latest from the magazine
latest journal issue
As the Greek elections and the near certain victory of Syriza quickly approach, the question of Europe as a political project has once again come to the forefront. The historic rise of Syriza is not only a watershed moment for Greece, it has history making potential for all of Europe. Indeed, we have witnessed a chorus of political figures throughout Europe and beyond making daily statements and declarations regarding the significance of the Greek elections. Angela Merkel and her allies, in particular, have not shied from advising voters in Greece that a vote for Syriza would be futile as agreements and contracts have been signed and they are not up for renegotiation. On the other side, Spain’s Pablo Inglesias traveled to Athens to campaign arm in arm with Alexis Tsipras, with Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan” as the musical backdrop.
Such overt attempts by foreign leaders to sway Greek voters in a national election and, even more surprising, the sight of Greek and Spanish leftists (on the verge of electoral victory) declaring their intention to ‘take Berlin’ would have been unthinkable even a decade ago. From the time of the Treaty of Paris in 1951 to the introduction of the euro in 2002, it seemed a given that Europe was on a one-way road to ever greater political integration and cohesion. National stereotypes aside, this north-south divide and the emergence of jingoism within the European Union are recent and unsettling developments. It is important to note that the intended function of the ECSC, EEC and, eventually, EU was to create economic cooperation and interdependencies so as to mute national conflicts and provide the foundation for supra-national political integration and coordination. Indeed, it seems paradoxical that ever greater levels of economic integration should lead to political divisions and conflict.
Such inversions (from economic interdependencies as a means for political cohesion to being the source of conflict, from the EU as a project of political unification to one of economic rationalization, and from EU institutions as mechanisms of political representation and coordination to ones of technocratic management and punitive oversight) underlie the current crises and dilemmas facing Europe. The how and why of this great transformation are complex questions and well beyond the present task at hand but two potential contributing causes that underlie these changes are (1) the new temporal character of capital and its privileging of short term profitability over long term stability and reproducibility and (2) the new forms of subjectivity and desire that the libidinal economies of mass consumption have produced. Subjective and structural changes within capitalism have led to a new articulation of political and economic spaces in Europe to a point where it is not hyperbole to claim that if Europe continues on the present path it is only a matter of time before it is torn apart by the grave antagonisms and contradictions that are now currently visible for all to see.
It is here that Syriza’s great history making potential resides for it is the only significant response to these contractions and the politics of austerity that comes from a European minded and democratic standpoint. All other reactions, from UKIP to the rise of Marie Le Pen and beyond, have been decidedly nationalistic and right-wing. The actions and discourse of Merkel and many similar European leaders dangerously lends itself to these nationalist reactions and encourages this new jingoism and apparent zero-sum calculations where the well being of Germans presupposes the suffering of Greeks, Italians and Spaniards (or vice-versa). Where someone taking a nap in Athens is the cause of sleeplessness in Bremen. The argument of Syriza that the current crisis in Greece is a European one and can only be solved through European efforts, that the EU needs a conference to come up with a collective plan to address the crisis, and that there needs to be a great deepening and reinvigoration of the democratic intuitions of the EU, is the best and only effort so far to provoke a return to the founding political and ethical principles of the EU.
Syriza may well be the last chance for the salvation of Europe as a political project. Whereas most mainstream leaders within the EU have solidly backed the idea of financial markets as the best and final judges of political policy (the need to be ‘competitive’ from the standpoint of transnational capital) and most adversaries to this liberal dogma rely on nationalist fantasies as a response (to go back to a time before national purity was corrupted by EU attacks on sovereignty and by cosmopolitan values), it is Syriza that points to democratic European political efforts as the only response that can allow us to overcome the current political and economic impasses. If its arguments are rebuffed and its attempts to push the EU into adopting a new political logic fail, it will likely mean the end of the Europe as it currently exists and the reconfiguration of political alliances and ties within the region. Greece, the imaginary birthplace of Europe and the presumed homeland of democracy, has now become the actual place where the rebirth and democratization of the European project becomes possible. January 25th will be the first step in that process and the whole world anxiously awaits the results.