The happiness of Sisyphus: An interview with Tomás Ibáñez

We share below the translation of an interview with Tomás Ibañez, reflecting on the current rise, in the wake of the mass social movements of 2011,  of “left-wing” political parties.  The interview was originally published in the greek (02/05/2015), and subsequently posted on Kaosenlared  (12/05/2015).

In Greece, after six years of crisis and 5 of ruthless austerity, we have a government that is based on a party of the radical left. In Spain, which lived a similar pattern of mobilisations, Podemos appeared. How interesting are these changes for a libertarian like youself?

These developments are indeed very interesting, and show that the crisis has not only produced disastrous social and economic consequences, but also directly political effects. A portion of the electorate is dissatisfied with the political parties responsible for austerity which render even more visible the numerous outrageous and shameful cases of corruption that mark the political and financial spheres. The fact that they are formations of the radical left which collect the votes of the sectors of the population disappointed by the political parties that alternated in power continues to be encouraging.

However, the significant rise of Ciudadanos, a new center-right party that has burst onto the Spanish political scene, disputing with Podemos the favor of the polls, introduces new keys for reading the political value of such developments. Indeed, from a libertarian perspective, suspicious in relation to the institutional electoral game, we believe that the simultaneous rise of Podemos and Ciudadanos is the price the system must pay to renew political cadres who have lost all credibility and to modernize some political parties that have become obsolete.

The rise of these new formations provides the lifeline that the system needs for the very strong political disaffection of a growing part of the population that risks sinking the entire system. These new parties will enable the continuity of the political management of capitalism under a renewed forms, avoiding the use of methods of ultra-authoritarian regimes. In short, the great hope placed in these new political actors will be enough to defuse the struggle, not against austerity measures that these new players will strive to soften, but against the very foundations of the established system.

In Greece, without underestimating the usefulness of the measures taken by Syriza to relieve extreme situations, it seems clear that its room for maneuver is too narrow for it to fulfill, even minimally, the promises that allowed it to reap the vote of the most combatative part of the electorate. Thus, its success will eventually be in serving as an escape valve to defuse a fight that, but for the victory of Syriza, may have ended up creating serious difficulties for the proper maintenance of the system.

The anarchist movement in Greece has had a tendency of mass expansion in recent years. But it is often more oriented to violence and less to politics or labour unionism. As much groups that have prioritized violence, as well as those that have choosen other modes of action, argue that its reference point is anarchism. Is anarchism available to all of these expressions?

Yes, it includes all those versions. In keeping with its deep respect for singularities, and its staunch defense of diversity, anarchism projects towards itself these principles, constituting itself as an eminently plural and multiform entity.

Historically, anarchism has always presented a wide range of orientations that are not reduceable to a mere dichotomy between “violence”, on the one hand, and “more political action”, on the other.

But it is also true that anarchism does not offer just “any version” of itself. Assuming that you can never separate means and ends, it demands that anarchist practices be scrupulously “prefigurative”, i.e., that they reflect its own characteristics, the objectives pursued carry with themselves “red lines” that cannot be crossed without sacrificing anarchism. For example, it is obvious that except in very exceptional situations of self-defense, no anarchist action can damage the physical integrity of individuals, or even kill them, which would be equivalent to the aberration of giving onself the right to apply the death penalty.

Such violence does not fit into anarchism. However, most of the actions described as “violent”, either they cause no damage to individuals, but only to material objects considered as symbols of the system, or they are simply the consequence of failing to shun the confrontation resulting from not obeying the orders for police dispersal. A certain political significance can be attributed to these “violent” actions, as can be attributed to certain labor and political conflicts, violence. All of this fits into anarchism, provided no “red lines” are crossed by the inexcusable demand of no contradiction between means and ends.

There are many thinkers who propose, due to the economic crisis, the beginning of a dialogue between Marxism and anarchism. Is there a conducive ground for such an understanding?

The great diversity of anarchism, to which I referred earlier, also marks Marxist thought, although the latter accepts that fact with greater reluctance. Certainly, dialogue is always good, as is, moreover, controversy, if it is nurtured with arguments and not with sectarian insults. In fact dialogue between Marxism and some part of anarchism is almost contemporary to the start of these two currents.

For some years now, the progressive loss of hegemony of Marxism is a factor facilitating dialogue, because it allows the establishment of a more balanced exchange.

For some years now, some anarchists groups have incorporated, with greater or lesser modifications, certain marxist assumptions, modifying them more or less, especially in the economic domain. It is not until more recently that some Marxist groups have incorporated anarchists contributions. The recent opening of Marxism towards anarchism probably reflects the fact that the last five or six decades have been more devastating for some of their ideas, than for anarchists ideas.

Obviously, the economic crisis also facilitates dialogue to the extent that both come together around certain struggles. However, I do not think these confluences go beyond anything more than simple tactical considerations, which can generate mutual influences that lead to a “revision” of some aspects of both Marxism and anarchism.

However, it is likely that the new social conditions contribute to the emergence of a new political radicalism that exceeds the formulations of both anarchists and Marxists, recombining in an original way some of their aspects. Now this process will not start as a consequence of a deliberate decision, nor of any theoretical effort made by anarchists and Marxists, but will be the result of the transformation of society, of its apparatuses of domination and of the struggles against them.

A few years ago we had the phenomenon of the “Arab Spring”. Great masses of people were mobilized and they could overthrow authoritarians. But then they weakened, fell and disappeared. Did they not have a political project? Did they not have the right leadership? Was the enemy finally stronger?

The important popular demonstrations of the “Arab Spring” responded to an intense desire for change, and an acute dissatisfaction with the existing political situations in different countries. The effort to destroy the established regimes was as clear as it was determined.

However, beyond this common project, there also coexisted within it a number of projects that were totally incompatible with it. That hindered the emergence of a proper leadership, but I understand that perhaps it was fortunate that no strong leadership of a personal nature finally did not appear.

The different springs gave way suddenly to the harsh winter, as soon as the protest was channeled through the ballot box, allowing the different political parties to play their electoral tricks, to win bits of power. If by “the enemy” is understood what works to prevent a deep and radical social change, including parliamentary and electoral democracy in its current form, it is obvious that the “enemy” was, unfortunately, the stronger.

Kropotkin has said it one can not change the world with five kilos of dynamite. The Communists tried to change it with the revolution. They failed. The Social Democrats through peaceful means and reforms. They also failed. The world changes, but not in the direction sought by these two political currents. Is it in vain to believe that a totlally different world is possible?

Whether a world completely, or substantially, different is possible, is a totally “undecidable” question, both based on our current knowledge about the world, and from its own nature, which involves a high degree of “unpredictability “.

Now, after the failure of both the Bolshevik revolution and the social democratic project, we can not infer logically that all projects to change the world are doomed to failure.

However, what does matter is that another world is desirable, intensely desirable, because the current one is sickening and unbearable. What matters is therefore that one struggle to overthrow the existing world. The value of struggles lie not in the question of whether or not an objective is reached at the end of their journey, but in rather in themselves, in the stubborn way that they are laboured. That “other world” that we dream of is not waiting for us in some distant horizon; we build it, here and now, in the very same processes of struggle and in the forms of life that these give rise to. That these fragments of “other possible worlds”, actually built and lived, end by expanding until they bring the current world to an end, is something eminently desirable, but whether this happens or not, it does not affect the value of struggles pursued. As Albert Camus said: “we must imagine Sisyphus happy”, because he finds the reward of his effort in the realisation of the effort itself.

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