The shock of the not-so-new: Or, the Greek elections & SYRIZA’s rise

by · June 8, 2012

Alexis Tsipras

Since I last wrote about the situation in Greece the debate I mentioned at the end of my post — about whether all tendencies on the radical Left should get behind the election of a Left government led by SYRIZA — has been hotly debated by various Marxists on the internet. This should not be surprising: The question of which party wins the 17 June election is not an insignificant one. It would be much better if parties committed to breaking with the terms of the socially destructive “bailout” memoranda won out over the old political elites in New Democracy, PASOK and various smaller formations who are committed to maintaining Greece’s position in the Eurozone by acceding to the Troika’s demands for catastrophic austerity measures.

Not only would this be a massive blow to the state and business elites who want the costs of economic crisis to be borne by ordinary people in the Eurozone “periphery”, it would be a clear political signal that Greeks refuse to support parties that want to implement austerity.

As I pointed out last time the implementation of the “memoranda” provoked a number of developments within Greek society. Most important among these is a process of what Marx called the “absolute immiseration” of the working class through measures such as deep wage cuts, massive job losses and wholesale destruction of government funded social provision. This is a scale of suffering in the same league as that experienced in the darkest days of Weimar Germany.

But Greeks have not just been passive victims of this process. There has been social resistance on a mass scale, easily the highest level of any advanced capitalist country in recent years. Despite the initial dead hand of the trade union leaders in the early days of the PASOK-led 2009-11 government, they eventually felt pressured to call 17 general strikes. This has given confidence to many workers to organise locally and in many places with some level of independence from the trade union bureaucracy. There have also been inspiring occupations of workplaces, including at least one hospital and a major newspaper.

In addition there have been all kinds of other creative protest movements — radical community-based “don’t pay” groups, for example. Then the square protests in Egypt and Spain were echoed in Athens’ Syntagma Square and elsewhere in June and July 2011. The latter captured not just the spirit of resistance but were hotbeds of discussion about what kind of society needed to be constructed as an alternative to austerity.

Politics below and above

Most accounts situate the highpoint of the movement in the workplaces and streets in October 2011. In this period three parties to the Left of PASOK benefited the most from the collapse in its polling. Most prominent was the Stalinist KKE (from 7.5 percent in 2009 to around 12 percent in October 2011), but SYRIZA (4.6 to 9 percent) and the right-wing SYRIZA split DIMAR (formed in 2010, up to 4.5 percent) also benefited.

But these numbers hide a different story in terms of consciousness, one much more fluid and contradictory. Reading mass consciousness off polling or electoral results for particular parties creates more confusion than it resolves. This is even more so when events move as rapidly as in Greece.

For example, in May 2011 Public Issue’s poll of voting intentions showed PASOK at 32, ND at 29, KKE at 12, LAOS at 8, SYRIZA at 6.5 and DIMAR at 3.5. At the same time the company ran a detailed survey of social attitudes to the crisis, which also covered participation in and attitudes to the cycle of protests.  It found that some 28 percent of the population had participated in at least one significant protest activity in the previous 12 months, more concentrated among younger people, and heavily concentrated among KKE and SYRIZA supporters. These numbers would have increased dramatically in the months after, with the squares protests and ever-bigger mass strikes.

There were high levels of hostility to the European Central Bank and the Euro was overwhelmingly experienced as “simply a common currency” rather than a sign of any “Europeaness”. Blame for the crisis was mostly directed against the Greek political class, with the major parties and politicians in general being deeply mistrusted and accounting for most of the blame for the public debt. Some 33 percent believed that “our society must change radically through revolution”, although this may not mean left-wing revolution as 34 percent of people who voted for ND in 2009 agreed! Interestingly the numbers for KKE voters (50 percent) was higher than for SYRIZA voters (33 percent).

In November Prime Minister George Papandreou announced and then (under pressure from the Troika) withdrew a referendum intended to give him a mandate for austerity. This was quickly followed by the centre-Right New Democracy party (and some harder neoliberal groups like LAOS) agreeing to enter a government of national unity, which then immediately ceded its powers to “technocratic” rule under Lucas Papademos, a former head of the Central Bank of Greece.

These moves were precipitated by the collapse of even passive popular consent for austerity. By pressuring ND — which had formerly argued against signing the bailouts on largely opportunistic grounds — to join the government, the hope among elites was for a breathing space under Papademos before a big victory for ND in the May elections. ND’s vote had at this stage waned to the low 30s but would still have put it clearly in front.

However, the entry of the Right into this arrangement only served to detonate an electoral explosion of the most dramatic kind. All the parties of the government took massive hits as the political order that had dominated Greece since the end of military rule in 1974 simply fell apart. DIMAR initially surged to 15 percent in early 2012 but its vacillation about austerity led its support to atrophy. SYRIZA not only jumped to over 12 percent in January but continued to rise while DIMAR’s support fell away and the KKE was squeezed. I relay this story because it is important to grasp how quickly the balance of electoral forces changed and point to its essential fragility.

To add to this, the social attitudes data has been consistent in eliciting disdain for the entire political class. This is not so different to many other rich capitalist nations (Australia included). The novelty in Greece is how spectacularly the old political order has cracked up in a very short period of time under the pressure of austerity. It is therefore dangerous to presume that SYRIZA, now rising even higher in the polls as the electorate polarises around it and ND, has been able to magically repair these high levels of cynicism. Just because a muscular Left reformism can electorally position itself in a major crisis it does not mean that all those who vote for it see it as an accurate reflection of their consciousness or aspirations.

Furthermore, any hope that there is any stability to this electoral rearrangement is likely to be dashed by the material realities of the crisis. Excitement for SYRIZA’s rise needs to be tempered by its roots in a negative process — of political collapse and the exhaustion of “democracy as usual”.

Limits to the recomposition around SYRIZA

Yet despite this (very recent) history, some Marxists seem to have decided that the key task for Greek revolutionaries is to not stand outside SYRIZA in the elections because that would split the potential vote for a Left government. Some go further and argue that the KKE and Antarsya should join an electoral united front with SYRIZA or even join SYRIZA itself, because it allows multiple currents to co-exist with its Eurocommunist majority. Those advocating variations of these strategies seem to have decided that calling Antarsya’s constituents “sectarian”, “abstentionist”, “lunatic”, “irrelevant” and various other far Left epithets is a useful way to convince comrades of the error of their ways.

