Syriza at the crossroads

Alan Thornett looks at the developments of the last week and their implications:

The new Greek government, after being threatened and intimidated by the ECB, the IMF, and the EU elites, has accepted a dangerous compromise deal in order to extend its loan facility for 4 months. This deal, if not reversed, will seriously damage the credibility of the government and the anti-austerity alternative that it represents.

The German government was by far the most ruthless in driving the deal through, and wanted to see Greece humiliated. No other government, however, gave any support to Greece, whatsoever, during the process.

These ‘negotiations’ took place against a background deep social crisis in Greece after 5 years of brutal austerity imposed by the EU elites and the previous Greek government and against the ongoing economic and political crisis of the EU itself, and the Eurozone in particular. Greece has been and remains the epicentre of the crisis and has been turned, by the European elites, into a laboratory for austerity policies designed to make the working class pay for the capitalist crisis. Greece has therefore to be sacrificed for Euro-zone stability and survival.

In Northern and Central Europe it has been mainly the right wing and far-right forces have benefited from this crisis. In the peripheral countries of Southern Europe, where the harshest austerity policies have been forced through, the radical left have been making big gains—in Greece and Spain in particular.

The pressure heaped on Greece to accept this deal could hardly have been greater. On February 4th the ECB announced that it had stopped the refinancing of the Greek banks—i.e. it would no longer accept Greek bonds—which sharply accelerated flight of capital out of the country, which was already running at over €2bn a week. By the time of the ‘negotiations’ on February 20th it was questionable whether the Greek banking system—the weakest link of the new government—would have lasted another week without either refinancing or the imposition of capital movement controls by the new government. There were clear echoes of Cyprus in 2013 and Ireland in 2010.

Faced with this the Greek delegation—led by Varoufakis (who comes from a PASOK background and has never been a Syriza member) but with the intervention of Tsipras—accepted the deal—also involved acceptance of Troika oversight that had been previously refused.
The most immediate effect of the deal, however, is to threaten some of the important provisions of the ‘Thessaloniki Programme’—a set of measures designed to start to roll back the austerity imposed under the previous regime and demonstrated the new government’s break with the previous government and its support for the Memorandum. This had been adopted before the election but announced again immediately afterwards as a governmental statement of intent.

Tsipras and Varoufakis claimed that they had achieved some wriggle-room with the wording of the deal and some of it will still be possible, but only time will tell. They are hoping to start to legislate some of the Thessaloniki proposals included the re-establishment of workplace rights, the re-hiring of laid-off public sector workers, the re-connection of electricity for households cut off, the re-establishment of the ERT (public radio and TV) and (very important) the automatic provision of Greek citizenship to the children of migrants in Greece quite soon, so we will see how this goes. Other measures such as raising the minimum wage and establishing pensions are going to be more difficult and are more vulnerable to the terms of the deal.

A serious setback

All this is a very serious setback for the left and for the anti-austerity movement in Greece, but it is far from the end of the story. It is the first round in what is likely to be a long and battle, both inside Syriza and amongst its supporters, and in the wider workers movement. This is shown by the remarkable level of popular support that continues for the new government despite the deal. Polls the day after the deal was struck showed 40% support for the way the government had conducted the negotiations and a thumping 87% approval rating for Tsipras himself.

The new government is not seen, despite the deal, as class collaborationists or betrayers. People feel that they have got rid of the old corrupt gangs and have regained their dignity—which is not a small thing. The new government is seen—unlike social democratic parties who politically adopt the neo-liberal agenda—as an anti-austerity government faced with (or presented with) impossible (or near impossible) odds by the EU elites and forced into a deal they did not want. This could change quite quickly of course, but it is strong at the moment.

It is, however, and here is the rub, also a government that had not prepared either itself or its supporters (most of whom baulk at leaving the Euro or the EU) for the harsh realities of confrontation with the EU when it came. It therefore baulked at deploying the only real alternative to the deal available to it, the so-called ‘nuclear option’, which was to stand firm, refuse the deal, and challenge the elites to either provide a no-strings loan or throw Greece out of the Eurozone and face the consequences.

Tsipras and Varoufakis seemed to have thought that the EU elites would be swayed by their massive electoral mandate to reverse austerity and give them some leeway as a result. This was never going to happen, if the elites could possible avoid it. A democratic mandate meant nothing to them. In fact it was ridiculed by Wolfgang Schaeuble, the German finance minister, who appeared not to even understand the concept. He welcomed Syriza ‘to the realities of power’ and wished them luck in explaining their about face to their voters.

Yet the ‘nuclear option’ was a real option and a huge threat to the Eurozone, had it been deployed. The elites knew this full well and had (had) being preparing the ground for such an eventuality for some time. They had started to suggest that maybe contagion could be contained after all, and that it might even be a good thing if Greece went its own way and left the Euro or even the EU. It was cynical spin, of course. A Greek exit would have engendered (and would still engender) a huge crisis in the EU, but it was an effective ploy.

The fact is that Eurozone is locked into a deflationary crisis that is not about to go away. The Euro is fragile and the possibility of it surviving a Greek default and exit from the Euro without contagion spreading in particular to Spain but also to Portugal Ireland and Italy was and is slim.
The ‘nuclear option’, of course, could only have been deployed with the intention to carry it through and would have meant, if the elites refused to move, the rapid imposition of capital movement controls, measures to control the banks, and preparation for Eurozone exit. It might also have meant a new mandate from the electorate.

