When the chorus defies Odysseus and the gods

Translation of an article by Juan Carlos Monedero published 16th June in Cuarto Poder.

When the chorus defies Odysseus and the gods

But when he came across any common man who was making a noise, Ulysses struck him with his staff and rebuked him, saying, “Sirrah, hold your peace, and listen to better men than yourself. You are a coward and no soldier; you are nobody either in fight or council; we cannot all be kings; it is not well that there should be many masters; one man must be supreme- one king to whom the son of scheming Saturn has given the sceptre of sovereignty over you all.”

Homer, The Iliad

In The Supplicants by Aeschlyus, the Danaids flee from Egypt to Argos, the city of their forebears, escaping from the men who wish to force them into marriage. In Argos, King Pelasgus, in front of the altar of Zeus where the supplicants have sought refuge, deliberates over what to do after listening to the chorus of threatened women: to deny the demands for asylum supported by the dictate of Zeus (to give protection to those descendents of the city who seek it), or face war with the Egyptians, who will fight to recover the booty that these escaped women represent.

King Pelasgus decides to consult the people, presenting to them with equanimity the moral obligations and also the grave dangers that would come with being honourable. The Egyptians are not nice people and they have at hand the possibility of inflicting great pain on the city of Argos. The sovereign people, after weighing things up, decide to comply with the higher dictate (the legitimacy of the social order, as expressed in the rules of the altar of Zeus), even though this puts the lesser dictate (the governability of the city, threatened by war) at risk.

When the herald of the Egyptians arrives before King Pelasgus, arguing fiercely that the risk premium on the city will rise should they give protection to the escapees, the royal spokesman of the city answers: if with your word you are able to convince the Danaids to leave with you, so be it. But it depends on your ability to convince them, not your proven ability to threaten them.

Finally, the union of the king (the representative), the people (the sovereign power) and the Danaids (the chorus that reminds of the importance of the deep convictions on which the city stands) overcomes the bravado of the attackers in black. The herald is expelled from Argus and the city rerinvents itself thanks to the new situation created by the women who decided not to subject themselves to those who wanted to be their owners.

The legacy that classical Greece offered up to the world -something that did not happen at any other part of the planet at that moment- is the possibility of listening and obeying the free people -albeit poor- beyond the pretensions of rich people and kings. Rich people, kings, heroes, who usually start off and often end up thinking about their own interests and not those of the whole of the citizenry (see the crafty, arrogant and authoritarian Ulysses reprimanding, before democracy arrived in Greece, one of the aporoi, that is, one of those poor people who some centuries later, after the reforms of Solon and Cleisthenes, would lay claim to the power of the people, which is ultimately what the word demokratia means.


In the twentieth century, each time the crisis of capitalism generated an alternative that overcame the system’s bottlenecks, the response of the establishment has entailed denying democracy and installing an authoritarian government. It happened after the crash of 1929, in the Spain of the 2nd Republic, when Europe backed Franco in the Civil War (the preliminary to the war footing of the continental right-wing after its conversion to fascism, Nazism and Francoism). It happened in 1973 in Allende’s Chile, alongside the unfolding of a crisis of Keynesianism (that same year was that of the break from the Bretton Woods agreement) that identified the democratic socialism of the Popular Front. It happened once again in Venezuela in 2002, when the energy crisis began to foreshadow the wholesale crisis that would come six years later after the fall of Lehman Brothers. And now it is Greece’s turn -with an excessively symbolic closing of the cycle in the land of equality before the law and equality in the agora– when the status quo knows it has nothing left but to instil fear.

Greece has no right to elect Syriza because this is what is commanded by those who are stealing democracy in Europe (when they can no longer continue stealing it in other parts of the world). Did they not install a technocrat in Italy and another in Greece itself, which had sought a referendum like that of Iceland. The same as with republican Spain, Chile of the Popular Front, Bolivarian Venezuela or in the Syriza of the consequential left, the supporters of the big lie cannot allow anyone to look at what’s under the rug. How is it possible that Greece, a country of scarcely 11 million inhabitants, can hold in check an organisation such as the European Union with 500 million people? Something is not getting explained.