I’d like to leave that overheated rhetoric aside to focus on the minimalist position put by Richard Seymour, who blogs very well indeed at Lenin’s Tomb. I think there are three key problems with Richard’s presentation of his case.

Firstly, he has altogether too much respect for the power of official politics in a crisis. Richard writes that the final result on 6 May indicates that, “Syriza haven’t just won people on their main programmatic points; they’ve won the trust of millions of workers and, at that, the most radicalised workers.” Yet, as I have tried to show above, such a conclusion is very hard to sustain in such a volatile situation where a key trend has been the absolute mistrust of politicians and government. Oddly, he follows this by arguing that the mass struggles were not the direct basis for the SYRIZA vote. I can agree with this — SYRIZA has benefitted electorally from the collapse in support for parties soft on austerity — but without the 17 general strikes it is hard to imagine the bulk of anti-austerity votes going to the Left of PASOK. But it would seem from this line of argument that Richard is suggesting that “the most radicalised workers” can be won to a Left anti-austerity government independent of the mass struggles they have been involved in.

The problem with all this is that political radicalisation doesn’t occur in a separate space — the sphere of electoral politics — independent of other social processes. Rather, such radicalisation can often occur while people remain wedded to old electoral allegiances or look to “the best of a bad bunch” of parliamentary parties. And history — not just the present moment — weighs on electoral choices. Thus Richard doesn’t give enough weight to SYRIZA’s long history of plugging away electorally, making it a more electorally credible alternative than Antarsya, which is just three years old. He also fails to see how Antarsya is trying to bridge the gap between the radicalisation on the streets and workplaces and the politics of the electoral sphere. Thus, he worries too much about the logic of votes and not enough about what an electoral united front around a genuinely anti-capitalist program means for the militants Antarsya influences on the ground. Dropping that for an apparently all-important election so as to critically support SYRIZA strikes me as the surest way for Antarsya to prove its lack of seriousness in pursuing its electoral strategy. Either Antarsya’s analysis that the crisis requires an anti-capitalist transitional program to be put in the electoral sphere is right or it’s not, but half-heartedly implementing it would be far more destructive than possibly taking an expected hit in a very polarised (and quite unusual) election.

Similarly, Richard poses SYRIZA’s verbal commitment to saving the Eurozone as a clever strategy to avoid taking blame for a forced Grexit. This may be so, but determining whether it is clever or dangerous rests on whether the key issue is maintaining electoral popularity in the future or preparing the workers’ movement politically for such an eventuality. My own view is that the SYRIZA leadership are deeply committed to the single currency project, but Richard may be right and they may be telling big fat lies. In that case, I fail to see how those lies are anything but detrimental to the political clarity of militants on the ground. It’s not just that SYRIZA say this because they are not Marxists; it’s that their strategy is on this point antithetical to building the strongest resistance to austerity on the ground. SYRIZA may be acknowledging that for most voters the EU is not the main point of division in the way that the KKE poses it, but it is also actively disarming them from recognising that Euro membership is the key cleavage in terms of the imperialist structures that are driving austerity.

Secondly, Richard makes the claim that SYRIZA “aren’t classical reformists”. It is true SYRIZA is quite unlike mainstream social democratic parties of the last 30 years, but that blurs the more important issue which is these parties’ strategic orientation towards the capitalist state. In this SYRIZA’s approach overlaps much more with that of mainstream social democracy than that of the more radical anti-capitalist Antarsya. That is, Antarsya posits its program as one around which workers can organise themselves politically to take Greek society forward. SYRIZA, despite its support for social movements and the belief by some in its ranks that popular struggles will be needed to help a Left government stay true to its promise, treats government as the agent of change.

To point this out is not to predict “betrayal”, but to grasp the nature of the state as that subset of capitalist social relations especially dedicated to governing over the subaltern classes. The state is “hegemony armoured by coercion” in Gramsci’s famous phrase. Participation in government, effectively taking responsibility for running the capitalist state, has severe costs. Once parties take on this responsibility (one that is usually rewarded with very little actual control over most of the state machine except where it coincides with what the unelected state elites will tolerate) they are not just pulled by mass movements on the one side and capitalists on the other. Rather, they become part of the mechanism of capitalist rule. Overcoming this is many orders of magnitude harder than the more straightforward role reformist organisations play in mediating class antagonisms in opposition. Thus there is a long tradition of revolutionaries arguing that their role is to always be “in opposition” to governments of the capitalist state, and the question of “workers’ governments” has always been contentious. There is little sense of this dimension in Richard’s account of possibilities for a Left government. It is even less apparent among SYRIZA’s other boosters on the revolutionary Left, for example the DEA (one of the Marxist currents within SYRIZA), which argues: “Only through a government of the left can the Memorandum can be overthrown in a manner that is in the interests of workers. Such a government would … [cue long list of radical reforms]”.

Thirdly, Richard has a tendency to attack those he disagrees with for a particular method of argument and then do the same thing in defence of his position. In particular he argues, “it is very well to criticise what Syriza has actually said and done, but it isn’t necessary to second guess what Syriza will do.” Yet just above he attacks those who engage in “tutting, sighing, and fanning of armpits over Tsipras chatting up the G20” — when pointing to this is about underlining the continuity in what SYRIZA has said and done, i.e. explicitly looking for partner states for its shift from austerity to growth politics. It becomes increasingly less clear which bit of empirical evidence about SYRIZA’s limits one is allowed to point to in debating with Richard. Further, he himself engages in massive speculation about what SYRIZA “will do” — not just whether it will stick to its two core promises, but the effects this will have on the struggle. His speculation that an ND win will cause “demoralising splits and recriminations” on the Left strikes me as the worst kind of crystal ball gazing, not to mention a case of hinging a complex process of social conflict on the outcome of a single election.

