On the anniversary of the Greeks’ OXI, we say NO to a retreat to leftist nationalism – op-ed in La Repubblica

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by Yanis Varoufakis and Lorenzo Marsili. Click here for the la Repubblica site. For the English language version…

A year ago, the OXI vote in Greece was a thumping NO to an authoritarian, austerian, troika-controlled EU and a majestic YES to a democratic Europe. This message is more relevant today than ever.

Since last summer, the crushing of the Greeks’ OXI reinforced the centrifugal forces that are tearing Europe apart and begat the awful EU-Turkey treaty on refugees that sacrificed also Europe’s soul to the alter of xenophobia. Brexit was a natural repercussion, one of many to come. Once on this slippery slope, Europe is sliding fast into a vicious cycle of authoritarianism, self-defeating austerity, debt-deflation, xenophobia and banking troubles (due to Europe’s proclamation of a banking union that violates the meaning of the term).

Sticking to the existing ‘rules’ is impossible without losing the dream of a borderless, transnational, democratic Europe. And losing this dream of Europe means another slide, this time at the level of the nation-state, to a form of nativism that appeals to sovereignty but promotes economic developments that stymie democracy. Matteo Renzi is, therefore, right to protest ‘rules’ that are detrimental both to the Italian nation-state and to the European Union. But he is wrong not to use the power of his office to call for a EU Summit that debates, and re-designs, these unenforceable, self-destructive ‘rules’.

As evidenced by Brexit and recent opinion polls, it is no longer self-evident to large sections of the Right and the Left that the dissolution of the EU is worse than its continuation on a business-as-usual basis. The status quo is increasingly unloved and unstable both on the xenophobic Right and on a Left keen to return to the bosom of the nation-state in the hope of restoring a progressive agenda on the foundation of retrieved national sovereignty. This coalescence of anti-EU narratives from both the Right and Left is the projection of an undercurrent of the EU’s economic and legitimacy crisis on the canvass of visible politics.

Stefano Fassina has recently written in Il Manifesto that all demands to democratise the EU are vain and rhetorical. That no European demos exists, but only national demoi with their separate languages, cultures and social conventions that provide the basis for common political projects. Coming from the Left, his argument represents a worrying moment for the Italian Left. Come to think of it, the argument that the nation-state and the demos are mapped one-to-one (one nation, one language, one culture, one Parliament, one currency) has traditionally been the argument of Burkean Tories in Britain, with echoes also of Le Pen in France. It is a sad day (revealing of the damage that the EU’s failures have inflicted on, amongst others, Europe’s progressive politics) when the Left turns its back on its instinctive internationalism to adopt a nationalist, an essentialist outlook.

The problem with Fassina’s argument is the gross misconception at its heart concerning what constitutes a people. The essentialist conception of a single, national demos has always been a tool of the establishment, and of the far right, to gloss over the multiple layers of class struggle and to suppress dissent by pitying the ‘nation’ against the ‘other’ – with which, the argument goes, it is impossible to share sovereignty, decision making, a Parliament etc. Has the Left forgotten Antonio Gramsci’s fine point that a demos (popolo) does not pre-exist its own political mobilisation, and that a people emerges through joint struggles? Is Fassina telling us that the Italian precarious youth cannot form a coalition with German mini-jobbers against, say, the tax evading elites of all EU states? Is he happy to dismiss the fact that there is more commonality between the thousands of volunteers who help refugees in Italy and Austria than there is between them and Matteo Salvini and Norbert Hofer? The task of ambitious politics is to make call for precisely these alliances to act as the foundation of the Left’s mobilization. To deny the very possibility of common, pan-European mobilization that shapes a cross-border, multi-ethnic demos, is to deny the Left’s raison d’ etre. And to deny the Left’s raison d’ etre, in the name of the… Left, is to slide surreptitiously into the trap of a nationalism within which no left wing, progressive politics can breathe.

