To mark the publication of La Fabrique's new edition of Philosophy and Revolution: from Kant to Marx, Révolution Permanente spoke with Stathis Kouvelakis about his 2003 book. Translated by David Broder.
Stathis Kouvelakis, 2015. via Youtube.
Stathis, could you introduce yourself to those who do not know you already? What is your experience as a militant?
Stathis Kouvelakis: Since 2002 I have taught political philosophy at King’s College London, but my own university education was in France. In terms of my militant record, since my high school days I was active in the anti-capitalist radical Left in Greece and then in France. In 1981 I joined the youth organisation of what was called the Greek Communist Party "Interior," a current that subsequently participated as one of the components that founded Syriza. I also took part in Syriza’s leadership bodies between 2012 and 2015, and then left that party, together with thousands of other militants and cadres, when Alexis Tsipras shamefully capitulated to the diktat from the lenders’ Troika. Subsequently I participated in the foundation of Popular Unity — a formation I am still part of — which rallies the forces that came out of the left wing of Syriza and part of the far-Left coalition Antarsya.
Three weeks after the UK voted to leave the European Union, Stathis Kouvelakis addressed a Paris meeting of Greek radical Left party Popular Unity. Translated by David Broder
The tectonic plates are moving again in Europe, rapidly changing the landscape. The breaches opening up in the Euro-unifying construction are concentrated around two focal points. On the one hand there is Brexit, and on the other hand – perhaps more under the surface, but just as corrosively – there is the social and political crisis tearing through France.
Stathis Kouvelakis served on the central committee of Syriza, and currently teaches political theory at King’s College London. Here he makes the case for a revolutionary universalism in light of the institutionalised racism in Western society.
On 25 May 2016 a meeting was held in opposition to ‘the escalating Islamophobia and attacks on civil liberties’ as well as the ‘securitarian, militarist, racist and ultra-neoliberal onslaught’ driven by the current government. The meeting was called by numerous activist networks and organisations who identify with ‘political anti-racism’, and it took the form of a ‘public trial’. The ‘accused’ had to respond to the ‘indictment’ levelled by Nacir Guénif-Souilamas in the role of ‘president of the tribunal,’ aided by Omar Slaouti in the role of ‘attorney-general’. Called to the stand, Stathis Kouvelakis had to answer for his ‘inability to understand French universalism in the slightest’.
To a foreigner who has been living and working in the United Kingdom for the last sixteen years, the immediate post-referendum situation appears highly paradoxical. It seems as if the shock has been of such a magnitude that even the most celebrated British virtues — sense of humor, understatement and, above all, solid common sense — have faded away.
On the losing side, which includes, of course, most of the media and the economic and political establishment, the impact is as devastating as it is unexpected. The markets are plunging all over the world and the City of London, the economy’s central nervous system, faces disaster.
In a piece for Mediapart Stathis Kouvelakis analyses what’s at stake after Brexit. He is reader in political philosophy at KCL, a former member of the Syriza central committee and now a member of Popular Unity. Translated by David Broder
Stathis Kouvelakis was a member of the Syriza central committee when that party won the January 2015 Greek election. He was then among those who decided to break with prime minister Alexis Tsipras, instead advocating that Greece leave the Eurozone and make a clear break with EU institutions. He teaches and lives in London, and here he gives Mediapart his analysis of the consequences of the UK referendum.
Mediapart: How would you read the vote for Brexit?
Stathis Kouvelakis: The first thing to note is that the European Union loses all referendums over proposals emanating from the EU or which concern EU authority. The unconditional defenders of the European project have to ask themselves why that is the case. But this is the first time that the question of remaining or leaving has been posed directly. And in my view the fact that one of the three big European countries has chosen to break away from the EU marks the end of the current European project. This result definitively reveals something we knew already, namely that this was a project built by and for elites, and which did not enjoy popular support.