Finally, Richard has in various places made much of the newness of the current situation, reflected in part in his characterisation of SYRIZA’s atypical reformism. There is much that is historically unprecedented for us to think about. But there are also many parallels with past situations. These are not “sterile debates” but an attempt to marshal theory based in careful examination of history to the current set of circumstances. The experiences of Weimar Germany and the Popular Front government in France in the mid-1930s seem particularly apposite. They teach us not only the excitement that the victory of a Left government can bring but the very tricky realpolitik that is necessary to both relate to the excitement and to pose a clear anti-capitalist alternative to it as the solution to the crisis. I fear Richard has collapsed too many variables into an electoral outcome to be able to provide useful guidance on that score.

[EDIT: I confusingly called LAOS a harder neoliberal formation. They are, rather, a far Right, Euro-fascist party which keenly supported neoliberal austerity measures. Thanks to Luke Stobart for pulling me up on that.]

Discussion18 Comments

  1. Quick responses to the disputes with my piece: 1) “it would seem that “the most radicalised workers” can be won to a Left anti-austerity government independent of the mass struggles they have been involved in.” I don’t argue this at all; it’s a misreading of my position to say that “the mass struggles were not the direct basis for the SYRIZA vote”. I say that it was a necessary condition, a basis, but not a sufficient basis. As such, the idea that I think of political radicalisation as occuring in a space separate from and independent of other social processes is completely mistaken. 2) “Richard poses SYRIZA’s verbal commitment to saving the Eurozone as a clever strategy to avoid taking blame for a forced Grexit” In fact, I don’t say that. What I say is that their argument that the EU’s masters will see an interest in not allowing Greece to default and exit is likely a knowing bluff. I also don’t call it a ‘clever strategy’. I say it rests on a fudge, which must be rejected by marxists. 3) “the more important issue which is these parties’ strategic orientation towards the capitalist state … they become part of the mechanism of capitalist rule.” I think we’ve had some of this argument before, and I maintained (in this case consistently with works by other IS authors) that the decisive issue regarding reformism was its mediating role in the class struggle. Now, I certainly think the balance of forces within Syriza tends to favour such a mediating role. But when I say they are not ‘classical reformists’, I mean – as I outlined – that the diversity of forces within the organisation, and the peculiar history of its evolution means it is far more rooted in new social movements and more comfortable with extra-parliamentary political struggles than conventional social democratic parties. It simply means that the organisation has to be approached as a particularly atypical kind of reformism, meaning that the analysis of why it gets support can’t be reduced to “reformism is a first port of call” etc. 4) “there is a long tradition of revolutionaries arguing that their role is to always be “in opposition” to governments of the capitalist state”. But I have not called for Antarsya to join the government, and I am for them holding such a government’s feet to the flames. However, there is also a long tradition of revolutionaries giving critical support to radical left parties, or even much less radical forces, in parliamentary elections. This is what I am calling for here. 5) “he attacks those who engage in “tutting, sighing, and fanning of armpits over Tsipras chatting up the G20” — when pointing to this is about underlining the continuity in what SYRIZA has said and done”. I’m sorry, but I saw several posts about this, talking about how it showed that the reformists had been scared by big capital, that they were compromising already, etc. There was a widespread circulation of a piece in The Guardian talking about how Syriza had suddenly changed tack – there was no change at all. Politically, Syriza was saying exactly what it had always said. And frankly, I don’t see the big deal. Any left government is going to end up having to talk to these people: the question is whether in doing so it betrays its base. So far, Syriza hasn’t. 6) “His speculation that an ND win will cause “demoralising splits and recriminations” on the Left strikes me as the worst kind of crystal ball gazing, not to mention a case of hinging a complex process of social conflict on the outcome of a single election.” This is a pretty wild extrapolation from what I did say, to a conclusion which I didn’t reach. I do not hinge the whole complex process of social conflict on the outcome of a single election, at all. I do specifically say that it would be a nodal point, not the end point, in the process of workers finding the solution to their problem. I do say that the election is of considerable strategic moment; that a ND win would be a defeat for the Left and the workers’ movement; that it would hand the initiative back to the bourgeoisie; that it would demoralise millions of workers who are already despairing. Frankly, I do not see this as crystal-ball-gazing: it is rather more in the way of stating the nose-bleedingly obvious. 7) “the very tricky realpolitik that is necessary to both relate to the excitement and to pose a clear anti-capitalist alternative to it as the solution to the crisis. I fear Richard has collapsed too many variables into an electoral outcome to be able to provide useful guidance on that score.” Unfortunately, this conclusion rests on a series of – as I’ve shown above – misinterpretations, some of them wild. I do not at all dispute that there is a need to pose a clear anti-capitalist alternative; nor do I say that all the complex variables of this situation are reducible to this election. I do say that this election is important, and that the best possible outcome in this circumstance will be a success for the radical left. On this basis, I suggest that the other left parties should support Syriza’s call for a workers’ government to oppose austerity, and that were we in a similar situation, we as revolutionaries should do the same.

  2. John Mullen says:

    Obviously a key interest for revolutionaries is how to persuade more people to become revolutionaries. Otherwise we might as well go home and repaint our bathrooms. This is generally done by showing in practice and in argument that revolutionary ideas explain better, and that the tactics proposed by revolutionaries are more effective. This can often be quite difficult to do, naturally. From this perspective, one of the questions for revolutionaries in Greece is to decide whether joining the active struggle for the possibility of a Syriza government will mean working alongside more people who are both committed to fighting hard for workers interests and who are open to new (to them) explanations of what is going on and how to win. That is, will it mean having a wider, more interested and more interesting audience for revolutionary ideas? It is often found that fighting alongside non-revolutionaries for key advances means they are more likely to listen. I think this would be the case, and it is better to support Syriza. Thir argument does not only rely on specific ideas of what Syriza’s leadership will do next. We can’t be sure, but there is a lot of precedent for thinking that the pressure could at some point be so strong, from the bourgeoisie, that a good chunk of the Syriza leadership might accept a rotten compromise. But, of and when they do, the influence of revolutionary alternatives may well depend on how big and interested an audience they have managed to build.

