Note from the LeftEast editors: We publish this article criticizing SYRIZA from the left because we believe in the possibility and necessity of such a critique, which can strengthen this movement’s resolve in the face of such formidable pressure from the outside. But it’s also important to remember “that men make history but in circumstances not of their own choosing.”
Almost two weeks have passed under the governance of the new ruling coalition in Greece, led by the so-called “radical” left SYRIZA. You see, the media all over the world enjoy to call SYRIZA radical, mostly due to the party’s name (Coalition of the Radical Left), disregarding its admittedly moderate central views on a long list of issues. In fact, several moves taken by SYRIZA have already teased the sentiment of the “authentic” radical left in Europe, which is already very sceptical of the Greek leftist party.
The coalition with ANEL tops the list of SYRIZA’s late dubious moves. However, most seem to accept that no matter how unpleasant this collaboration must have been for SYRIZA, it was also imperative to avoid losing the historical chance of enforcing a leftist agenda for the first time in the EU, especially when considering that the small conservative party granted its support almost unconditionally.
The appointment of the prolific TV Commentator, the economist Yianis Varoufakis, as the new Greek Finance Minister also ranks high on SYRIZA’s contradictory agenda. It is not the extravagant, narcissistic style of the Elvis Presley of finance that annoys the radical left, but mostly his partially liberal views and his earlier connection with PASOK. I should recall that Varoufakis was very close to the Papandreou family and a personal adviser of former PM George Papandreou. In fact, already in the second week of governance Varoufakis seems to be smoothening SYRIZA’s discourse and I –amongst others- expect him to be the messenger of further moderation ahead. By accepting that Greece belongs to the world market system, SYRIZA decided to dance with the devil and has inevitably already started “thinking” with respect to global markets, while Varoufakis is surely the “spiritual leader” of this process.
Overall, SYRIZA is to blame for a very long list of strategic compromises on its way to win the Greek election and after. One of those is the pre and post-electoral collaboration with former PASOK and ANEL MPs (e.g. Rahil Makri, Theodora Tzakri). Also it seems that the leftist party has already somewhat smoothened its stance regarding the banks, privatisation, debt and fiscal adjustment, streamlining its agenda with external pressure. However, the cornerstone move of SYRIZA -that the radical left cannot and will probably not forgive- is the acceptance of the institutional role of the EU.
The dubious EU commitment – Trojan Horse or just compromised?
The way to power was not rosy for SYRIZA as unfortunately the leftist party had to soften significantly its pre-2012 radical discourse, by moderating its agenda over the past three years to convince the centrist, middle-class voters to trust the party with their vote. SYRIZA stopped declaring it would nationalize the banks, it accepted the neoliberal, imperialist EU establishment, while it strictly guaranteed Greece’s EU (and NATO) membership. The radical left understandably blames SYRIZA for an evidently reformist trajectory, while on the other hand the radical faction of SYRIZA would most likely respond that accepting the EU was part of the Gramscian “war of position” within Europe broadly. Despite the ideological interpretation of SYRIZA’s polemic, I should admit that unless SYRIZA shifted its agenda towards a more EU-friendly platform, it would most probably not be able curb the fear of voters, despite the longstanding austerity in Greece.
Still, it is important to consider that the larger part of the new Greek cabinet along with the new Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, have been part of radical left or communist youth organizations. As a result, despite softening their discourse with time, they all surely maintain radical leftist views and positions. In that sense, SYRIZA does remain a predominantly leftist party, but surely not radical anymore. Having this in mind, one might still wonder how could a truly leftist party accept to be part of the capitalist Mecca? Is it maybe a leftist Trojan horse that lured the middle-class to come to power and launch its attack from within the neoliberal “Troy” of the EU? Or has it already been ideologically “corrupted” and compromised, like so many other reformist leftist parties in the past?
For people within SYRIZA, the answer is not straightforward and the truth is likely to be found somewhere in the middle. It seems that SYRIZA truly believes that it can change the EU from within, setting up a leftist front against the markets and the conservative administration of the EU, while hoping that other nations will back this effort. On the other hand, SYRIZA does not intend to bring the EU down to its ashes and hence tearing apart the Maastricht Treaty, but rather targets shifting the central monetary and fiscal policy in favour of those in need. Simply, halting austerity! Is this a humble first strategic step of a long-term polemic or the small leftist party is already inadequate and ideologically short-sighted?
