History does not pause for a moment. And yet throughout our lives, time is compartmentalised over and over again into fraction after fraction, and the illusion of stagnation lingers. In the endless repetition of the everyday, in the relentless struggle for survival, it is only too easy to deceive ourselves that the wheels of history have been ground to a halt – ever so often, perhaps, that they might actually be moving backward.
Think of this high school teacher in the rural prefecture of Boetia (Greece). In the past two years her salary has been cut by more than one-fifth, now down to just over eight-hundred euros. This year, there are no books. In her building, electricity and heating have been disconnected, the administration being unable to pick up the bills following the latest austerity cuts. Two years ago she lived in year 2009. Today her life, she might very well feel, has plunged into some deep, deep past.
But history does not pause for a moment even if, in the metropoles of the West at least, the neoliberal gloss had near-perfectly veiled its charge-ahead. Here, history had become a frozen backdrop and our cities had turned into mere hosts of perfectly individualised mill-running, a myriad-strong constellation of some self-declared progress. Thatcher never mouthed it but she could have very much done so: there is no such thing as history, only lucrative careers to chase after.
History does not pause for a moment, and there are moments when it goes into fast-forward. Times like ours, when the promise of any lucrative future vanishes, when the last carrot to balance out the stick is gone. Times when the illusion of prosperity goes with a bang, leaving the staggering cold of mere survival for so many, so fast.
In the past few months, weeks, days, history clock’s dials have been spinning like crazy across the Greek territory. The present has become unlivable for so many, it feels, that they have in turn become determined to push through into whatever future. The mind-your-own-business mantra turned into a numb silence for a while, but this silence is now being filled by a subtle, primal roar.
One General Strike after the other, we continuously and constantly delude ourselves that change is round the corner, that a rapturous, Messianic-like event will alter the historical trajectory for good. It has to happen this time, has become a ritualistic pre-demonstration certainty.
But history does not pause on the eve of a general strike. Think of the elderly residents of a block of flats in the Northern Athenian suburb of Nea Filadelfeia. They walked into their emergency assembly determined to spend part of their meager income to repaint their building’s facade, recently ‘tarnished’ by graffiti. Half-way into the assembly the mood had already changed. A new consensus emerged because one of the graffiti slogans stated: “all banks are criminal” – everyone agreed on that, so that one could stay. By the time the assembly had come to a close, the new consensus was for all slogans to remain, and the elderly residents left with a newly-found pride in their building’s fighting spirit.
There is a huge amount at stake in this general strike. But whatever we see and do in the streets of Athens is a mere glimpse of our fast-forward trajectories, of our willingness and our collective ability to push through into the future. Whatever repression we might endure, whatever stubbornness we face from the side of a power still unable to comprehend its time is over, this is our own history that is playing into fast-forward, these are our bright, our vivid, our spotless days that have come._