What’s left after the Greek debacle? (Part 3 of an obituary)

by · October 5, 2015

Radical Left and chauvinist Right leaders celebrate their return to power

Radical Left and chauvinist Right leaders celebrate their return to power

Following on from Part 1 and Part 2 of my analysis — which were first published in abridged form as a single article at Jacobin Magazine — I bring the Greek tragedy up to date with why the Syriza breakaway Popular Unity failed its first electoral test, as well as delving deeper into the dead-end of trying to do radical Left politics without a social base.

It is hard to imagine a more humiliating defeat for the anti-austerity Left in Europe than the result of the 20 September election called by Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras. Defying opinion polls that suggested a swing against it and back towards New Democracy — the centre-right party that had, with Pasok, jointly dominated Greek politics since the fall of the dictatorship — Tsipras’s Coalition of the Radical Left (Syriza), came home strongly and was once again able to form a governing coalition with the right-wing ANEL.

While the raw percentages were not far from those of January’s election, this time Syriza was no longer campaigning on stopping austerity but on being able to most fairly and competently implement a harsh bailout package (“memorandum”) it had “reluctantly” signed with the Eurogroup.

Meanwhile, the newly formed left-wing split from Syriza, Laiki Enotita (Popular Unity) — running on an almost identical platform to that which had brought Syriza into government eight months earlier — failed to gain the 3 percent of votes it needed to secure seats in parliament. Twenty-five anti-bailout Syriza MPs — members of the party’s Left Platform — were forced to leave the party when Tsipras called the election because he would’ve been able to purge them from its electoral lists. Now as Popular Unity they lost all parliamentary representation.

The other two openly anti-bailout parties to win seats, the Communist Party (KKE) and the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn, saw only minor improvements in their share of the national vote in response to Tsipras’s stunning transformation from anti-austerity firebrand to implementer of Troika-designed restructuring. Yet even they lost votes overall as 7 percent fewer voters turned out than in January, with an abstention rate of over 43 percent the highest since World War II.

The result was in some ways an even bigger blow to the “hope” invested in the radical Left political project than when Tsipras trashed Greek democracy in July by turning his back on both his electoral mandate and the referendum result. At least, so the argument went, Popular Unity was a serious electoral option for all those who felt betrayed by Tsipras’s actions. Yet the new party made a derisory electoral impact.

This was despite its coterie of ex-Syriza MPs garnering major media coverage during the campaign, participation in one of the televised leaders’ debates, and even a shot at forming an alternative coalition immediately after the election was called. In addition the hugely popular former Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis — widely seen as a principled opponent of Tsipras’s betrayal — publicly stated he was voting for the party.

At the time of Popular Unity’s establishment, former Syriza central committee member Stathis Kouvelakis argued that the new party had two main goals:

[The first goal] is to provide an expression to social forces that do not necessarily recognize themselves as part of the Left but want to fight austerity, the memoranda, and the “troika rule reloaded” of the new memorandum.

The second is that the goal of the front is to constitute the political expression of the “no” as was expressed both in the January elections and in the referendum of July 5.

Yet the disastrous result for Popular Unity shines light on how Syriza’s rise reflected much more the vacuum created by the collapse of Greece’s post-dictatorship political order than any kind of social force capable of challenging Eurozone austerity head-on, let alone a social base for radical left-wing politics. To be clear, most ordinary Greeks want to see austerity defeated — it is in the vast majority’s direct social interest for the crisis to end — but there has not been a large and well-organised enough social response to the cycle of economic collapse, runaway unemployment and cuts to social services on which to base a political project that could have achieved something substantially different. Further, since 2012 there has been a definite retreat in terms of even the limited, and often bureaucratically controlled, struggles of the first period of austerity from 2010. This retreat was singled out by many of Syriza’s boosters as the reason that there needed to be a “political solution” to the impasse of the social movements.

It is this that explains why apart from a few small protests and strikes there has been no sustained social resistance to the new bailout, and therefore no basis for an alternative politics that could marshal such forces against the government. There is much cynicism and anger at what has happened, but there has been no mobilization that could break the current impasse. Instead, from political activists there is a recycling of the notion that there needs to be yet another rearrangement of Left politics, whether around Popular Unity or some new constellation, in order to somehow produce a different result.