But the need for a plan B will not go away, since the deal resolves nothing. It might give the Greek government a bit more time, but time to do what? New ultimatums will come. There will be another in four months time when this deal runs out. In fact each time a crisis point is reached, in terms of the Greek economy, the elites will threaten banking collapse in order to force the Greek government to accept their terms. Each time the question of a plan B will be posed. Eventually their bluff will have to be called or a setback will turn into a defeat.

The January 25th victory

None of this invalidates Syriza’s remarkable victory on January 25—, which was (and is) historic event for the European working class, the lessons of which will not be lost. For the first time in Europe, in the post-war period at least, a party of the radical left (well to the left of social democracy) won an election and formed a government with a mass popular support.

In the course of this victory Syriza politically defeated PASOK, one of the strongest social democratic parties in Europe, and reduced it to an electoral irrelevance. In 2009 PASOK won 44% of the vote and 160 seats now it won just 4.7% of the votes. George Papandreou, who became Pasok prime minister in 2009, formed a breakaway party for these elections, and won only 2.5% of the vote.

It was (and is) victory that gives new hope right across Europe, in terms of an alternative to austerity. Suddenly there was an alternative and it existed at governmental level. It put radical left challenges at the level of government firmly on the agenda, which has already found a powerful echo in Spain with Podemos.

The victory was not the product of an election campaign, or of the Tsipras leadership, but of a remarkable period of class struggle in Greece (the highest in Europe by far in the course of this crisis) since the introduction of austerity in 2009. The Greek population were faced with rising unemployment, particularly amongst young people, dramatically falling wage levels, a collapsing healthcare system and escalating homelessness. In response there were 32 general strikes, hundreds of smaller strikes, demonstrations, occupations of city and town squares, mass social movements and student mobilisations.

When this struggle reached an impasse by 2012—i.e. when even this level of struggle had failed to stop a single austerity measure being forced in—it became increasing clear that there had to be a political/governmental dimension to the struggle if a breakthrough was to be made. It was this harsh reality that led Syriza to launch its call for a government of the anti-austerity left—the call that caught the mass mood and led to Syriza rising from single figures in the polls to 27% in the June 2012 election.

It was a strategically important proposal that has important lessons for the European left and those struggling against austerity. It was also one, however, that was rejected, after approaches by Syriza, by the other two significant sections of the left, the KKE, traditionally by far the most powerful, and Antarsya, which includes sections of the far left. Both were marginalised at the polls by this decision.

Opposition breaks out

It could hardly be clearer that the most effective place for any section of the Greek left to be, particularly since its call for the a government of the anti-austerity left, is either in Syriza or in solidarity with it.

In fact the battle for the future direction of Syriza, and of the government, has already opened up and it is inside Syriza itself. It is a battle that is possible because Syriza is a democratically constructed party with a large organised Left Platform within it that was winning 30% of the vote in conferences before the election. Such a democratic structure (with the rights of minorities) is a crucial factor in such a situation.
First there has been a sharp debate amongst Syriza MPs with a large number expressing criticism of the agreement and the strategy followed by the government. This includes the Left Platform MPs but goes far beyond them. Second World War resistance hero Manolis Glezos has also denounced the deal in blistering terms.

Then came the first meeting of Syriza’s Central Committee after the deal, which met last weekend. This was deeply split over the deal with the Left Platform opposing it and significantly extended its support in the process. According to a report by CC member Stathis Kouvelakis an amendment opposing the deal got a remarkable 41% of the vote. The amendment said the following:

“We express our disagreement with the agreement with the list of reforms agreed with the Eurogroup. Both texts represent an undesirable compromise for our country and move in directions and orientations, which, in their essential points, move away or are in plain contrast with the programmatic commitments of Syriza”.

“In the immediate future, Syriza, despite the agreements with the Eurogroup, should take the initiative of implementing steadily and as a matter of priority its commitments and the content of its programmatic governmental statement”.

“To go down that road, we have to rely on workers’ and popular struggles, to contribute to their revitalisation, and to the continuous expansion of popular support in order to resist to any form of blackmail and promote the perspective of an alternative plan promoting the full realization of our radical objectives.”

It is clear that a decisive debate has opened up inside and Syriza around the way forward for the government and that this will extend to its mass base as well. The practical expression of this debate has to be the defence of the Thessaloniki Programme and opposition to every concession made in terms of the implementation of the deal. This is the way that Syriza’s mass base will be included in such a debate.
This debate is important since in today’s context in Greece rejection of the Memorandum is a transitional demand. It is the most popular demand amongst the mass of the working class and the most unacceptable to the elites. It is more important in many ways than even the cancellation of the debt since it embodies the social price being demanded in the name of the debt.

The role of the EU

This debate will need (crucially) to include the role of the EU and the Euro and the policy of Syriza towards these institutions.
The position of Syriza towards the Euro, since before the 2012 election, has been that whilst it does not call for exit from the Euro, it will ‘make no sacrifices for the Euro’: i.e. it will not accept austerity in order to stay in—and if that means expulsion from the Euro, so be it.
This was the correct policy because it took into account the fact that the vast majority of the Greek people, and indeed of Syriza supporters, did not (and still do not) want to leave the Eurozone. It meant that that the main task was to fight austerity, whatever the consequences, not campaign to leave the Eurozone. The consequence of calling for immediate (first principle) exit from the Eurozone has been demonstrated in the votes received by the KKE and Antarsya.

The problem is that the Syriza leadership has not stuck to this policy (in fact it departed dramatically from it in the negotiations) it and appears to be in confusion as to the nature of the EU and its relationship to it. In fact the Greece delegation showed no sign that they were prepared to contemplate a break with the Eurozone, a stance that handed the initiative to the elites.

