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Richard Seymour: The challenge of SYRIZA

For more discussion and analysis on the political crisis in Greece, click HERE.

By Richard Seymour

"...this isn't just another election. The choice is between a New Democracy-led austerity government, which would be immensely demoralising, and a SYRIZA-led anti-austerity government, which would give the whole continental left a massive shot in the arm and open up a host of new possibilities. This is a key moment in which a great deal is condensed, which will be formative of a great deal of the political and ideological terrain for some time, and any formation that appears to bring the latter possibility closer isn't helping the industrial struggle."

June 7, 2012 -- Lenin's Tomb, posted at Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal with the author's permission -- The question of a workers' government arises in Greece only because it has been raised in a certain form by SYRIZA, and only because they have come to hegemonise the left workers' vote. Current (unofficial) polling seems to indicate they have up to 35% of the vote, though there is still a great deal of volatility, and some recent polls have even given New Democracy a very narrow lead. Nonetheless, with anything close 35% of the vote, they would be in a position to lead a government of the left. So, a great deal rests on why SYRIZA are in the position they're in.

Explanations for SYRIZA's success built on the insight that reformism is a first port of call for workers in struggle aren't wrong, but they are rather complacent and general. Apart from anything else, SYRIZA aren't classical reformists. SYRIZA comprises a coalition between a Eurocommunist bloc, Synaspismos, which has roots in a breakaway from the Communist Party (KKE) in 1968, and various Maoist and Trotskyist groups. The Eurocommunists are by far the dominant force, having comprised about 85% of the members before a rightist split in 2010, which I'll come back to. But of course, they have their own internal differentiations, as Eurocommunism has always had its left and right currents, historically oscillating between centrism and reformism. The Maoist group, the Communist Organization of Greece (KOE), is the second largest organisation in the coalition. Alongside them are the Trotskyist group, the International Workers Left, and the Communist Left for Ecology and Renewal. The trajectory and composition of these hetroclite elements are discussed by Stathis Kouvelakis here (original here). Essentially, we are talking about divisions, redivisions, and realignments within the communist and non-communist left, with the leading role taken by a Eurocommunist organisation with an orientation toward what used to be called the "new social movements". Not a typical reformism, then, and certainly more akin at an ideological level to Die Linke than to traditional social democracy. Moreover, they're far from the only reformist option for workers, a point we will return to.

A refinement of the same argument is that since Greeks are overwhelmingly opposed to the Memorandum, yet simultaneously opposed to withdrawal from the euro, it is logical that SYRIZA, which favours continued membership of the eurozone on a reformed basis, should have benefited from PASOK's collapse. Hence, workers are gravitating to a reformist solution that matches their "level of consciousness".

Again, though more specific, this explanation is inadequate to the complexity of reality. Polls show that about half of Greeks oppose remaining in the euro if it means sticking with the measures contained in the Memorandum, and these voters are overwhelmingly concentrated in the base of the left parties, including more than two thirds of SYRIZA voters. In other words, their attitude to the EU is context-driven. SYRIZA itself is not that simple either. As Kouvelakis has pointed out: 1) its position is that the EU can be internally reformed "but on the basis of denouncing all the existing European Treaties (Maastricht, Lisbon etc)"; 2) it contains other currents hostile to the EU, including significant Trotskyist and Maoist groups who comprise about 15% of the membership; 3) most importantly, its position on austerity is inconsistent with its pro-European stance, an ambiguity whose resolution will depend significantly on the continuation and outcome of struggles in which SYRIZA is partially embedded.

Recall, moreover, that it looked for a while as if a right-wing breakaway from SYRIZA, the Democratic Left (DIMAR) would be the main beneficiary. DIMAR represented the "Europeanist" Ananeotiki wing of Synaspismos, the dominant Eurocommunist component of SYRIZA. It departed amid some grievance over the leftist direction in which the leadership of Alexis Tsipras was taking the coalition, and took with it the former leader of SYRIZA, four sitting MPs, and hundreds of members. It selected Fotis Kouvelis as its leader, and lauded its attitude of "responsibility and accountability" before the press. Strictly in terms of its programme and its attitude to austerity, it was somewhere between SYRIZA and PASOK, and slightly to the right of the Greens with whom it shared enough to cooperate in the 2010 regional elections. After the May elections, Kouvelis even indicated that he would be willing to join a coalition government with some of the austerity parties if SYRIZA could be persuaded to join. So, having thus launched itself as both a critic of austerity and a "responsible party of government", at one stage it had 15% in the polls. That is not far short of what SYRIZA actually received in the recent parliamentary elections. There was no necessary reason, if what mattered was a pro-European anti-austerity stance, why SYRIZA should have overtaken them. 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 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. Likewise, that SYRIZA's claim on the majority of the left workers' vote is only a recent development, following from the formation of a PASOK-led coalition government, is true, but doesn't itself explain why SYRIZA should have benefited.

There are, of course, many determining factors, but I would suggest that a key determination was SYRIZA raising the slogan of a left government to stop austerity. This immediately distinguished it from its two main left electoral rivals -- the respectability-hugging DIMAR and the sectier-than-thou KKE. This is why SYRIZA could win the election with about a third of the vote, much of which it coming at the expense of other left parties. The KKE has lost the most, with its vote pushed down to about 5%. The anticapitalist left coalition ANTARSYA has also been squeezed, from 1.2% to about 0.5%. DIMAR appears to be relatively steady on 7.5%.

