Now, more than ever, the world looks two ways at once. Which way it turns will depend significantly on the protests announced for the days that come: Blockupy Frankfurt on 16 to 19 May, and all the explosions of creative anger that will follow.
One face looks towards a dark, depressing world. A world of closing doors. A closing of lives, of possibilities, of hopes. These are times of austerity. You must learn to live with reality. You must obey if you want to survive, give up your dreams. Do not expect to live by doing what you like. You will be lucky to find a job at all. Perhaps you can study, but only if your parents have money. And, even then, do not think that you can study something critical. Criticism has fled from the universities. What is the point of criticising when we all know that the world is set in its course? There is no alternative, just the reality of the rule of money, so forget your dreams. Work hard in whatever scrap of employment you can find, or else look forward to a life of hunting through garbage cans, because there will be no welfare state to protect you. Look at Greece and be warned.
This lesson of despair was learned by Dimitris Christoulas, who shot himself in Syntagma Square in the centre of Athens on 4 April. A 77-year-old ex-pharmacist whose pension was wiped out by the austerity measures imposed by the governments of Europe, he said: “I can find no other solution than to put an end to my life before I start sifting through garbage cans for my food.”
This is the meaning of austerity. This is what the governments of Europe and the world are trying to impose on the people – all the governments are the servants of money, whether they speak from apparent positions of power, like the German government, or whether they are the simple functionaries of the international bank system, like Lucas Papademos or Mario Monti. The austerity measures do not just impose poverty, they cut the wings of hope.
That is the direction the world is heading in, but is that all there is? The death of Christoulas faces in two directions: it is despair, but also a refusal to accept despair. In his suicide note he writes: “I believe that young people with no future will one day take up arms and hang this country’s traitors upside down in Syntagma Square just as the Italians hanged Mussolini in 1945.” Hope glows in the very depths of despair.
The basis of that hope is a simple no: no, we will not accept your austerity. No, we will not accept the obscene inequalities of this world we live in; no, we will not accept a society that is hurtling us towards our own destruction. And no, we will not suggest alternative policies. We do not want to solve your problems because the future of capitalism is the death of humanity. Even if capital solves this crisis, the next one will not be far away, even more destructive. We will not obey you, politicians-bankers, because you are the dead past, we are the possible future.
That is our hope: we are the only possible future. But our possible future is no more than a possibility. Its realisation depends on our being able to turn the world around. How do we turn the world around? Christoulas speaks of young people taking up arms and hanging the politicians from the lampposts. The politicians of the world know that it is not just fantasy: that is why in Greece they are afraid to go out in the streets, that is why all over the world they are giving more and more arms and powers to the police. Yet it is not by arms that we can turn the world around and create something new. Guns are their weapon, not ours. Our fury is the fury of refusal, of stifled creation, of indignation.
But our refusal means little unless it is supported by an alternative creation. Refuse and create. Our “no” to the old world will not hold unless we create a new world here and now. Representative democracy has failed and we build a real democracy in our squares, our meetings, our protests. Capital fails to provide the basics of life and we form networks of mutual support. Money destroys, and we say “no, we shall create a different logic and a different way of coming together”, and so we proclaim “no home without electricity” and organise the reconnection of the electricity supply whenever it is cut off. Debt collectors come to take away our homes and we organise mass protests to stop them. People go hungry and we create community gardens. The drive for profit massacres human and non-human life and we create new relations, new ways of doing things.
All of this is inadequate, all is experimental, but that is the way to go, that is the new world of mutual recognition struggling to be born. Perhaps we cannot yet change the whole world, but we can create and we are creating it here and now, we are creating cracks in the system and these cracks will grow and spread and multiply and flow together. We can and will stop it, we shall turn the world around’