Ignoring the lessons of SYRIZA’s capitulation
It seems as though the lessons of SYRIZA’s failure will likely be ignored or dismissed on the Left for various reasons. Some argue, with certain justifications, that Europe went out of its way to sabotage the government and thus to teach the Left a lesson. Others will argue SYRIZA, despite its roots in the 3rd International, was never as radical as it appeared or was hyped on the Left. Still others will argue SYRIZA’s failure can be blamed on its unwillingness to exit the common currency — a mostly self-inflicted defeat.
All of these arguments contain an element of truth, but the failure will nonetheless haunt the Left. If the Left is not fatally wounded, it will at least require a long period of recovery.
You can almost feel the sense of defeat on the Left after SYRIZA agreed to capitulate to Merkel and Hollande. SYRIZA was the best chance in the past 35 years for the radical Left to change the debate and prove Thatcher wrong. Had SYRIZA succeeded, there would have been an alternative to neoliberalism that the Left promised was possible. In the aftermath of SYRIZA’s capitulation, however, there is a real question whether any alternative is possible. Podemos, the powerhouse Left formation in Spain, which seemed poised to benefit from the SYRIZA election victory in January, has since peaked in the polls and seems to be flatlining.
For what is worth, The disaster for the Left in Greece is not addressed by blaming SYRIZA, the European Union or Grexit. In the first place, the voters in Greece were not prepared for (nor wanted) Grexit. In the second place, the EU behaved exactly as was predicted by the leaders of SYRIZA. And SYRIZA itself went inton this inevitable confrontation knowing full well it had no new ideas and no plan B if the EU acted as the party itself predicted they would act.
Indeed, the idea Greece would have been allowed to exit the EU and NATO was always a naive fantasy. Once outside the euro, Greece would have been subject to economic warfare that, unlike Lapavitsas naive estimate of a 20% collapse in GDP, would likely have cost Greece 50% of more of its economic strength.
Consider that in just the last 20 years, we have watched US imposing sanctions to destroy the economy of Iraq, as well as seriously crippling the economies of both Iran and Russia — not to mention overthrowing the elected government of Ukraine, leading to it dismemberment. Anyone who thought a newly elected, untested, 3rd International party could have endured that level of economic pressure is not to be taken seriously.
Further, many of SYRIZA’s most ferocious critics on the Left know full well the terrible history of compromises the Soviets had to make just to survive when the working classes of Europe left them hanging to power on their own. For these “revolutionary” critics to turn around and accuse SYRIZA of not being revolutionary enough only proves their complete duplicity. They want to condemn Tsipras for making the same sort of awful capitulation to imperialist aggression Lenin himself was forced to make in the early days of the Soviet revolution.
And that is disgusting. Really fucked up folks. You “revolutionaries” really should be ashamed of yourselves — but you have no shame, do you? Nothing can convince these sort of desperate hypocrites, so don’t even try. And they still have no more idea how the Left can take power in a critical NATO country and survive than Tsipras had.
Truth is, unlike Egypt, NATO did not even need the Greece military to leave its barracks to stop SYRIZA. All they had to do was bring Greece’s ECB-dominated banking system to the edge of collapse to end Tsipras nonsense talk about democracy and sovereignty. They just gave Tsipras a small whiff of what sanctions smell like.
This was entirely predictable, but what radical theoretician or activist has devoted even a single paragraph to the problem of holding power in the face of sanctions, color revolutions and military aggression in the last 35 years? Yes, a 3rd International party can win an open and fair election — which we at least now know, thanks to SYRIZA — but the economy will remain completely controlled by Washington, Frankfurt and Brussels.
The reality is that no EU country — nor any other country for that matter — has sovereignty today. Any country can be locked out of the international financial system by the central banks overnight and the liquidity drained from its economy. Greece proves money is not a neutral instrument; it is a weapon in the hands of the enemy; yet every strategy imagined and detailed on the Left begins with money. There are even people like Lafanzis, Lapavitsas, Varoufakis, Kouvelakis and the Keynesian ideologues at Jacobin magazine who want to double down on this benighted strategy.
What the fuck is up with that?
There is not a single Left party in Europe that can come to power and take their country out of the euro or NATO. It ain’t happening. The voters won’t let the first happen and NATO won’t let the second happen. Moreover, anyone who can’t grasp the implications of the carnage NATO has unleashed on Europe and the Middle East in the last 20 years for a radical Left doesn’t deserve power.
You are an idiot who will lead your country into a catastrophe. If you strategy comes down to Grexit and leaving NATO, you are well and nigh fucked. The outlines of what the Left can achieve in Europe are circumscribed by the fact a radical government probably cannot leave the euro and cannot leave NATO.
The question is how do you make a revolution on this basis? If you can’t answer this, you ain’t worth betting on.
A social revolution has absolutely nothing to do with the euro or NATO, per se. It is aimed at abolition of all money and all states. This task cannot be accomplished by any radical governing party of one country on its own. This calls for rethinking what can realistically be accomplished by winning a national election and forming a radical governing coalition.
Ask yourself this question: Did the Bolsheviks take power in 1917 thinking they would have to go it alone? Of course not. No communist of that time imagined you could have a victory in one country — and they were right.
To make an analogy I have used before, no group of serious activists wins power in a union on the platform that they will immediately overthrow the state and money. Leftists now need to think about winning a national election as having no more significance than winning a union election. This would allow them to dial back expectations. However, even admitting to this fact, it is possible to see that winning a national election still potentially offers much more than can be won by winning a union election.
No, you can’t immediately pass over to full communism, of course; but you do gain a potent power for advancing the cause. What types of power does an elected government have?
- It can set the terms and conditions of wage labor in its territory; thus it can raise wages and reduce hours of labor.
- It also can encourage, and even finance, co-operatives managed directly by the workers to replace privately owned and managed capitalist firms.
- It can begin to dismantle the existing nation state and transfer management of society to the producers. Meaning:
- Eliminating all taxes on wage labor.
- Reduce its military budget.
- Eliminate all subsidies to private capital
- A left government can balance the public budget, since deficit spending by the public sector is generally unproductive and does nothing but generate interest payments to rentiers, adding to capitalist profits.
- A Left party can eliminate unemployment not by fiscal deficit spending, but by reducing hours of labor.
The above measures are nothing to sneeze at; in particular they have the effect of revolutionizing the mode of production. While they don’t result in communism immediately, they can accelerate society in that direction.
Winning a national election may have no more immediate implications than winning a union election. However, despite the modest impact of a union election, no communist has ever counseled ignoring the unions. Likewise, although we know there cannot be a socialism in one country, a single country can have a decent radical government in power with a well-thought out strategy.