  3. Dr_Tad says:

    Thanks for replying, Richard. I’ll try to be even briefer

    (1) I was trying to point out how the locus of radicalisation is not at all clear in your piece, even confused. I still think it’s unclear what mediations you think operate between the social struggles and politics.

    (2) I think you have repeatedly implied praise for its cleverness. At least once on my FB page (about a day ago): “I think the problem is not a lack of clarity on the euro question. It is that they are determined not to be blamed for Greece being forced out. That, however, is completely understandable given the shitstorm that will hit Greece when this happens.”

    I think the reason I can so easily read you like this is that you pose the centrality of the electoral moment so strongly that it implies you think the fudge is not as bad as everyone else thinks (at least for now).

    (3) Which IST authors are they? I think Cliff & Gluckstein’s book on the Labour Party makes this complex issue crystal clear. Indeed, what distinguishes the IS tradition is its hostility to the state, based in part on its clarity on the issue of state capitalism. Eurocommunists (nor, it appears, their comrades in the DEA) don’t share that hostility. Again, I fail to see what is so “atypical” about SYRIZA’s reformism (even if every party has its own unique history and composition).

    (4) I didn’t say you were asking them to join the government.

    (5) You pulled up my “Sigh” (exact quote) about the G20 report on my FB page. People point to things like this for different reasons but here you imply that it’s mainly been raised about this “betrayal” narrative. In the debates I’ve seen you engage in on FB, most interlocutors who disagree with you on the broad question of SYRIZA have also been very clear to repudiate the “betrayal” meme. Yet you keep raising it. Knocking down the argument may be easy money but it strikes me as more playing to the audience than advancing a difficult debate.

    (6) You and I obviously understand “hinge” differently. It’s your exaggeration of the centrality of this “nodal point” that runs through your whole post (and much else I’ve read from you elsewhere) that I’m talking about. You repeat it here. Also, it seems “nose-bleedingly obvious” that an ND victory, while a setback, can lead to a number of likely other scenarios, including a ramping up of the extra parliamentary struggle and/or a further collapse of authority for the state.

    (7) That’s just about the fact we disagree.

  4. 1) There is no confusion. You did rather jump to the conclusion that I was denying a direct determining role of the social struggles in producing political radicalisation, and that I was implying a separation between politics and social struggles. Now, I wasn’t doing that. In fact, I wasn’t even commenting on political radicalisation in general, but trying to specify exactly how Syriza came to be the dominant electoral force. It was on that basis that I pointed out that the level of struggle as a determining factor in Syriza’s rise is important, but not adequate. So, when you say it’s not clear what mediations I think operate between social struggles and politics, I can only say that it’s a red herring. It has no immediate bearing on what I was arguing, and whether my argument is admissible. 2) I have not ‘implied cleverness’, as you now claim. The quote you are referring to says their stance is ‘understandable’, meaning comprehensible, meaning you can empathise with those who want to adopt such a bluff, because of the difficulty of their situation. It doesn’t at all say that it’s clever and – as I pointed out – the article to which you are responding specifically disallows this position. 3) Well, for example: http://www.isj.org.uk/index.php4?id=700=129 I don’t have Cliff and Gluckstein’s book to hand, but my recall is that this was their analysis. The point here was that while for Miliband reformism was distinguished by a belief in the neutrality of the state (actually, not all reformists believed in this), for us reformism was/is distinguished by its mediating role in the class struggle. You say you ‘fail to see’ what is atypical about Syriza’s reformism. But this is airy hand-waving. I have said why I think Syriza’s reformism is not typical. You give a gestural response – of course every party has its own unique history etc etc. That’s a way of *not* dealing with the argument. So, in fact, you ‘fail to see’ because to decline to do so. It would be far more productive to engage with the specifics in detail, even if you *are* growing impatient and rather pissed off. 4) Nonetheless, somehow I am taxed with not understanding that revolutionaries must be in permanent opposition to governments of the capitalist state. It is not clear in what sense this can be so, unless I expect Antarsya to drop its opposition as soon as Syriza is elected, a prospect I specifically exclude. 5) I haven’t seen any interlocutors actually ‘repudiate the “betrayal” meme’. It would be hard to do so since the posts I mentioned were actually participating in that meme. As regards your own post, I simply wanted to point out that there was nothing to ‘sigh’ about. They were meeting with G20 leaders. Big deal. If and when they’re elected, they will have to talk to all manner of capitalists and bureaucrats. The question will be what pressure the latter exert, and how much Syriza concedes. 6) You say I exaggerate the centrality of this ‘nodal point’, but have nowhere shown how this is so. I would esteem it a compliment if you would do so. 7) It’s not entirely about disagreement. Plainly we do disagree. But as I pointed out, you misrepresented my position in rather wild and fanciful ways. That isn’t a disagreement, it’s just misrepresentation. I’m not saying you did so on purpose – clearly, there’s a basis for misunderstanding in arguments such as these. But I am saying that when it’s pointed out, it might not be too much to ask that this be acknowledged.

    • Dr_Tad says:

      (1) I’ve gone back and read your post. It is entirely unclear and open to multiple interpretations. It is annoying to find you responding not with a clarification of what you’re saying but deciding that my concern is a “red herring” and talking about whether or not your argument (whatever that is) is “admissible”. This is like arguing with a lawyer, not someone who wants to clarify their political position.

      (2) I don’t buy this. You may not use the word “clever” but you give so much ground to the “shitstorm” argument that the implication is clear that this represents more than just “understandable” positioning.

      (3) I’m not going to back down on the key issue of organised reformism’s strategy vis-a-vis the state, but for the sake of argument if the mediation issue is more important then I still don’t see what is so atypical about SYRIZA. Don’t come the “airy hand-waving” at me; you mention SYRIZA’s origins, historical shifts and composition but none of these make it “atypical”. It’s just not “typical” social democratic or Labourist, but last I looked the IS tradition didn’t reduce reformism to these two types.

      (4) I wasn’t taxing you with that. I was putting forward my understanding as part of a wider argument.

      (5) Maybe you should quote some examples of the meme, because I keep seeing accusations that it’s everywhere but I must also be excluded from those circles that keep raising it. Poor choice of FB friends on my part, obvs.