One axis along which such arguments have run is the idea that a more radical “rupture” with the Eurozone is needed. While it was always clear to some in the radical Left that part of Syriza’s strategic deficit in dealing with the Troika was its deep commitment to staying inside the single currency, simply being willing to countenance a “Grexit” is no solution either. As I wrote in August:

For the Left Platform, Grexit was not a realistic strategy that had any chance of being implemented on the basis of the existing balance of forces. Instead it was a purely intellectual opt-out from the trap they had walked into and had no way out of in the real world.

Although any socially progressive solution to the Greek crisis would almost certainly entail leaving the single currency, it doesn’t follow that a government with no social base for an alternative route out of the crisis would deliver relief from austerity by exiting the euro. Syriza and Popular Unity’s most consistent advocate of a “progressive” Grexit, Costas Lapavitsas, admitted as much in July when he described the likely consequences of such a move:

My guess is that if we follow this path in a prepared way that we’ve been discussing, we’re going to go into recession. That will be difficult. It will probably last several months, at least the downward slope would last several months. I don’t think it will last more than six months judging by monetary experience. In Argentina the downside lasted three months. Then the economy picked up again.

So the contractionary aspect will last several months, then the economy will pick up. Positive rates of growth might take longer to appear because the blow to consumption, the uncertainty, the blow to small and medium businesses is likely to be significant. I’d expect positive rates of growth overall to begin to materialize after about 12-18 months.

Yet even this painful picture is based on Lapavitsas’s brave presumption that Greece would get the same benefit from a devalued currency that Argentina did, a projection that has been widely disputed by economists.

While Popular Unity was promoted as regrouping 13 organisations of the Greek radical Left, in practice it was dominated by the majority Left Current section of Syriza’s Left Platform, led by veteran politician Panagiotis Lafazanis who had served as energy minister under Tsipras. This posed three problems.

First, the Left Platform had been exceedingly loyal to the Syriza leadership even as it shifted rapidly rightwards following the electoral breakthrough of 2012. Despite being critical of such moves Left Platform members continued to argue for staying inside Syriza even as the Tsipras leadership centralized power around itself, limited the freedom of criticism of internal factions, wooed big business, and watered down its anti-austerity program. After Syriza entered government the Platform’s adherents accepted a coalition with the hardline, conspiracy-theory-loving chauvinists of ANEL, refused to break ranks when Tsipras signed the 20 February interim deal to continue the Troika’s austerity program, failed to differentiate themselves from Tsipras in the referendum campaign despite the cynical and half-hearted way he ran the case for “no”, and continued to pledge loyalty to the government even as they voted against its July deal with the creditors. Indeed, all signs were the dissidents would continue fighting a losing battle inside the party, at a planned party congress, rather than try to bring the government down. Only when Tsipras called the election and effectively purged them did they finally leave Syriza. Given this record many voters would have doubted Popular Unity’s credentials as a real alternative to Syriza’s failure as Lapavitsas, for one, conceded.

Second, the Left Platform’s focus on Grexit and old-fashioned statism meant Tsipras could paint them as being part of the “old political system” he railed against during the campaign, and even as “reactionary remnants” who wanted to take Greece back to the bad old days of the drachma. His ability to attack opponents on Left and Right with a message of political renewal comes out clearly in this report from the campaign trail:

Tsipras said he wanted to complete what he started when Syriza won national elections in January.

“Against us is the old political system that pushed the country into a tragedy, which built the regime that led to the bailouts,” he told a gathering of the party’s central committee in Athens. “We want to demolish this regime.”

He urged supporters to fight back against the old “hated” political system he held responsible for Greece having needed bailouts, and justified his decision to agree to a third rescue.

“We do not regret having fought nor having chosen at the end to avoid catastrophe,” he said.

“Whoever wants to escape has the right to do it but we are moving forward, we have not seen our best battles yet,” he said, in a reference to a breakaway Syriza faction that has formed the anti-bailout Popular Unity party.

