Left DebateOpinion

Lessons from Greece: Syriza had fatal flaws

… writes Ronan Burtenshaw.

The deal that Syriza’s leadership has consented to is an outright capitulation, worse than the ones agreed to by previous neoliberal governments, representing an historic defeat for the Left.

It arises from a fatal flaw in the party’s strategy, a specific theoretical position, namely Left-Europeanism.

This tendency, that predominates many of Europe’s large radical Left parties, advocates a long march through the institutions of the European Union. Proponents argue that capitalist command has ascended to a transnational level, rendering nation-state solutions redundant. They see a united, socialist Europe as a potential economic and geopolitical counterweight to the power of finance and the global hegemon, the United States.

On the contrary, the results of the six-month negotiations makes it clear that the EUu, and particularly the Euro, constitute a neoliberal prison from which any propery Left project must break.

Much of Syriza’s recent success has been built on Left-Populism, a theory which argues that the era of democratic capitalism is over. Responding to this, Left-Populism seeks to put a political vehicle at the service of working people. This will articulate demands that can act as revolutionary reforms; the struggle for such demands that broadens and deepens politicisation and undermines the systemic logic of capitalism.

One downfall to Left-Populism, particularly when blended with ideological support for the euro and the European Union, is that it can be difficult to spot its boundaries.

So, when Syriza’s leadership called a referendum against the ultimatum of late June, it seemed clear that the logic of this decision was to decide which was more important – the euro or fighting austerity. This was incorrect.

Syriza’s Left–Europeanism was so strong that it would deliberately not turn to a Plan B of progressive Grexit if the Troika imposed unacceptable terms.

Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras made this clear. Syriza had been offered Grexit by the German Finance Minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, in March, but decided to reject this option outright, even calling Chancellor Merkel to tell her that, no matter what, they would stay in the eurozone.

People will die as a result of the new agreement. It condemns Greece to spiral further down into destitution, with all the effects that will have on poverty rates, the health system, joblessness and, yes, suicides. But, worse than previous memoranda, it captures their leading opposition too, robbing the Greek people of not just material necessities but hope and dignity.

Many will use this as an excuse to advocate retreat into other organisational forms and strategies, like the revolutionary vanguard party, which have failed even more clearly than Syriza. The refrain will be, “Greece confirms what we’ve been saying all along.”

It is worth remembering that Syriza did much correctly, much more so than our Left. It brought together dozens of tendencies into a broad Left party. Its close relations with social movements gave it a dual power capacity, preventing excessive bureaucratisation. It won a landslide electoral victor for an anti-neo-liberal programme and won so much support during negotiations that 61% of Greeks, on a clear class basis, said ‘Oxi’ to the demands of the Troika on 5th July.

The reality is that Grexit would be extremely difficult. Former Syriza Finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis, said:

“We would have to create a new currency from scratch. In occupied Iraq, the introduction of new paper money took almost a year, 20 or so in Boeing 747s, the mobilisation of the US military’s might, three printing firms and hundreds of trucks. In the absence of such support, Grexit would be the equivalent of announcing a large devaluation more than 18 months in advance: a recipe for liquidating all Greek capital stock and transferring it abroad by any means available.”

Conducting Grexit with limited hurt to the popular classes would mean massive expropriation of the capitalist class – leading to open class war against a NATO-backed regime. There would have been food and medicine shortages. Greece’s economy would have taken a severe medium term hit.

But, had they won, they could have found some relief. The deal signed offers suffering without end or hope of relief.

Twenty-first century capitalism is a world system. It is not even a prison, with walls you can smash. Twenty-first century capitalism is a prison colony. Even if we escape, we face the wilderness. And no-one has a map for which direction to go.

The author is a member of the Greek Solidarity Committee.

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