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  • Published in Book Reviews

Crucible of Resistance examines the crisis in Greece, relating it to the problems of the European economy and discussing strategies for resistance, finds Myrto Petsota

Crucible of Resistance: Greece, the Eurozone & the World Economic Crisis, Christos Laskos & Euclid Tsakalotos (Pluto Press 2013), 192pp.

The strongest quality of Crucible of Resistance is certainly its capacity to offer an informed and detailed account of the dominant discourse on the origins of the crisis in Greece. Its elucidation and debunking of received ideas, which have widely permeated news coverage in the last years, make the front scene. The authors have in mind a reader who has not been informed about and has not experienced Greek reality, so the book comes with a useful appendix comprising a chronology of key moments in Greek politics from August 2007 to December 2012, as well as a short lexicon of key words and contextualising explanatory notes – such as the ‘Vatopedi’ or the Siemens Scandals. Also, the authors have succeeded in assembling an accessible portrait of the status quo and the most significant moments and ideas – or ideologies – that have contributed to the making of Greece as it is today: a country at the margins of the European Union, and more particularly of decision making within the European Union, panting after the exertion of barrages of policies of austerity.

One of the main arguments that receive an unrestrained attack is the one which maintains that Greece represents an unfortunate exception within the European construct, if not the most problematic one. The difficult situation within which Greece finds itself is to be largely associated with its alleged failure to follow the process of liberalisation; the only option in what is presented as an unquestionable route towards progress, also known as modernisation. In this fable, Greece has failed to tick the boxes that lead to success, namely: to reduce its gargantuan state, to tackle the problem of tax evasion and clientelism, and to live and consume within its means.

Re-evaluation of the situation in Greece and the Eurozone

Laskos and Tsakalotos prove that the so-called ‘Greek case’ is far from being exceptional, and they show that the crisis which started in 2008 is the result of a succession of policies followed with diligence within the European Union, and taken forward in Greece by the bi-partite (New Democracy and Pasok) or ‘cartel party’ reality, which largely contributed to the current neoliberal establishment. A particularly good analysis of the Simitis years (1996 to 2004) sheds light on the definitive neoliberal shift of Pasok and Greece as a country. They also insist on how social inequalities have worsened significantly since the fall of the Junta in 1974, tracing back the struggle which Greek society is facing now precisely to subsequent measures of self-proclaimed modernisation, which have been implemented over long decades, and that are, to this day, promulgated as the only viable solution for the country and the Eurozone more generally (Chapter 2).

In order to understand the origins of the problem, one needs to look in the direction of German strategies of exportation, and how these are imposed in one way or another to countries at the margins of the Union. This situation has created an undeniable German surplus, which is not re-distributed in any way. The unbalance creates conflictual economic dynamics in an entity otherwise reputed to be an alliance, if not on a political level, at least on an economic one (if these can or ought to be separated, a problem which is also brought up in the book). The economic imbalance reached its climax with the financial crisis, which should be understood as the direct result of uneven capital accumulation within the European financial space, and for the authors, it goes without saying, this problem was significantly more acute within the Eurozone (Chapter 3).

The political agenda lurking behind austerity, as Laskos and Tsakalotos maintain, consists in the gradual but solid construction of a more rigid class structure, which strengthens the capitalist elites, and enables them to assert themselves in creating a closed circuit, from out of which it will become all the more difficult to break (Chapter 4).

Resistance and proposals

Along with the dominant and domineering neoliberal discourse, comes the dominant counter-discourse of grand revolutionary narratives: Chapter 5 is entitled ‘The Underdogs Strike Back’. Virtually every social movement, expression of unrest, spontaneous civic reaction and act of violence against the state is linked to austerity; the rotten foundations, and the authoritarian undertones or explicit acts of repression of neoliberal politics. For example there are the December 2008 events following the murder of Alexis Grigoropoulos, the 2010-11 civil disobedience of the small town of Keratea, the 2011 Hypatia Hunger Strikers, Union Strikes, General Strikes, the movement Can't Pay, Won't Pay, and the Town Squares phenomena. All of these lead to (this is the end section of the chapter) ‘the Syriza phenomenon’. It is here that Laskos’s and Tsakalotos’s endemic political discourse materialises. It is after this that we learn what Syriza proposes:

  • ‘increasing engagement with the European Social Forum, and its support for Left unity to overcome the divisions of the past, provided the basis for a leftwards trajectory in which leftist Eurocommunist ideas played an increasingly significant part’ (Chapter 5).
  • ‘Left strategies need to build on the experience of the labour, feminist, anti-racists and other movements such as those struggling against the commodification of social and public goods’ (Chapter 6).

Whether the reader knew this or not, Syriza sees its political role anchored in a supranational European collaborative project, which will attempt to surpass or transcend the capitalist lockstep. But the alternative steps that could lead to that great transformation still remain to be expressed clearly.

Further considerations

There are several ways one can read this book and not all seem to be equally satisfying. For an uninformed reader who wishes to familiarise himself with Greek matters and gain a better understanding of financial dynamics within the European Union, Crucible of Resistance represents a clear, concise, and in the reviewer’s opinion, a useful starting point. The informed reader (particularly the one who knows what a number of Syriza party members stand for) will discover very few new arguments in the pages of the book, but can still benefit from the critique of the discourse which has lead Greece, as well as the entire Eurozone, into the present crisis.

Yet the book does not present itself solely as an analysis of the present situation, it also takes a political stance. In matters of doxa, one must admit that no opinion can intrinsically be superior to another: ethics can only ever be debated and politics can only ever be acted and reacted upon. To this reviewer, it seems that until now, not much of the Syriza discourse, at least as it is presented in this book, has been convincing enough to imagine that the transcendence of the capitalist enterprise could be (if it should be) undertaken within existing institutions. Nothing in the book either, pushes the reviewer, and it may be the case for other readers as well, to close their ears to any forthcoming suggestions.

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