not only for dialogue and counter-information but also to promote philosophical, political and cultural self-education of human beings based on universal values ​​and ideals (such as freedom of speech, the right to education, gender, racial and sexual equality, the right of excluded social groups – like immigrants and unemployed – the opposition to any exploitation of man by man, the review of work and labour and its alienating consequences …). Eagainst.com brings together people from diverse political spaces, mostly ardent supporters of the project of autonomy – as expressed by Cornelius Castoriadis – thinkers of council democracy (inspired by Hannah Arendt) and anarchist supporters (with particular emphasis on Murray Bookchin and Errico Malatesta), or situationists commentators and analysts who do not wish to compromise ideologically with the dominant values ​​that underlie the modern capitalist imaginary but instead seek for political alternatives rejecting at the same time the notion of representation, or even theories acknowledged as a solid truths and doctrinal beliefs. Eagainst.com is consisted by activists, journalists and political writers/researchers who refuse to reproduce social taboos, nationalism or outdated ideological currents. Always posing as a key project the social transformation, according to political, economic and cultural justice and equality, direct deliberative democracy and rejection of any kind of bureaucracy and hierarchy, this collectivity continues to promote in the public dialogue political ideas that remain largely undiscovered, ideas that promote a different understanding not only on the ways and means of social change but also regarding the objectives of that change. Far from trivial and sterile entrenched perceptions, breaking from ideological taboos and all kinds of conservatism, Eagainst.com continues its difficult work, welcoming all who respond to this call for political dialogue.

Coming from different backgrounds (workers, students, unemployed, artists, academics, writers) we are people with similar problems and concerns, people from different parts of the world who unite our voices under a common purpose: to contribute in the radical change of things. We know that this requires a clear rupture with any kind of transcendental or metaphysical rigid determinism (such as religious beliefs, laws of ancestors, laws of markets, laws of history) – that is called heteronomy – aiming to a world fairer and freer, to a world of political, economic and cultural equality, where processes through direct participation in decision-making will take place, enhancing the feasibility for us to redefine our needs and prioritize the values ​​that govern human communities. We know, of course, that the achievement of these objectives is not an easy task given that a) under the current situation with the rise of extreme right-wing populist, fascist movements and the hardening of state repression (which threatens and violates basic civil, democratic, social and economic rights earned with hard struggles), our efforts may face several risks (although that does not intimidate us), and b) in the era of mass apathy, of de-politicization and generalized poverism/conformity, where public communication is swamped by silence and isolation, the responses may not be broadly accepted in comparison with the initiatives that had significant resonance in the period of great social struggles during the past two centuries. We believe, however, that it is up to us to offer a political impetus for the further expansion of the antagonistic network that aims to the beginning of new struggles, while stressing that human beings are not solely destined for labour and consumption, obeying blindly and unquestioningly commands as slaves. The human (political) being can also create and excel using positive imagination and providing meaning to his/her existence.

In principle, we reject the contemporary global political infrastructure, the concentration of power in the hands of the few which reproduces and perpetuates poverty, inequality and injustice in all areas, leading inevitably to violence and dissolving any bond of social solidarity. The existing political system of liberal oligarchies deprives humanity as it measures every human value in profit (the only dominant value) destroying every spirit of friendship. Values ​​such as political participation, concepts such as consultation and communication are gradually fading away in a world that manufactures human machines, isolated individuals who attempt to disguise the lack of any meaning regarding their existence through consumerism (which is regarded as personal «success» and fulfilment), with lonely individuals who are accept pauperization as a natural condition in this jungle of social Darwinism that characterizes the capitalist imaginary, a dreadful machinery that generates and reproduces indifference, hatred and derision for the less powerful. Thus, we demand equality, ie actual (direct and deliberative) democracy, which according to us is inseparable from justice, equality and isonomy, that is equal participation in political power for all citizens. This requires explicit rupture with parliamentary institutions and any mechanism that perpetuates hierarchy and thus exploitation, heteronomy and alienation into the abyss of insignificance. Having acknowledged that the eutopic (and not utopic) political system we want isn’t going to be achieved through press releases, or ballot boxes, we call into question of the current state of power relations, we challenge all social institutions (such as the state – which gradually throws away its mask revealing its true face, that of a punisher -, or party offices), surpassing the demand for improving, rationalizing, or replacing them with others that will move into the same direction. Thus, we propose to replace all of these institutions that constitute and reproduce the modern capitalist (and ostensibly free) social reality, by political bodies that will allow all citizens to participate in the making (and taking) of decisions concerning public life, popular assemblies in squares, municipalities, workplaces (schools, factories, universities). Equality, friendship, solidarity and human creation for us should be a key objective of these new institutions.

