By Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch
July 27, 2015 -- Jacobin, posted at Links international Journal of Socialist Renewal with permission -- Think of a plant where the owners of a
company have acted harshly and unfairly to their workers while
the union leadership has been passive or even complicit in this
treatment. Many workers have resisted, downing tools for a few hours and
occupying a section of the plant for a few days.
Finally, with a new collective agreement coming up, the workers elect
a radical new union leadership team. The negotiations drag on for many
months, and ultimately that leadership calls a strike vote that gets an
overwhelming show of support.
It returns to the bargaining table expecting that this fresh
mandate will change the minds of the employers, and it does — but not as
the union had hoped. Rather, the bosses now say: “Well, that’s it;
we’re closing the plant. It’s clear that despite all our efforts these
past few years, the workers will never be disciplined enough to generate
Faced with imminent closure and concerned about their members’ jobs,
the new union leadership reluctantly signs off on a new collective
agreement that includes even harsher language than before. They do not
sugarcoat what has happened: “It is a bad agreement, but it kept the
Although the new union leadership remains popular, many
members are upset, shout “betrayal”, demonstrate in front of the union
office, and demand that the plant be taken over and run by the union.
The union leadership says this is not going to work: leaving
aside the likelihood of the police being called in by the owners, there
is the problem of cancelled contracts, lack of investment funds to
convert the plant for other, more viable uses, and so on.
“All we can do”, they say, “is hang on, hope to get more solidarity
support next time from workers in other plants within the company, and
work towards collective action across all the plants. We will
not sell this agreement as a victory. Instead, we will keep fighting
within it, carry forward as many grievances as we can, and work to rule.”
Analogies are always limited. Greece
is, after all, an independent state that notionally controls the fate of
its economy. However, what makes the analogy apt is that the radical
SYRIZA government was elected in January 2015 based on its promise to try to
bargain a better deal than the severe neoliberal austerity imposed
through the memoranda signed by previous governments.
At the same time, it promised to remain in the eurozone monetary
system, in which Greece’s financial system is embedded, as well as
within the framework of the European Union, into which its economy has
been integrated. The new government’s election was conditional on its
making both these promises simultaneously, and the negotiations it
entered into were a test of the compatibility of these two promises, as
was the July 5 referendum it called and won so overwhelmingly after five
months of fruitless negotiations.
The charges of betrayal
being levelled against the SYRIZA leadership today are based on its
signing off on the latest very harsh memorandum. But insofar as this
memorandum was imposed on the basis of the threat of expelling Greece
from the eurozone and leaving its banking system without support, the
claim that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras “capitulated” implies
that there was a viable alternative centred on an immediate eurozone
exit (“Grexit”) that the government could have undertaken.
The political conditions that would make an immediate Grexit viable
are not present today. Those who insist that these political conditions
were established by the outcome of the referendum are being
The latest poll,
conducted by the reputable Palmos Analysis from July 15 to 17, shows
that even taking into account the harsh new memorandum, 74 per cent
continue to support staying with the euro — and this includes 66 per cent
of SYRIZA supporters. At least 42 per cent of those polled after the
signing of the new memorandum indicated they would vote for SYRIZA
today, a substantial increase over the 36 per cent in the last election.
This gives SYRIZA more than a 20 per cent lead over New Democracy, which
is in second place, and would yield a clear majority of the parliament’s
Given his massive popularity, Tsipras might, with an enthusiastic
campaign, have tried to increase support for exiting the euro, but even
getting that to a bare majority would require more than doubling current
support for returning to the drachma, which stands at only 24 per cent.
Tsipras has always made it very clear that he — and this applies to the
majority of the party’s leadership at every level — would only go as far
as the Europeans would let him. He was elected on this basis and
conducted the referendum on the same basis.
Those who now traduce him for not doing an about-face are now
effectively admitting that they should have backed the Greek Communist
Party (KKE) or the Antarysa positions all along, rather than enthusiastically backing SYRIZA’s election.
