A National Moment

(Note kindly translated by Anne-Marie de Grazia ; french version here)

klephteThe Greek delegation arrived Wednesday, February 11th, for a reunion with the finance ministers of the Eurozone. On Thursday night 12th, the chiefs of governments got together in turn. Rumours were and still are buzzing about what Athens might – or might not – accept. We know that the Minister of Finance of Germany has declared that the existing program must be applied, which the new Greek government is categorically rejecting. Whatever the results of this negotiation, there is one thing which visibly was not taken in to account by all these European leaders pickled in German austerity: the return of national sentiment.

The struggle against the Troïka as a struggle for national independence

It can be observed in all the declarations made since the evening of January 25th by the new representatives of Greece, and particularly by Alexis Tsipras and his Minister of Finance, Yanis Varoufakis: the struggle against the “Troïka,” this ill-matched mixture of the IMF, the Central European Bank and the European Commission, is experienced as a struggle for national independence. The declaration made by Yanis Varoufakis on Januray 20th, that is before the elections, makes it clear. He draws a clear comparison between the rejection of austerity plans imposed on Greece and what he calls « the spirit of October 28th» [1] : « The true Greek deficit is a deficit of dignity. It is because of this lack of dignity that we have accepted stupid measures and this has fed a vicious circle of indignity which, by itself, keeps discontent, fear and resentment alive. All this is no good. We must find back our dignity, the spirit which, on October 28th 1940 made us say “no” to the ultimatum of Mussolini’s Italy. At that moment too, we didn’t have the means to say “no,” and yet, we did.”

Let’s imagine a French minister of finance comparing his policies, if they were at odds with the policies of the European Union, to General de Gaulle’s Appeal of June 18th, 1940. Because that’s what it’s akin. The Greek government had received an ultimatum from Mussolini’s Italy. It rejected it and chose, despite a balance of forces, which was in appearance very unfavourable, the option of war. In fact, the Greek Army succeeded in pushing back the Italian troops until Nazi Germany intervened. For the Greeks, October 28th is indeed the equivalent of our June 18th. This should situate the level of the confrontation to which the Greek government seems to have committed itself. It justifies the alliance concluded by SYRIZA with the right-wing “anti-memorandum” party AN.EL (the “Independent Greeks”). This accord is not some kind of « red-brown » alliance, as TV commentator Colombani[2] and BHL about bitching about. It is a true patriotic accord intended to unite existing forces in a struggle for the dignity of the Greek people.

National sentiment against « identities »

One must well understand that what is playing itself out around Greece, but also in France and in the rest of Europe: it is the question of what makes a « Nation, » that is, a community of solidarities existing on a given territory. It is not by chance if this question turns up in, and is brought up by Greece. History here has left its mark. The history of Ancient Greece, bound up in its local identities, Athens against Sparta, Sparta against Thebes, which will end up ruining the best and the greatest. The idea of a Greek nation asserts itself from the early XIX. Century on, within the Ottoman Empire, and under the influence of the ideals of the French Revolution. This idea, which gives birth to modern Greece and is held on the baptismal font by the British, French and Russian fleets at the battle of Navarino, is a central concept. It incorporates the understanding that being a Greek citizen is not a question of religion, of language or of belonging to a local community. It is the concept of a project shared within the framework of Greek borders. In this, the “spirit of October 28th” which is claimed – rightly so – by Yanis Varoufakis is the very opposite of narrowly reductive identity visions. To be Greek is to affirm a political identity which is by no means religious or ethnic.

Back to politics

This is not to deny that, in its local applications, this political identity can combine with local affiliations (one thinks of the mentalities of the inhabitants of the Greek archipelago) as well as to feelings of religious belonging. But these different affiliations, which are in fact very diverse, are based on a superseding idea: the fact of being Greek. And this is an example for all European countries. More or less engaged down the road of a rise of communitarianism, they are confronted with the same perspective: to find back to the sense of territorial solidarities and to define their identity as primarily political, or to perish.

From this point of view, it is clear that the choice of the European authorities is clearly the one of communotarism, such as the national community. The unheard off declaration of Jean-Claude Juncker of a few days ago that “there can be no democratic choices against the European treaties » testifies to it. It means that, for him, European institutions are above the democratic will expressed by sovereign peoples.