It is true that Syriza does not have an electoral mandate for exit from the Euro. It is clear, however, that its strongest mandate by far is to break from austerity. It could hardly have been clearer. It was the driving force of its popularity and of its election campaign. It was why it was elected. No one said during the campaign said: ‘break with austerity providing it does not interfere with our Eurozone membership and if it does accept austerity’. It would never have won the election on that basis.

In any case the idea that Greece could break with austerity and avoid confrontation with the EU elites was never a realistic option. The EU is totally wedded to the neo-liberal monetarist agenda at every level—it is institutionalised into its DNA. The elites were never going to concede anything against this agenda unless they were forced to do so.

In fact by their ruthless imposition of neoliberal policies irrespective of the level of social crisis they create and the economic and social destruction of whole countries the EU elites have shown their true anti-working class colours.


Does acceptance of this deal by the Tsipras leadership mean that we no longer support Syriza or that we abandon building solidarity with it? Absolutely not.

Syriza was not the creation the Tsipras leadership, anyway, and is even less the property of it. It was the product of many years of bitter struggle—on the streets, in the workplaces, in the squares and in the social movements—and it is the political expression of those struggles. It is therefore the property of the movement itself and of the whole of the membership of Syriza—including those members who are today opposed to the retreat that has been made.

It is important, therefore that we continue to build solidarity with the Greek working class and also with Syriza as a party. Such solidarity must remain at the top of the agenda for the European left. We look forward to Syriza not only re-establishing its anti-austerity orientation but to its taking its place in the leadership of the anti-austerity struggle across Europe and beyond.
In doing so we will continue to participate in the debate in the way forward for Syriza in Greece as well as the way forward for Podemos and other sections of the European left.

If Syriza fails it will not just be a huge setback for the European left. Claims today by the KKE and Antarsya that the deal Syriza has accepted vindicates the sectarian stance they have taken makes absolutely no sense. Nor does the idea that if Syriza fails its mass support will transfer to them. More likely that the right wing will be waiting in the wings hoping to capitalise on the situation, either in the shape of Golden Dawn or a regroupment of the centre right.


  1. A good article. Syriza is indeed at a critical tactical crossroads. I’m sure most of us on the radical Left are hoping against hope that the current retreat by the Syriza/Anel government is a short term tactical feint to buy time to deliver some minor gains for the hard pressed Greek working class – and hence build working class confidence and preparedness for the required next phase of more radical struggle against the blackmail of the Troika institutions and supporting capitalist powers – particularly Germany.

    We can safely ignore the “we told you so” “Third Periodist” ultraleftist posturing of the KKE as any sort of tactical guide or analysis. The KKE analysis simply lumps all of Syriza together as basically a capitalist stooge party. The KKE’s self-interested “we alone are the vanguard party” sectarian stance ever since Syriza was formed has undoubtedly weakened the Syriza led government’s ability to stand up to the Troika powers – because it divides and confuses the Greek working class – but it also weakens the vital role of the radical Left within Syriza to push the party and government Leftwards to confrontation with the unreasonable demands of the capitalist powers – rather than rightwards to a long term fatal accommodation and retreat.

    The direction the Syriza/ANEL government takes in the next four months or so will set the course of the entire Greek struggle for years to come. If the Greek government continues to swither and dodge and dive and misrepresent its tactical retreats as “victories” – and seriously starts to negotiate a third Bailout alongside essentially managing continued Austerity, then Syriza as a coherent party and government is doomed to fracture and collapse. The most likely outcome of this dire route would be a restructuring of the current government – to ditch the Syriza Left – and bring in the old corrupt rabble of the pro collaboration centre Right parties, ND, Pasok, etc. Golden Dawn is much more likely to be the main beneficiary of such a disaster – not the calculating old self interested Stalinists of the KKE.

    Best guess of the next phase ? I increasingly see Tsipras and Varoufakis and their circle as thoroughly bourgeois reformist politicians – full of over confidence in their own inherent cleverness in negotiating their way out of what is actually an impossible position , ie, both ending Austerity (and recovering Greek economic/political sovereignty to pursue pro working class strategies) whilst staying within the Eurozone. It is now very clear that the two aims are completely at odds with each other. We on the Radical Left need to clearly ally ourselves in the current emerging fundamental policy/political struggle within Syriza with the Left Platform – and the now very clear sole option for Greece – ie, to prepare to leave the Eurozone in as good an order as possible . This emerging reality would probably require a new snap election to get the Greek people onside for what will be an entirely more radical political trajectory – and also a future of great hardship and sacrifice – equal probably to the sacrifice and hardship of the previous five years of Austerity. The difference being that such a radical Left route holds out the genuine prospect of a better future – and the drawing in of wider alliances of radical Left governments and their working class supporters across Europe – initially Spain and Portugal.

    As Alan’s article correctly says , we need to offer unlimited solidarity to the Greek working class and Syriza – but increasingly this has to be a more nuanced , critical, solidarity – aimed at supporting the Left within Syriza.

    • Two things, John:

      1) you say we should support the Left Platform, so do you (or anyone else) have a link so we can read in English what they stand for, their principles, programme, & so on? Thanks.

      2) you speak of the need “to get the Greek people onside” for something new and different, a period of enlightened hardship as it were, one that “holds out the genuine prospect of a better future.”