      (6) It is my opinion that your whole post is an exaggeration of this nodal point. Please note again this is not an evidentiary hearing but a political disagreement.

      (7) Your argument becomes ever less clear the more I read it and your re-interpretations of it. Sorry.

      • Dear Tad,

        If you think I have argued like a lawyer, perhaps it is because your approach is redolent of a malicious prosecutor. That is, you have confected a series of charges, and expect me to prove my innocence – whereas it should be sufficient for me to simply show that your charges are based on nothing. And you’ve become extremely short-tempered as I’ve done so.

        You say that my argument in the post is not clear. Let us review. This is what I said:

        “It is also true, but inadequate, to say that Syriza is the beneficiary
        of militant struggles including 17 general strikes, several mass
        demonstrations, workplace occupations, and the spread of rank and file
        organisation. Syriza has benefited from this, but it has not been as
        important to these struggles as the KKE, so it was not inevitable that
        it should do so.”

        I consider this a very clear statement that Syriza’s position *is* partially determined by the social struggles. From this, you inferred that I meant that Syriza had not benefited directly from these militant struggles, and that political radicalisation was separate from industrial and social struggles. It is quite reasonable for me to point out that this is not what I said. In response you said that I wasn’t clear on what were the mediations between political radicalisation and social struggles. But this way of putting the question implies a separation whose existence I don’t assert; in fact, I would positively refute it. That being the case, it has no bearing on my argument. So, it is surely reasonable for me to point out that I think the question is a red herring.

        In the remainder of what you say, I am ready to take some of your points and not others. Regarding point two, I say that you’re over-interpreting my remarks, and ignoring others. You are entitled to ‘buy’ what you will, of course, but I make it *very clear* in this post that I don’t accept Syriza’s position on the EU, because it is a fudge. The burden of my argument regarding the potentially catastrophic consequences of ‘Grexit’ (and we have to take this seriously) is precisely what I said: it makes Syriza’s position ‘understandable’, as a short-term political gambit. It doesn’t make it ‘clever’. But since this is not, as you keep pointing out, an evidentiary hearing, I won’t keep defending myself as if before a tribunal – if you insist you know what I *really* mean, and that is the opposite of what I really say, then you are entitled to the thought.

        On point three, I would say that your belligerence and hectoring demeanour isn’t going to stop me calling your position ‘airy hand-waving’. I have described a fusion between Eurocommunists, Maoists and Trotskyists, built on the basis of social movements, as an atypical form of reformism. Notice that I don’t completely reject the label reformism – I merely qualify it with the label ‘atypical’. (This is a clarification, though I think it is perfectly obvious in the original post). This means that as far as the mediating role is concerned, I fully expect the dominant forces in Syriza to pursue a reformist strategy. As I’ve said a few times. You retort as if in saying it is ‘atypical’, I mean it is ‘not reformist at all’. You point out that Syriza is not typical social democratic or Labourist, but that the IS doesn’t reduce reformism to those types. What you might have also said is that reformism, while not *reducible* to its Labourist and social democratic variants, is *most typically* found in its Labourist and social democratic variants. It is *not* most typically found in an alliance built out of elements of Eurocommunism and revolutionary socialism. That it *has been*, and that Syriza is predominantly a left reformist organisation of a certain type, I do not doubt. But it is not typical.

        And I also think that to explain Syriza’s rise as a type of left-reformist force, to use short-hand, you have to account for its roots in the new social movements, as well as in the Greek communist movement; its role in the Greek protest movement, for all of its limits; its construction out of a broad spectrum of revolutionary and reformist groups; its continued shift to the left under considerable pressure and despite it costing votes for a long time; etc. In other words, you have to account for the factors that make it different from the usual pattern of reformism.

        I accept point four; I’m ignoring point five completely, for reasons which should be obvious; on point six, of course this is not an ‘evidentiary hearing’, but political disagreements tend to be based on facts, logic, proofs, etc. It’s not unreasonable for me ask you to explain *how* you judge my post to exaggerate the importance of the election. Since this is a serious criticism, an antagonistic one and not merely an expression of difference, then it is the sort of criticism that calls for some justification.

        On your last point, I’ll just say that I think your invocation of ‘clarity’ is serving an ideological purpose here. That is to say, clearly you profoundly disagree with my assessment of the politics of the situation in Greece. And in attacking it, you have reduced my position to a few straw men: caricatured and stereotyped positions which it is rather easy to refute. And in order to keep doing so, in spite of obvious refutation, you complain that my arguments aren’t clear and even becoming less so over time – you don’t have to show how my arguments are unclear, or demonstrate where I contradict myself, or are ambiguous. It is sufficient for you to invoke it. Yet, when asked to clarify your own arguments – that is to say, justify them, support them with argument or evidence, or *something* – you act as if I’m doing you a massive discourtesy. I am simply taking your arguments seriously.

        At any rate, given the nasty, belligerent tone of your latest, and your insinuating manner, and your way of talking over me as if you know better than I what I really mean, I don’t think you can be convinced. And, alas, that is your problem, not mine.

        • Dr_Tad says:

          Richard, I have not been trying to “hector” or “prosecute” you. Nor did I intend to be “nasty” “belligerent” or “insinuating”. I was expressing my frustration at your method of argumentation which, in my experience, you often engage in whenever you have sharp disagreements with people who you don’t consider to be merely right-wing idiots (I accept it is possible you think I am an idiot, but I’m pretty sure you don’t think I’m right-wing). That is, rather than respond to the substantive political points of disagreement they are making you engage in trying to prove individual sentences or paragraphs *clearly* meant something other than you’re being taxed with thinking, or that your interlocutor isn’t able to “substantiate” their point of disagreement (usually it seems the bar for this is set impossibly high). It means the debate gets stuck on small fragments of an argument, sometimes individual words, and it slips away from the fact that those debating you are trying to engage with your broader argument.

          Let’s go back to my post, which was my attempt to engage with three problems I saw in your *overall* argument.

