What do you call it when history does a three-peat?
A brief post-mortem for post-Keynesianism and the Left
Is it too early for a post-mortem on the radical Keynesian model of politics? After all the patient is still breathing on the operating table, albeit with great difficulty. With its last dying breath, the Greece nation state, the sacred idol of all Left politics, begged for a few more months of life support.
Is this a too brutal and rude retelling of outcome of months of negotiations? After all, the patient is not dead yet, right? Well, pardon me, but I felt it best to state clearly, while SYRIZA still breathes, that this catastrophe is not all its fault alone. I would hate to see SYRIZA carried to its grave, while the charlatans who first gave life to it, place all the blame for its failure on Tsipras and the SYRIZA majority.
The final collapse of the Third International
Already the rest of the Left is trying desperately to distance itself from SYRIZA’s utter and complete capitulation. Here is Stathis Kouvelakis, a member of SYRIZA ominously pointing a finger at Tsipras:
“Whoever dares to lead the country, and the Left, to surrender and to dishonor should be ready to face the corresponding Nemesis.”
Kouvelakis sounds pretty angry, but are his words only the measure of his own impotence? How, we might ask, has SYRIZA led the Left to surrender and dishonor? Apart from SYRIZA’s refusal to leave the euro, it has faithfully abided by decades of Left orthodoxy in the past five months. Is it not looking for the fiscal authority that the Left has long identified as the Achilles’ heel of the European project? Doesn’t it, like the rest of the Left, premise the continuation of present social relations on ever increasing public debt? Hasn’t it, like the rest of the Left taken exercise of state power as the only means of fixing the defects of capitalism? Isn’t the social welfare state and its constant expansion as much the basis for SYRIZA’s platform as any other Left party in Europe?
So, how has SYRIZA brought dishonor on the Left; how has it forced the Left to surrender? In fact, the Left surrendered a long time ago when, in the face of sustained neoliberalism, it began toying with ideas of ‘market socialism’, co-operatives and even isolated local primitive communizations. And not just these: who turned the 1960s into the golden age of the social state — certainly not Vietnam.
Who said Marx was wrong; that anything could be money; that capitalism was not a relative, historically limited, mode of production. Who decided the existing state did not have to be broken; that the working class could simply lay hold to it and wield it for emancipation? Who said our aim was full employment, not the abolition of labor?
Grexit, stage Left Platform
Wasn’t it one of Kouvelakis’s buddies, Costas Lapavitsas, who only weeks ago admitted his Keynesian exit plan was meant to fix capitalism?
“Oh yes, very much! Keynes is not Marx, and Keynesianism is not Marxism. Of course there’s a gulf between them, and it’s pretty much as you have said. Marxism is about overturning capitalism and heading towards socialism. It has always been about that, and it will remain about that. Keynesianism is not about that. It’s about improving capitalism and even rescuing it from itself. That’s exactly right.
However, when it comes to issues of policy such as fiscal policy, exchange-rate policy, banking policy, and so on — issues on which the Marxist left must necessarily position itself if it is to do serious politics rather than denouncing the world from small rooms — then you will rapidly discover that, like it or not, the concepts that Keynes used, the concepts that Keynesianism has worked with, play an indispensable role in working out strategy, which remains Marxist.
That’s the point I’m making. Unfortunately, there is no other way. And the sooner that Marxists realize that, the more relevant and realistic their own positions will become.”
We’re just supposed to forget all of this because currency, right? The fatal mistake SYRIZA made in all of this is that it did not worship at the altar of national currency fetishism. SYRIZA failed to take the one additional step that was absolutely essential to sign on to the delusions of the Left: exit the euro.
Never mind that Lapavitsas admitted in the interview that leaving the euro would cost the working class in Greece another 20% in real wages. And, mind you, this estimate by Lapavitsas was explicitly conditioned on the civilized cooperation of Mario Draghi and the ECB to fix a peg to the drachma! How does SYRIZA “opens its wings to the unknown”, with no more assurance than “Mario will catch you if you fall.” And what happens if, instead of catching the drachma gently after it has fallen 20%, Europe and NATO, decides instead this is an opportunity to break a Third International party with a long history of ties to Russia and China?
What was your Plan B for that shit? How would you stop the drachma falling 50, 60, 70 or even 80% under central bank manipulation? Frankly, how did you get elected to the leadership of SYRIZA? Who was dumb enough to put their faith in you?
‘Rupture’, i.e., KKE and the “Left behind”
Somebody should tell Stathis Kouvelakis to take his tired ass and go join the KKE. That way he can be all squeaky clean again. There is nothing so important to washing your hands of your own disaster as advancing a program that is already dead on arrival, as the KKE shows:
“We made the following issue clear, that this political line can go in two directions: either they will sign, as it seems and is being scheduled – we will see in the days to follow- a painful agreement, with harsh anti-people measures, a new memorandum, or we will have a state bankruptcy, with a grexit, with a departure from the euro or a double currency or something else. We hear about this mainly from the “partners”, the political parties did not say this at the council of the political leaders. The “partners” talk about this. So our people must be prepared. The position of the KKE is that both these possible outcomes, i.e. an agreement with a memorandum and harsh measures or a grexit or something else will be at the expense of the Greek people.
The rupture with the EU, capital and their power has as its precondition a totally different strategy, workers’-people’s power, that the people are truly in power and socialize the means of production, disengage from the EU and unilaterally cancel the debt. This is the comprehensive and totally different proposal of the KKE and has no relation to the various views that will lead to the new pauperization of our people. And I mean views that exist in other parties, as a minority at the moment, as they are in the governing party, that talk about exit only from the currency.””