At the same time we reject the imaginary of unlimited economic growth based on the hierarchical structure of the productive capitalist model which serves the interests of a small oligarchy in the arena of global competition that has transformed the entire planet into financial casino, damaging at the same time our natural environment and turning populations into profit machines that blindly execute orders in exchange for survival. Always under the scope of democratic transformation we promote the project of self-organization of production, moving away from the capitalist standards, away from the accumulation of profit in the hands of few, objecting to equal sharing of the wealth (and of course to income equality) while at the same time we incorporate environmental initiatives within the framework of our political program. But as aforementioned, human beings are not born and die having as an intended goal labour/production and consumption. Humans action can also result to worldliness – and this is the raison d’être of genuine politics (of direct democracy and autonomy), which undeniably cannot take place within our, utterly alienated by the imaginary of poverism, societies, deeply eroded by the insignificance of pseudo-individualism. Given that lack of freedom is not something that only concerns the work relationships (the oppression and exploitation of the worker from the employer and the boss) but has also to do with the nature of the production process, we aim not only to provide a more substantial meaning to work and workmanship (by asking ourselves why and for whom we labour?), but also to reduce the work-time, which is undoubtedly necessary for public happiness (namely for the re-emergence of a public realm). Such a system can not exist within the capitalist economic model that leaves no space for real communication between people and instead imprisons everyone to the impotence of private sphere. Extreme adherence to the work ethic, to productivism and profit-making signifies lack of time for reading, for analysis and discussion. Political representation serves exactly this pathology; to let others – some skilled technocrats – undertake the task of political implementation, a task that in fact should be exclusively our concern instead of acknowledging as our ultimate goal only private happiness.

Therefore, we reject any notion of bureaucratisation and we do not believe in change through the means that the system itself has created, means that keep us trapped in the world of impotence, conformity, entertainment and spectacle. Hence, we are not only looking for a public space as a key component of the participatory democracy we aim, but also for public time as an important tool to achieve our goals. Of course, for us the meaning of bureaucracy is not only confined to the hierarchical structures of the state apparatus, it does not solely refer to dialectic between rulers and the ruled (or in the workplace between masters and labourers, as mentioned above). The entire bureaucratization for our lives is characterized by the sheer totality of capitalist (and every heteronomous) imaginary that embraces every aspect of human activity and condition. It is located in the education system which produces «technocrats» who perpetuate the existing structures by prioritizing specific needs, it is incarnated in the psychological and anthropological approaches of the contemporary world, in short, it is an objective of (self)manipulation. We can see it on the Media (TV, magazines, radio, books), in all the institutions of mass culture. It is also located even in science which no longer serves the people but the large economic interests. We intent thus to challenge all the sociological narratives which proclaim that human beings are incapable of freedom and that the need for guidance by a skilled artisan, a polar economist is always required. The phrase of Sophocles «there is no more fearful or admirable being than a human» denotes explicitly the capabilities of human beings for self-creation and freedom.

To counter the current political challenges, we declare that the time to rise up and act collectively through a joint new network of revolutionary agenda is here. Through open assemblies, councils and open political bodies in every square, where communication and interaction will become possible, we aim to liberate ourselves. Not as lenders and borrowers, not as rich and poor, not as prosecutors and defendants, but as equal and free citizens, if we do not wish concepts such as democracy and freedom to become forgotten entries in encyclopedic dictionaries and history books.