Geladopoulos, Philippos. 1994. Makrónisos: He Megale Sfage, 29 Flevare–1 Marte 1948 (Makrónisos: The Great Massacre, February 29–March 1 1948). Athens: Ekdoseis Alpheios.
Chapter 5. 1946–1949: Emphýlios
War, Roger Caillois reminds us (1959), is the ransom of civilization, the bloodright paid for humanity's exit from the state of nature to inhabit the state of culture. With its sacrifice, bloodright, and the disruption of the everyday by enormity, the horrific, and the transgressive, war, “this terrible ransom paid for the various advantages of civilization causes them to pale and proclaims their fragility” (Callois 1959: 178). There is no advantage of civilization, Callois tells us, on the heels of the Frankfurt School, without its dialectical disadvantages. The dog knows that the hand that caresses its back will soon strike it, Adorno warned. If, however, war circumscribes what civilization is, if civilization cannot emerge without the inaugural moment of war, if polis (“the city”) and pólemos (“war”) are as closely bound as their etymology suggests, then war also exposes what humanity is. Thus, the question of what the human is such that it requires war as an organizing principle, places war at the core of its polis, invites the anthropological project to encounter a political problem, a problem of the polis.
The political subject, the dissident, the Marxist, as simultaneously object and subject of the humanist state is the location where this circumscription of humanity happens as an event. Located in the space of the profane, deeply suspicious of the state's call to sacrifice, the Marxist calls to order the contradictions inherent in the humanist tradition that has produced her, as she stands resolutely antithetical to any sacralization of experience that does not include her (or, rather, explicitly excludes her).
In response to this gesture, the state, always animating sacrifice as the constitutive history of itself (i.e., the state is always founded by the self-sacrifice of its founders, or so the narrative goes), re-produces the category of the Leftist as resolutely nonhuman, since the sacrifice of the Leftist can never be included in or accepted by the liberal state as constitutive. Christianity, through the instantiation of Christ as human (in addition to divine), dislodged the sacrificiality of the selfsame from the realm of totemism, where sacrifice always involves the same animal even if this sameness is purely performative, and reterritorialized it within the realm of political theology. Through that gesture, sacrifice of the self becomes circularly redemptive (Christ sacrificed his human self, which is the only reason why his body could die, in order to save humanity), so that sacrifice of the other becomes impossible because it becomes ineffectual. The other now can only be annihilated, not sacrificed. Therefore, the relegation of the Leftist to the realm of the nonhuman both presupposes and actualizes her untouchability and her unsacrificiability.
“We live in a sacrificial society” is a philosophical announcement whose weight cannot be lifted even by the critical positionalities of those who announce it, such as Irigaray, Derrida, Girard, or Lacan. Are the “desert islands,” then, this sacrificial space par excellence? Are they where the delineation and delimitation of the “human” takes place, so that the act of sacrifice produces the circle of interiority needed by the state? Do the islands engage the Leftist in a sacrificial act that would bring them into the inner circle of the state? On the “islands” the categories of sacrifice collapsed completely, exposing the fissure between the linguistic and semantic appropriation of the concept of sacrifice by the state and the foundational premises of sacrifice as a religious ritual of inclusion. Even if there is any way in which the Leftist can be the subject of a sacrifice, it would be a sacrifice that has no relevance for the state. The state gains nothing by the bodily violence to which the Leftist is subjected for “his own good,” for the attainment of his own purification, for the purge of his own plague, no matter where this Leftist exists, no matter where sovereign power can be located.
Panos Terzopoulos has written about the massacre on Makrónisos when, from February 28 through March 1, 1948, the military police, demanding dēlôseis from the unrepentant soldiers of the First Battalion, raided their tents. Thirty hours or so later, more than two hundred soldiers were dead, but Terzopoulos survived without signing. Perhaps not unexpectedly, it was the prison priest who exposed this fissure: “My child, through torture the human reaches purification,” he would say after the AM had tortured the soldiers (Terzopoulos, in Geladopoulos 1994: 52).
In the words of Bruce Lincoln, “there are more ways than one to sacrifice a human being, and it is not those victims alone who are actually led to the altar who deserve our respect and compassion” (1991: 175). As he further points out, under any circumstances where the specter of sacrifice is raised (metaphorical, linguistic, allegorical, or actual, with the head on the butcher block, so to speak) “far greater sacrifices are required from some members of society than from others, while those who offer the most often reap the leanest rewards” (ibid.). Sacrifice presupposes the presence of a sacrificial victim, one that will be sanctified to the point of becoming untouchable. A pre-Christian Homo sacer, an impossibility.
Polymeris Voglis (2000) has argued what might appear to be the exact opposite of my position, namely, that Leftists saw the executions imposed by the emergency court-martials of the civil war as a sacrifice that gave meaning to death. Voglis has looked at the correspondence of Leftists on death row between 1945 and 1950. In these letters, the pain of death is mitigated by the conviction that the condemned have not “done anything wrong to anybody.” The writers ask their families and loved-ones not to mourn but to remember them and to be proud of them (85). What Voglis reads as sacrifice, though, is what he has correctly identified as self-negation. Self-negation, in this instance, means that the Leftists who were executed chose death—hence the negation of life by their own authority, therefore the negation of the self—over submitting to the humiliation of having their lives evacuated of meaning by signing a dêlosē metanoias. No matter how the Leftists saw their position toward death, however, the state did not acknowledge those deaths as sacrifice. It kept that concept as a prerogative for itself.
Voglis, Polymeris. 2000. “Between Negation and Self-Negation: Political Prisoners in Greece, 1945–1950” In When the War Was Over: Reconstructing the Family, Nation, and State in Greece, 1943–1960, ed. Marc Mazower, 73-91. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
I am asking you to follow a slippery path of thought here. My claim that the Leftist is suspicious of the state's call to sacrifice does not imply that the Leftist herself does not engage in a discourse of or a desire for sacrifice. It means, however, that the Leftist suspects a calculated move in the state's call to sacrifice.
I use the term selfsame to denote the fiction of the self as the same, which is the fiction implicated in the process of totemism as examined in anthropology.
This political theology is by no means confined to any single religion, as we have been witnessing recently in fundamentalist Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism.
The sacrifice of Christ rendered any other homo sacer an impossibility, because the sacrifice of Christ colonized the signifying space of sacrifice while making a pre-Christ time impossible, given that time is counted anew with the moment of the sacrifice of Christ.