If Elections Could Change Things, They’d Be Illegal

Published on ZNet, by Nikolas Kosmatopoulos, May 07, 2012.

… Crypto-racist and violence-prone armed gangs – aka dias and delta motorcycled police teams – roam the streets of major cities, beating up journalists and harassing and arresting those who appear “suspicious” or “rebellious”.

Guilty politicians from both major parties (the conservative/neoliberal New Democracy and the social-democratic/neoliberal PASOK) hide from an enraged people behind the walls of guarded palaces, evoking doomsday scenarios in case the citizenry dare not vote them back into office. 

Unelected bankers and EU-technocrats effectively run the show, deciding for the generations to come to sell out the country’s most vital assets, and to sink the population into unprecedented levels of poverty and misery.

Unsavoury journalists hide behind ludicrous televised lies and unqualified threats, lamenting as psychiatric cases those schoolteachers who, imitating Mohamed Bouazizi, were willing to risk their lives in political protest.

Amid this atmosphere of omnipresent physical and structural violence, fear and hopelessness, inflicted by the elites and their proxies, the old anarchist slogan not only represents the most accurate description of the situation in the place formerly known as the Greek republic, but also the only way forward: the struggle against austerity and hypocrisy should be fought not only on election day, but on every day.

Weimar reloaded: The ‘two extremes’ scare: … //

… ¡Callate o despertaras la izquierda!

The urban myth has it that a slogan by the Spanish protesters in Puerta del Sol fuelled the spark for the Greek Tahrir – the Syntagma square – in spring 2011: ¡Callate o despertaras a Grecia! ["Be silent or you will wake up Greece"].

The slogan was said to have awakened the pride of Greeks in protesting and in civil disobedience. Whether the slogan truly existed or not is rather trivial. What is true and important, however, is that the Spanish protests caused a domino effect in Greece, just like the Tunisian protests did in Egypt.

However, similar forms of protest (strikes, marches, public assemblies, occupied public spaces) have not – yet – re-appeared in the same magnitude this spring. Excessive state repression, widespread insecurity about the future and a vague hope of change through the upcoming elections seem to have taken the air from the sails of popular forms of resistance.

Yet, if the Greeks woke up last spring, it is the official left in the country that is still sleeping.

No-one seems to believe more in the prospect of change through elections than the two major parties of the anti-capitalist left today: the Communist party (KKE) and Syriza, a leftist alliance of radical parties and previous Euro-Communists.

While most of the protesting people in the country have long lost faith to the system of rule, euphemistically called “democracy”, both parties reiterate their faith in the ballot box at every given opportunity.

While hundreds of thousands surround the parliament to protest what they see as a constitutional coup d’etat by the ruling elite, both parties keep their MPs inside, effectively contributing to the redressing of a regime of open violence as “political dialogue”.

While workers and pensioners throughout the country are deprived of basic means for survival, both parties ask them to be patient and make sure they do not die until May 6.

While fascist groups chase defenceless immigrants in open daylight, both parties mobilise their supporters mostly – if not solely – towards their respective election campaigns.

For both parties, the elections have acquired an almost millenarian outlook, something like a second coming: what if election polls show the neo-Nazi party of Greece (Golden Dawn) as high as five or six per cent? The left is busy celebrating its double-digit score in the same polls.

Once again, one feels the need to reiterate: if elections could change things, they would have been made illegal. In fact, this might well happen in one way or another: members of the political elite have shamelessly suggested the indefinite postponement of elections, while European officials have clearly indicated that unless voters choose one of the two major parties, the country would be plunged into chaos, prompting the leader of Syriza to file a complaint with the European Commission over foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs.

In the face of all this, it appears essential to ask whether:

  • Instead of drafting an electoral program, it would be more useful to craft everyday programs of population mobilisation against elite-driven violence and misery
  • Instead of debating with those who massacre “democracy” in the parliament, it would be more effective to join the ranks of those who surround the building
  • Instead of waiting for the election results to empower the party, it would be more crucial to strengthen local committees of immigrants and Greeks together in the fight against extreme right-wing groups

Instead of cultivating illusions about change through elections, it would be more sincere to move quickly towards a post-representational system of Direct Democracy. (full long text).

(Nikolas Kosmatopoulos is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Zurich. He has conducted fieldwork on peace expertise in Lebanon and Geneva and is now visiting scholar at Columbia University and at CUNY).


Photo Gallery on Spiegel Online International: Occupy Keeps the Outrage Burning, May 4, 2012;

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