The Left is trying to distance itself from the SYRIZA debacle
This statement passed my twitter TL the other day:
“I’ve fallen into the opinion that Tsipras and Syriza were fake plants all along. “
The epithet, “fake Left” is all the rage among many of the folks I follow on twitter and for good reason: no one wants to be associated with the disaster in Greece right now.
In my thinking, however, it is very convenient for the Left to disown its failures by claiming “X wasn’t really Left after all.” Convenient, but a terrible mistake. The way you explain a defeat is important, because it is evidence that you have learned from experience. If the only thing the Left has to learn from SYRIZA is that it was a ‘fake plant’, I think this is nothing more than the Left dissembling.
Essentially, the Left is saying the fault lies not with SYRIZA’s strategy but with its personalities.
If the Left wanted to make a fair and honest assessment of what has happened in Greece, it would have to admit there is no evidence SYRIZA’s strategy could ever have worked even if it was sincere in its ideas. Like many people among the radical Keynesians, SYRIZA argued the European Union as it is presently structure was incapable of escaping the euro crisis through economic growth. The argument these folks convincingly made at the time was that the EU required significant structural changes to create a political union of some sort that could employ the euro currency along conventional lines to stimulate growth. What the euro lacked, they argued, was a fiscal authority, like Washington, that could undertake deficit spending even as it pursued long term structural change in the European labor market.
Thus, SYRIZA and the radical Keynesians in general did not disagree with the IMF’s program of structural changes to the labor market, but argued these changes required deficit spending to make structural change possible and politically palatable.
After five years of “adjustment” or “internal devaluation” that accomplished nothing but to produce the longest and deepest depression of any country in Europe since the 1930s, it was clear the IMF program was a complete failure; and it was clear the euro area was no more able accomplish this structural adjustment in 2015 than it was in 2010.
The question then was how a conventional structural adjustment in Europe could be accomplished. SYRIZA was split, with one faction agitating for exit from the euro and the other opting to “force” changes in the euro structure itself. This debate was not carried out in a vacuum: the overwhelming majority of the Greece voters rejected exit from the euro area.
SYRIZA seriously risked a Ukraine-style outcome if it adopted grexit. To exit the euro area meant, among other things, that SYRIZA would be losing support among the population even as it was confronted by an inevitable Ukraine style color revolution promoted by Washington and its NATO allies. Have no illusions about this, once SYRIZA left the euro, it would own every economic failure that followed. Thus, the fascists — using the ECB — would be free to crush the Greece economy as they have today, but SYRIZA would have gotten the blame for it and would have been accused of engineering the exit against the expressed will of the voters of Greece.
The other option, supported by the majority of SYRIZA, to remain in the euro and push for fundamental structural changes along Keynesian lines was clearly no better than grexit, since led the country into this present disaster. As Zizek observed chillingly, once the question was posed as Grexit or capitulation, SYRIZA had already lost:
“The catastrophic thing about the Greek crisis is that the moment the choice appeared as one between Grexit and capitulation to Brussels, the battle was already lost. Both terms of this choice move within the predominant Eurocratic vision (remember that German anti-Greek hardliners such as Wolfgang Schäuble also prefer Grexit!).”
SYRIZA’s defeat, therefore, cannot be ascribed to the option it actually chose in this debacle, but begins long before the July events, back to the days when it, having embraced structural reform, led it inevitably to the choice between grexit or capitulation. Once SYRIZA embraced the idea that the labor market in Greece had to be reformed, it had already set itself up for defeat.
SYRIZA had adopted the viewpoint of the enemy of the working class, which always tries to end crises by “restructuring” labor.
The crucial obstacle for SYRIZA from the outset was how to avoid the situation coming down to a choice between exit and capitulation. The only way this could have been avoided was to directly attack the existing state — the very prize SYRIZA had sought and won in the elections, including the machinery of coercion – the military, police, prisons – but also the bureaucracy that was swollen by decades of patronage.
The choice SYRIZA made that led it to this disaster had nothing to do with how restructuring would be accomplished — internal devaluation, or Keynesian currency devaluation. Rather, from the beginning, it’s options were between attacking the working class or the cancerous, parasitic, state. Once SYRIZA chose labor market reform, it simultaneously chose to save the state at the expense of the working class.
Whether this choice was made knowingly is not a concern here — indeed, we can even assume the opposite. It is a common enough assumption on the Left that the state is considered a neutral instrument they can lay hold to implement their program. SYRIZA alone cannot be faulted on this point for agreeing with the Left’s prejudices. The Left treats the state as the ‘holy of holies’, the instrument the working class can use to defend its interests against capital.
In the bizarre calculus of the Left, the state is the only means to tame ‘the markets’ and protect the working class from ‘market forces’; while the capitalists are criticized for wanting to do away with their own capitalist state.
Given this, it is no surprise SYRIZA chose to save the state, and no surprise that this choice led directly to Zizek’s paradox. The class character of Zizek’s paradox is that either choice — grexit or capitulation — implied SYRIZA would turn on the working class. SYRIZA thus made the choice to attack the working class long before it was forced by events to capitulate to troika demands. That choice was already implicit in the Left’s commonly shared assumption that the state is a neutral instrument.
The neutrality of the state is a bedrock premise of all Left political action. It is possible to predict, therefore, that any radical Left party coming to power in any eurozone country will experience exactly the same failure as SYRIZA.
Any Left critique of SYRIZA that fails to come to grip with the illusion of the neutrality of the existing state is offering a phony critique of existing society and of austerity.
In particular, it is absolutely necessary to call out all those who call SYRIZA a ‘fake Left party’ or describe it as some neoliberal trojan horse. SYRIZA is as Left as Left gets, the radical fringe of bourgeois politics and, as such, subject to all limitations of bourgeois politics.
The Left owns this defeat and should not be allowed to distance itself from it. Owning SYRIZA catastrophe, no matter if you were previously a supporter or an opponent, is the only way the Left will ever grow up.