In a radio interview this morning, which I translated here, Pablo Iglesias, Secretary General of Podemos, said something that I thought was very worthwhile. He was asked how he would react in Tsipras’s position, and he said: I don’t know.
This kind of admission is not exactly a winning formula for getting elected. Quite the opposite, in fact. Political leaders are supposed to know how to act in any situation, how to handle that 3am call. They are supposed to inspire confidence, to reassure the populace that they know what they’re doing. Pablo Iglesias, who along with his party is seeking election based on the idea of a ‘government of the best’ –the brightest minds, equipped with the best training and experience- would not know what to do in Alexis Tsipras’s position.
There are lots of things Pablo Iglesias says that I don’t like very much. But I like the fact that he said he didn’t know. On reflection, he may have preferred not to admit such a thing. I think it is much better for him to say that than to come out with some sort of garbled bluster. To be honest, quite a lot of what he said in that interview is garbled bluster. And grasping at straws.
Who cares, for example, if Alexis Tsipras “fought like a lion”? What ought to be at stake is the effect on the people he claims to represent. We have already endured more than enough exaltations of bravery and derring-do on the part of political representatives, who claim to be acting in the best interests of their people, when the net result, for those they are supposed to serve, is more catastrophe.
Here lies the bitter truth behind Podemos’s much-criticised claim that the left-right axis is not a sufficient guide for understanding what is going on. What recent days show is that under neoliberal capitalism you can have a government that says it comes from the radical left but that nonetheless ends up implementing a raft of neoliberal measures that undermine any real prospects for democracy, let alone socialism.
Pablo Iglesias is also right to say in the interview that what is politically possible depends on the correlation of forces. But the fact of a self-declared left-wing government implementing neoliberal austerity weighs heavily in that correlation, and not on the side of democracy. Here lies the truth of Bakunin’s dictum: ‘In the republic the State, which is supposed to be the people, legally organized, stifles and will continue to stifle the real people. But the people will feel no better if the stick with which they are being beaten is labelled “the people’s stick.”
Indeed, they may well feel much worse.
There are far worse things than not knowing how to address a problem. One is pretending to know, and carrying on as if you did know, saying: leave it to us, it will be fine. One of the key features of neoliberal rule is government by those in the know, with the population treated as ignorant and seething with irrational passions. Such rulers may not know what they are doing. Or, in what is the current norm, they know full well what they are doing, because it is beneficial to them though deeply harmful to the vast majority in society.
I would not go as far as to claim that there is a silver lining to Greece’s humiliation. But it has exposed something to common knowledge, namely, the utter contempt for democracy and social justice on the part of European elites, the fact that the European Union is, to use Cédric Durand’s term, a ‘a class-warfare machine’. The solution to this problem simply cannot come from a switcheroo in political leadership, or a wager on a ‘government of the best’, but on a deepening of solidarity among the peoples of Europe against government by the Beast.