Theodoros Rakopoulos: The future lasts a long time…or is it here already? The Left in power in Greece

On the evening of 16 June 2012, after the announcement of the electoral results that had brought Syriza to second place behind the conservative New Democracy (but at 27 percent, risen almost seven-fold from the previous elections), Alexis Tsipras came on the stage in the midst of bittersweet celebrations in central Athens. Syriza , the party miracle of the radical Left, had been christened as the moral authority in Greece and the Eurozone: it had taken over the questione morale to center stage and monopolized it. In a moment of powerful semantics connecting past and future, the then-38-year-old Tsipras embraced the Syriza MP (today MEP) Manolis Glezos, then 90 years old, one of the most prominent anti­–Nazi Resistance Europeans alive today. Tsipras then, among other interesting points such as tearing the debt Memoranda apart, uttered the classic phrase, “The future lasts a long time.” He didn’t actually quote Althusser, but we got the point.

As I roamed central streets of Thessaloniki on Election Day (25 January 2015), I stumbled upon a poster by the Syriza youth wing. It read: Tomorrow is now. Immediately recalling 2012, I was struck by the thought of how short that “long time” has lasted. During a speech on the evening of this same Sunday, Tsipras, now holding the future of Greece (and, though less than in 2012, of the Eurozone) in his hands, gave that present-future a name, associating it with the notion more central to Syriza’s campaigns: hope. He had already subtracted the main means of identification with the huge movement that contributed to Syriza’s miracle by pointing out that “this was a victory of the people,” repeating terms such as “country,” “homeland,” and “European family,” and omitting that other one, “the Left.”

In a blog piece written on Greece before Election Day, Dora Vetta and Anastasios Grigorakis (2015) expressed enthusiasm and resentment, which they, drawing from psychology, call an attraction/repulsion relationship. I appreciate, after the elections and with a few days of politicking and negotiations behind us, that these uncanny dialectics of attraction/repulsion are indeed maintained. In that way, I would like to echo this thought by providing more fodder toward nuancing that paradoxical sentiment further—in the critical light of the post-electoral euphoria for leftists in Greece and internationally.

The attraction/repulsion relationship described above could be put seen to capture the ambiguous almost liminal position we feel between Gramsci’s pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will. This is reflected in the tension between the potential (the Left in power) and the reification (the Left in power), depending on where one puts the stress. Syriza, as Vetta and Grigorakis point out, steered their wheel rightward way before the election. Focusing on middle-class woes rather than centering attention on the working class, collaborating with senior politicians of the center-left PASOK party (some with some ambiguous CVs on their backs), even welcoming a few nationalist populists in their ranks, but mostly shifting from a rhetoric of revolution and a radical shift to the Left onto one of a light Keynesianism—here are some major indications that the party has changed. The period between the sudden assault to power in mid-2012, when it was a surprising event indeed (Rakopoulos 2015), and the anticipation of establishing themselves in power since has been a transformative experience for the party. Its major policy now is instead of scrapping the “Debt Memoranda” to “renegotiate with the Troika” over the loan agreements.

Syriza stems from a political genealogy that has always been open to transition, change, and (mind the pun) reform. The Synaspismos party, the majority voice within Syriza seen as its predecessor, had been through thick and thin. To start with, it was born out of a dramatic schism, stemming from a tradition of Eurocommunism as a split from the Moscow-aligned communist party KKE in a 1968 break that actually took place in Bucharest, as the junta at home had banned all the Left. Then, it lived and survived, in different forms and under different names, through two transitions: in 1974, from dictatorship to democracy, and from 1989 to 1891 from a half-socialist to a postsocialist Europe.

Arguably, however, never had it undergone so many radical changes in policy as in the past two years. But now that that long Althusserian future has presumably started, what becomes urgent is to face the music of tomorrow. And that music is trumpeted by the other side: those on the horns are the Troika of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), especially the European Central Bank (ECB), and the European Commission (aka Angela Merkel and a few others). The latter two are expected to be particularly strenuous and difficult: their take is that the Greeks have had their say and now that’s that. Whether that say is in any way dictating another political reality for Europe is not a done deal; rather, it depends on the pulling power and the capacity to negotiate on that (in)famous negotiating table where Tsipras has repeatedly said (before as well as after the elections) that the Germans are going to be held morally accountable for their own past. That is, Syriza aims for a repetition of the 1953 London convention that pardoned half of the German debt and added a moratorium for growth for the other half; this is the normative narrative that Greece would demand from “them” now.

This use of the past as a route for the future might sound convincing, despite that it is extrapolated from a booming industrial world of the 1950s onto a declining European setting of deflation, unevenness, and a clumsy common currency of the 2000s. But it is precisely the context of this moral accommodation of the past onto the future that Syriza might need to be more cautious of. To start, the bonding of dependency in the euro is too tight to disregard; Costas Lapavitsas, the SOAS economist, now a Syriza MP, has warned of that in the midst of the credit crunch (see Lapavitsas 2012). Syriza  did nothing more than listen to the people, it seems: the vast majority of Greeks have been consistently pro-euro. This might be partly due to the media-crazed euro fetishism that has been served with ample doses of fear mongering.