Of course, the KKE remains a powerful force in the workers' movement, but it is suffering from its appallingly sectarian position. Not only does it refuse to work with SYRIZA, but in true Third Period fashion it actually denounces them far more than it does the Nazis or the parties of the Memorandum. Its combination of militancy and sectarianism is partially rooted in the antiquated and mortified analysis of "monopoly capitalism", and partially in its view of its role as the vanguard party uniquely tasked with taking on the EU and the "monopolists". At any rate, the KKE has decided to make the EU the main point of division when it is clear that for most left-wing Greek workers, that is not the main antagonism.

Possibly, the KKE will comfort itself with the idea that its electoral perdition is temporary, that soon the ideological and political vapours giving rise to Syrizismo will dispel as the KKE edge out its left rivals and take the leadership of the workers' movement. But the KKE's strong industrial position is not written in stone, and this isn't just another election. The choice is between a New Democracy-led austerity government, which would be immensely demoralising, and a SYRIZA-led anti-austerity government, which would give the whole continental left a massive shot in the arm and open up a host of new possibilities. This is a key moment in which a great deal is condensed, which will be formative of a great deal of the political and ideological terrain for some time, and any formation that appears to bring the latter possibility closer isn't helping the industrial struggle. The best hope is that the KKE's delegates will be persuaded to give a vote of confidence in a SYRIZA-led minority government, and support its measures from the opposition benches, even if they refuse to join it. But one still can't be sure that they aren't waiting for the chance to say, "first the Golden Dawn, then us".

As for ANTARSYA, they are standing without illusions, expecting to incur a humiliatingly low vote. They intend to use the electoral platform to organise around and push for a programme of anticapitalist transition. You may say that it is unlikely that this programme will benefit from an electoral drubbing. You may add that since the main locus of their leadership is in the industrial and social struggles, since that is where they are a most serious force, this is probably where such a programme could be raised most effectively. And, going further, you might assert that in this election, with the stakes this high, the presence of ANTARSYA candidates is unlikely to add any new dynamic to the electoral contest, thus actually increasing the turnout among left voters. You may say that say none of the usual reasons for the far left running no-hope election campaigns apply, while unusual ones why they shouldn't, do. You may say all that. I couldn't possibly comment, except to nod vigorously and say, "Well, yes, of course."

Nonetheless, the majority of Greece's left-wing workers will support SYRIZA in its attempt to form a left government. And that may be enough to give SYRIZA a parliamentary majority, or at least a working minority government, which can then revoke the laws implementing the Memorandum. No small thing, this, if it happens.

Now, judging from online conversations and opinion pieces, a large section of the far left is waiting for the other shoe to drop. The narratives of betrayal are already being readied, the old verities being "proved" repeatedly. There are many variations, but the core of it is that: 1) SYRIZA are straightforwardly reformists, notwithstanding the substantial revolutionary fringe -- the tail does not wag the dog; 2) reformists are apt to compromise with the forces of capitalism, and as such a sell-out of the working class cannot be long following SYRIZA's election. In its latest instantiation, this is expressed in the tutting, sighing and fanning of armpits over Tsipras chatting up the G20. There it is: the betrayal is already afoot, the reformists already making deals with the bosses. Perhaps so, but thus far SYRIZA have not withdrawn from its fundamental commitments, which are: abrogate the Memorandum, and stop austerity measures. SYRIZA did not do so when there was pressure to do so after the last election, and are not doing so now.

I would advise caution on this line of critique, therefore: 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. The point will be to support the mass movements capable of pressuring a SYRIZA-led government from the left. No, they are not a revolutionary formation; no, they won't overthrow capitalism; no, their manifesto is not a communist manifesto. Yet it is just possible that SYRIZA won't betray workers in the interests of European capital, and that all the stern augury will have been displacement activity.

Of course there is an unresolved tension at the heart of SYRIZA's agenda. Of course they can't break the austerity deadlock within the EU. But it is not inevitable that they will resolve it by capitulation. For what it's worth, I think they know very well that the their policy will not be tolerable to the EU's masters. I think the talk of Europe's leaders not being willing to see Greece exit is a knowing bluff. Of course, the Merkozy consensus is weaker than before, and may well be weakened still by Spain's ongoing crisis, or by another plunge in Italy.

But one can't envision at any stage the EU's leadership allowing themselves to give in to a junior, peripheral EU state. Tsipras talks about Greece joining Europe as an equal and a partner -- that is exactly what the EU's leadership will never allow. So, I think the SYRIZA strategy is simply to avoid being blamed for Greece being forced out, in view of the potentially apocalyptic consequences of doing so. This is perfectly understandable, even if it is a position that one could not admit from a Marxist perspective, since it means basically fudging the problem that the quasi-colonial, class-structured hierarchies of the EU can possibly be reformed, but they cannot be reformed away. The latter is a problem that will return, even if a SYRIZA success is followed by a graceful default, and a "Grexit" under the most benign circumstances, and it has to be faced.

Moreover, the strongest likelihood for a SYRIZA-led government is that it will be in perpetual crisis. It would be a spot-lit enclave, under constant assault from capital and the media. One could well imagine that the severity of the social crisis, and the pressure from European capital, would force splits in such a government and bring about its early downfall. On the other hand, there would also be a pressure, which should be resisted, on the rank and file to temper its criticisms, and curtail its actions, in order to help "our" government as it came under capitalist attack. The best way to "save" such a government from capital would be to keep up the pressure and organisation, but not everyone would see it this way. And even if SYRIZA would lack a sufficient basis in the leadership of the workers' movement to effect a quietening of class struggle, it would have undoubted authority within the movement. So, these divisions would not merely be in the party of government, but would exert effects throughout the resistance. The election of a SYRIZA-led government will be a nodal point, not the end point, in the process of workers finding a solution to the problem.

