Esquerda.net: In December 2008, Greece faced huge demonstrations triggered by the killing of a youth by police. What is the link between the reactions in 2008 and those seen in 2010?
Stathis Kouvélakis: . . . They do share in common two important things. The first is that they reflect, express, the deep crisis of legitimacy in Greek society and the gap between political representation and society in both cases — in the first case expressed by the illegitimacy of state violence and in the second case by those savage neoliberal measures. The second common element of course is the insurrectionary spirit of the Greek popular movements we have seen in the demonstrations of last week in Athens. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of tension, and very quickly those very impressive demonstrations can really turn into riots and clashes with police, involving now not young people, etc. but ordinary working people who are just angry.
Esquerda.net: Opinion polls indicate that the Greeks are divided over the measures adopted by the government. How do you assess the public legitimacy of the protests? What is the expected effect?
Stathis Kouvélakis: The Greek public opinion is really divided, or oscillating. . . . [There is] widespread anger because nearly everyone will be very directly and immediately affected by the impact of those measures; the perception of their unjust character is almost unanimous, across the political spectrum even, I would say. So, the oscillation is not about the legitimacy of those measures but about the extent to which they are inevitable. So, the oscillation is between anger and resignation, I would say, between the will to act, to protest, to do something about this, and the perception that perhaps there is no credible alternative. . . . These are the terms of the debate, and it’s still open. We’ll see how it will develop.
Esquerda.net: What is your opinion of the Greek economic plan? Is there an alternative?
Stathis Kouvélakis: . . . A lot of people in the Greek Left think that this [the way the euro zone functions] is not compatible [with any progressive solution] any more and other solutions such as defaulting, renegotiating the debt politically, and exiting the euro zone should be part of a genuine left-wing political agenda, not in the nationalistic and isolationist sense, but as a necessary break with the existing framework which will just lead to disaster.
Esquerda.net: How do you see the Greek situation in the European context?
Stathis Kouvélakis: . . . Greece is the weak link. It’s the weak link because Greek capitalism is perhaps the most fragile, at least in Western Europe, but it is the weak link also because it is the country where the level of social resistance, social movements, and popular struggle is the highest. The ruling class are very much aware of this, and they want to make Greece a test case, so everyone should be aware of the stakes now. Of course, solidarity and information among all the people, working people, young people, of Europe are absolutely indispensable because the adversary is common and therefore we need to converge.
Stathis Kouvélakis teaches philosophy at King’s College in London. He is a member of the editorial boards of Contretemps and La Pensée and of the Historical Materialism Book Series at Brill Academic Publishers (Leiden, Netherlands). This video was released by Esquerda.net on 17 May 2010. The text above is an edited partial transcript of the interview.