Tsipras’ credibility is based on his insistence — antithetical to a
union leader selling concessions as a victory and therefore doing the
work of the company — that the deal is bad. He presents it as being
forced not just on him but on the Greek people by the troika, above all
As he put it to the Greek Parliament on July 22:
We have chosen a compromise that forces us to implement a
program in which we do not believe, and we will implement it because
the alternatives are tough. We are summoned today to legislate under a
state of emergency. The presence of the left in this government isn’t
about the pursuit of office, it’s a bastion from which to fight for our
people’s interests. And as far as I’m concerned, I won’t abandon this
bastion, at least of my own free will.
It must also be said that the Left Platform’s advocates for an easy
immediate Grexit are not very persuasive. It assumes that existing
state institutions could be readily bent to the will of the government,
let alone be adequate to carrying out the plan.
And even if the Left Platform’s plan for Grexit was efficiently
applied, it would most likely cause severe transitional hardship for a
significantly longer period of time than the advocates of the plan say
it would. Any serious alternative would need to consider the political
consequences of this, especially if it had the effect of alienating
Those who — like ourselves — believe
that leaving the eurozone will eventually be necessary must acknowledge
that this cannot be done immediately. A base for leaving must be
developed, and this means taking the time to prepare for exit.
The continuing support for Tsipras suggests that there is time to
deal with creating the necessary transformations within the state, and
the creative plans that both maintain confidence in the government and
allow people to organically learn why they need to move beyond the
limits of integration within a neoliberal Europe.
Most of those who now support Tsipras do not propose to simply wait
for European institutions to become “better”. They see the struggle in
terms of an internationalism based on each country adding to the “little
fires” that SYRIZA started and which will lead to changing the European
Union. Others see the need for a rupture but want a far more elaborated
and extensive plan for an economic transition than the Left Platform
The central problem is that even the most detailed plans now being advanced are presented as a set of alternative policies, but in fact amount to demands for an immediate political revolution. They
fail to confront whether this is possible given the balance of forces
inside Greece, as reflected in mostly unreconstructed institutions of
the state itself, as well as by the continuing public preference for
staying with the euro. Concrete political analysis, rather than a
technical response to a political problem, is what is needed in the
The best that can be hoped for right now is the development of
sharper clarity, even among those in SYRIZA who understand the need for a
rupture, and the recognition that this rupture must go beyond simply a
rupture with the euro — it must be a rupture with the European Union as a neoliberal free trade and free capital zone.
The Left Platform’s Plan B
shrinks from tying these two imperatives together. Moreover, the fact
that it is presented as a set of policies that could be readily imposed
from the pinnacle of the state reflects what most politicized social
movement activists and creative cadre inside the party dislike about the
top-down strategic approach of the Left Platform.
As we have argued,
a real Plan B would need to be designed with all this in mind, and it
would need to include a political plan for improving both the capacities
of the party and the government to better contemplate, and successfully
lead, such a rupture through both the state and the society.
Constructive pressure on the SYRIZA government should be oriented
toward pressing Tsipras to inaugurate this new phase by actively linking
the government and the party with the solidarity networks, with the aim
of deepening and expanding them in every community in Greece.
The real test for SYRIZA now will be its ability to do this, thereby
transcending its current divisions, including accusations of betrayal
against the Tsipras government, on the one hand, and attempts to
marginalize supporters of the Left Platform, on the other.
Removing the pressure from the Left would certainly undermine a
crucial safeguard against the government becoming indistinguishable from
mainstream social-democratic governments across Europe. But a far
greater proportion of the party than is represented by the Left
Platform, and this is true of the parliamentary party and even the
cabinet, are determined that this should not happen.
At the same time, no one should see the defeat of the Tsipras
government or a split within the party as an “opportunity” for the Left.
It would be a disaster that the political right, including the fascists, would primarily benefit from.
The profound issues involved here require the international left to
seriously confront the uncharted complexities of any democratic
socialist strategy in today’s global neoliberal context. No party of the left that comes into office anywhere today is likely to be as radical
as we might like.
What is the responsibility of the socialist left in these concrete
circumstances? There will be disappointments; achievements will be
partial at best and vulnerable to reversals; and there will be
continual, renewed attempts to get them on track again. Ultimately,
we know little about how to deal with this situation.
Debates within the left are absolutely essential, but they should be
conducted without easy revolutionary posturing, and with appropriate
modesty — because no one has easy answers in this difficult and complex
[Sam Gindin and Leo Panitch are the authors of The Making of Global Capitalism.]