The Comrades’ Cause

To the group Σημειώσεις, my Athenian συντροφιά

Since Carl Schmitt called his treatise on the enemy Theory of the Partisan (1962), I would call my treatise on the friend “Theory of the Comrade” (Θεωρία του συντρόφου), I would dedicate it to Stathis Gourgouris, and I would focus on the Greeks. One approach would be to study ancient stasis/στάσις, a word whose meaning shifted over time from «sharing a standpoint with others» to the group itself of citizens who take a shared stance on some major issue (Hansen: «Stasis as an Essential Aspect of the Polis» in Hansen & Nielsen, eds.: An Inventory of Archaic and Classical Poleis, 2005, pp. 126-7). An approach closer to my field would be to focus on the modern Left (though in both ancient and modern times belonging to one’s social group mattered more than belonging to one’s polis or patria): Greek comrades* are first and foremost friends/philoi who join the demonstration looking for their girl.

The history of the Greek Left is the history of intense friendships among Greek female and male radicals. Greeks don’t just join the Left because of articles they read, movies they saw, poverty they suffered, or oppression they witnessed but primarily because they need to share such experiences with great friends. They are radicalized not by exploitation but by camaraderie. They seek conviviality more than conviction. Before they begin to espouse major causes, they feel recognized in a fully Hegelian sense: By securing the acknowledgment of great friends, they feel emancipated into their true potential and achieve a full-fledged individuality. Radical recognition respects and liberates. Σύν-τροφοι/comrades are the companions who (etymologically) have been raised together and who (socially) share their lives raising one another to solidarity.

A group of Greek leftists does not constitute a cell or a fraction, a circle or a club. It exists as a συν-τροφιά, a paréa, a demarcated yet porous companionship of people who are equal and similar. Their defining feature is a virtuous sensibility. They consider virtue an ethical disposition that is in itself a political position. Exercising this attitude collectively, consistently, and in public is the highest form of integrity. What counts is expressing authentic feelings and beliefs as they spring from an incorruptible conscience. To join any formal group (say, an association, a party, or a movement) would be to betray one’s friends’ trust and launch a career, to renounce civic virtue for political morality. At a maximum, their goals are to issue a statement of original and noble goals, to publish a few clumsy poems, to create a web site, to formulate the comrade’s rules of conduct, and to never grow up. The ultimate goal is not to seize any kind of hegemony but to establish a small commune, a κοινόβιο (κοινός βίος) of devoted friends, a monastic abode shared by cenobite leftists, as the author Marios Hakkas envisioned it in the shattering short narrative «Το κοινόβιο» (1972).

Their uncompromising ethic of civic virtue can be marked by two complementary aphorisms. E. M. Forster in his essay “What I Believe” (1938) places the friend above the cause: “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” A year later W. H. Auden, in “September 1, 1939,” the poem he wrote (and later repudiated) on the first day of World War II, the day Germany invaded Poland, avers: “We must love one another or die.” For Left radicalism, friendship among comrades is the purest form of civic virtue. One is radical out of the ethical consistency she owes to her friends.   The comrade/σύντροφος [not a gender-specific word, both noun and adjective represent the female and male comrade] feels accountable not to a collectivity, a constituency, or a canon but to the principles of her friends; she strives to remain loyal not to society, faith, or country but to the values of her fellow comrades. This accountability creates enormous moral, strategic, existential and other dilemmas, and it has been a constant subject of conversation, frustration, negotiation, and gratification in my exacting friendship with Pantelis Polychronidis.

The comrade/σύντροφος today combines elements of the pre-revolutionary identities of the rebel and his friend, thus retaining the integrity of the revolutionary fraternité (discussed in the previous post) in a post-revolutionary world where rebellion functions as a modality of camaraderie/συντροφικότητα. Greek Leftists are Jakobins who never get to govern or, to use Schmitt’s terminology in Political Theology (1922), never get to decide on the exception, even thought they are the first ones to notice and name it. They too may slip into the Terror though they save it only for their close friends, their fellow cenobites. But what may happen if one day they do come to power and have a chance to rule? In the transition from κοινό-βιο to κοινο-βούλιο how much room will be left for that most passionate of friendships, the defiant Leftist one?

January 19, 2015

* Στη συγκέντρωση της Ε.Φ.Ε.Ε.

Στίχοι – μουσική: Διονύσης Σαββόπουλος (1966)


Η πλατεία ήταν γεμάτη

με το νόημα που `χει κάτι

απ’ τις φωτιές

στις γωνίες και τους δρόμους

από συντρόφους οικοδόμους


και συ έφεγγες στη μέση όλου του κόσμου

κι ήσουν φως μου

κατακόκκινη νιφάδα σε γιορτή

σε γιορτή που δεν ξανάδα στη ζωή μου τη σκυφτή.


Η πλατεία ήτανε άδεια

και τρελός απ’ τα σημάδια

σαν σκυλί

με συνθήματα σχισμένα

σ’ έναν έρωτα για σένα

έχω χυθεί.

Στ’ αμφιθέατρο σε ψάχνω στους διαδρόμους

και τους δρόμους,

και ζητώ πληροφορίες και υλικό

να φωτίσω τις αιτίες που μ’ αφήνουνε μισό.


Η πλατεία είναι γεμάτη

κι απ’ το πρόσωπό σου κάτι

έχει σωθεί

στον αγώνα του συντρόφου

στην αγωνία αυτού του τόπου

για ζωή

στα παιδιά και τους εργάτες στους πολίτες

στους οπλίτες

στα πλακάτ και τη σκανδάλη που χτυπά

η συγκέντρωση ανάβει κι όλα είναι συνειδητά.

(Η σούμα 1963-2003, 2003, p. 159)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.