Notes on the non election of Syriza and the retreat from anti-capitalism by the left

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 The Greek election which saw the 'bailout with even more austerity' parties win out over the 'austerity without bailout' parties had a fairly minimal impact on the world's stock markets in the end. That somewhat cruel way of describing SYRIZA is a polemical poke at the international left which had put such enormous expectations in SYRIZA ahead of the elections - many seemed to truly believe their election represented a potential turning point in the struggle against the imposition of austerity across Europe. From my point of view this attitude is symptomatic of the disastrous turn to electoralism that the far left has taken - the hostile terrain it has retreated to after failing to build any meaningful popular resistance across Europe to the cuts being imposed in the worst crisis since World War II.

The initial jump in the value of the euro certainly suggests that the markets were not indifferent to the election but I don't see the fact that the markets (as a measure of 'ruling class opinion') have a preferred horse in any given electoral race as proving anything fundamental about the nature of SYRIZA. That said I'm more interested in the movements of the markets as a crude barometer of how 'capital' views the results then the publically stated views of the political figureheads that happen to be in power at this moment in time. The small and short lived impact of the results on the markets would tend to confirm that from the point of view of capital the problem of SYRIZA was a problem of Euro stability and not the perception of a fundamental threat to the system. Everyone is watching Spain at the moment and on Monday mixed signals came from there as on the one hand as borrowing costs surged above the disastrous 7% level on the one hand but on the other that Spain's IBEX 35 added 1.5% to its value by late on Tuesday.

Those who saw great significance in the Greek election tend to refer to the statements by the current neo-liberal political leadership of Europe in advance of the elections that were clearly designed to encourage an anti SYRIZA fear vote. Yet there is a dangerous simplification here as the leadership of European capitalism is not reducible to Merkel and her government, Draghi, Cameron and Osborne etc. These are some of the political leadership, the more neo-liberal wing but there is also the 'neoliberal with a human face' political leadership of Hollande etc and beyond this the neo-Keynesianist SYRIZA type parties.

The balance of election (and in Ireland referendum) results at this moment favours the neoliberals but it would not be hard to imagine it shifting to the 'neo liberalism with a human face' parties. And perhaps even in some places coalitions which would include the neo-Keynesianists (this almost happened in Greece and if the new coalition fails to last may happen yet). Reducing the 'political leadership of capital' to the neo liberals is dangerous from because historically EU stability in the post war period has involved a complex dance between all three of those groups and of course the Communist Parties when they were significant.

Taking a longer view then the last decade such parties and one's to the left of them have been in power repeatedly in Europe without the rule of capital being threatened. Its broadly understood that the post war settlement in Western Europe included an acceptance that the CP could form part of coalition governments in return for the CP putting revolution off the agenda. This was most clearly stated by the Italian CP as the idea of the 'historical compromise'. Today the CP's are not the force they once were but a similar compromise by the trade union leaderships has a disastrous effect on the potential for resistance. This is the trade off by almost all the European unions whereby the political general strike is ruled out as an anti-democratic weapon in favor of union support for one or another party of the electoralist left.

In the post war period there were huge numbers of workers in western Europe who looked for an end to capitalism. In Italy, Greece and France in particular in the immediate aftermath of the war many of these were trained in military techniques and had access to arms. Even in countries like Britain that lacked large scale revolutionary consciousness in the working class the post war situation of a working class that had been armed and trained through mass conscription resulted in the historic compromise of the welfare state under the Labour government.

When looked at through this lens it become clear that SYRIZA are but a not terribly radical point on the left - right electoralist scale that typified European stability over the last 60 years. Yes the current political leadership in Europe were not keen on SYRIZA but really only because of the significant difference about how European capital should be managed in this period. They wouldn't be keen on the Greek fascists of Golden Dawn either but that doesn't demonstrate that Golden Dawn is therefore anti-capitalist or indeed beyond being promoted if the turn events take demand it. Golden Dawn are the potential stick to SYRIZA's potential carrot in the spectrum of available tools to ensure stability if neoliberal fear loses its current hold.

