Friday, 3 April 2009

Another instalment of Castoriadis and the Greek riots

In commenting on the post David Ames Curtis tells me off over Castoriadis and the Greek riots, Troy asks:

Why is 'cops, pigs, murderers' not a proper rallying slogan? By what measure can this argument be made? Because it does not conform to some ready-made notion of what proper 'activism' consists?


Also, on what grounds can the comparison be made between a) physical battles with the cops and property destruction and b) bloodshed and gunplay? The authority of the police is one of the most restricting heteronomies currently plaguing the economic North. Although you personally disapprove of the actions taken by the Greek anarchists in challenging this heteronomy, I think you would find an unwilling ally in Castoriadis if he were alive to offer his own opinion. If he were opposed to street battles, why did he support the actions of May '68?

My brief response:

‘Cops, pigs, murderers' is not a proper rallying slogan because the Greek police are not pigs or murderers; they are human beings and creations, as individuals and as an institution, of society. If your aim is an autonomous society, then your slogan should be freedom, truth, justice, community – which is what Castoriadis says defined the '68 movements and why he supported them.

And I continue to refute the idea that Greek 'anarchists' by throwing petrol bombs at the police, ransacking Athens university and so on, were challenging heteronomy. Radical social change does not mean 'street battles'; it means changing institutions and the collective rewriting of the social imaginary significations behind institutions. If anything, the pointless, self-indulgent, anti-social actions of the Greek 'anarchists' did the oligarchy ruling Greece a big favour.

Consider this:

In the immediate aftermath of the killing of Alexis Grigoropoulos, Greeks were asking themselves what kind of society is it we live in, what kind of state do we have, in which a 15-year-old schoolboy out with his friends can end up shot dead by a policeman who revels in the nickname 'Rambo'?

With the riots, Greeks started asking themselves a different question. What kind of society do we live in, what kind of state do we have, that allows the trashing of private and public property, that cannot defend itself or us, its citizens?

The first question contains the possibility of democratic interrogation and the creation of new forms; the second question, shaped by fear and cynicism, leads to a retreat from society, into private spheres and solutions, the every-man-for-himself mentality that Thucydides describes as existing during the Plague of Athens.


Anonymous said...

Our society is sick, our government structures are dysfunctional, our elite class is degenerate. A society which allows in the first place paramilitary groups like the anarchists to rule and control the streets is indeed a terminally ill society waiting for a death blow. The forces of law and order have abdicated their role and handed the violent and anarchic elements the final say. A defanged military confined to its barracks, a police force incapable of establishing order and guaranteeing security for its nationals, a government which resembles a bevy of charlatans and inebriated drunkards having a party in a sea side tavern.

Hermes said...

I have seen the same dimwitted comparison made between May '68 and the December 2008 riots before but the rioters of May '68 hardly wore koukoulas. And how can a bunch of koukoulafore be considered autonomous? i.e. we do not know their agenda, we do not know who finances them, we cannot have a dialogue with them, we do not know their faces - a pure heteronomy if ever I have seen one!

Anonymous said...

The kukoloforos, the anarchists, whatever one would like to call them, are an appendix of the governmental apparatus. Why is it that no government ( the ares to sort them out ? Why is it that even political swines like the putrid alavanos and the effeminate dandy tsipras and their political arms defend them ? Why is it that the police force does not act against them? Why is it that no instructions or orders from "äbove" are issued to rid this pestilential scourge once and for all ? To deal with these street criminals is the simplest and easiest of manners; provided there is the political will of course. Democracy and its lugubrious trappings spawned the kukos. It stands to logic that the sclerotic establishment can not and will not deal with a step child of its own.

john akritas said...

For some reason, Castoriadis has been picked up by 'anarchists' as a theorist of their 'movement'. While it is true that Castoriadis is a theorist of (workers) self-managment/autogestion and autogestion is something found in anarchist thought too, Castoriadis is far too serious a thinker to be reduced to that level. Castoriadis is a theorist of the Athenian polis, not Spanish anarcho-syndicalism. The Athenian polis is his model, not the Catalonian communes. And, of course, the koukoulophori are not 'anarchists', they are thugs and nihilists. In fact, calling them nihilists is to attach some form of philosophical motives to their actions and gives them too much credit.

troy said...