Greece could be the Stalingrad of European neoliberalism. The threatening spectre of Syriza is only possible because the entire financial structure of the Union is a tremendous lie. The problem cannot be ther money that Greece owes to the German banks -albeit a considerable sum- but the winds it unleashes: the trauma of setting forth, as their electoral programme says -which, by contrast with Rajoy, they are going to carry out- that they are not going to pay any debt that is illegitimate; that they are going to set in train an audit on the debt that affects the whole continent. Finally, they are not going to be the scapegoats for the delirium of others or for the threats from the new barbarians.


Those in Syriza crossed the line. And of course, this is intolerable. The threat from the consequential left is an excellent one: Do we find out that money loaned to banks at 1% has to be paid back by Greek people times a hundred? Do we find out that, just as happened with the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic or the dissolution of Yugoslavia, German capital is making off with the lion’s share of the country? Do we find out that the Germans work 1,390 hours a year on average whereas in Greece it is 2,119 hours? Do we see how the bipartite structure of the false European democracy is breaking down and, at the same time, see how the 15M or Occupy London can receive, in payback, the oxygen tank they loaned to Syriza this past year? Do we realise that the enemies of Europe are not those who criticise the current state of affairs but precisely the European authorities, the European Central Bank, the corrupt party systmen that has no problems in continuing to restrict the sphere of popular decision, or the financial system that is sending everyone’s money to tax havens? Do we realise that after Greece, the sharks will go for Spain and then for Italy and then for France and end up with Germany, showing that, in reality, capital has no country and that those peoples who believe the national siren songs are heading in the direction of the slaughterhouse by getting their enemies confused?

This is when the stage gets occupied by the dark messengers of the bullies, those who want to carry off the Danaids to force them and subjugate them. It is the moment of threatening with the seven plagues if the country -now it is Greece- does not bow to their desires. But a substantial part of the chorus is raising its voice -matters of conscience-. Moreover, and as it befits, it is organised by a chorus leader, the leftist Alexis Tsipras who, to thicken the plot, has a novel way of speaking, doing and observing. New wine in new skins. The main characters in the drama, frightened, rend their garments. Decrepit characters appear at the back door. The theatre shivers. Gods come to our aid! As in the Spain of1986, as in the Nicaragua of 1990, as in the Ireland of 2008, they shout at the citizens “either it’s us or chaos”. Will the Greeks answer “Chaos, chaos!”?

If there is something that the neoliberal model and the false democracy that we have cannot stand, it is that someone decides to brush the rug in the opposite direction. Too many things hidden in the weave would jump out. Is it not that our hideous judiciary did not hesitate in plunging into the excrement to disbar the magistrate who wanted to look under the rugs of Francoism and the Gürtel network, including tax havens? The small country of Greece is not a problem because of its debt or its size. It is a problem, like the Cuba of 1959, of bad example. And that is what the false heroes of the European tragedy cannot stand, what cannot be borne by the gods of clay that we have adored, despite their mortality, since the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992. (Where are all the academics, panellists and columnists who have been exalting every step of this chain of absurdities that has been the neoliberalisation of the European Union?)

Josep Fontana says that “the real objectives of the cold war are still in force’. Since the right-wing lost the Second World War it has been determined to recover its space. The shock of the crisis is offering them a red carpet to do whatever they want. The revolving door between politics and big business (energy, property, finance or media) has built a single body of politician-entrepreneurs who exchange jobs and maintain objectives. The social dismantling that Hitler could not set in train even by murdering communist and socialist leaders, executing the SA in the night of the long knives or subjecting his country to the dictates of the Reich, is being achieved today by the Troika, that financial triumvirate that believes the popular Germanic myth that outside Mitteleuropa there is only indolence and inferior peoples to be subordinated. It would be sad indeed if German builders or plumbers, who are happy to come to Spain or Greece to get their bottoms wiped, to get their food prepared or their bed warmed, began to think once again that they were important.

It will not be easy for Syriza to win the elections of the 17th of June. And if it manages to, it will not be easy for it to form a government. But the steps that have been made are, at any rate, enormous. An example of democracy. In the moment that the official programme is to dismantle it. On the one side, the people, the Danaids, legitimacy, what we owe to ourselves as a constituent power, the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae. On the other side…who really wants to be on the other side?

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