None of what I say here is controversial to anyone with an honest awareness of the realities of the post war European left. It's just not something many say out loud at the moment in the hype around the possibility of minor electoral success. When a deeper conversation arises its almost certain to be acknowledged that the program of SYRIZA is by no means anti-capitalist but the claim is made that the logic of SYRIZA in power would have pushed things in an anti-capitalist direction. By this argument Greeks would in effect have thought they were voting for a different path to stability within capitalism but would have discovered they had in reality voted for a road leading to revolution.

The notion that a SYRIZA victory would lead to Greece being pushed out of the Euro and the Greeks thus having voted for a revolution that wasn't in their program is a curious one as its very hard to see any positive outcome through that set of events. In particular in the context of the recent history of military dictatorship and the rise of Golden Dawn. BBC Newsnight Economics editor Paul Mason had a very useful blog post on the morning of the elections that perhaps inadvertently highlighted how little difference the choice between SYRIZA and New Democracy would make.

Mason addressed the idea of a SYRIZA election inadvertently triggering an anti-capitalist crisis. "One of their (SYRIZA) spokespeople was shocked when I suggested they risked creating a Chilean-style clash with the state. They have no intention of doing so. Nevertheless I know for a fact some Syriza activists fear getting dragged into the low-level conflict between the fascists, migrants and anarchists that is simmering in the city slums."

The Chilean 'clash' of 1973 saw a very much more organized and coherent Chilean left, which included a radical Socialist Party in government, being crushed in a brutal anti-democratic military coup. After the left government of Allende was overthrown considerable repression was unleashed against the organised working class that saw over 10,000 being executed or disappeared and over 100,000 being driven into exile. Chile then became the testing ground for the theorists of neo liberalism.

Wishing for a confrontation similar to that in Chile when there is no widespread preparation for it because it would move the struggle onto a new level is nuts. Per head of population Greece has one of the biggest militaries in Europe with conscription of all adult males and the largest per capita spend on the military. A military dictatorship ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974. The years before the coup in Chile were characterized by mass militant workers organization and preparation for armed struggle by many.

SYRIZA is hardly approaching the program or level of organisation of the Chilean left of 1972 - a left that proved capable of organising some protracted resistance to the armed imposition of neo liberalism but which was defeated all the same. But in any case the SYRIZA program is much less radical, a potential SYRIZA victory would perhaps have been more akin to the Mitterrand election in France and the first period of power 1981-83.

SYRIZA was less organised and less popular as well as operating with a much more sectarian electoralist left then the French left of 1981. The CP in France had four cabinet members whereas the KKE spent much of its election campaign attacking SYRIZA. The point though is that Mitterrand was forced to abandon his radical program after two years of capital flight and an investment strike by the wealthy. The limitations of capitalism with a human face exposed by the power of the market to impose its will over the democratic wishes of the electorate.

These are the technical details specific to Greece but the bigger question is why at a time of deep crisis the left has retreated from anti-capitalism to neo-Keynesianism. If the left can't talk of anti-capitalism five years into a crisis of this magnitude when can you talk of it. When this crisis is part of the environmental crisis is it not insanity to join the chorus calling for unqualified growth as the 'alternative'? Can we really afford a growth led recovery to capitalism (and Climate Change) as normal until the next major crisis hits 30-40 years down the road.

The only strategy the electoralist left seems to have is to hope that their blend of anger and fear can be more convincing then the stability v fear argument of the neoliberals. The limitation of such a strategy are shown in the breakdown of the vote by age in Greece, where the elderly whose reliance on state pensions makes them more subject to fear voted overwhelmingly for neo liberal stability.

It's perhaps an odd thing for an anarchist to suggest but when fighting the politics of fear I think we need a lot more of the politics of hope rather than that of anger/fear as the left has failed to articulate an alternative that is worth fighting for. All that is on offer is the same as what the neoliberals offer, stability and a return to capitalism as normal but via neo-Keynesian economics rather than neoliberalist ones. What is needed instead is a convincing vision of an entirely new way or organizing society, one that does not rely on unqualified growth on the one had for a health economy and which does not present 'jobs' as the key factor to determine whether you have a reasonable standard of living.

If all that is 'defeatism' well then I'll be a defeatist. I think the real defeatism here is the retreat from actual anti-capitalism to the advocacy of a national neo-Keynesianism in contexts where it is impossible (Ireland as much as Greece). But that program is an almost inevitable byproduct of resistance being channelled onto the electoralist terrain. When your trying to play within the electoralist rules neo-Keynesianism is the only alternative you can offer.