Ours is, of course, not an argument for prioritizing the European over the national level. It is, simply, an argument for not prioritizing the national over the European level and it is, most certainly, a Left argument in favour of a strategy for the EU of IN and AGAINST –  a political campaign of staying IN the EU in order to struggle against its institutionalized authoritarianism. Nation-state-based politics is crucial, just like municipal politics is. But to retreat into nationalist positions, such as Fassina’s, is to throw in the towel in the two-pronged struggle against the nationalist Right and the trans-national Brussels-Frankfurt establishment that is responsible for the EU’s fragmentation.

To combine democratic sovereignty in our cities, our national parliaments and beyond, we need a pan-European movement with the force to organise, mobilise and galvanise across Europe, with an array of actions ranging from civil disobedience to good lobbying, and with a focus on all those Europeans – a majority – who feel represented neither by the status quo nor by nationalists. Sovereignty at home, at the level of our cities and our countries, can only be achieved through struggles that are forging the European demos that, once forged, will demand a pan-European democratic, federal constitution.

It was under a moment of crisis greater than today’s that Altiero Spinelli, in 1942, confined by the fascist regime in the island of Ventotene, first outlined the vision for a united Europe based on transnational democracy and social justice. Today, Italy’s progressives need to recover their spirit and the confidence that our continent can be saved from a new 1930s through a pan-European democratic struggle.

Lorenzo Marsili and Yanis Varoufakis are co-founders of DiEM25 – the Democracy in Europe Movement

ORIGINAL ARTICLE, AS PUBLISHED IN ITALIAN
Caro direttore,

esattamente un anno fa la vittoria dell’Oxi in Grecia ha gridato un chiaro no a un’Unione europea autoritaria, centrata sull’austerity e sotto il giogo della Troika. E al tempo stesso ha lanciato un grande sì a un’Europa democratica. Quel messaggio è oggi più importante che mai.

Dalla scorsa estate le forze centrifuge che stanno disintegrando l’Europa vanno accelerando. Il pessimo accordo Ue-Turchia sui rifugiati ha sacrificato l’anima del nostro continente sull’altare della xenofobia. L’Europa continua a scivolare in un circolo vizioso di autoritarismo, austerità, deflazione, xenofobia e crisi bancarie. Brexit è stata una ripercussione naturale di questa tendenza, una di molte ancora a venire.

E’ impossibile mantenere le regole esistenti, mantenere questa Europa, senza perdere il sogno di un continente aperto e democratico. Matteo Renzi ha ragione a protestare contro regole ottuse che danneggiano tanto l’Italia quanto l’Unione. Ma sbaglia a non avere l’ambizione di chiedere un summit europeo che discuta e riscriva queste regole inapplicabili e auto-distruttive.

Come ci ricorda Brexit e ci indicano i sondaggi, a tante persone non risulta più ovvio che la dissoluzione dell’UE sia un’ipotesi peggiore del mantenimento dello status quo. Questo vale tanto per la destra xenofoba quanto per una certa sinistra che intrattiene l’illusione di basare un’agenda progressista su una rinnovata sovranità nazionale.

Stefano Fassina, uno dei parlamentari di riferimento di Sinistra Italiana, ha recentemente sostenuto su Il Manifesto che siano “sempre più retoriche e astratte le invocazioni degli Stati Uniti d’Europa e le mobilitazioni per democratizzare l’Unione europea” e questo perché “il demos dell’eurozona non esiste. Esistono invece i demos nazionali… che hanno caratteri culturali, morali, linguistici diversi e interessi in competizione.”

Questo è un discorso preoccupante. In realtà, l’argomento che lo stato-nazione e il demos siano corrispondenti uno-a-uno (una nazione, una lingua, una cultura, un parlamento, una moneta) è stato tradizionalmente il discorso dei Tories in Gran Bretagna, ispirati da Edmund Burke, così come oggi è quello di Marine Le Pen in Francia.