It cannot have helped matters that Lafazanis was less than inspiring in his support for a possible Grexit, defending it on the basis that it would “not” be a “disaster” or “hell”, and flipping and flopping on whether he supported a return to the drachma.

Third, and finally, even the more critical members and backers of Syriza based their support on the idea that, whatever the party’s limitations, there was no way it would simply accede to the Troika’s wishes. Thus they were incapable of providing an independent political position for the working class and social movements when exactly that happened. Here is Kouvelakis, long a critic of Syriza’s Europhilia, interviewed days before the January election victory:

But what will we do if the Europeans refuse [to cancel Greece’s debt]? Once again all the options are on the table, but Syriza will not retreat and let itself be blackmailed the way Anastassiades, the rightwing Cypriot president was in spring 2013 when the parliament of his country reject[ed] by a unanimous vote the bailout plan proposed by the EU.

Worse than what happened in Cyprus, Tsipras turned his back not on parliament but on the 62 percent of voters, overwhelmingly concentrated in working class areas, who rejected the bailout deal in the referendum.

Given what has subsequently transpired the international Left’s scramble to identify with the Syriza project now appears as a blunder of the most embarrassing kind. After all, the “hope” from a Syriza victory was supposed to translate into tangible victories against the harsh economic restructuring being demanded of “periphery” Eurozone economies by the stronger members of the single currency. Instead, ordinary Greeks now face more vicious attacks under the radical-left Syriza than those under the previous Memorandums that Pasok and New Democracy presided over.

By and large, however, self-criticism has been kept to bare minimum, focused at best on secondary tactical issues. Many Marxists who tied themselves to Syriza’s mast have simply doubled down by claiming that any other course would have left them “immediately marginalized” from the Greek working class and social movements. Others have conceded that, “the disappointment produced by SYRIZA could translate into a level of political apathy or cynicism never experienced in history in Greece,” seemingly in denial of the years they spent attacking other Leftists for not joining the party or simply for daring to run against it at elections. Even though many admit that the outcome of Syriza in power has been a disaster for ordinary Greeks, because other outcomes were hypothetically possible they continue to defend a strategy that ended in failure, even after it has gone belly-up.

It would be easy to take cheap shots at the torrent of premature (and at times unhinged) proclamations of victory retailed by left-wing writers inside and outside Greece over the last year, but it is more important to get back to the central point about the hollowness of a “radical” politics that lacks a social base. The problem with such an approach can be illustrated by looking at criticisms leveled at my position by revolutionary Marxists Catarina Príncipe and Dan Russell:

[A] viable left strategy for ending austerity can’t counterpoise [sic] the social and political: a political alternative must help create its own social basis. This was precisely the project of Syriza, which the newly formed Popular Unity will carry on now that the Syriza leadership has abandoned its commitment to fighting the memorandum.

Despite defeats and detours these projects remain the only viable path toward an eventual rupture with not just austerity but capitalism itself.

Yet the lesson of both Syriza and Popular Unity is precisely that left-wing political parties with little or no serious social base cannot themselves create such a base from which to even begin challenging capitalism. To think that they can gets things upside-down. The basis of the capitalist state is bourgeois civil society, and capitalist social relations are the ultimate producers and shapers of political relations — not the other way around.

Rather than dealing with the concrete failure of a strategy for social change based exclusively in the political sphere, Príncipe and Russell drift off into a potted history of the socialist movement in the twentieth century that dances around the most striking difference between then and now: At their height the Second and Third Internationals represented millions of organised workers who were acting in their own interests in struggles against employers and governments. Today’s European struggles against austerity — with the partial exception of the social movements in Spain since 2011 — are, sadly, only a pale shadow of those past battles. More important still, mass representative institutions have been hollowed out so that even in Spain the new “anti-political” political formations carry only a fraction of the social weight that social democratic and communist parties could deploy last century. These are simple empirical facts that no amount of heroic rhetoric about “shifts in consciousness” and “political radicalization” can overcome.

The consequences of trying to effect change without a social base emerge vividly in one Popular Unity candidate’s description of the activities of Syriza in government:

I would like to stress three important issues. The first one is that during the negotiations with the lenders, the movements’ role was completely underestimated. The government did not try to use the power generated by the motivation of the masses to support its position in the negotiations in general, with the exception of a short time interval before the agreement of the twentieth of February, and the week before the memorandum.