To state things the other way around. If there is the development of a strong organised anti-capitalist movement in Greece I would expect it to include the development of a significant electoralist wing able to ride to power on the back of that movement. That is a pretty universal pattern. What isn't is the reverse where electoral success generates such a movement. The last elections in Ireland saw several formally trotskyist TD's returned as part of the ULA yet their has been little or no growth of either their parties or the ULA as a result of this.

In conclusion there are two problems with the general approach of the left beyond the electoralism I have talked about here.

1. A failure to recognize that there is no Greek or Irish solution based on a local return to some neo-Keynesianist 'growth + jobs' version of capitalism. Ireland's economy in particular is far too dependent on globalization for any idea of a switch to import substitutionism to make any sense at all.

2. Austerity is being rolled out across Europe but the focus on national solutions and national elections has meant there is no real attempt to build a European resistance. The leader of the Hungarian Communist Party Mátyás Rákosi is said to have explained its path to power through the use of 'Salami Tactics'.

It would be impossible to eat an entire Salami by simply cramming it into your mouth. Instead you eat it thin slice by thin slice. Faced with a massive European working class that has a common interest in resisting austerity the left has allowed the numerically tiny European ruling class to defeat us, without a struggle, by allowing it to focus in on tiny slices taken on and beaten one at a time.

The capitalist class have been moving around Europe biting chunks out of the living standards of the working class. Chomp and we have the public sector pay cut of the pensions levy in Ireland, chomp and we see the attacks of pensions across the UK, chomp and we see pay slashed in Greece, chomp and its the second public sector pay cut in Ireland. And so on for Spain and Portugal and Italy but also lets be clear the knife is being sharpened to slice off the pension rights of French workers too.

European capitalism intends to return to prosperity by a thousand such cuts. The only puzzle is the complete lack of resistance to such an obvious program on a level that refuses to accept the isolation of one sector after another behind national borders. Our resistance must be as global as capital and so far it really isn't.


This blog started as a couple of long comments in a Facebook debate

Comments

The panic must be setting in

The panic must be setting in that the mass party approach is going to swamp anarchism - and the panic is justifiable because anarchism will likely be objectively less popular. No anarchist group has achieved 30% of public support anywhere except Catalonia which was donkey's years ago. I can understand the concern of a return to the shadow of social democracy that the post war parties represent, especially if it's a recapitulation of the tax and spend policies and a welfare state which will almost certainly fly through the same orbit it did last time. However this analysis is very sorely lacking.

Essentially it identifies the lack of progress of social democracy on electoralism and betrayal. It seems to me the problem is much more programmatic. There are structural features that push electoralism to the right, but I think this is much less important than the objective economic pressures. For the same reason that SYRIZA calls for a debt moratorium, the WSM calls for taxes on the rich. As such, the anarchists are absolutely no better, as they don't have a clear idea of how to get to socialism from where we are yet either. They are only less popular so the actual dangers are fewer since they will never have to test the ideology.

A couple of specific errors. The programme of SYRIZA is not "neo-Keynesianism" at all. This is quite simply wrong and the term is being used incoherently as a smear. neo-Keynesian means something specific, but even if we are to be generous and think Andrew means a recapitulated Keynesianism, it's still wrong. Keynesianism requires having ones own currency and SYRIZA are trying specifically not to leave the Euro.

The other is that based on one part of a Mason interview Andrew has come to the conclusion that SYRIZA have not thought about the security state and the dangers posed. This is just false and based on incomplete information. SYRIZA MPs have specifically mentioned the need to walk softly with respect to the security state and that they are in a difficult position. Further this charge is very peculiar considering what Andrew would pose as the alternative. Is there somehow a magic talisman granted to those who take the extra-parliamentary road? It would seem to me it's quite the opposite. An insurrectionary approach in Greece would be even more likely to be crushed as it would not even have to justify itself in terms of "democracy". The position is essentially Cliffite (see Cliff's article on Chile).

A useful critique would dispense with the panic and smears and actually start talking about what programmatically can be done. Anarchism is not a programme. Saying, we don't need electoralism we need anarchism is like saying we don't need screwdrivers we need hammers. Some sort of plausible alternative programmes have to be presented or the critique sounds very thin indeed.

