syriza government of the left : the way forward?

19 12 2012

The leaders and leading component of Syriza,  Synaspismos, have proposed  a constitutional and parliamentary way out of the political and economic crisis, which continues to inflict deep hardship and suffering on the working people of Greece. Barry Biddulph looks at the politics of Syriza. 


Yiannis  Dragasakis, the economics spokesman for Syriza, proposes a common European solution, of renegotiating Greek debt with other European countries, through the institutions of the EU. (1)  The goal?  Reform of the EU; to stabilise the economy in Greece and promote Keynesian style  economic growth throughout Europe. Yiannis Bournous, a member of the central committee of Synaspismos emphasises  the constitutional aspect of Syriza’s politics, by stating the aim is to negotiate a change in EU treaties, to avoid exit from the Eurozone (2)

The party leader, Alex Tsipras, has underlined the respectable nature of these politics by repeating his resolve to keep Greece in the Euro and has argued for a Roosevelt style New Deal in Europe. (3) Tsipras has been keen to show he is fit to govern, by insisting Syriza would be a responsible  government.

The constitutional focus does leave Syriza and its supporters vulnerable to the violence of the fascist Golden Dawn. Appealing to the police to round-up fascists is unlikely to be effective, when many members of the police vote for Golden Dawn or are in collusion with its fighting squads. Relying on the state is a dangerous mistake, particularly in Greece, given the history of authoritarian methods.

There is also a lot of uncertainty and ambiguity in Syriza’s understanding of Golden Dawn. Yiannis Bournous is reluctant to describe Golden Dawn as fascist. Instead he prefers to talk about complexity.(4) He dismisses setting up rival squads to defend workers networks and organisation as too simple. The priority for Syriza is building social networks of support ,providing food and other help, to indirectly undermine support for Golden Dawn.

But fascism is a life and death question of victory or defeat for the working class. A reformist Syriza government of the left, based on the capitalist state,  is likely to open the door to the far right, rather than act as a step to socialism. What would the leaders of Syriza do if the capitalist response  is the organisation of economic sabotage and state repression as happened in Chile in 1973?

It is extremely doubtful that the Keynesian economic programme of Syriza will attract the support of Greek capitalists or European banks. How would the crisis of profitability be addressed? The idea that leading capitalist states will somehow or other accept the staggered payment of the Greek debt, linked to the optimistic perspective of economic growth, as suggested by Syriza, is unconvincing.

The glaring contradiction is that Syriza claims it wants to break with austerity, but on the other hand, wants to retain the framework of the Eurozone and  the institutions  which have inflicted austerity. This is a credibility gap. There is an urgent need to break with capitalism and austerity. People are desperate. There are hundreds of attempted suicides each week as people cannot face scavenging through waste bins for food or dropping into abject poverty.

The battle to survive in the context of  1930’s levels of unemployment, particularly among the young and the collapse  of  thousands of shops and businesses has led to the development of social networks in mutual aid or even barter. So if you want a baby sitter, I want a kilo of Potatoes.(5) Farmers unable to produce or distribute at a profit are selling food at cost price or less outside the capitalist market.

If the effects of austerity in Europe are worst in Greece, the fight back is among the  best in Europe. There have been over 17 one day strikes with militant demonstrations. The scale of the opposition has at times threatened to go beyond trade union protest channels, organised by trade union leaders and the leaders of the Greek Communist Party (KKE)  The popular protest movement of the squares has drawn in the unemployed and those not unionised and others impoverished by the economic crisis.

But the popular movements and spontaneous mobilisations have not resulted in an alternative grass roots political organisation to rival the state. This is where communists are looking for a solution, not in the concept of a  party of the parliamentary left, which will almost certainly facilitate defeat rather than victory over capitalism.

1 Alex Callinicos, Crunch time for the Euro?, International Socialism 135,p 17

2 Links International,Dec 14, 2012

3 Observer, May 5, 2012

4 Links International,Dec 14, 2012

5 Toni Katerina, Red Pepper,Dec,2012

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8 responses

19 12 2012

Pretty good and synthetic analysis, IMO.

