- European alternativesA roundtable discussion with Marina Prentoulis, Sirio Canos and Simon Dubbins, introduced by Doreen Massey
Doreen Massey: introduction
The first aim of this discussion is to think about what kind of a moment this is. When we began the Soundings manifesto, one of the things that provoked us into action was the recognition that, while there’d been a massive economic implosion with the financial crisis, there had been no political crisis, and the ideological hegemony of neoliberalism had been very quickly reinstated as the unquestionable common sense. There was no dislocation in the ideological and the political spheres, though there had been such a massive economic crisis. And that is why there is so much in the Manifesto about common sense and discourse, and the ways in which we think, and the need to change the terms of the debate. Our argument was that there will be no moment of more radical change - change that might affect the balance of social forces and make a difference to the relations of power - unless there is a crisis in the different instances of the social formation. An economic crisis is not enough. You also need a fracturing of the ideological and the political.
But over the last few years there has been gradually emerging a potential crisis in the political - in the formal political structures, in the self-confidence of an establishment that assumes its right to rule. There’s been the decline of establishment parties - including in a couple of places the collapse of the old social democratic parties that have moved to the right and submitted to the terms of debate of neoliberalism. And there has also been the rise in ‘new’ parties - in the UK, the SNP, UKIP and the Greens.
So in the last chapter of the manifesto we tentatively raised the question of the possible emergence - both in this country and more widely - of a potential [End Page 13] crisis of the political. I don’t have a definitive answer to that question, but it is at least a question that one feels it is possible to ask at this moment (even in the UK, notwithstanding the recent election). We have seen the election victory of Syriza and the astonishing rise of Podemos in Spain, and these clearly are rattling the forces of the establishment, as is the movement for independence in Scotland. This has had effects. Whatever the outcome of the negotiations between Greece and the EU establishment may turn out to be, one of the most significant achievements of Syriza is a politicisation of the economic. The possibility that there may be an alternative has been put on the agenda. And that’s really important, because one of the main bases of the ideological hegemony of neoliberalism is the way in which it removes the economic from political and ideological contest, the way it turns the economic into a matter of technocratic expertise. Remember the (quite recent) era of the technocrat: we had technocrats in Brussels; we had technocrats in government in Italy; we had technocrats in government in Greece - because economics was solely a matter for experts. Hence the troika, and hence, conversely, Syriza’s stand of wanting to talk to people in Europe who have a mandate, rather than just to ‘experts’. That dominance of technocrats was the basis for TINA - there is no alternative - and the basis through which a lot of the ideological hegemony of neoliberalism was established.
What Syriza, and the looming threat from the even bigger economy, Spain, has done is to open the debate up a bit. As Marina has frequently and eloquently argued in her capacity as a media spokesperson for Syriza, all this is not just a technical matter of economics, it’s political. So one of the questions to look at now is whether there is the potential here for engineering a serious ideological challenge. Could this be a moment that is more open, in various ways, than it was when we began to write the Kilburn Manifesto?
I have to say that sometimes, sitting here in...