And the people brought “the future” forward. This future is bifurcated, it seems, or so many middle-aged Syriza supporters with some union experience have told me. The scheme seems to be Manichaeistic, the negotiating table being the bend of the river. Either the river’s route goes the way of Syriza’s politicization of debt, globally marking a new historical landmark (that is, scrapping 50 percent of Greek debt, plus adding a condition of growth to the other half). Or it goes the other, dim, darkened way: a full-on rejection of Syriza’s proposal by the Troika. Most often, though, the gray area reigns supreme: there is a good chance an agreement will be struck on more moderate grounds, with both sides taking a step back. That would imply a prolongation of the debt repayment responsibility of Greece: accepting the property claims of bondholders against the debt peonage of the Greek demos.

If the Troika rejects to renew the loan channel to Greece, Syriza could face a strong moral dilemma: persist and find itself unable to cope with liquidity, or yield and lose the political impetus and moral high ground in the eyes of the progressive international community (whatever that means) and the Greek voters. If Tsipras persists, it is widely understood that a shift onto currency sovereignty in order to make leeway for the needed funds is a possibility. This might prove to be catastrophic for an import-oriented economy (despite what ANTARSYA and KKE, the other two major left-wing parties, say and notwithstanding the recipe for growth that scholar-pundits like Paul Krugman have been talking about since 2010). The productivist cliché that Syriza borrowed from ANTARSYA and the Far Left before the 2012 elections (“the productive restructuring of the country,” η παραγωγική ανασυγκρότηση της χώρας) has not been sidelined, but it would be quite a miracle to adjust to a productive-cum-export economy so swiftly. What is more, there are no estimates of the tremendous ecological impact this might cause to the country, and Syriza’s plan on green solutions for energy or an environmental policy at large is quasi-absent.

So what is to be done? Whatever it is, it would be about politicizing debt (aka by its euphemism: loan) rather than other fields of possible political antagonism (say, production, labor, the environment). And it would be about delinking it from austerity. This would require a wider setting of alliances, both domestically and internationally. The former already includes some unsettling albeit anticipated first signs: the government ally of Syriza is the xenophobic and paranoid Right of ANEL, a party focused on making a science out of the irrationalization of political life. But such alliances are still to be realized on the international scene. For instance, Syriza and Podemos in Spain have enthusiastically embraced each other. But the European approach to Greece and Syriza—that is, discipline and punish or succumb and accept—would have tremendous negative effects on the possible development of Podemos and other left-wing parties and projects in Europe. There is a huge gamble involved, either providing victorious impetus or clipping their wings.

Hope is vague enough a concept to achieve the necessary mobilization of affect, that step needed to occupy the moral order. Some attention to the millenarian features of this politics in an era of speeding financialization might be useful (Neveling 2014). But what is at stake here is the moral high ground that the Left, in the form of Syriza, seems to still hold—even by people not ideologically committed to its principles or plans. I have met voters who confided, “I am voting the Left because I am sure they won’t do what they say they will.” Widespread across new and young voters of Syriza  was the idea that its hands were clean, that it had not been corrupted by power, that its critical distance from the melting interstices populated by businesspeople and the media had guaranteed it that purity needed to relieve the demos. Entering the affective order, and by centralizing domestic and global attention to the firebrand, honest, and young Tsipras, Syriza has locked in its rendezvous with the future.

That rendezvous has come and the future is already here. Mobilizing that affective order is a political achievement that should not go underestimated. Its impetus should be sustained if Syriza appreciates that the struggle has just begun; it would need the backing of its voters, especially those newer ones. This type of affective mobilization—the power that makes those women and men of all ages but mainly the precariously underemployed youth that I saw dancing on election night at Aristotle Square—has been called populism by Syriza’s critics. The aim is to encapsulate it and bring forward the impetus of so many grassroots movements, as per the social economy (Rakopoulos 2014).

As that Syriza poster said that morning on Election Day, “tomorrow is now.” That long future is here, then—but it still seems quite a long stretch away. It is a suspended one, depending on “the good will of strangers,” says the (neo)liberal discourse in Greece (they don’t quote Tennessee Williams, but we get the idea). The question is whether estrangement can be so easily brought into the picture. When one turns from a “partner” into a “stranger” because a democratic vote decided that some of the points in a disadvantageous agreement are to be renegotiated, maybe that partnership was shaky from the very start. We shall soon find out. In that same evening’s celebration in Thessaloniki’s Aristotle Square, which I joined, as the political anthropologist would, a Syriza voter told me that “the point is not partners or strangers…The point is what is to be done now.” He didn’t quote Lenin, but we get the idea.

Theodoros Rakopoulos is a research fellow at the ERC Egalitarianism program (University of Bergen). He has published on mafia, food politics, crisis, and solidarity and is currently completing a monograph titled “Divided by land: Labour and moral economies in Sicilian antimafia cooperatives.”

Lapavitsas, Costas. 2012. Crisis in the Eurozone. London: Verso.

Neveling, Patrick. 2014. “Capitalism: The most recent seventy-two years,” FocaalBlog, 17 July.

Rakopoulos, Theodoros. 2015 (forthcoming). “The Greek elections as quasi-event.”

Rakopoulos, Theodoros. 2014. “The crisis seen from below, within and against: From solidarity economy to food distribution cooperatives in Greece.” Dialectical Anthropology 38: 189–207.

Vetta, Theodora, and Anastathesios Grigorakis. 2015. “Promising the meta-austerity era: Directions and dilemmas,” FocaalBlog, 27 January.


Cite as: Rakopoulos, Theodoros. 2015. ”The future lasts a long time…or is it here already? The Left in power in Greece,” FocaalBlog, 2 February,