Cognord: The Syriza trilogy

is unfortunate enough to have been born in Greece, and fortunate enough to have participated in the social movements which attempted to put a halt to the capitalist devaluation of that country. Shortly after the farewell party of the movement (the magnificent general strike and intense riots of February 12th, 2012) he left Greece and settled in a cold place. Occasionally, he writes articles about his native land. He is also a member of the Communists in Situ collective, whose blog everyone should check out.

In my opinion, Cognord’s articles provide far and away the best Marxist analysis of Syriza and Greece.

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Is it possible to win the war after losing all the battles?

Brooklyn Rail
February 2015

Prehistory of a success

The announcement of national elections in Greece, roughly two years before the coalition government of New Democracy and Pasok completed their term, immediately sparked a renewed interest in this southern and economically peripheral European country. The relative silence that preceded this novel attention for the last two years was, at least in media terms, understandable. If Greece enjoyed an earlier moment of fame, it was primarily due to the unprecedented austerity measures imposed by the troika — the European Commission, European Central Bank (ECB), and International Monetary Fund (IMF) — in exchange for new loans, designed to “assist” the Greek state after it officially announced, in April 2010, that it was unable to repay its existing, “non-viable” sovereign debt (120 percent of GDP at the time). The reactions to the implementation of the austerity program were also pivotal in bringing Greece into the spotlight: general strikes, violent demonstrations, and the movement of the squares ensured, between 2010 and 2012, that the future of Greece’s “fiscal consolidation program” (to borrow the official economic jargon) was seriously threatened. Along with the memorandum imposed by the troika, what came under attack was the legitimacy of the political system,1 generating wild speculation about the future of Greece’s membership in the Eurozone, as well as the unpredictable consequences this could have for the EU, not to mention the global economy.

However, the movement which tried to halt the austerity program failed. The reasons are varied, and it is not within the scope of this article to explain them in detail. Suffice it to say that, as in every other social movement, this failure should be traced to both the violent determination of the government(s) to proceed with austerity at all costs (for which the ruling factions have paid a price) and the inability of the movement to transform itself from a defensive mobilization to protect existing conditions into an offensive attack on the conditions that created the crisis.

Nonetheless, the attention that Greece received was justifiable. Without exaggeration, one could argue that many of the political strategies of resistance which the international left has only read about in books were tried and tested in Greece in the years after the crisis: general strikes with massive participation, bringing economic activities to a halt; militant and violent demonstrations with constantly growing numbers of participation; neighborhood assemblies that sought to act as minuscule formations of self-organization, attempting to deal with immediate issues caused by the crisis; one of the most militant squares movements, which managed to call for two successful general strikes; a climate of continuous antagonism that gradually but steadily involved more and more people.

It is, however, no exaggeration to say that none of these inspiring moments managed to counteract the effects of the crisis and its management by the state. However exhilarating, promising, and tense these outbreaks were for those of us who participated in them, it has become imperative to understand their failure to achieve even a small (however reformist) victory.

In official terms, the crisis has only become worse in the last years. Overall unemployment has risen to 27 percent (from 12.5 percent in 2010), primarily hitting young people (60.6 percent for those aged 17-25); wage cuts across the public sector are between 30 and 40 percent, while in the private sector the number is only slightly lower (25 percent on average).2 Small businesses (the backbone of the Greek economy, constituting around 95 percent of all business activity) have been devastated by the crisis and the austerity measures (more than 250,000 have been closed), while cuts in the Health and Education budgets amount to more than 25 percent. Total GDP losses amount to 24 percent, while despite these cuts (or, as some would say, as a result of them), state debt in Greece has dramatically risen from 120 percent in 2010 to 176 percent of GDP today.

Continue reading

Spy vs. spy

Parvus & Harry Dexter White

Image: Richard Burton in the Cold War classic,
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, (1965)


Was Harry Dexter White an inverted Parvus?

Aleskandr Parvus, German imperial spy and prominent Marxist theoretician

Aleskandr Parvus, German imperial spy and prominent Marxist theoretician of permanent revolution

1. A German imperial agent planted into the highest echelons of Second International Marxism substantially contributes to Leon Trotsky‘s theory of permanent revolution and helps smuggle Vladimir Lenin out of Zurich into Russia following the February 1917 revolution, thus paving the way for the glorious October Revolution that same year.