Ma soprattutto, la posizione di Fassina nasconde una grande confusione su cosa costituisca un demos, un popolo. La concezione essenzialista di un singolo demos nazionale è storicamente uno strumento nelle mani dell’establishment, utilizzato per mascherare le mille tensioni di classe e per reprimere il dissenso ponendo la “nazione” contro “l’altro”. Abbiamo forse dimenticato la lezione di Gramsci per cui un popolo non pre-esiste alla sua mobilitazione, ma anzi si forma attraverso lotte comuni? Vogliamo veramente credere che non si possa creare coalizione fra i precari italiani, i mini-jobbers tedeschi e le centinai di migliaia di persone che in Francia protestano contro laLoi Travail? Non crediamo ci sia più vicinanza e più “popolo” fra le migliaia di volontari che in Italia e Austria aiutato i rifugiati di quanta non ce ne sia fra loro e Matteo Salvini e Norbert Hofer?

Il compito di una politica all’altezza delle sfide è precisamente quello di costruire mobilitazioni sulla base di alleanze come queste. Rifiutare la possibilità di una lotta politica comune, capace di costruire un demos transnazionale e multi-etnico, significa rinnegare la vera ragione d’essere della sinistra.

Il nostro, ovviamente, non è un argomento per dare priorità all’iniziativa europea su quella nazionale o locale. E’, più semplicemente, un argomento per non dare priorità solo al livello nazionale. E per rimanere dentro l’Ue essendo allo stesso tempo radicalmente contro il suo autoritarismo istituzionalizzato – dentro e contro. Per questo lo spazio politico nazionale è cruciale, come come lo è lo spazio delle nuove politiche municipali. Ma ritirarsi in posizioni nazionaliste come quelle di Fassina significa gettare la spugna nella doppia battaglia contro la destra nazionalista e l’establishment transnazionale, che dall’asse Bruxelles-Francoforte è il vero responsabile della frammentazione dell’Unione.

Per ritrovare sovranità democratica nelle nostre città e nei nostri parlamenti abbiamo bisogno di un movimento pan-europeo in grado di organizzare, mobilitare ed emozionare. Dobbiamo costruire una convergenza capace di agire su più livelli, dalla disobbedienza civile all’attività parlamentare, dando orientamento a quanti – una maggioranza – non si riconoscono nello status quo come non si riconoscono nelle scorciatoie nazionaliste. Radicalmente contro l’Europa in disfacimento dell’establishment e radicalmente a favore di una ricostituzione democratica del continente. E che abbia quindi la forza di costruire, attraverso lotte e conflitto, un demos europeo che possa richiedere una costituzione federale e democratica.

Viviamo un momento di scarto. Proviamo a immaginare cosa potrebbe essere l’Europa fra cinque o dieci anni – ogni scenario è aperto. Quello che è certo è che questo non è più il tempo del piccolo cabotaggio, del tirare a campare, degli zero-virgola. E nemmeno del ripiego nazionale e della resa. Ma di una politica capace di restituire speranza nel cambiamento e di ricostruire una visione di futuro.

E’ stato in un altro momento di crisi profonda del nostro continente che Altiero Spinelli, nel 1941, confinato dal regime fascista nell’isola di Ventotene, stese la visione di un’Europa unita e basata su democrazia transnazionale e giustizia sociale. Noi siamo convinti che sia ancora possibile evitare un ritorno a quel passato oscuro e lanciare una vera lotta democratica per la trasformazione e democratizzazione dell’Europa.

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4 Comments

  • So nationalism and soveriegnty is a bad thing now?
    Is it racist to preserve Greek culture and Greek independence? Funny how you leftists don’t have any problem with Israel who forbid the deluting of “Jewish blood”. Tsipras let Greek special forces train with racist apartheid Israeli Defence Forces.
    Is this the left?
    Tsipras took a shit on the peoples vote, were you outraged?
    Why do you think Tsipras became close to Israhell? Don’t you understand that he must have accepted at least a 9 figure amount deposit on the Caymans. Can you explain his u-turn, and cooperation with Israel, otherwise?