      With SYRIZA only getting 23% of the electorate to support them on 25 January (2 246 000 of the 9 911 000), with the Abstention Party getting more than 1.5 times that vote, how likely do you think it is that adult Greeks would either vote for ‘healthy’ austerity or recommend it to their family and friends? What’s the chance of this being actively promoted by a battered working class & allied strata, or by ‘the people’, if one is a conceptual fan of Mao, Laclau, & the others?{%22cls%22:%22level%22,%22params%22:{%22level%22:%22epik%22,%22id%22:1}}

  2. I agree with the article and John’s comments above; he is right to say, ‘The direction the Syriza/ANEL government takes in the next four months or so will set the course of the entire Greek struggle for years to come.’ But a defeat in Greece will have much wider consequences across Europe and beyond. It will say ‘It’s impossible to defeat austerity, even if you elect a government with a mandate to do so.’ And the idea that the sectarian KKE would benefit is just pie in the sky.

  3. The article outlines well how the EU have pressured Syriza into backing down and it is right to say that we still do not know what the outcome will be. What I would love to know is: how easy it is to impose controls on the movement of capital nowadays? Does a country have to completely sever its internet links? Is that even possible? I’ve no doubt it would be hugely disruptive many unpredictable ways.

    The left seems to be a long way behind in discussing and responding to internet issues. Evgeny Morozov has some interesting observations:

  4. Jara Handala, I can’t provide you with a neat English language summary of the position/positions of the Syriza Left Platform I’m afraid. Like the whole of the original ramshackle Syriza coalition of parties, its Left Platform is a very diverse grouping of politicos – with politics stretching from various radical socialists, Trotskyists, to Maoists and Stalinists. Well worth reading however, to get a flavour of the general approachof the Left Platform compared to the Eurozone enthusiasts of the current Syriza leadership circle, is the very recent book by a leading Left Platform supporter and Syriza MP (and London SOAS Professor) Costas Lapivitsas (with Heiner Flassbeck) , “Against the Troika: Crisis and austerity in the Eurozone”. This argues very cogently that trying to remain in the Eurozone is simply a huge political trap for any party serious about fighting austerity – and closely maps a rout forward and out of the Eurozone on a radical socialist programme.

    A recent analysis by Costas Lapivitsas in the Guardian of Syriza’s so far disastrous negotiations with the EU/Troika powers again clearly concludes that attempts to radically change the debt terms in Greece’s favour are doomed to fail – UNLESS new radical Left governments quickly come to power in Spain, Portugal, Italy to support this demand for all the Southern debtor states on a Eurozone-wide basis. This seems unlikely in a timescale required to rescue the fundamentally misconceived “negotiate away much of the debt and the obligation to enforce Austerity” strategy with which Syriza won the election.

    Would the bulk of the Greek working class , and other possible class allies, buy into a new, much more radical, exit the Euro, default on much of the debt, strategy, and put up with all the capital controls, economic sabotage, etc, that would ensue ? I obviously don’t know – but historical evidence seems to suggest that mass radicalisation is a very fluid, febrile, process – and at present it seems that even despite,or even because of, its now blatant German-led and caused negotiating failures, Syriza’s popularity is actually GROWING massively. This is therefore the vital time to keep pushing Leftwards to confrontation with the Troika institutions . In the short breathing space made possible by the recent unsatisfactory “fudge” agreement with the Troika powers the Greek government needs to deliver some modest improvements to mass living conditions, put in place all the mechanisms (capital controls, bank nationalisations) and a new parallel (“scrip”) currency, and mobilise the working class to support these measures though mass street demonstrations and where appropriate factory occupations. This is what builds class momentum and a mass social determination to “tough it out” through new privations – with the hope of a better future for ones children at least.

    What demobilises the working class and its class allies from moving in an increasingly radical, socialist, direction, is endless compromises, and the Syriza/ANEL government grovelling before the Troika powers – and tearing up their commitments to fight Austerity. A Left wing government in Syriza’s position can actually step forward and (in a non chauvinist – reaching out to the European working class for solidarity kind of way), actually take on the “leadership of the nation” from the Greek bourgeoisie. At a time like this “patriotism” can be a facet of the struggle for national self determination and socialism. This positive aspect of patriotism is however, very tenuous – and this mantle can be quickly taken over by the fascist national chauvinists of the Far Right – which is just what will happen if the Syriza leadership falls into collaboration and betrayal of its election pledges – and fails to march decisively Leftwards.

    • Thanks for the Left Platform info, John & torobcheh.

      John, just a few comments on what you said.

      1) If not Eurozone, what about staying in the EU: does anyone know what anti-capitalist measures are legally permissible within it?

      a) What are the EU legal limits on nationalising businesses? Does there have to be conditions of a ‘national emergency’, can it only be temporary, or are all nationalisations forbidden because, for example, they violate competition or anti-monopoly EU rules?

      b) Are there EU rules forbidding continual budget deficits?

      2) After the agreement keeping the Troika, “Syriza’s popularity is actually GROWING massively”: but presumably that’s largely a nationalist reaction, not informed support for the feasibility of SYRIZA being able to carry out its electoral programme. (Remember, that programme is budget-neutral, it isn’t even Kaleckian budget deficiting by the state.)

      3) “This is therefore the vital time to keep pushing Leftwards to confrontation with the Troika institutions”: but the economic crux needs to be addressed, where’s the money to come from – on a timely basis – to even carry out the budget-neutral programme, let alone for the state to pay its creditors? The state is so weakly implanted in civil society, within the common sense, that there is a chronically low civic ethic of paying one’s taxes.

      4) Why do you call the agreement a “‘fudge'”? The Troika didn’t make a single concession – not one.