Harry Dexter White

Harry Dexter White, Soviet spy and savior of the postwar US financial system at Bretton Woods

2. A Soviet double-agent planted in the highest echelons of the US financial establishment helps devise the Bretton Woods system, fastening international currency to the gold standard and thereby saving postwar capitalism from itself (until the rise of stagflation).

Crisis of the eurozone and the Left: Responses to the global economic downturn

Constructivist propaganda figure, 1931 (photo by Ernst May)

Constructivist propaganda figure, Moscow 1931 (photo by German architect Ernst May)

Jerzy Sobotta, Moritz Roeger, Thodoris Velissaris, Haseeb Ahmed, Valentin Badura, and Cengiz Kulac

July 3rd, 2012 • Related • Filed Under
Platypus Review 48 |
July–August 2012

The following transcript is from an event that took place on April 2, 2012 at the University of Chicago, in conjunction with the 2012 Platypus International Convention, titled “Responses to the Global Economic Downturn.” Members and contacts of the Platypus Affiliated Society in Europe were invited to speak on their experience of leftist responses to the economic downturn. The speakers included Haseeb Ahmed (Netherlands), Valentin Badura (Austria), Cengiz Kulac (Austria), Moritz Roeger (Germany), Jerzy Sobotta (Germany), and Thodoris Velissaris (Greece).

Opening remarks

Jerzy Sobotta: I want to give a brief picture of peculiarities of the German Left regarding their responses to the crisis. There are massive effects from the economic meltdown in Europe, particularly in places like Greece and Spain, with mass unemployment and social upheaval. On the other hand, some countries like Germany are relatively stable and even experiencing significant economic expansion recently. This is telling, in terms of the structure of Europe and the causes of the crisis as well. Germany was one of the main players in European integration, and a major German export industry was one result. Germany competes every year with China for first place in the volume of exports, and a lot of it goes to the EU. Exports of high-tech goods and very high productivity form a solid infrastructure for the German economy. The last decade was also marked by the decline of the welfare state in Germany: significant cuts in social services, a steep decline in wages, and deregulation in the wage sector. Temporary employment is common. Low budget employment, insecure jobs, and the unions have, especially in the late 1990s and early 2000s, caused a lot of anxiety about losing jobs to other countries within Europe. The EU has low-wage countries like Poland and Bulgaria, and of course there is always the fear that industries will move to Asia. The unions played a crucial role in avoiding this possibility by choosing not to demand higher wages, so as to do their part in keeping Germany competitive. This is also reflected by the response of the German government: There is an imposition of financial reforms and especially austerity measures on other countries.

Since Germany is one of the major economies in the European union, it will be affected by the general decline of Europe insofar as it bails out banks in other countries. Since it is one of the main backers of the financial support system, one could say that Germany is in large part to blame for the crisis itself. This situation is reflected in many leftists’ political responses to the crisis, where we can see, especially on the more social democratic and union side, a great deal of nostalgia for Keynesianism. For example, the unions demand welfare state reforms, and Die Linke wants to keep up national sovereignty in light of the dictation of cuts and austerity measures in other countries. They want to keep democratization within the Euro realm. Their response is a “New Deal in Europe,” calling for massive investment and building up social infrastructure — basically, a re-play of the rise of the welfare state economy. The major trade unions in Germany — which differ from those in the United States in that they represent a more institutionalized mass — blame finance capital for destroying wages. What they demand is a strong state that is supposed to be in charge of the economy; they demand that the market should work for the people, rather than the people for the market. Yet it is unclear whether such Keynesian responses are really adequate to the situation, given that the neoliberal era is itself a response to the crisis of Keynesianism. Such responses tend to understand the problem in a national framework, even if they use phrases like “a New Deal for all of Europe.” The disparaging relationship between the EU countries will necessarily require some sort of response in Germany as one of the major economies.

One way or another, the German working class will play a role in shaping German policy. With the above-mentioned responses from Die Linke and the mass unions, it is hard to see how that role could be a progressive one. Even in the ultra-left groups, the issue is primarily about nationalism. An anti-national stance is common as a response to the nationalism of the unions and the more established left parties. Nevertheless, the anti-national left groups do not really have an international orientation in terms of their politics. They strive to get certain catch phrases out there, in the context of neighborhood organizing and so forth. Frankly, there is a great deal of cluelessness regarding the international crisis. The confusion of the German left groups in this situation is concurrent with a lack of imagination in terms of how to address the crisis, or even how to use it productively for their own causes.