However, I suggest you should compare those antagonisms to the sorts of demoralising splits and recriminations that would likely follow from a New Democracy victory and the prolonged imposition of austerity. Relatively speaking, the crisis of a SYRIZA government would be a benevolent crisis. This is SYRIZA's challenge: the good crisis, or the bad crisis? The first radical left government in Europe for a generation, in a situation more serious than any radical movement has faced since the Carnation Revolution, the further exacerbation of divisions in the European bourgeoisie, a step forward for the Greek and all European workers' movements, and possibly a new and uncertain terrain? Or, terra firma, in permanent opposition and division, with our weaknesses and hesitancy constantly making up for those of the bourgeoisie?

[Richard Seymour manages the Lenin's Tomb website. He is a prominent member of the British Socialist Workers Party. He is the author of the just-released American Insurgents.]

Greece, the historical bloc and populism

By Richard Seymour

June 10, 2012 -- Lenin's Tomb -- By far the most sophisticated explanation of Antarsya's position in the Greek struggles is this article by Panagiotis Sotiris, which attempts to ground a revolutionary strategy in Gramsci's concept of the "historical bloc".

I think the article is interesting for a number of reasons. First of all, I appreciate its discussion of the way in which a "left government" can potentially be a moment in a revolutionary sequence, in which the class struggle can be carried on for a time within the state apparatus. The idea, which I take to be implicit here, that the apparatuses of the executive and legislature can be temporarily occupied in the manner of resistances, that a left government can potentially act as a resistant force within and to some extent against the state, is light years ahead of the view that any such government would immediately and simply be an instrument of capitalist rule. This shows that, even if Antarsya (mistakenly in my view) decline to give SYRIZA critical support in this upcoming election, there is nothing in their general theoretical purview which excludes such a position.

Secondly, the most interesting aspect of the article was the attempt to recover the Gramscian notion of "national-popular" from the sort of compromises with nationalist politics that it has been associated with:

Also useful to this is Gramsci’s concept of the ‘national – popular’. I do not suggest a return to traditional left-wing flirting with a ‘national’ rhetoric that can blur class antagonism, but to the complex process, political, ideological and social, through which the people can re-emerge in a situation of struggle, not as the abstract subject of the bourgeois polity, but as the potentially anti-capitalist alliance of all those social strata that one way or the other depend upon their labour power in order to make ends meet. This also means a new form of popular unity, especially against the dividing results of racism, an urgent task in a country also facing the rise of the neo-fascists. [link added]

As far as I'm concerned, this would be worth an article by itself.  The problem is clearly one of how to link together forces from different classes (the workers, the petty bourgeois and the peasants) into a system of alliances that can contest the bourgeoisie's power. That is, a conjunction of social forces that one would call an "historical bloc". 

For, the problem is that for Greece to enter a revolutionary situation, one of the conditions is not only the development of a generalised breakdown of state capacity, and a generalised situation of dual power, but also simultaneously a rising new form of legitimacy. This requires the consolidation of a popular power coextensive with bourgeois power, a national political collectivity through which workers learn by means of their own experience that they can organise the society, and that the ruling class must be compelled to cede its power.

Part of the problem at the moment is that large sectors of society, including of the working class, believe that Greece's problems ultimately derive from a corrupt establishment, from supine politicians, and so on -- certainly, this is a crisis of legitimacy for the political elite, but it doesn't involve fundamentally questioning the capitalist state or bourgeois democracy as such. I think we can say this for most of the third of the electorate who voted for the anti-austerity right, and for the third who voted for the pro-austerity parties.  So, there are large numbers of people who will have to be won to a revolutionary alliance but who are at the moment gravitating to the dissident right. How to bind together such an alliance in a way that isn't merely electoral?

The answer proposed, of an anticapitalist populism, strikes me as a very useful mediator between social-democratic and outright revolutionary subjectivity. There is, after all, no iron wall between populism and communism; populism tends to be proto-communist to the extent that the popular-democratic interpellations which summon "the people" into conflict with the "power bloc" are susceptible to anticapitalist articulations.  Historically, it is rare to find a serious anti-capitalist movement that has not been preceded by, or suffused by, some form of populism.

Of course, there can be more than one mediating form. I would suggest that one such for millions of workers will probably be SYRIZA's own type of left-populism, which I gather is successfully assembling that linkage between workers, sections of the petty bourgeoisie and even some agrarian workers. And bridging the gap between one type of populist interpellation and another is a delicate operation, one that would seem to involve a certain amount of stealthy appropriation as much as outright criticism. What I mean by "appropriation" can be illustrated with an example: if SYRIZA says, "we intend to abrogate the laws implementing the Memorandum", one can either respond to this by dismissing it, or glossing over it; or one can embrace it, affirm it, and say that if anything they should go further: the logic of SYRIZA's position is that they should begin to prepare workers for a break with the EU, and for a confrontation with capital, etc etc.

Of course, those of us who live outside Greece will not face exactly similar scenarios (we should be so fortunate), but the broad strategic questions addressed in Sotiris's article will come to us in one form or another. And that's why it matters what we think about SYRIZA, and Greece, the crisis of Europe.