A good strong argument for KKE’s position, but one that is impossible to reconcile with historical materialism. The term “rupture” is complete nonsense, another neologism thrown at people to change the subject. While canceling the debt is a normal business measure and should not be conflated with a socialist strategy.
The last platform plank in the KKE alternative is a critical reveal: they argue that the means of production should be socialized, something Greece can’t do on its own, since the means of production are now global, not national. What means of production does KKE want to socialize? That of Greece alone? Can the Greece parliament ‘socialize’ German industry? This suggests that by “workers” they only mean ‘Greek’ workers. ‘Greek’ workers can only socialize ‘Greek’ means of production, not ‘German’ or ‘French’. The “working class” is not now and has never been Greek — it is global. But KKE wants to withdraw from the world market; i.e., they want to turn what was for the Soviet Union a catastrophe — its complete isolation from the world market — into an economic strategy.
This is a disaster 40 years in the making
Let’s remember what is at stake here. A few years back, John Holloway wrote a book that said focus on the state power by the Left was wrong-headed. This book came on the heels of an interesting essay by Robert Kurz who said capitalism was headed into collapse. And that came on the heels of still another book by Moishe Postone, which stated that labor itself should be the target of radical action.
All of this was an attempt to come to grip with two of the most important events in the 20th century, the collapse of the social-democratic golden age and of the Soviet Union. These collapses ended the social democratic and Leninist monopoly on strategy and tactics and cleared the way for a complete reassessment on the Left. However, the collapse of social democracy and the SU combined with the rise of neoliberalism also generated a long effort to revive and reconstruct the so-called golden age (of fascism). The problem, we were told, is Reagan and Thatcher came to power (it was never quite clear how) and dictated new terms to bourgeois society. Fascism was over and a new era of neoliberalism had begun, the ‘social contract’ between labor and capital was at an end. There was no alternative to this new era, said Ms. Thatcher.
Decades flew by as the Left suffered defeat after defeat, never once realizing the absolute hopelessness of its cause. “Another world is possible.” the Left repeated to itself — a mantra by which it hoped to return to the golden age of peace between classes. In place of the defunct Soviet Union, the Left set its aim to return to the 1950s. In place of Postone’s critique of labor, the Left set its eye on the national money supply. In place of Kurz’s prediction of an oncoming crisis that was likely to be the last one, the Left declared capitalism would last forever. And, in place of John Holloway’s critique of politics and the state, the Left produced SYRIZA, the form at last discovered to realize its aims — restoration of the Golden Age.
The prescience of the Left
The Left now congratulates itself on having predicted all along that SYRIZA would capitulate and this long held prediction must be recognized as an indisputably true fact. But on what was this prediction based? Was it not the realization across the entire spectrum of Left opinion that it was unprepared to actually take power? That it had no program in place for such an eventuality? That should the class struggle drop power in its lap it had no idea whatsoever of what to do with it?
People from the first expected SYRIZA to fail, because they realized, in SYRIZA’s place, they too would fail. To be honest here, no one had any plan for how to actually end austerity. Everyone knew that Grexit could not ever end austerity, it could only substitute a Keynesian-style currency devaluation for IMF internal devaluation. In any case, the working class would suffer another leg down and watch its wages evaporate before its eyes. The point, of course, was how to avoid any further austerity and no party had a plan for this anywhere on the Left.
Of course, you could always make semantical changes the way KKE did: in place of Grexit, you propose “rupture”, but only idiots could possibly be fooled by this difference. Grexit, as we all know, meant the return to a national currency and managed foreign trade by the state. Rupture, although spelled differently, means a return to a national currency and managed foreign trade as well. The Left platform could have as easily changed ‘Grexit’ to ‘rupture’ or KKE from ‘rupture’ to ‘Grexit’ to put both on the same page.
Did the Left platform not want, “workers’-people’s power, that the people are truly in power and socialize the means of production”. Is it the KKE’s contention that the Left Platform wanted some other class in power? And what was the impediment to the working class actually being in power? Did this depend on the party in power and its stated intention? Of course not. No one in their right mind takes the word of the party in power — every party coming to power claims to represent the people. Which class held power is determined by who actually holds the levers of social power — the forces of production.
National politics is dead
Now ask yourself this: How does a party in Greece gain control of the forces of production when these forces themselves are global? Are you so stupid as to believe one country can control the entire world market from its parliament? To say, as Marxists pretend to believe, that capitalism is a global mode of production means, in first fucking place, that no country can lay hold to the forces of production no matter what laws it passes.
Thus, SYRIZA came to office with no control over the forces of production, no hope of gaining control over the forces of production, and under circumstance that no organization or strategy could ever give the party control over the forces of production. It is no surprise, based on this fact, that capitulation was inevitable — and everyone, even SYRIZA, knew this from the first. But the Left is so irrational in its logic that out of power it thinks the state can do anything, while once in power it predicts the government can do nothing.
And it simultaneously holds these contradictory ideas, without ever once being forced to resolve it, simply by blaming some particular Left party. In every case we are told not that state power is an illusion, but that the radicalism of this or that party is an illusion. This is as close to a critique of bourgeois politics as the Left can ever get: all parties, no matter how radical they appear, capitulate.
The real lesson of SYRIZA’s capitulation is that national politics and the Left itself are dead.