Nevertheless, not all –even within part of the radical left- blame SYRIZA for this approach! Anyone following international developments, even remotely, is aware that most countries in the globalized world have given up their national sovereignty and granted it to the international debt markets, in exchange of favourable interest rates and monetary stability. This process in the EU is even more evident and is coordinated by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and externally by the International Monetary Fund, which together comprise the so-called Troika. A simple exchange of credit for sovereignty takes place all over the world, where monetary and banking stability has become a priority ahead of peoples’ welfare and wellbeing.
Is Greece in the position to defy the markets’ will? The quick answer is absolutely no! Then, is SYRIZA naive enough to think it can “beat” the markets? The answer is likely again to be no, but SYRIZA aims to play the Grexit card. Considering the rising discontent against austerity and high unemployment across other EU member states, a Grexit could spread a knock-on effect throughout the EU, which could even lead to its collapse; a scenario that the EU would probably not risk. I expect SYRIZA to play the Grexit hand to the end, otherwise any pressure on EU’s central policy mechanisms is hopeless for Greece and the small leftist party.
A long way to a leftist counter-hegemony… or a quick collapse!
People all over the world, including the radical left, are charmed by SYRIZA’s win but most remain sceptical; The non-ideological, apolitical centrists mainly ask, how will SYRIZA put its agenda forward? Where will it find the money to back broad social welfare? However, this is a false question, as the problem is not money any more but ideology! When the neoliberal governments of PASOK and New Democracy were on power in Greece, the EU and the IMF decided to lend Greece directly 240bn Euros in 2010-2014 at extremely low interest rates (this amount almost doubles when aggregating banking financing from the Eurosystem); 240bn…and people now wonder, how will SYRIZA finance measures of 11bn Euros. This is a politically naive argument, if not propagandistic. The financing of SYRIZA’s social agenda would only be a minor issue, if there was ideological convergence with the EU. What is really at stake is the dominance of the neoliberal hegemony over the weak, yet growing momentum of the left in the EU. SYRIZA will inevitably lead this struggle, but prospects are bleak…
Overall, SYRIZA’s win brought hope to European leftists that EU’s ideological direction could even be slightly reversed. Also it raises hope that it will boost the efforts of other leftist parties all over Europe and in particular the public appeal of Podemos in Spain, which currently leads in polls and could also come to power in 2015. I don’t know if that hope is naive or futile, like most radical leftists do, but I am certain that SYRIZA will launch an interesting moment in the historical dialectic of the EU, which should only be evaluated after many years. For the romantics, SYRIZA’s decision to become a systemic party was extremely disappointing, but most remain reserved knowing the fierce powers of the globalized environment and SYRIZA’s recent radical past.
Those knowing the domestic political spectrum in Greece, are aware that a vibrant communist faction still lives and breathes within SYRIZA, remaining on the front of an active ideological struggle within the party and pushing for more radical decisions. Even thought the moderates seem to have dominated the internal ideological battle within SYRIZA, the recent election win brought hope amongst the radicals and forced them to reconsider the “ideal” strategy. Despite remaining reserved and despite the evident reformist concessions to the capital, most radicals within SYRIZA would -at least for now- claim that this chance to come to power was a historical opportunity to set the basis for a leftist hegemony in Greece and gradually in Europe.
Indeed, SYRIZA carries on its shoulders not only the hope of the Left in Greece but the hope of the Left in Europe overall. If it loses this ideological battle, the prospects of a counter-hegemony to the dominant neoliberal model would be severely jeopardized in the long term. But time is running out and other EU nations do not seem socially prepared to radicalize their stance and back SYRIZA. Greece heads to a deep rift or a disappointing EU integration, as SYRIZA will either be crushed by the international markets, or it would eventually have to compromise fully with the central EU decision-making mechanisms. The first signs already in the second week of governance suggest that the latter is unfortunately more likely. Time will show, but despite the deep ideological objections that exist in any reformist party anyone dreaming of more human and just societies with solidarity and sturdy social welfare should still stand–critically- by the side of SYRIZA now.
Thanasis Kourempatsopoulos is an economist, MSc, PhD candidate in Political Philosophy.