Comments

SWP Internal Debate

Richard, I certainly appreciate your analysis. Not is it much more nuanced and concrete than that of your collegue Alex Callincos, it would appear to reach vastly different conclusions as to how ANTARSYA should orient itself to SYRIZA.
I take it then that your position represents one side of the debate taking place within the leadership of the SWP, and that your publication of it signals that it represents a significant portion of your organization, though this is speculation on my part. Kind of like reading the entrails of goats or green tea leaves in the bottom of a cuppa.
It certainly would be more useful if that debate was more open, much in the manner of the debate between various currents within the Fourth International around its orientation to not only SYRIZA, but the Front of the Left in France, or Die Linke in Germany, as an example. With an open debate we all would benefit from points of view which may shed light on areas none of us have thought about.
Since we are all members of the same global revolutionary Marxist family, though situated in different currents or clans, the days in which "internal party debates" are treated as state secrets should be put behind us. The issues being raised by the throes of a capitalism (and potentially a planet)
in its death agony are much too important to be muttered about by a swiveled-eyed "little Marxism".
This is the age of the digital ISKRA, where not only dedicated media, like all the on-line newspapers of the various currents, including sites like "LINKS", and the many blog sites like yours, but the social media as well play a role of collective organizer, internal party discussion bulletin, news source and gossip column.
To miss out on healthy discussions amongst comrades is a not only a shame, it s also subtract from the educational process we all are going through. So I hope your article signals a greater willingness upon the part of your organization to engage with the discussions of utmost importance to the revolutionary left, in a manner which is authentic, as opposed to parroting a party line. Though I know you couldn't possible say so, I can.
Your allusion to "A House of Cards" is well appreciated, whether intended or not.

(For those unfamiliar with British televsion series, "A House of Cards" revolves around a character named Frances Urquart, who as a senior MP in the Thatcher government, is overlooked by the new Prime Minister for a cabinet position upon Thatcher's retirement. He sets about plotting how to undermine the new PM to take his place, by selectively leaking information to a couple of journalists. He would never say anything directly, but would utilize the phrase "You might say that, but I couldn't possible do so." Much as Richard has in his article above). How's that for a bit of arcane rambling?

Debating SYRIZA

June 9, 2012

http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/debating-syriza/

Although I have been very critical of Slavoj Zizek (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v34/n11/slavoj-zizek/save-us-from-the-saviours) in the past, I can only say Bravo to his London Review of Books article “Save us from the saviours”, especially this:

Only a new ‘heresy’ – represented at this moment by Syriza – can save what is worth saving of the European legacy: democracy, trust in people, egalitarian solidarity etc. The Europe we will end up with if Syriza is outmanoeuvred is a ‘Europe with Asian values’ – which, of course, has nothing to do with Asia, but everything to do with the tendency of contemporary capitalism to suspend democracy.

This was a most welcome shift from the proselytizing for “communism” that has marked his contributions in the recent past. Backing SYRIZA is not necessarily the same thing as a communist revolution, but it certainly is a break with the IMF and Wall Street backed austerity that is literally costing the lives of hundreds if not thousands of Greeks:

Dimitris Christoulas, a divorced and retired pharmacist, took his life on Wednesday in Syntagma Square, a focal point for frequent public demonstrations and protests, as hundreds of commuters passed nearby at a metro station and as lawmakers in Parliament debated last-minute budget amendments before elections, expected on May 6.

In a handwritten note found near the scene, the pensioner said he could not face the prospect “of scavenging through garbage bins for food and becoming a burden to my child,” blaming the government’s austerity policies for his decision.

–NY Times, April 6 2012

While nobody—well, at least me and my readers—can argue against the need for abolishing capitalism in Greece, there is still a basis for voting for SYRIZA that rests on a number of points in its program, including these:

Free health benefits to the unemployed, homeless and those with low salaries.
Subvention up to 30% of mortgage payments for poor families who cannot meet payments.
Increase of subsidies for the unemployed. Increase social protection for one-parent families, the aged, disabled, and families with no income.
Fiscal reductions for goods of primary necessity.
Nationalization of banks.

Some are not happy with Zizek’s support for SYRIZA. Despite my admiration for the contributors to Roar Magazine, an online publication that identifies strongly with the Occupy movement, editor Jerome Roos’s “Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s rising star, is a radical in name only” (http://roarmag.org/2012/06/alexis-tsipras-greeces-rising-star-is-a-radic...), leaves something to be desired:

In truth, a SYRIZA victory will do little to revolutionize Greek society and much less to free Greece from the neoliberal shackles of the eurozone. While Tspiras’ heart undoubtedly beats on the left side of his chest, SYRIZA’s policies will do more to stabilize than to overthrow the discredited and dysfunctional system he despises so much. Indeed, for all his eloquence and good intentions, Tsipras promises little more than radical social democracy. The only reason SYRIZA is considered far-Left is because the center has moved light years to the right.

Maybe there is something I am not getting, but calling for the nationalization of banks doesn’t sound like a promise to “stabilize the system”. And at the risk of lowering the bar to toe level, the prospects of having a party committed to “radical social democracy” sounds pretty good to me.

In many ways, Zizek’s understanding of the importance of SYRIZA resonates with the recent Hardt-Negri declaration (http://louisproyect.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/the-hardt-negri-declaration...) that sometimes it is good to have progressive governments in power:

From the 1990s to the first decade of this century, governments in some of the largest countries in Latin America won elections and came to power on the backs of powerful social movements against neoliberalism and for the democratic self-management of the common. These elected, progressive governments have in many cases made great social advances, helping significant numbers of people to rise out of poverty, transforming entrenched racial hierarchies regarding indigenous and Afro-descendant populations, opening avenues for democratic participation, and breaking long-standing external relations of dependency, in both economic and political terms, in relation to global economic powers, the world market, and US imperialism.

