Tuesday, February 24, 2015

(Not) Understanding the KKE


Inescapably, the political developments in Greece have led to an increasing amount of debate on the stance of the Communist Party of Greece, its positions on a number of the key issues, and, probably, to an amount of curiosity as to its nature.

There is of course the formal response to well-intentioned queries, the detailed analysis of the main issues through the party press or through glosses. From my perspective, however, something is lost in translation. You may convey how KKE sees this or that issue, but not what it is to see through its eyes, what silent premises its vision contains.

1910        1920         1930        1940        1950         1960        1970        1980           1990              2000           2010
                  1924 ΚΚΕ                                                                         1974 ΠΑΣΟΚ          1993          2004    2010    2012
                  (1918 ΣΕΚΕ)                                                                         1974 ΝΔ                    Χ.Α.       ΣΥΡΙΖΑ  ΔΗΜΑΡ/Α

This graph shows the evolution of the composition of the Greek parliament in 2012. KKE was founded as Socialist Workers Party of Greece in 1918 and changed its name to KKE in 1924, when it adopted the principles of the Leninist Third International. Between 1924 and the foundation of the next oldest parties, ND and PASOK, 50 years elapse. The fascist party, Golden Dawn, was founded in the early years after the counter-revolution in the former Soviet block, SYRIZA in 2004, the Independent Greeks in 2012. DIMAR is no longer in the Parliament, but its replacement, "Potami", was founded in 2014. It's clear we are really speaking about two worlds here, two versions of what the "twentieth century" is really all about.

"The party", I wrote once, "comes from the other side of the century, the side from which the wind of history blows. ... As it is the harbinger of the century's other side, it is impossible to understand in a world that has lost all comprehension of the indivisible division of the One that persists within pure multiplicity." I was referring to Democritian Physics, for which the foundation of being is atomic, which is to say both multiple (there are many atoms) and indivisible (the atom is that which cannot be divided, literally, but it is simultaneously the product of division, that which you are left with after all division has been exhausted). From our side of the century (the counter-revolutionary side), I added, the political world is either Heraclitian, that is, hostile to the One of indivisible division (the atom) or Aristotelian, that is, falsely accommodating to the scandalous paradox that such a One is.

So no, it's not easy to translate how the world, the contemporary political world of so called "pluralist democracy", looks from the standpoint of such a One.

So I will tell a story, instead.

On September 16 2013, KKE news portal 902.gr published the video of a man I did not know and had never heard of, by the name of Minas Sfyridakis, who visited the Communist Youth Festival in my hometown, in order to deliver to the hands of the current General Secretary the little stamp in the picture of this post: it is a stamp that simply says: "KKE" and "NO." In the video, Mr. Sfyridakis, who looks quite ill and appears to be sitting on a wheelchair, explains that this is a stamp with which he created hundreds of mini-posters against the pseudo-referendum of the Greek military dictatorship, back in 1973. So this stamp was in his ward for 40 years, before he handed it back to the party.

In this brief video, Mr. Sfyridakis also explains that after creating and using the stamp for the purposes of the party's resistance task he buried it until the day of the video, when he unburied it to return it to the party. The journalist then asks him "so where had you buried it all these years?" Mr. Sfyridakis answers: "It's an adventure. We'll talk about it some other time. Many were looking for it."

At the end of the video, he is asked how he feels seeing all the young people around him; he responds with one single word, and with a look on his face that haunts me: "Indescribably." The party press added no further explanations or details to what is said in the video, or concerning the man himself.

Mr. Sfyridakis, then, the party video revealed, was the silent guardian of a "No" for 40 years; he kept, so to speak, a "No" with which the party had responded to a specific historical dilemma, and kept it buried in a place which he refused to reveal to anyone, including the party, to which he returned this "No" on the specific occasion.

Two months later, on November 17 2013, the day of the Polytechnic uprising against the military dictatorship, the same party portal published this item of news via the Popular Committee of Polychni, Salonica:
Late last night, on November 16, Minas Sfyridakis, former Chair of the Photographers Union, member of the Popular Committee of Polychni and KKE supporter [note: not member] till the end, lost his battle of many months against cancer.

He was a restless spirit, and did not cease, until the last days of his life, to study the classics and to show interest in political developments and party activity. The Communist Base Organization of Polychni would like to thank those who stood by his side in this last stage of his tribulations, particularly the women comrades who took care of him till the end, not sparing time and labor.
It must be noted that though he was 67 years old, and worked as a self-employed worker for 20 years (he had 3500 National Social Security stamps), Minas Sfyridakis did not get any pension.
One of the last memories of Minas was in the last Communist Youth Festival, when he delivered a party stamp from the era of the anti-dictatorship struggle to the General Secretary of KKE.
Inevitably, I realized a number of things not quite said: that Mr. Sfyridakis unburied his "No" from his secret hiding place because he knew he was going to die. And the party's laconic announcement implies that he must have lost party membership for whatever reason at some point in the past, since it's unlikely the stamp would have been entrusted to a non-member in the first place; but it remains silent, imitating Mr. Sfyridakis own silence, on the particulars of this question.

This is a story about a relationship, and about time, political commitment, life, death and comradeship. And memory. And it's a story with many gaps and things unspoken and unexplained. To me no less than to you. I have heard many other such stories in the course of my life: elliptical, conspiratorial stories that all revolve around silence and mutual protection in one way or another; they speak of a fidelity that has nothing theological about it, one that is fragile under the pressure of history, undergoes trials and tribulations, crises; and yet persists, in speech and silence, in commission and omission.

Truth withdraws, philosophers used to say. Working-class truth, especially. And no matter how much I or others try to explain "why we said no" --this is what journalists want to find out today, what they care about-- part of it will continue to manifest itself as a withdrawal, a "No" zealously cared for and looked after, like a cherished child. Is it a secret that a very determinate "yes" (to struggle, to revolution, to a different society) is its fundamental precondition?

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