Moritz Roeger: Under the name M31 (March 31), there was a Europe-wide event recently that provides something of a cross-section of the Left’s response to the economic crisis. M31 operated under the idea of a European-wide day of action against capitalism; they said they don’t want to save capitalism, but to overcome it. Generally speaking, M31 was comprised of the radical groups on the German left, for example antifascist groups, Krisenbünis in Frankfurt, the Free Workers Union in Germany, the Greens, and ums Ganze. The Vienna antifascist groups were also there. What they organized over the previous four or five months were demonstrations and events in over 23 cities and 12 countries, with a connection to the #Occupy movement in New York. They had support through various groups and two newspapers, one of which was M31 Times, wherein they published a few articles in response to the Euro crisis, an interview with one of the organizers, and laid out what they wanted to achieve with this European day of action.

One main point was to build a Europe-wide network of groups that can be more efficient in protesting the Eurocrisis than fragmented smaller groups dispersed throughout various cities, so that, for instance, you could have greater cooperation between people in Thessaloniki and groups in Frankfurt against privatizing of water supplies in Thessaloniki by a German company. What really struck me was that this drive toward really broad networking was something new, or at least something I hadn’t seen before, for the radical left in Europe. Twelve European countries in one network is something I have not experienced in my decade of involvement with the radical left.

There were between three and six thousand people in Frankfurt’s day of action and it was pure activist-ism. What the newspapers showed were people from the radical left and black bloc sacking the downtown area until late at night, attacking a police station, and so on; it was quite intense. There were also two demonstrations to mobilize for that event, each leading to a different story. The first one was in Wiesbaden, where there was a great deal of tension with the police. Afterwards, people who were organizing this demonstration remarked, “Oh yeah, that’s what you get when you see how the police are treating us. We have to fight police. See how we stand against police.” But on the other hand we had a demonstration in Göttingen that didn’t face that problem. It didn’t really see any police intervention. What you read about in reports of that event was that everyone had a really fun time — there was a nice rave in the middle of the city. One line that really struck me said of this event, in effect, “We told the police to hold back and they did.” So the left has two responses at work all the time, no matter what happens.

Read the rest at Platypus’ website

Moisei Ginzburg’s “The international front of modern architecture”

Translated from the Russian 

Image: Photograph of Moisei Ginzburg,
editor of Modern Architecture (1927)


[From Modern Architecture (1926) № 2]

[Pg. 41]

If one takes a cursory glance at everything that is now taking place in the architectural life of all countries, the first impression will be this: the world is split into two halves. In one of them, eclecticism still reigns — having lost any point of departure, having exhausted itself through and through — perfectly symbolizing the deteriorating culture of old Europe. In the other [half] young, healthy shoots push themselves through — landmarks, the beginnings of a new life start to emerge, from which it is not difficult to extend the single, unified thread of an international front of modern architecture. Despite all the differences and peculiarities of different countries and peoples, this front really exists. The results of the revolutionary pursuits of the modern architectural avant-gardes of all nations intersect with one another closely in their main lines of development. They are forging a new international language of architecture, intelligible and familiar, despite the boundary posts and barriers.

But it is worth examining this picture a little closer, as it now becomes evident that within the overall stream [of modern architecture] merge various currents.  The path of the creative pursuit in different countries and among different peoples is not quite the same. For along with the general similarity there also exist differences — differences not only in the formal expression of this language, but also in the basic principles that inform it. Continue reading

Lev Rudnev’s “City of the Future” (1925), before his turn to Stalinist neo-Classicism

Modernist architecture archive

IMAGE: Lev Rudnev’s City of the future (1925),
before his turn to Stalinist neoclassicism


An update on the Modernist Architecture Archive/Database I discussed a couple posts ago.  I’ve begun work on it, and have uploaded almost half of the documents I intend to include.  Only a few of the Russian ones are up yet, but I’m hoping to post them over the next couple days.  There are many more on the way.

Anyway, anyone interested in taking a look at this archive (arranged as a continuous text) can access it here.

However, this might not be the most convenient way to browse through it all.  For a more manageable overall view of each of the individual articles (detailing the author, title, and year of publication), click here.