Creating an Economy of Need in Greece


Leo Panitch, professor of political science at York University, talks about the difficulties and tensions in running a state connected to people

Story Transcript

SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

I’m in conversation with Leo Panitch on Greece. Leo has just returned from Greece, where he has been in discussion with a number of colleagues and friends about the situation there. Leo is professor of political science at York University in Toronto. He is the author of the UK Deutsche book prize winner, The Making of Global Capitalism: The Political Economy of American Empire.

Leo, thanks again for joining me.


PERIES: So Leo, in our first segment we were describing the situation in Greece as enormous suspension at various levels. And whether the Greek government is able to sort of envision a new economy, and the possibility of developing an independent economy to the European Union is in question. So tell me a little bit more about your thoughts there.

PANITCH: I think whether they’re in or out, all the more if they’re out, of course, becomes much more of a necessity. But whether they’re in or out, what one would want from this type of radical left government is an orientation towards putting people back to work, above all. Yes, of course, bandaging them from the assault that they’ve been subject to by neoliberal austerity, but also a restructuring of the economy in a way where production is much more for use, is much more rational than the chaotic irrational economies that capitalism now throws up. That should apply whether they’re in or out. And of course, the big question is, is this possible if you’re in the European Union at all. Or does the European Union have neoliberalism in its DNA?

I should say, if the latter’s the case that’s going to be a heavy thing to bear, because I think all of the radical left parties are committed to internationalism rather than nationalism primarily. Although they stand up for the dignity of the people in their country and they get elected for standing up for that, as Syriza did.

The kind of thing I’m talking about requires a government oriented to animating economic conversion. If Greece were to reorganize its agriculture so it wasn’t so heavily dependent on agricultural subsidies from Europe, and they do have mountains of peaches which rot every year because of those types of subsidies, what type of agricultural production would be more rational?

PERIES: What did you mean by that? That it just rots–.

PANITCH: That kind of thing is what I’m thinking about. What type of, type of planning, what type of economic planning right down to the community and local level right across Greece, would allow for investment in new forms of software production, new forms of wine production, new forms of design, furniture, et cetera, that could be both related to a more internally-oriented economic development, but also allow for innovative and competitive exports in these more productive arenas.

PERIES: And do you think, Leo, that will require the government investing in these kinds of productive enterprises?

PANITCH: Well, sure. I mean, some funds would be needed here. But the left needs to look at itself, in all of its criticism of other governments, and we on the left are very quick to criticize, of course, any backsliding on the part of even such a radical government. What are our capacities when we elect a government to generate the type of movement from below, not just in the form of making demands upon that government, but in the form of actually ourselves getting involved at a local level, at a regional level in the difficult, creative activity of building a different type of economy.

One of the problems with the left, and this is certainly true of the highly politicized Greek left, is that they’re very good, in social movements, in the sense of mobilizing for demonstrations against this or that policy, or demanding this or that progressive policy. That’s not the same thing as the type of activity that’s needed, that the social networks in Greece display. Where you take matters in your own hands and you start creating an economy of need rather than economy of profit.

Now, in order to do that in a way, of course, that would put the 45 percent of young people who are employed, the 30 percent of people generally who are unemployed in Greece, back to work doing productive things, that of course would need some central planning, it would need investment coming from regional and the national government. The local government. All of which are horrifically strapped. And one of the terrible things about needing to produce a surplus in order to pay off some of the debt, as is being demanded by the institutions, as they’re called, is that that money isn’t going to that type of investment.

But that’s the kind of thing I think we should be asking ourselves. And one talks to people there and they don’t know much about it. But what Roosevelt did with the Works Project Administration, the WPA, during the depressions lasted two years. A lot of Mount Rushmore was funded by sending people out to do that kind of work. Orson Welles’ first play was funded under the WPA. Artists, filmmakers, et cetera.

But in order to pull this off as well, one needs the type of animators, the type of organizers at the base who know something about production and who know something about economic life who are democratically-oriented, can mobilize people, who are able to sit down with the resources in a given community, both human and economic, and say, what can we do here that’s new? This is the way we need to be thinking, I think. And that’s true whether they’re in or out, although I think the horizon in terms of what’s possible were they to go out, even the Greek Syriza leadership imagines would be possible, would be broadened if there were more of that activity going on at the base.

PERIES: And the ministries and some of your colleagues that you were speaking to has had roughly six months now to think about these strategies.

PANITCH: [To this way], there are people in the party certainly, very impressive young people, who are oriented this way. Who are very senior in the party leadership and chose not to go into the government. People in the government are oriented this way. As I said, the Minister of Culture and Education who I know very well. He himself on a given day once a week simply announces that he’s going down to a school. And he comes unaccompanied, and he talks to the teachers, and he sits in on parent-teacher meetings and on school events and plays. Sometimes even says, if you want me to give a–he’s a philosopher. If you want me to give a talk on Greek history or Greek philosophy to the kids I will.

And he says to the teachers’ unions, we are committed to restoring collective bargaining. All labor rights have been taken away by the previous governments on the demand of the Troika. We are going to restore those. But you do need to realize that we don’t have the money to pay you higher wages. That’s not what we’re about. You should be using this opportunity to change social relations using the schools in the community as the center of this. He says that. And one has to hope that will be taken up.

Now, this is all very difficult. I mean, one of the fascinating things I watched at a public meeting was the deputy minister for social services, a remarkable woman who as a Syriza MP in the previous parliament had been crucial to creating the federation and solidarity networks known as Solidarity For All. And was the key person in coordinating them between 2012 to 2014. She said at this public meeting, I’m now finding when I want to talk to the people in the solidarity networks that I know so well, or they want to get to me, they need to go through a Syriza MP. And she said, I don’t think that ought to be the role of the Syriza MPs. I mean, they ought to be of course mobilizing in the community and so on. But I don’t think they ought to be just go-betweens between people in the community who I know and my ministry. And this produced a great deal of anger from the Syriza MPs who were at that meeting, young and old, male and female, who said, you’re implying that we’re going back to the old clienteleism. Of course they should be coming through us, of course we should be the ones who bring you the people in our community, et cetera.

And what–it’s not that one person’s right, one is wrong. You see the incredible tensions and difficulties that are involved in figuring out how to run a state connected to the people in a different way. Above all, connected to activists in a way that’s more creative than what usually happens in capitalist democracies, which is we elect an elite once every four or five years, and then they go off inside the state and cut themselves off from the movements that got them there. Even if they’re a left government.

So watching this is absolutely fascinating, and one has to say, I think, that the people who are doing this, whether they’re MPs or ministers or party people at the base, need to be seen very sympathetically, because what they’re trying to do is so momentous, so hard, and so important.

PERIES: Leo Panitch, thank you so much for joining us, and we look forward to more reports from you.

PANITCH: Good. Good to talk to you, Sharmini, again.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


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