The Greek Tragedy
by Zoltan Zigedy
They were young, attractive, well-educated, and the darlings of the non-Communist left (and even some Communists!). The leaders of the Greek party, SYRIZA, promised the Greek people an escape from the jaws of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Commission. Instead, they delivered the humiliating surrender of a people who only a week earlier had demonstrated a clear rejection of accommodation to the EU ruling classes.
The Financial Times headlined: “Greek PM likely to rely on opposition to pass most intrusive programme ever mounted by EU.” (My emphasis)
Regarding the SYRIZA surrender, The Real News commentator, Dmitri Lascaris, declared that “this is one of the worst political debacles in modern European history.”
Journalist and award-winning documentarian, John Pilger acidly commented: “An historic betrayal has consumed Greece. Having set aside the mandate of the Greek electorate, the Syriza government has willfully ignored last week’s landslide “No” vote and secretly agreed [to] a raft of repressive, impoverishing measures in return for a ‘bailout’ that means sinister foreign control and a warning to the world.”
Predictably, the non-revolutionary left scrambled to put an apologetic spin on the embarrassing collapse of the SYRIZA program. Before the draconian deal, the entire spectrum of the US left—from “progressive” Democrats to neo-Marxists and other hyphenated pseudo-Marxists—were swept into a love fest for SYRIZA unlike any since the orgy of Obama-mania. Typical of the post-referendum SYRIZA craze was the statement by the loquacious “Marxist” economist Richard Wolff on Democracy Now!
…And if Syriza can pull that off, the message sent to the comparable groups in every other European country is a staggering reconception of what the future of Europe may look like, where the words “anti-capitalism” become a unifying slogan for people across that continent…
You cannot impose economic structural reforms on a population that has voted 60 percent against them, with the television blaring out propaganda for them, every TV station and every newspaper, virtually, doing that. You just can’t do it. It’s not a question of argument; it’s a question of fact. (7-7-15)
Well, Professor Wolf, the Troika did it, thanks to the capitulation of SYRIZA.
Rather than heap deserved blame on the SYRIZA leadership, it is surely more useful to draw lessons from a fiasco that will have disastrous consequences for the Greek people. Of the many possible lessons, I offer the following three:
1. Social democracy offers no answer to the crisis of capitalism in its many manifestations. Whether it is the untenable strategy of overturning the neo-liberal model of capitalism and returning to the “golden age” of welfare statist policies, the once popular doctrine that “a rising tide raises all boats,” or the contradictory notion of democratizing capitalism, reformist programs that accommodate the bourgeois state and capitalist relations of production will fail to deliver the people from increasing immiseration and degradation. The European experience teaches nothing if not that.
Europeans have understandably lost patience with the evolution of their parliamentary systems toward two poles: tyranny of markets and tyranny of markets with a human face. They are turning instead to “radical” parties of the right and left. SYRIZA is an example of a “radical” party of the left that occupies the untenable space of defying the logic of capitalism while accepting its legitimacy. This is akin to diagnosing cancer while refusing treatment.
Clearly, the newly minted Euro-left parties that hide social democratic accommodation of capitalism behind the mask of “anti-capitalism” promise no more success than SYRIZA.
2. The Greek Communists (KKE) won a moral and ideological victory with their steadfast position that the SYRIZA program would end in disaster. They argued consistently that SYRIZA’s attempt to “manage” capitalism would end badly. Speaking before a July 2 rally in Athens, General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumpas stated emphatically:
•Both the YES and the NO mean the acceptance of a new memorandum of anti-people measures, perhaps the worst that we have seen up to now.
•Both the YES and NO will lead the people to new torments and tragedies. •Both the YES and the No mean anti-worker, anti-people measures. •The referendum is an alibi for a new memorandum-agreement at the expense of the Greek people.
•The KKE calls on the Greek people to reject all the blackmail, to cast its proposal into the ballot box and say:
WE DO NOT CHOOSE ANTI-PEOPLE MEASURES-WE DO NOT CHOOSE A NEW MEMORANDUM-WE CANCEL OUT THE FALSE DILEMMAS.
Nearly 6% of the voters– a remarkable write-in result– complied with Koutsoumpas’ call.
Not surprisingly, the bourgeois media ignored KKE’s campaign against the maneuvers and manipulations of the SYRIZA-ANEL government; one would expect no less from the mouthpieces of the capitalist ruling classes. However, the nearly total disregard of the KKE critique and counter-program by the broad left is indefensible. Apart from a few Leninist organizations, KKE’s position was either ignored or subjected to derision. Particularly in the US, intense anti-Communism and ideological conformity led to an almost complete misreading of the Greek tragedy, a development that could have been avoided with a measure of non-sectarian tolerance toward the KKE analysis.
With the collapse of SYRIZA as a left oppositional party, only KKE holds the banner of left resistance. Let’s see if our “left” friends will support its struggle.
3. For those of us living in the US, those of us destined to suffer through a tortuous, sensationalized, but ultimately disappointingly predictable Federal electoral campaign, the SYRIZA debacle holds some interesting parallels. As a friend and comrade so astutely points out, the Bernie Sanders campaign is a similar Trojan horse channeling dissatisfaction with capitalist institutions away from truly radical, effective solutions.
Instead of mounting a truly independent campaign outside of the two-party black hole, Sanders chose to run in the Democratic primary while promising neither to bolt the Party nor to withhold support from the primary victor regardless of the outcome. Thus, when he falls in the primaries to Hilary Clinton’s corporate coffers– as every serious commentator acknowledges he will, Sanders will dutifully urge the Party’s progressive wing to accept defeat and climb aboard Clinton’s juggernaut.
Apologists for this quixotic campaign will argue that Sanders will at least move the campaign conversation leftward. Of course this flies in the face of every primary campaign in any voter’s memory. Every Democratic Party primary season swings leftward in deference to the hard-core base, only to swing even further rightward to accommodate the “centrists” that strategists hope to cultivate. More often than not this strategy backfires; yet it remains an irreproachable axiom in the age of television and the Internet.
Sanders says in his campaign literature: “…the billionaire class is spending huge amounts of money to buy candidates and elections. We are now witnessing the undermining of American democracy and the rapid movement towards oligarchy where a handful of very wealthy families and their Super PACs will control our government.”
Does he think this process will be suspended for the 2016 primary season? Does he not count the Clinton family, its foundation, and its massive fund-raising machine as part of that “oligarchy”?
If Senator Sanders believes his words, he would support a movement away from this trap and not lend his name to legitimizing a corrupted, bankrupt process.