The second one, which is linked to the first, is that no changes were made to the structure of the state that could have allowed the people — the productive forces of our society, the ones that experience the problems and can, hence, address the problems more directly — to propose solutions. A wider and deeper democracy — that has no financial cost — was not established. Moreover, and here comes the third point, not even the democratic force within Syriza was taken into consideration.

The party was totally absorbed by the state, exactly in the way that Michalis Nikolakakis predicted some months ago, and so were its chain of command and decisions. People in key state positions were playing a significant role, whereas party officials had no idea what was going on. This meant that the government lost track of the society and the party … We might want to reread the enlightening interview between Aristides Baltas with Leo Panitch, where the most famous Greek Althusserian philosopher practically tries to relativize structuralism, while he admits that spending twelve hours per day in the ministry did not allow him to communicate with the party.

Such failures are not a matter of inadequate political will, but the product of a politics that has no social force to mobilise against its enemies. With an approach little different in its fundamentals to Syriza’s, Spain’s Podemos has found itself falling back in the polls after its initial dramatic burst onto that country’s political scene. As I have previously noted, Podemos leader Pablo Iglesias has been a defender not only of Tsipras’s “realism”, but of the notion that a radical shake-up of politics will make very little difference in terms of people’s social conditions. Leftists frustrated by this situation will not be able to break free of the material constraint that a lack of social base places on political strategy, no matter how clever their proposals for Left regeneration might seem on paper.

Indeed, the worst possible starting point now is the one most commonly raised on the international Left, the notion that “the key challenge for the Greek radical left will be choosing the form its recomposition will take amid the imposition of the third memorandum”. Such recomposition is meaningless in a situation where the balance of social forces remains unchanged, and the staggeringly complicated history of socially irrelevant splits and regroupments on the Greek Left in the lead-up to the Syriza debacle should serve as a warning about this kind of thinking. Despite these problems it is a starting point that seems to preoccupy Marxists everywhere, as evidenced in the title of US socialist Todd Chretien’s recent reply to Príncipe and Russell, “Where do socialists belong?” Rather than starting with what is happening in society, Chretien tries to both defend a narrower conception of socialist organization than his interlocutors and to justify the decisions of his Greek comrades to bury themselves in Syriza (and then Popular Unity), again deploying historical debates with little modern relevance.

Having just read Lars Lih’s celebrated revisionist account of the pre-1905 Lenin and his pamphlet What Is To Be Done?, I was struck by the contrast between the real Lenin and the version deployed by Príncipe, Russell and Chretien. Whatever one thinks of his wider argument about Lenin (see here for an appreciative but sharp critique by John Marot), on page after page Lih makes crystal clear that the strategic and organizational polemics of the Russian revolutionaries were necessarily predicated on the real-life growth of a self-active, radical and increasingly socially powerful working class movement — exactly the material force missing from today’s sterile debates.

So what can be concluded from this obituary of Greece’s radical Left experiment?

In my view, Tsipras’s 20 September victory could end up being seen as an important turning point not so much for the radical Left, but for how political systems creaking under the strain of long-run hollowing-out — and more recent instability produced by austerity — might try to reconstitute themselves on a new basis. Syriza used its outsider status to fill a vacuum created by the collapse of the old parties, but the severe limits on what it could deliver socially from government may mean that similar parties elsewhere will find it much harder to take this path. Regardless, what is happening here is a rearrangement of the alienated sphere of bourgeois politics, not any challenge to its infernal logic.

Meanwhile much of the international Left has barely paused before moving onto its next beacon of “hope”, Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected ascension to the leadership of a British Labourism experiencing advanced decomposition. Such a development is even less plausible as a potential route to radical social change than Syriza’s strategy was. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how anyone can still take it seriously after the wide range of concessions and compromises Corbyn has already made, leaving his leadership only a shade more radical than Ed Miliband’s in practice. However, because of its deep commitment to “the primacy of politics”, the Left seems largely unperturbed by these ever-diminishing returns.