Would the WSM really be opposed to different terms on the debt for Ireland for instance? Or would it be opposed to changing the tax regimes on the rich? Are these merely palliatives for capitalism, or are they indeed important for the working class. What reforms could be demanded that might not lead to a cul de sac? As opposed to a transitional demand (which I don't believe Synapsismos was actually making, but it certainly would be a justification of the policy to the cadre for some of SYRIZA's Trot groups) should we demand reforms that *can* be obtained within capitalism? People in Greece need immediate ameloriatives. If you do not have answers to how those amelioratives can be obtained, then it seems there is little use in your vehement denunciations. There is nothing particularly anti-capitalist about impossibilism.

Now, it's true that the WSM is engaged in a mass direct action campaign. So the argument can be made that it's not the reforms but the method in which those reforms are obtained that is important. However, what direct action technique does the WSM propose for a debt moratorium? How do you fight in the streets against an indirect tax campaign? The tactic has been raised to a principle in a way in which it can not obtain the most important advances.

The pirate party further have demonstrated that a mass party can be highly transparent and democratic. The deficiencies of the old top-down party are being implicitly accepted as necessary. Why is it that the electoralist dimension must be controlled by an unaccountable leadership? It seems no more necessary to me than it is necessary that it be true in the anti-house tax campaign. If you are desperately afraid of a Dem Left style split, simply require members of the party to have their resignations held collectively by the party. The level of moral certitude and lack of discussion carried around by the libertarians wrt to this question is disturbing, and really cedes the entire discussion to people on the left who simply don't care - i.e. the Trotskyists.

 Well first off this is a

 Well first off this is a rambling blog post about the post European left arising from a FB discussion. Generally if I'm panicing about something I'd tend towards producting an actual article rather that this sort of stream of consiousness that I use the blog for.

I'll agree that if you see electoralism as the way forward then the SYRIZA vote is very significant.  If you don't then much less so.  So your assertion as to its importance assumes what your trying to prove and is thus convincing to those who see electoralism as central and not convincing to those who don't.  What significance I give the vote for SYRIZA is more along the lines of it being a very accurate opinion pole that shows a large sector of the Greek population, about 17% are radicalised (27% of the 60% who voted and assuming as elsewhere in the EU migrants don't have a vote - they are around 7% of the population - this is maybe 17% of the working age population) plus the existing base of the KKE and ANTARYSA (3%).  20% of the population voting for parties that use some anti-capitalist rhetoric is of some significance.

On my terminology of neo-Keynesianism your right this is imprecise of me and ignores its actual technical meaning.  Your wrong to imagine its a smear - rather its typical of the unresearched shorthand that I allow into blog posts but would weed out from an article.

You didn't understand my use of that Mason quote, not even second time around when you corrected the stronger accusation you'd made on Facebook.  I don't make any claim with regards to SYRIZA's consideration of a coup - if I was I'd guess that coming from Greece which saw a military coup in 1967 running through to 74 they could hardly but be aware of the possibility.  As I'd even mentioned the dictatorship in that section of the article I find your reading of what you thought I meant quite blinkered, even second time around.  But for the record the Mason quote was being used to introduce to the concept to left commentators outside Greece who it appeared could only see a positive side to a SYRIZA victory triggering a Greek political crisis.

So that I think kills off you two 'smears' and the non existent 'panic'.  

As to the rest.  

1. It's a blog post, it doesn't require me to have a program for Greece before I post it.  If that sort of standard was required blogging would come to an end.
2. As I don't see a Greek solution to the crisis I see SYRIZA's program as just as impossibilist as the demand for revolution now.
3. You need to do some research on the legal shortcomings of your proposal to "require members of the party to have their resignations held collectively by the party".  My understanding is that not only would this have no legal validity but that its actually illegal to attempt to impose binding mandates on members of the Dail.  I came across this a few years back - being a reply on a blog rather than an article I get to just point this out rather that cite it.

http://roides.wordpress.com/2

http://roides.wordpress.com/2012/06/20/20june12/

The Greek Orthodox Church blessing the neo-Nazis

20/06/2012

A church that has often been accused of financial and sexual scandals which a few years back in 2005, drew international attention. This same church offered its blessings at Golden Dawn’s offices.

/............/

To our Readers:
Please spread the word; Prefer spreading the English translation in particular.

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