The victory of SYRIZA in Athens is both matching and counterbalancing the tragedy we have gone through on January 7th and 9th in Paris. It proves that it is possible, realistic and efficient to oppose the sovereign choice of the people to the frenzy of technocrats. But we must know that this counterweight implies a direct and immediate confrontation with the forces working at confiscating our sovereignty. For this confiscation is presently quite real. It takes the form of the diverse treaties which bind us to the European Union and which subject democratic representation to a non-elected power. This confiscation is the doing also of the multinational companies which are imposing, with the tacit agreement of our governments and of the European institutions, their own rules allowing them to dictate the law. Such indeed are the stakes of the project of free-trade between North America and the European Union, TAFTA[3]. This confiscation prevents the people, sole holder of the national sovereignty, to rebuild the state and to endow itself with the suitable institutions, that is, with the State, in order to remedy to its ailing.

A culture shock

Facing these forces, and the logic of the European Commission, SYRIZA’s victory had the effects of a culture shock. This shock sent waves through the institutions of the Eurozone: it is the shock from the encounter between (dismal) managers and people making politics. But these waves are propagating much farther. It also concerns us Frenchmen, very directly. We must go back – again – to the declarations of Yanis Varoufakis in his interview of January 20th to La Tribune : « In reality, France is at war with Germany, and this is leading to a true vassalizing of France, to the creation of what I am calling a “post-modern Vichy.” [4]. One can well make out how, in the policies of the governments of these past years, be it under Nicolas Sarkozy or under François Hollande, this renouncing ideology has built itself up.

This leads us to ask ourselves about the strategy of the Left Front, the Front de Gauche, in our own country. The rout, as it must well be called, which it has suffered at the last European elections is the tell-tale sign of the strategic cul-de-sac in which it has trapped itself. The rout of the only real left with government possibilities which we have, makes the left an orphan. When everything permitted theoretically to forecast a considerable success, it found itself incapable to profit from the situation and from the multiple retractions of the so-called “socialists.” It’s incapacity to articulate an economic discourse linked together with the presently pivotal question of national sovereignty is the cause of it. The Left Front didn’t and couldn’t respond to this profound crisis because its discourse remained at the level of the effects instead of the causes. Quartered between a French Communist Party caught up in electoral gearwheels with the « Socialists,» and unable to carry out its mutation, yet so necessary, on the question of national sovereignty, it remained illegible. It paid a hard price at said elections. We will oppose to it, for the time being, the road chosen by SYRIZA, who clearly takes on the defence of sovereignty.

We are presently living through a national, not a nationalist moment. This moment is the product of the very forces of the “European construction.” We are living through it because of the popular reaction to the confiscation of sovereignty. This is what explains the strong breakthrough of the Front National at the past elections. This breakthrough is enough to invalidate analyses which confine it in an “extreme” position. It has become a central piece of the political game as well as of the movement of ideas. It owes it as much to the acumen of its leaders as to the stupidity of its opponents.

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[1] Godin R., « La Grèce peut forcer l’Europe à changer :interview de Yanis Varoufakis », La Tribune, 20 janvier 2015, http://www.latribune.fr/actualites/economie/international/20150120trib9ab84d48e/la-grece-peut-forcer-l-europe-a-changer.html

[2] Colombani J-M, « Quels chemins pour les grecs ? », in Direct Matin, n° 1630, 2 février 2015, p.3.

[3] R. Cherenti et B. Poncelet Le Grand marché transatlantique : Les multinationales contre la démocratie,. Éditeur Bruno Leprince, mai 2011.

[4] Godin R., « La Grèce peut forcer l’Europe à changer :interview de Yanis Varoufakis », op.cit.


Jacques Sapir

Ses travaux de chercheur se sont orientés dans trois dimensions, l’étude de l’économie russe et de la transition, l’analyse des crises financières et des recherches théoriques sur les institutions économiques et les interactions entre les comportements individuels. Il a poursuivi ses recherches à partir de 2000 sur les interactions entre les régimes de change, la structuration des systèmes financiers et les instabilités macroéconomiques. Depuis 2007 il s'est impliqué dans l’analyse de la crise financière actuelle, et en particulier dans la crise de la zone Euro.

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