Jacobin Magazine Shocker: Even if SYRIZA wins, the Left will probably lose
Peter Bratsis over at Jacobin is trying to manage down your expectations regarding the probable impact of a now likely SYRIZA win:
“Regrettably, the political conjuncture in Greece and beyond does not present us with an urgent task of deciding which path to socialism is the best. All political parties (Syriza, KKE, Antarsya, included) are, quite the opposite, largely debating which path is best for restoring jobs, wages, health care, education, and the like. No one is advocating a radical break with the past and the creation of a new society.
The desire on the streets, in the meeting halls, and in the voting booths is not the desire for the new and more excellent, it is a desire for security, predictability, and jobs.”
According to Bratsis then, the revolutionary impulse of socialist parties is being blunted by the conservative attitudes of the working class? (I think I have that right.)
“The political question of the moment”, says Bratsis, “is not the mechanics of a transition to socialism but, rather, the meeting of basic human needs”.
Huh? If socialism is not, above everything else, about meeting basic human needs, what is it? What sort of other socialism does Bratsis advocate? In any case, according to Bratsis, the stakes in the Greece election are very high. According to Bratsis, “if Syriza loses — if the ideology of TINA wins out yet again — the Left in Greece (and Europe more generally) is finished for the foreseeable future.” If the Left can’t achieve a simple election victory after, “five years of vicious unemployment, authoritarian repression, and national humiliation, then there would seem to be little or no hope for them to ever do so.”
Yet, in a surprisingly pessimistic turn, Bratsis makes the astonishing assertion that even a SYRIZA election victory does not guarantee success for the Left:
“Of course, a Syriza victory is no guarantee of political renewal. Many dangers will persist, and Syriza may fail in achieving the reforms that it has proposed. As a political party it could become increasingly oligarchical and conservative. The forces of transnational capitalism may prove too much to overcome. An electoral victory combined with the failure to successfully undo austerity and temper the demands of transnational capital would also be the end of a viable left in Europe. It would lose all credibility for a generation or more.”
In other words, according to Bratsis, even when SYRIZA wins, the Left loses. In this way, Bratsis telegraphs the uncomfortable feeling on the Left that it is being hoodwinked once again: SYRIZA’s decision to stay in the European Union and the euro common currency might just imply the Left has finally found its neoliberal form.
The Left and its radical consensus
The subtext of Bratsis’s article then is that no matter whether SYRIZA wins or loses, there is likely still no alternative to neoliberalism. TINA isn’t dead just because SYRIZA wins and even if it wins decisively on the 25th.
To put this another way, one of the silliest moments in Left history was the day they rejected Thatcher’s statement, “There is no alternative.” This wasn’t because they rejected the statement per se, but because their reply to it was to attempt to turn history backwards. Properly understood, Thatcher’s statement meant,
“Even if you have no more radical aim than to give a human face to capitalism, the mode of production itself — the production of surplus value, of profit — is no longer compatible with the ideal of a sovereign, self-sufficient, state manager of the national capital.”
Now, to be fair, the Left has never had any other aim than capitalism with a human face — this was its radical consensus position. And whenever recalcitrant members of the Left threatened to break the Left’s radical consensus, the Left imposed its own unique version of radical hall monitoring: dragging Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht off to be tortured and murdered in order to maintain the peace between the two great classes of modern society and the Left’s radical program for food stamp socialism.
So when Thatcher informed the Left that “There is no alternative”, this was indeed something of a shock. The Left had enthusiastically served in two world wars on behalf its own bourgeoisies, operated their death camps with ruthless efficiency, and even tried to regain their colonies lost during the conflicts of the inter-war period. And when it came time to collect a bonus in the form of national health insurance and a ten cent raise in its wages, Thatcher explained that, owing to unforseen business conditions, the New Deal was no longer on offer.
This naked class dictatorship is under new management
Thatcher’s statement, “There is no alternative”, really meant, “The Labour Party already quietly began the same policies I am doing openly now.” Indeed, according to writers like Simon Clarke, in large part what we now call neoliberalism was already largely prefigured in the assaults on the working class by the Labour Party in Britain and the Democrat Party in the US in the 1970s:
“In the name of state socialism the official leadership of the working class in Britain defended the institutions of the capitalist state against growing working class resistance, culminating in the ‘winter of discontent’ in 1978–9, but in so doing only discredited itself, so that by the end of the 1970s it was a paper tiger, which Thatcher could brush contemptuously aside.”
Thus, well before Thatcher or Reagan came to power, the Labour Party and the liberal Democrat Party had already begun what would ultimately turn out to be three decades of neoliberal assaults on the working class. Thatcher’s dictum, “There is no alternative”, meant, in first place, the working class could expect no better deal from the Tories and the GOP than they were getting from Labour and the Democrats.
No matter. The Left’s reply to Thatcher’s statement has been three decades of wasted impotent effort to revive what Andrew Kliman has called zombie social democracy. In truth, even before Thatcher, the social democrats didn’t want to be social democrats anymore, despite the efforts of the Left to convince them otherwise. (And, seriously, be honest, was it ever realistic for the Left to expect millionaire Democrats, like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama, to become champagne socialists?)
Pardon us while we undergo renovations
“There Is No Alternative” essentially means there is no way to avoid the formation of a single world market and the collapse of all national states. A SYRIZA win cannot alter this outcome, which is determined by the laws of the capitalist mode of production no matter what we think or do.
And this poses a big problem for the Left because the critical question raised by the Jacobin article is can the Left survive in world without borders, states, parliaments, etc. The four pillars of the SYRIZA platform mentioned by the Jacobin article — social programs to combat poverty, increased state revenues, job creation and expanding democracy — suggests that it cannot.
SYRIZA’s programs cannot succeed without money that must come from somewhere, whether this is additional taxes, borrowing or debt negotiations. In an environment where, every day, national economies count for less, and the world market grows in importance, the Left is still dangerously unprepared to survive in a world where the nation state is already obsolete. Even as the gadgets sourced from the four corners of the globe populate our lives, the Left still insist on a strategy that assumes the nation state is a hermetically-sealed sovereign actor.
The nation state has always been the bane of the working class — from World War I and the collapse of working class solidarity; to the rise of fascism, the holocaust and World War II;, to the ruthless economic competition between national capitals spawned by globalization. Yet never during this time has the Left seriously reconsidered its strategy based on taking control of that very same nation state. Even now in a Europe where the nation state has been stripped of almost all capacity to act as a sovereign, SYRIZA is expected by some on the Left to buck against world history and employ a mostly impotent state power on behalf of the working class.
You have to wonder why the Left keeps deliberately setting itself up to fail time and again. SYRIZA is set the impossible task to undo decades of economic development, with no control over the forces of production and no possibility of regaining control of Greece’s economy.
All because of the stubbornness of a Left that refuses to recognize the world has change since the 19th century.