Sunday, May 3, 2015

(Not) understanding the KKE II

In 2000, four high-profile members of the KKE made a series of public appearances in which they accused the Party leadership of deviations from the party ideology, denounced the Party theses on the way to the 16th conference, and finally publicly called on the so-called "veterans" of the Party to support them. 

What followed was a series of letters of response to "Rizospastis" by a large number of Party veterans. In one of these, we read the following:
"Our duty to respond to the plea of the four former comrades, and our right to do so, derive from the elements of our Party identity: 
1. Afalis Panagiotis - Party member 65 years, prison and exile 15 years.
2. Zotas Dimos - Party member 58 years - ELAS, DSE member.
3. Kapoutsis Panagiotis.- Party member 59 years, ELAS, DSE member.
4. Kostopoulos Sotiris - Party member 58 years, prison and exile 22 years.
5. Mavridis Kostas - Party member 57 years, prison and exile 16 years.
6. Bousios Harilaos - Party member 61 years, prison and exile 9 years.
7. Nikolaidis Nikos - Party member 57 years, prison and exile 20 years.
8. Panagiotidis Yannis - Party member 57 years, prison and exile 25 years.
9. Papadopoulos Nikos - Party member 59 years, prison and exile in Makronissos 20 years.
10. Papathanasiou Thanassis - Party member 58 years, prison and exile in Makronissos 13 years.
11. Papatheodorou Andreas - Party member 58 years, ELAS, DSE member.
12. Sahinis Mitsos - Party member 57 years, prison and exile 13 years."
This is the way in which credentials were established in the Greek communist movement. "Credentials" involved years in prison and exile, duration as Party member, membership in the armed popular movement. Only through this litany of figures -- figures amounting to lives-- was established "the right to speak of things important." This right had nothing to do with "opinion"; it had to do with something one earns with one's life. With sacrifice, persistence, duration in the struggle through the bitterest of years and the toughest of experiences.

In essence, the veterans weren't listing their achievements. They were writing, through the inscription of these numbers, a condemnation. In this genre of discourse, shame is the operative figure. The renegade is shamed through the mere listing of what it meant for those older than him to be party members. And indeed, the leading figure of the four who left the party then, soon withdrew from the political scene and has never spoken publicly again; in fact, he has silently lived as an effectively anonymous Party supporter after losing membership. Others followed different paths: one ended up in SYRIZA, another in PASOK. But none of them could or did respond to a letter that begun thus. 

The letter continues:
Former comrades,
We do not know what you got back from the Party or if you have anything left...What we learned in the Party is that a Communist, a member of the Party, is not the one who says they are, but the one who belongs to a Party organization, respects the Party regulations, accepts the Party Program and struggles for the advancement of the Party policy, the materialization of its decisions, etc. You are no longer members of the Party, and your acts, statements and activities are incompatible with the quality of being a Communist.

In prison, we met comrades, thankfully very few, who, on the basis of mistaken information, were considered compromised by the enemy. In those conditions, it was not possible to cross-check information, to verify or falsify it. Those comrades, despite the crushing injustice that was done to them and their equivalent treatment, did not give up on the struggle, they waited in patience to be vindicated and restored, as indeed happened.

You will say they were young, they weren't Party cadres, they were simple Party soldiers, and maybe you don't think they are an example to imitate... But how could you, Party cadre members, also have forgotten about the unique and world famous Ploumbides, who fell under the bullets of the execution squad holding the Party banner and its honor high, even though the leadership of the Party had called him an agent of the enemy?
This is the culture the Party carries as a set of norms, for better or worse; an austere culture based on honor, sacrifice, forbearance, tremendous self-discipline. The more Greek society evolved in a capitalist direction, the more gentrified it became, the less did it recognize fundamental and indispensable virtues in this culture. Much of hostility toward the KKE has to do with a deep-felt sense that for social strata that have entered the petty bourgeoisie in the years after the restoration of bourgeois democracy, these are standards impossible to live by, and hence, they are standards that must be vilified as "authoritarian" and ridiculed as "obsolete."

There is no point hiding that these standards are what they are: echoes of the conditions of a very harsh and difficult life, a life ruled by the iron hand of necessity. The question, however, is pretty straightforward: Can we fight today without respecting such standards? Is socialist struggle a walk in the park, full of photo-ops, interviews, shoulder-rubbing with big media, and mediatized popularity? What kind of "Left" can be sustainable that does not, in the least, stand in awe of the principles through which common people lived for decades, that does not recognize in these principles the heart and soul of revolutionary ethics? Do we really expect that "revolution" is something you do differently today, that it is somehow now possible to rebel by pressing "like" or "RT" in the social media? And, on the other hand, to those who say "you've been around for 97 years and there is still no revolution, give it up", how do we respond knowing that those before us spent 65 and 70 years as Party members and went through a series of the most bitter experiences but never gave up? What right do we have to believe we have something better to do with our lives than give the Communist cause all we have, whatever and of whatever quality that is? What do we respond to the roll call of the veterans? That, in the midst of the most intense capitalist crisis of decades, in the death throes of a rotten imperialist system that kills and plunders to ensure its survival on the death of thousands, we opted out and looked after our miserable private interests?

These are existential questions, ultimately, not simply political ones. Their very existence opens a gulf between us and other segments of the existing European Left.

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