During the first two weeks of December 2007, a series of public events will take place in Athens, Greece, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Nicos Poulantzas Institute (NPI). The Managing Board of the Institute took this initiative for three main reasons: first, the need for the members and friends of the NPI critically to assess the direction of this collective endeavour, in order to delineate a reliable strategy for the future; secondly, our wish to publicise the work of the NPI and the Transform! European Network for Alternative Thinking and Political Dialogue, of which the NPI is a founding member, with an eye to radical youth, left-wing intellectuals and scientists, the working people and the general public of Greece; thirdly, and equally significant, our intention to pay tribute to the Marxist thinker and left activist Nicos Poulantzas, on the seventieth anniversary of his birth (1936–2006).
As this is being written, the exact programme of events is not yet been finalized. However, it is almost certain that the following events will be included:
1) The annual Nicos Poulantzas Lecture, initiated by the NPI in 2007. Each lecture will feature an internationally distinguished intellectual who will elaborate theoretical issues involved in social and political practice. The first Lecture will be held by Bob Jessop, Professor of Sociology at the University of Lancaster and one of the best known authorities on Poulantzas’ work. Its title is: “Political Economy, Political Ecology and Democratic Socialism”.
2) Presentation of the 2007 Memorandum and of the research activities of the Group of European Economists for Another Economic Policy in Europe, by Jorg Huffschmid, Professor of Economics at Bremen University. The collaboration between the NPI and the Group is long-standing and has included, among other things, participation in common research programmes.
3) Presentation of Transform! and the English publication of its magazine by Michael Brie (responsible for Transform! in 2007–2008) and Walter Baier (coordinator of Transform! and editor of its magazine). Depending on certain conditions, it is quite probable that the Greek publication of the magazine will also be launched.
4) Presentation of the work of the NPI during the period 1997–2007, followed by a public discussion over the identity, the structure and the role of the European political foundations that belong broadly to the democratic, radical and ecological Left. Representatives of the foundations participating in Transform! as members or observers will also participate at the discussion.
After the events, there will be fuller coverage of their contents in the websites of the NPI and Transform!. What follows here is a brief review of some strategic and administrative choices of the NPI during the ten years of its existence, which have to a great extent defined its contemporary identity. This review can serve as an introduction to the public discussion on European left-wing political foundations, the last of the aforementioned events.
The Nicos Poulantzas Institute succeeded the Nicos Poulantzas Society for Political Thinking, which was founded in the autumn of 1997 on the initiative of the Greek political party Synaspismos (Coalition of the Left and Progress, renamed in 2000 as Coalition of the Left, the Ecological and the Social Movements). Throughout its ten-year existence, the foundation maintained a considerable autonomy from this political party, despite the fact that the funding it receives from the public budget depends on Synaspismos’ parliamentary power. The Institute’s autonomy is guaranteed in its founding declaration and involves both the way it functions as an institution and the selection of topics it addresses. This relationship has been a permanent choice of both the NPI and Synaspismos, regardless of changes in the party leadership. Nevertheless, this autonomy does not prevent the development of close, collaborative relations and the undertaking of common initiatives by the two entities in the context of a common political understanding and vision.
It can be argued that the European political foundations operating in the framework of the democratic, radical and ecological Left can choose between two distinct organisational models. The first model has a stable, clearly defined and hierarchical administrative structure, with separate directorates or departments where a sufficient number of salaried professionals is employed. The second model has a more flexible structure, primarily based on the voluntary work of the members of the foundation’s institutional bodies and of working groups, and also based on external collaborations. Since its founding, the NPI has been following the second model. Although this choice reflects the recognition of the value of left volunteerism, one may claim that it has been largely forced upon the Institute due to the low level of economic resources at its disposal.
Within this particular operative model, there has been some soul-searching over the potential ways in which the group of people involved in the Institute’s activities could be expanded. From 1997 to 2002, the Nicos Poulantzas Society was a non-profit organisation, consisting of a relatively small number of members who had little involvement in its functioning. In 2003, following some legal changes, the Nicos Poulantzas Institute was formed. The Institute was given the capacity to register members, whose current number is approximately 150. Despite its potential advantages, this “opening-up of the NPI could generate some administrative as well as more general problems, especially if it is followed by the creation of a broad network of local branches or supporting groups around Greece, currently under consideration. These problems involve the criteria for registration of members, their rights and duties, and the ways in which this registration and the branches or supporting groups are established and run, etc. Tackling these issues is the subject of a currently evolving debate.
Today, the general action guidelines of the Institute are drawn up by the General Assembly of the members, are specified by the 31-member Managing Board that elects the President, the Vice-President and the Director, and are applied under the supervision and the coordination of a 9-member Secretariat. The responsibility for the day-to-day running of the Institute is borne by the Director. The Institute currently has some permanent committees (on communication, website, publications, event planning), the “Youth Space”, and several ad hoc working groups according to the interests of the members.
According to its founding declaration, the NPI has a dual goal: on the one hand, it “aims at systematically developing an awareness of contemporary social, ecological, political and cultural issues”, while on the other hand it “seeks to contribute to the theory and ideology as well as the political programme of the renewed, radical and ecological Left”. During its ten-year existence, the Institute has tried to meet this goal in several ways: the organisation, or co-organisation together with other institutions, of conferences, seminars and lectures in Athens as well as in other cities in Greece and abroad (primarily through Transform!), research projects, publications, and participation in EU programmes (primarily through the Group of European Economists) etc. Its activities have covered a broad range of issues of timeless interest (socialism, ecology, feminism, European integration, nationalism, racism, globalisation, social exclusion, history of the Greek Left, left-wing parties in Europe, the welfare state and privatisation, education, local government with emphasis on participatory budgets, literature, psychoanalysis etc.). The NPI also dealt with timely issues emerging from current realities (war, EU-US relations, Islam and Europe, Economic and Monetary Union, European Constitution, developments in Turkey, neoliberal economic policy, pension systems and educational reform in Europe and Greece, etc.).1
The work of the Institute has been praised by many as remarkable. This is not surprising, if one considers its low budget and limited personnel compared to other Greek political foundations. However, it could not avoid some external controversies and some internal disputes. This was, to a certain extent, predictable, considering the dramatic national and international developments in this particular decade, which influenced the orientation of both the NPI and Synaspismos. The element that really frustrated some individuals inside and outside the Institute was the adoption by the NPI, especially after 2000, of clear positions vis-à-vis the dilemmas that decade presented, utilising the means that best suit a political foundation of the renewing and radical Left. Indeed, the NPI participated – either autonomously or in the context of Transform! – in the movement against neoliberal globalisation, the World Social Forum and the European Social Forum, as well as the pan-European front against the European Constitution and the Bolkenstein Directive, while it also contributed to the deliberations that led to the founding of the Party of the European Left. At the national level, the NPI was present in the struggle against nationalism, racism and religious fanaticism, and also against neoliberal reforms in the pension and educational systems, where it promoted its own studies and alternative proposals. Moreover, the NPI worked towards the organisation of the 4th European Social Forum in Athens. This particular position taken by the Institute obviously affected its identity – it was gradually, even if not explicitly, decided by its governing bodies that the NPI would not be a mere forum for debate, but also an autonomous collective in the context of a broader movement.
This brief report sums up some of the basic choices of the NPI during the first ten years of its existence. Further opportunities to discuss these issues will be offered during the December meeting in Athens, where the representatives of the political foundations will be able to share their experience and views. This will be useful not only for the foundations, but also for the Transform! Network, our common European home.
Translation from Greek: Iraklis Oikonomou