I certainly agree that against fascism only popular “vigilantism” can work: “zero tolerance” worked here in the Basque Country for decades and I am certain that it is the way to go with fascists, at least those who are organized and notorious.

I’m not so sure however about this:

“The glaring contradiction is that Syriza claims it wants to break with austerity, but on the other hand, wants to retain the framework of the Euro zone and the institutions which have inflicted austerity. This is a credibility gap”.

It may be a credibility gap for us communists of various kinds, including the rather populated and colorful radical Left of Greece, however this is no “credibility gap” for the common Greek citizen, who really doesn’t want to break so radically and suddenly with all their recent history and identity. EU in many countries, especially in the Mediterranean is a matter of identity not just “markets” and bureaucrats: for Greece particularly “not EU” may mean (in the normal citizen’s mentality) poor and devastated like the ex-Yugoslavia or Albania or Turkey.

Sure: EU is making a very radical shift in these last years from being an apparent provider of some prosperity and “democratic stability” to being a source of devastation and extreme exploitation and leaning towards “internal” neocolonialism in what some have dubbed “the IV Reich”. But this shift, even in Greece where it is most developed, is not still well understood and assimilated by peoples who are used to decades of Capitalist semi-prosperity and welfare.

So if you sell a too radical project too early instead of trying to take power and let the confrontation with Brussels unfold in its own terms, being therefore able to blame the EU for the segregation of Greece from itself, is much more pedagogical and puts the blame where it really belongs: in Brussels and the banksters.

Also there is not much realism either in unilaterally getting a depleted nation with a weak economy out of the euro. The “new drachma” would soon be worthless and the immediate results woul be almost certainly catastrophical: the euro is a trap that is very hard to leave once in, just like a very addictive drug with horrible withdrawal effects.

Only with massive collectivization of all the economy it could work but it would be hard (Greek economy has very weak foundations) and not something that the common Greek is ready to envision. Otherwise they’d vote KKE, which is to a great extent like your local “communist cult”, which knows all “solutions” but is so out of touch with the social reality that they are irrelevant at best and cause of strife at the worst.

The best option for Greece would be in fact that the revolutionary process would not be restricted to them but extended to at least some other large portions of the EU, what may happen but will take time. Otherwise they are essentially bound to dance at the edge of the Capitalist system like the Bolivarian governments of Latin America: a radical social-democracy but a social-democracy nonetheless.

Even taking just “Bolivarian” style steps, Greece is bound to have many problems because the Capitalist Empire (NATO-plus) will no doubt use Turkey against them, if they don’t seek a pretext to intervene directly (Greece has many islands and coast and can hardly defend them all without some sort of alliance or status quo – it’s very vulnerable to seaborne military aggression).

I think that eventually this kind of confrontation will end up forcing much more radical socialist steps out of sheer need but while this direct struggle does not unfold, I see no need for SYRIZA to pretend to be much more radical than society is. One step before the masses, not more.

By the way, I recently realized that the President of Cyprus (a presidential republic), another EU member and very linked to Greece is communist (AKEL, akin to SYRIZA, not KKE) and governs the country with a parliament minority. I was of course favorably surprised but also surprised of not reading any article or analysis before, being as it is the only EU state with “commie” government.

20 12 2012

Information has been posted on line by the SWP about Syriza’s first national conference with elected delegates. (Nov 30 to Dec 2 ) A left platform, put forward by those who are critical of the leaders and policies analysed by Barry,received 25% of the votes.

While there was a lack of detail in the report, the general criticism of the majority leadership is that they are under pressure to be more realistic and moderate.(even more moderate?)

The Slogans of the left platform are:
1 For a Government of the left including KKE and Antarsya
2 No government coalition with Bourgeois Parties.
3 The immediate end to all debt payments.
4 Reversing Austerity by any means necessary.
5 Put workers needs before Capitalist realism.

Taking the slogans in reverse order. Putting workers needs first and the closely related demands of reversing austerity and an immediate end to all debt payment are a fundamental communist/ socialist standpoint. whether a parliamentary government of the left including the KKE is compatible with these demands is another question.

