The news declares: Greece and the Eurozone have reached an agreement to extend financial aid.
In this context of elite political negotiations, where governments are forced to comply with neoliberal mandates, I want to ask: what place is there for grass-roots international support; does “people power” get pushed to one side when more weighty matters are at stake?
Not long ago, there were marches on the streets of London and Detroit in solidarity with the people of Greece and the promised stance of its new government, resisting the austerity measures that Eurozone powers demanded. The marches embodied a tight feeling of collective presence. But could they offer much more? Perhaps they could show governments that people supported Greece, and that we expected them to also; perhaps they showed the Greek government and its people that they had support – with its “je suis …” echoes of solidarity. But has solidarity just become marches on public streets; what other support might be – needs to be – offered? Certainly, mass demonstrations across Europe might encourage the Eurozone to be more accommodating, not to hold out in refusing some kind of compromise. But the mediated capacity of people across the region, or even the globe, to make a difference through the pressure exerted on their own governments sits awkwardly against moves towards a far more direct version of “people power” (we, the 99%) that Occupy and other grass-roots prefigurative movements announced.
Can “people power” do anything for Greece?
In the solidarity politics of the 1980s, people went from Britain and other countries to help with building projects in Nicaragua. Benefits – many of them also feminist – proliferated, with music, food, films, poetry, conversation and talks, raising money, awareness and commitment for Central American left-wing struggles – the sharp as well as the hopeful edge of battles replicated in Thatcherite Britain, if in a more muted key.
I don’t suppose Greece is looking for people from Britain to come over to build schools and homes. But are there other kinds of resources people, at a distance, might share that would help Greece to withstand the demands placed upon it? That would allow it to repay loans without being forced into conditions of austerity or that would allow it to choose to leave the euro? What kind of practical solidarity would make a difference? If people around Europe each gave a little, if they bought Greek products, if they travelled to Greece and spent money there, would this help?
A Guardian feature from 23 January, just before the election, describes internal solidarity relations within Greece, where health care centres, food centres, co-operative groceries are developing bottom-up horizontal provision in response to acute needs.
For those of us living outside, what can we do when marches aren’t enough?
At the LSE, a project is underway to crowdsource a new constitution for Britain. But when it comes to billion euro loans, international institutions, not people power, are the subject of the address. The Greek finance minister writes to the president of the Euro group of Eurozone finance ministers promising to honour Greece’s financial obligations to creditors, and cooperate closely with EU institutions and the IMF.
What choice is there?
Like many of his generation who grew up immersed in socialist debates, my father often told his children how socialism had to be a global project. Introduced in a single country it was too prone to capital flight, too vulnerable to the aggressive interventions of other countries. Socialism in one country was like establishing a cooperative – internally it made sense, a progressive, non-competitive structure for sharing resources, but externally it operated in a competitive, capitalist world. And this affects what a single player can do. Of course, both cooperatives and socialist countries develop networks and blocs to be less isolated, less easy to pick off, cooperating with bodies and states working on similar lines. (Cooperatives have perhaps been more successful here than states; perhaps because the power asymmetries between them have proved less acute.)
This is not to say Greece is offering socialism in one country. Yet, while critics on the left may pick at its political flaws, the new government has made a range of progressive promises, many incompatible with Eurozone budgetary austerity. If these initiatives prove impossible because of external pressure and financial leverage, what does this mean for the capacity of other European governments to pursue progressive projects at odds with neoliberal logics?
Can we crowdsource “socialism in one country”?
I want to think about crowdsourcing as a form of solidarity, in which people collaborate to make change possible elsewhere. Solidarity offers a different model to networks of commonality. Solidarity doesn’t depend on me being just like you, but on me supporting you (or you supporting me) because you (or I) are trying something different – something worth supporting. And of course, the supported you may in turn support me. If you can do something progressive in your country with support from outside, perhaps I can too, and you can help.
In their interesting account of the anti-apartheid movement in London, Gavin Brown and Helen Yaffe write that solidarity isn’t a one way street, just there to support those whose position is the more precarious and vulnerable. One thing solidarity can provide to those who act in solidarity is learning – learning about what is possible when unexpected resources including of people, time, and energy are made available.
Solidarity, when it fails, also teaches lessons about what can’t be done.
It is important that attempts to reject a neoliberal logic, by placing people’s welfare above market economics, succeed. We are so used to its failure. In Britain, the political establishment has utterly accepted the primacy of the market – we can only have better conditions when the market will allow it – a discipline that, of course, obscures how very good some people’s living conditions in Britain right now are.
Economies are not our gods. They’re there to make living possible and worthwhile. Etymologically, economy comes from the Greek word, oikonomia, meaning management of the household. If we think of economies as household arrangements, it would be absurd to place the condition of people residing there below the task of sustaining the household itself. Economies are functional supports. They need to be taken back and imagined in ways that make room for progressive logics.
Internationally, this is happening in practical, largely small-scale ways. What the current Greek crisis reveals, however, are those junctures where questions of scale seem to force a turn away from solidarity economies to global economic elites: the IMF, EU, European Central Bank.
If one part of solidarity is revealing the global linkages and flows that create acute inequalities in particular places – refusing to place responsibility and blame there where the crisis hits, another part is forging cooperative economies that embrace solidarity relations, including at a distance. But can these ever be scaled up enough to take on and counter market forms, so countries trying a different politics have somewhere else to look?