What is SYRIZA? Two opposing takes on the new euro-politics
What is SYRIZA and Podemos, and what are their significance on the stage of world history? I came across two interesting and contrasting views by folks much more familiar than I with the situation on the ground. I offer their take, along with my own caveats:
The first is a rather pessimistic take on Greece by a conventional vanguardist formation called the International Committee for a Fourth International; knuckleheads who are connected to the Socialist Equality Party (@SEP_US), (the latter who have shown they don’t know labor theory from a hole in the ground — but okay).
ICFI offers us some typical vanguardist boilerplate analysis (The collapse of the Greek government):
“Every attempt by workers and youth to oppose the assault on their jobs and living conditions has been betrayed or repressed. The traditional parties of bourgeois rule are deeply discredited. Samaras’ New Democracy and the social democratic PASOK are despised in the eyes of the vast majority of the population.
“It is under these conditions that the ruling class is turning to SYRIZA, the “Coalition of the Radical Left,” in an effort to head off a revolutionary crisis.”
For some reason, the ICFI puts the term “anti-austerity” in quotes. It’s not clear to me whether they think SYRIZA is not anti-austerity or that there is no such thing as an anti-austerity stance. In any case, according to the ICFI, SYRIZA has been “carefully groomed to take a leading role in defending capitalism in Greece”. Its job being to ensure “that the dictates of international capital are carried through and countering the wave of popular opposition that threatens to spread throughout Europe.”
What wave of popular opposition? The working class of Europe has been remarkable for its patience, even indifference and apathy, in face of the brutal assault on its material conditions of life. SYRIZA seems to be polling at 30-35% in Greece, which is hardly a wave and it — along with Podemos — is the only real opposition to surface in Europe from the streets. Call me a pessimist, but, to me, this means 65-70% of the population has not broken with the existing politics after even five years of depression.
How is it that five years into an unprecedented post-war depression, with 30% unemployment, voters haven’t lynched Samaras on the steps of parliament, yet? How is that this “wave of popular opposition that threatens to spread throughout Europe” only produced a party that IFCI calls a defender of capitalism. This is all we have to show for five years of unrelenting austerity and depression? This is it?
If this is true, why doesn’t the ICFI explain to us why “the workers and youth” appear incapable of offering any more than this weak tea. What sort of revolutionary class is this that can strain heroically for five years, only to shit out a steaming lump of “business-friendly” progressives?
ICFI has some more explaining to do beyond simply stating that SYRIZA is pro-capitalist; they have to explain why this pro-capitalist party is now dominating the political landscape after 5 years of economic catastrophe. Things are not going according to the conventional Marxist playbook at all. We were told the inevitable crises of capitalism eventually would cause terrible suffering of the masses, who would, in response, turn to their real leaders: the ICFI and its vanguardist brethren. Well, that crisis is here, but where is this historical turning?
What the fuck is up with that, ICFI? Why haven’t the masses found out that you are their leaders? Why is that after suffering a capitalist crisis for 5 years, they turn to a party that only offers more capitalism? Where in your party documents did you explain this is what would happen? It is one thing to argue SYRIZA is a business friendly Left neoliberal alternative to two discredited mainstream parties; but another thing altogether to explain why, in total contradiction to all your party pronouncements, the crisis did not awaken the class consciousness of the workers and reveal to them their real leaders, the ICFI.
The only possible explanation for this is that the “workers and youth” never read your party documents. Had they read it and understood its profound analysis, they would have been convinced you were their real leaders, not Tsipras.
By contrast, Paul Mason’s latest article should be titled “no other world is possible” (Enter Europe’s new populist left movement). In it Mason highlights the uncomfortable truths evident in the above analysis and adds his own twist:
“All across the social media you can, as you search for the words Podemos and Syriza, read as many denunciations from the hard left as you can critiques from the right.
“Though insignificant in themselves, the pained outrage of these far-left groups is a signal that something big and real is happening in European politics. To me it looks like a new form of social democracy is being born – and one moulded to a very different set of priorities to those that guided Labour and its socialist variants in the 20th century.”
Paul Mason new populism sounds a lot like the old fascism that eventually collapsed in the crisis of the 1970s, leading to the new (neo) liberalism. Mason argues SYRIZA proposes the modest goal of adapting Keynesan economic management and the social welfare state to a pan-Europe structure; everything would be as it was before, except euro-fascism would be directly continental:
“At the centre of the economic policy is debt restructuring: the proposal that the scale of debt reduction facing most of peripheral Europe is so large that it will suppress growth for a generation. A reversal of austerity, some mild fiscal expansion and the reversal or end of privatisation programmes completes the basic list.”
This modest proposal obviously conflicts with the dominant national capitals within the EU, who had the opportunity to complete a political union to complement the economic one in the 1990s, but chose instead to avoid that outcome. The present crisis has caused many to question the wisdom of the decision. With unemployment rising and the separate national states no longer capable of managing their national capitals separately, the increasingly integrated character of European capital demands social recognition:
“Though this runs at odds with both the principles and rules of the eurozone, almost none of the new-left populist parties wants to leave it. Instead they propose the ECB becomes a true lender of last resort, using quantitative easing to revive consumption and manage debt forgiveness.
“The new-left parties, in other words, want Europe to become a Keynesian fiscal union with a high welfare state. It is not the status quo but it is not what the Marxist professors who staff their economics departments dreamed of when they were on the streets in 1968 either.”
In place of many national fascisms, we will have one big fascist union; a euro-fascism, based on the illusion of a continental, rather than a national, autarky. Mason argues that the Marxist academics whose economic theories are behind SYRIZA’s proposals never dreamed of this outcome, but Lacan, who was far more prescient about such things, sternly told them at the time that they were only looking for a new master.
It seems he was correct.
But what about NATO? What about the dollar? Is Washington likely to stand by while its two most important holds on global power is threatened? And is it likely to do this with China busy unraveling American power on the other side of the globe?
No one in their right mind thinks SYRIZA is a revolutionary party — not even SYRIZA. SYRIZA and Podemos are the response of the streets (the working class, such as it is, blind to its own class character) to the unfinished tasks of European integration. Insofar as it is limited to this — which is by no means, of itself, inconsequential — it remains the plaything of European capital.
It remains to be seen whether either of these parties can be something more.