In Defence of Urban Alienation: Regression, Localisation and Dreams of Exodus in Greece Today
by Kostis Stafylakis
Considering the effects of the Greek crisis on modes of collective organisation, is it time to question the very boundaries with which collective actions operate?
In an interview with the portal tvxs.gr, the educator/eco-farmer Giorgos Kolembas explained that the only viable answer to globalisation is the decentralisation, re-localisation and self-organisation of an ecological and equal society. According to Kolembas, this is an escape from the ‘Rocas coincidentes’ of both statism and privatisation. Kolembas explores a third sector comprising social economy, egalitarian economy, ethical economy and popular economy. In his view, small-scale units of production should guide this sector, with an emphasis on locality (economy of proximity), participation and democratic function. He concludes with this moral dictum: “He who provides for all, provides for himself.” In a recent article on the blooming of eco-communities on mount Pelion, Kolembas also stresses the need for a return to nature and a recovery of our essential bond with it. The website of the Network of Eco-communities in Greece informs us that the notion of an eco-community is a model of life that strives to restore harmony between man and the natural environment. The residents of Greek eco-communities, or members of eco-groups such as Real & Free, State of Nature, Hope-Village and so on, strive for cultural development, moral values and spiritual ascent. Meanwhile, at the self-organised Navarinou Park in downtown Athens, participants have circulated a manifesto analysing why they have “dismantled the asphalt” to create a garden. Against the state’s tendency to turn space into an “unfriendly” and “deserted” setting for “hasty metropolitan life”, they have re-appropriated space in order to “educate” themselves and others on the cultivation of land and the self-management of food. In an age of crisis, defined by the relentless attacks of both capital and the state, they try to rediscover the “relation between city and countryside” and understand the process of the production of food, which is fundamental for “every human cell and for society itself”. These examples are only a small sample of the critiques of the city that have multipliedduring the Greek financial crisis. In different ways, these subjects or collectives express their disgust with urban alienation while envisioning various forms of societal/ reproductive autarky. I believe that we will not grasp the ideological sources of this discontent with alienated urban life if we don’t dare to attempt a methodological disengagement from the spoken language of these urban subjectivities. Usually, such movements adopt the language (or guise) of an autonomist critique of the state/capital. Meanwhile, the most politicised versions of self-organisation – squatting and urban occupations – are inspired by theories of autonomous Marxism and assert themselves in reference to notions such as the commons or communisation, or more traditional versions of autonomy. This is a dominant narrative amongst art collectives that flourish in Greece today. Perhaps we should not accept such arrangements as spontaneous adaptations of widespread radicalisms though, but rather revisit historical genealogies that have been overlooked by these theoretical exigencies and claims? In a sense, the fascination with alternative communities in Greece matches the reinvention of decentralism and distributism by recent social movements such as the Occupy movement in the United States. In Greece, romantic agrarian communalism has been a vibrant philosophical trend since the time of the Greek communalist/distributist Ion Dragoumis (1910s). Communalist ideologies have been revived several times in recent decades in the framework of the East/West identity wars. In recent decades, during the government of PASOK (1980s), Greek society experienced a blooming of state-funded first sector associations. But during the current crisis we witnessed the birth of something completely new: full-blown local versions of distributist endeavours by local movements such as No Middlemen, the Potato Movement or the Den Plirono (I Won’t Pay) movement. Those movements don’t call themselves distributist but they embody a distributist spirit that claims local production for local consumption. In the western world, these tendencies are typical of what social history defines as ‘Third Way’ politics – against both socialism and capitalism (not to be confused with Anthony Giddens’s or Tony Blair’s ideas). This spiritual wave is mostly associated with the history of conservative Catholic corporatism of the 1890s and Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891). This famous encyclical (a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church) recognised organised labour unions but also preached a Catholic corporatist alternative to socialist statism and liberal capitalism – the ‘Third Way’ of restructuring society as an organic corpus integrating the church, government, organised labour, guilds, private societies and religious clubs. In the 1910s, influenced by the Rerum Novarum doctrine, G.K Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc developed the social/economic programme of distributism, a call to support small-scale farming and private ownership. In general, they preached the return to the productive micro-scale of the family against the “servile state” (Belloc). They also imagined a new morality crafted by the autonomous-anarchist development of family values, kinship and spiritual communities (Chesterton). The distributists supported family businesses, local cooperatives, differential taxation, micro-credit, local currencies and farming communities. Various anarchist trends in the Occupy movement seem to have rediscovered old-school ideas of distributism, decentralism, agrarianism, mutualism and so on. Such ideas have also enriched the social references of the peer2peer movement. For example, the programmer/activist Jeremy Weiland of Occupy Richmond belongs to a new wave of libertarian individualism suggesting that modern greed has to be tamed by revolutionary redistribution through organic networks of consumers, suppliers and neighbours. In a public discussion he admitted that he would even cooperate with National Anarchists (a version of neo-Nazi Third Positionism). Recently, a project by the Greek art collective Filopappou Group put some of these ideals of autarchy to the test. Inspired by the overwhelming discourse of a return to rural life, propagated by various worshippers of the Greek countryside, the group carried out a social experiment of survival and co-existence. The off-shore project (Summer 2012) invited a closed number of people to inhabit the small island of Meropi for ten days. One rule was agreed on: no one would arrive at the island after the project’s start and no one would leave before the project’s end. The rule was broken by both members of the Filopappou team and their guests. Today, some of the guests refer to the “breath-taking” experience of coexisting. But some members of the group admit that cohabitation was characterised by inactivity, leisure and, of course, various disputes. Some felt discomfort with the lack of a specific programme, while the “hosts” explained how they did not want to impose any. In these endless discussions on the meaning of collectivity and autonomy, no one challenged the group’s fundamental choice: to choose a remote isle where the control of the population was achieved by physical borders. Perhaps the reason for such an omission is obvious: everything would end in ten days.
1. Georgios Kolembas, “Social and Egalitarian Economy,” published 10 June, 2012 on Tvxs.gr, http://tvxs.gr/news/egrapsan-eipan/koinoniki-kai-allileggyaoikonomia-toy-giorgoy-kolempa
2. “Ecocommunities: A Response to the Crisis, published 24 February, 2012 on Tvxs.gr, http://tvxs.gr/news/kala-nea/oikokoinotites-sto-pilio-mia-apantisisti-krisi
3. See the Eco Village Greece WordPress: http://ecovillagegreece.wordpress.com/
4. See the statement from Navarino Park: http://parkingparko.espivblogs.net/files/2012/02/Περιβόλι-στο-πάρκο-Ναυαρίνου.pdf
5. For a history of corporatism, see: Howard J. Wiarda, Corporatism and Comparative politics: the Other Great “ism,” M. E. Sharpe, New York, 1997.
6. For an analysis influenced by the ideals of distributism, see: Allan C. Carlson, Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies – and Why They Disappeared, Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2007.
7. p2p Foundation website: http://p2pfoundation.net/category:movementstitle=Category:Movements&until=Identity+Commons
8. Gary Chartier, Charles W. John, Kevin Carson (et al.), Markets Not Capitalism: Individualist Anarchism Against Bosses, Minor Compositions, New York, 2011.
9. Jeremy Weiland, “Let the Free Market Eat the Rich: Economic Entropy as Revolutionary Redistribution,” at Social Memory Complex, http://www.socialmemorycomplex.net/features/let-the-free-market-eat-the-rich/
10. See Weiland’s interventions: http://radgeek.com/gt/2009/04/26/open_thread/