Discussion11 Comments

  1. Lycaon says:

    Syriza: Managing a Debt Colony

    Unfortunately, we [in the CPGB] were almost totally alone in saying right from the beginning that a Syriza government would be a disaster – it would have absolutely no chance of carrying out its own reformist programme, let alone a Marxist one (impossible in one country, or even a series of countries, if left isolated and uncoordinated). Such a government would by definition be committed to managing capitalism, hence – sincere intentions aside – would be forced by the logic of capital to attack the working class. For this very reason, we always strongly counselled against Syriza ‘taking the power’. True, alternatively, it could have gone for Grexit, as advocated by Left Opposition/Popular Unity and the KKE – catastrophically taking Greece down the road of national socialism and utter impoverishment in a bid to ape the Albania of old. No, it would have been far better if Syriza had become a party of extreme opposition, trying to dig deeper roots in society, building up its own forces to the point where it had become genuinely hegemonic within Greece and attempting to organise on an all-European level with other working class and socialist parties.

    But, showing their philistinism and lack of historical memory, the left thought we were mad for coming out with a perfectly orthodox Marxist position. ‘Common sense’ dictated, instead, that the left must form a government in Greece, even though it had won the election on only 36.3% of the popular vote (on a 63.6% turnout) with an artificially inflated number of MPs thanks to the anti-democratic 50-seat ‘top-up’ rule – absolutely no mandate for the transition to socialism, no matter how understood. Marxists should criticise such a government, not glorify it.

    Yet almost everybody on the soft/reformist left enthusiastically identified with Syriza – the Greens, Sinn Féin, Podemos, Jeremy Corbyn, Left Unity, etc. For the latter, Syriza was a “sister party”, whose programme LU would emulate if given half a chance. Comrade Andrew Burgin even told us that Syriza had formed the “first workers’ government elected in Europe since the Popular Front took office in Spain in 1936”, and so the “challenge” to left critics of Syriza is “whether they will support the formation of such a government and whether they will fight to defend it” – seeing how it “constitutes the front line in the struggle against the system which will destroy us all unless, collectively, we resist”.6

    Funnily enough, we now get a loud and conspicuous silence from LU about its “sister party” in Greece – significant in its own way. Maybe the LU leadership will enlighten us at some stage by issuing a definitive statement or article as to its views on the current Tsipras government – come on, comrades, don’t be shy.


  2. Dan says:

    A good read. Debacle probably the right word. I haven’t got time to go and read all your posts but are you saying you predicted Tsipras’ capitulation?

    I would say that most of the left who watched from afar’s enthusiasm for Syriza was audacious hope. We didn’t know the situation on the ground and new it would be real tough for them. Still I don’t think many saw Tsipras’ folding so easy.

    Ditto with Corbyn. People hoping he succeeds aren’t all fools. They’d just like to see a shift leftwards. Nothing wrong with that. Both are symptoms that more is in play than was previously the case and that the neo-liberal hegemony is in retreat, quite quickly actually. That’s the real significance of recent developments and something to celebrate. These are not terminal mistakes. People just have to learn from them. We don’t get just one shot at it.

    I would like to see the left talking more about co-ops, public banking, housing associations, local energy co-operatives. These can be incubated as ground is opened up on the left through local councils, balance of power positions etc. They are appealing ideas and help create the base you are talking about.

    • Dr_Tad says:

      Thanks for your comments. I don’t think I believed that Tsipras would “capitulate” until the 20 February deal. I thought it was more likely the government would fall apart. But I did think that short of a mass social mobilisation there was not much chance of a good social outcome. As I wrote in May 2012, between the two elections:

      SYRIZA’s argument is that, at least as a first step, having a Left government run the Greek state is the key. In essence this is about restabilising Greek capitalism on terms more favourable to ordinary people (which explains why some business leaders see more future in cooperating with it than the spent parties of the “centre”). Yet, barring an unlikely economic turnaround, the crisis is likely to cruel such hopes if the Left manages to form a government (which is feasible after an almost certain new election, as SYRIZA is getting 25.5 percent in the most recent polling).