      5) “[T]he short breathing space”, the four months you speak of, is nothing of the sort: Michael Roberts in his blog has detailed the Greek state payments due this month, the next, in May, and June, none of which can be paid by the state standing on its own two feet: for all of them it needs wonga from the foreigners, and MR has said not a cent is transferred unless the Troika see evidence of their (italicised) programme being carried out. And as was explicitly stated in the agreement, the SYRIZA-ANEL sub-government, and so quasi-government, have promised to take no unilateral action, that is, nothing that isn’t in the REAL electoral manifesto, the Troika’s.

      An opinion poll after the signing of the Brussels humiliation is one thing; quite another matter is the mundane, dull compulsion of Greek civil servants carrying out the Troika’s work, the electoral manifesto that is in fact realised, realised as the Troika’s societal restructuring programme. Greeks, like all of us, are living both a fantasy and a reality. The Greek reality is that of most of the Americas and Africa for nigh on 40 years: SAPs, the Structural Adjustment Programme. How that is lived mentally and discursively, in denial, is something else.

      6) “[T]he Greek government needs to deliver some modest improvements to mass living conditions, put in place all the mechanisms (capital controls, bank nationalisations) and a new parallel (‘scrip’) currency, and mobilise the working class to support these measures though mass street demonstrations and where appropriate factory occupations.”

      This is perhaps the immediate political crux, and goes to the heart of constitutional politics practised by managing parties of capital, which includes SYRIZA: having educated the public in a certain way, how can you turn round and say, well, it’s got to be all different, we need to threaten expulsion from not just the euro but the EU too; and, to top it all, in conditions (with the New Drachma) when purchasing power may drop 40-60%, we’re going to introduce an austerity programme but it will be OUR austerity programme, so that’s OK then, that’s sweet. Prickly pear sweet. How long will the 23% who voted for SYRIZA stick with that shock therapy, one much more rapid and deeper than the almost five years of the Troika?

      7) SYRIZA going it alone, in “the hope of a better future for ones children”? You’re talking about 30 years down the line here? You think the bulk of Greeks are so different from us that they’ll choose to practise “a mass social determination to ‘tough it out’ through new privations”? Not to be all nostalgic, but preaching constitutional politics, as SYRIZA has done, is the opposite to preparing one’s constituency over decades and decades that a political rupture is necessary even though it will almost certainly be in economic conditions that will be chaotic and impoverishing, with no guarantee of coming out ‘the other side.’ Convincing millions of people to accept that prospect is the task of socialists, not a group of 20 or 30 getting into government and then saying, whoops, we need radical change now.

      8) “[T]he ‘leadership of the nation’ [. . .] At a time like this ‘patriotism’ can be a facet of the struggle for national self determination and socialism. This positive aspect of patriotism is however, very tenuous.”

      Patros, the father. Patrios, of one’s fathers. Nasci, natio, of being born. Already I can smell the soil, the moist earth that is home. Mother. The lullabies. The anthem. All that is comforting, all that we dwell within. The nation. Patriotism. The love that calls me to arms. The amputees.

      But isn’t blood red? And although there may be no black in the Union Jack, it has red, yes? Not tenuous, you say, but “[t]his positive aspect of patriotism is however, very tenuous.” But the socialist idea had – and has – as anathema the patria, the nation. The socialist idea has always been class, not nations. Hence the politics of no borders. Socialists are indifferent to the origins of workers; it means they are not partial to ones sharing the same passport as themselves, not privileging them, not discriminating in their favour. No. Completely indifferent. They are no more attached to those from one’s region, county, town, neighbourhood, even one’s own family. That’s the socialist view. It’s a class view, spatially indifferent, never a localised class view, never a nationalised class view, never a national socialist view.

      So socialists can have no truck with ‘the people.’ Indeed, who are they? Everyone in the territory policed by the state? Or is it a synonym of ‘the working class’; or of ‘the working class and non-employed workers’; or ‘the working class and potentially allied fractions of capitalists’, the progressive ones or those not tied to foreign capital, perhaps they’re usually small capitals, often family-only; or is it ‘the working class and potentially allied strata’?

      Or is ‘the people’ something else entirely, such as ‘the citizenry is in a necessarily antagonistic relationship with the state’?

      In Laclau’s final book he even chose as a chapter heading, “[w]hy constructing a ‘people’ is the main task of radical politics.” But ‘the people’ is a slippery eel, an empty vessel like ‘yes, we can’, presented to ‘the people’ for each to fill it as it wills, creating an aggregation, not an organic social collective agent. ‘The people’ is an appeal antagonistic to class, it is a-class in its own terms and multi-class in its actual composition. As such it necessarily presents as the general will a particular will, a partial will, that of the dominant interest within the society, the interest of the dominant class, the owners and managers of capital. Today’s Greece can be no different.

      9) For completeness, a remark on ‘left’ and ‘right.’ Although these terms come from the partisan seating in the early French National Assembly, Marx and others didn’t use that conception and its vocabulary, preferring to speak of classes. Today ‘left’ and ‘right’ is often used to avoid talking about class, although it usually means practising a highly compromised multi-class politics – the need for a broad left, allying with ‘nice’ capitalists and their political agents, often the poorer embattled ones or the smiling leprechauns. So there’s no need to talk about all that nasty class v. class stuff laid down in the Dinosaur Age; instead let’s focus on developing an anti-austerity politics or a rainbow alliance – not least because no-one would understand us if we tried to mobilise using an anti-capitalist politics, a socialist politics, practising socialist resistance.