          I read your post multiple times and took it very seriously indeed. You make a general analysis of the sources and natures of SYRIZA’s support which is qualified in so many ways I still believe it is open to interpretation in the way I outlined: That is, as *contradictory*. I read the detailed mediations and qualifications as serving your central point, which is your critique of Antarsya’s decision to stand on 17 June in the context of understanding the significance of SYRIZA’s rise. I presumed the whole post was an attempt at making a coherent, interlocked argument. You *clearly* raised how the radicalisation has connected with the sphere of official politics as central to your substantive argument (otherwise it’s a very odd non sequitur). That’s why I spent so much time on the details of the mass struggle and its relation to empirical polling and social attitudes data (although of course such data is limited by its nature, at least it points to something about mass consciousness). I did this in order to set the scene for my disagreement with you.

          The FIRST statement I really wanted to challenge was this: “Syriza haven’t just won people on their main programmatic points; they’ve won the trust of millions of workers and, at that, the most radicalised workers.” It is a very strong statement. It matches your conclusions but doesn’t match the qualified (and confusing) picture of mass consciousness you construct. It certainly doesn’t match the timeline and data I marshalled in disagreement. You’ve not responded to the rest of my first disagreement — as if my inability to find clear backing to your strong statement is a sign of my misinterpreting this or that sentence, not of the weakness of the argument you marshal. Can’t you understand why I am befuddled and frustrated by your responses?

          On the SECOND issue, I now understand what you mean by “atypical” reformism. But I am even more confused because I cannot see what relevance it has to *this* debate about Antarsya’s approach to SYRIZA in the election. You now write: “And I also think that to explain Syriza’s rise as a type of left-reformist force, to use short-hand, you have to account for its roots in the new social movements, as well as in the Greek communist movement; its role in the Greek protest movement, for all of its limits; its construction out of a broad spectrum of revolutionary and reformist groups; its continued shift to the left under considerable pressure and despite it costing votes for a long time; etc. In other words, you have to account for the factors that make it different from the usual pattern of reformism.”

          Well of course that tells us about SYRIZA’s specificities (I would disagree with some of your emphases but none of them matters to the overall issue). Yet surely these specificities are of secondary importance when a coalition of revolutionaries with significant roots in the mass struggles is trying to decide whether to not pose its program on the electoral stage, in part in opposition to SYRIZA, in a very polarised election? You need to make a much clearer point about these specificities having a decisive influence on this question. I’m not saying you don’t have one, but it’s not evident in your post.

          On the THIRD issue, your tendency to set one set of rules for your defence of SYRIZA and another for those criticising it, I think this still stands. It is in this form of special pleading that comments about SYRIZA’s “understandable” tactics strike me as an infatuation with electoral spin in bourgeois politics. Otherwise why not *simply* call them for what they are: Reformist, Europeanist arguments that sow confusion among SYRIZA’s supporters and the Left more widely? You have to understand why — in the context of your overall line of argument — these comments come across this way (even if that is not what you intend).

          I’ll add this: I’ve asked for an example of the “betrayal” meme and you don’t provide it. I can’t do anything about that. I can honestly only recall seeing it referred to by yourself and others as a bad argument. I agree it’s a bad argument, but I worry that it has not really been doing the rounds. Rather, that it has been inferred from something else that has been said clearly: A cautioning against getting carried away about SYRIZA as something more than the (very interesting, very specific) Left reformist formation it is. The whole point of my raising reformist strategy towards the state is that I think you don’t see what severe constraints such engagement puts on even the most radical Left parties. It is pretty absent from your argument around SYRIZA, and that worries me, because I think you are creating a set of dangerous illusions around what can happen from here. I think you see bourgeois politics as too autonomous from this question (let alone from the dynamics of mass struggle).

          All this I would much rather debate than issues of misinterpretation of this or that sentence.

  5. jeff says:

    I remain entirely unconvinced.
    The situation Tad describes seems exactly one in which the Left needs to be responding to mass working class enthusiasm for Syriza in the face of the massive establishment hysteria not by saying, first and foremost, to Syriza’s backers, ‘You are wrong!’ (which is what standing candidates against Syrirza surely represents) but by rather saying, ‘We are with you,’ in precisely the way Lenin describes when talking about Britain in the 1920s. That does not prevent the conversation extending to the limitations of the syriza program or the need for extraparliamentary mobilisations or whatever: it just means that those discussions begin from an assertion of solidarity rather than an immediate contradiction of ordinary people’s concerns.
    What’s more, the notion of an ‘an electoral united front around a genuinely anti-capitalist program’ seems like a recipe for muddle. The traditional point of the UF is to win reformist workers through their own experience to a ‘genuinely anti-capitalist program’, via struggle. Instead of that, Tad’s formulation seems to make acceptance of an ‘anti-capitalist program’ a precondition.
    That’s why I’d align myself with the ‘overheated rhetoric’ Tad condemns. Given Syriza is a coalition and given (unless I’ve misunderstood) it allows its members to put forward their own publications, hold their own meetings and so on, I don’t understand the logic of not joining it. If you can be part of the organisation at the centre of the most important struggle taking place in Europe, and, by doing so, place yourself in contact with a mass audience of radicalising workers — even as you make your own propaganda and put forward your own analysis — why on earth wouldn’t you?

    • Dr_Tad says:

      Jeff, you say there is “mass working class enthusiasm for Syriza” but this is an assertion often repeated and rarely substantiated. It seems to me that most of case for joining SYRIZA rests on this, yet the rapidity of electoral shifts in recent months and the long-run trend of disdain for electoral politics is much more suggestive of hopes being parked in a series of possible electoral solutions. We can all wish there was mass enthusiasm for SYRIZA of the type you describe but it is hard to see a material basis for it.

      I also can’t grasp why you think Britain in the 1920s is the model rather than, say, Germany or France. The only analogous element I can think of is that the Labour Party allowed various internal tendencies. But the Labour Party was also *the* party of the trade unions in a way that SYRIZA definitely is nowhere near being or feasibly becoming. Lenin also argued for British communists to enter because the post-WWI revolutionary wave had ebbed and there was a need to counter the isolation of a Communist Party with relatively limited roots in the workers’ movement . The depth of crisis was also much less pronounced than what exists in Greece today.