    No Varoufakis, Greece is worth preserving, nationalism, gives the common man a sense of belonging, a sense of pride. This is something you elitist despise.

    The world should have no borders, except for the chosenites. You betrayed the Greek people, by not convinving Tsipras, and by not shaming him for not following the poeples vote.

    Think about it. The people voted, and he took a shit on it. Is this what you call democracy? This is elitism, but you seem to have no problem with it. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, the thing Tsipras did.

    In an ideal world Tsipras would be have been killed my a mob, stomped to death.
    But you’re smiling taking it calm, and you say no to Greece.

  • Another thing according to honest professors like Richard Werner, of the Univerisity of Southampton banks create money out of thin air and lend it out at interest. Former high level IMF-banker Michael Kumhof explain even who the book-keeping is done, when banks create money out of nothing, here:
    https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=Miichael+Kumhof+banks+create+money+out+of+nothing
    Did you bother to inform the Greek people that they are paying of debt to bankers who created the money out of nothing?

    Did you bother to inform the Greek people that the state ONLY, should have the authority to create money?
    That Hitler raised Germany from despair in just a couple of years when he stopped the bankers?
    Why Varoufakis?!?!?!?

  • Europe, for all the discussion of integration, is not integrated. Italy is not Germany, and Italy’s problems are not Germany’s problems. There is no EU-wide deposit insurance system because liability is not distributed a an EU level. Nor, as there is only one currency, are the devices available to the ECB available to Italy. And finally, the European ethos of austerity creates liabilities among the most vulnerable classes.

    The consequence of large banks failing is significant. The destruction of large numbers of deposits in what was regarded as a safe haven can also have significant consequences, and not just financial ones.

    The sense of vulnerability that the bail-in concept creates among individuals has two consequences. One is a shift in the pattern of saving. Some will decide that if savings are investments without an upside, they might as well get into the equity markets. The risk in these markets is high. Or they may decide that they are better off with their money in gold or hidden under their mattresses. The consequences of that on a large scale are also substantial.

    But the biggest consequence is political. If retirees and others lose their savings, and SMEs are unable to pay their staff, the political impact on the established parties, which are already under attack, could transform Europe. If this strategy works to contain the crisis in Italy, fine. But if it spreads into a panic, which is not unlikely, it will resonate for a long time.

    Source: http://www.Geopoliticalfutures.com

  • “A year ago, the OXI vote in Greece was………a majestic YES to a democratic Europe.”
    Nonsense. This is your private, off-the-wall misinterpretation.
    OXI meant NO – to Troika, to compradore policies, to collaborationist politicians representing outside interests instead of the Greek people – and to a huge number of Greeks it meant NO to the EU.

    “……the dream of a borderless, transnational, democratic Europe. And losing this dream of Europe….”
    This is your dream and the dream of the Trotskyists / US government. For the majority of Europeans what you describe is a nightmare of slavery and loss of political agency. And by the way, disagreeing with you does not equal bogey “nationalism” – despite your echoing Washington DOS / MSM propaganda: since it is much more convenient for Washington to give direct orders to one administration.

    “It is a sad day….when the Left turns its back on its instinctive internationalism to adopt a nationalist, an essentialist outlook.”
    Clearly you are a Trotskyist like Barroso i.e. “Permanent Revolution” – think Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Russia twice – and not a Stalinist: “Communism one country at a time”. Trotsky was a paid conspirator of the US banks, the equivalent today being the US GONGOs which prepared the coup in Ukraine and the paid, internal 5th column which maintains it.

    Stefano Fassiano is right. Unlike you he does not confuse nation with money/economics.

    I had believed in you Yani and defended you against the odds. Not anymore. Your golden words are cheap lies to trick unsuspecting ‘doubleplusgoodthinking’ middle-roaders into the neocon fold / Washington Consensus. You clearly do not represent either Greek or European interests. It seems that you, along with your friend “bomb Libya” Zizek – and Merkel, Hollande, Djieselbloem, Cameron etc. – serve non-European agendas.