  5. Jara, I’m rather at a loss to the overall point you are trying to make. You express nothing but gloom at the prospect of any radical Left route out of Greece’s current destructive austerity straightjacket within the Eurozone – and appear utterly sceptical about the Greek working class and its allies ability to tolerate the undoubted future hardships resulting from the “Grexit2 option promoted by the Syriza Left Platform. What is the alternative though ? Permanently to stay trapped within the Eurozone as a “Debt Colony” ? That is a pain and suffering filled future too – but without the long term prospect of better times held out by the radical Left Grexit vision.
    It may well be that there is no long term future for Greece within the EU at all. But this is true for all the Southern Periphery countries being strangled by the Euro – and pretty much all of us if the EU adopts the TTIP agreement.
    Costas Lapavistas , of the Left Platform covers in some detail many of the issues/questions you raised, around a radical left Grexit strategy in an interview in the March issue of the Jacobin Magazine, viewable at .
    I can only assume that your utter gloom about the prospects for a radical Left Grexit strategy is that you hold to some variant of the ultraleft “it’s total socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism or its not worth fighting” position – to which both the Third Period stalinists of the KKE and the Greek ultraleft hold to ( and in the UK the likes of the CPGB and Workers Power, SWP, etc, etc) ?

    Lapavistas has, I think, a very good analysis of this ultraleft position in his long interview in Jacobin , :
    “we have a long pathology on the Greek left — and, I hasten to add, the British left too, what remains of it of course — which is being completely poisonous on this level.
    But there’s a deeper thing here: it isn’t simply the pathological factionalism and so on. What’s at stake and what’s at issue among the non-Syriza left is a fear of power. It masquerades and hides itself behind big words. In the case of the Communist Party, every other word is about workers’ power. In Antarsya, every other sentence is about overthrowing capitalism and establishing communism. What this hides, really, is profound fear of power. A profound fear of power!
    And they think that people don’t understand this, but it’s perfectly obvious that these people and these organizations are scared down to the very marrow of their bones by the prospect of responsibility and power. That’s why they’re taking these ultra-left positions.
    There’s a traditional saying in Greek that a man who doesn’t want to get married keeps getting engaged. Well that’s what the Communists have been doing, unfortunately. Because they don’t want to tackle the question of dealing with the situation in the here and now, they talk about revolution.
    So, if you do that, you don’t have to confront the question of the euro. You pretend the question of the euro is somehow either a minor question or a side question or whatever. Or you elevate things beyond: what you need is to get out of the European Union, to get out of NATO, to get out of this, that, and the other thing. In other words, you’re not offering any specific answers, because you’re answering everything.
    A more charitable reading might be that they are concerned about the effects of power on left governments based on historical experience. They’re less afraid of power itself than the effect of power destroying the autonomy of social movements.
    I can use an English saying here: if you’re scared of the fire, keep out of the kitchen. Politics is about that. It isn’t about theorizing, and it isn’t about lecturing in small rooms and so on.
    Politics is about society as it is. And Greek society wants real answers in the here and now. Unfortunately, only Syriza began to provide that in its own way, and that’s why it’s where it is, and that’s why the other organizations are where they are.”
    The ultraleft position is akin to the old joke in which a group of ultralefts go along to a workers picket line at a factory in a dispute about wages – and advise the workers that “even winning the dispute is worthless – because they will still be still trapped within the slavery of wage labour . The only solution being the immediate assault on capitalism itself” That is essentially the “political offer” coming from both the KKE and ultraleft in Greece to a working class simply not politically ready or in a position as a tiny economy within a sea of capitalism, to undertake a full on socialist revolution just yet .
    As to your banal statements about only class identity having any relevance for socialists – as against national identity. Words fail me – almost. For goodness sakes “ALL history is NOT the history of class struggle” it’s a lot more complicated than that. Have you never heard of national liberation struggles by oppressed nations ? Greece is a nation state – trapped in debt bondage – its working class operates and identifies with this nation state. The current struggle of the Greek working class is on the political platform of the Greek nation state. As in any struggle in which an oppressed nation is fighting for liberation (in this case from debt peonage) the Left and the working class can and must assume the “leadership of the nation” from its essentially “Comprador Bourgeoisie” , and reach out for solidarity support from the working classes of surrounding nation states, and pursue a radical route out of the trap in which Greece finds itself. If the Left cannot don the mantle of mass popular radical patriotism , then the Far Right is well equipped to do this instead – with dire results.

  6. I’m surprised by your response, John, especially you largely choosing not to address the remarks I made about your comment of last Sunday.

    Nevertheless, just to get the minor stuff out of the way, you say, “I’m rather at a loss to the overall point you are trying to make” (oh, dear), “[y]ou express nothing but gloom” (am I grim &, dare I say, dim?), “[you] appear utterly sceptical” (hardly), & then the finale, “I can only assume that your utter gloom about the prospects for a radical Left Grexit strategy is that you hold to some variant of the ultraleft ‘it’s total socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism or its not worth fighting’ position” (erroneous assumption). As you know all too well, assuming is unnecessary & somewhat unedifying when conversation is possible. Oh, I almost forgot one of your final points: “your banal statements about only class identity having any relevance for socialists” (please re-read what I said).

    Now the interesting stuff, what’s important.

    I think it will be most productive to focus on the political crux: the need for a politics of the rupture (or ruptures), & the need for its widespread acceptance amongst workers, non-employed workers who use their own tools, and allied strata & poorer capitalists. The matter of forming a government is much less significant.

    The ‘fear of power & of responsibility’ point is the very opposite of my view: to be forewarned, to be forearmed, is the best way to avoid excessive fear – and avoidable suffering. There are no guarantees in life, especially political life, but there are principles that make success more likely. One needs to be honest with one’s supporters at all times, one needs to draw on the most reliable knowledge & political methods available.