      This year the main thing I’ve noticed is how little social struggle any of the “hope” crowd have been able to point to. Kevin Ovenden, who is critical of Syriza’s strategy, certainly didn’t seem to find much on the ground in his dispatches from Athens. The problem as I see it is that people think that political shifts detached from real social forces can somehow shift society. Looking to “the Left” becomes a dead-end because the Left is as detached from a social base as any other section of politicos (often more). In the end I don’t think there is a shortcut that can avoid the need for there to start to be serious movement in society. I think we’re at the very beginning of that kid of process right now. It’s beyond the control of any politico as to where it will go. But if social resistance does start to happen on a larger scale, I fear most the Marxists will simply want it back under the control of politics.

    • Lycaon says:

      @Dan “Both are symptoms that more is in play than was previously the case and that the neo-liberal hegemony is in retreat, quite quickly actually.”

      Noe-liberalism in retreat? Evidence?

      I would agree that the victory of Corbyn and the initial election of Syriza are expressions of growing discontent with conventional bourgeois politics. This discontent alone does not mean that conventional bourgeois politics is in retreat or that any threat to the status quo represented Corbyn and the new leadership in the Labour Party cannot be contained by the ruling class.

      If anything, it is Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell who have been in headlong retreat under the sniping of the right wing of the Labour Party since the leadership election in September.

      Given that the newly elected Labour leadership is not willing or able to face down the motley group of opportunists and careerists in right wing of its own party, how should we expect them to fare when faced with the full might of the establishment?

      John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s programme of “Keynsianism in a single country” is a watered down version of the official Stalinist CPGB’s British Road to Socialism (see https://tinyurl.com/ovvvxd7). McDonnell and Corbyn’s programme is backward looking and, like Syriza’s Thessaloniki Programme, at least forty years out of date. Therefore, should Labour happen to come to office at the 2020 general election, the results for the left globally will be even more disorienting and demoralising than the Troika’s recent taming of Syriza.

      To understand why neo-liberalism is not in retreat globally, we have to acknowledge that neo-liberalism was the response of the capitalist class to the end of the long post-war boom in 1973. With the deepening of the post 1973 slump since 2008, and its probable coming spread to China, we should expect that, if anything, capital is going to intensify the global offensive against the working classes.

      In short, with capitalism mired in perpetual crisis, and with no apparent way out of it, the representatives of capital are even more determined today than they were yesterday to make life a lot worse for a lot of people.

      Discontent with austerity and worsening conditions of life, however widespread, does not mean that the left has either a viable alternative programme to that of the ruling class, or a viable strategy to challenge or begin to overthrow the rule of capital.

      None of the above is to argue that the left should abstain from politics or that the election of Corbyn is not an opportunity for the left. However, it is a serious error to believe that there are any quick or easy victories to be won against such a powerful, experienced, organised and determined enemy as we face in the capitalist class.

      • Dan Murphy says:

        Neoliberals retreat? Never. But their hegemony? Terminal 😉

        • Lycaon says:

          Phew. Now that we are so convinced of that, we can forget about Angela Merkel, Wolfgang Schäuble, George Osborne, along with the rest of the real world — so as to better get on with the main business of looking forward to jam to-morrow.

          Sartesian remarked a while back that Schäuble and co. had the measure of Tsipras and Varoufakis and clearly found them wanting. He could as well have said the same for the left as a whole.

  3. Lycaon says:

    @Tad “I don’t think I believed that Tsipras would “capitulate” until the 20 February deal. I thought it was more likely the government would fall apart. But I did think that short of a mass social mobilisation there was not much chance of a good social outcome.”

    In arguing that the failure Syriza to implement an anti-austerity programme could have been prevented by mass social mobilisation, Tad shows that, like Kevin Ovenden, he misses the point completely.

    Syriza failed because it was fixated on a political strategy that was at least 40 years out of date and, once the party formed a government, mass social mobilisation were not going to change Syriza’s strategy or produce a different outcome.

    The party’s strategy could be summed up as “Keynsianism in a single country.” Given the origins of Syriza in a right wing Eurocommunist split from the Stalinist KKE, it is little surprise that their political vision consisted of no more than an adulterated version of the nationalist and anti-Marxist Soviet bureaucracy’s idea of “socialism in a single country.”

