My postings here will resume but be episodic for a few weeks as I am commissioned to write a book in short order on the Greek crisis, Syriza and socialist strategy. The plan for that writing includes weekly gobbets on Greece and the politics of the austerity crisis in Europe.
Here are what I hope are some useful reference points for the discussion on the international Left about the Greece-Troika deal and the retreat of the Greek government.
1) I know of no one whose enthusiasm for the electoral success of Syriza and of the Greek Left was due to their believing that somehow the party had resolved the perennial questions of socialist strategy and that through the modest act of taking office the entire direction of European capitalism would be changed.
2) In Greece certainly, everyone maintained that the question of social mobilisation and working class remained important/crucial/central. For some (e.g. Syriza’s modernising tendency) that might have been just mouthing words expected of them, but a) that shows what the expectations are, and b) most of the Left — with a spectrum of strategic views — genuinely is committed to that resistance.
3) While it is true that the workers and social movements have not been at their peak over the last two years, that is not because of a simplistic and essentially social democratic stock analysis: workers and the masses exhausted themselves in showing the limits of the social movement. From there they turned to the political solution — the election of a government through a bourgeois parliament.
First, the workers and other movements are far from exhausted. The support for Syriza and its call for a government of the Left was not out of the defeat of activist organs of the working class movement. While not exhausted, the social struggles ran up against a government in the form of Samaras’s coalition, which could not be moved substantially by sectional struggle.
The political question was thus posed. One answer was for the generalisation of the movement and for it to take up the political questions directly. By that I don’t mean discussing politics but, for example, the bank workers doing the politics of capital controls and expropriation of the assets of tax-dodging oligarchs, or teachers striking during the exam period and therefore raising many very sharp questions, including the prospect of an entirely different organisation of education.
Second, unsurprisingly the election of a Left government seemed a more realisable prospect for most people.
But third — and friends outside of Greece would do well to remind ourselves — this answer was, for the working class and social movement activists who drove the struggle, not necessarily in opposition to the first one above. This widespread dual consciousness among those who have mounted massive resistance in the crisis years is the social substrate for the actual strategic debate now on the Left. Those who wish to have a debate with that social reality absent are left with just ideology. That is necessary but insufficient, certainly when it comes to seeking to persuade others of a strategic line when they have a different ideological position or theoretical tradition.
4) There has been a swing Left in Greek society and an intense politicisation of the hundreds of thousands engaged in collective resistance. Most Syriza voters are former Pasok (social democratic) voters. But they have not simply switched over with their old social democratic heads unmoved — as if they had swapped their brand of detergent. Many have been involved alongside the activists of the Left (Syriza and not) in the social movements and have therefore interacted with arguments and leadership much more radical than the government.
5) The precise balance of mass consciousness is unknown. What we do know is that it is in flux and that it is not being driven by some secular trend of defeat, demoralisation and dealignment from a class-based Left.
6) We also know — and this was for those of us on the anti-capitalist Left of particular importance — that Syriza lacks the tradition and weight inside the working class and social movements which made it easier for all sorts of social democratic governments to sell unnecessary retreats or attack the working class movement — the governments of Mitterrand and Papandreou, for example.
7) So the central battle lines remain unresolved. The relative quiescence of the parliamentary Left and of the Left structures in Syriza will have shocked a fair few friends. I hope people don’t take it unkindly if I say — as I intimated in many pieces before the election — that we should not be so shocked.
But was our enthusiasm predicated on their proving to be made of sterner stuff? I like to think that it was instead based on the actual balance of social and political forces. All of the Left — including the Left of Syriza — are at their stronger on the terrain of mass struggle. (That should not be read as a carte blanche for unnecessary political compromises.)
8) None of this means to fall into the “social illusion” — the idea that we can simply ignore or avoid politics as simply the incorporating game of the other side. The next four months will bring antagonisms between the working class and social movements and the government. They will require political answers — just as three years ago, but now in propitious circumstances. For a start people know that this government is susceptible to collective opposition in a way that the last one was not.
9) This will lead to new political and organisational configurations on the Left. But this is the beginning of that process. I would expect none in the immediacy.
10) The political and strategic questions are logically prior to the organisational. They are not settled for the simple reason that the active element, the subject, which has driven both the social resistance and the electoral victory of Syriza remains in contestation — the working class movement and its allies.
11) The discussions arising from the Greek resistance to austerity and the rise of Syriza which it produced were never reducible to the simplistic lesson — be broad and stop talking about questions like the state, reform, revolution, strategy and so on.
Some may for understandable reasons have taken that to be the one note opera ringing out from Athens. A few who should know better chimed in on the same theme for rather petty and self-serving reasons to do with squabbles with others.
But for the serious Left this was an instance of the eternal tree of struggle refreshing, refuting and revising socialist theory and strategy through our active engagement. That is a rich discussion which cannot be reduced to expletive binaries: sell-out/sectarian, broad and opportunist/narrow and doctrinaire…
That struggle continues. Our engagement and critical reflection should deepen along with our fighting commitment. Or did anyone think that one general election would put paid to our need for all that stuff?
- “The alternative in Greece” by Stathis Kouvelakis, member of Syriza’s Left Platform
- “Questions that demand an answer” by Costas Lapavitsas, Greek MP and member of Syriza’s Left Platform
- Antarsya press release regarding the deal between Brussels and the Greek Government