Greece: Graveyard of the radical Left critique

Vasnetsov_Grave_diggerThis item appeared on Yves Smith’s blog, Naked Capitalism: Greece Talks With Eurogroup Hit “Complete Breakdown”. According to Smith, things look very dark for SYRIZA to avoid exiting the euro:

“It is hard to see how Greece squeaks through and makes its two early May debt payments to the IMF. A default may be imminent. … Greece has engaged in a game of brinksmanship for months, but it looks as if the wheels are about to come off. It’s too easy to second-guess outcomes, but cooler heads had suggested that if a Grexit looked to be inevitable, the Eurozone could take measures to ameliorate the pain. The relations between the two sides are so sour that this sort of conscience-assuaging sop seems inconceivable, unless Merkel insists on it as a statesman-like gesture.

Very pessimistic of SYRIZA’s and Greece’s future, Smith adds these sympathetic words:

“Greece was almost certain to continue to face harsh times, but the likely outcome looks to be particularly difficult. I wish the long-suffering Greek people the best of luck. They need it.”

Isn’t it great when, on April 25, a respected blog informs us of something we already knew on January 25.

According to Smith, “it looks as if the wheels are about to come off.” An odd comment indeed, since SYRIZA winning the election meant, if nothing else, that the wheels had already come off.

In Smith’s case, “the wheels coming off”, means SYRIZA will now be forced to leave the euro and begin issuing drachmas. Not coincidentally, the folks around Smith’s blog have long advocated Greece exit the euro, because the IMF austerity program has always lacked one critical policy tool: currency devaluation to more effectively crush the wages of the working class through a forcible devaluation of the drachma. To be clear: The folks around the modern money school and Smith’s blog are not against austerity, they think it can only be effective if wages are devalued.

Which raises an harsh question for the radical Left: Since, clearly, SYRIZA doesn’t get it about hours of labor reduction — as almost no Leftist does — what is its best course from here? Given the choice between completely conceding to all of the troika’s demands and Grexit, which should SYRIZA do? Almost every radical opponent of SYRIZA from the first predicted SYRIZA would concede to all of the troika’s demands and back flip on austerity.


Because they assumed SYRIZA would not move to take Greece out of the euro. From the Left, this was attributed to SYRIZA’s reformist political bent. The ‘radical’ position, said the Left, was for SYRIZA to defend ‘national sovereignty’ and pull Greece out of the euro. This laughably fascistic argument is being advanced by many people who claim to be radicals, even revolutionaries.

Basically, the Left argues, SYRIZA is too reformist to reach across the aisle and join hands with Marine LePen in France and Nigel Farage in Britain, to defend national sovereignty against the ‘European project’. The radical program of the Left is best summed up by Lapavitsas, who promises us that Greece wages only need to fall another 20%. Once currency devaluation has forcibly reduced wages by this much more, says Lapavitsas, small businesses will again step in and hire labor power.

Let me be completely frank: Against this regressive vision for Greece, it would be better if SYRIZA did just completely bow to all of the troika’s demands. No matter the defects of the troika program, the poignant death-wish on the part of the Left to return to the 20th century will never succeed. Whether you like it or not, you will be forced to make your place in a world market where national borders are meaningless and the state power is revealed to be impotent.

If you cannot create a world where the fascist state has been abolished, the finance capitalists of the EU will create it for you. You fucking Leftists need to grow up; you cannot go back to the past. Capitalism has already wiped out the primitive national autarky that is the premise of national sovereignty.

Now you can spend another 30 years telling yourselves there is an alternative to be found in an earlier stage of capitalist development or you can figure out how to live in a world where the state you thought was omnipotent can be isolated and crushed simply by strangling its banking system.

SYRIZA came to power with a very common Leftist delusion: Having gained political power it could now reconfigure capitalism to make the working class comfortable with wage slavery. It is the same delusion that infects the entire Left, but how realistic is this when the state power itself can be made to bow to the demands of finance capital? It turns out that, in the end, Holloway was more right than he imagined: There is no real state power for the Left to take.