Of course, despite their acknowledgement that countries like Venezuela are “helping significant numbers of people to rise out of poverty”, their main interest is in seeing the “struggle continue” against Hugo Chavez, Evo Morales et al. This argument actually has merit, as long as it is understood that the social movements have a vested interest in seeing a Hugo Chavez running the state rather than a Felipe Calderón as it was in the past for an Alexander Kerensky rather than a General Kornilov.

Hardt and Negri’s flight from lofty “communist” abstractions, like Zizek’s, has sparked criticism. John Holloway, the author of the nonsensical “How to Change the World Without Taking Power”, does not like his comrades’ new direction at all. He reproves (http://www.herramienta.com.ar/revista-herramienta-n-49/creating-common-w...) Michael Hardt for allowing the “abolition of capitalism” to take a back seat in “Commonwealth”, their latest book. (One can assume that the ideas expressed in the declaration were introduced there.) But even more tellingly, Holloway worries that they have almost come up with a “programme of transitional demands”. In such circles, you can be assured that this amounts to apostasy.

Hardt recognizes exactly what it is troubling Holloway:

Our differences are probably most pronounced with regard to the so-called progressive governments in power today, especially those in Latin America. As you know, Toni and I, like you, are critical of all of these Leftist parties and governments, from Argentina and Brazil to Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. And like for you too our hopes and inspirations are linked primarily not to the governments but the powerful social movements that created the possibility of their electoral victories. But we do not regard these governments solely as antagonists.

It is not far-fetched to make the linkage between Latin America and Greece, as a May 13 NY Times article pointed out:

According to Gikas Hardouvelis, a senior economic adviser to Prime Minister Lucas Papademos and a participant in the talks over the most recent bailout, the I.M.F. supports a more relaxed view about the cuts in light of Greece’s economic hardship.

“For whatever reason, the hard-liners in Europe are saying that we deserve it,” Mr. Hardouvelis said. “They have destroyed the political center here, and the possibility of creating another Hugo Chavez is not zero.”

Notwithstanding the invocation of the Venezuelan leader as bogeyman, the more imminent likelihood is that SYRIZA’s leaders will embrace a form of Kirchnerism, to coin a term that describes Argentina’s recovery from a Greek-type abyss not too long ago. While the policies pursued by left-Peronists in Argentina seem all too easy to dismiss by the dreamers of the absolute, they would certainly be embraced by a working class in Greece that is being nailed to the IMF’s cross.

But more to the point, it is unlikely that Greece will be allowed to pursue such a neo-Keynesian program. Powerful imperialist institutions will do everything in their power to derail even a modest reformist agenda. If and when a struggle emerges between SYRIZA and the Wall Street/Washington/Bonn axis, the left will need to mobilize to defend the bolder measures such as nationalizing the banks while protecting the government against fascist attacks and CIA subversion. In an escalating series of confrontations, it cannot be ruled out that popular power will dictate the outcome and usher in a new type of society that hearkens back to the original Marxist vision of a classless society. But to stand on the sidelines now, because SYRIZA is not “revolutionary”, is a big mistake.

The British SWP has had the most remarkable reaction to SYRIZA. As an international organization, they have a member group in Greece that belongs to ANTARSYA, a coalition of small propaganda groups to the left of SYRIZA including Maoists and ortho-Trotskyists. In an interview with Socialist Review, the party’s monthly magazine, their co-thinker Giorgos Pittas (http://www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=12025) laid out ANTASYRA’s perspective:

Syriza is rising further in the polls. So we start by saying we have to fight hard against the pro-austerity parties who are terrified and attacking the left. We say victory to the left, but we also say that we want the anti-capitalist left to be part of it, so we will take part in the elections and we call on people to vote for Antarsya.

Perhaps one of the best known SWP members internationally is Richard Seymour, who blogs at Lenin’s Tomb and has been on tour recently promoting his new book American Insurgents: A Short History of American Anti-Imperialism. He also takes a position at odds with Pittas, but put forward in a most comradely fashion. In the article titled “The Challenge of SYRIZA” (http://www.leninology.com/2012/06/challenge-of-syriza.html), he argues:

Now, judging from online conversations and opinion pieces, a large section of the far left is waiting for the other shoe to drop. The narratives of betrayal are already being readied, the old verities being ‘proved’ repeatedly. There are many variations, but the core of it is that: 1) Syriza are straightforwardly reformists, notwithstanding the substantial revolutionary fringe – the tail does not wag the dog; 2) reformists are apt to compromise with the forces of capitalism, and as such a sell-out of the working class cannot be long following Syriza’s election. In its latest instantiation, this is expressed in the tutting, sighing, and fanning of armpits over Tsipras chatting up the G20. There it is: the betrayal is already afoot, the reformists already making deals with the bosses. Perhaps so, but thus far Syriza have not withdrawn from their fundamental commitments, which are: abrogate the Memorandum, and stop austerity measures. They did not do so when there was pressure to do so after the last election, and are not doing so now.

I would advise caution on this line of critique, therefore: 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. The point will be to support the mass movements capable of pressuring a Syriza-led government from the left. No, they are not a revolutionary formation; no, they won’t overthrow capitalism; no, their manifesto is not a communist manifesto. Yet it is just possible that Syriza won’t betray workers in the interests of European capital, and that all the stern augury will have been displacement activity.