      The problem with raising the need for an “assertion of solidarity” is that there has been much solidarity painstakingly built on the ground since 2009, most with little reference to electoral matters. Antarsya (and even more so the KKE) have been at the heart of this process, within the mass struggles, along with all manner of tendencies that have little to do with SYRIZA. I’m not trying to pay out on SYRIZA here, but it is simply not a combat organisation in any sense of the word. It has simply not played that role precisely because it has been much more focused on official-electoral politics.

      I think this is the point that many critics of Antarsya’s existence fail to grasp: The attempt by a series of revolutionary groups to project a transitional program in the electoral sphere comes not just from the objective situation but from the coalition’s constituents having enough weight in the mass struggle to try to do so. Having a “genuinely anti-capitalist program” means what I said: “Antarsya posits its program as one around which workers can organise themselves politically to take Greek society forward. SYRIZA, despite its support for social movements and the belief by some in its ranks that popular struggles will be needed to help a Left government stay true to its promise, treats government as the agent of change.” Furthermore, SYRIZA’s deep commitment to the Euro is a key weakness that seriously inhibits clarity about what is at stake for Greece. These are crucial differences in Greece in a way they are not in Australia or Germany (for example) where the level of struggle is very low by comparison.

      The perspective you put forward, suggesting to revolutionaries to “place yourself in contact with a mass audience of radicalising workers” by joining SYRIZA, is one that might apply to a tiny group of revolutionaries with no base inside the mass struggles of the last few years, but it is not one size fits all. The judgement the comrades in Antarsya have made to build it may be proven right or wrong in the longer run, but it is one that has to be assessed by looking at what the actual situation is rather than applying a generic formula.

      • jeff says:

        ‘The judgement the comrades in Antarsya have made to build it may be proven right or wrong in the longer run, but it is one that has to be assessed by looking at what the actual situation is rather than applying a generic formula.’
        OK, that’s fine, and I accept there’s a general difficulty in assessing this stuff from so far away, particularly when the information one gets is so contradictory.
        All the same, I would have thought the onus is on those putting such a counter-intuitive perspective as the one you’re advocating to make the case.
        You say that the rise of Syriza represents ‘hopes being parked in a series of possible electoral solutions’ rather than mass enthusiasm. That might be true but we’re not talking about an orientation for all time. Rather, we’re discussing a perspective about a crucial election, in which all of the European establishment opposes Syriza. In that particular context, in a poll that’s incredibly polarised, what will be gained in standing against Syriza, particularly when no-one, not even its members, seems to be suggesting Antarsya will do well?
        You seem to be arguing that a vote for Syriza signals an opposition to mass action. But it’s perfectly possible to vote for a party, even as you argue that voting matters less than extra parliamentary action. Hence my reference to Lenin and the Labour Party. The ultralefts then would have been equally entitled to make your argument — think of Willie Gallacher’s disgust at the ‘shameless servility’ of the Labour leaders. Bear in mind, too, the injunction to vote for — and join — Labour came in the immediate aftermath of 1917, when, despite the decline of the post-war radicalisation, the idea of Bolshevism had a lustre that no socialist tendencies can claim today.
        That’s why I don’t see how the references to Antarsya’s role in the struggles of the past changes anything. Would voting for — or, for that matter, joining Syriza — prevent radicals in Antarsya from supporting future or current struggles? If so, how? That’s a genuine question. I don’t understand what you think the problem would be. The analysis almost seems syndicalist, as if there’s a juxtaposition between electoral support and mass struggle.
        Perhaps there’s something I’m missing about what’s actually taking place. But I remain entirely unconvinced by this.

        • Dr_Tad says:

          “I accept there’s a general difficulty in assessing this stuff from so far away, particularly when the information one gets is so contradictory.” Especially when the bulk of articles on this issue outside Greece are attacks on Antarsya standing independently. An Antarsya member wrote under Richard’s post that there seem to be more people in the revolutionary Left outside Greece attacking Antarsya than there are inside Greece (except those minority currents within SYRIZA). Nevertheless you still don’t substantiate this “mass enthusiasm” for SYRIZA that your argument seems to rest on.

          “Such a counter-intuitive perspective” Is it? I thought the Comintern line was that communists generally stood independently of reformists in bourgeois elections. That in Germany they should stay out of the USPD so as to better be able to influence its base and win it over to clear revolutionary positions. Isn’t the problem that none of us have faced historical circumstances that require going back to those approaches where revolutionaries have sufficient social weight to pose such alternatives? Instead we’ve at best been building small, isolated propaganda groups desperate to find a way in from the margins. This is not the situation in Greece for the forces involved in Antarsya.

          …which is why when you say “I don’t see how the references to Antarsya’s role in the struggles of the past changes anything” you hit on the key issue: It is their recent and current role in leading workers in struggle and making arguments about concrete steps workers could take towards an overall solution to the crisis of Greek society that lends massive importance to posing an alternative program to SYRIZA’s. More urgent because as Giorgos Pittas puts it (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=12025):

          “It took eight years, from 1981 to 1989, for many people to become disillusioned with Pasok’s promise to bring socialism. But now things are moving rapidly in Greece. The people who are in the streets and striking, especially the organised workers, know what we say and what we have done.

          “It will be crucial where all these people will go over the next months. The difference between reformists and revolutionaries is getting very clear, not just in an ideological way but in practical steps. We are at a crossheads. Everyone is looking for solutions, for what is to be done. It’s crucial for Antarsya to offer a pole of attraction in these arguments.

          “We argue for a people’s default on the debt but this will only work if there is workers’ control. The key is workers’ activity.”

          So it’s not the case that “You seem to be arguing that a vote for Syriza signals an opposition to mass action” but that Antarsya is putting a program that emphasises the centrality of self activity to resolving the crisis.

          Starting with how “crucial” the election is too easily slips into becoming disoriented about the much deeper recomposition of the Left and the workers’ movement being driven by the crisis and the heightened struggle on the ground. The task for revolutionaries is surely to find a way to exploit the contradictions of reformism in this scenario, not because we hate reformists but because reformism cannot resolve this crisis. This must happen on the ground and in the sphere of official politics to be most effective. It’s not “syndicalism” to suggest this; rather, an unwillingness to cede the ground of official politics to a fragile, very recently risen, reformist formation.