The fact that these demands are a minority position is revealing. If the leadership are seen as responding to Capitalist pressure from above why are they not perceived to be responding to pressure from workers from below?This indicates the moderate nature of their politics, not just pressure for moderation. Either way their politics do not put workers needs first.

The second slogan is taken from the Russian revolution during the revolutionary year 1917. The slogan does have limitations. Bourgeois solutions and policies and actions in the interests of the bourgeoisie do not have to be taken by openly bourgeois forces. The extreme example is the counter revolutionary role of the Spanish Communist party in the Spanish Civil war.

Many political organisation claiming to represent workers have substituted politically for the bourgeoisie or pursued bourgeois policies which fail and open the door to the far right. Which brings us back to the Syriza leadership and their high bourgeois politics of working within European Capitalist organisations for change from above.

Maju’s comments that he ‘sees no need for Syriza to pretend to be much more radical than society is. One step before the masses not more. This understanding is from some elitist Leninist tactical recipe book. Historically most mass movements are many steps ahead of the left party and the party has to play catch up. The Classic example is Russia 1917.

To put it slightly differently, Syriza’s leadership wants to stepping out on the Capitalist high road(working within European institutions) leaving the workers travelling on a different route, rejecting austerity and putting workers need before profit. The violent ,militant demonstrations and strikes with, it has to be said, waving the Greek flag,shows the people of Greece do understand that European Capitalism no longer means prosperous welfare Capitalism.

20 12 2012

Don’t get me wrong: I am rather in agreement with the alternative platform proposed here and al least many of the comments you make around it and, probably, if I’m rather supportive of Syriza a reason is that I have been reading articles made by this left sector, notably the Maoists KOE.

Said that, I do not see that KKE is interested in making any sort of government or mobilizing the masses (a role that is mostly in the hands of extra-parlamentarian groups like Anarchists and Antiauthoritarians, i.e. Autonomous, as well as some sectors of Syriza like said KOE). Antarsya seems to gather very legitimate people but is not supported by votes (although if Syriza moves to the right, then things may change).

Syriza had a great luck in the right-wing schism of DIMAR (now in the bourgeois government and doomed to vanish in a merger with PASOK). This probably kept then relatively grounded in a more coherent and productive class discourse, which may be criticized for being weak but is still what the Greek People is willing to support at this point, at least in the urns. Anti-election sectors tend to be Anarchist and are indeed strong but nobody here is proposing the methods of the diffuse but powerful Anarchist movement in Greece (who are indeed communist but not Marxist-Leninist) or the Antiauthoritarian Movement (AFAIK, distinct from the Anarchists and close to the Autonomous of other parts of Europe, more eclectic). Those and not the KKE are the real Left at the Left of Syriza. Some are in Antarsya, others in the left sectors of Syriza and others yet are outside of all parties (the Anarchists of course). Yet they keep making occupations of all sorts, not just the classical housing squats and social centers but they have been occupying provincial governorships in Crete notably, actions that if performed in Athens would have meant the toppling of the bourgeois regime almost ipso facto.

So basically it is Syriza or the Anarchists or the sectors in between which are sometimes in Syriza, sometimes in Antarsya and sometimes out of institutional politics altogether. KKE are out of the game because they are not offering but Stalinist dogma and occasional collaboration with the police. They keep a small niche of die-hards but their policies are not constructive. For example point 1 is impractical because KKE is not willing to even talk to Syriza: theirs is the “truth” and nobody else’s.

Syriza probably plans, if it ever gets to power, to attempt some sort of Euro-Bolivarianism, i.e. radical social-democracy. But unlike Venezuela, Greece has very few resources and would have a very bumpy ride without external support in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

In fact the great danger as I see it is not as much a “treason” towards the right, that I deem rather unlikely, but a Bela Kun moment, in which the bourgeoisie briefly “allows” (reluctantly or whatever) that the communists rule a devastated country to no avail, followed by reaction and repression.

My opinion anyhow.

6 01 2013

Maju’s reply shows an actual awareness of the complexities of the Greek situation, perhaps because s/he is in Europe, outside the hermetically sealed UK left. Barry’s article is notable for simply ignoring the fact that SYRIZA is not a homogeneous bloc, and for also ignoring the many SYRIZA texts available in English on the web….