In a fascinating exchange of views underneath the article, Richard makes clear that ANTASYRA might want to rethink its approach:

They [ANTASYRA] can do whatever they want, but what is this about ‘silencing’ themselves? The only way they can express a voice is by subjecting themselves to an electoral wipe-out? That’s their main area of strength here? I mean, seriously, what is the argument for standing? Is it to gain as big a voice as possible? If so, then it’s not going to happen – and if it did, it might have an impact on the outcome of the elections that Antarsya would not want to be responsible for. So, what else? To keep their presence on the ballot? Why? In *every* election, this is essential? To get over a message? Their best way of reaching people is through an electoral process in which they will get a fraction of one percent, and at that a fraction of the vote they previously got in the parliamentary elections, which was smaller than the previous high in the regional elections, and no seats anywhere? I see absolutely no argument for their *having* to stand. So, by all means, they will do whatever they think best – they certainly won’t listen to me. But perhaps we should reflect on what this means for us. If we end up rationalising a position that makes no sense, and internalising its presuppositions, there’s a risk we can make worse mistakes.

(It should be added that a lively exchange of views on the Egyptian elections is also taking place in these circles, a topic for another article.)

For those familiar with my critique of “democratic centralism”, it will come as no surprise that I view the discussion taking place on Richard’s blog as essential for the evolution of the British SWP and its international organization. When a deep-going debate such as this begins to take place on the left, it will naturally be reflected in the ranks of every organization. It benefits the left to air out our differences in public since they help to clarify our thinking—especially when the participants are well versed in Marxist politics. Keep in mind that Lenin and Bukharin had public debates during WWI on the national question. This was the Bolshevik norm and if it was good enough for them, it is good enough for us.

Finally, I want to suggest that SYRIZA has much more in common with traditional Marxist concepts of a “revolutionary program” than many on the left realize. (I will be elaborating on this at some length in a pending article.) Our tendency is to mistake doctrine with program. For example, not long after I joined the SWP of the United States in 1967, I asked an old-timer up in party headquarters what our program was. (A Maoist friend had challenged me about our bona fides.) He waved his hand in the direction of our bookstore and replied, “It’s all there.” This meant having positions on everything from WWII to Kronstadt. Becoming a “cadre” meant learning the positions defended in over a hundred pamphlets and books and defending them in public. Of course, this had much more in common with a church’s doctrine than what Karl Marx had in mind when he defined the program of Communists this way:

Centralisation of credit in the hands of the state, by means of a national bank with State capital and an exclusive monopoly.
Free education for all children in public schools. Abolition of children’s factory labour in its present form. Combination of education with industrial production, &c, &c.

When you stop and think about it, this is sort of the thing you can find in SYRIZA’s program. Maybe it is time for the left to rethink the question of how we demarcate parties? Instead of demanding that new members learn the catechism on controversial questions going back to the 1920s, they instead would be required to defend a class orientation in their respective arenas, like the trade union movement or the student movement, etc. That would make us a lot stronger than we are today. We need millions united in struggle, especially since the death rattle coming out of capitalism’s throat grows louder day by day.

Who's in, who's out of SYRIZA

People in or around the British SWP are obviously going to be interested in the stance taken by their sister group in Greece, while a number of the little sectarian operations on the British left are more interested in the opportunity the SEK's stance gives them to score points against a bigger local rival than they are in the Greek situation itself. Personally, and again this is a function of the sites I frequent rather than anything else, I've seen quite a lot more material in English about Xekinima than any of the other Trotskyist currents on the Greek left.

Xekinima, the CWI group, is formally outside SYRIZA but has a standing invitation to attend SYRIZA meetings, including leadership meetings. They are friendly towards SYRIZA, but sharply critical of some of their political stances and the fudges in their programme. They have long argued (both now and back when they were actually in SYRIZA) that SYRIZA should reach out to Antarsya and the KKE, and that those forces should not take a sectarian attitude towards SYRIZA but should instead act to drag that formation to the left. There's a huge amount of material from them in English on the CWI website here: www.socialistworld.net/view/29

As for what the other Trotskyist groups are saying, unfortunately, few of them have much English language material. OKDE-Spartakos (USFI) is inside Antarsya but does not see eye to eye with the USFI internationally. The USFI seem to prefer Kokkino, a split from the DEA with USFI observer status which is inside SYRIZA. You can get some limited material reflecting the perspective of these groups at www.internationalviewpoint.org

The DEA, the other big chunk of "IS" Trotskyism in Greece is inside SYRIZA, and the US ISO's rather basic coverage seems to be the best place to find material from them in English.

Marxisti Foni is a much smaller group than most of these, affiliated to the Alan Woods IMT. It is of note primarily because it has a unique tactic of entry within Synaspismos (as opposed to affiliation to SYRIZA). You can find their material on the In Defence of Marxism site, and there is interesting stuff there but I warn you in advance that you'll have to have your bombast to English translator in full working order.

There are lots of other Trotskyist groups in Greece, but many of them are tiny super-sectarian outfits of a sort you are no doubt familiar with in Britain. I don't think, for instance, that a discussion of the approach of the Greek Sparts (which, incidentally, is essentially hurrah for the KKE, down with SYRIZA) or similar groups would really add much.

Slavoj Žižek's speech on SYRIZA

Some sense for once from Zizek ...

Slavoj Žižek's speech in SYRIZA's event

04/06/2012

I am honoured to be here, but ashamed that I don't speak your language. So, let me begin: Late in his life, Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, asked the famous question; “What does a woman want?” Admitting the perplexity, when faced with the enigma of feminine sexuality. And a similar perplexity arises today; “What does Europe want?”