    Our principal political deficiency is that we lack a satisfactory politics not of the rapture but of the rupture – or perhaps ruptures. Poulantzas, & a few others, have tried their best to come to grips with this. There’s been the strategy of dual power (more precisely dual ruling), & ideas around sustaining a leadership of a coalition of social forces – the long march thru the institutions, back out again, back in, out & in any number of times – all this as part of a campaign of position – perhaps needing to culminate in a swift, decisive, rupturing manoeuvre. But the results of all these have been pretty dismal, I think most peeps will agree.

    Unfortunately not just Marxists but all anti-capitalists have focused on generating knowledge of economic processes rather than the kernel of socialising or communising politics, the nature of mobilising millions who live the relationships between economic conditions, psychical processes, & political action. That’s what politics is about. Yet since the 1840s, a period of 170 years now, we still do not have anything resembling a satisfactory politics of the rupture. The current mess in Greece is a small expression of that historical deficiency.

    The political crux of any process trying to undermine the societal rule of the capital relation, the encouraging of the socialising or communising process, is twofold: combating capital flight & other kinds of economic sabotage; & helping our constituencies recognise that success will never come from politicians, of whatever party, but only from their own efforts. And that activity is necessarily (1) a willingness to participate in continuous decision-making, not just periodic elections, a willingness to take responsibility for the development of one’s society, (2) the need to split the repressive apparatuses, (3) a preparedness to practise violence if needed, & (4) an awareness of the need for international conditions to be such that any domestic success can avoid being strangled at birth. If the so-called workers’ state is established an important unresolved task is how to institutionalise permanent enthusiasm without pissing people off, the famed permanent revolution. But here we’re getting far ahead of ourselves.

    SYRIZA is a recent electoral alliance, 11 years, & an even more recent party, less than three years. The fact is, Greeks, like everyone else in Europe, haven’t done enough work yet in preparing to either have institutions with the capacity to rule their society, or have the mental readiness, the motivation, to rule society. There’s no need to have talk of reform v. revolution, but what cannot be avoided is being educated about the politics of the rupture. Incremental improvements can never be enough to socialise, to communise: an institutional break is necessary. And, as I said, that understanding is very much lacking throughout Europe, not just in Greece.

    The principal error of the dominant view within SYRIZA was not to tell the electorate that carrying out either SYRIZA’s May 2012 programme, or its September 2014 Salonika programme, or its January election manifesto could only be done with the agreement, the consent, of the most powerful force in the January election, the principal agents of the Troika. The SYRIZA leadership has created a hullabaloo, raising expectations, presenting the 20 February agreement as a victory when it was a defeat, gone into jingoistic anti-German mode – doing all this when they did not, & do not, command the means to deliver the promises made in either their programmes or electoral manifesto. SYRIZA-ANEL have formed a sub-government, a quasi-government, because they are in the Troika’s gift, they have agreed that nothing can be done without the Troika’s agreement:

    the agreement starts with
    “The Eurogroup notes, in the framework of the existing arrangement, the request from the Greek authorities for an extension of the Master Financial Assistance Facility Agreement (MFFA), which is underpinned by a set of commitments. The purpose of the extension is the successful completion of the review on the basis of the conditions in the current arrangement”;

    ends with
    “We remain committed to provide adequate support to Greece until it has regained full market access as long as it honours its commitments within the agreed framework”;

    & wedged between we find
    “Only approval of the conclusion of the review of the extended arrangement by the institutions in turn will allow for any disbursement of the outstanding tranche of the current EFSF programme and the transfer of the 2014 SMP profits.
    “The Greek authorities have expressed their strong commitment to a broader and deeper structural reform process
    “The Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely.
    “The Greek authorities have also committed to ensure the appropriate primary fiscal surpluses or financing proceeds required to guarantee debt sustainability
    “The Greek authorities commit to refrain from any rollback of measures and unilateral changes to the policies and structural reforms that would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions.”

    As Costas Lapavistas said today in the passage you quoted, “Greek society wants real answers in the here and now. Unfortunately, only Syriza began to provide that in its own way, and that’s why it’s where it is”. Exactly: that which SYRIZA has provided “in its own way”. And that’s the problem. SYRIZA has promised what it can never deliver – and this is because SYRIZA lacks the means to fulfil its promises, & because SYRIZA has not adequately prepared Greeks for what is necessarily involved, the intense suffering, in a struggle against the Troika.

    To use a word from your quote, choosing not to tell the electorate that Greeks desperately need a practically adequate politics of the rupture, that is what is truly “poisonous”. But that is not what the dominant faction in SYRIZA is about. It is constitutionalist. It is trying to find a way to reproduce capital in Greece is a more humane way, a less harmful way. And this is precisely what SYRIZA have offered “in its own way”.

    But we have had far too much suffering to enter known territory inadequately armed. The slaughter in Indonesia, the much milder one in Argentina (all 30 001 of the corpses), the comparative non-event of Chile (all 3 001 of the corpses) – all bear testimony to inadequate preparation. I’m simply saying that Greeks deserve far better than what is presently being offered to them.

    I think we can both agree with the words of another Greek writing in Jacobin:

    “Rarely has a strategy been confuted so unequivocally and so rapidly. Syriza’s Manolis Glezos was therefore right to speak of ‘illusion’ and, rising to the occasion, apologize to the people for having contributed to cultivating it. Precisely for the same reason, but conversely, and with the assistance of some of the local media, the government has attempted to represent this devastating outcome as a ‘negotiating success,’ confirming that ‘Europe is an arena for negotiation,’ that it is ‘leaving behind the Troika and the Memoranda’ and other similar assertions.