    To fully appreciate the bankruptcy of Syriza’s national reformism, we need to view it in light of the present economic and political context.

    The high point of Keynsianism and social democratic reformism, looked upon with such nostalgia by Tsipras and his reformist co-thinkers in Synaspismós, was 1945-1973. This was precisely the period of the year post-war boom, a once-off event that reflected the high profitability of capital during the post-war reconstruction of Europe and Japan.

    The end of this golden age for capital has seen the increased mobility of capitalist production, and the replacement of social democratic reforms with a concerted effort on the part of capital to restore the rule of the law of value. Hence, since 1975 we have the re-commodification of health, education etc, and concerted attacks on the welfare state that embodied the social compromise between capital and labour during the long boom.

    The global ruling classes today no longer see any need to offer social reforms to the working classes. On the contrary, with the end of the long boom, and the increased integration of capitalist production across the globe, the capitalist are as a class actually compelled to reverse, on a global scale, the social reforms they had conceded in the during the golden age.

    In a period when the systemic crisis of the capitalism is deeper than at any point since the end of the post-war boom, ie when we are further removed from the material conditions that underpinned national reformism/socialism than at any point since 1973, Syriza political program that was based on convincing the representative of ruling classes in the Troika to re-concede the reforms which the capitalists everywhere are determined and compelled to roll back.

    Tsipras and Varoufakis might argue that the cost to capital of conceding a few reforms in tiny Greece is negligible and that concessions might even have helped restore the vitality of European capitalism. In the real world however, quite apart from the fact that Germany and Europe cannot afford to write off the debts of all its peripheral states, the Troika know full well that European capital is no less compelled than US capital or Chinese capital to wind back social reforms and attempt to enforce the rule of the law of value. This is the meaning of austerity.
    Syriza therefore never had the remotest possibility whatsoever of fulfilling any part of its promises which cut against the interests of European and global capital, all the more so since Greece is a weak and dependent capitalist economy on the periphery of Europe.

    Hence, mass mobilisation and social struggle in Greece or not, there was zero chance of a good social outcome from a Syriza government. The attempt by the party to run the Greek state and achieve social reforms in the present era, could only ever have led to one of three outcomes:

    1. Collapse and replacement by a right-wing government by one of the traditional capitalist parties, the militiary, or technocrats appointed by the troika;
    2. A withdrawal from the Euro zone by imposing an Albanian style national socialist and autarchic regime or;
    3. Capitulation to the demands of European capital and transformation of the party into an enforcer of austerity.

    Social struggle and mass mobilisation without any strategy, or in pursuit of a demonstrably bankrupt strategies such as Keynsianism in a single country or Stalinist autarchy, will only lead to long term defeat and demoralisation.
    This is why the CPGB argued that Syriza should never have made a hasty lunge for power in Greece, but nstead “built up its own forces to the point where it had become genuinely hegemonic within Greece and attempted to organise on an all-European level with other working class and socialist parties.”

  4. Lycaon says:

    @Tad “At their height the Second and Third Internationals represented millions of organised workers who were acting in their own interests in struggles against employers and governments.”

    In the period of the Second and Third Internationals, there were short term gains that could be won on a local and national level — even as the strategies which posed the question of power on a national scale (aka social democracy and “socialism in a single country”) ultimately contained the seeds of their own defeat.

    Now, unfortunately, where Jeremy Corbyn, Alexis Tsipras and the rest of the left wing of social democracy fondly look back to Aneurin Bevan and the golden age of Keynsian reform between 1945-73, Dr Tad is nostalgic for the failed mass struggles led by the official Communist Parties in the two decades up to the dissolution of the Third International by Stalin in 1943.

    Today, the government of a peripheral state like Greece, or even the governments of medium sized imperialist states like France or Australia, have far less sovereignty in relation to economic and social policy than they did in the early decades of the 20th century. In fact it is not an exaggeration to say they have little more autonomy relative to capital than does a large local authority.