  6. mark kuestion says:

    Hi comrades, I ‘m giorgos pittas member of ANTARSYA, SEK and journalist in workers solidarity. I don’t want to get into the debate, cause there is really not enough time in this hard pre election -period.

    But I would like to say a few things from my latest experience.
    I’ ve been in several workplaces this last week selling the paper and calling for vote to ANTARSYA. I didn’ t feel alienated not once. People who will vote for syriza don’t attack us for voting ANTARSYA. They very comradely discuss with us the contradictions and the problems in SYRIZA politics. The amazing (and not very usual thing) is that even the communist party members are friendly with ANTARSYA because they like on the one hand the fact that we ‘re saying drop the debt and we’ re calling for exit from the eurozone and on the other hand that ANTARSYA is not sectarian like their party and is calling for a common action of the whole left.

    Take for example the today’s antinazi-golden dawn demonstrations, all over greece. Antriracist, antifascist and immigrant organizations (connected with ANTARSYA and also SYRIZA and other smaller left parties except KKE) call for these demonstrations. There was a debate between the ANTARSYA infuenced orgnaizations calling for a demosntration to the nazi’s offices and the syriza influenced who said that the demosntration should go to parliament, in order not to be provocative. For not breaking the unity it was decided the demonstrtaion to go to the parliament. There are posters in the streets for the last two weeks.

    Helpfully in an ironical way, yesterday a nazi MP attacked a woman SYRIZA MP throwing water against her in a morning TV chanell show. Next thing, a woman KKE mp throw her papers to the nazi and he punches her three times on the face. The anger for all the left and democratic people is enormous. In the evening the nazis attacked an anarchist meeting inside the Panteio University injuring people and breaking the universities asylum as the nazis have started feeling marginalised and they are getting really violent.

    In yesterday’s evening in TV shows ND, PASOK politicians and journalists tried to turn the debate from nazi violence to “violent or antiviolent” – attacking the people and the left that they started the violence demosntrating on the streets. So “antiviolent” that today Samaras visits the Riot Squad Police and the Agios Pantelehmonas area the nazis claim they control in the centre of athens!

    So the right wing attacks and the left has an enormous opportunity to go on the offensive and kick out of the parliament the Golden Dawn in 17 June elections – but what the left does?
    The amazing thing is that KKE leadership doesn’t call for a demonstration – the common or its own. SYRIZA, the MPs of whom spend hours and hours on tv and radio channels, yesterday they didn’t mention anything about the demonstration they unofficially claim they support.

    Thousands of peolpe will participate today in the demonstrations. You can imagine what it would meant if SYRIZA leadership dare even at the last hour to call openly for the demonstration – and to be honest I still hope they will.

    But they probably won’t, because they dont’ want any kind of action that can provocate their responsible electoral profile.

    ANTARSYA is the only big left party which officially and openly calls for the demosntration that thousands of SYRIZA members will participate- in reality it was ANTARSYA that took the iniative for the demosntration.

    So, probably, tomorrow all the inernational media will say that SYRIZA organised this or that – covered with a Tsipras statement – but the reality is that members and even more important voters of syriza with whom will communicate everyday will know the key role of ANTARSYA. Just an example and there several others – of how things worked these last two yeras with the anticapitalists and revolutionaries having a key role. this is how it works comrades. Big wheel keep on turning, proud Mary keep on burning, rolling on the river.

    Comradely, Giorgos

    • Dr_Tad says:

      Thanks Giorgos. Best wishes for the campaign and the struggle — as you can see even here in Australia many eyes are on Greece.

    • Marc says:

      At the risk of endorsing argument by anecdote, Giorgos story says it all really. SYRIZIA’s success is exciting, more because of what it says about the big picture of radicalisation than because of what it says about the virtues of intervention in it. Who knows if the comrades in ANTARSYA can pull off what they are trying – but it seems like the right thing to try, comradely united front work on the ground, independent political voice, calling for united left action on the ground and in parliament around a concrete program which tends to lead the masses towards revolutionary action: if that’s not the heart of what is valid in Trotsky and Lenin’s transition approach, what is?

  7. Eddie Ford says:

    Syriza, and the Greek left as a whole, should avoid political office like the plague – that would be a *disastrous* outcome. They should only countenance forming a ‘workers’ government’ if they have a realistic prospect of implementing the revolutionary (minimum) programme. Obviously, this is not a hope in hell of a Syriza-led ‘workers’ government’ – or whoever – sitting in Athens being able to do this. Rather, they would have no choice but to administer capitalism and implement their own austerity regime – presiding over poverty and immiseration that in all likelihood would make the current situation look like the age of plenty. In turn, of course, that would massively discredit socialism and pave the way for a rightwing backlash. Instead of trying to form a government, the left should spend the period building up its own forces and strength as part of an all-European movement.

  8. [...] SYRIZA coalition outside of Greece, and which Left Flank has taken up in the last few posts (here, here and here). We’ve added some Wikipedia links in case people aren’t familiar with the [...]

  9. Nick Fredman says:

    >Some go further and argue that the KKE and Antarsya should join an electoral united front with SYRIZA or even join SYRIZA itself, because it allows multiple currents to co-exist with its Eurocommunist majority. Those advocating variations of these strategies seem to have decided that calling Antarsya’s constituents “sectarian”, “abstentionist”, “lunatic”, “irrelevant” and various other far Left epithets is a useful way to convince comrades of the error of their ways.<

    That doesn’t fairly describe the views of Mike Karadjis at least who you linked to as the example of those advocating “an electoral united front with SYRIZA” who has been quite careful in dictating tactics from afar and sympathetic to his friends and comrades in Antarsya.

    Cheers,
    Nick.

    • Dr_Tad says:

      You’re quite right. It was an unfortunate result of subediting and adding links after the fact that makes it look like I’m fingering Mike K for being unreasonable. Please pass my apologies to him as that was not my intent.