This is the question you, the Greek people are addressing Europe. Because you know what you want, you want this guy to be your next Prime Minister. Europe doesn't know what it wants. The way European States and Media relates to what is going on now in Greece, is, I think, the best indicator of what kind of Europe they want. Is it the neo-liberal Europe, is it the Europe of isolationist states or maybe something different. Critics accuse SYRIZA of being a threat to the Euro, but SYRIZA is, on the contrary, the only chance for Europe. Far from being a threat. You are giving a chance to Europe to break out of its inertia to find a new way.

In his notes towards a definition of culture, the great conservative poet, T.S. Eliot, remarked the moments when the only choice is between heresy and non-belief. That is to say moments when the only way to keep a belief, to keep religion alive, is to perform a sectarian split from the main course.

This is what happens today with Europe; only a new heresy represented at this moment by SYRIZA, can save what is worth saving in the European legacy; Democracy, trusting people, egalitarian solidarity. The Europe that will win, if SYRIZA is out-maneuvered is a Europe with Asian values - and of course these Asian values have nothing to do with Asia, but with the clear and present tendency of contemporary capitalism to suspend democracy.

SYRIZA is said to lack the proper experience to govern. Yes, I agree, they lack the experience of how to bankrupt a country by cheating and stealing. You don't have this experience. This brings us to the absurdity of the politics of the European establishment; they bring the preach of paying taxes, opposing Greek clientelism and they put all their hopes on the coalition of the two parties which brought to Greece this clientelism.

Christine Lagarde, recently said that she has more sympathy for the poor inhabitants of the Niger, than for Greeks, and she even advised the Greeks to help themselves by paying their taxes, which, as I found a few days ago, she doesn't have to pay. Like all liberal humanitarians, she likes the impotent poor who behave like victims, evoke our sympathy and bring us to give charity.

But the problem with you Greeks is that you suffer, yes, but you are not passive victims, you resist, you fight, you do not want sympathy and charity, you want active solidarity. You want and you demand a mobilization, a support for your fight.

SYRIZA is accused of promoting leftist fictions, but it is the austerity plan, imposed by Brussels, which clearly is a work of fiction. Everybody knows that this plan is fictitious, that the Greek state, cannot ever repay the debt, in this way. In a strange gesture of collective make-belief, everyone ignores the obvious nonsense of the financial projection on which the European plans are based.

So why does Brussels impose these measures on you? The true aim of these measures is not to save Greece, but of course to save the European banks.

These measures are not presented as decisions grounded in political choices, but as necessities imposed by neutral economic logic. Like, if we want to stabilize our economy, we simply have to swallow the bitter pill. Or, by tautological proverbial sayings, like you cannot spend more than you produce. Well, the American banks and United States as such, are a big proof, for decades, that you can spend more than you produce.

To illustrate the mistake of austerity measures, Paul Krugman, often compares them to the medieval practice of blood letting. A nice metaphor, which I think should be radicalized, further. The European financial doctors, themselves not sure about how this medicine works, are using you as test-rabbits, they are letting your blood, not the blood of their own countries. There is no blood letting for the German and French banks. On the contrary, they are getting big transfusions.

So is SYRIZA, really, a group of dangerous extremists? No, SYRIZA is here to bring pragmatic common sense. To clear the mess created by others. It is those who impose austerity measures who are dangerous dreamers. The true dreamers are those who think that things can go on, indefinitely, the way they are just with some cosmetic changes. You are not dreamers; you are awakening from a dream, which is turning into a nightmare.

You are not destroying anything; you are reacting to how the system is gradually destroying itself. We all know the classic scene from cartoons, Tom and Jerry and so on: The cat reaches the precipice, but goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet, then it only starts to fall down, when it looks down and notices that there is nothing. This is all you are doing. You are telling those in power, “hey, look down!” and they are falling down.

The political map of Greece is clear and exemplary; In the centre, I hope you noticed it, there is, that, one big party, one party, with two wings, left and right, PASOK and New Democracy. It's like, you know, Cola, which is Coca and Pepsi, an indifferent choice. The true name of this party, if you bring PASOK and ND together, should be something, I think, like NHMAD, New Hellenic Movement Against Democracy.

Of course, this big party claims that is for democracy, but I claim they are for decaffeinated democracy. Like, you know, coffee without caffeine, beer without alcohol, ice cream without sugar. They want democracy, but democracy where instead of making a choice, people just confirm what wise experts tell them to do. They want democratic dialogue? Yes, but, you know, like in the late Plato's dialogues, where one guy talks all the time, and the other only says, every ten minutes, “by Zeus, so it is!”

And then, there is the exception. You, SYRIZA, the true miracle, radical left movement, which stepped out of the comfortable position of marginal resistance and courageously signaled your readiness to take power. This is why you have to be punished.

That is why Bill Freyja, recently wrote in the Forbes magazine, in an article with the title “ Give Greece what it deserves: Communism.” Here is a short quote:

“What the world needs, let's not forget, is a contemporary example of communism in action. What better candidate than Greece? Just toss them out of the European Union, cut off the flow of free Euros and hand them back their old drachmas. Then, stand back for a generation and watch". In other words, Greece should be exemplary punished so that once and for all, the temptation for a radical, leftist solution of the crisis will be blocked.

I know that the task of SYRIZA is almost impossible. SYRIZA is not the extreme left madness, it is the voice of pragmatic reason, counteracting the market ideology madness. SYRIZA will need the formidable combination of principle politics and rootless pragmatism of democratic commitment and readiness to act fast and brutally when needed. If you, SYRIZA are to be given a chance, a minimal chance to succeed, you will also need pan-European solidarity.