6 01 2013

Remir -There are currently three articles on the situation in Greece, on the commune Blog. one a view from inside Greece and two from outside Greece. Both Barry and Eric are based in the UK ,just like your based in the UK and again like you, they have experience of the left in the UK.

There does not seem to be any fundamental difference in their views. All three show an awareness of the situation in Greece and view it from different angles. Barry looks at the leaders and the leading faction in Syriza, Eric discusses Syriza in the context of political developments in Scotland. All three are sceptical that a Syriza Government could solve the problems faced by the working class of Greece.

If you want to make a positive contribution in terms of support for Syriza or make the case that a Syriza Government would be a step forward then that would be fine.

6 01 2013

Thank you for your permission to disagree with you Commie 46 ! My problem with Barry’s piece is not the position it takes as such, though I happen not to agree with it. My problem is with the fact that it fails to engage properly with the material available in English by Greek left groups both inside and outside of SYRIZA, nor does it acknowledge SYRIZA’s complexity as an organisation…resulting in a typically ‘lofty’ North European view, where the specifics of struggles elsewhere are of secondary importance to a pre-established political line. Nicos’ article has a usefully concrete analysis of the situation…but one article by one Greek communist who happens to agree with Barry does not exempt him from needing to make a proper analysis himself, not just resort to the left-communist ‘cookie-cutter’. And the implication seems to be that Nico speaks for all Greek communists, which is a problematic assertion.

If Barry took an even harder anti-SYRIZA line than he does, but showed a real engagement with the source material readily available on libcom and elsewhere (in other words if he showed some respect for the experience, history and struggles of the Greek class) I’d be more than happy to accept it as a valid contribution, though I’d disagree with it.

I did in fact write an article on SYRIZA for the Commune a while ago, under my ‘real’ name …

6 01 2013

Just for the record, I don’t think it has to do with geography (I’m partly basing my analysis on what I read in English from communists in Britain or North America in fact, also Greeks of course) and my limited personal experience of Greece from time past (having one of the strongest grassroots revolutionary movement of all Europe already 20 years ago).

Then, of course here in the Basque Country we also have our “Syriza” of sorts (and a rather strong grassroots revolutionary movement as well) and some parallels are unavoidable in spite of the differences. But the key I think is in how we as individuals and groups approach keyissues like revolution and vanguard.

In this sense, yesterday I translated (as well as I could not being native speaking of English) this paragraph (original in Spanish here) from a critical Basque revolutionary blog which I follow, which was discussing Lenin’s “What to do?”:

The vanguard cannot proclaim itself, nor be closed onto itself, nor be an autocracy. It is with the people, it is people and it interprets itself, not to be accommodated into the people but to lead it towards change. It is a rank that this people offers. It arises as a need and turns up in its due time without being forced. Grows in strength if deserving, it is weak if deserving as well.

That is what happens with Syriza and KKE respectively.

7 01 2013

Revmir-if you say that a person with a different point of view on Syriza is not showing respect for the Greek working class and this is not a valid point of view,that is not debating differences, but making an argument from someone who disagrees with you illegitimate.

In reality, this is not a question of information,but a point of view. In your article on Greece and Syriza you acknowledge that Syriza has a reformist programme a Keynesian plan B, but you consider this to be a step forward from Neo Liberalism,however modest. In other words, a lesser evil. To use your dubious method, does this show lack of respect for the Revolutionary potential of the Greek working class?

This is the way to close debate.And this kind of attitude is not based on any kind of research.And as for lofty North European view,who knows what that means, but it seems to be some kind of smear or perhaps a sneer. Despite your lofty view of research, this is hardy raising the standard of discussion.

Lastly, your comment of pre established line,I would have thought your attitude to the criticism of Syriza would be in that tradition. The Commune does not have a line, let alone a pre-established line.

Why don’t you leave a reply, in this comments space,making a positive case of how a government of the left led by Syriza could solve or make way for a solution in the interests of the Greek working class? So free ranging debate and discussion can proceed again.


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