Neoliberalism didn’t just set out to dismantle the social welfare state, it is a crisis of the social welfare state itself. The development of the productive forces bound up with the world market are digging a grave for the capitalist state. If the Left will not help in this “project”, it should just get the fuck out of the way and let capital finish the job it has already begun.

11 thoughts on “Greece: Graveyard of the radical Left critique”

  1. Sometimes it feels like you make your analysis on the basis of trying to be cool. You are a little too quick to jump to conclusions before you have explained how you got there. Lapavitsas is speaking of devaluation which would occur immediately post grexit. You say it would be better to bow to all of troika’s demands. What about privatisations, cutdowns and other forced reforms? And the long term perspective?


    1. Perhaps, the author is correct that I state my conclusion before I show how I got there, so let me clear this up: The long term perspective is that no matter what else takes place, capital will negate its own existence, it will kill wage slavery. Capital is a historically limited, relative mode of production that is no more than a transition to communism.

      There is nothing the Left nor the capitalists can do to evade this outcome, since it arises from the production of surplus value itself. If the Left cannot figure out how to accelerate this process of self-negation, it should get the fuck out of the way and let capital do it.

      What process am I talking about?

      Production of surplus value requires ever greater effort to reduce the socially necessary labor time required for production of commodities. The only contribution the Left can make to this process is to organize the class to fight for reduction of hours of labor. You cannot fix poverty, inequality, racism, misogyny, imperialism, etc. by frontal attack on those separate problems. The abstract nature of capitalistic domination is such that all social relations founded on labor impoverish the working class, reproducing inequality, racism, sexism and imperialism. The social relations themselves are racist; they are themselves sexist, they are themselves imperialist, etc. These horrors are not created by individuals — not “white pepole”, not “men”, not “patriots”, — but by social relations constituted by labor

      But the capitalist mode of production, i.e., the production of surplus value, unconsciously abolishes them by progressively abolishing labor itself. The Left, if it has any reason for existence at all, can only accelerate the process whereby capital abolishes its own premise. If you cannot figure this out, you might as well go vote Democrat for all the good you are doing.

      Capitalism doesn’t need Leftists and their stupid ideas to abolish itself; communism certainly doesn’t need the Left, since it is the product of the real activity of billions, not the product of some “theorists”. For all the “revolutionary Left’s” talk about overthrowing the capitalist state, that state is today — right this moment in Greece — being crushed by the capitalists, not the Left. The capitalists think they are killing SYRIZA, killing the working class, killing the future, but they are only killing their own state.

      So, yes, I think it would be better for the SYRIZA to completely submit to the demands of the troika than turn on the working class and devalue its wages by another 20 percent. Call me silly, but I think the Left cannot withstand such a disaster.


  2. Hi Jehu, I have a question entirely unrelated to this post, but suspect you can help:
    Can you post links to academic, peer-reviewed articles, or books from good presses that empirically address the issue of “growing state involvement” in the economy?
    The issues are clear in the abstract, but I am having difficulties finding actual studies looking into it in more detail. All I can think of is Baran/Sweezy (Monopoly capital)


    1. Serious question: Have you ever read anything on the economy in any peer-reviewed article or book anywhere that was not concerned with state involvement in the economy? I could not mention a single piece of literature on the economy that did not. If you can point me to it, I would really appreciate it.


      1. I suppose i worded by question poorly – of course literally every single economics paper is in some way concerned with this question. However, in most mainstream econ papers the role of the state is considered in sort of speculative terms, typically accompanied with a “surprise” that it has any role at all, or trying to explain away the ‘aberration’. What I’m looking for is empirical papers that elaborate in more detail instances of actual implementations of the generally clear trend.


      2. I hear you. This seems to be almost non-existent in he literature, unfortunately. Even among Marxists, no one seems to consider it unusual the state intervention in the economy is taken for granted.


  3. From an econ perspective the state is the apogee, always has been as the writer of laws and the market is a result of said laws. Even a die hard freedom and liberty sort like De Soto acknowledges this.


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