    “Afraid to do what Glezos has dared to do — i.e. acknowledge the failure of its entire strategy — the leadership is attempting a cover-up, ‘passing off meat as fish,’ to cite the popular Greek saying.

    “But to present a defeat as a success is perhaps worse than the defeat itself. On the one hand it turns governmental discourse into cant, into a string of clichés and platitudes that is simply summoned up to legitimate any decision retrospectively, turning black into white; and on the other because it prepares the ground, ineluctably, for the next, more definitive, defeats, because it dissolves the criteria by which success can be distinguished from retreat.

    [. . .]

    “If, therefore, we wish to avert a second, and this time decisive, defeat — which would put an end to the Greek leftist experiment, with incalculable consequences for society and for the Left inside and outside this country — we must look reality in the face and speak the language of honesty. The debate on strategy must finally recommence, without taboos and on the basis of the congress resolutions of Syriza, which for some time now have been turned into innocuous icons.

    “If Syriza still has a reason for existing as a political subject, a force for the elaboration of emancipatory politics, and for contribution to the struggles of the subordinated classes, it must be a part of this effort to initiate an in-depth analysis of the present situation and the means of overcoming it.” (Stathis Kouvelakis)

  7. Jara. I, and I’m sure most readers of your post , will be completely at a loss to follow most of your jargonised overblown rhetoric. This is the worst sort of “hiding behind verbosity” to avoid saying clearly what you mean. Let’s strip away all the rhetoric – what you are actually saying is precisely what that quote I included from Lapavitsas accuses the ultraleft of doing – ie, always finding excuses for NOT seizing the opportunity to take power – because the “masses aren’t ready” , the “balance of class forces aren’t right” , “enough time hasn’t been taken to fully prepare the working class ideologically (and militarily ?) for a seizure of state power in a full cream socialist revolution, etc, etc, ad nauseam.

    Not for a moment am I or anyone in the Syriza Platform arguing that the Syriza Leadership haven’t misled the Greek working class (and themselves, let’s be clear ) on the potential to peacefully negotiate Greece’s way out of debt bondage whilst staying in the Eurozone.The Strategy, ie, the core of Syriza’s election manifesto “route map” has failed – but it was also a strategy dearly desired by the mass of the electorate, Syriza’s as much as the rest. It has failed – and the evidence is that the Greek working class is now actually ready to follow a Syriza led government on a more radical leftward route – if necessary out of the Eurozone. That is why the radical/revolutionary Left needs to be WITHIN Syriza to push the leadership onwards to radical confrontation with the Troika power – rather than rightwards to collaboration and demobilisation of the rising tide of working class militancy. Not sitting on the sidelines pontificating.

    Your position, stripped of its pompous verbiage, is simply an ultraleft version of reformist Fabianism – completely failing to understand the “TRANSITIONAL METHOD TACTICS” required to draw the working class into ever more radical struggle on the basis of initially radical reformist demands. If Chile/Indonesia/Argentina style the fascists and generals eventually do take over in Greece – again – , it will not only be Syriza supporters awaiting execution in the Athens stadium – but KKE and ultraleft supporters too – paying the ultimate price for their sectarian abstentionism from participating in the struggle within Syriza to drive decisively leftwards – waiting forever on the sidelines for that “decisive rupture” event to occur – whilst not soiling their hands with the trials and tribulations and need to make tactical choices involved in participating in government. That perennial dire fantasy of waiting for the “October 1917 revolutionary upheaval rerun cathartic event” which reduces so much of the “revolutionary left” to actual passivity and impotence when opportunities to actually participate in real world radical political developments occur.

    • Oh, dear: “I, and I’m sure most readers of your post , will be completely at a loss to follow most of your jargonised overblown rhetoric” (wow: that missed me by, I must say), “[t]his is the worst sort of ‘hiding behind verbosity’ to avoid saying clearly what you mean” (ditto), “[l]et’s strip away all the rhetoric – what you are actually saying is precisely what that quote I included from Lapavitsas accuses the ultraleft of doing – ie, always finding excuses for NOT seizing the opportunity to take power – because [. . .]” (moi, rhétorique?), “etc, etc, ad nauseam” (my sentiment, indeed), “[y]our position, stripped of its pompous verbiage, is simply an ultraleft version of reformist Fabianism – completely failing to understand the ‘TRANSITIONAL METHOD TACTICS’ required to [. . .]” (quack! quack! How could you see that my feet are webbed?).

      Two points you made, just like the ducks, can’t pass by unremarked, no doubt points struggling to stay upright in their wake:

      “[t]he Strategy, ie, the core of Syriza’s election manifesto ‘route map’ has failed – but it was also a strategy dearly desired by the mass of the electorate”. No, not “the mass of the electorate” given that SYRIZA’s share was 23%, so not even a quarter; &

      “the evidence is that the Greek working class is now actually ready to follow a Syriza led government on a more radical leftward route – if necessary out of the Eurozone”. What is your evidence?

      John, I had thought, and hoped, that you would have wanted to take the opportunity hinted at by Kouvelakis: “we must look reality in the face and speak the language of honesty. The debate on strategy must finally recommence, without taboos”.

      I guess that at the crossroads you decided to shed your powers of reasoning, dig your lil burrow, emerging at times to make small the star-eaten blanket of the sky, enfolding yourself, so in comfort lie. Sadly, I misjudged you.

      And people wonder why ‘the left’ is dying . . . omg, was that a duck that just went by or a platypus?

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