This is why I think, you, here in Greece, should avoid cheap nationalism, all the talk about how Germany wants to re-occupy you, destroy you and so on. Your first task is to change things here. SYRIZA will have to do the job, which the other guys should have done. The job of building a better, modern - an effective state. The job of clearing the state apparatus from clientelism. It's a hard job, there is nothing enthusiastic in it, it's slow, hard, boring job.

Your pseudo-radical critics are telling you that the situation is not yet right for the true social change. That if you take power now, you will just help the system, making it more efficient. This is, if I understand it correctly, what KKE, which is basically the party of the people who are still alive because they forgot to die, are telling you.

It is true, that your political elite demonstrated its inability to rule, but there will never be a moment when the situation will be fully right for the change. If you wait for the right moment, the right moment will never come. When you intervene, it is always immature. So, you have a choice: Either comfortable wait and look how your society is disintegrating, as some other parties of the Left suggest, or heroically intervene, fully aware of how difficult the situation is. And SYRIZA made the right choice.

Your critics hate you, because, I think, secretly, they know you have the courage to be free and to act as free people. When you are in the eyes of the public, those who observe you understand, at least for the flash of an instant, that you are offering them freedom. You dare do what they also dream about. For that instant, they are free. They are one with you. But it is only for a moment. Fear returns and they hate you again, because they are afraid of their own freedom.

So, what is the choice that you, the Greek people, are facing on June 17? You should bear in mind the paradox that sustains the free vote in democratic societies: You are free to chose on condition that you are making the right choice. Which is why, when the choice is the wrong one, for example when Ireland voted against the European constitution, the wrong choice is treated as a mistake and you know, they want to repeat the voting, in order to enlighten the people to make the right choice. And this is why the European establishment is in a panic. They see that maybe, you don't deserve your freedom, because there is a danger that you will make the wrong choice.

There is a wonderful joke in Earns Lubifish, classical comedy, Ninoxka: The hero, listens carefully, visits a cafeteria and orders a coffee without cream. The waiter replies “Sorry, but we have run out of cream, we only have milk, so can I bring you coffee without milk?” So, in both cases, you get coffee alone, but I think the joke is a correct one. You know negation also matters. The coffee without cream is not the same as the coffee without milk. You are in the same predicament today; the situation is difficult. You will get some kind of austerity, but will you get the coffee of austerity without cream, or without milk? It is here that the European establishment is cheating. The European establishment is acting as if you will got the coffee of austerity without cream. That is to say that the fruits of your hardship will not profit only European banks, but they are effectively offering you coffee without milk, it is you who will not profit from your own sacrifice and hardship.

In the very South of Peloponnese, round Mani, I was there, I know it, the so-called weepers; women that you hire to cry at funerals. They can do the spectacle for the relatives of the diseased. Now, there is nothing primitive about this. We, in our developed societies, are doing exactly the same. Think about this wonderful invention, I think maybe the greatest contribution of America to the world culture, the so-called can-laughter. You know, the laughter, which is part of their sound track on TV. Like, you know, you can go home tired, you put on TV some stupid show like Cheers or Friends and you just sit and the TV, even laughs for you. And, unfortunately, it works.

That's how those in power, the European establishment, wants to see, not only Greek people, but all of us: Just staring at the screen and observe how the others are doing the dreaming, crying and laughing. There is an apocryphal but wonderful anecdote about the exchange of telegrams between German and Austrian army headquarters in the middle of the First World War: The Germans sent a message to the Austrians; “Here, on our part of the front, the situation is serious, but not catastrophic.” The Austrians replied; “Here, the situation is catastrophic but not serious.”

This is the difference between SYRIZA and others: For the others, the situation is catastrophic, but not serious, things can go on as usual, while for SYRIZA, the situation is serious, but not catastrophic, since courage and hope should replace fear. So, what is ahead of you is to quote the title of an old song of the Beatles, “a long and winding road.” When decades ago, the cold war threatened to explode into a hot one, John Lennon wrote a song, you remember it, if you are old enough, “all we are saying is give peace a chance.” Today, I want to hear a new song all around Europe, “all we are saying is give Greece a chance.”

Allow me just to conclude with a reference to one of your greatest maybe, the greatest classical tragedies, Antigone: Don't fight battles, which are not your battles. In my idea of Antigone, we have Antigone and Creon. These are just to sects of the ruling class. This is, a little bit, like PASOK and New Democracy. In my version of Antigone, while the two members of the royal families are fighting each other, threatening to ruin the state, I would like to see the chorus, the voices of the people, stepping out of this stupid role of just wise comment, take over, constitute a public committee of people's power, arrest both of them, Creon and Antigone and establish the people's power.

Just allow me now to finish with a personal note. I hate the traditional, intellectual left, which likes revolution but the revolution, which takes place somewhere far away. This is why when I was young, the further away it is, the better; Vietnam, Cuba, even today, Venezuela. But you are here, and that's what I admire. You are not afraid to engage in a desperate situation, knowing how the odds are against you. And this is what I admire. You know, there is also a principled opportunism, opportunism of principles. When you say the situation is lost, we cannot do anything, because we would betray our principles, this appears to be a principled position, but it's really the extreme form of opportunism. SYRIZA is a unique event of how precisely that left -in contradiction to what the usual extra-parliamentary left does, that cares more if some criminals' human rights are violated, than if thousands are dying- gathered the courage to do something. So I conclude now with a great honor to give the word to your future prime minister.

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