    In practice the public in Greece and elsewhere are probably intuitively aware of this fact. That is, they know that since the capitalist response to the left is effectively organised and coordinated on a global scale, they can “struggle,” by which Tad means strike and demonstrate, in Greece, in Botswana, or in the Shire, until they are blue in the face — capital simply has to to starve them out through capital strikes, capital flight, denial of access to credit etc, and, if all else fails, military aggression.

    Strike and demonstrate to end austerity in Greece, Boukina Faso, or even France or Germany today? May as well capture power with a view establishing a Soviet in the Shire.

    Hence, when the capitalist class effectively organises and coordinates their actions on a global scale, even more so than in the 1920s and 1930s, the question of power is posed on an international scale. Simply waxing nostalgic for the glory days of the left during the Stalinist Comintern will get us nowhere. We need to appreciate that if the nationalist strategies which directed those struggles were bankrupt 80, years ago, they are even less viable today.

    In part Tad’s perplexity at the quiescence in Greece and his nostalgia for the Second and Third Internationals shows him to be a victim of the disastrous legacy of Tony Cliff, Alex Callinicos, Charlie Kimber and the SWP. The solution of our friends in the SWP to every impasse the left faces is to issue calls for strikes and more strikes, demonstrations and more demonstrations.

    Having apparently resolved that the disastrous results of their political economism can be overcome through more militant economomism, Callinicos et al issue ever more strident demands for militant actions. These demands for militancy, strikes and demonstrations remain entirely devoid of any considered long term strategy and are consequently, with good reason, generally ignored.

    While Dr Tad at least recognises that the working class are not responsive to endless and mindless demands for militancy and mass action, he attributes this to the “lack of social base of the left.” This argument allows him to avoid the problem that militant mass action in of itself leads nowhere, except perhaps to defeat and further demoralisation.

    In other words, no amount of economist militancy and action will compensate for the strategic shortcomings of a left which continues to imprison itself within its historical Stalinist and social democratic past and within its national bureaucratic fiefs.

    • Dr_Tad says:

      Thanks for your repeated essays attacking positions I don’t hold but which you have somehow managed to infer from what I have written. Sadly, I won’t be responding because I figure this is more about your wish to advertise your party line than engage in discussion and debate.

      • Lycaon says:

        Advertise my party line? Sadly, you seem to have got the wrong impression — I am not a member of any party.

        I did link to the CPGB and a few Weekly Worker on Greece. Like them or loathe the CPGB, nobody else on left urged Syriza to avoid the temptations to take power, or predicted so accurately beforehand the disastrous results of a Syriza forming a government which would necessarily be overthrown or reduced to managing austerity on behalf of the European bourgeoisie.

        Other than that, it really was too much to expect you to elucidate on how or why a mass social mobilisation might have improved the chance of a good social outcome under a Syriza government in Greece. No such explanation is can or will be forthcoming precisely because, under present conditions, any mass mobilisation in Greece would have been isolated to a single peripheral country, had no support from the rest of the European working class and faced the full wrath of the European bourgeoisie. In other words, it would have led, not to a better social outcome in Greece, but yet another round of defeat and demoralisation.

        No social base for left wing politics today? Is it possible to expect a left which remains mired in the stalinist and social democratic politics which was responsible for the historic defeats of the working class in the last century to do anything but shed the mass base it might have once had? Clearly Rifondazione Comunista, Syriza, CPF, Die Linke, etc, do not have a mass base. This is not because a mass base for the left is ruled out a fortiori, but because given the first opportunity these parties have systematically attacked and demoralised their own base and implemented the programme of the bourgeoisie.

        In short, the organisations of the left have come to be known by their works.

  5. Aaron Aarons says:

    What has happened in Greece is a debacle only for those on the ´left´ whose political perspective is based on peaceful, electoral, majoritarian opposition to a system based on the violence of a privileged minority that is able, through various means, to maintain majority acquiescence in its rule. For those of us whose fundamental orientation is one of subversion of capitalist rule by any means necessary, without necessarily being able to win majority support from a specific population that is both generally mindfucked and, when that doesn´t work, threatened with capitalist terror of various kinds when it doesn´t submit, the capitulation of Syriza should serve as a reminder that we need to get to work developing and propagating techniques of asymmetric warfare in all arenas of struggle, from information to actual armed conflict.