@Hermes: In what way is it 'dimwitted' to suggest a comparison between two actions that have undeniable commonalities? In what way is it constructive to label this comparison 'dimwitted'? How does that contribute to the dialogue and any attempt to create an autonomous society? I'm sorry you feel the need to resort to slander rather than offer substantive reasons why this comparison is invalid, which is a fair enough, but will leave me with room to respond. It is difficult to respond to 'dimwit.'

@john: I thank you for dealing more substantively with my comments. I'll begin with your final comment, more for clarification than disagreement. Castoriadis says many times that the Athenian polis is not a model. If we take it as something to be emulated, a sort of 'Golden Age,' then it becomes a heteronomy. He refers to it as a 'germ.' It is as a moment of autonomy - imperfect and incomplete - that it inspires.

I do not think that creating new institutions is incompatible with street battles. In fact, I don't think we will have radical change without struggle, including physical struggle. In essence, we need a foundational 'Creative Destruction.'

Although I prefer people not insult others by comparing them to other animals, I don't think calling the police 'murderers' is an insult when it's true. We need not think of it as directed at an individual, or the police as individuals, but the police as an institution that maintains the capitalist heteronomy. An important part of their function is sanctioned murder - Jean Charles de Menezes, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant - a reminder of the underlying threat of violence that founds all heteronomies.

Where were these questions being asked? In the cafes, the workplaces, the homes or in the media? If the changing dialogue around the actions did indeed change, then it's the subjects of the questions, not the objects that need to be challenged. That said, if the meaning of their actions became the lack of police response to return the society to its comfortable heteronomy then the demonstrators do need to question their tactics. However, I think we would do well to impute the best of intentions and then critique the results and therefore the actions on the basis of those results rather than the actions themselves.

What if the anarchist actions had inspired hundreds of thousands of others to also take to the streets, declaring the authority of the police to be illegitimate? Its at that point that the community decides what functions of the police are valid and how they will be performed absent the police.

troy said...

Sorry the above is a tad disjointed. It posted before I got a chance to read and edit it.

I'll leave it as it stands.

Anonymous said...

The political truth resides in identifying the enemy and naming it. Unless an enemy is isolated the state can not deal with it, nor can stat institutions. Snactioned murder, a la Menezes is no excuse to restrict and restrain the forces of law and order. The menezes affair and countless others are mistakes, the americans call it collateral damage. The anrchists should be wiped out, root and branch. They are un greek, and it is an import from other hyper decaying societies, like the French. When the system allowes the mushrooming of anti social social elements and their growth and demonstrates its incapacity or unwillingness to protect its " nationals" ( not some darned refugee) that system is ready for the coffin. The sooner it disappears the better

john akritas said...

I meant the Athenian polis as a model worthy of investigation, not emulation; although since Castoriadis does define Athens as the city par excellence capable of revealing itself to itself, of endlessly changing and instituting itself and since self-institution defines autonomy for individuals and society, then we appreciate why he gives so much thought to what the Athenian polis consists of and not to other political forms.

As for 'street battles', 'creative destruction', the police as 'murderers' and imputing the 'best of intentions' to the Greek rioters; I have to admit I've always been allergic to anarchist outpourings and I've already said that not only were the rioters puerile, self-indulgent thugs but much much worse than this; through their despicable, fascist behaviour, they also closed down the debate about the radical changes Greek society needs at every level and which could have been had following Grigoropoulos' death.

'Historically [Castoriadis writes], it is revolution that permits the world of reaction to survive as it transforms and adapts itself – and today we risk experiencing a fresh demonstration of this truth. These explosions shatter the imaginary or unreal setting in which alienated society, by its very nature, tends to enclose itself -- and they oblige alienated society to seek out new forms of oppression better adapted to today's conditions, even if it finds them through the elimination of yesterday's oppressors.'

Hermes said...

Troy, can you please explain how does throwing molotovs, smashing shop windows, burning universities with hoods contribute to the dialogue and any attempt to create an autonomous society?

So far your feeble responses, first year university rhetoric, have left me no room to respond either. Provide more grown up responses and you get something better than dimwit.